Luke 23:33-44 “…When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left…”
Jesus has a lot to say on the subject…
Luke 12: If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!
Luke 18: to the blind man J says “receive your sight, your faith has made you well.”
Mark 5: To the hemorrhaging woman, he says “Take heart daughter; your faith has made you well.”
Luke 19: To the leprous Samaritan he says “ Get up and go on your way, your faith has made you well.”
John 7: ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.”
Matt 17: If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
The great pastor and preacher William Sloan Coffin said that “Faith isn’t belief without proof – it’s trusting without reservation.”
Trusting without reservation. That is a tall order. Because trust means vulnerability; it means investment; it means risk. In a reflection on faith, the author, Barbara Brown Taylor, asks “I can believe, but must I take a leap… perhaps it would be alright if I kinda lurched?” Taylor continues, “my method, for so long, has been to watch people I was considering trusting and wait to see if they were honest or deceitful, whether they held confidences or gossiped.”
She likens herself to a day trader on the stock market “extending trust and withdrawing several times a day depending upon how the market was responding to my investment.” It seems like a logical approach and she found that it worked well enough for her, until a friend, who is perhaps more faithful than she, pointed out that the way she was operating, ultimately, her ability to trust was never her own. She was always dependent upon somebody else, who is outside of her control, deciding for her. In the end she was never really in charge of her trust.
Wow, no wonder it frustrates Jesus when we do the same with him.
Taylor then offers a new perspective on trust: “your ability to trust doesn’t have anything to do with anyone except you. You weigh the risk and then you decide; what are the risks and what are the rewards.”
“Faith isn’t belief without proof – it’s trusting without reservation.”
So, before we explore your faith, that is how much you trust God, perhaps the first question we should ask is, does God trust you? Has he weighed the risks and decided you’re worth the gamble?
Does God have faith in you? It’s an uncomfortable question, isn’t it? Not only because it seems presumptuous to ask that of God, but more so because there is a foreign voice in our heads that wants you to doubt an affirmative answer. You question your worthiness of God’s trust without reservation. You are not sure if God has faith in you.
Thankfully it is not up to you to decide whether God has faith in you. And that is where today’s gospel comes in. It is a familiar passage. The crucifixion of Jesus, with all the mockery, political intrigue and sorrowful losses that it implies. But it is also about trust…
Ever since we were little, my very best friend, Clair Parrish, and I have been very close. We shared clothes, toys even chewing gum…the same piece of chewing gum. And before the days of the AIDS scare we even shared blood. I am pretty sure the whole thing was my idea, because I have a bit of a taste for the dramatic. And, one time, when Clair had taken a pretty tough fall she had skinned her palm. So I said, we should become blood sisters! So I pricked my palm and we smashed our hands together in this fabulous act of covenant. Whenever she needed help, I would be there. Whenever I was afraid or sad, she would be there, no matter what. No exceptions… to this day.
We didn’t know it then, but we were enacting a ritual that has been a part of humanity since before recorded history. Cultures of Mayan, Babylonian, Asian and African origins all have rituals of blood sharing as a sealing of fates. The practices differ but their meaning the same: when our blood is mixed, your destiny and mine are made one and we are bound together in trust.
In the ancient world trust was messy. Whether in marriage or business the ancient way of sealing a contract of trust was not to sign on the dotted line. It was in the shedding of blood. Sometimes your own, as in some African and Arab cultures, and sometimes in the sacrifice of an animal. In the Hebrew cultures, an animal (often a bird) would be cut in two and laid a distance apart and the parties would walk between them. In that ritual they were bound by blood and should their trust be breached, then it may not only be the blood of a bird on their shoes. This same demonstration extended into religious life as well. The Old Testament scriptures dictate, in great detail, how a faithful person is to make sacrifices to God. Several times a year they were to bring their birds and goats and heifers to the temple and they would be slit open upon the altar as a demonstration of faith. The blood that ran represented life, health, and wealth. And for a person whose livelihood depended upon livestock, it was a great act of faith to slaughter their animals and lay them on the alter. It said to God, I trust that you will provide for me as you have before.
“All things come of thee oh Lord, and of thine own have we given thee”
“Faith isn’t belief without proof – it’s trusting without reservation.”
Abraham is the ultimate example of this. In an extremely graphic and terrifying scene, God commands Abram to prove his faith, and Abraham raises the knife to his son Isaac. No more pigeons or goats. no, he is willing to go all the way. At the very last moment, the Lord retracts the command, seeing that Abraham’s faith was indeed true. Whew!
I am talking so much about the mechanisms of trust because I want you to see, anew, what is happening in this morning’s gospel.
We are witnessing a sacrifice. But we are no longer in the temple, we are in Golgotha. And the sacrifice that is to be made is no longer a pigeon and she goat, and a pigeon or a turtle dove. It is Jesus. The act of sacrifice is no longer between one man and another or even one man with God. It is between the son of man and all of humanity. While the terms are the same: faith, trust, belief, the positions have changed. This time, it is God who is taking the leap of faith and it is in us that he has trusted.
If before it was us standing before the altar, making our sacrifice, it is now Jesus. Laying himself down, to bleed. It is a graphic scene, but a powerful one.
Some people say the crucifixion had to happen for the sake of our sins. I disagree. God doesn’t have to do anything. Jesus doesn’t give his life just for sins. What are sins to God? Do you think he could not have found some other way to redeem our sins? We are talking about God for goodness sake. No, there was nothing requisite about this sacrifice.
I believe that what is happening here is the most beautiful and generous act of faith ever demonstrated. As Paul says in Romans “very rarely would anyone ever die for another person, even a good person. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” Not because he had to but because he wanted to. And his blood, it is the seal upon his covenant. His covenant of faith in you.
It is a strange thing, that this reading comes to us at this time of year. It wouldn’t except this this is Christ the King Sunday. We are, if fact, nowhere near holy week or Easter. Gracious, it’s weeks until Christmas, we haven’t even gotten the Christ child born yet! But on second thought, this reading may have come at just the right time of year.
We are entering into an intense season of emotional highs and lows. Hopefully, we will soon be gathering at tables with friends and family and we will be remembering those who are not there as much as those who are. We will be joyful and sad, grateful and regretful. And everywhere we turn there will be another thing competing for our attention. But the real joy of the coming season, I promise you, that God has profound faith in you. He trusts you, inherently, as well as every person you meet, be they your best friend in the world, the person in need of your ministry, or a family member sitting beside you with whom you share nothing in common but for the blood in your veins.
“Faith isn’t belief without proof – it’s trusting without reservation.” And you and I, we can have faith in the one who already has it in us.
Thanks be to God.