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, February 17, 2010

Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday

What have I ever given up for Lent? Nothing. I don't give up things for Lent. Not that it wouldn't do me some good to give up this or that for Lent. But, I don't go in for that kind of thing.

In fact, I really don't do anything that I don't want to do. I realized that about myself a few years ago. The real key to life is figuring out those good things you like to do, and focus on them. There are always good things you are attracted to. Of course, there may be some destructive/bad things you are attracted to as well. The trick is loving what builds up life, and learning to despise what tears down life. Once you do that, it is just a matter of doing what you really love.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Book of Esther

In the days of King Ahaserus in Babylon, after the Jews had been invaded and conquered by Babylon, many Jews were taken away as captives to live in the Babylonian empire, which stretched from Persia down in to Africa. The Babylonians were all powerful, and many nations had become subject to the Babylonian rule.

The book of Esther tells about the effect of this war on the Jews in one family, and then it tells of how the surviving members of this one Jewish family played an important role in a time of great threat to all the Jewish people who were living in Babylon.

We hear of a family where the Jewish mother and father were killed in the Babylonian attack on Israel, and how their daughter, Esther, survived and was adopted by her older cousin, Mordecai, and his wife who were all three taken captive to live in Babylon. Once in Babylon, the Jews found a way to survive, and tried the best they could to live in peace and faith before God.
So, our story begins with this situation of Esther living with her adoptive parents, Mordecai and his wife. One obscure Jewish family in the foreign land of Babylon.

Now, at the time that Esther and her family were trying to establish a home in Babylon, King Ahaserus was expanding his power and the wealth of his empire. And, in the royal palace, he threw a great party, inviting important nobles from all over the empire. The men were partying in one section of the palace, and the Queen, Queen Vashti, held a banquet for the women in another section of the palace. And, apparently, the king even allowed people from all over the city to come and join in some festifities in the outer courts of the palace. And, this partying went on for days, and on the 7th day, we hear that the king’s heart was merry with wine (now, I don’t know whether that means he was just feeling good after two or three, or whether he was drunk). But, he was feeling it pretty strongly, or the writer wouldn’t have mentioned it. And, of course, as the king was feeling good under the influence of his wine, he started bragging about how pretty his Queen was, and asked one of his servants to go get her so she could present herself before all his party of nobles. Well, Queen Vashti, knew what was going on over there, and knew that no matter who you were, it wasn’t smart to come show yourself to a bunch of drunken men. So, she refused the king’s request. She refused to leave her party and go to his.

Well, as you can imagine that didn’t go down very well with the king. King Ahaserus was humiliated in front of all his friends, and a little impulsive at that point and likely to fly off the handle as well. So, after some quick discussion among his counselors, the king decided that Queen Vashti should be deposed, and replaced by a new Queen. And, further, that the king should take a stand against this type of female arrogance, and write a new law, making clear that every woman was to be subject in her household to the man of the household. So, this whole thing starts out in the palace as some drunk king trying to boss his Queen who is sick of being bossed, and she says: NO. Then, the story turns to one that is first about keeping women in their place, then about keeping Jews in their place, and, well, let me just tell the story.

The king has to find a replacement Queen, so he takes a whole bunch of unmarried women who are beautiful into custody at the palace, and they go through a beautifying, training period to see who will be chosen as the new Queen. One of those taken into custody is Esther, the young Jewish woman, daughter of Mordecai. Esther happens to be very beautiful. Surely Mordecai and his wife are heartbroken to see young Esther taken away to the king’s palace, and Mordecai warns her to not let anyone know that she is Jewish. Esther is smart enough to befriend the king’s head servant/eunuch who is in charge of this harem of young women. He likes her very much, and he gives her advice on how to best position herself to be chosen as Queen. And, as it turns out, after the year of training, and after the king has seen all of the young women many times, he chooses Esther as his new Queen. The king is so thrilled that he holds another great festival for Esther and she takes her place in the palace, and no one knows that she is a Jew.
Her adoptive father, Mordecai, however, never hides the fact that he is a Jew. And, right after Esther becomes Queen, he does a good deed for the king, revealing a plot to kill the king and saving the king’s life, and this good deed is recorded in the annals of the king, with Mordecai the Jew given credit.

Things seem to be going just fine for Esther in the palace. But, things are not going quite so well for Mordecai outside the gates of the palace. Because, the king has issued an edict that whenever the king’s newly appointed right hand man, Haman, leaves the palace or enters the palace, that everyone around should bow before him, and pay him homage. Well, everytime Haman came or went, there was Mordecai, and though everyone else bowed down to pay him homage, Mordecai would not bow down. When the king’s servants begged him to bow to avoid punishment, Mordecai let them know that he wouldn’t bow because he was a Jew, and he would only bow to worship the God of the Jews.

