Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Readings for October 3 2010

Because of my everything going on I will keep this fairly brief today.

Lamentations 1:1-6 - This and the corresponding "psalm" from Lamentations is the only time we read these in church. All of Lamentations is the mournful cry of witnesses who saw the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonian Army.

Lamentation 3:19-26 - Even in the midst of destruction the writer says, "But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope; the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end."

[OR Psalm 137 - This Psalmist is not David or Solomon because it opens with "By the rivers of Babylon . . . we remember Zion (another name for Jerusalem)". This is a very difficult Psalm written by someone in deep mourning who wonders what is there to be happy about. He closes, "Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!" Definitely not a Psalm to read to your children or grandchildren.]

[Alternate Readings: Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4 - Prophet: "Why is there so much evil and where is the justice?" God: "Soon the appointed time will come." And Psalm 37:1-9 - Don't worry about the wicked; trust in God."]

2 Timothy 1:1-14 - There is a lot to think about in these verses. Paul greets Timothy and remembers his faith which was handed down from his grandmother, Lois, and his mother, Eunice. He tells Timothy not to be ashamed of the Gospel. You may recognize another Gospel Hymn in verse 12.

Luke 17:5-10 - Verses 5 and 6 are pretty straight forward - having the faith the size of a mustard seed you can command mulberry tree to move and replant itself. The mulberry tree stands about 20 feet and has a very extensive root system making this a nearly impossible task. Verses 7-10 seem like they come out of left field and make me what to say "Wuh?" The skipped verses, 1-4, are more important and may inform the reading of 5-10. These verses also follow on the heals of "The Rich Man and Lazarus"

Since this coming Sunday is World Communion Sunday I will be using Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15 and John 6:22-35 as my focus for the Bread of Life.

Have a Great Week in the Service of God's Kingdom!

Friday, September 24, 2010

October Newsletter Article

Hello Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Today, as I write this, is the first day of Fall and we are getting a lot of rain. I have even heard that Amboy, MN has received 10½ inches of rain in the last 24 hours. Over the past two weeks I have observed the start of harvesting. Fall is also a time when we watch the seasons change from the heat and humidity of summer to the sub-zero temperatures and the feet of snow of winter. We watch the leaves of the trees turn color and drop. Hunting season is here and we pray for the safety of all the hunters. We also adjust to our children being in school, some of whom have left for college. Personally, I am looking forward to my daughter wedding in October and my father’s 80th birthday in November.

Fall is also a time when I begin to think and talk about church matters. Advent and Christmas are soon upon us. Church Conferences (GEUMC) and Annual Meetings (PUC) are around the corner and we need to nominate people for different committees, set salary and produce a budget for 2011.

Which brings me to another Fall subject: stewardship. “Oh no! He’s going to talk about money!” you may be saying to yourself right now. Yes, I will be saying something about money, but stewardship is about so much more: our homes, our environment, our food, our faith, and our money. I want to touch upon faith and money.

Have you been a good steward of the faith God has given you? Do you reinforce and grow that faith so that you can share it with others. You should be reading the Bible a little each day with no other intention but to let it soak in. You should also be praying. For some people, a good 10-15 minute session of prayer is refreshing twice a day. For others, a whole bunch of 30 second prayers throughout the day is good. You should also be involved in some sort of organized study of the Bible. This might be a daily individual study such as you might find in a devotional or this may mean attending a weekly Bible Study. You should also be attending worship services regularly. If you haven’t been for a while come join us this week. If you come once a month, double it to twice a month.

Another aspect of Faith Stewardship is giving. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, taught that faithful Christians should 1) earn all they could through hard, honest word; 2) save all they can by living frugally and only spending on what was necessary: food, clothing, shelter, and transportation (which meant horses in his day); and 3) give all you can, meaning just about everything you saved. When he first started his traveling ministry he was living on a stipend of about 35 pounds a year. He calculated his expenses at about 12 pounds and he gave away the other 23 pounds to those in need or to fund his health clinics, schools, and chapels. When his stipend went up to 50 pounds, his giving went up to 38 pounds. He hoped all his followers would do the same. He was sorely disappointed. We were good at #1 and #2 but deficient on #3.

What about you? How was your giving in 2010? I know that the miserable economy has affected many, but that does not negate the need to give. If you are not now tithing, that is giving 10% of your income to your church, why don’t you try it in 2011? If you are not tithing and tithing seems too big a step, why not try stepping up your giving? For instance, if you make $50,000 a year and only give $1,000 in 2010 (2%), why not try 3% ($1,500) or 4% ($2,000). You are not tithing, but you are stepping up. Our churches can only do the ministry that your offering pays for. Just imagine what we could do to make disciples and transform the world if everyone tithed. Just imagine.

