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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A Little Thing Called Trust

Luke 7:1-10
Trust is something we all yearn for; It is highly valued – both to trust and to be trusted. It is such an essential emotion in both in human development and in our experience of life, that we have found that if a child is not given the ability to know trusting relationship with the primary person or people in her life at a very young age, her personality, and likely her mental health are forever affected. She may never be able to fully trust anyone or anything in her life.
I wonder if you can remember a time, perhaps in some group or another, maybe when you were a child, teen or young adult, that you took part in some sort of “trust game.” They usually go something like this: one person in a group is blindfolded, and crosses his arms over his chest, stiffens his legs, and then falls backward, trusting in the group or appointed members of the group to catch him, preferably before he hits the floor.
Another is follow-the-leader where, once again blindfolded, one person has to depend on a partner to lead her through an obstacle course. It’s interesting that a lot of these games begin with a blindfold on. One has to be able to trust without a “backup plan.” There’s something about the blindfold that inspires – and challenges – the notion of trust.
Three years ago, USA Today published the report of a recent poll that revealed the astonishing results that Americans today don’t trust each other. Based on the kinds of media reporting and the rhetoric that we hear in the public and private spheres, my guess is that the reluctance or inability to trust has only grown in the years since this particular poll was taken, and the problem goes much deeper than what happened in those silly games I mentioned.
Today we know that a good number of people have deep-seated trust issues. We blame the low levels of trust built within our psyche these days to decades of high-profile indiscretions, the disenfranchisement of large segments of society, and the ethical poverty of the landscape.
Experts blame our low levels of trust on declining social capital - that is, the networks of relationships among people who work and live in a society, which enables the successful functioning of that society.
Declining social capital is blamed in part on the increase in technology which in turn leads to fewer opportunities for interpersonal bonding, as well as the decline of organizations and communities where interpersonal, trusting relationships are developed and experienced.
It seems that these days we are if anything, discouraged from trusting – because, do you know what we call people who are too trusting? That’s right, gullible. – Not a positive label by anyone’s standards.
The USA Today article claimed that there is no easy fix to this problem that Americans don’t trust each other:
“….. some studies suggest it's too late for most Americans alive today to become more trusting. That research says the basis for a person's lifetime trust levels is set by his or her mid-twenties and unlikely to change, other than in some unifying crucible such as a world war.
“People do get a little more trusting as they age,” the poll said. “But beginning with the baby boomers, each generation has started off adulthood less trusting than those who came before them.”
As Christians, we turn to God in praise and thanksgiving, we pray to God for help, and we confess Christ crucified and raised from the dead is the Son of God, who, through his incarnation came not only to dwell among us, but to save us from our sins and to heal us from the brokenness of our affliction – the inclination toward greed, disbelief and rebellion.
            And yet, in practice, we see the struggle to trust even within our Christian communities and lifestyles. We experience a struggle even to truly and fundamentally trust God to care for us in the ways that God has promised us he will.
We struggle with our own trust issues which impact our stewardship practices where fear keeps us from trusting that what we have or what we will receive will truly be “enough;” in evangelism practices, where fear keeps us from sharing our faith and inviting others in to our communities of faith; in our spiritual practices where we fear that what we say or do doesn’t really matter, or that we don’t have the right “formula” to pray – have you ever been in a gathering where we invite a volunteer – someone other than the pastor – to lead us in prayer? Everyone suddenly becomes very interested in something taking place on the floor! We even struggle to trust that God’s grace is sufficient, and that it comes to us purely through the love of God and the person of Jesus Christ – and not through or as reward for what we say and do.
            The centurion in our Gospel reading is not a follower of Jesus. He is not a Jew. He is not a member of the community. The centurion is a member of the Roman militia. We don’t know very much about him other than the fact that he seems like he is a nice guy who carries out his duties in what we might call an “ethical” way.
The Jewish elders seem to know him and like him well enough that they are willing to speak on his behalf.  “He is worthy,” they say. “He helped build our synagogue,” they say.
He seems to have a significant relationship with the slave whom we hear about but never see. And yet, the centurion, this member of the enemy coalition and therefore a foreigner, sends word to Jesus asking him to heal his slave.  
This man, this outsider, somehow trusts that Jesus has the power and the goodness to heal this person who has some value to him. He believes that the healing is possible because of who Jesus is, not because of who he is.
This is made clear by the second message he sends along to Jesus: don’t bother physically coming to my home, because really, I am not worthy to receive you. Just say the word, Jesus. just speak it, and I know that my servant will be healed.
In normal circumstances in that time and place, the power and obeisance that this centurion commands might be inconsequential at best and a barrier at worst, when seeking favor from Jesus.
But in this story he does not command this healing on the basis of his status as a Roman authority. He humbly requests that Jesus heal this servant who is important to him based on the goodness and mercy and power he believes Jesus possesses.
