Sunday, December 31, 2006

trust (a sermon)

Following is the text of a sermon I gave a couple weeks ago. I hope it helps you in some way.


a sermon by Troy Cady

Seven years from now my daughter will be sixteen. Some time that year, she’s going to have a baby. Then, shortly after the baby is born, she and her boyfriend are going to move to Iraq. It’s likely I won’t get to see my grandson until he’s two or three years old but I’m not worried, because it’s all part of God’s plan.

And I know that it’s God’s plan, because an angel appeared to me a couple weeks ago and told me it would happen that way. (The angel’s name is Nacho, by the way.)

At first, I didn’t believe him and so he told me he was going to strike me dumb, but then I pled with him, told him I had to preach this Sunday “and what would I do if I couldn’t talk” and he said, “Okay, I won’t put a brace on your tongue; but you better believe me next time.”

I assured him I would. And, he left. And that’s what I want to tell you today. That’s my story.

Now, question: how many of you believe my story? (None?! Oh, come on!)

So, don’t you find it amazing--and a little bit strange—that, in the Bible’s version of this story, Mary concludes her brief dialogue with the angel Gabriel in an unruffled state? Listen to what she says: “I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said.”

Look slowly at those words again: “I am the Lord’s servant.” Those are words of belief, words of faith, words of trust.

Trust: We are in the midst of a season called Advent. It’s an important time because it marks the beginning of the Christian calendar and it is a time of preparation. During this time, we ready our hearts to receive Christ’s ongoing work in our lives through reflecting intentionally on various themes that touch on the birth of Jesus. Last week, we took a look at the theme of hope as it was expressed through the prophets who anticipated the birth of Messiah hundreds of years prior to that event. We saw how hope proved to be an anchor for them, and it can serve as an anchor for us, too.

This Sunday commences another theme of Advent: Trust. Just as the prophets served as an example of hope for us, so Joseph and Mary serve as an example of trust.

In this teaching, I’d like to make a few observations on the nature of trust.

First of all, let it be noted that trust is a bit of a slippery subject. In one sense, trust comes naturally and in another sense trust is an unnatural or even supernatural act.

Question: do we naturally trust God or do we find that trusting God comes with some measure of difficulty?

Since we may have a hard time answering that question, let me pose it in a different way that may be more accessible to us. Question: do we naturally trust others or do we find that trusting others is hard?

Let me give an example: When Amy first started her internship here a little under a year ago, she automatically held a certain measure of trust in me as her team leader. Perhaps this is because her subconcious mind reminded her that…

--I had been team leader to others
--I had been appointed to this position by others and was accountable to those others
--I had been doing this for some time now
--I was a rather muscular individual (just kidding!)

Perhaps it was because of all those things that she automatically trusted me. In either case, I know that we started out relating to one another with some measure of trust. In this light, we come to see that trust is sort of like a bank account. Depending on the individual and our previous knowledge about them (or past experiences with them), we automatically hold greater or lesser measures of trust.

For example, depending on your political views, if you were to meet George Bush for the first time you would automatically possess greater or lesser trust than others of differing views. This is because you already know and think some things about him. Now, keep in mind, when George Bush first became president, everyone held “X” amount of trust for him. But then, as his presidency wore on, the trust levels were either built up to X + 20 or depleted to X-2000.

And this clues us in to another feature of trust. Trust can be preserved. It can also be earned and built upon. So, it stands to reason that it can also be depleted, and, in some instances, utterly lost.

This is what I call the “dynamic” or “interactive” nature of trust. It’s always concerned with another person or thing and therefore, it’s fluid, changing, shifting.

For example, let’s say I buy a brand new car. It’s safe to say that, in the first year of my car’s life span I will have a sense of confidence in this car. I trust that it will start when I turn the key in the ignition, for example. But, then, the car gets older…

When Heather and I were first dating, my pastor sold me his car for one dollar. I’m not sure we didn’t get ripped off. This car was a big, electric blue station wagon that had a pit the size of the Grand Canyon in the driver’s seat. When Heather drove the car, she could barely see over the steering wheel. And, I can remember many days saying a prayer that God would, “please, help Old Sally” (that’s what we called her: “Old Sally”) to start. Many times, God answered “No” to that prayer. So, naturally, we lost faith in that car, we stopped trusting Old Sally, and we sent her to the great scrap heap in the sky.

Trust is always concerned with someone or something else. Of course, when it’s concerned with a thing, it’s a bit simpler to understand: as that thing becomes unreliable we lose trust. And, in many ways, trust as it relates to another person works much the same way, but (when it’s concerned with a person) trust is, of course, much more complicated.

Except, there is always one rule you can count on: Trust is usually depleted or lost when folks feel they’ve been hurt or let down by the person in question.

And this helps us understand the nature of trust in God. Let me just say at the outset that, for the most part, children have a belief in God and a faith in God that we could call “Trust Level X”. It’s the amount of trust with which we all, perhaps, begin life.

But, as time wears on, that trust can be built upon, preserved or lost. Often, for example, when folks are out in nature and they observe the grandeur of creation, trust in God and belief in God increases. But many times trust in God becomes depleted as we see suffering in the world, because we think: “Doesn’t God care? And, if He does, why doesn’t He do something about it?”

