Sunday, November 5, 2017

All Saints, All Sinners

Micah 3:5-12
5Thus says the Lord concerning the prophets who lead my people astray, who cry "Peace" when they have something to eat, but declare war against those who put nothing into their mouths. 
6Therefore it shall be night to you, without vision, and darkness to you, without revelation. The sun shall go down upon the prophets, and the day shall be black over them; 
7the seers shall be disgraced, and the diviners put to shame; they shall all cover their lips, for there is no answer from God. 
8But as for me, I am filled with power, with the spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression and to Israel his sin. 
9Hear this, you rulers of the house of Jacob and chiefs of the house of Israel, who abhor justice and pervert all equity, 
10who build Zion with blood and Jerusalem with wrong! 
11Its rulers give judgment for a bribe, its priests teach for a price, its prophets give oracles for money; yet they lean upon the Lord and say, "Surely the Lord is with us! No harm shall come upon us." 
12Therefore because of you Zion shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins, and the mountain of the house a wooded height.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Matthew 23:1-12
1Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; 3therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. 4They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. 5They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. 6They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, 7and to be greeted with respect in the market-places, and to have people call them rabbi. 8But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. 9And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. 10Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. 11The greatest among you will be your servant. 12All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.

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

We’ve spent a good deal of time this past month looking back. October 15 was our 70th celebration, and a hundred people worshipped in a newly-painted worship space. Dr. Batts shared a story of when, years ago, giving the sanctuary a new look caused some conflict. Last Sunday, we threw ourselves into our Presbyterian Heritage, and the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

Then today, the first Sunday in November, we observe All Saints Sunday. Another opportunity to look back at all the saints who from their labors rest, to remember their ministry.

God has done marvelous things through those saints. This congregation is built on the generosity and struggles of generations past, and the larger church of which we are a member is filled with uncountable saints who contributed their gifts in their time.

But it’s also Stewardship season. We’re taking stock of the gifts God has given us, and prayerfully considering how we can use those gifts to the glory of God. There is an element of looking back, but we’re using our 20/20 hindsight to focus our vision for what the LORD is going to do through us in the days to come.

If we forget that balance, we get to sit with the Pharisees: so lost in the past they missed what God was doing around them.

At first glance, the Pharisees look like the “bad guys” of the gospels. They’re constantly trying to trap Jesus, they plot against him, and here in Matthew 23 Jesus lays into them with a harshness we don’t see from him very often. One of our lunch-bunchers compared them to the Red-Shirts on Star Trek, always the first to fall so that we know the stakes are high.

A closer look, however, gives a more complex picture. Jesus’s judgment on the actions of the Pharisees begins with respect for their teachings. “Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore do whatever they teach you and follow it.’” The scribes and Pharisees are not wrong, says Jesus. Listen to what they have to teach us, even though they have come after Jesus his entire ministry. The Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead, only a theory at the time. They also didn’t see Rome as the ultimate seat of authority in this world, the way the Sadducees and Herodians seemed to. When Luke writes his gospel, some of his stories even indicate that some of Jesus’s early followers are Pharisees. They’re not the “bad guys.” The world very rarely breaks down that simply. “Do whatever they teach you and follow it.”

The problem is not their teaching, it’s their action. “...Dr not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.” They’re not the villains of the gospel, but they’re also not “good.” “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.” These are the folks who take the gift of history and tradition and corrupt that resource until it is a burden. Then they refuse to take responsibility for their part in it, and the burden of the whole system lays on the shoulders of others while the benefits, namely social standing, float back to the Pharisees.

The Pharisees have the Law and the Prophets, and they understand it enough that Jesus shows respect for their teaching. But they’ve gotten to where the trust their position in society more than they trust God. I don’t think any of us are innocent of that sin. “Lacking confidence in the divine ‘yes’ we hypocrites make masks or broadcast our piety in order to win a human ‘yes.’” We either set ourselves in judgment over others, so that no one will pay attention to our own faults, or we make sure we do our good deeds in ways that people will see us.

I get asked to do devotionals at various meetings, either for our Session or for one of the Presbytery Committees on which I serve. The one I’ve been working through most recently is inspired by a line in T. S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral. It comes after the main character has been tempted, and before he goes to his climactic showdown with fate. In a long speech, he announces “The last temptation is the greatest treason, to do the right deed, but for the wrong reason.” That line has stuck with me since I first read it in my 11th grade Literature class.

When Jesus offers this challenging correction to the Pharisees, he condemns right belief that doesn’t accompany action, and he condemns action that is not done for the right reason. “[The scribes and Pharisees] do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the market-places, and to have people call them rabbi.”

