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.




Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Rebirth of Humanity: What Christmas Brings

The Universal Reach of Christmas: reading Luke 2:14

In Luke 2:14, it is written that the angels were singing:"Glory to God among those on high, and peace among humankind with whom God is well-pleased."According to many scholars, the Greek words "en anthropois eudokias" are to be translated "to human beings upon whom God's favor rests or with whom God is well-pleased." So, the verse is translated by them as: “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to human beings upon whom God’s favor rests.” These scholars rely on evidence of the use of this Greek phrase in the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered during the mid-1900's.

The old King James translated the same Greek words "en anthropois eudokias" as "good will to men." But, that King James translation, made in the 16oo’s was long before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (writings of Jewish religious group near the time of Jesus birth) which revealed the type of language used around the time of the New Testament and the types of meanings of terms as well. So, the King James renders Luke 2:14 as "Glory to God in the highest, and peace, goodwill to men." And, scholars have changed that translation due to archeological discoveries which allow for better understanding of the Greek language used by Luke.

Some other scholars have translated the same verse as "Glory to God in the highest, and peace upon human beings of good will." But, since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, it appears that this translation has lost much of its support as well. And, I am glad about that. Because, if God's peace was only for those who had good will at the coming of Christ, then where is our hope for this world? Of course, the translation that I favor: "Glory to God among those on high, and peace among human beings with whom God is well-pleased" could be understood as referring to only a certain group of human beings that are "the elect" and "chosen" of God. But, I think to understand things this way would be to have the same misunderstanding that so many in Israel had of the salvation that would come through the Messiah. That is why Jesus provoked some real outrage among the scribes and Pharisees. He proclaimed a salvation that was coming from God to all people. In fact, if you read scripture closely, it appears at times that God was pouring out that salvation to the Gentiles and Samaritans through Jesus before Jesus was preaching the universal reach of it. I am reflecting now on the times when Jesus recognizes genuine faith in Gentiles and Samaritans and others who were not considered among the "elect" of God. But, Jesus in the end does proclaim a message that encompasses all humanity or better put: "Jesus is the Word of God spoken as a blessing over all humanity."

And, that gets me back to Luke 2:14. It is a remarkable message, what those angels are reported to have sung:GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST PLACES, AND PEACE ON EARTH AMONG HUMANITY WITH WHOM GOD IS WELL-PLEASED!It causes me to think of another passage – the one about Jesus being baptized by John, and a voice from the heavens says: "This is my Son with whom I am well pleased" or in Mark's Gospel: "You are my beloved son, with you I am well-pleased." The Greek word that is translated here in Mark as "well-pleased" is the verb form of the same word "eudokias" which Luke uses in Luke 2:14 which we are talking about. For Luke, the apparent meaning is “peace on earth among human beings WITH WHOM GOD IS WELL-PLEASED.”

Several years ago the deep connection between these two announcements from the heavens struck me. One at the birth of Christ; one at his Baptism. Both of them are about the parental joy of God, the rejoicing of the father in his son - the joyfulness of God at the birth of Jesus and at his baptism, a joyfulness that causes God to embrace the entire human race with that fatherly care and pride. To see that newborn child, who was flesh of our flesh, but also just as deeply of God's very being, was for God to fall in love all over again with human life in all of its fragility and beauty and tragedy and joy.

Of course, as John’s gospel tells us, that very love was what conceived the Christ child: “God so loved the world that he gave his only son . . . .”

I don't know how else to say it than to say: "God threw in his lot with us that day in Bethlehem – that first Christmas. He gave himself into the life of humanity for better or worse when Christ was born – when he heard the first cry of that little baby boy. He made the heavens shake with the joy of his love for all human beings." God's heart was so full of love at the sight of the newborn Jesus that that love overflowed to all people, and has ever since.

But, to love, to really love another, is to become vulnerable. When you love someone else, you are affected by what happens with them and to them. When you love someone outside yourself, you might just take a risk in that love to help or even try to rescue another. God came among us so humbly, so simply, so joyfully, without pretense or pomp. The purity of the Christ awakened the hope of many, but also caused shame and hiding among those who loved their impurity.

