St. John's Lutheran Church, Edgerton
September 16th 2012
Grace and peace to you in Christ, friends in Christ...
“If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us”
“If you can! All things are possible for those who believe.”
“I believe. Help my unbelief.”
The heart of the exchange between the man whose son was beset by a demon, and the one who has authority to command unclean spirits, Jesus Christ, the Lord.
There are many ways to approach this text. We could focus on the power and authority of Jesus – which extends not only over the forces of nature, but also to things and beings supernatural. But demons are a small thing for our powerful Christ. He holds sway over death itself, because he has authority to forgive sins.
Or we could focus on the utter helplessness of the family, and how Jesus has compassion on those in trouble, and is the one, the only one, who can really help us. Other miracles echo this idea, “if you are willing, you can make me clean.” “I am willing, be clean”.
But as a pastor for 13 years, I've also come to appreciate the words of the man in this text. I've used this simple prayer of the frazzled father to comfort many Christians in doubt. For no one's faith is perfect. All are tinged with doubts and fears and, quite frankly, unbelief.
Take Peter. Witness to miracles and wonders, even to the transfiguration. He's willing to walk on the water, but wind and wave make him waver. He's ready to draw his sword and fight for Jesus, even chops off a man's ear.
But the accusation of the servant girl and the crow of the rooster cut through all his bravado, and he denies Jesus and calls down curses.
Or go back to Abraham, the paragon of faith – ready to sacrifice his son on the altar. Ready to pick up and move to a foreign land. He takes the worse land and gives the better land to his nephew, Lot. Abraham believed in God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. But even he had his moments. Oh, no, Pharaoh, don't kill me to marry my wife – she's just my sister, yeah, that's the ticket!
And then, there's you. You, the person in the pew at St. John's, here today. Now I've never met you before, but I'm fairly certain you can relate. You believe, and you need help with your unbelief.
Sure, you gather here, in faith, to hear the word of God. You listen to and regard your pastor, your God-given shepherd. He tells you about Jesus Christ, crucified for your sins, and you keep coming back to hear more. You gather at the rail here, and receive a blessed sacrament. It's the body and blood of Christ, pastor says, just like Jesus promises. And you receive it, for the forgiveness of your sins, just like Jesus promises. And this is all very good.
Someone looking at you on a Sunday morning might say, “Wow, what a wonderful Christian. What a paragon of faith! Others are sleeping in, but here you are. Others are out golfing or going to rummage sales or just catching up after a busy week, but you are a person of faith! You devote time to God! You must truly believe!”
If they only knew what sinners we Christians truly are. Show me a “good person” who doesn't sin much, and I will show you someone who's just good at hiding it. Show me a doer of good works, and I can poke holes in their motivations for doing them, and point to sinful pride when they're done. And if you tell me that a Christian is a believer, I can guarantee you that Christian, that person of faith, struggles to believe.
We all have our doubts and fears. We all have our moments. Like Peter, like Abraham, like your own pastor and this new missionary.
Often it's when your life is a mess, when the going gets tough. You may not have a demon possessed son, but you may be in the grips of some other demons. You made your bed of sin and now you have to lie in it. Or maybe it's the sinful world that has brought you trouble. Your world shatters at a sudden loss. It's hard to find God in the midst of the pain. Or you struggle to pay the bills, and wonder why God isn't helping. Isn't he listening? Doesn't he care?
Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief. I believe that Jesus Christ, true God and true man, is my Lord, and has redeemed me. Help, now, my unbelief. I believe that my Lord Jesus Christ lived and died and rose for me, and that he still lives and reigns, for me, but help my unbelief. I believe that now matter how dark the day in life's daily stomp through the sewer, there is light at the end of the tunnel, and a resurrection glory awaiting, but help my unbelief.
I believe that the cross of Christ is the help that I need, the help for my suffering, the help for my sin, and the help for my unbelief. For when I look at myself, and measure my own faith and works, I will always come up short, and so will you. But faith doesn't look to ourselves. We believe in someone else – the one who has the power, the compassion, and the will to do something for us. Jesus, the one who helps us.
“If you can!” he marvels. Of course he can. All things are possible for one who believes... in Christ.
So he commands the demon to go. He simply speaks, and it is so. His authoritative word does the job. His word does what it says. His promise delivers what if offers.
So does his word help you. That word, the means of his gifts. That word, attached to water, bread, wine. That word, in which we believe, by which we receive him who comes to help and rescue and save us all. Sins forgiven. Life renewed. Freed from death and the forces of evil.
If you are like Peter, and Abraham, and all the other people of God, you can pray this prayer, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” If your faith wavers, and it surely will, the answer isn't to look within. The solution isn't to try harder to believe. The answer is to look again to the object of your faith. To hear his word, and believe in him who can... and does help. Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief. In Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen.