Trust the Lord!

Psalm 40
I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.
Happy are those who make the Lord their trust,
who do not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after false gods.

You have multiplied, O Lord my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us;
none can compare with you.
Were I to proclaim and tell of them, they would be more than can be counted.
Sacrifice and offering you do not desire, but you have given me an open ear.
Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required.
Then I said, “Here I am; in the scroll of the book it is written of me.
I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.”
I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation;
see, I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O Lord.
I have not hidden your saving help within my heart,
I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation.
Do not, O Lord, withhold your mercy from me;
let your steadfast love and your faithfulness keep me safe forever.

I Corinthians 1:1-9
Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints,
together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God
that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him,
in speech and knowledge of every kind—
just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you—
so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.
He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

In a few minutes, this year’s confirmation class, mostly eighth graders,
will come forward to receive new Bibles and journals from their mentors.
Over the coming weeks, these youth and adults will explore together the Gospel according to Luke,
and will explore the basic beliefs of Christian faith.
They will make notes in their journals about what they read.
They will engage in wonder about what they discuss.
They will ask difficult questions about what they hear.
They will make strides together in what we call a “journey” of faith.
Faith is not simply a doctrine about God that we either ascribe to or not.
Belief is not simply repeating words that your parents or grandparents have said.
Ultimately, faith is trust, and to believe is to place our lives in the hands of God,
to engage in a trusting relationship with God as we let go of trying to do it all by ourselves
and let God take the helm.

This “journey” of faith generally entails some significant spiritual struggling.
The name “Israel” after all, means “the one who wrestles with God.”
As you engage in this confirmation process together, I invite you all to “wrestle” with God.
In addition to your focused study of the Gospel of Luke,
I encourage you to spend some time with the psalms.
Pray the psalms; allow the psalms to become a guide for your prayer.
You will discover nearly every human emotion expressed in the psalms,
from joyful praise and thanksgiving to downright despair and feelings of abandonment.
You will also notice a number of questions in the psalms.
Some of these ancient questions you may discover are your own questions as well.
How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever?
Why do the wicked prosper?
What are human beings that you are mindful of them? Mortals, that you care for them?

This Friday, our nation will inaugurate a new President in the midst of a deeply divided time.
Thousands will gather to celebrate what they hail as a new era in the life of our capital,
while on the very next day, the Women’s March on Washington will occur,
which may become one of the largest protest marches in American history.
We live in interesting times.
Our diverse nation is working its purpose out through election cycles
and protest marches and social media posts.
Some say that we live in a time of great hopefulness.
Others post that we live in a time of great despair.
As people of faith, how do we respond to social upheaval?
If we are willing to wrestle with God and willing to wrestle with how God is at work in the world,
what then shall we say and do?

Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in his book, Strength to Love, that
“faith transforms the whirlwind of despair into a warm and reviving breeze of hope.”
He continues, there was a motto which was commonly found on the walls of the homes
in the neighborhood where he grew up, in the homes of devout persons:
“Fear knocked at the door. Faith answered. There was no one there.”
“It is faith in (God) that we must rediscover. Only God is able.
With this faith we can transform bleak and desolate valleys into sunlit paths of joy
and bring new light into the dark caverns of pessimism.” (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

On this weekend that honors the faith and life of Martin Luther King, Jr,
it could be easy to forget the reason for tomorrow’s national holiday.
In the midst of the Falcons winning a big playoff game
and an opportunity to enjoy warm weather activities,
we could become distracted by the relief of having just another day to play or rest.
But tomorrow’s holiday marks the birthday of a young man who grew up just miles from here,
who became not only the chief spokesman for the Civil Rights Movement, but also its martyr.
He gave his life speaking up for his convictions, and the movement of which he was a part
successfully protested against racial discrimination in federal and state law
and has become the international model for nonviolent activism.
As many of our eighth graders know, the whole world now looks to Atlanta,
to the Center for Civil and Human Rights, to show the way in times of division and disunity.
Tomorrow’s holiday, originally opposed by many,
was signed into law in 1983 by President Ronald Reagan. (
Along with 9-11, the holiday has slowly been transforming into a whole weekend
of national volunteer service in honor of Dr. King.
Hundreds of thousands of volunteers – here in Decatur, all over Atlanta, and throughout the USA–
will spend part of this weekend doing what the church does all year long,
engage in some form of service for the common good.
Tomorrow, our youth groups will engage in service projects.
This afternoon, our local Rotarians continue their service project in Oakhurst.

