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, January 29, 2011

Continuing to Think about Genesis

As I read back through sections of Genesis, it makes me want to linger on this book of the Bible a long time. There is something about Genesis that doesn't fit into modern theological categories, nor does the material fit well within our contemporary conceptions of right or wrong. Psychologically, it is just as foreign, the writers of Genesis are so used to having individual persons represent a whole group of people, but not used to interest in the psychological details of these individual figures (however, see the narrative about Joseph, which really does delve into his inner feelings towards the end).

I am preaching from the passages about Hagar and Ishmael this week. Hagar was the Egyptian slave of Sarah, Abraham's wife. Ishmael was the son of Abraham and Hagar. Sounds like material for a soap opera. And, this narrative does show some real interest in human psychology as it tells of the struggle between Sarah and Hagar in the aftermath of Hagar's pregnancy. The Bible presents Sarah as the primary mover in this narrative, as it is Sarah (who is barren) who suggests that Abraham sleep with Hagar, so that Hagar can act as a "surrogate" mother to a child that will be the child of Abraham and Sarah. Well, human beings having the feelings that they do associated with sexual unions and natural children, things don't work out so well. And, this part of the story ends with Abraham casting out Hagar and Ishmael, forcing them to leave with a bottle of water and a crust of bread. Not a pretty tale, but one that seems to understand some things about human beings very clearly.

The question for this sermon, as the question for much of Genesis is: "Where is God in all of this? Does this narrative reveal anything about God or just something about human beings?"

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Black History Month at Fourth United Presbyterian Church

This February, we will continue one of the important traditions from First United Presbyterian Church as we focus on the influence of Africans in the Early Church (100-400 a.d.), and we will also focus on the spiritual tradition of African-Americans. As a culmination and celebration of black history month on Sunday, February 20, members are invited to dress in traditional African clothes and following worship we will have a potluck dinner downstairs with plenty of "soul food." Members bring food and invite friends.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Early Church Fathers

Some Important 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, January 11, 2011

Life or Death?

There is an attraction to life and an attraction to death. The ancient book of the Church, "The Didache" acknowledges this. Freud teaches this.

And, it permeates every level of life - this adherence to the way of life or the way of death. Sometimes, it is obvious, but most of the time, it is subtle.

One way to get at this subject is to consider the Ten Commandments. The last, 10th commandment, is the prohibition of envy. And, if we start at the 10th commandment, we see other destructive conduct follow from envy: lying about others, stealing from others, committing adultery, and killing others.

And, where does envy come from? It comes from inequity. It comes from some having everything and others having nothing. Of course, strangely enough some of the worst envy/lying/stealing/adultery/killing comes from those who have quite a bit, but want what they don't have.

So, in the first place comes from a lack of contentment with what is enough, and a desire to have more and more, disregarding the consequences this has for others. This is the basic sin in human life that ruins lives over and over.

The reversal of this sinful, death-dealing way of life is the holy way of many who, though having way too little, refuse to envy those who have more. It is this way of Jesus, which will not lie about the neighbor, will not steal from her, will not try to take what is most precious to her and will not kill her. Redemption on earth comes from those on the under side of history. Look at the Civil Rights Movement in this country. Where did the power to change for the better come from? Did it come from those with power? No, it came from those without power, who should have been bitter, but somehow found a way to not only not be bitter, but to love. How these Southern Black men, women and children found this power is a mystery which causes me to look to God and wonder if I can participate in this miracle of grace.

This is the way of life. This is the way of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Learning How to Read Scripture

John Calvin wrote his "Institutes of the Christian Religion," which is a very through two volume theological work, in order to instruct church members on how to read Holy Scripture. He felt the need to relate scripture to scripture, scripture to tradition, scripture to present life, in order to develop among believers the understanding necessary to read and understand the Holy Scriptures. Clearly, Luther engaged in a similar type of intensive writing for Christians to clarify for them the basic understanding needed to read and understand the Holy Scriptures as well.

This leads me to a couple of conclusions and criticisms of modern Protestantism. First, the common view of American Protestants that every individual is prepared to be an authoritative interpreter of scripture without any knowledge of tradition or any relationship with the wider Church was not the view of the Reformers: Luther, Calvin and Knox. Second, in modern mainline denominations who are more open to scientific, academic criticism,there has been a reactionary movement of believing that no one who has not engaged in historical-critical academic study of the Bible can possibly interpret it accurately. In contrast to these views, Calvin and Luther felt that they could actually teach people the basic theological understandings necessary to interpret Scripture. In contrast to Luther and Calvin, modern Protestants have either ignored the need of serious preliminary instruction (catechetical) or have not believed the clergy able to teach or the laity able to learn these theological lessons.

