Monday, November 18, 2013

We Honor God By Trusting Him

We Honor God by Trusting Him
I Kings 17:7-24, II Thessalonians 3:6-13, Luke 21:5-19

What does it mean to trust in God?  If surveyed, we would all say that we trust God, even if we all would also admit there are days we struggle and our belief is clouded.  We still trust God, I mean, you’re here, aren’t you?  What is trust?  How does trust in God show itself?

Is trust simply a mystery, beyond our ability to explain?  Or is trust displayed when we are responsible?  There are two phrases that have become recognizable:
Let Go and Let God.
God helps those who help themselves.
Neither of these phrases are in the Bible.  There are times and scenarios in which both of these statements make sense.  But there are also times when they ring hollow. Ultimately, they are conventional wisdom, not everlasting truth.

Is Trust solely a mystery?  Is it something that we don’t know how to define and describe?  Do we throw ourselves out into the wind, without calculation and preparation and creative effort in our lives? 

Or do we show our trust in God by living responsibly? 

The answer is that both of these elements are true.  The Scriptures today are a combination of our Sunday School story from I Kings, and the lectionary readings.  Kings reminds us of the mystery of trust.  Thessalonians reminds us to be faithful to God by being responsible.  And the Gospel lesson encourages us to trust in the midst of a conflicted world.

Ultimately, trust brings us closer to God and we honor God by our trust.

God uses our obedience to bring the story of redemption to people.
This is a story where trust certainly has a mysterious element to it. 

Baal was the idol that had swept over the nation of Israel.  Baal was the god of rain.  And in the desert that isn’t the worst god to hitch your horse to, unless of course, the first option was that you served the one true God of the universe.  Then it seems rather foolish to forsake all powerful God for local and limited god.  Israel had left their devotion to the Lord in favor of false gods.  The covenant that God had made with Israel described the consequences of forsaking the Lord.  In God’s patience and mercy, he sends a prophet.

Elijah goes to the king and his first act is to tell the king Ahab and his wife Jezabel that the idol that they had adopted for the people was now going to be embarrassed.  “there will not be any rain until the True Lord says so.  Not this year, and not next.  And maybe not the year after.    Let’s see what you have, Baal, god of storm.

God provides for Elijah as he endures the drought.  And when his food supply comes to an end, he travels to Zarephath.  Why?  Because God had commanded a widow to provide the prophet with food.  This woman lives in the heart of Baal worship. 

The widow was commanded by God…we often look at the story through Elijah’s eyes….but obedience is interesting in this way.  God was at work in the life of this unnamed woman, and her child. He was present in the midst of their suffering.  He was present even if circumstances clouded the eyes of faith.  

I think we can relate to Elijah in the sense that sometimes, it might feel that what God is asking you to do is impossible.  Obey?  It doesn’t make sense, we rationalize to ourselves.  But at the same time God is calling me to obedience, he is also calling the person that I will be serving or interacting with.   Now obedience is a tricky story, for sometimes we obey, and sometimes the other person in the equation obeys, and sometimes we don’t obey, or we obey with delay, or the other person doesn’t obey.  But if God is working in your heart, calling you to trust, he is also working in the other person.  Maybe you are being called to reconcile with someone, to forgive them, to share a creative idea, to pursue a dream, to work together on a project.  If God is working within you, and you are listening, he is also working with all the partners needed to accomplish the task at hand.

Elijah basically asks someone with a young child who is starving to death to give up their last meal.  It is ludicrous idea, unless God had first commanded the woman that she was to give up her last meal.  She listened, and God rewarded her.  God was working in the lives of Elijah and the woman.

Elijah claims the authority of the true God in a land of idols.  He endures the consequences he had prophesied about.  He goes into the heart of the idolatry stronghold.  He is commanded to ask for food from someone who needs it more.  God provides for the woman and her child.  It seems that everything is going to be great.  God has brought us through so much, and he has been good.

And then the child gets sick. 

Was this all a game to you prophet?  Does your God think this is funny?

Elijah is beside himself.  What will this action do to the name of God and to Elijah’s valiant cause?  Elijah does the only thing he can do in these types of situations.  He cries out to the Lord.  And the Lord heard him.  Out of this desperate situation, the woman’s faith is rewarded.  She had believed when all those around her had turned to other gods.  And in the heat of the moment, she could have turned.  But even when the story was most desperate, most difficult, most elusive, she kept the faith. 

The story about Elijah and the woman is a crazy story.  No one goes through that sort of thing nowadays, we reason.  But I’m not sure that is true.  No, we may not go through this exact situation, but we endure difficult situations in which things seem impossible.  Sometimes, trust is only a cry, or only a mystery that we embrace. 

There are also times when we feel that we are trusting God by being responsible. 

The Apostle Paul went to great lengths so that his audience would listen to his message.  This included working a regular job and using his forums to proclaim good news.  As an apostle, he was in the right to receive help.  But he chose to be a tentmaker, literally, and preach the gospel whenever possible.  Paul felt there was much work to be done, and so time was of the essence.  He totally relied on the grace of God, as several other passages testify, but he also felt that trusting in God meant being responsible, exploring appropriate avenues for his message, doing what built a good name among the people he was with.  Faith worked. 

Paul gives a warning against idleness.  Idleness, according to Websters, “is to run disconnected so that power is not used for useful work”.  The image of a car running idle is helpful here.  One isn’t moving toward destination when remaining idle.  In fact, you are just using precious resources.  In doing so, you have disconnected yourself from the engine’s power.  This image is good for us as Christians.  When we do not engage in the Lord’s message, and the work that God calls us to, the Spirit’s power is not used for God’s work.  Paul reminds us to never tire in doing what is right.  Sometimes faith is hard to describe.  And sometimes we express faith by doing what God wants.

And so we all live between these two ideas, that trust is found in mysterious situations, and also in the day to day realities of life.  We display trust when we pray, and when we work, when we wonder out loud and loudly proclaim the God we serve.   A life of trust brings honor to God.  Jesus reminded his disciples of this reality.

Today’s lesson is a difficult passage.  It reminds us that we don’t trust within a fishbowl.  We trust in the midst of a messy world.  This passage provides commands from the Lord to his disciples, a picture of what we must endure in this life, and the promises made by the Lord for those who endure.

What are the Lord’s commands in this passage?
--Watch out that you are not deceived. (v8)
--Make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves (v14)

The story of the woman reminds us that there are idols in this world.  They may even be tempting to believe.  Yet their false promises, inability to answer prayer and the disconnect they create in one’s worldview are important to guard against.  We are to watch out and not let ourselves be deceived. 

By knowing our Lord, we can also enter into trust that, when difficult days come, we do not have to scramble for truth and meaning.  We build our lives upon it now, so that when difficulty comes, we have an appropriate foundation to build ourselves upon.

What will the disciples have to endure?
--wars and revolutions
--earthquakes, famines and pestilences
--fearful events and signs from heaven
--bearing witness to those who do not believe
--family conflict and hatred
--possible death

What are the promises made by Jesus in this reading?
Not a hair of your head will perish.
By standing firm you will gain life.

This passage raises questions for us with how to interpret the seemingly endless amount of tragedy that comes from violence and natural disaster.  The theological reality is that with finite knowledge we cannot piece together all the stories of life.  Personally, with the advent of the internet, knowledge is more elusive.  Yet, Is it the same lie as the enlightenment, of social gospel of 100 years ago:  the myth of progress.   Jesus reminds us that the world is too complicated, and only God will sort it out.  For only God can sort it out.  We are to be people of trust.  Trust allows both mystery and responsibility to grow within us, and our church and our neighborhoods.