Wednesday, September 20, 2017

They Will Stand

Matthew 18:21-35
21Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ 22Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

23‘For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” 27And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow-slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, “Pay what you owe.” 29Then his fellow-slave fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” 30But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debt. 31When his fellow-slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?” 34And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt. 35So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Romans 14:1-12
1Welcome the person who is weak in faith--but not in order to argue about differences of opinion. 2One person believes in eating everything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3Those who eat must not look down on the ones who don't, and the ones who don't eat must not judge the ones who do, because God has accepted them. 4Who are you to judge someone else's servants? They stand or fall before their own Lord (and they will stand, because the Lord has the power to make them stand). 

5One person considers some days to be more sacred than others, while another person considers all days to be the same. Each person must have their own convictions. 6Someone who thinks that a day is sacred, thinks that way for the Lord. Those who eat, eat for the Lord, because they thank God. And those who don't eat, don't eat for the Lord, and they thank the Lord too. 7We don't live for ourselves and we don't die for ourselves. 8If we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord. Therefore whether we live or die, we belong to God. 

9This is why Christ died and lived: so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living. 10But why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you look down on your brother or sister? We all will stand in front of the judgment seat of God. 11Because it is written, As I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow to me, and every tongue will give praise to God. 12So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.

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

I’m always grateful, after a short time away, to come home to this congregation. We’re not in our usual worship space, but that doesn’t deter us. We know that things can be different, and still be okay. This congregation has a deep, strong faith that has nurtured hundreds of members in our more than 70 year history. Those whom God has gathered here are committed to the ministry of this congregation, and to the mission of God’s Church.

The challenges we have faced in our history, especially over the past fifteen or so years, have given us many opportunities to practice our faith. We’ve grown into a mature congregation and we love to think of ourselves as welcoming to all people. It’s right there in our mission statement: In response to God’s call, the Presbyterian 
Church of Lowell seeks to worship God, grow in faith, and show God’s love to everyone.

Enter Romans 14. “1Welcome the person who is weak in faith--but not in order to argue about differences of opinion.” As a congregation, we’re pretty good at that. We’ve got a lot of tolerance for questions, and this really is a community where it’s okay to not be okay. I think that’s wonderful, I think it’s a strength of our congregation and I think it’s a huge asset to our community.

Because in the world outside, most folks only entertain a difference of opinion so that they can show the weakness of that person’s beliefs.

Examples: news with token opposition, straw man arguments online, denominational competition,

Even when we talk about politics or theology among our friends, how often to we welcome those ideas that we consider “weak?” Or is it more common to listen only long enough to get to our own argument, so we can show them how right we are, and how wrong they are…

“2One person believes in eating everything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3Those who eat must not look down on the ones who don't, and the ones who don't eat must not judge the ones who do, because God has accepted them. 4Who are you to judge someone else's servants? They stand or fall before their own Lord (and they will stand, because the Lord has the power to make them stand).”

We’re pretty good at welcoming others. Our congregation has room for more than one side, and that in itself is a powerful witness to Christ, who has accepted them, and us, no matter what. 

Examples: suits and sweatpants, guitar and pipe organ, introspective and expressive, liberal and conservative.

As a community, we’re pretty good at this welcoming stuff. As individuals though, we sometimes miss the mark, and fall back into the selfish patterns that are so often modeled in the world around us.

Paul, the author of Romans, pulls quite the pastoral and political move here. No matter what your spiritual practice is, you can take the side of being e one who is strong in faith. “5One person considers some days to be more sacred than others, while another person considers all days to be the same. Each person must have their own convictions. 6Someone who thinks that a day is sacred, thinks that way for the Lord. Those who eat, eat for the Lord, because they thank God. And those who don't eat, don't eat for the Lord, and they thank the Lord too. 7We don't live for ourselves and we don't die for ourselves. 8If we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord. Therefore whether we live or die, we belong to God.” We who are strong enough in faith to resist the temptation to eat bad food, we must welcome those who are of weak faith. We who are strong enough in faith to know that God is okay with eating whatever, we must welcome those who are of weaker faith, and limit themselves.

Paul is using that same selfishness that has the tendency to grasp all of us, and is manipulating it for the glory of God…

Paul is showing us how even people of weak faith can come to share a strong faith.

