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I believe; help my unbelief!

Ordinary Sunday 25: 23rd September, 2018
Lynda Crossley, Klingner Scholar at St Peter's, Eastern Hill

Mark 9: 14-29

As a young child, I desperately wanted to believe that I could do anything, be anything, and explore the world on my own. You see, I recall being told what I couldn't do. It was reinforced by the many visits to hospital as a young child. Looking back now, I realise that wasn't particularly encouraging for my 5, 6 or 8 year old self but it resulted in two kinds of thinking. Firstly, that I began to listen to my inner belief and forged on ahead regardless toward my goals and dreams. But secondly, and not so encouraging, was the feeling of doubt in the pit of my stomach that threatened to topple me at any moment. It seems as humans we are torn between belief and unbelief.

The father in the gospel reading today rightly confessed 'I believe, help my unbelief'. He provides for us an example to understand the nature of faith. Belief and unbelief are a paradox, a contradiction, and yet I wonder how often you and I have wrestled with the same prayer as when faced with confusing and bewildering questions around scripture or events happening in our lives, 'I believe, help my unbelief'!

I ask myself, how many times have I stood in that place of unflinching faith in God's love for me, of God's grace for my life and for the life of others around me. And yet, for the times when life was difficult, challenging and I found myself asking, 'God, where are you? God, did you mean for this to happen to me? And doubt began to creep in once again. The conflict between believing God as the one who always with us no matter what and the uncertainty of our circumstances can play havoc with our faith. So just like the father in our gospel today, we too can carry the same contradiction within us of disbelief and beleif at the same time.

In the times that you and I struggle with our faith, it is the time to call out to God in prayer, Lord, I believe, help my unbelief! It is the simplest of prayers, yet it is full of the recognition that our faith is not reliant upon ourselves but reliant on God. The father in the gospel brought his son to the disciples to be healed. He had faith to believe they were able to pray for his son's healing.

But I wonder about the disciples' faith. Did they believe that they could pray for the boys healing? Perhaps it is hard to discern whether they did or didn't. Perhaps they wrestled with the same belief, unbelief paradox. Jesus replied to the crowd, 'You faithless generation, how much longer must I be with you?'. Jesus immediately identifies the problem. The crowd who had gathered around, among them scribes, were counted asfaith less. Without faith. But why faith less?

If we look back into chapter 8, and further back into Mark's gospel, there is plenty of evidence. The disciples and the crowd of people had witnessed again another provision of food for them, feeding four thousand, and Jesus asked the disciples if they had eyes to see and ears to hear or are your hearts hardened? And if this isn't enough, Jesus asked the disciples 'Who do people say that I am? What do they believe about Jesus? Then he asks them 'Who do YOU say that I am?' What do you believe about me? Peter confessed, You are the Messiah!

Most of all, the disciples still did not understand when Jesus said that the Son of Man must suffer, be put to death and rise again in three days. It is repeated in Mark 8:31 and Mark 9:31 almost word for word as to reinforce the point. Jesus mission on earth lay in his journey to cross, to die, and to rise again. How hard would it be to believe Jesus words in that moment? Faith and unbelief. I am sure that the disciples wrestled with faith and unbelief. That while they believed Jesus as Messiah, they didn't quite believe the suffering, dying and rising to life bits yet. The disciples and the father in the gospel reading today reassure us. It's ok to believe and yet disbelieve. It's ok to have doubts, and it's ok to realise that the tension of belief and unbelief act to help draw our reliance on God, and not on ourselves. The father like us needed reassurance, Jesus said 'If you are able!' If you are able to believe, if you are able to still your heart for a moment and believe, then all things can be done for the one who believes. Now I'm not suggesting that Mark is giving us permission to treat Jesus like a Genie out of a bottle, granting anything. The healing of the son brought him closer into relationship with his father. Now he can speak, now he can hear, now he can spend his days building a closer relationship with his father. And this is what God desires for us, to be in relationship with Him.

Jesus reply to the disciples in response to their question, 'Why could we not cast the demon out?' brings us back to prayer. And what is prayer? Prayer simply means talking to God, listening to God, opening our hearts to him. The father in the Gospel shows us the simplicity of his prayer, 'Lord, I believe, help my unbelief'. When you have questions about faith, about your experience of faith, talk to God. When you have doubts, talk to God. When you are struggling with questions about life, talk to God.

For us today, when doubts arise, ask as the father in the gospel did, Lord, I believe, help my unbelief. May we today place our faith in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen


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