Sunday, October 30, 2016

Chosen Grace




Matthew 20:1-16
1“For the Kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. 3When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; 4and he said to them, ‘You also go into he vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So again they went. 5When he went out and found others standing around; he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?” 7They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’

8When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ 9When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12saying, ’These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous? 16So the last will be first, and the first will be last.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Romans 3:19-26
19Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silvered, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20For “no human being will be justified in his sight” by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.

21But now, apart from the law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, 22the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 24they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; 26it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.

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

499 years ago tomorrow, Martin Luther is said to have nailed his 95 theses to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenburg Germany. It was not a revolutionary act, it was a public notice of an academic debate concerning repentance and the role of the church in the life of individual christians.

The debate didn’t stay academic for long.

Riding on the back of a new technology called the “Printing Press,” the questions and challenges raised by that german monk spread throughout Europe and became known as the Protestant Reformation, one of several reformations to happen during that time period.

A French Lawyer named John Calvin read Luther’s work, and began asking his own questions, and eventually moved to Switzerland where he took his ideas about reverent worship, powerful preaching, and emphasis on the sovereignty of God with him.

Calvin and Luther, and the other reformers, men and women from all over the world, put theology back into the hands of the people. They taught and wrote prolifically, and their ideas spread around the globe. Belief was no longer handed down from high-ranking church people, instead it was drawn out of scripture and pushed out into the lives of the newly-emerging Protestant Christians.

As you may have guessed, I was never the kid who asked “When are we ever going to use this?” in history classes. I saved that question for math.

I’m the fourth out of five Joseph William Tabers, and I’m married to a historian. History is personal to me. The stories I see there help me understand who I am. They give me a picture of who this congregation is, and how our heritage will shape our response to the future God has provided us. Our heritage is a gift from God, who has chosen grace for us time and time again.

Christianity started off as a part of Judaism, and then grew to include gentile believers as well. That ended up being kind of a crunchy process. When Paul writes to the Romans, he's writing to a church that is divided, Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians are struggling with their different ways of being the Church.

For Jewish Christians, adherence to the covenant was still greatly important. And their long history as God's covenant people was a source of pride. They had the law and the prophets, which point to Christ. They had the heritage to point to. A celebration of all the great things that God had done for them in the past.

Gentile Christians on the other hand, had a different heritage. Their’s was just beginning to bloom. They came from all kinds of backgrounds, some of them were quite wealthy, but they were willing to challenge parts of the Old covenant. They didn’t feel beholden to all the ancient laws and customs, and were willing to let go of the traditions that had become stale and lifeless, instead focusing on the ways the Spirit was guiding the covenant community here and now. Rather than high priests and levites, they put the stories of Christ into the hands of the people, devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the reading of scripture, and to prayer.

Paul’s letter to the Romans doesn't let either group off the hook. The first chapter of Romans lays out the failures of the nations to recognize their creator, instead making idols for themselves. They worshipped creation, rather than the creator. Or they found ways to project themselves out into the heavens so that the gods were super-humans. The LORD was not impressed.

God's covenant people don't come off any better in the second chapter of Romans. Their heritage is carried by the law and the prophets, but their history is full of them ignoring both. They, of all people, should have known better. The Almighty was disappointed.

We have great moments in our heritage, but we’ve also go two millennia of unimpressive disappointment to our Lord Jesus Christ. It’s easy to keep the idea at arms length and then not change our hearts and lives to reflect what we say we believe. We profess faith, but we practice broken relationships.

We celebrate the Protestant Reformation, but we forget the 30 years war, where Christians rampaged across Europe killing everyone who was the “wrong” kind of Christian. “Whatever our ancestry…it has distinguished itself principally by its resolute sinfulness and rebellion against God.”

God has still chosen grace. None of our mess can overwrite God's sovereign freedom to do what he chooses with what belongs to him. God has chosen to be generous with us.

God has chosen to be generous with us. That's our heritage.

We can cite historical events. We can share fun stories about Sunday School classes gone by. We can recite theology that has withstood centuries of human experience.

But the center point of Presbyterian Heritage is that God has chosen grace.

We are vineyard workers who have slacked off all day, pretending to look for work, but ignoring the calls to go to the vineyard.

