Neither you nor I could ever know anything about Christ, or believe in him and receive him as Lord,
unless these were offered to us and bestowed on our hearts through the preaching of the gospel by the Holy Spiritâ€ť (Martin Luther, The Large Catechism). Martin Luther wrote these words in his Large Catechism. He is speaking of the faith that is created in us by the Holy Spirit every time we hear the Word of God.
And today we hear a great declaration of faith by Peter:
"Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God." Peterâ€™s great declaration of faith however was not of his own making. This great faith came from outside of him, it was given to him, as a gift.
A seminary professor of mine used an image in class that has helped me greatly to better understand faith and our relationship to God. That image is a ladder.
God is at the top of the ladder. And we are at the bottom of the ladder. And our human impulse is to try and climb up the ladder to God.
We climb up the ladder relying on our strength, trusting in our efforts to reach God. We try to follow Godâ€™s commandments, to understand God, to make God fit neatly into our lives.
And here lies our problem: no matter how hard we try, no matter how much effort we exert, we continue to fall off the ladder time and again. We are weak, sinful human beings and we always fall short of reaching God. We find Godâ€™s teachings difficult to believe and accept; we find Godâ€™s ways difficult to understand. And many times we walk away.
But here is the good news: we donâ€™t have to go up the ladder because God comes DOWN the ladder to us!
The good news is that we donâ€™t have to rely on ourselves. We can stop trying to figure God out, we can stop trying to fit God into our human understanding. We can stop trying to climb the ladder.
God comes down the ladder to us in flesh and blood in a manger as a child to be one of us, as bread of life to feed and sustain us always, nailed to a cross to redeem us from our sins and bring us salvation, all so that we might have life.
When we stop trying to climb the ladder, we can see that God is active in our lives through the living, and the breathing, and the moving, and the working of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that creates faith in us, that gives us this faith through the Word of God, Jesus Christ.
But this gift of faith is not simply something we are given, it is something that we do. Martin Luther also says about faith that it is â€śnever alone but is always accompanied by love and hope.â€ť The Holy Spirit moves us into action, gives us a faith that in turn acts in love and hope.
When we are grateful for a gift, given to us freely, a gift that brings spirit and life, we are moved to respond out of gratitude for that gift. And out of gratitude for the gift of faith, our lives become lives of loving action towards God and towards one another.
Our faith in action brings food to the hungry, clothing to the naked, shelter to the homeless, justice to the marginalized, well being to our enemies, love to one another. It brings light where there is darkness, love where there is hate, peace where there is violence.
Our faith in action witnesses to the world that there is no other place to look for everlasting life than in Christ Jesus. Our faith in action witnesses to the world that Jesus is the Holy One of God come into the world for all, so that all may have life, and have it abundantly.