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Faith, Hope and Love

Sermon preached by
The Revd Charles Royden
Easter Sunday, 31st March 2002

From 1 Corinthians 13 

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

I would like this morning to spend a few moments reflecting on these three things which remain, or three things which are really important amidst all of the other unimportant things in our lives; faith, hope and love.

Faith

I wonder if you can imagine a wonderful warm sunny day, perhaps in Spain.woman on a lilo floating on the sea. You are in a beautiful bay surrounded by hills which fall down to sandy beaches. You get onto a lilo and lie in the water and the sun is fairly hot so that you cover you eyes with a towel. What happens next?

You fall asleep. Of course you do. You fall asleep and you drift about in the bay for five minutes, but then the current begins to take you out of the bay and you are carried out to sea. You awaken and find that you are miles away and you do not know how long you have been asleep or where you are. You have lost your bearings!

I would suggest to you this morning that we live in a society in which most people have been on a lilo for the majority of their lives. Some of them are waking up and wondering what on earth is going on, some are paddling like crazy but have lost their bearing and are madly paddling their way off towards China.

Most people are adrift in a vast expanse in which they have lost their spiritual bearings. Faith is in pretty short supply. It is for some people an unknown quantity. Our society has been slowly loosing its faith. For many people it happened so slowly that like boiling a frog they never realised until it was too late and it was gone.

In an obvious way this evidences itself outwardly in some people behaving fairly badly - crime etc., But most people have been cut off from the spiritual roots which have kept our society going. Even little old grannies gave up going to church a long time ago, so that we are in a minority coming to church to celebrate the Christian faith this morning. Although I am pleased that we have run out of communion booklets this morning.

The great pillars of social life have been removed for many people. We have lost faith in so many things that the great structures of our society have been seen to be built on some fairly shaky foundations, even Mark's and Spencer, that great British institution had us going recently.

Today -you and I have to metaphorically pinch ourselves and remind ourselves of the fact that faith is one of the important things which our society has just forgotten about. It might be fundamental, but it is absent, and as a result many of the people that you and I meet in the course of our daily lives are just bobbing about on a lilo.

But you and I come here today because no matter whether it is small as a grain of mustard, we have faith. We cannot wait for the tide to turn and bring back the lost on their lilos, we have a commission to be active in sharing our Christian Gospel.

Hope

One of joys of having our Rottweiller Lucy is the pleasure afforded by the need for frequent walks. Fortunately for me, Corinne is very diligent in making sure that Lucy gets the exercise she needs.  However, on some schools days it falls to me to make sure that the exercise needs are met.

Since I seem to spend a disproportionate amount of my time burying the dead, where better to walk the dog than the graveyard. 

So occasionally Lucy and I walk round Bedford Cemetery. Most dogs become excited when their owners grab a lead or a coat, Lucy becomes animated when I reach for my cassock and prayer book because it means we are off to the cemetery. It is a remarkable place and if you read the tombstones it is an enlightening experience. The lives and the loves of so many people recorded from bygone times, extravagant names like Hepzibah, sad stories of untimely deaths and sorrowful parting. What now affords Lucy and I a pleasant 15 minute circuit, encompasses a world of fascinating human history and a vale of immeasurable tears.

Today we need to remind ourselves that the story takes place in one of these places. For those who came to the tomb of Jesus in that 1st Century graveyard, it is a place of shattered hopes and dreams. There is the raw pain of bereavement, made more bitter by the fact that Jesus has died a violent and untimely death. This is a place where people come to mourn.

Yet Jesus turns that sorrow into a quite different experience. The women encounter not a dead idol but a living Lord. The graveyard is transformed from a place of sorrow into a Garden in which dreams come true.

The women go there in our story today full of the normal feelings which surround bereavement, grief and anguish. They were at home in a graveyard because they were mourning and full sadness.

Yet the following events turned that sorrow into an awareness of hope. The graveyard is transformed from a place of sorrow into a Garden in which dreams come true. Resurrection morning is about that transformation of despair into hope.

There is much speculation surrounding what kind of resurrection took place that first Easter morning. Did Jesus rise from the dead in a physical way, or was he just discovered anew in the hearts and minds of the believers? That event which transformed the women and subsequently the other disciples, must have been of immense power. They were frail and frightened human beings, even in the presence of Jesus, when he was arrested in the Garden. Suddenly they became willing to lay down their lives in the service of Christ after his death. They became convinced that death held no power over them any longer. The resurrection brought about that transformation.

For Christians there is hope. It is not just in our joys that Christ promises to be with us, but in our sorrows, in our grief and anguish as well. We are here today because the resurrection happened. We are not here to decide whether it happened. Jesus did not need to have to have the tombstone rolled away, we know that his resurrected body went through walls. The tombstone was rolled away so that the disciples could go in and see for themselves that Jesus was risen from the dead. That it was so, our text from Matthew clearly says.

Even in the valley of the shadow of death, the Christian still has their Christian hope.

Love.

One of the great messages which I hope came out of our Lent course this year was about the parenthood of God. God cares for us and loves us because we are children and not because there is anything particularly wonderful about what we do. A realisation of that fact lies at the heart of accepting and tolerant behaviour.

We love others because Christ first loves us. We realise that the basis of his love is not our worth, because we do not deserve it. This means that we cannot point the finger at the behaviour of others, colour, or whatever of another person. We are all in need of the merciful love of God. All of this comes out of parenthood.

One of the great Psalms of Lent which we have used is Psalm 51, the great 'Sorry Psalm' of David, in which he says, 'Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.'

That Hebrew word compassion (Compassion - racmin; womb rechmen) is derived from the word for womb, does that give us a glimpse of what the love of God is like? God loves us because we are children created out of the parent.

Conclusion

This Easter time you and I are given a glimpse of the resurrection and entrusted with a message. We are to go out from here and call those who have drifted out to sea back to faith.

We are entrusted with a vision of God which most people do not have and we are privileged to provide to a perishing people a message of hope.

Moreover we have known the sacrificial love of God which brought Jesus to die on the cross. This means that we demonstrate to others the deep acceptance which Christ showed to us, ensuring that Christians are characterised by non-judgemental forgiveness.

So these three things remain and at Easter time they are brought home to us with vivid reality - Faith, hope and love and the greatest of these is love.

 

Bible Readings and Notes  and Intercessions for 31st March 2002

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