Faith Hope Love
St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 14th Sunday after Trinity
September 22, 2019
“Almighty and everlasting God, give unto us the increase of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain that which thou dost promise, make us to love that which thou dost command.”
FAITH, HOPE AND LOVE: this Godly trio of graces, spiritual gifts for us to seek and embrace, are often listed together. And then we refrain St. Paul’s love chapter from 1st Corinthians and assume that the real lesson to learn is love. So it is. But that’s another sermon and I believe I’ve preached it here. Faith, Hope, Love: they are not options, not any of the three.
Faith is a door, and it’s a destination. While love is the driving force in Jesus’ life on earth, and we can see love as His motivation for healing the ten lepers in the marketplace, in the last words of that miraculous account from our Gospel today He tells the Samaritan “Your faith has made you whole.” We might try to translate the word “whole” as “well” or “healthy at last.” But it’s more than that. “Whole” is complete. It has the same definition as the word “perfect.” And we’ve lately heard that the righteousness God attributed to Abraham came by way of the man’s faith.
How can faith complete you? This world, meaning the stars and planets, life and energy, reproduction and scientific pursuit, philosophy, music, art, industry, and our spiritual quest, is a mystery and a wonder, a myriad of layers and dreamlike truths, a fascinating interplay of intricate systems until a tapestry emerges and we find patterns in it all. Let the man or woman of faith open eyes to the real world, this creation: and hang on! You’re going for the best ride in Disneyland times a million.
And yet, what do many eyes behold when they wake up each day? An unmade bed, dishes left to wash, piles of clothes still to fold and put away, and a nagging backache and a worse nagging that says this is not a good life. All the wonder and fascination toward the miracle of such life, or the potential of a first moment of realization lies yet undiscovered. Things are only as they appear, and they don’t look beautiful.
This is so like the science-minded modern who has concluded this world has no Maker. It is what it is, only what it looks like. A plant is a plant. It’s there. And because it’s there, and there are so many of them, then there it is. Plant. It exists because it does. I can devise a scheme by which this plant might have evolved from smaller plants, more primitive plant life. See? Nothing mysterious here. No reason to invent some pie in the sky god of anger and a fool’s paradise. Because I can come across life and see it every day, there is nothing to find out, nothing to conclude.
This is like the man who found a golden pocket watch on a forest floor. The watch is ticking and keeping good time. He might take it apart and figure out how it works, examine all the parts, the gears and spring, the little teeth and levers that must interact just so with balance that is perfect so that the central pins can turn at an exact rate to turn the hour, minute and second hands all to revolve with the same frequency hour by hour. The man has found the watch and has a decision to make, a conclusion to reach. He doesn’t know how the watch got there. Because he found it, and it exists, he might conclude that such things are found in the forest and that’s the perfectly reasonable answer to its existence. Watches can emerge from the native soil, metals derived therefrom, with crystal faces and springs all fully wound. Thus, the world itself is a watchmaker, and mere nature without a soul or mind to it, forms something as intricate and beautiful as a watch, by itself, with no purpose, no hands, no design, and without eyes. Nature makes a watch, though it’s blind and can’t see it or appreciate it.
Does that feel wrong to you? Yet biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins wrote a book by the name, The Blind Watchmaker, jesting about our Christian alternative conclusion that the watch found in the forest must have been dropped by a human being. That human being made the watch, or had it made, by someone who understood time and mechanics, and designed it for that purpose, to see the hands turn and keep time by it. Dawkins, and all the Scientific American magazine world laugh at our conclusion, but believe the systems of blind nature and mere chance fully explain all that we’ve found in our forest, including the watch, and the man, and his thoughts. Were they to delve into the life of the mushroom growing next to the watch, with real eyes to understand, they might be made more humble. Even a fungus has something to teach us.
Faith is seeing more than what our eyes can simply find and identify. And science these days is traveling dangerously close to those same lines of inquiry. Look further into the living cell, or farther out into space, or underneath the mystery of subatomic structure and many former atheists shudder, recoil, reconsider and finally believe. It isn’t an accident. The Watchmaker is conscious, alive, brilliantly smart, and has eyes – or something better – that sees us and knows why we’re here.
