Rev. Susan M. Hudson, St Pauls Presbyterian Church,October 12, 2014

Learning to Trust
[Exodus 32:1-14; Matthew 22:1-14]

  Let us pray.  Loving Shepherd, like sheep we chase the latest “scent” our noses pick up. We forget you know our needs completely and will provide for us. We’re afraid to trust, because people we’ve trusted in the past have hurt us. What if we lean on you & you let us go? What if we fall flat on our faces?  Gather us together this morning, as your precious sheep, Great Shepherd, to show us the DEPTH of your love. Help us take a tentative step of trust that we have never dared take before. In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.

A child learning to walk wobbles.  A believer learning to trust also wobbles.  Faith in Jesus Christ is a life-long journey. We learn to trust one day at a time, one step at a time, one life experience at a time. Trust can’t be rushed. When we get hurt, we re-evaluate and reflect upon what happened. Was I naïve?  Did I trust too much?  Should I keep a greater distance? Was I at fault?  Was the other person untrustworthy?

 Our ability to trust God is directly related to how well we trust people. The first & most important relationships are with parents. Did they love us unconditionally? Did our moms and dads teach us to be very careful, even cynical about other people?  Did our moms and dads teach us life is good and we can do anything we set our minds to? 

Spouses also INFLUENCE how we view the world.  Does our spouse encourage us to use our gifts?  Does our spouse urge us to try new things, or hold us back by reminding us what could go wrong or how we might fail?  The people we love most can hurt us most, because we are real & vulnerable with them. If we are misunderstood, we withdraw our trust & distance ourselves from them.

How high is your “trust” barometer today?  How open is your heart?   Have past disappointments shaped you into a jovial cynic who stays near the door in order to make a quick exit?  Have past pains left you callous to investing in people, causes, or groups that require commitment?  Has the institutional church disappointed you because it’s not a perfect reflection of Jesus Christ?  Have you disappointed yourself and decided it’s better to make NO commitments than to fall short of commitments you made in the past? 

There are many layers to the mystery of TRUST!  Some only trust themselves and are proudly self-reliant.  Others don’t trust themselves and lean heavily on other’s advice.  How well we trust ourselves and how freely we trust others impacts whether or not we trust God, since all trusts are interwoven.

Let’s look at today’s Scriptures through the lens of TRUST. In the Exodus story, God’s people are a nervous wreck when Moses goes up the mountain to spend time alone with God. He stays too long. Since they are utterly dependent on Moses’ physical presence to feel secure, their knee jerk reaction is to lose faith when they lose sight of Moses, their only link to God.

What do they do? In fear and panic, the people tell Aaron (Moses’ #2 man) it’s time to make some other gods to lead us, since we don’t know what became of Moses.”  Yeah, he brought us out of Egypt, but what if he was eaten by a wild animal?  They didn’t want to be embarrassed or ashamed, so they resort to their “automatic pilot” response – creating a “golden calf” to worship, as was the custom in Egypt.  If they had been forgotten by this “Yahweh” dude…they needed to cover themselves and find some back-up gods.

In no time Aaron, the designated leader, doesn’t even argue with them!  He gives in to their demands. Instead of calming their fears and standing strong in the faith that Moses would be back, Aaron succumbs to the peoples’ anxiety.  In fact, he leads the charge: telling them to take off their gold earrings to create a golden image.  Aaron builds an altar to the golden calf, declaring the next day a festival.  The people bring their burnt offerings and sacrifices to this inanimate object, which were due the Living God. How quickly their allegiance shifts when they can’t SEE MOSES.  God’s people had not learned to walk by FAITH, rather than sight.  They developed amnesia, forgetting God’s miraculous parting of the Red Sea, God’s provision of manna and quail in the wilderness, the pillar of fire by night and the cloud by day. 

Meanwhile, God and Moses are chatting on the mountain. God knows EXACTLY what’s happening back at the ranch.  The Lord tells Moses the people are acting perversely: creating and worshiping inanimate objects as gods. God is furious & tells Moses God’s anger will burn hot against them and will even consume them, but God promises to make of Moses a great nation.

Moses displays a NON-ANXIOUS presence in God’s company and reminds God: these Israelites are the people you delivered with great power. Moses pleads with God to change God’s mind… turning away from anger and not bringing disaster on the people, despite their perverse behavior.  Moses reminds God these people are the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Israel. What about God’s promise to make their descendants as numerous as the stars?!

