Twenty Fifth Sunday After Pentecost: God Our Example of Faith Hope and Charity
Being mindful, without ceasing, your work of faith, and labour of charity, and of the enduring, steadfast, hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. I Thessalonians 1:3
Let me start off by giving a little catechism lesson on the word virtue. The word “virtue” is used as a synonym for goodness or sobriety or some likable personality trait, but the Church uses the term in a much more precise way. Virtues are special graces given by God to the soul for the accomplishment of particular objectives. They inhere in the soul and are subject to strengthening or weakening. The Church distinguishes between two general categories of virtues: theological and moral. Moral virtues are so called because they help us live within the moral parameters set forth by the gospel. Chief among them are prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude, also known as cardinal virtues (derived from the Latin cardo, meaning hinge, because on them hinge all other moral virtues). In todays Epistle we read of three theological virtues: Work of FAITH, Labour of CHARITY, and an enduring, steadfast HOPE.
Faith, hope, and charity are called theological virtues because they are the most important characteristics in a Christian’s life, as Paul explains in Romans 5:1-5 and 1 Corinthians 13:13. They pertain (exclusively, in the case of faith and hope, and primarily, in the case of charity) to one’s relationship with God.
But not only are Faith, Charity and Hope characteristics in a Christian life, they are characteristics of our eternal God. Not only do Faith, Hope and Charity pertain to one's relationship to God, But Faith, Hope and Charity pertain to God's relationship to us.
With that in mind, if we're going to properly have work of faith, labour of charity, and an enduring, steadfast, hope, then we need to be, in the words of Saint Paul to the Ephesians, imitators of God, who is our perfect example. We're not called to be super-human. We're called to be followers of God or imitators of God, as beloved children.
Most children are imitators of their parents. I know that for my entire childhood, I wanted to be like my Dad.
My Dad had always been unafraid to admit his weakness and need for Christ. I remember getting up every morning and seeing my father, up early, reading his Bible. No matter what was going on that week, no matter how tired Dad was, we were in church. Dad modeled what it looks like to get up every day, whether he liked it or not, and go to work for the family. Dad never wavered in his commitment to provide for us. He showed me what it looks like for a Christian man to live out his faith in the nitty-gritty, daily grind of life, among a lost and sinful people. And I’ll never, ever forget it. If I am even half the man Dad was in his life, that would be enough for me.
This is the way that we are called to imitate God - not as all-powerful beings worthy of worship, all though he is. but simply as beloved children who want to be just like their Dad.
And so let us look at God our Father and his example to us concerning the theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity:
Work of Faith
In the book of Job, starting with chapter 1:1, we read, There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil... (2:1-3) Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the Lord. And the Lord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job?
It's an old, old story noted in the first chapter of the Old Testament book of Job. The take-aways, lessons to be gleaned from the story of Job fill books and commentaries. Yet there is one aspect that is astounding and not always discussed.
Why did God even suggest to the devil that he might try to dominate Job? Why would God purposely tell Satan to try his best to turn Job away from God and turn him into a follower of evil? Many claim this was a test of Job's faith, which God wanted to see if Job was truly a faithful follower of the Almighty. I believe that is true. But Gods says in Isaiah 55:8-9 that, For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Couldn't God have had more than one reason to allow Job to be tested? Could it be in a sense, a test of God's faith in Job?
That almost sounds like a blasphemous thought. But it is not the first time God wanted to be tested.
Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted, (or tested) by the devil.
From the verses in that first chapter of Job it appears that God is confident that Job is a "blameless and upright man, who fears God and shuns evil" (verse 8). Even after Satan is allowed to inflict economical, physical and emotional horrors, God remains undeterred in His unwavering confidence in Job.
That faith in His followers is not unique to Job. The writer of Hebrews lists some of those whose faith in God reflected His faith in them: Abel, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Samuel, and others (Hebrews 13).
So ultimately the question that must be asked is: Does God have faith in me as He did in Job? And in spite of my incalculable shortcomings and failures, the answer must be yes!
That answer is found in the writings of the apostle John in his first letter: 1 John 5:11–13 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.
Now the question is, does the Great God Almighty have faith in you? Would he suggest to Satan: "Have you considered my servant _________?"
