Feb. 17 “Trust” Jeremiah 17:5-10 * Psalm 1 (UMH 738) * 1 Corinthians 15:12-20 * Luke 6:17-26
Did any or all of you appreciate our snow day last Sunday? It was nice to have a whole day with nothing to do, but I missed having church more and more as the week went on. Sometimes it is good to take a Sunday off, but at the same time it leaves a hole in life. I rely on our worship time be renewed from the past week and encouraged for the next. I come to church trusting God to feed me spiritually and give me strength for the journey. Without it, I don’t feel as strong.
After living this long and seeing all sorts of horrible things, you’d think I’d stop having faith in people, but I don’t. Does that strengthen or weaken my faith in God? I don’t know. I certainly wish that the faith I have in our TV and online weather people would bear fruit according to how much time I give to listening to them. I was certain that we would have a couple more snow days this week, hopefully paid days off, but that didn’t happen. I did take a sick day, but that just isn’t the same: all I did was lay in bed watching “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”, and am still a little dopier than usual as I fight whatever my affliction is. Our weather people may be a little more accurate than they used to be, but no human is able to predict what the weather is going to do 100% of the time, even with the best computer models. Likewise, as all people have limits, we are limited by how much we can put our faith and trust in them, often too much, sometimes too little.
I have spent this week thinking about the similarities and differences between faith and trust. I confess that I haven’t concluded anything, I am still working on it, and in the end faith and trust when we talk about God seem like the same thing. Both are certain, although they go up and down at times, depending on where we are, not as a result of how God is. Faith and trust in people are something else! Jeremiah says:
Cursed are those who trust in mere humans, who depend on human strength and turn their hearts from the LORD…Happy are those who trust in the LORD, who rely on the LORD. They will be like trees planted by the streams, whose roots reach down to the water. They won't fear drought when it comes; their leaves will remain green. They won't be stressed in the time of drought or fail to bear fruit. (Jer 17:5-8 CEB)
Now certainly there are good people out there, and I certainly don’t want to make it sound like we will go to hell for listening to meteorologists, but their wisdom is temporary, like our time here on earth. Only trust in God gives us the courage to keep going when things get tough. Only God keeps feeding us, we can’t do so by our own strength or some other person’s. Jesus serves as our model as humans, but he also is far superior to any human.
Our Gospel passage is a curious story. Reading the Bible can be rather amusing when you have been sick, for you notice things you usually wouldn’t. Immediately prior to our reading, we are told that after Jesus has a run-in with some scribes and Pharisees, he goes to a mountain to pray. He prays all night. Who else could do that? He then calls his disciples: what they were doing up there on the mountain we are not told: the must have followed him there. As in Mark and Matthew, Jesus begins calling people to follow him, and here in Luke we are told that he chooses the Twelve while on the mountain, which Mark does also but Matthew does not. Why? God only knows. I always assumed that those already called would be Apostles, but it seems like they and a whole bunch of others were called to follow Jesus, and here he chooses those who were to be closest to him. Sorry, please pardon the Bible nerd at work. In the Gospel of John, there are no geological or geographical references, everybody is just walking around, and they happen to meet up. Why is this important? First, Jesus was a person walking about, like us, and second, he calls all those who are to follow him first, but chooses some for special ministires. He draws us to himself.
In Luke, Jesus and the disciples come down from the mountain, and Jesus gives what is known as the Sermon on the Plain. Whether this is the same occasion as the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew or some other sermon, we don’t know, but “Sermon on the Mount” as a title is apparently catchier, for everybody has heard about it, but only Bible nerds have heard about the Sermon on the Plain. Usually when there is some confusion on such things, I turn to those profound authorities, Monty Python. Unfortunately, in their version, found in the movie the Life of Brian, Jesus speaks from what could be considered to be a “mount”, while some of the listeners are on what seems to be a plain, at a distance, where they erroneously hear what they interpret as “blessed are the cheesemakers.” However you view all of this, you will note that Jesus comes to the people and teaches them. He prays for them and heals them. Being on a plain instead of a mountain top, he would be on the same level as his listeners, as if an equal, able to interact with them. He comes to us where we are, also, and teaches and heals us. We are then invited to do likewise. As St. Augustine once said:
Like Jesus, we are called to accept people as they are and to strive to develop a Christian relationship with them. Not only did Jesus heal people, he also taught the people. Jesus perceived their unexpressed needs. Looking into the eyes of his disciples, he taught them about the many ways in which they were blessed.
These are things we do as a church, also. However, many of the blessings we are promised here and elsewhere have yet to be fulfilled, for us just like those first hearers of Jesus’ words. Jesus says:
Happy are you who are poor, because God's kingdom is yours. Happy are you who hunger now, because you will be satisfied. Happy are you who weep now, because you will laugh. Happy are you when people hate you, reject you, insult you, and condemn your name as evil because of the Human One. Rejoice when that happens! Leap for joy because you have a great reward in heaven. (Luk 6:20-23 CEB)
Sure, this sounds great, but are we ready to believe it? We may look at our lives and think we are in a much better place than those who were present back then, but still, we will have to wait to enjoy all of God’s promises. Who likes to wait? The problem with waiting is that it tests our resolve. If we take Jesus’ words at a merely intellectual level, we probably won’t have the faith or trust to believe that they will be fulfilled. But when we take Jesus’ words to heart, combined with our experiences with him and with other believers, we have the faith to be patient and wait for all good things to be fulfilled. Jesus invites us to see beyond what is in front of us, to look into the distance all the way into eternity. Faith allows us to trust God for what may not have happened yet. We can trust in the One who will make all things new. We can persevere through the hardships of life, knowing that one day soon we will be victorious in Christ.
Returning to our friend who doesn’t believe in the resurrection or the Holy Spirit, I believe that he reduces Jesus to being merely a man, and not God. In Jesus, we trust in the best that a man can offer, as well as the best that God has to offer. We have faith that we will receive what God freely gives to those who believe that Jesus, the Son of God, died and rose again on our behalf. We trust God to fulfil his promises, even when they seem far off in the future. Our friend may be blessed by the teachings of Jesus, but he is missing out on the power and victory that only comes through accepting Jesus as one’s risen Lord and Savior. Through Jesus, we know that God accepts us and understands us, as a good person might be able to do, but he also forgives us and blesses us with eternal life, as only God can do. God is the only one who can heal our deepest wounds and makes us whole again. Sure, he doesn’t always do what I want him to do, or when, but I know that he will do what is best for me. He not only shows us the best way to get through this life but opens the door for us into eternity with him.