Faith, hope and love
A number of years ago when I was teaching in children in year 3 (age 7/8) a new little boy joined the class. He had that lovely, ingenuous smile that children have, and on his first day he whispered to me “You know, Mrs. Lomas, I’m quite stupid because I can’t read.” I set about trying to solve this problem and sent for Matthew’s mother, a lovely mum, and asked her, if for my records, he could have an up to date eye and hearing test to eliminate those physical problems first. Not long afterwards, Mum returned and with tears told me that she had never realised that Matthew had very poor eyesight and the optician was amazed that it had gone undetected for so long. She needed a lot of consoling, but when he got his glasses, he progressed swiftly, and told me that he never knew letters and words looked like this, he had only seen worm-like squiggles on the page.
Glasses unlocked a new perspective and future for Matthew and so it is with this letter of Paul to the Romans, I need to put on my spiritual glasses to really begin to understand and perceive what Paul is driving at. Romans can be powerful and uplifting, but it can also be, as Judith said, a few weeks ago, “dense and complex” and sometimes I just want to have Paul next to me and say, “Look what is your meaning here?” So I invite you to join me and put on your spiritual glasses, too, while we look at these 5 verses and try and enable them to come to life for us, in our day. (these verses can be found on page 1132 in the Bibles)
The first thing that caught my eye in these 5 verses was the famous Pauline trilogy - faith, v1, hope v3, and love v5– faith, hope and love, bringing to mind the great words of 1 Corinthians 13, with these well respected and comfortable Pauline themes. But don’t get too comfortable because in verse 1 we come right up against Paul’s big recurring theme of justification by faith. So let’s look at the first of that trilogy – faith, belief. This has been a major theme for the opening chapters of this letter. Judith tackled it in Chapter 3 and last week, Colin explained, very clearly, that there were two kinds of religion; that of keeping the Law, whether Jewish or Christian and accruing merits or demerits, for a passage to heaven, or that of justification by faith that allows us to be who we are, to be the best that we can be, not guilt-ridden but whole, within the encompassing love of God. So why does Paul use this phrase, justification by faith so much?
Answer: Because of what Jesus did.
Justification, as Colin and Judith inferred, is to be “made right.” The term reminds us of a law court where people seek recompense for that which has caused them damage in some way and those accused of causing the damage have to pay the price for their actions, so that the victims of crime have, therefore, been justified or “made right”. Paul now takes this imagery, implying that we, the accused, have been “made right” at no cost to ourselves, because Jesus became the victim for all that is wrong and sinful, by his death and sacrifice on the cross,- our “propitiation” as the Book of Common Prayer describes this. His death, his atonement, enabled and brought us back to at – one – ment with God. And, says Paul, it is this belief in the grace of God that releases us from the human constrictions with which we surround ourselves, - this grace “makes us right” and gives us the freedom to move forward in and through love, to be the ever evolving new creation of who we are.
There is also another side to justification. When I am refereeing my squabbling grandchildren, I am amazed at how adept they are at justifying their actions of knocking seven bells out of each other, trying to make a wrong action seem right. By trying to justify their actions they are trying to convince themselves that what they have done is OK, acceptable. In his book “Silence and Honey Cakes,” Rowan Williams intimated that if we have to resort to justification for our actions, then we are trying to convince ourselves of the rightness of a course of action we have taken.
But, says Paul, Faith shows us that we no longer have to justify ourselves, because God’s action through Jesus, his death on the cross – “made right” those who trust in God.This doesn’t give us a carte blanche to do as we wish, because implied is the golden rule of all our thoughts, words and actions… to be only that which is life-enhancing, life fulfilling and life supporting to ourselves, others and creation, enabled by grace.
So, right at the beginning of this chapter we meet this phrase, “justification by faith,” once more. Tom Wright in his book on Romans explains that at the beginning of Ch 5 Paul is beginning to build a structure – a picture of Christian life. In his translation of this passage he describes Paul as saying, “Since we have been declared to be in the right , on the basis of faith” i.e. forgiven and upheld and in a state of grace v 1 , this understanding brings us to “peace with God, v1”. I find these words easier to understand, and understanding justification by faith brings us to “peace with God.” This is a very intuitive thought by Paul.
For this is no objective peace but that state of being which is perfect union with God, Creation and humankind, the eternal triangle. This peace always leads to and ever seeks to merge with the Oneness that is God from whom it flows. It is one of the major rhythms of grace that flow though our humanity, linking us with our creator God. The other rhythms are love, joy, hope, freedom and unity. They are the great gift of a loving God. Here, Paul links peace with hope and love, and it is faith that activates these ryhthms and enables us to stand in grace before God, “made right.”
Paul’s expression of hope in v 3 is complex. He talks about sufferings producing perseverance, which builds character that provides us with hope. Maybe we could put it in a different way. Faith, our belief, and the hope contained in our belief enables us to create our experience. When we create our experience through faith and hope we have a different perspective on life issues. So if we are faced with troubles, problems or other situations, it is the hope contained within our belief that is the driving instinct that fuels our creativity to deal with situations. Let’s look at how hope created the following situation.
There was a wonderful series of programmes on TV about a man who had spent a large part of his life in tiger conservation. He came up with a brilliant project containing hope for the future of this endangered animal. He gathered together a group of eminent Scientists and camera operatives to work on a project of trying to create a tiger corridor for this severely endangered, magnificent cat, in the neighbouring countries of Nepal, Bhutan and the Assam district of India, all high Himalayan country. The team set up camp in Bhutan to discover, first of all, whether tigers actually live in Bhutan, especially high up in the mountainous areas. If so, Bhutan would be the missing link in the proposed corridor. When the camera man, (after much searching and hard walking with high altitude problems,) discovered tigers living high up in the Himalayas, on his remote cameras, he sat down and wept with joy and relief that they were there, because now they had irrefutable evidence to present to rulers and politicians for the creation of a possible tiger corridor, through these countries. For all the Scientists involved it was their love of this animal and the hope contained in their belief of its rightful place in the ecosystem that fuelled their massive creativity for its conservation. Belief, hope and love working together to create the experience of practical conservation.
The LOVE for this animal is a purposely chosen word– and it brings us to the last of the trilogy of faith, hope and Love. In v5 we read, “God has poured out his love into our hearts,” and it is this love that draws us into the Oneness that is God, where we also experience the other life rhythms of peace, hope, joy, unity and freedom. This love is the glorious radiance of the divine energy –it is perfect creation, it is the pure rhythm of all there is, here and everywhere in the vastness of the Universe. This love is there for us to extend the dimensions of who we are, leading us on towards the Oneness that is God.
Faith, Hope and Love are found in these 5 verses.
Justified by Faith, “made right” through the cross of Jesus, by the grace of God.
Hope, is one of the eternal rhythms, the product of our belief and it fuels our creativity.
And Love, the glorious radiance of divine love, the profound fulfilment of who we are.
My granddaughter has a book called Peek a Boo and on each page she has to find something that is hidden under a flap and when she lifts the flap, the words pop out “peeka boo.” On the final page when she lifts the flap, there is a mirror where she sees her own reflection, and the words pop out, “Peek a boo – it’s YOU!” When we look into our spiritual mirror and see the reflection of faith, hope and love, God is saying, “Peek a boo, its me in you.” And thus we can be the reflection of God’s glory in v 2.