Before I was called to be the pastor for our congregation, I spent four months in an unpaid internship with the chaplain’s office at a hospital in Spartanburg. The program is called “Clinical Pastoral Education,” usually abbreviated “CPE.” The idea is that they throw you into intense situations, then you reflect on how you functioned pastorally. Ideally, you learn something so that you can be a better pastoral presence the next time you’re called out.

There’s also a pseudo-therapeutic portion to doing this kind of supervised ministry. Walking into crisis after crisis and responding with compassion can draw out anybody’s crazy. Our supervisor met with each of us individually a number of times so that we could talk through the stuff that bubbled up as we connected with so many people on their worst day. His job was to help us explore why we acted the way we did, to unpack how unconscious biases affected our behavior. He was meant to be a teacher, a guide.

Y’all know that I’m a big fan of the sovereignty of God. I’d rather talk about the greatness of God than the goodness of God. I want a God who is strong enough to save me, who is powerful enough to call into being things which are not, who raises the dead. My supervisor was not so much into that. A powerful God was not all that attractive to him, and during one of our sessions, he wondered if perhaps I needed a powerful God because at some point in my life, someone had taken away my power.

He was right. As soon as he said it, I knew what specific moment in my life connected with his wondering. It got me thinking, maybe I need for God to be strong because my faith is weak.

Scripture certainly points to a God who is powerful. God creates out of nothing, raises the dead, parts the seas, ruins and redeems nations, we could go on quoting chapter and verse of all the myriad passages that point to an all-powerful God. So if you’re like me and need a strong God, it’s not like you’re just making it up.

But it’s not just about believing that God is great, my supervisor’s point was that I need for God to be powerful. My life experience has taught me that I am not powerful, and so some defensive part of me needs for God to fill that role for me.

Examples if I had a strong faith, I wouldn't… instead I would be better at…

Maybe that's where you are as well. Maybe your faith is strong sometimes, and weak at others. After all, faith isn't an achievement, it's a process.

I’m grateful that there’s good news for folks like me, who have a strong call, but a weak faith. We will stand, not because of our strength, but because God ha the power to make us stand.

“9This is why Christ died and lived: so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living. 10But why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you look down on your brother or sister? We all will stand in front of the judgment seat of God. 11Because it is written, As I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow to me, and every tongue will give praise to God. 12So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.”

Monday, September 4, 2017

That Time

That Time from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.

Romans 12:9-21
9Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10love one another with mutual affection; but outdo one another in showing honor. 11Do not lag in Zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12Rejoice in hope be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceable with all. 19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Matthew 16:21-28
From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and the chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.! 23But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

24Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26For what does it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

27For the Son of Man is to come with his angels and the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. 28Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.

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

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Who He Was (Preach It Again)

Isaiah 60:1-5, 19-21 
1Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
2For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you.
3Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
4Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you;
your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.
5Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you.

19The sun shall no longer be your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you by night; but the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory.
20Your sun shall no more go down, or your moon withdraw itself; for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of mourning shall be ended.
21Your people shall all be righteous; they shall possess the land for ever. They are the shoot that I planted, the work of my hands, so that I might be glorified.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

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

Sunday, August 20, 2017

How's That Working Out For You? (Preach It Again)

How's That Working Out for You? from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.

Acts 15:5-19
5Some of the believers from among the Pharisees stood up and claimed “The Gentiles must be circumcised. They must be required to keep the law of Moses.”

6The apostles and the elders gathered to consider this matter. 7After much debate, Peter stood and addressed them, “Fellow believers, you know that, early on, God chose me from among you as the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the word of the Gospel and come to believe. 8God, who know’s people’s deepest thoughts and desires, confirmed this by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us. 9He made no distinction between us and them, but purified their deepest thoughts and desires though faith. 10Why then are you placing a burden on the shoulders of these disciples that neither we nor our ancestors could bear? 11On the contrary, we believe that we and they are saved in the same way, by the grace of the Lord Jesus.”

