Faith, hope, and charity are three of the seven virtues; the others are prudence, justice, temperance, and courage. Faith, hope, and charity are ascribed to St. Paul. Both his writings and ministry, as chronicled by the author of Acts, show that he taught and lived these three great virtues. Let’s take a look at each of them.
Faith is our heritage going back to Abraham, who was led with Sarah into the wilderness, always assured by God there was a plan and that his descendants would be like the stars of heaven. The Abrahamic journey is more than just a trip; it is a spiritual quest that still haunts us and inspires us today. We can picture them journeying through the desert, standing out under the stars at night, and wondering where they were destined to settle.
Moses, another great leader of faith, follows the path of Abraham and Sarah in his own journey from slavery to freedom with the people of Israel. The great faith expressed in the history of African Americans as they moved from slavery to freedom still shapes our church and its life today – faith that one day all people will walk together in harmony and diversity.
Faith is a great part of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus teaches us that faith like a mustard seed is sufficient. He teaches us what faith in God can do in the face of sadness and loss. And Jesus teaches us to have faith that the Father’s will be done, just as Christ himself did as he underwent the agony of the Garden on the night of his betrayal.
Faith is the dynamo of our religion, a faith that God is at work behind the headlines, in the streets and the desolate places, bringing about a plan of salvation; faith that all of us have a part in that plan; faith that one day there will be no more crying or weeping, but shouts of triumphant joy at the coming of the kingdom.
Meanwhile, practicing faith as a virtue remains an inspiration. “She is a real woman of faith.” “He may have lost his job, but he never lost his faith.” Faith, for us, is in believing there are answers to the question “Why?” And faith does not need to know the answer right now. Faith is waiting, knowing that God may have something better for us in mind.
Hope works in our lives, not because of what we do, but as the work of the Holy Spirit. The power of our faith causes us to dare to hope, even when the cynic denies it, and hope conquers our despair at the unhappiness and folly we see in the world.
Hope is framed in the things that are unseen, according to Paul. We won’t know what to hope for because we have not yet seen what it will be.
A close ally of faith, hope puts us in a place of anticipation, not silly excitement. Hope gives us our morning resolve to arise and get going because it is God’s day, and there will be something of beauty and wonder for us in it. This hope is found most profoundly in places where the future is mocked by poverty, cruelty, and indifference. It is also found in our culture among people who know their work is not in vain, that what they are doing somehow is preparing the way for the future, and that will be better because of what we do even now.
Charity is an act of love: something that burns white hot in us, again the work of the Spirit. Charity is unconditional in its application and causes us to give freely of our abundance to overcome scarcity. Charity is giving both of our treasure and talent, but also of our love for others. It places others first as an act of obedience, not second to our own needs.
Charity always has enough for others. It is what creates miracles when people in a church decide to do something for others and find an abundance of gifts for that ministry.
Charity does more than cause us to care, it causes us to care with boundaries that allow others to grow in grace, knowing they are supported by a fellowship that cares about them but will not overwhelm them.
Charity works when elaborate plans fail. It is simple in its application and does not understand complexity. It is sometimes compared to a lamp that sheds light in the darkness of human want, darkness that is the poverty of both spirit and purse.
All three of these virtues – faith, hope, and charity – are gifts of the Creator. They are not human inventions. They existed at the dawn of creation and are firmly planted by God in what it means to be human.
One can find them in today’s gospel reading in Jesus’ rabbinical response to the question put to him, “Which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus’ response is the summary of the law: to love God and our neighbor. In a few words Jesus summarizes all the teaching of the law and the prophets and includes, by implication, faith, hope and charity.
Who could love God and not have faith in what God is doing?
Who could love God and not have hope that God’s plan of salvation is being worked out daily and that we have a part in it?
Who could love their neighbor and not feel the heat of charity in their relationships with others we are sent to serve?
Asking the question about what God commands is good; but failure to heed the response is folly. The wisdom of the world knows little of the virtues; they are often replaced by greed, cynicism, and self-love. Christians are constantly challenged by the conflict between faith, hope, and charity and the world’s wisdom.
From today’s collect, we learn again that these gifts of God may be prayed for and increased in us:
Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; 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. Amen.