Faith, hope and love. Probably the three most integral concepts of our church. 1 Thessalonians just overflows with church love. It seeps out of every sentence. You only need to read the beginning:
‘We always give thanks to God for all of you, as we make mention of you in our prayers. We constantly remember the accomplishment of your faith, the hard work of your love, and the patience of your hope in our Lord Jesus the Messiah, in the presence of God our father.’
1 Thess 1:2-3
That reminded me of the covenants we have with each other; with God. That he has with us. To love each other, to love unconditionally, not because we are nice or good, but because we are part of God’s creation. Maybe we can’t have too many actual covenants in our lives. They are solemn and binding, and take all we can give, and more. But reading that passage, it’s pretty clear what we need to do for each other, and how faith, hope and love appear in a group of believing Christians. And it’s clear that seeing it at work creates more faith, hope and love in the beholders…
‘The accomplishment of your faith’! What an amazing thing. Seeing how faith is accomplished: in deep, long-lasting, heartfelt prayer for grief, for sorrow, for normal life, for joy. In sharing wise words and eccentric insights. In quiet companionship. In making tea and setting out chairs. In writing rotas and collecting money and filling in forms. In learning new songs. In listening to other people’s crazy ideas. In cooking and bringing lunches. In making the kitchen smell delicious. In washing mugs and operating the dishwasher. In using powerpoint and making videos. In welcoming new people – and old people too. In being polite when you are feeling a bit grim. In praying when people ask you to, even if you don’t really understand what it’s about. In acting in nativities. In taking children for hot chocolate, and to playgrounds, and away for the night. In talking to everyone as if they really belonged. In organising and making time for small groups. In encouraging people where they are in life, in giving real advice, in letting them know they are not alone. Faith works: the things that make God’s kingdom closer and more present every day.
The labour of love: how can I write that here? It’s different for everyone. The people who do the things you know took them time and effort, and without mentioning the effort. The walks in the mountains, the paddles by the sea, the sharing of friendly dogs and hopeful plans, the hospital visits, the providing of supplies, the tidying and cleaning and listening to too much writing and lots of confusion, the unexpected kindnesses, the space to chat and work it all out. The sharing of tears and laughter. And the things that are not done. The patience with clumsy words and slow thoughts and complaints. The things that are not said, in case it hurts. The restraint, the care not to criticise. The people who don’t insist on their own opinion, even when their opinion is (obviously) the right one. Lending books and mousetraps, discussing gardening and cooking, families and friends, difficult, terrible and splendid situations. Love regardless, love reckless, just because.
And the patience of hope. Hope has fortitude in the face of oppression. It sees the best in everyone and every interaction. It knows that what is seen is only the beginning, and how much more God can bring from every heart and situation. It knows exactly how hard it is to endure, and that yet it is worth enduring. Even when we are angry about it, or too grief-stricken to see clearly. And the people who are being fortuitous are people I see every day. Or at least, most Sundays. Paul gave thanks, and I am too. If sadly.
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