Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Life of Prayer

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 13, 2009
Mark 9:14-29

I imagine you haven’t attempted casting out any demons lately. Probably, you’ve never done so in your life. The disciples had. Why couldn’t they do it now? What was wrong? Why wasn’t it working? Things had worked so well previously when Jesus had sent them out with authority over demons. But now, nothing.

Why couldn’t they do it?, they asked Jesus. “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer,” He told them. So there you have it. If you’re ever in need of casting out a demon, you have the method straight from Jesus.

Does this imply that the disciples had not prayed in this instance? Does it mean that when they had been casting out demons previously that they had done so in prayer? And for some reason this time they forgot? Or that they had begun thinking a little too much of themselves and thought they could simply waltz over to the boy and cast that demon out?

We don’t know. What we do know is that they didn’t approach this situation in a prayerful manner. What we know is that Jesus cast out the demon immediately. Did He pray beforehand? Was he, as Paul similarly exhorts all Christians to pray constantly, in a state of constant prayer?

Jesus utters no prayer in this incident that Mark records. But could we see in Jesus’ cry of exasperation a cry of prayer? He is speaking of a world that is in unbelief, and yet, in that very cry we also see infinite longsuffering and mercy. “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?” How long would He bear with them? Well, as long as it would take. Here we see the life of prayer of our Lord Jesus Christ. His life was a prayer. A willingness to offer Himself up as the servant of His Father to a lost and foundering world. His cry was not one of giving up but of a longing for the people He created to trust solely in Him.

This life that Jesus lived consisted not only of dying on the cross and rising from the grave, His life was one of living in such a way that you and I cannot. And perhaps more to the point, that you and I are unwilling to do. We all too easily pronounce the work of God as dead when He is at His most powerful. How many times have we thought that God was unable or unwilling to act when our loved ones lay helplessly on their death bed? How often have we questioned His power or His will when we are unable to see the light at the end of the tunnel when we are experiencing difficult times?

We’d like the work of God to be clean and easy, painless. Instead, we see God at work and it’s messy and even brutal. When Jesus came on the scene and discovered the affliction of the boy He could very well have ousted the demon and been done with it. But instead Jesus prolonged the agony of the boy by asking the father questions. Then, when Jesus finally ousted the demon, He allowed it to have one last hurrah, so much so that the boy was violently convulsed and looked to be dead rather than freed from the demon.

And though the child was not dead Jesus certainly showed what His work is all about. Or perhaps a better way of saying it: how He works. Through death and resurrection. The boy they thought was dead was now being raised up by Jesus’ own hand. The demon who appeared to have so much agonizing power over the boy was now merely a wisp in the wind. Jesus did indeed allow that demon to shake up the boy so that we can see that even when it appears that the forces against us are more powerful than God that God indeed is the one who is mightily at work, and who Himself is having the last hurrah. This was a prelude for Jesus’ own death and resurrection. Satan Himself was allowed by God to violently shake the world of Jesus, even bringing Him to His knees in death. But who was really exerting the power? It was Jesus Himself. In His humble and merciful way. Choosing a destiny far worse than what that boy had experienced. Jesus took on that boy’s sin. And the sin of his father. And every person’s sin, including yours and mine.

Some had accused the disciples of being fakes, they couldn’t even exorcise a demon from a boy. People said worse about Jesus Himself. The one who vanquished the demon from the boy was Himself vanquished on the cross. “Come down from the cross and prove to us You are the Son of God.” None of this becomes clear of why Jesus did this and what it means until He walks out of His grave. Things certainly hadn’t been clear to the disciples. They asked Jesus what was wrong. They didn’t understand that their Lord was the God who takes on Satan and sin head on by dying and rising.

How could they understand this if they were focused on this power they had over demons? The power they had over demons had nothing to do with anything inherent in themselves. It had solely to do with Jesus giving them the power. They had gone in headfirst without any thought of their Lord and Savior and their reliance on Him. This kind cannot by driven out by anything but prayer. They were following along with Jesus, but did they trust solely in Him? Following Jesus is living a life of prayer.

The father questioned whether Jesus could heal his boy. Jesus could have shown the father what was what—that of course He could heal the boy—but instead said that all things are possible for one who believes. This is what the disciples had been missing. A life of prayer. A life of faith. A life in which you see that you are not your own, your life is bound up in the one who is in the dying and rising business.

If the disciples had any further questions; if we have any doubts still; we can see what living a life of prayer means in the response of the father: “I believe; help my unbelief!” The life of prayer is one of constantly being aware that we are ever lacking in our faith, that we are always in need of the help and power and work of God. That in Christ alone is our hope of living even though we die. Of help even when all seems lost. Of comfort even when we’re in despair. That little or weak though our faith may be, the Holy Spirit has indeed given us faith.

That we prayerfully approach our Lord’s Table, knowing that without Him we can accomplish nothing. That the reason we need our Lord’s body and blood is because there is nothing inherent within us that can overcome the power of Satan. That no matter what we’re facing—spiritual struggles, or problems at work, or frustrations at home, or struggling against temptations, we may cry out, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!” That as our Lord has lived a life of humility in prayer He will hear yours. As He has gone to the grave Himself and walked away from it, He has united Himself with you in your Baptism so that you also have died and risen. He sustains you in the faith He has granted you in body and soul, now and to life everlasting. Amen.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks - another great sermon, Paul.
Very refreshing after reading "The Shack" - kind of like The Truth vs. Confusion.