Part of putting together a bulletin for Sunday morning is finding an image for the cover. This past week I googled “trust in God” to see what images came up, and what came up were dozens of “inspirational” posters and plaques filled with clichés and platitudes that reminded me of something Anne Lamott wrote in a Facebook post not long ago. She said, “There is no one left in my circle who would dare say, brightly, ‘Let go and let God,’ because they know I would come after them with a fork.”
We’ve all heard those vaguely biblical-sounding clichés. “When God closes a door, God opens a window,” or, “Everything happens for a reason.” Neither of these is in the Bible. And then there’s, “God will never give you more than you can handle.” It isn’t in the Bible, and unfortunately, it isn’t true. One I poster I found was brief and to the point: “Everything’s gonna be all right. Just trust God.” Maybe some of you take great comfort in these platitudes and that’s OK but I will warn you now, that I, like Anne Lamott, do not.
But then again, I suppose it depends on what you mean by “Everything’s gonna be all right.”
What does it mean to trust God? It’s printed on our money, for crying out loud: “In God we trust.” But what does it mean? What does trust mean – is it the same as faith, or hope, or believing, or something else? If we trust God, what do we trust God to do? Or to be? And what difference does it make if we do trust God? What difference does it make in our lives, the lives of those we love and in the life of the world?
And perhaps most confounding, if it turns out that trusting God is a good thing, then how do we do that? How do we come to trust God? How do we grow in our trust in God?
These are big questions. And first of all I want to say that a 15-minute sermon can only start a conversation. But we have to start somewhere, because these are central, foundational, life-giving and life-altering questions for those of us who strive to be disciples of Jesus. They are questions without easy answers, and faithful people disagree about the answers. They are questions that are worked out, worked through, asked and re-asked and answered and re-answered over the entire lifetime of faith.
Both of our passages this morning deal with trusting in God. In Psalm 62, apparently the writer has been falsely accused. Some scholars think perhaps this psalm was a type of psalm used specifically in a temple ritual in which someone who believes he’s been falsely accused seeks acquittal. One way or another, the writer has enemies – people who have hurt him.
And yet he speaks with confidence of his trust in God. In the powerful movie, “Selma,” still in theaters, we get some insight into just what this can look like, this trust in God in the face of accusations, threats, attacks and loss. The movie is a chronicle of Martin Luther King’s campaign to secure equal voting rights with an epic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965. If you haven’t yet seen the movie, I’ll warn you that if you, like me, are sensitive to scenes of brutality, you may want to wait until it comes out on DVD so you can fast forward through four or five scenes. But one of the very important and powerful aspects of the movie and the reason I recommend it anyway is that while people sometimes overlook King’s deep faith and the faith of his followers as a catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement, the movie does not. King quotes scripture. He rallies supporters from the church sanctuary. In scene after scene, we see his faith motivate him and his trust in God sustain him.
In “Selma,” King faces grave danger, and the people who follow him get hurt and even killed. Does God ever intervene in such a situation? I cannot say. But here is the first thing we can say about trust: Trusting God is not a formula or an equation that works like this: If I trust God, or if I trust God enough, I’ll stay out of harm’s way. That kind of thinking is magical thinking; it pretends we can manage God or control people and forces we can’t control. So when we say we “trust God,” we must mean we trust God to do something other than keep us safe from all harm.
We’re given a clue about what that might be in a scene where Dr. King is outside the morgue at a hospital in Selma. He approaches a man whose grandson was killed by an Alabama state trooper in a melee that followed a nighttime voting rights demonstration. The grandfather says his grandson was a good man. Why did this happen? Dr. King says he doesn’t know. And then he says, “I am certain of one thing; God was the first to cry. … God was the first to cry for your boy.”
Now, I know people who will say they want nothing to do with a deity that doesn’t miraculously stop tragedy but this is not a sermon about why that wouldn’t really work for humankind or why bad things happen to good people. The trust that King has and that scripture describes is trust that God cares, that God is present, that God is all in with all of us, that God loves us regardless of what we face, and God intends good for us. As Brennan Manning puts it, that God, by definition, is thinking of me. This is the trust expressed in chapter 8 of Paul’s letter to the Romans, which we read so often at memorial services but which applies equally to the living:
“35Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … 37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
This kind of trust creates the a quietness of soul that the psalmist describes, an inner stillness that comes from turning over fears and anxieties to God, not because God will magically whisk away trouble but because our ultimate hope is that God wants for us what we want for us: for all to be safe, for all to live in peace and justice, for all to be truly alive. The way we describe this hope is with Jesus’ phrase, “the kingdom of God.” The kingdom of God is the now and the not yet in which God fulfills all God’s promises, and invites us to participate. Jesus announces the kingdom of God in the Mark passage, and it is an invitation to turn away from the things we have come to trust that are not trustworthy, that do not last, that will control you rather than giving you life and freedom – the same things the psalmist warns against: money, corruption, power over people.
