Has Someone Been Praying?
18th Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 21) LSB #770
Text – James 5:17
Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, & he prayed fervently that it might not rain, & for three years & six months it did not rain on the earth.
HAS SOMEONE BEEN PRAYING?
In 1883 an Indonesian volcanic eruption made its effects felt around the world. Cracking at its base, the volcano received an inrush of cold sea water mingling with its hot lava. Such irresistible pressure of expanding steam & gas generated an explosion that took the top off the 1460 foot Krakatoa Mountain.
The dust rose 33 miles skyward & circled the globe, generating fantastic sunsets for years afterward. Rocks were sent sailing 50 miles away & when the eruption neared its end, the volcano’s empty shell thundered downward into a 600 foot deep crater. That spawned a tsunami which destructively ripped across the oceans.
Some 480 miles away buildings were swaying & the noise of one eruption was heard up to 3000 miles away.
The earth evidences massive power that pales the nuclear explosions created by mankind. Yet, there is no power mightier than the Christian prayer that pleads, “Save me, Jesus.” For all its awesome energy, the earth is but a creation of an infinitely mightier Creator. That Creator-God loves the likes of us, & His response to prayer reveals the greatest power source there is.
The struggle for us, is that due to the effects of sin, we’re almost completely unable to recognize that incredible power. The text for today’s sermon tells us that Elijah, though he was like us, prayed that it might not rain. God answered his prayer & withheld the rain for 3.5 years until Elijah prayed that it would rain again. California is in its 4th year of severe drought. By April, state officials announced there was no snow in the Sierra Nevada for the 1st time in 75 years of measurements. The announcement spurred researchers to launch a study of tree rings in the Central Valley. They found that mountain snow – on which California relies for water – has not been so low since the 1500s. Out West, the drought has gotten to extreme levels.
While I was on sabbatical, & choosing sermon titles for the upcoming months, I read James 5:17 & it struck me to wonder, “Has someone been praying?” We don’t normally think of prayer in those terms. We usually pray for things we want, which means good things. Elijah prayed for drought.
Prayer can draw powerful effects from our heavenly Father, results vastly more earthshaking than any volcano. Yet, our prayers are frequently not answered in the way we want them to be. We pray for healing, but the disease continues to wreak havoc. We pray for reconciliation, but the family members simply refuse to respect each other, or see eye-to-eye.
In those circumstances we’re stuck with a dilemma. We may have prayed long & hard, for a godly outcome, but it does not arrive. Is God not listening? Is God not loving? Is God not capable of answering my prayer? The devil throws each of those temptations out there, & more. How do you withstand such evil? How do you resist the devil?
In addition to Satan’s temptation, it is also the natural reflex of our sinful nature to question God when our prayers are not answered as we want them to be. Last Sunday’s reading from James gave us a godly perspective on that dilemma: “You ask & do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (James 4:3 ESV)
James is challenging us to pray in the correct way. God knows everything. He sees everything. He hears everything. So He knows what’s best for us at each moment of every day. We, on the other hand, have no clue. All we know is the here & the now – nothing else, but we look at things from that minute perspective & presume to tell God how He should be answering our prayer. So James also challenges us to turn away from our small-minded & selfish viewpoint. Turn away from worldly, self-centered prayers. Turn from friendship with the world, because that is infidelity to God. Turn from impurity & double-mindedness. Turn back to Jesus.
Submit to your Lord & Savior & He’ll be free to answer your prayers in the best way possible. He’ll be free to answer our prayers from His unlimited & eternal wisdom, rather than from the constraints of our limited & mortal mind, which has been corroded & weakened by sin. To hear how that sort of mind works, listen to God’s people from the book of Numbers:
“And the people of Israel also wept again & said, ‘Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, & the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, & there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.’” (Numbers 11:4b-6 ESV)
They had been slaves. They were beaten, & their male children were killed at birth. They’re now on their way to the Promised Land, but since God has not answered their prayer in the way they want, they’d rather go back to being slaves, because of food. That sounds really drastic. It’s an extreme example. You & I would never think that way! Would we?
You know in your gut those are dangerous words. Satan uses them all the time to enslave people in their sins. He uses those very words to lure us in to being self-confident, & therefore vulnerable to temptation. In the Garden of Gethsemane, even the Son of God does not go it alone in the battle against Lucifer:
“And going a little farther, [Jesus] fell on the ground & prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him. And He said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what You will.’” Isn’t that prayer an incredible demonstration of how to resist the devil’s temptation? Jesus makes His petition, “Remove this cup from me.” in the context of total submission to His heavenly Father, “Yet not what I will, but what You will.”
