Sunday, March 22, 2015

(Rhythm of) Forsaken and Rescued ( Psalm 22)


(Rhythm of) Forsaken and Rescued from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.


John 12:20-33
20Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." 22Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

27"Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say - 'Father, save me from this hour?' No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28Father, glorify your name." Then a voice came from heaven. "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again." 29The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, "An angel has spoken to him." 30Jesus answered, "This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. 33He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Psalm 22
To the leader: according to The Deer of the Dawn. A Psalm of David.
1My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
2O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.

3Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.
4In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.
5To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.

6But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people.
7All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
8"Commit your cause to the LORD; let him deliver - let him rescue the one in whom he delights!"

9Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother's breast.
10On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God.

11Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.
12Many bulls encircle me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
13They open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion.
14I am poured out like water, and and my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast;
15My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.
16For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled;
17I can count all my bones. They stare and gloat over me;
18They divide my clothing among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.

19But you, O LORD, do not be far away! O my help, come quickly to my aid!
20Deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the power of the dog!
21Save me from the mouth of the lion! 

From the horns of the wold oxen you have rescued me.
22I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters, in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
23You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
24For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.

25From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
26 The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD. May your hearts live forever!
27All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.
28For dominion belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations.

29To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him.
30Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about The Lord,
31And proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.In the rhythm of the church’s life, we are wandering in the wilderness of lent, and we are carrying our laments to the foot of the cross. It’s a rhythm that echoes the experience of God’s people throughout the centuries, moving from forsaken to rescued, exile to restoration, darkness to light. That rhythm carries us through our lives, and it carries us from lent into the parade of Palm Sunday, to the betrayal of Maundy Thursday, and the world-wrecking death of Good Friday, and into the joy of Easter.

We know the end of this story. We know the cry from the cross is answered with the call of the empty tomb. We know that "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?..." becomes "From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me." We know that the wilderness laments of our lenten journey lead us to us to the promised-land praise of our Easter destination. We also know that we can't skip to the end. Our feelings of forsakenness demand expression. The only one to whom we can express them is God, who has rescued us in the past. We cry out in faith that our redeemer hears us; and will rescue us again.

So we don't want to be still, though we know that I AM is God. We want to skip ahead to the end, the the feeling better. In lament we don't want want to be still because we are sitting in the midst of our trauma, unpacked and laid bare in the middle of the road, covered in embarrassment, our world is wrecked by tragedy.

It's obvious, in the rhythm of this psalm, that it wasn't written in one sitting. It loops around on itself, crying in agony, then asserting faith, then enduring mockery, then remembering God's providential claim on the psalmist's own life. Then midway, a herd of metaphors displaying every dangerous animal out to destroy and devour. The person who wrote this psalm, traditionally identified as David, seemingly came back to it again and again, adding a few lines at a time as the struggles of this world overwhelm his ability to cope.

Then, halfway through a verse, interrupted in the suddenness of a breath, the rhythm changes. The psalmist announces his rescue and reaches out in praise for the remaining third of the psalm. His praise is unequivocally pointed at God, his rescuer. His story has joined the throngs of others reaching back to before the foundation of the world of God's loving and mighty hand.

We are not in the throes of joyous praise yet. Our rhythm carries us towards it, but we can’t disrupt the rhythm by skipping ahead. To do so would leave our praises hollow, and our spirits just as empty.

As many of y'all know, before I was called here, I worked as a Chaplain at Spartanburg Regional Medical Center. Chaplains are not the miracle workers that nurses are, neither are they medical experts like Doctors. We're a caring and guiding presence that helps people to stay whole, even as their lives and bodies are broken. I was privileged to walk alongside patients and families through some of the most difficult and holy moments in a human life. Some days, though, helping others to bear their burdens meant I took some of their struggle on myself.

We had just finished our morning staff meeting, and I volunteered to watch the pager until lunch. Around 10:00, it went off, calling me to visit with a family in the Neuro-ICU waiting area. I grabbed a bible and a notepad, straightened my tie, and walked upstairs to a room where families wait to see how severe their loved one's brain damage is.

The patient's brain damage was severe. Wife, teenaged son, younger daughter were in one corner of the waiting room. I introduced myself and sat with them, and asked them what happened.

Husband, father, son, hard worker, deacon in his congregation. He had gone outside during a storm after worship the previous Sunday to cover their lawnmower when he was struck by lightning. He wasn't going to get better. His brain had died, and the hospital was merely keeping his body functioning. The family was struggling with whether they should withdraw care, and let his body die too. Underneath that, though, the family was struggling with where God was in the midst of this world-wrecking tragedy. I had no words that would fix it for them. I had no technique to ease their pain.

In that waiting room, we didn't need words of praise or promise. We needed words of lament. The wife who became a widow, the mother who became a single parent, the daughter-in-law who became a reminder of a lost son needed the cry, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.” The grieving widow needed the words of a lamenting psalmist who asked “...how it was that God, who had always dealt mercifully with his people, should now, forgetting as it were his own nature, thus leave a miserable man without any...solace."

When we are walking through lament, joyous praises are projected on our imagination by Psalm 22. But if all we can reach out and touch is our own ensnaring mess, we are locked into lament, and cannot let go of our cries just to recite praises that feel empty. At some point in the rhythm of being God’s people, we will all need to cry out in desperation with the faith-shaped words of the psalmist.