Haman became enraged by this act of defiance of this Jew, Mordecai, and plotted against the Jews. Esther went about her business of being Queen, with no idea of what was going on right outside the palace. Pretty soon Haman had had enough of Mordecai and his Jewish defiance, and he got the king – King Ahaserus - to put into law an order to kill all Jews in the land. As this law was being published, Mordecai got word to Esther about it. Esther said: “the king hasn’t even invited me into his chambers for 30 days, and if anyone goes into the chambers without invitation, and the king does not hold out the golden scepter, that one is executed by royal decree.” Surely, Esther had heard what happened to Queen Vashti when she thought she could oppose the king. But, here, Mordecai expected her to ask the king to change a decision that he had already made – the decision to exterminate the Jews. And, Esther would now make clear for the first time that she was a Jew herself. Esther was afraid to approach the king, and told Mordecai this.

But, Mordecai insisted. He said: “maybe you have come to the kingdom for a time such as this”

Esther said, then “I will go. My maids and I will fast for three days, and then I will go. If I die, I die.”

On that third day, she approached the king’s inner chamber, and he held out his golden scepter to her. She had made it past the first danger. And, then, Esther took it slow. She had a plan.
First, she just invited the king and Haman to dinner. Then, to another dinner the next day, while she was getting things set up just right. What Esther worked out was to make sure that someone read from the book of the King’s annals the part that recorded that once Mordecai, her adoptive father, a Jew, had saved the king’s life. And, so the night before the second dinner for the king and Haman, the king heard about Mordecai, and was grateful for what he had done, and wanted to reward him. Well, it just so happened that on that second day before Esther had dinner for the king and Haman, the king had heard about Mordecai, and came in ready to reward him. And, then it became clear to Haman that he was in trouble, because now the king was in favor of Mordecai who was Haman’s enemy. So, by the time the second dinner was over, Esther had the king thinking just the way she wanted him to think: that he had been fooled by Haman into ordering the killing of Jews. Instead, the king ordered the killing of Haman, and raised the Jewish people up to favored status, and promoted Mordecai, a Jew, to second in command.

What a turn of events. But, there was a time when Esther the Queen hesitated. There was a time when she was going to just say, this is too risky, what can I do? But, Mordecai wouldn’t take no for an answer, and, as he said to Esther so well: “perhaps you have come to the kingdom for a time such as this?” Mordecai’s point was: “if you don’t do something now, we will all be lost.” And, Esther thought about who she was; and, she thought about where she had come from; and she remembered that she was a Jew; and, that her father, Mordecai was a proud Jew who had refused to bow, because of his faith in the God, the one true God. Yes, Esther remembered who she was when it would have been convenient to have forgotten. And, as a result God worked salvation for the Jews in Babylon.
Have you ever been somewhere when it would be easier to forget who you are, to forget where you came from, to forget the loyalty you owe to those who have raised you and stuck beside you. That’s where Esther was. She sat there in her Queen’s chambers thinking of how far she had come and considering whether to risk it all on a plan that probably wouldn’t work anyway. But, she took the risk; she took the chance. And, she found new life on the other side of risk; she found new life on the other side of taking a chance on what her heart told her was right. She took the risk we call faith, and it is only in that faith that carries some risk with it, that we find new life.

Some of the most painful memories we can have are memories of betraying those we love; turning our backs on our God or our family or our friends or those we owe a duty to. If you take a risk in faith and love, and it doesn’t work out, there is no shame in it. If you back away from the calling to step out in faith, then, well, you never know what you might have missed. And, in the end, there is some real regret in life for chances never taken, for ventures never risked.
We don’t have an unlimited number of days on this earth, and we cannot hold onto what we have right now anyway. Life and what we have slip through our hands, like fine grains of sand. We think we can hold on to what we have, but, as Jesus says: he who saves his life will lose it, and he who gives up his life for my sake will save it. Esther gave up her claim on her life that day; she put it all on the line in faith. And, instead of losing it, she got her life back fully, being able to claim her faith, her Jewish identity, her family and remaining Queen. What if she had not taken the risk? What if she had held onto the royal life she had? Wouldn’t her life have really slipped right through her hands? Wouldn’t she be left empty-handed, full of regret deep inside?
We can’t hold onto our lives. We can’t insure that our family members are all safe. We have found out that we can’t even count on money in the bank being completely safe. We can certainly try and be careful and try to help protect others. But, we can’t insure safety and life and peace and quiet. No, if we could, we wouldn’t have lost so many we have loved. No, it is an illusion to think we can play it safe always and never lose. Faith calls us to live boldly, to look to the future and seek God’s kingdom. God’s kingdom is not in the past; its in the future. Its out in front of us. If we reach out to that kingdom, new life comes when we thought we would never see new life again. New plans arise, when we thought we were done making plans. New love and purpose arise, when we were just content to ride out our lives with whatever we had already experienced.

And, here we are at another Christmas season. And, there is a strong weight of the past –memories and nostalgia- I certainly remember past Christmases and those I love who have died. But, this Christmas, I am looking to future Christmases as well. I feel the pull of the future, stronger than the pull of the past. And, like Paul said: “forgetting what lies behind; I press on to what lies ahead in upward call of God in Christ Jesus my Lord.”