I have been reading the relatively new book by Diana Butler Bass, Grounded.
Bass theorizes that the twentieth century has forever changed our understanding of God.
Earlier generations thought of God as “up there, far away”, who occasionally intervened.
This God of the past would welcome us “up there” if we were good enough “down here”.
Bass claims that two world wars and the Holocaust brought us theologically to a different place.
During the 1970’s, amidst cultural revolutions, many were saying, God is dead,
and that sentiment still finds adherents today.
But many responded to the theological questions of the twentieth century in a different way.
Common people of the world began saying,
No, God is not just up there, far away, uncaring, uninterested in the world’s violence.
God is right here. God is with us.

Instead of feeling alone and bereft with no divine attention,
people post on social media that God was with those children and teachers of Sandy Hook.
They recognize that God was with the first responders of 9-11 and with those who grieve to this day.
They speak at funerals about how God’s heart was the first to break
when the unexpected heart attack happened and brought sudden death,
when the carful of teenagers had the terrible accident,
when the toddler drowned in the pool.

Even so, people of good faith will ask: Where is God?
Where was God when Dylann Roof exploded into nonsensical violence?
Where was God when the tree fell upon the house in the storm?
Where was God when your firm did not win the contract or your candidate did not get elected?
Where was God when your spouse became ill or your child was harmed?
Does God even exist? In what way, in what form is God with us?
How can we explain God in any scientific manner?

In response to the world’s questions, and our own questions, if we are honest,
people of faith do what we have done for generations, for millennia.
We wrestle with God and we tell stories.
We talk about how God’s saving action in the past gives us trust in the present and hope for the future.
Both of our lectionary scripture passages on this particular Sunday
speak about trusting in the Lord because of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness.

Both Psalm 40 and I Corinthians 1 speak of the willingness
of those who have been through difficult times to speak up and speak out about God’s saving love.
For the Psalmist, he or she is looking for help from the One who has quite literally saved them in the past.
This person has been in the miry bog before and they find themselves there again.
In first Corinthians, the verses we read speak of how the church in Corinth
has received God’s grace and has been enriched in every way and is not lacking in any gifts.
But just following these verses, Paul calls them to task for the disunity and disagreements among them.
Just below the surface, the church in Corinth was struggling.
There were factions and backbiting and gossip, and Paul recognized their need for hope.

At the heart of both passages is that we can trust in God because God is trustworthy.
God’s faithfulness makes possible our trust.
We do not act faithfully in order for God to be faithful to us.
We respond in faith because God has already initiated, has already reached down to take care of us.
This is the narrative that propelled Martin Luther King, Jr.
He knew the stories of God’s deliverance in the past.
He was raised in the church hearing his father proclaim the good news of God’s salvation
for the sake of the poor and the needy and the distressed.
He knew the stories of the Hebrew slaves and the Gentile leper.
He knew the stories of Thomas’ doubting and Peter’s betrayal.
He knew the stories of the past, and so he trusted God to act again, to save again.
Ultimately, young Martin became willing to speak up and speak out,
and the whole world took notice.

Charles Swindoll wrote that trust in God does not necessarily come naturally.
“It is a spiritual crisis of the will in which we must choose to exercise faith…
in which we “cease striving and trust God to provide what (God) thinks is best
and in whatever time (God) chooses to make it available.”

If we trust in (human beings), Stefani Carmichael wrote, we will ultimately be let down.
No, we shouldn’t trust in men (or women)–not ultimately.
But if we don’t trust in (anyone), we find ourselves in an awful lonely mess.
If we don’t trust anyone, we live our lives in fear.
But if we trust in God, then we don’t have to be afraid of (people) anymore. (Stefani Carmichael)

Jesus said to his disciples on the last night that they were physically at table with one another:
do not let your hearts be troubled. You trust in God. Trust in me.
Another, very different person, Ernest Hemingway,
once wrote that the best way you can find out if you can trust someone…is to trust them.
Blessed are those who make the Lord their trust, who do not go astray after false gods.
Whatever miry bog or desolate pit you find yourself in,
whatever division or disunity brings you pain,
whatever challenging questions you may be facing, trust in the Lord.
And may God’s steadfast love and faithfulness keep us safe forever. Amen.

Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church
Decatur, Georgia
January 15, 2017