If you can! Really? Bring it! Mark 9 First Saint Johns September 13, 2015

[To hear the audio version of this sermon click on the above link]

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who know that Jesus can said … AMEN!

We often read Scripture in sort of bland/vanilla terms. In today’s Gospel reading we have a father whose son has been tormented, tortured, used, abused, just completely beaten down. No doubt the father is absolutely beside himself with fear and, complete hopelessness. My mother has had issues with epilepsy. The symptoms have been under control for many years, but I remember as a child that she had severe seizures. You can imagine as a child these episodes were very distressing for me and certainly very upsetting experience for my mother. There was only so much I could do as a child. But in this pericope I’m sure the father felt severe dejection. Dads are supposed to take control, fix things and you can imagine how helpless and hopeless the father felt. My mother’s symptoms were serious, but the description that we see of the son’s symptoms were even more serious. Some were classical symptoms of seizures, but there were far more serious issues with the son. He was being literally picked up and thrown down, I played football in my youth, tight end, basketball, basic military training and a little martial arts, I know full well how it feels for someone to put me to the ground. But we were usually fairly equal and I often had padding and was conditioned for it, it hurt, but it wasn’t continuous, or someone trying to seriously injure or kill me. I don’t think they were. The Greek word used to describe the son is paidi,on which means not just a child, but a young child. We’d probably guess no more than ten/eleven years old. So this probably physically small child is literally getting bounced off the walls and the demon even tries to throw him into the fire to burn him or into the water to drown him. In addition to being mute. This little boy was being treated hellaciously and dad was constantly a witness to this, no doubt trying to wrestle his son away from this supernatural power, do doubt failing most of the time and probably being hurt himself in the process. We can imagine the pain the child is going through, quite possibly to the extent of broken bones, stitches, maybe even more serious and the parents trying to protect and restore to health.

We should certainly empathize with the father, he was in a very difficult situation, which he says had been going on since the boy was a child, the Greek isn’t specific here, but perhaps since he was a toddler. Either way we would have to suppose that it had been going on for probably years. So we can certainly understand that the father is at his wits end. Jesus has just come down from the Transfiguration, this momentous event that we celebrate every year. It is coming down to the end of Jesus’ incarnational ministry, He is focused on the Cross, so perhaps in a way He is a little distracted, but also affirmed and glorified by God the Father. The boy’s father seems to know who Jesus is, He tells Jesus straight out that he has brought his son to Him for healing. So certainly the father is aware of what Jesus has done. According to Mark, Jesus has taught new teachings, that only God could introduce. Jesus and God the Father have made it clear who Jesus is. Mark has recounted how Jesus has freed others from Satan and his demons. Jesus has calmed the storm, He has raised the dead, healed many, fed over 5,000, walked on the water, healed the lepers, given faith to many, forgiven the sins of many, healed blind and deaf men, Peter has confessed who Jesus is and now this father brings his son and says: “But if you can do anything and have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus must have been a little put out and his response seems to indicate a little irritation: “If you can!” Jesus’ isn’t asking a question, He’s making what seems to be an incredulous declaration. In the Driskell translation I’m seeing Jesus saying: “Really? If I can! I know that you are weary and desperate and have gone through a terrible situation, but obviously you’ve heard all the other things. You couldn’t come to me and say; ‘I know you can heal my son who has gone through so much affliction, You have given me the faith I need to bring my son to You and I am trusting that according to Your will do what is necessary relating to my son.” And certainly the father does respond, that he does have faith, he did bring his son, “but please help me to have and keep faith in You and in Your will.” But let’s face it, too often we do put limits on what God can do in our lives. We need to remember that it is always according to His will.

Does faith mean that God is always going to act according to our will, that He is always going to heal, or that He is going to provide for us according to our agenda? Faith is trusting in His will, faith is looking for what His plan is according to what is happening. A Wisconsin fishing guide points out: “The only thing that casts doubt on the miracles of Jesus is that they were all witnessed by fishermen.”[1] That’s not true. We have God’s inspired Word in the Gospel, He inspired men to write about the miracles that Jesus did and we know through our faith that Jesus continues to heal, not always the body, but for those He leads He heals the soul and gives us the faith we need to trust and be led by Him, to have the hope and promise that only He gives us. Sure our human weakness gets in the way. When that happens let’s look back at the beleaguered father’s example and pray: “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief.” St Augustine observes: “If one can pray so that one may cast out another demon, how much more should one pray that one’s own demons be cast out.”[2] Jesus told His disciples they needed to pray to cast out the demon afflicting this boy, certainly He is telling us, His disciples, to pray, in faith, that He will cast out the demons that afflict ourselves and always to pray for healing for others. Jesus can! He died to save us to everlasting salvation, He died to save us who are sinners and sin in our own will and who are led to sin by evil beings. He can and does save us and heal us, through His grace, His people who He does give faith to believe and to trust in His will.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom.

[1] Rowell and Steffen   “Humor for Preaching and Teaching” p 57

[2] Simonetti, Manlio  quoting St Augustine “Ancient Christian Commentary NT 1b” p 59

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