Test or Trust?
Life is a tug of war between testing and trust. When you are in the wilderness, will you test or will you trust?
And in whom will you place your trust?
There are times in life that call for testing. And there are times in life that call for trust. Both are part of who we are as humans.
As infants, we learn to trust. We have no choice really. Young children depend on their caregivers for the essentials of life. Trust is needed, trust comes naturally, and the bonds that form because of that trust are truly beautiful.
But teenagers, as most parents discover, have a need to test. To push the boundaries a little. To try things out, to develop their own sense of identity and the independence that goes with it, to figure out whom they can really trust.
Young lovers both test and trust. They need to discover things about each other. How long will she take to return my text? Will he remember my birthday? Lots of testing going on here, but sooner or later they will have to commit to trusting one another if they want their relationship to endure.
In the news this week we heard that Russia has suspended its nuclear arms treaty with the United States. A breakdown of trust, no question about it, with potentially devastating consequences. I was reminded that back in the 1980s when negotiations for nuclear arms control were being initiated, Ronald Reagan adopted a Russian proverb as his motto for the negotiations: “Doveryay, no proveryay”. Trust, but verify.
Life is a tug of war between testing and trust. Which matters, because the most important thing in life is relationship, and the basis of relationship is trust.
Our Old Testament reading from the Book of Genesis is about a breakdown of trust which leads to a breakdown in relationship.
God has created the adam, the earth-creature, in God’s own image, and provided the human with everything that is needed, a home in a beautiful garden, meaningful work to do and fruit from the many trees to eat. God also sees that it is not good for the adam to be alone and so a partner is created and there are two humans, the man and the woman. It is good, very good – and God says, “just one thing: Don’t eat the fruit of this one tree, or you will die. Can you trust me on that?”
God doesn’t give the human a lot of detail. God doesn’t explain why they shouldn’t eat from the one tree, or explain exactly what he means by ‘you will die’ - is that immediate or something that will happen later, is it meant literally or metaphorically? God just says don’t eat this fruit, and the humans will have to trust that God really does love them and want the best for them.
Well, we know how that turns out. The serpent sows the seed of doubt, and the man and woman take things into their own hands and eat the fruit. Trust breaks down, and that leads to a breakdown in relationship. The man and woman, who moments ago were intimate partners, naked and not ashamed, all of a sudden their eyes are opened, and they are ashamed of their nakedness and clothe themselves. Guilt and shame have entered human existence. The humans experience separation in their relationship, and in their relationship with God. Once they walked with God in the garden. Now they hide themselves from God’s presence.
When trust breaks down, so do relationships.
When trust with God breaks down, it makes it hard to live into our identity as children of God. Is that really who we are?
Every year at this time we read the account of Jesus’ testing in the wilderness. In order to understand this passage we have to remember that Jesus has just been baptized by John in the Jordan River. And that just as Jesus “came up from the water, he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’
Then, without a moment’s notice, the Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness to be tested by the Adversary. The Tempter waits forty days, waits until Jesus is weakened and famished. And then the first words out of the Tempter’s mouth are these:
“If you are the Son of God …”
The seed of doubt has been planted. Was that voice from heaven at my baptism really God talking? Were these forty days in the wilderness really necessary? Am I really the Son of God?
When you are faced with doubt, do you test or do you trust? Each one of us at our baptism was told that we are a child of God, that God loves us and wants the best for us, that we belong and are worthy of love. Can we trust God on that? Can we live into that identity?
It’s easy for trust to breakdown. The tempter is sneaky, the temptations are insidious.
“If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Where’s the harm in that? You’re hungry, so eat. You have power, so use it. You don’t need God to provide you with bread, just do it yourself.
When you’re up against it, weak and hungry, will you take things into your own hands, will you trust in your own strength and power, or will you continue to trust in God?
The second temptation puts the trust vs test choice even more starkly: “If you are the Son of God” – there it is again, are you really sure that’s who you are? – “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down,” for God has promised to protect you. Sure, you’re the Son of God, but why not check it out, God has promised to bear you up, what’s wrong, you don’t trust God’s promises? Go ahead and show me that you trust God.” Sneaky, isn’t it?
But Jesus says, “Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”
So the devil changes tact. OK, you are God’s Son. You’re here to change the world aren’t you. To bring healing and mercy, to bring good news to the poor, to end oppression? I can help you with that. You’re going to need influence. You’re going to need power. You’re going to have to bring about God’s kingdom. I’ll help you, I’ll give you everything you need to be a success. “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”
We all want to change the world, to make it a better place. We like to have influence, we have our goals, our hopes and dreams. What deals will you make along the way? What corners are you going to cut to get there? Do the ends justify the means? What are you willing to compromise? Who or what will you serve? Whom will you trust?
“Away with you Satan! For it is written, “Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.”
At his baptism, Jesus was affirmed in his identity as the Son of God. In the wilderness, Jesus leans into that identity, an identity grounded in relationship, a relationship grounded in trust. The devil tries to break down that trust, because he knows that when trust breaks down, so does relationship.
And as much is that is true for Jesus, it is also true for us. It is easy for our trust in God to break down.
When we’re up against it, when we are in the wilderness, it’s tempting to forget about God and to take matters into our own hands. When we experience doubt, we long for certainty, and wouldn’t it be great to find a way to test our faith. Even though we may want to trust in God, sometimes it feels more practical to trust in other things. The temptations are real.
But we are children of God. That’s who we are. Can you trust that that’s who you are? And can you trust that God is good, that God loves us and wants the best for us, even in the midst of doubt?
This is where Lent begins. In the wilderness, we learn to trust. We trust in God.
Homily: Yr A Lent 1, Feb 26 2023, Trinity
Readings: Genesis 2.15-17, 3.1-7; Ps 32; Romans 5.12-17; Matthew 4.1-11