Summary: Where do we place our ultimate trust? In mortals or in God?
Sermon for 6 Epiphany Yr C, 15/02/2004
Based on Jer 17:5-10
By Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson,
Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &
Chaplain of the Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
“The Way of Faith”
One devout Protestant had parked his car near the railroad station and was running as fast as he could to make a five o’clock train. Suddenly he saw his pastor strolling along.
Out of breath from running, the traveler said a good-day to his pastor, and apologized for speeding by as he had to make the five o’clock train.
“Why, so do I,” remarked the pastor. “But we’ve plenty of time, plenty of time.” He pointed to his watch. “See? We have twenty minutes.”
The runner sighed in relief and walked more slowly alongside his pastor. But when the pair arrived at the station, they found that their train had already left.
The pastor was apologetic. “I had the greatest faith in that watch,” he explained.
“I know,” said the parishioner, “but what use is faith without works?” 1
What good is faith without works? Today, in our first lesson we also see an inseparable connection between faith and works. The prophet Jeremiah in this oracle foreshadows what Jesus teaches today in our gospel. Life is viewed here as divided up into two “either-or” ways—being cursed or being blessed; placing one’s faith in mortals or placing one’s faith in the LORD; living life like a dried out, withered shrub in a desert salt land or living life like a stately, fertile tree, deeply rooted and planted by water. Our faith, says Jeremiah, essentially involves us trusting in the LORD with our whole life and then responding out of that trust by doing deeds that bear fruit—that are life-giving.
It seems that in our day and age we place a lot of trust in mortals. This is evident when we take a look at what we value most in life. For a lot a folks, what is valued most is a lifestyle filled to the brim with: the marvels of science and technology, the glamour of Hollywood, and the fad of the week of pop-culture. Yet, we know that none of this really satisfies or lasts forever—but so many people still place their ultimate trust in these things. The character, Howard Roark, in Ayn Rand’s book, The Fountainhead is typical of how people place their ultimate trust in mortals.
Howard Roark, built a temple to the human spirit. He saw (the hu)man as strong, clean, wise, and fearless. He saw (the hu)man as a heroic being. And he built a temple to that. A temple is a place where (the hu)man is to experience exaltation. He thought that exaltation comes from the consciousness of being guiltless, of seeing the truth and achieving it, of living up to one’s highest possibility, of knowing no shame and having no cause for shame, of being able to stand naked in full sunlight. …That is what Howard Roark thought of (the hu)man and of exaltation. 2
We mortals, in all of our history and in all of our progress still have not been able to build the perfect utopian society for everyone. The trust in all of our accomplishments is ultimately a naïve and misplaced one. We need to place our ultimate trust in God and out of that trust we shall be able to do deeds that shall bear fruit and last. Such trust in the LORD and such response to the LORD by acting out of our trust DOES MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN THE CHURCH AND IN THE WORLD.
When Anna was starting to play the French horn she couldn’t tell which note was which, she needed to depend upon a steady and true note. A piano would have been the thing, but since we don’t have a piano at home, Julianna played the scales on her clarinet with Anna.
Even while she didn’t always hit the note right on, Anna relied upon the note from the clarinet being what it should be. So even if her note was a bit off, or wobbly-sounding she could depend upon the steadiness of the note from the clarinet. So it is with us, when we’re a bit off or wobbling with various things—we can depend upon the love and steadiness of Christ to support us and help us to find the right note again. By placing our ultimate trust in the LORD who is the most trustworthy One of all, we shall be able to act out of that trust and produce good fruit—just like the stately, fertile tree which has deep roots and produces much fruit when it is planted by the water.
We know that the truth of what Jeremiah is teaching us today is based in real life by observing both our own life experiences and the natural world. In this part of the Canadian prairies, we can see with our own eyes, the difference between a shrub that is withering and dying in a dry, salty land and a stately, fertile tree, planted beside flowing water. The tree is healthy and producing fruit because it has a mature and solid root system that not only feeds the tree with what it needs to remain healthy and thrive, but also the deep, mature root system provides a solid foundation for the tree so that it is not uprooted or destroyed by high wind storms.