In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“All it takes is faith and trust…and…a little bit of pixie dust!” So says Peter Pan as he tells the Darling children how they can fly. You just need to believe hard enough, he says. That, and add a little magic. Soon, the children are flying off to Neverland with Peter, after he has encouraged them to believe. That was easy! They are quickly convinced that they have the power within themselves.
Or how about another moment in motion picture history. Luke Skywalker stands at the edge of the swamp, unable to levitate his starship out of the mire and on to dry land. The diminutive Jedi Master Yoda uses his powers to do the unthinkable, and he causes the ship to rise up and come to rest next to them. “I don’t believe it!” says Luke. “That is why you fail,” responds his master. Again, the power comes in the belief. If Luke had believed strongly enough, he could have lifted the many-ton ship with his mind.
We often run a danger in thinking of power residing in our faith. We turn faith into a work. Believe hard enough, stand firm in your faith, and God will give you salvation. Is that really what the Bible says? Even when Jesus says today, “O faithless generation,” is He really saying that the disciples were unable to cast out the demon because their trust was not strong or their belief not firm to the level God was requiring?
“I believe; help my unbelief!”
So often we hear well-intentioned but misguided encouragement that says believing is something we do. That faith is our own decision. My friends, if you think faith is based on you deciding to follow Jesus, or that you made Him your Lord and Savior, you are sadly mistaken. He is your Lord and Savior whether you like it or not. Christ is the Lord and Savior of millions around the world who have rejected that gift and turned their back on salvation. Still not one of us can accept Him or come to Him. That is the Spirit’s work!
“The Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” Faith is a gift – not a work. Belief is not something we actively think about or decide. Belief is a blessing from the Holy Spirit who has placed it in us!
For many of us, the early moments of that faith, that belief, were tied into our baptism. The Lord combines His Word with water and works a miracle – a miracle of destruction and of life.
The demon had cast the boy into water to destroy him. But the Lord spins that around. He casts us into water and destroys our Old Adams. Thrust into the blessed font, our Lord plunges His devilish enemies to a wretched death. And up from those depths rise new children, believers in Christ. But they rise because He is raising them, not because they have rescued themselves or cooperated in any way. So yes, like the boy, there is an attempt to destroy, but with God it is successful.
And in Baptism, the Lord has taken you from being mute – unable to speak any words of thanks or praise to God, and by gifting you with faith, has opened your mouth. He blesses you with His wondrous Gospel, speaking His words of life and salvation into your speech.
His faith, His gift. And even His prayer. When Jesus says, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer,” He is not saying the disciples had not prayed. He is not saying they had not prayed hard enough, or with the right words.
Jesus’ prayer IS the Word of God. The Lord Himself speaking, and His words doing exactly what He says. The driving out of the demon has nothing to do with how eloquent the prayers of the disciples were or were not. It was not dependent on some sort of measuring of their trust in Christ. The demon was driven out by the power and authority of Jesus Christ. His Word commanding that evil spirit gave it no choice but to leave for good.
Our Savior continues to protect you too from the devil. He whisks you away from Satan and his minions in the waters of Baptism, and keeps you flowing up stream to life with Him. He picks you up from the desperate cries and waving arms of your frantic parents and places you safe and secure in His Holy Church, where He will keep you as you receive His forgiveness until life everlasting.
And in His Church we all abide, in the belief that the Holy Spirit has given us. Yet what about doubt? What about mistrust? What about all those times when we begin to listen to the temptations to question God and imagine that we know better? We are then falling into moments of 1st-commandment sin – unbelief!
At those times, we join this desperate father in his prayer: “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” Thankful that salvation does not depend on our own mind, reason, or strength, we rejoice that the Spirit gives faith, belief, and we pray that our Savior would rescue us from any unbelief.
Today we thank God for our Sunday School and Bible Classes here at St. John’s. We are truly blessed by the Lord with such opportunities, and He uses them to nourish us in the belief that He gives. Christ, our Master Teacher works through these men and women to speak His Gospel and share His love. Indeed, praise God for these opportunities, and use them well and often!
Dear friends in Christ, Jesus comes to you, giving you comfort today. HE shows you He is infinitely more powerful than the devil and his demons, as He rescues you from their influence. He celebrates that you are baptized into Him. And He continually gives His love to you, building you up in the faith He has also given.
On this Rally Day, rejoice with our Sunday School teachers, not because we have worked hard enough or believed hard enough, but together, we have all been gifted with faith and life in Jesus Christ!