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What’s our reaction when we hear someone say “Trust me!” Mine might best be described as “open scepticism” depending on who’s saying it. It’s easy to have trust issues isn’t it? You don’t need to have been around very long to have been burned by someone who didn’t do what they said they were going to do. Someone who proved themselves to be untrustworthy or unfaithful. There seems to be an inherent impulse in humans toward trust though doesn’t there? A story is told about a man visiting an aquarium one day. All of a sudden the lights go out. The next thing the man knows a small hand has slipped into his. He looks down toward the child and asks “Who do you belong to?” The answer comes back out of the darkness “You - until the lights come back on!” Kids get these things don’t they? Automatically taking your hand before you cross the street because they know they need help and because they know they can trust you. It’s a huge responsibility, to have the trust of a child. It can be hugely damaging when that trust is broken. It’s why we have need things like Safe Church Policies. It’s something I’ve felt very keenly every year we’ve run our summer camps out of Flemington Public School in Lawrence Heights. The trust that children and their parents are placing on us, many of them meeting us for the first time, not knowing us at all. It’s a responsibility I’ve always felt very keenly. Being burned by someone or something you thought was trustworthy can lead to a sense of “I don’t trust anyone” can’t it? It can lead to a sense of “Who do I trust? Me.” We all know what’s it like to be burned. How then can we talk about God’s faithfulness – God’s trustworthiness and figure out what meaning it holds for us? Let us look at God’s word this morning and see what God has to say to our hearts.
We talk about having faith in God and say things like you got to have faith. While this is true, having faith in God is about more than merely believing in God’s existence or intellectual assent that God exists. Any faith that we have is first and foremost founded on God being faithful. I’m using the terms “faithful” and “trustworthy” fairly interchangeably here. What does it mean first of all when we say God is faithful? I have not personally come up with a better definition than the one I used to use with the children here at Blythwood. I would ask them “What happens when God makes a promise kids?” and they would reply “He keeps it!” It is as simple and as profound as that.
The faithfulness of God – the fact that God does what he says he’s going to do – is found throughout the Old Testament. Often the word for faithful is paired with the word for steadfast love – hesed. We see this in the scripture that was read this morning. “I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, forever; with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations. I declare that your steadfast love is established forever; your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens.” While we’re looking at one attribute of God per week here, we know that these attributes don’t exist independently of one another. Throughout the Old Testament, God’s steadfast love and faithfulness are often seen together. As one writer puts it – “each term interprets the other: the hesed of Yahweh is manifested in covenant faithfulness; divine fidelity is an expression of steadfast love… God is by nature disposed to steadfast loyalty (hesed) and, as an extension of that love, is reliable and can be relied on.”
These kinds of things are easier to believe when things are going well. I said last week it’s relatively easy to say “I just got back a larger tax refund than I expected – God is good!” and we hold it to be true that God is good all the time. It can be harder to say this when things are not good. It can be harder to say that God keeps his promises when every indication seems to be to the contrary. The promise which Psalm 89 speaks of is contained in verses 3-4: “I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to my servant David: I will establish your descendants forever, and build your throne for all generations.” This was the promise that was made by God to King David. Like any song, Psalm 89 was written for a particular time and place. The time it was written in was after Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Babylonians, its king carried off. In the midst of this the psalmist affirms that God is steadfast love and faithfulness, in praise and in proclamation, despite how things look. The psalmist reminds everyone that there is a heavenly council and that God is enacting his saving plan in a way that is often unseen – “Let the heavens praise your wonders, O Lord, your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones.” The psalmist reminds us that “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.” This great image of God’s throne being founded on righteousness and justice with steadfast love and faithfulness going before him like two loyal courtiers.
This is all in the face of the fact that the place where David’s offspring ruled had been destroyed. It’s when things are bad when the promises of God are sometimes hardest to see. It’s also when things are bad that we see God’s promises most clearly, or grow in our knowledge of them. Questions are asked of course. There is nothing wrong with questioning God, or asking God to live up to his promises – those are some of my most meaningful prayers it seems. The question comes in verse 49 – “Lord, where is your steadfast love of old, which by your faithfulness your swore to David? Remember, O Lord, how your servant is taunted…” There’s nothing wrong with questioning God and lamenting because in the very act of questioning you’re turning to God. In the very question itself is an assumption that God is faithful – that when God makes a promise he keeps it. Where is your steadfast love of old, which by your faithfulness you swore to David? This was the one who was chosen and anointed after all. The man on whom this promise of a throne for all generations was built. The man who is described like this in verse 26 – “He shall cry to me, “You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation!”
How can we read this and not think forward to the one who would cry out to his Father? The one who would pray to his Abba. The one who would fulfill the promise made to David. In the weeks leading up to Christmas we looked at the angel Gabriel visiting Mary, talking to her about her son and saying how “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary couldn’t have known what all of this meant but she trusted! When God makes a promise he keeps it. Of course Jesus was a fulfillment of a promise made even earlier than the one made to King David. It goes back to a promise made in the garden. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.” There’s a great picture that I’ve seen over a couple of Christmases now which is called “Mary Consoles Eve” and shows just how this promise was fulfilled in the person of the baby Eve is carrying. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.
