Woody Allen once said, “Confidence is what you have before you really understand the problem.” Tina Fey said, “Confidence is 10% hard work and 90% delusion.” Joseph T. Hallinan said about confidence, “Almost everyone is overconfident, except the people who are depressed, and they tend to be realists.”
Our epistle reading begins with the phrase, “We are always confident!” Think about it, we are always confident? How can that be? How can we be always confident? Life is simply too uncertain to be always confident. Totally unexpected things happen daily. Every day people go in for routine check-ups and hear bad news they did not anticipate. As we get older it is more and more difficult to have confidence in our bodies. It is also difficult to have confidence in our economy. In 1996 through 2007 there were indeed bank failures, but there were maybe one a year. From just 2008 to 2012 there were 465 banks failed. We have somewhat stabilized but still there is always the underlying anxiety about the reliability of our banks. So how can we be really confident in our economic system?
We try to eat right, we try to invest right or save right, we try to do the right thing and hope things will work out right, but you know what? Sometimes they just do not. Sometimes our health problems are not simply the result of bad food choices or activities, sometimes the problems are results of our genetics and how can one prepare for that?
Keeping all of this in mind, how can Paul say, “We are always confident?” What does Paul mean or perhaps what doesn’t he mean? First he doesn’t mean that we always have a confident personality. And he is not talking about having confidence in me like Maria in the Sound of Music sang in her song. So what is Paul talking about then? Again, as always, context is important. This is a continuation of last week’s Scripture reading and last week we heard how our bodies are indeed mortal and will not last, but because we know Jesus was raised from the dead we trust and know that God will also raise us from the dead as well. And not only that but our inner life as Christians is being renewed by God through our prayers, through our worship, and through our meditation on God’s word so that even though our physical bodies may be failing our inner life is growing and being strengthened.
That’s why Paul can say we are always confident. We are confident about life itself, about being alive because we know that God is helping us to grow more and more into life even though our physical bodies are aging or as he said last week, are wasting away. That is why he can say, “We walk by faith, not by sight.”
St. Augustine once said a very interesting phrase; he said, “God does not expect us to submit our faith to him without reason, but the very limits of our reason make faith a necessity.” Every one of us has gone through, or is going through, or will go through struggles in life and in this struggle there will seem to be no good reason why. As Augustine says, our reason is limited. We are limited by our inability to see and understand our lives as they are intertwined into countless other lives and to understand our weaknesses and the desire God has to strengthen and help us to grow out of those weaknesses into strength. Therefore, because of our limitations of reason, we have few choices when bad things happen to us and around us. We can despair and get angry or we can choose to look at the fact that God loves us. He loves us so much he sent his Son into the world. If in fact God does love us this much, we can trust him. That is the foundation of Paul’s confidence. That is the foundation of his faith.
And God’s love for us is not only the foundation of his confidence and faith in the midst of life’s struggles, it is also the foundation for why he lives the way he does. Paul says, “So whether we are at home, that is still alive in our bodies, or away, that is dead but with the Lord, we make it our aim to please him.” And why do we do we want to please him? Well certainly we want to please him because we will all appear before the judgment seat of Christ and we will all have to answer to God for our actions, but also he says, “For the love of Christ urges us on.” Why do we do what we do? Why do we serve God? Why do we serve others? As Christians we serve God and others because the love of Christ urges us on. Several weeks ago, the presiding bishop Michael Curry preached a wonderful sermon at Prince Harry and Meghan’s wedding. The theme of his sermon was on how love changes our perspective on life. It was on how love affects how we look at the world around us and it affects how we treat those around us.
Taking this thought and applying it to our scripture today we see that as we understand how we are loved by God, as we see his great love for world, we change. Like Bishop Curry said, our perspective changes and how we treat others changes. This is what happened to Paul. He understood how much God loved him and how much God loved the people in his world. And because he understood this and had been transformed by this love he tried as hard as he could to love those around him. He was patient and kind and thoughtful to others. Was it because people were always kind to Paul? No, as we saw last week there were many people who really hated Paul and tried to kill him over and over—yet, Paul loved. He says here the “love of Christ urges us on.” That is why we are to do what we do for others. That is why we do what we do for our God. We do these things because the love of Christ inspires us; it guides us and even shapes us do those things we ought to do.
And Paul points out at the end of this reading that because of this transformation by love we should not look at ourselves and other Christians as regular human beings anymore. He says that if we are in Christ we are a new creation. Everything old has passed away! We now have a new paradigm, a new world view from which we operate and from which we see ourselves and the world around us. Now we can look at others, even those with whom we may disagree, with the eyes of compassion and patience understanding that these are people for whom Christ died. That is not the way our world operates is it? The world’s perspective is all about looking out for number one, looking out for me and mine. According to our world’s standards and our society’s standards everything is about me or for me or concerning me. This ‘me centered’ viewpoint is diametrically opposed to the Christian world view. But for us as Christians—we are able to break away from this worldly perspective. We can break away from the anger and bitterness of the world’s rhetoric and actions. How can we do this? We do it because we walk by faith not by sight. This world, our existence in this world is passing away. Through our faith we see that our home is a heavenly one. We are new creatures; new creations and we are motivated by the love of Christ.
Woody Allen says people are confident because they don’t really understand the problem. Tina Fey says confidence comes from delusional thinking. Is this the case for us? No, we can have confidence because our confidence is based upon God. In this world everything will not always goes well for us nor will we be exempted from troubles or severe testing. Nevertheless, we have confidence because we know we have God’s abiding love for us and we have a heavenly home and because of His love we are able to love and serve those around us. Amen