Trust me? Love comes first, pastor tells MennoCon21

Love, not trust, is the foundation of Christian community

Jon Carlson speaks during worship July 9 at the Mennonite Church USA convention in Cincinnati. — Mennonite Church USA Jon Carlson speaks during worship July 9 at the Mennonite Church USA convention in Cincinnati. — Mennonite Church USA

Jon Carlson admits he’s not a very trusting person. He attributes this to growing up in an abusive family and being placed in foster care at the age of 8.

When he became part of the Mennonite church, he was impressed by how much people trusted each other.

But once he “got a peek behind the curtain” he discovered trust often didn’t extend beyond the local congregation.

He observed distrust between progressives and conservatives, “country mice and city mice,” people of MC and GC heritage, baby boomers and millennials.

“As I began to realize how little trust there actually is, I had two thoughts: ‘Maybe these actually are my people,’ and ‘Oh, no, we are in trouble,’ ” he said.

The lead pastor of Forest Hills Mennonite Church in Leola, Pa., Carlson gave the address at the July 9 evening worship service of MennoCon21, the Mennonite Church USA convention, at Duke Energy Center in Cincinnati.

Considering the high value we place on trust, Carlson said, it is surprising how little Scripture has to say about the need for people to trust each other.

Why is this?

“Trust is not the primary foundation of Christian community,” Carlson said. “The primary foundation of Christian community is love. It is love that is extended even before trust has been established.

“The question is not ‘How can we trust one another?’ but ‘How will we love one another?’ ” he said. “In Christian community, unlike anywhere else, love precedes trust.”

How is this reversal of typical human behavior possible?

“The trust that makes this love possible is not trust between humans but the trust we place in God through Jesus Christ,” Carlson said.

One of life’s biggest questions is “Can I trust God?”

This question was front and center in Jesus’ execution. When Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” it seemed as if his answer was no.

But Jesus was quoting Psalm 22, which goes on to say: “Yet you are holy. . . . In you our ancestors trusted, and you delivered them.”

“I believe that even though Jesus dies with these words [“why have you forsaken me?”], the resurrection is the remainder of the psalm,” Carlson said.

Trusting God enables us to live beyond the logic of self-protection and self-preservation.

“We can live generously, not because we trust people will always reciprocate but because we trust that God will provide for our needs,” Carlson said.

“We can live with hospitality, not because we trust that strangers are always safe but because God in Christ has welcomed us.

“We can listen across differences, not because we trust that people who disagree with us get it right because we trust the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth.

“We can live peaceably, not because we trust others to be nonviolent but because we trust God to be present with us even to and beyond the point of death. . . .

“Maybe you are someone like me who doesn’t find it easy to trust,” Carlson said. “I don’t know if we can ever bridge this gap of trust within our denomination. But we are called to love one another, even if we don’t trust one another, because Jesus can be trusted.”

The convention concludes Saturday with a morning worship service and an afternoon delegate session by videoconference.

Paul Schrag

Paul Schrag is editor of Anabaptist World. Read More

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