He is not Jewish, not even a convert. And yet in his response to the centurion’s words, Jesus says that even within the people of Israel, the chosen People of God, he has not found anyone with more faith that in this centurion.
Growing up in the Catholic church, week after week, as we prepared to receive Holy Communion, we would say these words, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you. But only say the word and I shall be healed.”
That confession, echoing the centurion’s words that come to us in our gospel text today are profound. “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed.”
The centurion’s declaration articulates a unique trust in Jesus’ power and ability to heal. While people in antiquity believed in miraculous healings, they also believed that direct contact with the person mediating divine healing power was necessary. The centurion’s claim is vastly different: Only speak the word, your word, and my servant shall be healed.
The centurion clings unconditionally to Jesus’ word as having the same saving power as his touch or his presence.
Even when we feel unworthy, we too can cling unconditionally to Jesus’ word having the power to forgive our sins, and save us from the powers of evil and death every time we come to the table.
Receiving the sacrament belies a deep relationship of trust. There is no one more worthy of our trust than God. Each time we come to the table, we say by our very presence that even in the moments of our unbelief, we trust that God has the power to forgive us; to heal us; to grow us into disciples of Christ. In the confession and forgiveness that we begin our worship with, make the same confession – on my own, Jesus, I am not worthy – to receive you, to receive your grace and mercy, to have you come to me.
And yet, while we may not see Jesus standing before us we believe he is present, and through his word we are strengthened and empowered to trust. Anchored in trust, given to us as gift, we have faith through the work of the Holy Spirit, that in Jesus, God blesses us in ways beyond our understanding.
I hope that you can see where God has been working in your life, enabling you to trust, being for you that one essential loving and trusting relationship we all need. I hope that through prayer, the trust you have in God and the relationship that is established through God’s love for you and blessed through the word of Jesus Christ may bring you healing, wholeness, and loving gratitude through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Monday, May 23, 2016

All for One and One for All - Trinity in Action

Trinity Sunday 2016
So, I begin with a question for you this morning. Actually, it’s more like a series of questions; so, here we go:
Where do you find God?
What is God’s role in our lives?
How do we see God’s work played out in the day-to-day journey we are on, and in the more defining moments of our existence?
Those questions are based on the ones I hear all the time from people, the same kind of questions I like to ask people, as well. There is a lot to consider within each of those questions, my friends, and just asking them questions out loud, I feel a little bit like Alice sticking her head down the rabbit hole.
It’s not unlike the feeling I get whenever I consider the makeup and meaning of the Holy Trinity. Yet, here we are today. Welcome to Holy Trinity Sunday!
Each year we observe this Sunday, the week after Pentecost, as Holy Trinity Sunday, and we honor, and give thanks and praise for the fullness of God, Jesus Christ, and Holy Spirit.
And on this Sunday, we pastor types – at least the ones not smart enough to take this Sunday as vacation - try – and fail – to come up with the winning definition or description of exactly what or who the Holy Trinity is and how it works.
Of course, we have various teachings of the church, like the words of the Athanasian Creed to help us. I want you to note that I have never actually asked you to recite the Athanasian Creed on this or any other Sunday.
For those who might not be familiar with the Athanisian Creed, it is a statement of belief written sometime around the 4th century and says a lot about how it is that God exists in three persons, separate yet united, all God, yet one God. This ancient creed goes on in complexity, for a page and a half, offering a way to understand or say what we believe about the Trinitarian God without falling into heresy.
In one small section we read, “Uncreated is the Father, uncreated is the Son, uncreated is the Spirit. The Father is infinite; the Son is infinite; the Holy Spirit is infinite. Eternal is the Father, eternal is the Son, eternal is the Spirit. Yet there are not three eternal beings, but one who is eternal; as there are not three uncreated and unlimited beings, but one who is uncreated and unlimited.”
This creed goes on to say that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are equal and inseparable. Did I mention that it goes on like this for a page and a half? To be honest, I’m not sure this creed or these words are really all that helpful to explain a mystery as deep and profound as the Holy Trinity.
It’s not that they are misleading or incorrect. But I think that what we are looking for today, that leads us to those questions I asked earlier is the desire to know, what does any claim that we make about the Trinity mean for our lives today?
What does any explanation or creed about the“Trinity”, do to help us in growing our lives of faith and hope? Perhaps a better question to ask on this Trinity Sunday is: how are we to understand and experience God, Father, Son, Holy Spirit, and what difference does it make in our lives?
These questions are important and they are a good place to start. They are very likely the ones we already and often ask ourselves – both aloud and in the silence of our hearts. Indeed, the what, where and how of God are questions that sometimes haunt us.
