07 February 2010

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany - "Trust to Follow"

Let’s talk about trust. How’s your trust this morning? Perhaps more importantly, where’s your trust this morning?

In the three years since we’ve become parents, Kristin and I have learned a lot about trust; most especially, how absolutely essential it is for our relationship and for any relationship that must stand the test of time and close proximity. Let’s face it: dating is wonderful, infatuation is intoxicating, but you really don’t know the measure of a person’s trust until they’ve seen you completely lose your cool while being elbows-deep in baby poop on three hours of mostly-interrupted sleep – and they still love you before, during and afterwards.

Life will put you at the end of your rope sometimes. Maybe you’re at the end of that rope right now: knee deep in papers and study groups, behind on your reading, wondering how you’re going to make it through another shift at work, tired of begging your roommate to “PLEASE wash the dishes!” – or tired of your roommate begging you, “PLEASE wash the dishes!” We all get there, frazzled and frayed and at the end of our ropes, short on patience and high on fear. It happens. And when you get to the end of your rope, that’s where you grab on to one of Anne Lamott’s two prayers: “HELP! HELP! HELP!”

In our readings today we see three people at the end of their ropes.

  • Isaiah was a man of unclean lips in the presence of Almighty God.
  • Peter was a fisherman who realized he had come into the presence of God when Jesus filled his nets.
  • Paul was a teacher and preacher who spent pages and pages of a letter reminding the people of the church in Corinth that our God is not a God to be exploited for personal comfort.

All three of these people come up against one central issue: TRUST.

  • Isaiah had to trust that God would sustain and shield him while he proclaimed a word of judgment against the people of his own country.
  • Peter had to trust that leaving his career and his family to follow Jesus was the right thing to do.
  • Paul had to trust that his own history and failings would not overshadow the message he was preaching: the precious gift of faith in Jesus Christ.

This is where we really discover what it means to be called, gathered and sent as God’s people – when our trust in God to provide what is needed is all we have left.

Isaiah was called to preach and proclaim a message his own people wouldn’t understand and wouldn’t accept easily. Literally, God told Isaiah, “Make them dim-witted, stupid and foolish.” Why? Because God was angry? It’s possible. But there were also serious problems for God to address. God’s people had gone chasing after false idols, imaginary gods who couldn’t provide for the people as YHWH had promised to provide. So Isaiah was sent to remove all the crutches and fakeries the people trusted, so that they would have nothing left but God and God alone. Not an easy thing to do for Isaiah – it would require a lot of trust in God.

Peter had fished all his life, and was on a spectacular cold streak. He’d been out all night and had gotten nothing. And this wasn’t like spending a day floating on a canoe down the Des Moines River: this was Peter’s livelihood going bad. There wasn’t any insurance or welfare to fall back on. So along comes this stranger who controls the sea itself? He MUST be God – and for Peter, the question rises: who am I to stand in the presence of God? So Peter is called to leave his boats behind and follow Jesus, the Son of the living God. Not an easy thing to do for Peter – it would require a lot of trust in God.

Paul was dealing with a church in Corinth coming apart at the seams. People were using their membership as a privilege, not a responsibility. People thought their church was a social club, not a community of faith. Does that sound familiar to you? Paul had to remind the Corinthians that everything they argued about was frivolous and unimportant – they were fighting over the color of the curtains, or the setup of the lounge, while their church was falling apart around them. To counter all of their bickering, Paul reminded them that there was one thing and one thing only that mattered: Jesus. “3For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures.” If a church cannot keep this message first and foremost, everything else is meaningless. Our good works? Nothing without Christ. Our forgiven sins? Nothing without Christ. Our pretty building? Nothing without Christ. Our beloved (or not-so-beloved) community? Nothing without Christ! Paul was calling the Corinthians away from things that didn’t matter in order to turn their trust and hope toward the one thing that does matter: God and the love God has for God’s people. Without bedrock trust in this one essential, everything else falls apart.

The only measure of a follower of God that has any meaning whatsoever is this: that we trust in God above and beyond all else. Someone once asked Martin Luther, “What does it mean to have a god? or, what is God?” His answer: “A god means that from which we are to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress, so that to have a God is nothing else than to trust and believe [God] from the [whole] heart; as I have often said that the confidence and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol. If your faith and trust be right, then is your god also true; and, on the other hand, if your trust be false and wrong, then you have not the true God; for these two belong together: faith and God. That now, I say, [the being] upon which you set your heart and put your trust is properly your god.”[1] Without trust in God, Isaiah wouldn’t have had the courage to proclaim judgment on his own people. Without trust, Peter wouldn’t have followed Jesus out of the boat and into the mission field. Without trust, Paul wouldn’t have left his former life behind in Damascus and become the greatest evangelist the church has known.

Now, having said all this, it might occur to you that this is cause for despair. After all, how are we supposed to have trust and courage that even remotely resembles the courage of Isaiah, Peter and Paul? Here is the further good news: your trust is not up to you, because God is already at work creating the trust you will need to follow where you are called. After all, you’re here this morning, aren’t you? Do you think that’s an accident, or could it possibly be the Spirit of God calling you here to be filled with trust to go into your week as God’s servant in this world? Here’s another Luther quote for you, one you’ve probably heard before and will definitely hear again from me: “I believe that I cannot come to my Lord Jesus Christ and believe in him by my own reason or strength, but the Holy Spirit has called me with the gospel, enlightened me with its gifts, and sanctifies and keeps me in the one true faith along with all other believers in Christ.” It’s my paraphrase, but the meaning is the same: The Holy Spirit has been fishing for you all along, calling you into the faith and enlightening you with the amount of trust you will need to do the work God is setting before you. Maybe God isn’t sending you to call an entire nation to judgment, but even if your call is as simple as living your faith as a student and worker here at Iowa State, the Spirit will see to it that you can do so faithfully and lovingly.

The call to abandon your nets never comes without a promise that you won’t be left in the lurch. The call to tend a community faithfully never comes without the patience needed to love that community with all its warts and bruises exposed. The call to speak prophetically never comes without a promise that those who need to hear them will hear your words. Trust is the order of the day, friends: the trust to believe that God’s call to discipleship, to following Jesus, is indeed the call that echoes in our hearts and leads us forth in faith. You are not here by accident. Your questions about God are not a coincidence. Your life and your calling as a Christian are worth far more than you can realize, and the God who is stirring the waters in your soul is indeed worth every ounce of trust you can muster. Go all in, friends, and trust completely in the one calling you out of the boat to follow Him.

[1] Large Catechism, 1st Commandment. http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Martin_Luther


  1. "The call to tend a community faithfully never comes without the patience needed to love that community with all its warts and bruises exposed." As a pastor struggling to love the community to which God has called me, thank you for this reminder.

  2. Thank you, Beth, for your kind words. As usual, the preacher preaches to him/herself at all times - know that you're not alone in occasionally struggling to love imperfect people (including yourself!)