The particular request that Jesus makes is not granted, as Elijah’s prayer was, but the power of Jesus’ prayer is not in receiving what He asks for. The power is in the relationship Jesus has to His heavenly Father because of His complete submission to His Father.
Now, in Jesus’ case, He’s not returning to God from sinful ways in order to reconnect with that power. Jesus is merely staying in that relationship, & His staying there is what empowers Him, & protects Him, from Satan’s temptation to reject the suffering & the death of the cross. Jesus stays in that relationship so that His death can bring us life.
For us as sinners, we leave that relationship behind every time we sin. Confession of our sin, & submission to God’s will, are simply our returning to that relationship. They are our returning to the power which then protects us from additional temptations to sin. It is in that relationship to our heavenly Father that our prayer is answered, “Save me, Jesus.”
So, you see, praying is actually all about our relationship to God. If we turn to Yahweh in submission, & we have to turn because our constant state is one of being sinful, if we turn to Yahweh in submission then all is well, whether my prayer is answered as I want it, or not.
Submission to God & confession of our sins, are simply a returning to the loving & life-giving relationship that has been offered to us by, & with, our heavenly Creator. It is in that relationship that all our needs are met. It was from that relationship that Elijah prayed for drought, & had his prayer answered in the way that he asked.
God answered the prayer that way because, in effect, Elijah’s prayer was God’s prayer.
The people of Elijah’s day needed discipline in order to turn their heart back to a proper relationship with the heavenly Creator. They had wandered away from Him, & been serving things that were not God. They were connecting with things that were not God.
After James points out the prayer of Elijah, do you remember from the reading the point he makes? It’s in verses 19 & 20: “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth & someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death…”
Christians are to be about God’s work of saving sinners. We are to be about showing others the relationship with Yahweh that Jesus offers to them through His life, death & resurrection. Proper prayer always flows from a relationship with the Holy Trinity, a relationship with Father, Son & Holy Spirit, who forgives our sin, & gives us peace.
Proper prayer is simply a time of reconnecting to that relationship. We can do it out of need, or we can do it out of thankfulness & praise. God loves it when we reconnect with Him for any reason. As James wrote: “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.” (James 5:13 ESV)
If you look at that verse carefully, you see that James isn’t talking about prayer in the way we normally think of it, in terms of what we should pray for, what we need or want. James simply encourages us to pray, in other words, to turn back to the relationship Jesus Christ has given us with our heavenly Father.
“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.” (James 5:13 ESV) The role of prayer in the Christian life is not at all about getting what you want. Prayer is about getting what our heavenly Father wants, & what He wants is a loving relationship with each & every one of His children. That’s what Elijah’s prayer was about, when he prayed for drought. It’s what the prayer of Jesus was about when He prayed to His Father, “Yet not what I will, but what You will.” A devotion from the book Jesus Calling says this:
“Spending time alone with God can be a difficult discipline, because it goes against the activity addiction of this age. You may appear to be doing nothing, yet are actually participating in battles going on with spiritual realms. You are waging war – not with weapons of this world, but with heavenly weapons which have divine power to demolish strongholds. Living close to Jesus is a sure defense against evil.”
Prayer is living close to Jesus, & living close to Jesus is not just about saving our own skin from the fires of hell. It is also about saving the skin of others, as we show them the Way, the Truth & the Life; as we show them Jesus.
Be patient, wait for the Lord, & pray. Prayer is a way of turning back to God from the sin corrupted path we’ve been on. The book of James exhorts us not simply to believe in Jesus, but to turn to Him. Put that belief into action. Turn from the impatience caused by a wavering heart. Turn every aspect of your life, suffering & joy, back to Father, Son & Holy Spirit.
Turn to the returning Lord. Advent is not that far away – 2 months. Rest in the Lord, wait patiently for Him, & allow your whole life to be attuned to His coming. Prayer is more powerful than the greatest volcanic eruption, not because of anything having to do with us, but because prayer is a reconnection with the almighty & the eternal God of creation.
Has someone been praying? I hope the answer is yes! Amen.
What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins & griefs to bear! What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer! Oh, what peace we often forfeit; Oh, what needless pain we bear – all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer! Are we weak & heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care? Precious Savior, still our refuge – take it to the Lord in prayer. Do thy friends despise, forsake thee? Take it to the Lord in prayer. In His arms He’ll take & shield thee; thou wilt find a solace there. Amen.
 Based in part on Marvels & Mysteries of the World Around Us, Reader’s Digest Association, p. 64.
 Mark 14:35-36 ESV
 Young, Sarah, Jesus Calling, September 12th devotion.
