3 Stages of Trust
September 13, 2020*
By Pastor John Partridge
Have you ever ranked your friends by how much you trust them?
There are friends that you trust will show up to have a good time, but there’s completely different, and much smaller, group of friends that will show up to help you move. There are friends that you trust with a few dollars for lunch until payday, but a completely different, and again, much smaller, group of friends to whom you might consider loaning a few hundred, or a few thousand dollars. There are friends that you trust enough to chaperone your kids for a few hours on a field trip, and a very select few, maybe only a tiny handful, that you would trust with your children for a few weeks in the event of an emergency.
Last week, we remembered how much we don’t like taking tests. But this week, we find God pushing us to trust him, and his pushing feels a lot like a test. God isn’t just asking “Do you trust me?” God, is asking “How much do you trust me?” We begin this morning in Exodus 14:19-31, where we find Moses leading the people of Israel as they escape from their slavery in Egypt but with Pharaoh’s armies and chariots pursuing and threatening them from the rear.
19 Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, 20 coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so, neither went near the other all night long.
21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, 22 and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.
23 The Egyptians pursued them, and all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and horsemen followed them into the sea. 24 During the last watch of the night the Lord looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion. 25 He jammed the wheels of their chariots so that they had difficulty driving. And the Egyptians said, “Let’s get away from the Israelites! The Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.”
26 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen.” 27 Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing toward[c] it, and the Lord swept them into the sea. 28 The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen—the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived.
29 But the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. 30 That day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. 31 And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.
The situation didn’t look good. The people had followed Moses out of Egypt and marched toward freedom, but suddenly they were trapped between the swords and chariots of Egypt and the sea. And in that place, they watched as God intervened, stood between them and the soldiers of Egypt, separated the sea to the right and to the left, led them to freedom, and then destroyed Pharaoh’s chariots and horsemen. The people saw God’s power, and because of what they had seen, they began to trust. At first, they trusted God enough to follow, but now they might be ready for more.
The Disciples of Jesus had already left their homes and families behind to follow him, but Jesus wanted them to move to another level. In Matthew 18:21-35, Peter struggles with forgiveness. The disciples know that God has commanded them to forgive, but who should be forgiven, and what limits were there?
21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of goldwas brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt, and let him go.
28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.
29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’
30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.
32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
“Ten thousand bags of gold” is often translated as ten thousand talents, can be calculated as about 200,000 years of income. So, since the median income in the United States this year (2020) is $33,706, ten thousand talents would be about $6.7 billion (yes, billion with a ‘B’). This was, and is, an astronomical sum of money that a laborer, or even a supervisory white-collar worker, would have no hope of ever paying, let alone working for pennies per hour in prison. The contrast between the two debts is obviously deliberate. The second man owes the unforgiving servant a hundred silver coins or, a hundred denarii, which is the pay for one hundred days work or, about three to four months wages. To most of us, three months wages would feel like a substantial amount of money, probably about eight or ten thousand dollars, but nothing compared to 6 billion dollars. Jesus’ point is that what God has already forgiven in each one of us is so incredibly, outstandingly, magnificent that we have no hope of ever paying it back. But in return, God asks us to trust him enough to forgive others.
Using this parable, Jesus says to his disciples, and to us, “Yes, I know that you have enough trust to follow, but do you trust me enough to forgive? And, if that weren’t enough, Paul piles on with yet another question. In Romans 14:1-12, he writes to a church that is filled with people from different points of view. Men, women, Jews, Greeks, and people from many different nations, backgrounds, and who had come to faith in Jesus from many different religions. And to that culturally mixed church, Paul asks why the people condemn one another for being different. Paul says,
14:1 Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. 2 One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3 The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. 4 Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
5 One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. 6 Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. 8 If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. 9 For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.
10 You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. 11 It is written:
“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bow before me;
every tongue will acknowledge God.’”
12 So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.
This is even harder than Jesus’ parable about forgiveness. Paul recognizes that in a diverse church with people from a variety of cultures and backgrounds, people are going to be different and those differences will inevitably lead to different opinions. And some of those differences of opinion are going to be about how we practice our faith. But while our opinions about the practice of our faith are important, our differences should not give us reason to despise one another or hold others in contempt. While the practice of our faith is, and should be, important to us, we are not responsible for how others practice theirs.
In Rome, the church was arguing about whether or not certain foods should be eaten, or which day of the week they should worship or celebrate a holy day, but each of those who were arguing were, to the best of their ability, trying to honor God. Paul’s assessment of these arguments was that they were reasonably disputable, that faithful people, considering the same information and the same scriptures, could reasonably come to different conclusions. But once they reached their conclusion, Paul says, then they must each live as faithfully as they could but not judge others for having reasoned differently. Those who felt that Christians should not eat meat should not judge those who did, and people who wanted to worship on Saturday, or celebrate Christmas in December should not have contempt for people who worship on Sunday or celebrate Christmas in January.
For us in the twenty-first century, we argue about whether we should be Catholic of Protestant, whether there should be baptism for infants, how we should celebrate communion, whether we should ordain pastors who have been divorced, and over a whole host of issues related to sexual orientation. But today, like in Paul’s church, these issues are reasonably disputable. Faithful followers of Jesus Christ examine the same facts, and the same scriptures, and arrive at different conclusions. But despite having reasoned differently, we must each live as faithfully as we can without judging others. All of us will be judged. Each of us will give an account of ourselves before God. But none of us will be judged for the actions and choices of someone else. Whatever our differences, our calling is to trust God enough to accept one another and to accept and honor our differences. We must not hold others in contempt for thinking differently. We cannot judge others for reasoning, or living, differently than we do. “For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. 8 If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.”
God isn’t just asking us if we trust him. God is asking us how much we trust him.
Do we trust God enough to follow?
Having been forgiven a great debt by God, do we trust him enough to forgive others?
And do we trust God enough to accept other believers that do not think, or believe the same way that we do?
We will all give an account of ourselves before God.
Will we trust God enough to love the people around us?
You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/ZtrQw5u4chk
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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org. If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online). These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.