Trusting God’s Promises
August 19, 2018/Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost/Richard E. Holmer
First Lesson: Proverbs 9:1-6 /Second Reading: Ephesians 5:15-20 /Gospel: John 6:51-58
Trusting God’s Promises
In the Bible we learn of the wonderful promises God has made to those who believe. It’s one thing to know about these promises – to be familiar with them. Yet what if we actually lived our lives as though these promises were true? Or better, because God’s promises are true, how then shall we live? In today’s readings we heard two marvelous promises. From Psalm 34: “those who seek the Lord lack nothing that is good.” In John’s Gospel Jesus promises: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.” One promise speaks to God’s faithful providence in this life – assuring us that we shall not lack for what is good. The other offers the hope of eternal life. Of course a skeptic might easily dismiss both of these promises as nothing more than empty wish dreams. As to the first, one could point to many faithful believers who have died of starvation, or been victims of violence and injustice. In the course of their lives, it certainly could be said they experienced a lack of goodness. As far as the promise of living forever, a doubter could simply observe: look, everyone dies – end of story.
So what is the content of the first promise: that those who seek the Lord lack nothing that is good? God is the essence of goodness. Jesus said, “No one is good but God.” We like to say, “God is good, all the time.” And God assures us that “those who seek me find me.” (Jeremiah 29:13) So to “have God” is to have the true and lasting good – goodness that cannot be taken from us. Paul affirmed that having Christ, he had everything he needed. There is a spiritual dimension to this promise – that in seeking God we experience the goodness, the blessedness of God: God’s love and mercy, the peace of God that passes understanding. Yet I believe the promise also includes ordinary good things. It is the assurance that we will have enough, that the Lord will provide us with what we need. This is what God’s people experienced during their 40 years in the wilderness. God did not forsake them, but provided enough to sustain them. I think of my father’s experience during the Great Depression. He was one of six children, the son of a pastor who made $1600 a year. ($130 a month) In one sense they didn’t have a lot – yet in another, as my father liked to say, they had everything but money. Not a lot of “things,” but a whole lot of goodness in terms of togetherness, sharing love and simple gifts. In our more affluent times we can enjoy these same good things.
The promise of living forever is the promise guaranteed by Christ’s resurrection. It is the foundational promise of our faith. We all will die – but death will not be the end. This promise grows in meaning for me as I experience the deaths of persons not only of my parents’ generation, but also of my own. It’s the promise that is the antidote to despair. God’s promise of life gives life.
Our First Reading concludes with this invitation: “Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.” In other words, get serious – get your act together! Grow up! Grow up into Christ! What would such a life look like – a life lived trusting and depending on God’s promises? For starters, life would not be easier – but it would be simpler. Trusting God doesn’t make life easier in the sense of having fewer problems, fewer conflicts, fewer responsibilities. Yet life becomes simpler by having clearer priorities, fewer “wants” to distract us, a clarity of purpose. Theologian Soren Kierkegaard said, “Purity of heart is to will one thing.” If our singular focus is to seek first the Kingdom of God – to love God with our whole heart and our neighbors as ourselves – the rest of our life finds its proper place. Another promise of Jesus assures us that those who seek God first will have all life’s other needs met as well.
A life lived trusting God would not be ACQUISITIVE, but CONTEMPLATIVE. Materialism is a form of idolatry. We can come to worship and rely on our stuff: house, boat, car, clothes. “Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.” Jesus encourages us to “consider the lilies of the field; they neither toil nor spin, yet even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.” On these summer mornings I enjoy having breakfast on our screened porch. I look out on the beautiful tiger lilies that are blooming in all their glory – without any effort on my part. I’m led to contemplate the goodness of God’s creation. I am also filled with wonder and gratitude as I hold our new grandson, Frederick, in my arms. I am reminded of the giftedness of life – all that is given without my striving to acquire it.
A faithful life is not trouble free – but it can be worry free. A bit later in today’s Psalm we are reminded that troubles are sure to come, even to the most faithful persons. We read: “Many are the troubles of the righteous, but the Lord will deliver him out of them all.” It does no good to worry about troubles – instead we trust in the God who walks with us always, even through the valley of the shadow of death. Henri Nouwen describes the negative impact of worrying:
“One of the most notable characteristics of worrying is that it fragments our lives. The many things to do, to think about, to plan for, the many people to remember, to visit, or to talk with, the many causes to attack or defend, all these pull us apart and make us lose our center. Worrying causes us to be “all over the place,” but seldom at home. One way to express the spiritual crisis of our time is to say that most of us have an address but cannot be found there. We know where we belong, but we keep being pulled away in many directions, as if we were still homeless.”
Worrying wastes our time and our spirits. Jesus asks us: “Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? (Matthew 6:27) We can’t avoid troubles – but we can learn to stop worrying and start trusting God.
A faithful life doesn’t seek power and control, but peace. We long for control, to have things our way. We imagine that power will bring security. But the lust for power brings no peace. Even when we have some measure of power and control, there is no guarantee that we will not somehow misuse it. Trusting God, placing our days in God’s hands, opens our lives to peace and contentment. And so the psalmist today encourages us to “seek peace and pursue it.”
A faithful life involves not wasting time, but “making the most of the time,” as St Paul urges us to do. There are so many ways to waste time! We can waste time by being very busy – or by being lazy and doing nothing. Think of the hours frittered away on TV and social media – or by useless worrying. We make the most of the time we have by living our lives on purpose: finding ways to love God and one another; making ourselves useful to others. “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.” Consider how you might come more fully alive.
Once we become acquainted with the promises of God, our calling is to live our lives in accordance with these promises – to trust that they are true for us. As we move in this direction, we will find that life becomes: not easier, but simpler; less acquisitive, more contemplative; not trouble-free, but worry free; not powerful, but peaceful; not wasting time, but making the most of our time. Truth is, we can all live more abundantly – which is what God promises and intends for us all.
Thanks be to God!