RESISTING THE DEVIL
17th Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 20) LSB #731
Text – James 4:7
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, & he will flee from you.
RESISTING THE DEVIL
Fred was asked by a friend, “What happened to you? You’ve changed & seem like you no longer have a care in the world.” “I don’t,” Fred replied. “That’s great, but how did you get rid of all your worries?” “I hired a man to worry for me.” “You did what?” “I hired a man to worry for me.” “Well, that’s different. I’ve never heard of it before. What does he charge?”
Fred answered, “This guy charges $500 a day.” “Whoa! Where are you going to get that kind of money?” “That is his worry.”
If you are serious about resisting the devil, & withstanding his temptations, first you need to understand how Lucifer gains his foothold in your heart. What does he grab on to? What is it that allows him to latch his claws into you?
If you worry about things you are opening the door of your heart & welcoming Satan in. It doesn’t take long for him to latch his claws into you after that. Many of you probably know about the verse which describes the devil as a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. How many of you are familiar with the verses immediately before it?
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7 ESV) The opening phrase, “Humble yourselves” is very similar to the sermon text opening of, “Submit yourselves.”
Where Peter wrote, “…casting all your anxieties on Him,” we could also translate, “…casting all your worries on Him.” So if you are anxious & worried, our heavenly Father asks you to humble yourselves, or submit yourselves, to God – because He cares for you. And if you resist the devil’s temptations, among which is worrying, then because God cares for you Satan will flee from you. If you’re anxious or worried cast you cares on to your Savior. He handles them for a lot less than $500 a day. Jesus does it for free.
Submit yourselves to God & not to the devil. Resist Lucifer & God’s Holy Spirit will deliver you from evil. The Bible reinforces that point with another verse you may recall: “God is faithful, & He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13b ESV)
Now, that verse isn’t about some kind of force field God creates around you to ward off temptation. You still have to resist the devil by submitting yourself to God. That’s where we often fail so that temptation succeeds. Let’s face it, we’re proud people, & we’re too often proud of it. The 1st & simplest commandment is still the most difficult to obey:
“You shall have no other gods.” Resisting the devil, however, is not hopeless. He is already defeated, whether we resist him or not. Nevertheless, all human lives do matter, & when Satan deceives us into following his temptations, human beings always end up getting hurt. There is no such thing as a victimless crime. Satan’s lies always steal & kill & destroy.
Ancient cultures, thousands of years ago, understood that, in any given circumstance, there is only one truth, but an unlimited number of lies. There are a thousand ways of missing the bull’s eye, but only one way of hitting it. Error can take a thousand forms while the truth has only one. In the Gospel of John, Jesus said, concerning the devil:
“…He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar & the father of lies.” (John 8:44 NLT) One way in which Satan gains his foothold in your heart is by addressing your worries. If we’re going to properly resist the devil, we need to let go of our worries & submit them to the Lord. Prayer is a good way to go about doing that. Our Father in heaven invites us to cast our worries on Him. This service is free of charge, as God’s own Son has already paid the price for each of us.
As we work at humbling ourselves & casting our worries upon Christ, another thing that gets in our way is pride. It’s the opposite of submitting to God or humbling ourselves under the mighty hand of God. However, the key issue with pride, is not that I put myself above you. You’re sinners just like me. The core sin with pride is that it puts me above God.
Yes, my pride will hurt other human beings, as I put myself above them. That’s wrong. It’s sinful, & it’s not acceptable to our heavenly Father, that one human being should ever harm another. And yet, it’s an even greater offense than that, because pride, at its root, is always a direct affront to our Creator. It reflects poorly on the Lord who made us & died for our sin.
When people say they love Jesus, but don’t love His Church, at the heart of that, they are putting themselves above Christ. That’s the reality because Jesus tells us to love our enemies, so if we don’t even love Jesus’ church, we really are not loving Him. We are allowing pride to dictate our thoughts, words & deeds. How does that square with, “Submit yourselves to God?”
Not real well, does it? The last thing on earth Satan wants you to do is submit to Yahweh. Instead, he encourages us to strive at putting ourselves first. One way to resist the devil is to put ourselves last as the Gospel of Mark encourages: “… [Jesus] said to them, ‘If anyone would be first, he must be last of all & servant of all.’” (Mark 9:35b ESV)
A Christian’s constant effort then will be to conquer & vanquish the natural pride of his heart. We do that through the power of the Holy Spirit living within. It means always offering to the Lord a heart that is willing to hear & to keep His will: “Submit yourselves therefore to
God.” (James 4:7 ESV) “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at
the proper time He may exalt you…” (1 Peter 5:6-7 ESV) With absolute certainty that exaltation will occur on Judgment Day when Satan has to watch as each of God’s children is granted the crown of everlasting life. The book of James gives us that promise in chapter one:
“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love Him.” (James 1:12 ESV) Standing the test is resisting the devil by constantly submitting your whole self to God. If that sounds like a tall order, you’re right. It is, & God knows it.
