Sunday, July 26, 2015

Free to Move


Free to Move from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.
Sermon on II Samuel 7. It was delivered at the Presbyterian Church of Lowell on 7/26/2015.


Acts 7:44-50
“Our ancestors had the tent of testimony in the wilderness, as God directed when he spoke to Moses, ordering him to make it according to the pattern he had seen. 45Our ancestors in turn brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our ancestors. And it was there until the time of David, 46who found favor with God and asked that he might find a dwelling place for the house of Jacob. 47But it was Solomon who built a house for him. 48Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with human hands, as the prophet says,

49’Heaven is my throne, 
and the earth is my footstool. 
What kind of house will you build 
for me, says the Lord,
 or what is the place of my rest?
50Did not my hand make all these things?’”

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

2 Samuel 7:4-17
4But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan: 5Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the LORD: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? 6I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. 7Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” 

8Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the LORD of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; 9and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. 10And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, 11from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. 

12When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. When he commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod such as mortals use, with blows inflicted by human beings. 15But I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever. 17In accordance with all these words and with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David.

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

In the chapters leading up to 2nd Samuel 7, David takes his place as king, establishes his capital in Jerusalem, and brings the ark of the covenant into the royal city with joy and dancing. David's enemies are defeated, God's people are prosperous, and for the moment everything seems right with the world.

So David looks around his grand palace, and announces that it’s time for God to have a house too. So he goes to the prophet Nathan, and essentially asks for a building permit. Nathan thinks it’s a good idea, so he gives his king the go-ahead.

That evening, the LORD pulls Nathan aside for a little chat: “…that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the LORD: Are you the one to build me a house to live in?”

A house gives stability, comfort, and shows wealth, power, and permanence. But it also comes with obligations and upkeep and can hold its owners in place, as anyone who’s waited hours for a repair person can attest.

A tent, on the other hand, is less secure. It's vulnerable to weather and you can't exactly lock a tent. It does, however, frees you to move. One can set up and tear down a tent in as many different places as needed. God remains in a tent because he’s not done growing his people. God will not be kept out of the fields where his people work and live just to stay closed up in a royal temple. God’s not interested in a house at this point. “I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, ‘Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’” In the tent, God is free to move about among all the people of Israel, not just the wealthy and powerful who can afford to visit a temple in the capital.

The LORD is free to move, and is not going to let the temple happen until God is ready for it to happen. But his “no” to the building project is not a “no” to his servant David. God also reminds David that the LORD is with him, and has been his whole life. “Thus say the LORD of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you.” As King, ”David is the creation of [the LORD's] powerful, relentless graciousness. That is true in the past; it will be true in the future.” God is going to hold on to David and build him up.

Moreover, God is building up all of his people. This is not a “rising tide lifts all ships” kind of wisdom, this is a special relationship between God’s people and the one who is free to move about among all the people. As God moves about, he "will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them.”

Then God chooses to move in a different way. He commits not only to his people Israel and to his servant David, but also to those who come after. “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” God is declaring a new covenant with David and his house, one that is not dependent of human ability, but is dependent on the free gift of God’s steadfast love. This is a new thing.

When I was in high school, one of my teachers was known for moving around the room while he lectured. His lectures were brilliant and compelling. He wandered around the room sharing information and interpreting it in a way that kept the classes attention, which is no small feat for a room full of sleepy eleventh graders. I picked up a good bit of my presenting style from watching him. Especially, in his words, “not being a potted plant.” The way he moved around the room enhanced his energetic lectures, and had the bonus side effect of scanning the room for anyone who wasn’t on task.

So throughout high school and college, when I gave a presentation, I made sure that I wasn’t a potted plant either, that I could wander back and forth across the room, glancing at an outline on the lectern but not being bound by it.

Then, my senior year at Presbyterian College, I took a Southern Literature course. The professor was a man name Dean Thompson, and he’s one of the kindest, most gracious people I’ve met. He was also deaf. If you ever hear me talk about playing something by "hearing aid" instead of by ear, I picked that up from him.

One day, I was giving a presentation in his class, wandering back and forth, as was my custom, when he caught my eye, and made a very clear planting motion. He needed me to stay in one spot as I presented because he could not read my lips while I was moving around the room. The technique that was effective in many contexts was unhelpful in others.

In 2nd Samuel 7, God announces to Nathan, to David, to the people Israel, and to the world, that he is not a potted plant. However, God is also announcing that things are going to be different going forward. David wanted to make things different by building a temple. "In principle a temple lives in tension with the ark. Whereas the ark articulations God's freedom and mobility, the temple removes the danger and possibility that God might depart.” God says “no” to the temple, but affirms David both as a king and as a servant of God. A human-built temple will not bind God’s freedom to move, but God makes a covenantal promise to remain, and to love those whom he has chosen forever.

