Sunday, May 24, 2015

Visions of Life!


Visions of Life from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.


Ezekiel 37:1-14
1The hand of the LORD came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O LORD God, you know.” 4Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. 5Thus says the LORD God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the LORD.”

7So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. 9Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: thus say the LORD GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breath upon these slain, that they may live.” 10I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

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

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Acts 2:1-21
1When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

5Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs - in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean? 13But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

14But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.
19And I will show portends in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.

Following the Holy Spirit is like driving at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but with the faith that there’s something beyond our sight, you can make it the whole way home, one headlight beam at a time. Well, technically two beams…

Prophets like Ezekiel live just beyond the edge of our headlights. In many ways what they see is still shrouded in darkness to us, yet still they describe what they can see. It gives us hope so that we can continue moving towards their vision, trusting that there are more things under heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy.

Ezekiel speaks, brushing across the surface of his vision: “The hand of the LORD came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.” Ezekiel’s visions are not quite reality. They’re impressions, writing a theology of hope in the midst of exile and disaster.

Valleys are fertile places, where the rainwater of two mountains flows down and meets in the middle to nourish the soil. The valley is where we can expect growth, yet Ezekiel finds that once lush valley is instead filled with bones. "He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, ‘Mortal, can these bones live?’ I answered, ‘O LORD God, you know.’”

I had always read Ezekiel’s response as a statement of faith. Some variation of “all things are possible for you, O LORD God, you know.” On this visit to Ezekiel’s Valley of Dry Bones, I wondered if perhaps Ezekiel is asking God if he knows how dead these bones are. “O LORD God, you know these bones are dry and dead, right?” Perhaps the familiarity of this story has overshadowed how scandalous the news of restoration is to the people of Israel. I think I like the vision of the very human Ezekiel reminding God of mortality, so that the restoration and hope which follow can be felt even more powerfully.


Because God upends Ezekiel’s expectation of death: “Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the LORD God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the LORD.’”

“So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them.”

In the same way, the disciples were gathered together in one place, because they had experienced the risen Christ behind closed doors throughout the last fifty days, and had grown in faith each day Jesus was with them. They weren't hiding, they were waiting in remembrance of Jesus Christ who had gathered them all together into one upper room . Waiting for God to act in the same manner he had in the past.

The day of Pentecost has come, and we are all together in one place. The hand of the LORD has come upon us, and he brought us out by the spirit of The Lord and set us down in the middle of a valley. What will the Spirit do next?

Guide the people in love, and to love. God the Holy Spirit guides and sustains God’s people with grace and love. Sometimes love is a hug, sometimes love is a shove.

The Spirit of Pentecost does not bring people into the church, it sends the church out. The Spirit we receive at Pentecost loves us by shoving us out into the world to speak language which loves God supremely and loves each other too. “And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”

Now when the Spirit starts giving ability, things change. The Holy Spirit gives power. The church begins to grow. The Gospel spreads throughout the world. The Spirit is doing amazing things, and the entire next paragraph of our Acts passage unpacks how amazing this event is. “Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs - in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’”

We at the Presbyterian Church of Lowell aren’t the type to make fun of the disciples raucous new power, but If there had been Presbyterians around at that first Pentecost, I can hear us saying, “Listen Holy Spirit, I know you’re excited about all this power, and these new things you’re doing seem to have really connected, but before you make these changes, Holy Spirit, I need you to get committee approval.

New things and changes are especially tough on institutions like the Church, which are by their nature intergenerational. But the Spirit is not undoing what has happened before, she is simply expressing them in new languages.

Peter's sermon explaining what’s going on begins with Joel, an Old Testament Prophet. “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh” This outpouring of the Holy Spirit is a new thing that is right in line with who God has revealed himself to be all along. Tradition is not erased by the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, it's opened up! The expression may be new, but the truths are ancient: God intervenes in this world and is active among God's people, giving them new language in which to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

We are not waiting for the Holy Spirit, we have already received it. It has been poured out on all flesh! We may feel as if our old bones are dry and the only thing we have to offer is history, but the breath of God is within us, and our young men will see visions, and our old men will dream dreams. The LORD has spoken and is revealing himself to the world through us, through the people who are the Presbyterian Church of Lowell.


It will be scary to follow the Holy Spirit to where we are going. It will be scary. But we have come to worship and adore the LORD our God, and we know that God's Holy Spirit is moving through the world in powerful and life-giving ways. If we have the faith to follow God, speaking about God’s deeds of power in every manner as the Spirit gives us ability, we will find our souls filled with the breath of God and our bodies fed by Holy Manna from God's own hand. 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Embodied Praise


Embodied Praise from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.