That’s why the focal point of a Christian’s life is always Jesus Christ. It’s only in our Savior that we receive the perfection needed for eternal life. It’s only in our Savior that we receive daily healing from the damage, the corrosive effects, of sin. It’s only in our Savior that we overcome this broken world & receive peace for our heart & mind & soul.
We then put that peace to work in our daily interactions with other people. When we encounter words or actions we do not understand, our saintly nature does not jump to conclusions. It does not strike out rashly or make accusations. Instead, it engages the person in conversation & asks what their meaning is. It does so with patience & compassion.
Too often we hurt other people simply because we do not understand where they’re coming from, & we do not bother to ask. Our sinful nature kicks into high gear & off we go. The devil is completely aware of that tendency & puts it to evil use as he lays out his temptations before us. He targets the things we worry about. He uses our pride against us, & against others.
If we’re going to resist the devil, we need to give more thought to the manner in which he attacks. We should put more effort into understanding our own particular weaknesses & where we are uniquely vulnerable. Then, we submit ourselves to God & humble ourselves under His hand. We allow Jesus to defend us instead of being so quick to defend ourselves. We follow the advice of St. Paul in Ephesians 6: “Finally, be strong in the Lord & in the strength of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh & blood… but against the spiritual forces of evil…”
Do you know the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness? Lucifer comes to Him three times with lies & deception, all of which revolve around the 1st commandment. In each case, how did Jesus resist the devil? He quoted the Word of God. One of them in particular is very instructive for all temptations. We read it in Deuteronomy 8:
“And [God] humbled you & let you hunger & fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”
Lutherans talk a lot about the saintly & the sinful natures. We do so in order to help us understand the dynamics of our sinful & yet holy lives. However, nowhere does James suggest that our saintly nature should do battle against our sinful nature. He says simply, take your eyes off of you & submit to God. Focus on what Jesus has done & on the peace that He gives you.
Doubts, lust, fears, pride & worry tempt God’s children each day. These come from within our own heart & vex us all on their own. Then Satan comes along & uses them to draw us further away from our true life – in Christ. Yet all those temptations only serve as gateway sins, so to speak, to his greatest temptation – that of unbelief.
And it isn’t just not believing in Jesus, that Satan is driving for. It is not believing the fact that all sins have already been paid for. The greatest sticking point for many people, when it comes to Christianity, is their inability to accept that Jesus has literally done it all. Only God is capable of that, but we like to reserve at least a little corner of godhood for ourselves. Lucifer knows that & has destroyed millions of lives with that insight. The book of James lets us know that submitting to God, & humbling ourselves under His hand, is the way to counterpunch the devil’s attack. It’s the way to counteract our natural desire to put ourselves in God’s place, even if we think we’re only reserving an insignificant portion of our Lord’s rightful authority.
“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, & he will flee from you. Draw near to God, & He will draw near to you.” That last sentence, verse 8, is where James brings the good news to bear. If we trust in Jesus to be our Savior, no matter how bad things look, it is because the Holy Spirit has given us the grace to do so.
In that grace, God’s Spirit turns us back to our heavenly Father. God’s Spirit turns us away from ourselves. As that turn is accomplished Yahweh Himself then draws near to us, like the father running out to greet the prodigal son to welcome him home. Yahweh draws near to lift us up, to restore us, to heal us – to give us true life once again.
It’s then, in that life drawn from Jesus, that we truly live in the peace that surpasses all human understanding. That is what submission to God is about. It’s why the devil fights against it with such determination. It’s why Jesus sacrificed His life in your place – so you could experience it.
Heaven will be the ultimate fulfillment of our Savior’s sacrifice, for Jesus has already perfectly accomplished submitting to God, & resisting the devil. The victory is won, & Jesus has made His victory our own. Amen.
O God, forsake me not! Lord, hear my supplication! In every evil hour help me resist temptation; & when the prince of hell my conscience seeks to blot, be then not far from me – O God, forsake me not! O God, forsake me not! Take not Your Spirit from me; do not permit the might of sin to overcome me. Increase my feeble faith, which You alone have wrought. O be my strength & power – O God, forsake me not! Amen.
 Adapted from Truth Applied, by Jay E. Adams (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990) p. 101.
 Ephesians 6:10-12
 Verse 3
How Long? How Long?