Boy does that one get me.

I love when people call me “Reverend.” I love to be greeted with respect when I’m out shopping. I love to have “the good chair” when I’m at a dinner party or an event. I’m not one for phylacteries or long fringes, but I do wear a clergy collar, and I carry a physical bible even though my table already has five or six digital copies.

A couple of years ago, here in this congregation, I gave one of the best sermons of my career to that point. It felt good, folks were fired up about it, they quoted me on bulletin boards around the church and even posted about it on Facebook. The very next Sunday, eager to follow that performance with another great one, I got up here and preached one of the worst sermons of my career to that point.

Now I know that I’m likely my own harshest critic, but one didn’t need a degree in literature or preaching to know that this one was lousy. It was just bad, and I was shaken up. How could I drop the ball like that, and lose all the momentum of the previous week!

I called a friend of mine, who is consistently one the best preachers I know, and asked her about it. She pointed out that the first sermon was for God. The number two sermon was for myself. I wanted to look good. I wanted to be seen as a good preacher. I wanted to be seen as a leader of an inspired congregation. And so, like the prophets who get targeted like Micah, the Holy Spirit stopped talking through me just long enough for me to fall flat on my face. “Therefore it shall be night to you, without vision, and darkness to you, without revelation. The sun shall go down upon the prophets, and the day shall be black over them; the seers shall be disgraced, and the diviners put to shame; they shall all cover their lips, for there is no answer from God.” I got my act together, remembered that my gifts in writing and public speaking are an offering to God, and God is the one who preachers through me, and have not often preached a sermon that bad since.

The work we do as disciples ought to be for the glory of God, not for our own. “It is easy to confuse our interests with God’s purposes, our power with God’s sovereignty, our standing with God’s glory.” So as followers of Jesus Christ, we have to be aware that it is so easy for all sinners to slide into the kind of self-serving “service” that infected the Pharisees of Jesus day and the prophets of Micah’s.

Today is All Saints day, when we look back at the great cloud of witnesses who surround us. But as we look at their history of gifts, given to the glory of God, it ought to remind us that God has given us talents and abilities as well. Gifts that God expects us to return to God

“The gifts and abilities of particular people must be seen as resources for the sake of the entire community rather than as individual endowments that distinguish people from one another.”


Monday, October 30, 2017

500 Years

500 Years from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.


Haggai 2:1b-9
1b…the word of the LORD came by the prophet Haggai, saying: 2Speak now to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people, and say, 3Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing? 4Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the LORD; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadek, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the LORD; work, for I am with you, says the LORD of hosts, 5according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you, do not fear. 6For thus says the LORD of hosts: once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; 7and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendor, says the LORD of hosts. 8The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the LORD of hosts. 9The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the LORD of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the LORD of hosts.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Matthew 4:18-22
18As [Jesus] walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea - for they were fishermen. 19And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

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

Sunday, October 22, 2017

It's Not About The Coin!

I Thessalonians 1:1-10
1Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.

2We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly 3remembering before our God and Fathir your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, 5because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake. 6And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, 7so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it. 9For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, 10and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead - Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Matthew 22:15-22
15Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said, 16So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17Tell us then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the Emperor, or not?” 18But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” 21They answered, “The emperor’s” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

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

In ancient Palestine, Jewish political thought was represented by two opposing, but equally important groups. The Pharisees who resisted Roman occupation through strict observance of Jewish Law, and the Herodians, who submitted to Rome and supported its presence and rule. They represented the Law of Jewish tradition and the Order of Roman rule. These are their stories.

Now obviously, these two groups don’t work together very often. It takes a very special circumstance for these political opponents to find common ground. Our blessed savior is a walking special circumstance. He has the support of the people, they’re amazed by his teaching and by his deeds of power. He also hasn’t done anything to offend the Roman rulers. He’s not using his influence to stir up rebellion or anything like that. His teaching does, however, challenge the authority of the religious elites.

So the Pharisees call their loyal opposition, the Herodians, and propose to trap this dangerously popular preacher: make him choose between inciting rebellion and alienating the people: get him talking about taxes.

Now, here in 21st century America, opinions on taxes range from “Taxes are how we gather resources to do what none of us can do alone,” to “All taxation is theft.” Our understanding of taxes is a little different than it was to the Jews living in 1st century Palestine. For them, it was a question of paying a tribute to an occupying power in a way that acknowledged the “divinity” of the emperor.

But Caesar is not divine, no matter how many official court documents say so. The LORD is God, the LORD alone. Using a Roman coin to promote Roman interests in their hometown? Folks paid the tax because not doing so was an act of rebellion, but they resented it. The wrath of the empire was not worth it.

