Throughout Lent, we’ll be exploring the theme of faith. We’ll ask questions like what is faith, what’s the point of it, and who is it directed towards? This week, we begin by defining faith.
Faith is trust.
Faith is not belief- saying you agree to a list of various proposals. Faith isn’t measured by your ability to spout off memory verses or church history.
Faith is trust. Trust requires a relationship. You can’t have trust without something to trust in. You can’t around declaring, “I have trust.” People will look at you, waiting for you to finish the sentence- you have trust IN… Trust isn’t a thing you can hold or possess- it’s an action towards something- someone- else.
There’s no faith in a vacuum. You need a partner with whom to dance this life of trust.
Faith occurs in a relationship. As Lutherans, we teach that faith is a gift that the Holy Spirit creates in us. We don’t go and get God for ourselves. We don’t even go halfway to meet God. God comes all the way to us. God does everything to create trust in us.
God comes to us, through the sacraments and the Word, and creates faith within us. When we are baptized, when we receive bread and wine, the Holy Spirit enters us and turns our hearts back towards God. Through these means of grace, the Sacrament and the heard word, God starts and sustains the relationship of faith.
God proves Godself trustworthy. Here’s where we need to step away from our individualistic mindset. Some of you may have experiences in which you feel God has answered prayer or otherwise rewarded your trust by acting the way you’d hoped. Some of you may have plenty of examples in your life that might make you question God’s ability or desire to come through for you at a time of need.
God is trustworthy not just to individuals at a specific moment in time, but to a whole creation through all eternity. Where we are in life at this moment is not the final end God has in mind for us. God gives us seasons in which prayers are deeply answered during these long and sometimes difficult years as we await the day God will make all things new.
You might visualize faith as trust in this way. Let’s imagine Tammy’s having some friends out on her pontoon boat this summer. They’re out in the middle of the lake, zooming to the other side, when someone- let’s call him Kurt- trips and falls off the back of the boat. Kurt is so surprised, he starts drowning, flailing his arms, dipping down and bobbing back up. Tammy turns the boat around and drives towards her friend. The other people on the boat throw out a life saving ring for Kurt to grab. Now, there also happens to be a very brave duck who is totally undisturbed by all this commotion. So Kurt’s there, splashing around, and he reaches out to grab something. Will he grab the duck? Will he grab the life ring? They both seem to be floating on the water. But only one is going to save him. Kurt knows which one to grab because he knows what it is- he knows the ring will be trustworthy. He didn’t create the ring, he didn’t manage to make it come towards him, but he will grab on to it. In the same way, God comes to us, sending faith right to us, and showing Godself to be the one worthy of our trust.
God’s trustworthiness is recounted in the many stories of faith contained in our Holy Bible. That’s where we learn God is worthy of our faith.
The problem is that for many people, those stories in the Bible don’t hold a lot of meaning. They’re old stories, sometimes objectionable stories, and with their strange words and rituals, they’re not stories that are easy to claim as our own. That’s a big problem for the church.
It’s one we’ve had a role in creating. When we treat the Bible as a book of history that belongs in the past or as a life-answers book for moments of struggle, we neglect its richness and its purpose.
If we could reclaim the Bible as the source for a more fluid encounter with God, then through it, God would restore our trust. If we let our creative imagination be caught up by the Holy Spirit so that these stories became our stories of identity, our stories of faith in a way that leads to our living them today, then we would know -and act in- the trust that is built on the relationships the generations of faithful have had with God. When we claim Scripture as our faith story and discover Christ working a story of faith in our own lives, then we are moved to trust in the God who has been faithful through the generations and will be trustworthy to the end.
In Deuteronomy, we see the Israelites benefitting from just such a practice of faith. When the harvest begins, they are to go to the priest with a basket of those first crops. When they give the offering to the priest, they recite the story of their relationship with God. They name Joseph as their father, remembering that God brought him to Egypt through his brothers’ plotting so that all of his family and God’s people might be saved from the famine. Then, generations later, when Joseph’s descendants are enslaved, God frees them and leads them out of slavery into the Promised Land.
The one presenting the offering locates himself within this story. He declares that his people have experienced God’s trustworthiness and now he is enjoying the Promised Land. He gives the offering as an act of trust, built on this identity and relationship forming story of God’s trustworthiness for the people.
The offering is an act of trust because it is a giving up of what is harvested first, while the rest of the crops remain out the fields to continue to grow or await harvest. It’s not a carefully measured portion of the entire harvest, once all is safely stored away.
Anything could happen to the rest of the harvest. Bugs might come through and eat it, hail might rain down and destroy it, the quality might not be as good as expected. They might realize they have given the best away and can’t get it back. They might not have enough to feed the family, to survive until the next harvest. They might be ridiculed at their foolishness for giving away that first good harvest.
That’s the risk they take in faith. They take that risk because they are able to claim relationship with a God who has protected them, liberated them, and fulfilled promises for them.
Sure, God protected Joseph and his family by having his brothers try to kill him and eventually sell him as a slave. Yes, God only had to liberate the people because they ended up in slavery in Egypt for generations of suffering. And it had been many generations from the time Abraham was promised a new land and a nation and when the people entered the Promised Land and tended their first harvest. The Bible contains messy convoluted stories of God’s faithfulness in which the end of the story isn’t achieved in one person’s lifetime. Still, God’s people are invited into lives of faith and they follow, not knowing where they are in the grand story of God’s action for all.
Trust is a relationship that leads to action.
Sometimes that trust leads to actions that puts your livelihood and life at risk.
That’s what our Gospel reading is about: will Jesus remain in a trusting relationship with the Father even though it will put his well-being and his life at risk? That’s what Satan is testing. Satan is testing Jesus’ faith. Jesus passes. He will not break trust with God even when God does not provide the food for which he hungers. He will not change allegiances to gain power over nations. He will not demand God keep him safe from all danger.
Luke is the only Gospel to end on the ominous note, “Satan departed from Jesus until a more opportune time.” In Luke, Satan will return, to use Judas to set events in motion that will lead to Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion. Then Jesus’ trusting relationship with the Father will be tested again. Will Jesus choose to be rejected, humbled, and killed or will he choose to escape to safety?
Jesus passes that test, too. Jesus embodies the trustworthiness of God, the one who comes to us in love and remains faithful to us even when it means his own suffering and dying. God shows God’s trustworthiness when everyone turns away from Jesus, and Jesus still moves towards them in love. This is the lived revelation that the relationship of trust we have with God is created and sustained by God alone. Our faith is founded on Jesus’ faithfulness, not our own.
Faith is trust, a trust that God creates and inspires within us. This Lent, you don’t have to attempt the impossible by trying to create faith in yourself. However, you do have the opportunity to be amazed by the trustworthiness of the God who has come to you in love. Spend this week considering how God has been faithful to you. That might mean taking a walk and celebrating God’s masterpiece of creation. Write a list or create an album to share on social media that showcases ways God has brought you through hard times, placed people in your life to inspire you, or cared for you. Send a letter to someone going through a struggle that recognizes the difficulty of the situation without needing to push too quickly to the final joy God will bring. God has called you to be a witness to God’s faithfulness.
May you be blessed with trust, the gift of a God who will never give up on you.
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