Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Readings for Sunday, December 17, 2017

Hello Everyone,

By the time you get to the end of the week, you will be tired of shopping, tired of listening to all the background Christmas music, and tired of the endless advertising urging you to buy more and more. Would you like to sit for a while, listen to great music, and tune out the advertising? Then this is the perfect opportunity:

Grey Eagle UMC is hosting a piano and organ concert on Saturday, December 16, at 2:30 PM. Wife and husband, Dr. Zhiyu (piano) and Dr. Eric Bigalke (organ), will perform works by Bach, Chopin, Liszt, Rachmaninoff, and selections from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Ballet. Together, they will perform some 4-handed arrangements of Christmas Carols. The concert will dedicate a 5'3" Cristofori Grand Piano given to GEUMC by Dr. John and Corrine Vener. For more information on the concert and about Drs. Zhiyu and Eric, go to this page on GEUMC's Facebook account: Free Concert

This Sunday is the Third Sunday of Advent. We will be continuing our sermon series "All Earth Is Waiting" with the focus on "Discovering Joy". The lessons we will be reading for this sermon are:

Isaiah 61:1-3, 11 - See comments for Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 below.

Joel 2:12-13, 21-24 - The prophet Joel has witnessed the destruction of the lands of Israel and Judah by swarms of locust (a nastier version of grasshoppers and crickets). All creation cries out for what was once fertile now lies in utter destruction. In this plague, Joel sees God's punishment for the sins of the people. In our reading, Joel reports the Lord calling all peoples to return with weeping, mourning, and fasting. Rend your hearts, the Lord says, and not your clothes. Joel reminds the people that the Lord "is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing." (verse 13) In verses 21-24 Joel urges the soil to be glad and rejoice and the animals to not fear. God will provide the rains so that once again the trees and the vines will bear fruit, the grains will grow in abundance.

Luke 1:46-55 - This passage is known as "The Magnificat". When Mary visits her relative Elizabeth and the full implication of what her pregnancy mean, she begins a poem/song with "My soul magnifies the Lord." She understands that the birth of her son, Jesus, will portend disaster to the rich and powerful and great things for the least, lost, and left-out of society. 

The readings assigned by the Lectionary and my comments on them in 2014 are:

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 – In Luke 4:16-30 Jesus visits his synagogue in Nazareth and is asked to speak. He asks for the scroll of Isaiah and he reads the first couple of verses from Isaiah 61 (leaving off the vengeance line). What is Isaiah saying to his people and to us? Are we a part of the hope for a future in which there will be honest, fairness, and justice for ALL peoples? Do you see in the world, despite all the injustice, war, violence, Ebola, poverty, etc., that God is causing “righteousness and praise to spring up before all nations”?

Psalm 126 – I think that the old Gospel Hymn “Bringing in the Sheaves” is partly based on this Psalm. On the one hand the Psalmist speaks of God having restored the people and nation of Israel so that the people rejoiced. On the other hand, the Psalmist asks God to restore their fortunes so that those who cry will become joyful. “They shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying (bringing in) their sheaves.”

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 – How are we to live lives as Christians in a world that seems to be dominated by so much evil and suffering? Paul is succinct: “rejoice always, pray unceasingly, give thanks in all circumstances, do not quench the Spirit, listen to the prophets, test everything, keep what is good, and abstain from evil.” Seems a bit hard, but I think the key to all of this is not quenching the Spirit. Let the Spirit guide you in all that you do and the Spirit will show you these things. Paul also asks God to “sanctify us entirely” so we may be blameless when Jesus returns. Finally, it is not about our faithfulness but is all about God’s faithfulness. “God will do this.”

John 1:6-8, 19-28 – Wait one doggone moment! Where’s Jesus? Why are we reading about this John guy again? Isn’t this Christmas? If you are asking these questions you stand with millions of Christians who go to churches that follow the Church calendar and the Common Lectionary, as we do. It is all about Advent, waiting, and preparation. This John guy (the Baptizer or the Baptist) was the one who came to prepare the way for Jesus’ ministry. John’s ministry, in the Christian view, was all about Jesus although there we many of John’s followers who thought otherwise (some of whom pop up in Acts). As we continue to prepare for the coming of Christmas and the next coming of Jesus, how are you preparing? John tells the Pharisees that there is one standing in their midst who will change everything. This Advent time, do you see the One standing in your presence who will change everything? Do you see Jesus in the lowly, left-out, least, and last of people? How will you respond?

May the Spirit of God lead you into entire sanctification and may you see Jesus in the people you encounter this week.

