Faith, hope and love

Good morning, Friends!

One of the greatest Christian writers of all time was a man named Augustine. He was a bishop in a small city in North Africa. Augustine wrote some of the most thought-provoking books the world has ever known, books which are still influential to this day.

One of the simplest and most profound thoughts he shared was a prayer. He said, “Lord, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they rest in you…”

There’s so much truth to that. We’re all restless. We’re always busy doing one thing or another. We’re always looking for something new to be busy with. And when we’re not busy, we either feel guilty or we’re bored. We’re restless, we will always be restless until we learn to lay things down and rest in God, without needing to be anyplace or do anything else.

It’s like he says – there’s an empty place inside of us, an empty place in our hearts, which will always be empty until we let it be filled up by God.

So much of what’s wrong with the world comes from this emptiness inside people. We try to fill it up with games, with violence, with addictions, with anything. Because we can’t stand that empty place, that feeling there’s something missing, deep inside our hearts.

But as Jesus said, whoever comes to him will never be hungry or thirsty again. God fills that empty place, in a way that nothing or no one can. Because God made us with that empty place, so that we’ll fill it with Him.

What I want to talk about this morning is how we can fill that restlessness, how we can fill that emptiness, that ache inside of us. I want to talk about what it means and what it’s like to be filled.

We certainly get a lot of advertising about products and experiences which are supposed to fill us or be fulfilling. There are foods, there are videos, there are getaway vacations and drugs and toys of all kinds. All of them are advertised as things which will make us happy. They’re going to fill us, and we’re going to be satisfied.

Trouble is, they don’t. We try things, and we do things, and we spend money for these things, and we’re still restless. We’re not filled.

I think Augustine was right. We will always be restless, until our hearts find rest in God.

I’d like to talk about that place of rest this morning, and to start us off, I’m going to read from a very famous passage in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.

We’ve be studying this book at our Wednesday night Bible study for the last couple of months. First Corinthians has some of the best stuff in the whole Bible!

I always tell people at Bible study that sometimes it helps to try reading a different translation. So, instead of your pew Bibles, I’m going to read from the Contemporary English Version, which was done by the American Bible Society.

What if I could speak all the languages of humans and even of angels? If I did not love others, I would be nothing more than a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

What if I could prophesy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge? What if I had faith that moved mountains? I would be nothing, unless I loved others.

What if I gave away everything that I own and let myself be burned alive as a martyr? I would gain nothing, unless I loved others.

Love is patient and kind. Never jealous, never boastful, never proud or rude. Love isn’t selfish or quick tempered. It doesn’t keep a record of wrongs that others do.
Love rejoices in the truth, but not evil.

Love is always supportive, loyal, hopeful, and trusting. Love never fails!

Everyone who prophesies will stop, and unknown languages will no longer be spoken. All that we know will be forgotten.

We don’t know everything, and our prophecies aren’t complete. But what is perfect will someday appear, and what isn’t perfect will then disappear.

When we were children, we thought and reasoned as children do. But when we grew up, we quit our childish ways.

Now all we can see of God is like a cloudy picture in a mirror. Later we will see God face to face.

We don’t know everything, but then we will, just as God completely understands us.

For now there are faith, hope, and love. But of these three, the greatest is love.

– 1 Corinthians 13 (Contemporary English Version)

So faith, hope and love are what it’s all about, according to Paul. Or, to borrow from Augustine, without faith, hope and love, we’re always going to be restless. Until we’re filled with them, we’re always going to be empty.

But what are they? What are faith, hope and love? That’s something maybe we could take a closer look at.

Faith isn’t just intellectual belief. It’s not just up in your head.

A lot of the time in the Bible it says, “So-and-so believed.” That’s a bad translation, if belief is some kind of an intellectual think going on up in your head.

People believe all kinds of things, and our beliefs don’t always stay the same. People used to believe that the earth was flat. They used to believe that diseases were caused by evil spirits. We know those things aren’t true. We changed our beliefs.

Belief can be something temporary. You change your beliefs when you learn something new. Anyone who doesn’t change his or her beliefs from time to time has stopped learning.

You can argue about beliefs. What I believe may be different from what you believe, and our differences may be legitimate, because we’ve had different experiences.

Belief is something restless. The best scientists and the best thinkers are always restless people. They’re always looking for new truth.

Faith is something different. Faith isn’t ignorance. It isn’t being blind to things. Faith is simply different from intellectual belief.

Faith is all about trust. It’s a deep down, rock-bottom, unshakable bedrock kind of trust in God.

You can argue about beliefs, because any reasonable person will stop and look at the evidence. You can’t argue about faith, because unshakeable trust is something that cuts way beneath all of the other things in life.

As Paul wrote in another place, “I know in whom I have placed my faith, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to him…” (II Timothy 1:12)

Faith is trust. It’s understanding that God is to be trusted, no matter what else changes or what else comes and goes.

Jesus said that faith can move mountains. Actually, faith so solid that mountains have to move around it. It’s not that we or our faith move things, but when we are grounded on that rock of faith in God, everything else has to give way.

We are meant to be filled with faith. We’re supposed to be supported by our faith. Trust in God is what holds us up, when everything else changes or gets washed away.

