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Sun, Oct 28, 2018

Taste and See

Duration:16 mins 51 secs

Taste and See

Sermon on Psalm 34

            Next Sunday we will observe All Saints’ Day, the day the church celebrates what we call the “communion of saints,” that company of redeemed people from every time and place who have lived faithful lives. Most of the time, it is the saints in heaven we have in mind, the great “cloud of witnesses” who are now “resting from their labors” and looking down on our earthly struggles and triumphs and sorrows.

          That’s not the way the Bible uses the term “saints,” or “holy ones,” though. In the Bible the saints are simply the sometimes faithful, sometimes unfaithful people of God. Paul addressed the people of his churches as “saints” even when he was chewing them out for unchristian behavior. So the Bible’s “holy ones” are not plaster saints who occupy some ethereal realm and are too pure and holy for us. They are simply people who try to live as close to God as possible – which is how they become “holy.”

          The “holy ones” of Psalm 34 are down-to-earth, regular people who have learned from experience that God is someone who can be loved and trusted. So the psalmist, the speaker for these holy ones, wants to issue an invitation: “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” In other words, “why don’t you try out the life of faith for a while? See what it’s like.” (Have a taste.)

          The psalmist is not saying, try out my religion. He’s saying, try out living with God at the center. Put God first. Trust in God. See what it’s like.  “Happy are those who take refuge in God” – they are the holy ones.

          The psalm does not say that the lives of these holy ones are free from hardship. Even while saying that God “protects the righteous,” the psalm makes it clear that such people are not immune to the troubles and afflictions that plague the rest of humanity – in fact, they may have more trouble than the average person. The difference is that faithful people trust in God to sustain them through hardship and adversity. The psalmist says that God “delivers [him] from all [his] fears” – he doesn’t say that there are not still fearsome things in the world. The fearsomeness of the world can be faced, though, when you know that a trustworthy God is there to guide the way.

          Trust is something that seems to be in increasingly short supply. With mid-term elections coming up, we’re reminded once again of how easy it is for candidates to make campaign promises and how hard it is for them to keep them once they’re in office. We know what happens when campaign promises meet the reality of the legislative process, or powerful lobbies, or an unforeseen crisis. A majority of Americans now say they don’t trust either political party to do much of anything to actually help people. They certainly don’t trust the parties to heal the deep divisions that have opened up so painfully in American society.  

          In fact, there has been a growing distrust of public institutions in general, documented in books like George Packer’s “The Unwinding.” Packer has described what he sees as the widespread failure of the national, civic and community institutions that used to be the foundation of the American middle class. With the collapse of so many of these institutions, ordinary people who trusted in the system not to fail them as long as they did their part – saving their money, raising their children responsibly, and preparing for the future  -- have found themselves having to rethink their entire lives…and many have come to the conclusion that they can’t rely on anyone but themselves. The rise of movements like the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street, as different as they are in their beliefs and objectives, point to a deep and pervading loss of trust in our public institutions.

          What is even more sobering is increasing evidence that people don’t even trust other individuals as much as they used to. An Associated Press poll taken about three years ago found that only one third of Americans said “most people can be trusted”; forty years earlier, at least half of Americans said that most people were trustworthy. Americans increasingly have a survivalist mentality, a belief that I have to do whatever I can to take care of myself and get what is mine, because I can’t trust anyone else.

          I don’t need to tell you that that is a bleak and depressing way to live. It is also a false way to live. There is something deep in our nature that wants to trust, that seeks out someone who will be worthy of our trust. We know that though we are given no guarantees about the future, still we can find security and deep happiness in relationships with people we trust. We’ve seen people who have lost everything they own in fires or floods or hurricanes who are still able to face the future with hopefulness because they have loved ones and neighbors they can cling to, people they can trust to be there with them. Many of these strong people also have an abiding faith that God will not forsake them. There have been so many natural disasters in the last few years that they’ve started to blur in our memories, but we do remember the stories of families who had lost everything they owned, but were still able to say, “We feel blessed – blessed that we have each other. We have faith in God, and we know God will get us through this.”

          We don’t always remember this. Hard or uncertain times make us want to hunker down, tend our own fires and stock our own cellars. Ever since the financial crisis that ushered in the Great Recession ten years ago, government agencies and faith groups that feed and house the poor have struggled to keep up with the demand for their services. Not only has the demand increased in recent years, as some families have never recovered from the financial blows of the recession, but middle-class people who have seen their own savings eroded are giving less material support to assistance programs than they used to. I frequently get calls from people who can’t pay the rent or buy groceries for their families – they’ve already gotten all the help SERVE can give them, but it’s not enough.

          Our communities need the church more than ever now – not only for the good we can do in helping to provide assistance to the most threatened members of the human family, but also because of the witness we can provide. In a discouraged, distrustful world, we can provide the counter-example of a community that puts its ultimate trust in God.

          There is an amazing church in New York City that, ten or so years ago, was about to close its doors because it had lost so many members, but decided to open a soup kitchen instead. Now the church serves 1200 meals a day, five days a week. The congregation is still fairly small, but they keep the soup kitchen going through donations, volunteers from the community, and trust in the providence of God. They took a risk, stepped out in faith, and God did not let them down. Today the Church of the Holy Apostles is a visible witness to the love of Christ in midtown Manhattan, all because they decided to stop worrying about their own security and to do something big and important for God and for the world.

          You all are at a time in the life of this congregation in which you have both great hopes and a certain amount of anxiety about the future. I know some of you are worried about the future health of the church, and you may be thinking in terms of pure maintenance-level programs and expenditures. But God may well have plans for this church that you have still to discover. By engaging in the congregational small groups that met last spring, you began to articulate your own dreams for MPC, and you will soon elect a Pastor Nominating Committee to call a new pastor to lead you and walk with you into the future. This is exactly the time to look at how God may be calling this church to step out in trust right now – to look at your considerable resources of human talent, facilities and grounds, and your long history of service, and see new possibilities for mission.

          The world still needs the church. The Manassas community needs this church. You need this church. Christ needs this church. We have an opportunity to show our faith in the future of this church and our trust in God when we offer our pledges today and next week for the future mission and ministry of Manassas Presbyterian Church.

          So “taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in God.” They are the holy ones, and we are called to be part of their company.

Lisa Kenkeremath

Manassas Presbyterian Church

October 28, 2018

             

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