Trust in God, Love One Another

One of my parishioners in a former church used to say that preachers really only have two or maybe three different sermons. “Every sermon they preach—doesn’t matter the text or the title—is really just a variation of one of those two or three sermons,” he’d say.

I’m not quite that cynical about the average pastor’s ability to navigate through a wide terrain of topics and Biblical texts. But I do think my friend was on to something. In fact, as I’ve been reflecting back on three years of preaching here at Morden Mennonite, I think pretty much all of my sermons—along with my pastoral counsel—can be boiled down to one of these two basic exhortations:

Trust in God.

Love one another.

Exploring the mystery of the divine? Trust in God.

Dealing with the latest hot issue? Love one another.

Facing a financial crunch? Trust in God.

Wondering how to strengthen your marriage? Love one another.

Grieving the loss of a loved one? Trust in God.

Got a difficult situation with a co-worker? Love one another.

Needing to make a major decision? Trust in God.

Your son has just come out as gay? Love one another.

The Return of the Prodigal SonOf course, by themselves these refrains—“Trust in God” and “Love one another”—can sound trite. They can be trite: overly simplistic, pat answers, bumper sticker slogans empty of any real meaning or usefulness. Life is complicated, and these statements need to be nuanced and explained, their significance teased out in practical ways.

And in my preaching and teaching and pastoral guidance I certainly say a whole lot more than just “Trust in God” and “Love one another.” I attempt to set biblical texts within their ancient context, and then try to let them speak to us in our current context. I invite us to enter into the theological and moral imagination of Jesus and his first followers. I talk about what this “faith” and “love” looked like when Jesus did them, and what they might look like for us today, in our particular circumstances.

And yet, distilled to their most concentrated form, my sermons and conversations always seem to be some version of these two simple appeals:

Trust in God.

Love one another.

I’ve been reflecting again on the Gospel of John lately. It’s curious how I keep coming back to that Gospel, or maybe more that John’s Gospel keeps coming back to me. I gravitate toward the Synoptic Gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—and the letters that bear Paul’s name. And yet every time I attempt to articulate the core message of these other writings, or the heart of my Christian faith, I seem to end up using John’s language to do so. So it is once again.

Because in the living waters of John’s Gospel two verbs keep rising to the surface, over and over again: “believe” and “love.”

The first one, “believe,” is pisteuō in Greek. This word is not as narrow as the English word “believe.” We tend to use “believe” as “I believe x to be true,” where x is some statement or claim. Or we simply say “Just believe!” or (same thing) “Believe in yourself!”—be authentic to who you are, trust your instincts, your own inner resources. In John’s Gospel, though, as throughout the New Testament, “believe” is more the idea of “I trust in, I rely upon, I am committed to God/Jesus.” It’s a personal thing, an interpersonal thing, our dependence upon and fidelity to the God embodied in Jesus of Nazareth.

The Good SamaritanThe second verb, “love,” is John’s comprehensive ethic: it’s every good thing that anyone does for anyone else. God loves Jesus. God loves the world. Jesus loves his disciples. Jesus’ disciples love Jesus, and love God, and love each other. This love is not about natural attraction or permissive tolerance, but rather selfless giving: a Father giving his beloved Son for the world, a Son giving his life for his disciples, his disciples giving themselves for one another and the world.

Trust in God.

Love one another.

Simple, isn’t it? Maybe. But it’s certainly not easy. In fact, these are the most difficult things we can do.

Trust in God—even when the whole world seems paralyzed by fear of the unknown other, the unknown future.

Love one another—even when the whole world seems caught up in a self-righteous cycle of harm and offense, hostility and retaliation.

Trust in God—right at that moment when your resources are low and your worry is high and you can’t see a way out of this mess.

Love one another—yes, even that person, the most unlovable, annoying, strange, disturbing, [insert negative adjective here] person you know.

Trust in God—cry out to God with your anger, your fear, your unbearable sadness, your overwhelming loneliness, and then look for God’s presence right where you least expect it, right where you most need it.

Love one another—hold that hand in awkward silence, listen to that wounded heart, speak up for that voiceless person, give that fifty bucks, change that flat tire, celebrate that achievement, learn about that culture, learn that child’s name.

Trust in God—pray and worship, weep and lament, sing and rejoice, question and complain, contemplate and meditate, explore with raw wonder the transcendent mystery and immanent presence that is God.

Love one another—be kind, be generous, show compassion, show respect, speak truth, seek justice, be patient, be gentle, be humble, be delighted, be encouraging, forgive, forgive, and forgive again.

