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, September 18, 2011

sermon notes from September 17 (the sermon I did preach)

“And, there was a loud voice from the throne saying: THE DWELLING PLACE OF GOD IS WITH HUMAN BEINGS. HE WILL BE THEIR GOD,AND THEY WILL BE HIS PEOPLE, AND HE WILL WIPE AWAY EVERY TEAR FROM THEIR EYES, FOR THERE WILL BE NO MORE CRYING, OR SICKneSS, OR PAIN OR DEATH, BECAUSE THE OLD THINGS HAVE PASSED AWAY.
I remember reading this passage for the first time when I was a senior in high school. I don’t think I had ever heard it read before or heard it preached on. THE DWELLING PLACE OF GOD IS WITH PEOPLE. HE WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY WILL BE HIS PEOPLE. AND, HE WILL WIPE AWAY EVERY TEAR FROM THEIR EYES.
These words struck me so deeply, it was like they went to fill this big empty place in my heart that had been aching to be filled. I was a high school senior and was really going through a spiritual re-awakening that fall of my senior year. I was spending a good bit of my free time reading the Bible, not running around on the edge of trouble like I had the previous year. And, the words of the Bible were beginning to catch fire in my heart and mind. I have never looked at life the same since these words from Revelation became part of my soul and my view of life.
As I remember that fall back in 1977, I remember it had begun to sink into my awareness that life was a pretty serious matter. I was beginning to realize the tragedy of life too. I was beginning to really feel that some real heartbrokenness was just a part of life, that unfairness was a part of life, that there was some real evil and cruelty and suffering that were going to be around so long as I lived. And, that losing those we love so deeply is also a part of living in this world.
I guess we all come at different points in our lives to these times of growing up in our outlook on life. Some of us have to face adult responsibilities and tragic losses earlier than others, but for all of us, there is a time when some of the trouble of life begins to trouble our mind and our faith.
I began to realize that life could change with a phone call that someone you love had been in a wreck, or that the lab report from the doctor revealed that there was a cancerous lump or that your mother you love so much was in ICU after a heart attack as a phone call did one night when I was 18.
As we grow up, the gravity of life, the weight of its sorrow, starts to hit home in a new way. The losses and pain of childhood are terribly real, but it is in a sense closed up inside so that the child can live on. In adolescence and adulthood, it seems we start opening up to the experiences we have had and to the trouble in the world around us. And, we face ourselves and our world in a new way. Frederick Beuchner writes that as an adolescent and as an adult, we begin to realize that pain, some real pain and loss, is here to stay, and we begin to try to make some sense of it or at least reach a truce with it; we realize it is a part of life that we will have to figure out how to live with.
As a child, bad things come, but somehow the child lives on. As we get older, we not only live on but we have to choose to live on. . . we realize that bad things are not simply disruptions in a life otherwise immune from pain, but that pain and trouble are right there in the center of life, even mixed real closely with joy and hope. As we grow up, we have to will to live in a world where there is going to disruption and struggle with sorrow as a part of life.
And, as I look back to that time when I was just turning 17 years old that fall, I think that my re-awakening to God brought along with it an awakening to the real brokenness and pain of life in this world – my own and others. It dawned on me that my family had really absorbed some losses along the way. Every family has many things to bear over the course of a life.
As I looked out at the world around me, whether it had to do with my family or with others, I saw and felt so much fragility, so much that was precious, but so much that could be lost in a moment. Although I experienced love and security with my family in my house, I saw that so many others were living in horrible insecurity and in the midst of hate and exploitation and violence. I only had to look to my extended family members another city over, another county over, and insecurity and trouble were regular there. Or, I only had to walk into my friends house to see trouble. And, then around the world, children dying of starvation and disease before they have even spoken their first word or taken their first step. And, well, you know, there is a lot of trouble if you open your eyes and hearts to see it.
Good things were going on in my life and in the world around me, but somehow I couldn’t ignore the suffering and the pain in the world anymore.
And, it was when all of this started to come to me, as I was starting to grow into adulthood, that I heard these words. AND, HE WILL WIPE AWAY EVERY TEAR FROM THEIR EYES. THERE WILL BE NO MORE SORROW, OR SICKNESS OR PAIN OR DEATH . . . Because my heart was starting to protest all of this pain and suffering and death in the world. My heart and mind were beginning to look out at life, and to look towards God, and my response was not: “Well, God all is as you will it. Everything is o.k. because you are in control.” No, that is not what I felt at all. My awakening in faith brought with it a deep protest against all the pain and suffering and unfairness and cruelty in life, Because as I came to know God more deeply, I came to protest and be upset by a world that was clearly not going in accordance with what God’s ultimate will is for human life.
And, all the religious answers and sermons I heard didn’t give me any assurance or answers that seemed true or that helped at all. But, these words from Revelation, they came to me as a word straight from God, like a grace I am still thankful for receiving.
I heard a loud voice from the throne saying: AND I TRULY HEARD THOSE WORDS AS SPOKEN LOUDLY FROM THE THRONE OF GOD. I did not feel I was reading. I felt I was listening and an angel of God was speaking:
