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

"Soul, not Self"

Matthew 6:1-6: “Be careful not to make a show of your religion before men; if you do, no reward awaits you in your father’s house in heaven. . .
“Thus, when you show mercy on someone, do not announce it with the flourish of trumpets, as the hypocrites in the synagogue do . . .
“Again, when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; they love to say their prayers standing up in synagogue and at the street corners, for everyone to see them. I tell you this: they have their reward already. But, when you pray, go into a room by yourself, shut the door, and pray to your father who is there in the secret place; and your father who sees what is secret will reward you.”

Jesus came teaching a way of life that shook up the religious of his day. Why was that? He was religious. Jesus went to synagogue, prayed, read scripture in the gathered assembly, debated about the meaning of scripture with the scribes and Pharisees. But, his way bothered the religious and attracted many who were not religious. Why did task collectors and prostitutes leave their trades behind and follow him, whereas many good religious people didn’t quite understand him, and, when they did, got angry at him?

Well, in this collection of Jesus’ teachings in Matthew, we get some clues about Jesus’s way. Like true prophets before him, he pointed the people away from appearances to truth, away from outer show to inner devotion to God. The prophet Hosea said: “I the Lord desire mercy and not sacrifice.” Religion as shaped by human beings is always about rules and rituals - show. Faith as given by God is all about mercy - heart.

Jesus says “don’t make a show . . do good, but not to be praised . . pray in secret . . before God”
One main point in all this is that true faith is first of all about God, focused on God, not on who you are among people, how you look to people.

And, later Jesus tells his disciples about this way of true life. He says: “if anyone would be my disciple, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.”
What I am trying to speak of this morning is this way of life, this way of faith, so that we might figure out how to walk in it. So that we might find this energy of life from God – on a path that Jesus describes as narrow and hard.

The way of Jesus is the way of the soul and not the way of the self. Now that I’ve said that, I’ve got to try to understand and explain what I mean.

See, first I said, I’ve got to understand what I mean . If you really understand something yourself, its easy to explain it to someone else. So, let me think out loud a few minutes about this difference between the way of the soul and the way of the self.
I want to try to cover two things: 1) describe the difference in meaning between “the self” and “the soul.” 2) describe how human religion caters to the self, whereas true faith builds up the soul.

First, about the self. We talk a lot about self, self-esteem, self-worth, a strong sense of self, self-understanding, etc. We don’t talk as often in our day about the soul. In fact, I think that our age has seen the replacement of soul with self (and, this has happened within the church as well). But, there remains some old wisdom in our language and expressions we use. We still say that someone is self-less and that is a compliment. We say that someone is soul-less or without a soul, and that is the deepest criticism. A person that is selfish is considered bad. Do you see what I mean? In our common talk, there remains a certain distrust of self. Even though, we also have a lot of positive talk about self. But, talk about the soul has all but disappeared from common speech.

Now, I understand that there is some real good in talk about self-esteem, self-worth and all that. But, I think that we have really lost something in talking in terms of self and not soul. Self is a word that divides us from others, distinguishes us from others, even causes us to compare ourselves and be in competition with other selves. Soul is a word that unites us with others, with our creator, with the depths and power of life.

Self is a way of talking about human beings that puts human beings at the center of value and the center of life. Soul is a way of talking about human beings that puts the Creator of life in the center and shows our dependence on God and our unity and interdependence with each other and all life. Well, I’m stepping out a little far without describing much with clarity. Now, I asked you to let me think out loud a little while.

But, I think I’m on to something here. The Hebrews considered the soul the center of human life, and spoke often of the ruach of man, that which came from God and was dependent upon God, which gave life and sustained life.

A soulish way of living is all about communion and connection with the Eternal God, the Spirit of all life. A selfish way of living is all about the destiny of the self, and only concerned with how the Creator and Saviour can guarantee a good destiny. A self-focused religion is not primarily about communion with God and others, but about self-actualization, self-fulfillment, etc. A self-focused religion is all about success, worldly or even otherworldy, but still its all about achievement and success fo r the self. The way of faith is about love, communion with God and other people, and communion with the created order as well.

False religion is about self promotion and protection; true religion is about love and a willingness to risk self for love of God and neighbor – that is soul
When you get knocked down, and get everything broken in you and about you, and it seems there is nothing left – what’s left is the soul, and that’s where the power of life, love, hope revives.
Wherever there is still love and a willingness to risk self for love of God and neighbor – there is soul.

Paul probably speaks of all this most clearly, so I want to turn to him. “If I speak in the tongues and men and angels, but have not love, then I am as a noisy gong and clanging cymbal.”

What you find in your self is needs for importance, affirmation from others, yearning to be better than others, or at least thought better than others, a need for security, etc. And, I’m not saying that all these needs are minor – some are pretty important. But, what you find in your soul is a much deeper need, to feel and know and experience the power of the Creator, the power that brought you into this world, and the power that will receive you when you die. What you find in your soul is the power of life when you thought you were dead, the raising from complete loss and emptiness to a desire to thrive for the glory of God and for the love of others. You can’t find that in your self, only in your soul. I know you can say: “well, you’re just talking about different words that mean the same thing. But, that’s the whole point of this sermon. Self does not mean the same thing as soul. And, the language we use to describe ourselves in turn makes us who we are. And, I’m trying to follow Jesus’ cues here. He asks those who are going to follow in his way, to deny self, take up the cross and follow in his way – his way of living out of the depths of the soul.

The Psalm goes like this: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.” We come to worship to awaken our souls, to feel the power of life and holiness in our souls. To sing praises and be renewed body and soul. We don’ t come to worship to think about ourselves so much, as to be relieved of the burden of our selves. When my soul awakens, is brought to life, I am renewed to live, and freed from the burden of self-concern. Soul, not self.

Don’t be selfish; be soulish. Ignore your self, deny it, but take care of your soul – it is the secret sanctuary of the most high God. It is your connection to the power of life and resurrection and life and purpose and hope. It is your unity with others. Go to that place deeper than self – and you will find what is most precious – discovering it within yourself, you will see it in others as well, by the grace and glory and mystery of God.

Deep down, you are not some complicated, fabricated social self. No, deep down, you are soul, empowered by the One whose beauty and wisdom and creative love made this world, and without whose beauty and love and wisdom all things would disappear. If your soul comes alive, your body will be renewed. If you remain focused on self, your body will be dissipated. Because the connection, the unity is between soul and body – self is a human fabrication. Body and soul are created by God. Self is our distorted view.

I HAVE GOT TO GET CLOSER WITH THIS. IF I CAN’T, IT MEANS I DON’T UNDERSTAND IT. BUT, JUST MAYBE, YOU ARE STARTING TO UNDERSTAND THIS, EVEN IF I AM NOT FAR ALONG THE WAY MYSELF. SELF. SELF. THAT’S WHAT STANDS IN THE WAY OF ME GETTING THIS ACROSS. ITS SELF. GOD, LET MY SOUL OVERCOME MYSELF. ALL THIS PETTINESS THAT KEEPS ME FROM REALLY CARING FOR OTHERS LIKE I CARE FOR MYSELF, ALL THIS SELF THAT KEEPS ME WORRIED I’LL LOSE WHAT I’VE GOT, ALL THIS SELF WORRIED I WON’T BE RECOGNIZED, ALL THIS SELF, SELF, SELF. GOD, AWAKEN MY SOUL AGAIN, THAT SOUL THAT REJOICED AS A CHILD, THAT REJOICED IN THE WATERS, IN THE MOUNTAINS.
AMEN

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