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, May 5, 2012

Words of Hope for All People from Christoph Blumhardt

"Do not allow any teaching to arise other than that of salvation; otherwise the Devil will at last obtain power over us. When we give up mankind, we also give up a part of ourselves. For instance, if I think of someone else as being damned, I always feel that part of me is at the same time damned. Who can separate himself from his fellowmen? If you would once damn one another seriously, just think -- if your neighbor is to have no salvation because of his present nature, how much of your nature has also to go down into Hell? Or do you think that an exception will be made for certain people? God would not dream of that -- He is just."

Christoph Blumhardt, From Sermons and Talks from the years 1880-1888.

Misunderstandings and Understandings

Often it seems like it doesn't take much to cause a misunderstanding between two people or between groups of people. Even where understanding has been the mainstay, it seems like even there, a misunderstanding can sprout up like Jack's beanstalk! We human beings are prone to misunderstandings, but we also need understanding so badly. And, we do have the ability to understand each other, but sometimes that ability gets paralyzed by weariness in life and other burdens in our lives. In the early church, there were very many misunderstandings, and Paul's letters reflect these situations of conflict: between members of the church at Corinth; between members of the church at Rome; between the Apostle Paul and the Apostle Peter; between the Jerusalem Apostles and Paul and Barnabas; between two church members at Phillipi. Paul tried very hard in writing his letters to help people come to an understanding of each other by God's grace. Paul knew there are just so many factors in life that tend to make understanding fragile and difficult to sustain. But, he knew something much greater than our tendency to misunderstand each other. He had experienced the reconciling power of God's Spirit in Christ. Paul, a Jew, had not only experienced himself reconciled with God but also reconciled with people he had formerly condemned as unworthy of salvation and respect - the Gentiles. The Spirit of Reconciliation from God stirs within us a desire to mend that which is torn, bring understanding where there is misunderstanding, and escape the confines of our own little worlds to live together in God's big world. But, we all have our failures, and have to step back and take stock of where we are before God and with our brothers and sisters. I am doing that today. I have stepped back, hopefully out of my own limited views of things, opening myself to a larger view of others and life itself. And, I hear that advice of Paul to that church at Corinth that had so much trouble with misunderstandings and conflicts. He writes to them in the 1st Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 13: "I will show you a still more excellent way . . . " And, he describes that way revealed in Jesus Christ, poured out upon earth through the Holy Spirit, and as Paul says: "poured out in our very hearts." Romans 5. And, Paul bears witness to something much greater than himself, much greater than his ideas, much greater than any words of inspiration. He bears witness to the love of God which is eternal, which endures, which heals, and which is shared with human creatures like you and me if we can open ourselves to its coming. Read 1 Corinthians 13 today with these thoughts in mind. I close with a prayer of Howard Thurman: Lord, open unto me Open unto me — light for my darkness. Open unto me — courage for my fear. Open unto me — hope for my despair. Open unto me — peace for my turmoil. Open unto me — joy for my sorrow. Open unto me — strength for my weakness. Open unto me — wisdom for my confession. Open unto me — forgiveness for my sins. Open unto me — love for my hates. Open unto me — thy Self for my self. Lord, Lord, open unto me! Amen.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

