Written by Pastor Ed
Freedom Bound – The Path of Trust
December 13, 2015 Advent 3
Isaiah 12: 1-6
Luke 3: 7-18
The prophet Isaiah says, in the passage we read, “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid…” Surely if there is anything that keeps us from being free, it is often fear that binds us. And much of our fear comes from a lack of trust. I read about it and hear it all the time.
The farmers are upset over Bill 6 because they don’t trust the current provincial government to look out for their interests. People want the refugee program proposed to stop or at least slow down because they don’t trust the screening process and are afraid someone will slip through. We fear because we’re not sure we can trust whoever “they” are.
It’s even true in the church. I remember someone who was upset over a church publication because they thought it was “new age” material and didn’t trust the authors. But I knew the authors and trusted them, so I wasn’t afraid of the material. The recent release of 5 people from the Mennonite Church Canada offices because of budget shortfalls has unleashed some backlash because “those people in Winnipeg” did something and we’re not sure we trust them.
And the rhetoric we hear around us doesn’t help. The kind of anti-Muslim talk that has been in the news this week from Donald Trump and Jerry Falwell Jr. builds on people’s fears and needs to be denounced. And while we can dismiss that as the US rhetoric, we here are inundated with it, and I have heard similar kinds of statements from people here in Canada, just not as high profile. Those voices stir up people’s fears of the other and lead to unfortunate consequences.
While Trump doesn’t necessarily label himself as a Christian, Falwell certainly does and we need to be clear that that kind of language doesn’t represent Christianity any more than the terrorists represent Islam. Both are extremists and are deeply troubling. Unfortunately too many people are listening to their words on both sides of the border and living in fear.
Isaiah says, “I will trust and not be afraid.” On this path to freedom during Advent, we need to overcome our fears and learn to trust in the God of our salvation. So what might that look like?
When people came to hear John the Baptist they were full of fear. They were living under an occupation and weren’t sure what was in store for them. Depending on which prophets they listened to, or their preachers decided to use, they were hearing words that said the end was near, and it would come with fire and destruction. “Who can endure the day of his coming?” And so John first of all upbraids them for their fears. “You brood of vipers,” he calls them. It’s literally, sons of vipers – or today we might use a different expression, you SOBs. Why are you fearful of the day that is coming? If you would be bearing fruit, as you should be, you would have nothing to fear.
And the crowd said, “What then shall we do?” That is, what will show that we truly trust in God and don’t fear the future? And Jesus tells them – if you have two coats, share with someone who has none, and if you have food, share with those who don’t. To the tax collectors and soldiers he said to not take more than you’re supposed to, be content with what you have. Tax collectors and soldiers were among the most hated of the people. They were Jews who worked for the Roman occupiers. Tax collectors paid a fee in advance to the Romans for the privilege of working, and then were free to collect whatever they wanted, a system open to abuse. Soldiers acted in much the same way.
So what is John really telling them? Is he talking about specifics for those groups of people, or can we draw broader conclusions? Let me suggest that John is talking about putting our trust in God into practice. In effect John is saying, if you truly trust God, then you will act in a counter-cultural manner, not in fear of what tomorrow may bring, but hope for the future. And John proclaimed what that future was – the one coming after him, greater than him, namely Jesus.
We sometimes sing the hymn, “Trust and Obey.” As I read this passage from Luke I was struck by the fact those things have to go together. To say we trust someone or something, and then never put that trust into action begs the question of how much trust we really have. If I tell my son that I trust him to drive the car, but never let him behind the wheel, my words mean little. I always said I trusted my life jacket, but until I actually went into the water and allowed it to keep me from drowning, no one knew if I really trusted it or not.
You can argue about which comes first. It was Jesse Jackson who purportedly said, “It is easier to walk your way into a new way of thinking — than to think your way into a new way of walking.” On the other hand, doing something doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a Christian, but being a Christian should make you want to act in a certain way. Whichever way it works, “trusting” and “obeying” go hand in hand.
And, as one commentator said, it’s interesting to note that the people say, “What should WE do?” How much easier it is, he noted, to trust and act when there are others doing the same thing. For one tax collector to change his ways may have been difficult, but if a bunch of them started acting differently, how much easier that would be.
Some of you may have heard me tell the story before of sitting with a group of young adults in a small house church in St. Paul as a young man asked for prayers of support as he worked to give up some of his security. He said he had been raised with the idea that he needed to amass as much money as he could to have a secure future, but now that he was a Christian (and a Mennonite) he felt called to give much of that accumulation away, and it was scary. And then someone else in the room spoke up and said, “But we’re part of your security now.” I think that’s something we call mutual aid.
What does it mean for us to free ourselves from fear and trust in God? It may be different for different people and different times. I remember growing up hearing big discussions about whether having insurance, particularly life insurance, showed a lack of trust in God. And then eventually the church formed its own insurance company.
But it’s not just about money. When the prophet says “I will trust and not be afraid” he goes on to speak of joy and praise. If we live in fear, there is little joy in our lives. People who live in fear, with no trust, tend to turn inward, shut themselves off from life and live lives full of suspicion. It’s not a good way to live, and certainly not the way John the Baptist, or Jesus calls us to live.
Are there things to be fearful of? Of course. Fear is a natural reaction to danger, and if we had no fears we could easily put ourselves in harm’s way. Do all of us live with some anxiety about the future and what it may hold? By all means! We all live with some of those questions and fears. But we can’t live in a constant state of fear.
Isaiah, John the Baptist, and the entire history of Christianity call us to prepare the way for others to see Jesus by acting out our trust in God. I think that means welcoming the refugees, getting to know your Muslim neighbours and speaking up on their behalf against the rhetoric we hear around us. Certainly that will do a lot more to keep some from becoming extremist than hate language does. It means sharing our good fortune with the less fortunate, not being concerned as to whether we will have more than enough. When we do that we spread the light of Jesus’ coming to those around us, announcing to them our trust in the one who came among us as a vulnerable child, a refugee who had to flee to another country to avoid persecution.
And living with trust in God frees us to experience a life of joy. I close with the words of Paul to the Philippians when he says to them,
4 Rejoice[c] in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.[d] 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.