“Power Failure”: A sermon on Mark 9:14-29
One year ago, we had both Hurricane Irene and the October Snowstorm. Both of those events caused massive power failures. The lights went out, and we all sat in darkness. I’m sure you remember dealing with the power outages, and all the inconvenience of not having electricity. A long-term power failure means that you not only lose electricity, but you also lose the water. And then, you’re really stuck.
After Hurricane Irene came through, I remember the frustration of realizing that I didn’t have enough batteries in the house. Without flashlights, you have to rely on candles. And candles are a poor substitute for a bright and clear light.
In today’s Gospel reading, we see how some of the disciples had a power failure. They were unable to help a man who had a demon-possessed son. The lights went out for them, and they sat in the dark. They were frustrated and confused. In the end, their problem was a lack of faith.
To set the stage for our story today, we need to realize that Jesus had just been up on the Mount of Transfiguration with Peter, James, and John. It was a tremendous experience for those three disciples; they saw Jesus transfigured before them. The bright and clear light of God was revealed as Christ shined with glory and power. Here was a brief glimpse of the divinity of the Son of God.
Afterwards, when they came down the mountain, they arrived in the valley below. There they saw the other disciples surrounded by a crowd. The disciples were arguing with the scribes about something. Jesus asks what the argument is about.
A man in the crowd steps forward and says, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams at the mouth and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, but they were not able.” In frustration, Jesus responds by saying, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?”
Now this is surprising response. It is unexpected and somewhat puzzling. But I believe these words of Jesus are aimed, not at the father of the boy, but at the disciples of Jesus. They had just experienced a power failure because they lacked faith. They were baffled and confused and filled with doubt. That’s why they were not able to cast out this evil spirit.
It wasn’t that long ago that the Lord had given the 12 disciples power and authority over demons. Jesus had sent them out on a special mission trip. He sent them forth into the towns and villages, and they went forth and not only proclaimed the Gospel, but they also successfully drove out demons.
It was evident the disciples had received the power of Christ. But in this one case, they had a power failure and they could not drive the demon from this boy. Afterwards, they asked Jesus privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” And Jesus replied, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”
It seems like the disciples had taken the power of Christ for granted. They no longer depended prayerfully upon the Lord Jesus. They no longer prayed, “Lord, help me to share your gift of love and compassion, help me to live in your power and light, help me to follow your Word.” Perhaps they started to rely on their own power and strength. Perhaps they thought that once you receive the power of Christ, it will always be there for you, no matter what.
A lot of Christians seem to think that way. They think once you’re baptized and confirmed, then that’s good enough. They think, “I don’t need to pray anymore. I don’t need worship or Holy Communion. I don’t need to have faith or follow God’s Word.” But we know that’s not true.
Martin Luther once said, “This life, therefore is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness, not health but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise; we are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it; the process is not yet finished, but it is going on; this is the not the end, but it is the road; all does not yet gleam with glory, but all is being purified by grace.”
What Luther means is that faith is an ongoing process. We need to stay connected to Jesus Christ, the Son of God. We can’t unplug our spiritual life from the power source of his cross and resurrection. We can’t drop off the grid and expect that everything will fine without the Lord’s presence in our life.
We need to continually grow stronger in our faith. We need to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord. We need to rely solely upon the power of Christ, and not ourselves. If we try to rely on our own power, we are going to end-up like the disciples who failed.
Those doubting disciples were unable to help the father with the sick boy. And when the disciples had their power failure, even the father of the sick boy began to have his doubts. Even after Jesus arrives on the scene, he still is uncertain and confused.
Jesus asks the father, “How long has this been happening to him?” He replies, “From childhood. And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “If you can! All things are possible for one who believes.” And immediately the father cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
The father cries out, “Lord, I do believe, help me overcome my doubts and unbelief.” This man was struggling with his faith; he was having his own power failure. But Jesus does not have any power failure. He immediately commands the evil spirit to come forth and to never return. And the spirit has to obey.
For this is the Son of God. He has compassion and he helps us in our hour of need. He speaks his Word of power, and healing occurs. He shines the light of his love upon us, and the darkness flees. He speaks his Word of forgiveness, and sets sinners free. He commands even the evil spirits, and they have to obey.
Here we see the power of Christ so clearly revealed. He does what the disciples could not do. And the same holds true for us. We are unable to save ourselves, but Jesus saves. We are unable to take away the guilt of our sins, but Christ bestows forgiveness. We are unable to defeat the power of death, but the Son of God wins the victory over death and the grave.
Our Lord does all this through his cross and resurrection. The Son of God comes in the flesh to take our place and be our substitute. He bears our burden and carries our infirmities. Jesus takes all the sin and darkness and evil in the entire universe upon himself, and he takes it all down into the depths of hell.
Our Lord’s true power is revealed through his sacrificial love. He willingly suffered for us, and that is the greatest power of all. Christ bears our burden as he hangs on the cross. He even prays, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” In this way, Jesus drives out the demons that plague us, “for this kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”
Jesus Christ sets free us from all sin and evil. Christ defeats the devil. He removes the sting of death. He delivers us from the darkness of sin. And he does all this through the power of his love - his love for lost sinners like you and me.
This love of Christ is the power that we receive from him. Our Lord now empowers us to live in his mercy and compassion. He now sends us forth to proclaim the Gospel and to share the gift we have received. We now seek to love and serve others. We now have the power of Christ at work in our life. That power is real and effective. “All things are possible for the one who believes.”
But somehow, like the father of the sick boy, we still struggle in our faith. We may know that Christ has the power to help us, but, somehow, we doubt that he really cares about us at all. We have such a hard time believing his power is at work in our life. And so, we struggle in our faith. We have our doubts. It seems like God lets us down. The lights have once again gone out for us. God’s power has failed, and we are stuck in a long-term power outage.
But you need to remember that the power of God never goes out, it never fails. It is our faith in God’s power that fails. The power of God is always there. What we need to do is reconnect and reestablish the power lines.
This basic principle is true, even for the local electricity and power companies. Technically, the power never goes out – what goes out is the local power grid, that is, your neighborhood’s electrical transmission system. Even during Hurricane Irene and the October Snowstorm, the power was still on. The problem was that we fell off the power grid when our local power lines went down. Our connection to the main overall power source had to be reestablished. (And I’m sure you remember how some neighborhoods got their power back before others. In fact, some towns had to wait weeks and weeks).
But my point is that you don’t have to sit in the dark day after day. Christ wants to reestablish your power lines. He wants to bring you back onto his grid. Christ wants for you to live in the power of his love everyday.
Our Lord wants to shine the light of his love upon you. He wants to have compassion and help you. He wants to forgive your sins and give you eternal life. He wants to be the Lord of your life.
And as we once again reconnect with Christ, we discover that we are now able to have faith. We can trust that God’s power is at work in our life (even if it may not seem that way to us sometimes). We can discover that God truly is in control of our life, and “all things are possible for the one who believes.”
But the key is that we need to stay connected to God’s power grid through regular worship, prayer and Holy Communion. We need to stay connected to the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We need to pray, praise, and give thanks to God everyday. Then, the power of God’s love in Christ will light-up our life. The bright and clear light of God’s love will shine upon us. The love of Christ will fill our hearts, and that is the greatest power of love! Amen