Our Collect, or prayer for today, mentions three aspects of the Christian life that are sometimes called the three “Theological Virtues.” And those virtues are faith, hope, and love. The Collect says “faith, hope and charity” which many of us grew up hearing (in fact, I used to know a family with three little girls they named Faith, Hope, and Charity!) but St. Paul did not use the Greek word “caritas” when he first linked those Theological Virtues in First Corinthians 13.
When he wrote “faith, hope, and love abide; these three, but the greatest of these is love”, he used the word “agape” – God’s love, the kind of love God has for us and the kind of love we are to have for one another. Besides, the word “charity” has taken on such a specific meaning in modern English that the even the Latin word “caritas” is probably better translated as “love” not charity. Benevolent giving to the poor (which is what we usually mean by “charity” today) is not really what Paul meant in First Corinthians 13.
In any case, one of the wonderful things about the Bible is that it provides stories and describes characters who demonstrate spiritual concepts like the “Theological Virtues” we have today. And we couldn’t have three more illustrative figures for faith, hope, and love than the three our Lessons hold up for us today – Paul, Moses, and Jesus!
St. Paul is, of course, the great Apostle of faith. It was his discerning insight that we are “saved,” brought into eternal relationship with God, not by our good deeds or good works in this life, but by radical trust in God (which is what the NT Greek word “pistis” or “faith” means). We are not going to earn our way into heaven by impressing God with our moral purity or even our charitable works. How arrogant to think that we could “earn” God’s love in that manner!
We don’t ‘earn’ our parents’ love by “being good.” That love is freely given from birth. Of course our parents were pleased when we did good things, but their love didn’t depend on it. (If it did, then they really weren’t very good parents, were they?) God’s love is freely and unconditionally given. Our response must be to “trust” (have faith) that that is so – and to rejoice in the saving relationship with God that that love makes possible. That’s what it means to be “justified by grace through faith.” Saved by trusting in God’s love.
The theological virtue of “hope” is perhaps best seen today in the person of Moses. He was, of course, the heroic military commander who brought the people of Israel out from under the yoke of slavery in Egypt. Yet, in our First Reading today from Deuteronomy we see that this great leader died before the tribes of Israel were able to cross into what they had come to understand as their “Promised Land.”
He got to see whole land from the top of Mount Pisgah across from Jericho, but he could only hope that they would one day possess the land. Yet, he was a man full of hope, and always had been. So he put that hope into action by choosing his brave lieutenant, Joshua, to succeed him and make that hope a reality for his people. Hope leads us to action!
The Gospels, of course, are filled with the Good News of God’s love (the third Theological Virtue) and we see it “incarnated” (made flesh) in Jesus. Has there ever been a person in all of history who lived a life of love more completely than did Jesus of Nazareth? He taught that we could fulfill all the commandments, and be all that we were created to be, by simply loving God and loving our neighbor.
He lived out his days showing us something of what that would look like – by worshipping God in the synagogue and on mountain tops, by respecting the dignity of every person (no matter how different they may be from ourselves), by working for healing and wholeness in the lives of those who are in “trouble, sorrow, need, sickness, or any other adversity” (as our Prayer Book liturgy has it), and by teaching us to forgive those who have wronged us intentionally or unintentionally by his very words from the Cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
So, dear friends, “faith, hope, love abide; these three, but the greatest of these is love.” I invite you, if you have not already done so, to take that “leap of faith” by trusting that the God of this Universe is a loving God and that that love is intended for you – whether you think that you “deserve” it or not. Because it doesn’t really depend on you! It is God’s very nature to love!
I invite you to hope (even if you cannot “know”) that God’s love for you is eternal and that, when your earthly life is over “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” you will be “raised imperishable…For this perishable body must put on imperishability and this mortal body must put on immortality.” (I Corinthians 15:52-43)
And finally, most importantly according to Jesus and Paul, I invite you to live a life of love. To decide to love your neighbor as yourself (because love is a decision not a “feeling”) and to respect the dignity of every single, human being you ever run across. Because that’s what Jesus did…and because that’s what he commanded us to do.
And that’s why we pray today, “Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and love; and, that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
The Theological Virtues