Sermon for 16th Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 21)

Text: Exodus 17:1-7
The place was named Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites complained and put the Lord to the test when they asked, "Is the Lord with us or not?" (v 7)

Trusting God

The late Bishop of New York was sailing for Europe in one of the great transatlantic liners. When he went on board, he found that he was sharing his cabin with another passenger.  After settling into his cabin, the bishop went to the purser's desk and inquired if he could leave his gold watch, iPad and other valuables in the ship’s safe.  He explained that he wasn’t normally so suspicious of other people but he was sharing his cabin with another man and, judging from his appearance, he didn’t trust him and was afraid that his valuables might disappear.  The purser was very understanding and took charge of the bishop’s gold watch and iPad and remarked, “It's all right, sir, I'll be very glad to take care of them for you. The other man has been up here and left his valuables here for the same reason.”

There are times when we find ourselves in situations when we aren’t able to trust other people.  When travelling in countries where the language is unfamiliar it’s not hard to distrust people who seem to be overly friendly and helpful because experience has taught us that there is some hidden motive behind this over the top friendliness.  Then on the other hand, there have been those occasions when we have been suspicious of such friendliness and have been embarrassed to find out that the person was genuinely wanting to help us and there was no reason for our distrust.

It is clear that distrust destroys relationships.  Distrust always points the finger at others.  It always accuses others of being at fault.  For some people trusting can be hard work.  Maybe it’s part of their nature or their upbringing but distrust and suspicion come easy and can easily become consuming and ruins relationships.  Whether we are talking about husbands and wives, neighbours, employers and employees or countries it makes no difference – distrust can have disastrous consequences.  Distrust can easily get out of control and breeds all kinds of others evils like hatred, slander, gossip, jealousy, violence and even murder.

When we find ourselves distrusting others we need to work extra hard to move beyond distrust and the evils that go with it.  The Holy Spirit needs to guide our will to overcome the unkind distrust we have of others and renew our hearts and make them more Christ-like filled with peace and love and kindness. 

The Bible is full of people whose trust quickly turned to distrust.  When Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt we are told that God didn’t take them the shortest route up the coast to the Promised Land but deliberately led them into the desert (Exodus 13:17).  It must have taken a great deal of trust in Moses as a leader and in God to head out into such unfriendly territory.  People die in deserts from thirst, hunger, heat and marauding enemies.

As we know, trust in God and Moses’ leadership skills soon turned to distrust when the water and food ran out.  The Israelites complained bitterly. “We wish we were back in Egypt. There we could at least sit down and eat meat and as much other food as we wanted. But you have brought us out into this desert to starve us all to death”.

The Israelites were willing to return to the oppressiveness of slavery in order to get regular meals.  “What good is our freedom, if we are going to starve to death?” they asked.  It’s not that they hadn’t experienced God's power and goodness.  Just prior to this we read how God rescued the Israelites from the king and his army when God parted the waters of the Red Sea and they were able to cross safely.  They were hungry and God gave them manna and quails to eat. You would think that these were clear lessons that they could trust God to take care of them. 

And today we hear they are thirsty and what do the people do, they lose their trust in God to care of them and complain yet again.

And quite frankly, if we were reading this story for the first time, we would be quite surprised at the response the people got from God.  We would expect that God would respond with divine anger at their lack of trust in him but instead we hear of his generosity.  They had a daily supply of bread and meat; all supplied by a caring God.  Now they had water gushing from a place where there was no sign of water before, enough water for all the people, their herds and their flocks. Without a doubt God can be trusted.

One of the greatest sources of unhappiness in people’s lives is discontent. 
We grumble about the weather, it's too hot, too cold, too wet, or too dry. 
We grumble about our families, our bosses, our friends. 
We grumble about the government, the economic situation, our inability to get ahead in life. 
We grumble about people in the church or the way things get done or don’t get done in the church.
If you want to be unhappy, do a bit of grumbling.

When the people of Israel became discontented, they criticised God's rescue plan.  They came to believe that God didn't know what he was doing;
that he no longer cared for them and had now left them out in the desert to die. 
They were so overwhelmed with their present circumstances that their trust had turned to distrust.

When we grumble we lose sight of the fact that God can be trusted.  We may have experienced the goodness of God in the past, but the present circumstances overwhelm us and in the heat of the moment we can only see the desert and all kinds of trouble in front of us and no longer see the One who loves and cares for us and is ready to lead us through it all.

How do we know that God cares about you and me? 
The answer is plain: God the Father sent his eternal and matchless Son Jesus Christ, to become a human just for you and me.  He suffered the agony of death just for us.  Not for himself, but for us.  He invites us to have trust in him. 

He welcomes us into his family at our baptism.
He invites us to be steady in our trust and ready to follow. 
He asks us to trust his love for us and that he will never let anything happen to us that will not be for our good.  Even when, to our way of thinking, things are going all wrong, he reminds us that we can trust his wisdom, love and goodness. 
Even when it ends up that whatever trouble we are facing takes us from this life, Jesus says to us, “Trust God; trust also in me.  In my Father’s house are many rooms …. I am going there to prepare a place for you” (John 14:1-2).
Even in the most extreme situations, God's love and faithfulness never give up on us. The psalmist wrote, “Trust in the Lord because his love is constant and he is willing to save”.

It is true that we may not always understand the things that happen to us in our lives.  There are mysteries that happen for which we would dearly love answers.  Our faith is tested at times to the utmost limits and we wonder why we have to go through some of the troubles that we do.  We can easily become discouraged because it is so hard to see the goodness of God through all that is happening in our lives. 

However, in spite of our feelings there is one consistent person in this inconsistent upside down world that we live in.  And that is God.  He does not change.  He is the same as he was in the days of the people of Israel in the wilderness.  He gives generously, lovingly, mercifully, faithfully, just as loving parents do for their children.  The only difference is that our heavenly Father can do it perfectly.

And like a true father he is very forgiving even for our lack of trust.  Just as parents are generous in their forgiveness toward their children, our heavenly Father forgives us and now urges us to rely on him for everything, for every daily need.  He urges us to trust him to care for us. 
Even when the going gets tough, trust him to care for us. 
Even when life makes no sense, trust his goodness. 
When it seems everyone and everything else have abandoned you, trust him to stand by your side and be faithful to you always. 
He has proven his love for us in his Son Jesus Christ, and that love still burns strong for each of us today.

As you come to Holy Communion and receive Jesus’ body and blood be reminded that his love for you is constant and that it will never end.  Even in the thickest and deepest fog of uncertainty and doubt, Jesus’ love for you can be trusted.

A soldier just got married and was returning home with his wife. They were crossing a lake in a boat, when suddenly a great storm arose.  The boat was tossed around by the intensity of the storm. The man did what he could to help the boatman secure the boat and then sat silently, calm and quiet.  His new wife was shaking with fear.  She called out to her husband, “Aren’t you afraid?  We are going to die unless a miracle happens and this storm stops.  Why aren’t you afraid?  Don’t you have any feelings?”

The man laughed and took his sword out of its scabbard. The woman was even more puzzled.  Then he brought the naked blade of his sword close to his young wife’s neck, so close it was almost touching her neck.

He asked, “Are you afraid?”

She started to laugh and said, “Why should I be afraid?  The sword is in your hands, why I should be afraid?  I know you love me and I trust you completely”.

He put the sword back and said, “This is my answer.  I know God loves me, and the storm is in his hands and I trust him completely.  Whatever is going to happen is going to be good.  If we survive, good; if we don’t survive, good, because everything is in his hands and I trust his love for each of us.


© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
28th September 2014

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