Monday, January 23, 2012

CAN GOD BE TRUSTED?

A Sermon Based Upon Psalm 62
By Dr. Charles J. Tomlin
Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership
Third Sunday after Epiphany, Jan. 22, 2012

Curt is thirteen years old.  But Curt is physically and mentally disabled.  He can’t talk. He’s a bit fragile. He’s just now getting to the place where he can go to the bathroom by himself.  He can feed himself. He can hug you and love you.

Even though Curt’s life sounds miserable, Tom Nelson says there is something he loves about Curt.  “He is innocent and pure, and he loves people.  You can be a big guy or a little guy, a female or a male, any race, any income, successful or a bum; it doesn’t matter.   If you hug Curt, Curt will hug you back.  He can’t tell you how he feels, so instead he cries out in delight. Everyone around him takes care of him.  He thinks the entire universe was made as his sandbox.  Every person that meets him loves him.” “He’s got great big eyes. If you ask him a question and he can figure it out, he’ll give you a little double take [as if to say] ‘Yeah, I know what you’re saying.’ And if you say something that delights him, he cackles.”

When Curt wakes up in the morning, he has his yogurt, sits in his hot tub, and he never worries about life. He doesn’t know where his next meal is coming from, and he doesn’t care.  The reason Curt is happy is that he knows his father loves him.  His dad is about six feet two and weighs about 280.  His dad benchpresses 450 and squats about 600 pounds.   His dad goes hunting in Africa.  He brings back lions and tigers and bears and then has them mounted and put up on the walls of his house.  He is the traditional man’s man.  And yet when he reaches down with his big hands, lifts his small son and puts him on his lap, Curt knows that whatever happens, his daddy is the biggest, toughest, strongest fellow in the whole world.  And most of all, Curt knows that his daddy loves him (Story From a Sermon by King Duncan)

What does it mean to trust God?   Isn’t it something like knowing the simple truth that Curt knows: that no matter what happens to you in life, you are loved.  You Father loves you, and as a person of faith, you know that your heavenly father loves you.   I can’t think of any greater definition of trust than this.  In our text today, taken from Psalm 62, David is the Psalmist, singing a song of trust in God.  Beginning in verse 5, David writes:   For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him. 6 He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.   On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.  Trust in him at all times, O people (Psa 62:5-8 NRS).

Notice this line: “Trust in him at all times, O people”  (62.8).  I wish we could all trust like that and sing that song with our lives.  I can imagine that David himself, even when he wrote those words, wished that he had always trusted God like that.  Many times he did, like when he went up against Goliath.  That was a great moment of trust as a young boy goes up against a big giant warrior with a bag of rocks.  Another time was when Saul was after him, to take his life.   David continued to trust God, even when he was on the run for his life.  He could have killed Saul outright, but he decided to respect the King and keep running for his life and wait on God.   He trusted God, not to take matters in his own hands, but to trust.

But there were also times, however, when David failed to trust God in his life.  Like when he committed adultery with Bathsheba and misused his royal power to kill her husband; this was a great failure of trust.  David wrote of his regret for this moral failure in Psalm 51: “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.   Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight (Psa 51:3-4 NRS).  Do you see that at the heart of his sin his “trust” in God was broken?   When David sinned, it wasn’t just Bathsheba he sinned against, nor was it just her husband Moriah, nor was it just all Israel, but it David sinned against and broke trust with God.  He believed in God, he trusted God, yet he was also human.  Sometimes he failed to trust.   But now, the good news and the reason David still sings, is that even though David failed to trust God in one moment, he never doubted where his trust should be.   He returns to a life of trust with his confession: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.   Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.   Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.” (Psa 51:10-12 NRS).  Even when David failed miserably, he knew where the “rock” and the “salvation” for his life was to be found.  Even when he broke trust with himself and with God, he believed and trusted that God’s mercy could restore and redeem his soul.  