God will be with David and his family and will not abandon them as he had Saul. Saul’s kingship had caught the bad end of God’s “if.” As in, “if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall my treasured possession out of all the nations.” Saul had wandered off away from the covenant. But God’s covenant with David does not have an “if.” It’s more promise than contract. “This core statement of royal faith is a bold departure from the conditional character of the Mosaic 'if'... Therefore, interpretation must struggle with the tension of 'if' and 'nevertheless' that is present in the Bible, in our own lives, and in the very heart of God.” The LORD tells Nathan, and therefore David, that God will not be locked away from moving around with his people, but that he will also not leave the house of David. If God so desires, God is free to move wherever, and among whomever, he chooses. He has chosen, nevertheless, to plant his steadfast love with the house of David.

We see the blending of God’s freedom to move and the dependability of God’s steadfast love most clearly in Christ. In Jesus Christ, we have a king from the house of David who "has no place to lay his head." He is free to move throughout Judea and among all of God’s people. Even when we tried to bind him in death, Christ did not stay entombed. He broke through the power of sin and death and rules from God's right hand. He is of the house and lineage of David, and he is God-with-us. In the tents and tabernacles and temples, in the triumphs and troubles and travels, God is with us. God is free to move among his people, and neither our sins, nor David's failings, not Solomon's arrogance, nor the armies of Babylon, will remove us from God's steadfast love. Seems like I read somewhere that "neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

This love is assured not out of our deserving, but as a free gift of God's sovereign love. God can do what he wants, even rescuing slaves and making them a great nation. God can do what he wants, including making a shepherd into a king. God can do what he wants, even saying "no" to a king. God can do what he wants, including stand behind the imperfect King David. God can do what he wants, even becoming a human being for the sake of our redemption. God can do what he wants, and that includes loving us beyond all merit. God can do what he wants, and I believe that includes doing amazing things through this church.


Those amazing things God is already doing through us free us to move through this world and with joy, with hope, and with love. God is building the kingdom through us, in tents and tabernacles and in testimony and truth. God is free to move, and bound by the steadfast love we have in Christ Jesus, we are free to follow.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Wilderness Rest


Wilderness Rest from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.


Mark 4:30-56

30The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31He said to them, "Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest for a while." For many were coming and going and they had no leisure even to eat. 32And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.

35When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, "This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; 36send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat." 37But he answered them, "You give them something to eat." They said to hem, "Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?" 38And he said to them, "How many loaves have you? Go and see." When they had found out, they said, "Five, and two fish." 39Then he ordered the people to sit down on the green grass. 40So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. 41Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. 42And all ate and were filled; 43and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.

45Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46After saying farewell to them, he went up on the mountain to pray.

47When evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. 48When he saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the sea. He intended to pass them by. 49But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; 50for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, "Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid." 51Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, 52for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.

53When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 54When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, 55and rush about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might tough even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

We were sent out. Nothing but a walking staff and a message. We were sent out to tell the good news of God, that the kingdom of God is at hand. Beginning with the twelve, sent out in pairs, we spread throughout Galilee, and God did amazing things through us.

Now we who have been sent gather in one place around our teacher. We're excited almost beyond words because we have seen the kingdom of God blossoming around us. "The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught." In praise, joy, and excitement, we can't contain ourselves, our amazement is more than we can process!

We were sent out. We were sent into a hurting world and we have seen the healing that is at hand. The name of Jesus is becoming known, the secret is starting to leak out. This man Jesus is someone special, and we have seen and done great things in his name.

So we gather together, filled with a special knowledge that God is intervening in our lives. In our comings and goings we have seen that this man Jesus is someone special. Jesus speaks: "Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while."

Wait, I thought we were supposed to be out in the world? I thought we were supposed to do God's work? You know, be the hands and feet of Christ and all that. Let's go out and do some mission work!

But they listen to Jesus nevertheless, "And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them."

We talked about this at length at Lunch Bunch on Tuesday. One person pointed out that these are the towns from which the apostles have just returned, they've been talking about Jesus and doing amazing things, and now they're on the move again, and this time Jesus is with them. They're following the disciples because they knew they were following Jesus, and the crowds wanted to see this Jesus whose name had become known.

Then, one of our lunch bunch pointed out that a crowd of five thousand people is probably visible from a boat on a lake. If your goal, Jesus, was to sail over to a deserted place where the disciples could rest, perhaps you could have changed course when you saw the deserted place suddenly filled with a multitude of people?

But seeing that crowd, I think Jesus's compassion changed his mind. "...he had compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things." Looking at his weary, but excited, disciples, and at the expectant crowd, Jesus knows that "throughout Israel's life the wilderness is a place...where God often encounters the faithful and provides sustenance, protection, renewal, and direction." So he parks the boat, and begins teaching, knowing that as he teaches, the disciples will find rest as well.

If this were Matthew's gospel, we'd have a record of the teaching, and it would be full of references to the law and the prophets. If this were Luke, we've have a portrait of Jesus as teacher, and we'd see all his references to women and the poor, and reaching beyond social boundaries.