I can't ignore the fact that our crucified Lord quotes this psalm just before he dies. In agony and abject abandonment, he reaches back into his tradition and finds words to express his pain, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me."

Some folks argue that in calling out this first verse, Jesus is referencing the entire psalm, and that even though he has taken on our sins and abandonment for the moment, he knows that there is triumph and praise at the end.

The folks who make that claim are faithful, brilliant, and love Jesus. They've written books and articles and many of them have spent more time interpreting scripture than I have. But I disagree with them.

I think when Jesus quotes the opening lines of this psalm, he is in the middle of the cry of the abandoned one. If he was reaching for the assurance, he could have found his way to Psalm 22's more familiar neighbor, and murmured on the cross, "The LORD is my shepherd..."  I think Jesus's dying prayer was not meant to point us to praise, but to weep with abandon alongside every person who was afflicted. "Jesus is not questioning the existence of God or the power of God...he is questioning the silence of the one whom he calls 'My God.’" I think Jesus's use of this psalm gives it a special weight: in the depths of human suffering, in world-wrecking pain, in the corners of waiting rooms where the once tightly knit family feels traumatically cut off, Jesus is there with them, sharing their lament.

But from his perspective of praise, and from his memory of his own despair, the psalmist reaches out with hope, announcing that God did not disdain the affliction of the afflicted. The afflicted one is saved because God took notice of their struggle, of their pain, of their very real suffering. God takes notice when the psalmist cries out "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me." God takes notice when Christ cries with a loud voice on the cross, God takes notice when we cry out from the depths of our despair. "God must invariably be present in any of the hells that human beings can create on the earth.” Even in the rhythm which takes us out into the wilderness and brings us back, God is present. 

Verse 24 gives us a promise that even when we feel abandoned, God does not reject us, or even our pain. God hears our cries and promises that our forsaken laments will one day shift to rescued praise. But until they do, God can take on our lament, and does not hide his face from us. God does not abhor the rhythm that brings us to lament, but sends his son to join us in our affliction, and returns us home with Christ so that we may know that God rescues us, and "proclaim God's deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it."



Jesus uses this psalm of lament on the cross because he is in agony, and feels abandoned by his Father. So when, along our Lenten journey, we find our heads bowed in sorrow and our hearts are breaking, we're in good company. Jesus walks with us through the rhythm of our lament, all the way to the end. And even if all we can see is the shadow of the cross, we know the end is not death, it's resurrection.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Rise Up


Rise Up from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.

John 2:13-22 (113)
13The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. he also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Psalm 12 (608)
To the leader: according to The Sheminith. A Psalm of David.
1Help, O LORD, for there is no longer anyone who is godly; the faithful have disappeared from humankind.
2They utter lies to each other; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.
3May the LORD cut off all flattering lips, the tongue that makes great boasts,
4those who say, “With our tongues we will prevail; our lips are our own - who is our master?”
5”Because the poor are despoiled, because the needy groan, I will now rise up,” says the LORD; “I will place them in the safety for which they long.”
6The promises of the LORD are promises that are pure, silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times.
7You, O LORD, will protect us; you will guard us from this generation forever.
8On every side the wicked prowl, as vileness is exalted among humankind.
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.

For the past three weeks, we've been looking at the Psalms of Lament. We've seen the writers of scripture struggle with grief in Psalm 77, with their own sin in Psalm 25, and this week Psalm 12 looks out at a frightening world that is full of injustice.

On a Sunday where we have some new faces, it is perhaps a bit risky to grab hold of a text like this one. This is not the friendliest passage of scripture. I don’t know about y’all, but at first glance it doesn’t make me feel very good. I’d be a far sight happier with a friendly passage that gives me a pat on the back and tells me how wonderful and special I am.

But ignoring the messed up stuff going on around us doesn’t make it go away. There’s a time to read joy, there’s a time to read comfort, and there’s a time to read lament. We read this Psalm because it helps us to approach the darkness of the world. We read the darkness of the world through the lens of this Psalm because it gives us a promise that the darkness is not all there is, even when we’re caught up in the pain of living in a broken world. “Help, O LORD, for there is no longer anyone who is godly; the faithful have disappeared from humankind.”

I told a story not too long ago, at a meeting of our regional governing body, Presbytery. I told them about how once upon a time, when I was studying to be a minister, I would look at my classmates and rank them according to how "real" I thought their call was. I’d never say it to them, but I’d think it awfully hard. “Really, you think God called you to ministry? Wouldn’t you know it, the more folks had in common with me, the higher I would rank them?

I looked around at the state of the church, and of these future, and often current, leaders of the church, and I arrogantly put myself in a place to judge their worthiness. “Really, you think God called you to ministry?”

Then one day a thought occurred to me as clearly as if the Holy Spirit had whispered it in my ear. "You know some of them would say the same thing about you, right?" I had spent so much time in judgement over the flaws of my fellow travelers, I had totally overlooked my own flaws. Truth be told, I'm pretty confident I judged others to avoid looking at my own flaws. 

I was speaking with a double heart, with the flattering lips that the Psalmist describes in verse 2. I saw that the church was hurting, and I saw that the community at my seminary was strained, and instead of reaching out with compassion and healing, I sat in cynical and patronizing judgment over them. Preacher-type folks are just as stuck in the mess of the world, or at least this Preacher-type person is.