Can we trust God like that?  Can we trust God after we have failed God?  That is very import because we all can take a fall.  We are not infallible, we are mortal, we are human, and even the Bible says that we are born sinners and cannot keep from having to deal with sin and failure.  But there is another issue of trust.   Even more important than gaining mercy from God and regaining trust with God  is a deeper question that also arises in David’s lyrics.  Can we trust God when we fail him, but can we also keep trusting in God, when it feels like God fails us? 

I wonder if this is also part of what David is singing about; not just trusting God when know he will rescue us , but also trusting God while we are waiting “in silence” for God’s “deliverance”, even when that deliverance has not yet come.   Isn’t that also part of what he means when he says, “Trust in him at all times, O people?”  I mean, what is trust, when you are only trusting when it is easy to trust.  Can you really call that trust?   Isn’t the true test of our trust when things are bad?  Is this not when trusting God really starts to count?   Isn’t it when your prayers go “silent” and you don’t know where you are or where God is, that your trust matters most?  Isn’t it when you have to sing your trust like a nightingale whistling against the dark, that trust sings is greatest tune?  Isn’t it when the world is shaking all around you and things are falling apart that you find yourself praying to God “not to be shaken” and you need a “rock” and a “refuge”?  Can God be your trust, and can God be trusted, at all times, both good and bad? 

Those “bad” times, when God seems “silent” and when things go bad, is also part of the equation of trust.  Listen to what David writes:  “Those of low estate are but a breath, those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath.” (Psa 62:9 NRS).  It is important for us to understand exactly what David is talking about when he compares the life of the poor as a “breath” and the life of the rich as a “delusion.”    In the ancient world of Egypt, according to the Book of the Dead, it was believed that at death, the soul would be weighed on the balance scales against a feather.  If your soul was light as air, not weighed down with sin and guilt, even the weight of a feather would lift your soul up and you would enter the blessed land.  But if you soul was heavy, then Anubis, the jackal god, would eat up your soul.  Of course, that was just a myth, but this image of soul being “lighter than a “breath” was common in the ancient world, and it appears in David’s song of trust.  When he says that “in the balances they go up” we can clearly see this Egyptian image, and we can also see that whether are person is “rich” or “poor” makes no difference, in the final “balance” of things.   In other words, David believes that all people are equal in the sight of God.  This is the point he wants to make to his audience.

This “equality” before God matters much to David, because he is appealing to this image of equality for a special reason.   He wants the people to trust God in his own situation.   The whole Psalm begins as a petition to the people, asking: “How long will you assail a person, will you batter your victim, all of you, as you would a leaning wall, a tottering fence?  Their only plan is to bring down a person of prominence.  They take pleasure in falsehood; they bless with their mouths, but inwardly they curse.  Selah.” (62.3-4). Do you see what is going on here?  David says that he is trusting, waiting on God; but he is not so sure that the people are trusting in God.  Instead of trusting God, they working in secret to bring about a prominent person’s downfall.  They are taking advantage of a person who is already struggling, and trying to take them down, like pushing against a “tottering fence.”  They say the “bless” that person and his position, but secretly and inwardly, they curse that person.  Their only plan is to take that person down.  They don’t wait on God’s judgment, but they are taking “judgment” into their own hands.  They don’t trust God to take care of things, but they are taking the “bull by the horns” themselves, throwing trust of God out the window.

Of course, the reason David is concerned about this lack of trust of God, may very well be that he is the “prominent person” people want to “bring down”.   It makes sense for what we know of David’s situation.   But what can David say?  He can’t really do anything.  He’s done enough already.   His human weakness has turned the people against him.   To him, it proves that they were trusting in him, not really trusting in God.   Now that this difficult truth has come out, David can only appeal for them to renew their “trust” in God, just like he himself must “wait” and trust in God.   They are all in the “balance”. He declares that God will be his rock, salvation and fortress.   He vows to trust in God, but he also calls the people’s trust of God into question.  Are they putting their trust in God and his power, or are they trusting in their own power to do what they want?  Whose soul will heavy in the end, the one who sinned in the past, or the ones who are sinning now?   Are the people who are after this prominent person really trusting in God, or are they trusting in their own strength and plans?

