14 When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. 15 As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.
16 “What are you arguing with them about?” he asked.
17 A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 18 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.”
19 “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.”
20 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.
21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”
“From childhood,” he answered. 22 “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.”
23 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”
24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
25 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.”
26 The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.
28 After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”
29 He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.[a]”
This is the sermon that I hoped I would never have to give.
This is a story of my fall from the divine, the suffering, and the oncoming of a new revelation. And maybe, if I am lucky, a new life.
This story all beings in the cumbersome and questionable world of online dating. One day when I was skimming thru a website, I saw a profile of a guy who was moderately good-looking and described his faith as being Catholic. We agreed to meet at the mall for coffee. As we started talking, I learned many things about this person, he had a few brothers and sisters, grew up in the N.W.T. He also later confessed to me that he used to work as a male stripper. (Eyebrow raise)
But when I got to ask him about his faith, he said that he was devoutly Catholic up until the age of 15, when he needed to go in for surgery on his leg. That day when he was put under for surgery, he awoke not 30 minutes later, to discover that no surgery had been done. He was then informed that the antistatist had made a critical error, causing an accidental overdose. He had actually died on the operating table. But luckily he had also been revived quickly, avoiding brain damage from oxygen denervation.
But the spiritual damage he suffered was lethal.
He explained to me that he expected to see the tunnel of light, that many people have described in “near death” experiences. But he saw nothing. He said to me “I just floated there in the dark.”
The great nothingness.
I am not sure why it bothered me so much. It was almost beyond my logic. I was raised Ukrainian Catholic and orthodox. The teaching I understood, said that the soul stayed on the earth until the third day, and on that day, it would rise into heaven. It shouldn’t be a surprise to me, that he saw nothing in that brief moment. Yet I could feel this story crushing my soul, in the same way, it destroyed him.
My defenses were failing, as I was being attacked from many sides.
I made the mistake of reading a book, that I understood as being composed of progressive, well studied and respected authors. I soon discovered that this book had become the spiritual equivalent of slitting one's wrists. Needless to say, I don’t recommend it. I had committed to an interfaith retreat which I was too spiritually-immature for, I discovered that I was a raging hypocrite, and that caused me to have a meltdown in upstate New York. I had been diagnosed with chronic anxiety that no amount of prayer could relieve. I was becoming borderline suicidal, before I gave in, and filled my prescription for psych meds. My church journalism that I had become famous for, had become an impossible task. I was too weak to get out of bed, for fear of it causing further damage to my already fragile health. And too ashamed to go on writing, as someone who could not honestly stand up in a church and say the words “I believe”.
In that time I had been reading a lot. Notes, research, studies, historical insights. I don’t know if I am bold, stupid or simply a sucker for self-punishment. But at almost every given turn, I crossed phrases like “edited latter”, “copied”, “attributed to”, “probably never happened”, “not actually written by this person”, “we are not really sure who wrote this”, “likely didn’t happen”, “we now know in the modern world….” The list goes on. Reading these works I can feel for the 9 disciples arguing with the teachers of the law. The teachers spotted a weak moment when the disciples were unable to lift the spirit from the boy. Therefore the teachers took the opportunity to do everything to dispute and discredit the disciples and Jesus. I know this feeling. And it’s crippling and soul-sucking.
Faith was failing me.
And then came all the questions. I had everyone from family members, to my liquor store customers, asking “Why have you quit writing?”. Sadly I had no honest answer to give them.
At that point in my life I practically gave up praying, why do something so utterly useless?
I started to detest the items in my home. My crosses, rosaries, I even asked myself what I would do with my one of a kind finger-painted canvas that portrayed Christ in his final hours covered in blood dirt and a crown of thorns. ( show painting) I had bought the original work of art from the artist, on the condition that it would always have a good home.
I was not about to go back on my word.
Near the end, I felt like I had no bricks left in my house. It was like a nuclear blast had wiped away everything except for a few foundation stones.
In this passage from Mark 9, we learn that some demons in our lives can be stronger than others. And like in the case of the young boy, some will take you all the way to the edge before death, before they finally let-go.
In all of these books, there was a message that I could not understand. The argument put forward said, that the metaphors of the bible can be profoundly true even if they are not literally or factually true.