12The entire assembly fell quiet as they listened to Barnabas and Paul describe all the signs and wonders God did among the Gentiles through their activity. 13When Barnabas and Paul also fell silent, James responded, “Fellow believers, listen to me. 14Simon reported how, in his kindness, God came to the Gentiles in the first place, to raise up from them a people of God. 15The prophets agree with this; as it is written,
16After this I will return,
and I will rebuild David’s fallen tent;
I will rebuild what has been torn down.
I will restore it
17so that the rest of humanity will seek the Lord,
even all the Gentiles who belong to me.
The Lord says this, the one who does these things
18known from earliest times.
19Therefore, I conclude that we shouldn’t create problems for Gentiles who turn to God.

This is the Word of the Lord
Thanks be to God

Jonah 4:1-11
1But Jonah thought this was utterly wrong, and he became angry. 2He prayed to the LORD, “Come on, LORD! Wasn’t this precisely my point when I was back in my own land? This is why I fled to Tarshish earlier! I know that you are a merciful and compassionate God, very patient, full of faithful love, and willing not to destroy. 3At this point, LORD, you may as well take my life from me, because it would be better for me to die than to live.”

4The LORD responded, “Is your anger a good thing?” 5But Jonah went out from the city and sat down east of the city. There he made himself a hut and sat under it, in the shade, to see what would happen to the city.

6Then the LORD God provided a shrub, and it grew up over Jonah, providing shade for his head and saving him from his misery. Jonah was very happy about the shrub. 7But God provided a worm the next day at dawn, and it attacked the shrub so that it died. 8Then as the sun rose God provided a dry east wind, and the sun beat down on Jonah’s head so that he became faint. He begged that he might die, saying, “It’s better for me to die than to live.”

9God said to Jonah, “Is your anger about the shrub a good thing?”
Jonah said, “Yes, my anger is good - even to the point of death!”

10But the LORD said, “You ‘pitied’ the shrub, for which you didn’t work and which you didn’t raise; it grew in a night and perished in a night. 11But for my part, can’t I pity Ninevah, that great city, in which there are more than one hundred twenty thousand people who can’t tell their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”

This is the Word of the Lord
Thanks be to God

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Morning Routine (Preach It Again)

Morning Routine from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.

Isaiah 58:9-14
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.

13If you refrain from trampling the sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs; 14then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

This is the Word of the Lord
Thanks be to God

Luke 13:10-17
10Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 12When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, ‘Woman, you are set free from your ailment.’ 13When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, ‘There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.’ 15But the Lord answered him and said, ‘You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? 16And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?’ 17When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

This is the Word of the Lord
Thanks be to God

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Daybreak Delayed (Preach It Again)

Daybreak Delayed from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.

Matthew 25:14-30
14For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18But the one who received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

19After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20The the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, “Master, you haves over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 21His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master. 22And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, see, I have made two more talents.’ 23His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’

24Then the one who had received one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25So I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26But his master replied, ‘you wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not cater? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28So take the talent from him and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

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

Psalm 90:1-17
1A Prayer of Moses, the man of God.
O Lord, You have been our refuge in every generation.
2Before the mountains came into being, before you brought forth the earth and the world, from eternity to eternity You are God.

3You return man to dust; You decreed, “Return you mortals!”
4For in your sight a thousand years are like yesterday that has passed, like a watch in the night.
5You engulf men in sleep; at daybreak they are like grass that renews itself;
6at daybreak it flourishes anew; by dusk it withers and dries up.
7So we are consumed by Your anger, terror-struck by Your fury.
8You have set our iniquities before you, our hidden sins in the light of Your face.

9All our days pass away under Your wrath; we spend our years like a sigh.
10The span of our life is seventy years, or, given the strength, eighty years; but the best of them are trouble and sorrow. They pass by speedily, and we are in darkness.

11Who can know Your furious anger? Your wrath matches the fear of you.
12Teach us to count our days rightly, that we may obtain a wise heart.

13Turn, O LORD! How long? Show mercy to your servants.
14Satisfy us at daybreak with your Steadfast love that we may sing for joy all our days.
15Give us joy for as long as you have afflicted us, for the years we have suffered misfortune.
16Let your deeds be seen by Your servants, Your glory by their children.
17may the favor of the Lord, our God, be upon us; let the work of our hands prosper, O prosper the work of our hands!

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Wonderful Works

Wonderful Works from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.

