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.




Thursday, June 11, 2009

Mercy

Matthew 5:6: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”
2 Corinthians 1:3-7: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the father of mercy and the God of all comfort, the one who comforts us in all our affliction in order that we might comfort those in any affliction with the comfort which we ourselves are receiving from God . . . “
BLESSED ARE THE POOR IN SPIRIT, FOR THEIRS IS THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN.
BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO MOURN, FOR THEY WILL BE COMFORTED.
BLESSED ARE THE MEEK, FOR THEY WILL INHERIT THE EARTH.
BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO HUNGER AND THIRST FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS, FOR THEY WILL BE FILLED.
BLESSED ARE THE MERCIFUL, FOR THEY WILL RECEIVE MERCY.

Jesus left the crowds behind, and went up to the mountain to teach his disciples. But, he went up – not to simply teach them about God – but, to share his experience of God. Jesus opened his heart to his disciples and said: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” This good word brings so many things to an end, and at the same time is a new beginning. This short and gracious statement brings to an end all rigid, legalistic, judgmental, anxious religion and begins something new – a new way based in the reality of Jesus’ life. His life was mercy. The way of God in Jesus is mercy. He was the one who said: “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.”
In Jesus the old age comes to an end, and the new age begins. Jesus gives us a key here, opens a door to new life when he says: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” That teaching makes us stop in our situations of conflict and struggle and doubt and ask one question that silences all others: “what is the merciful thing to do?” or “how can I show mercy?” That question brings to an end church fights, theological controversies, moral confusion, selfish grappling, blaming and distrust. Come to think of it, if I start asking that question, it spells the end of my conflicts in the family, at work, with my neighbors. “Have mercy . . show mercy . . . be merciful in your thinking and acting.” But, what about my lazy co-worker? See what’s going on in their life. What about my wife or husband or child – I sure wish I could change them, make them more responsible, more thoughtful. “Show mercy.” Listen, be patient. It’s not your business to change people, only to love them. Your love gives God the room, to bring change, but the change comes from God, not you or me.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” What is mercy? To be merciful means to really consider the needs and situation of another person. What is mercy like? I think it’s the way you always hoped you’d be treated, but even better, because it makes you merciful towards others. Mercy is a place of refuge in this world – it is not business as usual in life – it is a place of grace and hope. It is living water in the barrenness of the desert. Mercy is God’s presence. When we have mercy, we honor God in the midst of the life. To be merciful is a way of treating someone that makes them feel their life is worth living. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”

And, you never know when you are going to need that place of mercy. So, maybe showing it, you can store up a little for a time of need. And, that time will come. A time when you face something you never thought you’d have to face in this life – it will come. And, you will be in need of mercy, understanding, patience and love – deeper than you’ve ever needed it before. . . when you get that call in the middle of the night . . or the call from the doctor’s office with results from a test . . or that day you have a fight with a loved one that you never thought you’d have . . and, unfortunately for some us, that day you wake up and realize that you have made a mistake, hurt someone else, and you cannot take it back, and you cannot fix it. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” And, at times, we need mercy as badly as we need water and air and food.

The showing of mercy and receiving of it, are a central part of the movement of God’s Spirit in this world. Jesus was sharing with his disciples and others this life of God in the world. He was inviting them in to this river of God’s mercy. For the merciful are those who participate in the life of God – who experience mercy and are agents of mercy to others.
Paul celebrates this living presence of God in our lives, saying: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the father of mercy and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction that we might comfort others in their affliction with the comfort we are receiving from God.” This is our experience of God in this life that vacillates between trouble and comfort. Paul speaks of the active presence of God – the father of mercy and the God of all comfort.

“Blessed are the merciful (or those who comfort others), for they will receive mercy (the comfort of God).” We become merciful by finding life in this gracious movement of God in the world. And, often this comfort and mercy come through the kindness and love of others for us. They give God room to bless and save us. One day as Jesus was teaching in a house, the house got so crowed as people drew near to hear him and seek healing, and four men came carrying their paralyzed friend on a stretcher. And, it was so crowded in the house, that they couldn’t get in to see Jesus. But, they were determined to get help for their paralyzed friend. They believed Jesus could help. So they climbed up on the roof of the house, dug a hole through the thatched roof and lowered their friend down in front of Jesus. “My son,” Jesus said, “your sins are forgiven . . . rise up and walk.” Mercy. The mercy of friends, making room, making way for the powerful and saving mercy of God.

Unless we somehow experience God’s mercy in our trouble, how can we be part of this gracious movement that brings hope to the hopeless, life to the lifeless, love to the loveless? Unless we receive renewed life from God, we can’t pass on that power to others.

Could it be that we are receiving mercy, but aren’t aware of it? And, since we are not aware of it, it slips away before we know it, we lose it, and are unable to pass it on. For God is merciful and ever present. I am talking about a real experience of God’s healing, loving, redeeming presence in our mind, heart, body and soul . . . in our real struggles and joys of life. I’m talking about when you’re worried to death over family matters, over money, over your job, your friends . . . I’m talking about feeling like you want to disappear in some hole and not have to feel anything at all, and certainly not have to stand up and face the day. I’m talking about waiting on God on a morning like that, waiting in emptiness, waiting in anxiety, until the Spirit of God calms your soul, renews your heart and mind and feelings and makes you able to get up and face the day. I am talking about the comfort of God in the affliction of life’s struggles, the real comfort, the living presence of God.

