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.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Romans 4:23-25

"The words 'it was reckoned to him" were not written for Abraham alone, but also for us, to whom God will reckon righteousness - for those who believe in the One who raised Jesus from the dead. Jesus was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life that we might become righteous."

Our faith is in "the One who raised Jesus from the dead." Abraham is seen as the pioneer of faith, the one who hoped in the bare promise of God, a promise made when hope seemed impossible. A promise of a child to a couple where the man was very, very old, and where the woman was barren. But, Abraham is said to have trusted in this promise of God, and somehow catching on in the depths of his soul that God is the one who brings hope out of hopelessness, who brings life out of death - as Paul says, we know him as the God who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. This God was the one at work in Jesus, even in his death and in his raising up.

God turned the rejection of his Son by humanity into the means of our redemption. What humanity meant for evil, God turned to good. And, God also showed that his way of mercy and peace and truth in Jesus would not be defeated, not even by death at the hands of human beings. And, in raising Jesus, God showed that he indeed is God, and that he will not abandon this world to unholy authority, as God raised Jesus up as the head of humanity, the first born among a new creation through him. And, God showed that Jesus was right, true, good, and holy above all others, and he vindicated Jesus by raising him from the dead to the highest place of all - the right hand of God. Whatever that exactly means I don't know. I believe it means more than we can understand: more about Jesus, and more about the place of humanity in the life of God because of Jesus.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Calm of the Morning and the Tyranny of Time

I give you thanks, O God, for another morning and for an hour before all other hours of the day begin, an hour where time stands still for just a while in your presence, before time begins to move and push me along. But, this morning, I think I am going to linger in this calm for a good part of the day.

Who rules, O God, in my life: you or time? You are not the one pushing me along. And, what is time anyway except a drivenness in the human mind?

Grant me freedom from that compulsion to keep time and restore me to live at peace and in rhythm with the creation around me.


Friday, November 20, 2009

Faith and Works

Paul says plainly that righteousness comes through faith and not through works, which is another way of saying: "IT IS THE INITIATIVE OF GOD'S LOVE THAT BRINGS RIGHTEOUSNESS; NOT THE INITIATIVE FROM OUR EFFORTS TO ATTAIN RIGHTEOUSNESS."

In response to God's initiative in Christ, it is our realization that we are loved, and our celebration of God's sheer goodness that brings about a righteousness and, yes, good works, that we would have never dreamed of or expected.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The End of Romans 3 and the beginning of Chapter 4

As the third chapter of Romans ends, and the fourth chapter starts, Paul focuses in on the meaning of faith and he uses the figure of Abraham to demonstrate the nature of faith, and the way of faith that has been revealed and given in Jesus Christ.

Paul seems to be talking to Jews as he says: "Is God the God of the Jews only?" As John Calvin says, Paul is not just saying that God is the creator of the Gentiles also. Of course, any Jew would acknowledge that, since God is the only Creator. Paul is saying that "God is the saviour of the Gentiles, just as God is the saviour for the Jews." That was the new word in Jesus Christ.

God's will to save was revealed as covering the whole earth, not just his special people, the Jews.

Now, in chapter 4, Paul wants to make very sure that the readers know that God's blessings came through Abraham - not because of some work that Abraham accomplished - but, simply because he trusted in God's goodness and mercy and promise. In short, Abraham was reckoned righteous because he trusted in God's promise.

Luther used to speak of the "naked promise that is believed in faith." Kierkegaard spoke similarly of the 'leap of faith.' Luther and Kierkegaard both believed that faith began as this wild trust, this risk that the other was true and faithful. That other for us is God. Jesus believed in the promise of God, even as Jesus faced death by execution. Jesus believed in the goodness of God even when the goodness of God had disappeared from the face of the earth as he was crucified.

Abraham is used as the example of faith. "When he was as good as dead, he believed God's promise to give him a son through his wife Sarah." Paul speaks of Abraham as "one who hoped against hope." That is faith. Paul speaks also of this reality of faith in 2 Corinthians 1:8-11, when he says "in Asia we despaired even of life itself, but that was so that we would trust, not in ourselves, but in the God who raises the dead."

When all hope is gone, this hope which we call faith, arises. It is that "light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."

Faith, seems, then to come from beyond us, not from within us. That is where I think the Bible points. Those who are all into talk about the immortality of the soul, and the unshakeableness of faith, and the superiority of the soul over the body. Well, that is all well and good. But, when it comes down to it, the Bible and the experience of God says something different. It says what Paul says. To paraphrase, he says in 2 Cor. 1 and in 2 Cor. 4:

"We come to points in our lives where we are completely empty and feel defeated, and, again and again, something new comes from God - just as it came to Abraham when he least expected it, to Zechariah and Elizabeth when they least expected it, to Samson's mother and father when they least expected it, to Mary when she least expected it, to Hannah and Elkanah when they least expected it, and to the grieving disciples of Jesus when they least expected it - this is the way of God in human life. God is the one who brings new life amidst the experience of death, brings new love in the midst of hatred, brings joy in the middle of sorrow. This is the experience of faith, which is to say, this is what happens if you can just open your lives to the coming of God's Spirit. But, it comes from without, from beyond. The greatest comes from beyond us, not from within us."

Monday, November 9, 2009

Reflecting on the Day

I was thinking today about a woman I was trying to get out of jail, a man in jail whose sister had just died, and a man I had coffee with yesterday who doesn't have a place to live. I felt tired as I considered these people. The woman I was able to get out of jail, the man I haven't even been able to get a furlough for the funeral, the other man I am going to try to work on a social security disability claim for him. These are just a few of the people I considered today.

I wondered about my family, my friends, my church, even my dog today, as I seemed to be taking stock of whether I was giving to others what I needed to give. The question comes again and again: "Am I bearing those responsibilities that are given to me to bear?" There is a feeling inside when it seems I am, and a feeling inside when it seems I am not.

And, another day has come to an end. I turn to God in my thoughts. I surrender the swirl of my thoughts and feelings and let them drown in his grace.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

confession and Psalm 32

I am looking to another section of scripture this morning: Psalm 32. "When I was silent," means "when I was hiding in my sin, or trying to conceal my sin."

The idea that we hide from God is a strange idea. Adam and Eve hiding in the Garden of Eden from God is a striking image. After they had disobeyed God's command, they felt they needed to hide.

It is easy to imagine a scene in which we have done wrong and are trying to conceal it from someone else we know. But, it is harder to imagine trying to conceal our sin from God. This is the state of mind and soul the Psalmist is talking about. What does it mean?

I guess it is like pretending God is not involved with us, is not concerned with us, or to pretend that God does simply not exist.