Meeting Times at 4th United Presbyterian Church

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

Sunday Worship: 11 a.m.

Bible Study: each Thursday at 6 p.m.

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

About the 4th United Presbyterian Bible Blog

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

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

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Looking for a Center of Gravity in Life

Sunday, August 29, 2010
"The Lord is my Shepherd: Looking for a Center of Gravity in Life"

To get through one week in this life with an open heart and mind requires a lot of balancing, regrouping, reflecting. It just takes a lot of give and take inside for a person to travel through a week and still be intact psychologically and spiritually at the end of the week.

It is easy to get off-balance internally, and for the off-balance way of being to become the status quo. What is needed is some internal sense of spiritual balance that can adjust and change with all the challenges while maintaining some sense of continuity. I guess I am trying to talk about "the soul" again. What I am wanting to talk about is having a "center of gravity in life." A center that is strong enough that it allows you to venture out and try on new thoughts, new perspectives without losing a sense of where you have been as a person and where you are hopefully going.

Psalm 23 leads us into the experience of "having this center of gravity" in God. These words reflect a profound "God-orientation" in living. "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."

This "God-orientation" means that I am turned and drawn towards God in my living. That whereever I go, whatever I do, I am always drawn back to God, prone to turn my heart God's way, and be influenced and guided and restored by the Spirit of the Living God.

The only real center of gravity we can have in life is found in a real relationship with a living being. An analogy to the Divine-human relationship is found in the relationship of a child to a parent. As a child grows up, his or her center of gravity psychologically or spiritually is what helps her have the courage to venture out while not losing a sense of who she is. But, this center of gravity isn't necessarily found in strict rules for living that are internalized, but in a living, vital relationship between child and parent. Only this living bond is strong enough and adaptable enough to respond to the real struggles and challenges of life. In the same way, with regard to religious faith, it is not primarily a set of rules that are internalized that provides the center of gravity for living. It is the living bond, the relationship with the great Other, God, that is a well of living water, a source of renewal, a voice of judgement calling us back.

Our center of gravity is in finding ourselves truly in relation to others: human, God, and other creatures as well. In these vital relationships, we are not only sustained, but we help sustain others. In these vital relationships, what is deep in us is respected and strengthened. But, it is in the One vital relationship that we find the Center of Gravity that orients and refashions and revitalizes all our other relationships and keeps them alive and oriented towards God, the source of all life and love and hope and purpose.

"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... Though I should walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil... Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."

In the end, the great thing is that God has a profound "human-orientation." More simply put: God loves us,really loves us. Without that there would be no power to draw us, to call us, to restore and renew us. Without the deep and pervading Love of God at work continuously in this world, there would be a nothingness. With this Spirit binding all things together, there is always hope, always a chance that our spirits will relax just a little and be renewed by that grace.

Saturday, August 28, 2010


We give thanks to our gracious God for Rev. Allen and her newborn son being safely at home together. Keenan (K.J.) came home from the hospital last night for the first time since his birth on August 4. So, mother and child and father and big brother are together and at home.

Little K.J. wasn't due until around September 10, so he has got a head start and is going to be well on his way in this world by September 10!

AS we welcome K.J., we remember Alesia as her due date gets nearer and nearer. It looks like we got the nursery in place just in time. But, we might need to start a preschool class soon.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Bible Study for Thursday, August 26 at 6 p.m.

This Thursday, we continue reviewing the basic structure of the Bible. Last week we reviewed the order and grouping of books in the Old Testament. This week we will continue that review and also include a review of New Testament books. And, for the second half of our class, we will begin to organize into groups to complete our community surveys (surveys of businesses, service organizations, and the neighborhood around us). So, we continue to study the sacred scriptures of the Church, and to study our community as we figure out where our place is as those living out the Christian faith in this community that we are placed in.

We have four more months to prepare our final new church development plan. This is to be a three year plan (2011-2014) for how we will develop as a church in a way that opens our doors to the community around us and also in a way that gets us out of our doors into the community around us.

If our work with the community and with our congregation enables us to show real progress in our own church and in our engagement with our community then our plan is likely to be a good one and to gain acceptance from both session and the new church development committee from Presbytery. If this three year plan is approved, we could get up to $200,000 in support of our church over the next three years. These funds have been set aside for our use, however, we have to show that our congregation is really ready to move forward. We need all those who are able to join with us in strengthening all parts of our church's life as we seek to move forward, from participation in worship and Sunday School and Bible Study and Women's Association to service in the community, and perhaps less visible, but so fundamental, daily efforts of each member to seek God's will and to seek communion with God through prayer and just living.

We are at a point where we need everyone's participation and support to make it over the first big hill of this new church's life. So, let your heart rest in God, and see what you are led to do in all of this. It is encouraging for us to have visitors join us when they do, and it is encouraging to know that our own members still believe in this young church that has gone through many changes over the past year and one-half of its life.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Thinking about Samuel and Moses, and Preaching

I preached yesterday from 1 Samuel 8, which tells about how Israel got its first king who was named Saul. This part of the Biblical story has always held my attention, because it explains that it was the people, not God and not the prophet, Samuel, who wanted Israel to be governed by a king. Up until that point in Israel's history, they had been led by "judges," who were usually appointed by God to administer justice and preside as priests over the people. I say "usually" because it was also the custom for an appointed judge to appoint his sons to succeed him in the office of judge.

Now, this role of judge/prophet/priest was fashioned after the most important judge/prophet/priest in Israel - Moses. But, Samuel, unlike many of the minor judges between Moses and him, was a heavy-weight. He was like Moses in many ways, as he was in "close communion and conversation" with God,the Lord of Israel. And, like Moses, the Scripture gives very close attention to the unique circumstances of his birth and upbringing. For Moses, it was that he was born in a time of persecution of Israel, and instead of being killed at birth in accordance with the law promoting genocide of Hebrews, Moses was hidden in the bullrushes and saved, and then adopted by the daughter of the king of Egypt and raised in the royal household. For Samuel, he was born to a woman who had been barred, but whose fervent prayer for a child was granted by God. And, this woman dedicated this first-born son to the service of God, and he was adopted and raised by the old priest, Eli.

There is irony in the life and mission of both Moses and Samuel, because each is called to declare judgment on the household they were raised in. For Moses, it is the judgment of God against the king of Egypt who was oppressing God's people with a cruel bondage. For Samuel, it is the judgment of God against the corruption of the priesthood in the household of Eli, whose sons had turned away from God and taken bribes instead of fairly deciding cases in Israel. In Moses case, though, it is outright warfare between the king of Egypt and Moses; but, in Samuel's case, Eli faithfully raises Samuel to follow him as priest, and Eli accepts the prophecy of judgment against his house.

In Moses' case, he follows God's commands and appoints a worthy successor to himself in Israel, Joshua, who will lead the people as a priest and military commander. In Samuel's case, he follows in God's ways, but fails to raise his own sons well. We don't know what happened, but Samuel appoints unworthy successors to himself, because his own sons are like the sons of Eli before him: they don't follow in God's ways; they pervert justice by taking bribes and handing out decisions on cases to whomever will pay the most.

One other thing about Samuel is that two important biblical books are named after him: 1 and 2 Samuel. This part of Israel's sacred history is marked as the period of Samuel, not the period of either Saul or David who served as king during the life of Samuel.

Well, I will end this reflection on Moses and Samuel, and continue next time with the discussion of what it meant to move from being led by "judges" to being governed by "kings." This is a fairly difficult thing to understand (I tried to cover this in the sermon and interpret it, but the sermon took a long time and probably left a little more confusion than understanding on the table yesterday). I guess I have always been somewhat confused, but intrigued by this section scripture. Sometimes it is important to spend time with those sections of scripture that don't produce simple rules for living or clear illustrations of what God is like. The reality we face is complicated, and it would serve us well if we would learn that scripture deals with that complex reality as well. But, to do that, we have to be able to acknowledge that scripture often doesn't neatly reflect our church doctrines and confessions, but does reflect the mysterious and somewhat confusing presence of God in human history. When people begin to sense that the Bible really speaks about this reality we are experiencing, they will endure some confusion for a time in order to find something real, something that leads them to an experience of the living God in the midst of their living.

As I continue dealing with this part of Israel's history for the next few weeks, I am hopeful that my preaching will lead to this type of interest among those who attend services. But, it will take some real interest in the Bible and even more than that it will require people to be at a point where they are looking for more than traditional religious teaching. At some point, I got fed up with the same old ways of speaking about God and faith and this reality we live in (nonetheless, I continue to speak often in these tradtional ways, because a new language hasn't come). I simply don't find many types of traditional church language very helpful. I'll say more about this later. But, I continue to find inspiration in the Bible. It is more raw, more real, more confusing, more liberating. It gets us back to the roots of religion, to the roots of what the relationship between God and humanity is all about.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

3rd Wednesday Communion Service at Noon this Wednesday, August 18

You are invited to join in our 3rd Wednesday Communion Service on August 18 at Noon in the Chapel. Our service begins promptly at noon and concludes by around 12:30 p.m. so that members and friends from the community can attend during their lunchbreaks. This is a time to stop mid-week and to remember together in worship that the Lord alone is God and that our help and hope and restoration are in him. Before we take communion, we observe a time of silence to consider any grudges we might be holding or any bitterness or anger that is keeping us from experiencing God's peace. As we conclude our service, we hear these words from the ancient Liturgy of Malabar:

"Grant, O Lord Jesus, that the ears which have heard the voice of your songs may be closed to the voice of dispute; that the eyes which have seen your great love may also behold your blessed hope; that the tongues which have sung your praise may speak the truth in love; that the feet which have walked in your courts may walk in the region of light; and that the bodies which have received your living body may be restored in newness of life. Glory be to you for yoru inexpressible gift. Amen."

I am hopeful that this service will become a community service and become a place where more and more people come to know that the Table of the Lord is truly open to all people.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Importance of the Bible

When a person really takes the Bible seriously and becomes familiar with it, then that person comes into a conversation, a relationship with a sacred history of thought and life. It is a strange book, so far as books go. It spans topics from the creation of the universe through the history of one particular people and nation to the recreation of all things that exist. The Bible contains descriptions of the lives of prophets, kings, peasants, and the Christ of God. The Bible has more examples of evil than of good, taken as a whole. In that sense, the Bible is terribly realistic. It reflects reality to a large extent, but then, there is that creative strand of Scripture that reflects a reality that transcends life as we know it – it reflects the One who rules history from within history. It is as if God is present in the smallest molecule, but far beyond the greatest mountain.

To let yourself be taken in by the Bible is to allow yourself to see life from the depths of a mystery and to begin to participate in that mystery of life. But, most people don’t read the Bible like that. Most people look for an answer to this and that, and then close it back up. The Bible is meant to be read with imagination and humor and hope and love. You can’t really read the Bible unless you bring your whole self to it.

But, if you do, the Bible takes on a holy and sacred function in life. In time, if you stick with it, the Bible becomes Holy Ground that you can return to again and again. And, Scripture begins to live within your memory and heart as well. It is a place you can go to, when the rest of life seems false. It is a place you can go to when you want to experience something outside of the same old day to day life. It is an opening to a new world. Karl Barth once called it “The Strange New World of the Bible,” even though he had been reading it for most of his life. Somehow, in his late 20’s the Scriptures began to glow. He felt like Moses at the burning bush. He realized that Scripture could be a place of true revelation, the reading of Scripture an occasion for meeting the LIVING GOD.

But, there is preparation for all this. Children need to be told stories, the stories of Scripture. And, then children need to learn to read the Scripture in a way that it means something to them. And, children and adults need to gain a basic sense of the whole of scripture, so that they become interested in reading and putting it all together in some way. Once this is in place, a person has a sense of that sacred reality overagainst all their other experiences in life. They have some place to go. It really is a strange old book. It is the mystery of it that has saved me year in and year out, and renews me now as it did thirty years ago. It is also solid and has the feel of being true and reliable. But, you have to know how to separate the wheat from the chaff. Every word is not gold; every story is not gold. Let him who has ears to hear listen to the what the Spirit is saying.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Prayer for My Friend and Co-Pastor

O, Lord, our hearts are restless until they rest in you. Our minds are divided until they trust in you.

We open our hearts to you, and we bring our worries to you, and we hold before you all those that we love in this world.

Today, we especially ask that your gracious and life-giving Spirit be with our pastor, Rev. Sonya McAuley Allen, and her baby.

O, Lord, hold Sonya and Aldana and D.J. and K.J. in your care and do in all things what is best for them and in your holy and good will. Let your gracious will be done on earth as it is in heaven.