Jane Hoober Peifer resides in Harrisonburg, Virginia, with her husband Daryl. Following 24 years in pastoral ministry, Jane received Spiritual Direction training from KAIROS: School for Spiritual Formation (Lancaster, Pennsylvania). She currently companions folks in Lancaster and in Harrisonburg. She also serves as a leader for two cohorts of new pastors in Mennonite Church USA who are participating in the TiM (Transitioning into Ministry) program. A particular joy in her life right now is the gift of living near two of her five grandchildren and their parents. The following reflection is adaptation of a homily Jane gave to the Constituency Leaders Council (CLC) at the opening of their last meeting of the biennium, March 16, where the CLC tested the large-group visioning process that will be used at the Future Church Summit in Orlando this summer.
I have heard it said many times that there is little trust in our Mennonite Church USA system.We don’t trust each other very much right now. It is probably a good thing to name and admit that this is true, because we have witnessed (and have been a part of) conferences not trusting the discernment of other conferences; conferences not trusting the leadership of our denomination; agencies not trusting other agencies; agencies not trusting conferences; congregations not trusting the leadership of their conference; congregations not trusting the direction of other congregations; congregations who don’t trust their own pastors; small groups within congregations who don’t trust other small groups in their congregation; people within small groups who do not really trust each other; family members who do not trust other family members; and I imagine most of us know of relationships between two people (marriages even) where there is little trust.
It is usually with a sense of frustration and worry and sadness that I have heard folks talk about this lack of trust across our church. And it is sad and worrisome because it is true that trust within a system is critical when it comes to working together and envisioning a future together.
So we have wondered (as a planning committee for the CLC) how to “build trust” in these meetings specifically, since this is a gathering that brings representatives together from all corners of the church.
Trust is sometimes defined as firm belief in the character, strength or truth of someone or something. Another definition for trust is a feeling of security which comes through reliance on something. I resonate with this added description of trust as a feeling of security that comes when I rely on something.
So, in the case of our church and our relationships across the church, these definitions might describe our reality of low trust as … few of us have a firm belief in the strength or truth of our church, nor do we feel like we can rely on the church to be what it is to be — which leaves us feeling very insecure. In addition to that, we have hurt each other, and it is hard to trust those who have hurt us. I wonder if this gets at the feelings some of us have.
This lack of trust in our system sent me to do a cursory (certainly not exhaustive) word study of the word translated as “trust” in the Bible. I wondered what we are taught about trust in scripture.
I noticed that when the word translated as “trust” is paired with God or the Lord, the admonition is positive — which means we are to trust in God.
This is not surprising of course. We hear this language a lot in the Psalms.
- Psalms 4:5 Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord.
- Psalms 22:4 In you, God, our ancestors trusted, and you delivered them.
- Psalms 56:3 When I am afraid, I put my trust in you
- Jeremiah 17 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean NOT on your own understanding
- Psalm 143:8 Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life.
In contrast, every time the object of the word “trust” is in something other than God, the admonition is negative. Do not trust (whatever it is).
- Proverbs 3:5 — Trust in the Lord with all your heart; Don’t rely (don’t trust) on your own understanding.
- Psalm 41:9 (which is a psalm of lamenting the attack and oppression of enemies) — Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted, who ate of my bread, has lifted the heel against me.
- Psalm 44:6 — For not in my bow do I trust, or can my sword save me.
- Jeremiah 9:4 — Beware of your neighbors, and put no trust in any of your kin; For all your kin are supplanters and every neighbor goes around like a slanderer.
- Psalm 118:8-9 — It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in mortals,It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in princes.
- And from Jesus, in Luke 18:9-14 — He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
It is very easy to trust in our own understanding, and to assume we are trusting in God. Jesus said, through this little story, that we must be willing to let go of what we think is right and to continually place ourselves at the mercy of God.
Richard Rohr has written, “We are often tempted not to trust in God but to trust in our faith tradition of trusting in God. They are not the same thing! Talking about our saints and theologians who trusted in God is a clever way to avoid the experience itself, to avoid encounter with the living God, to avoid the ongoing Incarnation. We tend to trust the past for its own sake, as if past time is somehow holier than the present.”
It may be helpful for us to ask ourselves these questions:
What happens in me when I cannot trust those around me? What happens in me when I don’t feel trusted? What do I do? How do I feel? What do I tend to say?
I confess that with either of these scenarios, I tend to shut down and I want to run away. Some of you may tend to lash out in self-protection, and of course there are all kinds of responses besides these two.
What happens in you?
I fear that too often we expect each other to be what we need them to be so that we can feel safe to put our trust in God. God does not need us to trust each other. God needs us to trust God. We are to trust God and LOVE each other. Our deepest trust must be reserved for God. No one is completely trustworthy except God.
Trust in the Lord. Love each other.
Whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe. (Proverbs 29:25)
So we begin these days together by committing ourselves to the Three in One who was and is and is to come — the only One who is worthy of our complete trust. The Lord is our rock. The Lord is our refuge. The Lord of heaven and earth knows us, loves us and promises never to leave us. God protects us as a mother hen gathers and protects her chicks. The Lord is our shepherd. We have everything that we need.
There is nothing temporary about you, O God
Nothing shallow about the endless depths
Of your being. Nothing brief about the extent
Of your longevity. You are. You will be.
Always and forever. For us, with us, among us.
Constant, Sustaining. Enduring. Unending.
And you promise to each one of us a life
Forever united with the richness of yours.
How could we ask for anything more?
Why would we want anything less?
 Rohr, Richard, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality, Daily Meditation on Jan. 28, 2017
 Rupp, Joyce, Fragments of Your Ancient Name, Jan. 12 prayer