When verses three and four tell us “May the LORD cut off all flattering lips, the tongue that makes great boasts, those who say, ‘With our tongues we will prevail; our lips are our own - who is our master?’” I can’t claim that I don’t fall under that category, I think all of us have fallen victim to our baser instincts from time to time, and have lied to ourselves and others.

In our tradition, there's an idea called the "Total Depravity of Man," which basically says that we are unable to save ourselves. Left to our own devices, we will chose selfishness and brokenness every time. We make messes we cannot clean up, and push others down so that we can feel as though we're higher than they are. Left to our own devices, humans are pretty terrible to one another. "Help, O LORD, for there is no longer anyone who is godly," includes us, when we’re left to our own devices.

But we are not left to our own devices. God intervenes in our lives and does good things through us. ”Because the poor are despoiled, because the needy groan, I will now rise up,” says the LORD; “I will place them in the safety for which they long.” The lament over the sin-sick souls who people the world is real, but in the midst of the wickedness and vileness that cross our lives from time to time, this psalm reaches past the mess in front of it and grasps for God. God is acting, even though humans have a remarkable ability to make messes, God's power to redeem and protect us is far and away stronger than our ability to mess it up.

God protects the poor and the needy, God redeems his fallen people, God receives our lament, but does not abandon us to it. In the face of injustice, God acts. “”Because the poor are despoiled, because the needy groan, I will now rise up,” says the LORD; “I will place them in the safety for which they long.” The LORD will rise up, and give the poor and the needy the protection, the safety, the justice for which they long.

In our tradition, there’s a concept called “Unconditional Election,” which means that God doesn’t save us because we deserve it, but because God wants us. God’s intervention is not an obligation, it’s a gesture of love that will not let us go. “‘I will now rise up,’ says the LORD,” not because we have earned it, but because we need it. God blazes a path through the wickedness and vileness in the world and establishes justice for all people. “You, O LORD, will protect us; you will guard us from this generation forever.” We’re not immune to the wickedness and vileness of the world, but we belong to the God who rescues us from it. Just because you notice that everything's not alright doesn't mean you're not part of the problem. When the LORD rises up on behalf of the poor and needy, maybe some of us need to sit down and get out of God's way. That way we can follow God rather than get run over. 

The route through which God is traveling, rising up on behalf of the poor and needy, doesn’t necessarily destroy the wicked, instead it destroys wickedness. That’s the power of the cross, towards which we are headed during this season of Lament. The cross doesn’t smite the wicked, it purifies them, it purifies us, according to the promises of the LORD. The writer of Psalm 12 looks out onto the world and laments that he sees “On every side the wicked prowl, as vileness is exalted among humankind,” but he also sees that God is still out there, still headed toward the fulfillment of the promised justice.


God will rise up to protect the poor and needy, and to cleanse the wicked, and we are all of those. We are poor, we are needy, we are wicked, and we are claimed by God. Therefore let us rise up also, following in God’s path, though we may find reason to lament along the way to the cross, we will also find protection, and justice, and our redemption, on the other side of the cross.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Teaching Steadfast Love


Teaching Steadfast Love from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.


Mark 8:31-38
31Then he began to teach them that the son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”34He called the crowd with this disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes int he Glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Psalm 25
1Of David.
To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.
2O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me.
3Do not let those who wait for you to be put to shame; let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
4Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. 
5Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.
6Be mindful of your mercy, O LORD, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.
7Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness sake, O LORD!
8Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
9He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.
10All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.
11For your name’s sake, O LORD, pardon my guilt, for it is great.
12Who are they that fear the LORD? He will teach them the way that they should choose.
13They will abide in prosperity, and their children shall possess the land.
14The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him, and he makes his covenant known to them.
15My eyes are ever toward the LORD for he will pluck my feet out of the net.
16Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.
17Relieve the troubles of my heart, and bring me out of my distress.
18Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins.
19Consider how many are my foes, and with what violent hatred they hate me.
20O guard my life, and deliver me; do not let me be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.
21May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you.
22Redeem Israel, O God, out of all its troubles.
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.

This Psalm is more confession than lament. At first glance, it seems to tilt more towards a statement of faith, or maybe a prayer of relief from enemies. David wrote a bunch of those. This Psalm, however doesn't quite fit those categories. 

Elements of psalms of lament are a little tough to find. I was expecting the kind of anguish we saw last week in Psalm 77, "My soul refuses to be comforted." Lament and grief, to me, are closely linked. Psalm 25 isn't dripping with dark emotions the way some of the more famous laments are. It's not filled with counter testimony. There's no challenge to the LORD, or a wrestling with deep troubles of the world. Except the personal ones.

At the core of Psalm 25, we find David's grieving his own sinfulness. "For your name’s sake, O LORD, pardon my guilt, for it is great." We hold David up as a hero of the faith, he's the anointed Shepherd boy, who defeated the Philistine Giant. He conquered neighboring tribes and expanded Israel's territory. In our search for a hero, we sometimes overlook his imperfections. 

Caught in adultery, David sent a Uriah the Hittite to his death so that David could marry Bathsheba, Uriah’s wife. That's just the famous one though. We don't talk about it much, but what David allows to happen to his daughter Tamar is tragic and reprehensible. David was a good king and a mighty warrior, but he was as fallen a person as the rest of us. In Psalm 25, he laments his sinfulness.