So can God be trusted?  David wants to know?  It is a question that can also be put to us:  Do we the people fully and truly trust in God, as we say we do, or are we bent on taking matters into our own hands, when things don’t go as we want?   It all boils down to a question of trust.

I can’t help but think about David’s situation as a King, a leader and a prominent ruler over the people who has lost faith with the people.   It reminds me of where America is right now.  We are a people who have lost faith in our leaders, our politicians, our presidents and most of our institutions.  We’ve seem to have lost all confidence in most any leader,  in just about all government, even in marriages, or in family, or in organized religion as a real channel of God’s grace and love.   It’s much easier to be against everything than to stand for something.   Confidence and faith is at an all-time “low” and most of our “inward” feelings are to “curse” and “bring down” rather than “bless” and “hold up” or respect.   

That’s what a lot of this election year will probably be about; mudsling, attacking, battering, spreading of rumors and falsehoods, trying to bring prominent people down and putting someone else less prominent in their place.   And we know that it won’t be long until the tides turn again and people will turn against them all over again.   The cycle will continue.  And if this happens, if we are not careful, the only plan people will have will be only to lose faith, only to bring down, and only to attack and to “find pleasure” not in truth, but in the “falsehoods” we make up in our own minds.   Everything imaginable happens as people are set on “assailing” and “attacking”;  everything imaginable happens except for one thing; trusting and waiting upon God.  People don’t do good at waiting on God when their livelihoods are threatened and they are determined to take matters into their own hands.   

But is it not that exactly when we are threatened this is when we show where our trust really lies.  It is written on our coins, “In God We Trust”, but is it really written on our hearts.  Is it true that we only show this “trust” in God when we have the “coins” and wealth in our hands?   What about when  our coins lose their value, when all our values are shaken?   Do we still value faith or is it in the coins? 

Trouble, difficulty, loss and hurt in life always test where our trust truly lies.  This is what David wants us to learn to sing with our hearts, when he says we need to put our trust in God at all times.   David is having to learn to trust God in this time of judgment, loss and pain he has brought upon himself, and now he is appealing to the people to put their trust back toward God, just as he has.   When people lose trust, in God and in life, they devalue themselves.   They make their souls too heavy.  When life is filled only with attacks, falsehood, people turn to extortion and robbery to get their riches back.  When we  set hearts on the wrong things, life gets out of balance, whether we are “rich” or “poor”.   The balance of life is always the same.   The value of our life is not based on what we have in our pockets, who we have in office, or what we are able to do with our own power, but David sings that true “power belongs to God”.  This great power is not a God bent on our destruction, but a God whose power is ultimately “steadfast love”.   This love is not wishy washy, or the kind of love that allows anything, but it is the kind of love is “steadfast” so that it will eventually bring judgment and justice to all things; “who will repay all according to their work.”   

Even when we can’t trust that all will work out in this life, or in this very moment, we can trust that it will all work out in the long view of God.   This is where David puts his trust.  And he was right.  What David did was tragic in that moment, but it did not stop the work of God.  This is why he appeals to the people to keep trusting in God.   Can we?  Do we?  Will we?  

Do our hearts remain as light as a feather even in difficult times?  Can we who are mentally well learn to laugh and cackle with Curt with all that delights us, and wait in silence when life does not?   Can we who are strong  and abled at least have that much mind and heart?   

Do we realize that putting our hope in anything else will leave our hearts heavy and bankrupt?  Even when someone has come into our life who hurts, challenges or angers us; still, waiting in silence upon God, a much better than cursing and going after people we think cause all our pain.  Even if we get rid of everyone we hate, and even if we can make our riches increase, it might save our pocketbooks, and some of our sanity, but such renewed wealth and bliss will not save our soul. 

