Karma? I’ll Take Grace by Rev. Neil Wonnacott (3-26-17)

Lent 4                                     “Karma? I’ll Take Grace”                                                       March 26, 2017

The Text for our message comes from the Gospel of John 9:1–41

I can’t say that I love the rock band U2, but they’re a force to be reckoned with, as is their lead singer.

Like the band’s anthems, Bono is larger than life. Along with his music, he’s been in the news for his humanitarian work, especially fighting AIDS in Africa. Normally, I’m a little cynical about such things, but I have to say, he’s starting to grow on me.

Asked about what drives him, what makes him tick, Bono answered, “It’s a mind-blowing concept that the God who created the universe might be looking for company, a real relationship with people, but

The Thing That Keeps Me on My Knees Is the

Difference between Grace and Karma.”

  1. Karma is all about justice.

Now, it’s no small thing to take on karma. John Lennon sang about instant karma. Radiohead warned of the karma police. But what is it? It’s the idea that what goes around comes around, that there’s a kind of justice that drives the inner workings of the universe. You might have caught a video sometime ago, gone viral. In it, a man in a pickup truck tailgates a woman, and then passes her, while triumphantly displaying his middle finger. And just after that, his truck spins out, and he crashes into a ditch. Ah, there’s karma for you, and people love it. He got what was coming to him.

And then, on the other side, there’s the popular pay-it-forward movement. I can’t quite figure out how it’s especially virtuous to purchase a cappuccino for the guy in the car behind you, or to pick up someone’s tab at a restaurant. But somehow, it’s good karma. And it sets the motions of the universe in your favor.

As the prophet Bono puts it, “You see, at the center of all religions is the idea of karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you; an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth; in physical laws every action is met by an equal and opposite one.”

So it happened that Jesus was walking along, and came across a man born blind. And the disciples asked the karma question, “Who sinned? This man or his parents?”

And this is the kind of question we’re comfortable with, the kind of question that attempts to make sense of the world. A man has cancer? Well, yeah, he smoked for over twenty years. Kidney problems? Drank too much. Heart attack? Not enough diet or exercise. Car accident? Drove too fast. And texting is terrible. And I would never do that, we are pleased to say. A pastor who’s lost his call? Must have been a bull in the china shop. Lost his hair? Well, there must be some reason.

  1. But true justice results in our justice.

So, why was the man born blind? Was it because of his sin? Or perhaps the sin of his parents?

I know what I’d say to the karma question. And I know I wouldn’t give the karma answer. I’d say that one common sin infects us all. Sure, certain sins have specific consequences, built into the way the world functions, but death is going to get each and every one of us, no matter how well we live, and no matter how righteous we think we may be. We’ve all sinned and all creation suffers. The world is broken.

And that’s true. Give an answer like that, along with a quote or two from Pieper or Walther, and you’ll get an A in dogmatics. But Jesus doesn’t offer a simple dogmatic answer. Instead, he says, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (v 3).

Talk about mind-blowing. Sin, in all its negativity, has actually set in motion a chain of events that ends not with disaster, but with mysterious blessing. Is that possible?

And, do we really want to gloat? to take pleasure in someone getting his punishment? “If karma was finally going to be my judge,” the prophet Bono said, “then I’d be in deep trouble.

IIII. Instead, grace is a gift, paid for by Christ.

Then Bono added, “I’m holding out for grace; I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity.”

We like to think of ourselves as nice people, but we also like to think we’re better than others. When someone does something wrong, we say, “He’ll get his,” or “What goes around comes around.” And in this way, we try to make sense of the world, taking solace in the idea that evil doesn’t go unpunished. But then evil people do get away with things, and we don’t know what to think.

So also when we see bad things happen to people, we seek to insulate ourselves from the tragedy. When a man is born blind, the disciples jump to the popular assumption of the day: either he sinned while still in the womb, or his parents sinned in some grievous way (Jn 9:2). We easily assume that folks are getting paid back for evil or foolish behavior. So if a man dies of a heart attack, we say, “Well, he ate too much and didn’t exercise.” While that may be true, it not only shows no compassion, but it doesn’t take into account the fact that we all die.

The truth is, we all sin, and we all are worthy of nothing but death. There’s no room for gloating. There’s only repentance. For in the end, sin must be paid for, and it is paid for by Christ.

It was never God’s plan that man fall into sin. It was never God’s intention that there would be illness and death, or that men would be born blind.

And yet, and yet in the mystery of His grace, in the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world, our Lord took a fallen situation and not only restored it, but made it better than it ever was. By the mystery of the incarnation and the glory of the cross, we have come to see God as we never could before: face-to-face, in full and sacrificial love.

We have experienced a love that has been tested, a love that has been challenged, a love that goes beyond a mutually beneficial relationship. And having been forgiven much, what can we do but fall to our knees?

Yes, God loves the angels. But the angels are good. And it’s easy to love those who love you in return. Even the pagans do this. But we have received a greater love. We have been shown a more beautiful grace. He has taken us creatures and turned us into children. And no, the world still hasn’t found what it’s looking for; for the world in its worldliness is blind; the world looks at the font, and they don’t think it’s worth a bucket of spit. But we, whose eyes have been opened, see a crystal fountain, a river of life flowing from the throne of God, and the Lamb who has been slain.

Bono’s right. It’s a miracle that the God of the universe is seeking out the company of folks like us. But that’s what He’s done. What happened to the man born blind? Well, we know he became an outcast. His own parents distanced themselves from him, and the community ostracized him. But our Lord then went the extra mile and sought him out. Our Lord took friendship and mercy and turned it into full communion.

So, yeah, karma sounds cool. But on this one, I’m with Bono. I’d rather have grace. We’ll never be rock stars, but we can join together with him in another band and sing together the song of the Lamb, the song of love unknown. Amen.

Now may the peace of God that surpasses all human understanding keep our hearts and mind in Christ Jesus unto life eternal. Amen.

No comments yet

Comments are closed

St. Paul’s Lutheran Church All rights reserved 2017