Sunday, December 20, 2015

Lowly to Leaping

Lowly to Leaping from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.

Micah 5:2-5a
2But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little ones of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from old, from ancient days.
3Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel.
4And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth;
5And he shall be the one of peace.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Luke 1:39-55
39In those days Mary set our and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed in the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

46And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord,
47and my spirit rejoiced in God my savior,
48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
50His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
51He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
53he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
54He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
55according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

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

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Shame Into Praise


Shame into Praise from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.


Zephaniah 3:14-20
14Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!

15The LORD has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies. The king of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more.

16On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak.

17The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing

18as on a day of festival. I will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it.

19I will deal with all your oppressors at that time. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth.

20At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the LORD.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Luke 3:7-18
7John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."

10And the crowds asked him, "What then should we do?" 11In reply he said to them, "Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise."

12Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, "Teacher, what should we do?" 13He said to them, "Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you."

14Soldiers also asked him, "And we, what should we do?" He said to them, "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages."

15As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."

18So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

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

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Sending Covenant


Sending Covenant from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.


Luke 1:67-79
67Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:
68Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
69He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David,
70as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
72Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant.
73The oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us
74that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear
75in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
76And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.
78By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon is,
79to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Malachi 3:1-7a

1See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight - indeed, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. 2But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiners fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and a purifying our silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness. 4Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years. 5Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired orders in their wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien, and do not fear me, says the LORD of hosts.

6For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, have not perished. 7Ever since the days of your ancestors you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will turn to you, says the LORD of hosts.

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

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Days are Surely Coming


The Days are Surely Coming from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.


Jeremiah 33:14-16
The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 16In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The LORD is our righteousness.”

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Luke 21:25-36
25“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27Then they will see the ‘Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

29Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30as soon as they sprout leave you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

34”Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, 35like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

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

Sunday, November 15, 2015

There'll Be Some Changes Made


There'll Be Some Changes Made from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.


Hebrews 10:11-25 

11And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. 12But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, "he sat down at the right hand of God," 13and since then has been waiting "until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet." 14For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified 15And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying, 

16"This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds," 17he also adds, "I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more." 

18Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

19Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), 21and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching. 

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Mark 13:1-8

1As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!" 2Then Jesus asked him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down." 3When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4"Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?" 

5Then Jesus began to say to them, "Beware that no one leads you astray. 6Many will come in my name and say, 'I am he!' and they will lead many astray 7When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

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

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Begun, but not Completed

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

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Mark 12:18-27
18Some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a questions, saying, 19”Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no child, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. 20There were seven brothers; the first married and, when he died, left no children; 21and the second married the widow and died, leaving no children; and the third likewise; 22none of the seven left children. Last of all the woman herself died. 23In the resurrection whose wife will she be? For the seven had married her.”

24Jesus said to them, “Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God? 25For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 26And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the story about him and bush, how God said to them, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?’ 27He is the God not of the dead, but of the living, you are quite wrong.

This is the Word of the Lord
Thanks be to God

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Indescribable Gift


Indescribable Gift from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.


Isaiah 58:6-12
6Is not this the fast I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?
7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
8Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
9Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.
11The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.
12Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

II Corinthians 9:6-15
6The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything you may share abundantly in every good work. 9As it is written, “He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.”

1He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; 12for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. 13Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obediences to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others, 14while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you. 15Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

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

The second class I took in seminary was a close reading of Paul's letters to the Corinthians. I knew I was headed for a pulpit somewhere, and that one day I would be preaching during Stewardship season. At the time, I knew nothing about leading a congregation through a pledge drive. I had that natural Southern hesitation to talk about money, because it's just a little bit rude to bring up that sort of thing. But I knew it was still important.

So naturally, when the time came to write the big research paper for my class, I focused on on New Testament passage for this morning. I dove into my work. Picture a training montage like in the movies, heroic music in the background, me running up the steps of the library, the screen flashes with stacks of commentaries, piles of scholarly articles, hours of analysis, and translations resources, all drawing together into a term paper that I knew prepared me for my future in the church.

Now, the moment has arrived, I'm in the exact situation for which that bout of academic rigor prepared me: preaching II Corinthians 9:6-15 on the last Sunday of our Stewardship series.