Imagining the Growth of God’s Kingdom - Pastor Gary

Monday, September 20, 2010

Readings for September 26

Sorry for the bold font on the previous post. Somehow, I just couldn't get rid of it.

This week we continue jumping around Jeremiah, reading through 1 and 2 Timothy, and deal with another Lukan parable.

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15 - Prophesy and Hope in a real estate transaction. The armies of Babylon have surrounded Jerusalem and it will soon be sacked. Jeremiah is in jail. The word of the Lord comes to Jeremiah saying that one of his cousins will come to him asking him to purchase a field. When this happens, Jeremiah buys the field for 20 shekels of silver, and signs all of the contracts of deed with many witnesses. (Real estate transactions haven't changed much, have they?) He then has his aide, Baruch, put the contracts in an earthenware jar and bury it in a safe place. The reason for all of this: there will be a time when Israel will be restored and land will once again be bought and sold.

Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16 - This Psalm is the source for much of the song "On Eagle's Wings". The psalm is all about God's protection of those who fear and trust God. There is quite a bit of hyperbole (exaggeration) in the verses: you will never get sick from virulent diseases (pestilence), you will never get shot by arrows, you will never be whipped (scourged), you will not stub your toes, and you will be able to walk on lions and snakes if you remain faithful to God. Also, in the skipped verses, even if thousands of people are falling around you, you will not be harmed. When we praise God, we all have a natural tendency to exaggerate and the psalmist does the same.

[Alternate readings: Amos 6:1a, 4-7 (warnings to the rich and idle who ignore the ruin around them) and Psalm 146 (praise for God whose concern is with the oppressed, hungry, in prison, blind, crippled, strangers, orphans, and widows). Both fit nicely with the Gospel.]

1 Timothy 6:6-19 - We have jumped over 4 chapters, 2:8-6:5. Mostly these deal with qualification for church leaders (bishops, deacons, and ministers) and how believers are to act toward one another. In our reading today, Paul is encouraging Timothy to remain faithful, be content with what God has provided, and be wary of falling into the temptation of riches. There are also some advice for those who are rich: "They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that is really life." This raises a good question: What is "real" life?

Luke 16:19-31 - The title to this passage in my Bible reads "The Rich Man and Lazarus." While Luke does not specifically identify this story as a parable, it is. The last time Luke actually wrote the word "parable" was in 15:3 which opens the Parable of the Lost Sheep. There is then a series of stories which are all parables: the lost sheep, the lost coin, the prodigal son, the dishonest manager, and, after a brief interval of stewardship instructions (16:8b-18), the rich man and Lazarus. First, don't confuse this Lazarus with Jesus' friend in John 11. Secondly, Lazarus means "one who God helps". Third, Lazarus is the only character in all of Jesus' stories and parables who has a name. Finally, this parable is a type of "Pearly Gates" stories and is not intended to instruct us on the nature of hell. Too many people in my opinion, including some pastors, point to this parable when the discussion of hell comes up. As you read this parable ask your self some questions: What is Lazarus' relationship to the rich man? What is the rich man's responsibilities to Lazarus? What is the rich man's attitude to Lazarus before and after death and does it change? How does this passage relate to 16:10-13? There is so much more to say about this parable but I'll cut it off here.

What is your relationship to money? Reread the Amos, Timothy, and Luke passages.

May God bless you with understanding as you grow in faith.

Readings for September 19

It looks like I forgot to put up my comments for the September 19th readings. I'll do that now and the next post, also today will be for the September 26th texts.

In my sermons I often refer to scapegoating and the violence that permeates culture and society. There is a nice summary of the scapegoating process and how it is the founding violence for religion and society at Religion Dispatches. Eric Reitan refers to Rene Girard as he is discussing the, now cancelled, Koran burning that was to happen in Gainesville, Florida, this past weekend. This is the beginning of a theory by Girard often called the "Memetic Process" (memetic or memesis means imitation) that guides my understanding of humanity and God's redemption of humanity. Please check it out.

Our readings for September 19:

Jeremiah 8:18-9:1 - The prophet mourns for his people who are suffering and hurting. He asks, "Where is the Lord? Why is there no healing?" and wants to cry for his people. Verse 8:22 is the basis for an old favorite spiritual. The prophet asks, "Is there no balm in Gilead?" The spiritual responds in the affirmative, "There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole, to heal the sin-sick soul." (From Wikipedia: In the Bible "Gilead" means hill of testimony or mound of witness, a mountainous region east of the Jordan River, situated in the Kingdom of Jordan.)

[After looking up "Gilead" I remembered that we sung "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing" with the words in verse 2, "Here I raise mine Ebenezer . . . " The word "Ebenezer" is a transliterated Hebrew word meaning "helping stone". See 1 Samuel 7:12-14.]

