The Trust Factor

John 14:1-14        We were gathered at the set of bleachers along the field hockey field on campus. It was my senior year in college, and I had made room in my schedule for a course that exposed us to a variety of trust exercises and group games. One by one, we walked up to the top of the bleachers, maybe the top bench being about 10 feet off the ground. It was my turn. The rest of the class members stood on the ground just below where I stood at the top of the bleachers. They formed two lines with their arms outstretched toward each other, creating a human basket to catch me. Assured that they would be there for me, I turned my back to them and leaned backward, trusting their arms to safely catch me. Then it was over. I was safely caught and then carefully lowered to the ground, grateful for the arms of my classmates.
Trusting another person requires letting someone else be in control of something that directly affects you. In that exercise with my classmates, each one of us had to trust the rest of the group to catch us. It was a group commitment to one another—you trust me and I will trust you.
You decide who you trust, usually based on your experience and length of time with that person. I don’t always trust the story that I get when someone comes to the door of the church asking for money. I have not developed enough of a relationship with that person to know if I can trust the story to be true. I do trust the decisions of my husband about how to spend our household money because we have a strong relationship that spans many years. We have learned to trust each other. We each decide which news sources we trust and which ones we don’t. We each decide which friends we can trust based on our experiences with those friends. The trust factor is key to any relationship on earth and to the relationship between us and God.
This morning I chose to use the Common English Bible translation of the John text because the translators have decided to translate the form of the Greek word pisteo as trust instead of believe, which you might be more familiar with. Both trust and believe are appropriate English translations for the same Greek word, but to me “trust” connotes a deeper relationship between you and the other that “believe” does not have to carry. I might believe what you say is true, but I may not have developed trust in you. I trust you to follow through on your commitment because I know you, I have observed your practices, not just because I believe you when you tell me what you are going to do.
The Presbyterian Church (USA) made a decision to use “trust” instead of “believe” in our most recent statement of belief, called the Brief Statement of Faith. You are familiar with the Apostles Creed, one of the earliest statements of the Christian faith, which uses this language: I believe in God, I believe in Jesus, I believe in the Holy Spirit. Our statement of faith, parts of which we will say together later this morning, was approved in 1983 when our denomination finally reunited after decades of broken trusts between the northern church and the southern church that began way back in the Civil War era. It was important to us as a denomination to use the word trust and to make it corporate instead of individual, for we are all speaking our faith together. You will hear this kind of language in the statement: We trust in Jesus Christ, we trust in God, we trust in the Holy Spirit.
When Jesus talks with his disciples, he is talking with a group of people who have spent quality time with him on the road for three years, walking, eating, laughing, and crying together. They have watched him teach and heal, they have been surprised again and again at his miracles, at his inclusiveness, at his uncanny resemblance to God. They know him. He knows them. The trust factor is already strong between them.
Jesus says, “Trust in God, trust also in me.” What might that have meant to those first disciples when they heard those words? This is the opening of what is referred to as Jesus’ farewell discourse in the gospel of John. It is an extended section of four chapters’ worth of Jesus’ guidance for them, preparing them for what is to come in the time ahead. He is offering words of comfort, letting them know that they will not be left on their own completely. More about that to come next week when we tackle the latter half of this chapter together. He is also clarifying the relationship between himself and God and himself and his disciples. He is saying to them, “Trust me on this, my friends”. They have seen him in the flesh. That is the same as being in the presence of God who will not abandon them. I can imagine the blank looks on their faces, with the words on everyone’s minds being spoken first by Thomas and then by Philip. “We don’t know the way, Jesus!” “Show us the Father!” These two disciples are showing their willingness to trust Jesus with questions that show they are wobbling, that they are unclear on what to expect, because you see, exposing vulnerability with one another is a sign of trust. They don’t use these words, but they might have prefaced their questions with: ‘This might be a stupid question, but…” In a relationship of trust, there are no “stupid questions”. The disciples are open and transparent, wanting to understand what Jesus means. Jesus responds with characteristic love, grace, and sensitivity. “I am the way. You know me, so you know the way. You know me, so you know the Father. You see me, so trust me. I am in the Father and the Father is in me. To know me is to know my Father. You have seen the Father because you have seen me.”
When Jesus says, “I am the way”, we understand him to mean this is an ongoing process. I find the words of Rev. David Risendal helpful when he reminds us that Jesus is not the destination. Not the reward. Not the goal. But the way. Jesus is the day-by-day, minute-by-minute, step-by-step way that we take as we make our way through the curves life sends us, as we share experiences we never imagined, as we build community together in new and different ways. The way of Jesus is not the way of the world. Not the way of fame and fortune and achievement and victory. It is not the way of anger and violence and retribution. Jesus’ way is an alternative way, the way of the cross. It is the way of love. It is the way of sacrifice. It is the way of service.
Jesus offers words of comfort, words of encouragement, words of grace. They are promises of an ongoing relationship that will continue to exist even when Jesus is no longer visible in front of those first disciples, and even for those of us who have come along two thousand years later. I think about the promises made at a wedding, vows spoken in front of family and friends and in front of God—the commitment to a relationship that is in a sense each spouse saying to the other: “Don’t worry, trust me, I am going to be here for you, I will catch you when you fall.” There is a beautiful wisdom in the words from Ecclesiastes: “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their hard work. If either should fall, one can pick up the other. But how miserable are those who fall and don’t have a companion to help them up!”
Jesus offers to disciples of all eras the trust factor. His hands are out, ready to catch us, ready to help us up. He says to us, “Don’t worry, trust me, I am here for you.” When we face times of trouble, times of loneliness, times of worry and anxiety, times like right now, he says, “Trust in God. Trust also in me.” Those first disciples were anxious about what was coming down the pike. They had to be. They knew the world was changing under their feet, they knew the authorities were out to get Jesus once and for all. They knew things were going to be different without him sitting next to them or walking beside them. Jesus knew that they (and we) needed to trust him for what lay ahead. Today we can place our trust in Jesus who continues to walk with us through the presence of the Holy Spirit. We look to him for encouragement, comfort, and strength in times that are difficult. I have heard some people say that these days of social isolation and fear have pushed them to grow closer to God, spending more time in study and prayer, more time observing God’s creation, even just more time alone, requiring them to lean on God more.
What can we trust Jesus to do? Jesus will consistently make room for us, welcoming us home. Jesus will unconditionally love us with a love that wins over all fear and hate. Jesus will be the way, the “glasses” we put on to see God at work in the world. Jesus will listen and respond to our prayers. Jesus will bind us together as children of God, uniting us in our concern for a world in crisis. Let us place our trust in him daily. Amen.

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