16th Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 19) LSB #849
Text – Mark 9:19
And [Jesus] answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.”
HOW LONG? HOW LONG?
The most obvious illustration to begin with is, “How long will this sermon last?” We’ve all heard sermons that are just a droning, on & on, which makes the pastor feel good because he gets to hear himself preach. You may never have preached a sermon from a pulpit, yet, if you think about it, most everyone in this room has done their share of preaching.
We preach to our children, we preach to our spouse, we preach to the neighbor, co-worker, family & friends. We get up on that high horse & tell them what we think!
To those on receiving end, what’s likely going through their mind? “How long? How long?” It’s tough to be patient & understanding when you’re on the wrong end of a poor sermon. Many of them today, & probably throughout history, are about how you can live a better life if you just do the right things.
That’s human religion. It’s pop psychology. It comes straight from the devil. As far as heaven goes, nowhere in the Word of God does He say, “Just do your best. I’ll take care of the rest.” What God told us through the gospel of Matthew is this: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48 ESV)
Not good enough, not do your best, not work harder or smarter – Jesus tells us to be perfect – 100% of the time. And that comes from the only human being who has ever been perfect for His entire life. He knows what He’s talking about. He’s been there & done that.
Now it’s true, that verse from Matthew 5 is pure law. It’s legalism at its best, but it’s not the only Word we received from our heavenly Father: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 ESV) That’s one point most of those sermons droning on & on happen to miss. They skip right over the good news because they are afraid you will end up being complacent about your relationship with Christ. They preach, “Do the right thing,” to keep your feet to the fire.
Rather, according to Jesus, they should be holding their own feet to the fire: “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, & then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5 ESV) Pastors sorely need to be careful when they step into the pulpit to preach. The devil has a bull’s eye fastened to their forehead.
It’s way too easy to preach what we do not practice. Do as I say, not as I do is the epitome of hypocrisy. How long… how long… will this sermon last?
If the message truly is connecting you to Jesus Christ, then you never even think to ask. Just like some movies make such a connection with you, when the end arrives, you can hardly believe it’s over. Sermons are supposed to preach the power of God right into your heart & soul. A sermon is supposed to connect you to the love that Jesus displayed on the cross.
That is where your power comes from when you are a child of the almighty & heavenly Father. That power arrives as God’s Spirit convicts you of your sins, but then sets you free from the chains of those sins, by forgiving them, erasing them from your conscience, & rendering you pure & clean in the sight of God.
Your own heart, it tells you that your power comes from you! The world says there is strength in numbers. Lucifer wants you to believe that you can be your own god: “…when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, & you will be like God…” (Genesis 3:5 ESV)
What Martin Luther truly grasped, that ignited the Reformation, is that unbelief is the very form of human existence. The fall into sin caused the entire human race to become utterly & absolutely depraved. That’s as far as we can get from being like God. In fact, the Holy Spirit inspired St. Paul to write, in Romans 3, this description of humankind, “All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (3:12 ESV) Sin is not just a bad choice here & there, but the very essence of who we are – apart from Christ.
For that reason, true Christians, “…confess that we are by nature sinful & unclean.” After years of struggling with a miserable conscience, Martin Luther finally came across the answer. He stated it in the 1st of the 95 theses: “When our Lord & Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Matthew 4:17), He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”
Repentance alone is the answer for our shame, our guilt & our sin. We are not capable of doing enough “right things” to ever make our lives better, but repentance will turn us back to the warmth & the light of our Savior’s love. Repentance reconnects us to the healing & life-giving power of our Lord’s creative Word. The Gospel of Matthew speaks of that word:
“But the centurion replied, ‘Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, & my servant will be healed.’” “When Jesus heard this, He marveled & said to those who followed Him, ‘Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.’” In contrast to the centurion’s faith, the Gospel of Mark gives us the father’s unbelief:
“…it has often cast him into fire & into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us & help us.” (Mark 9:22 ESV) To which Jesus replied, “If you can!” When the father approaches Jesus he is not coming out of faith & conviction. Only in his desperation does he finally turn to Jesus, & even then, he’s not sure Jesus can do anything.
Our lives are reflected perfectly in this father’s thoughts, words & deeds. As trials come along, & we ask Jesus for help, the unspoken question often lying beneath the veneer of our faith is this, “Will Jesus help us in the way we want Him to?” That’s the temptation of prayer, you see. Everything God commands us to do, everything our Lord gives to us as a blessing, is twisted & turned by our old sinful way, into something rebellious & corrupt. Satan tempts us to turn our request into a demand.
