St Johns and St Stephens Church, Reading, 12th July 2015, Trinity 11
Proverbs 9:1-6, John 6:51-58
Many of you know that a couple of weeks ago a small group from St John’s, and some friends, spent a week at the community of Taizé in France. It was the 6th visit we have made. It was, as always, a wonderful experience of prayer, of community, and of joy. It so happens that today, August 16th, is a very significant day for the community, for on this day, exactly 10 years ago, the founder and Prior of Taizé, Brother Roger, died. He was killed during evening prayer by a mad person. He was 90 years old. The 10th anniversary of his death coincides with the 100th anniversary of his birth, and the 75th anniversary of the founding of the community in 1940, during the 2nd WW. There are many thousands of people from all over the world at Taizé right now to give thanks for his life, and ro remember him.
I never met Brother Roger but his influence is felt very strongly in the community. During our stay, every morning, we older adults met for an address given by a French-Canadian brother, Émile. Each address was based on one word which Brother Roger used frequently. One of the words was ‘trust’ and it was that which spoke to me most powerfully. I am therefore, quite unashamedly, going to try and use that talk as the basis for my sermon this morning, giving full credit to Brother Émile, and to Brother Roger himself. I ran it past Vicki and Alison – they heard Émile too – and I am grateful for their comments and support.
By pure chance, I picked up this headline in The Times of Friday 14th August: ‘Britain grows into a land of distrust and suspicion’ Nearly half the British population distrust the people around them and think that ‘you can’t be too careful when dealing with people’….about 1/3 of Britons were also skeptical of people’s kindness, saying that given the chance they would try to take advantage of them most of the time’.
Let’s see if we can hear Brother Roger on the topic: https://vimeo.com/25553854
What I would like to do this morning is present ‘trust’ to you as a core Christian virtue, one that would make a difference to our life of faith and of human relationships – communion. Trust. Heartfelt trust, to use Roger’s words. In French, ‘la confiance du coeur’. Another word quite close to trust is ‘hope’. Roger often used the word ‘trust’ as if it meant ‘hope’, and we often speak of our Christian hope of, for example, the resurrection. But there’s a difference between those two words: Hope is perhaps less concrete, it’s more difficult to base your life on, hope can sometimes mean wishful thinking: ‘I hope the sun shines tomorrow’. Trust, on the other hand means more like there is something real, something solid to it. It’s a good word. We can contrast it as well with the word ‘faith’ which can feel like something we possess – or not – or as the opposite of reason, which never goes well. But trust – trust is simply something we do. It is an attitude of openness, of willingness to receive, and to act. It’s not the same as naivety.
Suspicion, which is the opposite of trust, does not nourish or fulfill; it does the opposite, it stultifies, paralyses us, it cuts us off from other people and ultimately from God. In the short video we saw, Roger spoke about a lack of trust, suspicion, providing an alibi for not doing anything: if we don’t trust anything or anyone, if we believe everything is corrupt and without value, then we have the perfect excuse, or alibi, to do nothing at all. But to trust, to trust another person, to trust God with my life, is to reach outwards and upwards, beyond ourselves and our fears and suspicions. You can tell how precious and important trust is by considering what happens when it is broken.
Trust is what helps us to sleep at night, but also what gets us up in the morning. We hand over what is beyond us since we know that we are not in control. Often, what makes us anxious is the fear and suspicion that makes us try to control everything, which is impossible. Trust is life-giving – to hand over our concerns gives life and is a gift of life. We can do this because fundamentally, what we, as Christians say about God is this: he can be trusted. His trustworthiness, his faithfulness, runs through the whole of creation and through the stuff of our lives like a seam of gold. We are invited to enter that trust, to live it. We are called to dare to trust. Yesterday evening I watched, again, the French film, ‘Of Gods and men’. It’s a beautiful, moving, true story of a small religious community who lived peacefully in the Atlas mountains of Algeria. In the 1990s there was an violent Islamist uprising. The film shows the brothers’ struggle to reject fear and to embrace trust – in which struggle they succeeded.
To trust means you see there are possibilities for change. If we are told, ‘you can’t change anything’, then our margins of freedom are reduced. Trust breaks through that. The Danish philosopher Kierkegaard used this parable. What do you do when someone is choking? You give them air. What do you do when someone is choking of despair? You offer them possibilities. Roger wanted Taizé to be a place where people would realize that is possible. Through the worship and prayer, people would deepen their trust in God, their love of Him; and through community, the experience of meeting and living with people from other countries and different Christian traditions, trust in one another would be strengthened and deepened. And it works! It works here too at church as we express our trust in God in worship and prayer, and as we spend time with each other in trusting relationships, as we really do, we exercise our trust. It’s as if every Sunday we get to experience, and to practice trust, to get another dose of it.
As Christians, as the church, we are of course part of the human family. We are not just a little sect, unconnected with the rest, doing our own little rituals on a Sunday and enjoying cosy relationships. We are here, is Jesus told us, as salt. We are not here just to serve ourselves or the institution of the church, but to serve the human family. Salt makes things different, but only when it is mixed in with them. Our faith, our trust in God is not just a private reality but we take what we know, what we practice on a Sunday, and offer it to those around us. I wonder how that plays out, what it looks like? In a world where so many are cynical, suspicious and pessimistic, what does it mean to be different? To not conform? Paul tells us, ‘Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind’ (Rom 12:2) I think again of the brothers in the tiny monastery in Algeria who chose to reject violence and hatred, and instead trust – wherever that would lead. It was a radically counter-cultural thing to do. What would that mean for you and me? What decisions are you facing now, what new possibilities exist that with a trusting heart you could reach out and embrace in trust, in hope, in faith, leaving behind doubt, and cynicism, suspicion and fear?
Speaking personally, this message directly touched me as I went to prayer later on that day and felt able to trust God for the future direction of my life. I have shared that with some of you. I can only say that I felt liberated.
As Christians, if all we do is carp and criticize, we are conforming! Trust is non-conformist and counter-cultural. How has it felt when someone has trusted you? Our institutions which surround us – government, NHS, workplaces, schools, churches even, are very fragile, they can easily lose their sense of service. Our trust, our hope and faith that things can be better can change that.
I hope this hasn’t been too much of a ramble and that you have been able to catch some of the sense of simple joy in trust, that you have heard Roger of Taizé speak. There was a new song we learned at Taizé, I’m afraid I’m not going to sing it, but here are the words in English (the song is in French). It is a prayer of Roger: ‘Happy are those who abandon themselves to you with a trusting heart. You keep them in your joy, simplicity and mercy’ (Heureux qui s’abandonne à toi, ô Dieu, dans la confiance du coeur. Tu nous gardes dans la joie, la simplicité, la miséricorde)
What would happen of the decisions I make were not based on suspicion, but on trust?
With thanks to Brother Émile of Taizé, Brother Roger, Vicki Jones and Alison Peyton