Sunday, June 18, 2023
The Third Sunday after Pentecost
Trust in God
The Rev. Mark D. Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Katy TX 77450
I have been asked many times, “Mark I just can’t imagine picking up and leaving like Abraham, Matthew or any of the people in the bible who seem to drop what they are doing and take off to follow a divine request.” That is an excellent question and one that seems to rattle around whenever one of these passages about being called to follow or sent on a mission.
First of all we should remember that not ever biblical figure was quite so quick to drop everything. More than a few have argued with God about following a call. Think of Moses and the excuses he makes of why he cannot go to pharaoh to free the people of Israel. Jonah jumps on a boat and heads 180 degrees in the opposite direction of Nineveh when God sends him there. Prophets have said things like, “I can’t do that. I’m a man of unclean lips.” So let’s set aside this idea of unquestioned following. That doesn’t always happen. But then again quite often it does.
I think the resistance can be especially true when the promise seems ridiculous like with Abraham and Sarah. I mean really, they are old, not just middle aged but old. So one would think that they might be skeptical and Sarah most certainly was. As I envision today’s story I can imagine Sarah, peering around the door of the tent listening to the three men (who of course are angels) and I can hear her chuckle if not break out into laughter at the ridiculous idea. It is worth the time to spend some time in meditation and visualize, experience today’s Genesis reading.
I was trying to write this sermon before I left for Virginia Seminary because I had a look at the schedule for the week and knew that other than a little time on Monday I was going to be in classes and training until late each evening and catching a plane home Saturday afternoon. Thursday afternoon I was stuck on where to go so I logged onto the site Working Preacher where leading professors of homiletics write brief commentaries. Page like this often jump start my thought process. I found something I want to read to you.
“God never calls us to something, without first calling us away from something. Some people will never fully come into discipleship because they find themselves unable to let go of commitments in which they are oftentimes legitimately engaged before the call of God comes into their lives. In Genesis 12, God calls Abraham to “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). To answer the call, Abraham must leave his past behind and trust God for his future. But before Abraham can get to that place yet to be named by God, he must let go of where he is and march forward into God’s promised future. You can never get to the next thing that God has for you until, in an act of simple obedience, you let go of where you are and follow after him.”
The word that leapt off the page at me was “trust.” I will lay before you a question that a spiritual director asked me while I was in the discernment process about leaving teaching and going to seminary. He said, “Mark I know you love God and you believe God loves you, but the question you have to ask right now is do you trust God enough to make this leap?” For a person that grew up being afraid of an angry finger shaking God, that question had huge impact and took some really serious prayer time. The ultimate answer was yes!
I have been rereading Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward for our Wednesday theology lunch class. Falling upward is one of his more accessible books and the one where he develops Thomas Merton’s ideas on false and true self. He speaks about the metaphor of the loyal soldier, the one who does exactly what society expects. The loyal soldier is critical to the development of a healthy ego, but we reach a point where that loyal soldier holds us back. But it is difficult for all of us to dismiss our loyal soldier when their job is done. It usually takes a crisis of some sort to force the issue. We realize that most of the world wants to hold us back because those who are willing to move forward are often dangerous. They are dangerous because they are willing to leave behind the known and move toward the unknown. The false self which Rohr also calls the ego driven self is important but if we don’t eventually move on, we don’t find our true self, our God centered self and live into what God is calling us to be and do.
We do hear the message from God to trust in God. We put “in God we trust” on our money, but do we really trust God or are we more like Abraham who trusts God to a point but then thinks he’s got things figured out and deviates with not such good consequences. The disciples follow Jesus, but they do regularly mess up sometimes when they let that old false self whisper in their ears. We see this in the arguments about who is the greatest. That’s the false, ego centered self talking.
The bible is filled with stories of death and rebirth. We see the cycle over and over again in the stories of the Hebrew Scriptures. People try to get it right, mess up, suffer, repent and return to the path of being faithful. Now the suffer piece is more about suffering the consequences of their choices than God with his finger on the smite button.
I think that one of the most important parts of the trust piece was a phrase I learned somewhere and I don’t know where and I dropped it into the end of last week’s sermon. When asking someone to take a leap of faith I will remind them that God doesn’t call the equipped. He equips the called. This is the idea that God has ready for us everything we need to face what the world gives us and sometimes we get garbage from the world. We are at a point in our world of great turmoil and challenge. We must trust that God will show us the path but that may mean like Abraham and Matthew, and the other disciples, that we may have to move in a different direction. We may need to leave some things behind in order to find and embrace what God has in store for us in a new reality.
Times of challenge are also times of great opportunity and that is why in the midst of the mess I am hopeful that good will come out of all of the mess we call our world. My hope is based in my trust in God for yes I trust God. I pray that we all do.
When faced with a huge challenge Julian of Norwich said, “all will be well and all will be well and with God all manner of things will be well.” You might repeat that until you truly internalize this, truly trust God and believe from the bottom of your heart.