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.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Hope comes at the end of the struggle

Rev. Sonya Allen preached yesterday at 4th United Presbyterian, interpreting Paul's words from Romans 5:1-11. And, as she reflected on vv. 3-5, she re-read Paul's words: "More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings" and Rev. Allen wondered out loud how anyone could rejoice in her sufferings. And, then she read on: "knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope."

And, then, she said a few words about how when we are suffering, what we are experiencing at first is certainly not hope. It is in the process of enduring by faith this suffering that we somehow come to an experience of hope. And, often it is the culmination of many experiences of "survival" of suffering that leads us to hope in our hearts.

And, following the letter and the spirit of the sermon yesterday I continue this line of thought saying: we try to sell people hope when what they need is support from us in their suffering. We try to say: "hope in the Lord," when what that person needs is someone to endure the burden with them, or simply to help them endure it through whatever help or kindness can be offered.

What really produces hope in our lives is the experience of God's faithfulness and love. We best point to that faithfulness and engender its awakening when we express God's concern by enduring with and supporting and loving others.

For, as Paul says in Romans 5:5: "and hope (what arises when we experience love) does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us."

Thanks for another sermon that encourages us to seek the living Word of God in our lives.

At Fourth United Presbyterian, we believe that the Word of God is a living reality arising directly from the heart of God that is seeking to heal, encourage, guide and transform our lives. As those who preach, we are not about delivering some canned doctrinal message or treating the Word of God as if it is closed up in a book and can be handed out in nice measured sermons. God's Word comes to us as a surprising, overwhelming reality that reveals our foolishness at times, but also confirms our deepest longings and encourages our greatest hopes. As preachers of the Gospel, we bear witness to a living divine reality that is accessible to all who are open to the coming of such holy grace and mystery into their lives. We can't tell you exactly how that divine reality works or what our gracious God is up to on any given day. But, we can celebrate a goodness that has pierced our souls, a beauty that has made us praise, a love that has revived us: heart, mind, body and soul. All thanks be to God, the one who comes to seek and save, to heal and help, and to drag us back to the path of life.


I read the book of Hosea this morning. It is a very sad book about how God has been faithful to the people of Israel and Judah, and about how unfaithful Israel (and, Judah) has been to God. The Word of the Lord comes to Hosea, telling Hosea to go and take a prostitute for a wife, so that Hosea can experience and express what God has gone through with his people, Israel.

The prophet's language is full of anger and pain, speaking again and again of the "whoredom" of Israel, and the "adultery" Israel has "between her breasts." It is language that comes from someone who is hurting. And, that is the way God is revealed in this prophetic book. Also, in this writing, we hear God vowing to "not forgive," and then turning around and saying he "will forgive" and restore. At one point, the Word of God and the heart of God pours out words like this: "My heart recoils within me, my compassion returns. How can I give you up, O Israel!?"

This prophetic book brings home a number of things, but one thing is this: God is in a deeply real relationship with human beings, God is more deeply "human" than we are, and more moved by torn relationships than we are.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

From Lisa Waters, Capetown, South Africa

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Mass of Thanksgiving

This morning, I went to a mass of thanksgiving at St. George's Cathedral in Cape Town. The mass was to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Father Michael Lapsley surviving the explosion of a letter bomb. The letter bomb was sent to him by the Civil Cooperation Bureau, which was a covert, special-operations organization run under the apartheid government. Father Lapsley was targeted because of his affiliation with the ANC (African National Congress), which opposed the apartheid government. Father Lapsley lost his hands and half of his arms. He has metal hooks in place of hands. But, he survived the attack, and continued with his ministry, specifically aiding victims of violence and torture.

Most of the mass was in English, but various prayers and readings were done in Afrikaans and Xhosa. Several songs were in Xhosa. The bulletin had every prayer and song in print in English, Afrikaans, and Xhosa, so all those attending could understand the service in their own first language.

The mass was one of the most beautiful worship services I've been a part of, and was presided over by none other than Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The service included a reading from the Koran, a Buddhist prayer, a Jewish prayer, an Episcopalian prayer, and a traditional African prayer. It was distinctly Catholic, and distinctly interfaith, and put together in a genuine, open, and loving manner which did not seem forced, and did not seem too desperate to achieve political correctness. It was simply an open worship service to commemorate a terrible event, to pray for victims of violence and torture, and to commune with people of all faiths in solidarity for peace and forgiveness and cooperation. Father Lapsley spoke of his strong belief in the importance of all faiths working together, of the value of all faiths, of his belief that we are all worshiping the same God, by different names. He also articulated his respect for his atheist and agnostic friends.

Archbishop Tutu is a small man, with a healthy sense of humor, and he spoke briefly about his history with Father Lapsley at the end of the mass. I was humbled to be in the presence of a man who has done so much good.

It was moving to attend such a genuine and loving mass. Christianity has its positives and negatives... but (despite evidence to the contrary) it certainly has the potential for real openness. If only that aspect of Christianity was more often carried out in the world.

What an incredible opportunity, to worship with Archbishop Tutu and Father Lapsley. What wonderful examples of the active love of humanity, Catholicism, and Christianity.

Getting Frustrated, Gaining Some Perspective, and Starting Over in Life

Since I work in the Public Defender’s Office and in a church, I am regularly involved with people who are looking for help in the midst of their troubles in life. Whether the person is “in trouble” with the law or having trouble with finances, alcohol or their family, there is a certain amount of frustration or even despair that clouds their efforts to live freely and joyfully.

