Sunday, September 28, 2008

Can God Trust Us?

Grace Episcopal Church, Madison NJ
September 28, 2008

The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
Year A - Proper 21
Exodus 17:1-7
Psalm 25:1-8
(Philippians 2:1-13)
Matthew 21:23-32

Can God Trust Us?

Now that a new television season has begun all the returning shows have been reminding us what happened last season. You’ve seen this, right? They start with one of the stars saying something like “Previously on Boston Legal.”

Sometimes I think we should do that in church. If you a miss a Sunday or two it’s easy to lose the thread of the Bible lessons that we read each week. It’s sort of like watching an episode of a TV show without having seen the previous episodes. I think that today’s Old Testament lesson of Moses striking the rock and water gushing forth calls for a little background, so here we go…

“Previously in Exodus…”

The Israelites were enslaved in Egypt and cried out to God for help. God selected the unlikely Moses to lead the Israelites to freedom. Against all odds, and with some dramatic help from God, the Israelites escaped from slavery and start making their way to freedom. But, their problems were just beginning. Out in the desert they began to run out of food and began to complain to Moses and to lose faith in God. But God came through for the Israelites once again – giving them manna – this mysterious bread-like food that appeared all around them in the desert.

Which brings us to today’s episode of Exodus.

Last week the Israelites lost faith in God and Moses because there was no food to eat. This week they lose faith because there is no water to drink.

Now, it’s totally reasonable to be concerned about food and water when you’re out in the middle of the desert. But, the point of these stories is that the Israelites just can’t bring themselves to trust God, no matter how many times God comes through for them. Over and over God proves to be trustworthy. What will it take for people to trust God? The Passover wasn’t enough. The parting of the Red Sea wasn’t enough. The gift of manna – this bread from heaven – wasn’t enough. Today’s episode of Moses striking the rock with his staff and bringing forth water won’t be enough. After all that’s happened at the end of today’s passage the Israelites still ask, “Is the Lord among us or not?” What will it take for people to trust God?

Well, these stories of a lack of trust in God are building to next week’s episode when God gives the Ten Commandments to Moses. Most of us are familiar with the rules contained in the Ten Commandments – but far more important than the individual rules is the idea behind the Commandments – the idea of Covenant.

In the Ten Commandments God once again makes a covenant with the people. Actually, in the Bible God has done this twice before – first with Noah and Abraham, but God does it in a dramatic and definitive way on Mt. Sinai. God says I am your God and you are my people. God says to the Israelites we have a covenant – what the British rabbi Jonathan Sacks defines as a bond of trust and love. God says, do you finally get it? You can trust me. We have a covenant – we have a bond of trust and love.

Which brings us to the New Testament lesson from the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus is now in Jerusalem – the religious and political center of Israel. Jesus’ conflict with the religious establishment is intensifying. Obviously the “chief priests and the elders” are threatened by Jesus’ ministry – by his teaching and his power. And they had been earlier threatened by John the Baptist, too. The “chief priests and the elders” are threatened by John and Jesus because of their grassroots ministry. And they reject John and Jesus because they are operating outside of official channels. The “chief priests and elders” are unable to see God’s power working through John and Jesus.

The “chief priests and the elders” fail to trust God. They fail to trust that God is still at work in the world, often working through the unlikeliest of people and doing more than we can ask or imagine. The chief priests and the elders could see the power of God in John’s ministry but rather than putting their trust in God, these religious leaders close their hearts and minds.

And Jesus calls them on it, doesn’t he? Notice Jesus doesn’t tell the chief priests and the elders that they’ve missed the boat entirely, but he gives them the shocking news that the prostitutes and the tax collectors – the outcasts of society – were going into the Kingdom of God ahead of them.

Over and over the Bible tells the story of God’s trustworthiness. In our own lives we may have experienced God’s trustworthiness. And yet, it’s still hard for us to trust isn’t it?

It’s no news to anyone here that we are living in very difficult and frightening times. We have our Men’s Breakfast on Friday mornings and besides me most of the guys who come to the breakfast know a lot about finance. But, they’re nice to me – they speak slowly and try to explain what they’re talking about. Lately it’s been pretty bleak. Some days after the breakfast, instead of coming to work, I’m tempted to go back home and dive under the covers.

It is a time of anxiety. And yet as people of faith we know God’s trustworthiness. Trusting God doesn’t mean that there won’t be suffering and there won’t be loss. But we can trust that God is suffering along with us and that ultimately nothing is ever lost to God.

And for us Christians one of the most important signs of God’s trustworthiness is baptism. Later this morning we’ll be baptizing six (!) people. They will be initiated into the Church. The prayer book notes, “The bond which God establishes in Baptism is indissoluble.”

This bond of trust and love between God and us can never be broken – no matter what we do or don’t do. This bond – this covenant – between God and us is forever.

But things work both ways in the Baptismal Covenant. God promises to be with us always – to be completely trustworthy. And we make some promises of our own. So, I guess the question is not can we trust God, but can God trust us?

In the Baptismal Covenant we promise with God’s help to “continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers.” Are we going to try to keep that promise? Can God trust us?

In the Baptismal Covenant we promise with God’s help to proclaim by word and example the Good News of Christ. Are we going to try to keep that promise? Can God trust us?

In the Baptismal Covenant we promise with God’s help to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves. Are we going to keep that promise? Can God trust us?

And in the Baptismal Covenant we promise with God’s help to strive for justice and peace among all people, respecting the dignity of every human being. Are we going to keep that promise? Can God trust us?

Will we try to keep our promises ow will we be like the second son in Jesus’ parable who says yes to his father, but does nothing?

Over and over, in good times and in bad times, God has proven to be trustworthy. The Israelites of long ago learned about God’s trustworthiness as they drank water in the desert. We learn about God’s trustworthiness in the water of baptism – when God forms an unbreakable, indissoluble bond with us. We can trust God. Can God trust us?