Luke 24:44-53
44Then [Jesus] said to them, “There are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you - that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness on sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nation, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

50Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51While he was blessing them, he withdrew up into heaven. 52And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Ephesians 1:15-23
15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18so that with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

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

When I was in Seminary, I got involved with a local retirement center called Presbyterian Village. They saw part of their ministry as giving students the opportunity to practice worship leadership, and I was given the opportunity to preach there once a month for almost a year.

In their chapel services, the average age was probably close to 80, and at least one worshipper had seen a century pass. There was a lot of wisdom in that room, month after month, centuries-worth of experiencing God's providence, generations of witnessing the grace of Jesus Christ. Their minds and bodies were slowing down, but still they gathered each week to worship God.

Their worship service reflected their slowing bodies, they would remain seated for the Call to Worship and the Affirmation of Faith, only about half would stand for the hymns. But each time I preached there, month after month, when it came time to sing the doxology, the whole congregation would stand. Even those who came in wheelchairs because they could not walk the hallway from their room to the chapel stood up in that one moment in the service. They may not be able to stand for long, but they would absolutely stand and sing God's praises for that one moment. 

Today is Ascension Sunday, when we celebrate that the Lord who rose from the tomb also rose into heaven, and is still seated at God's right hand. Christ is still present, but the part of history when Jesus walked among us in the flesh has passed. God is now intervening in the world differently. Christ is now God-With-Us in a new way. The Holy Spirit is breathing fresh life into the people of God, giving us reasons to stand in praise. For “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness on sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nation, beginning from Jerusalem.”

Today is Ascension Sunday, and our Lord sits at the right hand of God, and we are called to hope. This is the day when the posture of the church changes. "Henceforth, the disciples are to be in a posture of anticipation, looking forward to [Jesus's] return but in the meantime awaiting the promised power from God.” As Christians, we are always up on our toes, leaning forward into the kingdom which is both already and not yet. At any moment we’re ready to rush headlong downhill into what God has planned for us.

The Ascension changes the character of the disciples, and begins to shape them into the church. the seeming disaster of the cross caught the disciples flatfooted. The shocking joy of Easter put them on their heels. But with the Ascension, the earthly ministry of Jesus has come to a close. The disciples have to be on their toes. The tomb is empty and will never again be filled, for the Son of Man has been lifted up. He was lifted onto the cross, lifted from the grave, and now has been lifted up into heaven. “Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew up into heaven” The disciples are left with a blessing, one that continues forever.

The change in their posture, the shift in their faith, is a response to the blessing of Christ, which carries them forward from the world-reforming moments to which they are witnesses. They’re brimming with anticipation for the mission that is set before them, dancing back and forth with the excitement of faith in a Risen Lord. “…the gospel always makes in clear that the impact of the faith in here, in our hearts, is because of what God did out there, in God's mighty and redemptive acts.” They have witnessed amazing things.

And you know what? So have we. Nearly Twenty Centuries after Christ’s earthly ministry, we are still witnesses to the mighty works of God. We may not have stood by as Jesus healed the blind and lame, but we have felt God’s presence with us in our own sickness, or those of a loved one. We may not have touched the wounds in the hands of the Risen Christ, but we have seen the work of those hands in our midst. We’ve seen a church racked by conflict come together to build up the kingdom in last years Vacation Bible School. We’ve seen a church that was struggling against decline come alive with new hope as old friends returned and new family joined with us. We know that hope has always been here, but what we’ve seen in this body has given us new reasons to trust the hope we’ve always had.

“I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.” Boy I’d love to take credit for the good things going on in our congregation, but it’s not about me, and it’s not about y’all. It’s about the blessing of Christ, which is given to first to the disciples, then Jerusalem, then all the world. 

We are witnesses to the mighty works of God. Some we have inherited, others we have seen firsthand. But that doesn’t mean we will not struggle. The Christian life is not an easy one, the grace we have been freely given is costly. “The resurrection does not end the fear of death or violence. Rather, the resurrected Jesus stands with us in the face of these horrors and says to us, 'Fear not, I have overcome death.’" Therefore, even in the face of death and violence, we are able to step out as the body of Christ and praise God even amid the terrifying events we will face. We are not immune, but “with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints.” We do have hope. We have a blessing from Christ that gives us the faith to be embodied praise.

