Sunday, September 28, 2008

Whom Do You Trust? - A Sermon

Anybody see the debate Friday night?  I tell you, between all the “You don’t understands” and the “You’re wrongs” it was mind numbing.  Then all the pundits afterward all say different things.  Obama won.  No, McCain won.  Nobody won.


Then you get back to the on-again, off-again bailout crisis, and all we hear is accusations and counter-accusations, claims that if you do it their way, the world will come to an end.   So whether it’s the debates or the economic mess, you really don’t know which way to turn.  More importantly, you don’t know whom to trust.  

Again, I say Oy.

Which I can imagine the Israelites saying, too.   They’re still out in the wilderness and don’t know which way to turn or whom to trust because -- even though God has given them food -- they have no water.  Now, you can look at this two ways.  

One way is this:  Sure, God gave us food, but what good is it without water?  Why can’t he just give us what we need all at once?

But the other way is this:  We asked for food.  God provided.  Probably, if we ask for water, God will provide that, too.  

It’s just that somehow they couldn’t trust God -- despite all the mounting evidence.  All they could see was the crisis in front of their faces.  But I wouldn’t be too hard on them.

Placing your trust in someone is hard.  Sure, a child has to trust that their parent will feed, clothe and care for them.  But when you marry, you place your trust in your life-partner, and you become vulnerable.  When you’re a parent, you have to learn how to trust your kids, giving them increasing responsibility and privileges as they grow up  -- let me tel you, that’s scary.

And when someone loses your trust, it can take a long time for them to earn it back.

I think of the parable Jesus told of the two sons.  He asks whom to trust with this parable -- the person who says, “Yes” but does nothing, or the person who initially says “No” but then acts.  It’s the one who does what he’s asked who gains the father’s trust.  The other one -- he can’t really believe what he says.

Think of it as the person who says, “I’m a Christian,” but acts selfishly versus the person who says, “I am dubious,” but follows the path of Jesus.  Surely, you know people who claim the title Christian but who live selfish, vindictive, condescending lives.

I certainly did when I was a teenager -- probably about the age of the sons in today’s Gospel.  I remember sitting through classes with some pretty arrogant kids who were self-proclaimed Christians, especially my Sophomore year.  Now, that was probably my toughest year academically.  By Springtime I was failing one class and just getting by in two others.  I had just gotten my license and a job, but they weren’t really helping with my grades.  Nor were some of those Christian kids who were all too happy to let me know they were much smarter, and just better people, because they had the right faith.

Of course, I grew up in a church-going family, so I knew better than to think every Christian was a jerk, but the loudest ones weren’t helping my faith any.  And then one day Bob Causy -- a big guy, kind of loud and a little goofy (I thought back then) at church came up and said, “Hey, you want to go to this thing called TEC?”  

TEC stood for Teens Encounter Christ, which turned out to be a weekend retreat for high school boys (they had a separate weekend for girls), where they talk about God.  And it was Roman Catholic. Oh, and I’d ge with a bunch of boys I’d never met.  You can guess how enthusiastic I was.

But I’d know Bob all my life.  The Causy’s were close friends with my folks, so I went out on a limb and said I’d go.  Bob came with my folks to drop me off, but as they left, I felt so alone and thought, “I will never forgive you for this, Bob.”  It got worse when I learned that the people running this were a priest and a nun.  

Yet Fr. Ted had an easy smile and warm heart, and Sister Theresa gave each boy the idea that they were just plain special.  It really didn’t take very long for me to let go and trust these folks as well as the other adults and teenagers who ran the weekend.  In fact, before too long, all of us had formed a pretty close little family.

But the most important thing I learned from this TEC was that even when we lose each other’s trust -- they made clear that all people fail -- there was one whom we can always trust.  Jesus.  Because unlike the sons in that parable, Jesus said he would give himself for us and he did.  He said he would love us, and he does.  In spite of all else that goes on in the world, Jesus’ love for me is true and unshakable.

I learned as a Sophomore in High School that trusting any human being is a tenuous proposition.  You can’t lose heart when people fail you because they will.  Period.  But trusting God, whose son Jesus humbled himself for no other reason than out of love for us -- that is trust well placed.  (For what it’s worth, that weekend changed my life.  I became active in TEC, then later in the Episcopal version called Happening.  And it’s from that weekend on that I began to feel called by God to go deeper -- and finally, to find myself here with you more than thirty years later).

It would be great if all of us could be like Jesus -- speaking and acting consistently and faithfully.  We’re not.  There’s always the hope -- as Paul says, “for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”  We will it and we work for it, but irratically.

Jesus is consistent.  And when it seems like nothing else is -- economy, politics, the Mets -- it’s good to know where you can put your trust.  Amen.