PENTECOST 16, B – September 13, 2015

 SCRIPTURES – Psalm 31; Isaiah 50:4-10; James 3:1-12; Mark 9:14-29

 

I trust in You, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hand; rescue me! Make your face shine on your servant; save me in your steadfast love!  Psalm 31:14-16

 

Our Gospel this morning begins with Jesus returning to His disciples after being away and coming upon a wild scene. There’s a great crowd of people surrounding His disciples and pressing in upon them. They’d been hoping to see them heal a boy, but found that they couldn’t do so. There are scribes – Jewish Bible scholars – arguing with the disciples, probably saying, “See, we told you so!” There are His disciples, weak and confused by their failure. And, in the center of the commotion and the focus of it, there’s a demon possessed boy, foaming at the mouth and wild and furious in his convulsions, along with his distressed father. Such noise and confusion and turmoil! It seems to me it’s often like this today. There’s the noise of:

  • The news, of stories and events that are mostly sad;

  • Songs and games and shows, blaring from our TV’s and our phones;

  • Heated arguments and cell phones with loud ring tones, and people loudly talking on them no matter where they are or what time it is;

  • Traffic and honking cars;

  • Political campaigns and telephone robocalls;

    There’s also religious noise: of spiritual fakes and dangerous theologies and internet spirituality; of angry opponents to your faith. It all gets to be too much. “How long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?” I can in a small way relate to this cry of frustration from Jesus.

     

    The devil and his hosts are hard at work among us. When Jesus says of the demon that possessed the boy, "This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer," He’s telling us that demons are present and powerfully active in our world. Don’t think that the demon-possessed boy who confronted Him was an aberration, a rarity even in Christ’s day and something not seen at all today. Demons are very present and active, attacking especially Christ’s people and His Gospel of life. Two weeks ago we heard the apostle Paul urge us in Ephesians 6: “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil.” The spiritual forces of evil do not only possess people. Their presence and power are seen:

  • In arguments and dissensions in our homes and in our churches. They set tongues on fire with their angry and argumentative spirit.

  • Their deadly poison is spewed forth from the mouths of pastors and teachers who claim to be faithful Christians and yet increasingly deny basic teachings of the Bible that have been taught for centuries.

  • Their hatred fills the hearts of some who think they are serving God by destroying lives. The anniversary of 9/11 vividly reminds us of this.

     

    It’s no wonder that Jesus cries out, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?” Notice, however, who He was frustrated with. It was His own disciples, those who believed in and followed Him. Why was He frustrated with them? Well, He is one who has authority, even over the demons. Satan and his hosts are utterly helpless before Jesus. He can drive them out with a word; and He has given His words to us. Why were His chosen disciples so weak with them? And, what about you? Do you read the Bible? Do you listen to its teachings, take them to heart, and do them? How short we fall in this; and this is no small sin. Isaiah calls it rebellion. “The Lord awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught,” he says. “He has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward.” In other words, Isaiah says, I listened and learned and obeyed. I did not turn away from what the Lord said, even when it brought rejection and disgrace and spitting. “I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard… I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.” Is this your attitude when God’s Scriptures and your faith in them are challenged? Jesus’ words are words of eternal life! We sing and confess this as we stand to hear the Gospel reading. Stand on them! Confess their truth when you are challenged!

     

    The Lord will never abandon you as you do so. You can be sure of this, even though He tests our hearts and knows that we are weak and easily fall. He has come to help and serve us. "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!" cried out the father of the demon-possessed boy to Jesus. We could all cry out these words. Still, He helped the weak father and his son, didn’t He? Even the weakest faith receives His help. It’s only the deniers who are rejected. Listen to Him, then! Learn His words and trust in them as words of eternal life! He will vindicate you and make powerful your faith and life, even when you are at your lowest and think your faith and the witness of your life are nothing.

     

    I think right now of Maggie Karner and her family. Maggie, the wife of Pastor Kevin Karner of Immanuel Lutheran in Bristol, CT, is in the CT Hospice Hospital in Branford, dying of brain cancer. Last November a woman with the same cancer, Brittany Maynard, chose to end her life before cancer devastated her body and rendered her helpless and in need of hospice care. How she was praised in the press and on social media for making a courageous decision! Few know of Maggie or praise her. Why is she suffering as she is now? Because she has confessed with her mind and heart, and made her own in her body and her life, the words of our Introit, Psalm 31: “I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hand; rescue me! Make your face shine on your servant; save me in your steadfast love!” Though some may think that her acceptance of suffering is foolish, God will not allow her to be put to shame. He who vindicates His people is near her and her family. His face of love in Christ shines upon her, and she will be raised up by Him to see His face with healthy and pure eyes and praise Him forever as her Savior!

     

    This, finally, is your strength and your joy as you live out the life that the Lord has given you, carrying the burdens that He allows and enduring the hardships that the devil and his supporters throw upon you: your times are in God’s hands. They are hands of love that were pierced for you and took away your sin and guilt. They are strong hands that will hold you and carry you in times of trouble. They are open hands that will welcome you into heaven and vindicate you.

     

    Take hold of His hands! As we sang in our sermon hymn (LSB #533):

    Ponder His love!

    Take the crown He has for you! (Even if it be of thorns!)

    Jesus has come! He, the King of all glory!

    He has come to lift you up, now and forever! In His blessed name. Amen.