Esther had it all. A secure place as the most important woman in the kingdom. She had wealth and servants and security. All the sudden she was in danger. There was a law that said all Jews had to die. If anyone found out she was Jewish, then she would die too. She could hide the fact that she was Jewish, or she could claim it and use it to help influence the king in her people’s favor. Letting him know she was Jewish would either doom her to execution, or save her people from death. Truth was, as Mordecai reminded her, there was no turning back, no hiding at this point. If all the Jews started getting killed, there were plenty of them that knew that Queen Esther was Jewish. If she didn’t try to help them, they would surely make known that she was a Jew. Truth was, if she really faced what was happening, she had to act. To avoid the risk of conflict with the king, would only delay the coming of danger. It was coming one way or another. So, she faced it – head on in faith.

We determine the course of our lives as much by avoiding decisions as making decisions. By not making a decision, we really have decided one way over another. If the last train is leaving off an island that is about to be hit by a hurricane, and I don’t bother to get on the train, then, I have decided to be on the island and be hit by the hurricane. So many determinations in our lives are made by default. By refusing to acknowledge a problem we have, we allow the problem to go along and grown unchecked. Life moves on like a river. You simply cannot stand still. You think you can withdraw or hold on to what you’ve got. But, life is not like that. You have to learn to ride the current, and ride the waves. Have you ever tried to stand in the ocean in one place when the water is up close to your chest? You can’t do it. The waves come in, the tide goes back out, and it moves you from where you are. Have you ever tried to stand in one place in water almost up to your head in the strong rapids of a river? You can’t do it. You do better to let go, and float on with the current until it takes you to calmer waters.

Whatever we build, whatever we try to hold onto, it will be knocked down and washed away at some point. Like a sandcastle built on the beach. The tide will rise up and wash it away every time.

Esther couldn’t stand still. That was what Mordecai convinced her. Events were moving along. She would either be swept up in them if she failed to act, or she would begin to shape them if she acted. Though faith is passive towards God in many ways, it is very active towards life in this world.

The Role of Africans in Church History:African Popes

The following is an article about three African Popes.

Reflections on the African Popes

According to the Liber Pontificalis, three popes-Pope St Victor I (ca186-198), Pope St Miltiades (311-14), and Pope St Gelasius (492-496)-were Africans. The Liber Pontificalis is composed of a series of biographical entries, which record the dates and important facts for each pope. It is the oldest and most detailed chronicle dating from the Early Church. The Liber Pontificalis is dated from the sixth century. The record of names begins with St Peter. As the work progressed the entries became longer and more detailed. The Liber Pontificalis continued to be written until 1431.1

The African popes in question are said to have come from the North African area that is present-day Algeria, Mauretania, Numidia, and Tunisia. Historians name this area the maghreb. Today it is mostly Muslim. The indigenous people of North Africa are Berbers, brown skinned as among the Tuaregs and Algerians. By the time of Pope Victor I, the Roman aristocracy had large land holdings on the Mediterranean coast. Carthage was the center.2 The language was Latin. The Berbers lived in the rural areas and the larger towns. Carthage was the primacy. Small scattered dioceses in the rural areas. The indigenous population, the Berbers, gradually accepted Christianity, but the details of evangelization are unclear.

Most historians today are of the opinion that Victor was a North African. He was the first Latin-speaking pope. He had to be persuaded to permit the Asian Churches of Syria to continue celebrating Easter on the 14th day of Nisan. Victor had desired to force the Asian churches to accept the Roman method of calculating the celebration of Easter, that is the first full moon on the Sunday after the vernal equinox. Contemporary with Victor I was Tertullian, the North African writer, who reworked Latin for expressing second-century theology. Just after the death of Victor I, St Perpetua and St Felicity underwent their martyrdom in Carthage (Perpetua was from the landowner class; Felicity the slave). The Scillian martyrs, first African martyrs put to death in Carthage just prior to the pontificate of Victor, with St Cyprian, the great bishop and martyr of Carthage martyred in 258 half a century after Victor. As one historian writes, it was "remarkable… that Latin should have won recognition as the language of African Christianity from the outset, while the Roman church was still using Greek."3 Although martyrdom was the great seal of African Christianity, most historians have concluded that Victor I was not martyred in Rome.

St Miltiades (311-14) is the second pope identified as an African. The Liber Pontificalis names him as born in Africa. More recent scholars consider that Miltiades was probably from an African family in Rome. In fact, Miltiades was pope in Rome at the time of the victorious battle of the Milvian Bridge when Constantine the Great defeated and killed Maxentius. With this victory, Constantine opened the way to the end of persecution of Christians. Miltiades is not recorded as making any intervention in drawing up the Edict of Milan that recognized the freedom of religion for all peoples. When the Donatists in North Africa had recourse against the Catholic Church, Constantine asked Miltiades to listen to their complaints. At this time the opposition in North Africa are called Donatists. They are the poor and the peasants. They make up the opposition to the well-to-do landholders. At present there is much study of the Donatists. These people are Berbers not Romans. Miltiades called a synod of bishops to examine the case. Historians have considered that Miltiades, seemingly an African, was chosen precisely because he had connection with the Church in North Africa.4

More recent historical studies consider that the question of Donatism in North Africa are not only doctrinal but also sociological, economic, and political factors. The schism continued after the death of Miltiades.