On the Outside Looking In

That 10th commandment, "You shall not covet . . . " gets to something very deep and very tragic and twisted in human beings. It really means "don't set your heart on having what is not yours to have." Soren Kierkegaard says: "envy is admiration grown sick." It is twisted or perverted admiration. And, envy is in a sense the same thing as coveting what is not yours to have. But, coveting is a little different than envy too. Envy tends to make you angry or even hate another person who has what you want. Coveting what you yearn for and don't have can bring about envy, but it doesn't always bring about envy. Often, coveting what you yearn for and don't have brings about a negative relation internally, within the self. Instead of hating the one who has what you don't have, you turn the hatred inward despising yourself for not being able to be this, or not being able to have that. Maybe that is just hidden envy; I'm not sure. Envy and unfulfilled yearning which are part of the same experience comes when we feel ourselves "on the outside looking in." The Indigo Girls have a song called: "Love Will Come to You" that expresses the longing of human beings for love, and the experience of being "on the outside looking in." At one point in the song, the words are vivid: "my face pressed up against love's glass . . . to see that shiny toy I've been hoping for, the one I never can afford . . . " to express the painful experience of having the desire for intimate love awakened in the heart but never getting there in real life. It is that haunting feeling that comes around for us that what we really long for is just out of reach. And, this feeling comes in different areas of life. In our experience with our work and careers, our experience as parents or spouses as well. Now, I know that sometimes a deep longing is very good and ought to be nurtured even if it is not fulfilled. But, I can't help think that so many of our "deep longings" are created out of some real brokenness and twistedness inside of us. What I am talking about is the tendency of human beings to manufacture a series of dreams that are just out of reach to keep ourselves miserable and in a state of always feeling like we are on the outside looking in. Watching a movie and feeling how wonderful it must be to share a love with another like it is portrayed in the movie, while you've got somebody back in the living room who loves you and would enjoy talking with you and sharing a hug with you right now. Not enjoying the nice place to live that we have because it's not as big and expensive a place as the family next door. Not appreciating the healthy body we have because we don't quite meet the standards for Miss or Mr. Universe. Not appreciating the good job we have because we weren't able to get that promotion we had hoped for. Maybe when we feel like we are on the outside looking in, we ought to take some time to look inside of ourselves. The true longing of human beings is not to live up to some standard in the world outside of us, but to conform ourselves to a mystery deep within us. Now, with regard to that mystery, we may be "on the outside looking in."

Friday, April 20, 2012

Struggling Towards Understanding at Bible Study

We have been having evening Bible Study in our congregation for about the last 13 or 14 years. At first we had it on Tuesdays, and then we moved it to Mondays, and then we finally settled on Thursdays. The change was always because of my work schedule it seems. But, over the years, we have looked at all kinds of passages of scripture, and raised all sorts of issues in our discussions. But, one thing has happened consistently in our Bible Study - at some point, someone asks a question that really matters to them about how to life a faithful life in the middle of all the real challenges of life. And, the group joins in, starting to ask the same question or ask it out loud in a little bit of a different way. And, we share experiences: often funny, some sad, some with a touch of anger still, and some full of insight and hope. But, in contrast to almost every group discussion I have been a part of in my life, there is no competition involved. There is no one trying to "one-up" the last speaker. I have never seen or been a part of anything like it. And, time after time, when I have been about ready "to throw in the towel" in life, I come away from these Bible studies refreshed and ready to try again.

There is a level of honesty about the struggle to live in faith that just cuts right to my heart each time.

It is like we become one in this thinking out loud that we do, in this sharing of life through words and laughter and stories and questions and attempts at answers. And, we never know where the real helpful word will come from. But, it comes. Whereever two or three are gathered in this Spirit, the Word comes, the Word made flesh.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

First Samuel, Chapter 8 - A Sermon

The prophet Samuel was the greatest prophet in Israel since Moses. Between Moses and Samuel, there were prophets but none of them had that sense of being the one through whom God guided his people of Israel.

We hear that Samuel was born after the prayer of his mother, Hannah, was answered. Hannah, who was one of two wives of Samuel’s father, had never been able to have children. But, she prayed and prayed, even weeping as she was praying at the temple one day. And, the head priest Eli saw her and thought she was drunk. He said: “Woman,put away your wine.” Then, she said: “I am not drunk. I am praying with all my heart because my heart is deeply wounded.” Then, Eli felt pretty awful I think about what he had said to her because he was deep down a good priest. And, he said, “Woman, whatever your prayer is, may it be granted by God.” And, the answer to that prayer was a little boy born to Hannah. Hannah promised God that she would dedicate him to serve as a priest of the Lord with Eli. And, after the boy was weaned – probably not til 4 or 5 years old, she may have delayed the weaning a bit too. But, eventually she took the little fellow to Eli, with a little priest’s robe she had made and left him there. And, so Eli trained him up to be a priest.

