A New Beginning

Mark 1: 4-11

Maybe you have heard about the story since it happened at a Chicago construction site. In May 1995, Randy Reid, a 34-year-old construction worker, was welding on top of a nearly completed water tower. According to writer Melissa Ramsdell, Reid unhooked his safety gear to reach for some pipes when a metal cage slipped and bumped the scaffolding he stood on. The scaffolding tipped, and Reid lost his balance. He fell 110 feet, landing face down on a pile of dirt, just missing rocks and construction debris. A fellow worker called 911. When paramedics arrived, they found Reid conscious, moving, and complaining of a sore back. Apparently the fall didn’t cost Reid his sense of humor. As paramedics carried him on a backboard to the ambulance, Reid had one request: “Don’t drop me.” Doctors later said Reid came away from the accident with just a bruised lung.

The question we might share is whether or not Reid trusted that scaffolding ever again. Trust is delicate and can be broken easily. It can be lost and found and lost and found again. Recently we have heard a lot in the news about institutional trust. Commentators enjoy pondering questions of trust. They seem to ask the same questions. Do we trust our economy? Do we trust our government? Do we trust the future?

Trust has been said to exist between huge corporations and between nations. We trust some services consciously such as the dry cleaners we choose, and there is much that is trusted subconsciously, such as each time we turn on our car we trust that it will start.

The kind of trust that we will address today is the trust that is found between people. This trust is relational. It is created and maintained through the conversation and the give and take of relationships.

Let us learn from our Old Testament reading today. God created the world by speaking, “Let there be light, and there was light.” The creation account of Genesis was written in large part by priestly theologians during and after the exile. The prophets had predicted Israel’s unfaithfulness to God would lead to a Babylonian invasion. God allowed the Babylonians to invade and take the nation’s leaders into exile. The Israelites were in the midst of the Babylonian religion. The Babylonian gods may have seemed powerful to the Israelites. The Babylonians’ creation story was a battle between Tiamat, the ruler of the watery deep, and Marduk, who won the battle and used Tiamat’s carcass to make the universe.

The priestly writers countered this very violent creation story with one that began with God speaking instead of winning a battle. The Israelite creation story was not violent. God’s spirit moved over the watery chaos and made order from the chaos. God sprinkled the heavens with stars and moons and the earth with animals. These were not smaller deities, but objects of creation. Hearing how creation was made by God who was all powerful must have instilled hope among the Israelites as they wondered when they would escape from exile. Being made in the image of God gave them an impetus to trust in God because they partnered with God in being stewards of creation. They were to trust God and to trust one another.

“We have to trust one another” was what Vaclav Havel said as he was elected President of Czechoslovakia in 1990. This was a very personal and deep realization. During the past 50 years there had been a lot of ruthless oppression and exploitation, Havel had been sharing his mistrust in his own writings. He was trying to establish capitalism and a free market economy and realized that trust, not fear, cooperation, not control will lead to a more harmonious society. Notice that he said, “we must trust one another,” not “You can trust me,” or “I can trust you to be good citizens.” He made it clear that he was looking for a relationship built on reciprocal trust.

The Israelites began to rebuild trust in God during their exile. The people of Czechoslovakia began to rebuild trust. That is a question people consider. Can trust be created? Can trust develop? Can people learn trust and what trust entails? It is difficult for some to understand the necessity for cultivating trust.

A consultant for a major corporation recently gave a lecture on “the importance of trusting your employees” to several hundred executives of one of America’s largest corporations. As the lecture concluded there was an appreciative but stunned silence. One of them-asking for all of them-queried, “But how do we control them?” It is a telling question that indicates that they did not understand the main point of the lecture, that trust is the very opposite of control. Trust entails a certain lack of control in that some power is transferred or given up to the person who is trusted. God does not want to control, he wants us to trust him in loving relationship.

Trust in God is good for us. In his article How God is Good for the Soul, Eric Johnson (2003) portrayed the renewing clinical benefits of a relationship with God in reference to God’s nature and revealed characteristics. Frequent and deep reflection upon the good, personal and benevolent God of the universe can redeem, revitalize, and re-create the human soul. By design, human beings as creatures are incomplete selves until they enter into a loving relationship with their Creator. Once this essential human-divine bond is formed, God’s traits address the weaknesses in human souls that frequently require soothing or surgery. The impact of this bond is reflected in the following statement by Johnson (2003): Knowing and being loved by God strangely transforms one’s sense of worthlessness and inferiority. The self-importance of narcissism is relativized in God’s presence. His sovereignty soothes anxiety and fear. His righteousness and justice help to put into perspective experiences of injustice

and so reduce bitterness. It would seem that whatever one’s psycho-spiritual difficulties, they can be fundamentally improved by looking to God. Focusing increased attention and affection on the beauty of God brings the beauty of God into one’s internal world). It would seem likely to lead gradually to a fundamental reconfiguration of one’s self-other relational context: one’s narrative, one’s feelings of security, hope and belongingness, and one’s sense of meaning and purpose. 1