Here in worship, we acknowledge every Sunday that we are sinners who need God's grace, echoing David's plea of "Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness sake, O LORD!” Worship is one of the few places in our culture where it’s safe, even expected, to acknowledge our weaknesses, failures, mistakes. Imagine trying to make those claims in a job interview or on a college admissions application, or while you’re trying to get out of a traffic ticket, or while you’re ruling over the kingdom of Israel…

I wonder if perhaps David was stuck on his sinfulness. David returns again and again to his sinfulness, and he both praises and pleads with God. “[David] does pray for a change in circumstances, but also that God will act within, enabling patience and integrity.” Perhaps David is struggling to see God’s action, because all he can see is his failure as a king, as a father, as a servant of God. Perhaps the despair is behind this lament, instead of in the midst of it. 

Now we see the lament. David, despairing over his sin, takes up his lyre and writes a psalm, confessing both his sins and his faith through the poetry, trying to remind himself of the God who loves him even when he is overwhelmed and stuck in grief for his sin.

Getting stuck in that mindset happens to all of us, from time to time. I know I sometimes struggle with it. The “sins of my youth” to which David refers are not that long ago for me, and I think all of us sometimes look back on some of the dumb things we’ve done and overlook the grace we’ve been given.. I think we sometimes look at ourselves so long that all we see is the sinner in the mirror, rather than the image of our creator. I think David, in writing this psalm, has lost sight of what God is doing through him, and I think we sometimes find ourselves there too.

So David turns to the promise, I think to remind himself of the promise as much as to call for God’s intervention. Though we might sometimes get stuck in seeing only our own brokenness, David reminds us that we are not judged by our abilities, but by God’s steadfast love. “according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness sake, O LORD!”

The good news is that God loves us sinners, and wraps us up in the promise of love, and tells us the sacred stories that carry us through the times when all we see are darkness. Because those stories, of heroes who are also sinners, of slaves who become a nation, of crucifixion giving way to resurrection, remind us of the promise that God, who is involved in this world, loves us.

Even though sometimes we lose sight of the promise. In those moments we have to reach back to those shared stories, and express our lament in a sinful and unsettled world. Even so,“This, at least, we ought to regard as a fixed and settled point, that although the goodness of God may sometimes be hidden…it can never be extinguished.”

As David pleas with and praises God in Psalm 25, we see his view that “Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way” God is teaching us what steadfast love looks like, so that we will not be slaves to our sin, but servants of Christ.

Doing those instructions is much more difficult that reading them in the Bible. David acknowledges the reality of our struggles, but also reminds us that God “will pluck my feet out of the net.”

For we will still get stuck in despair, we will still sin, we will still fail. That’s part of life, in this lenten wilderness. That’s part of life in this world that still has not fully realized its redemption. Sin is still our habit, and though its power to define us is already broken, the habit is not yet our of our system.

And so we return, with David, to Psalm 25, a confession of our sin and a praise to the God who rescues us. “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.”

Sometimes our loneliness is the hardest part, but Psalms like this one show us that we are not alone. Heroes of our faith, like David, have been stuck on their own sinfulness. Yet God holds us all together.

This is the good news, that God loves us sinners, and will not let us go.

Love holds us close, not our loneliness or sin. Our troubles and distress will fade, God’s love, on the other hand, is all-consuming, and judges us by God’s own steadfast love. We may be sinners, but we are redeemed anyway. We may get stuck, but God moves through us anyway. We may not be able to see what God is doing, but God is our refuge anyway.

“O guard my life, and deliver me; do not let me be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.” David’s plea follows his admission that it is only God’s forgiveness that can bring him through his struggles. “God’s uncanny forgiveness is what gives us a future in the midst of our jeopardy.” God is our refuge, and promised us a future that not even the cross could break.

Views may change, our own abilities may fail, but God’s integrity and uprightness do not, neither does God’s goodness and love shift away from us.


Even in our darkest moments, God loves us sinners, and teaches us how to respond. When we cannot respond, or see, or reach out, God is still holding us in a covenant of love and grace, and is bringing us out of the wilderness of sin and death into the promise of Easter.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Lenten Lament



Mark 1:9-15
9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
12And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13he was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Psalm 77
1to the leader: according to Jeduthun, of Asaph. A Psalm
I cry aloud to God, aloud to God that he may hear me.
2In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted.
3I think of God, and I moan; I meditate, and my spirit faints. Selah
4You keep my eyelids from closing; I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
5I consider the days of old, and remember the years of long ago.
6I commune with my heart in the night; I meditate and search my spirit:
7”Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable?
8Has his steadfast love ceased forever? Are his promises at an end for all time?
9Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” Selah
10And I say, “ It is my grief that the right hand of the Most High has changed.”
11I will call to mind the deeds of the LORD; I will remember your wonders of old.
12I will meditate on all your work, and muse on your mighty deeds.
13Your way, O God, is holy. What god is so great as our God?
14You are the God who works wonders; you have displayed your might among the peoples.
15With your strong arm you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph. Selah
16When the waters saw you, O God, when the waters saw you, they were afraid; the very deep trembled.
17The clouds poured our water; the skies thundered; your arrows flashed on every side.
18The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind; your lightnings lit up the world; the earth trembled and shook.
19Your way was through the sea, your path, through the mighty waters; yet your footprints were unseen.
20You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.

"I consider the days of old, and remember the years of long ago.”