God loved, and so God became vulnerable to the most heart-breaking of all losses – the loss of a child. That's the way real love is - it is risky. God was revealed in this love, in this flesh and blood of Jesus, whose very flesh was able to fully bear the life-giving Spirit of God in this world.

The glory of the incarnation. "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth." Yes, for God to do this, it must have been just as the angels said on that day of Jesus' birth:

"Glory to God among those on high (angels in heaven praising and congratulating God with all their might), and peace among those on earth (below) whom God loves beyond all imagining.

"When Jesus was born, we were all reborn in the heart of God. Amen.

Third in series of posts on forgiveness - now I'm talking about anger

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Forgiveness: 3rd Post on dealing with anger

Maybe we have stated the problem in the wrong way - the problem we think we are getting at when we talk about the struggle to forgive. Isn't the real issue what to do with anger? Anger comes when injustice or unfairness is experienced. Anger is born when our inner world explodes because our outer world is so at odds with our hopes and expectations. And, once that anger comes to life in our hearts and minds, it takes on a life of its own. It becomes a force that must be reckoned with. Anger is a force in our inner world that has its effect, one way or another.

Whether we consider ourselves to have forgiven someone who has wronged us, or whether we consider ourselves to have not forgiven, there remains a reality within us which I will call our anger at what has happened to us. Anger in this sense is like a reverberation or aftershock from a terrible shaking of our being. There is a sense in which anger is a biological and psychic reality that is inevitable after serious trauma. This force may or may not be expressed outwardly. It may or may not be expressed directly. But, it affects and shapes our inner reality and eventually how we express ourselves, how we act.

On one hand, we can have conscious strategies for dealing with our anger (or upset if you want to call it that), but on the other hand, so much of how we 'process' difficult events is unconscious. That is, the reverberations within our selves are channeled, controlled, interpreted, etc. without conscious awareness that such "channeling, controlling, interpreting" is going on. We have what I will call our "direct" strategy for dealing with upset, but we also have our "indirect" strategy or basic ways of finding meaning and hope and peace in life which in time shape how we respond to upset in our lives.

These two levels of response: the first conscious; the second more unconscious; the first direct; the second more indirect; the first a trouble-shooting type of approach; the second more of a way of living/habit type of approach.

The dominant focus of religious people seems to be on "direct, conscious, trouble-shooting" type of approaches to problems. At least, this is the way of most Western religion. You have a conflict, face it; you have a problem, solve it. But, our best resolutions usually come when we aren't working directly on our problem. The answers to our greatest challenges often come when we aren't dealing directly with these challenges, or at least when we are not consciously trying to solve these problems. Scientists and mathematicians and inventors have had this experience, as have writers and other artists. If the mind and heart are committed to working on a problem, then the work goes on even when the problem is "out of sight and out of conscious thought."

What brings new resolutions and revolutions in understanding and creativity is when a person carries a concern hopefully and with commitment and dedication to resolution of the difficulty. There is a "faith" at the heart of this positive movement towards understanding, reconciliation, resolution. There is a way of carrying unresolved issues and experiences of life that brings new life and new understanding. And, there is a way of carrying or perhaps burying unresolved issues and experiences of life that brings death and prevents understanding (breeds misunderstanding).

If you are backpacking, there is a way of "shouldering" the pack that makes walking easier. It is worthwhile to stop and adjust the way you are carrying the pack, getting it to fit as naturally as you can to your back. In the same way, it is worthwhile to stop and adjust mentally and spiritually the way you are carrying burdens of anger and hurt, so that you can carry them in a natural way, fitting to your psychical make-up. When you are hiking with a pack,and everything is going just right, and you are enjoying the view and when the exertion itself seems natural, then you don't even feel the weight of the pack. The burden of the pack is resolved by being swallowed up by other experiences and desires and goals.