So the Pharisees and the Herodians come at our Lord Jesus hoping to trap him between the wrath of Rome and the ire of the crowds. “The effect of their praise is to say ‘OK Mr. Truth-teller who never shies away from controversy, handle this hot potato.” They know that no matter which side he chooses, he’ll be in trouble. He’s stuck between the Law of Moses and the Order imposed by the empire.

This is a familiar enough story that we know that Jesus turns their trap inside out. Jesus knows that the issues at hand not really about the coin. The language of older translations has seeped into our minds, saying, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and render unto God what is God’s…” Now the Pharisees and Herodians are caught up in the same trap they set for Jesus. “…they were amazed; and they left him and went away.”

Jesus knows it’s not about the coin. It’s not about the question of the law or the ordering of society. In this moment, where we meet Jesus in this story, Jesus’s answer skewers the reason the Pharisees and the Herodians were divided in the first place. The Pharisees and the Herodians have both put something else in the place reserved for the living and true God, and those two idolatries are competing with one another. The Pharisees have made an idol out of Tradition and religious purity. The Herodians made theirs out of political power and influence. It’s not about the coin, it’s not even about the Law or about Order, these two groups of God’s chosen people have gotten sidetracked by the idols they have made for themselves.

You’re not likely to find that many actual golden calves in 21st century churches. Neither are there many statues of Canaanite fertility Gods, or even inscriptions praising the divinity of Roman emperors. But idolatry is a sickness to which everyone’s soul is still susceptible. It’s the same process taking on new forms. Anytime we put something in the place reserved for the living and true God, we have made an idol. The examples of the Pharisees and Herodians are still very much alive today. How many churches have fallen away from preaching the gospel because they began to worship tradition instead of God? How many communities of faith have chosen political power over the power of faith?

But those large categories are far from the only ways we invent “gods” that are easier to follow than our Lord Jesus Christ. Everybody has a favorite idol. The hard part is that they tend to live in our blind spots, and we can’t always see how we have slid something else onto God’s throne.

I’m as guilty of this as any other sinner. My idols are sculpted from busy-ness and standard bearing. I start by serving a gracious and generous God, whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light. But then I mistake the work for God. The work I put in has good outcomes that earn praise, and it makes me, and those I serve, look good. I take a lot of pride in the way out congregation is viewed by the Presbytery, I want us to look good, and to be good. The praise Paul and company shower on the church of the Thessalonians is exactly what I’m after. Before I know it, I’m either exhausted and overwhelmed, because instead of serving the God who gives us sabbath, I’m trying to serve the idol of pride and notoriety.

Fortunately for me, Jesus is really good about pulling me out of that mess. His answer “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s” helps me get my priorities back in order, and I can remember that what belongs to the emperor belongs to God first. I’ve had a lot of practice at falling into that trap, I’m getting better at recognizing it and pulling myself out, with God’s help.

Maybe you’re like me, and your idol is “being the best” at whatever. Maybe you’re like the Pharisees, and religious purity is your idol, and you look down on those who fail to practice their faith tradition flawlessly. Maybe you’re like the Herodians, and power and influence in your community is your idol, and the idea of losing your position in society is heresy.

Maybe the idol is something else, a symbol that has taken on religious significance, and any challenge to that symbol is offensive, even if the challenge is well meaning. Maybe the idol is a particular worldview that cannot be questioned under any circumstances.

The thing that makes idolatry so infectious is that there’s always a support group for it. One person who decided the Law of Moses was essential finds support among the Pharisees, and they push one another further down the path until the Son of God looks more like a threat than a blessing. One person finds political influence is attractive, then the Herodians come along and they encourage one another to chase it down even if they lose their identity along the way. My idol finds a support group with people who talk about being busy as though it were a virtue, and who compare reputations to find their place in life.

A support group for idolatry is called a cult. Fortunately, we worship a God who is not threatened by our attempts to put something else in his place. Instead, God intervenes to break us out of our idolatrous practices, amazing Herodians and Pharisees alike, and inspiring us to take a fresh look at how we are to remember to give to God what belongs to God, even if that means we have to make a change in our lives.

The moment we capture between Jesus as those who seek to trap him is only a fragment of the story, and we know that he’s only a few chapters away from crowds chanting “give us Barabbas!” But we also know that his crucifixion is not the full story. The idols of this world do not win in the end. We are not hopeless trapped by sin. The living and true God saves us from ourselves, and loves us no matter how many times we try and push him off of his throne.


From there, it’s on us to try and do a little better. To resist the factory of idols and to continue to serve our Lord Jesus Christ as faithfully as possible.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

What The...?


