Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Readings for January 2 2011

It's hard to believe that we are at the end of 2010 and about to begin another year. As you begin the new year I ask you to make at least one new resolution: to renew your baptismal covenant for the coming year. At our baptisms we, or our parents for us, made a public acceptance of God's grace, salvation, steadfast love, and unending forgiveness. We also promised to serve God and the church through our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness. The beginning of a new year is a great time to renew that acceptance and promise. Therefore, please join us at our Sunday morning worship this week for our 1st Annual Covenant Renewal Service.

Our readings for this coming Sunday, the 2nd after Christmas, includes a couple of passages from the Apocrypha.

Jeremiah 31:7-14 - The Lord promises the return of all the lost and scattered Israelites. Those returning will not only include the healthy and able bodied people but even the sick, blind and lame. When they return, they will be amazed at the bounty that the Lord will give the people.

OR Sirach 24:1-12 - Sirach is a book of wisdom much like Proverbs. In this passage, Wisdom, which is female, tells her story. She came from the mouth of God from before time and covered the entire earth. Wisdom wandered the earth and God told her to settle on the people of Judah. Is this the "female" side of God and is this the Spirit of God?

Psalm 147:12-20 - The Psalmist calls on Jerusalem to praise God for he strengthens gates, blesses children, grants peace, gives wheat, gives snow, scatters frost, hurls hail, then melts them and the waters flow. Sounds like winter and spring in Minnesota.

OR Wisdom of Solomon 10: 15-21 - Another book of wisdom and our passage recounts how Wisdom (always female in the Old Testament and the Apocrypha) led Israel out of Egypt.

Ephesians 1:3-14 - Paul recounts how the Ephesians, and us also, have received the blessing of salvation in and through Jesus Christ. Through Jesus Christ we have been chosen, made holy and blameless, adopted as God's children, redeemed through his blood, forgiveness of our trespasses, been told the mystery of his will, obtained an inheritance, so that we might live for the praise of his glory. We have also heard the word of truth, believed in him, and been marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit. All I can say is "WOW!"

John 1:(1-9) 10-18 - "In the beginning . . ." God and Word. Emmanuel and salvation. Holy Spirit and presence. We saw and heard the Word and we rejected it and killed it. Yet it lives on. For those who begin to see and understand and believe there is redemption. Jesus, full of grace and truth.

I pray that you are blessed by these readings this week.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Readings for December 24 and December 26 2010

Hello Everyone,

This week, with Christmas Eve and the Sunday after Christmas, we have eight readings.

Christmas Eve:
Isaiah 62:6-12 - The 5 verses before these seem to be a love song by God for his people and nation of Israel that look forward to a day when they will be united (in marriage). These verses turn to a more protective theme. God will protect his people with the restored fortress of his kingdom (Jerusalem?) and no enemy will attack them or take from them.

Psalm 97 - The psalmist sings the praises of God who is King and reigns over all the earth. All of the heavens and earth proclaim his holy name. He call us to "Give thanks to his holy name."

Titus 3:4-7 - Here is an interesting thought. We know that works, the things we do, will not save us. What if faith doesn't necessarily save us either? What if our salvation is totally God's work of grace through Jesus' life, death, and resurrection and the power of the Spirit which has been poured out on us? "So that, having been justified by [God's] grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life." Think about it.

Luke 2:(1-7) 8-20 - This is the Lukan story of the birth of Jesus which Luke set in political, historical setting (verses 1-2). A census is called and Joseph and Mary make the long (3-4 days walking and/or riding a mule, donkey, or horse) journey to Bethlehem. The only thing Luke tells us about Bethlehem was that there was no room in the inn so they had to stay in a barn. Verse 8 begins the story of the shepherds and the visitation of the angel and the heavenly hosts. The shepherds (a group of men that were looked down upon by society) visited Mary, Joseph, and the baby and told Mary everything that happened. I think verse 19 is one of the most intriguing in this passage, "Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart." I think it was more than the shepherds' words that she pondered. She must have also pondered the words of the angel that visited her, Elizabeth's words, Zechariah's, Simeon's, and Anna's (read all of chapter 1 and 2). What did this all mean and what will happen?

Isaiah 63:7-9 - Isaiah recognizes that it is God who has saved Israel and that God has become their savior "It was . . . his presence that saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried then all the days of old."

Psalm 148 - The psalmist call on everyone to praise the Lord. This is very similar to Psalm 97 above.

Hebrews 2:10-18 - According to the author of Hebrews, Jesus was made perfect by his sufferings which make him a brother to us all. Because Jesus was flesh and blood like you and I he shares in our sufferings. In Jesus' death he was able to defeat death and set us free from the bonds of death. His death, his self-sacrifice to our god of death (or in modern terms, our machinery of death) allows him to help all people. What are we to do? Nothing, for it is all God's work that we might be set free from death.

Matthew 2:13-23 - We skip right over the visit of the Magi which we will read on January 2 but is rightly read on January 6, Epiphany. It is because of the visit of the Magi that we have this week's text. Herod gets mad when the Magi don't return to tell them where the future king is and he orders the killing of all boys 2 and under in Bethlehem. Joseph seems to be prone to having dreams with angels or the Lord appearing. This happens 3 times in this passage: get out of Bethlehem and go to Egypt; Herod is dead so go home (Bethlehem); and Herod's son is worse so go to Galilee (Nazareth). For an interesting exercise compare the sequence of events and where Mary, Joseph and Jesus are in Matthew 1:18-2:23 (Bethlehem, Egypt, back to Bethlehem and on to Nazareth) and Luke 2:1-40 (Nazareth, Bethlehem, the temple in Jerusalem, back to Nazareth).