Psalm 79:1-9 - The psalmist speaks for a hurting and devastated Israel. The land has be invaded, the temple despoiled, and the people slaughtered and left to rot. The psalmist, speaking from deep pain, wants to know why God is so angry and when will God avenge the people. Please remember that this Psalm, like most Psalms, are written from a human perspective and often from pain and grief. The psalmist, as did everyone in his time, understood that God was the source of all things good and bad. I believe that Jesus addresses that issue in Luke 13:1-5.

[Alternate readings: Amos 8:4-7, a condemnation of exploitation, and Psalm 113, a praise to God who helps the poor, the needy, and barren women.]

1 Timothy 2:1-7 - Paul ask for, "urge" is his word, prayers of all types: supplications, intercessions, and thanksgivings, especially for national rulers. Paul attests that there is one God and a mediator between God and humanity who is Jesus Christ. Paul is a witness to the Gentiles of that truth.

Luke 16:1-13 - Chapter 15 has three parables: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son (Prodigal). Our reading this week is another parable about a dishonest manager (steward). Since it follows immediately after the Prodigal Son, is it related to the other three? A number of years ago I read a commentary that thought the sheep and coin parables belong together and the Prodigal Son and Dishonest Manager belong together. I have never been able to locate that commentary since. Anyway, a rich man's steward is caught squandering the man's wealth (the prodigal squanders his father's wealth). When confronted the steward asks himself some questions and makes a decision (the prodigal son does the same). The steward then goes to the rich man's debtors, cuts their debts, and takes immediate payment. For this, the rich man praises him. Jesus then continues with comments about faithfulness and warns against serving wealth. Do we squander God's riches (the earth, our families, our communities, our churches)? Or do we use them shrewdly to increase God's Kingdom? Are we serving God or wealth?

May you be blessed in your reading of God's good word and may the Word of God (Jesus) fill you up.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Hello Everyone,

This Sunday is Back to Church Sunday. Please invite someone you know from our churches who have not been attending church to join you in worship this Sunday. We want to invite all who have drifted away to come back to church and Jesus.

Our scripture this week

Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28 - The prophesies in the Old Testament are difficult to hear and more difficult to understand. When we hear of God's fierce anger and judgment against his people who have been faithless, which we read in these verses, we wonder how we can reconcile that image with the image of God who desires "restoration, reconciliation, and redemption" and was lived out in the life and teaching of Jesus. One tool to help us may be the knowledge that the worldview of the people and writers of that time was that all things that happened, whether good (peace, rain, good crops) or bad (war, drought, failed crops), came from God. Therefore, if you are not faithful to God so you could reap God's blessings then you must suffer the consequences that will also come from God. With that worldview, a prophet could challenge the people who are faithless by using the images of destruction. This may or may not help you, but we all need to wrestle with scripture like these.

Psalm 14 - Where are the good, wise people who seek after the Lord? There is none for they are all bent on doing evil. Only the righteous and the poor are with the Lord. When will Israel be restored and rejoice? This psalm fits well with the Jeremiah passage.
[Alternate readings: Exodus 32:7-14 (The people of Israel have made and worshiped a golden calf and God wants to destroy them. Moses argues that God made a promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob about descendents. God then changes God's mind.) and Psalm 51:1-10 (A confession of sin and a plea that God will change the psalmist's heart.).

1 Timothy 1:12-17 - We begin a 7 week reading of 1st and 2nd Timothy this week. Paul, in this passage, gives thanks to God for God's mercy that was shown to him. God chose Paul to be a witness to God's love and mercy even though he was "a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence". Paul, before his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, persecuted Christians in the name of God. His violence was a sacred violence to rid the Jewish faith of those pesky Christians. Now he knows that "the grace of our Lord (God) overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus". He knows that Christ "came into the world to save sinners" and not to destroy (see John 3:17). How often in the past, and maybe even today, do Christians seek to destroy using the name of God? Shouldn't we have "the utmost patience" that Jesus has?

Luke 15:1-10 - Here we have the parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin. These are two parables in a quartet of parables, the other two being the Prodigal Son and the Dishonest Manager. We had the Prodigal Son back during Lent and we will read about the Dishonest Manager next week. All of these follow last week's lesson on the cost of discipleship. What is the cost of discipleship? Could the cost be in seeking out the lost while not worrying about those who are in the community. Remember, the shepherd leaves the 99 sheep to seek the 1 and the woman cleans house to find the 1 coin while not worrying about the other 9. Another cost may be in the celebration of the found. From the Prodigal Son, the cost could be extravagant forgiveness and an lavish party. Is the image of a God who seeks lost sinners and throws a party the same image of our Jeremiah passage? Which is right? Can both be right? I don't think so, but that is up to you.

May you be challenged and blessed by our readings this week! Praise be to God!