Sermon for Sunday 30th January from Rev Karen White

Luke 2:22-40; 1 Corinthians:13 – Faith, Hope & Love

3 small words. This book, the Bible, is full of them.

They may be small but they are 3 very important, powerful words.  Today we are reminded of these in the first book of Corinthians, & then further when we hear Simeon & Anna’s story in the temple because they were people filled with faith & hope & love for God, so much that they believed in His promises & saw them fulfilled in Christ.  What a blessing it is to gaze upon the face of Christ, & to feel with your whole body, heart & soul His awesome power & love. That’s the love Simeon experienced as he gazed into the eyes of the baby Jesus.  Love beyond words, beyond measure. When you’ve seen it, when you’ve experienced it, you know it is real & beyond anything this world can offer.  You cannot have faith & hope without love. We have hope that we will be saved, resurrected into life with Christ, but it is faith which saves, faith in Jesus Christ, who shows us what true love is. 

So, let’s do a little more unpacking of these 3 words – Faith, Hope & Love.  Faith: We are told in Hebrews 11:1 “faith is being sure of what we hope for & certain of what we do not see.”  Today it is a word commonly used but not always understood. Some of the confusion comes from the many different ways the word is used in everyday language or conversation & if you look at you will see 7 different uses.  One common way people use it is to refer to belief in something despite lacking any evidence for it. But that’s not what faith in the Bible means because there is plenty of evidence for the existence of God. The passage from Hebrews highlights what faith is about – having confidence & trust in God.  In the Bible, the object of faith is God & His promises.  One example of this is Abraham’s encounter with God in Genesis 15 when God promises him countless descendants. Abraham believed in the promises, grew strong in faith, & trusted in God’s promises.  Biblically, the object of faith is the Person of Christ Himself. Faith in Him is what saves, not just believing His promise or accepting facts about Him. He is the source of our faith because He is the Son of God. He gives the Living Water by which we can be saved through grace. That grace & mercy are freely given to us by God. Faith is from God.  The wounds & agony Jesus suffered on the cross help us remember the dedication & love of Father & Son. The grief of His mother Mary, & followers of Jesus, are shared in Scripture.  Hearing or reading the Word of God can bring us close to Him. Through sharing fellowship, good times, & difficult times, we can call to Jesus & have faith He is with us. That’s why fellowship & meeting together are so important, so we can share our faith together & the love Jesus gives.  We publicly declare our faith in different ways – through baptism, each time we say the words of the Creed, & each time we share our testimonies.

I have faith in Christ because I have seen Him, I have experienced His wonderful love through many difficult times in my life; He has cradled me in His arms, wiped away my tears, carried me though storms & shone His light into the darkest of places & so I can’t help but put my faith & complete trust in Him. It doesn’t mean life is easy, at times I feel utterly lost, as I’m sure many of you do too. But I know He is my only hope in a dark world. 

Hope: which leads me to hope. It cannot be separated from faith & the Bible tells us to rejoice in it – rejoice in the hope of the resurrection, rejoice because there is a better life to come. Romans 12:12: “Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, be constant in prayer.”  It does not tell us we will avoid sorrow or trials. But it does say those won’t last for ever. We know that even in our darkest moments, God will not abandon us & He will turn everything right in the end.  So if you struggle with doubt, fear not. Every Christian wrestles with doubt in their lives. I once asked the new Bishop of Chelmsford, Bishop Guli, if she ever doubted. She hesitated before she answered and then told me that ‘yes’ she had had doubts because she is human and it is a human instinct. Let’s face it, even the human side of Christ Himself had doubts on the cross when He thought God had abandoned Him. But when we doubt we have to remember our faith rests on a strong foundation. It doesn’t operate blindly. We have evidence that God has been faithful to us in the past, & He will come through for us in our present & future.  Hope can always be found, it is never lost, but it can sometimes be difficult to see in a situation. Yet the Bible tells us that true hope is unseen. Romans 8:24: “For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?”  We must trust in hope, even when times are difficult, for true hope comes from God. One way to know whether you’re trusting in God is whether you’re obeying His Word. Trust produces obedience which produces hope, which results in joy & peace, & that is the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:15: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy & peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”  Hope is a gift from God delivered by the Holy Spirit. He gives us power to hope & that is a demonstration of God’s love for us. Hope given by Him works together to give us confidence, joy, peace, power, & love. That is a true gift! When you’ve lost hope then you have lost faith & trust in God, failing to see how much He loves you & that your future is secure in Him.

LOVE: So we move on to the greatest of gifts – love. The word love comes up over & over again in Scripture. Love is what binds people together against hate & dishonesty. Love is what keeps us from fighting with our enemies & sparring with those who disagree with us – a fact the world seems to have forgotten. It is self-sacrificing, meaning taking care of other people’s needs above our own. As Philippians 2:3 reminds us: “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility, value others above yourselves.” The problem is not that we do not love ourselves, but that we love ourselves too much & others too little. Those people who do things quietly for others without expecting any recognition are those to be truly praised. When we boast about what we do or what we give to others, then we are doing it for self-gratification & selfish ambition.  Most sins stem from a love of self & a lack of love for God & others. Think about it: hate, greed, envy, murder, strife, gossip, slander, arrogance & pride all result from love of self. When we love ourselves without regard for God or others, the result is sin.  We are warned of this in the Bible in 2 Tim.3:1-5: “But mark this. There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.”  Harsh! People become lovers of themselves without ‘love’ for others, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. Lovers of selfish ambition, wanting to be recognised. Lovers of themselves, their families & life styles above God.  Yet one of the hallmarks of love is that we should delight in building others up, praying for enemies, seeking the best for all people, following Christ’s example to be a witness in the world to the truth of the Christian faith.  Jesus is the reason we even know what love is. He is the model of love – laying down His life for us. As the passage in Corinthians today says – love is self-sacrificing, generous, unending, not a temporary feeling or attraction.  Christ must therefore come first, as in the first commandment: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind & strength. Anything which draws our affections away from God is not truly loving God. Faith only works through love because faith is the way we receive the Holy Spirit whose fruit is love, but genuine faith is grounded in hope. Genuine faith in Christ implies a firm confidence that our future is secure.  This essential oneness of faith & hope helps us grasp why faith always “works through love.” The person who has confidence that God is working all things together for his good can relax & entrust his life to a faithful creator. He is free from anxiety & fear, not easily irritated, freed from self-justifying, self-protecting concerns & becomes a person who looks to the interests of others.  Jesus laid down His life for us, the ultimate sign of how much He loves us, & all are included. No-one has been less deserving than us. To love does not mean to agree to someone’s sin, to say that everything will be ok.     

Rather, it is to bear with them, to pray for them, to have faith for them, to want the very best for them. It is action in spite of how we feel. Then we can come from having a natural dislike for someone to having genuine love for them. In order to help someone & turn them from things that could be harmful to them, we can exhort, advise, or correct them, but only when we do it out of a genuine concern & care for them.  Everyone we meet should sense a drawing to Christ through us. Love is what draws people.

So if you feel you are lacking in true Godly love, then pray to God that He will show you how to gain more of it. Root your love for God in prayer, worship & obedience. Be willing to give up your own self-will & ambition & think of others before yourself, always maintaining a humble attitude.

As Corinthians 13 says: “Abide in faith, hope & love, but remember that the greatest gift is love.”


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