Monday, February 18, 2013

My God In Whom I Trust

My God In Whom I Trust
Ps 91; Lk. 4:1-13[1]
  Trust is a complicated thing.  It takes a great deal of work to earn it.  It can be priceless, and once earned, it is something to cherish.  But it can also be incredibly fragile. After working years to build trust with someone, just one word or deed can shatter it.  And once broken, trust is not easily renewed.  Sometimes it’s impossible to rebuild broken trust.  Trust can be extremely complicated.  And yet we speak of trusting God as a part of our faith in ways that seem to suggest that trust is not complicated at all, but rather very easy.  I’m not sure we’re giving enough respect to the importance of trust in our relationship with God when we do that.
  In a relationship, you build trust by getting to know another person.  You spend time together, you do favors for each other, give gifts, share life stories, and little by little you begin to trust the other person.  The more you take the risk to open yourself to that person and your vulnerability is met with a positive response, the more you trust.  But how exactly does one do that with a God whom Scripture calls the “immortal, invisible, God only wise” (1 Tim. 1:17). And we add in the hymn, “In light inaccessible hid from our eyes.”[2]  How do you build a relationship of trust with a God you can neither see, nor hear, nor touch? 
  There are some for whom it seems like the easiest thing in the world.  They will say that you do it just like you build any relationship--in this case by spending time reading Scripture and praying.  If we believe Scripture is God’s word to us and that praying is talking to God, then that makes sense.  And it works wonderfully for some people.  But for some of us, Scripture seems incredibly difficult to understand, and our prayers seem to go no further heavenward than the ceiling above us.  What do we do then?
  How do we reach a place where we can say, like the Psalmist says in our lesson for today, “My God, in whom I trust”?  Some of us may find that too much of a stretch.  Even the language of the Psalm seems to promise too much: If we make God our refuge, “no evil shall befall you” (Ps. 91:10).  What are we to make of this, especially in light of the fact that faithful believers throughout the ages have always suffered evil?  This points to a potential danger in the sweeping promises of the psalm.[3]  Even the tempter uses one of the promises of this very Psalm against Jesus in the wilderness! (Lk. 4:10-11, citing Ps. 91:11-12).  But I think it’s important to recognize that the Psalmist doesn’t promise that nothing bad will happen to us.  Notice that later the Psalmist assumes that the faithful will experience “trouble” in life (Ps. 91:15).  Rather than promising to exempt us from the bad things that can happen to good people, the Psalmist promises that there is nothing bad that can happen to us that God cannot ultimately turn into something good.[4]
  But the question remains, how do we learn to trust a God whom we can neither see nor hear nor touch?  I think it takes the courage to risk--to stake our lives on our belief in God.  It takes the kind of courage Jesus displayed in the wilderness.  His response to the tempter reveals that he was willing to place his fate in God’s hands, come what may.[5]  It takes the same courage Abraham had when he decided to trust God’s promise of a child and set out from his homeland to a place yet to be determined.  Did all the heroes of faith who took the risk of trusting God do so blindly?  I don’t think so.  I think this is one of the ways Scripture can help us the most.  Not with proof-texts that can be twisted the way the tempter twisted the Psalm lesson for today.  Rather, the Scriptures tell us stories of the way in which God was faithful to those who trusted him time and time again.  It tells us stories of people just like us who didn’t have some kind of storybook life but experienced the trials and challenges and risks we all do in life.  And because they had experienced God’s faithfulness in the past, they continued to trust.  Their experiences demonstrate an important lesson:  We can only learn by experience that God brings surprising good out of even the worst experiences of life.  We can only develop the heart of trust and the eyes of faith to see God’s love and grace and mercy in our lives when we look back in hindsight.[6]
  During this season of Lent, I think it is a good time to look back and to try to develop those eyes of faith.  It think it’s a good time to examine our trust in God.  By that I don’t mean whether we believe in the existence of a supreme being.  I mean it’s a good time to ask ourselves whether we trust God--whether we really trust God the way the Psalmist did, the way Jesus did.[7]  It takes courage to trust God.  It’s a risk.  But as St Paul reminds us, “no one who believes in him will be put to shame” (Rom. 10:11).  When we muster up the courage to take the risk of staking our lives on God and God alone, then we learn what it means to trust God enough to say, come what may, “My God in whom I trust.”

[1] ©2013 Alan Brehm.  A Sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 2/17/2013.
[2] Walter Chalmers Smith, “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise,” in The Presbyterian Hymnal, 263.
[3] Cf. James L. Mays, Psalms, 297: “The Psalm itself poses a danger.  Because its assurance of security is so comprehensive and confident, it is especially subject to the misuse that is a possibility for all religious claims, that of turning faith into superstition.”
[4] Cf. “The Study Catechism,” 1998, question 22.  Cf. also J. Clinton McCann, “The Book of Psalms,” New Interpreters Bible IV:1048, where he says, “We should not use Psalm 91 as a magical guarantee against danger, threat, or difficulty.  Rather, this psalm is a reminder to us that nothing ‘will be able to separate us from the love of God’ (Rom. 8:39 NRSV).” Cf. also H.-J. Kraus,  A Continental Commentary: Psalms 60–150, 225. Cf. further Marvin Tate, Psalms 51-100, 458: “The last words in the psalm are not spoken to God but are spoken by God to us” (citingBrueggemann, The Message of the Psalms, 157).
[5]Cf. Mays, Psalms, 298.  He says that  the temptation posed to Jesus “was to take the promised protection of God into the control of his own will and act. Cf. also R. Alan Culpepper, “The Gospel of Luke” New Interpreters Bible IX:100, where he observes that in his temptation experience Jesus fulfills “the command that was at the heart of Judaism,” the command to love God with all one’s being. Cf. further F. Bovon, Luke 1: A commentary on the Gospel of Luke 1:1–9:50, 145.
[6] Cf. Tate, Psalms 51-100, 459: “We are challenged to ground our endeavors in trust in Yahweh, a trust which will not fail and which leads us along a way where we will see more and more of the saving work of God until finally our knowledge will be complete.”
[7] Cf. Mays, Psalms, 298: “Real trust does not seek to test God or prove his faithfulness.”

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