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Readings for Sunday, December 10, 2017

Hello Everyone,

Thank You! Bob Kutter for leading worship at Grey Eagle UMC this past Sunday. Thank You! also to all the people who helped with the Hanging of the Greens Service at Peace United Church. My vacation was good and refreshing. However, when I got to the office this morning, I was met with 122 emails in the inbox. Now that I have dispensed with all of them I move on with this coming Sunday's scripture readings.

This Sunday is the Second Sunday of Advent. I will be continuing with the sermon series that Bob Kutter started at Grey Eagle: "All Earth Is Waiting: Good News for God's Creation at Advent", by Katie Z. Dawson. (The link is to her book at Amazon.com.) This week's subject/emphasis is "Clear the Way". Our readings will come from the following Lectionary readings.

Isaiah 40:1-11 – There is a lot of familiar passages in this reading. I read verses 1-8 at many of the funerals I lead. We hear the word “comfort”. We are also reassured with the image of the shepherd feeding his flock and holding the lambs. But do we hear the voice in the wilderness crying out to us that the Lord is coming and is here? Do we hear the voice that commands us to make a way for the Lord? Are we prepared to see the glory of the Lord? God in the wilderness voice; God in the world.

Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13 – God’s past forgiveness of the people’s wrongs means that God’s steadfast love will grant salvation (verses 1, 2 and 7). However, we must be ready to hear that good news. A few years ago the UCC wanted to remind people that God’s word did not end with Jesus and the bringing together of the Bible. They said it like this: “Don’t put a period where God places a comma . . . The Still Speaking God”. Are we ready to hear that voice in the wilderness, in our neighbor, in God’s creation? Where do you hear and see the presence of God?

2 Peter 3:8-15a – Our reading is about the future coming of the Lord. By the time this letter was written the first generation after Jesus was dying off and people were beginning to wonder just when Jesus' coming would happen. (They thought it would happen during that first generation.) The writer assures people that the Lord will be coming in the Lord’s own good time, which, by the way, is not measured in our own timings (one day = 1,000 years). This slowness is the Lord’s patience in waiting for all to be saved. While we are waiting, we are to be living lives of holiness and godliness and at peace. So, the question is, “Are other people seeing God in you?” When you speak will they hear the voice of God speaking through you?

Mark 1:1-8 – “The beginning of the good news ("good news" = "gospel") of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” With those words, not even a sentence, we are off and running. Mark is the shortest Gospel with, what I feel to be, the most human Jesus. And when Jesus died the centurion declared, “Surely, this man was God’s Son!” (15:39). No birth story and no resurrection appearances (assuming that the original ending was at 16:8). John the Baptizer prepares the people for the coming of the Lord; the Savior who will baptize people with the Holy Spirit. (4-8) John then baptizes Jesus in the Jordan River (9-11). Mark states that Jesus was tempted in the desert but gives no description (12-13). Then, in verse 14, Jesus starts his ministry in Galilee. Mark is in a hurry to tell the good news and you can read the entire Gospel in one sitting. 

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Scripture Readings for Three Worship Services

Hello Everyone,

As we come to our national holiday of Thanksgiving, for what are you thankful? For most people, though not all, the first things that comes to mind is "family, home, friends". Beyond that, what else?

Both church will be hosting Thanksgiving Eve Worship Services on Wednesday. Peace United Church will worship at 6:00 PM. Grey Eagle UMC will worship at 7:30 PM. When you come to worship, be ready to answer the question, "For what are you thankful?"

The following are the Lectionary Scripture Lessons for Thanksgiving, Sunday, November 26 (Reign of Christ Sunday), and Sunday, December 3 (First Sunday of Advent). These are a reprint and updating of my comments from 2014.

Deuteronomy 8:7-18 – Deuteronomy, for the most part, is like the last will and testament of Moses as he instructs the people of Israel before they cross the Jordan and enter into Canaan where Moses can’t go. In this passage, Moses tells them that everything the people of Israel will need will be provided by God. Moses also warns them of the temptation that comes with that blessing: forgetting God and assuming that they did it on their own. Isn’t that our temptation also as we live in a prosperous land? That all we have we got on our own?

Psalm 65 – The psalmist praises God and thanks God for all that has been provided. 

2 Corinthians 9:6-15 – I have often used the beginning of this reading to emphasize generous giving. But notice the theme of the reading. God gives generously so that we will give generously. God gives the seeds so that we can sow them thereby increasing the harvest. It does no one any good to hoard the gifts we have received, for when we give, generously, we receive in abundance the righteousness of God.