Simple, but not easy.

Hard, but necessary.

The essence of Christianity, the essence of human life—and, apparently, the only two sermons I ever preach. No coincidence there—they’re also the two things I most need to be reminded of myself.

Trust in God.

Love one another.

Images: Rembrandt van Rijn, The Return of the Prodigal Son; Ferdinand Hodler, The Good Samaritan

Cross-posted from http://www.mordenmennonitechurch.wordpress.com. © Michael W. Pahl

“Confess and believe, and you will be saved!”

If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. (Romans 10:9-10)

This is one of those classic evangelistic texts, the kind that get painted on signs and propped up on billboards, like John 3:16. It’s a gospel text, a mission text, a conversion text: it gets right down to the core of what we should believe, and it promises salvation for those who do.

Here’s how I used to understand these verses. I used to think they are telling us what we need to do to be saved from God’s eternal punishment for our sin. We need to confess with our mouth and believe with our whole heart: we need to confess our own personal sin and confess Jesus as our own personal Saviour, and we need to believe in our hearts that Jesus died on the cross for our sins.

The problem is, that’s not what these verses actually say.

Check it out again: “if you confess that Jesus is Lord and believe that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

No mention of sin.

No mention of Jesus as personal Saviour.

No mention of the cross at all, let alone of Jesus dying on the cross for our sins.

Paul does talk elsewhere about some of these things. Sin and the cross are even pretty important to Paul. But why doesn’t Paul specifically mention them here, in this “classic evangelistic text”? How exactly can this particular “confession” and “belief” bring about “salvation”?

“You will be saved…”

Well, to make sense of this the first thing we have to get right is what Paul means by “salvation.” And to get that right, we need to go back to Paul’s Scriptures, our Old Testament. And a good place to start there is with the biblical writings Paul most quotes here in Romans 10: Deuteronomy and Isaiah.

Take Deuteronomy 30. Moses is speaking to the ancient Israelites before they enter into the Promised Land. Through Moses God promises to bring the Israelites blessings and life if they keep the commandments of the covenant. But God also warns them of curses and death if they disobey—in particular, being conquered by foreign armies and being sent into exile among the nations.

And then Moses makes this prediction: Israel will in fact fail to keep the covenant (which they did), they will be exiled (which they were), but if they return to the Lord they will be “saved”—they will be rescued from their exile and restored to their land to thrive once again.

This, then, is “salvation” according to Deuteronomy. Salvation is about God delivering God’s people from the powers of the world that have oppressed them, restoring them after they have experienced the consequences of their collective sin, bringing them back to where they can again experience life and liberty.

van Gogh - BibleThen take Isaiah 52. Isaiah speaks of God’s “messenger” who announces God’s “salvation”: “How beautiful are the feet of those who announce peace, who bring good news, who announce salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’”

This, like Moses’ promise of God’s future salvation, is a message of salvation to the exiled people of Israel a few hundred years before Christ, scattered as slaves and refugees throughout the world. And the message of salvation is this: God is returning to his throne to reign over all, and God’s reign will bring peace and justice once again for God’s people.

Now back to Romans 10. This is what Paul is talking about when he talks about “salvation”: he’s referring to Israel’s promised salvation, drawing on these and other Old Testament passages.

But Paul says something new, something completely unexpected. He says this promised salvation is not just for Israel, but it’s also for the nations, for the Gentiles—for everyone. As he puts it: “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’”

This, then, is the salvation that Paul promises to those who confess and believe: God’s reign of justice and peace has arrived through Jesus, bringing deliverance from oppressive powers and restoration to flourishing life.

“…if you confess and believe.”

But what does it mean then to “confess that Jesus is Lord”? What does it mean to “believe that God raised him from the dead”? And how does this confession and belief bring about that salvation? To get at these questions we need to put ourselves in the sandals of those first Christians in Rome.

For us, it seems pretty simple to say, “Jesus is Lord.” But for those first Christians in Rome, confessing that “Jesus is Lord” was not mere words.

No, in Paul’s day, to confess that “Jesus is Lord” was a bold declaration of allegiance.

As Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 8, there were many “lords” and “gods” in the ancient world, many “powers that be” that called for allegiance. And at the very top of the heap, king of the castle, was the Roman Emperor, Caesar. For good Romans—and anyone who cared about their lives—this was one of the most self-evident truths around: Caesar is Lord, master over any and all other powers that be. For them, this was the most fundamental confession: “Caesar is Lord.”

So to confess that “Jesus is Lord” was potentially a dangerous act, a revolutionary act, a radical commitment. It wasn’t something that slipped easily off the lips. This explains why Paul can say in 1 Corinthians 12, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit”—you would need the Spirit’s boldness to confess such a thing!

Jesus is Lord.

He is Lord over any and all other lords and gods, any other powers that be in the world: whether Caesar or the President or Prime Minister Trudeau, whether nation states or church structures or social norms, whether Supreme Courts or vigilante militias, whether ISIS or the UN, whether constitutions or confessions of faith, whether the boss at work or the bully in the playground.

Any power at work in the world you can think of, Jesus is Lord over it.

Jesus is Lord over all—and so Jesus commands our ultimate allegiance.

But Jesus is not like any other powers that be, whether back then or today. And that’s where the next part comes in: “believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead.”

Our Lord that we confess, the One to whom we hold fast with total allegiance, is a man who was executed by the powers that be, but was vindicated by God by raising him from the dead.

Love DisciplesThat’s the point of the resurrection. The powers of this world have assessed Jesus and vilified him; but God has assessed Jesus and vindicated him. The resurrection is God’s loud shout of “Amen!” to everything about Jesus: his teachings, his way of life, his self-giving suffering, his selfless death.

So we confess that “Jesus is Lord,” Jesus is Master over all, including us. But we follow a Lord who gave himself for us. We obey a Master who taught us to love one another, and who showed us what that love looks like. And we follow this Lord and Master because he is the one whom God has given his “Yes” to, he is the one whom God has stamped with his full approval, confirming that Jesus’ way is the only way to true blessing and real life.

It’s easy to say the words, “Jesus is Lord.” But it’s hard to truly “confess that Jesus is Lord,” that the way of Jesus is the only way to true life, and so we need to commit ourselves fully to Jesus’ way of self-giving love.

But that’s what it means to “confess that Jesus is Lord.”

It’s easy to agree with the words, “God raised Jesus from the dead.” But it’s hard to truly “believe that God raised Jesus from the dead,” that God has given his resounding “Yes!” to a man who spent his time with misfits and sinners, to a man who embraced the sick and the poor and the outcasts and the enemy others, to a man who would rather die than kill, to a man who willingly gave up his life for others—even if it meant being pronounced a blasphemer and condemned as a criminal and executed by the state.

But that’s what it means to “believe that God raised Jesus from the dead.”

And this, Paul insists, is the only way to true salvation. This is the only way for all of us together to experience true justice and peace, to experience the flourishing life God desires for all humanity: following our resurrected Lord in his cross-shaped footsteps.

This post is adapted from my sermon at Morden Mennonite Church on February 14, 2016. Cross-posted from http://www.mordenmennonitechurch.wordpress.com. © Michael W. Pahl

“We should re-think our theology? Say what?”

Earlier this summer I preached a sermon on grieving the losses in our lives, whether it’s the loss of someone we love through death or the loss of something we have invested with great significance—a relationship, a career, a home. In the sermon I talked about the need to adjust to the new reality of life without that person or entity we have cherished so much.

I gave some practical suggestions of the kinds of adjustments that might need to be made, adjustments in how we think, in how we live our lives day by day. And one of those suggestions was this: we might need to re-think our theology in light of the loss we have experienced.

I got a bit of push-back on this. “Re-think our theology? No, our theology shouldn’t change according to our experience. Our theology should be a rudder that guides us through the difficult waters. It should be an anchor that holds us firm through the storms of life.”

I understand the impulse behind this push-back. We know we can’t always trust our feelings; how much less when we’re shell-shocked after a traumatic experience. And there is a lot of truth to the idea that whether or not we survive the storms of life depends in large measure on how well we have prepared ourselves—physically, emotionally, psychologically, and also theologically—during the calm before the storm.

It’s also true that the New Testament in various ways speaks of a body of Christian teaching common to all followers of Jesus—and so doesn’t change with the changing times. At its heart is the first-order, foundation-level “gospel” of Christ crucified and risen which Paul claims all the apostles proclaimed (1 Cor 15:1-11). This bare-bones, good-news story about Jesus focused on his death and resurrection, brought together with some early Christian traditions about God (e.g. Matt 28:19; 1 Cor 8:6), became the framework for this common Christian teaching—eventually expressed succinctly in the earliest creeds such as the Apostles’ Creed.

So what do I mean when I say we may need to re-think our theology in light our life experiences?

“Theology” is a human endeavour. It is something we as human beings do, our attempts at making sense of our experiences of God and of everything else in relationship to God.

There are many different theologies out there, even many different Christian theologies. In fact, if we want to get very specific, there are as many different theologies as there are human beings trying to make sense of God and the world around them. That’s a lot of theologies.

Even if we focus just on one particular branch of Christian theology—say, Anabaptist theology—it’s pretty obvious that this theology changes over time. Anabaptists today don’t believe everything in exactly the same way as the original Anabaptists did. We might try to remain faithful to what we believe are the essentials of Anabaptism, but there’s been a lot of theological water under the Anabaptist bridge in five hundred years—and a lot of streams branching off as theological differences have emerged.

This is also true of our own individual theologies. If you’re in your middle years like I am, I sure hope you don’t believe all the same things about God as you did when you were a child, or a teenager, or a young adult. If you do, pretty much any Christian would say your faith has not grown, you have not been maturing spiritually.

For myself, the basic structure of my theology hasn’t changed much since my early university days. But the details of my theology have altered significantly since then, and even how I understand that basic structure is very different. And then there are the peripheral matters—things you won’t find in the New Testament’s gospel summaries, for instance, or in the Apostles’ Creed, say. Many of these have changed 180° for me, or simply fallen by the wayside as unworthy of my strong conviction.

When I say our theology may need to change—or even that, over the course of our life, our theology had better change—this is what I mean by “theology”: our particular ways of understanding and expressing and prioritizing our beliefs about God and everything else in relationship to God.

But if our theology can or even should change over time, what is it that doesn’t change?

The answer, of course, is God.

Our understanding of God changes, but God doesn’t change. Our experience of God changes, but God doesn’t change.

YHWH LoveGod—Being, Person, Love—is the same God, always. Put in biblical terms, the God who created the heavens and the earth, is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, is Yahweh the covenant God of Israel, is the Word made flesh in Jesus of Nazareth, is the Spirit indwelling the Church and blowing where it pleases in the wider world.

We don’t put our faith in theology. We put our faith in God.

Our theology supports our faith in God—but it is not God.

Our theology helps us make sense of our experience of God—but it is not God.

Our theology gives us some tools to think about God and speak of God—but it is not God.

It is God who guides us through the difficult waters. God is the anchor that holds us firm through the storms of life. If, when these storms come, we have put our faith in a system of beliefs and not in the true and living God, we may find our “faith” shattered beyond repair.

And sometimes, that’s exactly what we need.

Cross-posted from http://www.mordenmennonitechurch.wordpress.com. © Michael W. Pahl.

Love is All We Need

Love is All We Need | Scripture and Jesus on Love | What is Love?
Love, Above All | How Should We Then Love?

We live in turbulent times.

Everything is changing. Nothing seems certain any more.

Humans NYOur knowledge of the universe is growing exponentially, racing beyond our wisdom, outpacing our ability to tame this knowledge for good purposes.

Our globe has shrunk to a village, but it’s a village made up of thousands of distinct cultures, dozens of religions with hundreds of offshoots, and seven billion one-of-a-kind individuals.

Our world is increasingly complex, and we don’t know how to handle this. We scramble for some kind of order in all the chaos and confusion.

We’re afraid, though we don’t like to admit it. We’re afraid of change, afraid of losing what we value most, afraid of the unknown other, the unknown future, afraid of a meaningless existence.

We mask all these fears with stuff—big houses and new cars, gizmos and gadgets and mindless entertainment, all just bread and circuses. Or we medicate our fears away—whether it’s prescription drugs or spiritual highs or something else—anaesthetizing our angst until it retreats to the depths of our subconscious.

Naturally, everyone’s got an opinion on what should be done—that’s part of the mad scramble for order, and part of the chaos and confusion. We take sides on issue x or issue y, digging into our polarized positions in binary code. We shout at each other IN ALL CAPS across the internet. We react to opposition with flaming words, with shaming and scapegoating, or with bullets and bombs—betraying all those underlying fears, and giving us even more reason to fear.

We Christians have our own brands of chaos and confusion, growing from those same complex realities. Faith nomads shift from one Christian tradition to another, church attendance overall is on the decline, and Christianity’s public influence is waning even faster. And we eagerly contribute to the cacophony of opinions on what should be done about all this.

Some of us call for allegiance to doctrinal systems that lay everything out with clarity and certainty—in this we will find our stability, we are told. Others turn to the latest fandangled worship bling or revive tried-and-true forms of ancient ritual. Still others shrug their shoulders at theology or liturgy and instead focus on social justice efforts or political engagement.

Some point to charismatic speakers or compelling authors and hang on their every word—surely they will point the way forward. Others appeal for a simple return to the Bible, apparently unaware that the Christian Scriptures have in fact spawned dozens of different worldviews themselves, contributing to the complexity and chaos and confusion of our post-Christendom world.

In the midst of this chaos and confusion, standing in the complexity of our world, I join my voice to those who say this:

We need to love each other.

All we need is love.

Love is all we need.

Yikes! Did you hear that? That was the sound of Christians shouting their objections at me. (Yes, we Christians do that, in case you haven’t noticed.)

“Love? Seriously? The world’s problems are going to be solved by holding hands and singing ‘Kumbaya’? Get real!”

“Love, sure. But we are also called by God to be holy, we are called to seek and speak truth. Love without holiness and truth is no love at all!”

“You’re just another liberal following the crowd, reducing the gospel to mere ‘tolerance,’ willing to accept anything and everything in the name of love!”

Well, before you grab your pitchforks and storm mi casa, hear me out.

I say, “Love is all we need,” because I believe Scripture points us to this. I believe Jesus points us to this.

I say, “Love is all we need,” because I believe all other divine commands and human virtues—including holiness and truth-speaking—are subsumed under love, governed by love, even defined by love.

I say, “Love is all we need,” because I believe the love Scripture and Jesus point to is not mere tolerance, or mere affection, but something far more, far more substantial, far more necessary.

Love is all we need.

Faith Hope LoveIf we get this one thing right, everything else will fall into place. If we don’t get this right, nothing else will matter.

Sound a little over-the-top? Well, come back tomorrow and I’ll begin fleshing this out in a series of blog posts this week.

In the meantime, here’s a little reading to get you started.

Love is All We Need | Scripture and Jesus on Love | What is Love?
Love, Above All | How Should We Then Love?

Cross-posted from http://www.mordenmennonitechurch.wordpress.com. © Michael W. Pahl.

“Aha” Moments: Biblical Scholars Tell Their Stories: Michael Pahl

This post first appeared on Pete Enns’ blog. Re-posted here on February 15, 2017, though dated back to the original date of its first appearance.

profileToday’s “aha” moment is by Michael Pahl (PhD, University of Birmingham). Pahl, as you may recall, was one of the casualties of Cedarville University’s theological purge of 2012. He is now pastor of Morden Mennonite Church (Canada). You can find more about Pahl at his website. Pahl has written 3 books including The Beginning and the End: Rereading Genesis’s Stories and Revelation’s Visions and co-edited 2 others including Issues in Luke-Acts: Selected Essays.

********

I still remember winning the VBS Sword Drill one summer. I was maybe seven, and I could already pick out Obadiah with the best of them. I could also quote John 3:16, Romans 3:23 and 6:23, and all the other must-have-in-your-back-pocket verses crucial for salvation. Our church had prophecy conferences, where smart men in suits quoted the Bible left and right in building their towers of end-times prophecy, right to the new heavens.

I knew the Bible. I loved the Bible. And with that particular knowledge and love of the Bible came a whole set of expectations about what the Bible is and what it’s all about.

It is God’s word straight from God’s mouth, internally consistent from cover to cover. It is God’s literal, inerrant truth about anything that matters, but what matters most is personal salvation: people being saved from eternal hell, God’s just judgment for their sin, in order to spend eternity with God in heaven.

A lot changed for me over the years following my VBS triumph. We attended a different church through my teen years, not quite so hard-and-fast conservative. I then went through some crises of life and faith that pushed me to explore other denominations, even other religions.

I was hungry for meaning, and this hunger became so intense I did the only thing I could think to do: I read the Bible.

I skipped my university English classes to binge-read the Bible, devouring it not in single sword-drill verses but in large chunks: all of Isaiah in one sitting, all of Paul’s letters in another, then all of Genesis, then all of Luke, and so on.

This Bible binging was just what I needed—I found the meaning for life I was craving—but it was also the beginning of the end for the view of the Bible I had grown up with.

For the first time I saw the Obadiahs and John 3:16s of the Bible as pieces of a much larger narrative, a narrative centered on Jesus and encompassing the entire creation.

I realized God wasn’t concerned so much with personal salvation but with cosmic restoration.

I discovered that this world really mattered, that our bodies really mattered, that this life with all its joys and sorrows really mattered, that God created all things good and longed to return all things to that original goodness—or even better.

For the first time I also read the pieces of the Bible alongside each other: two creation stories in Genesis, two renditions of the Ten Commandments, two accounts of Israel’s kingdoms, four Gospel stories of Jesus.

This raised all sorts of questions for me that I wasn’t yet prepared to answer, but there was no doubt in my mind that these parallel pieces were different from each other.

It wasn’t until later, when I began to explore historical setting and source criticism and literary genre that these questions began to be answered—but in a way that made it impossible for me to hold on to the view of Bible I had inherited.

“I was always taught the Bible says X but now I just don’t see it.”

I could fill in that X with quite a few things.

I was taught that Genesis 1 was all about when and how God created the world—in six literal days a few thousand years ago, directly by a series of divine commands. I was taught that Moses wrote the Pentateuch, that Deuteronomy’s account of his death and mysterious burial was an instance of prophetic foresight.

I was taught that Jesus’ words in the Gospels were word-for-word what Jesus said. I was taught that there are no real contradictions among the Gospel accounts, that if you just look hard enough there is always a harmonizing explanation.

I was taught that Paul’s gospel was all about how individual sinners get saved, so that after death we can escape hell and enter heaven. I was taught that Revelation was all about when and how God would wrap it all up—pretty much like Left Behind, only for real.

I was taught a bunch of things “the Bible says” that I no longer believe the Bible says.

But yet I still believe.

I remain a committed Christian, in many ways a deeply conservative Christian (hey, I can recite the Apostles’ Creed without crossing my fingers—just one little asterisk by “he descended into hell”). How can that be, when so many have abandoned their faith after leaving behind their conservative bibliology?

I think the answer to that comes down to two things.

First, early on in my journey I came to the realization that Jesus, not the Bible, is the foundation and center and standard and goal of genuine Christian faith and life.

During those early days of reading the Bible in large swaths, I found Jesus, and that makes all the difference: paradoxically, the Bible matters less even as it matters all the more.

And second, along the way, even in the strictest of conservative environments, I always found people who gave me space to ask hard questions and avoid simplistic answers—because they themselves were in that space. It’s a dangerous place, that risky grace of a humble search for truth.

I’m grateful to those who have created those “dangerous places” for me in my life, even at great risk to themselves—and I’m committed to providing that same space of grace for others.

Faith, Hope, and Love

Faith, hope, and love.

“These three abide,” Paul says (1 Cor 13:13). They remain: they’re always there, they’re always needed. They are the trinity of Christian virtues, the triumvirate of Christian practices, the trivium of Christian ethics.

Faith, hope, and love.

The words are commonplace in our world, tossed to and fro in waves of well-meaning  good feelings. “Don’t stop believin’.” “Ya gotta have faith.” “Don’t give up hope.” “Hope for the best.” “Love makes the world go round.” “All you need is love.”

Yes—but what are they? What do we mean when we talk about faith, and hope, and love?

As Christians we don’t approach these in the abstract. We don’t theorize about faith. We don’t philosophize about hope. We don’t theologize about love.

We look to Jesus, and we follow him.

So we see faith in Jesus’ utter dependence on Abba God for all things, both his daily bread and God’s kingdom come. We see faith in his enduring, even agonizing trust in God through all things, even his sufferings, even on the cross.

We see hope in Jesus’ confidence in God’s powerful love, that even in the midst of life’s harshest realities, even in the face of death, God would bring about good for him: vindication, new life.

We see love in Jesus’ compassion for the shepherdless crowds, his welcome of the sinners and tax traitors, his neighboring of enemy others. We see love in his selfless self-giving in feeding, healing, teaching, forgiving—and suffering and dying for you, for me, for all.

And we follow him. In Jesus’ faith, in his hope, in his love, energized by his Spirit, we follow him.

So we see faith in the faith of Jesus’ followers, as we depend on God for all things, as we trust in him through all things. We see hope in the hope of his followers, as we anticipate God’s powerful, life-giving love bursting out of our darkest deaths. We see love in the love of his followers, as we show compassion and welcome sinners and neighbor enemies, as we give ourselves in feeding, healing, boundless forgiving.

Faith, hope, and love—Jesus-faith, Jesus-hope, and Jesus-love.

“And the greatest of these,” Paul concludes, “is love” (1 Cor 13:13).

Selah.

Cross-posted from http://www.mordenmennonitechurch.wordpress.com. © Michael W. Pahl.