Finally, St Gelasius (492-496) is called an African in the Liber Pontificalis. In another document, Gelasius referred to himself as "born a Roman." It is suggested that he was of African family origin. He is known especially for his strained relationship with the Byzantine emperor Anastasius in Constantinople. Gelasius I unequivocally proclaimed his authority as pope over that of the emperor. The collection of liturgical prayers that bear his name belong to the seventh century.5

1.See The Liber Pontificalis. Texte, Introduction et Commentaire. Ed. Abbé L. Duchesne. 3 volumes. Paris: E. de Boccard, Editeurs. 1955.
The Book of Pontiffs (Liber Pontificalis). The Ancient Biographies of the First Ninety Roman Bishops To A.D.715. Trans. Raymond Davis. Liverpool University Press, 1989.
2.See J. Desanges, "The Proto-Berbers" in the General History of Africa. II. Ancient Civilizations of Africa. Ed. G. Mokhtar. (Heinemann, CA: UNESCO. ) 423-440.
3.A. Mahjoubi, "The Roman and post-Roman period in North Africa," Ibid., 497.
See also: Victor Saxer, Pères saints et culte Chrétien dans l'Eglise des premiers siècles. "Victor. Titre d'honneur ou nom propre.." (VARIORUM 1994 Collected Studies Series CS446.) I, 217.
The Papacy. An Encyclopedia. s.v. "Victor I (189-99)." By Jean-Pierre Martin.
W.H.C. Frend, The Rise of Christianity, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984) 290-91.
Finally, for the most recent studies, see Maureen A. Tillet, "North Africa" in The Cambridge History of Christianity. Origins to Constantine. Eds. Margaret Mitchell and Frances Young. 381-396. (Cambridge University Press, 2006.)
4.Frend, Rise of Christianity, 490-91. See also The Papacy. An Encyclopedia. s.v. "Miltiades (or Melchiades)." By Elisabeth Paoli. See also Dictionnaire d'Histoire et de Géographie Ecclésiastiques. s.v. "Donat de Carthage." By J. Ferron.
5.The Papacy. An Encyclopedia. s.v. "Gelasius I." By Claire Soliner.


Cyprian Davis, O.S.B., Ph.D.
Professor, Church History
St Meinrad School of Theology

Acts 8:26-40: Some Biblical Evidence of Early African Christianity

Read Acts 8:26-40 where we hear that the treasurer of Queen Candice of Ethiopia was reading the Holy Scriptures (the prophet Isaiah) when a minister of the Gospel, Phillip, explained the scriptures to him. This would seem to show two things: there were adherents to Judaism in Ethiopia around the 50's; and that there was at least one Christian in the royal palace in Ethiopia at that time.

It may be that the Jews of Ethiopia were closely connected to those of Judea by trade routes, etc. The timeline previously posted reflects that two Syrian Christians influenced those in the palace in Ethiopia in the early 300's. They reported to Athanasius that Christianity was strongly established in Ethiopia - whether from their influence or not we don't know. It may have been that they discovered it that way when they began to work in the palace there.

Evidence from the 4th century in church history reveals a strong influence on Ethiopia from Alexandrian, Egypt. First, there is the fact that Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria,Egypt ordained Frumentius Bishop in Ethiopia around 320 c.e., and there is also evidence that during persecutions Egyptian Christians fled to and found refuge in Ethiopia. One would expect that there was a certain "cross-fertilization" from this deep connection of these two communions. Persecutions were drastic in the 300's during the time of Athanasius who had to go into exile twice.

Christianity in Africa

In the earliest centuries of the Church, Africa played a prominent, if not decisive role. There was Alexandria, Egypt; Carthage, N. Africa; and then came Ethiopia. Below is a timeline of the history of Christianity in Ethiopia. I got this from a website describing a relatively new book by Thomas Oden, entitled: "How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind." Over 100 years ago, W.E. Dubois had described the prominent role of Africa in the early church, but surprisingly little attention has been paid to what actually happened in the early church in Africa. Oden's book is based not just on older Western histories but also on newly discovered records in Africa.

In Western culture and theology, the story has been told as if the first time Africans ever heard of Jesus was when white missionaries came to Africa in the 1600-1800's, mostly 1800's. With the resurgence of Christianity in Africa in our day, Africans are beginning to realize that they have an indigenous theology from long, long ago.

The date follows the description of the historical event.
Christianity in Ethiopia - 300 c.e.

Frumentius and Aedisius, two Syrian brothers, were rescued from a plundered Roman Ship off the Ethiopian coast. The two lads were escorted to the royal palace in Axum where both served for a number of years in significant administrative and Christianizing roles. Some years later Frumentius travelled to Alexandria to inform Athanasius of the development of Christianity in the Axumite palace, who ordained him bishop. - 320 c.e.

The Kingdom of Ethiopia adopts Christianity; Ethiopian missionaries sent to convert the Himyarites; the church historian Philostorgios offers first evidence of a Jewish presence in the region. - 327 c.e.

Christian cathedral St Mary of Zion in Axium; either newly built or converted temple. - 340 c.e.

Fall of island of Meroe to the Aksumite King Ezana; ancient capital of Meroe abandoned to Noba, perhaps pastoralists from south. - 350 c.e.

Aksumite inscriptions identify King Ezana and his brother Sazana, who convert to Christianity; monks migrate to Aksum. - 367 c.e.