Eli had two grown sons, but they were rotten, taking bribes, sleeping with prostitutes at the temple, etc. I always feel like Eli saw in Samuel a chance to amend his mistakes in raising his own sons. And, apparently, Eli did a great job with Samuel, because he grew up to be a great judge and priest over Israel.

But, now we pick up in our history towards the end of Samuel’s life. It says:
The elders called a meeting, because Samuel was old, he had appointed his sons to serve as prients, and his sons did not walk in his ways. They said: “appoint us a king, so we can be like the other nations.” This struck a nerve deep in Samuel, who had been raised on the prophecies of Moses. Moses had warned against having a king, because a king would oppress his own people.

And, according to our scripture, this desire to have a king among the people of Israel, struck a nerve deep in the heart of God. But, God says to Samuel: “They have not rejected you, but have rejected me from being their king.” But, go, do what they want you to do, but first warn them about what having a king will be like.”
The first time I really read this passage, I did a double-take. What? God doesn’t want them to have a king, but God is going to give them a king? And, Samuel seems to have felt that way too.

I think we see here some of the mystery of God’s relationship to human beings. God’s will was that Israel be led by a prophet, one who listened for and spoke the Word of God. Before Samuel the Word of the Lord was said to be rare in Israel, but with Samuel, the Word of God came to Israel again. The real crisis involved in Samuel being near death was that the Word of the Lord would have no one to receive it and pass it on. Israel would be without a prophet, without one to receive the Word for them and speak it to them. They would be without the Word of the Lord.
If Samuel’s sons were all they had as priests over Israel, the Word of the Lord would depart from the worship and governance of Israel, at least in so far as it was presided over by Joel and Abijah. But, if a king was appointed, it would reveal Israel’s rebellion against the Word of the Lord, because the Word of the Lord comes to prophets, not kings.

I imagine this conversation between God and Samuel:
“Look, Samuel, you have been just as bad a father as Eli was to his sons. But, he was a good father to you. Could you not have learned something from all this?” Now, you put me in a hard place as you have left Israel in a hard place, because your sons are rotten – really rotten to the core. Do you have any replacements to suggest? Is there a true prophet hiding out somewhere that you haven’t told me about?”

Samuel just says: “O Lord, I was going to ask you the same thing.”
God replies: “The answer is ‘no.’ You are the true prophet of Israel, but your days are numbered. Go and appoint them a king!"

Samuel: “This is not exactly how I envisioned my life coming to an end. Having to appoint a king that will oppress the people, and leaving Israel without a man of God to hear and speak the Word of the Lord.”

God: “Well, Samuel, this is not exactly how I envisioned the history of my people, but I do thank you for your service. You have been a good prophet. So, finish your task. Your task is not to dictate to me, but to obey me, even when it is unpleasant. I have shared with you that this is unpleasant to me as well. That should be enough for you. And, who knows what will happen in Israel before you die. I always think of something good.”

Samuel: “Yes, you do, Lord. You never give up. I don’t know why, but you never give up. Thank you, Lord. I will go and do as you have asked me.”

And, Samuel in obedience to God appointed Saul as king over Israel, and Saul led them in their battles and for most of his reign Israel got the upper hand over their enemies, but Saul had trouble knowing how to obey the Word of the Lord that came through Samuel, the prophet. Saul would seem to do pretty well, but then he just couldn’t get things right with God or with the prophet, Samuel. In time, God rejected Saul as king over Israel. Samuel had a hard time accepting this as well, but he spoke the Word of the Lord. And, after Samuel grieved Saul’s rejection, God called Samuel to get up and anoint a king of God’s own choosing – a king who would follow God with his heart. And, Samuel went and anointed David, a young shepherd, the seventh son of Jesse.

The prophet Samuel was near to the doings of God. He was involved in the working out of God’s plans and responses to human beings in those days of Israel. It was a great and sacred task to partake in holy things like this. But, it was very difficult on Samuel, who had to take actions he didn’t really want to take: anoint Saul as king when the prophet knew God had never wanted a king but was simply allowing this rebellion in Israel. And, it was hard on Samuel to then pronounce and carry out the rejection of Saul as king when it was time for that. God had led him to anoint Saul, but that action was now put into question by God telling Samuel that Saul was rejected as king.

