This week's sermon in advance...

April 6, 2008

There are, among all the prayers of the Gospels, two very poignant prayers spoken from the depths of the heart whose words touch us over the centuries.

The first is the prayer of the blind man, Bartimaeus, from the side of the street in Jericho. Hearing that Jesus was near he shouted with his whole being “Jesus Christ, son of David, have mercy on me!” So fierce was his desire to be heard that his call for help drowned out even the noise of crowd and drew Jesus’ attention as he walked by.

The prayer was short and desperate and filled with both the sadness of years living in darkness and the fire of a slim hope undimmed even by the vulnerability of life without sight. His prayer became the basis for our Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner”, our own cry from whatever constitutes our darkness and often filled with the same desperation of its author. When complex thoughts and deep meanings fail us those simple words uttered from our hearts speak paragraphs and verses and chapters.

In the gospel reading for this day we see another kind of prayer, short but full of the pain, struggle and need of a father for his son. “Lord I believe, help me in my unbelief…” and like the Jesus Prayer it’s often our own prayer as well.

It’s not difficult for our heart to go out to this father. Who knows how many cures he sought, only to have his hopes dashed each time? What pain must have coursed through his heart, what sense of powerlessness as his son was thrown about by demonically induced seizures? How many times did he ask why? How many conversations did he have with what he must have thought was empty sky?

And after all of this at the moment he faced Jesus he still wished to reach out one more time for something, anything, to make sense of it all, to cure his pain, and heal his son. But all of that hard experience and all the struggle had taken its toll. Faith was hard to come by, skepticism was there in quantity, and all he could do was ask for help to believe, just one more time.

Life can be very difficult sometimes. Often the pieces of the puzzle just don’t seem to fit. Pain and struggle come to us and the meaning of it all is elusive. The search for answers can be long and difficult and sometimes they never come. We try denying our pain, but the feeling pierces through this armor. We hope to anesthetize our struggles with a hundred different things but the anesthesia wears away. On the surface we’ve maintained our composure but underneath there’s a hidden river where faith and doubt, experience and hope,
flow together in a swift current.

There’s no condemnation in this because its our lot as human beings. In our lives we ‘re destined to be a mixture of faith and doubt, hope and despair. Something inside tells us that there is unimaginably more but it’s a kind of perfection that always seems to elude us in the end. Because of this every kind of joy in our life has a certain kind of melancholy in it and every struggle has its hope.

We carry on. And as we live this life we daily make a crucial decision.

We can let all the struggles and fears and pains of life wash over us like a river raging beyond its banks and be swept away in a kind of permanent cynicism and despair. Life can both be hard and make us hard and there are many who have chosen, in their own way, to take the advice of Job’s wife and curse God and die. The world is populated with jagged people, souls as cold as ice, humans who’ve tasted from the cup of struggle and become bitter from its contents.

Or we can, even in the face of intense adversity, see, somewhere in an inexplicable way, a ray of hope, a small bit of whatever it takes to push through dead end after dead end until our journey takes us to Christ. Bloodied, battered, and messed up, still struggling with the accumulated doubts that are the natural children of life’s struggles we can face God honestly, aware of the challenge, aware of the pain, but with just enough faith to reach for the master’s hand.

It would be good for all of us to be giants of faith, possessed of the courage of Saints. To struggle for that result is a notable thing. But for most of us the truth is it’s going to be a mixed bag, working our way through life as best we can, sometimes getting it and more often than not stumbling around in the dark. And if the truth was known even the holiest of people have had their moments. How good it is, though, in all of this, that our Lord Jesus still cares for us, still loves us, still embrace us, and still is, as our prayers say “…good and the lover of mankind” and not just when all is well but even in those times when the best we can hope for is a flicker of faith in the valley of darkness and our only prayer is “Lord I believe, help me in my unbelief…”

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