1 John 4:8 describes one of God’s primary attributes as love.
He that loveth not, knoweth not God: for God is charity. (I John 4:8)
This verse describes God’s love as permeating His essence in all He is and all He does. As today’s medias tout stories of scandal, tragedy, and war; we as Catholics can be confident knowing all we need is God’s love. A well known Theologian from my Baptist upbring stated, “Nothing God ever does, or ever did, or ever will do, is separate from the love of God.” Everything He has ever done has been out of love. Here are two key implications that this attribute - God is love - that is for all people today.
We can trust in God’s Love.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8 gives several descriptions of love:
"Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails."
At the core of these qualities is the unwavering and unfailing aspect of love. God has proven this nature about Himself to humanity throughout the ages. He has maintained a covenantal relationship with humanity since creation. Even in our sinfulness, God continued to maintain patience with us and show us mercy. When Adam and Eve sinned, before they had to leave the garden, God lovingly provided clothing to cover their nakedness. Even through the Israelites rebellions, God maintained His covenant relationships with them. After Jonah fled from the Lord, God delivered him from death through the big fish. By looking at the faithfulness of God’s love throughout history, we can trust that He will continue to act accordingly in our lives.
Our salvation is an expression of God’s love.
The greatest demonstration of God’s love was this gift of His Only Son.
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life," John 3:16.
God did not send Christ as a reward to the obedient, but rather as a ransom for the defiant. We see Jesus display his love throughout His life and ministry. He healed the sick without requirement of gratitude. He displayed humility even though He was King of Kings. Even while on the cross, Jesus prayed for the forgiveness of the ones who placed Him there (John 3:16, 1 John 3:16, 4:10, Romans 5:8). God’s love does not discriminate. Salvation is open to all who “Repent and are baptized... for the remission of their sins.
Psalm 136 beautifully describes the love of God as unfailing. The psalmist recalls (26 times!) how in His sovereignty, the Lord upholds His creation and people in love. As we look back upon His loving faithfulness from the beginning of time, we can grow in our assurance that God will continue to vindicate His children and promote His kingdom to come until His plan and purpose comes to full fruition.
There is a hymn that we use to sing over the years called “The love of God”. It was composed by Frederick Martin Lehman, who was born on August 7, 1868, at Mecklenburg in Schwerin, Germany. Lehman emigrated to America with his family at age four, settling in Iowa, where he lived most of his childhood. The majority of his life was devoted to writing sacred songs. Sometime around 1917, Lehman, preparing to relocate to California, was at a meeting in a Midwestern state and heard a speaker end his message by quoting what became the third stanza of Lehman’s song “The Love of God.” The preacher said that these lines had been found penciled on the wall of a patient’s room in an insane asylum after he had been carried to his grave. The assumption was that this inmate had scratched out the words in moments of sanity.
The identity of that incarcerated prisoner is unknown. But these were the words:
Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above,
Would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.
In the words of another song:
How deep the Father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure,
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure.
What an example is our fathers love for us!
One Concordance that I use lists 128 uses of the word “hope” in the Bible. Of those, 59 appear in the New Testament. The word translated “hope” in the New Testament comes from the Greek word elpis, which means to anticipate, expectation or confidence.
The closest indication that God hopes requires building a bridge between two verses: “God is love” (John 14:6b) and love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7).
In God, hope abounds
That line of reasoning—That God is love; and love hopes; which we can conclude that God hopes—seems to be a stretch. But it gets to the clear message of Scripture: God is the source of hope; in God—Father, Son and Holy Ghost—hope abounds.
• “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).
• “… God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:17).
• “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus according to the commandment of God our Savior, and of Christ Jesus, who is our hope” (1 Timothy 1:1).
• “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).
The prodigal son
Although we cannot comprehend how God views time, God placed us in a universe of forward-moving linear chronology. God provided people with an opportunity to form a loving relationship through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, who told us God desires we embrace that relationship.
Jesus compared God’s relationship with human beings to a father’s relationship to a prodigal child.
The father continually looked down the road, longing for the child’s return. Seeing the form of the child walking up the road, the father ran to embrace him and welcome him back to the family.
Based upon the Parable of the Prodigal Son, I believe God hopes for our salvation the way the concordance defines elpis: “to anticipate … with pleasure.”
So today, may we be imitators of God. May we be mindful, without ceasing, of HIS work of faith, and HIS labour of charity, and of the enduring, steadfast, hope HE has for our salvation.