You can always convince yourself of the 4 spiritual laws of salvation and convince others too and gather a big group together for church; but, if there is no experience of the living presence of God healing, then there is nothing real - no redemption and no presence of God.

Doctrines and creeds don’t save. Words don’t save. What saves is the shared experience of the living God. What this world needs is people who make a way for the coming of God into human hearts, minds, souls, bodies and communities. We make way by showing mercy. “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.” The merciful make room for God. “Prepare ye the way of the Lord” means “give God room to work and save and heal.” Say, “yes, Lord! Come, Lord Jesus – in the name of the Holy God of all creation – come and claim this world; come claim my heart, my family, my church, my community – this entire earth. Come among us and be honored and glorified – for you are our hope in life and death, in good times and bad, in health and sickness – you, the Merciful. You are the Lord, giver of mercy. You are the Christ, giver of mercy. You are the Lord, giver of mercy. Come, Lord Jesus, unite us with the Holy and merciful will and movement of God, that holy presence of God, the holy hope of all people in God. Amen.”

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” The merciful know the father of mercy and the God of all comfort. And, those who receive mercy, pass it on, because they . . . we don’t know what else to do. We have mercy on others because why would we choose to judge and condemn – having been loved by God and others, why would it occur to us to hate or promote hatred? Father Moses was a very revered African Monk of the 4th Century, one of the most well known and respected of the Desert Fathers. He was holy and wise. One day all the elders of that Christian community gathered to judge a monk who had been caught with a prostitute. At this meeting they decided to cast the sinful monk out of their community. Father Moses arrived late at the meeting carrying a basket of sand. The basket was full of holes and sand was pouring out as Father Moses walked. He said: “Here I come with my sins pouring out behind me and I would condemn another?” On another occasion, the elders gathered in this same community to consider the immoral conduct of one of their monks. They voted that he must leave the community. Having heard the judgment, the condemned monk got up and walked away and the most respected elder among them who had remained silent in the meeting got up and walked out with him. Mercy.

Having known our own sin and the grace of our cleansing, why would we want anyone else to feel trapped in their sin, defined by their failures, cut off from redemption and covered with shame? Why would we not want to do everything in our power to help them on the way of repentance, restoration and reconciliation with God and neighbor?

We have been touched by him deeply. We have been shown mercy by the Savior and Liberator of all people. We came to religion in desperation, or even curiosity, like the woman with the sickness that could not be healed, we reached out through the crowd just hoping for a little help – we touched the hem of his garment, and he healed us through and through. And, he asked: “who touched me?” I did Lord. I touched you.

We, like Nicodemas, didn’t want anyone to know how badly we needed God’s grace, so we slipped in and asked about it in secret, in the night, when nobody could see us. And, he showed us the way to life and gave us hope to share.

And, God’s grace comes to us today. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” But, for some reason, so many of us keep him away – leave our hope and life at the door knocking. As the spiritual goes: “O sinner, why don’t you answer . . somebody’s knocking at your door.”
Realize, right now, Jesus seeks to come in to commune with you, but he’s also reaching out through you to others. Mercy. He seeks room in your life to reach out to others and bind us all to God and each other. Mercy. So, let’s not get all caught up in religious rituals and teachings. Let’s get too caught up in God’s mercy to worry over all that. The Spirit of God moves to fill our emptiness, to cast out demons, to save body, soul, mind and spirit. God doesn’t wait to make sure you’ve been baptized, or confirmed, or joined the church. He comes when he is ready to come – in his mercy. He comes like he did to Paul on Damascus Road, to John on Patmos, to Elijah in the desert. “Behold I stand at the door and knock.” Don’t say: “wait Jesus until I can clean up my house. It’s just not fit for you to come in. Wait until I clean up these dirty back rooms of my life. I’ll get that all in order, and then I’ll let you come in. Then, I’ll be ready to receive you.” Sometimes we treat Jesus like he’s our picky mother-in-law, like everything has to be perfect before he comes. God knows the backrooms of our lives. He knows those parts of which we are ashamed. Let him in. He will look at your life with you, not against you. He will guide you, show you how to clean what needs cleaning, how to fix what needs fixing, how to endure what needs enduring. Mercy. I said that showing mercy gives God room to work. And, I guess that even goes with having mercy on ourselves as we would for our friends. That gives God some room to work within us. When we quit running around in the dark parts of our mind and heart, and stirring up our guilt and self-hatred, then God has room to redeem and reclaim us for his good and merciful purposes.

The Good News is not some 4 spiritual laws that can be packaged, bought and sold. The Good News is God’s living presence – the shared experience of divine mercy in human life. Pray to experience this. Wait to experience this. Words about God won’t save; the shared experience of God will. To experience him is to have received mercy and to have received mercy is to pass it on. One love, one movement. The Lord’s words are true: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” All praise and glory and honor to God, the father of mercy and the God of all comfort. Amen.

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