What difference does it make if we trust God, if we trust God’s intentions for us, God’s kingdom? Besides the quietness of soul, it makes us more resilient: when we get knocked down, we get back up again. Social science research supports this. The research shows that without exception, one factor emerged as a component of resilience, and that factor is what we might call “spirituality” – the belief in connection, in a power greater than self, and in interconnections grounded in love and compassion. Most people in these studies spoke of God, but not everyone. Either way, people who trust God are more resilient. “God alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall never be shaken,” writes the psalmist.
I’ll borrow Dr. King’s own words on this topic from a sermon he preached in 1959:
“Our capacity to deal creatively with shattered dreams is ultimately determined by our faith in God. Genuine faith imbues us with the conviction that beyond time is a divine Spirit and beyond life is Life. However dismal and catastrophic may be the present circumstance, we know we are not alone, for God dwells with us in life’s most confining and oppressive cells. And even if we die there without having received the earthly promise, [God] shall lead us down that mysterious road called death and at last to that indescribable city [God] has prepared for us. [God’s] creative power is not exhausted by this earthly life, nor is [God’s] majestic love locked within the limited walls of time and space. … The Christian faith makes it possible for us nobly to accept that which cannot be changed, to meet disappointments and sorrows with an inner poise, and to absorb the most intense pain without abandoning a sense of hope, for we know, as Paul testifies, in life or in death, in Spain or in Rome, ‘that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are called to his purpose.’”
This is a power, my friends. It is the power to see it through that we see in the movie “Selma” and that we witnessed in Martin Luther King’s life. This isn’t a power available only to saints, the exceptionally brave and talented, or the super-religious. Feeling drained and discouraged one night, King calls and wakes up gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, telling her he needs to hear the voice of the Lord. She sings to him over the phone; she sings “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” the hymn we sang last Sunday. Doubt and discouragement are part of any honest faith and what King did was reach out to reconnect to God – through music and through his community of support, both of which are familiar to us here. One of the best aspects of the movie is the way it shows that as great as King was, the civil rights movement was a team effort.
There is another way the movie “Selma” shows trust in God. After the first attempt to march from Selma to Montgomery ends in a brutal attack by state troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, King leads a second attempt. The marchers reach the bridge and the troopers are there, again, clubs in hand. King kneels to pray. He turns to God for guidance. He trusts God for guidance. The crowd kneels with him. He decides to turn back. His friends are disappointed but he decides he’d rather take their anger than send more people into a repeat of the earlier attempt.
You might be wondering: How do I get this trust in God? Where do I begin? The Mark passage, an almost rushed version of Jesus’ calling his first disciples, points us to a starting place. After announcing the kingdom of God, Jesus invites Simon and Andrew, James and John, to join him, and they follow. It sounds sudden but we don’t know, we just don’t know whether they’d heard Jesus speak before or even already knew him well. We do know they responded to a call that was unclear, undefined and maybe even frightening. We know they weren’t offered security in any traditional sense; that if they’d thought about it long enough, they probably could have anticipated danger. We know that there was no way those four men could fully understand what they were getting into. Nevertheless, they follow him.
Just like trust in any other relationship, trust in God grows the more time you spend with God. But just as with any other relationship, it starts with that first vulnerable step. The first “Yes” to God, as your bulletin covers put it. That first yes might feel like a gift or it might feel like a direct response to an experience of God but there is no way any one of us can fully understand what we’re getting into when we take that first step. Whatever we get into, we move toward the trust that, indeed, “Everything’s gonna be all right.”
“[F]or we know, as Paul testifies, in life or in death, in Spain or in Rome, ‘that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are called to [God’s] purpose.’” Maybe not tomorrow, my friends, or next year, or in our lifetime, or even in a way that the rest of the world understands it. But brothers and sisters, believe the good news: the kingdom of God is here and we are called to work in it and for it and toward it, and everything’s gonna be all right.
May it be so for you, and for me. Amen.
© Joanne Whitt 2015 all rights reserved.
 Fred B. Craddock, John H. Hayes, Carl R. Holladay and Gene M. Tucker, Preaching Through the Christian Year: Year B (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 1993), p. 84.
 “Selma,” (2014), directed by Ava DuVernay; written by Paul Webb.
 Romans 8:35, 37-39.
 Brian McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking (New York: Jericho Books, 2014), p. 141.
 Psalm 62:2.
 Martin Luther King, Jr., “Shattered Dreams,” in The Strength to Love (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2010), pp. 96-97.
 The quotation on the bulletin cover is, “I don’t know Who – or what – put the question, I don’t know when it was put. I don’t even remember answering. But at some moment I did answer Yes to Someone – or Something – and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal.” Dag Hammarskjöld, Markings, translated from the Swedish by Leif Sjöberg & W. H. Auden (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1965), p. 205.
 King, ibid.