Luke 17:11-19 – This very familiar story is the basis of thousands of sermons on giving thanks. Ten lepers, who, by definition, are the epitome of social outcasts, ask Jesus for healing. Jesus tells them to go see their priests. On the way, they discover that they have been healed. One goes back to Jesus to thank him. It turns out that he is a Samaritan whom Jews thought were as bad as lepers. Did the other nine, whom we assume were Jews, kick him out of their group because he was a Samaritan? Did the Samaritan know that he would not be welcomed by the Jewish Temple priests? Or did the nine continue on to the Temple believing that the Temple is the only place to encounter and thank God? The Samaritan's return to Jesus was an acknowledgment that Jesus was where he encountered God?

Sunday, November 26, Reign of Christ Sunday
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 – In the Old Testament, the kings were considered to be the shepherd of the people. In the first 10 verses of this chapter, the prophet Ezekiel lambastes the kings as bad shepherds who didn’t feed the flock but used the flock to feed themselves. Beginning at verse 11, God declares that he will become the shepherd who will care for the sheep. Note that, in the skipped verses, God also rebukes the sheep, rams, and goats who abuse the pasture and foul the waters. If God is our shepherd, are we being responsible sheep, caring for the pastures and waters for future sheep?

Psalm 100 – Five verses of pure joy and celebration of being the sheep of the Good (God) Shepherd.

OR Psalm 95:1-7a – This Psalm is a celebration of God’s goodness in all that God has created. We are glad to be the sheep of God’s pasture. (Are you sensing a theme going on here?)

Ephesians 1:15-23 – Paul says that he has heard how faithful the church in Ephesus has been and he gives thanks for them in his prayers. Paul prays for several things for the church: that they may have a spirit of wisdom and revelation; that their hearts may be enlightened; that they may know the hope to which they have been called; that they may know God’s riches of inheritance; and to know God’s power for believers. This power was revealed in Christ’s resurrection and who now sits above all earthly power, authority and riches. Christ is now the “head” of the church and the church is his “body”.

Matthew 25:31-46 – After talking with his disciples about the end of the age (Matthew 24:1-44) Jesus tells four stories, none of which are identified as parables. The four stories start like this: “Who then is the faithful and wise slave . . .?” (24:45); “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids . . . .” (25:1); “For it is as if a man, going on a journey . . . .” (25:14); and “When the Son of Man comes in his glory . . . .” (25:31). What will the “Master”, “Bridegroom”, “Master”, and “Son of Man” find when they return? These are stories of faithfulness in waiting and in action. Is the last story, our reading this week, to be understood as a literal description of the “last days”, divorced from the other three stories? Or is Jesus getting at something else? On its face value, this lesson is about “works” that make us heaven bound no matter what you believe (“When did we see you . . . ?”). Where does faith play a role? If Jesus returned today, what would he find us and the church doing? Are we feeding, giving drink, visiting, caring, welcoming? Are we?

Sunday, December 3, First Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 64:1-9 – At the opening of this passage, Isaiah asks God to reveal God’s self; to come to earth and do something dramatic like God did in the past. Isaiah feels that God must be angry because the people have sinned and God has withdrawn. The key verse, perhaps, is Isaiah’s recognition that we are still God’s children and that God will mold us into who we shall be. The metaphor is God as the potter and we are the clay. What will God mold you, your family, and your church into?

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19 – The sentiment of this Psalm is similar to the Isaiah passage. The psalmist, Asaph, not David or Solomon, starts with the metaphor of God as the Shepherd of Israel. However, this shepherd is missing and Asaph wants God to return. The skipped verses then turn to the metaphor of Israel as the vineyard that God has planted, but God has broken down the vineyard fence to allow looter to steal the fruit. The last three verses state that if God were to restore the people the people would be faithful.

1 Corinthians 1:3-9 – Remember that the First Church of Corinth is a troubled and divided congregation. It amazes me that Paul still gives thanks to God for this congregation. Notice what Paul says the congregation has been blessed with. Notice that Paul believes God will strengthen them for the future coming of Jesus. God has been faithful and will always be faithful for we are continually being called into fellowship with Jesus.

Mark 13:24-37 – Every year the first Sunday of Advent is also the first Sunday of the church year. Every year on this Sunday we begin another Gospel, Matthew, Mark, or Luke. And, every year, we start that Gospel near the end during Jesus’ last days leading up to his betrayal, arrest, trial and crucifixion. Why start there? Why don’t we start with the Christmas story instead of trudging through Jesus’ dreary speech about troubled times ahead? Perhaps, as someone once said, the beginning is in the ending. We should pay attention to what is happening in our world, like watching the trees in spring, to understand the coming of the Lord. If the waiting seems too long, don’t give up.

If you have read this far, Thank You! Finally, I will be on vacation on December 3. Bob Kutter will be leading worship at Grey Eagle UMC and the scripture will be Romans 8:19-22 as we begin an Advent Worship Series called "All Earth is Waiting". Peace United Church will be hosting their annual "Hanging of the Green" Worship in my absence.

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary