Tuesday, May 9, 2017

I am the Gate

I am the Gate from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.

Psalm 23 (KJV)
1The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. 
2He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. 
3He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
4Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. 
5Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. 
6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

John 10:1-10
1"Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has bought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers."

6Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

7So again Jesus said to them, "Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.

"Breathe in God's mercies...Breathe out God's mercies to others...Breathe in God's mercies...Breathe out God's mercies to others...Breathe in God's mercies...Breathe out God's mercies to others..."

I had a chance to take a couple of classes with Dr. Rodger Nishioka while I was in seminary, and every class opened with that call to prayer. As he launched into his professorial prayer, we pupils were left with the reminder that serving the Lord can become as natural as breathing. Dr. Nishioka's call to prayer re-directed our natural tendencies towards devotion to God and to serving others.

When Jesus speaks in parables, I like to think of him taking a similar approach. While I, and other preacher-types, cloister ourselves away to develop motifs and images for our sermons, our blessed savior is out walking with his followers and sees an ordinary event, and re-interprets it to reveal the face of God, peering through the cracks in creation.

I imaging him walking along, and seeing a sheepfold, and pointing it out to his followers: "Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit." The sheepfold imagery is unveiled in front of those who had just seen Jesus heal a man born blind. Jesus's figure-of-speech teaching falls on the ears of the Pharisees who comically debated the healing before driving the newly-sighted man out. Having seen God's works revealed in the healing of a man born blind, Jesus's followers and the Pharisees are now confronted with this sheep-and-shepherd parable.

Now, as I read this story in the weeks following Easter, I'm reading it through the resurrection that we know is yet to come. I'm reading it with words of the benediction from the book of Hebrews with which I bless us before we depart in my mouth."...the God of peace who brought back from the dead that great shepherd of the sheep, our Lord Jesus Christ," Jesus has shown the power of God, now he is about to make a great "I Am" statement where he reveals something of who God the Son is.

I am expecting "I am the Good Shepherd." We've even set it up by with reading "The LORD is my shepherd..." Go ahead Jesus, tell us who you are, and then we can shoot judgy glances at whomever we decide are climbing in by another way, thieves and bandits and strangers.

But Jesus sidesteps my expectation. "Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep." The gate? But I had this whole "thou leaders me beside still waters..." thing I was going to do. You know, how our life in Christ is always easy and we never have to struggle with anything besides drinking up the providence of God!

But we stopped short of "I am the good shepherd." We're still at "I am the gate." I'd imagine the disciples, who already did not understand what Jesus was saying to them, were also thrown off. Instead of a person, Jesus compares himself to a mechanism. “I am…” the means by which the sheep are kept in the sheepfold. “I am…” the way that the shepherd enters, and by which the sheep depart to follow.

Jesus of Nazareth, fully human, fully God, is what enables us God to be with us, and what enables us to follow God out into the green pastures and beside the still waters where the LORD is leading us. Without Christ, we would either be isolated inside the pen, or scattered throughout the fields.

The church has a good shepherd, but we have not always been good sheep. We do follow strangers, we do get taken up by thieves and bandits, and we end up following and proclaiming news that is not all that good. The church throughout its history has made missteps that are more likely to drive people away from the LORD than to bring them close.

With all the shouting of strangers, thieves, and bandits, sometimes our fellow sheep cannot even hear the voice of the shepherd for a time.

As a pastor, one of my functions is to be a a kind of theologian in residence. I love getting questions from the church, and wrestling with the heavy duty issues that those questions often represent.

The question of “who is saved?” comes up frequently. Many churches are structured with the assumption that most everybody belongs to a church somewhere. We’re really comfortable with the idea that it doesn’t matter where you worship, so long as you belong to a church, you’re saved.

But the landscape has changed around us. More and more of us know people who do not belong to any congregation. We meet people who are not members anywhere, and aren’t really looking for a place to worship God. More than meet them, we befriend them and love them, and worry about them.

So folks ask me who is saved. They’re worried about those whom they love who either haven’t heard the voice of the shepherd, or don’t recognize it when they do hear it.

“So again Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.’” Without the gate, all the sheep are cut off from the shepherd. Without Jesus, all people are cut off from the presence of God. Jesus does not, however, say “Belief in me is the gate.”

Maybe that’s a narrow distinction, but it is, I think, an important one. Jesus is the means by which we are saved, belief in Jesus means that we have recognized the gate for what it is.

