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, September 19, 2009

Romans 3:1-20

Paul has proclaimed that God will judge all human beings with impartiality. In Chapter 2 he had focused his attention on the Jews as the argument progressed pointing out very sharply that "knowing the law would not insulate the Jew who fails to do the law from judgment." For the whole point of circumcision and instruction in Torah was to produce a people who lived righteously in the sight of God and glorified God in the sight of the world.

The revelation that was given Paul through Jesus had first been a revelation of the great NO of God to humankind as Barth says. And, much of God's revelation of this great NO, a revelation of present judgment on humankind, was the rejection by God of "human religion." By human religion, I mean human efforts to access the divine, human efforts to make sense of the world through thought, practice and rituals of religion. The real shock of that revelation out on Damascus Road to Paul (Acts 9) was that his own brand of Jewish religion was also implicated in this great NO. The great distinguishing feature of Judaism was that it alone had been spoken to by the One Creator and Judge of the world. At the heart of the Jewish faith was a thorough-going criticism of false religion/idolatry: "you shall have no other gods before me; you shall not make any likeness of any part of the created order and you shall not bow down and worship it." But, on the way to Damascus to put down "false religion," Paul found out that he had sold out to false religion himself! Because the One who had made God's will known in human flesh, the One whose complete obedience had shown the truth of God on earth - Paul realized suddenly that he was fighting against this One. Jesus said to Paul that day: "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" But, Paul had thought he was persecuting those who were leading others away from God. Paul had thought he was upholding the truth of the faith, not attacking the true way of faith.

So, as Paul has launched this sharp criticism of Jews in chapter 2 of Romans, know that it arises out of the dramatic turning of his own heart and mind inside out on Damascus Road before the living Word of God, the Risen Lord.

But, how could the Jewish faith have been twisted so badly? Was there some defect in the scriptures themselves? God had brought the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt; God had revealed his holy commandments on Mt. Sinai to Moses; God had raised up prophets to speak the Word of the Lord and to bring judgment and correction too for God's people. How could this tradition have gone so wrong? What was being asked basically was this: "Was the Holy Scripture and the tradition of Worship somehow "unholy?"

Paul faces these questions - actually raises them himself: "What advantage then has the Jew? or what is the profit of circumcision? Much in every way: first of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God." Romans 3:1-2. The giving of the law and prophets, the revelation of the name of the Lord and God's character to Israel, the history of God with Israel - this history is holy, even if Israel failed to keep the covenant. This history, despite being shot through with sin, nonetheless is a holy history because it reveals God's character - God's faithfulness despite the unfaithfulness of Israel. Paul writes: "For what if some were without faith? Shall their lack of faith nullify the faithfulness of God? God forbid! Yes, let God be found true, but every human a liar; as it is written, 'that thou might be justified in thy words, and might prevail when thou comes to judgment." Romans 3:3-4.

This holy history of God with Israel is a history of revelation: revealing the presence of God with human beings and also revealing the rejection of God by human beings. Of course, this history also reveals that from time to time human beings like Abraham, Moses, Amos, Jeremiah, Shiprah and Puah received God and praised God and obeyed God. So, this history is a record of the holy path where God's truth meets with human sin and at moments, with human faithfulness to God.

And, I spend some time on this response of Paul's (which he will clarify in more detail later in chapter 7 of Romans when he deals specifically with the law of God) because how one views the history of God with Israel and our Old Testament that arises from and recollects this history - well, the way one views this period of the Old Covenant is critical to faith. An example from Church History might help clarify what I am getting at. So, I am going to take the next post to cover a couple of important figures in early Church History. One is named Marcion; the other Irenaeus. The reason that I take time to do this is that how we understand and experience the relationship of the New Covenant through Christ and the Spirit to the Old Covenant through the Law and Prophets - well, how we experience this in the depths of our souls is at the heart of faith. For Marcion, the covenant through Christ did not arise out of the covenant through the law and prophets but contradicted it and set the law and prophets aside. For Marcion, Christ did not reconcile us with the Creator of the Word, but showed that the God of Israel had been a God we couldn't trust, who was arbitrary. And, so the cross did not affect a reconcilation with the God and Father and Creator of all, but bound us to a new redeeming God and saved us from an old judging God. More on this in the next post.

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