Aug 21st, Living as People of Faith in a World in Crisis, with Rev. Dr. Duncan Ferguson
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Aug 21st: Living as People of Faith in a World in Crisis, with Rev. Dr. Duncan Ferguson.
I want to begin with a word of profound gratitude to all of you who have welcomed me into this congregation. It is not only a spacious church, but an accepted, loving and loving one. And already I’ve been able to use some of my background in a couple of classes and the majority of people, believe it or not, have been able to stay awake in them. You’ve been so kind. In speaking with Stephen about a possible theme for this morning, he suggested that it might be wise to just use the theme of one of the classes and make it into a question about peace.
And he is dealing with several important questions, so we just fit right into those questions. So we ask how then should we live in a world in crisis, especially as a community of earth? And the title immediately suggests a book like answer which is beyond our scope this morning. But initially I want to suggest just a direction with at least three basic components in the hope that they contain some wisdom for us at this critical moment in history. Now, James, the brother of Jesus, writes to the new church in Jerusalem, which had just begun if any of you lack in wisdom, asks God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given to you.
And we do need wisdom. Let’s remind ourselves of some of the dangerous trends in the world in which we live. What are those conditions that make the world so troubled and in a crisis mode? That’s the first section that we’ll deal with. And then secondly, we’ll ask how we might find some wisdom that will guide us as we seek to live wisely and well in a time of crisis.
And then third, let’s connect our faith to this troubled world first. Then we might just remind ourselves that the conditions in which we live are extremely troublesome and profound. And it’s more than just losing our car keys or forgetting to get the bread at the store. There is an abundance of problems. I found a commuter list of the top 100.
We are living with profound problems. They are very threatening. There is, of course, right away in our own present the deep political divides our country and it’s tearing it apart. It’s almost a civil war. But at the top of the list in terms of danger, may be global warming and the threat to our environment in which we live and move and have our being.
Ryan Lamont, a thoughtful professor of pastoral theology, writes the news is bleak. Increasing temperatures, melting glaciers rising and more acidic seas, catastrophic storms, desertification of vast tracts of land, decimated rainforests, frequent fires, extinction of millions of species failed in failing states, increases in political violence and mass migrations of peoples between borders. And bleaker still is the news that a number of climate scientists believe that we’ve already passed the threshold of making significant changes to avert global warming. A colleague of his, Clayton Crockett, adds we need to experiment with radically new ways of thinking and living because the current paradigm is in a state of exhaustion, depletion, even death. It is serious and I worry about the condition in which our grandchildren will live.
In addition, we are all keenly aware of how Covert 19 has impacted the world and our way of life right here in Bend. New variants of the disease suggest that this global pandemic will continue. It will be threatening. I have had to get out the masks that I just put away in the drawer last week. The pandemic disease is present and a profound threat.
And of course, there is a serious conflict wherever we seem to turn. The conflict in Ukraine continues, although it is less on our minds than it was a few weeks ago, in part because the problems, our own political unrest has taken the center stage and getting more attention. And I’m sure you could add to the list of problems that make our world extremely troublesome, some closer to home. My list of ten keeps expanding. So a second part of our answer to our question how then shall we live?
Is to seek help with how to manage in this deeply troubled moment. And as a church community, we ask for wisdom from our faith to help us find our way in this world in crisis. And it’s natural and wise for us to do so because it is the heart of who we are as individuals. We are active participants in the community of faith because it is the setting in which we find our most fundamental values and our guidance on how to live. And this can be done in a variety of ways looking at church history, the church’s theology, what the larger church around the world is currently doing to respond to a world in crisis.
And we’ll do some of that this morning, but mainly focus on one aspect, that is to look at the founder of our faith, Jesus of Nazareth, and use his life and teaching to guide us. Now, the brother of Jesus, James, whose writing we read, was sort of a practical leader of his church as a pastor in Jerusalem. In fact, the brothers were just a little bit different, with James focusing on what to do today and tomorrow. But Jesus, the elder brother, focusing on the big picture, how to manage in a time of crisis and generally how to save the world. And another family member also got in the mix as well, cousin John, who was a prophet in the southeast of Palestine, out in a kind of a desert wilderness.
And Jesus started his own mission in consultation with cousin John called the Baptist. And as we turn to Jesus and the other figures of the biblical story, james and John, Paul and Mary and all of them, we know that they also lived in a world in crisis. The descriptive list is long, but let me suggest a few examples. The people of Israel palestine lived under the control of a foreign power. The Romans had gotten there, and Putin is no more vicious than Caesar.
