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Sermon for Sunday 9 June 2013

FIRST READING 1 Kings 17:17–24

17 After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill; his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. 18 She then said to Elijah, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!” 19 But he said to her, “Give me your son.” He took him from her bosom, carried him up into the upper chamber where he was lodging, and laid him on his own bed. 20 He cried out to the LORD, “O LORD my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying, by killing her son?” 21 Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried out to the LORD, “O LORD my God, let this child’s life come into him again.” 22 The LORD listened to the voice of Elijah; the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. 23 Elijah took the child, brought him down from the upper chamber into the house, and gave him to his mother; then Elijah said, “See, your son is alive.” 24 So the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth.”

PSALM Psalm 30

1 I will exalt you, O LORD, because you have lifted me up and have not let my enemies triumph over me. 2 O LORD my God, I cried out to you, and you restored me to health. 3 You brought me up, O LORD, from the dead; you restored my life as I was going down to the grave. 4 Sing praise to the LORD, all you faithful; give thanks in holy remembrance. 5 God’s wrath is short; God’s favor lasts a lifetime. Weeping spends the night, but joy comes in the morning. 6 While I felt secure, I said, “I shall never be disturbed. 7 You, LORD, with your favor, made me as strong as the mountains.” Then you hid your face, and I was filled with fear. 8 I cried to you, O LORD; I pleaded with my Lord, saying,
9 “What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you or declare your faithfulness? 10 Hear, O LORD, and have mercy upon me; O LORD, be my helper.” 11 You have turned my wailing into dancing; you have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy. 12 Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing; O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever.

SECOND READING Galatians 1:11–24

11 For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; 12 for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. 13 You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. 14 I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors. 15 But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus. 18 Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days; 19 but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother. 20 In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie! 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia, 22 and I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea that are in Christ; 23 they only heard it said, “The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me.

GOSPEL Luke 7:11–17

11 Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. 12 As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. 13 When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 14 Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” 15 The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 16 Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” 17 This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.