I don't know if y'all know this, but I firmly believe that God has a sense of humor. That paper and all the work that went into it was 4 e-mail addresses and 2 hard drive crashes ago. So unless the professor thought it was so good that he kept it after all these years, that paper is lost forever.

Spoiler alert: It was not so good that Dr. Rensberger would have kept it any longer than it took to grade it.

The upshot for y'all is that I'm not going to stand up here and read you a term paper.

The point is this: no amount of academic analysis is going to affect how we are stewards of what God has given us. Unless of course I read commentaries at you until you fell asleep, then the Finance/Stewardship committee could run through your pockets for loose change.

Stewardship is not a matter of convincing, it is a matter of conviction.

That’s because Stewardship is an act of faith. Whatever we do with the gifts God has given us says something to the world, and to ourselves, about what we think about God. That’s why Paul tells the ancient church in Corinth, “Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

At this point I’d like to point out that the New Revised Standard Version from which we are reading was not translated by Southerners. Every time this passage says “you,” go ahead in your mind and substitute “y’all.” Paul is writing to the whole community. “Each of [y’all] must give as [y’all] have made up [y’all’s] mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide [y’all] with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, [y’all] may share abundantly in every good work.”

For four weeks, we’ve watched our brothers and sisters express what the Presbyterian Church of Lowell means to them. We have lifted up dozens of programs during that time, and our November newsletter highlighted more, but the refrain we heard over and over again is how this is a place where people connect with one another. All of those programs are things the church does, but the Presbyterian Church of Lowell is more than a list of activities, we are a community where people grow closer to one another and to God.

All those things we do, all those ministries that reach out into the community, or reach into our own hearts, are the way we share abundantly in every good work. They are the harvest of the gifts of God, sown by generations of Christians. They came from generous and faithful hearts that reach back millennia, and we have inherited the fruits of all the saints who have gone before us, all beginning with Christ who gave himself for the whole world. Stewardship is about reminding ourselves to be grateful with every aspect of our lives, and a pledge card orients us towards giving and gratitude just as scripture orients us towards God.

Scripture shows us the necessity of giving, not just because there are those who have need, but because we who are created in the image of God, have a need to be generous. It’s not a matter of money, God created everything that exists, turning a profit is not as important as calling us to be prophetic. That’s why we remind ourselves that faithful living doesn’t end with signing a check, it pushes us to “remove the yoke from among [us], the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil.” Faithful living guides us to “offer [our] food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted.” It doesn’t end with a check, but it can begin there.

So why pledge to the church? Why not just give to other non-profits, or to the poor directly? If Stewardship is about responding to God’s gift, why should I fill out a pledge card? After all, about 60% of the church’s budget goes to personnel, and and a big chunk of what’s left goes to the upkeep of the property. That doesn’t sound like the most efficient use of my charitable dollars…

Because God doesn’t require efficiency. Each Sunday we have asked ourselves as we left this building, “What does the LORD require of you,” and each Sunday we have reminded ourselves that God has shown us what is good: to seek justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God.

The church is a means, not an end. We do not give to the church because it’s an institution that needs to be propped up by human hands forever. Over the last two millennia, the church has changed forms many times, we celebrated one of the big ones last Sunday. We give to the church because we have seen throughout history that the church is the means we use “to we loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free…” The institutional church is the means through which we “share [our] bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into [our house]…”

The church is a peculiar blend of group and institution. We are both an organism and an organization. This congregation has its own personality, and for all its imperfection, it’s a personality that I love. We are not just a social club, and we are not just a non-profit charity. We are a congregation, a thing wholly different from those other institutions.


And your pledge card helps us to plan for the future. The “us” here is not just the Session or the Finance and Stewardship committee. Turning in a pledge card helps this entire community of faith to plan for the future, because it teaches us to watch for God. Your pledge card is not a legally binding contract, it’s a promise to live with a grateful and faithful heart, trusting that “the LORD will guide [us] continually, and satisfy [our] needs in parched places, and make [our] bones strong.”

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Belonging


Belonging from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.


Mark 4:35b-41
35On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ 36And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37A great gale arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ 39He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’41And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Psalm 24
Of David. A Psalm
1The earth is the Lord's and all that is in it,
The world, and those who live in it;
2For he has founded it on the seas;
And established it on the rivers.

3Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
And who shall stand in this holy place?
4Those who have clean hands and pure hearts,
Who do not lift up their souls to what is false,
And do not swear deceitfully.
5 They will receive blessing from the Lord,
And vindication from the God of salvation.
6Such is the company of those who seek him,
Who seek the face of the God of Jacob.
Selah

7Lift up your heads, O gates!
And be lifted up, O ancient doors!
That the King of glory may come in.
8Who is the King of glory?
The Lord, strong and mighty,
The Lord, mighty in battle.
9Lift up your heads, O gates!
And be lifted up, O ancient doors!
That the King of glory may come in.
10Who is this King of glory?
The Lord of hosts,
He is the King of glory.
Selah

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

We begin with "The earth is the Lord's and all that is in it." It's a statement about who we are, and what we're doing here. "The earth is the Lord's and all that is in it" is an affirmation of faith that roots us, and everything that exists, in reference to our creator.

Our tradition, the Presbyterian tradition, holds fast to what's called the "Sovereignty of God." That's the primary emphasis of our theology. We received that tradition from our youth leaders and our Sunday School teachers and the pastor's whose wisdom still rings in our ears. We have heard about our heavenly father from centuries of faithful disciples, going back to the 1940s where a divided church that had the vision to see that God was bringing them back together with its cross-town brothers. We have heard that Our God Reigns all the way back to when a group of Presbyterians came to a mostly Methodist town and founded a church in the 1880s. We have been told that the LORD reigns on high all the way back to the 1720s, when a man named Francis Mackemie organized the first Presbytery in the Western Hemisphere.

It goes to John Knox in Scotland, whose congregations took their name from the Greek word for the Elders who guided their congregation, Presbuteroi. It goes to a French scholar living in Geneva Switzerland, who helped kindle a reformation that revolved around knowing that in all things, God is in charge. Nearly 500 years of history, all leaning forward into a future where we are servants of God.

But our theological ancestor John Calvin did not invent the sovereignty of God, he merely emphasized it. He read it in books that were older to him than he is to us, writings by a North African theologian named Augustine. Our tradition crosses continents and centuries, and all the while we are focused on the truth that "We confess and acknowledge one God alone, to whom alone we must cleave, whom alone we must serve, whom only we must worship, and in whom alone we put our trust.”

Put another way, "The earthy is the Lord's and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it." All of creation, and all who live in it, which I'm glad to say includes all of us, belong to God. That’s part of what the church is about. We belong to a group of people who confess that we belong to God. We look for God to be in charge of the world all around us, including in the lives we call our own.

So we begin with “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and those who live in it; for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers.” The same God who creates each day also provides and guides, re-forming his creation, re-creating among his people, because all things are His.

But this psalm doesn’t stop with its most famous quotation. There’s more to this Christian life than acknowledging God with our lips. We are compelled to grow closer to God, to whom we belong. Faith is the intersection of belief and action, therefore we must respond according to the faith we have been given.

David puts that response to a question, “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place?” All who live in creation belong to God, but who will be able to come near to their creator? David answers his own question, “Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not sweat deceitfully. They will receive blessing from the Lord, And vindication from the God of salvation.” There is no precondition for belong to God, but David points us to a life of righteousness as the appropriate response to our creator. The whole community is tasked with living according to God’s instruction, because God elects a people to special relationship with him. Living according the the stories and instructions of the ”torah is Israel's way to respond to and fully honor God's well-oriented world. That response in obedience is undertaken gladly in a posture of gratitude without calculation or grudging.”

But when I read that part of this psalm, I do not recognize myself in its description. I could not stand among “the company of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob.” My hands are dirty, and my heart is impure. I lift up my soul to what is false, and I swear deceitfully. I do not have hope of ascending the hill of the Lord.

Good news is, I have been dragged up the hill by the one person in history who is righteous. Because Jesus Christ stands in God’s holy place, I have already received blessing from the Lord, and vindication from the God of salvation. In awe and wonder of that great gift beyond my deserving, I join in the call we find at the end of our Psalm.

“Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors! That the King of glory may come in. Who is the King of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty, The Lord, mighty in battle.” For God has conquered our stubborn hearts, and even though we probably have some gates within us, we begin with “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it.” Knowing that even though we may recognize ourselves more in a closed gate than among the company of those who seek the Lord, we belong to God nevertheless.

And our lives are a response to the grace we have already received.

