Rev. Jeff Wakeley,
January 10, 2021, Mark 1:4-11,
“The Four Most Hurtful Words”
What do you think are the four most hurtful words you can say to someone? Is it, I hate your guts?” or “You’re a bleep n bleep.” For me, the four most hurtful words you can say to someone is “I don’t trust you.” I know that when someone says that to me, especially someone who I love and care about, it hurts. It means that I have done something to hurt them.
Trust is essential to everything we are and do. Our government can’t function without trust. We can’t have an economy without trust. Our social contract with one another will fray and come apart without trust. You can’t have a relationship with another person without trust. You can’t be a church without trust. It’s hard for me to be your pastor if I don’t have your trust.
It so happens that this morning’s scripture from Mark is about trust. The scripture is about Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptism. The problem with the passage is that most people understand that John was baptizing people for the purpose of washing away their sins. If that is the case, then why did Jesus, even being born human, go to be baptized when he was born without sin.
But what if there was a different reason why Jesus went to John to be baptized that wasn’t about washing away sins? A reason which reveals more of the character of God's love and grace? For the United Methodist, we believe that Baptism is not just about washing away. For us, Baptism is first and foremost about God reaching out to us to show us his love and grace. The water that is placed on people has a lasting indelible effect, like when Moses led the Israelites through the Red Sea. Passing through the water that God had divided left an indelible mark on the people of God and how they understood themselves and their purpose. And so, the water that is placed on us has an indelible effect on us. It shows to the world that God first and foremost loves us unconditionally and that our relationship with God is based on grace.
Something else happens when we are baptized. Through the symbol of water, God bestows upon us his trust. The trust that we will take the grace and love we have received and share it with others in concrete and practical ways with our neighbors. We call that living out our Baptism. And so, in our baptism God is telling us that I trust you and we intern respond by saying we trust God by sharing that trust that God has in us with others. To paraphrase John in his first letter. How can we trust God if we do not trust our neighbor?
But the truth is we don’t trust our neighbor as God would want for us. And because we don’t trust in our neighbor as God trusts in us, people suffer the consequences. This has been a difficult week. I don’t have to remind you of the spectacle we all witnessed this past Wednesday in Washington. If you don’t know what happened, a large mob of supporters of President Trump tried to interrupt the Congress from performing their duty of finalizing the count of the electoral college with the hope that the President would remain in power. Many gave the reason for doing so because the election which elected President-elect Biden was rigged and dishonest. The problem with that is the person who told them that it was rigged was President Trump, who is not just a serial liar but also perhaps the most untrustworthy person to hold that office. Helping him spread that lie and give it credence were his sycophants, among them our Senator Steve Dainis and our Congressman Matt Rosendale who believed the President and used the same excuse.
We need to be clear that the excuses, the reasons, the conspiracy theory that inflamed people to do what they did in Washington are false. They have been disproved and so rejected by the courts. There is no credible evidence of voter fraud enough to overturn this election to justify the overturning of the election. Add to what happened in Washington with President Trump conversation with the Secretary of State of Georgia trying to get him to change the election results in his favor.
You might be asking what does Jesus getting baptism have to do with what happened on Wednesday. The issue they share is Trust or the lack of it. The anthrepts of storming the capital and overturning the certified election results was part of an ongoing effort to undermine our trust in our government and in one another.
The overwhelming problem we have today in this country in our churches, in our health system, in our economic system and our social service, in every part of our lives and including our faith is trust. We are living as if we were never baptized and God placed his trust in us.
We have for the past forty years have been systematically and deliberately destroying trust in our institutions, our churches, in one another and in our democracy. We have repeatedly elected politicians whose purpose has been to destroy your trust in government and one another. And they have done all this for the sake of their own personal benefit and power. When there is no trust the result is chaos and the opportunity to gain power and wealth at the expense of human lives.
