Trusting God with our present and our future

Pentecost 23 – 2013

Luke 18:15-30

Marian Free 

In the name of God who loves us with an everlasting love and asks us only to place all our trust in him. Amen.

This morning I’d like to begin with two stories. They are both true, both autobiographical. The first is told by a Paul Villard who reports that when he was quite young, his family had one of the first telephones in their neighbourhood. He was too little to reach the telephone, but used to listen with fascination when his mother talked to it. Once she lifted him up to speak to my father, who was away on business. Magic!

He discovered that somewhere inside that wonderful device lived an amazing person: whose name was “Information Please” and there was nothing she did not know – someone’s phone number, the correct time. His first experience with this amazing person came one day while his mother was out. Amusing himself at the tool bench in the basement, he whacked his finger with a hammer. Though the pain was terrible, there didn’t seem to be any point in crying because there was no one to offer sympathy. He was walking around the house sucking he throbbing finger, when he saw the phone.

He grabbed a stool, climbed up, unhooked the receiver and held it to his ear. “Information Please” he said.

A click or two, then a small, clear voice spoke. “Information.”

“I hurt my fingerrr-“ he wailed into the phone. The tears came now that he had an audience.

“Isn’t your mother home?”

“Nobody’s home but me,”

“Are you bleeding?”

“No,” he replied. “I hit it with the hammer and it hurts.”

“Can you open the icebox?” she asked. “Yes.”

“Then take a piece of ice and hold it on your finger. That will stop the hurt.”

After that, Paul called Information Please for everything – help with geography and with arithmetic. He even called her when his pet canary died. Information Please listened and said all the things grown-ups say to soothe child, but he remained unconsoled. Sensing that, she said quietly, “Paul, always remember that there are other worlds to sing in.”

Thereafter, in moments of doubt and perplexity he would recall the serene sense of security he had when he knew that he could call Information Please and get the right answer[1].” (If you’d like to know the rest of the story, you can find it on-line.)

Unfortunately I didn’t record the author of the second story. I think it was American writer Charles Bayer[2]. He describes his visit to Mount Athos in Greece. There are no roads, only treacherous mountain footpaths. Even the sea route is fraught with danger so he set out over the mountains for the monastery of Stavranikita. It was a blazing hot day and carried all the things North Americans “need” for such an undertaking – several changes of clothes, camera, toiletries, extra shoes, books, paper, alarm clock and at least 5 kilos of other junk he never travelled without.

When he neared his destination, he was observed by a monk who had noted his state and burst into gales of laughter. He was so weary he was barely able to walk, but he made out a few words through the avalanche of merriment. “Baggage, baggage, look at the silly American with all that baggage! Why don’t you throw it in the sea? You are weighted down with all your impediments.”

Two very different stories about trust, or lack of trust. With the innocence of a child, Paul implicitly trusted “Information Please”, the adult on his way to the monastery, was afraid to trust that he could manage without his suitcase filled with life’s “necessities”.

In last week’s gospel Jesus told two parables about how to pray in the in-between time. In that time after he has come and before the world is perfected, Jesus urges us to persevere in prayer. This week, the theme of life in the in-between time continues with two stories which illustrate the attitude towards God that we are called to adopt while we wait. The attitude towards God that will allow us to receive the kingdom and will see us through to eternal life is one of complete dependence, one that does not allow anything to stand between ourselves and God.

For this reason, Jesus encourages us to develop the same sort of innocence, the same level of trust that the child Paul showed towards “Information Please”. Terrifyingly, this means abandoning our outer shell of independence and resourcefulness that has helped us to deal with a world and a society that is untrustworthy and that is not universally safe or secure. We spend so much of our lives trying to be grown up, to prove that we can look after ourselves, that we lose sight of the gifts of childhood – innocence, wonder and trust – gifts that along the way we willingly gave up. In this world that seems so little changed by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, it is imperative that we continue to pray but also that we learn to trust or unlearn our suspicion. In both today’s world and that of Jesus, Jesus turns the social order upside down, It is not the old, the wise, the learned, or the experienced whose example we are to follow, but it is the young, the innocent, the untaught and the inexperienced who teach us not to trust in ourselves, but rather to place all our trust in God.

It is in this context that we have to understand the story of the ruler. It appears that the ruler is seeking something – he has come to Jesus. Despite his upright living, he is not satisfied, he is not confident that his relationship with God is all that it could be. Something has unsettled his quiet, obedient existence. Perhaps he has come to see that in the end, obeying the law is empty without relationship or perhaps he has been moved by Jesus’ teaching, Jesus’ freedom and he wants to know more about this different relationship with God. Jesus recognises his longing and identifies the one thing that he needs to do – he must give up his possessions. At the present moment the ruler needs his possessions more than he needs God. He is tied to life in this world more than he is drawn to eternal life. It is only if he can let go to the things that tie him down to this life that he will be truly free to inherit the life to come. He must again become like a child and trust in God to provide all that he needs.

The story of the ruler has little to do with money and everything to do with trust in God. Can we receive the kingdom of God as a little child or do we build up barriers and prevent God from breaking through our defenses? Does our security lie in God and the things that last forever, or do we rely on other, more ephemeral, more temporal things?

In this in-between time, this time of uncertainty, this time of longing for the kingdom to come, God is with us. Jesus assures us that in good times and in bad, God will never abandon us. All we need to do is to throw caution to the wind and toss our lot in with him, to become like a child and to trust God with our present and our future.


[1] The full story can be found at http://www.telephonetribute.com

[2] The book in which the account can be found is called A Guide to Liberation Theology.

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