One of the camp songs I used to sing growing up was called Trust and Obey. The chorus went, “Trust and obey for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey”. For the Christian this seems like a simple, straight forward, statement. When it comes to God, we know we can place our trust in Him and in turn we are blessed. But can the same be said for our fellowman?
One of the questions that’s becoming more a matter of concern, all the time, is who can I trust? With all the scandals coming out about the IRS and the EPA targeting Conservative groups, the military under scrutiny for mishandling of sexual assault cases and ethics questions surrounding Health and Human Services director Kathleen Sebelius, it’s hard to trust our government. Couple that with the News outlets constantly accusing each other of selectively reporting the news, we find it hard to know, who or what to believe and who’s telling the truth. Trust these days seems to be in short supply. Yet we live in a strange world.
Did you know that you can now buy trust in a bottle? You might think I can’t be trusted after asking this question, but I assure you this is real. Google it when you get home. According to their ads, “After showering in the morning simply spritz yourself lightly with this odorless Liquid Trust, and then the people you meet during the next few hours will trust you without even knowing why they trust you.”
One satisfied customer writes, “My boss is rather distant, but on the days I wear Liquid Trust he includes me in conversations and jokes that he doesn’t on the days I don’t wear Liquid Trust . . . I get less hassle and sell more product on days I wear it, no lie. And my kids behave better when I wear it also. It isn’t a cure-all, but it makes my life easier on many days.” There it is; just what you needed. Solve all your problems with Trust in a Bottle.
Allegedly, Liquid Trust is the hormone oxcytocin. The makers claim that oxcytocin is the actual scientifically proven elixir of trust. It’s a naturally occurring human hormone that “plays a significant role in childbirth, breast-feeding and romantic love.” This sounds a bit farfetched to me, despite the research done but the Swiss. It also leaves me questioning the trustworthiness of their claims, especially when it retails for something like $50 a bottle. With all this going on, trust is a subject we need to consider.
Trust is one of the most important issues we all have to deal with. It affects our life as a people, it affects our life together as families, it affects our individual happiness. And not surprising, surveys today indicate that trust for other people and trust for institutions is at an all-time low. Some of you remember when the journalist and television news anchor Walter Cronkite was often referred to as “The most trusted man in America.”
In this day and age, in a culture that is politically, racially, economically, and in countless other ways divided and polarized, trust is not an abundant commodity. For example, we used to trust the financial community. I mean, if you can’t trust your bank, who can you trust? If you can’t trust Wall Street, what hope is there?
Forbes magazine carried an article that suggested that most Americans no longer trust people on Wall Street. Seventy-one percent of those surveyed in a Harris poll said that “most people on Wall Street would be willing to break the law if they believed they could make a lot of money and get away with it.” Only 26% of respondents believe that Wall Streeters are generally “as honest and moral as other people.” Even more depressingly, thirty-nine percent think Wall Street does more harm than good, a new record. So who can we trust? Certainly not the press.
Again a recent Gallup Public Confidence poll revealed that only 29 percent of Americans express a great deal of confidence in newspapers. That’s down from 51 percent in 1959. Television news fared little better with 35 percent. I don’t think it’s necessary to cite statistics about how much trust people have in their government, particularly Congress. Here’s a shocker: even scientists are suspect nowadays, as the controversy over climate change would seem to indicate. People nowadays don’t trust their doctors, their bankers, and with all the scandal suffered in the Catholic Church, even their clergy. And the workplace hasen’t fared much better.
Trust in companies seems to be a thing of the past. Employees, even of large and stable corporations, view themselves increasingly as independent contractors ready to move at a moment’s notice to greener pastures. Employees feel that their employer would be equally eager to shed them, if it would improve the bottom line. Corporate loyalty has gone the way of the Dodo. Young people with huge education loans hanging over their heads are questioning whether our entire economic system can be trusted to give them the kind of future that their parents have enjoyed. And families haven’t fared much better.
The rapid rise in divorce rates indicates that even within the family, trust is in short supply. The institution of the family has been in decline for the past 40 years leading many people to demand such things as prenuptial contracts or at least a long period of living together before jumping into something that may or may not work.
Trust in relationships, friendships, the economy, products, government, religion, and science all has declined. This isn’t to be taken lightly when you consider that our world was designed to run on trust. Trust is essential to everything we do.
We trust the other drivers on the road to stop, when the light turns red. We trust the builders of bridges to get it right, when they build a long span across a wide waterway. We trust the doctor to be accurate in their diagnosis and the hospital to provide the equipment and the sterile environment we need to survive a disease. We have to trust the banks, the government, yes, even Wall Street to guard our funds for our declining years. We trust that when we stand at the altar, the person we are pledging ourselves to will fulfill their vows. Accept it or not, trust is a very big deal.
When journalist Eric Weiner traveled the world to discover what made some countries happier places than others to live, he found one primary common denominator among the happiest societies. The essential ingredient was trust. The happiest countries are those in which people feel they can trust their government, trust their social institutions, and trust their neighbors. Trust is a very big deal indeed. It’s a problem Paul ran into after his conversion on the road to Damascus.
It’s evident that one problem the apostle Paul had at the beginning of his ministry, was that many in the early church didn’t trust him. As we see in our epistle lesson for today, some in the church in Galatia had questions about Paul’s credentials. They challenged his authority as a church leader and raised doubts about the authenticity of his calling.
In Galatians we find Paul taking great pains to assert the validity of his apostleship. After all, he recognizes that his background and past could potentially raise reasonable questions. The apostles chosen by Jesus, before His crucifixion, had the advantage of being people who actually walked and talked with Jesus. Paul, on the other hand, had come along and announced his apostleship well after Christ’s death and resurrection and after his own notorious past as a persecutor of the early church. It’s understandable why some believers wanted to know such things as “Who is this man? Where is he coming from, and why should we trust him?” And instead of sidestepping these questions, Paul confronts these inquiries head on.
Paul writes, “For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.” When you think about it, it’s amazing that people in the early church ever trusted Paul at all.
