The Sign of Trust

John 4:46-54




This past summer we explored together the United Church of Christ’s Statement of Faith. If you missed it you can find it in the blog or on our podcast. The statement begins with the affirmation, “We believe in God.” And when we talked about that affirmation, we talked about what it means to believe in God, and I used this example. What does it mean if I say, “I believe in you”? It means I know you so I trust you because I know you. It’s experience and trust and confidence in your character and in what you will do. Now what does it mean if I say, “I believe in U…FOs”? That’s different. That means I have a cognitive, mental assent to the existence of extraterrestrials. Same English word, “believe,” but very different meanings.

I remind you of that this morning because the word “believe” is going to show up three times in the very short story I’m about to read you. In the gospel of John, believing is everything. John uses the verb “believe” 99 times and he never uses the noun. In this gospel, believing is always an active action. Believing is something you do. 

If you’ve been around here for a while, you’ve heard me say this before, but I wish that I could change the English translation of the Bible just a little bit. Word nerds, now is your moment, everyone else, hang in there. The New Testament was originally written in a form of Greek that no one speaks anymore, but we can still read it. There is a verb “pisteuo” which gets translated into English either as “believe” or “have faith.” Related to that is a noun “pistis” which gets translated into English as “belief” or “faith.” My problem with this is that for us there is often a big difference between belief and faith. Belief is something we have, usually, because we have some evidence, either scientific or personal. Belief has to do with our brains; when we “believe” we cognitively agree with something. 

Faith is different, at least it is for me. Hebrews 11:1 says “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Faith does not require evidence. In fact if you have evidence, it’s not quite faith anymore.  Faith doesn’t feel like something I do with my brain, but with my heart or soul or spirit, or whatever you choose to call that unquantifiable part of you.

So I don’t like that those two words are both used for one word in Greek. Because my orientation towards God is kind of a combination of both of those, belief and faith. Another valid option would be to translate both the Greek verb and the Greek noun as the English word “trust.” Trust is an English word that I think gets at the combo of head and heart, evidence and intuition, and it feels much more active to me than either believing or having faith. 

So this morning, as I read the story, when I come to the word “believe” I’m going to say trust instead, and you see how it feels to you. Since last week’s story Jesus has been to Jerusalem where he disrupted the buying and selling of sacrificial animals in the temple and then had a nighttime conversation with a Jewish religious leader named Nicodemus. Then he headed north again, stopping in Samaria where no good Jewish boy would stop and had an extended conversation with a Samaritan woman, which no good Jewish boy would do. He stayed in Samaria a couple of days and then keeps going north, returning again to Cana. 

And we pick up in John chapter 4, verses 46 through 54. I’m reading from the New Revised Standard version and making a couple of word changes.

Then Jesus came again to Cana in Galilee where he had changed the water into wine. Now there was a royal official {a Gentile who worked for the wicked King Herod} whose son lay ill in Capernaum {which was probably about 15 miles, or a six hour walk, also it’s topographically lower because it’s on the coast of the Sea of Galilee}. When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and begged Jesus to come down and heal his son, for the son was at the point of death. Then Jesus said to him, “Unless y’all see signs and wonders y’all will not trust.” The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my little boy dies.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your son lives.” The man trusted the word that Jesus spoke to him and started on his way. As he was going down, his slaves met him and told him that his child was alive. So he asked them the hour when he began to recover, and they said to him, “Yesterday at one in the afternoon the fever left him.” The father realized that this was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son lives.” So he himself trusted, along with his whole household. Now this was the second sign that Jesus did after coming from Judea to Galilee.

John 4:46-54

These are the words of God for all people. Thanks be to God.

The reason I like “trust” better than “believe” in this story is because it doesn’t matter what you believe if it doesn’t change what you do. I truly don’t care what your brain thinks about God if it doesn’t affect how you live. For example, as followers of Jesus we are called to love our enemies. We can believe we love our enemies. We can even say we love our enemies. But if our words to them and about them and our actions towards them do not communicate to them that they are loved then it doesn’t matter what we say we believe. You can think something and yet do nothing. The Christian life is not about belief; it’s about action. 

And I suggest to you this morning that trust is an action. Trust has a purpose because trust is relational. This man clearly believes that Jesus might be able to heal his son; he thinks Jesus has that power. But it is his trust that makes the difference.

See this is a weird encounter to me. I don’t know what to make of Jesus’ comment that unless you plural see signs and wonders, you plural will not believe. Is it a criticism or just an observation? Either way, it sounds like he might not grant this guy’s request. And, similar to last week’s story, he doesn’t do the obvious thing. He doesn’t do what the man asks. He doesn’t go with this man to see the little boy. He says, “Go, your son lives.” The man trusts the word spoken by the Word Made Flesh, and he goes. Friends, to me, that is not belief. That is trust. It’s about relationship.

Belief has a black-or-white, yes-or-no, on-or-off quality to me. It’s like a light switch. I believe, the switch is up. I don’t believe, the switch is down. But trust is different. Trust is like a dimmer switch. It can be on a little bit, and get turned up more. Which is what we see in this story. The man comes to Jesus because apparently he has a little bit of trust. He leaves based on Jesus’ word because he has a little more trust. And when he gets home and discovers that his little boy’s fever broke at the same time Jesus said, “Your son lives,” then his trust dimmer switch gets turned way up. As it does for everyone in his household, because they heard the man’s testimony and saw the change for themselves.

If your Christianity feels stale or boring or meaningless, I invite you to take action. We can wordsmith all day long about belief and faith and trust. The point is there’s a big difference between thinking and doing, a big difference between theory and practice, a big difference between thoughts and actions. Beloved, thinking is not enough. Not that it’s not enough for God; it’s not enough for us. Holding a belief is not meaningful enough for us. We find meaning when we move. Our mission statement here is active. Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly with God. Why? Not so we get a good grade when we die. But because those actions, which stem from our trust in Christ, result in our finding lasting joy and participating in the healing of the world. Whoever you are, whatever your age, whatever your abilities, you can do something. Your trust in God does not have to be theoretical; it can and it must be practical. This is what it means in the gospel of John to believe: not to think but to take actions rooted in trust. This is what it means for us. May we move past theoretical belief and blind faith into an active life of trust in Christ our Light, the one who gives life. Amen. 

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