A person begins to feel like they don’t have any leverage over against the pressures that keep him or her down. Even though it is that person’s own decisions that keep stoking the fires of destruction, there is an experience of helplessless that becomes part of life. How does this happen?

On one hand, if you isolate any particular issue with which a person struggles, there doesn’t seem much reason for that person to continue their negative pattern of behavior or relationships. For example, a criminal defendant returns to court to show whether he has gotten into an outpatient treatment program and whether they have made any payments on court costs and fines owed in the case. And, though the judge has allowed them 10 weeks to get something done on these two issues, my client has nothing to show: not a cent paid, and no proof that he has gotten into a program or even tried to. Now, as my client tries to explain why he has done nothing, his excuses don’t seem too good. But, if there was time enough to really review what is going on in his life, and what his pattern of living really is, we might begin to understand that he has lost control of his life.

What I mean is that it may be a struggle for this person to even get up and out of the apartment (if he even has one to live in). It may be that this man is living with friends or family or in a motel or all of the above. It may be that he is using drugs on occasion, getting drunk when he gets the chance. He may also have an untreated sickness. He may not be able to find a job (may not even know how to look for one at this point), and he may not be able to pay the child support he owes. And, he may know that it is only a matter of time until they serve a warrant on him for unpaid costs and fines in Knox County or for being behind on child support. He may also have not had a driver’s license for two or three years because of unpaid tickets. What has happened is that one mistake leads to another, until a pattern of neglect has formed a virtual prison around this man’s life. Frustration becomes the continual experience, and the only joy in life is to find some escape from the realities of life. Not being able to afford a real vacation, this man takes regular ‘chemical vacations’ that leave him progressively worse off as his physical and mental health suffer from alcohol and drug abuse.

As I see people caught in this web of their lives, I recognize in myself a similar pattern of avoidance and neglect and desire for joy in life. Now, with me, I have learned ways to cope with frustration and ways to seek understanding over against my frustration; and, because I have had good people in my life to remind me what life is all about and to remind me of God’s grace, I tend to move from frustration to a point where I gain some perspective on my struggle in life, and then experience the gracious feeling that I really can “start over” each day before I allow things to fall apart (allowing mistakes to cumulate). Sometimes we can take our lives too seriously. Sometimes we can consider our lives as if they are too determined.

In many ways we would do well to see and accept the impermancy of our lives. Our lives are like sand castles we build on the beach. We have to learn to enjoy building these sand castles, even though the waves will come and wash them away. We have to learn the joy of building, even as we know the waves will come and wash what we have done away. But, why keep working at things if they aren’t permanent? Why work so hard to build up what cannot last? I can only answer that our lives are not the sand castles, but are found in the work of building, in the joy we have together in that work, and in the determination we have to get up the next day and continue the work for nothing more than the satisfaction we get in working and working together. And, there is one other thing. There is something very wonderful about the washing away of our efforts: not only do our achievements not last; our failures don’t either. That’s why as I wake up tomorrow morning, I will feel a movement in my heart “this is the day that the Lord has made . . . let us be glad and rejoice in it.” In the end, my life is not in my achievements or in my failures, but in the receiving of new life from the hand of the living God. Learning to receive life from the Creator is the source of all joy and happiness and renewal and understanding. We spend so much of our lives looking for life, love, meaning, renewal in all the wrong places. Like the country song goes: “I was looking for love in all the wrong places,” so our lives go as we fill ourselves with things that not only don’t satisfy the longing of our hearts but actually deaden our hearts.

It may be “more blessed to give than to receive,” but it is more important to learn to receive the gift of life from the Creator. Because until we learn how to open ourselves to this source of life and renewal and hope, we really have nothing to give. At the basic core of our lives, we are just like the plants in my garden outside who are nourished by the soil of the earth, who are awakened by the rising of the sun and who are refreshed and given new vitality by the rains from above. Problem is: somehow we humans have found ways to cut ourselves off from the Creator’s gifts; we have found ways to become “unnatural,” to withdraw from the natural relationship of creature to Creator. That natural relationship is one of receiving life from the Creator’s hand, receiving the nourishment of life from the Creator’s hand, and sharing and celebrating that life with each other.

The words of Psalm 100 are striking: “It is God that made us and not we ourselves.” Why would the ancient Israelites have felt the need to remind themselves of that? Wasn’t that obvious: that they had not created themselves ? Apparently not then; and apparently not now. I will close with this Psalm and one other and few comments about these holy words.

“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the lands. Serve the Lord with gladness. Come into his presence with singing. Know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us and not we ourselves. We are his people and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him; O, bless his name! For the Lord is good. His steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”

And, then the 23rd Psalm expresses the basic experience of receiving life from the Creator’s hand, receiving life from the Creator’s heart.

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside the quiet waters. He stills my soul. He makes me to walk in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. And, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you are with me. Your rod and your staff they comfort me. You prepare a table for me in the midst of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

I notice that this Psalm begins in the third person: “He makes me to lie down,” but then slips into the more intimate second person: “you are with me . . . you prepare a table for me.” It starts out talking about God, and slips into talking with God. That’s how real prayer is; that’s how real preaching is; that might even be how real conversation is. This Psalm starts out talking about “the source of life,” and ends up being nourished by that source. From frustration, to getting some perspective by talking about God, to receiving new life by experiencing the presence of God. This is the movement of life in this world. It is the natural movement of life for human beings. It is a shame that we have cut ourselves off from this natural movement. It is wonderful, though, that God continues to give, continues to draw us back into the flow of life from him. “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us be glad and rejoice in it.”