The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 19 [a]) September 12, 2021
14 And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. 15 And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him. 16 And he asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” 17 And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. 18 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.” 19 And he 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.” 20 And they brought the boy to [Jesus]. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. 21 And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. 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!” 25 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.” 26 And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. 28 And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” 29 And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”
In the Name of Jesus.
The prayer to Jesus,
“I believe; help my unbelief!”
It’s the prayer of the father of the child speaking to his Lord in desperation. The prayer may be spoken by every Christian:
“I believe; help my unbelief!”
I have faith, we pray to our Lord, help my unfaith.
Faith. That’s the problem. Do you have faith? Do you have enough faith? Do you need to strengthen your faith? Do your works demonstrate your faith? How strong does your faith feel? Do you feel close to Jesus in your faith? Does your faith seem strong on Monday morning, but then on Tuesday afternoon it feels like you have hardly any faith at all?
Faith is the problem. Sin is not the problem. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. No one is not a sinner. We are all in our sinful flesh every moment of our life on Earth.
Sin is not the problem. Because Jesus takes care of that. He forgives it. He has taken all your sin and my sin up into his Body. It’s crucified it on the cross. Having taken it from us, Jesus cleanses us of the sin we have done and of the sin done against us.
So, have faith in Jesus! That’s what takes care of sin. Faith in his Word of forgiveness. Faith that he is a better Savior than you are a sinner. Faith that when the Law accuses you and presses down on you with your sin and blankets you with your shame, Jesus is there having his Gospel spoken into your ears, and coming to you in his Body and Blood—Jesus is there forgiving, cleansing, justifying you, binding you in oneness to himself and to his Father. Have faith in that.
Faith is the problem. Do you have enough?
The man gives us the prayer to answer that:
“I believe, [O Lord]; help my unbelief!—I have faith, help my unfaith!”
And then Jesus casts the demon out of the man’s son.
Where did the man get enough faith?
That’s our problem, we think of faith as a substance, a quantity, as something you yourself can strengthen, like lifting weights to strengthen your arms or drinking Orange Juice to strengthen your immune system.
Lifting weights and drinking O.J. are good to strengthen the body. But faith, how do you strengthen that?
And then we trap ourselves into coming up with the equivalent for weightlifting and O.J. drinking. Read your Bible not fifteen minutes a day, but an hour a day—kind of like lifting weights, the more you do, the stronger you get.
But faith is not a muscle. And now we’ve trapped ourselves into strengthening our faith by what we do, by our works, that is, by works of the Law. But faith is not the Law. Faith is over-against the Law. The Law demands works. Faith receives gifts. The two are not the same.
The Law accuses. It kills. The Law traps the sinner and covers in shame.
Faith? Faith clings to Christ Jesus. Faith holds onto the gifts of our Lord. Faith rejoices not in righteousness earned, but in righteousness given by Jesus and received as pure gift by the sinner.
In the end, then, we finally see that looking at faith is the problem. For, faith never looks at faith; faith looks at Jesus.
Faith never tries to count up its strength, faith counts all the gifts of Jesus and gets lost in rejoicing in the abundance.
All those questions we ask about faith—how strong is your faith? Do you have enough faith? Do you need to work on your faith? Faith would never ask those questions. Those are questions of Law. Those are questions of how I’m doing. Those are questions leading away from faith.
Faith never looks at faith. It looks at Christ Jesus and holds on to him. I have faith, the sinner says to Jesus, help my unfaith! At that prayer, Jesus cast out the devil. He cleanses the conscience. He forgives the sin. And having your sins forgiven and your conscience cleansed by Jesus, in holding on to that, in rejoicing in his grace and his giving of gifts and not letting go, that’s faith.
Faith worked by Jesus. Faith bestowed by the Holy Spirit. Faith that is always strong, even when it is weak, because the big thing about faith is not about how strong our faith is, but to whom our faith clings, to whom our faith looks and holds on to and will not let go.
Because faith doesn’t look at faith. It looks at Christ Jesus.
That’s all prayer is. Prayer is the voice of faith. Prayer is not a skill you learn, like learning how throw a football or make pottery.
Prayer is the voice of faith. It’s the voice of a Christian crying out, I have faith, Lord, help my unfaith.
So after Jesus cast the demon out of the boy, the disciples ask Jesus, Why were we unable to cast out [the demon]? [Mark 9:28]
And [Jesus] said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”
Prayer is the voice of faith. Faith prays to the Lord knowing that the sinner praying does not drive out the demon—that would leave it as a matter of the works of the sinner, which is, the works of Law.
But faith knows that the only one who can deliver from the demons is the Lord—the Lord who forgives sin and rescues from the accusations of the Law, which is what the demons use against us in our consciences.
So faith prays. How can faith not have that voice? Jesus, the one in whom we have faith, to whom we hold tightly for our righteousness, Jesus told us, When you pray, say, Our Father who art in Heaven, deliver us from evil, rescue us, that is, from the evil one, from Satan.
So we pray to our Father in Heaven. We know he is our Father by the faith we are given in Jesus, his Son.
We pray to our Father to deliver us from evil, from the evil one, from Satan and the demons, and we know he delivers us, we know it by the faith we are given in his Son who took our sin to the cross and redeemed us with his own blood, and then descended into Hell to proclaim to the demons that it’s over, that he, Jesus, is the victor, he has ransomed us from sin and Hell, and they, the demons, are condemned.
We will not now know this by our life of flesh. By our life of flesh, we are still afflicted by the devil; by our life of flesh, we are still stung by the accusation of the Law.
But, our life of faith! The life bestowed by the Holy Spirit, the life of the clean heart created in us by the hearing of the Gospel—in our life of faith, we look only to Jesus, we cling to his righteousness, we hold to his promise, we rejoice in his grace, and, in that joy, we say to him, I believe Lord, I have faith Lord, help my unfaith!
Jesus hears that prayer. He answers with his Gospel.
In the Name of Jesus.