Sermon by Pastor Dan Woodman
IN GOD WE TRUST?
Trust is a big issue for a lot of people. Actually trust is a big issue for most people. If the trust you have in something or someone is abused then regaining that trust can become an insurmountable problem. And, that problem can just wear you down for an awfully long time. It can impact all areas of your life. It can prevent you from functioning as a “normal” person. When we have been burned by someone we trust we build walls around ourselves. We delude ourselves into thinking these walls are invincible. Unfortunately, they are not. They hold us back and prevent us from interacting because we are afraid. They keep others out. They can keep God out. But they are not invincible. They are built out of fear and they can come down out of love. When we give into mistrust we can become cynical. Since we have been hurt by someone we presume we can be hurt by everyone. We look at our fellow beings with suspicion. I’m reminded of the cynical sign posted by some cash registers. “In God we trust. All others pay cash.” I suppose the sign is posted to be both cute, and to send a message that your personal check will not be accepted. For me it’s not cute at all. I wonder how God feels about that sign. I wonder how Jesus would react to that sign. I know how I react, and it’s with pity, and sadness, and sure, a healthy dose of indignation. I find it personally offensive even though I don’t know this person and I’m pretty sure they don’t know me. Using God as an excuse for mistrust borders on heresy. It means you don’t really understand God at all.
On the other hand I don’t want to diminish the consequences of abuse: People who have been taken advantage of by strangers. People who have trusted and been devastated by the person they loved. People who have been hurt physically and emotionally and carry scars that can last a lifetime. Perpetrators of these kinds of things make my blood boil. But, where is the line between being gullible and being trusting? How do we open our eyes to see the truth when we have been blinded by hurt? Sorry, I don’t profess to have the answer, but I do recognize a source of comfort. We can all experience that source in a few minutes as we gather in a circle of fellowship and share together the cup and the bread that reminds us of the one who took on our pain and our sin that we might have eternal life.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself. I want to talk about our Exodus passage. It is eerily similar to what we heard and talked about last week. This time it’s not food they are complaining about. Food they have been given. God had heard their pain and in a gesture of good will and love, he sent them manna from heaven. Their bellies are full, but guess what? They’re thirsty. And guess what they do. They complain, again. Somehow it’s not enough that God has proven God’s trustworthiness. They want more. I envision what it might be like to have been there then. I suspect that the power of suggestion may be in play here. You know what it’s like when you’re hot and sweaty. Someone says, “Boy, what I would give for a lemonade!” Suddenly that’s all you can think about, even though your thirst is far from desperate. You share with your friend how good that would be. How refreshing that cool, and sweet, and citrusy, satisfying drink would feel just spilling down your throat. Pretty soon everybody is craving lemonade because they don’t have it. This may not be how it went down in the wilderness, but I’m thinking it’s a pretty strong possibility. They react in the extreme, just like when they were hungry. They say, “Moses, you brought us all this way to kill us! Get us some water, now!!!” Moses is again at his wit’s end. He turns to God and says, “Sorry, God. Once again they don’t trust you. Can you help me out?” God is not pleased with this lack of trust but gives Moses control over water just like he did at the Red Sea. This time though it’s to create water and to bring it out of rock. The people get the water but Moses names the place Massah and Meribah. These names translate to test and quarrel so that people would always be reminded of the lack of trust they had in God. Why do we not trust God? Is it because of bad experiences? Is it because we’re afraid of letting go? Is it because we feel our status quo and our comfort might be threatened? This is the message in our Matthew reading this morning.
A lot of people find this passage confusing. And, that is very understandable. On face value it doesn’t seem to make much sense. I’ve thought about it, and have found the context where it makes perfect sense. John the Baptist is the focus here. The reason for that is that just as my blood boils when I see people who are victimized, Jesus’ blood is still raging hot over the execution of his beloved cousin, the prophet who people revered, the very same man who baptized Jesus himself. John is in the forefront of Jesus’ mind as he continues to grieve his loss. So when he is challenged by chief priests and elders who question how Jesus could possibly have the authority to teach in the temple, he gives it right back to them, in spades. “If you answer my question, I’ll answer yours.” he says. “Was my cousin, John’s baptism heaven sent or manmade?” They were in a bind and they knew it. If they answered heaven it would make them hypocrites since they did not recognize John as a legitimate prophet. If they said manmade they would incur the wrath of the people who knew John was special. So, they said, “We don’t know.” Jesus says, “Then I’m not answering yours.” Why should Jesus bother with an explanation? If they didn’t believe John, they were certainly not going to believe him. Jesus is not done with them. He tells them the parable of the two sons. One says he’s not going to do as his father asks, but later changes his mind and does it anyway. The other son says he’ll do it but does not. Which one did as his father asked? The elders respond with what seems the obvious answer. We probably would, too. The first one did the will of his father, right? Well, not exactly. It’s the second son who Jesus celebrates here. And, it’s the second son who is just like us. Jesus is drawing a parallel between those who rigidly and blindly follow the Jewish law (son number one) and those who question and are open (son number two). He goes on to berate the elders for their lack of trust in John who came in the way of righteousness. They ignored John. They did not believe him. They did not change their minds, and this was likely a contributing factor to his death. They were so secure in their lofty, holier-than-thou places that they were blinded to the truth and unable to trust. The humble sinners on the other hand were open to John, and are likewise open to Jesus. They can see where there might be a better way to serve God. They trusted when much of the rest of the world did not.