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LSB Proper 19B Sermon – Mark 9:14-29

September 19, 2015

September 13, 2015 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“And someone from the crowd answered Him, ‘Teacher, I brought my son to You, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked Your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.’”

Jesus comes down from the mountain where He was transfigured before Peter, James, and John. It was a majestic and magnificent moment in Jesus’ life. He reveals His divinity in a greater way than before. You might recall the details when we celebrated that event back in February: “He was transfigured before them, and His clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.” But when Jesus comes down from the mountain, He encounters anything but majesty and magnificence. Instead, He returns to a mess.

You heard about that mess in the Gospel Reading for today: “And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. And immediately all the crowd, when they saw Him, were greatly amazed and ran up to Him and greeted Him.” This is not what Jesus would desire to find. To go from the height of the transfiguration to the bottom of discord is a jarring experience, not only for those who witnessed it but for those like you who hear about it.

So Jesus gets to the heart of the matter: “And He asked them, ‘What are you arguing about with them?’” Just what could have caused this type of row? It all has to do with a problem that could not be dealt with positively by Jesus’ disciples: “And someone from the crowd answered Him, ‘Teacher, I brought my son to You, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked Your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.’”

“I asked Your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” The father’s statement reveals exasperation. He had come seeking help from Jesus’ disciples for his son who desperately needed it. And so he came to people whom he believed could do something positive for him. But when he does, all that the father finds is disappointment with what the disciples can do. And that disappointment eventually leads to the conclusion that Jesus isn’t able to help either: “But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”

Such disappointment and the doubt that it can lead to is not isolated to the father in the Gospel Reading. It is found among people today when people encounter Jesus’ disciples. That disappointment and doubt is what our actions can lead people to. This happens when we give off the impression that there is no difference between those who are followers of Jesus and those who aren’t. It happens when we don’t abide by what our Lord instructs us to do. It happens when we make false promises that can’t be kept since they don’t have Jesus’ word attached to them. It happens when we do what James spoke against in the Epistle Reading: “With [the tongue] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.”

When we engage in these type of actions, then people start to doubt that following Jesus is worth it or that He can change lives or that salvation is something that is actually given. This draws them away from Jesus and His work done for them. Instead of placing fear, love, and trust in Jesus above all things, they begin to reflect the same type of thinking that the father in the Gospel Reading did: “If [Jesus] can do anything….” And these may even be people who have been part of the Church, members of our own congregation. For whatever such doubts that we may have caused in the hearts and souls of others by our actions, we must repent.

But Jesus doesn’t leave people in doubt. He doesn’t leave the mess of the argument that He viewed unaddressed. That is what you saw when Jesus speaks to the father. When He hears the father’s disappointment and doubt, Jesus answers with a statement that is meant to drive the man back to his initial correct thought—that He can do something for the man’s son: “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” For Jesus, there is no “If”. He has the ability to remove the unclean spirit from this man’s son. And He wants the man to be fully knowledgeable and trusting in this.

When Jesus addresses the man, His words summon the man to faith: “Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’” And Jesus does what He is capable of doing: “And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, ‘You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.’” Jesus is able to do this for the man, as He possesses the ability to restore the man to faith. He is the Servant of the Lord GOD who carries the characteristics spoken of by the prophet Isaiah: “The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning He awakens; He awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught.” Jesus sustains this father who had been devastated by Jesus’ disciples not being able to heal his son.

The same holds true for those who are directed back to Jesus and His words of promise in our day. Even as much as people may be dissuaded from following Jesus because of what His disciples may do and the doubts they may engender, the Lord’s Word can draw them back. His statement is meant to elicit the response like the father gave: “I believe; help my unbelief!” But Jesus is not just about getting people to admit some flaw that they have. No, it is precisely then that He uses His ability to restore and revive—“to sustain with a word him who is weary.”

“All things are possible for one who believes.” That is the declaration Jesus gives to all who have doubts in His ability. He speaks it to you. That includes some of you who have had your doubts about whether Jesus’ work is effective for you. That includes some of you who were damaged by what others in the Church have done and wondered if being in the company of disciples actually matters. That includes some of you who have lived and known that you suffer from afflictions that no one can help and are desperate for anything that sounds like it has a chance. That includes all of you who have felt the sting of sin and guilt.

But when Jesus speaks that statement, He isn’t setting up a demand. “All things are possible for one who believes,” is not Jesus saying: “Try harder!” Instead, He is already electing the response from you: “I believe; help my unbelief.” And at the same time He is already starting to do just that. For that is when Jesus sustains with a word you who are weary. He restores your fear, love, and trust in Him. He leads you to call upon Him. But He doesn’t leave you saying  to Him, “If You can do anything….” Instead, Jesus is bringing you to the belief that He can and will. Your faith is in His being compassionate and helpful for you.

That belief is behind the psalm that you prayed this morning. That psalm is the expression of trust in the LORD’s ability to grant aid. It is what the faithful say about the LORD who has sustained them: “I love the LORD, because He has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. Because He inclined His ear to me, therefore I will call on Him as long as I live…. Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you. For You have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling; I will walk before the LORD in the land of the living.” Such words would flow from the mouth of the father whose son Jesus healed. Such words flow from your mouths when you have experienced the salvation that Jesus bestows to you.

The prophet ended his foretelling about the LORD’s Servant with an exhortation: “Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the voice of His servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God.” It is the call to faith that the One who sustains the weary sends out. It is the same exhortation that Jesus gives to you: “All things are possible for one who believes.” He has heard your response: “I believe; help my unbelief!” And that help has been granted.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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