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.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

What does the LORD require of you?


What Does the Lord Require of You? from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.


Mark 12:13-17
13Then they sent to him some Pharisees and some Herodians to trap him in what he said. 14And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? 15Should we pay them, or should we not?”

But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me see it.” 16And they brought one. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” 17Jesus said to them, “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were utterly amazed at him.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

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

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

Jesus is out and about in downtown Jerusalem, and has been teaching there for the past couple of days. It’s a pretty typical scene for Jesus, and this story is one that’s probably familiar to all of us. This is the story where people ask Jesus what that should do with their money. Jesus is in Jerusalem, and he knows that the cross is coming. His answer is filtered through the cross, and points to God’s claim over every aspect of our lives.

Now Jerusalem is not just the big city, economic hub, cultural center that is so easy for Christians in the United States to picture. Jerusalem is occupied territory.

Like many occupied cities throughout history, the culture had divided into those who supported those in power, and those who continued to resist. In Jerusalem, the Herodians supported Rome, and the Romans kept them in power, and kept them wealthy. They cooperated with the occupiers so that life could go on.

The Pharisees, on the other hand, were the keepers of Jewish cultural identity. Their insistence on the law was out of a commitment to remaining God's covenant people. Their school of thought was an act of resistance against the pressures of the empire, and they sought to stay Jewish in the face of political and economic pressure to become just like Rome.

The Herodians and Pharisees are at opposite ends of the political spectrum for 1st Century Jerusalem. Neither of them are necessarily evil, it's more complicated than that. But in this story, both ends come together to try and trap Jesus.

When they start paying you compliments, you'd better duck.

If he sides with paying taxes, then clearly he supports the Roman occupation, and the Pharisees can turn the crowds against him for abandoning God's law. If he comes out against paying taxes, then he's a rebel and the Herodians can have him arrested.

Jesus refuses to pick the sides they have lain out for him. He is firmly on God's side, and deftly dodges their trap. Give to the emperor what belongs to him, but give to God what belongs to God.

The implied question, then, is what is it that belongs to God?

"With what shall I come before the LORD?"

Everything.

God requires our whole selves. We may be tempted to try and offer just enough, and then withhold the rest for our own illusion of control. But God is not satisfied with only part of his people. God has already redeemed every part of us. That’s the reason Jesus is in Jerusalem, to claim us for God, forever.

Every thing we do, every aspect of the Christian life, is a response to the gospel. God has laid a claim on us that not even our own sinfulness can revoke, simple because God’s love does not end at betrayal, or even at his own death, it extends to empty tombs and sits at God’s right hand.

How then, can we approach a God whom we never repay, whose grace we can never earn?

We can hear and heed the word of the prophet Micah: “With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high?” Micah asks the same questions we do, he too has seen the overwhelming and steadfast love of God. He asks, “Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?” These are the cream of the offering crop. But it’s not enough for Micah. “Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?”

The amount of wealth Micah is talking about here is getting a little silly. This is the wealth of whole kingdoms, yet for Micah, it’s still not enough. So the big question comes up: “Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

But that’s not the answer either.

I think everything that Micah has listed is showing us that we cannot buy God off. God has already bought us, and we are not for sale. We cannot even buy a portion of our own lives.

When I was growing up, Dr. Matt Brown was our preacher. One Sunday, his sermon included a quotation from John Calvin. He included the quote as a bulletin insert, and it is one of my favorite statements on the Christian Life even after all this time.

“We are not our own: let not our reason nor our will, therefore, sway our plans and deeds. We are not our own: let us therefore not set it as our goal to seek what is expedient for us according to the flesh. We are not our own: in so far as we can, let us therefore forget ourselves and all that is ours.

Conversely, we are God’s: let us therefore live for him and die for him. We are God’s: let all parts of our life accordingly strive toward him as our only lawful goal.”

I still have the bulletin insert, tucked safely away at home, as a reminder to myself. We are not our own. We cannot buy God off and go our own way, God loves us too much to allow it. Christ grabbed us through the cross and the empty tomb, and by the grace of God will never let us go.

How do we answer that amazing, unending, and steadfast love? “With what shall I come before the LORD?”

The question hangs in the air, until Micah reminds us that the answer is nothing new. “[God] has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” It’s nothing we can earn, or pay for, because grace is not a transaction. It’s not a monthly bill. 

God’s grace empowers us to live transformed lives. God’s grace allows us to step out of a world that keeps score every step of the way, that grades our every action, and to not squabble for scraps that we may call good. “He has told you, O mortal, what is good.”

Do Justice: it’s an action that seeks the wholeness of all people.

Love kindness: it’s a perspective that takes delight in others.

Walk humbly with your God: it’s a direction that continually guides us to where God is showing us, so that we do not get caught up in our own egos.

“Give to God, what belongs to God,” Jesus tells us. Micah shows us what that looks like, “to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.”

That’s a tall order. None of us get it right all the time, we all stumble, and struggle to live according the the faith God has given us.

So we struggle to live up to Micah’s charge, we slip and try to keep some of what is God’s to ourselves. But we never lose out on what God has already done for us. God’s giving known no ending, and stretches across our whole lives, not just the parts we are able to give.

One of the many gifts God has given us is each other. This peculiar thing called a church that is both a community and an institution is a gift from God. It encourages us and supports us, and challenges each member to keep moving, to do a little more justice, to love a little more kindness, to walk a little more humbly, and a little closer to God.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Imprinted


Imprinted from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.


Mark 10:2-16
2Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’ 3He answered them, ‘What did Moses command you?’ 4They said, ‘Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.’ 5But Jesus said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. 6But from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female.” 7“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife,* 8and the two shall become one flesh.” So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’

10Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11He said to them, ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; 12and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.’ 

