I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately about relationships. Relationships really are the core to our existence. Humans cannot survive without relationships—relationships define our social scripts and norms, they help to create our individual and group identities, and they help us to make sense of the world around us. But relationships can be dangerous if they lead us on the wrong path or become destructive and abusive. The Psalm for this week, Psalm 62, and the Gospel, Mark 1:14-20, helped me to see the power of trust in relationships.
In what or in whom do we put our trust? If we put our trust in money, the weatherman, and everything we read or see on television (or the internet for that matter), chances are, we will be let down. The psalmist tells us our trust should reside in God:
For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.
What beautiful language to describe this relationship with God—a relationship based on faith and trust. Faith that God is our rock, salvation, deliverance and refuge. Trust that we can open ourselves up to the awesome saving power of God.
But how do we hear this message without being a bit cynical about it? How do we hear the psalmist’s words when messages like “In God We Trust” have been exploited in some of the worst ways in our culture? What does it mean to really put our trust and faith in God? What are the risks involved? My favorite theologian, Jurgan Moltmann, said “trust in God does not mean the comfortable protection and safekeeping of our mother’s womb. It means the risky freedom of the wide spaces and ever-new coming of God”. But most of us don’t think of our relationship with God as risky.
So I turned to the gospel of Mark for guidance. Jesus comes on the scene having heard that John the Baptist had been arrested. He proclaims the Good News, saying “the kingdom of God has come near”, and then gathers together some of his first followers—Simon, Andrew, James and John. What’s he up to? Well, he isn’t quietly coming into town to tell people about God, he’s proclaiming it! He’s essentially making a scene and asking people to go along with him. Why would these men agree to follow him? What is it about Jesus that makes them leave their comfortable, predictable lives as fishermen, for the unknown journey of proclaiming the Good News? Why do they trust him? I don’t have the answers to these questions, and most of the scholarship I’ve read argues that Jesus had a charismatic presence, that his call to “Follow me” was transformative, and that it was the work of the Holy Spirit. And while all of that is interesting to consider, it’s based on trying to “fill in the blanks” because Mark doesn’t tell us. The writer of the gospel doesn’t give us dialogue from the men’s perspectives, or tell us that they were looking for a way out of Galilee. All we know is that when Jesus invited them, they went. I can’t help but wonder what that was like.
And it again made me ask, “so what’s the risk in trusting God”. We know that in many countries, being a Christian is illegal. Persecution is a very real thing for some in this world, and therefore very risky. But for most of us, living our day to day lives, what’s the risk? So it might be uncomfortable to have a conversation with someone who doesn’t share our same theology or world view, but that doesn’t mean it’s risky. And most of us aren’t the “door-to-door” evangelist types, so there’s not much risk for us when we do talk about our “God moments”. So what’s the risk? Well, I suppose it would be dependent upon who or what we would think is in opposition to our faith. If greed, materialism, fear, anxiety, or pride became the focus of our relationships, and thus the focus of our trust and faith, then to suddenly give these things up might be risky. Suddenly we wouldn’t be playing into the social structures and identities that our other relationships have helped to create. So the risk would be living into a life in Christ that isn’t “the norm”. What if our faith and trust in God called us to be missionaries and leave behind the comforts of home? What if our faith and trust in God called us to community activism and social justice work that was “unpopular” in our social circles? What if our faith and trust in God called us to extend our hand to our neighbors, even if they were viewed as “less than” or the “have-nots”? Would we be willing to risk our current status quo relationships for a relationship with God that calls us to follow into unknown journeys? Would we be able to say “yes” to God?
Sometimes I think we think that answering that call to follow Jesus and put our trust in God is easy. That once we say “yes” it’ll be a walk in the park. But the Bible gives us story after story of the trials and tribulations of being a disciple, and yet, there is hope. God doesn’t call us because we are perfect, beautiful or have the most stuff, God calls us because we are willing to learn, and because we’ll probably stumble, misunderstand and even come up short. That’s what we bring to this relationship…just ourselves, for better and for worse. And it’s God’s steadfast love that transforms us into people who can say “yes”.
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.