But how can this be? In the technological age we are being bombarded with information, much of it skewed or misrepresented or just plain old made-up BS. Knowing factual truth has become essential. And accepting false information has become dangerous if not deadly. I live in a generation that needs fact.
And the tradition I was raised in accepts much of the bible as fact. It has built a beautiful tradition steeped in rituals (show images) that glorify all of these little divine phrases and weaves them all into a great blanket in which I can wrap myself, and bask in the divine truth.
But these great thinkers have pulled the blanket off of me, and have left me frozen and alone.
And they stand before me and proclaim that they love the faith, and want it to grow into the modern truth.
Then I ask myself, how abusive can these people be? But yet as I read them, I cannot help but agree with them.
The year is 2017. We now know that the earth is round, the world grew and progressed thru an evolution like process, and is much older than what a lot of creationists would ever like to admit.
As quoted by John Shelby Spong; “The heart will never worship what the mid rejects”.
But humor me for a moment; what if all these great minds have it right? And there was nothing that special about this one rebellious Jew from Nazareth. If all the texts were “edited latter”, and the miracles were not so miraculous, and if truths were stretched around this man Jesus, to make him appear to be the “messiah” of prophecy, when he didn’t quite meet the bill.
Then I am left with one question.
Why did the people who knew him best go to the ends of the earth proclaiming the message of this mediocre Jew named Yeshua? Why would people risk life and limb to stand under the name “Christian” even if it meant certain death? How could all of these questionable and “embellished” stories turn the minds and hearts of some of the most heartless and abusive people in history? So they may walk the earth the next day, as holy men? And furthermore generate actual miracles, which have been testified thru history, and told to me personally, by people living in the city of Edmonton?
Christ says that “everything is possible for one that believes” But in that moment the father was broken and desperate, and he knew his faith was weak. He barely had a leg to stand on, so in that moment he reached out to Christ and cried “I do believe! Help me overcome my unbelief!”. And even in that moment of confessing his severe lack of faith, God reached back and answered his cry.
It is true that nothing is impossible to faith, yet such a height of faith is required for such triumphs, is not to be reached in a moment, or without effort.
The disciples had not adequately prepared themselves to tackle such a challenge. I know what it feels like to be unprepared.
After swimming thru this sea of information, I have come to a conclusion.
Even if it is all a myth, it is the greatest, most powerful and most holly myth the world has ever known.
Regardless of its factuality or accuracy, these words have connected us to the divine. They have provided the lamp at our feet to guide us on life’s highway, and protect us from on-coming danger. They have made us thankful for the everyday blessings that make our lives rich, even if we barely get by. It caused us to reflect on our sins and find it in our hearts to forgive those who have wronged us. Rising us above our primal nature. And most of all, they have taught us that showing that little bit of extra love and care to our fellow earth dwellers, may bring forth the heavenly kingdom we seek.
No, king, Army or Government has ever had such power.
Because divine love can strike stronger than any human sword.
In this lies the answer. The value of the scriptures are not a matter of accuracy, factuality or provability. If we wanted that we could just spend our days reading lab test reports, checking reference materials, and watching law court dramas unfold.
We come to the bible looking for the divine truth, and in between the quotes, stories and passages we are flooded with it! We know that God seeks those who have become lost, and that he has a place in his heart for those who have been rejected. We see’s the God who is unphased by our sin, and accepts us with open arms. The god that brings redemption that stretches to even the most unworthy. We know of the God that answers us when we cry out in the night. And we know that this God, despite our endless falls from grace, allowed himself to suffer as one of us, in order to make one last great push at opening the kingdoms doors onto us.
We know that love that we have been taught, has the ability to bring forth the kingdom of god within ourselves, in or current world, and the world to come.
Those of us that have come to accept our free salvation, know how it has changed us. This is the divine force that comes beyond measure. This is something no one needs to prove to us.
Weather the bible is literal, embellished, manufactured, inspired, or just plain questionable. I will rejoice! I will adorn my nativity at Christmas, bless my paska at Easter and, dance in the street like King David (hopefully with more clothes on!)
I leave you with Romans 5: 1-2
“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction, by faith, into this grace, in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.”