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Private Confession: By Appointment

Jesus Fasts And Prays For Us

September 11, 2021 Pastor: Rev. Dean Kavouras

Christ Lutheran Church
Cleveland, Ohio
September 12, 2021
by: Rev. Dean Kavouras

Pentecost 16
Jesus Fasts And Prays For Us

And when they entered the house by themselves they asked him, "Why were we not able to drive it out?" And he said to them, "This class of demon cannot be driven out except by prayer and fasting." (Mark 9:28-29)

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Today’s Old Testament lesson is fulfilled in today’s gospel! Fulfilled by Jesus whom Isaiah saw, and spoke about, many centuries before his incarnation.

He himself is the One who possesses the “tongue that sustains the faint with a word” as we see in today’s gospel. Yes, a word from Jesus who IS the Word of God incarnate, and the devil with all of his wicked ways is chased away.

But today’s gospel is not only an account from the life of Christ but baptismal catechesis, as well. As Saint John Chapter Six is Eucharistic catechesis! Even so today’s gospel is baptismal catechesis that teaches us anew about the benefits that we receive in that Blessed Bath.

Now the things we hear about today factually did happen just as Sacred Scripture records. Indeed, according to St. John’s First Epistle (3:8) the very reason that the Son of God became incarnate was: to destroy the works of the devil.” To destroy the one who tried to destroy this young boy by severe spasms, foaming of the mouth, grinding of the teeth, even throwing him into any fire that was near, and attempting to drown him in whatever waters he came across.

It appears that this Taliban-like demon was given leave to torment this lad in every way he could except, as with Job, he was not permitted to take his life. But such torment never stays with the sufferer alone. The father of this boy felt every pang and wrenching paroxysm as badly as, and in some ways more than, the boy himself.

We should also learn from today’s gospel that demons are incapable of mercy, and that they are the more stubborn than mules. And that the only “delight” they know is to drag us lower and lower because the old adage is true: misery loves company.

But we are not talking theoretically here. The same class of demon that afflicted this boy 20 centuries ago is still at work in the world today. We it in sons and daughters all over our city who are savagely attacked by such deadly spirits.

Now science might dispute it but it appears to the theologian that drug addiction is, or very much resembles, demon possession!

As the consecrated Bread and Wine are the Body and Blood of our Living and Gracious and Peaceable Lord Jesus Christ – we might liken these ravaging and utterly addicting substances to eating and drinking the body and blood of the devil.

While we cannot empirically prove it we do know that hard drugs make bedlam out of people’s lives just like the young man in today’s gospel. We know that the addict is beyond all control, and quickly exhausts the resources, and often the health, of those who love him.

We also know that treatment programs have a very poor track record. But why? Why is THIS “demon” so hard to expel? Could it be that these well-intentioned programs are trying to put out a forest fire with a garden hose? To fight off tanks, with sticks?

They have no power because they have no divine word, or “instructed tongues sustain the faint” (Is. 50:4) as Isaiah says of Jesus in today’s Old Testament reading.

Further, St. James teaches us in today’s epistle, that an untrained, untamed tongue can do more harm than good. He says that the tongue “is a fire!” “A world of injustice.” And though it is a small member it can, “defile the entire body and set aflame the entire course of history.”

Now that might make you wonder why the church is so full of words?

Only one reason, Beloved, and that is because we only speak God’s words here, and never man’s. And as often as the church’s ministers keep their nose in the book, and minister only God’s words, all is well!

But … when the church’s teachers get clever and creative then we are all in trouble, teacher and hearer alike. Then the church is diminished, destroyed and, finally, rendered powerless.

But listen to our Lord’s closing words in today’s gospel: “This class of demon can only be expelled by prayer and fasting?” But what does that mean!

Is Jesus telling us that if we were to fervently fast and pray for many days that we could rid the world of addiction to drugs, pornography, alcohol, gambling and all the lesser addictions as well – that destroy lives; and that throw us into the fire, and drown us in our own tears?

Not likely! Instead we do well if in these words we hear Jesus speaking of himself. Of his fasting, and his prayer which emancipates us from sin, death and the devil!

You remember that immediately following his baptism the Holy Spirit “drove” our Lord into the wilderness to fast for 40 days and 40 nights – and at the end, in his weakened condition, he engaged in full scale battle with the Chief of Demons himself, and won a resounding victory over him!

But Jesus did not only fast for us, but he also prayed for us.

Scripture records many of the Lord’s own prayers, but there is one that he offered that is above all others: the liturgy of his own life which he offered to God for the sins of the world.

A prayer that is best summed up by the much shorter prayer that he prayed from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

This is our absolution, our peace, our righteousness, and our confidence before God! This is the mighty word that lets the devil know we are God’s redeemed, and to keep his hands off.

And so it is not our efforts that keep us safe from the cruelest master under the sun. But by our Lord’s fasting, prayer, suffering and death on our behalf. And by our baptism into it! Into him. Which according to our catechism, “delivers us from death and the devil, and gives eternal Life to all who believe.”

Not only does the Lord free us from the devil’s tyranny in baptism, but he also opens our ears to hear “the words of eternal life,” as he did for the boy and his father in today’s gospel. And he instructs our tongues so that we will always bless the God of our salvation, and never curse man who is made in his likeness.

But the Lord’s ministry to us does not stop at baptism but only begins.

The good work he initiated among us in the church’s Primary Sacrament he also keeps alive, and brings to completion by this Holy Communion we enjoy each Sunday. As often as our flesh rolls around in the dirt of the culture, and roll it does, this Holy Communion transfigures us, and makes us glow like the sun.

And so like the father in today’s gospel, let us bring our children, and all our troubles great or small, curable and seemingly in-curable to Jesus who is ever merciful, and who with a word will drive the devil far away.

And believe! For all things are possible to the one who believes in redeeming death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen