Sunday, August 25, 2013

taught to fly--a sermon for 25 August 2013

Rev. Teri Peterson
taught how to fly
Proverbs 3.1-10, Mark 4.35-41
25 August 2013, Singing Faith 12

Holy, Holy, Holy!
How Can I Keep From Singing
Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus
Leaning on the Everlasting Arms

My child, do not forget my teaching,

but let your heart keep my commandments; 

for length of days and years of life

and abundant welfare they will give you.

Do not let loyalty and faithfulness forsake you;

 bind them round your neck,

write them on the tablet of your heart. 

So you will find favor and good repute

in the sight of God and of people.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,

and do not rely on your own insight. 

In all your ways acknowledge him,

and he will make straight your paths. 

Do not be wise in your own eyes;

fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. 

It will be a healing for your flesh

and a refreshment for your body.

Honor the Lord with your substance

and with the first fruits of all your produce; 

then your barns will be filled with plenty,

and your vats will be bursting with wine.

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great gale arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’


At the top of the bulletin today is one of my very favorite quotes: “faith is believing that one of two things will happen—that there will be something solid for you to stand on, or that you will be taught to fly.”

The idea of a leap of faith is a common one, but actual leaping is somewhat more rare. It’s not often that most of us are willing to step into the unknown darkness simply trusting that we will figure it out. And yet that’s exactly what Jesus asks us—to trust.

Trust is easier said than done, of course. Most of us have trust issues of one kind or another. We’ve been betrayed, we’ve been hurt, we’ve trusted the wrong people, we’ve been taken advantage of. We’ve been trusted beyond our capability, we’ve been the betrayer, and we’ve been the one who manipulates someone else’s trust. We talk about trust as something that must be earned or lost, that can be both a reward and a punishment.

Is this the kind of trust we have with God? In Proverbs we are encouraged to trust God with all our heart and not to rely on our own understanding. Yes, God has been faithful—providing for our every need, from family to food to freedom. The whole creation sings in praise of the one who makes rivers flow and rocks stand. We might even say God has earned our trust. But is that what we mean—that we require God to earn our trust? Can God then lose our trust too? That actually sounds suspiciously like relying on our own understanding—forcing God to meet our requirements for faith. The writer of proverbs talks about trusting God as one in a long list of things we do simply because of who God is. We are to trust, to be faithful and loyal, to acknowledge God’s presence in all places, to honor God with all our substance and all our possession. Not because God has earned this favor, but because God is God.

To our modern, independence-loving minds, this seems a bit ridiculous. Of course no one, including God, is trustworthy just because. If the rock to which we cling suddenly seems slippery, our trust falters. When God answers our prayers according to our plans, our trust grows. We read throughout scripture that God is faithful, and many of us experience God’s faithfulness every day. And, as we talked about last week, we also experience God’s seeming absence, often at the moment of deepest darkness. How can we trust a God who seems to be asleep on the pillow in the stern of the boat while the storm rages?

We can’t, of course. Not under our own power. We are able to step out, believing that there will be something solid to stand on or we will be taught to fly, only by the power of the Holy Spirit. The apostle Paul reminds us over and over that faith is a gift of the Spirit. In our weakness, the Spirit intercedes for us, praying and encouraging and breathing and giving us life where before all we had was fear. Through the Holy Spirit, we are able to trust—not because God has earned our trust, but because God has given us the gift of trust. Just as we love because God first loved us, so also we are able to trust because God has first trusted us. After all, trust is the foundation of love.

We know that a rabbi only said “Come, follow me” to students he believed could do what he did. When we hear Jesus’ voice floating down the beach, or calling across the water, or echoing across the table, what we hear is God’s trust in us, God’s belief that we can be like Jesus. We have been entrusted with the task of being the body of Christ, the task of revealing the kingdom of God, the task of continuing Christ’s work of reconciliation. We are trusted friends, co-creators with God, made in God’s image…and with that comes a gift beyond price: the gift of trust. We have not earned it, and we cannot lose it.

This is of course beyond our understanding…which is exactly the point. Our understanding is limited by our insistence on an economy of earning and losing. God’s economy of trust and love is based on gift, not on a quid-pro-quo transaction.

What would happen if we could see trust as a gift? A gift freely given to us…and that we offer to both God and to others? Is Christ’s presence in the boat is enough, even if it seems like he’s sleeping on the job? Is our call to be the body of Christ enough, even if it seems some don’t deserve it?

It’s hard work to trust. It requires a choice every day, sometimes every moment. The same is true of love—it’s a verb that insists on constant attention, or it withers away into fuzzy meaningless cliché. The Spirit gives us the ability, and God trusts us to cultivate that gift into a way of life. How do we cultivate that gift?

First by remembering God’s faithfulness—which starts with opening up the Bible and reading God’s story. It also includes practicing gratitude—looking at our lives and naming the things God has done each day. Over and over God is present and active and providing, if only we are looking!

Second, by spending time with God. The disciples may have been afraid, but at least they were in the boat with Jesus. They called out to him in their time of need, they didn’t just try to fix the problem themselves. When he answered them, they marveled, they gave thanks, they continued to pray. The leaned on the strong arms of the One who could still the storm, feed the hungry, teach the crowds, and show them God’s power.

Third, by practicing trusting others. Can we offer our trust as a gift to someone else in the body of Christ? I wonder what would happen if we trusted each other, and were trustworthy to one another, with our stories, with our hopes and dreams, with our hurts, with our observations, with our prayers? I know that within the church we are pros at loving and at hurting each other. I’m not suggesting that we forget when we forgive, that we continue in abusive relationships, or that we ignore hurtful and destructive behavior. I am suggesting that it might just be possible for us to trust the Spirit and one another enough to be kind and honest when we see that behavior. It might just be possible for us to trust the Spirit and one another enough to speak the truth with love and to move on in a new way. If God is trustworthy, and we are made in the image of God, then can we try to be the people God knows us to be, and both be trustworthy and extend the gift of trust to others?

Trust God with all your heart, and rely not on your own understanding.

Acknowledge God in all your ways, and honor God with all your being, and it will be a healing for your flesh and a refreshment for your body.

Can this be? Can it be that if we trust God, and allow the Spirit to help us trust one another, that it will be healing and refreshing, both for our individual selves and for the body of Christ? It seems as if it’s a hard road to trust—calling out in the storm, walking the lonely road with a stranger, wandering through the dark valley. And yet we are promised: there will be something solid to stand on, or we will be taught how to fly.

May it be so. Amen.

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