None of us have been where Samuel was. None of us has shared a conversation quite like that with God, or at least not at that level.

But, then again, maybe we have been where Samuel was in some ways. If you been in thought or prayer before God, you may have wondered as Samuel wondered: “Why does this go on that is against your ways, O God? Why does this horrible situation or condition or injustice or suffering continue when it is not really what you want for human beings? O,God why do you allow a person to just throw their life away when you have created them to live fully and to rejoice in you?”

Samuel wondered why God would let Israel become like other nations and have a king to rule over them. Samuel may have also wondered how God could let Samuel’s sons become so corrupt, even as Samuel begged in many prayers that they would turn around and walk in his ways.

God may have wondered why Samuel didn’t take more time to prepare his sons, and why Samuel was so ineffective in training them to be priests. Of course, God didn’t have to wonder. He knew. Because God knows that we human beings fall short of the glory of God, which is to say most all of us are really underachievers in a profoundly tragic sense.

And, then we turn around and blame our sorry state of affairs on God, not realizing we have put God in an almost impossible position as we are generally proud of what we should be ashamed of and ashamed of what we should be proud of. Yes, God has had a difficult time dealing with a mixed up human race: so much good about us all, and then so much that is twisted and destructive. But, God has never given up. God has continued to come up with a new plan of saving again and again.

But, it is hard to save someone who is bent on their own self-destruction. That was God’s struggle with Israel. The Israelites so often bought into the success strategies of the Canaanite culture. They tried to get along and worship the gods of the Canaanites. They tried to fit in and not stand out, so they could go along and get along with other peoples. But, the Israelites were always putting themselves in the hands of other rulers, other religions, and being abused and oppressed. Only God would protect them – in a sense and most importantly, only God could protect them from themselves.

But, God’s ways are not our ways. He comes over our way a long way to understand and help us understand. If it had been a human ruler in charge, when Israel asked for a king, the human ruler would have just said no and punished those who asked. But, God was in charge who understands things that are very deeply a part of human life and understands things too deep for us to grasp about how the Divine works out his will in history. God basically said: “I don’t want you to have a king, but I’ll let you have a king. I am warning you of the problems of having a king.” And, God did not give up on redeeming his people. God goes farther than we are willing to go with people; God gets dirty in the mess of history and rules from within it. And, God, sometimes sooner, and sometimes later, comes out with the victory – a victory God can share to bless others.

God could have a victory immediately back then, I suppose, if he were a different kind of God. If God was really like a king, he could have just made the rules and punished those who disobeyed. But, history shows that though God has brought punishments, that is not God’s chosen way of governing humans in this world. If God was not really after a victory he could share with us, then his course would be an easy one in life. But, God will not be victorious and let the world fall into destruction. God has always wanted a victory for humanity,not one against humanity. And,this takes wisdom, and perserverence, and a love that cannot be defeated by all the forces of resistance and evil among us and among creation itself.

Scripture presents God as a Warrior often in the Old Testament, and at a few points in the New Testament as well. This is a powerful and important image of God. For, God is a warrior for the body and soul of every human being on this earth. And, God goes to battle again and again against the powers of evil that twist and destroy human life; he goes to battle to save the bodies and souls of human beings. And, God gets bloodied in the process. Isn’t that the meaning of the cross? God will go so far to save that he will not spare his own Son, his own Being from being beaten and mocked and executed on a cross of wood?

Remember our God whom we love: he is the God who leaves behind the safety of heaven and comes down to do battle for the lives of human beings right here on earth. And, our Dear and Holy and Good God suffers in the process. We know this from that cross of wood that once stood on Golgatha, with the Son of God hanging on it. We know this from the thanksgiving that wells up in our hearts. And, we know that the suffering of God is a redemptive suffering. When God suffers, redemption and salvation come into the world, into our lives, into those places in which God suffers.