13People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’ 16And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12
1:1In the past, God spoke to our ancestors in many times and many ways. 2But in these final days, he spoke to us through a Son. God made his Son the heir of everything and created the world through him. 3The Son is the light of God’s glory and the imprint of God’s being. He maintains everything with his powerful message. After he carried out the cleansing of people from their sins, he sat down at the right hand of the highest majesty. 4And so, the Son became so much greater than the other messengers, such as angels, that he received a more important title than theirs.

2:5God didn’t put the world that is coming (the world we are talking about) under the angels’ control. 6Instead, someone declared somewhere, What is humanity that you think about them? Or what is the human being that you care about them? 7For awhile you made them lower than the angels. You crowned the human being with glory and honor. 8You put everything under their control.

When he puts everything under their control, he doesn’t leave anything out of control. But right now, we don’t see everything under their control yet. 9However, we do see the one who was made lower in order than the angels for a little while - it’s Jesus! He’s the one who is now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of his death. He suffered death so that he could taste death for everyone through God’s grace.

10It was appropriate for God, for whom and through whom everything exists, to use experiences of suffering to make perfect the pioneer of salvation. This salvation belongs to many sons and daughters whom he’s leading to glory. 11This is because the one who makes people holy and the people who are being made holy all come from one source. That is why Jesus isn’t ashamed to call them brothers and sisters when he says 12I will publicly announce your name to my brothers and sisters. I will praise you in the middle of the assembly.

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

Last weekend, I went to my 10 year High School reunion. Freedom High School, class of 2005. Not quite 500 people crossed the stage at our graduation there on the banks of the majestic Catawba river.

We began, as most reunions do these days, by contacting one another over social media. We joked about old stories, we brainstormed ideas about getting together, and we expressed excitement about reconnecting with old high school friends.

Although, some of the "excitement" was feigned. Some of it was genuine, to be sure. But some of it was just being polite. Not every friendship drifts apart unintentionally, and most of us had become very different people over the past decade.

The night of the big dinner event came, and Leah and I made our way to downtown Morganton. I had a secret list in my head of people I actually wanted to see. It was MUCH shorter than the actual guest list.

There were people there I was very excited to see. There were people there I had no interest in seeing. I probably made those same lists for other folks there too. We’ve all got folks we don’t want to see sitting at the table.

There’s a book in our church library, right outside that door, called Christian Doctrine, by Shirley Guthrie. Dr. Guthrie is one the legends of Columbia Theological Seminary, he is brilliant enough to take very complex ideas about God and write them in a way that is very easy to understand.

To give you an idea how good Christian Doctrine is, the copy in the library is almost falling apart. It’s seen a lot of use over the years.

Legend has it that Dr. Guthrie was once brought up on charges of heresy. He was accused of being a Universalist, the belief that everyone goes to heaven no matter what. The story goes that he beat the charges basically by questioning if the folks who charged him with heresy were saved…

The way I heard it, he appeared before the committee and said, “I believe that when we all get to that great messianic banquet, some people will look at who else is seated at the table, and they will turn around and leave.”

We’ve all got folks we don’t want to see sitting at the table.

Hebrews was probably not originally a letter. Not in the way that Paul wrote anyway. Most scholars point to it as a sermon manuscript, meant to be read aloud as a part of worship. At every turn, Hebrews lifts up that no matter what lies behind us, or before us, Jesus the Christ is greater. There’s a lot to unpack in Hebrews, and the picture it draws of God is beautiful. It’s worth reading, and it’s worth reading aloud.

But the focus of these excerpts from that ancient Christian sermon is that Christ is holding us together. Simply by being himself, Christ holds humanity together with God. “The Son is the light of God’s glory and the imprint of God’s being. He maintains everything with his powerful message.” He is the definite Word of God, who reestablishes humanity’s natural relationship with God. Jesus is the complete image of what it means to be human, and he is the fullest expression of who God is.

An encounter with Jesus, the imprint of God’s being, leaves its mark upon all who experience him, and we cannot leave unchanged.

But that change is ongoing. Hebrews 2:8 points us to the Lordship of Christ over all things, he is already crowned with glory and honor, but not yet do all things obey that authority. We surely see in our own lives, after all, we’ve all got folks we don’t want to see sitting at the table. We rebel against Christ’s authority when we try and push others out of the grace of God. We have forgotten Christ’s love when we try and distance ourselves from the imprint of that same grace.

Today is World Communion Sunday, when Christians all over the world set aside their differences, and celebrate a reunion around the LORD’s table. We may find ourselves tempted to get up and leave, we may have folks we wish were not seated with us, but God the Son maintains everything with his powerful message.  Jesus’s powerful message takes us into suffering, and then to resurrection on the other side. It was appropriate for God, for whom and through whom everything exists, to use experiences of suffering to make perfect the pioneer of salvation. This salvation belongs to many sons and daughters whom he’s leading to glory.” We are the sons and daughters whom Jesus is leading. He who is already crowned with glory and honor invites us to sit with him and share a meal, so that we may find ourselves imprinted with the love of Christ.

“This is because the one who makes people holy and the people who are being made holy all come from one source.” No matter the distinction we may try to make or enforce, no matter how many folks we do not want to see at the table, all of us belong to God.


“That is why Jesus isn’t ashamed to call them brothers and sisters when he says I will publicly announce your name to my brothers and sisters. I will praise you in the middle of the assembly.” We come to this table, joining this assembly and every other gathering in Christ’s name, at the LORD’s own invitation. And Christ is the one who leads our song of praise to God.