And this is to say: we all come here today with a certain measure of trust in God. In most instances your measure of trust will either be X plus something or X minus something. In either case, your current "trust quotient" will no doubt differ from your trust quotient of, say, five years ago.

So, ask yourself: “How has my trust in God changed over the years? And, to what extent do I trust God now?” Take a moment now to think about that…

Now, with that in mind, I’d like to interface these dynamics of trust specifically with the message of Christmas.

What Christmas tells us is this: Yes, God sees our suffering. And, yes, God cares. In fact, God cares so much that He sent His only Son to become a human in order to suffer with us. Yes, God has not taken away our suffering (and we do not understand that one bit) but we do know that He is not distant, He shares in our suffering. He weeps with us.

And that counts for a lot.

In the spring of 1990, Heather’s mom died of cancer at a very young age. Heather was only 21 at the time and her mother was her best friend so her loss was devastating. In times like that there are at least two kinds of people: 1) those who say stupid things to try to make the person stop grieving and 2) those who say little, if anything. I tried to be the second kind of person, because I figured…well, what was there to say? All I could do was hold her and cry with her. And, to be honest, it was all that really mattered to her. She didn’t expect me to take away the pain. She just wanted someone to share in the pain with her.

When God became man, it was God’s way of saying, “I want to be with you. I know it hurts, but I’m here. And, I cry with you. I love you.”

So, you see? We can trust God because Christmas is God’s way of saying “I love you and I want to be your friend. I want you to know me.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but, for me, there are times in my life when all I need is to be reminded of that truth and— voila! —my trust in God is built up.

But, then, there are other times when I hear that truth and it’s not so easy trusting God like that. I still have those nagging doubts and skepticism still clings to my heart.

That’s because, like I said, trust is a slippery, strange sort of thing. See, sometimes it takes what you would call a “leap of faith” (not just a “step of belief”). But that’s scary, isn’t it? We think: “But why should I take a ‘leap of faith’? Isn’t that foolhardy? Doesn’t that seem stupid? What if I get ripped off and discover I’ve been living a lie?”

And, with that, we realize that it’s frustrating and, at times, infuriating, this call to trust. It feels like we’re losing ourselves, even. “It’s not fair!”

But, we know, deep down inside, that, if it is all true…if, indeed, God became man; and if, indeed, this action showed us just how much God loved us; and if, indeed, Christmas means that God wants to be our friend; then…if we disbelieve this, we’ll never see it for ourselves and we will therefore miss out on the very thing we were created for: friendship with God. But, if we do believe, then it will be possibly the greatest possible “leap of faith” we’ve ever attempted, and therefore the greatest possible reward awaits us on the other side: friendship with God himself.

See, Christmas tells us it’s a friendship that God is after. He wanted to know us, because He wants us to know Him. But, as in all friendships, faith is required.

When I asked Heather to marry me, a certain measure of trust was required. When Heather said “yes” to my marriage proposal she took a risk. She didn’t know for certain how it was all going to turn out, but she took a leap of faith, nonetheless. And, today, because she took a risk on me, we share our love with two beautiful children. But, notice: if she hadn’t taken a risk, we would not know first-hand the kind of love we know now.

Though faith doesn’t change the fact that God loves us, it does change our ability to see that God loves us and to experience it for ourselves. In that sense, faith makes all the difference.

The film “The Polar Express” illustrates this idea. It’s a story about an eleven-year-old boy who is beginning to strongly doubt the existence of Santa Claus. So, one night, a train miraculously appears on his street. It’s the Polar Express and it’s there to take him to the North Pole to see Santa for himself. Along the way, the train conductor and another mysterious stow-away remind him: “Seeing is believing.”

Upon arrival, the boy sees for himself. He discovers that Santa has quite an operation going. Touring the city, the boy explores places like the “Naughty and Nice” monitoring room and a present delivery room. But, in spite of the physical evidence of Santa, the boy continues to hold on to a shred of doubt. It seems that the adage “seeing is believing” does not necessarily hold for eleven-year-old boys. That’s when he realizes that, because of his doubt, he can only see and experience so much.

He realizes this truth when he discovers that he is unable to hear Santa’s sleigh bells ringing. While others comment “Isn’t that the most beautiful sound you’ve ever heard?!” he sees that, because of his doubt, he’s missing out on the beauty of belief. Grasping one of the bells in his hands, he closes his eyes and says a prayer: “I believe. I believe. I believe.” With that, he opens his eyes and shakes the bell again. At that moment, he can hear its sweet sound.

“Seeing is believing”, right? We know that 2,000 years ago a baby was born in Bethlehem whose name was Jesus. We know this because history records as such. We know because others saw him and, by extension, we have seen it, too.

We also know that this baby was hailed by many as the Son of God. For starters, there was Joseph and Mary. And then the shepherds and the wise men. And then Simeon and Anna. And then so many others.

If this is all actually true, then that means God has shown Himself to us and “Seeing is believing,” right?

Well…let’s just say that sometimes seeing isn’t enough. Sometimes, believing is seeing. There are some things that you can’t see unless you believe.

Though “The Polar Express” may misrepresent the existence of Santa Claus, it is at least accurate in one respect: with some things all that’s required is a simple act of belief. And, once we believe, we’ll be able to see, to hear the bell ringing for joy: God is real. God is near. God has become one of us.

Let’s believe. Let’s trust. Let’s see.

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