O, God, how can you have allowed yourself to get so drawn into and mixed up in the affairs of humanity? How can you who are holy have taken on the burdens of human beings like us, who are unholy? We have put you in so many difficult situations again and again. You could have given us up. It seems to us you should have given us up. How can we be worth all the struggle it takes to redeem?

Your Love remains the only answer we can find, and Your Love is a mystery far beyond our imagining and greatest hopes. Whatever we seem to ourselves and others, O Lord, we are above all loved by you. Whatever our neighbor seems to us or herself, she is above all loved by you.

Why have you become so involved and burdened with human affairs? Because of your love. Because of your love. Because of your love, we live and move and have our being. Because of your love, we stand up as we hear your pardon. Because of your love, we live on when we feel no reason for living. Because of your love, we love even when hated by others. Because of your love, you chose a king after your own heart, even if having a king wasn’t your idea in the first place. Because of your love, the world exists. Because of your love, Samuel kept on speaking your Word of Truth. Because of your love, we got up this morning. Because of your love. Because of your love. As loveless as we are at times, we love, yes, we love, because of your love. Amen.

Bible Study Thursday, April 19 at 6 p.m.



Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Great Divide

There is one great divide in reality between the One who alone is holy and in harmony with all of non-human creation, and then there is the human race which has in the main lost its holiness and wanders through the creation trying to find its way. But, instead of separating from us, the Holy Creator has chosen to wander with us in our flesh, struggling with us, to help us find the way back to a good and holy identity.

We humans are in solidarity with each other in this lostness. Even when we come to some sense of who God is and how good God is, we still participate in lostness even as we get some glimpses of how things really are, who we really are, who our fellow creatures really are.

Faith means to live on the basis of these glimpses, to live by faith and not by sight. Whenever some one comes to the point of acting as if they are not just living on the basis of these glimpses of the Divine, but somehow living as if they have God in focus continually, I begin to wonder if we are talking about the same faith. Paul said: "now we see in a mirror dimly . . . " He is also the one who said: "we walk by faith and not by sight."

Thursday, March 22, 2012


When we come to faith and trust in God, then God becomes able to work with us, to do something with us. But, that is only the beginning.

Blumhardt writes: "We must not be so stupid as to think, as so many evangelical Christians do, that God will never concern himself with our sins. We are not righteous in the sense that God will no longer reprove what is sinful, but only that God is now satisfied regarding our attitude. Now it is possible to do something with the person. Such a good-for-nothing cannot be left in his present state."

Faith has often been presented as the end of God's work of salvation in a human being when in fact it is the beginning. Faith is not something we arrive at once and for all that makes us "saved." It is a gift of a living relationship to God and it is in the context of that living relationship that we experience the saving presence of God with us, through us, around us, through others to us again and again.

Maundy Thursday Service at 4th United Presbyterian on April 5, 6:30 p.m.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Bible Study this Thursday at 6 p.m. on Revelation, Chapters 1-3

Bible Study meets this Thursday, March 22, at 6 p.m. in the downstairs fellowship hall. We will be studying the first three chapters of the Book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Happiness and Faith: part one

If any of you have been is ear shot of my recent sermons, you will know that I have been preaching on what might be called the "darker side" of faith. Of course, the Bible itself is partly to blame for this, especially the New Testament emphasis on the crucified Jesus and the cross as a focus of Christian experience. Nonetheless, I do feel like we need to hear the whole message of the Gospel, which includes deliverances and celebrations. Our bibles also point us to the beauty and goodness of life in this world as well as the struggle of it.

And, thankfully, we have had the preaching of Rev. Peterson which has put some emphasis on the goodness of creation and focused our attention on being part of this ongoing and wonderful creation of God's.

What I am thinking about now as I write is "happiness" and where our desire for happiness is in this life of faith. Isn't it important to be happy in life? Surely faith cares about that.

