Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 19), Series B

Sermon on Mark 9:14-29
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
September 16, 2012 (The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Series B)

Right in the middle of today’s Gospel lesson, there’s a conversation that takes place between Jesus and the father of the boy with an unclean spirit.  The man asks Jesus to heal his son, if He can.  And Jesus says, a little sarcastically, “If I can?  All things are possible for one who believes.”  It’s a little bit of a strange conversation, because it almost sounds like Jesus is suggesting that if the man had sufficient faith he himself would have been able to heal his son.  But even the disciples weren’t able to cast out the unclean spirit, so there must be more going on here than meets the eye.

What the man forgot, of course, is who Jesus really is.  He is the almighty creator of heaven and earth, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Word that is such a perfect expression of what is in the mind and heart of God the Father that He is Himself God.  It was through Him that the heavens and the earth, and everything in them, was made.  Compared to that, healing this boy is almost nothing.  That’s why Jesus is almost a little sarcastic in his response to this man.  Of course I can heal the boy.  I made him in the first place, and I know, better than anyone else, what he was originally created to be.  Anyone who believes in Me has whatever he asks for, in accordance with My will.

And the man’s response is one of the most famous passages in Scripture for illustrating what it means to be both a saint and a sinner at the same time.  All Christians believe, and yet we all have unbelief, despair, and other great shame and vice, at the same time.  We all have the old Adam who is supposed to have been drowned and died with all sins and evil desires, but who keeps bobbing to the surface to take a breath, and so we need to fight daily to keep his head under the baptismal water.  We all have that unbelief which wonders if God can take care of us and provide what’s best for us in whatever situation we find ourselves.  And yet, so long as we are Christians, we also trust in God above all things, that He who made us will provide for us in the way He deems best, both for this life and for the life to come.  Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.

I think sometimes it’s too easy to look at some of the men and women in the Holy Scriptures who say things indicative of ignorance or doubt or other false ideas regarding God, and especially about God in human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, and think that we would have done better than they had we been there.  The fact is, we would have done no different than they.  What this man says about the struggle inside of him between faith and doubt is exactly what St. Paul describes in himself in Romans 7.  It’s exactly what we see in St. Peter on any number of occasions when a statement indicating profound faith is followed up almost immediately by words or actions indicating the worst sort of doubt or misunderstanding of Jesus and His mission.  I don’t think we should be surprised that we see the same struggle going on within this nameless father, not to mention the fact that we ourselves struggle with exactly the same things.  It’s simply a part of life in this old world that faith and doubt are constantly at war inside of us.

And that’s exactly why God does help us with our unbelief by reassuring us again and again, not only in audible words but even in His Son’s own body and blood, that our sins really are forgiven and that heaven really is our home.  That’s the entire reason why the Christian Church exists, and why we meet here every Sunday to hear His Word and receive His body and blood.  We believe, but only He can help our unbelief.  Without Him continuously putting to death our unbelief and raising up within us the faith which trusts Him for life and salvation, our belief in Him would not last very long.

One odd note about this event, by the way.  The disciples could not drive out the spirit which afflicted the boy, and yet Jesus simply says, “Get out of him and don’t come back,” and the spirit leaves, never to return.  When they ask Him privately about this, he says that this particular type of spirit only comes out with prayer.  But Jesus simply ordered the spirit to leave and it left.  Again, remember who Jesus is.  He’s the one to whom Christians are to pray.  He is God Himself.  Prayer isn’t powerful in and of itself.  The only power that prayer has is because the One to whom we pray is powerful.  And Jesus, the one who loves us and comes to meet us here and dwells with us every day in our hearts through His Spirit and His body and blood, is the one to whom we pray.  He does help our unbelief, by giving us again and again that in which we believe.  Our God is one who can be trusted.  He is the one who answers prayer.  He is the one with whom we will spend eternity.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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