Harrowing Of Hell
March 3, 2019

The Illusion of Mastery…Do it for the Glory of God

Preacher: The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.

To listen to the sermon click here.

 We have a striking and unique encounter with Jesus in the Bible today…with words that seem pretty out of character for a guy proclaiming the love of God. 

You’ll be interested to know that the lectionary which prescribes our scripture reading each Sunday, makes this section of Luke that we hear right after the transfiguration, optional; which means, to my mind, it’s tough, and so by wrestling our way through it we will be better for having done it. I hope.

Here we go. Jesus says: “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you?”(Luke 9:41) Faithless and perverse! How much longer do I have to be with you and bear with you? Wow!  Ouch! Those are some pretty hurtful words. Where is my always loving Jesus?  Where is my Jesus meek and mild? 

To try to figure out what is going on here let’s do three things:

  1. Let’s wander back to see how we got here starting at the beginning of chapter nine;
  2. Next, let’s look at this story of the healing of the epileptic from two other points of view…the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Mark. The reason we do this is we will gain greater insight into the words faithless and perverse.
  3. Finally, to understand Jesus’s frustration we need to get clear on the difference between self-serving mastery and divine seeking expression.

You with me?  What we are going to look at is the difference between doing something great for me or for the community, versus doing something as an express of and for the glory of God.

So, we are going to do a little history. Then a little cross Gospel comparison. And finally, examine the distinction between ME, THEY, and THOU.

So, let’s start by wandering back to the beginning of chapter nine in the Gospel of Luke. Here we find Jesus calling the disciples together. They were bright, capable, well regarded people. For three years they had been studying Jesus.  They had been traveling with Jesus. They had been praying with Jesus, and eating with Jesus. And now, finally, they are ready to go out, two by two, to share the news that the Kingdom of God is right here right now and cure some diseases along the way.

When they return, they are excited about all they had done…I can imagine Jesus, sort of, giving a long hummm under his breath. Note the pronoun they, as in All THEY had done? So, he decides to take them off to a quiet place so he can reorient them to what God has done through them. But they get side-tracked by the feeding of the 5000 hungry folks, and the trip up Mount Hermon, where the Transfiguration happens.

Which gets us to where we are today and the disciple’s failure to heal a child with epilepsy. To which Jesus says to the disciples: “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you?” (Luke 9:41)

Then Jesus turns to the distraught father and says: “Bring me your son.” And as he brings him his son the child falls into a grand mal seizure; and Jesus takes him, and holds him, and prays over him, and heals him. Can you imagine?  Can you imagine?

And the disciples are stunned, and glad, and confused. “Why couldn’t I do it,” asked Andrew? “Why couldn’t I do it,” asked Phillip? “Why couldn’t I do it,” asked Bartholomew and Matthew and Thomas? Me for him, the child…to which Jesus says you have forgotten thou, which is God.

Flashback to the return of the disciples from their two by two mission work. They were all excited to tell Jesus what THEY had done. They, not thou, was their operative pronoun; and when the pronoun is THEY, the measure of the disciple’s fullest capacity rests upon their individual power; and when that happens those they seek to serve are sold a less service.

We all are given a skill by God, a gift, a super power if you will, at birth, before birth (“I thought of you before you were born God says” (Jer 1:5)) to be used by us, for the other; and we can employ this gift, as if an extension of own power and mastery, or we can employ this gift with the power of God, for the glory of God.

This is what Jesus had taught his disciples to do…and they had forgotten. It was about THEY, not THOU. And this, after three years of training, was disappointing to Jesus. So, Jesus admonishes them calling them faithless and perverse.

These words, faithless and perverse, are specific and we see why they are used by examining this same story of the healing of the epileptic in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark. Let’s take a look.

We’ll start with the Gospel of Matthew.  In Matthew Jesus concludes the story by saying: “if you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you’d be able to say to the mountain, move to the sea, and it would move, because nothing is impossible with God” (Matt 17:21).

The point here is that faith is the function that plugs us into the power of God. It is faith that fully inflates the expansiveness of our gifts and talents. Faith is what unlocks in us the power of God…reminding us that nothing is impossible with God. So, when Jesus admonishes the disciples by calling them faithless, he is connecting their inability to heal the child with their lack of connection with God. It is THEY, not THOU, that gets in the way.

Which bring us to the Gospel of Mark. In Mark, Jesus concludes this story of the healing of the epileptic by saying: “This type of illness can only be cured with prayer” (Mark 9:29). Prayer is the response, because prayer is the way we connect with God.

So, Jesus is saying the faithful response in the face of something intractable, something that challenges and tests our gifts and talents, is connection with God through prayer. Prayer moves us from ME to THEE; from THEY to THOU.

Faith inflates us into the fullness of our gifts and talents; Prayer connect us to the power of God. Thank you, Matthew.  Thank you, Mark.

Which brings us back to the story of the epileptic in the Gospel of Luke;where we find conclusion with these words from the narrator: “All were astounded at the greatness of God” (Luke 9:43).

Matthew gives us faith. Mark gives us prayer. Luke reminds us that when we do something great give credit to God.

Faith and prayer and gratitude to God are what the disciples had forgotten, and this raises Jesus ire and provokes the words faithless and perverse. For it was their own mastery they sought when trying to heal the child rather than faith in God, and prayer to connect with God. They thought THEY could do it and forgot what God could do through them. THEY trusted in self-serving mastery, rather than divine seeking expression.

And this is what Jesus calls a perversion. The disciples had misinterpreted how things work…that power comes from God; all power comes from God. This place, creation, is wired by God, and fueled by God, to be an expression of God through us; you and me.

We do not generate the power. We channel it. We are not the masters of the universe. We are divine expressions of the love of God. And this is what the disciples forgot, or never quite internalized. For them, even after three years, it was THEY, not THOU (GOD).

The boy’s father got it. The crowd got it. The disciples missed the point, and this had to be pretty disappointing tot Jesus…because the entire point of Jesus’s ministry was that the Kingdom of God is right here, right now; and it is not ours to master, but ours to align with, ours to be in sync with, through faith and prayer.

Anything else is a perversion. Anything else is a delusion. Anything is to sell our capacity short. We can all pray. We all have a mustard seeds worth of faith in our heart. Each one of us is extraordinary.

As my friend Dick said to me the other day: “When I walk around and I see people and I know they are all 10’s!  God made them that way! They were all made with some extraordinary gift by God Each to be an expression of the divine.”  

Give the glory to God. Not ME, but THEE. Not THEY, but THOU. So people will be astounded at the greatness of God. Nurture faith. Practice prayer. Apply them to all things, and in this way, we will come to see, know and reveal the divine expression of God. And when this is revealed, people will be astounded at the greatness of God.