Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Life of Faith Is a Life of Prayer

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Commemoration of Cyprian of Carthage, Pastor and Martyr
September 16, 2012
It’s a pipedream to think that everyone in the Church is going to see eye to eye on everything. That there will never be arguing or dissension. This is what Jesus came upon in the Gospel reading for today. “What are you arguing about?” He asked them. The point of today’s Gospel reading, however is not that we shouldn’t be arguing, because, what if Jesus shows up and He finds us disagreeing with each other? It’s not even how we are to deal with each other when we have disagreements or don’t see eye to eye.

There are plenty of other passages in the Bible that deal with that sort of thing. What Jesus is dealing with in today’s Gospel reading is something far more important. He gets at the heart of things. There will be times we feel all warm and cozy with each and times we’re ready to go out one another’s throats. But through all of that there is faith. Or perhaps there is through all of that the lack of faith.

This is what Jesus is getting at here in today’s Gospel reading. It is the heart of the matter. And you might say He is doing it by going for the jugular. He’s not exactly being all warm and fuzzy with those people now is He? “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?”

Wow. Just think for a moment being in the presence of Jesus and hearing those words come out of His mouth. If the arguments we have with one another don’t always make us squirm, the Lord calling into question an entire generation their faith, or lack of it as the case may be, and finishing it with the rhetorical question, “How long am I to bear with you?” will certainly cause some squirming.

It’s not that they’re arguing. It’s not that they’re having trouble seeing eye to eye and they just need to learn to get along with each other. It’s faith. Or rather, it’s the lack of it. It’s being a faithless generation. What’s striking in today’s Gospel reading is how utterly ordinary the setting of the argument is. This boy was afflicted with an unclean spirit. I have talked with people who seen firsthand demon-possession and the effects of witchcraft and other satanic activities. It’s not something I personally want to experience or witness. I have a hard time comprehending it when I live in a world where it’s ordinary to turn on a TV and witness images and sound coming from it and if I really think about what is happening I can only marvel at the amazing technology that produces something that I’d have to describe as magical. But in our society it’s ordinary. It’s the things like the spiritual world and spiritual forces that seem foreign and incomprehensible to us in twenty-first century America.

Jesus was going for the jugular in their lack of faith. And He is doing the same of us. We don’t really understand what it is. We cling to our own notions of being able to overcome our own weaknesses and sin and doubts, just as the disciples in the Gospel reading did, baldly asserting they were capable of exorcising that unclean spirit only to find out how powerless they were. And were those who were so secure in their own denunciations of the disciples any different? No, they didn’t believe it could be done but Jesus showed them differently.

The poor man whose boy was ravaged by this demonic spirit was caught in the middle of all this. “Lord, if you can, please help. Please drive the evil spirit out!” Let’s just say that there are a lot of people, and if we’re really honest, we might include ourselves here to an extent, who would be very uncomfortable to have Jesus as their pastor. The man pleaded to Jesus for compassion and in response what he got was: “If you can! All things are possible for one who believes.” Well, who knows what the man was feeling at that point. But against all odds, he cried out, “Yes, Lord, I believe. I do believe. But you’re right, I also struggle. I have doubts. Sometimes I even wonder if I do believe. Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!”

And here’s where Pastor Jesus again shepherds His flock, giving the man the very compassion he asked for. He rebuked the unclean spirit. He spoke to the spirit, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” There was no more rebuking of the man. There was no more crying out to the crowd of their lack of faith. There was action. Action by Jesus. Jesus, in His power and even more so His grace and His compassion, rebuking the unclean spirit. Do you find it amazing that Jesus drove out an evil spirit simply by speaking to it? We shouldn’t. When Jesus speaks, His words bring about what they say. Jesus isn’t driving out this unclean spirit by His power but by His salvific work. What Jesus is doing here in today’s Gospel reading concerns faith, not, “Oh look!, Jesus is really powerful, He even drives out demons.”

Jesus wants to put faith into those faithless people. And how does He do that? By speaking. By speaking His Word. It is the word that brought into being the universe and all that is in it. It is the word that also brings into being salvation for you. It is the word that creates faith in you. Those people were arguing, not because they just couldn’t figure out this demon possession thing and how to help this poor little boy. They were arguing because they didn’t have faith. Jesus came in and spoke, creating faith. Helping the man in his unbelief, just as he had asked.

The thing about Jesus as a pastor though, is that His ways are unorthodox. He does things in ways where we look at the result and we say, “Well, now it’s worse!” He drove out that spirit and the boy laid there lifeless. People began stating the obvious, “Now he’s dead.” The poor man, after all he had been through, now looked down on his little boy and saw that Jesus’ work of driving out the demon resulted in his son’s death. This was no accident. Jesus works that way. He doesn’t derive pleasure from seeing the man struggle with the emotions of his son now being dead, He simply works in the way He works because otherwise we would keep arguing amongst ourselves how we’re going to accomplish what needs accomplishing in saving ourselves—whether it’s from an unclean spirit or our sin. Jesus doesn’t just help. He gives new life. The way we have new life is by dying. Jesus took the boy by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. He now had new life.

And so did the father. The father was given faith by Jesus. What had Jesus said to him? “All things are possible for one who believes.” The man said he did. He also confessed he needed help because of his unbelief. Notice what his words were. They were prayer. He was speaking to Jesus. He was praying. This is what faith is. It is a life of prayer. Faith is not, “God, I have it all figured out, here’s what You need to do for me.” Faith is a life of prayer. Of humble submission to the Lord and what He gives. The disciples later on asked Jesus, “So Jesus, what’s the deal, why couldn’t we cast out that unclean spirit?” And Jesus said, “Here’s the deal: it’s all about faith. This is kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” The life of faith is a life of prayer. If you’re under the assumption that it’s up to you you are not living the life of faith. If you’re under the belief that you believe, but Lord, help my unbelief!, then you are living the life of faith.

The life of faith is not arguing with God. It is rather trusting in Him, resting in Him, being at the receiving end of all His blessings, grace, mercy, forgiveness, and salvation. The life of faith is not so much something you do—as in, you have faith, you believe, you pray—but rather something that your Lord speaks into you; that your Lord brings about by sending the Holy Spirit to produce and sustain faith in you. What it really is is what that man and his little boy experienced—Jesus coming into their lives in their need and bringing new life to them. The life of faith is a life of prayer.

What that means is that it is life in Christ. It is life united with Him in His death and His resurrection. It is life in which your prayer is not so much, “Lord, here’s what I need,” so much as it is, “Lord, I am Baptized, I have new life in You and my entire being, my entire life, all my needs are entrusted to You.” The life of faith, which is nothing else than a life of prayer, is really a lifelong calling upon your Lord, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief. I believe You give me Your very body in and with the bread I eat at Your Table. I believe You give me Your very blood in and with the wine I drink in Your Holy Supper. In this Meal, in Your Holy Supper, through Your very body and blood, help my unbelief. Give me faith. Strengthen my faith. Give me new life.”

He’s pretty good at that you know. He did it Himself. He died. He rose. He does the same for you, now and forever. Amen.


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