16th Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 19) LSB #’s 839, 720 tune 710, 587
Text – Mark 9:24
Immediately the father of the child cried out & said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
HELP MY UNBELIEF
Television shows & movies which are based on mysteries are common & successful. People wait with anticipation to find out who done it. That moment of revelation, if the script is well written, is meant to be a highpoint of the show.
Parents these days have gender reveal parties as they announce whether their child to be born is a girl or a boy. For many of the family that moment of revelation is just what they’ve been waiting for.
The joy of opening Christmas presents is about that same moment of revelation. Children look forward to it anxiously, for many weeks. There is power in that moment of revelation & the beauty of the gospel reading this morning is that it reveals Jesus as Savior not only for those who are strong in faith. Jesus also comes for those who are weak in faith.
Jesus comes as Savior not only for those who are running towards Him. Jesus also comes as Savior for those who are drifting, or walking, yes even for those who are running away from Him. In the 14th chapter of Mark, after the arrest of Jesus, we read: “Then all His disciples deserted Him & ran away.” (14:50 NLT) Still, Jesus died & rose again for their sins.
The beauty of the gospel reading today is how it reveals Jesus as the One who comes not only for the strong in faith but also for those who are weak & walking away. Have you noticed how struggles in our lives can bring faith into view? 9/11 did that for many of us 20 years ago.
You see, when everything is going well, our faith can run on autopilot. Church & prayer are part of a routine. Because things are going well, we fail to even notice. We simply do what we normally do. When things begin to fall apart, that is when faith comes into view. Like a flashlight shining in a dark room, troubles can make our faith visible again. Pain comes because sin has brought suffering into this world, but the Holy Spirit is able, through His supernatural power, to use the pain we suffer for bringing good into our lives.
Anthony, who had stopped going to church, suddenly comes again. Why? Because his daughter left home without leaving a forwarding address. Kathy’s prayer life has increased dramatically. Why? Because the doctor found a spot on her lung. Troubles, like a flashlight, can bring moments of revelation where we see God with us through it all.
Other times, however, we see a darker picture. Instead of faith getting stronger, it weakens. When trouble comes & illumines the darkness, we find our faith huddled in a corner, shrinking & surrendering & dying.
Yes, many people have come back to the church during a family dispute, but just as many have walked farther away. Yes, illness has led some to pick up their bible, but it has led others to look elsewhere for healing.
When troubles reveal faith, the experience is not always positive. Instead of a strong & vibrant return to Christianity, we may see a deeper questioning of God & a growing reluctance to believe in anything at all. Faith wavers. Prayers are questions filled with anger. Hope is just a dreamlike fantasy from which people are starting to awaken.
Today, Mark helps us see & name these situations. He calls us to stop pretending that faith is always going to get stronger, & to recognize that sometimes faith weakens. Mark wants you & me to come face-to-face with this ugly reality, so he can bring us instead face-to-face with Jesus, our beautiful Savior.
The beauty & power of the gospel reading today is how it reveals Jesus as the One who comes not only for the strong in faith but also for those who are weak & drifting or walking or even running away. Consider the moment when the father stands before Jesus. At first, the father’s heart was filled with hope. He brought his child to the disciples for healing. They had cast out spirits & his son has a spirit, but they were unable to help. His hope was crushed.
Then, the religious leaders begin to argue & his heart fills with frustration. While his son suffers, they debate religion: “Who can cast out demons – where, when, & why?” By the time Jesus arrives, the father has had it. His heart is nearly empty of faith!
His son is brought before Jesus & the spirit, demonstrating its power, throws the child to the ground. The father’s son is rolling at Jesus’ feet, foaming at the mouth. Jesus asks how long this has been happening & the father tells his life story.
For years, his son has been tormented by this spirit. Sometimes, the it throws him into water to drown him. Other times, the spirit throws his son into fire to burn him. Always, the spirit seeks to kill him. This spirit has taken the joy of childhood & replaced it with suffering, the joy of fatherhood & replaced it with fear & the power of faith & made it seem foolish.
Finally, the father reaches deep into his heart & brings out his very last plea. He says to Jesus, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us & help us” (9:22). Suddenly, Jesus is troubled by something more than the evil spirit or the child rolling on the ground. Jesus is troubled by a father falling away from the faith.
So, before Jesus does anything for the son, He speaks with tough love to the father: “If you can?” He wants the father to hear his doubt. Jesus brings the father face-to-face with his faith, which is failing, so he can stand face-to-face before his Savior who succeeds!
The beauty of grace in this text is how Jesus holds on to people who are letting go. The father believes, but he does not believe. He tries, but he has given up trying. He holds on, but he also lets go. Finally, he confesses to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief” (9:24). With those words, this father brings all of our weakness & stumbling, all of our doubting & grumbling, all of our drifting & running & he sets it before Jesus... & Jesus, when face-to-face with our ugliness, brings us face-to-face with the power of His beautiful grace.
Jesus is a Savior who has come to save. A bruised reed, He will not break. A smoldering wick, He will not snuff out. A weak faith, He will not deny. Jesus has died for all people; those who are strong in faith & those who are weak in faith & for those who have no faith at all.
When Jesus dies on the cross, He dies for the sin of unbelief so that, when He rises, He brings forgiveness to everyone. The magnificence of this text is what it reveals about our Lord. Jesus holds on to people even as they are letting go.
Faith is a relationship with the One strong enough to save even from sin. It is not about how tightly you hold on to Jesus but rather how tightly He holds on to you. Salvation is about God’s strength, not ours. And, as Jesus tells His disciples in John, all the Father gives Him He will save. No one will be able to snatch them out of His hand (John 10:28).
Today, we can be honest about our struggles in faith because Jesus has come with His all-powerful grace. He knows “how to sustain with a word him who is weary… Morning by morning He awakens our ears to hear as those who are taught.” (Isaiah 50:4) “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief” with the revelation that comes from hearing Your Word. Amen.
We walk by faith & not by sight, no gracious words we hear from Him who spoke as none e’er spoke, but we believe Him near. Help then, O Lord, our unbelief; & may our faith abound to call on you when You are near & seek where You are found. Lord, when our life of faith is done, in realms of clearer light we may behold You as You are, with full & endless sight. Amen. LSB 720:1, 3, 5.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet