1 Corinthians 13:13

“And now these three remain: faith hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

Bricks of Faith, Hope and Love…

Context: Preaching to church leaders, clergy and lay. 

I assume that all of us are preaching the gospel, that we are trying to live Christlike, but the question is what kind of spirit inhabits our preaching of the gospel and our attempts of living like Christ. Whether we  know it or not, all of us are building something. All of us are stacking bricks and using mortar. But, what is the spiritual consistency of the bricks that we’re using? Our spirituality is based upon what ultimately concerns us. And Paul said it best, our spirituality is based on what we ultimately have faith in, what we ultimately hope for, and what we ultimately love. So someone can preach Christ with a Spirit of greed, but not necessarily a spirit of faith, hope and love. Preaching Christ, talking about God and Spirit is an empty gong and a clanging cymbal without love, hope, and faith. 

1) Faith

When faith is based solely on reward and punishment, faith becomes reduced to a mathematical equation that cannot calculate or deal with the square root of life’s problems. 

If our bricks, if our preaching, if our witness, if our lives lack faith in God then all of our building and our living will be in vain. The biblical understanding of faith is sometimes hard to translate. We are not talking about belief primarily. We are really talking about trust more than belief. You see, I can believe in something, but that doesn’t mean I trust it. I can believe God exists. That doesn’t mean I trust God. That’s how folk can believe in God and not tithe their time, talent, and treasure. They might believe in God, but they don’t really trust God. Faith asks this question: what is it that we ultimately trust? When the smoke clears and the dust settles, who or what do we trust in? Do we trust in God? Do we trust in riches? Do we trust in ourselves? Where our treasure is, there also will our hearts be.

And don’t get it twisted. Obedience to God is not necessarily a sign of trusting God. You see, we can obey for many reasons. We can obey God because we believe that we will face punishment if we don’t do what God tells us to do. And we can obey because we believe that we will be rewarded by God if we do obey. While punishment and reward are indeed motivational, neither imply a trust in God. They involve a trust in fear and self-gain. When faith is based solely on reward and punishment, faith becomes reduced to a mathematical equation that cannot calculate or deal with the square root of life’s problems. Ultimately, the one who is motivated by fear trusts fear and anticipates punishment. The one who is motivated by reward trusts gain and anticipates fortune and advantage. So gain and fear are self-centered motivations. No matter the situation, they both ask the same self-centered question: what will happen to me? But the one who trusts God is motivated by a God who is Love. The faithful person knows God is love and is therefore unafraid of punishment. And the faithful person knows that trusting God does not mean that you will always be rewarded. This is the trust Jesus had, when he said in the Garden, “not my will but thy will be done.” 

When we trust God we find out that God has entrusted us with more than we could ever imagine.

This is the trust MLK had when a racist called his house one night and said, “Nigger, we are tired of your mess. If you don’t leave town, we are gonna blow your brains out and blow up your house.” And that night, King said, he had to know God for himself. That night, his faith had to be more than belief in God; that night, his trust had to be more than the equation of bad people go to hell and good people go to heaven. See, when you’re really going through something, you come to find out what you’ve really been trusting in. And King realized his faith had to be based on trusting God. Because he was too far away from the reward of desegregation and too near the fear of losing of his life and the fear of losing his wife and daughter. That night, over a cup of coffee, faith had to be more than reward and punishment. King had to know God for himself; he had trust in the God of Life, Mercy and Justice, the maker of heaven and earth. And as he prayed over a cup of coffee, King said he heard a voice say, “Martin Luther, Stand up for justice, and know that I am with you, even until the end of the world.”

When we trust God we find out that God has entrusted us with more than we could ever imagine. So let us meditate on the question. Are our bricks made of belief but no trust? Are we building a wall of self-interest, reward and punishment, or are we building a wall of trust?  And let us always consider this question. 

2) Hope

We don’t hope for miracles. We hope for wholeness. 

Paul says in Romans 8 that though our present and past might be filled with suffering, triumphs and defeat, these things won’t compare to the glory that will be revealed when our bodies are redeemed and set free from the bondage of decay. Then he says, we are saved in hope. And that no one hopes for what is seen, but we hope for what we do not see and wait for it patiently. Outside of his rich theological eloquence, I want to highlight the tension Paul displays. For Paul, to hope is to admit what’s truly in front of us and behind us, no matter how bleak, yet still believe that we have a future in God. Hope is not ignoring present conditions and reaching for a pie-in-the-sky solution. Saints, this is false, fickle, brittle cubic zirconium hope. And if our bricks are made of this kind of hope–our lives, our churches, and our connection, and all we do is destined to crack and careen when the rain, waves, and wind beat against it. Great will be our fall.

As Christians, we are peculiar folk. We claim that we must admit the ups and downs, the ugliness and beauty of the present–even as we look ahead to the greatest getting up morning the universe has to offer, the general resurrection. Friends, what I am saying is this: hope that can’t deal with or admit the pressures and issues of today, is not true hope. Churches that do not embody this hope cannot reach those who are assaulted everyday by reality. Ultimately, this weak hope will not be able to withstand the pressing demands of the present. How do I know this? Because as a Christian, my trust and my hope lies in the belief that God faced and lived our human condition in Jesus. In Christ, God showed us that we cannot escape our condition from the outside alone, but that it must be dealt with from the inside. Yes, God will help you escape from Egypt. But God will also ask that you leave behind Egypt in your heart, mind, spirit, and body. We don’t hope for miracles. We hope for wholeness. 

