It’s the season to visit amusement parks. Depending on your age and your ability stomach wild rides that could be a good or bad thing. Writer James Bryan Smith recalls a time when his son, Jacob was six years old and he took him to an amusement park. He says,
“There were only a few people in the park, so we went from ride to ride without having to wait. We came upon a ride that I had never ridden, but assumed would be fun. After all, we were in an amusement park. We got in our seats and a teenage boy buckled us in. Soon the ride started whirling and spinning us, faster and faster, jerking us around and up and down. I held on to Jacob as hard as I could, afraid he would fly out of his seat. With white knuckles and gritted teeth I prayed the entire 90 seconds for the ride to end. I looked over at Jacob, who was laughing and having a great time.
When we got off the ride, I saw the name of it in bright red paint: The Scrambler, which was appropriate. Jacob said, ‘That was fun! Let’s do it again.’ I said ‘no.’ What I felt like saying was, ‘Not a chance! Ever again! I am the worst father ever! Please forgive me.’ We say on a park bench and I asked, ‘Weren’t you scared?’ That ride was pretty wild. Why did you get on a ride like that?’ He answered with childlike honesty, ‘because you did, Dad.’ Right or wrong, that little guy trusted me. I was and am clearly not worthy of such trust. I love him and would do anything for him, and I would never put him in harm’s way intentionally. But I am limited, finite, ignorant human being. In his eyes, however, being with me meant he was completely safe.”
This experience compelled him to realize how important it is to understand that God alone is trustworthy. The God that Jesus reveals would never do anything to harm or cause evil. Even when things look bleak or completely hopeless, that God is still good and we trust Him.
It is hard to trust anything or anyone, when you are anxious – whether you on a roller coaster ride, or waiting for the results of biopsy, or watching your kids leave on 12 hour car ride, or watching the evening news, or learning that you are going to become a parent, trust in it’s most faithful form is difficult conjure up when in battle with anxiety – or fear. Fear and anxiety build like a callus, resulting in us asking the question, when was the last time we truly trusted anyone or anything.
This callous of fear and anxiety has built up for Sarah over time, justifying her case of nervous laughter from Genesis this morning. How long had she hoped for the opportunity of pregnancy? How afraid was she to bring a child into the world in which she lived? She and Abraham had left their country long ago to go as they were led by God; they lived as nomads.
They own some sheep and goats. They move around a lot, to provide grazing for the flocks. Years and years ago, there was that business about God wanting them to move, to start a new life in a new place. And there was the matter of the promise: “I will make of you a great nation; I will bless you.” Or at least that’s what Abraham said God said.. They don’t talk about it any longer. It’s much too painful. No children ever came.
Now they are old. They don’t talk about the promise anymore. If truth were told, they have forgotten about it.
And then one day three strangers appear in the heat of midday. Abraham is sitting in the shade at the opening of his tent. Sarah is inside. According to nomadic custom, Abraham welcomes the strangers, offers hospitality, asks Sarah to prepare a meal.
“By the way, where is Sarah?” one of the strangers asks. He knows her name. It’s the Lord. God says, “I’ll return and when I do you’ll have a baby.” Talk about surprise! Sarah, inside the tent, preparing the food, is listening in. When the stranger gets to the part about her having a baby, she can’t contain herself. She laughs.
She laughs out loud at the absurdity. The stranger—God—hears the laughter and asks, “Why is Sarah laughing? Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?” Sarah, embarrassed, a little afraid now, says, “I didn’t laugh.” “Oh yes you did,” the stranger—God—says. “I heard you laugh.”
We know how the story ends, but just consider the 25 years of waiting and pain and grief. Sure God promised something once. To hear that an old promise was now being kept, was, well laughable. Sarah laughed because there were no longer tears to cry.
Fast forward: Surprise. Sarah conceives, has a child, a son. They name him Isaac, which means “laughter.” Sarah laughs again. It’s a different laughter now—laughter at the surprising, unpredictable, unlikely grace of God. She says, “God has brought laughter for me.”
The story of Abraham and Sarah is a story of two people, parents of us all, moving from hopelessness to hope, from despair and resignation to possibility, from barrenness to productivity, from death to life, from uncertainty to trust.
