1 Samuel 3:1-10 & John 1:43-51
We come to Week two in our Summer Series on Commitment to Change. Last week our Lectionary readings from Genesis [The Creation] and Jesus’ Baptism [the new creation] showed us that we move forward in faith and discipleship only when we make a decision and act on it.
Today we explore the first of the things that initiate and then power our actions – simply called ‘trust’.
Now we can talk about trust of many different types. We might trust the elements – ‘yes, the weather will be fine’ or ‘rain is on the way’. We might say ‘I will win’ or ‘I can do it’ – in cases like this we are trusting our own experiences, knowledge or even intuition to predict an outcome.
Also we can talk about trust in others through their strength, resolve, character or history.
Yet we’ve always been let down by ourselves and others and the world around us. When we seem to have been let down or have lost our trust in others, we need to remember the words from Deuteronomy 31:8 ‘It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you, he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed’ or in Isaiah 49:15-16 ‘Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. See I have inscribed you in the palms of my hands’.
God can be trusted! So it is that we can see in both the calling of discipleship with both Samuel and Nathaniel. The boy Samuel, initially, trusts his own senses – believing that it Eli who is calling him. When finally –God revealed himself to Samuel – Samuel’s growth as a prophet is assured – and his trust resides ultimately in God and not in humans [although Eli’s role in setting the groundwork should not be understated].
Nathaniel learnt a greater trust in God though the initial interaction with Jesus.
How and when have you had that intimate encounter with Jesus?
If time allows talk of my call to Kiama and relearning to trust God.
When we learn to trust God – amazing things can happen. My friend Keith Curtis and his story reminds me of this.
Show picture of Keith
Usually, when a stranger came knocking at the door in Moree and Narrabri [particularly after hours] it was usually because they were in need of assistance – food, money or fuel [or all three]. This comes with a story of hardship or unexpected circumstances that require emergency help from the church. It is a trap for me, when I’m placed in the situation of first determining am I being conned or the church because of its generosity is simply an easy target for a welfare handout.
But I refocus and think – is this the Christ knocking at my door, or in supplying this person am I, as the writer of Hebrews says – possibly in the company of an angel or a messenger from God.
Further, I do believe that God brings people across our paths or into our line of vision – not only to provide assistance and growth and understanding of faith to them, but also to us.
This is what happened most strongly for me when a knock came on the door in the week before Christmas.
Thea answered the door that afternoon, there was the toothless grin of a sun tanned 65 year old with a pack at his feet – who said ‘Hello Thea’. Keith had been here before – and I remembered the blessing of his first visit to me at Moree in 2010 when I found him outside the locked church hall –lying on the cement one evening.
Perhaps I should give you a little bit of his life story and how it intertwines with our readings and the importance of trusting God.
Originally from England, my friend Keith had resided in Perth for 32 years when at the age of 56, working as a professional chef he had an industrial accident which left him with only 10% hearing –all in one ear.
He was not a Christian at the time, but he had read the Bible and its teachings and considered it a philosophy for living. He had also read widely of various philosophers and metaphysical writers but something of the Christian faith captured his imagination.
Because he could no longer work in the kitchens of restaurants anymore, he followed his passion for art and particularly for creating mosaics. His venture to set up a mosaic gallery in partnership with someone fell through. And so, at age 60, he decided not to seek paid employment or even apply for the disability pension that he was and still is eligible for and, with just $25 in his pocket, he went on the road in search of the God in the Bible.
The challenge he set himself was to live in ‘voluntary poverty’ for six months [this was six years ago], to live out what he read in Matthew 22:21 – to render unto Caesar what is Caesars and to render unto God, what is God’s.
For Keith, if the God of the Bible was true to his word, God would provide for his needs as he did for the wandering Jesus and his disciples.
He also wanted to see God’s action in the spirit of other people – in acts of faith, generosity and joy, not simply just to read about it in words on a page.
Then he would know that Christianity was not just a philosophy but a relationship. -a relationship to be encountered with God and his people.
Keith would become what we might call a modern day ascetic – I’d never met one before in this sense. The ascetics were Christians often from centuries –even millennia past [often monks, nuns, sometimes bishops like Jerome who translated the Bible into Latin while working in a cave in Bethlehem], who lived a very Spartan life.
The ascetics were part of the early church, they were men and women who reacted against the growing opulence, wealth and lack of faith in the institutionalised church, when it was no longer the persecuted but the persecutor.
People such as St Anthony and later St. Francis of Assisi were ascetics. You could even describe Mahatma Ghandi as one. Ascetics give up a life of ease to sometimes go into the desert or wilderness, or to live a life of contemplation, or to give themselves daily to the needs of others at their own expense.
This way of life is deeply rooted in the Bible – we see it in the life experience of Isaiah [chapter 20] or Ezekiel [chapter 4]. We have seen it in the archaeological remains at Qumran in the desert near the Dead Sea, where from the first century BC to the first century AD the Essenes lived their Spartan life and faith in community with each other.[SHOW SLIDES]
We see it writ large in the gospels. In Luke 9:23-26 when Jesus says followers must deny themselves and take up their cross daily, or to the rich young man in Matthew 19:20-26 who is told to sell all of his possessions. It is also found in Paul’s writings. In 1 Corthinians 9:24-27 we read about submitting to God by training and denying the body.