But the gate is built in already. The LORD, who is our shepherd, can enter in and be with us already. Because the gate is established, the shepherd can keep calling the sheep until they learn to recognize his voice as belonging to one who loves and protects them, not to a stranger.

“I am the gate, Whoever enters by me will be saved…” It is not in answering the shepherds call that we are saved, it is in entering the gate through Jesus, who we know, during this Easter season, has already died and risen to bring us into salvation.

The gate also allows us to leave the sheepfold. We’re not stuck there. "As the gate leading to the pasture, Jesus is the way the sheep must pass to attain the food of God's promise.” The gate provides salvation, but also requires discipleship if we want to find ourselves led beside still waters, paths of righteousness. “I am the gate”, Jesus says, and God brings us in and leads us out to find pasture. Our salvation is not up to us, but our living life abundantly means we have to trust our shepherd, the LORD, and we have to pass through the gate, Jesus, many times as we continue to learn to trust and to follow.

Sometimes it’s nothing complicated, just going along with our fellow sheep. Sometimes it’s what we would do anyway, but the discipleship in this passage means that instead of doing those things for our own benefit, we do it through Jesus. Then even our breathing can become a prayer.

"Breathe in God's mercies...Breathe out God's mercies to others...Breathe in God's mercies...Breathe out God's mercies to others...Breathe in God's mercies...Breathe out God's mercies to others..."

We are learning to recognize the voice of the LORD, our shepherd. “The Son [is] the one gate through which God is fully known.” If we want to learn to recognize our shepherd, we’ve got to learn to pass through the gate. We see God most fully in Jesus of Nazareth, who is the Christ the Lord.

Sunday, April 30, 2017


Acts 2:14a, 36-41
14But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them:

36Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.’ 37Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’ 38Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’ 40And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ 41So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Luke 24:13-35
13Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. 18Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ 19He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’ 25Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ 27Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

28As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. 30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ 33That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ 35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.

Monday, April 24, 2017


Unbelievable! from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.

Acts 2:14a, 22-32
14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them:

22 You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— 23this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. 24But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. 25For David says concerning him, 
“I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken; 
26therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover, my flesh will live in hope. 
27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One experience corruption. 
28 You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.”

29‘Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. 31Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying,
“He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh experience corruption.” 

32This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

John 20:19, 24-31
19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’

24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’

26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 27Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ 28Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ 29Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’

30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. 

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Fear and Great Joy

Fear and Great Joy from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.

Matthew 28:1-10
1After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5But the angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7Then go quickly and tell his disciples, 'He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.' This is my message for you." 8So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9Suddenly Jesus met them and said, "Greetings!" And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. 10Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me."

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Who is this?

Who Is This? from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.

II Samuel 6:1-5, 17-19
1David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. 2David and all the people with him set out and went from Baale-judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the Lord of hosts who is enthroned on the cherubim. 3They carried the ark of God on a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart 4with the ark of God; and Ahio went in front of the ark. 5David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals.

17 They brought in the ark of the Lord, and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt-offerings and offerings of well-being before the Lord. 18When David had finished offering the burnt-offerings and the offerings of well-being, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts, 19and distributed food among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, to each a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins. Then all the people went back to their homes.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Matthew 21:1-11
1When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2saying to them, "Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. 3If anyone says anything to you, just say this, 'The Lord needs them.' And he will send them immediately." 4This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,

5"Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey."

6The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed themselves 7they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!"

10When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, "Who is this?" 11The crowds were saying, "This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee."

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Strengthen Your Hearts

Ezekiel 37:1-14
1The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3He said to me, "Mortal, can these bones live?" I answered, "O Lord God, you know."

4Then he said to me, "Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord." 7So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them.

9Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live." 10I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

11Then he said to me, "Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, 'Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.' 12Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.”

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

James 5:7-12
7Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. 8You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. 9Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! 10As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

11Indeed we call blessed those who showed endurance. You have heard of the endurance of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful. 12Above all, my beloved, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your "Yes" be yes and your "No" be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Draw Near

Strengthen Your Hearts from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.

John 9:1-7, 35-41
1As [Jesus] walked along, he saw a man blind from birth, 2His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7saying to him, “Go wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.

35Jesus heard that they had driven [the man] our, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshipped him. 39Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” 40Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

James 4:1-10
1Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? 2You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spent what you get on your pleasures. 4Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5Or do you suppose that it is for nothing that the scripture says, “God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

7Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double minded. 9Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. 10Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.