We ask them - as we gaze upon a star-filled sky; as we witness the diversity of creation through the grandeur of mountain vistas, and appreciatively take in the stark beauty of desert sands and the power of ocean waves; and we wonder how it is that all these things came to be; and we are pointed toward the answer: Creator God.
We also ask those questions when we lie upon our beds at night; when sitting at the bedside or kneeling at the grave of a loved one and wondering about their destiny; and we ponder them as we experience and observe the struggle and pain carved into humanity, and receive the reassurance of our baptism, answering us in deep sighs, “Saving Redeemer, full of grace.”
The questions are as old as humankind and as current as this morning’s news. They are as familiar as those other questions we ask, about who God is and why God allows this or that to happen.
The mystery and meaning as well as the truth about the presence of God, and the very nature of God are reflected in the various readings we have before us this morning. They affirm that God, creative, redeeming and sanctifying God, is capable of confronting our questions and lovingly accompanying us as we ask them. We sometimes receive answers through faith and hope which are given to us when we least expect them and most need them, not by our own effort, but by the presence of God that holds us in eternal relationship with the divine – the Holy Spirit.
It is God as Trinity who accompanies us when we are overwhelmed by our daily struggles; who comforts us when we are weary from life. As we struggle, God speaks to us through the words of Proverbs 8 and Psalm 8 which remind us how our loving God conceives of us human beings crowned with glory and honor.
 Can you imagine that? God imagines us crowned in glory and honor. It is for this reason that God redeems us through the incarnation and the salvation that Jesus brings. It is for this reason that God has taken on the burden of our sin. It is for this reason that in love, the Holy Spirit reveals God’s nature in Jesus Christ. It is for this reason that God made us free to make choices and to live our lives yet at the same time provides us the Spirit of truth to help guide our way.
When we are disturbed or alarmed by the natural, political and social chaos we witness each day, these texts assure us that God ultimately makes things work in harmony in this overwhelming world. Then, God calls us to participate in bearing the responsibility toward the well-being of the world around us.
The apostle Paul describes for us a life where, despite the agonized groan of the creation which surrounds us, we can know peace because of Jesus, who grants us the grace we need to be free to endure, grow, and live in faithful obedience to God. We have this assurance because of the love of God that is poured into our hearts by none other than the Holy Spirit. Even when our hope is challenged. Even when we feel as though we are under assault by forces around us that we can neither see nor understand; we are right to believe that God is with us and to hope that through the Holy Spirit God strengthens us and gives us the endurance and faith we need.
 “Where do you go to find God”?
Perhaps in the creative world around you, in the love shared in relationships given and blessed by God; community where we together, with holy purpose, we worship and praise God, and come to be strengthened and nourished, through God’s word and the working of the Holy Spirit.
Perhaps like me, you see God in acts of mercy and kindness witnessed in various places; In stories of generosity and altruism; In acts of solidarity and justice. I see God in the way this congregation reaches out to feed the hungry through coins noisily clanging in cans, boxes and buckets today. I see God at work as bagged lunches are faithfully assembled and delivered with love to those who need them; In the quilts we will bless next week, to be sent to the synod assembly and then given to Lutheran World Relief; in the care for creation and stewardship teams that work together to care for the resources God has so lovingly provided. I think of the work of our own volunteers and those of other local churches who take turns sharing God’s love and mercy at Easton’s Promise, the interfaith homeless shelter. I think of the ways many of you serve in the community, reading to children in schools, serving as local volunteers in education programs in schools, museums and nature centers; at Hospice; and in organizations around Easton and St. Michaels and other places. I see God in the way you go about serving in your daily vocations.
The Holy Spirit guides, blesses and makes holy our offerings of time, talent and treasure, the grateful responses of hearts and hands moved by God’s creating, nurturing, saving love which existed from before the dawn of time and which, in every age, God has made new and fresh and relevant for the whole human race.
In prayers lifted up and through words of encouragement I hear shared between you on a Sunday morning, I see the Holy Spirit binding us together for godly loving and caring. Each act, each word of care and support, each prayer, comes as the stirring of the Holy Spirit of God who declares God’s love in these and many other ways.
“What is God’s role in our lives?”
The answers to this question are as pointed and sure as the single response, “since God is love, God’s role is to love.” God’s creative role is constantly being seen and experienced not only in the natural world but also in the ongoing work of God’s loving us into existence and shaping us to be the people that God desires us to be. That’s a lot of work for God to take on! Even on my best days, I know that such shaping is like a full-time job for God.
But God, working as Father, Son and Spirit, takes on that job for each of us. In every moment of our lives and most especially in those defining moments when we are at the crossroads between life and death, joy and sorrow, service and need, we are abundantly blessed by the ever-loving, ever-present, ever-revealing God; Holy Trinity. Thanks be to God!