Rufinus reports on Ethiopia. - 4th century

Some Christian scriptures translated into in Ge'ez. - 400 c.e.

Arrival of "Nine Saints," wandering Syrian monks; strongly influenced Ethiopian Christianity. - 490's c.e.

King Kaleb of Axum. - 514-542 c.e.

Ethiopian Christian forces attack the capital Zatar, but are driven back by the Himyarite army; Dhu Nuwas conducts a campaign against the Christians of Najran; Dhu Nuwas killed in battle in 525. - 522 c.e.

The Battle of the Elephant, in which the Meccans defeat the invading army of Christian Ethiopia. - 570 c.e.

Ethiopian church music composed by the monk Yared. - 6th century

Ethiopic Synaxary; 800s Christian empire in Ethiopia gravitates south after the decline of Aksum; Arab and Persian merchants explore East African coast with trading stations at Malindi, Mombasa, Kilwa, and Mogadishu. - 800-1000 c.e.

Ruler Degna Jan; a period of military expansion and Christianization. - 9th century

Zagwe Dynasty in Lasta. - 1137-1268 c.e.

Chapel in Jerusalem granted to Ethiopian pilgrims by Sultan Saladdin. - 1187 c.e.

Lalibela rock churches; Lalibela seventh king of Zagwe dynasty. - 1190's c.e.

The recorded lineage of the Solomonic dynasty of Ethiopia begins with Yekuno Amlak.
- 1268 c.e.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Sermon notes from Black History Month Last Year

I am posting my sermon notes for a sermon I prepared for last year but didn't preach because of some scheduling changes. I prepared this during Black History Month, and in recognition of it. I did eventually preach something close to this, but I have included my original notes which are a little different than what I actually preached later on.

Ephesians 2:1-22: “When Walls Fall Down”

Paul writes this letter to the Ephesians, and he reflects on that experience beyond all experiences in the faith. The experience of God breaking down barriers between people that he never thought would be broken down. Paul refers to this as the mystery of the gospel that was revealed only in the coming of God in Jesus – and, the mystery is real simple: the peopleof God includes gentiles – not just Jews.
The dividing wall of hostility has been broken down by Jesus, the Christ of God, the way of righteousness, hope and salvation. The dividing wall of hostility, built up by so many generations: between Jew and Gentile, between Mexican and American; between black and white; between Asian and white in one generation; between Asian and Mexican or Asian and Black in another generation, between male and female, between rich and poor, between protestant and catholic; between northern and southern, between gay and straight. The dividing wall in which so many hatreds reside; these dividing walls that cause one human to look at another with distrust, and fear, and even hatred. These dividing walls that we see between Jew and Palestinian – hatred of another, distrust of another, fear of another, disgust towards another person that is not even known.

Paul said it so well: “If I build up again that which I tore down then I show myself a transgressor.” That is exactly what the church has done over the centuries: build up again that which Jesus tore down – the dividing wall of hostility based on race, religion, gender, social class, nation. And every generation is ready because of sin to build a new wall or to resurrect the old wall that looked like it had fallen down. But, then again, every generation is also ready to tear down the dividing wall of hostility.

In Ephesians, Paul addressed the division between Jew and Gentile, and how that had been broken down through the living Spirit of Jesus, the Christ of God. “He has broken down the dividing wall of hostility between us, reconciling the two as one people in his death.”

Almost 20 years ago, I was called as pastor of two small rural churches in the middle of cotton country in South Carolina: Oswego and St. Charles, S.C. The church manse was in St. Charles, population about 400, and right in the middle of the cotton fields. And, the local culture was still very much influenced the ways of the Old South. The large cotton farms that still existed were still owned by white families whose ancestors once ran these farms as plantations. And, these large cotton farms often still had black families living on them or near them and working the land, some of the same black families whose ancestors had been slaves on the old plantations. Even though only a few of these farms and family situations existed, they did exist, and they had a great effect on the way people understood life in that area. I was pastor of two small Presbyterian Churches, where all members were white. About a half mile down the road from me was a small Presbyterian Church, Mt. Sinai, where all the members were black. The first year I was pastor, Mt. Sinai invited our choir to come sing at their homecoming service, and they invited me to preach at the revival service during that homecoming celebration. I accepted the invitation and preached, but my choir from Mt. Zion said: “thanks for the invitation, but our choir is so small and well, we just aren’t ready for that.” And, my members didn’t so much mind me going over there to preach, but when I invited black Presbyterian churches to a conference at my white church – well, that was it!

There were some heated session meetings, chills down the spine upon entering for worship even – at times. I REALLY FELT THOSE DIVIDING WALLS OF HOSTILITY. There was talk in the community about the trouble they were having at Mt. Zion with that “new, young pastor.” It only took some really small actions.

And, just one other thing about that time in South Carolina. When things were hardest in my church; when conflict was the worst, I was taken in by a group of black pastors: Presbyterian and Methodists, who just happened to invite me to special services. I’ll never forget the 100th celebration of the black Presbyterian Church where I walked in just worn out with my church, and very, very tired in my soul. I was going to just slink off to the side unnoticed. But, when you are the only white person out of about 150 gathered, you are bound to be noticed. And, the preacher called me out: “Brothers and sisters, I want to introduce you to our friend, Rev. George Waters. He’s pastor of Mt. Zion. I bet they don’t know he’s over here tonight. And, he laughed, and insisted I come forward and sit up with the ministers. I prayed later in the service.” And, I remember the music just holding me close to the Lord that night, and the service went on. And, it was one of those times you just want to stay in. God’s people took me in. When I was a stranger, God’s people took me in.