We are living in the midst of the worst Pandemic in a century. We will soon have 400 and 500 thousand people dead because of it. And you want to know something interesting that the richest billionaires and corporations during this time have gotten wealthier. Trust in this country is so badly damaged that experts say we are one election away from close to electing a dictator, someone with all the bad of Trump but who is smarter and more. To show you how bad our trust for one another is, we can’t even trust one another to wear a mask for their own safety and ours. We have vaccines out there who can help us fight this pandemic but people not willing to take it. The other day a pharmacist threw away thousands of doses illegally because he believed a conspiracy theory about vaccines having some sort of mind control over you. I heard that in many hospitals, medical staff are refusing to take the vaccine because they don’t trust it. Many are still working with sick patients.
People have systematically worked to destroy our trust in government to the point that we say that all politicians are like that. We don’t call out the ones who are screwing with the system for their own gain and benefit and what really angers me about this is that there are people who live dependent on it. How many people rely on Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid? How many working families rely on food stamps to feed their families or need help with their rent because they don’t make enough? How many people died from COVID-19, including a Congressman elect from Louisiana who left a wife and baby because they trusted a liar and the lies, he repeated over and over again. A cheat and a person who only cares about himself, who has done everything he can to discredit our public health system and professionals so that he could keep his great economy going and people would give him attention and stroke his ego. Over 70 million people voted for this man. 70 million people trust a man who doesn’t know what trust or responsibility or compassion or humility and I would even add love is.
I said it earlier. We cannot do much without trust. But I will go even further. We will not survive as a nation as a people without trust. The result now is that we are tearing ourselves up. We are only trusting in our own small exclusive groups.
But there is hope and as I stand here and preach to you, I see that hope in you who are watching this live stream and who are gathered in this church. I see that hope because you have been baptized with water and empowered with the holy spirit to stand up as Jesus did and to face those who would destroy trust.
After Jesus was baptized, he trusted God by going into the wilderness and faced the Devil. There he was confronted by three temptations. Those temptations were really choices about which God to follow. He one looked good and inviting on the outside. Biblical Scholar believe that despite his humanity, Jesus was able to overcome the temptations or choice because he was sinless. The presumption is that there is no way that we could be like Jesus in those circumstances.
I think Jesus was able to go and overcome temptation and the devil because he trusted in God, who trusted him to make the right choice. By not choosing those other God’s, Jesus chose the God who was present but unseen. The God of love who trusted Jesus to makes the right choice for us.
The irony of this morning is while through Baptism God bestow up us his trust, we don’t fully trust God and one another. It’s dangerous and we cannot long survive if we don’t do something about it.
So how to rebuild this trust? We do it by doing what God does and that we show and live out trust in our fellow man, and we are persistent about it and when someone is breaking trust for their own selfish reason, we challenge them. When they break trust with us, we, forgive them and trust again. We do what God does until people start to get the message that God loves them and God trusts them.
One of the reasons why I have let the homeless gather on our lawn is to start to show them trust. Trust is one of those things necessary for a person to have and feel if they are going to feel valued and have any sense of self-pride. I let them know that I trust that they will not drink. When they break that trust and drink, I tell them to leave. I tell them to leave not because they are drinking or that they are bad but because they broke trust with me and themselves. A few days later they come back and I give them a second chance. I give them what God gives me all the time. I give them what the world doesn’t think they deserve.
I hope that we are all disturbed by what happened this week in Washington and see it for what it was a malicious attempt to destroy trust in our government and in one another that had deadly consequences. I hope you begin to realize that this is something that has been building up to for a long time and that it has been done deliberately and maliciously. And I hope that all of you will begin to remember your baptism, not the one that say-so better be washed of your sin or suffer the consequences. The Baptism from God where God placed his mark of love on you and claimed you as his own and said I trust you. My hope is that we do so much better that we hardly hear those 4 hurtful words again. “I don’t trust you.”
In a few moments we are going to reaffirm the trust that God has for us through a renewal of our covenant or trust in God by saying together the Wesley’s Covenant Prayer. You see our relationship with God is not a contract. Unlike what may well mean Christians believe our relationship with God is not a contract. Meaning that if we don’t do certain things then God keeps, he loves us or even punishes us. Our relationship is different. It is a Covenant and Covenants are based on trust between two parties, in this case the trust God in us and the trust we have in God. And while we may not always live up to God’s trust the good news is that God never stops trusting us to do what is right and just and loving. Through faith in Christ, God gives us chances to rebuild trust, because the last thing God wants for us is someone telling us, “I don’t trust you.”