Aug 6th: The More Excellent Way, with Rev. Dr. Duncan Ferguson.
A Part of the Series:
The More Excellent Way with Rev. Dr. Duncan Ferguson. Series: One Thing A Spacious Christianity, First Presbyterian Church of Bend, Oregon. Scripture: 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13.
This Sunday, join with the Bend FP community and welcome our special guest – Rev. Dr. Duncan Ferguson, who will be discussing the importance of love as a guiding virtue for our actions, speech, and thoughts.
I am so pleased to be with you this morning. Before we move to bed now a couple of years ago, I was eager to find a church where I could feel at home, and perhaps in time even make a contribution. Never did I expect to find one so ideal for me. One with excellent leadership in a setting that honors and cultivates a spacious Christian faith, one that is open and receptive to all people, and one that encouraged us a growing and committed faith, rooted in deep spirituality, active love, and social justice. This was what is the heart of the mission. I’m at home here. And I’m especially pleased to have the privilege of serving in a small way and very thankful for mornings like this when I can share what is most important to me, in my life. Now Stephens commissioned to those of us who are filling in for him, has been to choose one thing from our faith in the Bible that is most important to us. And the one verse that captures the essence of this important theme or concept for me, one that is transforming. I have chosen from the verse in First Corinthians 13, which says, Now faith, hope, love abide, these three, and the greatest of these is love. Now, the apostle Paul calls it the more excellent way. That is, it is the excellent way to live, and gives us the deepest values of our lives. The word choice for the Apostle was the Greek word agape, which essentially means to love others unconditionally. And even if loving them may be difficult. That’s what we still need to do. It is not the love of attraction and beauty, or great wisdom and profound understanding. Although these qualities are not unimportant, you have the more excellent way is to practice a love that is caring, and that is permanent, that endeavors to make life better for those whom we encounter, and especially those whose condition in life may be a product of illness, poverty, or injustice. But practical love was the daily practice of Jesus, and indeed the essence of who Jesus was and how he lived. It would have been the subject Jesus might have chosen for this morning sermon If Stephen had thought to ask him when asked by a lawyer, which commandment is in the laws, the greatest and most important, Jesus replied, You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul and with all of your mind. This is the greatest commandment and a second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. It is clear in the teaching of Jesus that love is the foundation of living a good and truly spiritual life. He clearly emphasized that a true spiritual pathway is to love God with one’s whole being. It’s a foundational commitment and the very ground of one’s being. And following from this foundation in center, we are to love others with the same intensity and care that we have for our own life and all of its many dimensions. Now Paul, endeavored as he was converted to the way of Jesus, to live in keeping with the ethical teachings of Jesus. In many ways he succeeded, although some interpreters of the life and teachings of Paul occasionally pointed out of failure here and there. Yet few have tried harder, and his legacy is certainly one of the greatest gifts ever given to the Christian community. I do want to note that his teaching and travels were not free of occasional controversy. But few would question his faith and commitment to be the voice for the new Christian movement, a person of great integrity, even when speaking boldly and directly, occasionally got him into trouble. There was a prophetic edge to his speaking and writing. And as it is, with all prophets, who dare to speak truth to power, he to face some resistance from those in power. Paul’s life ended in a Roman prison, although it was there as well that he loved those in need. He wrote and spoke often on the theme of love. And there’s a trace of it in nearly all of his letters. And in the letter called First Corinthians, he speaks quite profoundly about love and introduces what we have already mentioned his do on the moon.
is an excellent way. Chapter 13. In the letter is organized, organized around three components of love, the preeminence of love, the practice of love, and the permanence of love. Let’s explore together his three word beginning free words beginning with P.
He begins his development of the more excellent way by saying that love is preeminent to and more important even than oratory. If I speak in the tongues of mortals, and of angels, but do not love, I’m just a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. I have occasionally heard a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal, even in this church, and may have firsthand experience and creating those clashing noises and annoying noise noises in Paul’s culture and time, given the high level of illiteracy, a very important form of communication for scholars and teachers and political leaders was a speech. There was no internet, no television, or even a great deal of literature that was accessible to the common people. Paul says that to deliver a powerful and compelling speech, or we might say putting a message on Facebook is just a noisy gong. If love and empathy are not present, love must be the motivation of our speeches, and be present in all of our communication. As we speak, we enter the world of the other person and become at home in it. And as it is possible, the message should lay aside most of one’s own feelings, needs and move into the world of the listener. All too often, our words are attempts to persuade the other person to move into our world and understand important feelings and concerns that we have. It is so easy to respond to the other person who has just spoken about their suffering. With our own tales of suffering, at least indirectly, we often ask them to listen and care for us.
