A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery
Holy Longing, Part III: Holy Trust
December 14, 2017
“Do to me whatever you want,” Mary replies to the angel that announces her pregnancy to her. (OK, that’s the Sheldon paraphrase; the text literally reads, “Let it be with me according to your word.” Luke 1:38) That story could be twisted into a justification of female sexual subjugation, but that is the last thing it signifies. Mary exudes power, not victimization. She exercises that power to embrace whatever God wills. Mary’s trust demonstrates command, not passivity. Command of her will. She trusts herself to God’s holy purpose because she has the strength to set aside her need to control her destiny.
Holy trust remains steadfast regardless of the vagaries of life’s circumstances. It hangs in there regardless of what may happen to us.
Ernie was one of the great saints I was privileged to serve as pastor. He affectionately called me “Parse,” short for “parson.” Time and again he preached his one sermon to me, saying, “You know, Parse, I’ve come to realize it’s all about ‘circumstances.’ No matter how much they change, and no matter how little we understand them, God uses them to work out his will in us.” He trusted that God was always at work, no matter how unanticipated or troubling our situation may be. And…he always carried a gun in his car. He was my only parishioner I ever knew to regularly "pack" (though never in church).
To be fair, Ernie worked a lot with dangerous ex-cons, extending a hand to them when few would dare to do so. Still, I struggled with his practice of carrying a gun everywhere. Why would such a gentle soul feel compelled to do that?
My point in sharing this story is neither to justify nor to condemn Ernie. I simply want to underscore that trust does not entail passivity or victimhood. Holy trust is an expression of strength, not weakness.
Mary trusted the word of the Lord enough to bear the ignominy of an out-of-wedlock pregnancy. After determining initially to send her away to have her baby, Joseph decided to stick with her regardless after hearing from the angel for himself. Talk about strength on both their parts!
Holy trust stands strong “whether we live or die.” (Romans 14:8) It is rooted in two steadfast convictions: 1. We belong to the Lord, not to ourselves. 2. The Lord to whom we belong is able and trustworthy to make all things work together for our good. (Romans 8:28)
Christians have been looking for their Lord’s return for two thousand years. Still the wait continues. How do we keep Advent hope alive after all this time? Was it ill-advised, after all? Why not abandon our trust in Christ’s promise in favor of things more visible, tangible, and verifiable?
Ambivalence leads trust to collapse when the object of our trust doesn’t pan out as we had hoped or imagined. Faith maintains trust even when everything seems to be going wrong.
Ultimately, trust is deeply and totally personal. Mary and Joseph trusted themselves into God’s hands, regardless of the hot water they were in, because they had a personal encounter with God’s angel.
Our capacity to maintain robust trust in our Lord’s promise to come just at the right time depends on maintaining personal spiritual connection with him. That connection is nurtured by prayer, holy reading, telling his stories and ours over and over, gathering with those who likewise stay close to him, and other spiritual disciplines. How we stay close to Jesus matters less than that we stay close to him. Personal connection is the foundation of holy trust.
Which spiritual practices nurture our own relationship to Jesus? This Advent season, let us stir them up afresh, and consider adding something new, such as journaling our faith story, letting go of things that obsess us, generous giving without expectation of return, contemplative appreciation of the beauty suffusing God’s creation, and so on. Such practices build trust in the One who alone is trustworthy, who has promised to come again to usher in new heavens and a new earth. Come, Lord Jesus, come!
Yours in seeking a holy longing,
The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, General Minister
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