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, November 19, 2011

The Movement of the Spirit and the Expansion of the Heart

In the Acts of the Apostles, Luke describes for us some remarkable events in the early days of the Church. Although the Book is called the Acts of the Apostles, the acts of the Apostles are in response the Acts of God’s Spirit.

In chapter 1 we hear that Jesus told the disciples to wait expectantly for the coming of the Holy Spirit. In chapter 2 of Acts, we hear of the rushing wind and tongues of fire that came upon the believers that were gathered. Then, we hear that Peter is inspired by this Spirit to preach the gospel, and that those who hear are cut to the heart and turned to praise and believe in God’s way in Jesus. And, as the Acts of the Apostles continues, we hear of Stephen and then of Phillip who was in the Spirit preaching and baptizing stretching the definition of who belongs in the community of faith.

And, then we find that the zealous persecutor of the Church, Saul is called by Jesus to become an apostle of the Church.

It is the initiative of God that we hear about in the early Church. That is what is really distinctive about this new movement that they called THE WAY. It is not driven by human traditions and authorities, but by God’s Spirit that shows THE WAY.
Peter was learning something about this WAY a day at a time too. And, Peter is explaining to the Gentiles and Jews what this WAY is all about.

In Acts 10:34 we hear: “And Peter opened his mouth and said: ‘Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but finds acceptable those people in every nation who fear God and do what is right.”

These are amazing words coming from the mouth of a son of Israel, who had been raised on the Holy Scriptures and on the holy traditions of Israel which have taught him over and over that Israel was chosen by God to be a separate people favored by God. In Deuteronomy, we hear that Moses calls the Israelites to come out from the gentiles and be a separate people, to remain a peculiar people with distinctive customs and a distinctive identity.

But, Peter is dealing with what God is doing in the present through the Holy Spirit, and God is showing Peter something new that has never been seen before.
And, Peter is having to figure out what it means to be a Jew who follows this way of Jesus. Peter is starting to figure out what it means to be a Jew who is part of a holy community that includes gentiles just as well as Jews.

Being a part of this Spirit led community really does cause a person to struggle with the roots of his or her own identity.

Gentiles were blessed when they heard the inspired words of a Jew, so these gentiles who formerly despised Jews came to give thanks to God for giving to the Jewish apostles a living word to preach. And, Jews who formerly thought gentiles were inferior, morally and spiritually, were amazed as they saw that God was blessing the gentiles with the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Our scripture says: “And, the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the gentiles.” The Jews had been celebrating the pouring out of God’s Spirit on the Jewish believers gathered at Pentacost, surely they rejoiced as the read the passage from Joel, but now something was happening that went even farther than their expectations. On one hand that passage from Joel just seemed to promise the gift of the Spirit on Jews, but on the other hand, that passage did say the Spirit of God would be poured out on all flesh. So, now they were rereading it with new eyes.
In the early Church, apostles and believers alike must have just shaken their heads and said: “How far do you think this will go?”

Peter and others had begun to answer: “As far as God wants it to.”
Because Peter had become an apostle of THE WAY OF GOD IN JESUS, the way of God in the Spirit. Peter had quit thinking of a religious movement, which is a movement led by religious people and religious ideas and religious traditions. No, Peter was done with being a religious leader. Because this was a way of life led by God’s Spirit. As God had once led Israel in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, he was once again creating and leading a people through God’s presence. Being on This Way was all about attending to the movement of God’s Spirit. It was all about waiting expectantly for God’s Spirit, and all about having ears to hear the Word of God’s Spirit, both deep within one’s soul and through the words spoken by others.

This new way of life was centered on being awake, aware and expectantly listening for God’s voice, and having the capacity to feel the movement of God’s Spirit in life.

This Way was about giving up the authority, surrendering it to God. As a song goes: “My momma used to say: ‘when things fall apart; you’ve got to look higher; higher than the skies; take all your troubles and throw them out over the great blue sea; and turn yourselves over to the Great Authority.”

For Peter, God leads, we follow. God is moving in the Spirit actively present among human beings who are able to sense God’s presence. Being a follower of Jesus is all about being able to perceive the movement of the Spirit of God. Because God is the initiator, God is the creator, God is the one who sets out in a direction, and we must follow. We are no longer talking about religion; we are now attending to the movements of the living God.

But, where do we find those movements in our lives, in our church, in our community? How can we tell when a person is inspired by God or simply self-inspired? Our experience shows us that some of the most enthusiastic religious leaders are deceivers.

I think the important thing is to quit looking for religious leaders to initiate spiritual movements, and start expecting God to initiate spiritual movements. The key message in this book of Acts is that God is the initiator and when God initiates some truly wonderful and new and surprising things happen in communities of faith.
But, as we sit here this morning and prepare to continue on with our lives, how will we be able to perceive the presence of God in our lives and our world? Because that is the real key to following and obeying and glorifying. Feeling, sensing, knowing the movement of God in our hearts, our lives, our world. When we feel that presence deeply, we can respond with commitment, clarity and hope.

I felt God’s presence at a family gathering last weekend. I saw close family members that had not seen each other for 7 or 8 years embrace and enjoy each other like family again. In that I saw God’s Spirit, I rejoiced in God’s presence. God is a redeeming God. God is at work bringing about reconciliation between human beings who have been estranged from each other. Peter and Paul experienced this when they joined with Gentiles for pig roasts. They also found out that smoked pork is a great thing to eat. And, I’m sure Peter and Paul invited their gentile friends to enjoy some good roasted lamb as well. What Peter was experiencing in the coming of God’s Spirit on the gentiles was the breaking down of walls; walls between different national groups and racial groups and ethnic groups that had caused tension for so long that people just thought that tension was a part of normal life.
But, when those ancient tensions have been part of normal life, such prejudice between peoples just goes unnoticed. But, when these tensions start to relax and lose their hold, it feels abnormal for many people. That’s what was going on in the early Church and when Peter was preaching that day. God anointed the gentiles that were listening to Peter preach. God sent his Spirit upon the Gentiles, but perhaps the greatest blessing that day was not the gift of tongues and ecstatic praise, but the simple and profound gift of true human community and fellowship. Because as the Jewish believers saw that God also loved and valued these gentile believers, something happened in their hearts, the tension relaxed.

We all suffer from the Grinch syndrome; our hearts are three sizes too small. That is, our hearts are compressed with tension,when our hearts are meant to be much bigger. All it takes is relaxing that tension that comes from bitterness and prejudice and criticism and judgment of others. Peter had begun to realize that his heart was a few sizes too small, but when he opened his mouth and said: “Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality;” when he said those words that day, his heart relaxed, and swelled out to its natural size and he began to live in the Way of Jesus. And, his blood pressure probably went down 20 or 30 points too. Amen.

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