But this is Mark. So the report we have is that "he began to teach them many things." Then we move on to what Jesus does. Because the identity of this Jesus will not be revealed through essays or wisdom, but by his whole story. Jesus is the inbreaking of the kingdom of God.

The kingdom of God is at hand in the person and work of Jesus Christ, about whom the disciples have testified, from whom the apostles were sent, by whom the church is still fed. Our scripture passage this morning is a series of miracle stories that keep the question of Jesus’s Identity firmly in our faces. His name has become known, and throngs of people gather because they heard the disciples’ testimony. They had seen the miracle from far off, and now they wanted to experience him up close. The crowds, and the disciples too, try and figure this man Jesus out.

He’s obviously a miracle worker. He goes out into a deserted place and feeds five thousand men with five loaves and two fish, and then they have more leftovers than they started with. Maybe this Jesus is a prophet, like Moses who led the people through the wilderness and gave them bread from heaven, manna.

Not quite. He speaks on God’s behalf, sure. But he’s also something more. After all, it wasn’t Moses who provided manna in the wilderness. Jesus sends the disciples back onto the boat, they’ve been fed, and now they’ll have the boat ride to be by themselves and share stories and process all they’ve seen. Jesus sends the crowd away and takes some time to himself to pray.

Then comes another miracle. In the midst of a storm, and seeing all their striving, Jesus walks out into the sea. “He intended to pass them by.” Now that seems strange to us, wouldn’t Jesus go and help them? Shouldn’t he save the disciples from their “straining at the oars against an adverse wind?”

When Jesus intends to pass them by, it was to show them that the same God who passed by Moses and led him up to Mt. Sinai was with them. The same God who passed by Elijah as he hid from Jezebel also protected them.

The identity of Jesus Christ is revealed across these transitions as more than can be shown in any one excerpt. Jesus sends us out, he gathers us in, he brings us into the wilderness to rest, and feeds us. He passes by us in our storms to give us faith and courage, moving us from terrified to utterly astounded with the words “Take heart, it is I; do no be afraid.” The question is left unasked, but it is firmly in front of us: Who is this man who carries us to a wilderness rest and back, who feeds thousands and walks on water in the midst of a storm.?

The storm has ended, and they have made it to their destination. “When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat.” I’d imagine they did not feel much more rested than when they left for their wilderness rest. But as the calm settled over the sea of Galilee and their oars no longer had to compete with storm-tossed currents, the disciples knew that their teacher, their prophet, their shepherd, their God was up to something special in their midst.

The people of Gennesaret have seen Jesus do amazing things from far off. They’ve heard of multiplying loaves, maybe some of them were even there when it happened. They have begun to grasp who Jesus is, and that he brings them healing and hope in a world full of fear. So they bring out their sick, hope he will bless them, touch them, heal them.

The disciples don’t quite know how to respond as the identity of Jesus Christ is revealed to them. They have fluttered around him, they have advised him, they have feared him and been utterly astounded by him. “…for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.” They’re still living the story.

So are we.

We’re still living the story that sets the identity of Jesus Christ in front of us, and asks us how we will respond to who this man is. We’ll find him in the welcoming handshakes of visitors and in the traditional forms of worship we observe. We’ll find him on mission trip in Petersburg Virginia and in Chicken-Pot-Pie Production nights. This man Jesus on Nazareth meets us in our homes, in our communities, in our jobs and in our daily activities.

Who he is defines and shapes who we are. Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. He’s the crucified Messiah and the Risen Lord. He’s the one who heals in Gennesaret. He’s the one who walks on the water of the sea of Galilee and calms the storms. He’s the one who prays by himself and still knows when we are struggling. Jesus is the one who feeds multitudes and challenges us to give them something to eat as well. He’s the one who takes us to a deserted place to rest by ourselves, and then shows us that “by ourselves” includes more people than we may have guessed.


We know the story that reveals who Jesus is. We are still telling the story of who we are as a result. But know this, as we step out into the world together, our story is built on the firm foundation of the identity of Jesus Christ. No matter how we tell our own story, we tell it gathered around Jesus, just as the apostles did, so the church does still.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

One Safe Place


One Safe Place from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.


Mark 4:35-41
35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, "Let us go across to the other side." 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 

38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?"

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Psalm 91
1You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, 
2will say to the Lord, "My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust." 
3For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence; 
4he will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. 
5You will not fear the terror of the night, or the arrow that flies by day, 
6or the pestilence that stalks in darkness, or the destruction that wastes at noonday. 
7A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. 
8You will only look with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked. 
9Because you have made the Lord your refuge, b the Most High your dwelling place, 
10no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent. 
11For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. 
12On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone. 
13You will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot. 
14Those who love me, I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name. 
15When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them. 
16With long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation.

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

I sure have missed you people. I just got back from a week long mission trip up in Petersburg VA, before that I was on vacation for 10 days at Glacier National Park up in Montana. I’ve missed y’all, and this place, while I’ve been on the road. After 57 sermons in this pulpit, this sanctuary feels like home to me.

