Where Should We Place Our Trust?

May 14, 2017

Where Should We Place Our Trust?

When I was in college, I was dating a young man who enjoyed rock climbing and rappelling. I had grown up climbing mountains, sometimes enjoying moderate free climbs with my uncharacteristically fit and adventurous sixty-something year-old Mom and Dad. I had never gone rappelling, though. Going backwards down a cliff hanging from a rope had never been an enticing idea to me, but because this young man had asked me to go, I decided to give it a try.

We gathered on a chilly, gray spring morning with a group of my new boyfriend’s roommates on some railroad tracks that cut through a rock ledge that bordered a quarry. After being shown all of the equipment and ropes and given the run-down on how each clip, buckle and carabiner worked, we headed to the top of a cliff that overlooked the waters of the quarry. I crept to the edge of the cliff and looked down the craggy, wet face. Tiny trees and plants protruded from their precarious spots in the cracks of the cliff, straining and bent to find the sun. The choppy, dark green waters that churned about a hundred feet below reminded me of stories I had read in newspapers reporting the discoveries of the bodies of missing people.

By the time I looked up, the rope had been tied around a birch tree. My boyfriend had started securing the rope in my harness. I put the gloves and helmet on as my mouth dried out and my palms began to sweat. The man in charge, who I had seen drinking too much the night before, was explaining that the hardest part was getting over the edge. “Well, no kidding!” I thought! I soon understood completely. I took a deep breath and started backing toward the edge of the cliff. My heels were perched at the very edge and I was told that I had to keep my feet right where they were and lean back over the edge of cliff. Little pebbles clicked their way down the cliff wall as I shifted my feet nervously. I clutched the rope and let it out, little by little, as I leaned back, farther and farther. I had to put all of my trust in that rope as I began to let it take more and more of my weight as I began to hang myself out in the empty space over the waters of the quarry. If I tried to bend my knees, if I succumbed to my fear and didn’t let the rope hold all of my weight, my feet would slip and I’d be dangling from the rope goodness knows how far down the cliff after bumping off of the rock wall all the way down. I stood there arguing with my instructor.

He had to be crazy. He was telling me to completely trust the climbing rope, it would hold me.  I needed to become nearly perpendicular to rock face before I could start to make my descent. If I didn’t I wouldn’t be able to get over the edge. So, I took a step over backwards, letting rope out so my foot was flat against the face of the cliff. My stomach turned with nausea as I did the same with the other foot. I had to descend about six feet before the rope would rest reassuringly on the edge of the cliff above me and I could descend in a more vertical position. I had to put all of my weight and all of my trust on the rope, or I would have fallen, bouncing off of the rocky outcrop, suffering injury and embarrassment. If I had trusted my instincts to cling to the cliff instead of letting the rope hold me up long enough for me to get over the tough spot, I wouldn’t have made it. This is what trust in Jesus is like. When our trust in Him falters and we start trying to trust our own understanding because we think He may not really know who He is, we can find ourselves in deep trouble, filled with despair.

In the book of John just prior to this week’s reading, Jesus washed His disciples’ feet at the Last Supper. He told them that one of them would betray Him to the authorities. As Judas skulked off to act on his plan of betrayal, Jesus prepared them for what He knew He would face:

“The time has come for the Son of Man to enter into His glory, and God will be glorified because of Him. And because God receives glory because of the Son, he will soon give glory to the Son. Dear children, I will be with you only a little longer…You can’t go with me now, but you will follow me later.”

The disciples were understandably upset.  This man they had followed and loved was telling them that He was going to be betrayed by one of them, and suffer and die as a result of that betrayal. The disciples had thrown in with an outlaw who was about to be captured and killed. Where would that leave them? What would they do without Him by their sides? Would they be the next to be hunted and crucified? They had seen Jesus turn water into wine, heal the son of a government official and the paralyzed man at the pool of Bethesda, and raise Lazarus from the dead. They had heard His teachings and known His love and guidance. He had told them that He could do these things only because He was the Son of God. Yet, in the scripture we read today, Jesus still needs to comfort those who knew Him the best:

“Trust in God. Trust also in me…I am the way, the truth and the life. No one can come to the father except through me.  If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you have known him and have seen Him.”