As I think on this, I think about how the New Testament describes Jesus' life. And, I conclude that Jesus seemed to have been both happier and sadder than about anyone else. Now, I know that we don't have many biographical details of Jesus' life; we certainly don't have an autobiography from Jesus. But, there is strong evidence from scripture that he was deeply moved in both directions - both joy and sorrow - in this life. I will continue this on the next post.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

My First Lenten Vow: What I Am Giving Up


As we begin this season of Lent, I wanted to share with you a few thoughts about what it means to observe Lent in the Christian tradition. First, I was raised in a Southern Presbyterian Church (PCUS), and we did not observe the Church Calendar, and so did not celebrate Lent. I thought that was something only Catholics or Episcopalians did.

Even though I have given some attention to the Church Calendar as an ordained minister in the PCUSA over the past 22 plus years, I had never been part of an Ash Wednesday Service until we celebrated with Central United Methodist in 2010. I had always heard about people giving up chocolate or soft drinks or beer or tv or something like that for Lent. I had started thinking about Lent seriously a few years ago at First United when we discussed Lent and talked about what it might mean for each of us personally to observe Lent.

I have always been repelled by the idea of “giving up” this or that. Maybe that’s because I just don’t have much will power to not do something I enjoy doing. But, something about giving up things never caught on with me. For me, it is almost as if deciding to give something up causes me to want it even more. So, no I have never given anything up for Lent. Well, until this year, and you are not going to be too impressed about what I am giving up.

It was the day before Ash Wednesday this year, and I had gone back and forth with the Blount County Sheriff’s Department about why my client was still being held in jail even though the Judge had ordered her release. Turns out someone in the clerk's office hadn't sent the release order down to the jail. And, about 4 p.m. that afternoon, it came to me out of the blue: “I am going to give up ‘being nice’ for Lent.” I said it out loud, one of our legal secretaries laughed, and then I said it again with some real conviction and smiled.

Now, I know it might sound bad for a minister like me to say that, but the more I thought about it, the more firm I was in taking my first Lenten vow of my life. Maybe what I really liked about this vow was that if I failed in it, it wouldn’t be so bad. Being nice, after all, isn’t a sin, is it? But, there was something deeper in this thought and in this resolution. It was about committing myself to truth and doing what was right more than worrying over whether others liked me or were happy with me.

As a lawyer who represents poor people charged with crimes, I am forever “being nice” with D.A.s and Judges to get the best deal I can for my clients. Every once in a while, the process becomes openly adversarial, but most of the time, it is a matter of using your wits to get a deal. So, I have had it “up to here” by the time I get home each day with ‘being nice’ to people who I am really not very happy with. I am ‘being nice’ because it is part of thinking about my client’s interests, not my own.

But, there is a time and place for all that being nice stuff. But, there is also a way to be decent without worrying too much about keeping everyone happy. There is even a place for that in law practice. If you don’t pay enough attention to your need to tell the truth or at least your need to stop covering up the truth, then a couple of bad things can happen to you personally: you can explode on someone, often the person least deserving of it; you can become a dishonest person and lose a real taste for what is honest and true.

So, yes, with all that said, I have given up being nice in the sense that I have chosen to value honesty and truth above keeping others happy with me. I’ll see how it goes. So far, it is going pretty well both in court and out. If I speak the truth too plainly in court one day and get thrown in jail, could you ask session to approve a fundraiser for my bond?

Rev. George H. Waters

Some Thoughts About Nietzsche, Church and Honesty of Mind

“It is not a matter of going ahead (-for then one is at best a herdsman, i.e., the herd’s chief requirement) but of being able to go it alone, of being able to be different.”

- Friedrich Nietzsche, 1887

Friedrich Nietzsche was a German philosopher who wrote most of his major works in the 1870’s and 1880’s. He died in 1900.

Nietzsche was the son of a Lutheran pastor, the only son with several sisters. As Nietzsche grew into his own as a thinker and writer, he struck out in an independent direction as a philosopher. He revolted against both the prevailing philosophy and theology of his day.

At the very center of Nietzsche’s philosophy of life was the rejection of Christian morality. He regarded Christian morality as slave morality, not a morality fit for free, self-determining human beings.