We are the church, the body of Christ, and it’s not an individual calling, it’s a calling to be united as a community of faith. "Salvation is a corporate affair, known through the church as it grows into the 'fullness' of Christ's body. This is not personal salvation or new-age spirituality. Christ saves through tangible, corporeal, committed community.” Whether that community is a congregation that has been through the ringer over the last few years or a retirement community that still commits to praise. We are the church, in all its varied expressions, following Christ, who is our head.

As the body of Christ, we are not carrying our head to the places we want to go, we are bound to follow where our head takes us. Christ who is our head has ascended to God the Father, “And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” Following Christ, our head, everything we do faithfully brings us closer to God, whether we are sprinting or stumbling.

Not all of us are equally able to chase down the Holy Spirit, but none of us are so stuck that we cannot follow Christ, who has ascended to God, yet is still moving here on earth, among God’s people. Sprinting or stumbling or slowly meandering, we are moving towards God and are praising God with our whole selves, not just our mind or our spirit, but our strength too. Even if it’s just a smile, our bodies are build to praise God.

We joined the disciples in standing in awe of the ascension, just as we joined the ancient Israelites at the foot of the mountain of the LORD. We rejoice with them in our salvation, but the Israelites and the Disciples were still waiting for  what would guide and shape their identity. For the Israelites, it was the law. For the disciples, it was the Holy Spirit, fulfilling verse 49 of our Luke passage, “And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” We have been given both, and have seen the Risen Christ here in the church, which is his body. We have seen the disciples who “…worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.” Therefore, as the Body of Christ, let us eagerly anticipate what God is about to do: something amazing!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Complete, Noisy, Joy


Complete, Noisy, Joy from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.


Psalm 98
1A Psalm
O sing to the LORD a new song,  for he has done marvelous things. His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory.
2The LORD has made known his victory; he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.
3He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.

4Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break into joyous song and sing praises.
5Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody.
6With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the LORD.

7Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it.
8let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy
9At the presence of the LORD for he is coming to judge the earth. he will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

John 15:9-17
9As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

12This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

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


We've taken a step back this Sunday. We've taken a step back to when the Word became flesh and made his home among us. We've taken a step back into Jesus's earthly ministry.

We've spent the last month a half caught up in the celebration of Easter, a season that will carry us another two weeks. For forty days we lived in a Lenten wilderness, surrounded by lament and swimming in grief, all leading us to Holy Week, which began with subverted expectations and ended with a shocking resurrection. Now, in our post-resurrection light, the things Jesus said while he was among us begin to fit together.

So this Sunday, we're taking a step back. We're remembering together the things that Jesus said to us as we gathered in that upper room. We're taking a step back to remember what our Lord said in the moments before God brought us out of the house of bondage with a mighty hand. "As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love."

Christ’s command to us is to love one another, because he has loved us, because the Father has loved him. It all gets passed down with the weight of God’s gracious commandments. "If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete."

It's a little odd to talk about joy on the night of his arrest. And the disciples had much to fear, and in the days to come would see even more reason to live in fear. Their Lord would be arrested, unjustly condemned for blasphemy and sedition, and executed by the occupying Roman Empire. Yet here is Jesus, their beloved teacher, their Lord, talking about joy as if he has no idea what's going on in the world around them.

And yet he clearly knows what's going on better than anyone else in the room. Because in the days to come the disciples will see things they never imagined possible. We have seen that just beyond the reach of the cross, we have the empty tomb, and right now a few weeks later, we are living in that complete joy.

Few of us, I'd imagine, can clearly recall what complete joy looks like. Thousands of years removed from the events describe in scripture, we live in a scary looking world. The news from all over the world seems violent and bleak. We are taught to always be cautious, or someone may take advantage of us. The internet, which for my money is the greatest tool for communication since the printing press, can spread fears unbelievably fast with a viral post or a forwarded e-mail. Advertisers especially prey on our fears, telling us if we buy this gadget or that service, that the thing we're afraid of won't happen.

Our world is afraid, more afraid than it's been in a long time.

But the church is uniquely positioned, in this fearful world, to proclaim the good news that carries our joy until it is complete. The hymn we sang last week, "Come Sing, O Church, in Joy" shows us that even though the events in scripture may be far removed, the stories are near to our hearts, giving us reason to celebrate the journey now and praise The Lord. We turn to the ancient words of Psalm 98 show us what complete joy can look like: "O sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things. His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory."

