Jesus Heals a Boy Possessed by an Impure Spirit
When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him. “What are you arguing with them about?” he asked. A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.” “You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.” So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?” “From childhood,” he answered. “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up. After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.” - Mark 9:14-29
Doubt, says the Christian author Os Guinness, “is a state of mind in suspension between faith and unbelief, so that is neither of them wholly and is each only partly. It is faith in two minds.”
Selwyn Hughes, Christian counsellor, author of the ‘Every Day With Jesus’ Bible reading notes, in his handbook “Your personal encourage” (CWR 1994) agrees with Guinness, but adds this comment: “The presence of doubt is not the problem, the critical issue is what we do with it when it emerges.” He follows this up with referring next to Mark Chapter 9 verses 14 to 29. This tells us about a man coming to Jesus confessing to Jesus the struggle he had over healing of his son, but there he is, with Jesus, telling him. He has faith enough to go to Jesus. The point to take here is that it is not doubt that destroys faith, but disobedience, the disobedience of failing to go to Jesus, avoiding the light of the world (John 8:12), the way, the truth, and the life. (John 14:6)
The words of the man to Jesus “I do believe help me to overcome my unbelief” contained in this passage are words we can echo when we are caught not only in the slings and arrow of despair and doubt but at all times we have needs beyond our understanding and control.
The words of this hymn may be inspiring:
What a friend we have in Jesus,
all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
all because we do not carry
everything to God in prayer!
Have we trials and temptations,
is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged:
take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful
who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness:
take it to the Lord in prayer.
Are we weak and heavy-laden,
cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Saviour, still our refuge --
take it to the Lord in prayer!
Do your friends despise, forsake you?
Take it to the Lord in prayer;
in his arms he'll take and shield you,
you will find a solace there.
Joseph Medlicott Scriven, Singing the Faith 531
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. - 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
If you are struggling on your own to face challenges, then you need to know that you are not alone. The God of all comfort is with you.
Richard Daly in God’s Little Book of Calm
I have thought for a long time that the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and particularly the passage below, are as fresh, pertinent, and challenging as when they were written.
In the summer of 1939, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906 – 1945), a Lutheran pastor and lecturer in theology, was on a lecture tour in America. Already he was known as an enemy of the Nazi regime in his native Germany. He had denounced Hitler on the radio in 1933, before he came to power. He had spent two years in London urging the German congregation there to join the battle against Nazism. And in 1936 he had been banned by the Nazis from speaking, writing, or lecturing. He had also written two influential books – The Cost of Discipleship and Living Together – and his reputation as a radical Christian thinker was growing. If he stayed in America, he would be safe and could pursue his studies. Instead he chose to return to Germany, taking one of the last ships to sail before war broke out.
After four years of resistance work, he was finally arrested for his part in an attempt to assassinate Hitler. On 9 April 1945 – only a short time before the end of the war – he was hanged. His Letters and Papers from Prison, published after his death, show a man who thought deeply about what Christianity means in the modern world, and who lived out his faith to the end with unfailing courage.
Cheap Grace and Costly Grace
Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our church. We are fighting today for costly grace. Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjack’s wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessing with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits … Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.
Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all of his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.
Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.
Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: ‘ye were bought at a price’, and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us.
(from ‘The Cost of Discipleship’ by Bonhoeffer quoted in The Lion Book of Christian Classics 1988)
Your plants are an orchard of pomegranates
with choice fruits,
with henna and nard,
nard and saffron,
calamus and cinnamon,
with every kind of incense tree,
with myrrh and aloes
and all the finest spices. - Songs 4:13-14
So sensitive are the human nervous system, mood and temperament, that flowers may stimulate metabolic changes. They bring refreshment and raise the spirits. Enjoy their fragrance and calming beauty.
Taken from Richard Daly's God’s Little Book of Calm.
During the long, hot summer of 2018 I worked in Hounslow, West London, which meant that I had the opportunity to travel into Central London each week to visit the sites or the many visitor attractions that take place in the evening such as Beating the Retreat.
One of the places I visited was St Paul’s church, Covent Garden. Located in Bedford Street, it was designed by Inigo Jones as part of a commission for the 4th Earl of Bedford in 1631 to create "houses and buildings fit for the habitations of Gentlemen and men of ability". (Sorry ladies!)
As well as being the parish church of Covent Garden, the church has gained the nickname of "the actors' church" because of its long association with the theatre community. Buried around the church are may famous people including Thomas Arne, the composer of Rule Britannia and the interred ashes of Dame Edith Evans. Whilst inside the church there are wooden memorials to many famous actors, actresses, playwrites and producers.
On a warm June evening, it was the small lectern that stood at the entrance to the church that captured my attention. On it were these words:
We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, widowed, straight, gay, confused, well-heeled or down at heel. We especially welcome wailing babies and excited toddlers.
We welcome you whether you can sing like Pavarotti or just growl quietly to yourself. You’re welcome here if you’re “just browsing”, just woken up or just got out of prison. We don’t care if you’re more Christian than the Archbishop of Canterbury, or haven’t been to church since Christmas ten years ago.
We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast. We welcome keep-fit mums, football dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk food eaters.
We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted. We welcome you if you’re having problems, are down in the dumps or don’t like “organised religion”.
We offer a welcome to those who think the earth is flat, work too hard, don’t work, can’t spell or are here because Granny is visiting and wanted to come to church.
We welcome those who are inked, pierced, both or neither. We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down their throats as kids or got lost in Covent Garden and wound up here by mistake. We welcome pilgrims, tourist, seekers, doubters … and you.
In the Wesley’s conversion hymn, Charles Wesley reminds us of the universality of the gospel when he writes:
Outcasts of men, to you I call,
Harlots, and publicans and thieves!
He spreads his arms to embrace you all
Sinners alone his grace receives.
No need of him the righteous have:
He came the lost to seek and save.
We have a similar welcome statement in our church, which reminds us that we extend that welcome of Christ not just to those like us, not to a chosen few, but to all, because, as the Apostle Paul writes to the church at Corinth,
“For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” (2 Corinthians, 5, verses 14-15, ESV)
Listen to “It is a thing most wonderful, almost too wonderful to be”.
The reflections here are written by members of our congregation.