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.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Romans 2: Standing before it and questioning myself

I have been complaining some about a type of Protestant belief that has three basic assumptions:

1) that belief in Jesus is all that matters; and
2) that doesn't worry too much about conforming one's life to the way of Jesus, because what really matters is keeping Jesus way in mind and praising him even if we can't quite follow him.; but
3) that does worry about keeping our sin in mind and confessing it regularly.

A few weeks ago or maybe a month ago I preached a sermon about "Moving from Guilt and Forgiveness to Repentance and Obedience." I liked that sermon; problem was that I am as stuck in the guilt/forgiveness cycle as the biggest guilt trippin, grace grabbing Protestant around. And, I think I even said some right things in that sermon like: a religion focused on guilt/forgiveness is focused on ME; whereas a religion focused on repentance/obedience is focused on glorifying GOD - centered on GOD. But, just like the Jewish teachers Paul is addressing in Romans 2, I say a lot of the right things. But, when it comes down to it, what is the structure of my life of faith and my understanding of what devotion to God really means?

"Therefore you have no excuse, O man, whoever you are (pastor, doctor or Indian chief), when you judge another; for in passing judgment upon him you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things." Romans 2:1

In some ways I have a self-focused typical Protestant faith. Of course, I have these experiences at times that break through that into a God-focused moment, but then I let that slip away before I am taken up into my upward calling into a completely God-centered life. And, so I fall back down into the pit of having to revisit my tendency to criticize others, consider things with regard to how they affect me, and experience anxiety over many things instead of trusting peace. And, I bring this all out before God seeking his renewal, his peace, and the way of Christ in this world. And, God again is gracious and shows me something, and I take it to heart it seems for a while; then, I forget again and get stuck in the pattern of "believing in God's grace; keeping myself aware of my sins and distance from true obedience" and thinking that is the structure of true faith. But, it is not. Real faith is powerful. That is, real faith, as Paul knows breaks open the heart and our ways of living to God's redeeming, guiding, creative power. The path of Jesus in this world is a path of vital life, deep trust, and joyful praise. It loses respect for the power of sin, because it is so full of the power of God's holy grace and merciful love. Real faith gets on with obeying God's will. Too much time has been wasted on the b.s. of sin; let's get on with the real joy and business of living in God, abiding in God's love. That is the attitude and spirit of real faith. And, I have known it and been known by it. But, then when that fades away, I settle for the consolation prize of a sickly Protestant guilt-focused, me-focused religion, which I am not really sure is any religion at all. But, I deny all the time that I believe in this type of rweak religion, because I claim that my faith is in God and my praise is for God and that my allegiance is really for the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

But, where is my head and my heart day to day? Self-preservation and focused within, or self-giving and seeking God's work as the Spirit draws me into working for others, loving others, understanding others, enjoying others? I can say that when I really feel alive I am involved in the self-giving and seeking the way of Jesus in the world. I have to admit that when I feel pretty dead inside, I have usually gotten stuck in myself. I have gotten to where I can feel the difference in these ways: the way of life and the way of death. But, God is not a God who leaves us to be tossed to and fro between good and evil, between trust and anxiety. So, when I am tending towards deadness inside, it generally means I have walked away from the path of the Spirit of God, which means walked away from the real needs of others and the real needs of myself - the need to abide in God and praise and revere God from the depths of my soul.

As I think back to my anger this morning over a minor dispute with another attorney, I realize that my anger was not really arising from my heart, but from some role I was playing. And, when I get angry like that, I can't really "own it," and that makes me feel bad about being angry and makes me even harder to deal with! If my anger really arises in the course of trying to be just and decent, then it is something I can own; it is something that can be shaped by God's Spirit. But, this other anger, what I had going this morning - that feels like something from the past, something that is no longer real and needs throwing away for good. It felt like it came from a part of me that has already died.

I may have learned something today. When we come to realize the falsity and even dead parts of ourselves - those false constructions that have been crucified with Christ - we can quit digging up the graves of our pasts, maybe dance a little jig on these graves and get back to connecting with life: in God and in others.

These thoughts that I am having right now bring hope to me. I am starting to wonder if God's Spirit has lured me away from guilt into repentance; away from focusing on being forgiven to making God proud. I have to admit that my experience of God's overwhelming grace does seem to be an experience that I have despite myself. And, God seems to have surrounded me with so much help, so many good chances, so many good people, that maybe it is all starting to sink in.

That's all anybody needs to move the structure of their faith from guilt/forgiveness self-focused religion to repentance/obedience God-focused religion. Part of me is certainly the old self-focused religion, but it is getting harder and harder to take that part of my self seriously. God is like that with us. He lures us away from dead end paths, shows us examples of real life, until one day we will wake up and realize we are walking faithfully in the way of our Lord Jesus Christ. So, maybe that old self-focused religion of guilt and forgiveness isn't so bad afterall as long as it remains open to the coming of God's grace and as long as it realizes that God has more in store for human beings than that. I am on the same continuum of faith as my fellow believers, and where I really am on it only God knows.

Maybe, I am on the same continuum of faith as my fellow humans, whether they know it or not? In Christ God has established a relationship with every human being that is full of hope and full of promise. A human being is placed on this gracious continuum of faith by the completely unexpected embrace of God in Jesus Christ. I would like to think some about this when we cover Romans 5. Paul seems to think the nature of all human life is changed by God's unilateral reaching out in love through Christ to all humanity. I would like to think on this. The assumption that Christ's death and resurrection had no effect on the creation and only has an effect on those who profess faith in Christ doesn't seem to be Paul's view. More on this, but it will have to wait until chapter 5 of Romans.

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