On Sunday, November 22 I was the “preacher” for the Trenton Council of Churches’ ecumenical Thanksgiving service. This is the homily I gave. (I confess, like many preachers, I recycled material. The homily was originally given on the 32nd Sunday of Ordinary time, Cycle B, but it seemed to fit for a Thanksgiving service too.) Since Protestants like to give their sermons titles, I was asked to come up with one and chose the title of this blog entry. The homily was given at St. John United Church of Christ in Trenton, IL.
Trust-full Thanks, Thanks-Full Trust and Around We Go
We’ve all probably are familiar with a form of something called a trust exercise. There’s a activity often used in building up a sense of teamwork in the corporate world called a trust experience. A trust exercise goes like this…six people line up in two rows of three with arms extended and interlocked. Then another person is asked to fall backwards into their arms, trusting that their co-workers will catch them and not let them drop on floor. The whole experience is meant to build up trust between the co-workers.
There is an example of a negative trust exercise, too. Remember in the comic strip Peanuts. There’s a recurring story line between Lucy and Charlie Brown. Each fall, Charlie Brown is always fooled into trying to kick a football which Lucy yanks away at the last second leaving good ole’ Charlie Brown flying in the air and landing on his back…you can depend on Lucy to yank the ball away.
The scripture of the widow of Zarephath and the prophet Elijah in today’s reading and the story of the widow offering two small coins in the Gospel are examples of taking the trust challenge with God. The question is laid out for those who listen to these stories about widows is this, “Can we trust God to provide?” “Will Christ catch us if we put our trust in Him?”
You know, we human beings are wired to not trust people. Other people are viewed with suspicion so we don’t trust them. Are they out to take my stuff? People tend to doubt others can be depended upon. Such mistrust spills over into people’s relationship with Jesus, too.
There was a phrase made popular by Ronald Reagan during the cold war…
“trust but verify” — That’s not really trust! That’s suspicion that the other party to the agreement is going to cheat. It’s common sense say the politicians, trust but get proof first.
That’s what we’re wired to do as humans. We’re conditioned to believe we’ve got to make it on our own, and everyone else is out to take everything we have. Such mistrust of other people can make for a very isolated existence. There’s a bit of this lack of recognizing our interdependence in our American ethos. The myth citizens of this land tell themselves is that the successful folks are the ones who took responsibility for themselves and make their own way in life. These are the folks we praise in our national story. The individual who trusts himself above all others. Such a lonely existence when we do not trust.
But for us who claim to live in the Kingdom of God even now in this realm of Caesar is to break out of that isolation. Citizens of the Kingdom brought into this world by Christ reject that self-imposed prison of selfishness which imprisons others in a life of poverty.
The widow in the old testament is trapped in her world view that she can only rely on what she sees in her kitchen pantry. Her future and therefore her son’s future, too, is bleak. Widow Zarephath and her son probably will become beggars on the street left to die on the street. There was no social security, there was no Green Bean Pantry offering a safety net. Elijah challenges her to trust that God will not let that happen. Just go and make some bread. He opens up a little crack in her world view that says she must go it on her own.
As a result, God provides abundance. The message – God is the source of our livelihood, not just our own efforts. God does not want people to starve but will give them life – Trust God! We have a God who wants us to trust Him and he returns our trust. He WILL provide. Sure, we have to do our part, we must use our talents, but even when things look bleakest the Trustworthy One show us mercy and sustains us in life, even in death.
The message of the Gospel of the widow who offers to the poor two coins seems to suggest that the widow who gives “all she had” has the same trust in God……But there’s no indication the God filled up her kitchen cabinet. The story is silent on what happens after she puts her coins clinking in the coffer. She goes off into a future that Jesus doesn’t describe.
What’s the message? It could be that Jesus is still saying TRUST God, but remember you people who are familiar with the scriptures, God expects you to let go of your “stuff,” all you have, too, so that people like the widow don’t have to worry about their future. Use all you have, a little flour in a jar, a couple of coins, risking not having enough for yourself so that others don’t have to worry about where their next meal comes from. Jesus doesn’t let his disciples off the hook. By saying “she gave all she had” He’s saying to the disciples (us) don’t just give away a few coins you can spare, but challenge yourself to give what you don’t think you can to make sure the poor can eat, have a place to live free from violent wars or get health care. Use ALL your gifts from God to build a more equitable world so that no one need fear for their future.
In the words of Pope Francis in his visit to the U.S. in his address to congress, leaders (and by extension all citizens of this land since the “represent” us) are to help all of a society blessed by God with bounty to work for the “common good” of all citizens. If you listened closely to what the Holy Father was saying, he may even be suggesting citizens of this land should not just consider but get busy redistributing our treasure. We have an obligation to ensure all citizens, even non-citizen residents have what they need to live according to their God-given human dignity dictates. Here’s a biblical truth, an indication we live as citizens of the Kingdom of God: As we proclaim our thankfulness for what we have we will grow in our willingness to trust God will provide what we and others need to live grateful to the one who is the source of all blessings.
Can society’s poor count on us? We’re invited, no, commanded as disciples of Jesus to be the arms interlaced behind those who are in need that they can trust to catch them when they fall through the cracks of life that open up leaving them in need. So blessed by Jesus, the church must be the interlaced arms catching the hungry. The church must advocate for the Syrian refugee longing to be free from fear of violence. A nation that pauses to give thanks and acknowledge our blessings as we say “In God we trust” must, in obedience to that God, must look out for the sick, the homeless, the immigrant, the jobless. For sure we should reject the urge to offer a way out of trouble only to yank the ball out from those who don’t have what they need to live lives free from fear, free from hunger. We are to be the agents of Good News of God’s faithful love, not folks who take delight in being blessed but who refuse to play by God’s rules. As disciples of Jesus we must not be like the fictional character who can only be trusted to yank the ball of hope for a better life away from those in need. Such lack of obedience to God’s rule denies an opportunity to those who in need to know they can trust God because we were the messenger of that mercy.
There was a Little banner stitched by a nun that hung under a crucifix in my bedroom from the time I was in Grade School to the day we sold my parents house…”let go, let God!” Let go of fear for our future, God is already there and will provide us life, a life that can not end, a life that is abundant. Let go of our stuff. Let God use it to provide a better life to others. Let go of our hearts so that God’s love will grow in them leading us to trust God ever more deeply.
Brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, Let our thanksgiving remind us we can trust God to provide for ourselves and others. Let our hearts full of trust in God’s promises lead us to give thanks for his faithfulness that will never disappoint us.
(c) 2015 Rev. Joseph C. Rascher