We've stood on the banks of the Jordan and watched our Lord come up out of the water. We've heard the words of John the Baptist. We've felt the presence of God as Jesus "saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “'You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.'”

I consider the days of old, and remember the years of long ago.”

We've followed Jesus as he goes on the move following John's arrest. We've joined him as he proclaims “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

“I consider the days of old, and remember the years of long ago.”

But between "You are my Son, the Beloved;" and "believe in the good news" is something new. The Spirit who, like a dove, descended on Jesus immediately drives him out into the wilderness. There's no time for a luncheon after the baptism, no time for pictures to commemorate the holy moment. The immediately of the Spirit makes us wonder if Jesus even stayed for the closing hymn, or if right after his experience of God the Father he was driven out.

“I consider the days of old, and remember the years of long ago.” This passage starts with baptism and ends with proclaiming the good news. But for now, we are living in the middle, in the wilderness with the wild beasts.

Why would a father drive his beloved son into the Wilderness? Maybe God wants us to know that struggle and pain are part of our existence. We are not in the garden, we’re lost in the wilderness.

The season of Lent is a time in the church year when we remember what it’s like to be out in the wilderness, mirroring the temptation of Jesus, the Babylonian exile, and the wandering of the Israelites on the way to the promised land. Lent is a time of reflection, penitence, and lament.

The Lenten Lament lies in the shadow of the cross. We walk for a time in darkness so that we can be blinded by the light of Easter morning. As we walk through the wilderness of Lenten Lament, we know the empty tomb is just over the horizon. “I consider the days of old, and remember the years of long ago.” We know how the story ends. But we're living in the middle of the story now, in the wilderness for forty days. The only horizon we can see is the place called the skull, where in fewer than 40 days Christ our Lord will die. We cannot see what is coming, and at some points in our Lenten Lament, we cannot see what God is doing around us right now.

So we join the Psalmist in raising our lament to God. “I cry aloud to God, aloud to God that he may hear me.In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted. I think of God, and I moan; I meditate, and my spirit faints. Selah.”

Psalms of Lament, like the ones we’ll be studying this Lent, are a powerful gift. They give us the freedom to challenge God when our expectation of God and our experience of the world do not match up. Lament gives us the permission to “cry aloud to God, aloud to God that he may hear me.” For we know that "...true believers, when overwhelmed with sorrow, do not continue in a state of unvarying uniformity, but sometimes give vent to sighs and complaints, while, at other times, they are silent as if their mouths were stopped.” Psalms of lament let us speak to and about God when our hearts are broken. They express the heartache we feel, but cannot express in “polite” settings. 

“You keep my eyelids from closing; I am so troubled that I cannot speak. I consider the days of old, and remember the years of long ago. I commune with my heart in the night; I meditate and search my spirit: ”Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable? Has his steadfast love ceased forever? Are his promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” Selah

The words of Psalm 77 challenge God, and challenge us. They are for those who struggle with God and with the state of the world. These are not expressions for a stoic, polite, church. “…in proper religion the expression should not be expressed. But it is also the case the these experiences should not be experienced." Yet we experience them anyway. We go through trauma and heartache and despair and violence. Even though that's not how it should be, it's how it is, and we can't ignore it without transforming the church of Christ's crucifixion into a vapid hallmark card. We look into the darkness of our experience and our "soul refuses to be comforted." So we direct the full force of our lament to God, who rules over all our experience, not just the happy fun parts. “I consider the days of old, and remember the years of long ago.”

But Lenten Lament is more than wilderness weeping.

And I say, ‘It is my grief that the right hand of the Most High has changed.’ I will call to mind the deeds of the LORD; I will remember your wonders of old. I will meditate on all your work, and muse on your mighty deeds. Your way, O God, is holy. What god is so great as our God? You are the God who works wonders; you have displayed your might among the peoples. With your strong arm you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph. Selah"

The whole of creation is subject to God’s sovereignty, including our grief. God takes our wilderness weeping and gives us the hope to affirm our faith even through clenched jaws and bitter tears. God does not abandon us to our grieving, rather, “It is my grief that the hand of the Most High has changed.” We are able to walk through Lent together, and also times when our heartache doesn’t fit on a liturgical calendar, because we remember who our God is, and that even when we are driven into the wilderness, God does not leave us there forever. “I will call to mind the deeds of the LORD; I will remember your wonders of old.”

I attended a couple of funerals this week, and in those sermons I got to hear beautiful melding of lament and hope. “I will call to mind the deeds of the LORD; I will remember your wonders of old.” One funeral followed a brief and sudden illness, and the preacher brought up the problem of God's providence in the face of sudden and tragic death. She pointed out that when God's providence doesn't look like what we want, God can take our choice words, our disbelief, our lament. In fact, God wants to take them. Lament is not a lack of faith, but a confirmation of faith in the God who is beyond our expectations, even if our experience doesn't live up to our expectations.

Most of y’all know that a few years ago, Leah and I were in a long-distance marriage. Her job in Atlanta had dried up, and she’d been offered a position at King’s Mountain National Military Park. It was a great opportunity, a promise of a permanent position in her field, doing what she loves and at which she is so brilliant. But I still had one more year of seminary, and Atlanta and Kings Mountain are several hours apart. They are, and I can tell you this from many commutes, three hours and 26 minutes apart. “I consider the days of old, and remember the years of long ago.” It was a very difficult decision, and a very difficult twelve and a half months, lots of lament over that year. But what kept us holding on was the assurance that just as God had called us to our respective careers, so we were called to be in a unique, covenantal, commitment with one another. It was a pretty awful year, and I was so grateful when my wife was once again my roommate. Our laments were also confession of faith, that God even though God had driven us out into the wilderness, God would not leave us there forever.

