Sermon for April 7, 2019
Texts: Isaiah 40:28-31; Psalm 116:1-9; Mark 9:14-29
Sermon: "Help My Unbelief!"
Jesus walks into chaos. It is something he does well. He heals the blind, cures the leper, and makes the lame walk. He casts out evil spirits. The stormy sea is under his control. So is the hungry crowd even when no one else believes there is food within ten miles of the place.
Jesus walks into chaos and brings order and calm. He brings peace and assurance. He takes a situation that seems impossible and turns it on its ear. Jesus can do it.
So it is no wonder that when Jesus walks into the chaos that day and finds the people arguing noisily among themselves that even before he can say a word, this is what happens. This is what Mark writes in verse 15:
"When the whole crowd saw him, they were immediately overcome with awe, and they ran forward to greet him."
I am not suggesting that you will see Jesus physically walking into our door and down the center aisle this morning, but I want to ask you to assume Jesus is here; assume Jesus has come; Jesus has walked into the chaos of my life and yours.
What will you say to Jesus, what questions will you have, what will you ask Jesus to do for you or for someone you love? If Jesus leans toward you and asks for you to open your heart to him, just what do you have to give him this morning?
The father that day as Mark tells the story in his Gospel has a sick child. That is why he is there. He may already have tried everything he knows to do. But he has heard of Jesus and thinks that maybe Jesus can do something for his son.
The father has a real need. But he is not sure exactly what faith is all about. He wants to have faith but sometimes, especially when there are problems like the sick child, he doesn't think so much about what he believes but about what he wants, about what he needs.
He wants Jesus to help him. He needs Jesus to help him.
The father says, "If you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us."
Notice what Jesus says in return: "If you are able! All things can be done for the one who believes."
And the father cries out, "I believe; help my unbelief!"
The father struggles with faith "if you are able" he says.
But Jesus knows the father's heart. And he understands the doubt. Jesus knows the struggle -- just as he knows ours.
Especially when we wait for things to happen the way we want them to happen; especially when we are looking for a miracle and don't get one; especially when we find our hearts stripped of hope and wonder where we are going to turn to get our faith back -- especially in those times, Jesus knows our hearts.
The father's faith is imperfect. He is struggling. But he cries out in desperation that he does believe that Jesus can help. But he cries at the same time for help to know faithfulness, for help so that his faith might be more complete and might chase the doubt from his heart.
I read this week about a prison ministry organized in a large church.
The ministry divides its members into teams.
Each team is assigned to someone coming out of prison after serving a sentence -- ex-convicts, paired with church people who surround them with love and help them work their ways into new lives as new citizens, working toward wholeness and happiness.
It was a good program. But there were failures. And when one of the ex-convicts had to return to prison, there was weeping over what was perceived as failure of faith.
How often have we wanted to weep?
A beautiful plan was put into place.
Dedicated, faithful volunteers helped to create the plan and carry it forth.
And still, it fizzled. It did not seem to change anyone or anything.
And so in such cases we ask, did we not have enough faith?
If Jesus walked down the aisle and stopped to speak to you about this, what would you ask him? Do you want to know what faith is all about, really? Do you want to know if it's okay that sometimes you have doubts?
The father's faith was imperfect. But it was enough. The father confessed that he believed. And he confessed that he needed strength to help him in times of doubt. It is one of the powerful prayers in the Bible that we can make our own: "I believe! Help my unbelief!"
Jesus saw that the father's faith was enough.
Jesus had taught the disciples and had given the disciples the power to heal and cure diseases in his name. But the disciples could not cure the child that day. They forgot the most important thing, Jesus told them.
"Why could we not cast out the demon," they asked?
"This kind can come out only through prayer," Jesus answered.
Of course, we know that Jesus did not mean that prayer is a magic formula. Prayer does not work that way. The other caution about this story is this: When we pray and feel that a prayer is not answered, that does not mean that we have not had enough faith! No!
For reasons that we cannot know, reasons only God knows, what we pray for is not always what we get. Sometimes prayer does seem to go unanswered.
But here is an image to keep in your heart. Imagine the faithful prayers that are lifted for all who are on the prayer list. Imagine the prayers that are lifted as we ask for special prayers for someone at a particularly critical time. The prayer seems to go unanswered. The illness is not cured. Recovery does not occur. Sorrow fills many hearts.
And yet -- just imagine that the person for whom we pray -- who dies as we have continued to send prayers during the difficult struggle against death -- dies being accompanied by the prayers of all those who have been praying for recovery.
Yes, every Bible story has a lesson. This one has at least two. The lessons are about faith and about prayer. Jesus might as well have walked down the aisle and accompanied us right through this lesson. It is his lesson.
Faith is a paradox -- entering our hearts as God's gift of mercy and grace through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit; and at the same time pulling from the depths of our heart responses of trust and gratitude toward God, so that we are inspired to acts of love toward others.
But faith can be paradoxical in the way the man with a sick child knew in this story, the faith that can be riddled with doubt. What could be more a paradox: "I believe. Help my unbelief." Faith sends us ever seeking God.
When we experience God through Jesus Christ, we begin to grasp something about the meaning of faith -- that trust, that hope, that belief that God does and will care for us as his children.
God wants our faith to grow.
We cannot know everything we need to know as a community of faith. If we think we already know everything God expects, our deeds will be dull and stale -- instead of joyous and compassionate.
Yes, Jesus walks into chaos and brings order and calm. He brings peace and assurance. He takes a situation that seems impossible and turns it on its ear. Jesus can do it. What do you need from him this morning?
We will come to the Lord's Table today to be nurtured in his abiding love for us. Let us come out to meet him as the crowd did that day. Let us, too, be overcome with awe at his presence with us. Let us go forward to greet him. We seek him as we pray: In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.