Each year, Workcamp chooses a theme. This year, the theme was “One Safe Place.” It’s taken from a song by Marc Cohn. So I’ve been reflecting on what a safe place is for a while.

Flying out of Helena, Montana is an experience. It’s a regional airport, so it doesn’t have the extended hallways and moving sidewalks that we see in Charlotte-Douglass or Atlanta-Hartsfield. I’m pretty confident that there were more TSA agents there than passengers. They had the x-ray for our carry-on and the metal detectors for all the passengers. They had the blue latex gloves in case they had to check pockets or a bag.

All those elements, the uniforms, the technology, the plexiglass barriers, were in place to make us feel safer. Wouldn’t you know it, my suspicious looking face got pulled aside for additional screening?

This is on the way back from our vacation, and the only souvenir I picked up was a hat. Everything else had been through security back in Atlanta when we first flew out. But they went through my bag nonetheless, because the gate on the other side had to be a safe place.

Turns out I accidentally smuggled a small pocket knife through Atlanta security. Near as I can figure, it fell out of the pocket of a pair of pants sometime back in 2007 and has lived behind the inner lining of that suitcase ever since. The security guard who found it behind that lining had to call her supervisor over to see if it was considered “concealed.”

They were very reasonable about the whole thing and let me go after the confiscated the knife. I repacked my bag to join the rest of my family at the gate on the other side of the security equipment and plexiglass that was meant to make the plane feel safe.

Three days later I drove to Petersburg VA with a truckload of power saws, chisels, utility knives, hammers, hand tools of every kind knowing that I was headed to One Safe Place.

At Workcamp, the staff pride ourselves in teaching the youth who come to us that they are capable of doing more than they ever imagined. A church will send us a van full of teenagers, some of whom have never held a screwdriver, and we’ll put a circular saw in their hand and teach them how to use it.

At Workcamp, we welcome people from a variety of backgrounds: affluent and wanting, protestant and catholic, civilian and military, black and white; and we stuff them into a gym together and make them play silly games and do bizarre dances together until they trust one another enough to open up and share their struggles and triumphs with one another.

At Workcamp, we go out into the city of Petersburg and rebuild people’s homes and lives. Some of those homes are in rural areas where the resident is lonely and needs someone to talk to as much as they need to have their handicap ramp repaired. Some of those home are in the historic district, where an elderly lady needs that assurance that someone still cares about her, even if it’s just a teenager who comes to repaint the inside of her living room.

Sometimes we walk into dangerous neighborhoods, with a higher crime rate than the rest of the city. One of my residents this year was named Emma, and in the last few months her home has been broken into multiple times, and not just burglarized, but vandalized as well. Family portraits smashed, obscenities painted on the walls. She’s the sweetest old lady you’ll ever meet, but she’s been made a victim in her own home.

Workcamp came into her home too. We sent five teenagers and one adult, and in four and a half days they rebuilt her back stairs, installed a new handrail, repainted her bedroom, replaced some of her floorboards, added some tin flashing around her roof, and added new deadbolt locks to her front and back doors.

More important than the construction and home repair, Crew 10 made an old lady feel loved, made her feel safe in her own home again. When they said goodbye at the end of the week, she wept for love of them and in gratitude for the blessing that these teenagers had been to her.

After 57.5 sermons in this pulpit, this sanctuary feels like home to me. But as we see time and time again in scripture, home is not a hiding place. It’s a safe place that equips us to face the challenges of following Christ into the world. Our church family is a safe place where we experience God and also lovingly challenge one another to grow, to engage with one another rather than withdraw.

One Safe Place. Not “the only safe place,” but one of many. A safe enough place that we experience love even in the midst of chaos and suffering. It is not boatbuilding or sailing skill that kept the disciples safe in the midst of the storm. Christ was with them in the storm, and that’s what made their boat a safe place.

It’s not the technology at the airport or the locks on our doors or any weapons that keep us safe. It’s the love we feel around us. We are safe in the arms of the Most High God. We feel God’s protective embrace in the arms of our brothers and sisters in Christ. “You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.’ For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence; he will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.”

Tri-Cities Workcamp is a place where we have a lot of practice making people feel safe enough to be vulnerable, a place where Workcampers are safe enough to accept challenge and grow in faith and wisdom. 

This church is that too. For so many people in our congregation and in our community, I believe that one of the gifts of our congregation is that we are a church where it’s ok to not be ok. We can struggle and still love one another. We can even fall down from time to time and that’s ok. So we’re going to work on developing that gift. Our sanctuary feels a lot like home to us, and we as a church family will continue to build a safe place that remembers, and is guided by, God’s promises “Those who love me, I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name. When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them. With long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation.”

After 58 sermons in this pulpit, this sanctuary feels like home to me. And I know that we have seen God’s salvation in Christ Jesus, and we know that we are held safe even in the midst of a fearful world. It may not always be as dramatic as a Workcamp story, but in response to God’s call, we will worship God, grow in faith, and show God’s love to everyone. Because God’s call is what has made us a safe place. Therefore, we heed Christ’s ageless call by healing, teaching, and reclaiming, serving God by loving all.


