Excellence can lead to love.

A talk given by Penn Hackney at ELPC on February 22, 1997
See also John Calvin on diversity of opinion in the Church

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, *do*: and the God of peace shall be with you. Philippeans 4:8-9 (King James Version)

The Revised Standard Version translates "virtue" as "excellence", so it reads "if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."

And what truth we have in the Bible! What lovliness we have in our building! What a good report we have of our endowment! What purity we have in our children! What excellence we have in our community, what virtue in our people and their talents, their caring, their dedication and committment. What excellence we have in our worship together.

Or do we? We also have fear. We also have resentments. We have defensiveness. We feel excluded by some people or groups, we feel anger toward ... and dislike of ... certain people and opinions and programs in the church. We are a changing congregation. We have to be. Change[1] is many things -- it is disruptive ... costly ... necessary. The philosopher Alfred North Whitehead observed that "all major advances in civilization are processes which all but wreck the society in which they occur."

So, can we face change together without being wrecked in the process? Face it productively? Harmoniously -- or at least graciously and acceptingly when we cannot be in harmony? Here is what I think, and why I am still here. Why, in fact, I truly *enjoy* being here:

The Church is finding itself, like I imagine the 1st Century church found itself, a minority community in a larger culture which mostly disregards the Church and sometimes actively resists the values it espouses.

So I suggest we focus on some excellences of the 1st Century church: For instance, there were four essential components of life in the Christian community: kerygma (proclaiming the Good News), didache (teaching), koinonia (community), and diakonia (service).

This morning I'm thinking about one of these components, koinonia, or community. Koinonia requires that we honor one another, that we *be honest with* one another about both our pain and our joy, and that we give and receive acknowledgment of that pain and joy with real tenderness and support.

Why? Because we are all we have. All we have is each other. Why are we here together this morning? Each of us is here for some reason or other. I like to think there is something *excellent* here that attracts each of us to this place in this hour week by week.

What is that excellent something? It depends on how one defines excellence, and of course that depends on who you ask. Each of us has our own notion of what is excellent. I think English Cathedral music and the music of Johann Sebastian Bach are excellent. You may think Robert Ray and rap or or even Taizé are excellent.

But if I have committed myself to you, to honor you, even to love you, simply because you are here and I am here, in koinonia, then *I* will find something excellent in whatever it is that *you* find worthy of praise.

Here are two examples of what I mean: 1. I think it is excellent to say the Apostles Creed every week, which we do not. But we are singing it today, and in an excellent gospel rock setting, which I think everyone will enjoy. And 2. our pulpit, built almost 70 years ago, shows graphically what it is that unites us: the preaching of the eastern Orthodox in John Chrysostom is on one side, and the Reformed tradition in John Knox is on the other. What can they possibly share between them? In between stands Christ, illustrating the hymn "In Christ there is no east nor west." We are, or can be, in community by the music and words we can feel and enjoy together, and in the person of Jesus Christ whom we worship and follow.

Now surely our differences, yours and mine, they are *tiny* compared to the differences between the body of Christ and the larger culture of materialism and egocentric intolerance?

The dictionary definition of excellent is "very good *of its kind*: eminently good: FIRST-CLASS" But note that an older meaning is "superior", which itself has a meaning of "courageously or serenely [facing] something painful or disheartening."

Earlier in Philippians Paul said, 1:9-10, "And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more, in knowledge and in all discernment, That ye may approve what is excellent; that ye may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ."

So I have committed myself to think on excellent things. To "approve", or work for, what I find to be excellent. To face courageously what may *be* painful or disheartening. And to be in community, in koinonia, with whoever is here, whatever your background or life experience, and with whatever *you* may think is excellent.

From "Our Calling" in our Vision Statement we say first together: "We believe that God has a good plan for our congregation and grants us the vision and the gifts to bring it to pass;"

And once more, Paul says in Philippians. 2:1-5, "If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any feeling and mercy for others, Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus."

Let us pray that excellence at our church will lead to love.

"Change does not necessarily assure progress, but progress implacably requires change. Education is essential to change, for education creates both new wants and the ability to satisfy them." - Henry Steele Commager

The Cathedral of Hope 

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