Life is strange and wonderful. And, it’s been a gracious journey. And, the last 13years at First United have been a blessing beyond blessings for me as I was graciously received as a minister of an African-American church. Peace, trust, love. The powerful and embracing help of a holy community of faith. In the end, God’s love dwells wherever human hearts are open to it. In the end, our friends are not necessarily those who look like us or come from where we come from – they are those whose hearts are open to the love of God and whose hearts express that love to others. That’s the power of the Gospel. That’s the power of the Gospel. I want more and more people in this community to experience that power of the Gospel.
White people have this horrible misconception about black people. White people think they have to be perfect, because black people are just so critical of white people. I have experienced the opposite. Black people, in general, know real well how to get along and accept white people. They have had to do it to survive. But, strangely, and graciously, when the shoe is on the other foot, and black people have the social power to accept or reject, they often just can’t seem to forget what it is like to be rejected, and they open their hearts – even to white people.

Somebody asked me how it was being a white minister in a black congregation. “Easy,” I said. “The white people that have gone before me have "set the bar" pretty low, so all I have to do is be decent. And, when people treat you better than you are used to being treated as a pastor, it’s easy to be decent.”

Now, our newly merged church is staggering to find its way. Now, we are a church of black and white people. And, white people sometimes get tense about things like this. Maybe it is the residue of guilt for racial injustice over the years. Guilt causes tension. The only relief from it is repentance: once you really turn against racism and the elements of it within you, others can feel it. You can feel it. The tension is gone, and community can begin. We can never move forward with guilt. We have to step beyond it to repentance. Then we are all on the same side: God’s side.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Worship Service at Eastminster Presbyterian Church for February 14

Our congregation will be joining with Eastminster Presbyterian Church this Sunday, February 14 for Sunday School at 9:45 a.m. and Worship at 11:00 a.m. Eastminster is easy to find: 4904 Asheville Highway, phone is 522-2244.

Next Wednesday evening, we will join with Central United Methodist Church on 201 3rd Avenue (right off of Broadway and very near 4th United Pres.) for an Ash Wednesday Worship Service at 7:00 p.m. Rev. Allen and I will be sharing the preaching, Rev. Bruce Galyon will preside, and David Turk will join with Francis Harshaw in providing some special music for the service. This service will mark the beginning of the holy season of Lent.

The electrical problems in the educational wing have not been resolved yet.

Friday, February 5, 2010

4th Week of Bible Study Series: A Vision of Healing Hospitality

We read Acts 16: 9-10 where it is reported that Paul and Silas had planned on going to Asia to preach the Gospel, but each time, the Spirit of God prevented them. And, then one day Paul had a vision and a man from Macedonia said: "Come over here and help us!" And, Paul understood that as the call of God's Spirit, and he and Silas went and ministered among the Macedonians.

Philippi was the chief city of Macedonia, and we know that a church was in fact founded in Philippi through Paul's ministry. See Paul's Letter to the Philippians, which is one of the greatest documents of the early Church. In this letter Paul says: "Rejoice in the Lord always! Again I say, 'Rejoice!' Let all know your patience. The Lord is at hand. Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:4-7.

But, it all began with a dream, a dream given Paul by God's Spirit.

We talked some about our dreams for 4th United Presbyterian Church. We talked some about listening to dreams we have had. We talked about making our church a place that draws others and helps them to experience God's peace. We talked about people in our community that we wanted to reach out to. Young women with children; people isolated and lonely and feeling trapped; people who are homeless; people who are struggling with violence; people near to our church building. In some ways, it seems we felt comfortable with working on making our church as place where there was warmth, and decency and hospitality. Indeed, that spirit is already at the core of this congregation, but it needs to be celebrated and strengthened, and in a sense revitalized.

I remember presenting the vision I had for 4th United Presbyterian Church to the Committee on Ministry and to the Presbytery, and I made very clear that my vision was not of a church "going out to do ministry" to others in the community, but of a church whose life was a ministry, whose fellowship is grace, whose doors are really wide open, whose love is contagious - a place where there are eventually no strangers, a place where people who are seen as very different from each other by society discover their profound sameness in Jesus Christ.

Sure, I want our members and pastors to reach out to the community, but what is really in my heart is how the community needs a place to call home in a world where not just the homeless often feel "homeless." I think our church knows of this need, and knows how to respond to it: pastors, members, friends. I feel like we are together in this.