What The ...? from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.

John 6:28-35
28Then they said to him, ‘What must we do to perform the works of God?’ 29Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’ 30So they said to him, ‘What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, “He gave them bread from heaven to eat.” ’ 32Then Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ 34They said to him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’

35Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Exodus 16:1-5, 13b-31
1The whole congregation of the Israelites set out from Elim; and Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. 2The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’

4Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. 5On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.’

13…In the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. 15When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, ‘What is it?’ For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, ‘It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. 16This is what the Lord has commanded: “Gather as much of it as each of you needs, an omer to a person according to the number of persons, all providing for those in their own tents.” ’ 17The Israelites did so, some gathering more, some less. 18But when they measured it with an omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed. 19And Moses said to them, ‘Let no one leave any of it over until morning.’ 20But they did not listen to Moses; some left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and became foul. And Moses was angry with them. 21Morning by morning they gathered it, as much as each needed; but when the sun grew hot, it melted.
22 On the sixth day they gathered twice as much food, two omers apiece. When all the leaders of the congregation came and told Moses, 23he said to them, ‘This is what the Lord has commanded: “Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy sabbath to the Lord; bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil, and all that is left over put aside to be kept until morning.” ’ 24So they put it aside until morning, as Moses commanded them; and it did not become foul, and there were no worms in it. 25Moses said, ‘Eat it today, for today is a sabbath to the Lord; today you will not find it in the field. 26For six days you shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is a sabbath, there will be none.’

27On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather, and they found none. 28The Lord said to Moses, ‘How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and instructions? 29See! The Lord has given you the sabbath, therefore on the sixth day he gives you food for two days; each of you stay where you are; do not leave your place on the seventh day.’ 30So the people rested on the seventh day.

31The house of Israel called it manna; it was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey.

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

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

They Will Stand

Matthew 18:21-35
21Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ 22Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

23‘For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” 27And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow-slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, “Pay what you owe.” 29Then his fellow-slave fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” 30But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debt. 31When his fellow-slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?” 34And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt. 35So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Romans 14:1-12
1Welcome the person who is weak in faith--but not in order to argue about differences of opinion. 2One person believes in eating everything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3Those who eat must not look down on the ones who don't, and the ones who don't eat must not judge the ones who do, because God has accepted them. 4Who are you to judge someone else's servants? They stand or fall before their own Lord (and they will stand, because the Lord has the power to make them stand). 

5One person considers some days to be more sacred than others, while another person considers all days to be the same. Each person must have their own convictions. 6Someone who thinks that a day is sacred, thinks that way for the Lord. Those who eat, eat for the Lord, because they thank God. And those who don't eat, don't eat for the Lord, and they thank the Lord too. 7We don't live for ourselves and we don't die for ourselves. 8If we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord. Therefore whether we live or die, we belong to God. 

9This is why Christ died and lived: so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living. 10But why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you look down on your brother or sister? We all will stand in front of the judgment seat of God. 11Because it is written, As I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow to me, and every tongue will give praise to God. 12So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.

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

I’m always grateful, after a short time away, to come home to this congregation. We’re not in our usual worship space, but that doesn’t deter us. We know that things can be different, and still be okay. This congregation has a deep, strong faith that has nurtured hundreds of members in our more than 70 year history. Those whom God has gathered here are committed to the ministry of this congregation, and to the mission of God’s Church.

The challenges we have faced in our history, especially over the past fifteen or so years, have given us many opportunities to practice our faith. We’ve grown into a mature congregation and we love to think of ourselves as welcoming to all people. It’s right there in our mission statement: In response to God’s call, the Presbyterian 
Church of Lowell seeks to worship God, grow in faith, and show God’s love to everyone.

Enter Romans 14. “1Welcome the person who is weak in faith--but not in order to argue about differences of opinion.” As a congregation, we’re pretty good at that. We’ve got a lot of tolerance for questions, and this really is a community where it’s okay to not be okay. I think that’s wonderful, I think it’s a strength of our congregation and I think it’s a huge asset to our community.

Because in the world outside, most folks only entertain a difference of opinion so that they can show the weakness of that person’s beliefs.

Examples: news with token opposition, straw man arguments online, denominational competition,

Even when we talk about politics or theology among our friends, how often to we welcome those ideas that we consider “weak?” Or is it more common to listen only long enough to get to our own argument, so we can show them how right we are, and how wrong they are…

“2One person believes in eating everything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3Those who eat must not look down on the ones who don't, and the ones who don't eat must not judge the ones who do, because God has accepted them. 4Who are you to judge someone else's servants? They stand or fall before their own Lord (and they will stand, because the Lord has the power to make them stand).”