“I will call to mind the deeds of the LORD; I will remember your wonders of old.” Why would a father drive his beloved son into the Wilderness? Maybe the hardship of the wilderness, and learning to live with our discomfort, is an act of love. Maybe the Father drove his beloved Son into the wilderness so that we wouldn’t be out there on our own. 

“When the waters saw you, O God, when the waters saw you, they were afraid; the very deep trembled. The clouds poured our water; the skies thundered; your arrows flashed on every side. The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind; your lightnings lit up the world; the earth trembled and shook. Your way was through the sea, your path, through the mighty waters; yet your footprints were unseen. You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.”


Throughout this season, we will walk through our lament together. We will wander in the wilderness as brothers and sisters in Christ. We will live in the shadow of the cross as a community of faith. “I will call to mind the deeds of the LORD; I will remember [God’s] wonders of old.” We will remember what God has already done for us, through us, and to us, and we will trust that even though God's footsteps are unseen, that God is moving us through the waters still.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Mountaintops and Tabletops


Mountaintops and Tabletops from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.


2 Kings 2:1-12

1Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. 2Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.’ But Elisha said, ‘As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.’ So they went down to Bethel. 3The company of prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, ‘Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?’ And he said, ‘Yes, I know; keep silent.’

4 Elijah said to him, ‘Elisha, stay here; for the Lord has sent me to Jericho.’ But he said, ‘As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.’ So they came to Jericho. 5The company of prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha, and said to him, ‘Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?’ And he answered, ‘Yes, I know; be silent.’

6 Then Elijah said to him, ‘Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.’ But he said, ‘As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.’ So the two of them went on. 7Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. 8Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.

9 When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.’ Elisha said, ‘Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.’ 10He responded, ‘You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.’ 11As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. 12Elisha kept watching and crying out, ‘Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!’ But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Mark 9:2-9
2Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 
5Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice. “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

9As there were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God."Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John," We're not really told why this particular group is brought up the mountain. Perhaps they are special disciples, Jesus's inner circle of intimate friends. Perhaps these disciples are going to be called to special leadership within the group after Jesus's earthly ministry comes to a close. Perhaps these disciples had special needs, and this mountaintop event was a tutoring session to make sure they didn't fall behind the other disciples in their class.

My guess is that, at least from Mark's perspective, Peter, James, and John, needed a few extra study sessions. None of the disciples understand what's going on in the gospel of Mark. The law and the prophets all point to God revealed in Christ, but nobody expected God to pour his glory into a peasant from Palestine. It seems like every time Jesus does something amazing, something that identifies him as God's Son, the disciples are either terrified or confused. Peter and James and John are leaders in that group, for no one is so terrified or confused as they.

With two millennia of perspective, we know the leaders that Peter and James and John become. How they step out of their terror and confusion to become giants of the faith. In this passage though, they are still disciples with special needs, unaware of how God is going to act through them. ”The whole scene is addressed to any disciple struggling to see, hear, comprehend, and believe the gospel reality.” For Mark, that meant Peter and James and John. Any of us could find ourselves led to a high mountain. Many of us, when we feel terrified or confused, long to have the comfort and assurance of that mountaintop experience, when "Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves."

There doesn't seem to be anything special about the mountaintop. The mountain is not even named, unlike Horeb, the mountain of The Lord to which Elijah fled and encounter God in the still small voice. Neither is it Sinai, where Moses received the law and passed it on to the emerging nation of Israel. Jesus has not brought them up to a traditional shrine, or a magical stage. It's just a high mountain where the Jesus and his disciples with special needs can be apart, by themselves.

The mountain is not special, but the encounter they have is. The location isn't magical, the God who meets them there is powerful. God shows up and does something amazing. It's also one of only a few times in Mark's gospel when God doesn't do something through Jesus, but to him. Leading them up the mountain is the last action Jesus takes until the end of the passage, when he orders Peter and James and John to "tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead." Everything else in the passage happens to Jesus, a passive participant in what God is doing on that mountaintop.

Jesus "was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.” It’s as if a veil has been removed, and Jesus’s divinity can shine through. Perhaps his disciples, who struggled with Jesus’s teaching about the cross and the empty tomb, in the passage immediately preceding this one, needed to see that Jesus is so much more than one who teaches with authority.

More than just a teacher, Jesus is the son of Man, to whom both the law and the prophets point. “And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.” Elijah, the great prophet, and Moses, the lawgiver, appear to testify that this Jesus is the Messiah, just as Peter had confessed six days ago. The presence of the law and the prophets points all the more to Christ’s holiness.

Peter’s response to glimpsing Christ’s holiness, and the weight of the tradition which points to him, is so true to his role as as disciple who just doesn’t understand what’s going on. “He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.” Not knowing what to say, however, does not stop him from talking. he opens his mouth just long enough to put his foot in it. “Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

“Dwellings” may be a bit grand for the kind of structures Peter was offering to build. It could a dwelling in the sense that a pop-up tent you’d use at a tailgate party is a dwelling, just to provide some shade for folks to gather. It could be a dwelling along the lines of Lucy’s booth from Peanuts, where people come by and receive psychiatric help and wisdom for the low price of five cents. It’s not a grand home, it’s a simple shelter where people can drop by whenever they’d like to encounter God.

