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.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Romans 1:18-32: What is the wrath of God?

At this point in the letter, Paul has clarified who he is: "called to be an apostle, set apart for the Gospel of God, concerning God's Son, Jesus, the Christ." v.1 Paul clarifies that he is at work to "bring about the obedience of faith among the gentiles." v. 5 And, Paul gives thanks for the mutual identity of Paul and the Roman Christians. vv. 8-15 And, in vv. 16-17 of this First Chapter, Paul summarizes his mission: serving in the Gospel which is "the power of God for salvation . . . to the Jew first, and then the Greek." It is significant that Paul, who is apostle to the gentiles, insists on the historical priority of the Jew in salvation history. This is a very important theme in this letter, which Paul focuses exclusively on in Chapters 9-11.

But, now in Chapter 1, the movement of Paul's thought begins with this section about the wrath of God being poured out from heaven against "all ungodliness and wickedness of those who in their wickedness suppress the truth." v. 18 What is the truth "they suppress?" Paul says: "for what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them . . . in the things he has made." vv. 19-20 "So, they are without excuse, for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to God . . . claiming to be wise, they became fools . . . and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles." vv. 21-23

So, this is the ungodliness and wickedness, that human beings who should have known God's goodness by looking at and experiencing all the good things God had made, instead got all mixed up and started worshipping creatures instead of the Creator. Because of this rebellion/ignorance against the Creator, we are told in v. 24: "Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity . . . because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator . . . " v. 25 Again it says: "For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions . . . " v. 26 And, in v. 28, again it says: "Since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done . . . " v. 28.

I have highlighted in bold print the refrain: "God gave them up . . .," because it is such a distinctive description of what the revelation of God's wrath is. We usually think of wrath as direct outpouring of fury and direct punishment. But, here, it may show God's fury or it may show God's deep disappointment, but the action taken is not direct punishment, but simply turning away and "giving human beings up" to the twisted desires of their hearts and minds.

So, in this section, we get a clear picture that God's wrath against idolatry (centering life and adoring first the things that have been made, and not centering life and adoring first the Creator of all things) is revealed when humans are seen to be destroying themselves and each other. Because, if human beings insist looking away from God and submitting to false gods, then God eventually lets them try out what they wanted so badly. Like the father who let the prodigal son take his inheritance early and squander it on wild living, God lets rebellious humanity find out what it is to live without God, with life centered on a lie.

The worst thing that can happen to us is for God to look away from us, for God to leave us alone, for God to say: "go ahead, have it your way." When God does that, it is a terrible thing - it shows his wrath. A God who has sought days without number to reach humanity and reconcile humanity to himself and to each other - well, when a God like this gets to the point of turning away and saying: "go off then and live your life falsely - if that's what you want so much, go ahead." When God gets to that point, being the kind of God he is, then that means God has just plain had it up to the heavens.

The worst thing that can happen to a human being is for God to look away from him or her. Then, we are abandoned to the abyss of our own confusion, the emptiness of human truth, the absence of a reconciling, forgiving presence.

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