Called to Deep Wisdom

Lent 4

When they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and some scribes arguing with them. When the whole crowd saw him, they were immediately overcome with awe, and they ran forward to greet him. He asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” Someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought you my son; he has a spirit that makes him unable to speak; and whenever it seizes him, it dashes him down; and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid; and I asked your disciples to cast it out, but they could not do so.”

He answered them, “You faithless generation, how much long must I be among you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him to me.” And they brought the boy to him. When the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. Jesus asked the father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. It has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him; but if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.”

Jesus said to him, “If you are able! All things can be done for the one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

When Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit saying to it, “You spirit that keeps this boy from speaking and hearing, I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again!” After cryogun out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he was able to stand. When he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them, “This kind can come out only through prayer.”

Mark 9:14-29

God’s wisdom undermines our assumptions and takes us deeper than our efforts lead us. God’s wisdom in our lives is not dependent on our preconceived notions, our certainty in our faith, or our authority. God’s wisdom is given to us because of the genuineness that we show in our faith. Our genuineness to want to believe in the power of God. In our grief, God’s wisdom is with us. Not because of our strength or our ability, but because of our genuineness.

It has almost been a year since COVID shut down our lives. A year since we never would have given a second thought to the word ‘unprecedented.’ This Lent season, we want to take some time to dig into grief. We’ve all, I’m sure, have had situations in the past year that have felt overwhelming. Deaths where we could not hug one another, hospital stays where you couldn’t have visitors, big birthdays, anniversaries and moments where you could not gather. Our normal ways of coping with our stress and grief have been thrown out the window.

Maybe you haven’t experienced these situations yourself, but have felt the weight of them from society. People who are suffering with mental illness or are experiencing homelessness and cannot reach the resources they normally would. Children living in abusive home situations or others where “staying home” is not the safest place to be. There are many issues that seem far, far beyond what we can handle. They loom in the corner, waiting to overwhelm us. Or maybe they already have.

I think the disciples and the family were feeling like that in this story. At the beginning of this story, Jesus isn’t there. The disciples have been left on their own to minister. They were left on their own to deal with the crowds, the people pleading for miracles, they were overwhelmed. They were in over their heads.

The father had been dealing with his sick son for many, many years. He was tired, he was probably seen as a bit of an outcast. It would have weighed on his family, on his job, on his finances. I imagine that he is quite overwhelmed, too.

But the disciples and the father of the child dealt with these stresses very differently. The disciples wanted to handle things themselves. They wanted to show someone, the scribes perhaps, that they had the power to do all the same things that Jesus had the power to do. They wanted people to see them as disciples of Jesus. To know that they had the same power that Jesus did. And when it didn’t work, they are stuck in an argument about authority with the scribes.

The father knows he can’t handle it. Perhaps he’s reached a more overwhelmed point than the disciples have. Perhaps he gives up on himself more easily. Either way, the father knows that he cannot heal his son himself.

He must count on the strength of someone else.

And that “someone else” in this story is Jesus.

When we talk about gaining wisdom or earning God’s wisdom or being a good Christian or being good people, we can try and try and try and try. We can overwhelm ourselves. But eventually, we will come to a point where our strength just won’t be able to handle it anymore. Our own power won’t be able to handle it anymore.

We can wash our hands, stay home, sanitize, get the vaccine, isolate ourselves for an entire year but eventually, we will come to a point where our strength just won’t be able to handle it anymore.

We can stay strong, suppress our emotions, say we’re ‘doing okay,’ to those that ask about us, but eventually, we will come to a point where our strength just won’t be able to handle it anymore.

And every time we come to that point, Jesus is there saying “Have faith. We will get through this.”

Our strength is not measured by belief and our belief is not measured by our certainty that everything will be okay. It’s measured by genuineness.

Our genuineness in bringing all of our doubts, our anger, our certainty, our uncertainty, our happiness, our grief, our excitement and joy and our sorrow and pain. Bringing all of these things to God and knowing that God will show us God’s great wisdom. Somehow, someday.

Lent is a time to stop hiding our feelings, even from ourselves. It’s a time to dig deep into our spiritual lives. It’s a time to confess our failings to the Lord and to hear words of assurance whispered back to us in the noisiness of the crowds around us. It’s time to turn away from the illusion that we can handle this all on our own. That we’ve already arrived at a spiritually mature state in our faith. That we don’t need strength from somewhere else. It is a time to see ourselves in the brutally honest father who, even in the midst of his heart breaking as he saw his son convulsing on the ground in front of a large crowd, told the truth about the weakness of his faith. The more we become like him, the wiser we become.

Amen.

Sermon Questions:

     1. Our strength is not measured by belief and our belief is not measured by our certainty that everything will be okay. It’s measured by genuineness.” What has the word ‘belief’ mean to you over the years?

     2. Have there been times in your life when you have felt that your faith or belief wasn’t strong enough? What made you think that?

     3. Share about a time when you ‘just couldn’t handle it anymore.’ What made you take a leap of faith to help you get out of that situation?