BEHOLD THE DWELLING PLACE OF GOD IS WITH PEOPLE. HE WILL BE THEIR GOD, THEY WILL BE HIS PEOPLE. AND, GOD WILL WIPE AWAY EVERY TEAR FROM THEIR EYES (from the eyes of mothers who have just buried their children, from the eyes of children who have been left alone; from the eyes of children who have been beaten or sexually abused days without number, from the eyes of husbands who have lost their wives, and wives who have lost their husbands, from the eyes of mothers whose children have died from drug overdoses, from the fathers of children who have wasted their lives away in prison, from the eyes of inmates who just wish they could go back and start life over again, from the eyes of this and that person who has born the pains of this life. From the eyes of parents who have prayed and prayed and worried and prayed, worked and tried to keep hope alive even as they see their children devoured by mental illness or by cancer or other some disease. YES, GOD, GOD HIMSELF, WILL WIPE AWAY EVERY TEAR FROM THEIR EYES, FROM OUR EYES. From my eyes and your eyes.
THESE WORDS WERE MY ANSWER. GOD’S PRESENCE. THE COMING OF GOD IN ALL OF HIS FULLNESS. GOD WILL ANSWER. GOD WILL WIPE AWAY THIS PAIN FROM OUR HEARTS.
AND THE VOICE OF THE ANGEL SAYS LOUDLY: AND THERE WILL BE NO MORE SICKNESS, NO MORE CRYING, NO MORE PAIN, NO MORE DEATH, BECAUSE THE FORMER THINGS HAVE PASSED AWAY.
I had begun to be seriously troubled that fall of 1977 by the way things are in this world – troubled in a way that I just couldn’t look away from and forget in my soul. The Word of the Lord came to me and let me know: “you ought to be troubled by the way things are. God is troubled. God cares about the pain of human beings. God gathers it up in his heart. And, God will come to wipe the pain away. One day, God will come and wipe it away.” But, know this: “The Lord is taking all this trouble into his heart, and he gathers up all of the pain and suffering of human beings into his heart, and he will come in his fullness. He helps us bear it now in his love, and he is beginning to reveal his redeeming power among us day by day.” The assurance that all this horror and sorrow is not God’s desire for humanity and that God’s Spirit is completely committed to healing and help and relief and justice, that was enough for me. Because God’s will will be done – on that day completely, but even now day by day, that will of God presses into our broken reality. God’s will has its effect even now. As John Donne once said: “The assurance of future mercy is present mercy.”
There will come a day, when the heavens will open, and God’s glory will fill the earth, and all that has been wrong will be made right, all that has been wounded will be healed, all that has been taken will be restored, when what we have lost will be restored to us again. And, that day is a reality in our hearts that cannot be taken from us. It is sealed in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. But, we carry this treasure in earthen vessels. At times, that day seems so remote, so far away; but, then in faith, we begin to see that that Great Day is at hand, that Great Day is a reality we can grasp in hope even now.
But, the reality of God is not just to be experienced in that future day. Looking to that future day, we are reminded of just what God’s will is, and that gives us hope for today. And, it gives us the courage to say that all is not well in this world, to be honest and protest against all that is broken and opposed to God’s justice and God’s peace and God’s love in this world. It gives us the strength to endure all that is broken in us and in those we love and in those we are learning to love. Because that good will of God to meet our sorrow with his love, to replace our despair with his life-giving presence, that good will of God is being enacted now. God works in hiddenness, but it will be made plain in the end. Paul expresses our present experience of faith very well in 2 Corinthians 4:7-11:
For we bear this treasure (this hope) in earthen vessels . . .
We seein a mirror dimly, but then face to face; but then FACE TO FACE.
We receive the goodness of each day as the gift of God. We keep our eyes open in faith, and our hearts open to what is joyful in life, and we keep our eyes open and our hearts open to what is sorrowful in life, bearing all things in faith. So long as the trouble of life doesn’t break our spirit, we remain open to the goodness and joy of life,and there is plenty of that. There is really plenty of that, if we can open our minds and hearts to see it.
But,we bear this treasure, this hope for the redemption of all of life, we bear this hope in earthen vessels, and earthen vessels get cracked and leak at times, sometimes our hope leaks out through the cracks, and we need a little repair work on these old earthen vessels. Maybe one of the best things we can do to refill our vessels with hope and repair the cracks is to focus our hearts upon the Great Day of the Lord, that hope of all hopes. To remind ourselves and each other of this promise and this hope of our scripture today. This is a treasure. I HEARD A LOUD VOICE FROM THE THRONE SAYING: THE DWELLIN PLACE OF GOD IS WITH HUMAN BEINGS. HE WILL BE THEIR GOD AND THEY WILL BE HIS PEOPLE. AND, GOD, GOD HIMSELF, WILL WIPE AWAY EVERY TEAR FROM THEIR EYES. THERE WILL BE NO MORE GRIEVING, OR SICKNESS OR PAIN OR DEATH, FOR THE OLD AGE HAS PASSED AWAY.
This treasure is the hope we bear for all humanity, a hope that glows in our hearts, a hope in God for that time when there will be no more pain, nor sorrow, nor sickness, nor death, because the old things have passed away. Carry this hope in your hearts today, as God works in the present to bring the reality of his salvation nearer to us and to our world each day.
I close with the words from the Hymn: O Day of Peace:
O day of peace that dimly shines
through all our hopes and prayers and dreams,
guide us to justice, truth, and love,
delivered from our selfish schemes.
May the swords of hate fall from our hands,
our hearts from envy find release,
till by God's grace our warring world
shall see Christ's promised reign of peace.

Then shall the wolf dwell with the lamb,
nor shall the fierce devour the small;
as beasts and cattle calmly graze,
a little child shall lead them all.
Then enemies shall learn to love,
all creatures find their true accord;
the hope of peace shall be fulfilled,
for all the earth shall know the Lord.
COME LORD, BRING YOUR DAY OF PEACE. COME AMONG US AND BE OUR GOD AND WE WILL BE YOUR PEOPLE. IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER AND THE SON AND THE HOLY SPIRIT. AMEN.

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