Friday, August 31, 2012

Belief and Behavior

Proper 17B September 2, 2012 St. James Lenoir

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. Jesus said, “Nothing outside a person . . . can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”

          It is a real pleasure it is to be with you all today. I’m Tom Rightmyer. I was rector at Redeemer, Shelby, in the 1980’s. Mike Cogsdale helped us celebrate the church’s 125th anniversary. When Mike was President of the NC Council of Churches I was a member of a Council committee and on the Ecumenical Committee of this diocese. I’m retired and live at Deerfield in Asheville.

This sermon is about the connection of belief and behavior.  Our life work is to keep together what we do and what we believe. Our beliefs and thoughts influence our behavior, and our behavior influences on what we think and believe. 

You have heard of the 7 major sinful tendencies that separate us from the love of God: Pride, Wrath, Avarice, and Envy are sins of the mind; Sloth, Lust, and Gluttony are sins of the body. All these natural characteristics become sinful when they get between us and God and between us and others.

There are also 7 capital or major virtues that can help us grow closer to God, and increase the connection between our beliefs and our behaviors:  Four are called natural virtues: Prudence, Justice, Temperance, and Fortitude or Courage. Three are called theological virtues: Faith, Hope, and Charity or Love.

The natural virtues of Prudence, Justice, Temperance, and Fortitude or Courage are taught by Plato in the Republic, by Aristotle, by Cicero, and in the intertestamental books of Wisdom (8.7) and 4 Maccabees (1:18-19) and by St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, and St. Thomas Aquinas.  The theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity or Love come from I Corinthians 13.

Prudence comes from the Latin pro-videntia to “see ahead.” It includes the reasonable ability to control our actions by good judgment, by “common sense” to have a right judgment of a situation and to do the right thing in that situation. We generally learn prudence as we practice it. Prudence keeps us out of trouble. 

Justice is having a right judgment of what properly belongs to us and what properly belongs to others. Children are generally blessed with the virtue of justice. They know and frequently say what is fair and what is not.  Power tends to corrupt the virtue of justice. 

Fortitude or Courage is the virtue that helps us deal with the fears, pains, and dangers that come to us in a fallen world. Fortitude includes steadfastness, perseverance, honesty. “Having done all to stand.” Moral fortitude is the ability to do what is right despite opposition. 

Temperance is the virtue of moderation, moderation in our use of the things of this world for ourselves and others. When we recycle we are exercising a contemporary virtue of Temperance. We learn these natural virtues in life as we practice them. 

These four natural virtues are common to all people, but the three spiritual virtues are God’s special gifts to bring us closer to him, and to help us to be more integrated people, with lives that more closely demonstrate in our behavior what we believe in our hearts.

Faith is God’s gift to make it possible to believe. We receive the gift of faith by hearing of God’s love in creation and in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. As we hear and we learn God’s love pours out on us, over us, and through us, to bring us to himself. Faith is a personal gift from a personal God to bring us into personal relationship with him. The gift of faith is a free gift; we don’t earn it by anything we do, but once we receive the gift and the giver, we offer ourselves in gratitude.

Hope is God’s gift of happiness. By hope we desire a better life here and hereafter and are motivated to work toward that better life for ourselves and for others. Hope strengthens the   other virtues in our life. In the Epistle to the Hebrews (10.23) we read, “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful” and in the Epistle to Titus (3.6-7) “This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” 

          Charity or Love is God’s gift so we may love God above all things and in all things for his own sake, and love our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God.  In St. John’s Gospel we learn that Jesus loved us to the end, to his painful death on the cross, and told the disciples and us,  (15:9, 12) “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” And “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

            The virtues offer a framework to evaluate how our faith and our behavior relate to one another. If we will pay regular attention regularly both to how we behave and what we believe, and if we will pray regularly God’s grace in Jesus will strengthen us and will bring us closer to him. Amen.