People lived in fear because the governmental system was threatening and unjust. In fact, as Jesus was tried and ultimately crucified, he encountered three levels of this mixed up government structure. He was accused first by the Sanhedrin, the local government of the Jewish people in Jerusalem, but in this that they did not have the power of capital punishment. They sent him to the region which he was raised up in the Galilee, ruled at that time by one of the sons of Herod, Antipus. And he said, no, I don’t want to touch this one.
It’s really too hot. And taking the advice of his wife, he then sent Jesus back to Jerusalem, and there he met Pilate, the leader of the Roman occupation. And you know that story and how it turned out. Jesus was crucified after a strange mixture of conversations and actions. Now, as Jesus carried out his ministry, we see the wide range of problems that existed at his time.
There was extreme poverty, extensive illnesses with little or no access to cures, deep conflicts between the various populations in the region north towards Syria, east toward Jordan, south toward Egypt. And people longed for justice and peace and a more comfortable way of life. And in their faith, they heard the promise of one that might come with peace and justice. The life of Jesus was interwoven with this dark and confusing chaos and their messianic hope that one would come to help. Now, in brief thirdly, the setting in which Jesus lived as an example to us is an example to us.
And as he taught the people guidance on how to live in a setting that was filled with problems, that pushed the setting to the place of crisis, there is much to learn that will give us guidance and a measure of comfort. Although I am keenly aware as I speak about these things that we only point in directions and do not give full solutions, we draw them from the life and teachings of Jesus. Now, Jesus lived a life that is perhaps the best example of how to live by anyone who has ever lived. He was deeply moved by the Spirit of God as he reached full maturity to use his life as a teacher and a prophet and a healer. Jesus got it right, although one would not have expected a carpenter living in the northern edge of his country to be so profound and influential.
Now, the foundation of what he taught was captured in the phrase the kingdom of God. It was a metaphor understood by his listeners and followers that meant our lives should be centered on the presence and power of God. But we have some discomfort with this title as a reference to male power. And I prefer the term reign of God to speak about what he was talking about. And again and again he said that life is more than accumulating possessions, more than seeking the praise of others, more than having power over others, more than all those strange and unsatisfying quests to find meaning and happiness in life.
He said, open your hearts to the power and presence of God, then life will have meaning and deep peace. And it is good news. Life can have purpose and joy. In fact, Mark’s Gospel records that right at the beginning of his public ministry, jesus said, the time is now. The kingdom of God has come near.
Repent and believe the good news. And note that he uses the term repent at times. This term has been used by preachers to make you feel shame and regret, are condemned by an old judge with a long beard. But the term has more to do with changing directions. It is a loving invitation to change the very foundation on which your life rests.
The Greek word is metanoia, which means change your direction on the foundation of your life and put God at the center. Then you will be able to manage the chaos, the troublesome conditions around you and move through life empowered and guided by God. He really didn’t make it all that complicated. And then he taught them about the way of life that flows from putting God at the center, one that can help you manage the troubles and move the conditions around you, changing them. My summary cannot do justice, but let me try to express the heart of his teaching in three ways.
He underlined the need, first of all, to seek the truth, have faith in it, and live by it. Now, this is much harder than it sounds. Truth is very elusive and the reality that surrounds us is very complex. When we hear politicians explain the budget, we sort of scratch our heads and say, what did he just mean? And say, Is he telling us the whole truth?
But Jesus said that it is important to know the truth, understand it, and live by its realities. And we have to work hard to find the truth in much that surrounds us. But Jesus stays with this point and says it is the truth that sets you free. So because you are not confused, not pushed and pulled by all the false promises that fill nearly all our cultures, especially those rooted in our economy like ours, and nearly every commercial offers you an improved life. But a new toy will not have lost its power will have lost its power by the time you get it home.
It may be something useful, not a bad thing to have, just not the central item that will put your life together. And the letters of John teach us that God is light or truth. The very essence of all that is. And we need to invite God to be the center of our lives. We invite truth in all of its many forms to be the center of our lives.
And then we learn how to live with complete integrity, to be truthful about ourselves, true to others, and live a life with integrity. A life with truth as its foundation is how we have to live. And we manage in this world by knowing the truth or the truth about God and living that truth, being a person of integrity. And you know what it’s like to live untruthfully, don’t you? Without integrity, it’s very difficult to live that way.
