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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.

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