Nietzsche once said: “There was only one true Christian and he died on a cross.”
He called Christianity an unnatural morality born of the resentment of those who were weak in mind and body . . . those who despised life and despised the strong who were able to embrace and celebrate life. Nietzsche thought that at the very bottom Christianity taught a person to think: “I am not worth much,” and then translate that value judgment into a religious/moral judgment: “I am guilty; I am a sinner.” Nietzsche says that human beings then decide they would rather consider themselves guilty than feel bad for no reason at all.

So, for Nietzsche, Christianity creates the miserable condition of the individual and then purports to offer salvation from the darkness through the offer of forgiveness and faith. Christianity is a religion that promotes, even creates guilt in the individual conscience, and then promises relief with the “Gospel.” Nietzsche apparently found that the cure was just as bad as the disease.
A Christian might wonder: “How does this atheistic philosopher know anything about faith?”

But, it is worth remembering that Nietzsche grew up in a Lutheran household (Lutherans are a lot like us Presbyterians except they have Octoberfest). Nietzsche grew up as a preacher’s kid, and had come to the conclusion from his experience that all Christianity offered him was guilt and the feeling that any effort to embrace and celebrate his strengths was a sin. He felt that to live fully and to be who he felt destined to be he had to renounce the Christian faith.

There is something that I have always liked about Nietzsche since I first read him in college . . . unlike other philosophers who dismiss God and faith or criticize Christianity and then move on to other topics, Nietzsche couldn’t move on. He was, in a sense, obsessed with arguing against Christianity. He has been described by one scholar as an “anti-Christian.” Nietzsche’s work cannot be understood without understanding its relation to Christianity.

Surely, Nietzsche had experienced the teaching and authority of the church. He was a preacher’s son, and at one time, he had probably taken this religious faith very seriously. And, in time, he had found that faith as he experienced it made him feel like he was nothing. And, Nietzsche knew deep down that he was really something, and he was.

So, he looked for something else to base his life on . . and that something else for him was his will to live, his will to think, to claim space for himself in the world. Nietzsche said once: “The real thing is not so much that you move forward, but that you learn to go it alone, that you have the strength to be different.”
I think that Nietzsche could never forget Christianity, because it raised his hopes so much and then disappointed those hopes so badly. Nietzsche is the one who said: “There was only one Christian and he died on the cross.” He seemed to have a deep respect for Jesus, and no respect for his followers. You might say, ‘the man Jesus, his teachings, the reports about him in Scripture raised Nietzsche’s hope, and the faith of the Church disappointed and crushed his hope.’ At least that’s what I think.

As we look back through history, if we are honest, we see that the Church has broken the faith and hearts of some very special individuals. Galileo was considered a heretic because he spoke the truth that the earth orbited around the sun, not otherwise. Origen, the great theologian of the 2nd century was branded a heretic, because his hope was too great, his mind too high. Charles Darwin was a son of the Church whose desire for truth and his desire to reconcile his scientific studies with his faith was disregarded by the Church of his day. And, Friedrich Nietzsche, who I believed yearned for something much more pure and life-affirming than the gospel being preached in his day, was given nothing but falsehood from a religious culture that was as afraid of Jesus truth as they were of Nietzsche’s criticism.
There are many people in our time who yearn for truth, the truth of God, but have found falsehood in the Church. They have found a church unwilling to deal with scientific truth, a church that can’t deal with evidence from neuroscientific studies about sexual orientation. They have found a church that dismisses those who have a real desire for intellectual honesty.

The doctrine of Biblical Innerancy stands as a cloud over our efforts to deal honestly with each other in faith. The teaching of a type of Creationism in churches that dismisses the great service offered the world by Charles Darwin is also a sad sign for the wider church.

We do not need to continue a tradition of intellectual dishonesty, but let me change that language a little bit. Intellectual dishonesty sounds a little too removed and fancy. What I am talking about is having lazy minds, dishonoring the God who gave us our minds, and lying about the way things are. That’s what I mean about the tradition of intellectual dishonesty in the Church. And, it is continued by people like Rick Santorum who doesn’t like the fact that a good number of us in the Church don’t think we have to check our minds at the door before we come to worship or Bible Study.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a liberal Christian. He studied religion as a man of faith, and he studied it from within the academic tradition as well. He appreciated what he learned about how the Bible was formed. He wasn’t afraid of the truth of science, but found it liberating.