Christian hope is summarized in this charge: weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.

In Jesus, God reveals God’s hope. That God loves us so much that God does not simply escape from situations. God confronts and overcomes present circumstances, and sometimes even suffers and dies from present circumstances, but ultimately, death and separation will not have the last word. No. There is resurrection. We should not entertain the idea that Jesus was only concerned with resurrection after he died. Every single day of his ministry, he was confronted the powers of death, separation, and hopelessness, and his ministry he showed us that everyday resurrections are possible. Those everyday resurrections of cleansing lepers, healing the woman with the issue of blood, the transfiguration, his sermon on the mount… These everyday resurrections prefigured his resurrection from the dead. Jesus’ resurrection  from the dead was not a fluke; he was already in the business of resurrection. And because he lives and because he gave others life, I can face tomorrow…. 

What is Christian hope? What must we preach and live? Christian hope is summarized in this charge: weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. Can our hope do both; can our bricks of hope acknowledge the challenges of today and proclaim a future? We don’t preach self-help. We don’t preach that positive thinking cures all. As if positive thinking can cure a hungry stomach! We preach the gospel. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be filled! We preach the reality of life death and resurrection. Blessed are those who weep now, for you will laugh! Let us meditate on this matter this conference year.

3) Love

This is the brick of all bricks, without which, we are building on quicksand. Without this we are truly pimping and/or weakening the gospel. We must love God, each other, and ourselves. But our love must be rooted in God’s love and grace. God’s love, like grace, is free. And all we can do is accept it.

Accept that we are already accepted.

We must focus on economic development, political solutions, and social justice. But economics, politics, and social justice alone can’t save us. We need a spiritual solution… We need love.

If we are not preaching grace and love, if we do not live in grace and love, we are clanging cymbals and out of tune Hammond Organs. If we try to manipulate this message, that in Jesus, God was displaying God’s love for us, we have nothing. Because in Christ, God has showed us that God accepts us so much, that God loves us so much that God will live like us, suffer like us, feel joy like us, and, yes, even die like us… But this same love cannot be defeated by sin by pain or by death. This love is free. God’s love is resurrection. This love is gracious. God’s love searches for relationships and overcomes all that separates us from God, from each other, and from ourselves. 

This is love. Not that we love God but that God loves us. This is our fundamental brick and mortar. If we act like God put a price tag of prosperity preaching on this message; or that God’s love is reduced to fulfilling our American Dream of living the capitalist lifestyle of our dreams; or that God did this so that we could lord it over others; or that God’s love allows us to determine who is going to hell and who is going to heaven; or that God did this so that we could play politics… Have mercy. No… 

There is a more excellent way…

Only God’s love, working with and through the lives men and women, can rectify what’s going across our nation and in this world. Only the love of God and the love of neighbor can truly manifest a day where the lamb and the wolf lay down together. Yes, we must focus on economic development, political solutions, and social justice. But economics, politics, and social justice alone can’t save us. We need a spiritual solution… We need love.

We live in world that refuses this good news of God’s free love. Before the foundation of the world, God had already accepted us. By simply existing and living, God has already accepted you. It’s hard to love yourself if you don’t feel accepted. And it’s hard to love others if you haven’t realized that everyone has been accepted, just like you and me. And this is why we must start with the Love of God first, because sin, hurt, insecurity, and regret can warp our self-image and our image as a family, group, or church. If our preaching and witness forgets this, then we have nothing. If we preach and live a love that places conditions on God’s unconditional love then we have nothing.

Yes, Jesus Christ is our foundation, and he has charged us to “go and do likewise.” He told us, that not everyone who says “Lord Lord” will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, but only those who do the will of the Father.” Only those who commit themselves to a Spirit of faith, hope and love can stack God’s bricks on God’s foundation. So my sister, pick up a brick of faith this morning, a brick that says like the old songwriter, “I’m gonna trust in the Lord; I’m gonna trust in the Lord. I will trust in the Lord until I die….” My brother, make sure your brick is not made of brittle hope, but a hope that can declare, “My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus’ life, his blood, his resurrection, his righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name! On Christ the Solid Rock I stand… All other ground is sinking sand…” And no matter what you do, brothers and sisters, saints of God, and friends, make sure your bricks are made of love… “I was sinking deep in sin. I was seeking deep in depression. I was sinking deep in sickness. I was sinking in hatred and fear. I was sinking deep in violence, bigotry, and absurdity… far from the peaceful shore…Very deeply stained within, seeking to rise no more, but the master of the sea, heard my despairing cry, from the waters lifted me, now safe am I…” 

Oh I can hear the wall singing, I can hear our churches singing, I can hear my ancestors singing, I can hear ’em outside the church singing, I can hear everybody singing… Love lifted me!!! Love Lifted Me! When nothing else could help… when my mama couldn’t help, when my money couldn’t help, when I couldn’t do a thing, when the nation couldn’t help, when the gun couldn’t help, when the politician couldn’t help, when a preacher couldn’t help–when nothing else could Love Lifted ME!!! 

Faith, hope, and love…

©2014 M. J. Sales

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