When I demand things that thought, word & deed feeds my desire to feel like I am in charge. “…when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, & you will be like God…” That’s a powerful feeling. It’s intoxicating & addictive. It’s an impossible habit to break unless your Lord & your Savior changes your heart.
So Jesus chastises the father who brought his son to Him. He calls him out & throws him under the bus, right there in front of the crowd, “If you can!” After rebuking the father for his unbelief, Jesus then brings the good news to bear upon the man’s broken heart, “All things are possible for one who believes.” By the power of the Holy Spirit:
“Immediately the father of the child cried out & said, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’” The power of the Holy Spirit turned this father away from his doubts & his fears. The Holy Spirit then turned this father’s desperate heart & soul back to the Lord of the universe.
Jesus had miraculously granted the father the gift of repentance, along with the gift of faith in Jesus. Then, Jesus miraculously granted the son the gift of healing. Neither the father nor the son was told, “You can live a better life if you just do the right things.” Jesus simply healed them.
The Son of God had just returned from the Mt. of Transfiguration with Peter, James & John. The other nine disciples were waiting. When Jesus & the three find them, some scribes were arguing with the nine. A man had brought his demon-possessed son to them for help but they could not cure him. This reading from Mark 9 is a picture of mankind. Some are like the scribes who just want to argue with Christians. They’re an unbelieving generation who don’t really want Jesus or His promises. Then there are people, like the disciples, who have received the gifts of God but do not use them because of the littleness of their faith. Lastly, there are people like the father of this sick boy who cry for help: “Lord I believe; help my unbelief!”
The very form of human existence is unbelief. That includes us here in this room, but the Word of God convicts us of our sin, & then calls us back to receive the blessings of faith & forgiveness. The people Jesus had been preaching & teaching among had been, & still remained, a faithless generation.
“And [Jesus] answered them, ‘O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?’” While here on earth Jesus truly suffered under the load of our sins. He suffered while bearing our sins of thought, word & deed. Yet, He also suffered while bearing our sins of omission, such as our lack of faith, & the good we have left undone.
So a man was out hiking, at night, when he came up to a cliff. He lost his footing in the darkness & fell over the edge. While falling he grasped for anything to hang onto & managed to get ahold of a small tree growing from the side of the cliff. As he hung there suspended in space, he cried out: “Is there anyone up there who can help me?”
Because of the darkness, & fear, the man could not see the firm ground only a few feet below him. A moment later a god-like voice answered: “Just let go of the limb – you’ll be okay.” The man hung there a moment; then, reflecting on what he had heard, called out, “Is there anyone else up there?”
How long until we believe the Word of God? How long must Jesus put up with us? Luther said our lives should be, in totality, about repentance. Sinners can be helped, but stubborn unbelievers cannot. God permits them to continue living, out of mercy, so they have more opportunities to repent. At Bethlehem, in Christ Jesus, the reign of God arrived here in time & space. “…behold, now is the day of salvation.” Jesus is calling you & me to daily repentance because the reign of God is at hand.
While Jesus rebuked the father for his unbelief, He also spoke the Word that empowered the father to believe. He spoke the Word that healed his son. The Word of God has been preached to you. That Word can empower you to believe. That Word can heal your mind & your body & your soul.
To what degree you will experience that here on earth, God has not revealed to me. However, I can share with absolute certainty, that in heaven all God’s children will experience perfect healing in every way. The new & heavenly form of human existence will then be the saintly nature. It will believe every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Amen.
Praise the One who blessed the children with a strong, yet gentle word; praise the One who drove out demons with the piercing, two-edged sword. Praise the One who brings cool water to the desert’s burning sand; from this well comes living water, quenching thirst in every land. Let us praise the Word incarnate, Christ, who suffered in our place. Jesus died & rose victorious that we may know God by grace. Let us sing for joy & gladness, seeing what our God has done; let us praise the true Redeemer, praise the One who makes us one. Amen.
 Matthew 8:8
 Matthew 8:10
 Genesis 3:5
 2 Corinthians 6:2
Astonished Beyond Measure
15th Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 18) LSB #820
Text – Mark 7:37
And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear & the mute speak.”
ASTONISHED BEYOND MEASURE
As St. Mark wrote about this miraculous healing, he used the Greek word for ‘deaf’ that can also be translated as ‘dull’ or ‘blunt.’ A dull knife is one where the edge has been blunted. A blade ends up that way when it’s used & used & used but never sharpened. If you actually cut things with that favorite knife of yours eventually someone will have to sharpen it.