I have been reading a lot about trust lead and doing some research on trust in society and what I discovered is that the erosion of trust in our society has not happened over night.
Journalist Jeff Greenfield presented an essay on the PBS Newshour in February 2016. He commented that:
A Pew Research poll in November 2015 found that only 19 percent of us trusted the government to do what was right all or most of the time. That’s close to an historic low.
But the real story here is how long that distrust has been festering. Go back to 1964, when the U.S. was in the midst of a long period of economic growth, when the Cold War was easing, when a major civil rights bill had just been passed.
Back then, 77 percent trusted the government to do the right thing all or most of the time. A decade later, after a divisive war, racial and generational unrest, a president driven from office in scandal, the number had dropped to 36 percent. And in the four decades since, it has never hit 50 percent, not even in the surge of patriotism after 9/11. That’s about 40 years’ worth of alienation from the government of, by and for people.
…..Well, OK, but that’s the government. We are a nation born in revolt, with a permanent skepticism about our leaders. But now look at our feelings about other major institutions, and the picture, painted by a series of Gallup surveys going back decades, finds a disturbingly similar pattern.
Our churches? Two-thirds of us had a lot of trust in our religious institutions back in 1973. Now barely 42 percent do. Banks? Trust has gone from 60 percent back in 1979 to 28 percent now. Our public schools? More than half were trusting at the end of the ’70s. Barely three in 10 are today.
Organized labor? Big business? The medical system? The presidency? All get low grades. And before you ask, 21 percent profess a lot of faith in television news, less than half the percentage that did so little more than 20 years ago.
Other than the military, the police, and small business, no institution commands the trust of a majority of us, and even those are less trusted than they once were.
Well, the question is, why? One obvious answer, there’s good reason for this mistrust. But we’re also living in a less innocent time. The press was strictly controlled in World War II. The failures, strategic and moral, in places like Iraq, are on full display. The private lives of politicians, once carefully concealed, are now matters of public speculation.
Greenfield concludes this 2016 essay with this observation: deserved or not, the lengthy disaffection that so many feel about so many important parts of our national life clearly puts a heavy burden on anyone asking for the trust of the citizenry. It may, indeed, reward those who seek power, not by offering to ease that disaffection, but to feed it.
Travel way back in time with me to this nomadic, elderly couple, who were told they would be the parents of the nations. Abraham specifically promised he would be the father of all nations. After 25 years, I wonder if they trusted that promise…would any of us?
Abraham and Sarah were the parents of the three great religions. Abraham would be the father of Ishmael and Isaac. It took 25 years of waiting and wondering before God would keep his promise.
If a religious organization, institution, country, family, any system has lost trust, then the system has collapsed and it is vulnerable to false prophets, (as lamented by the prophet Jeremiah,) false teachings, (as warned by Paul in Corinthians), and false hope, (as spoken against in the Gospels.)
So what do we do about it?
I think it goes back to the roller coaster story and the question we all have ask ourselves, “Who is holding on to us on this ride? Do we trust in God alone in this wild ride, or do we put our trust in ourselves or others? If we confront whatever is happening in our lives or the world with the foundational premise that we trust in the goodness of God, then I think we can begin to slowly rebuild trust in the institutions that aren’t God, but can do good.
It took us a long time to get this broken as a society. It will take a long time – perhaps a life time to begin to trust again, and perhaps admit that the trust we thought we had was a falsehood. If we are going to heal, we have to begin to be willing to trust. It begins with one small step at a time. It begins with one neighbor reaching out to another neighbor, one community, reaching out to another community, one stranger, opening her door to another stranger. It will not be resolved on social media. It will not be resolved in the halls of Congress. It will only be resolved by welcoming one stranger at a time.
Trust these words from the apostle Paul live them:
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith[b] into this grace in which we stand, and we[c] rejoice[d] in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:1-5) Trust in the goodness of God. Amen.
James Bryan Smith. The Good and Beautiful God: Falling in Love with the God Jesus Knows (The Apprentice Series) – July 5, 2009
Jeff Greenfield. February 5, 2016. Has the US Motto become In Nothing We Trust? PBS Newshour.