The leaves are beginning to change, the weather is beginning to cool, and the days are growing shorter as this little planet spins on its axis, and in the movement of this world that belongs to God, we see that "It is…an affirmation that God's faithfulness and goodness are experienced as generosity, continuity, and regularity.” Just as the year whirls around the sun, so the church calendar continues to recognize the different seasons of God’s interaction with his people. We see God’s generosity poured out in different ways through our congregational narrative, and we know that our story continues into the future, beyond what we can see. Therefore let us go out into the world to proclaim that God continues to carry us on our journey, reforming us every step of the way, and reminding us that we belong in this community of faith called the presbyterian church of Lowell, and that we all belong to God.

Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors! That the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, He is the King of glory.

Selah

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Stuff I Say about Belief and Acts

Inspired by This XKCD comic, I decided to try and write some theology using only the thousand most-used words in the English Language. I took the statement of faith that I wrote for my PIF a few years ago, and rewrote anything that wasn't in those thousand words.

The only words below that are not in the ten-hundred most used words are the proper names "Holy Spirit" and "Jesus Christ" I think this demonstrates how we sometimes overcomplicate what we say about God in order to look smart, rather than to communicate clearly.

I believe in God, who alone is in first over all things (4.027). Though God does not need to be close to people to be God, out of love wants to be close to us. God is great and more than the power of humans to approach, and God is also near us in our lives at all times. God is One God (5.015), and God is three persons (5.017): God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. 

I believe God the Father makes all things. The name of “Father” does not mean that God is a man, but rather a picture of the close hearts of God the Father and God the Son. Mirroring their close hearts, The Father wants to be in close to us as a mother to her baby child (10.3). 

I believe Jesus Christ is both whole God and whole Human (3.06). Jesus is the God's Word made into a person (8.11), and is the whole sharing of God to people. Jesus also lives the whole of being a person: he sometimes wanted to do wrong, sometimes he was strong, sometimes he was not as strong, sometimes he was happy, and other times he felt pain (9.08). Jesus is like us in every way except without distance from the Father. Jesus is the one who saves, who won for us against death and distance from the Father, took our place for our distance from the Father, and taught us how to live as people created in the image of God (5.076). Jesus's death was real, not a just words or a half-truth. Just so, Jesus's end-of-death is real, not a picture or a certain point of view. The dead-place is empty, he lives. 

I believe The Holy Spirit moved over the waters in the beginning, breathed into the writers of the Book-of-God-and-people, and always teaches the people of God. The Holy Spirit makes it possible for us to use the gifts God has given us to give make God look good. (10.4). The Holy Spirit acts to make us to always grow in our belief and acts. Without this loving push, we would not grow in God's gifts. 

The Book-of-God-and-people is the revealed and breathed-into word of God. It is not a History book nor a Fact book (7.003). It is a special and strong story (9.27) about who God is and how he is close to his people, and to the person and work of Jesus Christ. the Book-of-God-and-people is most strong when it is read and with love through the teaching of the Holy Spirit (9.29-9.30). 

The Church is the body of Christ (6.054), called both to be clean and right, and to meet people where they are, and that only through God's help can we live into who we are. The Church is both across all-that-is and each special group that believes and acts (3.17), called to be one and to figure out together God's will for each of us and all of us (9.43). 

God also reveals himself through the Special Acts, of which there are two: one with water and one with food (6.152). In the Special Act with water, we are made part of the body of Christ, brought close to the Father, and joined in Christ's death and return from the dead (7.275). In the Special Act with food, Christ asks us to sit at table with our God through the power of the Holy Spirit (3.21). The stuff used in the Special Acts wake us up to how close God is to us (5.205). We need the stuff to  share in the Special Acts. They are not, however, the main point, which should always be the ways that God is close to us and does stuff in and around us (5.175). 

God loves us so much that God will not let us go. On the cross, God in Jesus Christ took on all of human pain (10.2) and went down into hell, whole distance from God (7.139). Out of love for us, God went where God is most far away, and in so doing broke the power of distance-from-God and death and made us for all time as sharing everything with Christ (3.08). Everything we do should show our thanks to God for all that God has done for us (4.032).

Monday, October 19, 2015

Possible? Accomplished!