Faith reaches beyond the grasp of fingers, sees beyond the vanishing point, delves deeper than shovels digging their own graves, and penetrates to the origins of life. Faith says there is a reason we are here. Faith knows there is purpose in our existence. Faith humbly admits the farther on we grow in knowledge, the further from having all the answers we are and the greater Our Creator appears to us. Faith is a door and a destination. Like certain mathematical devices, faith allows us to stand in mid-space, and calculate the incalculable. But we get the right answer: even though by ordinary eyes and senses no such computation is possible.
Faith is knowing what is unseen. Faith also has power. Jesus spoke of faith being able to uproot trees or mountains to cast into an ocean. I’m pretty sure those haven’t been literally done, so it could only mean symbolic trees and mountains, and we’ve seen many such powerful upsets. The current Islamic culture of ancient Iran is melting away, we learn, and millions of young Persians are coming to faith in Christ. Now, having lived through the Iranian Revolution 40 years ago, that’s a mountain uprooted for you! The Epistle to the Hebrews says that “without faith it is impossible to please God, because in order to come to God we must believe that He exists, and that He will reward those who come seeking Him.” Heb 11:6 It also says that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Heb 11:1
Things hoped for means that we also hope. If we are ridiculed for having faith, a belief in invisible gods and heavens and miracles, then hope seems to be asking for even more abuse. You hope to get to heaven? Really? But unlike our wish for desert after supper, or a good grade on a test, Christian hope means a kind of knowledge aimed to the future. We know this thing will happen because these other things already have shown us this is how it works.
Faith opens the door and presents a stage set with our Creator, His Savior, and us, badly needing it to be true. Also on stage is the universe, working exactly as it would if there was a God in heaven and a world of frail humans with free will. But the play is beginning, and we have the script. We’ve read the end. It’s wonderful. Shhh! The curtain opens.
Hope is time-oriented. The original Hebrews were given many lessons over time, and brilliant prophecies about future events, many of them fulfilled in the life of Jesus Christ. But they had no trust of these harder teachings, no wish for a humble Savior who would suffer first, then reign and bring glory. So they failed the hope of Israel. We now know more. And thus our hope must be better than theirs.
The symbol of our hope is an anchor, the anchor of the soul. Tides and times may wash over us, and world events flare up with evil leaders or good people falsely brought to ruin, many hopes dashed where such hopes were based in this world. But our hope is eternal. Our hope is based on a true story, and the promise that was given by the worker of many miraculous signs. He said to us, “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” John 14:1-3
Our hope is not a vain thing. It’s knowledge-based in truth. It is a conclusion that this world will end, and our lives here end with it, but that we will go on. And we will rise to a new life, in new bodies, like He did—the one who taught all this to us, who assured us of preparing a place for us. If we don’t believe Him, we are of all people most to be pitied. What a foolish wish. But then produce the body of Jesus for me and show me it’s a lie. The most carefully witnessed event of the ancient world, executed under the power of mankind’s most powerful regime, certified by priests whose business was life and death, sealed in a stone tomb, watched by guards whose lives depended on security and not sleeping their watch away. Now over 500 people report they saw Him, touched Him, heard Him, saw Him eat, then bless, then rise up to be hidden in a cloud of vapor and glory. He’s been seen since then. I gotta say: It’s Jesus or nothing. His promises are what I bank on.
Faith and Hope – they work together: what is, and what will be. But what of love? Love crowns them all because God is good. You have heard the heartless believers in a pseudo-Christian creed of anger, exclusivity, pride and prejudice. Crosses burning in front yards, Maltese crosses painted on warplanes, Dominican judges smiling in the light of burning martyrs. A defective faith and twisted hope with no love can be a cruel and tortured religion, a Cali cult with crucifixes. But it will always be defeated. God is good. And God reminds us it was all for love. A love for God with a hatred of people is clearly a contradiction in religion. The Apostle John wrote, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” 1 Jn 4:20 God is love.
What we remember is that God found us, God forgave us, God renewed our lives and now we live in Him, for Him, because of Him. If He gave us clemency, redemption, and forgiveness, why can’t we forgive another poor lost soul? Who are we to withhold that mercy that God has so lavishly given us?
So: Faith, Hope, Love. These are not options. They are standard equipment in the Christian life, graces – gifts of God – that complete us and give us new eyes and new ears to see and hear the truth. We are scientists in a field new to us, but one that is very old, to discover the wheels and windings of this creation and the Hand of its Creator, working miracles every day, miracles of which each of us is one.
ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, give unto us the increase of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain that which thou dost promise, make us to love that which thou dost command; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.