Trust: it can be a tough thing. Everything around us tells us not to trust anyone: be your own person—you don’t need anyone else! Remember that rugged individual “Marlboro Man” from back in the days when cigarettes were advertised? And more recently we’ve been told by a sneaker manufacturer to “Just Do It.” But the Bible tells us differently…so where do we place our trust?
A lot of people put their trust in money. You probably have a dollar bill in your pocket or purse right now. It’s just a piece of paper, but it has value because it can be used to pay for things. At the bottom it says “one Dollar,” which tells us how much value it has.
But its not always simple. The value of that one dollar can change. One of the places we see it most is at the gas pump. That gallon of gasoline might go up or down daily—and for those who drive a lot, that can be a big shift in how many dollars we have to use for our fuel.
The other problem with these dollar bills is, where do they come from? If a person has a job, then usually she’ll receive a certain number of dollar bills for doing that job, and if she’s both lucky and careful, she’ll be able to buy the things she needs with the amount of money she receives from her employer. But sometimes employers make changes to the amount of money they pay us. They might give us more if we’re doing a very good job, or they might have to give us less if their business isn’t doing well. And of course, most peoples’ jobs aren’t guaranteed. We never know if we’ll be able to count on that stream of dollars coming in.
Well, if it’s hard to trust money…how about if we trust ourselves? After all, we’re smart people, we know God gave us gifts and expects us to use them. We can even read the Bible to learn what we need to know, and surely I can trust myself to know what is best for me? After all the Ordination and Installation festivities last weekend, I’m very confident I can trust myself…or maybe I’m letting all that excitement go to my head. Because when I comes down to it, no matter how smart I am, or how much I read the Bible, or how many pastors gather around and say blessings over me, I’m still a sinner and I can’t do anything about that.
I once read a book called Pedestrian Theology by pastor Deb Grant. In her book pastor Grant talks about her own faith journey, beginning when she was a child. Growing up in a small town, Grant and her older brothers had fun catching frogs in the pond behind their house. One day one of them thought of a –rather gruesome–way to add some excitement to their frog-catching: they would insert firecrackers into the mouths of the frogs they caught, then they’d light the firecrackers and throw the frogs into the air. Pastor Grant remembers being 7 years old and knowing this wasn’t right, but she sure had fun doing it. Later, when she reflected on this incident, she started calling herself “frog-slayer”. She saw that “frog-slayer” applied to her whole life, as over and over she does the wrong things even though she knows they are wrong. Just like blowing up the frogs, She can’t help herself. Throughout her early faith journey she tried lots of different ways to “be good.” She earned a degree in biblical studies and worshipped with many different protestant churches. But she always came away feeling that no matter what she did, she couldn’t be good enough …ultimately, God would see she was a sham and would reject her because she was a frog-slayer.
Pastor Grant spent many years trying to trust and rely on herself, to learn enough, to be good enough. But she was never able to feel confident that she was really meeting God’s standards as long as she was a frog-slayer… and she just couldn’t stop being a frog-slayer.
Our text from Romans talks about placing our trust in the one sure and certain place. It begins by talking about the law, God’s law. It tells us that no matter how hard we try to keep the law, we won’t be able to be good enough to be accepted by God that way. It’s because we’re all frog-slayers.
I never blew up frogs with firecrackers as a child (mostly because I’m pretty squeamish about touching amphibians), but I have done plenty of things that are just as bad, and, like Grant with those poor frogs, I enjoyed it! I wanted to keep on doing it, even knowing it was wrong. Probably if you think about it you’ll be able to come up with some frog-slaying behaviors of your own. It’s called sin, and we’re all stuck here. We’re all humans, and we’re all imperfect. We can’t be saved by being good, because it isn’t in our nature: we’re frog-slayers.
But there is a happy ending to the frog-slayer story, just as there is to our own stories. Deb Grant finally found a church where they said to her, “yes, you are a frog-slayer. But God knows that. God already knows all about it… and God loves you anyway! You’re still a frog-slayer, but you’re a FORGIVEN frog-slayer!” God knew that we wouldn’t be able to stop sinning, or to keep the law well enough to meet God’s standards. So God sent Jesus Christ to be our savior. By his dying and rising from death, Jesus gives us the gift of salvation. All we have to do is open that gift and trust! We, too, can be forgiven frog-slayers!
This morning as we think about it being Reformation Sunday, I’m trying to remember to trust God in my own life, but also that we as God’s people in the church can, together, put our trust in God. And putting our trust in God can mean that we might get some surprises along the way. The other morning I was driving along with the radio on when suddenly the reporter said something that made me pay attention. She was talking about the church —our church. And it wasn’t a story about something bad happening in the church! This was a story about an event that’s scheduled for tomorrow in Sweden, when the pope and the president of the Lutheran World Federation will meet and worship together publicly. This event begins a year leading up to the 500th anniversary of the start of the protestant reformation, when Martin Luther offered 95 things he wanted to talk about with the pope…aka 95 theses… Remember that Luther didn’t set out to start a new church called “Lutheran”. He loved the church and just wanted to work out some things he saw that seemed unhealthy. But back in 1517 most of those 95 theses that he posted were just too much. The talking that Luther wanted to do has been a long time in coming, but its finally happening. Trusting in God, we can be surprised by places where the Roman Catholic Church and the LWF have found agreement. A recent joint document said it well: What happened in the past cannot be changed, but what is remembered of the past and how it is remembered can, with the passage of time, indeed change. …. ( From Conflict to Communion)
Trusting God, we can move along a path to agreement, instead of focusing on our disagreements with one another. What a surprise it was to hear something good about our church AND the Roman Catholic Church on the radio! What a great way to remember that Martin Luther posted his 95 statements to try to IMPROVE God’s church! And what a great reminder of how important it is to trust God.
In a few minutes, we have the chance to celebrate another place of trust: four of God’s beloved frog-slayers have decided to trust that they should make St. Peter their church home. So we continue to trust that God is leading us.
Well, we know we can’t always trust our money…and we can’t always trust ourselves to do the right thing. But we know there’s a better way. Even though we’re committed frog-slayers, we know we can all trust in God to show us the right way—and even when we don’t follow, we know that God, in Jesus, has given us a gift… the gift of forgiveness for our frog-slaying ways. That’s something we can trust—and watch for the surprises!
October 30, 2016 ~ St. Peter Lutheran Church Trenton, Ohio