This leaves me with a question about whether I have defaulted on what may be the primary task of ministry. Just something I am thinking about this morning.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Reading Genesis with some help from the scholars

This book of Genesis shows the reflection of the Hebrew people on the beginnings of human life and the purpose of life in this world. However, the Hebrew people didn't simply decide one day to "write a book" about origins. They had an experience of the Divine in their history that caused them to begin reflecting on the meaning of their life in this world. Several Old Testament scholars, none more important than Gerhard Von Rad, think that it was God's deliverance of the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt that started their theological reflection that caused them to collect their varied traditions into one great sacred written tradition: The Hexateuch (the first six books of the Bible). Now, the Hebrew people, like other peoples, certainly had their share of stories about where they came from, and explanations about how this or that custom had developed among them, or why this or that place of worship had become holy. But, most Old Testament scholars think that it was God's revelation through the liberation of the Hebrews from Egyptian bondage, that brought about a focused reflection on the relationship of God to the Hebrew people and also a reflection about the relationship of God to all humanity. Surely, the old traditions of God's calling and promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had a rudimentary theology of promise and fulfillment and perhaps even an inkling that this blessing might reach far beyond the children of Jacob.

Modern scholarship theorized that there were three written traditions that had collected and interpreted the ancient folklore/sacred histories of the Hebrew people. The dominant collector and redactor they named the "Yahwist," because of the particular name used for God in these written traditions; the second collector of traditions into written form is known as the "Elohist," because of the particular name used for God in these written traditions; and the third and latest collector and redactor is known as "the Priestly source." The Yahwist is the dominant redactor who gives shape to the first six books of the Bible, though the work of the other two sources is included in this scope.

About the first six books of the Bible, Von Rad writes: "The basic theme of the Hexateuch may be stated as follows: God, the creator of the world, called the patriarchs and promised them the land of Canaan. When Israel became numerous in Egypt, God led the people through the wilderness with wonderful demonstrations of grace; then after their lengthy wandering he gave them through Joshua the Promised Land." Von Rad notes that this basic theme, however, though it seems simple, is a structure in which a profound theological vision is manifest. This is the vision of the "Yahwist," who collected, redacted the traditional materials, incorporating diverse traditions, previously unconnected narratives, within a great sacred historical vision of God's presence and purpose for human life. Von Rad believes that the sacred tradition about the deliverance from Egypt was originally a separate tradition from the tradition about the revelation of the law on Sinai, and that it was an act of theological comprehension by the "Yahwist" that understood the critical and crucial connection of these experiences as comprising the heart of faith. Von Rad also thinks that this same theological vision gives rise to reflection on the universal significance of God's revelation in Israel's history. This reflection on the universal significance is what brings the Yahwist to write the primeval history (Genesis 1-11), which concerns not just the relationship of God to Israel but the relationship of God to all people and the entire creation. So, Von Rad thinks that the Yahwist collects and orders older materials, but also that the Yahwist is the main creator of some materials like the primeval history.

Von Rad dates the work of the Yahwist at around 950 B.C., the work of the Elohist at around 750 B.C, and the work of the Priestly collector during the post-exilic period, 538-450 B.C. These dates, he acknowledges, are hypotheses, not matters of certainty. The dates at which these "editors" compiled their materials do not correspond to the age of the traditions. As Von Rad notes, there are some very, very old cultic traditions in the Priestly material, that were long a part of oral and then written tradition before complied in the Priestly source.

See Gerhard Von Rad, Genesis: A Commentary, Westminster Press, 1949, trans. by John Marks

Monday, January 3, 2011

Reading Genesis

If you haven't read Genesis, the first book of the Bible, in a while, I would recommend that you do. It is really some very good reading, and surprisingly strange at times too. Of course, we need to remember we are reading a book which was collected a written down long ago. It may not have reached its final form until 500 or 600 years before Christ was born, but the oral traditions and most likely scribal scrolls containing this story and that were surely passed down for centuries before that.

A couple of things I have noticed in this reading of Genesis (I have just finished chapter 21) are: 1) That God is presented as being wary of the power of human beings; and 2) there is little logical consistency with regard to commands and punishments. Right after the humans eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they are cast out of the garden for the expressed reason that they might become like us (God - notice the plural?) and then eat from the fruit of the tree of life and live forever. Later, in the section on the Tower of Babel, it is said that human beings had one language but few words, and that humans had banded together and decided to make a name for themselves on earth and build a tower to the heavens. Again, God is presented as worrying over the power of human beings, and so God is said to have confused their language so they could unite and grow in their pride as human beings.

And, then there is the issue of commands given, disobedience and punishments. God is to have said: "if you eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you will die that very day." However, when the humans eat of it, they don't die,but do get kicked out of the garden of Eden, but God also makes for them clothes of animal skins. And, even though it says in Genesis that the one who kills shall be killed, when Cain kills Able, God calls him to account, but God does not kill Cain, but actually protects him from being killed.

And, on the issue of clothes, it is said in Genesis that the first humans, the man and the woman, were without clothes and not ashamed. But, then, after they disobeyed God, they came to realize for the first time that they were naked, and were ashamed. In our Bible Study on December 30, I referred to the writings of St. Irenaeus. Iraneaus of Lyon, lived around 150 A.D., and spoke of Adam and Eve as if they were quite immature at the point the serpent beguiled them. Irenaeus believed that God was bringing the humans along so that they would learn to stand more on their own, but tragically, they were tempted before they had arrived at maturity.