“And now, faith, hope, and love abide – these three – and the greatest of these is love.”
Might the future of the church in these “postmodern” days rest in this Gospel proclaimed by Paul – a Gospel centered in his own understanding of the freedom Christ brings to the world?
As I approach one month into the sabbatical, these words from Paul keep coming around, as if God is inviting me to dive more deeply into three words at the very end of a passage that too often is only read in the context of weddings. They hint at something beyond the bride and groom, something beyond bouquets and tuxedos. Paul speaks of the end of all things in this little chapter in Corinthians, when the world will be stripped down to its essentials and we will all discover together what lies beneath all that is – seen and unseen. Three things remain, says Paul, which is a way of saying these three things are the essentials, the stuff of which life – true life – consists. All else will pass away, save faith, hope, and love. And the greatest, the first of all, is love.
At the end of the month I travel to Montreal to spend a week with Douglas John Hall, Professor Emeritus in the Religion Department at McGill University. Dr. Hall is an inspiration to me; his theology has been formative for my ministry for many years. It is a gift beyond words that he has agreed to spend this time with me one on one. At eighty four years old, he continues to write, having just published a new book on the topic I am exploring entitled Waiting for Gospel. I have my copy and he and I will discuss it as part of our time together.
I continue to be moved by his assertion that the church of the future, if it is to be faithful to the Way of Jesus Christ, will operate by “a theology of faith (not sight); of hope (not finality); and of love (not power).” He believes that people outside the church are looking for a gospel of faith, hope, and love. But too often what they find are churches filled with pious certainty, closed traditions, and an infatuation with power.
Hospitality may be the natural outgrowth of an engagement with the good news beyond certitude, finality, and power; what Paul calls “a still more excellent way,” the greatest of which is love.
Can we imagine – dare we imagine – the end of all things? Can we see what it may look like when we no longer gaze through a glass darkly, but face to face? We do not know ultimately what that will be like, but if our brother Paul is to be trusted, we know what will remain. Can we live even now in the light of that day? To do so would be life as it is meant to be, in God.