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Wisdom and Wonder


Wisdom and Wonder from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.


Proverbs 2:1-11
1My child, if you accept my words and treasure up my commandments within you, 
2making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; 
3if you indeed cry out for insight, and raise your voice for understanding; 
4if you seek it like silver, and search for it as for hidden treasures— 
5then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. 
6For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; 
7he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk blamelessly, 
8guarding the paths of justice and preserving the way of his faithful ones. 
9Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path; 
10for wisdom will come into your heart and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul; 
11prudence will watch over you; and understanding will guard you. 

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

John 14:1-14
1‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4And you know the way to the place where I am going.’ 5Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ 6Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’

8Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’ 9Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? 10Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

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

I drove down to Charleston this weekend. Leah’s college roommate got married yesterday, and Leah was a bridesmaid. It’s about a four hour trip from Shelby to Charleston, and I was very cognizant of the connection between those two cities this week.

My heart is troubled by the connection. Wednesday night an angry young man walked into a Bible Study in  Charleston and killed nine people. He fled the city and was arrested a few miles from my house in Shelby. The church at which he opened fire is one of the oldest historically black congregations on this continent. It has been a sanctuary through centuries of racism and violence. This week in Charleston, racism and violence invaded the church again.

I drove down to Charleston this weekend. I was heavy-heartedly heading to a celebration. The news reports that drifted across the radio as I drove down focused on the story of the shooting at the Emmanuel church in Charleston.

My heart is troubled today because when I look at the world through the spectacles of scripture, I am left with few answers. Both of our scripture passages this morning make promises that God will protect us and provide for us. Proverbs tells us that “Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk blamelessly, guarding the paths of justice and preserving the way of his faithful ones.” The Gospel of John promises that “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”

When I read the world through those passages, my heart is troubled. These promises are reliable and true, yet violence and injustice seem to seep out of every pore of our culture. How long, O LORD, until your truth asserts itself and justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream?

The Gospel of John is not stranger to the tension we feel when we see the promises of God, but do not see how they are being fulfilled. At Lunch Bunch this week, we wrestled with this text. Seeing the distance between God’s promises and the reality in which we live, they said that we have to have faith that this will happen, and the patience to see it in the Father’s time. John’s gospel emerges from a community of outsiders, whose faith and patience were under strain. They longed for comfort and assurance. In this long, final speech of Jesus to his disciples, he is preparing them for when he is most violently rejected by the world. He gives us words of comfort which we will not understand until after he has been crucified and raised again. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.”

As we are carried along by the Gospel narrative, we are given a moment to float upon these words of assurance before we plunge into the violence and injustice that leads to the cross, and eventually the empty tomb. “I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 

The place where he is going is the cross. From there he will go to the tomb. From the empty tomb is will ascend to the Father. When Jesus prepares a place for us, that’s how he does it. The violence of the cross and the wonder of the resurrection are the centerpiece of Christian belief. But Thomas hasn’t seen those events unfold yet. So he asks, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

I’d like to remind everyone that scripture never calls Thomas “doubter.” That’s a nickname we’ve added, and it brings a truckload of baggage along with it. In this passage, Thomas is asking for clarification, for direction, so that he can be ready to rejoin Jesus when he comes to take us to himself. He is, as Proverbs urges us, “making [his] ear attentive to wisdom and inclining [his] heart to understanding.” Thomas does “indeed cry out for insight and [raises his] voice for understanding;”

Jesus does not give him the answer he expects. Instead of a map, Jesus gives him an identity: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” When he tells the disciples, and us, that we know the way, he is promising that we know him. Our comfort is in the identity of Jesus Christ, whom we know because he made his home among us.

Jesus know where he is going. He knows the way, and the truth, and the life, all lead to the cross. So on his last evening with the disciples, he tells them as clearly as he can who he is. “If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” Jesus Christ has made the Father known, and we are amazed that this man whom we know is also the Word made flesh, God the only son has made God known.

One of my favorite theologians once wrote that "Revelation yields not the solution to a problem but the unveiling of a mystery.” It’s not difficult to find problems, although solutions sometimes evade us. But the mystery of faith is something more. It gives us a sense of wonder as we walk through God’s creation.

I needed a little wonder as I drove down to Charleston, heavy-heartedly heading to a celebration. Reports came over the news radio. The young man who is accused of entering that Charleston church and opening fire appeared in court this week also. he videoconferenced in from a secure room in the courthouse while the families of the victims gathered in the courtroom. After the young man answered a few questions, the families were given the opportunity to speak.

What followed was the most flabbergastingly powerful display of faith: Every family spoke of their grief, of how hurt they were. Every family also told the young man that they forgave him. That audio clip floated across the radio every ten miles or so, because that kind of radical forgiveness runs against the grain of every human instinct and wounded reflex we’ve got.

