A Different Way of Trusting

As I mentioned last year, Lent is my favourite season.  (See last year’s post for a brief explanation of the modern Lenten fast.)  The physical act of preparing oneself for the Resurrection (Easter) is an especially effective reminder of the physicality of the kingdom of God.  Over the past year I have experienced more fully the way that God is committed to expanding his kingdom in this world and in my own life.

There remains a tension as the Church uses Lent to prepare for Easter and to trust that God provides for his creatures.  In the midst of his Sermon on the Mount in St Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus states,

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?

In this passage we see what looks like a guarantee that God will provide for the needs of his creatures.  But in this world of famine and starvation, both by the ‘birds of the air’ and our fellow humans throughout the world (especially in developing countries), how can we believe such a guarantee?

From a broader perspective, in this portion of the Sermon on the Mount Christ is attempting to convince his disciples not to worry and to instead trust God.  While the entirety of the Sermon on the Mount is very elaborate, complex and disorienting, I believe its thematic thrust generally revolves around how the Church is to live in the kingdom of God.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer suggests in The Cost of Discipleship that in the end the “disciple of Jesus will be asked ‘Lacked ye anything?’, and he will answer ‘Nothing, Lord’.  How could he when he knows that despite hunger and nakedness, persecution and danger, the Lord is always by His side?”  While I believe Bonhoeffer has touched on a profound concept sewn into the very fabric of Christian discipleship, the more universal issue of unmet human need faces our discussion of this issue.  Among others, R. T. France argues that such philosophical questions regarding starvation are not the subject of the Sermon on the Mount and while I agree that discipleship is in fact the focal point of this sermon, I also believe that the issue of universal need can and must be addressed in the context of Christian discipleship.

Perhaps this is where we can to be in our thought process:

  1. Christ is not lying concerning the disciples’ necessary abstinence from anxieties concerning what we eat or what we wear.
  2. There is a real problem in this world – only a chapter earlier we read the Beatitudes, where Christ is explicitly acknowledging human suffering in his mention of the “poor in spirit”, “those who mourn” and “those who are persecuted”.  Even in Matthew 8, Jesus refers birds as having nests, “but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (20).
  3. Throughout his ministry Christ presents a real solution to the real problem.

What is this ‘real solution’?  While this is not the focal point of this particular section of Scripture, the Gospel of the kingdom of God necessitates a hope, an earnest expectation that God provides.  This beautiful hope causes us trouble because oftentimes the Church is sitting back, waiting for God to provide.  The fundamental issue is that the Church has forgotten who it is.  The Church does not realise the implications of being the Body and Bride of Christ.  Jesus has inaugurated the kingdom of God and established the Church in order to be used by the Holy Spirit to continually demonstrate the presence of the kingdom of God.  In this way, the Church is invited (and called) to be an active member in establishing and maintaining this kingdom.  In such a way, the Church has the responsibility to invite all people to the feast that is the kingdom of God.  We as the Church are called to meet these certain needs and in such a way we will be causing this world not to worry, but to trust in the abundant grace and provision of God.

As we enter into this Lenten season, let us be mindful of the ways in which the present kingdom gives us hope and drive for the values that bring redemption into this world.  Let us not only trust God to provide for our needs as the Church, but extend grace in an active way that gives us a trust that God is providing for his creation continually through the climactic event that is the death and Resurrection of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.  God has invited us to participate in his justice!

May we be encouraged during Lent to take time to reflect on the magnitude of the Gospel and in that the great provision of God for all of his creation.

Hanging as a vine upon the Wood,
O Christ our Saviour,
Thou hast made the ends of the earth
to drink from the wine of incorruption.
Therefore do I cry aloud:
I am darkened always by the hateful drunkenness of sin;
Give me to drink from the sweet wine of true compunction,
and grant me now the strength, O Saviour,
to fast from sensual pleasures,
for Thou art good and lovest mankind.

St. Joseph the Studite, Lenten Triodion

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About Elijah

My name is Elijah and I am a proud Angeleño-Glaswegian. I serve as Minister of Queen's Park Govanhill Parish Church. My other interests include life in active community, writing, performing and partaking of music, collecting vinyl records, hiking/outdoors, urban exploration, Celtic FC and the Detroit Tigers.

8 responses to “A Different Way of Trusting”

  1. Chelsea says :

    Soooo….if I give up walking the streets and hitting the bottle, where does that leave things?

  2. Dustin Robert says :

    Thanks for this, Elijah.
    I’m currently reading “The Cost of Discipleship”, & am definitely starting to get a new vision for what the Church ought to be, and do. Very encouraging.

    • Elijah says :

      Thanks for reading, Dustin. I find Bonhoeffer’s theology very revolutionary yet simple. Might I suggest to you his Letters & Papers from Prison – it’s less cohesive than The Cost of Discipleship because it is a collection, but it has some other profound thoughts that influenced a great deal of the theological conversation that followed.

  3. Andrew Faris says :

    Elijah,

    Mostly I really like this post, but I might have missed what your answer was to your own question about Jesus’ provision: are you saying that when Jesus commanded us to be free of anxiety and promised to meet our basic physical needs, he was anticipating that the Church would be who meets them?

    I’m quite open to this possibility, but I wasn’t totally sure if what you were saying was something about the Church’s role in spiritual need-meeting instead. Of course, you might say that we shouldn’t even draw that physical/spiritual distinction, but in this case it does seem to that in Mt. 6, Jesus is talking specifically about physical needs.

    Anyway, mind clarifying for the slower of us?

    Andrew

    • Elijah says :

      Andrew,

      You’re not ‘slower’, my friend, trust me. I apologise for my lack of clarity.

      I don’t believe that this particular SM pericope is the best source for addressing the issue, but I am speaking specifically about physical needs in this context. The Church should (and this is a big ‘should’) be such a redemptive presence in the world in both spiritual and physical need-meeting that if it were to disappear the entire planet would cry out, “Where have God’s servants gone!?” We are the salt of the earth, and we ought to give the earth some flavour, especially in such a prosperous era.

  4. Andrew Faris says :

    Eli,

    I thought that’s what you were saying, and I totally agree. I appreciate then the way that you have put this all together in this post. I’m reading some of Hellerman’s Chuch as Family stuff right now and it is really helpful on this point. His focus is more on the church taking care of its own, but we could put it together with your point in your comment back to me and the picture would be just lovely, wouldn’t you say?

    • Elijah says :

      Oh, I most definitely think the first step is for the Church to live like a family. Those outside of the Church should be intrigued by the way the Church lives, not simply based upon self-righteous morality (which often manifests itself in the Evangelical fear of ‘the world’) but in the effective care for our brothers and sisters in Christ. St James puts it well,

      Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

      The Church should be active in both trusting God in his gracious blessings and in using our resources to extend that grace in both visible and invisible ways.

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