But God is not limited to the mountaintops, neither does God act only within the booths Peter would like to build. One theologian, facing Peter’s offer, posed the questions, ”… what if the kingdom of Christ had been confined in this way to the narrow limits of 20-30 feet? Where would have been the redemption of the whole world?” Of course we know that God’s reach extends beyond the narrow limits we might put upon God. It’s not the mountain than reaches up to God, it’s God who continually reaches down and acts on both mountains and valleys, in homes and vast open spaces. The place is not especially holy, the God who is in this this place is holy. No dwelling could contain God.

Just as Peter finishes his offer to provide some shade for the Great Prophet, the Lawgiver, and the Son of Man, God intervenes. “Then a cloud overshadowed them, God does not appear as a blinding flash of light, or as an avatar on the mountaintop. God remains hidden in the cloud, leading Peter and James and John to the identity of Christ, just as the pillar of cloud led Moses and Israel to the promised land. “…and from the cloud there came a voice.” God’s voice tells them the truth about this man they call teacher, and yet is so much more than they imagined, giving the terrified disciples with special needs comfort like the still small voice that spoke to Elijah in his moment of fear.

Even though God remains hidden in the cloud, they know where God is hiding, where God is acting. ”The life of faith is a life of becoming increasingly at home with God’s hiddenness.” Moments like the Transfiguration are when God shows us where he’s hiding, leaving us with an obvious hiddenness. We see God hidden in the midst of the cloud that overshadows us on the mountaintop, and we see God hidden in the midst of the community who gather around the tabletop.

That’s why we gather around the table, not because it’s especially well built of has a relic of a saint. It’s just a table, four legs and a top. But we gather around this tabletop because God meets us here, hidden in the community that gathers around us, but present with us in a very real and mysterious way. We gather here because we believe the voice of the LORD who says “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Just as Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves, so we are elevated by the power of the Holy Spirit to dine with our Lord. We are given the truth that sets of free to watch for God-with-us.


We gather because we have seen God in our midst, and because we have encountered the Son of Man, risen from the dead, and whenever we eat of this bread of drink of this cup, we proclaim our Lord’s saving death, and his resurrection, until God finishes, then, his new creation, and find ourselves lost in wonder, love, and praise.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Mighty Works Displayed


Mighty Works Displayed from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.


1 Kings 22:15-23
15When he had come to the king, the king said to him, “Micaiah, shall we go to Ramoth-gilead to battle, or shall we refrain?” He answered him, “Go up and triumph; the LORD will give it into the hand of the king.” 16But the king said to him, “How many times must I make you swear to tell me nothing but the truth in the name of the LORD?” 17then Micaiah said, “I saw all Israel scattered on the Mountain, like sheep that have no shepherd; and the LORD said, ‘These have no master; let each one go home in peace.’” 18The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “Did I not tell you that he would not prophesy anything favorable about me, but only disaster?”

19Then Michaiah said, “Therefore hear the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on his throne, with all the host of heaven standing beside him to the right and to the left of him. 20And the LORD said, ‘Who will entice Ahab, so that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ Then one said one thing, and another said another, 21until a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD, saying, ‘I will entice him.’ 22’How?’ the LORD asked him. He replied, ‘I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’  Then the LORD said, ‘You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go out and do it.’ 23So you see, the LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; the LORD has decreed disaster for you.”

This is the Word of the LORD

Thanks be to God.

John 9:1-7
1As Jesus walked along, he saw a man who was blind from birth. 2Jesus’ disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned so that he was born blind, this man or his parents?”

3Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents. this happened so that God’s mighty works might be displayed in him. 4While it’s daytime, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming when no one can work. 5While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6After he said this, he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and smeared the mud on the man’s eyes. 7Jesus said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (this word means sent). So the man went away and washed. When he returned, he could see.

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

King Ahab of Israel has worked hard to come to this point. He's trying to entice the King of Judah, Jehoshaphat, to go to battle alongside him against some foe. The King of Judah insists on knowing that the LORD is with them as they go into battle. So Ahab gathers his court prophets, four hundred of them on the king’s salary, and each of them gives the same advice: “Go up and triumph; the LORD will give it into the hand of the king.” Jehoshaphat is unsatisfied. Are there any others? Other prophets in the land of Israel who speak the Word of the LORD?

Then Micaiah, the obnoxious prophet who never has anything good to say about Ahab, is summoned. To Ahab's surprise, Micaiah gives the same answer as the others! “Go up and triumph; the LORD will give it into the hand of the king.”

Now it is Ahab who is unsatisfied. This affirmation doesn't sound like the obnoxious prophet. So he presses him, invoking the name of the LORD to compel Micaiah to tell the truth. Micaiah reveals a vision of doom for Ahab, and a scattered Israelite army. Micaiah gives him the truth that God has decreed disaster for Ahab, but rather than letting the truth set him free from his idolatrous ambition, Ahab imprisons the only prophet who brought him the truth, and remains bound to the lies he wanted to hear. “Ahab’s victory in prying the truth our of Micaiah simply confirms his hate for the prophet, and this prejudice leads to his doom.” “The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, ‘Did I not tell you that he would not prophesy anything favorable about me, but only disaster?’”