When this happens, the person in front of us often does not feel heard, or cared for. He goes on to say that love is even superior to knowledge. And this observation catches my attention as one who values, values, knowledge. And if I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, but do not have love, I am nothing. Love must be the guiding motivation of those speak who speak in a way that makes the great mysteries about life understandable. It is the case for those who act prophetically in order to address social injustice and to create a more humane world. Now in the same sentence, Paul also speaks about faith. And if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. Even Paul, the great teacher and model of the faith centered life underscores that faith without love is incomplete. In fact, Faith without love is often dangerous. false faith may lead us astray. And we are currently surrounded by myths. And this information about a lot of subjects and faith is one of them. There are those who distort religion and use its influence for power and for their own gain. Now Paul moves easily to his second word beginning with a P, it is practice. It points out that love must be practiced. Of what does love consist on a day to day basis? Yes, even this morning. First he says that love is patient. That is it takes time and endurance, healing kindness and focused attention must be present and endure and be sustained and all of our relationships.
We all know that those who need love are often not all that easy to love. The profoundly needy are usually difficult to love, and it may require quiet courage to give the best we have in order for true love to be present. It is then so easy to live, to leave the person or to turn the attention back to oneself. feelings of frustration fill us the interaction is filled with tension. It may be that the one to whom we are offering love doesn’t understand our way and blocks our loving initiative. We may even feel rejection and become the target of anger. Then it is so easy and such In an encounter, to stop empathic listening, we begin to feel annoyed or judged by the other person and have to deal wisely with these feelings. In addition, there is the continuing risk that a subject comes up and another person’s description of their pain, one that matches our own pain, the pain in our life. And when this occurs, we often resort once again, to constant self referencing, often in an attention getting me to kind of mold. Now this practice of self referencing is one of the most common practices of daily conversation, even acceptable at times. But it often does take away the attention from the one who needs to be heard in a healing and compassionate way. Nor is it the way of love to always turn the conversation in a way that gets the affirmation we want. We may even begin a conversation with a slightly untruthful comment in the effort to be valued. But as Paul says, Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. In fact, love patiently bears all things, while believing in the good and continues to hope for the emergence of the good, the true and the beautiful. Love has endurance to the long struggle of creating kind and thoughtful conversation that nourish nourishes all those who are present. This is the practice of love. And in that practice, love gradually becomes permanent. Our third word beginning with P. As Paul says, Love never ends. Our human behavior and social realities will cease. oratory is impermanent, even our knowledge will change and cease, because it’s partial, and often limited by time and cultural assumptions. What we once believed to be the case changes as new knowledge emerges. In fact, as we look back across history, we begin to understand how the human grasp of reality that surrounds them has dramatically changed. The earth is not flat. Nor did the solar system come into being a few 1000 years ago, our beliefs those sincere may often be like a child’s understanding. Even now, as we look for the truth, Paul reminds us, it becomes like looking in a dusty mirror, and we only see partially, but in faith, we sense that there is a profound truth that is permanent, and trustworthy. It is the reality of the best word we have to describe God. God is love. And as we live in God’s presence, we sense that we have found the way we have met the personal God who is love, and this relationships becomes the permanent and lasting foundation of life. Love becomes the central value of our lives. Gradually, this truth has become a reality. For me, I am learning a lot about love that does not end even in different cold circumstances. And yes, even when there are deep personal conflicts. Unfortunately, it is often the case that those occur in the family, I have discovered that my love for my family does not cease. Even as difficulties and conflicts arise. Often our life just becomes more mature as we face the difficulties together and respect each other in the process. And the same permanence does not end as we love others with whom we journey, even if the connection with others have become troubled. We move through these troubles and conflicts in love and respect. And we get to the other side, caring more deeply about these people than before. So by God’s love and grace, we continue to love all those in our circle of nearness, and those who need loving care. Love does not end we have learned that love is the most important, most profound and deeply gratifying way to live and it never ends. Love. Paul reminds us is preeminent practical and permanent. We can begin today right now to love others giving it the highest priority, sharing in practical ways and sustaining our commitment to love and even across difficult terrain. The God of love will go with us