As I read the gospel for today, I found myself wondering how successful Jesus would have been as a recruiter…for the military, for industry, for business, for anything.These days, as probably has been true since forever, the demands of a job may be stated clearly, but the rewards that job promises are, or used to be, also stated clearly and quickly and, perhaps, even first.To be fair to him, I have to acknowledge that this is not a recruitment speech he’s giving his disciples, but when I think back to those times and places when he did call people to follow him there were none of the enticements that you and I used take for granted in our economy…no guaranteed wage or salary, no extra benefits, no retirement plan, not even prestige. The recruiting Jesus did was simple and to the point and honest: drop everything you’re doing, leave behind everyone and everything you hold dear and follow me. We know from the story that a number of people did, and that countless people have continued to do so through the centuries. Somehow those people were able to trust that what he was asking them to do would be worth any cost to accomplish.
Who do you trust? Who do I trust…really? The fact is that the person I trust most in this world does let me down and even betray me from time to time, and I do the same to him even after the 47 years of marriage we’ll be celebrating tomorrow. I assume that’s true for you, too because there is not and never has been, with the exception of Jesus himself, a human being with the capacity to be completely trustworthy. But you and I are created with a longing for that secure place, that safe person to whom we can entrust ourselves, and I believe that hunger exists in us because of the tantalizing glimpse we get from time to time of how it would be to live like that.
Since before time, since before what you and I would even deem proper history, God’s been saying to his human creatures, “Trust me.” And God’s been saying that to us because, alone of all his creatures, we human beings must choose whether to trust or not, often with ambiguous evidence about how wise a decision that might be to make. He said, “Trust me” to Noah and Abraham. He said it to Jeremiah and Jesus. He says it to you and me. And they and we, at some level reply, “Show me why I should. Tell me why I should.”
But trust, like faith, involves risking ourselves on something that we can’t prove is a sure bet. Trusting God, if we’re to believe the gospel for today, means risking the possibility of ridicule and betrayal, risking estrangement from what we love and value, risking prison, torture and even death. Trusting, if we’re to believe the stories of Abraham and Noah and Jeremiah and Jesus, to name but a few, means being patient. It means being willing to trust against all the evidence to the contrary that what’s been promised will be ours ultimately if not immediately. Trusting means being willing to accept God’s absolute honesty about the costliness of trusting, and not being seduced by the nearer goals of comfort and security which are so alluring to us.
Each of us individually has a capacity for trusting which is the culmination of our life experiences from our very earliest days onward. I’d even go so far as to say that our capacity to trust is in a state of perpetual flux, stronger one day and weaker another day, based on the experiences of our individual lives on that particular day. But as children of God we also have a longer and deeper and less fluctuating reservoir of trust that we can appropriate and use in those times when our particular experience makes trusting more difficult. And it’s that history of God’s trustworthiness which allows us to pray the prayer we say today even when all the evidence seems to point to the contrary. It’s that history of God’s trustworthiness in spite of everything which is the “sure foundation” that allows us to answer the call to follow Jesus.
I believe that trust is like love. We want to reduce love to a noun, a word naming a feeling, when in fact it is a verb. Love can only be known in the doing of it, not by sitting around talking about it. In the same way, trust is not simply some nice philosophical category. It’s meant to be a way of life, a course of action. Trust is a verb just as surely as love is. And the action of trust is risk. What are you willing to give up? What am I willing to give over? What are we willing to change for the God who has set us upon the sure foundation of his loving kindness, a loving kindness as old as the creation?