And, as Rev. Allen reminded us last night. If we look at the good spirit of hospitality we already have in our church, and continue to value it, or learn to revalue it, then we really do have something to work with. We then understand something about who we are and who God is calling us to be, and how we can't be anyone other than who we are and who God is calling us to be! Amen.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Sermon on Matthew 16 from Christoph Blumhardt

Matthew 16:13-19: “The Church of Jesus Christ”

The following is an abridged version of the above-titled sermon of Christoph Blumhardt. This sermon, which was preached on June 29, 1897 in Germany, is printed in “Christoph Blumhardt and His Message,” R. Lejeune (Plough Publishing, reprint in 1963). This book, which was written in 1938, contains Lejeune’s biography of Christoph Blumhardt and a collection of Blumhardt’s sermons.
“But who do you say that I am?” Jesus asked the disciples. We are told that Peter replied: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And, I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth is bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth is loosed in heaven.”

“This is a description of how God’s kingdom comes into this world like a mustard seed. Here is Jesus, the Son of Man, more truly human than any other man or woman, more childlike than all other children. He lives among humans and He is the kingdom of God. He does not make it; He is the kingdom! Why? Because He is God and human. When God created the world He founded His kingdom on earth. The earth was His kingdom. And who was to reign, to rule and to watch over it as His representative? Human beings. God’s kingdom was paradise through humanity. . . An Adam, and there it was, God himself in paradise. Even if here and there something wrong was still lurking in corners, that didn’t matter. A human being was there, and God was with this human. Nothing else was of any importance. Indeed, it dissolved, as sugar dissolves in water, before this one human, Adam.

“The loss of humanity was the world’s catastrophe. True humanity was gone. This is still the world’s undoing today. Yet now we do have the fortune to know that there is one in whom the world is God’s again, in whom all that is created is again placed into the light of the first creation. This one is Jesus. Where then is evil, death, corruption? Jesus is here! In His presence, what is there to fear? Suffering and corruption, night and death, disappear. Where He comes, human beings are set free as long as Jesus is among them. Through Him the desert is turned into paradise, the sick are healed, the dead come alive, the poor become rich, the foolish clever. The down-trodden and broken are raised up and praise God. Everything is allowed to come back to life. True humanity is present again in God’s creation; God’s creation breathes and shines forth again in one true human, Jesus.
“If the Savior were to come today, He would surely come as a human being. The world needs true humanity. God was always there; He was in the world before Jesus. God ruled everything from Adam until Jesus. The Creator never separated himself from His work, never. But true humanity, through whom creation can really become God’s and as such be influenced, ruled, protected and cultivated - true humanity was missing, and is still missing and will be missing until Jesus comes and does away with false humanity. The false human is the world’s undoing. It is not true that there is no God; however, because there are so many false human beings, one no longer sees the Father in heaven. It is not true that there is no Spirit of God who made the world; but the false spirits destroy everything. It is this false nature which at present comes to the fore in humankind. The are so many false humans that one no longer sees true humanity. Thus the creation is concealed, at least superficially. False humans with a false spirit, with false desires and false aims, think that they are real human beings. Yet they are unhappy, because in reality they are false human beings. Wherever true humanity is, there is heaven on earth. . .

“. . . Now Jesus seeks a living church, and He seeks it on the earth. Could not the one who rose from the dead have come quickly, in heavenly glory, to conquer and overcome all things? He would have done it long ago, with hesitating, if this would have made God’s kingdom possible. He could have come with a host of angels. But no! He doesn’t want only angels. Human beings, not superworldly powers, must serve God on earth. This is Jesus’ loyalty towards us false humans. He could have come in judgment . . . He would rather wait another 1000 years, if need be, than give us up. This is Jesus Christ’s faithfulness, that He is patient. Through him we are to become real humans once more, and through true human beings the Father in heaven will come to us.

Jesus seeks a living church, and He seeks it on the earth. “Hundreds of times Christianity was deceived and took false forms for the real thing. But falsities shall not prevail; the false humans must come to an end. The true, genuine humanity will live and triumph. For true humanity is given the earth, the sky, and the communion of the entire human race. It is indeed a great thing, my friends, if in the midst of this dreadful confusion of false nature, false spirits and false people, even one person rises to say, “You are the one,” as Peter did. “I no longer want any part of this false world. You, Jesus, are the one.” “Then Jesus is comforted; then we too are comforted. For if one person is able to say it, if the light can dawn in one man or woman, then there is hope that in others too the light will dawn. When that happens, the church of God arises.”

“This is the rock on which Jesus founds His church:’You, Peter, are this rock. Yet it is not you who are the rock, but my Father. He revealed it to you. In you the light of the living God dawned, and this binds you to me. In this way you too are a child of the living God, for in you the Father can speak.’ Now we know how the church of Jesus Christ comes into being.”

“Some people think they can found a church of Jesus Christ by cutting themselves off from the world and sitting in a corner. That won’t do at all. Just try it! You would be taking false humanity along with you. For one thousand years people have tried to do it. It was all in vain; the way was wrong. Other people think they have managed when they have picked a quarrel with the church, but that is no good either. You can found as many sects as you like; it will lead you nowhere. I do not make light of many people who are willing to deny themselves for God’s sake. There are people who in their grief over sin have never permitted themselves a single laugh, a single pleasure, not even the joy of contemplating nature. I respect their serious outlook. Yet believe me - this is not the right way. On this way there will never be a church of Jesus Christ.