Make no mistake though, this heel strike was no easy thing. In fact if there had been another way for this promise to be fulfilled Jesus was open to it. He made this known in another garden, the one called Gethsemane. The gospel of Mark tells us that he was distressed and agitated. He tells Peter, James and John that he was deeply grieved, even to death. All he wanted from them was to stay awake with him while he prayed. They were unable to. Jesus knew what it was like for people to make promises and not keep them. I will never deny you, he was told. That’s what we do to each other, and it makes it difficult to trust. He was grieved, even to death. Jesus was fully divine – at the same time he was fully human (and don’t even try to figure that one out). Humanly speaking if there was a way that this whole salvation plan could have been accomplished which included him being able to retire to a small place on the shores of the big lake in Galilee I’m sure he would have taken it. “And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground, and prayed that if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, ‘Abba, Father, for you all things are possible, remove this cup from me, yet not what I want, but what you want.’” Abba. The Aramaic term for Father, which only Mark includes, and then provides a translation – Father. It was the word used by sons and daughters throughout their lives to address a father in a family context. This is the Father that Jesus trusted. This is the Father who makes promises and keeps them. This is the faithful Father that Jesus knew, that Jesus spent time with. This is the Father whose voice Jesus had heard after coming up out of the water – “You are my son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.” I love you. I promise. This is the God we serve friends.
James Bryant tells a story in his book about a young man who called him one night. The young man had heard Bryant speaking. He asked Bryant “You said God is entirely good and loving and trustworthy and out for our good… Are you sure I can trust God?” It turned out the young man was afraid to get into his car. “I’m afraid that I might have some bad or evil or lustful thought in my head, and in the next instant I might die in a car crash. I’m sure that God will send me straight to hell because I won’t have time to repent.” It turned that as a child, the young man had heard this message continually form a pastor - “God hates sin so much that we would send a person – even a baptized believer – into everlasting punishment for committing a single sin.”
In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is distressed and agitated and grieved to death, but not because he was afraid of his Father. He was about to bear the weight of the world’s sins on his body. What did that cost him? If there’s another way, he told his Father, let me do it that way. But not what I want – what you want. I trust you. I know you have me. Scots theologian Thomas Smail describes it this way – “The Father that Jesus addresses in the garden is the one that he has known all his life and found to be bountiful in his provision, reliable in his promises and utterly faithful in his love. He can obey the will that sends him to the cross, with hope and expectation because it is the will of the Abba whose love has been so proved that it can be trusted so fully by being obeyed so completely. This is not legal obedience driven by commandment, but trusting response to known love.”
Have you known this love? If you haven’t I invite you to come to get to know this guy – this Jesus. I’ve spoken in the past about how the root of the word obedience means to listen. It’s the same in Hebrew and Greek. To obey God is to listen to God’s voice. Jesus had been listening all his life. Jesus had heard his Father tell him the truth – “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.” I like to think that Jesus heard those words as he threw himself to the ground and prayed and sweat drops of blood for you and me. He knew his Father is faithful. He knew that when God makes a promise he keeps it.
Have you known this in your own life? Have we experienced God keeping promises? I know first-hand that we have. I hear your stories. We need to tell these stories. We talked a lot about God’s promises when we started our new thing here at Blythwood last September, which is is many ways an old thing. Those old promises that are at the same time new every morning. I will be with you just as I was with my servant Moses. I am with you even to the end of the age. My peace I give you, I do not give as the world gives. In this is love, not that we loved God but that God loves us, and gave his son to be an atoning sacrifice for our sins. How have you seen these promises operative in your life? How have you seen God keeping these promises in your life?
Isn’t that how we come to know about God’s faithfulness? It’s not just something for me to assert or for us to point to Bible passages and talk about how God has kept his promises. Experiencing God keeping God’s promises in our own lives leads to a deeper trust in the one who is completely worthy of our trust. I remember being at Sunnybrook where I did an internship at the Veteran’s Long Term Care Centre in 2011. My second day a resident had died and his two daughters had come, one from Victoria BC. They were in his room. The chaplain was about to start the weekly service that was held for residents and asked if I would like to go in and sit with them. In my head I was saying no but I nodded, said “Sure” and walked toward the room door. I remember pausing before I knocked saying “Lord help me.” He did. Not long after I was going to visit Horizons For Youth for the first time. We were planning to spend part of Christmas Day there, and I wanted to get an idea of the place. I remember walking up to the door thinking “God why do you keep sending me places I don’t want to be?” I barely understand the teens I know, much less teens that are dealing with things I have no idea about. I paused again and said “Remember what happened the last time I was knocking on a door I didn’t want to go through? Could you do the same again for me please?” God did the same again. God helped me. God blessed me and I pray He made me a blessing. We come to know about God’s faithfulness by giving God the opportunity to be faithful, to do what he said he would do.
I’m not standing up here and saying “Trust me” friends. I’m saying let us put our faith in the one who has proven himself faithful. Psalm 89 ends with the words “Blessed be the Lord forever. Amen and amen.” Blessed be the one who if faithful forever. This is the God we serve friends. This is the God of our ancestors. I’m going to read part of a prayer by William Baillie. May this prayer be ours as we begin 2016. May we cling to the promises made by our God who keeps his promises:
O Faithful one. “The patriarchs, like Abraham, trusted you and were not put to shame; The prophets, like Isaiah, sought you and you put your words on their lips; The psalmists, like David, rejoiced in you and you were present in their songs; The apostles, like Peter, waited for you and were filled with your Holy Spirit; the martyrs, like Stephen, called upon you and you were with them in the flames; This poor soul called, and was heard by the Lord, and was saved from every trouble.” Thank you for your faithfulness Lord. May each of us say in the depths of our heart “I believe. Help my unbelief.” In Jesus’ name we pray.