Meeting Times at 4th United Presbyterian Church

Cafe' Worship: 9:15 a.m. each Sunday in Gathering Hall (activities provided for children; coffee; snacks)
Adult Sunday School: 10 a.m.

Sunday Worship: 11 a.m.

Bible Study: each Thursday at 6 p.m.

Community Forum: last Thursday of each month at 6 p.m. with meal (no community forum in November, 2011)

About the 4th United Presbyterian Bible Blog

Posts on this blog are from me, Rev. George H. Waters, one of the two organizing co-pastors of 4th United Presbyterian Church. Our other organizing pastor was Rev. Sonya McAuley-Allen, who is now pastor of a church in Charlotte, N.C. Since June of 2011, Rev. Elizabeth Peterson has been our parish associate pastor for new church development. The earliest posts are sermon notes from the few I have typed the last two years. Then, there is a series of notes posted on the book of Romans. After that, it varies from week to week, sometimes church news, sometimes reflections on a happening, a passage of scripture, or even some pictures. This blog is meant to open the conversation we have going on in our church to others in our community.

The picture below is of our church's sanctuary, built in 1913.

Saturday, 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.

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