A Voice We Trust

Weekly Reflection, Friday, January 8

By: David H. May

Martin Luther, the 16th century German reformer, once said that faith is an ‘acoustical affair.’ He means that faith is something that ‘grasps us’ (as Paul Tillich memorably put it) when a word is spoken and a word is heard. The word ‘faith’ is a translation of the Greek word pistos which is used throughout the original New Testament writings. But pistos can just as accurately be translated as the word trust. So, the word pistos points towards a rich twin meaning. Faith encloses both the content of the word spoken but as importantly it includes trust in the one who has spoken that word. This Sunday, the 1st Sunday after the Day of Epiphany we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus. On that day, Jesus hears the Father in heaven declare, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved! with you I am well pleased!’ Jesus spent the rest of his life trusting in that word and trusting in the One who had spoken it to him.

Living by faith, for us, is trusting (for example) Jesus’ words, ‘follow me’ and finding ourselves doing that because we trust him.

Years ago, I attended a continuing education program on congregational revitalization. It was taught by an incredibly talented and wise Episcopal priest named Bob Gallagher. Bob said something one day that I have used as a North Star to lead and guide me ever since. He said that the one thing that is absolutely necessary in leading a parish towards revitalization is a shared climate of trust. A ‘shared climate of trust’ means that the congregation trusts the lay and clergy leadership and vice versa. It doesn’t mean that everybody gets everything right all the time. It doesn’t mean that things don’t go wrong sometimes. It just means that we are accountable to each other. We ‘rejoice with those who rejoice’ and we ‘weep with those who weep.’ We share a common life where (as Jesus said) our ‘yes’ is ‘yes’ and our ‘no’ is ‘no.’ We trust each other. Bob said that parishes that have a climate of trust can do almost anything together. Parishes that don’t have a climate of trust can do almost nothing.

As the events of these past days show so starkly, we as a nation, as a people, have a profound trust issue. We simply don’t trust each other right now. The bad news, as Bob Gallagher said, is that because of this we are able to do almost nothing together. The good news is that trust can be rebuilt. It’s hard. It takes time. It requires people and communities and institutions showing themselves to be trustworthy again and again and again. That’s a hard road, but not an impossible one. The alternative is cynicism which is probably the great and corrosive sin of our day and, frankly, utterly at odds with the Gospel of Jesus.

During one of our vestry Zoom engagement calls this past fall, a parishioner was lamenting the hard place we find ourselves in as a nation and said in exasperation, ‘will this ever end?!’ Someone on the call jumped right in and said, ‘yes.’ Really? How? ‘When people actually talk to each other and actually listen to each other!’ When I heard those words I said, ‘thank you Jesus.’

“When people actually talk to each other and people actually listen to each other.”

I think it’s just that simple. And just that hard. But when that actually happens, I have found, we may find ourselves on holy ground with something like a voice from heaven speaking too. A voice we trust.