Our joy is in the LORD whose kingdom cannot be contained by all the might of the Roman Empire, or any other nation for that matter. The kingdom of God cannot even be contained by the grave, for the tomb is empty. "The LORD has made known his victory; he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations. He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God." And having seen the LORD's victory, our chief end is to glorify God, and enjoy him forever.

We’re pretty good, as a people, at glorifying God. We come to worship, we drop a little money in the plate, we pray before meals, we do the Jesus thing, we even sing songs of praise. Sometimes, however, glorifying God sounds, and feels, more like a chore. Praise God from whom all blessings flow…

Sometimes we forget to enjoy God forever. We forget to ooh and ahh at the work of God’s hands. Sometimes we forget that God has truly done marvelous things. “Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break into joyous song and sing praises. Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody. With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the LORD.” Doesn’t have to be flawless technique, just has to be joyful.

So this Sunday, we’re taking a step back, remembering that although we have much to fear, we have an overriding joy in the powerful love of God. “Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it. Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy at the presence of the LORD for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity."

It’s not usually my style to tell folks what to do, I’m more of a “let’s explore this together” kind of leader, but I’m going to stake my Pastoral Authority on this: Make a joyful noise to the Lord, Presbyterian Church of Lowell. We shall put away our fear and live in complete noisy joy, because our God has done marvelous things. 

We have joy that looks at grief and death and says, "You are not the end of our story." Our story begins and ends with the love of God, and with the love of Christ, who lays down his life for his friends. We have seen lament, and know that it is a part of how we grapple with God, but the Crucifixion and Resurrection shows us that God’s right hand and mighty arm are even stronger than grief, even stronger than death, and so our laments break forth into joy.

We will sing with exclamation points, even if it means singing a touch off key. We will make a joyful noise, even if it makes us uncomfortable. We will praise and glorify God with everything we’ve got: voices and instruments and paintbrushes and knitting needles and hammers and pie crusts and numbers and coffee mugs. We will glorify God, and we will enjoy God forever, because that is our chief end.

When folks stop us and say ”What makes you so joyful?” We will tell them: We have joy in Jesus's love, joy in shared love with family and friends, we're a community of love, not fear. We can stare into the world's fear and with the confidence that only comes from Jesus, declare that God has done marvelous things. In a fearful world, we can walk with joy because we have known the love of God through Christ our Savior, who died, is risen, and will come again. We are joyful because we abide in love.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”

There is no limit on the love we are given. There is no limit on the love we are to show. We show that love by letting love, and the joy to which it leads, define us. We are commanded to love one another, and the love which made us makes us one. I cannot think of a better reason for joy than that. Joy is the fruit that we will bear out into the world, fruit that is blooms from the Love of Christ, who calls us friends. In a fearful world, we can proclaim the gospel through our Joy, because we abide in love, and are kept together by love.


Therefore, we will live in our joy, not our fear. We will make a joyful noise to the LORD. We will glorify God with every fiber of our being. We will sing praises with a new song.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Invitation of the Spirit

Invitation of the Spirit from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.



John 15:1-8
1”I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Acts 8:26-40
26Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (this is a wilderness road.) 27So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” 30So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. 32Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:
“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth.

33In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe this generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.”
34The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. 36As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” 38He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 39When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. 40But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.

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

The church is beginning to grow in Jerusalem. The Easter excitement is catching, and the apostles are seeing the good news of God spread throughout the region. They've appointed seven new converts to act as helpers, making sure that their growing group following the Way are taken care of while the apostles can concentrate on teaching. 

Philip the evangelist was one of these seven helpers, the first class of Deacons, chosen from among the people for special service to the people. After one of the other seven, a man named Stephen, is stoned to death, the church scatters, like dandelion seeds on the wind. Philip winds up in Samaria, and begins his ministry baptizing and teaching in that region. His community is growing, it's lively, it's members receive the Holy Sprit and begin doing great things.

Then Philip is called away from his church-planting success story. "Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, 'Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.' (This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went." He got up and went, believing that the same Spirit of God that hovered over the waters at creation was going with him. He got up and went, trusting that the same Wind that carried him from Jerusalem to Samaria was still spreading the dandelion-like gospel. He got up and went, knowing that that the Breath that inspired him came from the God who raises the dead.