The same thing happens to our faith in Jesus as we live in this sinful, & thus broken, world. That’s why St. Paul wrote, “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’” (1 Corinthians 15:33 NIV) Bad company dulls our faith. Our faith gets blunted. Our ability to trust in Jesus ends up like a dull knife.
Your faith, my faith, they end up needing to be sharpened because sin does real damage to you & to me. It corrodes away at the godly heart given to us by the Holy Spirit. Then our ability to follow Jesus gets blunted as well. Our ability & even willingness to hear the Word of God becomes blunted. We end up being deaf to the Good News that Jesus brings.
Our soul needs something to counteract that deafness. Our faith in Christ needs to be sharpened & given back its edge. If you actually use that faith of yours eventually it will need to be sharpened. Last Sunday’s sermon was about withstanding evil & the fact that even right here in God’s house there is evil within our own heart & we need to stand against that.
But standing against evil is difficult work. It is abrasive work. It is never-ending work that wears us down & tires us out. A fair number of successful movies have worked that theme. At the beginning, the eventual hero is found tired, worn down & reluctant. He’s given up. Then someone, or some cause, comes along that re-sharpens his edge. He gets back in the fight & winds up being the hero who saves the day. In the eyes of the world, the odds are that none of us will end up being fantastic heroes who save the day, but that doesn’t mean our efforts to withstand evil are insignificant or useless.
That we may never slay the evil dragon doesn’t mean we have no purpose or calling in life. Yet living in this sinful world has a way of wearing us down slowly but surely such that we don’t even realize it’s happening.
Take for example the undercover videos of the Planned Parenthood directors & doctors. They’re shown casually discussing the alteration of abortion procedures so they can obtain more specimens for sale. Initially, people were shocked & astonished. So inflammatory were the videos that a restraining order was issued against the organization that released them.
Now, after 8 or 9 videos have been released, the politicians have stopped holding their press conferences. They’re no longer issuing statements about how appalling the practice is. Concerning the selling of these organs of aborted children, one presidential candidate has even stated that to oppose this practice is to be worse than a terrorist.
That a politician could make such a statement & still be leading in the polls shows how depraved the electorate, the media & the politicians of our nation have become. When the videos were released there was shock & dismay. Now, it’s tailed off such that it’s no longer news. However, lest we pat ourselves on the back for being upright, we should first consider our faith.
Are you still astonished at everything Jesus has done in your life? When is the last time you were, “…astonished beyond measure, saying, ‘[Jesus] has done all things well’”? Sadly, it isn’t just our astonishment at the evil in this world that diminishes with time. It is also our love & commitment to the Lord & Savior of our life that fades away as the days go by. In those action movies, in order for the broken down hero to get back in the game, he needs to see a different reality than the one in which he has given up hope. If you are a believer, you exist in a new reality, but that doesn’t automatically mean you are consciously living in that new reality. We do that by faith, not by sight, but it is very difficult not to see with our eyes.
As children of God, we are not of this world. Yet, in this life, we are very definitely, at times painfully, living in a sin-filled world. There is nothing here that is not broken. Even the very best moments in life bring along with them the temptation to be anxious because we know they will come to an end.
So it’s not uncommon to find people waiting, with much anxiety, for the other shoe to drop. Back in the early 1990’s, I wrote a poem, part of which describes that scenario:
I went for a walk
in the early sunlight;
Everything was covered
with frost last night.
This morning as the sunbeams
were scattered and tossed,
I went for a walk,
hoping my tension would be lost.
I had no appointments,
no schedule to meet,
I let my mind daydream,
just followed my feet.
I came to the train tracks
and walked them for awhile,
my shoulders began to lift,
my face began to smile.
I’d been living my life
with my head hanging down,
always focused on work,
never looking up or around.
God is still in charge
of this whole planet earth.
I’d been overlooking His design
of value, and worth.
The moment was brief,
but the pressure was gone,
my worries set free,
like the sunbeams at dawn.
I wanted to stay,
for the moment to last,
but I knew it was over,
the moment was past.
So I regretted its passing
and a shadow was cast.
Now even these blessings,
that God gives us each day,
are twisted and turned
by our old sinful way.
Our Lord & Savior certainly does bless us each & every day, but our sinful nature twists
& turns even God’s blessings. We should be astonished beyond measure that God’s Son would die for us while we were yet sinners. Instead, we take it for granted, or become anxious that God will not follow through on His promise! Then, we start living our lives out of fear. We end up afraid to be generous, afraid to love, afraid of joy, afraid of reaching out to others.
Like the action movie hero, we shrink our lives down to what we can manage with our own effort & strength. If we just keep everyone at arm’s length we won’t get hurt anymore. For the broken down hero to get back in the game, he needs to see a different reality than the one in which he has given up hope.
