Have you ever noticed how struggles in our lives can bring faith into view?

When everything is going well, our faith can run on autopilot. Church and prayer are part of a routine. Because things are going well, we fail to even notice. We simply do what we normally do. But, when things start to fall apart, faith comes into view. Like shining a flashlight into a dark room, troubles can illumine our faith. They bring it into view.

Normally, this experience is painful but positive. Anthony, who had stopped going to church, suddenly comes again. Why? Because his daughter left home without leaving a forwarding address. Kathy’s prayer life has increased dramatically. Why? Because the doctor found a spot on her lung. Troubles, like a flashlight, illumine our faith... and, sometimes, this is a good thing. We see faith revive.

Other times, however, we see a darker picture. Instead of faith getting stronger, it weakens. When trouble comes and illumines the darkness, we find our faith huddled in a corner, shrinking, and dying. Yes, many people have come back to the church during a family dispute, but just as many have walked farther away. Yes, illness has led some to pick up their bible, but it has led others to look elsewhere for healing.

When troubles reveal faith, the experience is not always positive. Instead of a strong and vibrant return to Christianity, we see a deeper questioning of God and a growing reluctance to believe in anything at all. Faith wavers. Prayers are questions filled with anger. Hope is just a dreamlike fantasy from which people are starting to awaken.

Today, Mark helps us see and name these situations. He calls us to stop pretending faith is always going to get stronger and recognize that sometimes it gets weaker. Mark wants us to come face-to-face with this ugly reality, so he can bring us face-to-face with Jesus, our beautiful Savior.

The beauty of our gospel reading today is how it reveals Jesus as the One who comes not only for the strong in faith but also for those who are weak and walking away.

Consider the moment when the father stands before Jesus. At first, the father’s heart was filled with hope. He brought his child to the disciples for healing. They had cast out spirits and his son has a spirit. Yet, they were unable to do anything. Then, his heart was filled with frustration as the religious leaders began to argue. While his son suffers, all they want to do is argue about religion: “Who can cast out demons, where, when, and why?” By the time Jesus arrives, the father has had it. His heart is nearly empty of faith.

The beauty of our gospel reading today is how it reveals Jesus as the One who comes not only for the strong in faith but also for those who are weak and walking away.

They bring his child before Jesus and the spirit, as if to demonstrate its power, throws the child to the ground. His son rolls at Jesus’ feet, foaming at the mouth. Jesus asks how long this has been happening and the father tells his life story. For years, his son has been tormented by this spirit. Sometimes, the spirit throws his son into water to drown him. Other times, the spirit throws his son into fire to burn him. Always, the spirit seeks to kill him. This spirit has taken the joy of childhood and replaced it with suffering, the joy of fatherhood and replaced it with fear, and the power of faith and made it seem foolish.

So, the father reaches down deep into his heart and brings out his very last plea. He says to Jesus, “If you are able, have compassion on us and help us” (9:22).

Suddenly, Jesus is troubled by something more than the evil spirit and the child rolling on the ground. Jesus is troubled by a father falling away from the faith. So, before Jesus does anything for the son, Jesus speaks with tough love to the father. “If you can?” Jesus says. He wants the father to hear his doubt. Jesus brings the father face-to-face with his faith, which is failing, so he can stand face-to-face before his Savior who succeeds.

The beauty of grace in this text is how Jesus holds on to people who are letting go. The father believes, but he does not believe. He tries, but he has given up trying. He holds on, but he also lets go. So, he confesses to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief” (9:24). With those words, this father brings all our weakness and stumbling, all of our doubting and grumbling, all of our reticence and running and sets it before Jesus... and Jesus, when face-to-face with our ugliness, brings us face-to-face with His beautiful grace.

Jesus is a Savior who has come to save. A bruised reed, He will not break. A smoldering wick, He will not snuff out. A weak faith, He will not deny. Jesus has come to die for all people; those who are strong in faith and those who are weak in faith and those who have no faith at all. When Jesus dies on the cross, He dies for the sin of unbelief so that, when He rises, He brings forgiveness to all.

The magnificence of this text is what it reveals about Jesus. Jesus holds on to people even as they are letting go. Faith is a relationship with the One who is strong enough to save. It is not about how tightly you hold on to Jesus but rather how tightly He holds on to you. And, as Jesus tells His disciples in John, all the Father gives Him He will save. No one will be able to snatch them out of His hand (John 10:28).

So, today, we can be honest about our struggles in faith because Jesus has come with His all-powerful grace.

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Additional Resources:

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Mark 9:14-29.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Mark 9:14-29.

Lectionary Podcast- Dr. David Scaer of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Mark 9:14-29.