Our Old Testament passage today is disquieting. It puts a grumbling murmur in my soul.. Our Old Testament passage shows God tearing down a nation, the Northern Kingdom of Israel, by leading their ruler to his doom with bad advice. Out Old Testament passage bothers me because God sends a lying spirit to speak through the prophets, to entice Ahab to his doom. Our Old Testament passage is disquieting, and does not bring me the heart-warmed peace where I can be still and know that the LORD is God.

And yet, it’s in the book, so I can’t pretend it doesn’t matter.

I want a God on whom I can rely. That’s part of why Presbyterian theology, with its emphasis of God’s sovereignty, is so appealing to me. Micaiah’s vision of the Divine Council puts God in the place of the trickster, or at least in the place or ordering and equipping a trickster, who entices rulers and empires to their doom. “Then the LORD said, ‘You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go out and do it.’” When God makes use of a lying spirit, when God uses cunning and trickery to entice humans into his will, that leaves me in a uncomfortable place.

Scripture has a lot of places that leave us uncomfortable, that don't fit our preferred view of God. It's much easier to ignore them than to admit that perhaps we have tried to make God in our own image, rather than let God shape our lives with the truth. Beware the voice that tells you exactly what you want to hear. The truth of the LORD challenges us, breaks down our expectations.

Though I’d be more comfortable with confirmation of what I want to hear, God’s Word gives us what we need to hear so that God’s mighty works may be displayed through us.

The Bible is a library full of stories about God's relationship with God's people. It’s essential to confront the disquieting, uncomfortable passages in scripture because they show that God works in ways we do not expect. People sometimes wander away from God and get into pretty deep trouble before God acts in unexpected ways to bring them home again.

But God will stop at nothing to bring them home anyway. In the face of the wickedness of King Ahab, God sends a lying spirit to bring down a dynasty. This lying spirit is akin to the hardening of Pharoah’s heart. This passage is a picture of God toppling empires as a reminder that God rules heaven and earth, even when we’d prefer the comfort of what we’ve come to expect, what we’ve settled for.

Jesus and his disciples are traveling throughout the region, and Jesus has been teaching for most of the previous couple of chapters. When the disciples see a man who was blind from birth, they see an opportunity to clarify some questions about why God creates some people with disadvantages in this world. In their minds disabilities are clearly punishments for some sin. “Jesus’ disciples asked, ‘Rabbi, who sinned so that he was born blind, this man or his parents?’” They’re asking for another lesson from their teaching, to clarify why God acts the way he does.

Jesus is not satisfied with leaving this man to only be an object lesson. Where the disciples see a question, Jesus sees a child of God. So he redirects the question away from human influence and back toward God, where it belongs. “Jesus answered, ‘Neither he nor his parents. This happened so that God’s mighty works might be displayed in him’”

Where the disciples expected a new teaching, Jesus provides a miracle, rubbing spit-mud in the man’s eyes and sending him to bathe. The man who was blind from birth comes back clean, and he can see.

This isn’t just a healing, restoring to a former state of vision. God creates vision where there had only been darkness before. God does something unexpected, just to show once again who’s in charge around here. 

God’s the one who is in charge, and the mighty works of God will be displayed in ways we would never expect. God’s will is even done through false prophets, and through a man who was blind from birth. God is greater than we expect. The walk of Christian discipleship is not a matter of self-congratulation, where we celebrate how we’re always right. The walk of Christian discipleship is a testament to God’s mighty works displayed in us, poor broken sinners though we are. As Christians we celebrate that God chooses to act through us anyway, simply because God loves us, and wants to shine through us in a dark world.

Whether our question “Why did this evil thing happen?” or “Why has this good been delayed for so long?” All of us struggle with the freedom of God, who chooses to act in ways we do not expect. God creates a man who is blind from birth, God sends a lying spirits to the prophets and royal advisors, God goes willingly to die on a cross, none of these make sense.

And yet they happen so that God’s mighty works may be displayed in this world. Sometimes God’s voice is in the rule of the majority, enacting with confidence the will of the LORD as they understand it. Other times, we have Micaiah, “…a man who was willing to stand alone against a multitude of other prophets and against the king, because he stood with God. The majority is not always right.” It is not our expectation, or our deserving that determines God’s action. God’s works are unexpected, and are always a gift, a self-sharing act of love for God’s people.

We will not always be comfortable wight he ways God acts, but the truth we have in Christ Jesus sets us free of our own expectations by wrapping us up in the God who’s mighty works are displayed in obnoxious prophets, in a man who was blind from birth, even, and maybe especially, in sinners like us.

God works in ways we do not expect, but we have hope in a God who is not satisfied with merely meeting out expectations. We are loved by a God who doesn’t want to settle for making us comfortable where we are. God challenges us to move forward into a dark world, to bear Christ’s light to them, even as we ourselves are nourished by Christ’s presence and action within us.

So we respond to the God who uses even unexpected people like obnoxious prophets, lying spirits, men who have been blind from birth, stubborn disciples, and churches full of sinners. We praise God’s name not because of our own righteousness, but because we are constantly surprised by God’s gracious intervention in the world. We celebrate that God is “unresting, unhasting, and silent as light, not wanting nor wasting, God rulest in might; God’s justice like mountains high soaring above God’s clouds, which are fountains of goodness and love.


God’s might works are displayed here, through us, in ways we would never expect. And Thanks be to God for that. Amen.