This is an analogy for how we deal with anger indirectly, how we deal well with upset in our lives indirectly. If the pack is our anger and upset, then we carry it best when we don't allow its weight to distract us from our deepest concerns, dreams, hopes and goals. When its weight is keeping us from going forward, we need to stop and adjust the way we are carrying our trouble. When we do this, our anger doesn't consume our attention. That thing we are upset about, or that person we are mad at, is only one concern of our lives - not the concern. As we take a break from thinking about what we are mad about in order to focus on other duties and desires, that is when we tend to find the answer to our conflict, a way out of our conflicts.

The great teaching of Jesus is this: "Seek you first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you as well." He also helpfully says: "He who sets his hand to the plow but looks back is not fit for the kingdom of God." That saying seems harsh as it is spoken to the son who wants to care for his aging father, but the only way to resolve many difficulties is to renounce their hold on your life. By stepping outside of a conflict, and seeing what life has to offer, you begin to live free from being controlled by the conflict or the anger, and in the end probably find a way to resolve it when you get caught up in other concerns and forget about being mad.

More thoughts on forgiveness from other blog

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Forgiveness: 2nd post

If you can ask the question: "Should I forgive or not?" then you don't understand the troubled situation you are in. If it is a matter of whether we should forgive or not . . . if the issue is put that way, then the battle is already lost. And, the battle is with evil and condemnation and all that is against the way of Christ in this world. It is not that it is easy "to forgive." If you think it is your right to decide whether or not to forgive, it is damn near impossible to forgive in certain situations.

For me to say "I forgive you" to someone who has done me wrong just doesn't seem right to me. If I can take up that God-like position over someone who has wronged me, then I can't be a channel of God's grace. Truth is: we simply don't have the right to sit on the throne of judgment. If we did, maybe we could withhold or grant forgiveness. If you come down from that throne and lose all desire to ever ascend to that throne in judgment over anyone . . . well if you do that, God's will is done; God's grace flows through you; God's peace comes to you.

In the full humanity of his flesh and blood existence, Jesus comes "not to condemn, but to save."He is the way and the truth and the light; and his way doesn't include making decisions about whether to forgive or not. If that is a decision we have a right to make, then we remain in bondage to sin. If we get to the point where we simply don't have it in us to condemn, then we have come out from under sin.

Some thoughts from my personal blog

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Forgiveness

I'll be reflecting some on this later today. It seems that Jesus' view was that it was God's business whether to forgive or not. It seems to be in the "job description" of the divine, and outside the scope of our business. That is, from what Jesus says, and from what he does, true humanity simply passes on God's forgiveness, acts as a channel of it. It is, in that sense, not any great deed to forgive, just "par for the course."

Monday, December 14, 2009

Thinking about Romans 5:1-10

Paul's words in these verses (see translation three posts ago) bring a revolution in understanding of who God is, what God is like. We might have thought that Jesus was simply an "atonement" for our sins that satisfied God, leaving God the same, us the same, just forgiven and saved from punishment. But, we aren't able to think that anymore after what Paul proclaims here. What Paul celebrates here about God is revolutionary. I don't think the radical nature of Paul's experience of God has taken hold, even almost 2,000 years after he wrote these words to the Romans.

Somehow the Church tends to forget that "God was in Christ, reconciling the world to God's very self." In theology and preaching the Church has so often viewed God way up there in heaven as the judge, offended by our sin, ready and needing to punish us, but somehow the wrath subsides when Christ bears the punishment for us. But, Paul throws all this out the window as trash, as a backwards presentation of who God really is. For Paul, GOD IS IN CHRIST. Do you see?! God is not far off, waiting on legal satisfaction. GOD IS IN CHRIST, RECONCILING THE WORLD TO GOD'S VERY SELF THROUGH THE DEATH OF CHRIST. GOD REACHES OUT AND EMBRACES THE WORLD IN CHRIST'S DEATH, A WORLD THAT REJECTED HIS INCARNATION.

