Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:9)
“Although you have not seen him.” When I was a young man, I attended Bible College in Springfield, Missouri. In some ways, I was a lot like the apostle Thomas. I wanted to know what was going on, and I wanted to know now. Not only did I want to serve Christ, I wanted to see Jesus. I wanted a vision. The Apostle Paul had a vision of Jesus, so why couldn’t I have one. Many people in the Bible including the apostles Peter and John, the prophets Ezekiel, Daniel and others had visions or dreams. I felt it was necessary for me to see Jesus.
This is your Rector’s confessional. At the time, I felt that having a personal vision of Jesus was absolutely necessary for my faith, and so I spent a ot of time in the woods next to campus, calling out to God. even argue with him. I was 19 years old and I felt like I had given everything I had in order to follow Jesus, and doggone it, I was available, but God was not cooperating with me. I was having trouble with this scripture from First Peter: “Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:9)
I have never had a vision or even a dream picturing Jesus. But when I made an intentional commitment to seek God and to make Him the center of my life and worldview back then, I have grown to know Jesus. I have grown in my faith – knowing, understanding and loving God. I have a greater understanding of what it means “to know God and to be known by God”. The Holy Spirit has guided me along the way through Scripture, the mysteries of the Church, and the guidance of helpful brothers and sisters to steer me in the right direction.
Jesus promises us indescribable joy during our spiritual journey, and in this joy we celebrate the outworking of our faith, the salvation of our souls. I have experienced wonderful joy in knowing Christ in both practical and indescribable ways. I have been blessed with a mature faith, and I no longer have to settle for the milk of the word, but as Paul says we should, grow up in Christ and pursue the meat of the Word. Milk is for beginners, inexperienced in God’s ways; solid food is for the mature, who have some practice in telling right from wrong”. (Hebrews 5:12)
We are looking forward to the salvation of our souls. We have been saved, we are in the continuum of being saved, and we will be saved. This is a pathway forward, and this journey is made possible because of Easter. This progression of receiving the salvation of our souls is often referred to as sanctification, or purification, regeneration, transformation, growing and maturing in Christ, or as the Apostle Paul describes it as going from glory to glory. “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
One of my favorite Bible and philosophy professors was Dr. Donald Johns, professor and Dean of Central Bible College and the Assemblies of God Graduate School. Dr. Johns helped me stay the course in my spiritual journey. I had recently left behind a past and was involved in what was known at that time as the “Jesus Movement”. I had cut my hair and changed the way I dressed, a requirement to attend this conservative school. And, even though I attended a Pentecostal school, being trained in the same faith tradition I was brought up in, I did not feel at home. I mentioned this to Dr. Johns, and he created a diagram on the chalkboard. Does anybody use chalk boards anymore? The diagram was a target with circles around it. He told me that even though I might be on one of the outer circles, I could still consider myself a part of the church.
It’s many years later, and now I belong in the Anglican tradition, and to be more exact, the Episcopal Church. I still sense that I am on an outer circle of the target, but I know now that is my personality. I do not feel at home in the center of attention. My choice of leadership is to lead from behind, to serve and make changes, but to do so out of the limelight. I would never feel comfortable working for a diocese, at a cathedral or even on diocesan committees. I do serve on diocese committees from time to time, but it’s something I do at the request of the Bishop or other leaders. It is not something I pursue. On our spiritual journey of transformation, it does not matter where on the circle we are. We are all headed in the same direction, the direction to the heavenly city, whose builder and architect is God. (Hebrews 11:10)
On this journey of faith, we are pursuing to understand the salvation of our souls, and we are being transformed from glory to glory. How many of you know that this journey is full of surprises, joys, sorrows and the school of hard knocks. For me it’s sometimes like taking three steps backwards, but four steps forward. I zig and zag, and rarely go in a straight line. My journey of faith reminds me of some of my hikes in the desert. Sometimes the trail is close to water and shade, but other times it is in the hot sun, up and down hills. How about you? Is your walk with Christ always in a straight line? Part of this process of change involves others. We are not alone on our journey. I love the proverb that says: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another”. (Proverbs 27:17) Where would be without the guidance and aid of other Christians?
Saint Paul encourages us with these words: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known”. (1 Corinthians 13:12) We don’t really see it all yet, but we are seeing more and more. Or as another Proverb says: “The path of those who do right is like the sun in the morning. It shines brighter and brighter until the full light of day”. (Proverbs 4:18)
Jesus has called us individually into this walk, but he has also called us collectively as a church. In a few weeks, we will celebrate Pentecost Sunday, and we are reminded that the Holy Spirit has come among us and will lead us forward. We are not alone. God does not leave us on our won. We have the Spirit to guide us. I want to encourage you that are struggling with your faith walk, struggling in your identify in Christ. I want to encourage you that are struggling whether you believe God exists or not.
Remember this: God is with you. The Blessed Hope is there to guide you. You’re not alone. All of us go through fiery trials that make us strong. They challenge the genuineness of your faith. As our passage in First Peter encourages us with these words: “Even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith– being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire– may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed”. (1 Peter3:5-8) Our faith is challenged. Sometimes it is tested by fire. But, we go forward, maybe three steps backward, but four steps forward. We are in the process of “receiving the outcome of our faith, the salvation of our souls”.
Going forward in this walk of love in this journey with Jesus. I don’t really like red wine, and I’m sure that’s unusual for a priest, but we are told that good wine matures and tastes better as it ages. We mature, we grow in Christ, and our faith grows.
“For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 3:12)
To know God yet not know God.
The Reverend Dr David Madsen
Easter 2, 2017