Do I Believe Enough?
Enough questions are trying ones. "Did I study enough?" "Did I exercise enough?" "Do I love enough?" "Do I work enough?" One of the most trying questions of all is, "Do I believe enough?" That's the question that lit up your mind and turned down the screws of your heart when you heard Jesus tell Jairus last week, "Don't be afraid; just believe." And again this week that question jumped into your soul when Mark says Jesus "was amazed at their lack of faith." Do I believe enough?
We ask this question because we think Jesus was telling Jairus if you believe enough you're daughter will be okay. And we think this week Mark is telling us that if the people of Nazareth had believed enough that would have caused Jesus to do many miracles and to heal more people. We think this is what Jesus and Mark are saying because this is the "gospel" of the world around us. Faith or believing is the sacrament, the power, the religion of the world around us.
Don't believe me? Consider this. If you watch Disney movies or if you follow athletes, actors, or singers closely, you are consistently told that if you believe enough you will succeed, can do anything, and will triumph over any obstacle. There is real power in believing. "The Little Engine that Could," got up the hill not by saying, "I might be able to, I might be able to," but "I think I can, I know I can."
If there is power in believing, then you had better ask yourself, "Do I believe enough?" But is there power in the act of believing? Eastern religions teach that, so do TV evangelists, but does Jesus? Did Jesus say, "If you believe enough, your daughter will be okay," when He said to Jairus, "Don't be afraid; just believe"? If He did, then you had better not visit your sick loved one when you have doubts, then your child's future hangs on how much you believe, then there really was no need for Jairus to get Jesus in the first place. Isn't this true? I mean if just by Jairus' believing enough his daughter would be okay then he didn't need for Jesus to come and raise her, he just needed to believe more. That's how it is for the people of Nazareth too, is it not? If Mark teaches that faith causes miracles and healing, then what did it matter if Jesus was there or not? All they had to do is believe enough and bingo people would be healed and mountains would be moved.
Some of you don't mind everything riding on whether you believe enough, because you think you do. By God's grace you're a naturally positive person. You look at glasses as being half full rather than half empty, at all situations as being better tomorrow, at the bright side of any dark cloud. Praise be to God for such a sunny, bright disposition, but what do you do if you're an Eoer in the land of Winnie the Pooh? What if clouds always look dark to you and situations look worse instead of better tomorrow? What if you don't care whether the glass is half full or half empty because you know it's going to fall and break before you have a chance to drink it anyway?
You see if this is the disposition you're blessed with, then any talk of believing enough will torture you to no end, but you know what the truth of the matter is? Even the people who are generally positive, confident, and optimistic don't believe enough. TV preachers, athletes, and actors disagree, so they all hold their firm, powerful believing before you. They believe enough, so why can't you? And some of you believe them. You think you do or at least can believe enough.
Okay; let's give you a little test. Unlike Jairus, when you're confronted with death, your faith doesn't waiver, teeter, or tremble even a little. Mine does. Jesus promises me that all who believe in Him will never die, yet I've seen my grandparents, parents, and many members who believed on Him die. Jesus promises me that all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose, but I've never been able to believe enough that cancer, auto accidents, and disasters worked good. O I confessed that's what Jesus promises, but I sure didn't believe it enough.
However, my real stumbling point isn't the disparity between the promises of God and real life; it's the theology of the cross, at the fact that God works through suffering, in suffering, by suffering not in spite of suffering. When I was first in the ministry, the Epistle lesson was easy to believe. Thorns in my flesh were good. It was good to be weak. I even thought I delighted in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. But then I felt thorns not for days or weeks but years. Then I found out what weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions and difficulties really were, and I found myself unable to believe enough that these were good much less delight in them.
You see I can believe that God keeps someone under the cross for awhile, but He ought to let them up when they cry, "Uncle." I mean I'm a father, and I sure don't love my children the way God loves me, but even I let them up when they cry, "Uncle." O I may let a hard-headed teenager get to the end of his rope, but you can be sure I'll be there to catch him when he falls. But I've seen Christians, Church going, Sacrament receiving Christians get to the end of their rope of cancer only to fall. I've seen them get to the end of their rope of a dying loved one, only to have another one die. To be sure, I've seen many get caught by the everlasting arms of the heavenly Father, but not all do, and it's a hard thing for me to believe that's a good thing.
I not only stumble at how God works in my life; I stumble at God Himself. I stumble even as the people of Nazareth did. They stumbled over God being in flesh and blood. They couldn't deny that the wisdom coming from His mouth and the miracles coming from His hands were God's wisdom and miracles, but how could this carpenter, this Son of Mary, this brother to ordinary men and women be God in the flesh?