Even after this, Philip is still lost, asking Jesus to show them the Father so they can be satisfied. He’s asking Jesus for more proof. Jesus must have felt a bit discouraged as He replied,

“Have I been with you all this time Philip and yet you still don’t know who I am? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father! So why are you asking me to show Him to you? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I speak are not my own, but my Father who lives in me does his work through me. Just believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Or at least believe because of the work you have seen me do.”

They had lived with Him. They had seen Him perform miracles. They had heard Him tell them who He was but they still didn’t know Him.

Last week I made a statement in my sermon that, as I said it, I asked myself,” Why did I say that? I don’t believe it!” The statement was that the passage we had read was “all about hearing and listening to Jesus.” I do believe that that is one element of the passage. What I do not believe is that any passage in the Bible is about just one thing or another. I believe that the Bible is a living document. It grows and changes for each person as that person grows and changes: new lessons come to light, nuances we may miss at one time in our lives may become obvious and profoundly meaningful at another time of our lives. With each encounter, we can gain different insight into scripture because the way we see things is always being altered by our experiences. I believe that a relationship with Jesus is the same. He is not only a man who performed miracles, was crucified, died and was raised from the dead just to be God’s example of what He can do for us and through us.  The Bible isn’t just a book and Jesus is not just a dead man. Jesus is a living entity with whom we can have a relationship if we will understand Him as a living, dynamic part of our lives.  As we face each day, He will be our good shepherd, our living water, our sustenance, the way, the truth and the life, if we will be in a relationship with Him and come to know and trust Him. For if we truly know Jesus, we will trust Him as Peter learned on the lake in a boat:

“Meanwhile, the disciples were in trouble far away from the land, for a strong wind had risen and they were fighting heavy waves. About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them walking on the water. When the disciples saw Him coming toward them, they were terrified. In their fear, they cried out, ‘It’s a ghost!’ ”

But Jesus spoke to them at once, “Don’t be afraid,” He said, “Take courage. I am here!”

Then Peter called to Him, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you walking on the water.”

“Yes, come,” Jesus said.

So, Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted.

Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. “You have such little faith,” Jesus said. Why do you doubt me?”

When they climbed back into the boat, the wind stopped. Then the disciples worshiped Him. “You really are the Son of God, “they exclaimed.”

Peter started to sink when he let fear and doubt overwhelm his faith in Jesus’ ability to keep him above water. If we trust Him, I mean truly trust Him, when circumstances in life become threatening, making us feel that we are in danger, if we focus on Jesus and place our trust completely in Him because we know who He is, He will let us walk upon the waters until we have come safely through our trials.

Do we know Jesus? Do we trust Him? Have we recognized that He, as the Good Shepherd, has put obstacles in our path to show us a better path? Have we seen that He, the bread of life, the living water, has provided for us, sustained us in times of emotional, spiritual or physical need? Has He led us through valleys of darkness so we could come to sunny, green pastures? Has He been our way, our truth and our life, flowing in our veins and filling us with love for our neighbor and bringing us closer to God?

Let’s not be like the original disciples, doubting even though they had seen what Jesus can do. Let us come know Jesus by being in a dynamic and fruitful relationship with Him. Let us communicate with Him, through reading scripture and prayer. Let us see how He loves us by recognizing all that He has done and continues to do in our lives. Not knowing Him, not trusting Him, will only lead to weakness and despair. If we know Him and trust Him, we can confidently go over the edge of life’s cliffs, relying completely on Him. We can know Jesus and be certain that He is holding our hand so will be able to stride through the trials of life knowing that we are not alone. We will have courage, because we know He lives and He is here.

Norma Goff