Sunday, May 27, 2018
Growing Your Garden Sermon Series
Scripture: Mark 10:42-45 & Ephesians 4:11-16
Rev. Troy Hauser Brydon

Trust these days, it seems, is quite low. A poll taken in January reflected the massive and growing distrust of institutions among Americans. While I am not surprised in the least with the results of this poll, I do have to say they are troubling. The poll asked this question, “Do you have a great deal of confidence, quite a lot, not very much confidence, or no confidence at all in ______?” The Supreme Court fared reasonably well with 59% of respondents expressing confidence in that institution, but if that shifts much at all, the highest court in our land will not have the confidence of over half of Americans! Confidence in the presidency was down to 43%, with 26% expressing no confidence in it. Both major political parties did even worse, with the Democratic Party coming in at 36% confidence, and the Republicans at 29%. It will come as no shock to you, but Congress has the confidence of only one-quarter of Americans.

When you lose trust in your institutions – whether government, banks, businesses, or media – society as a whole is going to suffer. Trust is hard to regain! Interestingly, there is one institution that has improved its standing in American society – the military. In 1977, 57% of Americans had confidence in the military, largely due to Vietnam, but today that number is up to 87%.[1] That’s some good news on this Memorial Day, I think!

In this era where we have suffered a substantial financial collapse around a decade ago, where politicians fail to work across the aisle, where we have access to information that presents things only from the perspective we already have, it is going to be very difficult to rebuild trust in our institutions. I do pray we will eventually do better. I have a deep faith in the way we have structured our society, but Lord knows that we need a good dose of goodwill in our world today.

Organized religion is suffering a similar lack of confidence. In 1973, 65% trusted it, declining to 52% in 2006, and dropping sharply to 41% just one decade later.[2] There’s been a lot of bad church news of late, and even those of us who have stuck with the church through it all might be wondering if the church actually makes any difference. Corruption is everywhere, and the ravages of sin are even borne on the body of Christ.

We live together in trust. It’s the only way our society can function. It’s the only way we can grow and move forward as a church.

Author and pastor Frederick Buechner always has such an interesting perspective on things we take for granted, and his writing on money is no exception. Our financial system is based upon trust, and here’s Buechner’s take on money itself.

“Money. The more you think about it, the less you understand it.

“The paper it’s printed on isn’t worth a red cent. There was a time you could take it to the bank and get gold or silver for it, but all you’d get now would be a blank stare.

“If the government declared that the leaves of the trees were money so there would be enough for everybody, money would be worthless. It has worth only if there is not enough for everybody. It has worth only because the government declares that it has worth and because people trust the government in that one particular although in every other particular they wouldn’t trust it around the corner.

“The value of money, like stocks and bonds, goes up and down for reasons not even the experts can explain and at moments nobody can predict, so you can be a millionaire one moment and a pauper the next without lifting a finger. Great fortunes can be made and lost completely on paper.

“There are people who use up their entire lives making money so they can enjoy the lives they have entirely used up.

“Jesus says that it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God. Maybe the reason is not that the rich are so wicked they’re kept out of the place but that they’re so out of touch with reality they can’t see it’s a place worth getting into.”[3]

Even in Buechner’s telling, trust is at the heart. If the rich man trusted Jesus more than himself, then he gladly would have given it away for the opportunity for what was better.

Over the first couple of weeks of this series, I have enjoyed talking the details of money, stewardship, and generosity. There’s so much to say, and I really view what we are doing right now as transformational for us individually and as a church. But I also feel like much of what we were doing was sharing with you what you should be doing. And, of course, that’s a part of my work as your pastor, but today, I want to turn things around and talk about what your church should be doing to maintain and grow trust from its members and friends.

To return to our garden metaphor, our gardens need the right environmental conditions to grow. If you plant a palm tree in your yard here, it’s not going to make it because the conditions are not right for it to grow. Trust is like the right amount of sunlight needful for getting your garden to grow. If you don’t have trust, it would be like putting your tomato plants in the garage, where they never see the light of day. Eventually, the plants will never do what they are supposed to do because they were not fed the light. For us, trust is a part of that light. Trust is vital for our growth and fruitfulness.