Are you comfortable with God changing God’s mind? God interacts with Moses in a mutually interactive way, so that Moses influences God’s decision.  In this relationship of give-and-take, no one party controls the outcome. Moses intercedes on behalf of God’s undeserving people.  It’s a beautiful story: one worth reflecting on. Is God too busy or remote to chat with us as he did Moses? Do our prayers and intercessions on behalf of others “move” or “influence” God? This dynamic interplay between God and Moses invites us to consider what it would be like to have an intimate, ever-changing relationship with the Living God, to be in a trusting “dance” with the Creator? Will you allow God to tap your shoulder and ask for the next dance? 

God and Moses had a history. God CARED deeply about Moses and the people he was leading. Moses was out on a limb in the wilderness as a result of God’s call at the burning bush. He endured hardships to attain the freedom of the Israelite people from the Egyptians.  Moses held God’s feet to the fire… to follow through, despite the people’s distracted unfaithfulness, so that God’s name would not be shamed and the world would know God’s faithfulness endures forever.

God CHOOSES to give EACH ONE of us a “role” in the Kingdom of God, though our roles differ.  God CHOOSES to need us (think about that!) and allows us to be influential in the outcome of historical events.  Moses was God’s leader… prepared from birth… to fulfill the role of liberator/deliverer… and in such a role, Moses interceded with God…so that God’s outcome would not be thwarted; God’s purpose would be accomplished.
This dance of trust is not fully scripted, because God gives us freedom. There’s room for improvisation and creativity in our relationship with God, the church and the community.  God didn’t create robots or puppets, but men and women in the image of God to influence, move and affect the world we live in.  This is a huge responsibility… as well as a thrilling adventure in faith!

God “improvises” in the story Jesus tells in Matthew 22.  Put on the lenses of trust & see what you can learn.  Jesus tells this story as the final “allegory” – showing the Pharisees and religious leaders that God’s will cannot be thwarted, even by them!  All of us have a choice about whether or not to respond to God’s invitation to the Banquet. In Scripture the Great Wedding Feast… is a metaphor for living in God’s realm; it is a vision of what the heavenly Kingdom will be like; it is a glimpse of heaven on earth.  Hear the story afresh….

The King gives a wedding banquet for his son. The invitations go out to special guests. Who would miss the best party in town? Unfortunately, even the guests who had checked “yes!” on their RSVP cards… don’t show up.  The King sends messengers to remind them, saying:  Look, the dinner is prepared. My oxen and fat calves have been slaughtered and cooked. They are ready to enjoy.  The guests make light of God’s invitation, each giving an excuse of why this was not convenient. One wants to work on his farm, another at his business, while others rudely mistreat the messengers.

The King is enraged and improvises. He tells the remaining messengers to hit the streets: inviting everyone they find who is available to come.  It doesn’t matter whether they are good or bad people; the King wants a hall full of guests to enjoy the feast.  Those without more important agendas trusted the Host, responded, & attended the feast.  But one guest doesn’t wear a “wedding robe.” The King has him “bound hand and foot and thrown into the other darkness, where there was weeping and gnashing of teeth.  For many are called, but few are chosen.”

“Matthew is talking not of a banquet and guests, but of God, the kingdom, Jews, Gentiles and the demands of the Kingdom life.”   Matthew is also talking about the final judgment of God. Those who think they are “in” don’t show up; those who think they are “out” DO show up and are welcome; however, one who shows up finds he isn’t dressed properly and is expelled, not just from the banquet, but he’s literally thrown into hell.

God’s invitation is MOST gracious & is extended to good and bad alike.  Yet, a proper “wedding garment” is expected to be worn in the Kingdom of God.  For me, the garment is not some type of “outer wear,” but rather a trusting, condition of the heart.  We must trust the Shepherd to lead us, trust in the wisdom of the One who invites us, and trust the Spirit’s timing in all things. No one sits at the Table of the Lord because they deserve it. Instead, we put on Christ, the garment of salvation. There’s no Critic’s Corner & no safe seats for cynics. Learning to trust in the Living God through Jesus Christ is a leap of faith into the glorious unknown, but you can’t be half in & half out.  This is a mystery of course, which requires faith in the unseen, mysterious goodness of the God who loves us.     Let us pray. Loving God, trust scares us. Help us remove the crusty shells of protection we are building around ourselves to keep from being hurt, challenged, & transformed. Sometimes we must walk blindfolded, but you are in the dark places of our lives, not just on lighted roads.  You also offer to hold our hands, even carry us, if only we will let go of our agendas and trust you.  You won’t drop us…or forsake us… EVER! We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Fred B. Craddock, John H. Hayes, Carl R. Holladay, Gene M. Tucker, Preaching Through the Christian Year, Year A (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 1992), p. 474.