Trust is the love that connects the head to the heart and the heart to the world, and the world back to God.
A Sermon based on Jeremiah 17:5-10
Thus says the LORD: Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the LORD...
I love a good challenge. Especially when I'm the one challenging others instead of the one being challenged.
Back in my early seminary days, I once challenged some friends to prove to me that God exists … and to do so without relying on the Bible. This meant they couldn’t quote scripture or use any of the doctrine that had been based on biblical passages – which is basically all of them. This caused a few heated discussions to say the least.
One of our classmates, a quiet young woman who sat next to us, was tired of listening to us argue so she answered the question for them. And she did it with one word: “Trust.” By that she meant to trust what God said so completely that we are able to speak of God in the love that we show. And the grace that we give.
It never ceases to amaze me how one simple word can radically change the way we see and do things.
Today’s reading comes from Jeremiah 17:5-10 and you will see that the main thrust of these few verses rests on this one word: trust. The passage begins:
Thus says the LORD: Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the LORD. They shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when relief comes. They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land.
Blessed are those who trust in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.
The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse-- who can understand it? I the LORD test the mind and search the heart to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their doings.
You might remember from a few weeks ago that Jeremiah was just a kid when God calls him to do something really big. Grown up big. In fact, it was so big that it required the guts of a young child with…little understanding of the ramifications of what God was calling him to do.
If you know kids, then you might know they have a way of trusting that is better than adults. Probably it’s because kids need to trust in order to survive. Once they can feed, clothe and do things for themselves, they begin to see how trust becomes a choice; an important one to say the least.
The adults in this prophecy chose not to believe Jeremiah when he warned them not to go to war with the Babylonians. They didn’t heed his advice to put their trust in God’s protection. Instead they made alliances with other countries. Now these same people find themselves living in exile in a foreign country. Trust is a choice that can bind us or free us.
Of course, the kind of trust Jeremiah is talking about isn’t as simple as asking my southern mother for directions and trusting they’ll be correct. Instead it’s a more radical kind of trust – one that goes over and above dependence on other human beings.
It’s the kind of trust that saved Noah from the flood, and led Moses through the wilderness and God’s people to the promise land. And allowed Jeremiah to speak fearlessly even though he was just a kid. It’s the radical trust we learned about last week that got the disciples to drop their fishing nets and follow Jesus. To go from the seashore to the cross without fully understanding what great impact it would have on their lives, and the lives of so many others.
Of course, radical trust in God isn’t always so extreme, sometimes it’s basic and childlike. I remember when I took Fiona boogie boarding for the first time. On a small sand bar close to the shore I pushed her on the rolling whitewater as she held on to the board for dear life. Once I thought she had a pretty good grip of the concept, I took her a further out to where the swells were beginning to crest. Fiona was not so sure about this idea.
So, being a good dad, someone who was going to be a minister one day, I asked her “Do you think today is the day God is going to call you home?” Before she could say “No” with any great confidence, I pushed her into the next wave. Which, to my surprise, was a little bit bigger than I had hoped for.
My head began to panic and my heart pounded so loudly that I didn’t hear Fiona screaming. She rode that wave all the way to the beach. With the boogie board tightly clenched in her hands, she turned around and shot me a look that only Fiona could give. And let me tell you, the smile on her face said it all. It was nothing less than pure joy. The look of life lived abundantly.
Fiona’s natural instinct was to trust like only a child is able to do. While the adult in the water, the one who was going to be a minister one day, completely forgot what God is capable of doing. So yes, “Blessed are those who put their trust in God...” They will bear good fruit that will bring them joy in the most difficult circumstances.
If you ask me, trust is the key to unlocking your life, and finding the blessings contained within it. As my favorite proverb states, “trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not into your own understanding. In all ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your path.”
Jeremiah’s words invite us to look at our own life and ask, “Is it all about me? Or is it about God?” The prophet is not so subtle with his answer. He insists that those who trust solely in human wisdom and power will suffer hardships, while those who trust in God, fully and faithfully, will possess the deep resources necessary to flourish, even in times of drought.
When we only trust in our self or the things we can touch or see or prove, then we are limited by our ability to understand and our capacity to control a given situation. Our joy and purpose in life will seem small…and shallow. But a radical trust in God leads us to where we need to go and to find who God calls us to be. It leads us out into the deeper water where divine mystery constantly catches us by surprise. And empowers us to do more than we ever thought was possible.
As my classmate pointed out, Jesus challenges his followers to trust God so completely that we are able to love one another and show God’s grace in all that we do. And to do so with childlike instincts. But it’s a choice we have to make. We can see and do what Jesus does, and learn and teach the will of God for others to follow. Or we can hold off by ourselves and rely on our limited understanding and power. One welcomes peace. The other invites turmoil.
When we trust God, like Jesus did, we are able to move beyond our old selves that clings to brokenness, fears, and dead ends. Jesus draws us into God’s heart and lifts us out of where we are so we can flourish and thrive in God’s infinite love.
Trust begins in the heart – where pure joy is born and faith takes shape. It is here, inside each one of us, that God searches our hearts, and tests our minds, as if to ask, “Can I count on you?” Trust is our way of saying “Yes. You can.”
Trust is the love that connects the head to the heart and the heart to the world, and the world back to God. Jesus is God’s reminder that we cannot get back there by our own device. We need God to bring us safely home. And Jesus is the proof of how far God will go to do just that.
No one trusted God more radically, more profoundly, or more honestly than Jesus who took to heart the words of the Psalmist who wrote, “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will act.”
In Christ, God acted in the most radical way, so that our limited human life can flourish in unlimited ways. Now it is up to us to decide which path are we going to take. Will we live a life on our own terms, led by our own self-righteousness and ego, where we only have ourselves to rely on? Or will we chose to trust God and live in God’s righteousness, a river flowing with endless blessings?
In both there will be hurdles to face. While one leaves us dry, thirsting for more… the other keep us deeply rooted and does not cease to bear the good fruit. The fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
So if it all comes down to one word, one idea, then let it be trust. For within that one simple word we see God as the loving parent, smiling and delighted as we ride the wave of life safely to shore.
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year C Vol.1, Westminister John Knox: 2009, pp. 338-343.