Without faith, everything we do is false. It’s hypocrisy. It’s doing things for the sake of appearances, rather than basing what we do on God’s living reality.

When the man said to Jesus, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”, he wasn’t talking about something intellectual. He was talking about faith. He was talking about trust. He was asking to be filled with faith, filled with trust. Faith is essential, because without it, we’ll always be tossed to and fro, back and forth, without anything to hold on to.

It’s also important for us to be filled with hope.

And again, hope isn’t what we usually think it is. We confuse hope with something much less permanent, which is optimism.

Optimism says, “Well, things will turn out all right!” A lot of people preach optimism. They say, “Look on the bright side. Don’t be so gloomy. Stay cheerful. Don’t worry, be happy!”

Hope is something very different. Hope isn’t afraid to look at the darkness of the world around us, or at the dark places within us.

Hope says, “I trust God. My hope is in the Lord, and I trust that the Lord has the power to deal even with this, whatever it is. . .”

Hope is faith in what God can do. Hope is faith in the power of God to overcome all evil, in every situation.

Hope means taking Jesus seriously when he says, “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world…” It means seeing our troubles, and not pretending they aren’t there. Hope means knowing that the power of the Lord is greater still.

And again, hope doesn’t have much to do with belief. You believe what you see. You’re optimistic about what’s already right in front of you.

As Paul says, hope often means trusting God when you can’t see things clearly yet. Hope often means hoping against hope. It means understanding something more than what’s there.

Most people don’t live with that kind of hope. Their lives are filled by optimism. Or maybe not even that. They’re filled with cynicism, or skepticism or pessimism.

All of those different “isms” are another way of saying that we have put our hope in something else besides God. When we get all wrapped up and filled with an “ism”, we’re replacing God with something else.

Hope is the power and strength of the Christian, because hope is building our active expectations on God. We expect God to come through. We know that God is working to bring about the very best result.

One of the early Friends, George Fox, wrote to his friends in a letter, where he said, “Rejoice, you children of the day and of the night, for the Lord is at work in this thick darkness which can be felt…”

That’s hope. The Lord is at work. We know it, even when we don’t see it.

We know that God is at work. We know that salvation is at hand. We know in our hearts, what our eyes can’t see. We rejoice and give thanks for our blessings, even when we’re down and out.

But neither faith nor hope is the whole picture. No matter how important they are, there is something more that we need to be filled with. Do you remember what Paul said it was?

That’s right. It’s love. Faith and hope are essential, but without love, they’re nothing.

Love is faith and hope put into action. It’s not just hoping and trusting. Love is taking a step, based on that trust. It’s not just expecting good things from God, it’s reaching out to live to share those things with others.

We all make mistakes. We all make substitutes for faith and hope. I can’t begin to list all the substitutes we make for love.

I was forced to listen to part of a passionate soap opera this week, while I was sitting in the waiting room at the hospital for a while. That doesn’t have anything to do with love.

In our society, love is one of the most overused, misused, abused, twisted and distorted words there is. We call so many other things by the name of “love”, that we’ve almost forgotten what love really is.

Love is what happens when you put your whole heart and soul and strength and mind into living with God. Love is the life of faith.

In one of John’s epistles, it says, “Whoever does not love, does not know God…” And that’s really the way it is.

Love is the most basic commandment of Christ. “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you. . .”

Love the way Jesus did. And it’s not always easy.

Paul writes: “Love is patient and kind…” That means that our first impulse is often to be impatient and unkind, doesn’t it?

He says, “Love is not jealous or boastful, love is not arrogant or rude…” The reason Paul mentions those other things, is they’re the way we so frequently are. We have to understand love by looking at all of the mistakes we make, at all of the things we fill ourselves with instead of love.

Love teaches us to be glad when other people succeed, to be glad when they’re happy. Love teaches us the real meaning of humility. It teaches us to be deeply and unfailingly courteous, even when it’s difficult.

“Love does not insist on its own way…” That’s one of the hardest lessons for us to learn. “Love is not irritable or resentful. . .” That means learning to be slow to anger, and quick to forgive.

Love bears, believes, hopes, and endures all things. Love never ends.

We fill ourselves up with all kinds of stuff. When I think about the way most people live, it’s almost as though we fill ourselves with junk food. It looks good, and it tastes good for a while, but the aftertaste is bad, and it leaves you feeling empty.

People eat a lot of “spiritual junk food” in our society. We spend our time and our money for things which don’t fill us, and then we wonder why we’re still hungry.

But what God wants, what God invites us to, is to be filled with true faith, hope, and love. God calls us to these things with joy, because God knows they’re what we need.

I’ve talked a lot about faith, hope and love this morning, and I’ve also talked about the substitutions we make for them, the fakes and counterfeits we put up with, because they’re cheaper.

And I’ve said that we don’t always understand faith, hope and love. They’re not always easy things to understand. But there’s a promise in this morning’s reading as well.

Paul says, quite simply, that we’re going to grow up. And as we grow up, as we spiritually mature, as we’re filled with faith, hope and love, we’ll understand more.

And when we’re truly filled, we will see God face to face. We will understand, even as we ourselves are already understood by God.

Each of us will admit that we’re not perfect. But all that means is that the steps we take now in faith, hope and love are only the beginning. There is still so much more room for us to grow. And God promises to be with us.

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