Jesus, our Savior, has given us a view of that different reality with the healing of this man. The Almighty power to set everything right had broken in, to time & space, as the man’s ears were opened & his tongue released. And this was in the region of the Decapolis, a place primarily inhabited by pagan Gentiles.
The miracle is a sign of Who this Jesus is, & of the new reality He creates. That reality exists where people have faith in the Son of God. If your faith is dull & blunt & deaf that reality shrinks down to what you can manage with your own strength & effort. Then, life is anything but astonishing beyond measure. It’s like a casting a shadow over what God wants to bless.
Then, life ends up like this: “I wanted to stay, for the moment to last, but I knew it was over, the moment was past. So I regretted its passing & a shadow was cast. Now even these blessings, that God gives us each day, are twisted & turned by our old sinful way.”
The healing of this man by Jesus, was never meant to be an end in itself. It was meant to demonstrate that it is in Jesus Christ that the new reality of eternal life has broken in to our time & space. It’s why John the Baptist leaped in his mother’s womb, when Mary came to visit Elizabeth. It’s why the angel announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds as they were keeping watch over their flock by night. It’s why the centurion who was overseeing Jesus’ crucifixion, announced, when our Savior died, “Truly this man was the Son of God.” It’s why the pagan Gentiles of Decapolis, “…were astonished beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear & the mute speak.’”
This man had been isolated from the fellowship of his community. He’d been cut off from the normal interactions of daily life. Then, he was restored by the same powerful Word that created heaven & earth. When Jesus utters the word, Ephphatha, it is not simply the man’s ears that Jesus wants open, but the entire man himself, open to God’s mercy & love.
The people of Jesus’ day had been waiting for Messiah ever since Adam & Eve were promised a Savior – about 4000 years of waiting. Hope in Messiah had all but died out. Already in Elijah’s day, he thought he was the only one left, but Yahweh assured him there were still 7000 faithful Israelites who had not bowed the knee to Baal.
They were all that was left of what once was several million believing Israelites. Sin has been eating away at the sharp edge of your faith. It has dulled & blunted the faith you have in Jesus Christ as your Savior. That’s why you have difficulty remembering the last time you were astonished beyond measure by how well Jesus has done all things in your life.
Jesus’ promises are still strong & eternal & true. When you have a sharp knife, it cuts through things with ease. When the blade is dull, you can hardly cut anything at all. In the same way, when our faith is blunted & dull, it loses its power to be amazed by what our Lord has done for us. Going to church, attending a Bible study, even reading the Word become a chore.
We feel imposed upon when asked to serve in some ministry. Our conscience no longer troubles us when we do wrong. We’re no longer bothered when we leave undone the good works our Lord has prepared in advance for us to do. Our heart becomes deaf to God’s mercy, & to the sacrifice Jesus made in order to pay for our sin. Every one of us has noticed times when our faith was going “deaf,” becoming blunted & dull. God’s Holy Spirit is the One who re-sharpens our edge & gets us back in the fight when we’ve grown cynical, tired & worn. When faith is not constantly being sharpened by the Word, it gets worn down by the brokenness of life.
When we refuse to put into practice God’s gift of repentance, our sins corrode away the sharp edge of faith. But our Lord does not leave us without remedy. In Paul’s letter to the church at Rome, he writes: “…faith comes from hearing, & hearing through the word of Christ.”
Martin Luther wrote: “What does such baptizing with water indicate? It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition & repentance be drowned & die with all sins & evil desires, & that a new man should daily emerge & arise to live before God in righteousness & purity forever.”
It is the Holy Spirit’s work in Baptism which enables us to repent & turn back to our Savior. As the Old Adam dies the new one, our saintly nature, arises. That nature sees the new reality Jesus is creating even now, every moment of every day. God is at work restoring us to the kingdom of heaven. Yes, we see it dimly, but then, we live by faith, not by sight.
The ‘action movie’ hero needs to see a new reality before he gets back into the fight. The Word of God, Holy Baptism & the Lord’s Supper create our new reality & through them our heavenly Father gets us back into the fight. We do battle against our sinful nature by the simple means of contrition & repentance. As we do so, we will see astonishing results. Amen.
My soul, now praise your Maker! Let all with in me bless His name Who makes you full partaker of mercies more than you dare claim. Forget Him not whose meekness still bears with all your sin, Who heals your every weakness, renews your life within; Whose grace & care are endless & saved you through the past; Who leaves no sufferer friendless
but rights the wronged at last. Amen.
 Mark 15:39 ESV
 Romans 10:17 ESV
Pastor Dean R. Poellet