Psalm 105
1O give thanks to the LORD, call on his name, make known his deeds among the peoples.
2Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wonderful works.
3Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.
4Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually.
5Remember the wonderful works he has done, his miracles, and the judgment he uttered,
6O offspring of his servant Abraham, children of Jacob, his chosen ones.

7He is the Lord our God; his judgements are in all the earth. 
8He is mindful of his covenant for ever, of the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations, 
9the covenant that he made with Abraham, his sworn promise to Isaac, 
10which he confirmed to Jacob as a statute, to Israel as an everlasting covenant, 
11saying, ‘To you I will give the land of Canaan as your portion for an inheritance.’ 

12When they were few in number, of little account, and strangers in it, 
13wandering from nation to nation, from one kingdom to another people, 
14he allowed no one to oppress them; he rebuked kings on their account, 
15saying, ‘Do not touch my anointed ones; do my prophets no harm.’ 

16When he summoned famine against the land, and broke every staff of bread, 
17he had sent a man ahead of them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave. 
18His feet were hurt with fetters, his neck was put in a collar of iron; 
19until what he had said came to pass, the word of the Lord kept testing him. 
20The king sent and released him; the ruler of the peoples set him free. 
21He made him lord of his house, and ruler of all his possessions, 
22to instruct his officials at his pleasure, and to teach his elders wisdom. 

23Then Israel came to Egypt; Jacob lived as an alien in the land of Ham. 
24And the Lord made his people very fruitful, and made them stronger than z≈’c’/their foes, 
25whose hearts he then turned to hate his people, to deal craftily with his servants. 

26He sent his servant Moses, and Aaron whom he had chosen. 
27They performed his signs among them, and miracles in the land of Ham. 
28He sent darkness, and made the land dark; they rebelled against his words. 
29He turned their waters into blood, and caused their fish to die. 
30Their land swarmed with frogs, even in the chambers of their kings. 
31He spoke, and there came swarms of flies, and gnats throughout their country. 
32He gave them hail for rain, and lightning that flashed through their land. 
33He struck their vines and fig trees, and shattered the trees of their country. 
34He spoke, and the locusts came, and young locusts without number; 
35they devoured all the vegetation in their land, and ate up the fruit of their ground. 
36He struck down all the firstborn in their land, the first issue of all their strength. 

37Then he brought Israel out with silver and gold, and there was no one among their tribes who stumbled. 
38Egypt was glad when they departed, for dread of them had fallen upon it. 
39He spread a cloud for a covering, and fire to give light by night. 
40They asked, and he brought quails, and gave them food from heaven in abundance. 
41He opened the rock, and water gushed out; it flowed through the desert like a river. 
42For he remembered his holy promise, and Abraham, his servant. 

43So he brought his people out with joy, his chosen ones with singing. 
44He gave them the lands of the nations, and they took possession of the wealth of the peoples, 
45that they might keep his statutes and observe his laws. Praise the Lord!

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Sunday, July 23, 2017


Eschatology from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.

Isaiah 44:1-8
1But now hear, O Jacob my servant, Israel whom I have chosen! 2Thus says the LORD who made you, who formed you in the womb and will help you: Do not fear, O Jacob my servant, Jeshurun whom I have chosen.

3For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will your my spirit upon your descendants, and my blessing on your offspring. 4They shall spring up like a green tamarisk, like willows by flowing streams. 5This one will say, “I am the LORD’s,” another will be called by the name of Jacob, yet another will write on the hand, “The LORD’s,” and adopt the name of Israel.

6Thus says the LORD, the king of Israel, and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: I am the first and the last; besides me there is no god. 7Who is like me? Let them proclaim it, let them declare and set it forth before me. Who has announced from of old the things to come? Let them tell us what is yet to be.

8Do not fear, or be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it You are my witnesses! Is there any god besides me? There is no other rock; I know not one.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
24[Jesus] put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them into bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.

36Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. 40Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42and they will throw them into the furnace of ire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!

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

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Dear Prudence

Dear Prudence from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.

Romans 8:1-11
1There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, 8and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

9But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 
1That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the lake. 2Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach.

3And he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9Let anyone with ears listen!’

18 ‘Hear then the parable of the sower. 19When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.’

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

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Heavy Burdens

Zechariah 9:9-12
9Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. 
10He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the warhorse from Jerusalem;
and the battle-bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. 