Unlike today, information moved slowly, but not rumors or misinformation. The result of Paul’s actions against the early Christians was well known and people were justifiably skeptical. Suppose we had somebody show up at our church who was known for their religious hatred, known for their proclivity for violence, was even known to have participated in the murder of a dear friend of ours, a highly respected member of our church. Would we ever trust them? Or would we say, “they can never be trusted. You can’t change human nature.” It had to be difficult for early Christians to accept Paul. Additionally, there had to be a lot of resentment in the part Paul played in the martyrdom of Stephen.
I read a story the other day about Billy Wilder, the famed Jewish Hollywood director. Wilder served with the United States Army Psychological Warfare Division during World War II. After the war, some Germans wrote Wilder for permission to put on a play depicting the crucifixion of Christ. After investigating the Germans, Wilder discovered that each of them had been either a storm trooper or a member of the Gestapo. So, he said, he would give them permission to put on the play depicting the crucifixion of Christ as long as they used real nails. I’m not so sure Billy Wilder was eager to forgive and forget the sins of the German people. Trust, once lost, takes time to regain.
The same was true with Paul. I wonder how many modern day Christians have the idea that once Paul was converted, he was accepted almost at once by the entire church and then he went sailing merrily off on his missionary journeys? Listen to his words: “But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus. Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days. I saw none of the other apostles only James, the Lord’s brother. I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie.”
So why spend three years in Arabia and Damascus? Why not go and spend them in Jerusalem? Is it possible that these were the only places he was accepted? Did he need time for the rumors to die down and the gossip to become old news? Maybe this is why his missionary journeys were so extensive. Perhaps he needed to find places where people would not hold his past against him. That happens in the church. We have trouble accepting people who have done wrong, even when they are sincerely penitent. As someone has said, “We are the only army that shoots its wounded.” When Paul wrote these words to the church at Galatia, it may have been twenty years after his conversion experience. Still, there were people who didn’t trust him, even after twenty years of ministry.
There’s an interesting study on forgiveness conducted by the Templeton Foundation in cooperation with the University of Michigan and the National Institute for Mental Health. According to this study, 75% of Americans are “very confident” that they have been forgiven by God for their past offenses. Surprisingly this is true even of those who are not regular church attendees. They don’t have much to do with God otherwise, but they have few doubts about God’s penchant for letting bygones be bygones. “The picture, however, was less bright when it came to interpersonal relations,” says the author of the study.
Only about half of the people claimed that they had completely forgiven others. God may forgive, but ordinary folks struggle. “It’s difficult to forgive other people with whom you are angry. At times we even find it difficult to forgive yourself. But where forgiveness does take place, the study found a link between forgiveness and better health. The more prone a person is to grant forgiveness, the less likely he or she will suffer from any stress related illnesses.” I think that bears repeating. The more you are willing to forgive, the less likely you will suffer from stress-related illnesses. The same can be said of the New Testament church.
We accept the forgiveness that God offers us, but it’s difficult to apply that same forgiveness to others. And, even if we do say that we forgive those who have hurt or betrayed us, we vow never to trust them again. I think Paul understood this. Instead of trying to make excuses or justify his past, he’s transparent about it. He openly admits the mistake of persecuting the early church. And I think he understood that there was only one way he could ever win their trust; to live a Christ-like life from that day forward. That’s the only way any of us who have done wrong can ever really make things right. Make a new start with God’s help.
Andrew Jackson, our 7th president, by many is regarded as a fine president. As a leader he was tough; many called him “Old Hickory” and in some cases he was ruthless. As president, he ordered the infamous “Trail of Tears” for the Cherokee Indians. His former ally, Chief Junaluska said, “I would have killed him myself . . . if I had known what he was going to do to my people.” Andrew Jackson may have had some enemies, but one of them wasn’t Rachel, his much beloved wife.
The Jackson’s lived together at the Hermitage near Nashville, Tennessee. Rachel was a devout Christian, so Andrew built a chapel for her on the Hermitage grounds. Anyone who questioned Rachel’s virtue, and evidently there were many, Jackson challenged to a duel. It’s said that when Rachel died, part of Andrew Jackson died with her. It’s told that he would sit in the chapel for hours just to remember. One day a minister came to visit and Jackson said: “I would like to be baptized and I would like to become a Christian.”
The minister said, “Mr. President, there’s nothing that would please me more. But in order to be baptized, you’ll need to repent, to seek forgiveness for your sins, and to forgive those who have sinned against you. Are you willing to do that, Mr. President?”
Andrew Jackson said, “I can forgive my enemies in battle, I can forgive my enemies in politics, but I will never forgive those who slandered Rachel.” Old Hickory was not willing to bend. And that was the way that they left it.
Sometime later there was a knock on the minister’s door. It was late at night and it was raining. There on the doorstep, soaked from the rain, was the former president of the United States. In a voice barely audible, Jackson said: “I’m ready to forgive.” The minister said, “Excuse me, Mr. President, I’m hard of hearing. What did you say?”
And Old Hickory broke down in tears and said: “I forgive them all.”
That pastor probably went too far in requiring Jackson to forgive others before he was accepted into the fellowship of the church. But friends, this is the only way that a person can ever really be trusted again, if they totally and completely repent of their sin and resolve with God’s help, to never make the same mistake again. This is what contrition is all about. It’s the desire to never again repeat the sins of the past and live a changed life with the assistance of God; the desire to live a life in obedience to God and one that is pleasing to Him. I love the way this passage ends.
Paul continues his letter to the church at Galatia like this: “Then I went to Syria and Cilicia. I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only heard the report: ‘The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.’” Then he writes, “And they praised God because of me.” Paul’s ministry was difficult, until trust was restored. But Paul never quit; by turning his life over to God and with God’s help, Paul did what was needed to repair his damaged reputation. He did this by being honest.
Paul’s life was an open book. Instead of trying to justify or make excuses for his past actions, Paul admitted his sins and with God’s anointing, worked hard to earn the trust of the early church. Once he had been Saul who had persecuted the church; now he was Paul who preached the Gospel, and everyone who got to know him, could tell that he wasn’t the same man he’d been. This is how we rebuild the bonds of trust. We seek forgiveness with a contrite heart and ask God to help us become a new person in Christ.

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