Of course, human science is limited as is inquiry in other areas, and when we think science is going to resolve all our problems, we show that we don’t understand the limits of science. And, human science itself can get arrogant and think that truth is limited to what science can demonstrate empirically. But, in our day, science is much more humble than it was when I was growing up. And, a real dialogue is possible in our time between scientists and theologians.

When we are ready to be honest and ready to really think and discuss openly in our churches – then, maybe people who value real questions, real discussions . . . then maybe people who value real learning and honesty of both the heart and the mind will find their way back into our fellowship in the Church.

We ought to repent during Lent as Christians because of all the good, even brilliant people we have destroyed over time with our dogma, with our lack of imagination and our lack of appreciation of the gifts God has bestowed on many human beings and with our refusal to really investigate and seek the truth no matter what it costs.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Prayer from Marthin Luther King, Jr. Day Luncheon in Knoxville, 2012

O God of all people, Master of the Universe, Creator and Sustainer of all life:

We give you thanks this day for our lives, and for the lives of those who have gone before us. We give you thanks for the courageous and faithful struggle of those who have gone before us. We give you thanks that they have borne the burden in the heat of the day. We acknowledge gratefully that we stand on their shoulders or we do not stand at all.

And, we pray, O God, for a renewed spirit among us to root out injustice in our own hearts and in the heart of our society. Let there be peace on earth, O Lord, and let it begin with me. Amen.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

God and the Bible

Someone asked me once why I say: “Listen now for the Word of the Lord,” right before I read from the Bible in worship instead of saying: “Listen now to the Word of the Lord.” First of all, the Holy Scriptures, written by human beings, are inspired by God, preserved in the providence of God, and understood by those who are filled with the Holy Spirit of God. The Bible is holy ground, and when we walk on this ground we should do so with fear and trembling waiting for God to speak, praying for the Spirit to bless us. So, I believe that whenever the Bible is read and interpreted, then God’s Word may be spoken and heard. But, it may not be. There is no other book that is this holy ground, and there is no other book which is the authoritative witness to God’s truth and work in this world. As I understand the Bible, it refers to Jesus as the Word of God. I cannot affirm that the Holy Scriptures are somehow equal in authority to the living Word, the Son of God. The Holy Scriptures are the witness to God’s revelation of himself in history, which is only made plain in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Bible shows that God gives of himself to redeem the world, going so far as to give his only Son on the cross to save the world. The scriptures bear witness to this glorious history, and reveal to us the living God, who guides us, judges us, heals us and saves us. The scriptures are that holy ground where we lose our footing and God questions us and we are called upon to answer. I fear that those who fail to distinguish the holy ground from the Holy One do so in order to escape the rule of God. I fear that those who call the Bible “God’s Word,” think that they have got God in a book, and can then utilize “God,” for their purposes. This book, which is meant to humble us before God and our neighbors then becomes a weapon to wield against the movement of God’s Spirit and our neighbors who disagree with us. Hence, God inspired the scriptures as a means of grace and freedom and humans often twist this by turning the scriptures into a means of condemnation, bitterness and division.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Concert at 4th United Presbyterian on Feb. 19, 2012 at 2 p.m. to Benefit Casa De Sarah School in Bolivia


Book I Referred to Today, Feb. 12, in Sermon

The book is Willow Weep For Me: A Black Woman's Journey Through Depression,by Meri Nana-Ama Danquah, published in 1999/

As she begins to tell her story, Ms. Danquah writes: "What I can recall is that my life disintegrated; first, into a strange and terrifying space of sadness and then, into a cobweb of fatigue. I gradually lost my ability to function. It would take me hours to get out of bed, get bathed, put clothes on. By the time I was fully dressed, it was well into the afternoon . . . "