The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 12-13, 2009
Text: Mark 9:14-19
Dear Friends in Christ,
When people think of demons, they might think of the movie the Exorcist or more recently the Exorcism of Emily Rose. Both are based on true stories by the way. In the case of the Exorcist, the author of the book took a real case and turned it into a fictional account. He set it in the 1970's as opposed to the 1940's and so on. In the real case, it was a young boy who was demon possessed. I’m not certain the cause of his possession, but normally this would happen because of dabbling in the occult. The parents had a mixed marriage on paper. One of was Catholic and one was Lutheran, but in reality they were nothing. They practiced no religion. The first attempt to exorcize the demon took place in St. Louis, and it was done by two Lutheran theological professors from Concordia Seminary. Yes, that’s right, two of our professors attempted to exorcize the demon. They succeeded initially, but the parents didn’t take things seriously enough and quickly were back to their non religious ways. There was no follow up instruction for the boy or anything like this. The demon returned. This time a Catholic priest was called and the family was required to sign an agreement that the child would be properly instructed in the Roman church once exorcism was completed. Today the man is a practicing Catholic with no memory of his demon possession.
Demon possession can serve an even more subtle purpose than capturing little boys. In the 1600's a German pastor was confronted with a girl that was possessed by a demon. He was exorcized the demon, but the experience of it changed him. This pastor began to teach all sorts of false doctrine. He became of the leaders of the charismatic movement of his day. He led many astray with his false doctrine. And so we must ask, who was the demon after? Perhaps the pastor was the real target. Thankfully, to date, I’ve never had to deal with a case of demon possession. It might make a great topic for a movie, but in the real world it is a terrifying thing.
Our text is about a demon possessed boy. This must be said up front. The symptoms look a great deal like epileptic seizures. Some have tried to treat this text that way. But if we read it closely, Christ Himself confirms that it was a demon. So as much as we might like to say that this was more of a healing than a casting out of a demon, we cannot. This was a case of demon possession.
The father of the boy brings him to the disciples. The disciples had recently returned from the preaching trip of the 72. When they had been out preaching they had cast out demons. But this one resisted them. Why? Was it simply too powerful for them? Did they lack faith? Or was their something else happening here? One possibility was that they were not commissioned to cast out demons at that time. They were sent out with that authority, but now that their mission was completed, did they still have it? So it could simply be that they were not sent.
The scribes were making hay with their failure. They were attacking the disciples for failing to cast out the demon. Their glee did not last long. Jesus comes and speaks with the father of the boy. Their exchange is interesting. Jesus’ first response is to condemn the lack of faith of everyone. The boy is brought to Jesus and immediately goes into a fit. Jesus asks how long the boy has been like this. We don’t know why Jesus was asking this. Perhaps it was a way of calling the man to repentance for some sin. Perhaps the father of the boy had dabbled in the occult, opening the door for his son to become possessed. We don’t know for certain. The ancient father, The Venerable Bede, simply noted that this child’s possession was a mark of original sin. For if we were not born under bondage to sin and the devil, the possession of a young child like this would not be possible.
The man begs Jesus to cast out the demon, if He can. Jesus appears almost to mock to the man, by throwing the words back in His face. But this is more than Jesus saying of course I can. The man responds by saying that he believes, but then adds, God help my unbelief. This is not the only time we hear this line in the Gospels.
What Jesus is doing is contrasting His own perfect faith in God the Father, with troubled, impure faith of the man and even that of His disciples. All things are possible for the one who believes. Yes, but you see Christ is the only man who has ever had perfect faith. Jesus then casts the demon out. The boy appears then to be dead. Jesus reached out and takes the boys hand. It should noted that the Greek phrase here is exactly the same as when Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead. I would suggest that we should understand from this text that the boy died as the demon left him. Jesus now raises him from the dead.
This is really a text about faith. What most Americans have is faith in faith. But faith, in itself, is just empty hope. If I trust that a rock would get me to heaven, I would be greatly disappointed, no matter how much I believed. Further, faith in faith is a form a self righteousness. One who does this is trusting in their own faith. In other words they’re trusting in themselves. Faith only becomes of value if the object of faith can deliver what we desire of it. So faith in a chair is not misplaced at all if I trust it to hold me when I sit down. If I trust that same chair to heal me of disease or make me smarter, my faith is misplaced. A chair cannot deliver these things. So for eternal salvation we must trust in the forgiveness of our sins given in Christ Jesus for the sake of His death and resurrection. This is the only thing that can deliver life and salvation to us. This type of faith in Christ is of great value indeed. It is of value because Christ delivers these things to us.
The other point that needs to made is that no human being has pure faith. Sin still clings to us. The devil, the world and our flesh raise doubts in our minds and hearts. So we are all really in the same boat as the father of the boy - I believe, God help my unbelief. The intent of Lutheran preaching is to provide perfect assurance. But human beings will still carry some doubt because of sin. But the assurance is always in the Word and Sacraments. The assurance is in Christ and what He has done on our behalf, and what He continues to do on our behalf. We can look to our Baptism, Holy Absolution, and the Supper and say, Ah, here is Christ present with me to deal graciously with me. Here is my salvation. If we look within ourselves there was always be doubt, because there is always sin. But in Christ, there is perfect assurance.