Exodus 16:2-8
2The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

4Then the LORD said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. 5On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.” 6So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you shall know that it was the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt, 7and in the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your complaint against the LORD. For what are we, that you complain against us? 8And Moses said, “When the LORD gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the LORD has heard the complaining that you utter against him - what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the LORD.”

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Mark 10:17-31
17As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? 1Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” 20He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

23Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom.” 26They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

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

We are slowly moving.

We join the Israelites on their way out of Egypt, and we join Jesus "As he was setting out on a journey." We are slowly moving, but we keep hitting these bumps in the road. Seems like every little thing shakes loose along our path, and we can't quite shake off the things that hold us back. We want to leap forward into the future filled with hope that we read about in scripture...

For the Israelites in our Exodus passage, the memory of Egypt holds them back. The ten plagues have gotten them out of Egypt, and the rushing waters of the sea have thrown the Egyptian empire into chaos, but the people are still in bondage.

Jesus is on a journey, one that will lead him eventually to the cross, and a man runs up and kneels before him. But Jesus is not the one who is held back. His movement continues to carry him towards the cross. It is the man who is held back.

The man who kneels before Jesus sees himself as law-abiding, he’s done everything right, he’s worked hard, he’s kept the commandments, he has been richly blessed by God. Perhaps, in this moment, he’s looking for an assurance, a pat on the head from Jesus.

If that’s what he was looking for, he doesn’t get it. “Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing.’” For all his work, for all his righteous deeds, for all his accomplishments, Jesus tells him, “You lack one thing.”

Of course, as we know, it’s kind of a big thing. Being loved by Jesus tends to come with a helping of challenges. “Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” He lacks one thing, even though he has many possessions, even though he had kept all the commandments, he lacks one thing…

So instead of the “attaboy” the man expected, “he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.” In spite of his many possessions, he didn’t realize to whom he was talking. In spite of knowing and living by the commandments, he didn’t know where Jesus would lead him.

The Israelites in Exodus 16 know that God is leading them out of slavery in Egypt and into the promised land. Yet even so, old habits die hard, and the few creatures comforts they received while in bondage they long for in the wilderness. So they complain. “If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread…” God hears them complain, and I’ve always pictured God getting a little frustrated with his petty people. He pulls Moses aside and tells him “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you.” Y’all are going to have so much bread from heaven it’ll be coming out of your ears. You are going to know that this is not a magic trick, or even human leadership, because for mortals, this kind of providence would be impossible. But not for God. You’re hungry? Done. Have all the food you can eat each day. “In that way I will test them, whether they follow my instruction or not.”

God providence challenges us to be disciples, because our needs are already provided for, the question is, how will we respond. How will we rise to the challenge of God’s grace?

It’s not as though gathering all that bread in is going to save us. Later in this chapter, anything left over just melts away. God gives us enough, and if we grab more, all it does is spoil and hold us back. God gives us enough for the journey, but he also challenges us to follow along the journey.

As we know, the journey leads to the cross. Then it leads to the empty tomb, and the ascension, and the age of the Spirit. And exactly none of that is up to us. Our Salvation is already accomplished, our journey to the promised land is already set. But it’s not something we have done. For mortals, it is impossible, but not for God.

When Jesus refers to the "eye of a needle" he's not referring to a mystical narrow gate into Jerusalem. He's talking about a big hairy animal and a tiny sewing tool. It's meant to be obviously impossible. A camel cannot fit through a needle. Just so, we cannot buy our way into heaven with our many possessions, or even with our many good deeds.

We cannot do it ourselves. Even if we could, we would more likely choose the bread we knew in Egypt than set out into the wilderness. If we were merely invited to follow Jesus, we would be shocked at the cost of discipleship and go away grieving, because the cost is dear.

"For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible."

Our presence on this journey isn't based on an "if," and it's not based on human ability or goodness. God has already saved us. God has already brought us out of Egypt. This man Jesus, who is the Christ, the Son of the Most High God, has already been through the cross, has already emptied the tomb so that we would know that for God all things are possible.

We are slowly moving, but we are moving. God is already gathering us in, moment by moment, not waiting for us, but grabbing hold of us with love that will not let us go. The challenges God gives us come from a place of love, not of judgment or condemnation. The LORD who made us challenges us to set aside what holds us back from God, not because God is waiting for us to save ourselves, but because we will know God better, and know ourselves better, when we live with grateful and faithful hearts.

So it is possible? No.


But it is already accomplished.