And yet when the day is done, we are still given the full day’s wage, as a gift. We have been given grace as a gift, not because of our earning or because of a special heritage, or because we said the magic prayer and now God is obligated to save us. We have been given grace simply because God has chosen to be generous with us.

Most of the time, we try and haggle our way into a transaction with God. “Dear God, I promise I’ll go to church every Sunday and quit doing thus-and-such if you’ll just give me this one thing. Then I’ll never bother you again.”

“Dear God, I’ve tried my hardest, but I really need your help. I’ve carried it as far as I can, but now I need you to take it just the next little piece.”

“I go to church every Sunday, I give ten percent of everything to the poor. Surely I deserve…”

“I confess that I believe in Jesus. Now God, save me from punishment.”

Those are all transactions, the early workers vain attempts to gain the upper hand over the vineyard owner. They are our attempts to create God in our own image, with our imagined justice, ignoring the ways God has revealed himself to us over and over again. These transactions seek to write our own law, or to convince ourselves that we have kept the main parts of the law. 

But in spite of all our transactional struggling, it’s not enough. “Even total fulfillment of the law would not have been sufficient. That is not the way to a restored relationship with the creator.”

We can’t earn it. We can bargain or badger our way into the gift of our generous God. God has chosen grace, and chosen us for it. And as Romans reminds us, there’s not distinction, because all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. And yet God is more concerned with being generous than leaving us to what we deserve.

God has chosen to be generous to the undeserving, and to give all of us an equal share in the grace of God.

I wonder what would happen if we trusted our God to be generous. I wonder what would happen if we stopped stumbling over ourselves and were able to change our hearts and lives to reflect God’s generosity, rather than our desire for self-reliance.

I wonder what would happen if we saw God’s grace as a gift, instead of as a reward.

I think our heritage would propel us forward with a kind of grateful energy. I think we would engage with our community, both here in Lowell and Gaston County, and our sister churches around Western North Carolina.

Perhaps we would practice the faith we protest and let God’s generosity flow through us.

Because although our heritage includes a church split, it also includes reconciliation. Although our heritage includes division and struggle, it also includes growth in faith. Although our heritage includes getting it wrong, it also includes finding ways to make it right.

Our Presbyterian Heritage isn’t about costumes or sayings or famous people we can call part of our club. Our Presbyterian Heritage is that God has chosen grace as a gift, seen most clearly in the person and work of Jesus Christ, whose heritage includes a shameful death, but also a glorious resurrection.


Brothers and sisters, we’re going to go out into a world that needs healing. We’re going out into a world that is beaten down with bad news. Let’s put our heritage to good use and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. Let’s trust in the good news that God has chosen grace.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Even Silence



Luke 18:9-14
9He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 
10"Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, 'God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.' 13But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' 14I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted."

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Psalm 65
1For the music leader. A psalm of David. A song.
God of Zion, to you even silence is praise. Promises made to you are kept-
2You listen to prayer - and all living things come to you.
3When wrongdoings become too much for me, you forgive our sins.
4How happy is the one you choose to bring close, the one who lives in your courtyards! We are filled full by the goodness of your house, by the holiness of your temple.
5In your righteousness you answer us, by your awesome deeds, God of our salvation - you who are the security of all the far edges of the earth, even the distant seas;
6You establish the mountains by your strength; you are dressed in raw power;
7You calm the roaring seas; calm the roaring wakes, calm the noise of the nations.
8Those who dwell on the far edges stand in awe of your acts. You make the gateways of morning and evening sing for joy.
9You visit the earth and make it abundant, enriching it greatly by God's stream, full of water. You provide people with grain because this is what you've decided.
10Drenching the earth's furrows, leveling its ridges, you soften it with rain showers; you bless its growth.
11You crown the year with your goodness; your paths overflow with rich food.
12Even the desert pastures drip with it, and the hills are dressed in pure joy.
13The meadowlands are covered with flocks, the valleys decked out in grain - they shout for joy; they break out in song!

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

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Fear, Respect, Justice.

Fear, Respect, Justice. from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.


Genesis 32:22-31
The same night [Jacob] got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. 24Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of going as he wrestled with him 26Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” 27So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, ”Jacob.” 28Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” 29Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. 30So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” 31The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Luke 18:1-8
1Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither eared God nor had respect for people. 3In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

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

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Remember and Remind

Luke 17:11-19

11On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ 14When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean. 15Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ 19Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

II Timothy 2:8-15

8 Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David—that is my gospel, 9for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained. 10Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. 11The saying is sure:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him; 
12 if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he will also deny us; 
13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.
14 Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening. 15Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth. 

