I Believe!


Kenora Palm / Passion Sunday
Year A
5 April 2020

Isaiah 50:4-9
Psalm 31:9-16
Philippians 2:5-11
Matthew 26:14-27-27:66

Holy and immortal God,
as we enter into this holy week
turn our hearts to Jerusalem,
so that, united with Christ and all the faithful,
we may enter the city not made with hands,
your promised realm of justice and peace,
eternal from age to age. Amen.

“I believe. Help my unbelief!” (Mk 9:24)

Ironically, this is often my ‘go to’ phrase about faith and belief. Even when someone else says “I believe!”, my mind automatically adds “Help mine unbelief.”

And yet, here we stand, at the foot of the cross.

Here we are at the edge of the Via Dolorosa, on the edge of the “street within the Old City of Jerusalem, believed to be the path that Jesus walked on the way to his crucifixion.”

So, here we stand, at the beginning of the path that Jesus, at the beginning of the most influential series of events in our lives of faith since God uttered the words “Let there be…” (Gen 1)

Our gospels for today have taken us from Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, an entry we emulated, proudly waived our branches. This gospel takes us to the Passover feast where Jesus gives us the Eucharist, to his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, his trials before the Sanhedrin, and before Pilate.

Today we relive the abuse and the taunting at the hands of the Romans and the Jews. Today we watch as Jesus, beaten and bleeding, carries his own cross to Golgotha, and dies upon it, not for Jesus’ benefit, but for you and for me.

And still my heart cries: “I believe. Help my unbelief!” (Mk 9:24)

When Jesus met with Nicodemus, in the dark, on the rooftop, he told him of the crucifixion by reminding him of Moses actions in the wilderness, with the poisonous snakes and the brass serpent. When to be cured of the effects of the snakes venom the bitten victim had to gaze upon the brass serpent, on the pole, in the midst of the people, and just believe.

That’s it! All they had to do was turn their writhing and agonized bodies so they could see the brass serpent and believe that God will make them well.

And I cry: “I believe. Help my unbelief!” (Mk 9:24)

Today, today we see Jesus on the cross dying for you and for me. Dying to take away the burden of sin that denies us, denies God a full and unimpeded relationship with us. And all we are required to do, urged to do, asked to do is look up, and believe that Jesus dies for our sins.

All we are obliged to do is look up at the man on the cross who bears the burden of our sin, who carries it where we are unable to go, to pay the price we are unable to pay.

All we have to do is believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God.

All we have to do is open our ever-doubting minds and our closed off hearts and believe that Jesus Christ died for you and for me, for the forgiveness of sins.

But that’s the crux, isn’t it? This is the cross on which we live or die, right here.

Are we willing to open our lives, our minds, our hearts to the salvific, saving action of God? Or are we going to surround ourselves with the kind of rational mumbo jumbo that doesn’t disturb our sleep at night?

“I believe. Help my unbelief!” (Mk 9:24)

So, if I go through my life with such a verse clouding my mind, then I can only presume such thoughts go further afield than just my brain.

And yet, this is a statement that begs God to help my, help our faith to grow I the face of the ‘rational actions’ of the world around us all designed to deny that God is involved in anything out side of a church.

Paul, in today’s reading to the Philippians, describes Jesus divinity. He describes how God, in human form, humbles himself to be as a servant. And yet, here we stand a the ‘ground zero’ of our lives of faith – the cross before us – Jesus crucifixion – for each one of us, here today, here yesterday, here tomorrow.

“I believe. Help my unbelief!” (Mk 9:24)

Paul tells us how a servant, one considered less or inferior to a citizen, is able to open our hearts, our lives, to the love of God. How one as a servant has modeled how we are to treat each other, not just washing each other’s feet, but considering the other before we consider ourselves.

How this one who presents himself as a servant is actually equal to God, but won’t act on that equality because we need to learn how to live, how to love, how to serve each other as God serves us, today, and every day.