And it leads to deep regret and depression and escape. But to know and live by the truth is liberating and emancipating. It sets us free. Jesus then, was the great teacher of truth, inviting people to have integrity in all of life. But he was also a prophet of justice and peace.
He learned from his cousin John about being a prophet. And as Jesus looked around his context, he saw injustice reached out to people who had been forced into poverty and people who did not have access to opportunity. And because the governments were a confusing array of imperfect and social structures and inadequate legal systems, they didn’t work for the people. He saw immense suffering in a society and world in crisis and people had lost hope and needed it restored. Now, he was less likely to be philosophical about this condition as one who had just an intellectual curiosity.
Rather, he was deeply moved by it and his way to deal with it was almost magical. And he loved to tell stories about these conditions because the story can be understood so easily. They touch us. For example, he just told the interesting story about the person who had to take a trip from Jerusalem down to Jericho. I’ve been on that road, it’s steep and out in the wilderness, a road that was a bit dangerous and was not protected from bandits.
And sure enough, this person got robbed and then thrown in the ditch. And a couple of well dressed Presbyterian pastors went by, but they were too busy to help. They had meetings to attend to and how to get ready for next week’s worship service. But finally, a minority person, perhaps one that we might call a Palestinian, a Samaritan, was in a hurry as well, but with a different set of values. He stopped, put the injured man on his donkey and took him to the nearest holiday, Yen.
He helped him get medical attention, paid for his time there, and said he would be back after his meeting in Jericho. And Jesus said that this is what we must do and how we must live. Make sure that all the people are protected by just laws and live in settings that are safe. Justice leads to peace locally, regionally, nationally, globally, whereas injustice leads to conflict, warfare and untold suffering. Well, as we have said, Jesus taught us to live by the truth, with integrity and to seek justice in order for there to be hope and peace.
But he also taught us to love. He was filled with love. Now God is love and he was a truly God centered person. Love may be the most important value in the life and teachings of Jesus. He couldn’t pass by a suffering person, filled as he was with the God of love.
So he healed those who came with illnesses physical, emotional and spiritual. And one day he was walking with his disciples a few miles north toward the Galilee and he stopped to rest and get a drink at a well that was there for public use. And by the way, that well is still present in that same site. It was part of the region that was not exclusively Jewish. His disciples moved on, perhaps to find some food.
But Jesus remained at the well and there he met a woman who also came for some water and they started talking, although she was from a group of minority people, the Samaritans, and was generally ignored by the maturity community. Yes, there were snobs and prejudiced people then too, but Jesus, treating all people as equal and is having infinite value, asked her if you could have a drink and she said yes. But he asked why he was so different than all the others who had come by treating her with dignity and respect. So they started talking and she got into it and got excited about it and said, I have to go tell my husband. And then Jesus said, okay, but you have had some difficulty in your life and the husband you are going to tell is number six.
She had gotten around, but I’ll give you some living water, the very presence and power of God that will put your life together. And Jesus showed true love in his acceptance and compassion to heal her suffering. And she went back to her community and told everybody about Jesus. She was loved back to health. As we have mentioned, it’s a bit hard to summarize the life and teachings of Jesus.
Libraries are full of long and complicated books on this subject, but as a summary, we might say the faith community does teach us how to manage life in a time of crisis. Looking at the life of teaching and teaching of Jesus who lived his life in a time of crisis. He is our model and then inviting people to endorse the reign of God, have faith in it and receive the power and presence of God. And then by making the following values the center of your life seek the truth, have faith in it, live by it and be a person of integrity. The truth will set you free from ignorance and falsehood and provide healthy and life giving direction.
It is the way to a life of integrity. There is so much that can lead us astray and our society is filled with falsehood. It is easy for us to get lost and to be filled with conflicting urges and actions and become genuinely ill. But Jesus urges us to be diligent and live by the truth, to be a person of integrity. And then you will find your way and be set free.
Give your allegiance and all your efforts to create and provide a more just society and world. We must restore hope. Ultimately, the only way to peace is through justice, which gives us hope. And as we learn in the Ukraine, if there is injustice, there’s going to be suffering and be a person of love who cares for all those who suffer. Show compassion to the woman at the well like Jesus did, and the paralytic and the hungry.
All of these people live and bend. In short, live like Jesus, seek the truth to become a person of integrity. Live like Jesus and seek justice because it is the only way to hope and peace. Be brave enough to speak truth to power. It is the way of the prophet and above all, love diligently.
Show compassion to all those in need. Do not walk by the ditch on the way to Jericho or the way to Redmond.