11As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. 
12Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double. 

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
16‘But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market-places and calling to one another, 17“We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.” 18For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon”; 19the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!” Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.’

25At that time Jesus said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; 26yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

28‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Celebratory Shout

Celebratory Shout! from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.

Matthew 10:40-42
40"Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet's reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; 42and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple - truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward."

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18
1A maskil of Ethan the Ezrahite.
I will sing of the LORD's loyal love forever. I will proclaim your faithfulness with my own mouth from one generation to the next.
2That's why I say, "Your loyal love is rightly built--forever! You establish your faithfulness in heaven."
3You said, "I made a covenant with my chosen one; I promised my servant David:
4'I will establish your offspring forever; I will build up your throne from one generation to the next.'"Selah

15The people who know the celebratory shout are truly happy! They walk in the light of your presence, LORD!
16They rejoice in your name all day long and are uplifted by your righteousness
17Because you are the splendor of their strength. By your favor you make us strong
18Because our shield is the LORD's own; our king belongs to the holy one of Israel!

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Claimed by the Kingdom

Matthew 10:24-39
24‘A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; 25it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!

26‘So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 28Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. 30And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

32‘Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven. 34’Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. 

37Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Romans 5:20-6:11
5:20But the law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21so that, just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

6:1What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? 3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into his death? 4Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

5For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6We know that our old self was crucified which him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. 7For whoever has died is free from sin. 8But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

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

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Binding of Isaac

The Binding of Isaac from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.

Romans 3:21-26
21But now, apart from the law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, 22the righteous 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

Genesis 22:1-13
1After these things God tested Abraham. He said “Abraham!” And he said “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. 4On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. 5Then Abraham said to his young Kent, “Stay here with the donkey; the. Oh and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.” 6Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the tow of them walked on together. 7Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.

9When they came to the place at God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order he bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. 11But the angel of the LORD called to him for heaven, and said “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said “Here I am.” 12He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in the thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.

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

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Send and Receive

Send and Receive from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.

I Corinthians 12:1-13
1Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uniformed. 2You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. 3Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.

4Now there are a variety of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7To each it given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10to another the working of miracles, to another the prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

John 20:19-23
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you,” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

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

Sunday, May 28, 2017


Remember from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.

Exodus 3:9-15
9The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10So come, I will sent you to Pharaoh to bring out my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” 11But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 12He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be a sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.”

13But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” 15God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and this is my title for all generations.”

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Matthew 28:16-20
16Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

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

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

I am the Gate

I am the Gate from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.

Psalm 23 (KJV)
1The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. 
2He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. 
3He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
4Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. 
5Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. 
6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

John 10:1-10
1"Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has bought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers."

6Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

7So again Jesus said to them, "Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

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

"Breathe in God's mercies...Breathe out God's mercies to others...Breathe in God's mercies...Breathe out God's mercies to others...Breathe in God's mercies...Breathe out God's mercies to others..."

I had a chance to take a couple of classes with Dr. Rodger Nishioka while I was in seminary, and every class opened with that call to prayer. As he launched into his professorial prayer, we pupils were left with the reminder that serving the Lord can become as natural as breathing. Dr. Nishioka's call to prayer re-directed our natural tendencies towards devotion to God and to serving others.

When Jesus speaks in parables, I like to think of him taking a similar approach. While I, and other preacher-types, cloister ourselves away to develop motifs and images for our sermons, our blessed savior is out walking with his followers and sees an ordinary event, and re-interprets it to reveal the face of God, peering through the cracks in creation.

I imaging him walking along, and seeing a sheepfold, and pointing it out to his followers: "Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit." The sheepfold imagery is unveiled in front of those who had just seen Jesus heal a man born blind. Jesus's figure-of-speech teaching falls on the ears of the Pharisees who comically debated the healing before driving the newly-sighted man out. Having seen God's works revealed in the healing of a man born blind, Jesus's followers and the Pharisees are now confronted with this sheep-and-shepherd parable.

Now, as I read this story in the weeks following Easter, I'm reading it through the resurrection that we know is yet to come. I'm reading it with words of the benediction from the book of Hebrews with which I bless us before we depart in my mouth."...the God of peace who brought back from the dead that great shepherd of the sheep, our Lord Jesus Christ," Jesus has shown the power of God, now he is about to make a great "I Am" statement where he reveals something of who God the Son is.

