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, 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."

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