The legalistic atonement theory of Protestant theology is simply wrong. It doesn't believe in the incarnation, but leaves God way up there in heaven, unchanged, unaffected, uninvolved in humanity; and leaves us unchanged - only our legal status has been altered. What crap we hear presented as the Gospel. But, Paul . . . Paul puts the truth before us, glowing with grace, shaking with the joy of one who knows that God has really come among us in Christ. How God sustained the world as God's Son died, I don't know. But, I believe very deeply that God was in the middle of doing both.

Read this passage every day in Advent. Romans 5:1-10. What a wonderful and profound celebration of the INCARNATION.

Taking Some Time to Listen to Howard Thurman to Remember his life

"The movement of the Spirit of God in the hearts of men and women often calls them to act against the spirit of their times or causes them to anticipate a spirit which is yet in the making. In a moment of dedication, they are given wisdom and courage to dare a deed that challenges and to kindle a hope that inspires."

-Howard Thurman, Footprints of a Dream


The words below are taken from a PBS special on Howard Thurman, a profound witness to God's grace in human life:


Thurman was born and raised in Daytona, Fl. He was raised by his grandmother, who had been enslaved. In 1925, he became and ordained Baptist minister. His first pastorate, at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Oberlin, Ohio, was followed by a joint appointment as professor of religion and director of religious life at Morehouse and Spelman colleges in Atlanta, Georgia. Thurman spent the spring semester of 1929 studying at Haverford College with Rufus Jones, a Quaker mystic and leader of the pacifist, interracial Fellowship of Reconciliation. Here he began his journey towards a philosophy that stressed an activism rooted in faith, guided by spirit, and maintained in peace.

Three years later, he began to articulate these views. In an essay entitled "Peace Tactics and a Racial Minority," Thurman depicted white America as characterized by the "will to dominate and control the Negro minority," a situation which engendered among blacks a spiritually crippling hatred of their would-be dominators. He suggested that a "technique of relaxation," might break this cycle.

In 1936, Thurman led a "Negro Delegation of Friendship" to South Asia. There he met the Indian leader Mohandas Gandhi. His conversations with Gandhi broadened his theological and international vision. In his autobiography, Thurman said that in his meeting with Ghandi, the Mahatma expressed his wish that the message of non-violence be sent to the world by African-Americans.

In his seminal 1949 book, Jesus and the Disinherited, Thurman provided an interpretation of the New Testament gospels that laid the foundation for a nonviolent civil rights movement. Thurman presented the basic goal of Jesus' life as helping the disinherited of the world change from within so they would be empowered to survive in the face of oppression. A love rooted in the "deep river of faith," wrote Thurman, would help oppressed peoples overcome persecution. "It may twist and turn, fall back on itself and start again, stumble over an infinite series of hindering rocks, but at last the river must answer the call to the sea."

KEY MOMENTS OF FAITH

THE GOOD SAMARITAN

Thurman was raised in segregated Daytona, Florida. Schools there went only to the seventh grade, so Thurman's family scraped together the funds to send him to high school in Jacksonville. However, at the train station, Thurman was told he had to pay extra to send his baggage. Buying the ticket had left him destitute; he had no more to ship his trunk. Penniless, the boy sat down on the steps and began to cry. Then, a stranger - a black man dressed in overalls - walked by and paid the charges. He didn't introduce himself, and Thurman never learned his name.

When Thurman wrote his autobiography, he dedicated it "to the stranger in the railroad station in Daytona Beach who restored my broken dream sixty-five years ago."

THE STUDENT AND THE PACIFIST

While still a student, Thurman began working as a youth movement leader, mainly through the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA). He graduated from Colgate-Rochester Theological Seminary in 1926 and began his first pastorate, at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Oberlin, Ohio. At Oberlin, he encountered the work of Rufus Jones, a Quaker mystic and leader of the pacifist Interracial Fellowship of Reconciliation. Thurman eventually studied with Jones, and described this time as the watershed event of his life. However, Jones' focus was global, and Thurman thought local. "How can we manage the carking fear of the white man's power," he asked, "and not be defeated by our own rage and hatred?"