“I believe. Help my unbelief!” (Mk 9:24)

Yet, today, in the midst of fulfilling God’s will, “46 About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’” (Mt 27:46)

Jesus cries out ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’

In the midst of fulfilling God’s plans for our redemption, for alleviating our burden of sin, God, in human form, dies. Alone. Cut off from absolutely everything that will offer aid and comfort for the dying.

All we, humans at the foot of the cross, are asked to do is gaze upon Christ on the cross, and believe!

All we need to do is look up and believe the lengths God is willing to go through for our benefit.

And yet, my heart cries out: “I believe. Help my unbelief!” (Mk 9:24)

When we observe or experience pain, loss, extreme illness, physical destinating and self-isolation, we feel that we ‘die a little, inside,’ don’t we? We feel that we are cut off from the love of God, and we want to emulate Jesus cry from the cross, today.

Yet today God, or more specifically a part of God, dies on the cross so that we can live. Christ dies, God dies, Jesus dies so that we might have life, and live it abundantly.

“When Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. 51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. … 54 When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”” (Mt 27:50-54)

When Jesus dies, all of creation is affected. We are affected. When Jesus dies for each one of us, we are “raised to new life”

Our lives of faith, when we look up and, like the Roman soldier say “Surely he was the Son of God!” are given new life.

“I believe. Help my unbelief!” (Mk 9:24)

The gospel tells us that at the moment of death, all those who have fallen asleep in the faith come back to life, the holy of holies where a priest only goes once in a year, where God is said to reside, separate from God’s people is opened and never to be sealed, again.

Here we stand, at the moment of the crucifixion, the palm branches in our hands have not even begun to wilt from our commemoration of Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and yet God’s love surrounds us and upholds us, and walks with us every step of the way.

Paul reminds us that God humbles God’s self to be the figure of “nothing by taking the very nature of a servant.” (Phl 3:7)

This isn’t someone who came amongst us hurling lightning bolts when we disobey, or when we obstinately turn the other way than the one that God desires for us, who believe. Instead, he came as a servant, one who is ‘under our radar’ he came to die so that we might learn that God desires love, not sacrifice, so that we may learn to love ourselves so that we can love our neighbour.

This is the one who became nothing to teach us how to set aside the burden of our human ego and in that nothingness to be surrounded by the love of God for all of humanity.

And my heart cries: “I believe. Help my unbelief!” (Mk 9:24)

And here we have it. One dies so that we might live. One dies so that we might know God’s love. One dies so that we can have eternal life.

As Moses lifted the serpent in the wilderness, so the son of Man is lifted up so that all who look upon him and believe may have eternal life. (Jn 3)

“16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned.” (Jn 3:16-18a)

Now, don’t get me wrong, I believe. I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Son of Man. I believe that he died and rose again for me, and for you, and for all who believe.

I couldn’t do what God requires of me as a priest and a person of faith if I didn’t believe. and I know that everyone who comes to worship there also believes.

Where I have doubts is when one passage says we must be reborn from above, and another says if we have the faith of a mustard seed we can tell a tree to move, and it will.

So, my heart will mourn Jesus death, while those who don’t believe set guards on the tomb.

My heart will rejoice in this mystery of our faith that breaks the barriers between God and us by Jesus death, on the cross, for our sins.

For all of my life, a part of me will continue to pray for God to increase my faith. I will pray because as I find new challenges in my life, in your life, in the lives of all believers, I pray that we will have the strength and the faith to meet the challenges ahead.

I will pray because here we are, standing at the beginning of the Via Dolorosa, at the beginning of Jesus walk to the cross, a walk that he makes not only on our behalf, but with us at his side.

As we walk this traditional road with Jesus to the cross, the tomb, and his resurrection, together, may our faith grow as we come to a better understanding of the love that God has for each one of us. The love that God teaches our hearts through the actions of Jesus, not just today, but from the moment he is born into the world; the love with which God embraces us, through these actions on our behalf.

I believe.


About pastorrebeccagraham

A Lutheran minister serving an Anglican parish in Northern Ontario.
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