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.”