Mark 9:14-29: “I Believe, Help My Unbelief!”
Preached by Vicar Kyle Krueger
You just came out from Church. You heard a great sermon where law and gospel were properly distinguished and applied to your life. The preacher used a few witty phrases to give you a chuckle. The saving message of Christ Crucified and risen was proclaimed so clearly you put an extra twenty in the plate. The communion liturgy had a heavenly character about it. You where singing A mighty Fortress with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven as you approached the Altar to receive the wonderful gift of Christ’s body and blood. You felt the words of the benediction had real meaning for you and truly gives you peace. All seems to be right with the world and you are thankful for the gifts God has given you physically and spiritually.
Mark 9:14-29: “I Believe, Help My Unbelief!”
Preached by Vicar Kyle Krueger
You just came out from Church. You heard a great sermon where law and gospel were properly distinguished and applied to your life. The preacher used a few witty phrases to give you a chuckle. The saving message of Christ Crucified and risen was proclaimed so clearly you put an extra twenty in the plate. The communion liturgy had a heavenly character about it. You where singing A mighty Fortress with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven as you approached the Altar to receive the wonderful gift of Christ’s body and blood. You felt the words of the benediction had real meaning for you and truly gives you peace. All seems to be right with the world and you are thankful for the gifts God has given you physically and spiritually. As you are walking out to your car the message of Forgiveness and mercy, you so richly heard, make you think about calling that friend you had an argument with this past week to make things right. Then as you pull up to the intersection of Shorewood and Maryland some one does not wait their turn at the four way stop and you slam on the brakes having a few choice thoughts about that that individual. As you arrive at home there is an argument with your husband or wife about finances. You go to work on Monday morning and your boss is rude to you and thus you take it out on your co-workers in how you treat them. Your once ambitious thought to call your friend to make reconciliation falls by the way side because you decided it was their fault anyway, you have nothing to apologize for. (Pause)
Right before the Gospel text in Mark with the disciples not being able to cast out the unclean spirit in today’s gospel reading the Disciples had just come down from the mountain where they witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus. Jesus clothes became a gleaming radiant white. The great patriarchs of the Old Testament Moses and Elijah appeared before their eyes. The Father’s voice thundered down from the heavens that “this is my beloved Son, listen to him”. What they must of saw and felt as they where coming down the mountain! They had witnessed such a heavenly and glorious sight. They must have been on top of the world, felt like they could do anything!!
But when they come down from the mountain they are met with a boy who is possessed with an unclean spirit. They cannot cast it out. Earlier in Mark Jesus gave the disciples the authority to cast out such demons. They cannot even do what they had been given to do. They saw Jesus reveal his glory and meet with the pillars of the Old Testament yet they fail. And they fail miserably.
Jesus holds nothing back. He directs these words at the disciples, “O faithless generation how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?” Jesus directs these words to us. Saints at Luther Memorial Chapel we receive God in the flesh every Sunday, the mystery of God is revealed to us, we worship on this mountain of the Divine Service where heaven meets earth for a brief few hours every week, we know the goodness of God shown in the incarnate Christ… Yet we become so easily angry and upset at those who cut us off in traffic, we argue with our spouse, we do not show the forgiveness to others that we have been shown, we find our selves faithless at every turn.
The Father of the possessed boy summarizes the Christian life in one small statement, “I believe, help my unbelief”. This story is more about the faithlessness of the disciples and the Father then it is about the possessed boy. The disciples had forgotten from where their power had come when it comes to casting out demons. It was not by their own authority or measure of faith by which miraculous things would happen, but rather the authority and faith of Christ. If we, like the disciples lose sight of who is the author and object of our faith we find our selves unable to do anything that the Lord has given us to do. We cannot do the simplest of Christian acts.
The boy’s father cries out to Jesus saying, “if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us”. And Jesus replies, “If you can! All things are possible for one who believes”. It is again in the Fathers cry “I believe, help my unbelief” that Jesus response begins to make sense. The power to heal the boy does not come from the father having faith that might grow and elicit his sons healing through Jesus challenge of “All things are possible for one who believes”, but rather it is from boy’s father seeing no limits on the most faithful one of all the God-man Jesus Christ. If all things are possible through the one that believes, then it is only through Christ that anyone can free themselves from their vices, addictions, and faithlessness. You see the only one with the true and flawless faithfulness is Christ. That is why we speak about him as the author and perfecter of our faith.
The power Jesus had to cast out the unclean spirit in the boy is the same He uses to cast Satan away from us. We begin each service In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. This is first for us to see that God makes himself present here for us leaving no room for unclean and evil spirits and second to remind us of the great casting out of Satan in our Baptism. Luther’s baptismal rite has the pastor speak over the baptismal candidate “Depart, you unclean spirit, and make room for the Holy Spirit”.
These words can be spoken because Jesus has over come the assaults of the devil. He did not fall to the devils temptations in the wilderness but stood firm turning to the Word of God for refuge. Satan thought he was the triumphant victor as Jesus was cast upon the cross being burdened with our load of sin and guilt. Satan saw the damning wrath of God coming down on Jesus at Calvary. But Christ’s triumphant sacrificial death and His resurrection declared Him to be the victor over sin, death, and the devil. It is in the resurrection that the word’s “Depart Unclean Spirit and make room for the Holy Spirit” gain there efficacy.
If we try and trust in ourselves and how much we believe, we will accomplish nothing. And know that crying out “I believe, help my unbelief” is a good and joyful thing to do. To make this statement is to acknowledge the doubt that comes out of the human heart, but to recognize the steadfast faith found in the actions and life of Christ. It does not show the weakness of faith in a negative way, but shows that we acknowledge the need for our savior. This struggle between faith and faithlessness is what we call the Christian life. Just as Jesus was cast out to the wilderness after His baptism in the Jordan River and the Disciples faced demonic forces right after they had a heavenly mountain top encounter; It is thus we as Christian find ourselves in such a holy and sacred space here where Christ comes among us, but then we immediately go out and have to deal with the muck and toil of this world and our constant failing.
Now the disciples come right out and ask Jesus, “why could we not cast it out?” and Jesus answer reveals the pathetic nature of our condition. “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” They can’t even do the most basic of spiritual actions! Jesus points out to the disciples that any act from a simple humble prayer to a mighty act of casting out demons cannot be done without His authority. They cannot bring themselves to express dependence on God’s power but rather relied on their own and they were a failure. This does not make prayer some kind of magical formula to do things you cannot normally do, but by the simple and humble act of prayer one confesses in their heart that it is not by our own will or strength that we do anything, but by the one who was completely faithful in His life and death that makes all things possible.
It is in our stumbling, it is our struggles, it is in our doubt, it is in our cry, “I believe, help my unbelief” that the Love of God and the witness of the scriptures that we know the answer to Jesus question, “How long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? He bears with you till death when the struggle, when the heartache, when the constant temptations and doubts of this world are no more. And since we are baptized into His death we are also baptized into his resurrection. Jesus Resurrection shows that He was a lamb lead to the slaughter without spot or blemish, and our resurrection from the dead will show the compassion Christ has had on us helping us through our travels in this life.
The casting out of the unclean spirits continues in your life as you recall what was done and given to you in baptism. As you leave this place every week you find yourself in the wilderness of this world, you go down those steps into a place that does not show the forgiveness and mercy that is spoken in the words of absolution, it does not offer the good and pure things you receive in the Supper, and it does not curb you from anger, addiction, and faithlessness but rather encourages them. Despite all that you are here worshiping with all the company of heaven to hear that Christ bears with you in all things, in all places to the very end of the age.