Pentecost 16, 2021
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud 
September 12, 2021
Isaiah 50:4-10, James 3:1-12, Mark 9:14-29

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In our Gospel lesson from Mark 9 we meet a very comforting man.  Not Jesus this time, but rather the father of the son with an unclean spirit.  This man brings us a sort of uncomfortable comfort because this man is so much like us. The man’s son has a spirit that makes him mute and tries to destroy him and so the father brings his son to Jesus’ disciples to have them cast the evil spirit out.  The father has high hopes of deliverance, but the disciples are unable to drive out the demon.  The Jewish scribes, with glee, watch the disciples’ failure and seize the opportunity to point out their humiliation.  The scribes and disciples are locked in a heated dispute when Jesus returns from being on the Mount of Transfiguration with Peter, James and John.  The crowd, which had been interested in the argument, now turns their attention to Jesus.  Jesus inquires as to what is going on and the father explains what has happened with his son.  Mark 9:21–22 (ESV) 21 And Jesus asked [the] 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.” 

            It is here we find the uncomfortable comfort.  The father says to Jesus, “If you can do anything…”  The man’s faith has been weakened.  He believed Jesus’ disciples could drive out this evil spirit, but then they could not.  Now he is not so sure Jesus can help.

            How often do you find yourself, like this father, with weakened faith?  There are times when it feels like your faith is so strong that nothing could shake it. Perhaps just after worship on a Sunday when the hymns and the sermon and the Lord’s Supper have strengthened you and have fortified you for the coming week and you feel like your faith is unshakeable.  But then comes those things that shake your faith. 

Hardships and tragedies can weaken faith.  A family member gets sick; a loved one dies and you find yourself blaming God.  Your marriage is in trouble, your child is on a bad path, your finances are a mess. There is a natural disaster or a violent attack.  You grow angry with God and become more distant from His Word and His sacraments, and your faith weakens. 

Success, also, can shake your faith.  Things are going well, the kids are achieving great things in sports, you’ve gotten a promotion at work, there is some money in the bank, and God seems less important.  Your faith in yourself grows stronger and your faith in God grows weaker. 

            You would like to believe that your faith just grows ever stronger and more vibrant throughout your life, but you know that is not true.  You know that you have times when you are just barely holding onto faith in Christ Jesus. In today’s Gospel reading we meet a man like that.  He is barely holding onto faith.  His son is in trouble, maybe Jesus can help, “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”

            Here is a man, like us, who is struggling in faith. How does Jesus react?   Mark 9:23 (ESV) 23 And Jesus said to him, “ ‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” 

            What wonderful good news for you and for me. Jesus helps a man with weak faith. Jesus hears the man’s prayer and responds and drives the evil spirit from his son.  And this is such good news.  Jesus hears the prayers of those with weak faith.  Halleluiah! 

            The man wants to believe, but he just watched Jesus’ disciples fail to help his son.  He is desperately hanging on by a thread.  Mark 9:24 (ESV) 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” 

            What a great prayer.  It is powerful in its humility and simplicity.  It is honest and it is trusting.  And how does God in flesh respond to this humble prayer, Mark 9:25–27 (ESV) 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. 

            What wonderful good news for you and for me. Jesus helps a man with weak faith. Jesus hears the man’s prayer and responds and drives the evil spirit from his son.  And this is such good news.  Jesus hears the prayers of those with weak faith.  Halleluiah! 

            At times, people will ask me to pray for good weather or something saying, “Because you are closer to the Big Guy.”  But I am not.  Being a pastor does not make me closer to God.  I struggle with sin.  I struggle with faith.  This is my prayer too, “I believe, help my unbelief.”

            I know it must be, at times, your prayer also, “I believe, help my unbelief.”  The great Good News in today’s Gospel reading is to know that Jesus hears the prayers of those with weak faith.  This is Good News for you, for me, for the world.  It is Good News because we live in a world of people with weak faith.  This is a world filled with bruised reeds and smoldering wicks. 

            Jesus’ gentle treatment of those weak in faith fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah as we hear in Matthew 12:20 (ESV) 20 a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory; 

            Jesus is gentle with those struggling with faith. He is gentle with those who don’t have it all together.  Jesus is gentle with those who struggle with sin and temptation.  Jesus eats with sinners.  Jesus does not lessen the law, but He speaks the truth in love.  Jesus loves you so much he takes the penalty for your sin upon himself and offers you the forgiveness of sins. 

            And so in this world of broken, hurting people; in this world of bruised reeds and smoldering wicks; those who presume to speak for God bear a great responsibility.  Pastors and church teachers are warned in our reading from James, James 3:1 (ESV) 1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 

            James then talks about how difficult it is to control the tongue.  I could probably come up with a whole sermon series just relating personal experiences of my lack of control of my tongue throughout my life.  We all have issues with this, but whose tongues is James specifically talking about here?  The tongue of the pastor.  The tongue of the church teacher.  Those who speak on behalf of God and say, “Thus saith the Lord,” must truly speak on behalf of God.

            It is a great temptation for me to preach my own opinions and present it as God’s Word.  That should never be.  I must tame my tongue.

            For me, writing my sermons out fully, and editing and reediting the manuscript helps me to be more thoughtful and precise in my language and what I need to say.  It gives me time to control my tongue. 

            Because the tongue is dangerous.  James 3:5–6 (ESV) 5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. 

            Misguided pastors can set fields of bruised reeds on fire with false teachings.  False teachers lead people to hell.  There is a great temptation to takes God’s word and to soften it, to knock off the sharp edges, to make God’s word more in line with our thinking.  So many pastors try to get rid of truths of God that they don’t like.  They try to get rid of Hell.  They try to get rid of God’s teachings about marriage and intimacy.  They try to get rid of Jesus being the only way to the Father. They try to reshape God in their own image and then teach about this new god, but now instead of using their tongues to bless the people they are using their tongues to curse them to hell. 

            As a member of Immanuel you have a responsibility to ensure that what I am preaching is the truth of God’s Word.  You need to be so familiar with God’s Word that you will know if I have gone astray.  If you hear me preach something contrary to scripture, let me know.  There have been a couple of times when after the 8 o’clock service someone approached me to ask about a detail of something I had said that may not align with scripture.  I checked it and then adjusted the sermon for 10:45 AM.  Read and study your Bible, and listen carefully to the sermon to make sure you are always being given living water and not deadly poison.

            Together, as the Church, we stay alert and remain aware that what we believe, teach and confess is the truth of God.  Together, we cling to the forgiveness we have in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  Together, we are careful to be gentle in our teachings because people are weak and have weak faith.  There are a lot of bruised reeds and smoldering wicks. 

Together, as followers of Jesus here at Immanuel Lutheran Church and School, we gently speak the truth in love.  We acknowledge that we are all sinners who need a Savior.  We struggle to control our tongues.  We speak the truth in love and we trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins.  Together, we pray the comforting, uncomfortable prayer of the father in Mark 9, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” Amen. 

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