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

It's anniversary weekend at the Revolutionary War battlefield where my wife works. The battle of Kings Mountain is credited by many historians as the first link in a chain of events that led to the British surrender at Yorktown.

Each year, in the midst of coordinating volunteers and organizing school groups, the park staff host a wreath-laying ceremony. Groups of descendants of those who fought in the battle gather to remember the significance of the battle, and their own family's participation in history.

For many people, memory is a source of pride. We remember our history in a way that connects us to those who have gone before, and to those around us. Ask me some time about my family history and watch me stand a little straighter as I remember where I come from. Ask me some time about the history of the Presbyterian Church and hear my confidence as I remember the winding path of our theological ancestors.

Our memory can be a source of pride. Who we were when we did great things continues today. The way we remember shapes who we are.

But then we throw Jesus into the mix, and everything changes.

Most of us here grew up in the church, and we certainly all grew up in a culture that is heavily influenced by Christianity. So it may be difficult for us to remember a time before we heard about Jesus. Most Presbyterians don’t have a born-again, the-old-life-has-passed-away moment. And even if we can remember that moment of repentance and turning towards God, that’s not the end of our story, and we continue to grow in faith from there. Our experience tends more of growing discipleship than a climatic life-changing moment.

But when we “remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David,” we look at the world differently. We remember differently. Suddenly, pride may not describe it anymore…

We remember that the greatest king of Israel, David, had Uriah the Hittite killed so that David’s adultery might remain undiscovered. We remember his daughter Tamar, and the disaster and terror of what David allowed to happen to her.

We remember what people have done throughout human history because they feared death, injustice born of self-preservation that kept people in slavery. We remember awful reactions to perceived threats that offend the holiness of God. We remember that we too, are sinners. We have inherited patterns of behavior that invite God’s wrath, and that we will repeat those patterns ourselves, and most likely pass them on.

But Christian memory is also the source of Christian hope. “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David - that is my gospel.”

We remember the good news, that we have hope. We remember that God is involved in human history, working through the Davids of the world even though they deserve condemnation. We remember that God is involved in history binding up the brokenhearted, comforting the afflicted, and challenging us to do better, to be better. We remember that even when we fail to practice the faith we profess, God refuses to give up on us, just as he did not abandon David. We remember, and we have hope.

We remember the good news that death is not the end of our story. We remember that we do not have to choose to do the wrong thing in the name of self-preservation. We remember that nothing can separate us from the love of God, neither sin nor death defines us anymore. We are the ones whom God loves, whom he calls to deeper, more complete relationship with him. We remember, and we have hope.

We remember Jesus Christ, a human being who showed us what that meant. We remember that “only human” is an expression of limitation, but also a confession that we are created in the image of God. We remember that God became a human being so that we would be restored the kind of relationship God wants for us. We remember that Jesus Christ was offered as a sacrifice to liberate us from sin and death for all time. We remember that Jesus is Lord, and that all authority on heaven and earth belongs to him, and we are his brothers and sisters, his friends. We remember, and we have hope.

Christian hope is born out of Christian memory. “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David.” Our memory shapes who we are. The grace of God transforms us in our inmost hearts, and leads to a transformation of our actions as well.

After all, when we remember our hope, when we remember the grace we have received, how can we not run back in gratitude to lay ourselves at the feet of Jesus? How can we not offer ourselves as servants of God in thankfulness and hope? How can we not find ways to participate in building God’s kingdom?

We will still suffer hardship, maybe “even to the point of being chained like a criminal.” Remembering Jesus Christ causes us to look at the world differently, to remember differently. That’s going to cause some friction, even among communities of faith. Even though we all remember our core truths, even though we work to remind one another of the sure sayings of our faith, we will often come to different conclusions, and we may practice our faith in different ways.

But God does not choose such a variety of disciples by accident. Conflict is not always a bad thing, sometimes it serves as a reminder that no single human perspective can hold the fullness of God, and that the greatness of the Holy One of Israel challenges us to continue our discipleship and our journey in faith along side one another, and alongside Jesus.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Who He Was

Luke 19:1-10

1He entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 5When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” 6So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7All who say it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” 8Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” 9Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God