1 Corinthians 4:1-5 St. Matthew 11:2-10
This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ,
and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover,
it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.
In Advent we are continually reminded of Jesus’ coming to us – looking back to his first coming, looking to his coming at the end of time and looking at his coming to us in the present. Whenever Jesus comes to us he brings judgement.
In Advent 1 we looked at Christ’s coming and it necessarily brings about a judgement of our loves – because not everything we love is good. Last week we looked at how Christ’s coming judges our hopes – we get clarity in our lives and on our pilgrimage to God only when our earthy hopes are shattered, or put in perspective, or supported by, supernatural hopes. This morning we are reminded that Christ’s coming will necessarily bring about a judge our faithfulness.
St Paul says, one should regard us, as servants of Christ (in the KJV, ministers of Christ), and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. Faithfulness is required of us!
What does it mean to be a person of faith?
As believers in Jesus, we possess the gift of faith. To have faith in God doesn’t mean that we know everything about God – how could we? We have some knowledge, but there is far more that we don’t know.
One of the greatest teachers of the Church [Thomas Aquinas] describes faith as something like this:
In the believer, there is a curious mixture of certainty and uncertainty – an element of perfection and an element of imperfection. There is perfection in the firmness of our assent – we have chosen to affirm our faith publicly and to found our lives on that belief (that is why we are here today, and there is a sort of perfection in that) – but there is imperfection in the fact that we can’t yet see fully the One in whom we believe.
St. Paul says elsewhere that Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the argument of things unseen.
So we have both an unshaken assent to what we believe “the substance of things hoped for” and also a lingering mental unrest “the argument of things unseen” – there is a mental reaching out for something not yet finally found. In fact, the assent of faith, actually starts this very mental unrest. [Pieper]
So we are not to think that because we don’t understand everything, that because we still have so many questions, that this must be a sign of unbelief – actually it is a sign of faith. If we chose not to believe, there would be no more questions (and no more movement towards God).
So why do we have this gift of faith?
First, God gives us faith to lead us back to Him.
Second, God gives us this faith to help us to lead others back to God – to be prophets of the Highest, to be witnesses.
First, God gives us faith to lead us back to Him. As Christian believers, we are all “ministers… and stewards of the mysteries of God.” “Moreover, says Paul, it is required in stewards, that they be found faithful.”
If we would be a faithful steward of the mysteries of God, we would use this gift of faith to lead us to God and to lead others to God.
As we ascend in our pilgrimage towards God, we discover different questions that come to our minds, doubts that hold us up in drawing closer to God – and the answers to these questions are often not immediate. But, if we are faithful, we don’t shy away or avoid those questions or doubts. Again, it is a matter of resting, of waiting, waiting upon God – asking God the questions and waiting in expectation of an answer. And we are to make use of all the resources given to lead us to understanding – prayer, the Scriptures, wise Christian souls from the past and in our midst to help us move beyond our present doubts, and the gift of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.
Often we are not even aware of the doubts and uncertainties that are troubling us. If we come to some sort of blockage in our growth in Christ, it is a call to quiet our hearts and be self reflective. We wait until that doubt, that uncertainty, comes to the surface of our minds so that we can address it.
(e.g. I remember going on Retreat in 1999 – I discovered the doubt that was holding me back: If draw closer to God will I grow further apart from loved ones who do not seem to be pursuing a life of faith? The answer was, no, I will be able to love such people better, and maybe, they may become less a part of one's future. But to be faithful – we are to love God before all others.)
(e.g. if you read the Divine Comedy, you see that when Dante ascends in the Paradiso, questions arise in his mind, they need to be answered for him to be able to continue his ascent.)
Another example where our faith is important until we come to understanding is in the moral life. We might wonder why would we follow a traditional Christian morality, when many parts of the Western Church seem to be coming to other conclusions?
When we are faithful to what has been taught, in time, the truth of the Law of God becomes more and more clear to us.
The psalmist says,
I have more understanding than all my teachers; for thy testimonies are my study. Through thy precepts I get understanding: – that is, in following them in faith, I am led to understand them – therefore I hate all evil ways. [Ps 119:99]
Or in Psalm 19, the commandment of the Lord is pure, and gives light to the eyes… By them is thy servant taught: and in keeping of them there is great reward. [Ps 19:8,11] When we follow the commandments in faith, in time our eyes are cleared so we see the truth of them.
These are examples of faith and of faithfulness that leads us to understanding. It is all a part of a life of ascending towards God – veils are being removed, we are drawing closer, being drawn closer, to God. Faith is transformed into understanding. This is why in heaven faith does not abide, but only love. [1 Cor 13]
Second, God gives us this faith to help us to lead others back to God – to be prophets of the Highest, to be witnesses. When we become more faithful to God in our pilgrimage, we become, necessarily, better witnesses to others – ministers of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. We do this very naturally, because of our growing vision of God, and by our witness to others of what is most important to us – praying, reading the Bible, going to Church – in good times and in times of adversity when our faith is especially tried and purified. Whether we know it or not, others are watching!
John the Baptist, in today’s Gospel, is the example par excellence to us of being a faithful minister of Christ and steward of the divine mysteries.
John’s faith led him as a young man into the wilderness that he might know his true calling. We can imagine that his whole hearted assent in faith was combined with much mental agitation as he sought undistracted in the desert to know the God whom he loved. Imagine how many nights and days he must have wondered if the path he was pursuing was true to his calling? But he was faithful, patient, waiting, waiting, for another word, his vision being perfected all the time – faith seeking understanding…and he became the most profound witness the world had ever known until that time. Jesus said of him, Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. [Matt 11:11]
It was clear by John’s life, that the motivation of his heart was not pleasure – there is a certain asceticism, a giving up of bodily comfort that accompanies our journey (though we are not all called to such extremes).
It’s clear that John’s preaching was not motivated by a desire for worldly power – he did not end up in the king’s house, but in the king’s prison – and we should not expect worldly success to be the mark of our journey of faith.
And John was steadfast in faith. Jesus says, he as not a reed shaken in the wind, but one who through the trials of his faith, had become like a rock. John had become like God, like the unmoved Mover of all things – while the world swirled around him, he remained steadfast – and so should we.
When John was in his darkest hour, in prison, awaiting execution, we know who he was thinking of, and he directed his followers to leave him and go to Jesus – and this is surely a model for us in the darkest moments of our life.
We are to be like John the Baptist
- seeking the vision of God, that is, to know God more and more, and
- through our faithfulness, become witnesses to those around us.
In the Anglican tradition, we are encouraged to pray daily morning and evening prayer. In the Prayer Book office of Morning Prayer we say the Benedictus after the New Testament lesson. It is the song that John the Baptist’s father Zechariah prayed when his son John was born. We are to read the final lines as speaking about ourselves also:
AND thou, child, – that is, you and I – shalt be called the Prophet of the Highest: / for thou – you and I – shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways…
How? by giving knowledge to others of how their sins might be remitted through the Lamb of God. And by always pointing them, with the same long finger as you see in John in that Grunewald painting, to the Dayspring from on high, that is, to Jesus Christ. Because it is He who will give light to them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death, and it is only Jesus who will guide our feet into the way of peace.
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Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. Psalm 127:1,2