So, trust is something that is simultaneously given and earned. If I give my trust to a bank, but they lose my money, then the trust goes away right? If I give my money to a bank and they handle it well, but I never trust that they are actually doing their job with it because I can’t see stacks of dollar bills and change, then we never had trust in the first place.

All of our relationships involve trust. If you’ve ever been in a long-term relationship with someone, you know exactly what I’m talking about. After you get through being twitterpated with that person, you give your trust to them that they won’t hurt you. If they ever do, you wonder if you can continue to trust them ever again.

Our relationship to the church functions much the same way. We give our trust to the leadership of the church, and that leadership simultaneously has to earn our trust. Makes sense, right? How does the church earn our trust? Trust is rooted in our past experiences with the church. Many of us are here today because we generally trust that what we are doing together is worthwhile. This is a church that had a period of distrust that I believe we are emerging from, but that still affects us today. Our congregational giving dropped almost $250,000 because trust was broken, members left, and others reduced or stopped giving. Why would they do this? Because they lost trust in the church. The good news is that trust is coming back. Our giving is on the rise – noticeably – but we are still rebuilding from those leaner years.

So, trust is rooted in past experience, but it is also growing towards a vision that we can catch on to. We want to know where we are going and why. Having a trustworthy vision is vital for maintaining and building trust. (As a side note, I think this is part of the reason Americans have such little confidence in their governmental leaders. There is no agreement over the vision, and so there is only political football and fighting.) Vision is an area the leadership of this church is working on. We had some healing work to do prior to my arrival. We had some getting-to-know-each-other work to do in our first year together. Now we have some work to do in setting the course for the coming years. It’s part of the reason we haven’t made a decision on what to do with the white house on the corner of our property. We are still working on our vision for what God wants with us in the coming years.

I think Mirosalv Volf puts this so well, “The rich self has a distinct attitude toward the past, the present and the future. It surveys the past with gratitude…. It lives in the present with contentment….It looks toward the future with trust.”

So, as the leadership of your church, what can you expect from us? As you give your trust to the church and as we daily earn it, first I hope you’ll see a drive towards honesty, transparency, and integrity. We care deeply about what we are doing and even more about Jesus for whom we’re doing it. You may not agree with everything we are trying to do, and that’s OK. But I hope you find yourself trusting in the vision and wisdom of your leaders. Second, I also hope that you expect us to live boldly into what God has given us to do. As we seek the vision for this next chapter of ministry, we’re going to need space to let go of things that may have been significant in the past but are not essential to who we are today. We are going to have to experiment with new things – some of which may fail! We are going to ask for your input through your creativity, talents, time, and, yes, money.

Third, I hope you know that your leaders have vowed to pray for you and love you. I hope you’re regularly returning the favor! Even if there are disagreements, we need to love each other enough to speak the truth and to keep walking with each other.

Our passage from Ephesians gives us such a vivid picture of what a trusting relationship could look like in the church. It acknowledges that there are different roles to play within the church – some are gifted to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some teachers. Why? Because these giftings build up the body of Christ. Since we’re all part of this body together, let’s be a healthy body that exists in this place where trust is continually given and earned!

I love how Paul finishes this passage off. “Speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love” (Eph 4:15-16).

A healthy body is going to operate in coordination with itself. Distrust is like cancer, a part of the body fighting against itself. But when we see a body working fully in unison – like a Steph Curry three pointer or Usain Bolt sprinting with blazing speed – man, that’s beautiful!

Institutions are nourished by trust. The church is no different. I hope that you trust your church. Even more so, I hope you trust the work the Holy Spirit is doing among us. When we operate out of this place of trust, we will be a force for amazing good in this community and wherever God sends us.

[1] https://www.npr.org/2018/01/17/578422668/heres-just-how-little-confidence-americans-have-in-political-institutions

[2] https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/americans-dont-trust-their-institutions-anymore/

[3] Buechner, Frederick. Whistling in the Dark, p. 88.