It is when we do not understand what is happening that we lose trust. Someone was trying to console a widow with explanations about why or how God allowed a tragedy to happen and the widow said, “That is not necessary. I don’t need a god like that. I don’t need to understand all of this. What I need is a God who is bigger than my mind.” Often we have to trust when we do not or can not understand life’s travails. Corrie ten Boom learned that lesson at about age ten. She was reading a poem as she and her father traveled by train from Amsterdam to Haarlem. She asked her father a very adult question, too adult for her little ears. She describes what happened next: “He turned to look at me, as he always did when answering a question, but, to my surprise, he said nothing. At last he stood up, lifted his traveling case from the rack over our heads, and set it on the floor. “Will you carry it off the train, Corrie?” he asked. I stood up and tugged at it. It was crammed with watches and spare parts he had purchased that morning. “It’s too heavy,” I said. “Yes,” he said. “And it would be a pretty poor father who would ask his little girl to carry such a load. It’s the same way, Corrie, with knowledge. Some knowledge is too heavy for children. When you are older and stronger, you can bear it. For now you must trust me to carry it for you.” And I was satisfied. More than satisfied — wonderfully at peace. There were answers to this and all my hard questions; for now, I was content to leave them in my father’s keeping.” 2

God is mysterious not simply because he is God, but because we are children. And in his love our childhood is protected. We should view both childhood and God’s mysteries as a source of wonder and even comfort; there is a Creator, and we are among the created. There are answers to all things safely in our Father’s keeping.

Trusting in God prepares us to deal with the storms of life. A Christian mystic, Teresa of Avila, in the mid-16th century was known for her wit and sense of humor. She was also known for her deep devotion and trust in God. She knew that God did not keep the storms of life away. The storms came with great regularity. And yet, she trusted God to help her cope with trouble, and she believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that God would see her through any and all storms of life. Once she led a group of 50 nuns by foot to a neighboring convent during a terrible rain storm. As the nuns crossed a rickety bridge over a swollen stream, the sisters prayed that the bridge would hold up until they safely crossed. It did not, and all of the nuns fell into the water. As they managed to swim safely to shore, Teresa lifted her eyes to heaven and prayed, “Lord, if this is how you treat your friends, it is little wonder you have so many foes.” Her trust in God helped her to have a sense of humor during that experience.

We can learn to trust God in the falls of our life, but we must open communication with God. Trust is a dynamic aspect of relationships. It is an ongoing process that must be initiated, maintained, sometimes restored and continuously authenticated. Trust is something that we create for ourselves, and for which we are responsible both collectively and individually.

The obvious question that we ask is how do we trust when God is silent? When we do not hear God speaking to us like a friend, how can we have a trusting relationship?

The good news is: God is speaking. God is speaking to you in this church- in the stained glass windows, in the choral anthems and special music today, in the prayers and liturgy, in this sermon. God is speaking to the world in every penny that is given for someone in need. God is speaking through that person sitting near you today and in your fellowship together.

God is speaking to you in the baptism today. In the New Testament scripture, Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist. Jesus enters the chaotic waters of the Jordan and receives God’s grace to go into the world in ministry. Jesus enters the water trusting that God is present. God speaks of being pleased with Jesus.

In the same way, we go into the world as the body of Christ not protected from the storms but knowing that God is with us in our ministry. We trust God as Jesus did, knowing our vulnerability.

Perhaps you saw a recent insurance commercial on television. The commercial begins with a young girl standing alone in a picturesque meadow. The camera then pans to another part of the field where it shows a gigantic African rhinoceros charging at her. Her face is serene and untroubled. As the rhinoceros gets closer, the words appear on the screen, “Trust is not being afraid.” A split second before the rhino tramples the helpless child, it stops, and the girl, her smile never wavering, reaches up and pets the animal on its massive horn. The final words then appear, “even when you are vulnerable.”

Trust is generated out of and in relationships. In particular, trust is generated in dialogue, by way of expectations, understandings, promises, demands and dependencies. And when trusting relationships develop, it changes the world. The world becomes a better place.

Tanner Munsey, age seven, was playing T-ball as a first baseman in Wellington, Florida. Tanner fielded a ground ball and tried to tag a runner going from first to second base. The umpire, Laura Benson, called the runner out, but young Tanner immediately ran to her side and said, “I didn’t tag the runner.” Umpire

Benson reversed her call and sent the runner to second base. Two weeks later, Laura Benson was again the umpire as Tanner was playing shortstop. This time Benson ruled that Tanner had missed the tag on a runner going to third base, and she called the runner safe. Tanner looked at the umpire with disappointment and his hands on his hips. The umpire asked Tanner what was wrong, and Tanner quietly said he had tagged the boy. “The call is reversed, the runner is now out!” When the opposing coach rushed on the field to protest, Benson explained what had happened two weeks before, saying, “If a kid is that honest, I have to give it to him.” It is because trust is engendered in relationships, and not just “in the head” of the trusted, that it can be systematically created and destroyed.

Have you ever heard of childlike trust? Let us begin with childlike trust in God and then learn to be trusting in our relationships. Let us learn to trust that God is sending us as Jesus was sent into the world for ministry. Let us not stop because we are vulnerable. Trust can be created. It can be repaired. It can restore our souls. It can help us move forward when we are afraid.

That may be the greatest affirmation of today’s lesson: trusting God means not being afraid even when we are vulnerable. Whatever your circumstances may be today; whether you are confronting storms, facing uncertainties and feeling vulnerable, or whether life is relatively calm for the moment, listen to these words from Proverbs: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6) Amen.