Fellow Passengers: This week’s Pastoral Passage* (2 Corinthians 5:1-7) transports us to a makeshift campground where the human spirit is hanging out in temporary tents, waiting to upgrade to permanent dwellings in a covenant community constructed by Christ the carpenter. This new home, built to last, will fit each occupant like a finely tailored suit, while living in the tent city is like wearing threadbare rags. But when we finally close on the deal, life in the big house will swallow up our fading denim. And here’s the surety: the great Spirit in the Sky has paid the deposit, is the guarantor, and this is one ownership society that will never face foreclosure.
Paul is writing this letter to some concerned Corinthian Christians, a congregation starting to feel scared stiff by the tardiness of Jesus’ return. They were especially anxious and fearful about the fate of their dearly departed, whose literal stiffness did not inspire hope in the One they thought would be here by now. So, Paul says, digging around for some encouraging words, Be confident. You’ll have to trust me on this one. I can’t show it to you right now, so you’ll have to go on faith, not sight. Confidence, that’s the key. Walk tall, even amidst the moan and groans of the pup-tent squatter life. Keep on risking everything you have, keep on putting your life on the line, for the only way you can get this home is sight unseen, as is. So trust me, you’ll have to have some confidence. Confidence. It’s interesting how this great word, confidence, literally with faith, took a turn sometime in the 19th century, and started referring to swindling schemes. Confidence men (con men) started turning up to pray on the gullible and vulnerable with scams built on the confidence they could inspire in their marks. Con artists became famous and even heroic and funny in film, from Newman and Redford’s Henry Gonforff and Johnny Hooker in The Sting to George Cloony’s Danny Ocean in Ocean’s Eleven, but the con became tragically unfunny in recent times as Bernard Madoff scammed billions from trusting folks as noteworthy as Eli Weisel, whose confidence in the swindler erased the charitable lifework of his and hundreds of others.
For some reason, all this makes me realize how much of a challenge we face when we in the Church try to inspire confidence among our neighbors, when we encounter seekers who are out to find authentic meaning and hope in their lives and we try to persuade them of our good news. Our tents are filled with a lot of baggage, two-thousand years of history that includes catastrophic episodes of steeple-inspired war-mongering, steeple-inspired greed and accumulation of grotesque wealth across the tracks from abject poverty, steeple-inspired pride and prejudice excluding strangers from the borders of our comfort zones. So put yourself in the shoes of a searcher, someone unsure about life, both here and for eternity. Then look at the landscape of Christianity. Do we inspire confidence? When we sit around the campfire in the tent village with them and say, trust and obey, for there’s no other way do they hear a persuasive call to a real hope, or do they hear another con artist trying to swindle something out of them? We can’t do much more than Paul and invite them to risk their lives for this hope, sight unseen, and then try to live our lives in such a way that the hope we enact in our daily lives speaks more persuasively than the words we speak. When we walk with the Lord by the light of His word, perhaps the glory He sheds on our way will close the deal for these folks searching for home. It will definitely take some courage on their part to act with this much confidence.
How about you? Where does this Pastoral Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.