Saturday, October 1, 2011

16th Sunday after Pentecost - Putting on confidence

Readings for this Sunday:  Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80:7-15; Philippans 3:4b-14; Matthew 21:33-46

 “Confidence” always makes me think of The Sound of Music.  Maria, a young novice, had been sent serve as a governess to seven children of CaptianVon Trapp while she reconsiders her call to be a nun.  She is young and inexperienced and very nervous about what to expect.  Since this is a musical, she starts singing about her predicament while waiting for the bus to go the Von Trapp estate.  Soon she bursts into a rousing song about having confidence in all sorts of things – the sunshine, rain, spring, but most of all she says, “I have confidence in me!”  That confidence lasts long enough for her to boldly march up to the door, rousingly knock on it and embarrass herself by assuming the butler is the Captain.  Her confidence quickly melts away.

One thing I find interesting in her song – never once does she express any confidence in God.  You would think that since Maria is on the path to become a nun, she would have lots of confidence in God and how God was working in her life.  Perhaps that’s her problem.  Things aren’t exactly working out for her at the convent – that’s why they sent her off to be a governess.  Perhaps her problem stems from where she places her confidence.

We place our confidence in all sorts of things.  We are confident in our abilities, our education, our income level or our material possessions, our family heritage, our religious background, and, yes, even in God.  But there is a difference between having confidence in the things that God has blessed us with and having confidence in God.  In the reading from Philippians, Paul explains just what the difference is.

Paul had a lot to boast about. His pedigree was perfect.   
·        He was from a sincerely religious family - Jews who were meticulous about following God’s law. 
·        He was brought into the family of Israel, claimed as one of God’s own - on precisely the correct day for circumcising infants. 
·        He was from the right tribe – not only was he a Israelite, but he was from the tribe of Benjamin – the tribe of Saul, the first king, and the tribe all the other tribes rallied behind in battle, the tribe that unfailingly supported Judah when the kingdom split. 
·        His parents nurtured him in the faith.  His family resisted the Hellenizing forces in their society – Hebrew of Hebrews referred to a strict Jewish family that spoke Hebrew in the home.
·        Yet they also had the rare advantage of being Roman citizens. 

You could say Paul was born with a silver spoon in his mouth.

Paul also had a great resume. 
·        He had a prestigious job - he was a Pharisee.  You might remember that the Pharisees were extremely devout teachers of the law. They strove to keep not only the commandments in the Torah, but all the rules in the various commentaries and interpretations (the Talmud and rabbinical teachings).  
·        He went to the right school - studied under one of the greatest of all rabbis, Gamailel. 
·        He was enthusiastic about his faith, a great defender of Judaism (especially against the heresy of the new Christ followers). 
·        And to top it all off, he was at the top of his profession – he was meticulous about following the law.  The other Pharisees counted him as blameless.  He was the perfect young Pharisee that all the new students wanted to be like.

Yes, Paul had a lot of reasons to be confident. 

But that all changed on the road to Damascus.  All those perks and privileges, all his status and righteousness that he had attained in life suddenly were loss to him.  

It wasn't that Paul suddenly understood that those things were no good, or had no value.  No, those things still were valuable, but Paul realized that the things in which he had placed his confidence had actually hurt him.  These things got in the way of his relationship with God.  These things kept him from seeing things the way God saw them. 

Paul was blinded on the road to Damascus, and when his eyes were opened again, his entire perspective had changed.  Paul may have been confident before his encounter with Jesus, but now Paul had “God-fidence”.

It was his “God-fidence” that gave him strength in his travels.  And Paul’s journeys were not easy.  Beside the miles walked on dry, dusty roads for miles, and the danger from bandits and wild animals – Paul’s message was not always received with open arms.  He was beaten, stoned, run out of town, thrown in jail numerous times, shipwrecked three times and adrift at sea for a couple of days.  And there was the matter of that pesky thorn in the flesh thing. 

As a Pharisee, Paul had a life of privilege and status, of wealth and prominence.  As a Christ follower, he lost his status, he lost privilege, he was often treated as a criminal.  Yet, Paul counts his former life as loss and his life in Christ as gain.  He’s using banking language here – on the balance sheet of life, Paul’s assets of birth and achievement incurred great loss for him.  But the asset of knowing Christ balanced his life, and brought him great gain.     

What is it that we place our confidence in?  What would it look like if we boasted of our pedigree as Paul did his?  Let’s see.  Many of us could say, “I was brought to the waters of baptism as an infant, taught to love God, brought regularly to worship, the scriptures placed in my hand as a child, confirmed at the appointed time.”  We proudly say, “I am a Christian”, or even better, “I am a Lutheran.”  But where does our confidence really lie?  Are we confident in the practice and trappings of our religion? Or do we place our confidence in the object of our worship – in God?

What if we boasted in all that we have achieved?  The world tells us to put our confidence in our educational status, our career choices.  We hear that the one with the most toys wins – clearly a message that material possessions will boost our status and make us happy.   That song sung around the Fourth of July says “I am proud to be an American” –indicating confidence comes from living in the right country. Our society tells us to be proud of where we live, in our homes and our cars.  Not that any of those things are bad.  We are very blessed to have the opportunities that living in the United States brings.  But we need to beware – do those blessings become the source of our confidence or does our confidence rest in the one who gave us those blessings – our gracious God?

What if we boasted in our “God-fidence” as Paul does?  In baptism we are clothed with Jesus. We have been clothed in “God-fidence.” We are marked with the cross of Christ.  We share in Jesus’ death, and we share in his resurrection. We lose everything else to gain Christ.  And daily we live out our baptism, confidently rising each day knowing that exactly what we need for the joys and the trials of that day comes from the source all good things, our God. 

And that “God-fidence” can give us the courage to move beyond our past, both the good and the not-so-good, to reach for the future God has planned for us – to press on to the goal of life in Jesus.

You remember Maria, the young novice sent to be a governess?  Do you know how the story ends?  Not the Hollywood story, but the real story?  As a teen I loved the movie so much – I just had to read the book about the real-life Von Trapps, written by the real-life Maria. 

It was only when she put on the confidence that comes from Jesus that she was able to embrace the vocation God had in mind for her, to bring love and healing into a household trapped in despair and grief. 

It was her “God-fidence” that enabled her to flee Austria with her husband and children when the Nazis wanted to force him to fight for them. 

It was her “God-fidence” that gave her strength to make a new home for her family in a strange country, arriving with only the clothes on their backs. 

And it was her “God-fidence” that inspired her and her family to create a new life for themselves, forming a singing group and eventually a camp that brought music, hope and joy to many.        

How will “God-fidence” give you courage to face your fears?

How does “God-fidence” strengthen you for the tasks of the week ahead?

Where will “God-fidence” lead you to serve? 

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