Less is more may be part of the ascetics creed.
For Keith, the first six months of his journey to find God were in his own words – hard. Many times he found himself cold, hungry, dirty and abused, without a defined purpose or vision.
As he tried to live out a life based on trust in God’s promises, he wrestled with his pride, gradually developing a humility of character combined with a compassion for others. He struggled with his own judgementalism just as he was sometimes pre-judged by the people who came across him.
As he hitched around Australia, he said he learnt patience, sometimes standing beside the road for several hours at a stretch.
He disciplined himself to spend much time in prayer and meditating on the scriptures [particularly Matthews’ gospel] in order to tell his ‘chauffeurs’ of his growing faith.
He was realising much about faith and here is a bit of what did he share with me and reminded me of.
- Ascetism is from the Greek word ‘askesis’ which originally meant training or exercise. At its root it is about discipline – submitting the body, mind and Spirit to God and what we believe God wants of us. Prayer, meditation, service to others and spreading the Good News are underpinned by the Hebrews reading of being content with what you have and being free from the love of money. Acquisition, as Keith says, is a temptation to idleness, the worldly pleasures it affords keeps us less attuned to the will of our Father.
But while Keiths’ is not a ‘worldly’ lifestyle, it is not necessarily an ‘other worldly’ one. It is one that is more inner worldly – or, as we are invoked in John 17:14-18 and Romans 12:2, to be ‘in the world but not of the world’.
If Keith is given a food voucher for $50 he halves it he says that will be enough to satisfy his needs. Vinnies view this with absolute wonder. If he works for someone, it is never for more than $10 per day. It must be noted though that this is not, in any way, a rejection of the enjoyment of life – No – he finds intense enjoyment in the beautiful places and people he meets along the way [although he had much to say about the rather thin veneer of good spirituality in places such as Nimbin].
- As he has travelled he has changed his worldly attitude – to realise that there is no such thing as hardship. Everything is an experience- but it is our attitude that determines how we see it. He knows that God will meet his needs – and trust has gradually replaced his fear of the unknown. God is his provider. Thus from his standpoint of voluntary poverty, he now understands that the world does not have to owe him anything, which is not what he sees with so many people today who suffer from institutionalised poverty. The result is pure ‘joy’ in his Spirit – for someone with so little – he is the most joyful person I’ve ever met. He laughs a lot, and always speaks in an upbeat and animated way, which is positively infectious. For our circumstances should never dictate our level of joy. Keith even sees his impediments [like Paul’s thorn in the side] as a blessing – that works for God’s bigger picture.
- ‘Old Age and deafness are a blessing’ he trumpets. Keith believes his age works for him when it comes to thumbing lifts. He says many people feel sorry for him or feel less threatened by picking up an old man. His deafness means he can speak to people about his faith in Jesus, without the by-product of getting into long debates or cross examination. Also, being deaf means he often remains oblivious to situations where people may be aggressive. In fact, because he has to lean into a person to hear them – this can often disarm an aggressive person. The double blessing is that he says he is losing his fear and having it replaced by trust in the Lord.
- Keith has realised that – in being blessed – it is his sacred task and joy to be a blessing to others in word and in action. Often if he has a few dollars he will cook up some sausages on a BBQ in a park and invite the poor to share with him. Further he hopes that through the painting he does, he might even one day earn some money to give back to Vinnies from whom he gets his clothes – to thank them for all they’ve done. He often returns to places he had already visited to help others.
- Finally, his realisation after six years on the road was that to make long term plans often stifles God’s plans and leadings, especially if we are too rigid in our plans. His experience in these last six years has been that God opens and closes doors all the time. Yes we need to have 20/20 vision with good peripheral vision as well and to rely on trust in God
He stays for a few days at a time, but not always in the house. He sleeps on the floor in the hall at Jamberoo, or at best, the floor in the manse. While he allows us to feed him [only twice daily] – it was only because I insist that it would not put us out.
Every day he spends up to three hours praying in the church or in the fields or on the road. He works for folks where he can. At other times he goes to a library, to read more about mud brick construction, as he is soon off to the far south coast to help someone do that.
On the morning he left he allowed me to take him only as far as Berry, where passing cars might slow down to offer him a lift. We prayed and hugged and blessed each other and when I turned the car around as I left him I would see his eyes were already fixed ahead with his thumb already in the air. There, like Jesus, he stood, not looking back.
You may be thinking that maybe Keith is not ‘quite with it’ or that his actions are to make up for past sins, that he is attempting to score points with God and take some time off purgatory.
Maybe you’re thinking he had ulterior motives, maybe you think he revels in his suffering. I believe none of this is true.
How often do we think like this – how often do we pre-judge when people do it alone or go their own way, or make choices very different from our own.
Perhaps instead, we should take the time to learn from the experience of others and even embrace the difference.
What I learnt from Keith, more than his joy and service and discipline, was the reminder of the God we serve, who is to be trusted to meet our needs.
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