Mark 9:22b-24 (Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost—Series B)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
September 16, 201
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Our text is from the Gospel reading from Mark 9:
But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” 23 And Jesus said to him, “’If you can!’ All things are possible for one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!
It was used in the 1967 film “Cool Hand Luke,” starring Strother Martin and Paul Newman. Now I have never seen that movie, but I know the famous quote from it, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.” The phrase has been borrowed and used in many movies and songs ever since it was first spoken on screen. If we had to come up with a quote for our Gospel lesson this morning, it would be something along the lines of, “What we’ve got here is a failure to believe.” And it’s not just a problem for Jesus’ disciples or for the father of the demon-possessed boy. It’s a problem for us too.
Jesus, Peter, James, and John had just come down from the mountain, the mountain on which Jesus “was transfigured before them, and His clothes became radiant, intensely white. . . . and there appeared to them Elijah with Moses. . . And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, ‘This is my beloved Son; listen to Him.’” After this mountaintop experience, Jesus returns to find the other nine disciples in a mess. A father brought his demon-possessed boy to Jesus’ disciples in order that they might heal him in Jesus’ absence, and they weren’t able to. Now the scribes were arguing with them. And Jesus’ words cut through the noise of the argument right to the heart of the matter, “O faithless generation.”
These are words that not only cut to the heart of the matter but also cut to the heart as well. O faithfulness generation—a generation that fails to trust in the Lord, a generation which lacks faith in Him who is Lord, God, and Savior. The crowd and the scribes are included in this scathing statement of fact, but also the disciples, the ones of all of them who should trust, but yet do not. O faithless generation.
So enter another member of this group, the very father who had brought his son for healing. He speaks to Jesus, “If you are able, help us [me and my son] by having compassion on us.” In other words, “I want your help, Lord. But I’m just not sure. I’d like to think you can do it. But I just don’t know. I hope you can come through for me this time; if you can, that’d be great. But I just can’t get my hopes up too high.”
But before we over-criticize this father for his lack of trust in Jesus we should step back for a moment and realize that this father is a snapshot of you and me. You and I are a part of that faithless generation. I know it hurts to admit it since we are all such good Christians here, but are there not times when we fail to trust our Lord and God? Are there not times we demonstrate a lack of faith, a lack of trust in His gracious love and care? Absolutely!
Sometimes we fall into the pit of trusting ourselves for financial security, physical safety, or emotional support. We don’t always expect good from God in every situation. Rather, we worry, doubt, complain, or feel unfairly treated when things go wrong. There are moments when we fail to trust that the Lord God will answer our prayers according to His good and gracious will.
When we stop to think about it, it seems that our lives are full of moments where we fail to trust in the Lord with all our heart and so we end up leaning on our own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5) These moments seem to happen especially when we find ourselves surrounded by life’s difficulties and troubles. Can I trust God to provide for my family if I lose my job? Can I trust that God will be with me if I get sick? Can I really know if God loves me enough to forgive me after what I have done?
Our minds swirl with questions and concerns, fears and doubts. We want to trust. We want to believe. But sometimes it’s just so hard. Sometimes the problems and the troubles we face seem so big and overwhelming—cancer, depression, anxiety, financial strains, lonliness, marriage crisis, family issues, drug and alcohol abuse. Then through the noise of our own troubles and confusion and mistrust we hear again the Savior’s voice, strong and confident, “All things are possible to the one who believes.” Even for me? Even now?
Do we believe this, that all things are possible to those with saving faith? Do we believe? Of course we do! We are the baptized children of God! We are marked by the cross of Christ the crucified as those redeemed by Him. We have received the gift of the Holy Spirit through Word and Sacrament so that we are able to confess, “I believe!” And we have also received the Spirit to enable us to pray, “Help my unbelief.”
We do have moments of unbelief. To help our unbelief Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins, including our lack of faith and trust in the Lord. The great good news of the Gospel is that forgiveness has been won for you by Christ’s shed blood. Your eternal life is secure because Christ is risen from the dead. So the cross and the empty tomb is your certain proof that God does love you enough to forgive your every sin, even your moments of unbelief and fear and worry. For it is especially in those moment when the Risen Jesus, through His Gospel Word, stands with the nail marks in His hands spread out to you and says, “Peace be with you. No longer disbelieve, but believe.” (John 20:27)
Because Jesus has died and is risen from the dead winning our complete forgiveness, we are assured that our Lord will also be present with us throughout life’s trials. In the midst of our doubts and fear Jesus is present through His Holy Spirit giving us His grace, His help, and His blessing. We have the assurance that the Lord will be with us during times of sickness and pain. He may not grant us physical healing, but we are guaranteed His grace and His peace that passes understanding so that we can persevere in faith. God promises that He will provide for us in our times of want and need, caring for us through other family members, friends, social agencies, and especially His Church through ministries like our Food Shelf Ministry. Jesus promises to us who worry about life’s needs, “Seek first [God’s] kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)
And this is never more true than within the Lord’s congregation. As you continue to seek first His Kingdom, regularly gathering around His Word and Sacraments, God the Holy Spirit strengthens your faith in your Lord Jesus. This congregation is a place where Christ answers your prayer, “Help my unbelief!” He grows your faith and trust, assuring you of His help and presence during the week when you are out the in the world at work and at play. He gives the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation in this place so that all of us are empowered to live for Him in our vocations throughout the week as husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, employers and employees. He enables us to face the problems and the heartaches and the difficulties of life with confidence that He is with us, and that He will work all things for our good, according to the pleasures of His grace.
“I believe. Help my unbelief!” Our Lord Jesus Christ has helped our unbelief. He has taken care of our failures to believe by covering us with His robe of righteousness that cleanses us from all our sins. He assures us of His presence throughout the troubles and trials of life. He strengthens us through His Gospel Word. And Christ meets us personally with His true Body and Blood in and with the bread and wine at His Holy Supper for forgiveness, life, salvation, and the strengthening of our most holy faith. In your moments of doubt, pray the prayer of every Christian, “I believe. Help my unbelief.” And Jesus will answer that prayer and strengthen your faith. No doubt about it. Amen.