Disappointment

Scripture: Mark 9:14-29

14 When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. 15 As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him. 

16 “What are you arguing with them about?” he asked. 

17 A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.” 

19 “You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.” 

20 So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.

21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”

“From childhood,” he answered. 22 “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

23 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”

26 The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.

28 After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

29 He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.

Sermon

Guest Preacher: Newton

We’ve been having a series on healing, and as this series comes to a close, I’ve been reflecting deeply on this passage. There is something which really drew me to the interaction which is at the core of any of Jesus’s miracles: The encounter of Jesus himself.  

If we take a step back, and we look at the encounters that Jesus has with the people he heals, you will find that in many of the stories, there is an emotional theme which we encounter again and again: Disappointment.  

The Bible gives us a lot of absolute statements: God will always be with us, God always loves us, God will provide for us, save us, forgive us…. 

How many of us live this way, with absolute certainty? Does our life experience validate these absolute promises? Or do we often need to give God a “way out” because we want to believe those promises but we often feel disappointed in God? 

[ Community discussion: When have you been disappointed in God? ] 

If you think about it, there are many people who were disappointed in Jesus: The Syrophoenician woman with a demon possessed daughter; Jairus, who’s daughter dies because Jesus stops to meet the bleeding woman; Mary and Martha, whose brothers die because Jesus lingers in a neighboring town.  

“My brother would not have died if you had been here”.

“I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.” 

Jesus’ response seems even more disappointing: he says to the Syropheonician woman: “it is not good to take bread out of the children’s mouths and throw it to the dogs!”

Or here: “Oh unbelieving generation! How long will I be with you!” 

How can Jesus say such things? How can he not want to comfort these people? They have suffered such incredibly loss.

I relate to the frustration of this father. I also know that my parents must have struggled heavily with this disappointment over the years as I’ve struggled with my own demons.

 [ Newton has chosen to omit in publishing a personal story he shared with the Community ] 

And here we have this story about this father. Who comes. And he sees Jesus and he says, 

“But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” 

And Jesus’ response is “If you can? Everything is possible for one who believes.” 

That statement must have hurt. I think Jesus means it to hurt. He puts it out there in a way that almost is designed to hurt the father. Because no matter what you think about his faith, the fact is that the man is here. Right here with Jesus. That takes an act of faith. And it takes an act of faith and desperation to ask again, when Jesus’ disciples can’t do anything. 

But instead of being angry, the father says one of the most beautiful lines in the Bible: 

“I believe, help me overcome my unbelief!” 

When you feel so much disappointment in God because you keep asking and you never receive. You keep hoping for some sense of wholeness which continues to elude you…I think the only honest thing to admit is that a little bit of us dies to the idea that God really does bring wholeness. So we rationalize it in a million ways: We’ll be whole…in HEAVEN… Wholeness is a never ending process and we’ll never get there… When I am hurting and I ask for God to heal me, that’s me being selfish because I should just ask for God’s will be done, and not ask for anything besides that… Maybe it’s not God’s will for me to be whole. God doesn’t really heal people.  

“I believe, help me overcome my unbelief!” 

And then Jesus heals the boy. And leaves, and goes into a room. And his disciples ask him, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

 And Jesus’ response is “This kind can come out only by prayer.” 

It was by reading this line that I felt convicted of how fervently this father was praying. That each act of prayer cost him. Because to pray again, to ask again, meant to carry with it all the disappointments of the “no’s” and “not yet’s”. And when he was able to say it, to say, “I’m asking but I don’t even really believe you can give me what I’m asking for”, and “I’m asking, but I don’t even know what I am really asking for”: owning that despair, and bringing it before God, that Jesus heals his son.  

The greatest mystery of all is that God works in our unbelief. 

Some of you know that recently I’ve had to move through a huge emotional change in my life. And I was very grateful that while I was walking through it, I was surrounded by people in this church who supported me. I had people in my recovery who held me up. But at the very end, they were limited in what they could do. My healing had to come from Jesus himself.  

As I was struggling, this passage came to me, and I shared it with Lacey. I want to share it with you today: 

Paul writes:

2 Timothy 1:11-13.

11 Here is a trustworthy saying:

If we died with him,
    we will also live with him;
12 if we endure,
    we will also reign with him.
If we disown him,
    he will also disown us;
13 if we are faithless,
    he remains faithful,
    for he cannot disown himself.



Jesus says to us, “Oh Faithless Generation, how long will I be with you?” 

This reproach is actually an absolute promise: Jesus remains with us, because that’s who he is. 

 
Amen.

Power of Pain… and Healing

Scripture: Mark 5:1-15 

New International Version (NIV)

Jesus Restores a Demon-Possessed Man
They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. 

This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.

When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!”

Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”

“My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” 10 And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.

11 A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. 12 The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” 13 He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.

14 Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. 15 When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid.

Sermon

Question for community:

Why do you think they are afraid?

The people gathered around Jesus, who witnessed the healing, who saw the man healed normal. WHY…were they afraid?

(thoughts from the congregation) 

  • 2,000 pigs floating and dead down the river would be scary. To see the number and force of the demons materialized in that way would cause fear.
  • The herd owners were probably scared since their livelihood was ruined.
  • The people gathered around were scared because they had gotten used to the demoniac. His being healed meant something unknown. They could be scared of what Jesus would do to them for how they mistreated the demoniac or how Jesus would do something to them. They could be aware of their own impure thoughts or spirits.
  • They were scared of Jesus because his power was so strong. They were scared of what he would do next. 
We know from ancient texts that the Gerasene people were pagan. They did not believe in God. They probably heard of Jesus, the miracle worker, but they would not have a Jewish religious background from which to interpret these events. 

