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
Pastor Dean R. Poellet