Being Stewards of One of God's Gifts ... Trust

          I am on the threshold of my 20th year of serving among the people of the Allegheny Synod.  Yet one of the more perplexing elements of this ministry has been the elusiveness of trust … between you and me.  Sadly, and more frequently than I desire, I find people who have called me to this office do not trust me.  Some persons say, it is not me they do not trust, it is the office.  Other persons contend that their distrust of me has its roots in my being a white, male, power- broker.  I am guessing some others do not trust me because of something I did or did not do at some point in this twenty-year ministry.

            So though I have invested myself and the staff of this office in being attentive to the joys, the hurts, the excitement, the pain, the tensions, and the challenges in the lives of congregations and rostered leaders; new engagements with a congregation or rostered leader, more often than I like, are initially defined by the statement “we are not sure we can trust you”.  Which sometimes results in my not being sure I can trust you.

            My partners in the Office of the Bishop -- Lynn, Tim, and Michelle -- tire of me quoting Patrick Lencioni, an organizational guru, but his words ring true.  “…No quality or characteristic is more important than trust. … Unfortunately, there is probably no quality or characteristic that is as rare as trust, either.”  Of course, we early twenty-first century human beings are not the sole generation of humanity with trust issues.  The history of humankind is loaded with moments when one person did not trust another or when one community or nation doubted the faithfulness of the other.

            As the people of God one might conclude that our ‘track-record’ with trust would be better than the rest of the population … not so!  Just to jog your Biblical memory … recall the people of Israel in the wilderness murmuring and grumbling, anxiously wondering whether Yahweh, their God, would provide food and drink for them after freeing them from slavery in Egypt?  What about Jacob and his father-in-law Laban whose distrust ran so deep that they established a covenant with one another?  It was a treaty marked visibly by a heap of stones and a worded agreement, “The Lord watch between you and me, when we are absent one from the other. … [and] though no one else is with us, remember that God is witness between you and me”.  And remember Peter, the bold one, instructed by Jesus to set sail so that they might catch fish and Peter responds (this is my rather loose translation), “We have been there, done that Jesus … without success … but hey if you want to try, we will set sail, but most likely it will be a waste of our time.”

            Contrast those models of distrust with the soldier who knew Jesus, not as teacher or God’s Son or Messiah, or Savior.  He had only heard of him from other persons.  Yet he trusted and believed that Jesus had the power to heal … and was so powerful, he did not even need to be physically present.  Said the centurion, stay where you are Jesus “… only speak the word, and let my servant be healed”.

            It is most certainly true … we have a difficult time trusting one another, which is a sad commentary on our lives.  What is even more disconcerting is our distrust of God … and if we cannot trust God whose resume includes terms like … Creator, gracious, loving, forgiving, Jesus, Holy Spirit, and a keeper of promises, it is no wonder we do not trust each other.

            Yet … no quality or characteristic is more important than trust.  Of course, what we Christians know is that we learn trust not from ourselves but from God.  Writes Dr. Douglas John Hall in his book, The Future of the Church, “If we trust God … having faith, not in ourselves, nor governments, nor systems, nor ideologies, nor even theologies and doctrines but in God, we shall be given the assurance that is needed to ‘move towards’ the future we do not know; because

nothing that that future might contain – nothing! ‘will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’”

            Trusting God to be God and at work in our lives is a key, then, to a confident and life-giving trust with one another.  With all of our shortcomings and failures, it is amazing that God does not have trust issues with us.  But that is divine grace.  Perhaps if you and I are open to God surrounding our lives with that trust, then, day by day we may grow to see one another more clearly, love one another more dearly, and trust one another more sincerely.  What a gift that would be!                                                                         +Bishop Pile