Sermon for Sunday, September 25, 2022 || Proper 21C || Psalm 91; Jeremiah 32
What does it mean to put our trust in God? I wrote this question to myself when I began writing this sermon on Tuesday after reading today’s psalm over and over again. As I began writing, I didn’t have an answer to this question, which seemed weird since I talk a lot about God and about faith. But when I put the question to myself – what does it mean to put our trust in God? – I had to stop and think really hard about what I mean when I say I trust God. Obviously, I finished writing the sermon, so I figured out something to say, but I wanted you to know that when I first typed that question on a blank document, I didn’t really know I was going to answer the question.
So, with that confession out of the way, I wonder what it does mean to put our trust in God. Our psalm today begins with these two famous, comforting verses:
Those who dwell in the shelter of the Most High,
abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
They shall say to the Lord,
“You are my refuge and my stronghold,
my God in whom I put my trust.”
My God in whom I put my trust. We use the word “trust” in many circumstances beyond the walls of the church. We talk about positions of public trust; that is, we expect people in those positions to act with integrity and honesty in their dealings, especially since the opportunity exists to abuse their offices for personal gain. While there are often safeguards set up to forestall such abuse, the system breaks down when the person in public trust cannot be trusted.
We use the word trust to speak of a legal arrangement in which a person, or trustee, manages property for beneficiaries. In such an arrangement, the trustee acts for the good of the beneficiary, and the beneficiary relies on the trustee. And, once again, the trustee is expected to hold themselves to a high degree of integrity and honesty.
We add the word “worthy” to “trust.” Someone who is “trustworthy” has demonstrated over the long term a constant reliability and honesty, just like a vessel that is “seaworthy” has demonstrated that it won’t sink when put in water.
With these non-churchy uses of the word “trust” we can see the assumptions the word “trust” brings to mind: honesty, integrity, reliability, constancy. When we trust, we surrender a piece of our personal sovereignty over to someone else, and we hope that they will live up to the faith we put in them. Trusting is an inherently vulnerable state of being, which is why we tend not to trust until someone has proven themselves time and again trustworthy. And this hesitancy to trust is stronger in those of us whose trust has been broken in the past. When I was a kid, I had trouble trusting the people at our new church in Alabama because the people in our old church in Rhode Island had violated the trust I put in them. And so the trauma of that experience expanded beyond the original event because the people in Alabama turned out to be trustworthy – but I wouldn’t let them in.
We have a hard time trusting – all of us, because we are not programmed willingly to expose ourselves to vulnerable states of being. At the same time, we cannot form mutually supportive, life-giving relationships without exercising trust (and without practicing trustworthiness ourselves).
So, let’s get back to our question…(Oh, by the way, I cut out several paragraphs here about the Disney movie Aladdin, which is about trust, but the movie doesn’t handle it very well. I can rant about Aladdin later if you want.*) So, our question – What does it mean to put our trust in God?
We begin by ceding our sovereignty. We recognize that it is an illusion to think that we are in full control of our own lives. We surrender this need for control to the Source of All There Is. In doing so, we discover a truer, more authentic state of being, one with fewer illusions tricking us. Our lives exist in a near infinite web of interconnections. And while it is a good thing to assert our agency over the choices we can make, we must not mistake agency for control. Personal agency allows us to make choices independent of outcomes. Control seeks to dictate outcomes when our choices are only a small piece of the wider web. The only One who sees the whole web is the one we call God. When we give up our need to control outcomes, we begin to trust.
After letting go the need to control, we also let go the need for certainty. Certainty does not allow for growth. Certainty is a brittle thing and easily shattered by new experiences that do not fit the shape of what we’re certain about. This is why fundamentalism of any sort – religious or otherwise – is so dangerous. Fundamentalism traffics in certainty as a way to grapple with the changes and chances of life. But sooner or later our innate need for growth pushes against certainty’s boundaries, like a plant that needs to be repotted. Trust, on the other hand, allows us to place our hope and faith in the Foundation of All Existence. Trusting replaces the brittleness with a suppleness that allows for growth and reshaping.
We let go of control. We let go of certainty. The process of trusting God is the process of letting go of all that shackles us to a small life governed by scarcity and fear. Trusting God enables us to embrace the abundance of blessings that God desires for all of creation.
In today’s reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, the Prophet Jeremiah acts out for all to see his deep trust in God’s promises. While the armies of Babylon are arrayed around Jerusalem, laying siege to the city, Jeremiah buys a piece of land. He knows that any day now, the Kingdom of Judah, his homeland, will fall to the Babylonians. The people of Judah will be carted off to Babylon. And yet, he buys the field at Anathoth anyway. He buys the field as an act of trust in God, who is Jeremiah’s refuge and stronghold. Jeremiah trusts in God: “For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel,” Jeremiah has heard. “Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.”
Jeremiah trusts God’s promise that the Babylonian captivity will not last forever. And indeed, only forty years pass before the people return to Jerusalem and begin rebuilding.
So, what does it mean to put our trust in God? Trusting God means letting go of all that holds us back from living the abundant life that God dreams for all of creation. Trusting God means taking off the armor that stunts our growth and instead choosing vulnerability. Trusting God means exhaling all the air in our lungs and believing that the next inhalation will come. And when, eventually, the next breath does not come, still trusting that our eternally loving God will be ready to receive us with an eternally loving embrace.
*Back when I was a kid in Rhode Island, a movie came out that influenced my whole generation’s understanding about trust. In Disney’s Aladdin, the main character uses one of the genie’s wishes to turn himself into someone with all the trappings of a prince so that he can court the sultan’s daughter, Jasmine. Right before the big love song, Aladdin, in his guise as Prince Ali, floats up to Jasmine’s balcony on his flying carpet, holds out his hand to her, and beckons her aboard. “Do you trust me?” he asks.
Jasmine is taken aback because earlier in the movie a fast-talking street rat named Aladdin had asked her the exact same question while they ran from the city guards. Jasmine had put her trust in Aladdin, taking a literal leap of faith. But now, Prince Ali asks the same question, “Do you trust me?”
She says “yes,” jumps on the carpet, and they’re off singing “A Whole New World.” So, what’s the problem with this? Well, Aladdin is not being trustworthy. He is lying to Jasmine about who he is, and he justifies himself by saying that she wouldn’t give him the time of day if he showed up as his street rat self. His deception is unmasked later in the movie, but there’s not really any fallout for his lying. Aladdin and Jasmine end up together, and she never says, “Hey, remember when you were lying to me for days about who you are? Yeah, that wasn’t cool.”
Season 5, Episode 9
“Dungeons and Disciples”
In this episode we’re talking about how Dungeons and Dragons makes us better followers of Jesus. We’re also finishing Becky Chambers’s award-winning sci-fi novel The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.