We’re pretty good at welcoming others. Our congregation has room for more than one side, and that in itself is a powerful witness to Christ, who has accepted them, and us, no matter what. 

Examples: suits and sweatpants, guitar and pipe organ, introspective and expressive, liberal and conservative.

As a community, we’re pretty good at this welcoming stuff. As individuals though, we sometimes miss the mark, and fall back into the selfish patterns that are so often modeled in the world around us.

Paul, the author of Romans, pulls quite the pastoral and political move here. No matter what your spiritual practice is, you can take the side of being e one who is strong in faith. “5One person considers some days to be more sacred than others, while another person considers all days to be the same. Each person must have their own convictions. 6Someone who thinks that a day is sacred, thinks that way for the Lord. Those who eat, eat for the Lord, because they thank God. And those who don't eat, don't eat for the Lord, and they thank the Lord too. 7We don't live for ourselves and we don't die for ourselves. 8If we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord. Therefore whether we live or die, we belong to God.” We who are strong enough in faith to resist the temptation to eat bad food, we must welcome those who are of weak faith. We who are strong enough in faith to know that God is okay with eating whatever, we must welcome those who are of weaker faith, and limit themselves.

Paul is using that same selfishness that has the tendency to grasp all of us, and is manipulating it for the glory of God…

Paul is showing us how even people of weak faith can come to share a strong faith.

Before I was called to be the pastor for our congregation, I spent four months in an unpaid internship with the chaplain’s office at a hospital in Spartanburg. The program is called “Clinical Pastoral Education,” usually abbreviated “CPE.” The idea is that they throw you into intense situations, then you reflect on how you functioned pastorally. Ideally, you learn something so that you can be a better pastoral presence the next time you’re called out.

There’s also a pseudo-therapeutic portion to doing this kind of supervised ministry. Walking into crisis after crisis and responding with compassion can draw out anybody’s crazy. Our supervisor met with each of us individually a number of times so that we could talk through the stuff that bubbled up as we connected with so many people on their worst day. His job was to help us explore why we acted the way we did, to unpack how unconscious biases affected our behavior. He was meant to be a teacher, a guide.

Y’all know that I’m a big fan of the sovereignty of God. I’d rather talk about the greatness of God than the goodness of God. I want a God who is strong enough to save me, who is powerful enough to call into being things which are not, who raises the dead. My supervisor was not so much into that. A powerful God was not all that attractive to him, and during one of our sessions, he wondered if perhaps I needed a powerful God because at some point in my life, someone had taken away my power.

He was right. As soon as he said it, I knew what specific moment in my life connected with his wondering. It got me thinking, maybe I need for God to be strong because my faith is weak.

Scripture certainly points to a God who is powerful. God creates out of nothing, raises the dead, parts the seas, ruins and redeems nations, we could go on quoting chapter and verse of all the myriad passages that point to an all-powerful God. So if you’re like me and need a strong God, it’s not like you’re just making it up.

But it’s not just about believing that God is great, my supervisor’s point was that I need for God to be powerful. My life experience has taught me that I am not powerful, and so some defensive part of me needs for God to fill that role for me.

Examples if I had a strong faith, I wouldn't… instead I would be better at…

Maybe that's where you are as well. Maybe your faith is strong sometimes, and weak at others. After all, faith isn't an achievement, it's a process.

I’m grateful that there’s good news for folks like me, who have a strong call, but a weak faith. We will stand, not because of our strength, but because God ha the power to make us stand.


“9This is why Christ died and lived: so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living. 10But why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you look down on your brother or sister? We all will stand in front of the judgment seat of God. 11Because it is written, As I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow to me, and every tongue will give praise to God. 12So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.”

Monday, September 4, 2017

That Time

That Time from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.


Romans 12:9-21
9Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10love one another with mutual affection; but outdo one another in showing honor. 11Do not lag in Zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12Rejoice in hope be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceable with all. 19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Matthew 16:21-28
From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and the chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.! 23But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

24Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26For what does it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

27For the Son of Man is to come with his angels and the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. 28Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.

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

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Who He Was (Preach It Again)

Isaiah 60:1-5, 19-21 
1Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
2For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you.
3Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
4Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you;
your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.
5Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you.

19The sun shall no longer be your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you by night; but the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory.
20Your sun shall no more go down, or your moon withdraw itself; for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of mourning shall be ended.
21Your people shall all be righteous; they shall possess the land for ever. They are the shoot that I planted, the work of my hands, so that I might be glorified.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Luke 19:1-10
1He entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 5When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” 6So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7All who say it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” 8Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” 9Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God