The days are coming when we can be guided by God’s gift of wisdom and wrestle with the history of violence and racial injustice which we have all inherited. We will work to “understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path.” But their courtroom forgiveness is a powerful witness to the gospel as expressed in John: A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light. In the face of violent racism, one community of faith, one group of families, stood up to say that the grace of God is stronger than gunfire.

This morning, the people who are the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church gathered to worship. This morning and in the ongoing future to come, they will pray together, they will sing together, they will grieve together. They will proclaim the gospel together, because they have seen the darkness, but they know that a light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.


Thanks be to God for that. Amen.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Vaguely Particular


Vaguely Particular from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.


Micah 6:6-8
6 ‘With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings, with calves a year old? 
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with tens of thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’ 
8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? 

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Romans 12:1-8
1I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

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

Last week, we explored why we do what we do. We remembered together our family history, and how our gratitude move us into the future as we seek to follow Christ. Our discipleship is a grateful response in faith to what God has already done.

The prophet Micah is looking for ways to respond to God. Yet he is so struck by the majesty of our Lord that he cannot find any gift that is worthy. Bulls? Not enough. Rivers of oil? Insufficient. Perhaps his firstborn? Not really God's style.

How about instead we live our lives differently in response to God's grace? God "has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" Looks simple enough. Do Justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God. Three things to make up a holy offering to the one who creates, redeems, and sustains us. Simple.

Too bad simple and easy don't mean the same thing.

The beginning of Romans 12 gives us a similar charge, "I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect."

Yeah! That's a great idea! We should totally do that!

Just one question.

How do we do that.

How do we present our bodies as a living sacrifice when body image is one of our culture’s the largest sources of shame? How do we not conform to this world when we're surrounded by it all the time? How do we be transformed by the renewing of our minds when we never have a chance to rest? How do we discern the will of God when so many other voices are shouting in our ears?

How do we "Do Justice" when our nation's criminal justice system is so obviously broken? How do we "Love Kindness" when we see so many examples of people who are taken advantage of in their moment of need? How do we "Walk Humbly" when our leaders are never able to show weakness for fear of losing political points?

You know, looking at all these questions, looks like these simple instructions are pretty difficult. Hey God, you sure you don’t want the burnt offerings? I mean, I could probably come up with some calves, some goats, we’ve got some cooking oil in the kitchen, you could have that! We could even get a discount if we ordered in bulk…

No? You’d rather have the justice and stuff? Alright.

Problem is, I think those things are beyond the reach of sinners like me. I know most of the time I’m going to choose to do what benefits me. Most of the time I’m going to love what’s entertaining. Most of the time I’m going to walk arrogantly in front of others. Most of the time I’m going to think of myself more highly than I ought to think.

And yet.

And yet God has shown us, fellow mortals, what is good.

We have seen what is good when God creates each new day, reminding us that God created all that exists with a word and then pronounced them good. We have seen what is good when God liberates the oppressed and brings them to the promised land. We have seen what is good when God sends us into an exile of our own making and then brings us home again so that we will know that the LORD is God. The mighty works of God have shown us time and again, that though we are unworthy, God is good.

God has shown us, fellow mortals, what is good. for god has show us himself, most clearly in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

The saving work of Jesus Christ shows us the ultimate good. We know that Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection have rewritten who we are, and the free gift of God’s grace has overwhelmed our selfishness and engraved God’s covenant upon our hearts. Our story is defined by God’s goodness that extends to the cross and out the other side at the empty tomb.

Micah asks us, “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high?” The give-and-go transactions fall short. We cannot repay what we have been given. But through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, we have seen what is good. We can respond to the free gift of God’s grace and confidently approach the throne of the Holy One.

We shall come before the Lord and bow ourselves before God on high with the kind of justice that loves enemies and prays for those who persecute, praying even at the height of suffering, “Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” We’ll worship God with the kind of kindness that restores broken people to themselves and their community, that lifts up the fallen and tells them to go and sin no more. We’ll walk humbly with God even when God takes us places we would not choose to go, driven into the wilderness by God’s Spirit, taking the road to Jerusalem even though it means going to the cross.

We are already being transformed by the renewing of our minds. That transformation and renewal come only from the grace and power of the Holy Spirit who is present and active among us. The saving work of Christ defines our identity and is the center of our story. By grace through faith, we are liberated from sin and death, and are empowered by the Holy Spirit to face what challenges lie before us as we seek to worship God, grow in faith, and show God’s love to everyone. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are able to discern what is the will of God - what is good and acceptable and perfect.

For God has shown us what is good through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. That grace enables and empowers us to discern God’s will and to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.

Just because we’ve seen it though, doesn’t make it easy. Justice, Kindness, and Walking Humbly with God are still very hard work. Part of what makes it difficult is that there’s not a formula for it! Justice in one situation make look different in another. An action that shows loving kindness to one person might be destructive to another. Walking humbly with God can take us to a variety of places. Our description of what is good, of what is required of us, is delightfully vague. It proclaims that God is free to act differently in particular situations. God’s grace always comes from the same source, but it often takes different, vaguely particular forms.