I am expecting "I am the Good Shepherd." We've even set it up by with reading "The LORD is my shepherd..." Go ahead Jesus, tell us who you are, and then we can shoot judgy glances at whomever we decide are climbing in by another way, thieves and bandits and strangers.

But Jesus sidesteps my expectation. "Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep." The gate? But I had this whole "thou leaders me beside still waters..." thing I was going to do. You know, how our life in Christ is always easy and we never have to struggle with anything besides drinking up the providence of God!

But we stopped short of "I am the good shepherd." We're still at "I am the gate." I'd imagine the disciples, who already did not understand what Jesus was saying to them, were also thrown off. Instead of a person, Jesus compares himself to a mechanism. “I am…” the means by which the sheep are kept in the sheepfold. “I am…” the way that the shepherd enters, and by which the sheep depart to follow.

Jesus of Nazareth, fully human, fully God, is what enables us God to be with us, and what enables us to follow God out into the green pastures and beside the still waters where the LORD is leading us. Without Christ, we would either be isolated inside the pen, or scattered throughout the fields.

The church has a good shepherd, but we have not always been good sheep. We do follow strangers, we do get taken up by thieves and bandits, and we end up following and proclaiming news that is not all that good. The church throughout its history has made missteps that are more likely to drive people away from the LORD than to bring them close.

With all the shouting of strangers, thieves, and bandits, sometimes our fellow sheep cannot even hear the voice of the shepherd for a time.

As a pastor, one of my functions is to be a a kind of theologian in residence. I love getting questions from the church, and wrestling with the heavy duty issues that those questions often represent.

The question of “who is saved?” comes up frequently. Many churches are structured with the assumption that most everybody belongs to a church somewhere. We’re really comfortable with the idea that it doesn’t matter where you worship, so long as you belong to a church, you’re saved.

But the landscape has changed around us. More and more of us know people who do not belong to any congregation. We meet people who are not members anywhere, and aren’t really looking for a place to worship God. More than meet them, we befriend them and love them, and worry about them.

So folks ask me who is saved. They’re worried about those whom they love who either haven’t heard the voice of the shepherd, or don’t recognize it when they do hear it.

“So again Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.’” Without the gate, all the sheep are cut off from the shepherd. Without Jesus, all people are cut off from the presence of God. Jesus does not, however, say “Belief in me is the gate.”

Maybe that’s a narrow distinction, but it is, I think, an important one. Jesus is the means by which we are saved, belief in Jesus means that we have recognized the gate for what it is.

But the gate is built in already. The LORD, who is our shepherd, can enter in and be with us already. Because the gate is established, the shepherd can keep calling the sheep until they learn to recognize his voice as belonging to one who loves and protects them, not to a stranger.

“I am the gate, Whoever enters by me will be saved…” It is not in answering the shepherds call that we are saved, it is in entering the gate through Jesus, who we know, during this Easter season, has already died and risen to bring us into salvation.

The gate also allows us to leave the sheepfold. We’re not stuck there. "As the gate leading to the pasture, Jesus is the way the sheep must pass to attain the food of God's promise.” The gate provides salvation, but also requires discipleship if we want to find ourselves led beside still waters, paths of righteousness. “I am the gate”, Jesus says, and God brings us in and leads us out to find pasture. Our salvation is not up to us, but our living life abundantly means we have to trust our shepherd, the LORD, and we have to pass through the gate, Jesus, many times as we continue to learn to trust and to follow.

Sometimes it’s nothing complicated, just going along with our fellow sheep. Sometimes it’s what we would do anyway, but the discipleship in this passage means that instead of doing those things for our own benefit, we do it through Jesus. Then even our breathing can become a prayer.

"Breathe in God's mercies...Breathe out God's mercies to others...Breathe in God's mercies...Breathe out God's mercies to others...Breathe in God's mercies...Breathe out God's mercies to others..."

We are learning to recognize the voice of the LORD, our shepherd. “The Son [is] the one gate through which God is fully known.” If we want to learn to recognize our shepherd, we’ve got to learn to pass through the gate. We see God most fully in Jesus of Nazareth, who is the Christ the Lord.