On his way, he encounters a surprising sort of person. "Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah." These two would never have interacted apart from their relationship with Christ. The Ethiopian Eunuch had wealth, power, and connections, but he was shut out from Temple Worship. Philip, on the other hand, was Jewish and closely connected to temple life. He was an insider who was chosen by the community to serve them as a deacon, but he was not the sort of man who would have met with diplomats from Ethiopia. "...In being obedient to the Spirit, preachers like Philip find themselves in the oddest of situations with the most surprising sorts of people." Odd sorts of people such as a foreigner, and one who is cut off from the covenant, who still worships in Jerusalem and studies scripture.

The Ethiopian Eunuch was a powerful and influential man, but the power, influence, and all the treasury of the Queen of Ethiopia could not bring him into the covenant. He was excluded because of who he was, not as a matter of his birth, but as a matter of who he served, and how he served. At the invitation of the Spirit, however, ”… the Eunuch's story of shame is refracted through the story of the cross and resurrection of Christ, [and] it becomes a narrative of redemption, restoration, and hope.”

“Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over to this chariot and join it.’ So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ 31He replied, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him.” There is power in his humility, his willingness to share his chariot with some street preacher named Philip. He can read the text, but he needs help interpreting, and the hope that he senses is just past his reach. But, the invitation of the Spirit is so powerful that he will not let his weakness keep him from it, and he invites Philip to help him understand. ”This is the true reverence of Scripture, when as we acknowledge that there is that wisdom laid up there which surpasses all our senses;...but, reading diligently, we depend upon the revelation of the Spirit, and desire to have an interpreter given us." So Philip, at the invitation of the Spirit, beings with what’s in front of him, a questioning Ethiopian eunuch, and through that single passage proclaims the good news about Jesus Christ.

This Jesus is one who was wounded also. He has been cast out by those he came to serve and they crucified him. He carries the wounds his hands, his feet, his side, even after the resurrection. Isaiah points to a suffering servant, and Jesus is the one to whom he is pointing, suffering servant, wounded Messiah, crucified God, all so that humanity could be made whole again through the crucifixion and resurrection. The Ethiopian Eunuch is a servant also, a powerful one, but still a servant to the Queen of Ethiopia. He too has been wounded, he is cut off from the covenant and unable to pass on his family name. Perhaps he feels connected to Christ in the shared shame of their different wounds, perhaps he feels the invitation of the Spirit to join this new body that will one day be called Christianity. Perhaps the gospel has given him hope that he doesn’t need to be defined by his shame, but can instead be claimed by baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection. “As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?’”

Some folks may have noticed that in our pew Bibles the passage goes straight from verse 36 to verse 38. There’s a footnote at the bottom indicating that some versions of acts add one more interaction before the eunuch is baptized. “And Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’ And he replied, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’” This verse 37 was probably added by a later editor and not part of the original text, but that doesn’t mean it’s insignificant.

The presence or absence of verse 37 can make a great deal of difference to this text. Is a formal confession necessary for admittance, or is God's bringing two people together in a relationship centered on Christ enough? Is the fact that the Ethiopian Eunuch even asked to be baptized enough to admit him into this emerging community of faith? 

Seems to me that God’s action in this story is sufficient to bring the Ethiopian eunuch and Philip to this place together, and that everything is a response in faith. God’s already picked this servant and that diplomat, Philip and the Ethiopian, before either of them could confess what they believe. This isn’t a story about the importance of personal confessions, this is a story about the invitation of the Spirit extending to the farthest places and the unlikeliest people.

The Ethiopian eunuch’s question is the crux of the passage. It’s where the eunuch, risks rejection by this exciting and energizing new form of Judaism. As an Ethiopian, he was a foreigner, and the temple was for the people of Israel. As a eunuch, he was cut off from the covenant, and was forbidden from entering the Temple to worship. As a servant of a foreign Queen, he served interests other than those of the Promised Land. In every way imaginable, he did not fit. Yet he still has the hope that he can be included, that this wounded Lord called Jesus could bring him wholeness and belonging. Dr. Tom Long, who has taught preaching at some of the top Divinity Schools in the nation, summarizes this passage in a particularly beautiful way:

"'What is to prevent me from being baptized?' asked the eunuch. 'Absolutely nothing' whispered the Spirit, 'Absolutely nothing.' So the eunuch commanded the chariot to stop, and he was baptized right there on the spot. Walls of prejudice and prohibition that had stood for generations came tumbling, blown down by the breath of God's Holy Spirit, and another man who felt lost and humiliated was found and restored in the wilderness of God's grace in Jesus Christ."

