July 28, 2019

When Real Faith Gets Naked
Mark 9:14-27

I went to the Tomato Festival yesterday and, as always, the outing was an educational experience. While there, I talked to one of the vendors who made signs and one particular sign caught my attention. It simply read, “Get Buck Naked.”

“You sell many of those signs?” I asked. To which the vendor replied, “Oh, yeah, it’s one of my best sellers; although the people who buy them always feel the need to explain themselves. They’ll say things like, “Now, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. I’m buying this for my uncle. His name is Buck.” Sure it is!

Though the “Buck Naked” sign was well-made, I wasn’t tempted to buy it. Maybe it’s because “naked” is not a comfortable thought for me. In fact, naked is a state of being I try to avoid. I don’t even feel real good about being naked when I’m by myself. It’s not that I’m a prude. It’s just that I realize I look a lot better with my clothes on than I do with my clothes off.

Clothes are wonderful things. Clothes give us a chance to hide all those unsightly bulges and unattractive bumps, but when you’re naked, all your ugly places show.

I’m especially glad we wear clothes to church, aren’t you? When we come to church, most of us like to dress up, at least a little bit, because those Sunday-go-to-meetin’ clothes help to hide our ugly places.

But you know what? When we come to church, not only do we dress up our bodies, sometimes we try to dress up our souls. Deep inside, we know our naked faith is filled with the ugly bumps of doubt and the unsightly bulges of a struggling soul, and we don’t want anyone to see that. So we come to church with a dressed-up faith. We sing and smile and use our churchy language in hopes that no one will see the ugly bumps and bulges of our naked soul. Naked is not a comfortable state for our bodies, nor is it a comfortable state for our souls.

That’s one of the reasons I like the Bible. The Bible is a book of naked faith. It tells the real stories of men and women whose naked faith is far from perfect. The Bible is a book where real faith gets naked, where the bumps and bulges of struggling faith are exposed for all to see.

That’s the case in today’s text. Today’s text is a story of naked faith, a story of a man who wants to believe and tries to believe, but when Jesus exposes his real faith, we realize there are bumps and bulges he’s been trying to cover up.

Listen as I read our text from Mark 9:14-27.

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.

In today’s text, we are allowed to see the naked faith of a nameless man who comes to Jesus. Though we do not know his name, all of us are acquainted with the struggles of his faith.

In this story, a father brings his son to Jesus. The boy is in pitiful shape. First, he’s a mute, unable to speak, but that’s the least of his problems. He’s also afflicted with violent seizures. Many commentators believe the boy had a severe case of epilepsy. Whatever, when the seizures hit the child he would flail around on the ground, foaming at the mouth.

In today’s text, we watch this father as he exercises his faith, hoping and praying that Jesus might be able to heal his sick son. But the faith we see from this father is not a perfect faith. To the contrary, this father’s faith has its ugly places and Jesus exposes those ugly places for everyone to see.

At first, we think this father has brought his son to Jesus because he has great faith in Jesus; but as the story goes on, we realize this man’s faith is minimal at best. Jesus simply asks the father, “Do you believe?” To which the father answers, “I believe, but help my unbelief.” There you have it - an exposure of naked faith, a faith filled with ugly bumps and blemishes, a faith like my faith and yours.

To be perfectly honest, this man doesn’t come to Jesus because he’s filled with great faith. He comes to Jesus because he’s desperate, thoroughly desperate. His son is in pitiful shape and he’s tried everything he knows to get him well. So in one last grasp of desperation, the man bursts out of the crowd and comes to Christ.

To be perfectly honest, that man’s naked faith is probably a lot like our own. In the best of times, we like to parade around in our dressed up faith, but when our lives start falling apart and nothing seems to make us better, we come to Jesus in our naked faith – a faith that cries out, “Yes, Jesus I believe – but help my unbelief.” Yes, when our real faith gets naked, it’s most often a grand grasp of desperation, a pitiful cry for help because nothing else seems to work.

Have you ever heard the saying, “There are no atheists in foxholes?” It comes from a 1942 field sermon by Carlos Romulo as he addressed the troops at the Battle of Bataan. Few sentences hold more truth or better describe the nature of real faith. For when the bombs begin to fall and the bullets start flying, the phrase “Oh, God” is not a word of profanity but a cry of desperate faith.

I bet some of you have had those “Oh, God” moments, haven’t you? Those cries of a desperate faith. When the doctor delivered those words of bad news, your cry, “Oh, God” came from a desperate faith.

When you got the news of your son or daughter’s trouble, it was desperate faith that cried, “Oh, God.”

“Oh, God” was the natural expression of your desperation when they delivered the news of your loved one’s death.

Yes, in the dark night of our soul, desperation does more to drive us to God than our well-dressed faith. Oh, piety may cause us to lift our hands to heaven, but it’s desperation that exposes the naked faith of our souls.

But let’s look back at the biblical text for a moment. When Jesus questioned this father about the level of his faith, the father answered with naked honesty. When Jesus asked, “Do you believe?” The father responded with "Lord, I do believe; but help my unbelief!"

And immediately Jesus healed his son. Jesus did not punish the father because his faith was less than perfect. Jesus did not turn away from this man’s ugly naked faith. Instead, Jesus appreciated this man’s honesty and, in grace, provided this man what he needed most in his moment of desperation.

Jesus deals with you and me in that same gracious way. He knows the ugliness of our naked faith. He knows about our doubts and about our misgivings. He knows we’ve been driven to him more out of an abandon desperation than out of an abundant faith. And yet, when Jesus sees the ugliness of our naked faith he doesn’t turn away. Instead, he comes to us in grace, providing what we need most in the moment of our desperation.

Several years ago I was visiting a church member who was in the hospital. This particular man had been faithful all his life and at one time had served as the church’s music director.

This particular hospitalization was difficult for him. The man was a diabetic and his condition was worsening. Just months earlier, because of poor circulation, his toe had been amputated. This time, he had entered the hospital to have the bottom part of his leg amputated.

As you can imagine, the man was devastated, not only with his physical problems but with his faith. As I visited with him the day of his surgery he showed me his naked faith.

“Preacher,” he began, “Can you go to hell for doubting God?”

“Why do you ask that?” I replied.

“Well, before my first surgery, I asked God to prevent me from losing my toe, but I lost it any way. Now as I face losing my leg, I don’t know if I have enough faith to go to God at all.”

After I assured him that his doubting was a normal part of the Christian life, he said something I’ll never forget. He said, “Preacher, don’t take me wrong. I still believe in God, but sometimes I just not sure God still believes in me.”

“Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”

That’s what real faith looks like when it gets naked. When real faith gets naked you can see it bumps and bulges. When real faith gets naked you can see that often it’s nothing more than a grand grasp of desperation. When real faith gets naked you can see that ugly sprout of doubt in the middle of your belief. Naked faith is never pretty, but naked faith is always real.

But you know what? God still honors faith despite its bumps and bulges. God responds to our faith even when it’s not decked out in its Sunday morning best. Yes, Jesus has no problem with the ugliness of our naked faith. Ultimately, it’s not the beauty of our dressed up faith that causes Christ to respond. It’s the beauty of God’s grace, a gift undeserved that sees past the ugliness of our nakedness to meet our deepest needs. That’s why I love the song that says,

Amazing Grace, shall always be my song of praise.
For it was grace, that bought my liberty.
I do not know, just why he came to love me so.
He looked beyond my fault, and saw my need.

Yes, when real faith gets naked, Jesus looks beyond our faults and lovingly meets our need.