Part of walking humbly with God is not assuming we’re better than others just because God is acting differently in different communities. As we begin Bible School this week, we’ll explore the different ways God calls us to act, because in God we live, move, and have our being. We’ll have different stations at Bible School not as gimmicks to draw folks in, but because God speaks to people in different ways.

Part of our Presbyterian heritage is listening for God in a variety of places, because God can speak through any voice. “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” God has assigned us each a measure of faith so that we can enact our Christian identity in different way as God calls us.

“For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function,” God not only embraces diversity, God demands it. God creates people who think, work, and act differently so that the body of Christ may be a more complete image of God.

“So we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.” We belong to one another, and more importantly, to God. As we respond to God, we may be called to do so in different ways, in different places.

“We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.” So long as we walk humbly with God, our particular calling will focus on the one who created us. so long as we love kindness, each member’s individual walk will be in the footsteps of our redeemer. So long as we do justice, our participation in builtding up the kingdom of God will be inspired by our sustainer.


I may only have a vague picture of the particulars, but God has shown us, fellow mortals, what is good. And I, for one, am excited about where God’s vision is taking us.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Why Bother?


Why Bother from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.


Romans 5:12-17 (CEB)
12So, in the same way that sin entered the world through one person, and death came through sin, so death spread to all human beings with the result that all sinned. 13Although sin was in the world, since there was no Law, it wasn't taken into account until the Law came. 14But death ruled from Adam until Moses, even over those who didn't sin in the same way Adam did--Adam was a type of the one who was coming. 15But the free gift of Christ isn't like Adam's failure. If many people died through what one person did wrong, God's grace is multiplied even more for many people with the gift--of the one person Jesus Christ--that comes through grace. 16The gift isn't like the consequences of one person's sin. The judgment that came from one person's sin led to punishment, but the free gift that came out of many failures led to the verdict of acquittal. 17If death ruled because of one person's failure, those who receive the multiplied grace and the gift of righteousness will even more certainly rule in life through the one person Jesus Christ.

This is the Word of the Lord
Thanks be to God

Joshua 24:1-25 (NRSV)

1Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God. 2And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel; Long ago your ancestors - Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor - lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods. 3Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan and made his offspring many. I have him Isaac; 4and to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. I gave Esau the hill country of Seir to possess, but Jacob and his children went down to Egypt. 5Then I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt with what I did in its midst; and afterwards I brought you out. 6When i brought your ancestors out of Egypt, you came to the sea; and the Egyptians pursued your ancestors with chariots and horsemen to the Red Sea. When they cried out to the LORD, he put darkness between you and the Egyptians, and made the sea come upon them an cover them; and your eyes saw what I did to Egypt. Afterwards you lived in the wilderness a long time. 8Then I brought you to the land of the Amorites, who lived on the other side of the Jordan; they fought with you, and I handed them over to you, and you took possession of their land, and I destroyed them before you. 9Then King Balak son of Zippor of Moab, set out to fight against Israel. He sent and invited Balaam son of Beor to curse you, 10but I would not listen to Balaam; therefore he blessed you; so I rescued you out of his hand. 11When you went over the Jordan and came to Jericho, the citizens of Jericho fought against you, and also the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hitties, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; and I handed them over to you. 12I sent the hornet ahead of you, which drove out before you the two kings of the Amorites; it was not by your sword or by your bow. 13I gave you a land on which you had not labored, and towns that you had not built, and you live in them; you eat the fruit of vineyards and olive yards that you did not plant.

14Now therefore revere the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. 15Now if you are unwilling to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

16Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods; 17for it is the LORD our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; 18and the LORD drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for his is our God.”

19But Joshua said the the people, “You cannot serve the LORD, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. 20If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good.” 21And the people said to Joshua, “No, we will serve the LORD!” 22Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the LORD, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” 23He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel.” 24The people said to Joshua, “The LORD our God we will serve, and him we will obey.” 25So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statues and ordinances for them at Shechem.

This is the Word of the Lord
Thanks be to God

I grew up with this our Old Testament passage, or rather, a portion of it. Both my parents and my Grandparents have a plaque prominently displayed in their respective houses that read “The Taber House, Choose this day whom you will serve...But as for me and my house, we shall serve the LORD.” My presence with you today is a testament to how my family has adopted this almost defiant challenge as a motto. So when I read those lines in this text, I immediately connected it to my rich family history, and all the things that have happened with my ancestors to bring me to the point in my life when my vocation is to actively pursue God.

This text begins with a reminder for the people of Israel, a reminder of all the things that have happened with their ancestors to bring them to this point. Joshua makes sure everybody is there to be reminded. One could imagine the scene, everybody gathers together, closes up their shops, ties up their animals, puts down whatever they’re doing, and goes to listen to Joshua deliver the word of God. Then Joshua calls up all the community leaders, for us it would be the teachers, the lawyers, the doctors, the preachers… They get to sit in the hot seat, or as our passage puts it, “They presented themselves before God.” All of Israel are about hear the word of the LORD, and the elders get to sit right under God’s nose while it is spoken.

They get a History Lesson from author of all creation. “Long ago, your ancestors...lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods.” But God intervened, and brought Abraham out of Ur and into Canaan. Abraham was childless, but God intervened. “I gave him Isaac, and to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau.” Jacob, the same man who would wrestle with God, father the beginnings of the twelve tribes of Israel, and in chapter 35 of Genesis tells his household to put away their foreign gods in Shechem, the same city where all of Israel is now gathered. The same man who would lead his family to Egypt, where they survived a great famine, and eventually became slaves.

But God intervened, and brought the people out of their slavery in Egypt into the wilderness, where God transformed a slave population into a nation. And many battles later, God reminds the people standing in the land given to their ancestor Abraham hundreds of Godly interventions before that “I gave you a land on which you had not labored, and towns that you had not built, and you live in them; you eat the fruit of vineyards and olive yards that you did not plant.”

God has given the people these things, they did not earn them. It is not a matter of deserving, it is a matter of God giving freely as God so chooses. In the face of the free gift of God, Joshua responds “Now therefore revere the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.”

Interestingly though, this is an option, not a command. Joshua says “Now if you are unwilling to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living;” There’s no downside offered here, only an account of what God has done. If God has not intervened in our lives and in our history enough for you, go ahead and worship the gods of other nations, and remember that this was their land first, and that the LORD gave it to us. Do what you want, “but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

The people speak in one voice: “Far be it from us to forsake the LORD and serve other gods!...We too will serve the LORD, for he is our God.” There is no mention of what God will do in the future for the Israelites. As far as this passage is concerned, the promise has been fulfilled. God has intervened in their history and freed them from slavery, and the people are now committed to serving the LORD despite Joshua’s warnings that they will fall and be punished because there’s no way we can live up to the gifts God has given us.

So why bother? Joshua gives them the out, they won’t be expelled if they choose not to serve the LORD. They aren’t promised eternal life for serving God, or even extra “stars in their crown.” So far as I can see, this passage offers no advantage in choosing to serve God, the only threat I see is when one claims to serve God and falls to idolatry. Joshua’s call to “…therefore revere the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness;” is an invitation to enter into relationship with God, an ordination of service in gratitude to God who has already done so much for the people of Israel.

I remember when I was in high school, I was sitting on the front lawn of the school waiting for my parents to come pick me up at the end of the day, and one of my classmates, a very intelligent young woman taking upper-level classes, asked me why I was a Christian. She saw me as an equal, but what I believed did not make sense to her, and she wanted to know how I got there. I told her that’s the only way my world made sense. My story is built on the foundation of my rich family history, and all the things that have happened with my ancestors.

Christianity doesn’t erase life’s hardships, in fact, we’re told to take up our cross and rejoice in suffering. There’s no magic prayer that will solve all our problems, in fact the psalms of lament give us language to address the brokenness of the world. Calvinists like me affirm  that our salvation is not at stake based on anything we do or believe, and Christianity is a faith of doing and believing what is difficult. So why bother?

This passage provides the answer for me. The people speak with one voice saying “for it is the LORD our God who brought us and our ancestors up... out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight.” We are Christians not because it gives us a special connection with God. We are Christians because serving our Christ is how we show our gratitude for all God has already done for us.

Our slavery was to sin and death, and had been since the fall of Adam and Eve. But as Paul’s letter to the Romans tells us “The free gift of Christ isn’t like Adam’s failure. If many people died through what one person did wrong, God’s grace is multiplied even more for many people with the gift - of the one person Jesus Christ - that comes through grace.” We were slaves to sin, but now we have been brought out of the house of that bondage, and Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is our liberator. And we remember that our salvation is not earned, it is a free gift. And it is given to us by a God of love, through the one person Jesus Christ.

That is why we choose to serve Christ. We were buried together with him through baptism into his death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too can walk in newness of life. We are freed from sin’s power because we belong to God, and in gratitude to God for all God has done for us, ““The LORD our God we will serve, and him we will obey.”

The people of Israel are gathered at Shechem, and are waiting to hear the word of the LORD. We do not know what is ahead, but we know what God has already done for us, God brought our ancestors to the promised land, turned an old man into the father of a tribe, protected our tribe from a famine, brought our people out of Egypt and made us a nation. God gave the nation of Israel a home, and they chose to serve the LORD.


It is a scene of devotion. The people of Israel don’t know what is coming, but we do know what happened next. Although they are free from their Egyptian slavery, they are still under the power of sin and death. So God intervenes, and Christ breaks the power of sin and death for all of us. We’ve seen more than these Israelites could have dreamed of, and the question is still put to us, Whom will we serve? As a response in faith to all God has done for us, me and my house will serve the Lord.