The grace we have in Jesus Christ surpasses even the grave, what are a few social conventions in the face of that good news? Philip baptizes him in a roadside puddle and the Holy Spirit throws open the doors of the Church to a vast and mysterious world. The grace we have in Jesus Christ pushes past boundaries and breaks down barriers, and carries us to unexpected places and unexpected people. The invitation of the Spirit compels to open our hearts to God’s gracious good news, and to open our doors to all who need to hear it.

How wide do these church doors open? Do they open wide enough for the Ethiopian Eunuch? Do they open wide enough for us to go on our way rejoicing? Do they open wide enough for the poor, the downtrodden, the humiliated? How wide do these church doors open? Do they open wide enough to send us out into the world to proclaim the gospel? Do they open wide enough to send us out to interpret for those who do not understand? Do they open wide enough for us to hear the invitation of the Holy Spirit?


Let’s go find out.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Boldness of Love


Boldness of Love from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.


John 10:11-18

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away - and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

I John 3:16-24

16We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us - and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

18Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.

23And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.

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

I had the opportunity to be the Best Man at a wedding in Atlanta this weekend. One of my best friends from college married a dear friend from Seminary. Both of them have theological degrees, and one of our Seminary Professors officiated. Every moment of the service was full of depth and beauty and sound theology.

A great deal of love filled that room yesterday afternoon, some of it was the romance of the couple standing front and center, but that wasn’t all of it, or even most of it. A marriage is an opportunity to practice love, but it is not the only picture of what love looks like. Love can show itself in the excitement of a new relationship, or in a gathered family celebrating a 60th anniversary. Love can revel itself in the interaction between a parent and a child. We also see love in the shared stories and laughter between old friends. Love can bind communities and families together in more powerful ways than we can imagine.

The expressions of love may look different, but it is not from these examples that we most clearly know love. “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us - and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” The love of God in Christ shines forth in all the varieties of human love, and defines us better than we can even begin to grasp.

We know love because Christ our Lord showed us love by laying down his life and challenging us to do the same for one another. Confessing Christ as Lord means a life-changing and life affirming love. “The union we have with Christ is evident when we share mutual love.” The mutual love we have in Christ us pushes us forward into a cynical world to share, and be, a message of hope that love is not a romantic notion, but a powerful action.

“Therefore, little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”

But we don’t always get it right, do we? Sometimes we fail to love one another as we ought. Old friends sometimes lose touch or have a falling out. Parents and children sometimes cut one another out of their lives. Long marriages sometimes end abruptly, or can become twisted by abuse. New relationships sometimes grow toxic. Communities and families sometimes split.

No human has a perfect track record for loving in truth and action, because we are a broken, limited people, and our regret over the love we have lost or wasted plagues us and holds us back. Our own hearts condemn us for the love that was not in truth and action, and many of us struggle to recover from it. We can get caught up in our own fears and sins and see ourselves a one who is not worthy of love.

But that’s not who we are. Our opinions of ourselves, whether puffed up or beaten down, is not what determines who we are or whose we are.  We have the reassurance that God loves us irrespective of our successes or failures. “We will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” God knows about our failings, and loves us anyway. God knows about our successes, and loves us totally apart from them. “The sort [of reassurance] offered here by John finds its basis beyond the believer, in God, his faithfulness and knowledge, and in actual obedience to his command.” We are connected to Jesus Christ, who is the Truth, and Jesus’s love for us is what defines who we are, not our own arrogance or self-doubt, not our own hope or regret, not our own strengths or weaknesses.

We are free from all those things, no longer held captive to winning and losing, our own limited ability. Love is connected to something greater - to the good shepherd and to God our father, who knows us better than we know ourselves, and who fills us with our true identity as Beloved of the Lord. All the depression in the world can’t shake our identity in Christ, because the God who speaks into being things which do not exist looks lovingly upon us and calls us good. Whether we like it or not, whether we believe it or not, we are beloved children of God.

As Christians, our task is to share that challenging love, even when we might be afraid of what that love will cost us. It’s not enough to politely and quietly keep the peace, we must love boldly! For the love we have in Christ Jesus is the kind that lays down one’s love for another.

Jesus lays down his life, but he does not stop being the good shepherd. Loving in truth and in action, and laying down our lives, is an expression of who we are as people of the cross and resurrection. In laying down our lives we are claiming who God created us to be, who Christ saved us to be, we are not abandoning ourselves or dissolving into whatever else is around us. When lay down our lives for one another, we and giving action to the beliefs which we hold so dearly. 

