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

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Scripture Readings for Sunday, November 19, 2017

Hello Everyone,

This week is our final week for our sermon series "Difficult Scripture". Our topic will be "Parables with Harsh Judgment".

Let's recap the topics we have looked at over the course of this series. We started on October 8 with "Money". On October 15 our topic was "Forgiveness". On October 22, Bob Kutter challenged the people of our churches to "Therefore, Go! With Hope Through Hospitality". "Death and Afterlife" was our topic on October 29. Two weeks ago the topic was "Love, Marriage, Divorce and Idolatry" and I attempted to tie those to the issues of LGBTQ within the life of our churches. This past Sunday I talked about "Noah and the Violence of God", asking "Who is responsible for violence, God or humanity?"

This Sunday we will read two parables that have some pretty harsh judgments. The texts are:

Matthew 21:33-46 In the text just before this one Jesus' authority was challenged and he told the parable of two sons. This week, at the same spot, Jesus gives the parable of the vineyard. The elders and chief priests would have recognized the allusion to Isaiah 5:1-6. A man builds a vineyard and rents it out. When it is time to collect the produce due him, he sends several slaves who get beaten up, stoned and killed. He sends more who suffer the same fate. Finally, he sends his son who is promptly killed by the tenants. As in Mark’s version of the story, Jesus asks the listeners what the landowner will do. In Mark’s version, Jesus answers his own question, “He will send an army to kill the tenants and rent it to better people.” In Matthew's version, the answer is given by the elders and priests. Jesus then quotes Psalm 118:22-23 and when the elders and priests understand that he means them, they want to kill him. Does Matthew better understand that violence is human in origin than does Mark? Is the parable abut what God will do or what we do to ourselves? Is this a "Kingdom" parable or a "Worldly" parable?

Matthew 25:14-30 Chapters 24 and 25 of Matthew are Jesus’ final extended discourse (teaching) and the subject is “end of the age” (24:3). Jesus concludes the discourse with four parables beginning in 24:45: the Faithful or Unfaithful Slave, the Ten Bridesmaids, the Talents (our reading this week) and the Judgment of Nations (next week). First thing about this week’s reading – talents are not the things you do well, like singing or carpentry, but is a large sum of money equivalent to 15 years of wages for a common laborer. At $10/hour, 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year, for 15 years it would equal about $312,000. The first slave gets $1,560,000, the second gets $624,000, and the third guy gets $312,000. Notice that the text says “as each had ability” (verse 15). The first two guys go to trade their money on the markets and double their money. (An aside: the money we are talking about here is chump change for the people who trade on the stock, bond, and commodities markets today.) The third guy simply buries the money until the return of the master. When the master returns the first two are praised and the third is chastised and thrown out into the darkness. You should also know one fact, in Jesus’ day to protect someone else’s money from loss was the proper thing to do. The first two could have easily lost the money. So, the question to ponder is this: Is this a parable about the “end of days” (24:3) or is it about “stewardship” (25:14) or about something else? We learn in verse 29 that the money was not simply entrusted to each servant to protect but was given to them to be their own to do as they please. If this parable is about something else, could that something be “grace” which God freely gives to all? Finally, the last verse, "As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." Whose judgment is Jesus talking about? If the talents are "grace" and we do nothing with it, does God punish or is it something else? Tough question. Difficult scripture. Time to wrestle with it.

For the assigned Lectionary readings, which include the second Matthew reading, see my comments from 2014 at "Rural Minnesota Ministry".

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Readings for Sunday, November 12, 2017

Hello Everyone,

This coming Sunday in my "Difficult Scriptures" sermon series we turn to the story of Noah. How do we understand this story? Specifically, how do we understand the God of this story who kills every human, indeed all life, on earth except for Noah, his family, and a handful of animals? What about the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah? What about Jericho? Is God a God of love or of violence and retribution?

Our lessons are:

Genesis 6:1-8, 11-14, 19-22, 7:11-14, 23-24, 9:11-14 - The story of Noah and the ark is long but you should probable read it. It begins at 6:1 and ends at 9:17. It is actually two oral traditions that were woven together (see Google: two writers of Noah story). This story is also in the "pre-history" section of Genesis, chapters 1-11). The stories are not recorded to accurately recount history although there may be some historic memory recorded in the story of the flood. Many societies around the eastern Mediterranean have stories of a massive flood. Scientists believe that there was a massive Mediterranean flood of the region around the Black SeaThese need not concern us at this time. The question is "did God cause the flood that killed off humanity?" If not, why would the Bible say God did? What is our understanding of passages like the Noah story?

Luke 13:1-5 - Jesus is told that there were some people from Galilee who were murdered by Pilot's soldiers at the altar in Jerusalem. Jesus asks if they thought those who died were "worse sinners" than others. In other words, did they deserve to die because they were especially bad or evil? Jesus then mentions some people who died when a stone tower collapsed. Did the dead deserve to die; were they "worse offenders"? Perhaps the most perplexing of this passage is when Jesus says twice, ". . . unless you repent, you will perish just as they did." What? We've got some work to do.

Here is a link to my commentary on the Lectionary readings assigned for this Sunday: Readings for Sunday, November 9, 2014.

Have a great week serving God by serving our neighbors.

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor