Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Self Destructive Church?

ON THIS Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, we once again find disparity amongst the lectionary gospel readings available. Some follow a schedule that offers the scene in the Gospel According to Saint Mark where Jesus tells the gathered disciples his Passion prediction. Today however, having previously focused our attention recently on a healing done by our Lord, we continue with Mark’s gospel account of Jesus healing a boy possessed with an epileptic spirit. We thus read…

And when they (Jesus, Peter, James and John) came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd about them, and scribes arguing with them. And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him (Jesus), were greatly amazed, and ran up to him and greeted him. And he asked them, “What are you discussing with them?”
 And one of the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a dumb spirit; and wherever 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, and they were not able.”
 And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.”
 And they brought the boy to him; and when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. And Jesus asked his father, “How long has he had this?”
 And he said, “From childhood. And it has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him; but if you can do anything, have pity on us and help us.”
 And Jesus said to him, “If you can! All things are possible to him who believes.”
 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
 And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You dumb and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again.” And after crying 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 arose.
 And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”  (Mark 9:14-29)

Earthly Troubles…
The reading we offer here tells of our human inability to dispel mysterious manifestations which encroach upon our church lives. While the occasion is historically authentic, like many events that are recorded in the earliest gospel produced by the church, here we also find ongoing faith lessons for our own lives.
 In this text, we first note a similar pattern to the flow in the Old Testament story of Moses coming down from Mount Sinai. In the prophet's possession were stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments. When he arrived at the base of the mountain, Moses found the people had strayed from proper worship,
 In like manner, Jesus is described as having returned from the Mount of Transfiguration to also find that trouble had erupted. The disciples were being verbally assaulted by the Jewish authorities and the crowd. The followers of Jesus were hard pressed by their inability to drive out a demonic condition. We read in this account of how Jesus, once having been recognized by all, chided both the disciples and the boy’s father for their collective lack of faith.
 After a faith statement was then made by the father, Jesus subsequently drove out the demon from the boy. Amid the story, however, in the dust raised prior to that healing... we note several elements that were used by Mark. These items set his readers up for what would come after his telling of the Passion and Resurrection of our Lord.
 Notice here that the young man was said to have thrown himself into fire and water. For a people who first heard this text from Mark, after the fiery wonders that were exhibited on the Day of Pentecost had occurred, these two symbols possessed greater meaning. In this story the elements had been described as destructive; but the early church knew by the date of Mark’s writing that they were miraculously changed. They were made elements of salvation.
 Accordingly, the boy convulsed in a way that described the persecuted early Christian church. They who had been tormented and assaulted by demons could stand by the fiery power of the Holy Spirit… and were drowned by that same Spirit in the waters of the baptismal font. Like the young child who was seen as dead, and was then raised... so the persecuted church was seen to revive. They, like the boy by the power of Christ our Lord, historically had arisen indeed.
 In the text we encounter the central declarative that “All things are possible to him that believes.” These are words of condemnation... in that the sinful disciples had not sufficient faith to heal unto salvation. But the gospel relates to us that in Christ all things are possible. Pointedly, the disciples had not yet seen the empty tomb, and were thus unable to yet understand the miracle of Resurrection. They had not yet received the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost and been granted faith as related in the book of Acts.
Heavenly Response…
In response to their confusion, Jesus told his disciples that this ability to heal only comes to us with prayer. The prayer needed, however, is demonstrated to be far beyond mere human ability. Only prayers offered in the Spirit, and answered by the Spirit… are those with the power that can drive out such as strong demonic possessions. We take from this the qualification that any hope for a successful healing within a person or community of faith, one that show signs of fitfulness and confused behavior… lies solely with God and only comes from God. Healing power is made available to us by the exercise of fervent and perfect prayer! Prayer of this sort can only be done through the Holy Spirit, which is the Spirit of Christ sent into the world.
 This message concerning our prayer life is central for the church. During the time that Jesus had been to the Mount of Transfiguration, the disciples doing human works in the world had not lives that were focused in faith upon our Lord. Thus their ministry became an ineffectual spasmodic human reaction to evils in the world, offering temporary relief at best. This was the sputtering witness that existed in the early church under persecutions. Today as well, we of the church are called now to focus not on the heat of the fire nor the overwhelming of seas that would seemingly overwhelm… but rather we are to gather and recall the miraculous events that occurred through the flames of Pentecost and the waters of Holy Baptism. Through these miraculous events, salvation was communicated to the crowds that gathered. This is the clarity of mind that was given to the early church.
 Therefore, let us hold to the knowledge that we in the church today often toss about just as the epileptic child, and fail to grasp the meaning of what is accomplished by our Lord. We are now those who are instructed to stand after being near death. We are told to rise once again by the power of the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, done once and for all time by God for us... each to be empowered in our lives. Using that divine power, we are called to go forward in ministry with a renewed purpose. Having been healed in such a wonderful and graceful manner, I say to you that we in the church are to go joyfully in peace from the altar of Almighty God. Let us go out into the world... healed from confusion... to praise and serve the Lord!

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