For John, belief and action are inseparably linked. We cannot say that we believe and not also show love through our actions. “In a time of schism and dissent, what is most threatening is that Christians should continue pontificating about love while they turn hatefully from one another and ignore each other’s needs.” The author of I John challenges the church of not just proclaim love, but to show it! I think this is something our church is very good about doing. It’s doesn’t have to be a huge, global action, it’s a matter of seeing a brother or sister in need and reaching out to show love by helping them. When a person shows up at this church with a need, the members of this congregation are eager to help them.

At the youth Christmas party, a family came into the PAC where we were gathered just because the light was on and they had a need. They had no food, but the folks who prepared dinner that night had leftovers and without a second thought gave them to this family. One of the youth parents pulled some cash out of his wallet and gave it to them so they would have enough fuel to drive to where they needed to go.

Later on, the women of the church stepped up and bought christmas presents for the children, and a microwave for the mother, so that she could heat food for her family. That’s love, and every step of it mean laying down our plans for our own life, and showing love in truth and action. 

This is a congregation that is very involved in our community, reaching out to those in need around us, even when it means laying down our plans for our own lives. That’s the love we learned from our heavenly Father and from his Son, Jesus Christ. We are the people who enact that love now in a thousand different ways, living what we believe in a world that doesn’t always listen.

But we don’t have to change the world by ourselves, the world is already changed through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, when the good shepherd laid down his life for us. We've been given a grave-splitting mutual love, shown in the way God filled the cross and emptied the tomb. How can we possibly keep that to ourselves? It’s not enough to just love in word or speech, Christ’s redemptive call means showing love for one another, and for our neighbors. “Believing in Christ means believing that Christ saves us by making us like himself.”  In becoming more like Christ, we grow closer to God and to one another.

From there, we are able to answer God’s call to “obey his commandments [and] abide in him, and he abides in [us]. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.” We have a Spirit which encourages us to not just confess our faith, but to live it, expressing love in friendship, in families, in communities, and in marriages.

The Spirit fills us with the love God, and human love reflects that into a world that is sometimes struck with cynicism. But we show our love nonetheless, because it’s who we are, it’s who God has created us to be. We are God’s beloved children, how can we not share that love with one another and with those in need.

The Spirit is at work in this place, among these people, for God is with us, filling us with a boldness of love that challenges us to grow in faith and love, and sending us out in the world so that we can show God’s love through the way we serve and love our brothers and sisters.


Sunday, April 19, 2015

Still Wondering


Still Wondering from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.


Acts 3:12-19

12When Peter saw it, he address the people, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? 13This God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. 14But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, 15and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. 16And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.

17“And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. 18In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. 19Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.

Luke 24:36-48
36While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37They were startled and terrified, and through that they were seeing a ghost. 38He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41While in their joy they were disbelieving  and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42Thy gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate in their presence.

44Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you - that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things.

We're gathered with the disciples behind closed doors. We've heard story after story about our crucified Lord. The women have told us that the tomb is empty, but it was easy enough to write that report of as an idle tale, but then more and more of us have experiences that back up what the women have told us, Jesus has appeared to many of our fellow disciples. We find ourselves wondering if he's some disembodied spirit, or maybe a comforting vision.

The disciples are gathered behind closed doors, and nobody really understands what's going on, because each of these tales is impossible. He was crucified! What do these appearances mean? "While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, 'Peace be with you.’ These words are familiar to us as we read a similar story in John last week. These words are familiar to the disciples because they are the the greeting that they had always heard from Jesus. This is the same man who died on the cross and was buried in the tomb. To appear among them so suddenly, “They were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost.”

Seeing their fear, Jesus moves from a greeting to teaching them again, compassionately reaching out and saying “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and feet; see that it is I myself.” Jesus is confronted with doubt and reaches out with a relationship, he is still the person they have known, he still bears the wounds from the cross. The crucifixion and resurrection are not a magic trick with some behind-the-scenes explanation, they tell us who Jesus is. “Look at my hands and feet; see that it is I myself.” I myself, the same one who walked among you throughout Judea.

But the resurrection shows that calling him teacher doesn’t cover it all. “I myself” is a reference to the name of God, which is given in Exodus as I AM. “Look at my hands and feet; see that it is I AM”. This is the same man who walked and ate with them, but he’s also the same God who speaks into being things which do not exist, the same God who heals and cures and speaks through prophets. This man who stands in front of them is also the God who raises the dead. No wonder they were startled and terrified. They didn’t know what was happening, and knowing what’s going on gives us security. But "Jesus did not bring [the disciples] security. Rather, they risked all in following his call.” But before they knew how to risk it all, they were frightened. Having seen that Jesus arose, doubts also arose.

Maybe we prefer Jesus to stay in the ground so that he can remain a good teacher, a nostalgia-coated memory, but not a consistent challenge to grow more faithful. Maybe the risen Lord is easier as an idea, a story, an idle tale than in the flesh. Yet here is our Risen Lord, still wounded from the cross, but also unbroken by death and unblemished by sin. We may have seen the cross as the conclusion, but God reaches a different conclusion and brings our story even further, out the other side of the tomb and back into a life that is free from sin and death.

We would not have reached that conclusion on our own, but God breaks through our knowledge and reveals something wondrous about God. ”…the revelatory moment enables individuals and communities to appropriate other events...that had previously appeared unintelligible." In those early days the cross and the empty tomb seemed unintelligible. Jesus's appearance blessed the disciples with claiming, and being claimed by, that event. Just as Jesus is risen, so too the disciples will have new life, so too we have new life, even if we haven’t quite figured that new life out. Whether they understand it or not, their relationship with God in Christ is as sure as God’s love.

“While in their joy, they are disbelieving and still wondering.” This is the heart of revelation: an upwelling of joy and wonder even as complete comprehension escapes us. We don't always understand what God has done. How could we? It's so beyond our expectation and experience that comprehension slips right through our fingers even as we are invited to look and wonder at Jesus's hands. But we don’t have to know or understand everything, because what we know is enough to leave us still wondering after all these centuries at the amazing love, the overwhelming grace, of Christ Jesus our Lord.

The disciples joy was real, and it was so powerful that they still weren’t sure they could believe it. Their joy defined them, but they were still wondering, disbelief still chased after them and Jesus’s faithfulness pulled them forward. In the face of their wondrous joy, peppered with disbelief,  "Jesus did not launch into explanations about the mechanics of resurrection, nor did he provide an itinerary of his whereabouts since Friday.” Instead, the light of the world chases away the darkness by sharing a meal with his friends, his disciples, the first generation of his church.

It’s the relationship that carries us forward into this world as people of the resurrection. Not just a personal relationship with Jesus, but with the relationship God maintains with the whole community of father. “They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence. It’s the whole community together sharing a meal, whether that’s a piece of broiled fish with the Risen Lord, the bread and wine of the Communion, a covered dish luncheon as a community gathers in Christ’s name, or a few thousand chicken pot pies that warm the homes and stomachs of untold crowds to support a community outreach project. We don’t need a data sheet that answers all our questions because we are confronted with a God who doesn’t even let the grave break his connection with God’s people. We have the amazing, wondrous joy of Easter and it carries us into the unknown with the faith to explore and proclaim the mystery of faith: Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again.

"Revelation yields not the solution to a problem but the unveiling of a mystery." The resurrection is a mystery that no amount of data can pin down. As Jesus appears to the disciples, he unveils the mystery of the resurrection, and promises the ongoing relationship of God with us. Given that promise, we are freed to be carried off into joy, still wondering at the mystery. We are free to joyfully trust and know God, rather than to merely know about God.

We do get some knowledge though, “Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you - that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled. Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures,” The whole narrative of humanity’s relationship with God points to the crucifixion and resurrection. Jesus gives us that bit of knowledge, but he doesn’t give it to us as game-show winning trivia, he shows us that this relationship has been from the beginning, and that it is ongoing, driving the church out into the world to not only look at Jesus’s hands and feet, but to be God’s hand and feet, participating in building up the kingdom of God all around us. The understanding we are given brings us closer to God and to one another, it builds emotional and spiritual connection throughout God’s people.

“He said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.’” We are a people who are sent out into the world. We can talk about these things as much as we want, as the disciples did in the days after Easter. But Jesus’s presence among us is what fills us with joy. Jesus’s continual intervention in the world, through his disciples, is what makes us a church. We are the ones who tell this story, who live this story, because Jesus has revealed himself to us, and so we are able to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name to all nations. We are filled with joy and wonder, singing the clear, though far off hymn that hails the new creation.


Therefore, as the church of Jesus Christ, expressed as the people who are the Presbyterian Church of Lowell, we are witnesses of these things. Christ is Lord of heaven and earth! How can we keep from singing?