I’ve wondered why in the Bible, the Sacred Text of our faith, when you flip through and read some of the passages, why so many times, you see often repeated, the encouragement to “trust in the Lord”. Especially in the Psalms and Proverbs, over and over again, we read: “trust in God”, “trust in the Lord.”
And even if the exact wording isn’t used, the message is always there, repeatedly.
Today, in the scripture readings for Reformation Sunday, we again hear the admonition to “trust in God.”
Psalm 46: Be still and know that God is God.
Remember that God is our ultimate refuge and strength.
A rock in the midst of the turmoil in the world.
Subtext – God is the ultimate One in whom we can rest in, and place our trust.
The Jeremiah passage: We’re reminded of how God graciously freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt,
…of how God has become known to us in the depths of our hearts,
…thereby establishing the most intimate and solid of relationships with us,
…and promising to forgive and renew us.
Subtext- why wouldn’t we want to trust such a good God?
The Romans passage: The Apostle Paul writes that it is “faith in Jesus” i.e., trust in Jesus, that makes us right with God.
The word “faith” in the true Biblical sense means nothing other than the notion of “trust,” as in “trusting in God,” or “giving our hearts over” to God, or “being loyal” to God.
So, nothing we do, or not do – however “spiritual” – would change the way God views us – as precious and loved for all time.
Subtext- we only need to “have faith in,” or in other words, “trust in” this God. And this action alone “justifies” or “makes us right” with God.
Why is it that the writers of our sacred texts felt such a need to emphasize the importance of trusting in God?
Perhaps the answer is obvious. It’s because all too often, throughout the ages and generations, especially among the identified religious leaders throughout the sweep of biblical history, a remarkable lack of trust in God has been demonstrated. Instead of God, they’ve put their ultimate trust in themselves, in their own abilities, ingenuity, talents, wealth, or status.
Take for example the religious leaders in today’s Gospel reading. They place a great deal of trust in their ancestry, in their status as descendents of Abraham as justification for their “specialness” in the eyes of God.
“We are descendants of Abraham,” they boast, “and have never been slaves to anyone.”
Their “ancestry” means everything to them. They trust in it more than God.
This problem of not trusting in God is exactly what the Roman Catholic monk Martin Luther in the sixteenth century struggled and dealt with.
When the Church of his day seemed so preoccupied with performing actions of pilgrimage, of confession, of venerating saints and relics, of paying the Church for “indulgences” (certificates ensuring forgiveness of sin) as ways to be put right with God, …
… When it seemed so predominantly focussed on external actions, on always doing, doing, doing, as the `be all and end all’ of the spiritual life,
Luther sounded the trumpet to remind people that the spiritual life is first and foremost about recognizing that it is God the Holy One who is the Source of all Good in the world, and who has been active throughout history, and working in people’s hearts to prompt them in the way of Jesus.
Luther made it clear, that the spiritual life is first about, “being still” – as Psalm 46 says – being still and being aware of, and trusting, God’s gracious and forgiving presence in the world.
Now, this is not meant to be an excuse to do nothing, an excuse for inaction, or passivity. From the beginning of time, God has always used people, human beings, us, to work out God’s good purposes in the world. We are, as it’s said, “the hands and feet of Jesus” in the world today. God has no one else but us to affect God’s good purposes on earth.
And so, prompted by God’s Spirit who has touched our hearts, we do the good that we feel led to do, in whatever unique and specific way we’re gifted or talented in, or inclined to do.
But, as Luther also realized, there’s always been the temptation, to overvalue the good works that we do, to begin acting as though “it’s all up to us.” We see so much in the world, in the church, in our lives, that needs changing and fixing, and so we dive in frenetically thinking that it’s all up to us to make things better. We end up trusting in ourselves, more than God.
Well, truth be told, it’s not all up to us. Never has, never will be.
While we do what we can, and the best that we can in what we do, we don’t forget that it is always God who’s at the centre of all good action, God who will bring to completion our efforts at good work.
I love the true story of the young priest, Jim, who for a time worked with refugees in East Africa.
The work seemed so overwhelming, and the needs so great. And so Jim dove into the work, believing he could literally solve all the problems of every refugee he met.
He met with each of the refugees every week, met with everyone who needed counselling, ensured they all received adequate medical care, advocated for them when they got in trouble with their landlords, and pleaded for them at the UN offices.
But Jim soon realized he was burning out, that no matter how hard he worked, it didn’t seem there were any good results forthcoming, that he was making any sort of difference, at least in the immediate short term.
Jim became so frustrated, that he went to his spiritual director, George. Jim complained how he had so much to do and felt he couldn’t “do it all.”
George said, “Wow, that’s a lot of work. Where did you get the idea that you had to do everything?”
Jim thought for a moment, “Hmmm… You’re right.” And then half-jokingly, “Well, I guess that’s what Jesus would be doing, obviously…”
George answered, “Well, yes, that might be right. But guess what buddy? I’ve got some news for you, Jim. You’re not Jesus!”
How often do we end up behaving as though we were Jesus?
There’s only one Jesus, one Messiah, and we’re not him.
We trust in God, our ultimate refuge and strength, the Holy One of Israel, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Esther, Ruth, Elizabeth, Mary, the God who came in Jesus to show us the way. To God be the glory. Amen.