I’ve been pretty nervous about preaching this morning. It’s been helpful that this isn’t my first time preaching at Forest Hill. It’s also helpful that everyone here has uniformly been kind and welcoming and generous toward me.
But I’m still nervous. I know I’m not alone in this. Preaching is a strange thing, where you take scripture and your thoughts and hope and dreams and your own relationship with God and then you tie it all up together in some way and toss it out for public discussion and criticism.
Sermons often work because of trust. The preacher trusts that the congregation will not boo them in the middle of the sermon and the congregation trusts that the preacher actually has something valuable to say. Preaching also involves a big chunk of trust in God, to be present and to be better than any 13-15 minute sermon you can come up with.
It’s because I trust you and I trust God that I’m going to be a little vulnerable and tell you about the worst part of my week.
This week Josh and I had our final session of pre-marital counseling before our wedding in two weeks. The session wasn’t the worst part. I love Josh. I want that to be clear, I am very excited about getting married to him in a couple of weeks. And having pre-marital counseling has been a great way for us to talk openly about how to create good habits as a married couple.
The worst part was the drive home. During our session Gayle, our friend and Episcopalian priest who has been leading us through these sessions, discussed with us how I am making not just one, but two sets of vows this year. I’m vowing marriage to Josh, but I’m also taking ordination vows to serve the church. These are both meant to be lifetime commitments, and Gayle was good to point us to how these vows might sometimes be conflicting, but also just how important and influential this is going to be over the rest of our lives.
So I knew this. I have been preparing for these vows in some way or another for most of my life. I’m excited to be ordained and married.
But on 422, in the middle of light Tuesday morning traffic, I started crying. At this point, I’d like to mention poor Josh. No one likes to be going home after their last pre-marital counseling session with their partner in tears.
But there I was, trying to clear my eyes so I could see the road, not really able to stop the tears. Because I was terrified. I was also tired and stressed, but I was terrified and overwhelmed, and still am to some extent, because I was feeling what it was like to put so much trust in other people. And even though it is really good, it is also a lot. If you’ve seen the movie Inside Out, it was like happiness and sadness and fear were all running around in my brain trying to take control. It was emotion overload.
Taking marriage vows with Josh means I commit to trusting him, to letting him see parts of myself that are shameful. It means I’ll let him see my student loan debt and just how good I look when I’m sick.
Taking ordination vows means I’m allowing the voluntary gifts of others to fund my paycheck. I open myself to relying on those who respond to my vows that they will support me.
With these sets of vows, I am going to be declaring that my life is not just all about me and that I’m going to trust that. And that is scary and more than enough to make me cry on a Tuesday. Putting trust in others like that does not come easy when it means letting go of so much control over your own life–especially for someone who likes control like me. Something so good can still be overwhelming.
We always hear about the patience of Job, but after my emotional turmoil of the week I was floored by Job’s trust in God. Did Job ever trust God. Job trusted God almost foolishly. Job’s trust in God encompassed the good and the bad, for better and worse, in sickness and in health. Job’s wife tried to tell him to get out of this relationship, but Job replied, “Should we not receive the good at the hand of God and not the bad?” Job knew that trusting in someone meant that you don’t bail when things get bad.
God also trusted Job. One of the mysteries of the book of Job is why God would respond to Satan, or the adversary’s poking and prodding, why God would gamble with the adversary. Why would God be okay with Job being tested? But God’s covenant relationship with Job was in question. The adversary, Satan, challenged that Job’s relationship with God was only one-sided, only about the gifts that Job received. That Job only cared about his own skin. This was calling the heart of what makes covenant relationship work into question.relationships
But God trusted Job, that their relationship was also about mutuality and about communication. That Job wouldn’t abandon God at the first sign of trouble. God trusted that Job wouldn’t even run away when the pain hit the bone. We can see how this deep relationship is rewarded. Job, in one of the most remarkable moments in scripture, is able to hear God’s answer to his face. God shows Godself to Job, out of the whirlwind. The vulnerability on both sides of this is staggering. Both God and Job risk being truly seen by each other. This is a covenant relationship of mutual trust. This is scary enough to make you cry.
Job is an example of radical abandonment of self-interest, control, and safety.
