Preacher: The Rev. Doyt Conn
Today we pick up where we left off last Sunday, at the river Jordan, with John the Baptist and that brood of vipers coming to him for baptism. It is today that we hear the words I quoted last Sunday. Jesus says, “among those born of women no one is greater than John: yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he is.” (Lk 7:28)
Last Sunday the question I asked was: “do you want to live small or do you want to live large?”
I made the claim that John the Baptist was the biggest person to ever live small, and he knew it. And he knew he needed help bridging the gap between his competence and God’s greatest hope for him. And he knew that this gap could only be filled by the power of the Holy Spirit made known in the person of Jesus.
Last week the question was, do you want to live small or do you want to live large? Do you want to live like Nelson Mandela, and Russell Wilson and my friend Iris Johnson, or do you want to just be a big fish in a small pond flopping through life until the water evaporates?
Now the core message I wanted to deliver today was around how we must take the first step into the gap between our competency and God’s greatest hope for us, how it was up to us to make the first move if we wanted to live large.
The image that came to mind was that of Indiana Jones in the Last Crusade when he stepped off the cliff onto an invisible bridge over a bottomless pit. This step has come to be famously known in movie lore as the “faith step.” But students of the Last Crusade know better. Jones took that step because he trusted the facts of the clues and the people who gave them to him. It was the facts that gave him the faith to override his feelings and take that first step.
I have often heard people say, “I wish I had faith, but I just don’t have a sense of God in my gut. I would like to believe in God, but I just don’t feel it.”
The point I was going to try to make today, was that, like with Indiana Jones, we first must trust the facts, which then give us the faith, to take the risks necessary to live large with God. Let’s face it, when Indiana Jones took that first step and found his footing of faith on that invisible bridge, he knew what it felt like to live large!
But it all started with Jones trusting the facts. Which is where I run into the difficulty today, because the facts of God are contingent on our trusting in God.
And we have a trust problem in this country at this moment in time. So this sermon has become about trust, and how trust in God, first and foremost, is the critical component for maintaining, engaging and re-establishing trust in all other venues of life.
We have a trust problem. A recent poll I read in The Economist claims that half of America thinks the President knowingly lied to pass the Health Care law. Fewer than one in five trust the government in Washington DC to do what is right “all or most of the time.” Congress’s approval rating is at 9% which is about as low, I suppose, as it can go.
Recently a massive worldwide poll taken by Transparency International, found that Americans were more likely than Italians to say that they felt the police, business and the media were “all corrupt or extremely corrupt.” Really? Italy? Silvio Berlusconi? I mean the Italian Prime Minister was convicted, I’ll repeat the word, convicted of tax fraud, and paying an underage prostitute, and abuse of power. And we’re less trusting than the Italians!
To further the point about our lack of trust, according to the General Social Survey four decades ago, Americans were evenly split on the question, “do you trust your neighbor?” Today two-thirds say they do not trust their neighbor. But who trusts polls anyway?
There may be good reasons why people feel the way they feel. We have all heard stories in the media of people who break trust. It happens if we trust the media, which apparently we don’t. But in truth, we probably all have known people who break trust in a way that surprises and shocks us.
So what are we left with? What do we do if we can’t trust the people we live next door to, or people who patrol our streets, or the folks who make our cars and cloths and telephones and food, or the commentators who give us our news, or the people we vote into office? If we can’t trust these people what chance does God have? Maybe God is the only chance we have? Maybe God is the only chance we have.
There was a time in this country when there was a common trust in God. Our coins bear this legacy. And this trust in God was what allowed us to maintain and retain and re-establish when necessary the trust required to make things work.
This trust was built, not on feelings about God, nor on faith in God, but on the commonly understood facts about God. And these were the facts: God loves us; God forgives us; God empowers us; and God never leaves us. There are more facts about God because God is God and God is extraordinary, but these are enough to live by. These are enough to make things work. These are the unique and particular facts of God given to us intentionally by the person of Jesus.
There was a time, not long ago, when the hearts of humanity set God as the priority, and more so, as the overarching authority that gave them the courage to be themselves, loving and forgiving, empowering and present.
There was a time when people would welcome a stranger into their home: when a person’s word was their solemn oath; when a handshake was good enough; and when the idea of “trust but verify” would have been an affront to a person’s honor.
There was a time that, if a person had a nagging sense that there was a space opening up between who they believed themselves to be and how they were acting or wanting to act, they went to the priest and made their confession. And the priest heard their sin, and absolved them of that which junked up their soul, and then empowered them to go out and to live large. And because these people, maybe silly, simple minded, poorly educated people, believed the facts of God to the core of their being, they could actually walk away trusting that indeed God loved them and God forgave them. And that God refilled that space, that had been junked up, with the power of the Holy Spirit. And they could be assured that even if they fell again God wouldn’t leave them, and for that very reason they did all in their power not to fall again.
Maybe that doesn’t work anymore because some priests, like police and politicians, violated trust. But never for a moment think that anyone, not even your priest, can get between you and your relationship with God.
The lack of trust that grips our nation is a feeling. It is a gut feeling. It is not a fact that inviting a stranger into your home is dangerous, or that all but 9% of politicians are crooks. Those aren’t the facts. They are the feelings. Trust isn’t a feeling; it is a way of being that allows us to live large. If we believe that God loves us, that God forgives us, that God is ready to empower us by the Holy Spirit, and that nothing can separate us from the love of God, then there is nothing that can stop us from living large – no fear, no set back, no victimization, no anger, no bitterness, no wound, no envy, no uncertainty, no feeling, whatsoever. But to move into this place of possibility, we have to make a choice about the facts. This may begin by acting as if they are true.
I’m not saying believe them, I’m just inviting you to consider living as if they are true. And, here is what I suspect. The more you live by them the more true they will become. In fact, I pray, the facts of God become the most true thing in your entire life.
Consider this about the facts of God. They remain when we are smitten and when we ace an exam, and when we climb to the top of a mountain; just as they remain when our dog dies and when our best friend moves away; just as they remain in the lives of our neighbors. Because they too are loved by God; they too are forgiven by God; they too are empowered by God; they too are present with God.
In fact, I’ll go so far as saying, I believe that if we trust the facts about God, then we will be more capable of maintaining, retaining, and re-establishing, when necessary, trust with our neighbor, and in all venues of our life.
But without trust in God, I’m not sure where we will be able to go, except smaller and smaller and smaller as the puddle we thrash about in evaporates away. But that is not what God wants for us. That is not what God hopes for us, God wants us to live large, and I think that is what we want as well.
So this Advent, I invite you to consider the facts of God: that God loves you; that God forgives you; that God empowers you; and that God will never leave you. Meditate upon these things. Consider what life might be like if they were true. Trust in God. What other choice do we have if we really want to live large?