“The church of Jesus Christ is to be the light of creation, of the existing world, of our skies; it is to be a light in the clouds, in the atmosphere, even under the earth. Jesus is truly Lord over the whole creation, and God’s kingdom penetrates all that is created. His church is to have the width and breadth of Jesus, of God, of all creation. The light which Jesus kindles in the His church must be as great as the Father, for the Father alone gives His church to the Savior.”

“How then does this church come into being? Those who have seen Jesus must really stop letting themselves get distracted from the revelation of the Father. . . “
“Can God reveal himself in you, my friend? I will tell you when He can do it. It is when you are bent completely, fully, on God as love. Here the roads part. Believe me, I have rarely met a person who wanted this love of God. Does that surprise you? They all want to love, but they want to choose the people they love. They are cool toward or will even persecute with their hatred all those who do not suit them. Naturally everyone wants to love according to his sympathies. Everyone loves his family, her friends, his hobbies. However, it is quite a different matter to want God’s love fully and completely. There is a love that rules in the name of godless humanity; it is the most dangerous thing in the world! The love of the members of one party judges people belonging to the other parties. The love of the members of one church loves only these and condemns all others. The love that is in the world tears God’s love to pieces because it judges.

“Yet there is a love which denies itself, which esteems all people as equals, which respects creation and no longer judges. There is a love which saves, which does away with evil and fights against all evil in order that the evil person may be saved. There is a love which does not want to do away with anybody, so that nothing may be lost, because Jesus is here, because God is the Father of all people. Remember this. Whoever does not want this love, which is God’s love, will not recognize the living God, nor will he receive the revelation.”

“. . . We have received sufficient light to break away. So make a new beginning and no longer judge or condemn any person, just as Jesus has not condemned a single person. Fear every word that comes out of your false love. Be joyful and confident. Then you will recognize the true Human, the Son of Man, the Son of God, who now sits at God’s right hand in heaven. Make a beginning! There there will be light on earth, and we shall know where the living church of Jesus is to be found on the earth.

“May the Father in heaven have mercy on us! It is our hope that the light may soon come. May God’s kingdom unfold, not in the bustle of the world, not according to the desires of humans who want to see all things judged, but according to the infinite love of God which separates good and evil, which redeems, illumines and sanctifies all things. Praised by the Father in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit of God’s love!”

Some Early Church Fathers

Clement of Rome: Bishop of Rome near the end of the first century, A.D. He wrote a letter to the Corinthian Church from the Roman Church (probably written 96 A.D.).

Ignatius of Antioch: Bishop of Antioch, which is in Syria. Ignatius wrote a number of letters to churches which have been preserved. He lived during the later part of the first century and first part of the second century. Ignatius was closely tied to the Apostle John, as was Polycarp, both of these men were taught directly by those who had lived and worked with the Apostle John. Ignatius was executed for his faith and public teaching of the Gospel.

Polycarp of Smyrna: Bishop of Smyrna (like Antioch in Asia Minor) who was a contemporary of Ignatius. He lived and taught alongside Ignatius in the late 1st century and early 2nd century, and wrote a letter to the churches about Ignatius’ death. Polycarp was also executed for his faith and witness for Christ. An account of his martyrdom has been preserved.

Justin Martyr: Christian philosopher, writer and teacher, born in the Mideast, in the biblical city of Schechem. He lived during the mid 2nd century, A.D., and was executed for his teachings in 165 A.D.

Irenaeus of Lyon: Born in Asia Minor around 135 A.D., and knew Polycarp of Smyrna. Moved to Lyon in Gaul around 170 A.D., and became Bishop. Irenaeus was a strong defender of the faith against all sorts of corruptions of the true teachings of the Apostles. He died around 202 A.D. during a time of persecution in Lyon.

Tertullian of Carthage: Born in Carthage, North Africa around 150 A.D. Became the theological leader of the Western Church. Church historian, Justo Gonzalez writes: “During several centuries Africa, rather than Rome, was the center of Latin Christian thought.” A History of Christian Thought, Vol. I, p. 175 (Abingdon, 1970). Tertullian wrote many theological works that have been preserved. He was very rigorous in demanding moral purity in the church, and he believed that God’s revelation of truth had not ended with the Apostles, but that God continued to reveal truth through contemporary prophets who were open to God’s Holy Spirit.

Origen of Alexandria: Born in Alexandria, Egypt, at the end of the 2nd century, A.D. Origen saw his father executed for his faith when Origen was 17 years old. Origen became one of the greatest Christian teachers and scholars of his time.

Cyprian of Carthage: Born in Carthage, North Africa in the early 200’s A.D., became Bishop of Carthage around 250 A.D. He was the leader of the North African church at a time of great persecution under Emperor Decius. He wrote pastoral and theological works which have been preserved.

Theologians of the Fourth Century: Athanasius of Alexandria, Egypt, who consecrated Fromentius, first Bishop of the Ethiopian Church. Ambrose of Milan, whose preaching was the occasion for Augustine’s conversion. Augustine of Hippo. Bishop in North Africa, who was one of the greatest theologians of the Church’s history. Many of his writings have been preserved.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Pictures from Feb - March of 2009

Below are some pictures I took last year in the first two months of our church's life. Our one year anniversary as Fourth United Presbyterian Church is on February 7, 2010.

Does anyone have other pictures from this past year that we could post as we celebrate our first birthday as a church?