Meeting Times at 4th United Presbyterian Church

Cafe' Worship: 9:15 a.m. each Sunday in Gathering Hall (activities provided for children; coffee; snacks)
Adult Sunday School: 10 a.m.

Sunday Worship: 11 a.m.

Bible Study: each Thursday at 6 p.m.

Community Forum: last Thursday of each month at 6 p.m. with meal (no community forum in November, 2011)

About the 4th United Presbyterian Bible Blog

Posts on this blog are from me, Rev. George H. Waters, one of the two organizing co-pastors of 4th United Presbyterian Church. Our other organizing pastor was Rev. Sonya McAuley-Allen, who is now pastor of a church in Charlotte, N.C. Since June of 2011, Rev. Elizabeth Peterson has been our parish associate pastor for new church development. The earliest posts are sermon notes from the few I have typed the last two years. Then, there is a series of notes posted on the book of Romans. After that, it varies from week to week, sometimes church news, sometimes reflections on a happening, a passage of scripture, or even some pictures. This blog is meant to open the conversation we have going on in our church to others in our community.

The picture below is of our church's sanctuary, built in 1913.

Monday, June 29, 2009

"Moving from Guilt and Forgiveness to Repentance and Obedience"

Mark 8:34-38; Mark 9:33-37; Mark 1:14-15

The Church began as a small group of Jesus’ followers. The disciples had literally followed Jesus, and the Apostle Paul, to whom the Lord had appeared after the resurrection, had followed that same path on earth, the way of Jesus. As Paul says “sharing in his sufferings.” Paul says: “I decided to know nothing among you but Jesus Christ, and him, crucified.”

The Church began with Jesus call to follow. “Follow me,” the Lord said to John and James, Peter and Andrew. And, they followed. “Come unto me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest for your souls; for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

“If anyone would follow me, let him deny himself, let her deny herself, take up the cross and follow me.” Jesus’ call to follow in this way is not just a call for Peter and John; it is a call for you and for me. And, this way is the way of faith. Jesus’ way of obedience to God on earth.

In the book of Acts, Christianity is simply called THE WAY. It was a way of life. It was all about following the path that Jesus had walked on this earth.

The disciples were arguing about who would be greatest, and Jesus set things straight for them; “the one who serves will be greatest, the one who is like this little child, the one who receives the humble in my name.” In other words, the one who walks as I walk. Jesus served his disciples, received the little children, was a friend of the outcast, upheld the humble. This is the way of Jesus on earth.

Turning from other ways, and walking on Jesus’ way. The Christian way was an active way, it had movement to it. But, as time went on, the Church became less and less about following, and more and more, about groveling. It changed from the way of faith, to the rituals of religion.
Less about repentance and obedience and more about guilt and forgiveness. In the early days, Christians walked the path of Jesus day to day, and gathered to be fed and given drink to sustain them. They gathered to praise and seek strength for the journey they were on. As time went on, Christians gave up following the path Jesus had walked, and simply acted as the world did during the week, and then sought to commune with Jesus on Sunday through the altar of sacrifice: seeking forgiveness for the sins they had committed in the course of living.

Following Jesus was given up. It was no longer about repentance and obedience, but about confession and pardon. And, that’s where we are largely in our day. We are very similar to the middle ages of the church that Luther revolted against. They looked at the altar of the communion table as the real presence of Christ, being sacrificed over and over again for forgiveness of sins. It was all about confession and pardon, and then back out to the secular world, then retreat again each Sunday for restoration. Now, we protestants don’t look at the altar of communion table as the place of sacrifice, but we simply hold up the cross and look to Calvary isolated from everything else in scripture, and isolated from Jesus’ life as a whole. As John Calvin said very well: “Jesus death on the cross is the sealing of his obedience to God, the an obedience that characterized his whole life before God and people.” When we look at the crucifixion, the faithfulness, the human obedience to God ought to come to mind. Our desire to obey ought to awaken and praise ought to start. Instead we have come up with some so-called Gospel about how God was out to get us and put us to death, but Jesus intervened on our behalf, sacrificing himself. No doubt Jesus did give of himself for us and for the glory of God, but he was the expression of the saving will of God for us, not some one to save us from God! But, when it all gets to be about guilt and us being forgiven, God can sort of fall into the background, and Jesus obedience to God can sort of all into the background to. And, living life in obedience and for the glory of God each day can get lost as we talk about our guilt, our forgiveness, our salvation all the time. We need to get back to talking about our God, his Son, his Son’s obedience in human flesh, and the holy path that opens for us and all people on earth.

The Christian way finds Monday just as holy a day as Sunday, because Jesus path continues on Monday just as it does on Sunday. All this focus on guilt and forgiveness is just a human corruption of the Gospel of God. REPENT, Jesus said, AND BELIEVE THE GOOD NEWS OF THE GOSPEL. THE KINGDOM OF GOD HAS DRAWN NEAR, IS IN YOUR MIDST!!!!!

