According to the Gospels the fundamental point in the preaching of Jesus was identical with the message of John the Baptist. It was and is a simple point; turn and trust. Turn your life around to God whose compassionate reign has come near and trust the message of the Gospels. It is the same appeal of Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians; “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this” in other words trust the message and turn your life around. Trust and turn.
Martin Buber a philosopher and theologian of some note expressed the initial appeal of the Gospels in these words; “The hour that has been predetermined for aeons has arrived, the rule of God which existed from the beginning, but which was hidden until now, has drawn near to the world, in order to realize itself when apprehended: that you might be able to apprehend it, turn, you who hear, from your erring ways to the way of God, come into fellowship with God, with Whom all things are possible, and surrender to God’s power.” Buber wants us to notice what he terms three principals of this message; realization of the kingship of God, a relationship of faith towards God, and that the reality of the relationship has its exclusive abode in the personal life of individuals.
Perhaps, more simply put, the force that created the heavens and the earth and that has been constantly at work creating the world in which we live, but, that we have largely not paid muchattention to, has drawn so close to you and I that we can lay hold of it by turning our lives toward the divine. And for Buber the genius of the preaching of John the Baptist and then of Jesus of Nazareth is that they made the prospect of turning, trusting and entering into God’s life a universal invitation.
Turning towards God is and was nothing new to the faith of Israel. The prophet Malachi wrote; “turn back to me and I will turn again to you (Mal.3:7).” And in Jeremiah’s words; “Bring me back, let me come back, for you are the Lord my God (Jer.31:18).” The Old Testament prophets of Israel understood that faith began with turning towards God.
Trust in God is also associated with the prophets of Israel. Isaiah wrote “if you do not trust you will not remain entrusted” or as the NRSV translates this verses “If you do not stand firm in faith, you shall not stand at all (Isaiah 7:9).”
To quote Buber again; “what the prophet is saying is more simply this: only if you stand firm in the fundamental relationship of your life do you have an essential stability. The solid and true foundations of a person’s being or life come from the fundamental relationship of a person to the God who is their creator. True safety, security, and permanence are found only with God – the world for all it’s attempts can’t replace God. Retirement savings plans, houses, big bank accounts are all nice, but, they will never replace God. They will never become the ground of our being the very foundation of who we are in the way the God can and is if we’ll go there with God.
The appeal or preaching of Isaiah, Jesus and Paul was and is not, as some suppose, to people without faith. For all three of them, just as it is for me, their audience was people of faith. The call of scripture is not for faith “in God”, as something innate and as a matter of course, but for the realization of faith’s demands on the totality of our lives and on who we are at our very deepest level. A realization made all the more powerful when the promises of faith arise from amidst catastrophe, the exile of Israel in Babylon and Good Friday to name the obvious examples from each part of the Bible. The Christ child for whom we wait is not a prophet of success and easy living. The grace of God is just as often found with the desperate as with the successful.
And so when Paul writes to rejoice always, to pray without ceasing, to give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of Christ Jesus for you.” It is not just some nice Christian platitude, but the very reality of who we are to be!
A single mother once phoned her mother in a state of panic. She’d just lost a power struggle with her 14 year old daughter. Earlier in the day while she was putting laundry away she’d discovered a six pack of beer in her daughter’s closet. Not much time after that her daughter had walked in the door from school and the confrontation was on.
Holding the offending six pack in the air she demanded of Maria, what is this?
“ It looks like a six pack of beer to me, Mom,” her daughter answered.
“Don’t get smart with me, young lady. You tell me about this,” said the mother.
“Well, I don’t know what you’re talking about” Maria replied.
“I found this six pack in your closet, young lady. You’d better explain!”
Maria thought real fast and said, “ Oh yeah, I was hiding it for a friend.”
“You expect me to believe that?” asked her mother. At this point Maria is out of answers so like any 14 year old, she bursts into tears, shouts something about never being believed about anything, and stomps off to her room and slams the door. Does any of this sound familiar?
Now twenty minutes later the mother is on the phone with her mom. And Maria’s grandmother, being a wise woman asked a few questions. “Why were you so concerned with finding the beer in her closet? “Because I don’t want her to get into trouble,” the mother answered.
“ I understand that, Grandma replied, “but why is it that you don’t want her to get into trouble?” The mother replied, “ Well isn’t it obvious, I don’t want her to ruin her life.” “ I understand that,” replied grandma, “ but why is it that you don’t want her to ruin her life?”
Finally Mom got it. “ Because I love her.” Grandma knowing this was her moment then asked;
“Do you think Maria got that message when she came home today?”
“What do you think would happen,” Grandma asked her daughter, “ if you were to start again with, ‘Honey, I love you so much that I got scared when I found the beer in your closet. Could we talk about this? Because I’m afraid that you could get into a real mess with this, could we talk about it?”
This wisdom of Grandma is the wisdom of God. Start from a position of vulnerability – a place from which trust can be birthed and grow, so that once trust has been established a solution can be found that is based on love.
Turn and trust. Some of the greatest minds of every generation struggle with how we might at last learn to turn and trust. Isaiah, the great prophets of Israel, John the Baptist whom we remember this day, Jesus of Nazareth, St. Paul, countless theologians and philosophers of the church, Martin Buber of the 20th century. They line up throughout history with a single sermon. Turn and trust. It’s so simple we dismiss it. We mistake the vulnerability of the manger as child’s play and miss the point for our very adult lives and troubles. Turn and trust; simple platitudes until you encounter the grace of God. St. Paul wrote; “The one who calls you is faithful” the proof is found in the shadows of human life just as surely as it is found in moments of great joy and happiness. It is just sometimes easier to turn and listen when it seems all else has failed.
Trust the message – The one for whom we wait is indeed faithful. If only we could get past our fears and just turn and trust; God would do more for us than we could ever ask or imagine. Amen