Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost 2015

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost | Mark 9: 14-29
+In Nomine Jesu+

For whatever else was troubling him, he was not shy.
The young man walked right up to me and bluntly asked if I could do an exorcism,
And if I could maybe do it this week.

So I had him tell me his story.
And it went the way they usually do:
Not much about himself, his life, or his faith;
Instead, a rich description of the phenomenon itself,
With all the details you hope for in a movie on the topic.

When I asked him what he had done about it so far,
He said that he’d gone to the Roman Catholic priest in town,
But when his answer was to pray, and come to church, confess his sins, receive forgiveness along with the Lord’s Supper, he chose instead to come to me.

I asked him, “But what if I were to tell you precisely the same thing? What if I told you that step one is for us to pray, and then for you to come to church, confess your sins, and be forgiven. What do you think of that?

“So you’re not going to do an exorcism?”
“Here’s the thing” I said. “If you would like to be free, this is where we start.”

That situation ended like almost all of them do.
He walked away;
Because he didn’t really want to be free.
If he did, then he would have been open to asking Jesus to deliver him.
He would have been open to prayer.
That, after all, is what Jesus likes best.

But like many of the people with this request, there isn’t a great sense of urgency;
because the demons in their lives are more like friends than enemies.
Which is why the evil spirit does not always seek to destroy the person,
like it does in today’s Gospel text.
Instead, the demon is quite happy to sit back and watch the person destroy himself.

It’s all the usual things:
Drugs and alcohol abuse to numb the senses,
Pornography and illicit sex to distort the mind and body,
Hate, selfishness, impatience, gossip, complaint, and pride;
He really loves that last set, because they seem to us so safe and so secret
No need for convulsions, fits, seizures, attacks, and all the rest.
There is, after all, so little struggle.

Now contrast all that with the Gospel text for this morning:

The father had brought his boy to the disciples and asked them for an exorcism.
And when even they cannot cast the demon out,
Then the father’s worst fears appear to be reality:
That they really are helpless in the face of this spirit – that evil has won the day.

Which is what the demon wants most:
to watch the father continue seeking ceremonies and spells, and magic potions until at long last, out of exhaustion and frustration, he concedes that he and his boy are truly hopeless.
Because torment like this is pointless, unless it destroys faith.

But one characteristic of evil is that it always overreaches
The demon has made this boy and his father feel absolutely hopeless,
Which would be great,
Except that this man’s hopelessness has brought him to the feet of Jesus.

His prayer is sub-par
Its the kind that begins, “If you’re out there,” or “If you’re listening,” or “god, whatever your name is…”
Which is really no prayer at all.
Jesus wants you to ask Him in faith.

That’s why He responds so dramatically: “If you can do anything! All things are possible for one who believes.”

And then we see that Jesus’ speech is supernatural!
We see that it actually creates faith, even as we struggle in unfaith.
It comes out so clearly in the very next verse,
which is one of my favorite in all of Scripture:
The man prays to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)

It’s not only a prayer. It’s a confession:
That not only is God alone the one who creates and strengthens faith in us,
but that Jesus is that very God.
Maybe he was reminded of Isaiah’s words, spoken to us this morning:

Who among you fears the Lord
and obeys the voice of his servant?
Let him who walks in darkness
and has no light
trust in the name of the Lord
and rely on his God.
It’s really very simple.
Jesus wants you to trust in Him alone.
To pray to Him; that He would keep you in faith.
that He would free you of the things which would enslave you.
So don’t try to confront evil on your own.
Don’t try to fix things yourself.
That will not go well for you.

Consider that in the verses just before this text
Jesus was with His inner circle on the mount of Transfiguration!
It was so great up there that St. Peter begged Jesus to let them stay.
But, as it is, Jesus instead chose to come down and get His hands dirty.

To set free the oppressed,
to release you from bondage to sin.
It is the love that brought Him down from heaven;
down from the mount of Transfiguration;
It is the love that sends Him to the cross;
to die for your sins and for mine.

And on account of that, Jesus promises you not only freedom from satan now,
But He promises you what He gives the boy in verse 27.

St. Mark writes, “Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he (ἀνέστη).” He arose.

In the Greek, that verb (ἀνίστημι) is the very same one used for Jesus’ resurrection.
Which means that when sin, death, and the devil, have finally done their worst;
When everyone gathers around your body like they gathered around that boy in the Gospel reading, and they all agree that you are dead as dead can be,
That Jesus promises to ἀνίστη you – to grab you by the hand, and raise you up.

It started when He pulled you out of the water;
There in the font, where you prayed to God to please do to you His anything and everything…
Where He made you His own child, who will never be alone, never unloved, and always free.
Free to walk with Him wherever He goes, wherever He leads you.

Remember, I told you that evil always overreaches. It goes too far.
The cross where Jesus body hangs is where Satan thought he won.
Which is precisely why we follow the cross in and out of this place every week.
As we rally around Jesus and His cross, we mock Satan and every victory he thinks he’s won.
We mock him by following Jesus our Victor to a new and greater Eden
when all darkness is cast out by Light,
where death is dead,
and Jesus gets exactly what He prays for:
All of you, home again with Him.
+In Nomine Jesu+

About Pastor Hopkins

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