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.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Jesus Slips Away

1 Cor. 1:21-25; John 1:10-13

The Apostle Paul says that what he preaches is Christ crucified, the power of God and the wisdom of God, and he preached that Gospel in the midst of a world in distress, a world that needed a saving word amidst all the forces of destruction. And, we live in a world that is in distress. The peoples of this earth are like sheep without a shepherd, and it was that way around the time of Christ’s coming as well.

In the Gospel of John, we read that Jesus came unto his own but his own received him not. He came to the people of God. He was born a Jew among Jews. And, the very people of God rejected him. He was the light of the world, but those who were supposed to celebrate and proclaim his arrival did not. They didn’t recognize him for who he was, but a few did. A few of the Jews did receive him and a living faith began in the early church. You know, here we are about 2,000 years after this time. 2,000 years of church tradition and teaching that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the savior of the world. And, I wonder as Jesus tries to come among God’s people in the church . . . I wonder whether he is being received or not. Those words, “he came among his own and they received him not” may be relevant to our time as well. Could it be that the church that bears his name does not recognize who he is? You know, if Jesus came among us bodily today, would we recognize him as the Christ of God? I’m not sure we would if all we depend upon is the church’s teaching and tradition. You know, when Jesus came among the Jews, they had a long history of prophetic teaching and tradition, and they did not recognize him. In John’s Gospel it tells us that when Jesus came among the Jews at one point, a big group of them tried to make him king; they tried to seize him and make him into their king. And, we’re told that he slipped away from them . . he slipped out of their grasp because he would not be made into their image of a Messiah. But this wasn’t the last attempt to make Jesus into something that he is not.

What about the crusades of the middle ages? The church presented Jesus as the commander of a military force and sang “onward Christian soldiers” as they sought to annihilate the Muslims over in the holy land. And, surely when they called upon Jesus to be their military general, he slipped away from the church. Because he will not be made into what he is not. “He came among his own, and his own received him not.” And, then, in modern times, in our days: we have the Jesus of liberalism, who waits upon university professors to tell him what is proper and enlightened and what serves the interest of science and the academic elite. This Jesus is not seen as the Son of God, but merely as another wise teacher, whose teachings serve modern agendas. Of course, some of Jesus' efforts do support modern efforts that are focused on freedom and equality and finding cures for disease, because Jesus came to heal and make humans whole. But, ,where Jesus is only seen as a good teacher, he slips away from the church. Because he is the incarnation of the living God in human flesh. Even in his humility, he cannot deny that he is one with the Father. He will not be made into what he is not. And, then in modern times, on the conservative side of things, there is a revival of the King Jesus image, that sees Jesus as a victorious conquerer who rules over the victorious church where everyone is saved, separate and absolutely sure that they know the truth about absolutely everything that troubles the modern world. But, Jesus wouldn’t be made into some worldly king by the Jews and he won’t be by Christians.

And, so Jesus slips away from liberals and conservatives in our day looking for a church that will humbly receive him as he is. But where is that church? Where is that church in our day and how do we receive him as he is? Is there really room for Jesus in the Church that bears his name? The Bible reminds us that Jesus was more welcome at the tables of tax collectors and sinners than he was at the homes of the righteous Jews of his day. Where is that church in our day who will receive Jesus as he is?

First, the church needs to be reminded of the weakness of its preaching and the limitations of its knowledge. You know the Apostle Paul . . surely there wasn’t hardly anybody who could preach the Gospel like Paul, and what does he say of his preaching: “the foolishness of what we preach.” “God chooses to bring saving knowledge through the foolishness of what we preach.” He’s acknowledging his limits, that he can only point to God, not that he possesses some wisdom in himself. So that’s the first thing: the church needs to be reminded of the weakness and the limitations of its own teaching and preaching.

Second, the church needs to be reminded of its sinfulness and tendency to focus on minor problems while overlooking the major ones. As Jesus said: “You tithe mint, dill, and cumin, but overlook the weightier matters of the law: mercy, justice and truth.

And, Thirdly, and most importantly, Christians and all those who overhear the preaching of the church need to be told that they will never find the truth of God if they are simply relying on the tradition, the teaching and the preaching of the church. As long as your relationship with God is mediated by preachers and teachers, you cannot experience the truth and fullness of Christ. Only the direct experience of God is reliable. He is the only teacher. And, all of our teaching and preaching is to awaken that experience within those who hear. It is the awaken that desire for the experience in human beings to know God directly through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

When it comes down to it, the church can’t save anybody from destruction. Only God can save. The church can’t even explain how salvation comes in Jesus; we can only celebrate that it does.
I want to read you a prophecy from Jeremiah. I thought I could remember it but I can’t, so I’m going to have to turn to the prophecy. This is Jeremiah 31:31-34. Because this prophecy points so clearly to the truth that I am talking about. It says:

"Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, [32] not like the covenant which I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD. [33] But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. [34] And no longer shall each man teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, `Know the LORD,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD
No long shall each man teach his neighbor, but they shall all know the Lord, from the least to the greatest."

Because, as the prophetic word says: “I will put my law within them; I will write it upon their hearts.” We live in this day that Jeremiah pointed to, that Joel prophecied about. This day when the Spirit of God has been poured out upon earth through Jesus life, death and resurrection. And, in this day of the Spirit, God has implanted a living word within us, if we could just find it. God has placed his claim upon every man, woman and child. He has pronounced his blessing upon all people in Jesus. The way to God is not through some church ritual or teaching, but through God’s living presence in human flesh – this presence that came among us in Jesus, and that seeks to come among us now.

Now you might have noticed as I criticized two or three different views of Jesus, I didn’t tell you exactly who Jesus was and how exactly God saves through him. Conservatives and liberals KNOW; but I am just a poor, limited sinful man who can point with a trembling finger at a mystery that I can’t understand. I can only point to God’s goodness and grace though I can’t really explain it. I feel like that blind man in the Gospel of John, when they started questioning him about who Jesus was and how Jesus healed him. And, what he said was: “I don’t know, but I was blind and now I see.” “I was blind and now I see, and this man did it.”
Through the weakness of such preaching, may God awaken your desire to know and receive him, so that you won’t have to rely on the weakness of human teachers like me. But, so that you can rely on the direct experience of the living God.

All praise and glory to the mystery of God that graciously seeks a place among human beings: to save and not destroy, to heal and not harm, to bring love and reconciliation, not hatred and division. He came among his own once, and they received him not. As Jesus seeks to come among us, let us receive him with humility and praise and glory to God that we might not reject our only hope.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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