When church gets to be about confession and pardon first of all, then church comes under the Lordship of Preachers and Rituals. WHEN CHURCH GETS TO BE ABOUT FOLLOWING JESUS, WE ALL COME UNDER THE LORDSHIP OF CHRIST, FOLLOWING HIM ON THE WAY OF GOD, TO THE GLORY OF GOD MONDAY THROUGH SUNDAY. A holy path opens before us, and our Lord who obeyed even unto death walks before us, opening to us communion with the living God, opening to us the touch of the Holy Spirit, opening to us purpose and meaning and suffering and obedience even unto death.

As Soren Kierkegaard said 150 years ago: “When Jesus called us to follow him, he called us to follow him along his way on earth, his way of humility and struggle and suffering on earth.” He did not call us to come to him in his glory in heaven. We do not know Jesus in his glory. We can only know Jesus by walking the path he walked on earth. That’s why Paul says: “I decided to know Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

So, when you hear that call to follow Jesus, don’t think it is with the victorious banners up front, and flags flying. Think about Jesus as he walked on this earth, the friend of sinners and tax collector, the speaker of truth in hard times, the one who struggled to glorify God and indeed did glorify God in life and in his dying.

But, Christians in our day, think they hear the Lord calling them to run into his arms in heaven, to know him in his victorious glory. That is not the way of faith. That is not the way. That is not the way of the Bible. That is the made up way, that will not give power, will not give hope, will not in the end lead to life. Just false hope.

Again, Kierkegaard wrote: “The Inviter, therefore, is Jesus Christ in his humiliation, and he it was who uttered these words of invitation (“follow me”). It was not from his glory that he uttered them. But, from the midst of his life on earth.

Jesus says: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” Paul says: “We shall in the future share his glory, provided we share now in his suffering.” For Paul, the earthly path of Jesus is the present; the sharing of his glory in heaven, only for the final day of redemption. To know Jesus,which is to know God, in the present, means following his earthly path.

It is arrogance to think we can commune with him and with God in any other way, than through submission to the path he calls us to. Jesus told his disciples that the way to life is through a narrow gate, and a hard way, the way of Jesus on earth. The death of Jesus opens this way, it doesn’t excuse us from it. (GO ON A LITTLE ABOUT THIS).

If you want to know Jesus and come to God through knowing Jesus, then look at his path – the path scripture shows that he walked on earth. And, it is about repentance and obedience, and it is a gracious way, but you can’t experience it by groveling around the altar of confession and pardon, and then back again to the altar of confession and pardon. I’m about done with this part of our service. Today, it was still printed as confession and pardon, but I want to change it to a prayer of repentance and a celebration of obedience or a call to obedience. If you have indeed begun following Jesus, you don’t need to start over every week. You are on the way. Act like it. If you have sinned, renounce it and look ahead to see what you can do for God, for your neighbor; get out of yourself. Stop the groveling.

It seems like church has become all about psychology: the ultimate way to deal with guilt, through assurance of the sacrifice on Calvary. But, the church is supposed to be about God first of all, who defines what we need. And, God calls us to get up and follow, to turn from our sin, and turn towards the way of righteousness, and this is an active way, the way of following Jesus. But, Jesus doesn’t call us to join him in heaven, or in walking ten feet about the earth. He calls us to path he walked – right down in the middle of tax collectors and sinners and Pharisees and sickness and death. “Though I walk through the valley of the shadown of death, I will fear no evil.” The holy path of Jesus opens up in the midst of life, where we hear his voice, feel his Spirit, praise his father, love our neighbors.


Now, I know that we all have to deal with our psychology, our feelings, and even our guilt. But, the Christian way is first of all about repentance and obedience. Which means it is first of all about turning towards God and doing God’s will. And, when we turn towards God and get a glimpse of God, we start praising him. That’s how God is. Once you turn God’s way, you can’t help but want to please him. For God is good. You see that in Jesus. Right in the path he walked on earth. You see God’s goodness and our promise.

I can’t help but think that the church has largely missed the boat, largely missed the Bible’s message, and largely missed the glory of God in human flesh. And, I’m part of that church that has gotten off course. I’m part of that church that has traded faith away for religion; has settled for the cheap grace of forgiveness without obedience. Has gotten all caught up in wanting to feel better instead of all caught up in wanting to do better for God’s sake.

(I can’t remember how I finished this sermon – I left the ending unwritten). I said something about the hymn (“I Have Decided to Follow Jesus”) that we were going to sing. I remember that I had a time of silence before closing with a short prayer at the end)

4th United Presbyterian Church, Knoxville, June 14, 2009

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