Only trusting God to be our rock, our salvation and our fortress is our ultimate hope.   Remember the feather test?  One day we too will have our souls put on the scales.  It is much better to have everything right in our own hearts and souls than to try to make everything right in the world.   The world can’t be made right with human effort.  This is why Jesus came.   On the cross Jesus shows us how the best human effort can make a mess of things.  We can’t make everything right.  Only God can take a wrong, our wrong, and make things alright.  This is where learning to trust God must always begin.  This is where trust in God will also end up.  David holds out his hope in God and he asks the people to do the same.  You and I, along with David and all before and after him, will have to place everything we have, know, and hope into the hands of God.   If this is where it ends, why not begin hope today.  

So now, in conclusion, let me ask the question: Can God we trusted?  I believe that God can, for a couple of reasons that has “encouraged” the Psalmist:

One, I believe that God can be trusted, because God forgives sins, failures, mistakes, shortcomings, and he is determined to give each and everyone new opportunities to have faith, because he forgives.   I believe God wants to forgive us, more than we want to be forgiving.  Remember one of the first persons Jesus healed, his first words were not, rise up and walk, but “your sins are forgivien.”   The paralyzed person did not ask for forgiveness, but Jesus gave it any way.  This is God’s priority and I believe this is why David and we can continue to trust God.

Second, I believe God can be trusted, because God helps us when we are willing to ask for help.  Again, Jesus said, Ask, Seek and Knock.  Ask and it will be given, seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be open.  About that same time Jesus added, “Asking anything in my name, and I will do it.”  That’s sound’s like a “tall” order that would make us doubt rather than trust.  But here is where the importance of “not” taking all the words of the Bible literally comes in.  Jesus spoke in parables, intentionally, he made some things “hard” to understand.  He did this to make people think about what the true means.  Later in the same passage, Jesus explained what he meant.  He said: “Ask anything: The Father will  not give you a snake, but he will gladly give the Holy Spirit to anyone who asks.”  God can be trusted, not because he will give us anything we want, but he will give us the spiritual help we need most.   God can always be trusted never to leave or forsake us in our time of great spiritual need.

Lastly, and right at this same point, I believe we can trust God because God will help us, teach us, and show us, if we want him to, to want the same thing what God wants.   I trust God, not because he gives me everything I want, nor because I will always have everything I need, either.  Sometimes, life gives me us lemons.  Sometimes I pray and my prayers aren’t answer, just as I want.  Sometimes, I have to work for what I need, and even in times of sickness and illness, I must wait in silence, like my Dad did, when he was dying.  “Whatever the will of the Lord is.”  He said.

David’s most famous words of trust:  “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want”, does not only mean that we always get green pastures, still waters, and paths of righteousness; but sometimes we will also walk through the valley of death, and this is when we don’t get what we want, nor even what we physically need and want, but we must get the one thing God always gives: himself.  It is in those “dark” “difficult” moments that we learn to want what we really need: God and his loving, forgiving, caring presence.  In the end, Jesus is what we need.

I remember a lady many years ago, who came to me very troubled about that text , where Jesus says:  “Ask anything, and I will do”.  She told me, I can’t understand.  I really struggle with this.  What I later came to understand about this lady is that she had a tight fuse.  She loved to control things.  If things didn’t go her way and if you didn’t do what she’d say, you would turn on you.   It was then, that I came to understand perfectly why she didn’t like Jesus words, “Ask Anything?”  She did not want to trust God, but she was trusting only in herself, what she thought, what she wanted and what she believe God should be.  She could not let God be God, and every person a liar, as Scripture says, but she had to control God, because she didn’t want God, she wanted only what she wanted.

What do you want?   This is the question that can only be answered by trust.  We don’t always know what we really want? We don’t even always know what we need.  We, along with David, and the untrusting people who were trying to get rid of him, can only learn, in our difficult moment, whatever that moment is, we must renew our vow and our promise to trust God, and now learn, even more fully, especially now, in these troubling times, what “trusting”, caring, loving, and believing means.   I, along with David, believe that God can be trusted, but we still all have to learn to trust him, as the song says, more and more every day.   No matter how “big” we get, or “big” we think we are, in the end, we all have to learn to trust, just like that little 13 year old physically and mentally handicapped child.  When he, puts his arms around his big daddy, he teaches us all what it means to trust.    Amen.
  

No comments :