A MEETING WITH GANDHI

In 1935-36, Thurman led a delegation of African Americans to meet Mohandas Gandhi. God-given faith, Gandhi proclaimed, could be used to fight the oppression of white American segregation. He challenged Thurman to rethink the idea of Christianity as a religion used by whites to keep black "in their place" with images of a white Christ and ideas of a land of milk and honey in the great beyond. Hindu principles offered Indians a basis for nonviolent opposition to British power, he said. Did Christianity have a similar power to overcome white racism?

A THEOLOGY OF LIBERATION

Thurman continued thinking and writing about his conversation with Gandhi for the rest of his life. He passed on his thinking to James Farmer, founder of the Congress of Racial Equality, and Martin Luther King, Jr. In Jesus and the Disinherited, Thurman expounded on the idea of Jesus as a liberating figure, bringing new testament gospel together with non-violent resistance.

THE FELLOWSHIP OF RECONCILIATION

In 1944 Thurman left his position as dean at Howard University to co-found the first fully integrated, multi-cultural church in the U.S. in San Francisco, CA. The Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples was a revolutionary idea. Founded on the ideal of diverse community with a focus on a common faith in God, Thurman brought people of every ethnic background together to worship and work for peace. "Do not be silent; there is no limit to the power that may be released through you."

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Thoughts at the Beginning of Advent

John the Baptist and Advent

As I prepare for the first Sunday in the Church's Advent season, I really do have my mind directed towards the coming of Christ. But, that coming on the human side of things was prepared for by John the Baptist. I am fascinated by this prophet, John the Baptizer. He went out to the desert, lived among the wild animals, dressed in animal skins, ate bugs for his main source of protein. And, he began to preach a new message about repenting and believing that God's kingdom was drawing near. I wonder exactly what was so new in John's preaching. I guess it sounded new because it hearkened back to that which was very, very old in Israel: the days of the true prophets like Amos, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Hosea. Days when the way of holiness was understood as unified to the way of justice and mercy in human life. Yes, John brought this message - very old, but always very new. Because, whenever we awaken to the profound depths of such a word like that spoken by Amos: "I hate, I despise your religious feasts. I am sick of the noise of your songs at your solemn assemblies. Your sacrifices and rituals make me sick to my stomach. But, let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream!" When these words get a real hearing, they open human hearts to the coming of God's redemption. That's what John was doing - shaking people back to their foundations - waking them up that God was the only authority that was worth obeying and bowing down to.

And, when John saw Jesus he must have felt this huge weight come off his shoulders. That weight of holding on and getting ready and trying so hard to open the hearts of people to God's truth and help. But, when John saw Jesus, he saw that HELP had arrived. "Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." The sin of the world. That is the real problem we face. The sin of the world. That includes our own individual, family, societal sin, but goes even farther than that. The sin of the world. The twistedness of this world even while there is so much good and promise. The twistedness even of the best people, and the pervertedness of the worst. The sin of the world. The hatred of one nation for another; one group of religious people for another; people of lighter skin hating people of darker skin. The sin of the world.

So, as Advent draws near, I say those hopeful words that John first said: "Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."O, Lord, please come and take away the sin of the world. Take away the sin from my heart, from our hearts, from all hearts, and remove the vestiges of bondage to sin. That at your coming, Lord, we might be free - free at last, free at last, thank God almighty - free at last!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Romans 5:1-10 Translation

1. Being established in righteousness by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2. through whom we have confidence by faith in this grace in which we stand and we boast in hope of the glory of God. 3. And, we also boast in afflictions knowing that affliction works patience, 4. and patience steadfastness and steadfastness hope. 5. And, hope does not make ashamed or leave disappointed, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit given to us. 6. For while we were still powerless under sin, at that very time, Christ died for the ungodly. 7. But, it is rare that anyone will die for a righteous person, but someone might at certain times dare to die for a good person. 8. But, God has shown his great love for us in that Christ died for us when we were still sinners and in bondage to sin. 9. How much more now that we have been established in righteousness by his blood will we be saved through him from the wrath to come?! 10. For if we were reconciled to God while we were the enemies of God by the death of God's Son, how much more will we who have been reconciled be saved by the life of Christ?