Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Mark 9:14-29

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

A father comes to Jesus, and he wants Jesus to help his son.  His son is possessed by a demon, a demon which has caused him to be mute, a demon which has caused him to foam and convulse, a demon which has tried to kill him.  And so this father comes to Jesus, and he says to Jesus, “If you can help us, help us.”  But Jesus turns the question around, and he says to the man, “If you can!  All things are possible for one who believes.”  This father was struggling with doubt.  He didn’t quite believe that Jesus could do what He said He could do.  But notice what the father then says.  He says, “I believe; help my unbelief!”  And this cry of a desperate father teaches us a great deal about the nature of faith, about what faith is.

And the first thing that it teaches us is that faith is not something that we do, that we make on our own.  The father shows us this when he says, “Help my unbelief.”  He knew that on his own he couldn’t believe.  But the disciples also show us something about this.  When Jesus says to them, “This kind cannot be driven out except by prayer” (and some translations add “and fasting”), He shows that the disciples were trying to do things their own way.  They didn’t want to rely on God.  They wanted to produce their own faith, and they failed miserably.  They were not able to cast out this demon.

And so it goes also for you and for me.  By nature, not one of us is a believer.  All of us are born into sin and into death and cannot believe on our own.  And even after you and I come to faith, we still struggle with this natural sin, this natural unbelief, so that every time that you gossip, every time that you hate your brother in your heart, every time that you lust after someone not your spouse, you give into this inborn sin.  And if you or I were to give in to this inborn sin long enough, pretty soon there’s not going to be anything left except sin, except death, except for possession by the devil.

Faith has to come from the outside.  Faith is a gift, so that when Jesus Christ came down to earth, took on our human nature, and went to the cross to pay for every one of our sins, He then sent us the Holy Spirit.  And because this Holy Spirit comes among you, He gives you faith.  He gives you the ability to believe in Jesus Christ.

The father in our text recognized this, so that when he says, “help my unbelief,” he knew that it was by that very gift that he could believe and so that he was able to say with you and with me, like we said this morning, “I, a poor, miserable sinner confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You and justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment.”  To be able to say that and to mean it is a gift of faith, because faith recognizes its own weakness.  It recognizes the fact that we are sinners.

And so, “help my unbelief” is a cry of dependence.  We are dependent upon Christ.  He gives us the gift of faith, and faith lives on the gifts that He gives.  Apart from those very gifts, faith dies.  Now, Christ points to this with His disciples, when He says that “This kind cannot be cast out except by prayer and fasting.”  He shows that the disciples should have been dependent upon the gifts which Christ gives, that they should have resorted to prayer, to that posture of receiving, and then they would have had faith to move mountains.

And so, you and I also live on the gifts of Christ.  What are these gifts?  Well, they are the Word.  When you hear the Word preached and read, that is the Holy Spirit speaking.  It is Baptism.  When you are baptized into Christ and remember that Baptism, you are given the strengthening of your faith.  And it is also the Lord’s Supper, that when Jesus Christ comes among you and gives you His own body and blood as a pledge and testament of your salvation, He strengthens that faith unto life everlasting.

And so faith in Christ is a gift, a gift as much as your salvation.  And it lives on those gifts which He gives to us.  And so come, dear Christians, come and receive His gifts.  Come and hear the Word.  Come and remember your Baptism.  Come and receive His body and His blood, because faith lives on those gifts which He so freely gives to us.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.