Christians turn to Job because we recognize this pattern in the self-sacrifice of Christ, leading to the cross and the cry, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?!” Christianity was built on a community of those who were willing to be hurt, who were willing to pick up a cross. We are surrounded by people who are willing to abandon their own self-interest, control, and safety.
I think of the Pope and the way he rides around in that little black fiat with the windows down. The Pope has a really cool car. And he’s got a really great team of security people who I’m sure are really mad every time he decides to roll down his window. I’d love to be part of that conversation when they tell him how ridiculous he is to roll down his window and how he tells them he needs to see the people. The Pope isn’t stopping the children running to him. The Pope must have incredible trust in God to know that windows down, whatever happens is going to be just fine. Maybe it’s reckless. Maybe he should roll his window up. Or maybe it’s so beautiful because it shows dramatically what it is like to accept both the good and the bad.
Covenant, trust-filled relationships. This is what God gives to us and what God asks of us.
This is not easy! It takes new vision to be this way, to be so open to the world outside of oneself. We are wired to be tribal, hold things close. It’s easier to trust what we see, to trust those who look like us. To minimize risk. To only trust ourselves. I know everything about how I’m wired is to be protective and cautious. I’m more likely to ask for a detailed business plan, to find ways to minimize risk than to offer immediate support.
World communion disrupts our inward, tribal focus. It says communion is not just for you. Communion is not the Wonder Bread offering of a blue-eyed, blonde-haired Jesus, but the mysterious feast that happens wherever Christians are gathering. It puts trust in God to be bigger than what we can see.
It trusts that God is present around the world. That’s a real challenge to us here in a church in America. American churches are losing power and control over the church. As old ways are dying here, churches in the global south and east are showing incredible signs of life and growth. More than that, church everywhere adapts and shifts to look different than what we imagine. Trust means that even when we don’t understand, we trust that God is calling forth a new thing. Really trusting in God says that even if Forest Hill Church closed tomorrow, the kingdom of God would be undeterred. It challenges us to hold what we do loosely and with a sense of humor. If Job tells us anything it’s that we don’t always know what’s coming next. It’s trust to depend on God more than our own skin.
I’m really mindful of this trust as I act as an interim, an in-between short-term pastor here. As a congregation, you’re always going to have to trust your pastors and leaders. But I think of how much more important it will be to truly trust God. Through good and through bad. To trust God enough that you’re not swayed when the bad comes as close to you as skin and bone. To put your faith not in Forest Hill, but in God.
My sister Kristen does this thing that in my family we call wide eyes. If you’ve met Kristen, you might have seen this already. Kristen is a storyteller, and gets very excited about whatever it is she is telling you about. She’s delightfully optimistic and energetic. When she gets really into a story, though, her usually big, blue eyes get even wider. It’s like she’s opening her eyes so wide to convince you just how important this story is. My brother, Wesley, and I often make fun of Kristen for this. We say how we stop paying attention to what she’s saying because of wide eyes. They’re too distracting, these excited, wide open eyes. It’s almost overwhelming to be on the receiving end of this.
I kept thinking about wide eyes this week, this expansive, enthusiastic, overwhelming, full of trust way of looking at things.
How are to trust in God, to have the excitement and hopefulness of wide eyes? There’s a lot that makes this difficult.
But we’ve got some ways to help, right here at Forest Hill. We’ve got music that sends you around the world, the helps you experience what it means to be part of a global community. We’ve got ways to study, to continually learn and retell the stories of God’s unfailing love and devotion to us. We’ve got ways to serve, acting for justice in the community, putting our own skin out there. We care for each other, showing the mutual love and relationship for each other in the way that God cares us.
All of these things come together to help us as disciples of Christ build our trust in God. We make choices as Christians to cultivate the faith and trust of Job.
The scriptures say Job persisted in his integrity. Through pain. Through disease and disaster that affected him to the bone. He persisted in his relationship with God, until God answered him. I am amazed that when Job’s wife and his friends told him he could close his eyes and turn away from God, he kept his eyes wide. He trusted God to answer.
Keep your eyes wide, open to the good and the bad, for better and for worse, trusting God as God trusts us to not turn away.