And they are AFRAID of Jesus. They are afraid of his healing power because it’s unknown to them. It’s more powerful than anything they’ve ever experienced before.

Immediately following this story, they beg Jesus to leave. They are so scared of this power he has they don’t understand that they want him to leave them. 

* * *

Fear is an important emotion because it points us to what has power. In this story, what has power OVER us.

It would make sense to us that the Gerasenes would be afraid of the demoniac man. 

This man was trapped by a legion of demons. A legion means “many,” probably 6,000 soldiers – strong, fighting spirits that keep him trapped inside his pain. 

We learn in the text that these demons are so strong that not even chains and irons could hold him. The man suffering these demons was outcasted to live among the tombs… to live among death. Because he was unsafe to the community. He wandered the tombs howling and bruising himself with stones.

The Gerasenes were scared of him and of what he could do with that power.

* * *

It would make sense for us to fear this kind of pain. These demons that control us and cause harm. 

But instead, the fear in this passage is of Jesus. 

Those gathered are scared of Jesus because his power is greater than that of the legion of demons. 

God’s healing power is greater than human pain…

* * *

There’s a physician assistant, we’ll call her “Stephanie”, in Winston Salem, NC who occasionally would need to send patients to the Baptist hospital. 

Now the Baptist hospital is huge. Four times the size of her small practice at least. And so the patients would drive to the hospital and be so overwhelmed by the size of the hospital – the grandeur – that they would turn their cars around and go home. 

They were scared…
of the size of the hospital,
of the things inside, 
of not knowing what would happen to them or how they would get the help they need. 

And so they would choose to live in their pain.  Instead of going inside where healing would take place, they chose to hold onto the control that they had. Succumbing to their fear of the unknown healing, they went home. They remained in pain. 

When Stephanie learned her patients were not going to their appointments, she talked to them. She learned that she had to normalize this new, huge hospital to her patients before she sent them. 

She would begin describing the parking lot, the shape, where they would park. She would tell them where the drinking water fountains are and the bathrooms. The colors of the walls and the names of the doctors. 

The details and preparation helped ease the fear of the hospital so that they could get to the deeper fears of the treatment and the unknown. 

* * *

We’re a lot like Stephanie’s patients, like the Gerasenes, too… we are more comfortable with pain and suffering than we we are with Jesus’ healing. We sometimes choose to stay in the pain because it’s what we know.

Healing is scary because it requires us to be open to a power that we don’t understand. God’s power – that we can’t see, or touch…but that is there for us if we’re willing to seek it out. 

* * *

In our story today, Jesus heals the man by giving permission for the evil to leave. 

Jesus power is greater than that of the legion of demons. The Legion of demons quickly recognize that fact and so the healing is a simple transaction. It’s Jesus giving permission for the evil to leave and to where they will go next.

Perhaps we also need permission to be free. Permission to let go of the evil spirits that we hold on to in fear. Permission to be free from our fear and free to trust God more fully…

Perhaps this is the healing Christ’s power offers to us.

* * *

A mentor of mine, Steve Hayner, just died. I knew Steve as the president of my seminary, a visionary, my teacher, a mentor in faith. He was one person I can honestly say I KNEW believed in the power of Jesus Christ and lived each day of his life in faith. Trusting in God alone.

Just after Easter last year, Steve’s doctors discovered that he had pancreatic cancer. He suffered pain from the cancer and from the treatments for just under one year before the cancer took his life.

As various people and organizations bid tribute to Steve, I’m amazed by how his joy for Christ breathed life into people and systems. Without fail, everyone experienced Steve as someone who deeply believed in Jesus’ power and sought to live each day in joy no matter what the sorrow, or pain or demon he was to fight.

In one of Steve’s final blog posts he talks about the pain he’s suffering and his low levels of energy. But instead of succumbing to the power of the pain and lack of energy as a “Woe is me” he asked himself this one question –

“How can I glorify God today?” 
In my pain, with little to no energy, what is worth doing that will glorify God today?

Wow! 

Steve, for me, represents a faithful story of trusting in God’s power over everything else. He stood in fear and in awe of God’s power alone. 

In his leadership challenges, in facing the world’s challenges of violence and poverty and despair… Each day, he chose trusting in God’s power OVER trusting in the evil powers of the world. 

And in doing so, he glorified God. He didn’t let fear of anything – not even his medical scares and pain, not even death – take control of him trusting in the power of Jesus. 

* * *

Steve’s faith reminds me that our faith is a lived exercise. 

It is something we must intentionally choose every day.  It takes work and effort to trust in God’s power – not just in our heads, but in our hearts and our actions as well. 

There will be many things that hold power over us:
medical scares, 
financial scares, 
relationship scares, 
work scares. 

And in all of these circumstances, we can choose faith. We can name our fears – acknowledge their power over us – and we can ask God to set us free from those fears.

It’s a difficult thing to do, but there is healing revealed within us when we let go of the things that hold us down. There is freedom available for us when we allow for God’s healing.

My prayer for us is that as we encounter things in the world that hold power over us, things we are afraid of, we would ask for God to free us from those things. 

And as we become free from those powers, we more fully live into the faith. The ultimate healing that comes through faith.


Amen.


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