Friday, September 30, 2016

Feeling is a bit different from knowing


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We now know and believe the love which God has for us. God is love and he who abides in love abides in God and God in him. 1 John 4:16

The God we worship is the Holy Trinity, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He reveals Himself to us in nature, conscience and through reason but most fully in Holy scripture. Nature tells us about His power, conscience about His judgment and reason that He created all things. But only in scripture do we learn the happy truth that God is love.

God is love! We know it, we believe it and we abide in it by expressing divinely inspired love to other people. In order to know the love of God we must go through the church’s learning process. We need to listen to God’s word, read it, study it and use all the tools of intellect that God gives so that we can know Him, love Him and serve Him here in time, and there in eternity. Dysfunctional versions of the Christian faith think formal education is un-necessary, even a fault. They assume that if the disciples were un-educated then simplicity is a virtue, but they are wrong. The disciples were highly intelligent and savvy men, and we should be the same. The more we can learn about history, language, culture, business, the arts and sciences the better we will understand God’s word, and the more faithfully we can serve Him in our vocations. It’s true that great learning apart from Christ often serves evil, but so does ignorance.

Sadly the church is plunging back into the darkness which it led the world out of centuries ago. Large segments have rejected the love of learning, especially the liberating (liberal) arts. They say that faith is caught, not taught. They praise ignorance, glorify emotion which is an unreliable compass, and teach people to follow their heart. Please do not do that! Because according to Jesus the heart produces nothing but, “evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, and blasphemies.” (Mt. 15:9) Note how each of the Lord’s words here is in the plural. It is no mistake. Instead we should learn to know the love of God by becoming intimately familiar with scripture, church history, church doctrine, church practice, and by diligently pursuing every area of interest the Holy Spirit inspires within us. People like to bash the internet, but today anyone who is willing to expend the discipline can get a world-class education for the cost of an internet connection.

Not only do we know the love that God has for us, we also believe it. But faith is very different than knowledge. Faith is not something we can obtain by our own efforts. It is only given by the Holy Spirit who uses His normally appointed means of preaching and the Sacraments. If we use them our faith remains healthy, if not it gets sick and dies. Therefore we should consider attendance at the divine service our top priority and build our schedule around it rather than it around our schedule.

Faith has both a conscious and un-conscious side. Sometimes we are aware of our faith and actively employ it to understand God’s word so that it might absolve us when we sin, guide us when we stray and re-assure us of His love no matter what surprises might come our way. Other times we are not conscious of it like when the daily struggles of life consume us, when we are overwhelmed, afraid or asleep; or when our minds are too old, too frail or too ill to be aware. Even then our faith in the love of God burns brightly because the Spirit who kindled it keeps it aglow. We need never worry about this because He who began the good work of faith within us, will bring it to completion on the Day of our Lord Jesus Christ. But awake or asleep it is faith in God’s love by which we maintain our composure in a world that should otherwise frighten us to death. It is not only our comfort in life, however, but especially at life’s end. The knowledge of God’s love removes the fear of judgment because we know that our many transgressions were answered on the cross. We know that our eternity is secure with Christ because of the vows God made when He baptized us by the hand of His called and ordained servant.

Can there be any greater knowledge than this? Any greater faith? We do not rely on our own imagined righteousness to justify us before God, but on that of Christ crucified and raised from the dead. His birth is ours, His life is ours, His death is ours, His resurrection and ascension ours as well. “As the branch is to the vine, I am His and He is mine.” (TLH #342) This is what God’s love is and does, and there is nothing vague or shadowy about it. It was concretely displayed in history when God turned the Red Sea into dry land, gave His people water from a Rock and slew powerful armies before them. It is still exhibited today in the Church by miracles greater than the ones Jesus performed in His earthly ministry, namely when the word and sacraments bestow new life on those who are dead in sin. We experience it daily as we observe God working in our lives, answering our pleas for mercy, relieving our worries and turning our calamities into blessings. And it will be most fully realized when on the last Day He opens our graves and invites us to enter the kingdom He prepared for us before the foundation of the world!

Not only do we know and believe the love God displayed when He gave His Son into death for us, but we also participate in it by the love we demonstrate to others. But be careful here: God is love, but love is not God! Not every manifestation of charity or kindness or benevolence or sacrifice is a sign of the new birth. Many are covers for darker objectives. People feign love to lure in the unsuspecting so that they might advance themselves at the expense of others. But human beings are not play things to be used and then discarded for one’s own gain. God will judge such sins harshly whether committed by ordinary individuals like us, or by those in positions of power, because all people, no matter how expendable they might appear, are fashioned by God, loved by God and redeemed by Christ the crucified. So we must take our stand near the cross. When love is associated with faith and devotion toward Jesus then it becomes a proof of our love for God.

Let us proceed carefully then, but also love liberally so that we might fully abide in the love of God which we know and believe.   Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

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