March 13, Fifth Sunday in Lent:
Isaiah 43:16-21; Philippians 3:4b-14; John 12:1-8
Draft text of the homily, please forgive all grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
What do you have confidence in?
Paul says he’s confident in the flesh, but he’s really building a case against some of the questionable practices the Philippians are engaged in, what he really has confidence in is Jesus.
What do you have confidence in?
These days it’s maybe hard to have confidence in much of anything.
Many of the institutions we used to rely on—have confidence in—are changing, becoming unreliable, or even disintegrating.
In a 2015 Gallup poll, people were asked if they had a great deal, quite a lot, some, or very little confidence in major institutions, only the military and small business, and the police (barely) did over 50% of the respondents say that they had great deal, or quite a lot of confidence in them. And only the military and small business were above their historical average. All the rest: the medical system, public schools, newspapers, TV news, big business and organized labor, the criminal justice system, all three areas of government (President, congress, and the Supreme Court) and organized religion, were all at historic lows in terms of people’s confidence in them. .
What do we have confidence in? Not much.
Having confidence in things seen, in our own human institutions, is hard enough. Having confidence in things not seen…in “this new thing” that God keeps promising… is really difficult.
“I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” says Isaiah. Well, maybe not. It’s hard to see those things…the rivers in the desert…paths on the sea, made through mighty waters. It seems like a dream.
When the Lord restores Zion’s fortunes then were we like those who dream… “when”…”if”… if it is a dream, is it one we have confidence in? One we have faith in?
Confidence—quite literally—is a matter of faith.
The word confidence comes from Latin meaning “having full trust” (con-fidere) and the fidere—the trust part—that’s the same root that gives us for the word “faith.”
Paul’s confidence in the flesh, is nothing, he says to what comes through faith in Christ. Confidence and faith are intimately related. And if our confidence is shaken, so too might be our faith.
Faith is one of those tricky terms. One that has shifted meanings over time.
The late, New Testament scholar Marcus Borg points out in his book, The Heart of Christianity, that faith in it’s fullest sense has four related but different meanings. Faith as assensus, as fiducia, as fidelitas and as visio.
In our modern world “faith” has become mixed up with “belief.” But they’re not exactly synonymous. They do carry a meaning of “assent,” (assensus) as in “I believe (or I have faith) that certain empirically verifiable things are true.” But there is a difference between “believing in” and “believing that.” I believe—I have faith—that the sun will rise tomorrow. But I believe in love. I have faith in God, is not the same as saying, I believe that God exists. There’s more to faith than just assent.
Fiducia is another aspect of faith. Fiducia, is where we get the word fiduciary, and it really carries with it the sense of radical trust. The kind of trust that Denise Levertov describes in her poem, The Avowal.
As swimmers dare
to lie face to the sky
and water bears them,
as hawks rest upon air
and air sustains them,
so would I learn to attain
freefall, and float
into Creator Spirit’s deep embrace,
knowing no effort earns
that all-surrounding grace.
That’s trust. That’s faith. It’s the kind of faith Jesus describes when he talks about the lilies of the field and the birds of the air. Are you not more valuable than they, o you of little faith. Doesn’t mean you of little belief, it means you of little trust. That’s the kind of trust encoded in faith as fiducia.
Fidelitas from where we get the word, fidelity has to do with faithfulness. Not strict adherence to the propositions of belief, but a faithful living out of our relationships: with God and with one another. It means acting in ways that are loyal, steadfast, reliable. Being faithful to God is less about what you believe about God, and more about how you act toward God and God’s creation.
And because faith is not only a way of believing and behaving; it is a way of seeing, Borg lists faith as visio—as vision—as how we see the world and how we respond to it.
Faith is a frame—a lens—through which we see reality.
If we see the world—if our faith—our vision—says the world is fundamentally hostile and threatening—“nature red in tooth and claw”—an all too common worldview now—our response to it will be defensive. We build security states and seek self-protection, and may go on the offensive—in order to “get them before they get you.”
If our faith, our vision sees the world as simply indifferent—which is also a very common view, perhaps the most common secular view—our response will be: What? Fatalistic? Whatever. Doesn’t matter. Materialistic “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die?
But if our faith—our vision—tells us that at root creation is life-giving, is not perfect but ripe with possibilities, is nourishing, and grace-filled, and generous—if this is our vision, then, as Marcus Borg says: “It generates a willingness to spend and be spent for the sake of a vision that goes beyond ourselves… (Borg, Heart, p.36)
This is the faith that Jesus and Paul holds out for us to see (visio) and assent to, and it does requires some significant loyalty (fidelity), and radical trust (fiducia).
Judas sees the world as dangerous and he’s out for himself, he does not trust—does not have faith—he is not confident that there is enough to go around, and he responds with disloyalty.
Mary also sees the reality of the world. She sees—she knows that Jesus is on a path to his death…and that death will change everything. She doesn’t know how…we can’t even really see how…not perfectly, not clearly, not yet, but she has faith in him. She has confidence in him. She has vision, and trust, and fidelity to him and the God whom he reveals; she is confident that there is enough. So much, in fact, that she can be extravagant with her gift. She is willing to spend and be spent for the sake of a vision that is bigger than she is—bigger than all of us.
What do you have confidence in?
Our human institutions—the things we have historically had confidence in—are changing; politics are changing; the church is changing; our planet is changing. We live in a time of tremendous volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. We cannot pretend that none of that is true. But faith is not about believing that things which don’t exist do, or that things that do exist don’t…It’s not about “six impossible things before breakfast.” Faith is holding onto the vision and having the trust—that allows us to press on toward the goal—to spend and be spent for the sake of the God’s vision of a creation reconciled. Amen.