Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Ultimate Trust

Ps 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11[1]

In our culture, it seems that religion is something that has more to do with dying than with living. For many people, Christian faith, church-going, serving others, is all about making sure they’ll “go to heaven when they die.” Even at its best, this perspective is one that views faith as preparation to “meet our maker,” a way to face the final frontier, to approach death with confidence rather than fear. While there may be some truth in those sentiments, I think those who make Christian faith about dying have got it all backwards. Christian faith is essentially about living, not about dying!

When we read our Psalm for today, we naturally think of Jesus’ death on the cross. We think of Jesus’ cry, “Into your hand I commit my spirit” (Lk. 23:46), as a dying prayer. But if we view it in the light of the Psalm from which it was taken, we have to view it rather as a life motto. The Psalmist recounts all the hardships of life—enemies who seek to undo him, anxiety and sorrow from opposition.[2] At the end of it all, the Psalmist can basically say, “I am as forgotten as a dead man” (cf. Ps. 31:12, TEV). And yet, in spite of all the afflictions he endures, at the end of the day he can pray, “my times are in your hand” (Ps. 31:15). It is a prayer of trust, of confidence in the “faithful God” (Ps. 31:5), literally in Hebrew “the God of truth” (el-emeth). The Psalmist trusts in “the God who can be relied on and believed in because [God] is true to himself.”[3] And so end of his prayer is “Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you that wait for the Lord” (Ps. 31:24).

That is a prayer for life, not a cry of death! From this perspective, Jesus’ prayer, “Into your hand I commit my spirit” is more of a motto for living than a prayer for dying. That sense of trust that can say, “it is up to you, God, what becomes of me, and I am willing to have it so,”[4] defined Jesus’ entire life, not just his final days. His whole career, indeed his very being, was motivated by the prayer, “not my will but thine be done.”

Time and time again Jesus told his disciples that his life and his purpose were entirely directed by God. In a very real sense, Jesus is the perfect example of a life lived in accordance with God’s ways, and God’s truth:

• being faithful in relationships, loving in a way that never quits, working to set things right;

being humble enough to seek God’s direction in all of life;

entrusting oneself to God’s goodness and steadfast love and faithfulness, and being willing to take the risk of following God’s ways;

• “waiting” for God—sometimes rather loudly, but also quietly and patiently;

• living in harmony with God’s will—with God’s justice and mercy and love; and

• embracing the supreme act of humility by giving ourselves away in sacrificial love as he did.

As we gather to commemorate Jesus’ life during Holy Week, it is natural that we think about his sacrifice, his cruel death on the cross. And it is natural think about how Jesus died for our sins that we might be free from guilt and rose again that we might be free from fear. But I think we must not forget that Jesus’ death on the cross was the culmination of an entire life entrusted to the faithful God! His death was but the ultimate act of trust in a whole lifetime of obedient trust.[5]

Yes, Jesus died for our sins; yes, he died to set us free from the power of death; yes, he died to make it clear once and for all that God loves us. But just as importantly, Jesus died to show us how to live—how to live a life of ultimate trust, a life that is wholly and completely entrusted to God.[6] May God grant us courage to follow his example and entrust ourselves wholly and completely to the faithful God as our savior Jesus the Christ did.

[1] © 2009 Alan Brehm. A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 4/5/09 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX and at A Community of the Servant-Savior Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX.

[2] Most modern versions follow the (Greek) Septuagint version which reads “misery” in v. 10 rather than “iniquity” in the Hebrew text (and KJV). Cf. H.-J. Kraus, Psalms 1-59, 360; Peter C. Craigie, Psalms 1-50, 258; See also John C. Endres, SJ, “Psalms and Spirituality” Interpretation (April 2002): 143-54 (esp. p. 145).

[3] Mays, Psalms, 143; cf. also Kraus, Psalms 1-59, 363, who renders it “the faithful, dependable God.” He also adds (p. 365), “The truth of God is the confirmation of [God’s] grace and faithfulness.” See further, Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 2.1:459-60.

[4] This is Mays’ interpretation of “into your hands I commit my spirit.” Cf. Mays, Psalms, 144.

[5] Cf. Philippians 2:8, “he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death.” See Barth, Church Dogmatics 4.1:306; see also Endres, “Psalms and Spirituality,” 153.

[6] Cf. Jürgen Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 149: Jesus is “the child of God, the God whom he calls Abba, dear Father. As the child of God, he lives wholly in God and God wholly in him. He opens this unique relationship with God to all who believe him and who, as children of God, like him cry ‘Abba’.” See also Jürgen Moltmann, “Good Friday: Birth of Hope from the Cross of Christ,” in The Power of the Powerless, 120, where he calls this “believing with one’s whole life.”

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