Lent 1 – Faithfulness
Romans 5:12-19 and Matthew 4:1-11
God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, grow in us the fruit of your spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Amen
Today in our considering of the fruit of the Spirit, St Paul describes in his letter to the Galatians, we are thinking about the fruit of faithfulness. Faithfulness means lasting loyalty and trustworthiness in relationships, the fact or quality of being true to our word or commitments. It is being dedicated and steadfast in performing our duty, working for a cause, and sticking to a fact or belief in the face of challenge.
Faithfulness is a quality we best recognise in God’s love for us. The hymn writer we probably best associate with this word is Thomas Obadiah Chisholm – who wrote the hymn – Great is thy faithfulness (this is number 186 in our hymn books and you might like to turn to look at the words now). Pause. Much of this hymn is an expression of God’s faithfulness throughout his life. Thomas wrote it though his life had many difficulties and disappointments, and he had long term poor health, as well as all the ordinary ups and downs of life that we all face.
This hymn is based on well known Bible verses, we find in the Old Testament book of Lamentations and are often said at the start of funerals – The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is his faithfulness (3:22-23).
The hymn begins: Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father; There is no shadow of turning with Thee; Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not; As Thou hast been, Thou forever will be. – This reminds us of God’s reliability and his unchanging nature – God who keeps his promise of unwavering love and mercy, whatever our circumstances.
The verse continues: Summer and winter and springtime and harvest, Sun, moon and stars in their courses above Join with all nature in manifold witness To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love. This shows us how the natural world around us witnesses to God’s creative and ever present love for us.
The final verse says: Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide; Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside! Of this verse Mel Eyeons said – it reflects on how God has come to us and remains with us through all the joys and sorrows of our lives, however big or small they might be, giving us hope, joy and strength. We can be comforted and encouraged by knowing that our sins are forgiven, that we are loved and understood, that God is with us in our struggles and understands what human life is like. And each day we’re supported, helped and blessed by our steadfast God.
Our faith is based on this dependable relationship – we learn to be confident in the presence of God – who does not change or go away. We realize that when other signposts and landmarks have been taken away and the going gets tough, there is a presence that does not let us go. This presence is God in the person of the Holy Spirit. This as an expression of faithulness is how Archbishop Rowan Williams understands it.
It involves not relying on our own resources or our own capacity to master all knowledge about God, but that we can be mastered by God’s truth in our life (and that sense of God). We can be held even when we don’t feel we have anything to hold on too.
The faith we proclaim as Christians needs to be not just a clever system of beliefs. Creedal statements can be helpful to remind us of the width, breadth and depth of God’s love for us – but that is not all there is. This possibility of a deeply dependable relationship quite beyond ourselves and our experience of human relationships is key to faith and faithfulness.
To live our faithfulness in our day to day lives, we need to point quite simply to the God who does not let go, the Christ who does not run away and the presence of the Holy Spirit with us in every step. In our exercise of faithfulness, we need to be dependable people ourselves in response to our dependence on God. People who are in a dependable relationship with God, are there for others in a unique way and in turn this enables us to reveal what it is to have faith in the one who doesn’t let go.
Faith and faithfulness are possible based on our unique dependable relationships with God. We are drawn into it by God, and we are summoned to embody it and offer it out as Jesus followers, and encouraged by the Holy Spirit working in us to be dependable in our relationships too.
In our familiar gospel reading today, Jesus in the wilderness stuck to his principles – walked the walk of faith in God, and embodied and offered faithful responses. In the face of the offers from the tempter based on relieving his great hunger, abusing his power and being worshipped, he kept to his walk of faith – his dependence on God first.
God through the power of the Spirit can work on the fruit of faithfulness in us naturally as we live acknowledging God’s faithful and everlasting love for us. I want to conclude these thoughts with an answer to a question given by Archbishop Rowan Williams in St Paul’s Cathedral at a talk he gave. Spend a moment thinking what our answer to that question would be, and I will end with reading us Rowan’s answer. The question was – Who is Jesus for you?
John 21:25 But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen
Answer from St Paul’s Cathedral by Rowan Williams.
Fruit of the Spirit – Mel Eyeons – Reflections on growing in Christ 2019 Eltisley Books.
Rowan Williams being disciples – essentials of the Christian life. 2016 SPCK and at talk given at St Paul’s Cathedral
The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible © (1989/1995)
https://www.dictionary.com/browse/faithfulnessCCLI – Song reproduced under 217043 for St Peter and St Paul’s Church Wincanton