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, April 25, 2011

Reading in Deuteronomy

Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the Christian and Hebrew Bibles, begins with these words:

"These are the words Moses spoke to all Israel" in the fortieth year since the exodus from Egypt, and as Israel encamped in Arabah (in the desert country of Moab east of the Jordan river).

Since the setting is when Israel is on the verge of entering into the Promised Land, and since the setting is Moses' 120th year, this serves as the Last Will and Testament of Moses bequething to Israel the understanding God has given him.

This book of Deuteronomy reminds the Israelites what they have been through and who they are. And, they are to remind each other and teach these holy things to the next generation.

"Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them." Deut. 4:9

Our regular Bible Study will resume on May 5 at 6 p.m. (Community Forum on internet pornography is tonight, April 28 at 6 p.m.). The assignment given at our last Bible Study was to begin reading Deuteronomy and to memorize one verse or passage from Deuteronomy. My verese is going to be Deuteronomy 4:9. What if we pass on our house and our car to our children, but haven't passed on what is deepest and holiest in our hearts?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Lenten Meditation: Saturday April 16

Saturday, April 16, 2011
The Sermon Before the Sermon: Thinking on Luke 19:41-44; Matthew 23:37-39

Jesus said: "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, . . . how I often I longed to gather you as a hen gathers its brood under her wings, but you would not."

The sermon before the sermon is the thinking process I go through to getting to the point of preparing a sermon. What passage should I look to? This Sunday, I will look to the passage about Jesus' entry into Jerusalem for the Passover Festival, Jesus' last entry into Jerusalem before he is executed by hanging on a cross.

But, I am not reading and interpreting the passage about his triumphal entry with palms waving and people singing. Because that was really a sideshow. The real heart of this movement of the Gospel story is the internal experience of Jesus which is revealed when he says: "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered you like a hen gathers its chicks under its wings, but you would not . . . " This is a tragic march into the holy city, not a triumphal entry. The singing and shouting and praising as he comes riding on a donkey - these are a mockery of what is really going on. They are illusion which must make this entry even harder for Jesus.

No, I won't be preaching about the palm waving part, but about Jesus' own view of this last entry into Jerusalem,his sorrow for his fellow Jews of Jerusalem who have missed the time of God's coming in Jesus. God drew so near to them, in the flesh of the Messiah, but they would not receive the one sent to reconcile them to God and to each other. They had missed the time of God's coming. And, now Jesus was entering into the rejection of God by God's people. Jesus was experiencing that in his soul, but not simply from God's side - he was also feeling the tragedy of humanity's separation from God.

It was with a very heavy heart that Jesus came to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. The angel of death was drawing near, and unlike the Hebrews who were spared in the first Passover, Jesus would not be spared during this Passover. "He had prayed: 'let this cup pass from me if it is possible,' but it was not.

He was the passover lamb to be sacrificed. He would have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death and experience the burdens of that. And, he would do so in obedience to God and hoping that God would work redemption through this suffering.

The suffering itself seemed meaningless. Why would evil humans get the upper hand over God's Messiah? What good would it do to demonstrate the victory of evil over good before the eyes of those who had hoped in Jesus? But, it was becoming very clear to Jesus that this was the way of God. Perhaps it was not the way God would have liked, but due to human rebellion and sin, it was the way that Jesus had to go to accomplish God's will.

It is comforting to me that Jesus struggled with this way. It is reassuring to me that Jesus asked God to save him from this way of suffering and humiliation. Because it lets me know that this was not the affirmative will of God but the permissive will of God. It was God coming further into the midst and mess of humanity to save - not because God wants to suffer or have his son suffer - but because suffering was the only way to bring redemption to broken, twisted and rebellious humanity. It is only in being willing to bear all the burdens that God's love is demonstrated to human beings.

It is a shameful sight, and a shameful story to read about. If you read it and believe it, it causes a deep sense of shame as a human being. This was the reception we gave to the holiest one to have ever walked the earth. This was the reception we human beings gave to the Chosen of God.

But, it is also a moving sight, because Jesus is one of us, and somehow would not be separated from us, and would not deny us. He clung to his humanity and would not let go, even until the end. Jesus suffered like a human being, not a god. He cried out from the depths of his humanity: "God, why have you abandoned me!?" He would not renounce human beings, though we human beings renounced him. Jesus was true to the way of God, and the way of God was to cling closely to the human race even in experiencing the rejection of humans. For a time at the height of his suffering, Jesus seemed to have felt the rejection of God. And, God had to remain silent for a time. This was the greatest suffering of all. Those three days. Our God. Waiting three days to declare a verdict for Jesus. It was if the "jury was out" for three days. The creation had seen her king killed by evil human authorities. The creation waited for God to speak, but there was nothing. For three days, there was nothing. God was silent for three days. No one knows how long these three days were for the Divine. We do know something about how long they felt for Jesus' friends and family and followers who had expected him to bring in the kingdom of God. They were three days of empty pain and grief. But, what God went through, no one can dare to imagine.

O, Holy, Holy, Holy God. Light beyond all light. Love beyond all love. We do not try to imagine what we cannot imagine. We stop at this gate and tremble at your beauty, your humility and faithfulness to humanity. With all the unfaithfulness that we have returned to you! O, Lord, let your heart be blessed. Let your joy be renewed. Let your love be returned a thousand times over for ever and ever. Amen.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Taking God Seriously, and not taking ourselves too seriously

I was thinking this morning about what worship ought to be like in our church. It seems that our worship service ought to have a real sense of reverence, but of the sort that doesn't take ourselves too seriously. There is a so-called reverence which has a sense of arrogance and rigidity. That is where the human beings who lead the service and those who participate take themselves too seriously.

True reverence has a deep sense of humility from the human side as we turn towards the One True God and Ruler of the Universe. True reverence, in humility, calls upon others to turn to the Holy One.

And, I think that a reverent service shouldn't be too 'wordy.' We shouldn't go on and on in our sermons and in our prayers, or even in our announcements. Too many human words can really fill up a worship service.

I am beginning to think that we just have too many parts to our service, so that a person who is beginning to really worship ends up being disturbed by this part and that, by having to look back at the bulletin to see what to do.

Some parts of our worship service are very important as they allow us to express some of our deepest convictions about life, God and our fellow creatures. But, some parts of our service, or at least the way we conduct them don't help us enter into a holy place but tend to keep us just outside the door.