My faith stumbles at God incarnate too. I don't believe enough that God is in the Waters of My Baptism rescuing me from Satan. I don't believe enough that God is in the mouth of the pastor sending my sins away. I don't believe enough that the Body and Blood of God is in the Bread and Wine of Communion working eternal life in my dying flesh and blood. If I believed enough, how could I ever be afraid of Satan, feel guilty over forgiven sin, or come away from this holy altar without turning cartwheels of joy over the eternal life being placed once more into my body?
Therefore, the answer to the question that torturers me, "Do I believe enough" is, "No, I don't." All Christians will come to the point where their faith in God's promises stumbles. Would that this would not be the case. Would that we could always say with the Psalmist, "I will trust in the Lord and not be afraid." But dear friend, if your faith never faltered, never doubted, never tossed, never turned, then your faith would be in your believing and not in God. Besides the only person's faith who never stumbled, wavered, or doubted, and was more than enough, was Jesus'. Our faith increases, then, not by our sifting through the strength, the degree, the certainty of our faith, but by focusing on the faith of Jesus.
We are saved by the faith of Jesus. I don't believe hard enough to warrant God saving me. I am never free of unbelief. The very best I can ever say is, "Lord I believe; help Thou my unbelief." Joined in me, at one and the same time, is faith and unbelief. You find this in the apostles even after Easter. Matthew 28 records, "And the 11 disciples journeyed into Galilee to the mountain which Jesus commanded them, and seeing Him, they worshiped, they doubted." I am saved by the faith of Jesus as Paul says in Galatians 2:16, "A man is not justified by the works of the Law but through the faith of Jesus Christ."
I don't believe enough that I'm sinful, but Jesus did. He believed I was so sinful that I deserved to go to hell for it, and He went there in my place. I don't believe enough that my attempts to keep God's law fall short, but Jesus did. He believed that everything I ever thought, said or did fell short of God's laws and therefore I was a damned sinner in God's sight, so He came and kept the law in my place. I don't believe enough that there is a heaven worth suffering for, but Jesus did, and so suffered enough so that I could go there too. I don't believe enough that God keeps His promises, but Jesus did, and so He went to the cross believing that God would not leave Him in the grave, and so won for me all the promises of God even though I never believe enough in them.
Friends, you know that when you get troubled by your sins you are to flee to your Baptism, to the Absolution, to Holy Communion. So when Satan starts rubbing your sin of unbelief in your face, the answer is not to try to believe more but to run to these same 3 means of grace. Christ died for the sin of unbelief; He suffered, went to hell, and died for the sin of not believing enough. Christ no more wants you to whip yourself for the sin of unbelief than He does for any of your other forgiven sins. Furthermore, just as you grow in resisting any other sin not by focusing on what you do but on what Christ did for you, so you grow in faith not by focusing on what's in your heart but on what Christ shows you is in God's heart.
Faith is a miracle. It is not something you can develop in yourself by positive thinking or discipline yourself to do by changing your thought patterns. Faith is worked only by God through the means of grace. So you grow in faith when you return to your Baptism. You grow in faith when the pastor forgives your sins. You grow in faith by receiving the Body and Blood of Christ. This being said maybe you can see why the text closes with Jesus being amazed at the people's lack of faith.
Jesus is amazed at their lack of faith because He has done everything necessary for them to believe. Jesus has brought everything with Him to produce the miracle of faith. He has brought everything to them to deliver them from their unbelief. Has He done any less for you or I? When I am filled with fear, with doubt, with unbelief it's not because I lack the promises or power of God. When I stumble in the face of continued suffering it's not because God in Christ has not assured me that His grace is enough for me. But in my unbelief, I'm no different than a pouting child whose made up his mind to doubt his father's love for him.
But does a child's pouting and doubting make a loving father love him less? No way. A loving dad doesn't need his child to believe in him before he loves them, helps them, holds them, but a child is a lot less miserable if they believe they have their loving dad's love, help, and support. And there is no reason on earth for a child who eats at his father's table, sleeps under his roof, and is cared for when sick not to believe they are loved by their father. So it is for us children of the heavenly Father. All the means of grace testify to us that God loves us in Christ. How amazing it is, therefore, when we who have Baptismal Waters dripping from our face, the Absolution ringing in our ears, and the Body and Blood of God the Son in our mouths think or feel that God the Father doesn't love us enough. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost VII (7-27-03), Mark 6: 1-6