05 April 2011

Sermon on the demon-possessed boy

Throughout the Gospels there are many accounts of people bringing someone else to Jesus, for him to heal.
➢ A few Sundays ago, we heard of the paralytic being let down through the roof
➢ Yesterday’s Gospel told of them bringing a deaf and dumb man to Jesus

Today we hear of a man bringing his demon-possessed son to the Lord’s disciples. “I brought him to you,” the man says to Jesus, “and your disciples could not heal him.”

Note, beloved—in this the man spoke truly. To bring someone to the disciples, is to bring someone to Christ. It’s no small matter for our day. A seeker asks the right question when he says, “Where is the Church?” And we are here today because we asked that question.

But why couldn’t the disciples heal the boy? And why do our prayers sometimes seem to go unanswered? We learn the answer in the man’s dialogue with the Lord. “If you can do anything,” the man says, “take pity and help us.” Christ responds, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who has faith.”

It all gets down to faith.

The father in our Gospel had a very weak faith. The text is plain; Christ said, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I put up with you?” And the man himself said, “I believe; help my unbelief.”

Rarely does Christ work in the Gospel without faith. When he went to his hometown, we are told, “And he did few miracles there, because they did not believe.” Note: he did few. He works sometimes without faith, to teach us that his power does not depend on us; he works rarely without faith, to teach us that faith is the way we connect with him.

But what does Christ mean by saying “All things are possible for him who has faith”? Some TV preachers would have you believe this is a “name it and claim it” game. If you want a new car, believe that it will happen and it will. If you don’t get what you named, it’s because you don’t believe enough.

That’s a perversion of what Christ says here.

Faith isn’t a coin, and God isn’t a cosmic vending machine. If someone prays to be healed from cancer, and it doesn’t happen, that doesn’t mean they didn’t believe enough. For sometimes God says “no,” even to his beloved children.
Once when I was little, one of my uncles wanted to give me a handgun. (He was a few cards short of a full deck, as they say.) I thought it would be neat—when we played army, or cowboys and Indians, I could have a real gun. But my parents said, “No.” At the time it seemed strange. Now I understand.

What, then, does Christ mean when he says, “All things are possible for him who has faith”?

Faith, beloved, puts us in contact with the Pantocrator, the maker and ruler of all things, by whose will the universe exists. What we call “the laws of nature” are, as C.S. Lewis noted, but a shorthand expression for God’s ongoing will.

When we pray in faith, we seek God’s will for what we ask. And he invites us, as beloved children, to ask whatever we want—recognizing that he, our Father, might say “no” if he knows what we ask would harm us.

At our best, we cry out with the father, “I believe—help my unbelief.” And how does he help?

➢ By our reading the Scriptures. It was Christ’s promise “All things are possible to him who believes,” that led the man to say, “I believe; help my unbelief.”
➢ By our prayer and fasting. When the disciples ask the Lord, “Why couldn’t we cast this demon out?” the Lord told them, “This one only comes out by prayer and fasting.” All our Lenten discipline exists for one purpose only—to strengthen our faith in Christ.

Let us, then, renew our efforts in prayer. Does something worry or discourage you? Bring it to the Lord in prayer. Lay it before him. Cling to his promises.

Don’t give up, if it seems long; he is exercising your faith, he is drawing you nearer.

Don’t ask for little things; he able to do far above all we could ever ask or think.

And don’t be upset if you don’t get what you want. Learn, through prayer and fasting and reading the Scriptures, what he wants.

For in the end, the point of prayer is not that we get this-or-that. The point of prayer is that we commune with him who, for love of us, came to share our life…that by his death, we might share his life.

1 comment:

Ignatius said...

Dearest Fr. Gregory,

Is it right to see my willingness to sin as unbelief?
For those sins that wound us the most the earthly pleasure is usually most gratifying and therefore harder to abstain from again. Wouldn’t it be safe to say that the sins that are the deadliest are those that are most addictive, or rather that’s what makes them deadly? This is the general trap for our soul, is it not? Thanks to God in fasting we can see, and exercise on maybe a less dangerous scale, how this struggle of belief and unbelief plays out in our life. I believe proper introspection, to use a psychological term, or rather nepsis to use a churchy term, will reveal to us that we make a choice between having it our way now, in this life, or having life eternal later. What do I mean by this? For instance, our subconscious internal dialogue could go something like this, "If I truly believe in the Holy Trinity and the promise of Christ, and His kingdom to come, I know it is best for me to keep the fast; However, there is a chance that it is all just a bunch of old superstition and therefore I would miss out on eating this big juicy steak at this moment of my short earthly life." In the Western Augustinian understanding of sin, we die because we sin…in the East we would first say that we sin because we know we are going to die. Through this blessing of fasting, that The Church prescribes for us, is it not true that we can see how dangerous our unbelief can be when it comes to dealing with sin and temptation in our daily lives? Noetic maybe! This is truly a battle for our spiritual lives, one millisecond at time, isn't it?
Pray for me Father, the unbelieving sinner, as I train and exercise to fight the good fight. I look forward to your thoughts!

I love and miss you...I will be in Michigan during bright week, maybe we can get together.

Warmest wishes in Christ Jesus,
Rdr. Ignatius