Friday, August 9, 2013

Size Matters Not

The following is the short homily I preached at Shepherd's Heart this morning. The gospel text for the day (on which it's based) is Mark 9:14-29, in which Jesus has just come down from the transfiguration on a mountain and immediately performs an exorcism.

In our gospel reading today, Jesus and his closest friends have just descended from the mountain where Jesus was transfigured. Peter, James and John had gone up with him, and saw the glory of God shining upon a human being. They witnessed in the most literal way possible heaven touching earth. Before their eyes and ears and every sense that God’s glory shook, Jesus radiated a white light as heroes of the faith appeared and the voice of the Father spoke.

Peter wanted to build sacred tents to honor the holy event taking place right in front of him. It was a natural thought, as God’s glory had always resided in a building, a holy place that where God’s people came to worship. But Jesus instructs them and us in a new way of holiness by walking down the mountain instead of staying on it. With Jesus, God’s glory no longer dwells in buildings or on mountains. Jesus is the sacred place. Jesus is where the glory of God abides. Jesus doesn’t stay on the mountain. Jesus goes where the need is. Our God is not a god to lock away the glory and throw away the key. Jesus became a human being and lived among us. That means that Jesus brings the glory of God to the place where we live.

Think about this story we’ve just heard. Jesus and his close friends are coming down from the mountain of transfiguration and find a crowd listening to the rest of the disciples talking about a demon-possessed boy with some Jewish scribes. They have been unable to heal him, and in response Jesus gets frustrated. He’s frustrated because he has an expectation for his followers. He sent them out with authority to cast out demons. Notice that, technically, Jesus didn’t need to be present to fix this situation. His followers, with faith and prayer, should have been able to help this child. The healing and deliverance ministry of Jesus is a ministry that belongs to his followers. It is not beyond us because we are not God. It is not Jesus’s exclusive privilege.

A troubled father has brought his tormented child in search of Jesus’s healing power. Think about what the child’s father does and says. He has brought the child to Jesus in the first place, meaning that he has some faith already. He pleads with Jesus to heal him, but he’s not quite sure if Jesus can really do it. And Jesus kind of throws his words back in his face in rebuke. “If you are able”!!, he protests, “All things can be done for the one who believes.” The father’s response is priceless--“I believe; help my unbelief!”

I believe! But... I don’t quite believe. Isn’t that all of us? We believe. That’s how we got here. That’s why we go to church and sing of and pray to Jesus. Yet our belief is weak. It is half-hearted. And we need help. We need help believing. Listen again to Jesus’s words: “All things can be done for the one who believes.” But no one in the story really believes that well. Not the disciples, not the crowd, not the father of this tormented boy. Who is the one who believes perfectly? Who is the one who deeply and perfectly trusts God the Father? Jesus. Of course, Jesus. A sufficiently believing person can’t be found. So Jesus steps in to do what no one else can do.

What do we learn about Jesus here? He’s been frustrated by their unbelief, yes. He’s been working hard to lead these disciples in the way of faith, love and holiness and they’re still coming up short. So Jesus does what he always does, he steps in and brings the salvation and glory of God. Jesus, full of faith in Father God speaks to the demon and he leaves the boy immediately. Even though he is frustrated and disappointed in the faith of his followers, he has mercy on the child anyway.

Jesus settles the discussion between the disciples and the scribes. Whatever reason for this child’s suffering, Jesus shows up and delivers him. Jesus, the glory of God fully alive in a human being, puts evil in its place by taking authority over the demon. Jesus teaches his disciples, the scribes, the crowd and us all a lesson: “All things can be done for the one who believes.” There is a higher possibility for us as human beings--a life of faith means a life of victory in Jesus. Also, there is a deep and powerful mercy in the heart of Jesus. Think about that father’s words again: “I believe... help my unbelief!!” There is a higher possibility for us, but when we fall short Jesus still has mercy on us. Jesus takes the tiny, frail, imperfect faith that we have and meets it with that brilliantly shining glory that Peter and the rest saw at the transfiguration.

Most of the time, we will not feel strong and powerful and full of faith. We will most our lives have much room to grow in our faith. But Jesus sees the small faith that we have and he blesses us anyway. Jesus is the one who heals; he is the one who delivers; he is the one who sends away demons. And he mercifully answers our prayers, helps our unbelief, calms our fearful hearts. He is our good news. Look to him. Listen to him. Cry out to him. Call on the name of the Lord Jesus. Call on the name of Jesus and you will be saved.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

"You Have Not Neglected"

"For the whole creation in its nature was fashioned anew, complying with your commands, so that your children might be kept unharmed... For in everything, O Lord, you have exalted and glorified your people, and you have not neglected to help them at all times and in all places."

Wisdom of Solomon 19:6, 22

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

God on the Mountains

How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
who announces salvation,
who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’
-Isaiah 52:7

My friend Sam helpfully put this passage from second Isaiah in its exilic context during his chapel sermon this morning. It reminded me of the way apocalyptic literature functions to comfort oppressed and suffering people with the proclamation of God's universal authority vis-a-vis the humiliating political might of pagan rulers like Babylon and Rome. This passage is so frequently used in reference to Christian evangelism (I think Paul uses it somewhere in Romans) that it made me think of the connections between preaching the gospel and comforting the oppressed.

This cuts both in the direction of what is sometimes thought of as classical evangelism--Jesus died for your sins--and social gospel evangelism--Jesus calls his followers to support and fight for those in need. Both are ways of saying that the evil and the cruel powers of the world don't have the final say, but rather the merciful and just God of Israel.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Man in the Mirror

"He was given to fits of rage, Jewish liberal paranoia, male chauvinism, self-righteous misanthropy, and nihilistic moods of despair. He had complaints about life but never any solutions. He longed to be an artist but balked at the necessary sacrifices. In his most private moments, he spoke of his fear of death, which he elevated to tragic heights when in fact it was mere narcissism."

~Woody Allen, Manhattan

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Equipping the Called

Re: the disciples

"For our Savior's election respected not any merit or worth, but took them which were farthest off from likelihood of fitness, that afterwards their supernatural ability and performance beyond hope might cause the greater admiration..."

~Richard Hooker, The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, V.77.13

All I can say is Hallelujah.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Spiritual Food

"As long as the days of our warfare last, during the time that we are both subject to diminution and capable of augmentation in grace, the words of our Lord and Saviour Christ will remain forcible, 'Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.'"

~Richard Hooker, The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, V.67.1