Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 25:12 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
You can sense the frustration running through this section of Mark’s Gospel. There is frustration on the part of the father of the young man who has an unclean spirit; there is frustration on the part of Jesus; and there is frustration on the part of the disciples.
The father is frustrated that no one can can help his son. He says to Jesus, “I brought my son to You.” But Jesus wasn’t there; He was on the mountain of transfiguration with Peter, James, and John. “I brought my son to You, and I asked Your disciples to cast it out, but they were not able to do it.” And perhaps there is a deeper frustration, because this has been going on for a long time. How long has he been like this? Since childhood, which implies that he is no longer a child. He has had this deaf and mute spirit for a long time, and no one seems to be able to help.
We know frustration like this. Perhaps your frustration has also been over your children, or your grandchildren. This spirit threw the young man into the fire and into the water, trying to destroy him. Do we think the devil is not trying to destroy our children? He is, by any means possible. But our frustration over this or over anything else goes all the way back to the Garden; frustration because we think we can do the right thing, say the right thing, and fix it. We think we shall be as God. And the frustration comes when we can’t fix it, when we don’t have any magic words or actions. Frustration is from our limits, our inability, our unbelief.
There is a different kind of frustration on the part of Jesus. “Faithless generation! How long must I be with you? How long must I bear with you, endure with you, put up with you? Bring him to Me!” Primarily, Jesus’ frustration seems to be directed at the disciples, who are also frustrated: “Why couldn’t we cast it out? You gave us authority over unclean spirits before. But we couldn’t do it this time.” “This kind only comes out with prayer.”
Faithlessness and prayerlessness go together. Because prayer is faith directed at the one who can do something. And the disciples are apparently not praying because they aren’t believing. Instead of turning toward the One who can do something, they trust in their own inner resources, their own abilities, their own authority—as if the authority over unclean spirits was theirs, like it belonged to them. They were turned inward in unbelief, rather than outward in faithful prayer.
Prayer turns toward the one who can help, the one who can do something. But can Jesus do anything? The disciples of Jesus couldn’t cast out the unclean spirit. Maybe Jesus can’t either? So the father says, “If You can do something, help us and have mercy on us.” “’If you can’?!” As Jesus will tell His disciples later in a different context: this is impossible for people. But all things are possible with God. Since all things are possible with God, then all things are possible to those believing that God. God may do anything for you, because He can do anything. So the father says, I believe! He brought his son to Jesus. Help my unbelief! He realizes that what needs “help,” more than he and his son do, is his faith. Help my unbelief.
So Jesus does what He does: He rebukes the unclean spirit, and tells it to come out, and it does. But now the cure seems worse than the disease. “He became like a dead person, so that the whole crowd of them said, ‘He is dead.’” But Jesus, taking his hand, raised him, and he rose. Two different words for “dead” and two different words for “resurrection.” This goes along with what Jesus is about to say, that He is going to suffer, die, and rise from the dead. But before He does that, He’s going to pray to His Father in full faith, that if it is possible, for the hour to pass Him by. He prays, Abba, Father, all things are possible for you; remove this cup from Me. But not what I will, but what You will.
Jesus, the one who believes completely and fully in His Father, prays that God, for whom all things are possible, would take away His cup of suffering, but He doesn’t. Jesus suffers under all the attacks of the evil one, under all the sins of the world, and He dies. But just as Jesus raises this son of this father, the Father raises His Son from the dead. This is the one absolute certainty, and the absolute evidence that God hears His faithful Son when He prays. Whatever else we may receive, this promise is iron-clad.
Maybe this is why we don’t always pray: because we’re a little afraid that God won’t do what is right, or at least that God won’t do what we think is right. So we do everything we can to fix our lives ourselves, using up our own resources, our own abilities, our own ideas, until it all ends in so much frustration. O faithless generation! Bring him, bring her, bring whatever it is to Me! Where is our faith? By which I mean, where do we put our faith? Who can help, who is able to do anything? With human beings it is impossible, but with all God all things are possible, and all things are possible for God toward the one who believes. Help my unbelief!
In our frustration, prayer is faith turned away from our inability toward God’s ability. Do not worry about whether your prayers are “wrong.” Simply pray to the one who hears, who is your dear Father. He will sort it all out according to His own good will in Jesus Christ. Do not be afraid. Listen to Isaiah: Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of Yahweh and rely on his God. In the darkness, in the frustration, there is only One who is able to help, the One who has compassion.
Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord! We may not hear firm answers, or see clear fixes, or have it the way we want it. The question is not whether God will do what we want Him to do. It is the location of our faith, and it is faith that turns prayer toward Him. In the darkness, when there is no light, when we have no answers, in our frustration: trust in the Name of Yahweh, which He has put on you, and rely on your God. He has given you the eternal life of His Son in His Body and Blood. How would He not listen to you, and along with His Son, give you everything else? The God of all the earth will do right; in His compassion He will help.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 9/10/21