I pray that everyone will have a joyous celebration of Jesus' birth. Reflect on the fact that we celebrate Christmas because of Easter.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Readings for December 19 2010

Our Gospel reading refers to our Old Testament reading this week but there was a translation problem that has led to many debates about that key word.

Isaiah 7:10-16 - During the reign of King Ahaz in the southern kingdom of Judah, the nations of Israel (the northern kingdom, referred to as Ephraim) and Syria (referred to as Aram) are threatening an invasion and King Ahaz is worried. God sends Isaiah and his son to the king to reassure him that within 3 years these threats will go away. All of this happens in verses 1-9. In our reading, God tell Ahaz to ask for a sign from Isaiah but Ahaz refuses saying he won't put God to the test. Isaiah gave a sign anyway: a young woman will give birth to a son whose name will be Immanuel and before he is 3 the threats from Israel and Syria will be dealt with by their destruction. In the verse not read, verse 17, the nation that will deal with Israel and Syria is an even worse foe: Assyria. Note: when the Hebrew scriptures were translated into Greek about 100 years before Jesus, the Greek translators had a problem. The Hebrew word translated as "young woman" in most modern English translations can sometimes also mean a "young virgin". The translators chose the Greek word meaning "virgin". This translation is called the Septuagint and is the scripture that all the New Testament writers knew.

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19 - The Psalmist asks God to restore the nation to it former glory and also asks God how long he will be angry with them. The skipped verses recount what God has formerly done for Israel. The last verses promises that the people will never again turn away from God if God were to restore them.

Romans 1:1-7 - These verses are the greeting or salutation to the church in Rome. Paul says he has been chosen for the gospel of God, which was promised by the prophets about Jesus Christ who has given us grace and apostleship to help believers in their faith. (I tried to use a short run-on sentence to imitate Paul's long run-on sentence.)

Matthew 1:18-25 - Here we are at the fourth Sunday in Advent and we finally get a "Christmassy" verse. Following a long genealogy that works from Abraham to David to Josiah (king of Israel at the time Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and carried many people into Exile) to Joseph the husband of Mary the mother of Jesus, Matthew begins to tell the story of Jesus' birth from the perspective of Joseph. Joseph & Mary are engaged but not living together. Mary gets pregnant and Joseph wants to sent her away. An angel appears in Joseph's dream and tells him the child Mary is carrying is of the Holy Spirit and Joseph needs to do the right thing: stick with her and name the boy Jesus. When Joseph awoke he took Mary as his wife but remained celebrate until after Jesus' birth. Matthew includes a quote from Isaiah 7:14 in the Septuagint about the son born to a virgin and who is to be called Immanuel. Notice that in Matthew's version there is no story of Elizabeth, Zechariah, and their son John. There is no mention of mangers or shepherds and there is no mention of Nazareth or Bethlehem or of a journey between. Bethlehem is mentioned at the beginning of the story of the magi (2:1) which may have happened when Jesus was 2 years old (2:16) and Nazareth doesn't come up until they return from Egypt (2:23). The Matthew story of the birth of Jesus is about a man, Joseph, doing the right thing in the midst of a corrupt political scene in Judea.

Have a great week reading the Good News / Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Readings for December 12 2010

As we steadily approach Christmas Day are you caught up in the frenzy of the "Holiday Season"? Do you feel the need to buy, buy, buy and rush, rush, rush? Will Christmas Day feel more like relief then celebration? Take a few moments to reflect on the meaning of Advent: a period of waiting that includes anticipation. Are you a patient waiter (not a restaurant server) or a nervous waiter? Now take a few moments to reflect on the promise of God to all creation: redemption and restoration. Which bring us to our first lesson.

Isaiah 35 - The prophet sees the future coming of the Lord. All the earth will be sing out in joy. No one needs to fear; the blind will see; the deaf will hear; the lame will walk; the speechless will speak; and a highway will be built that leads to God so that all the redeemed will return. In the last part of verse 4 says "Here is your God. He will come with vengeance and with terrible recompense. He will come and save you." Our first inclination is to think that this is about dealing with the evil and wicked. But notice that it doesn't say that here. You can find that sentiment in last week's Isaiah reading (11:4). The vengeance and terrible recompense is about saving us.

Psalm 146:5-10 - This psalm is about trusting in God's providence and rejoicing in his salvation. This section is similar to Isaiah: God executes justice for the oppressed, feeds the hungry, sets prisoners free, gives sight to the blind, lifts up those who are bowed down, watches over strangers, and upholds the orphan and the widow

OR Luke 2:46-57 - This passage is known as "The Magnificat" which is the Latin word for "magnifies". Mary visits cousin Elizabeth who is pregnant with John the Baptist. When Mary approaches Elizabeth, John leaps in her womb. At the end of her explanation, Elizabeth says, "Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord." Mary then responds with this song of praise. The Magnificat is a beautiful poem that emphasizes the main points of Luke's gospel: God's concern with the lowly, hungry, oppressed, and disadvantaged. Do we see a theme developing in our readings this week?

James 4:7-10 - James calls his congregation to have patience while they wait for the Lord who is compassionate and merciful. This passage is more for Advent waiting then with the themes of the other readings.

Matthew 11:2-11 - (Please read the entire passage through verse 19) John the Baptist is in jail. He has been hearing about cousin Jesus' work and teachings. He is bothered about what he hears. Can this be the Messiah because Jesus is certainly not acting like a messiah/savior? Where is the outrage about the Romans? Where is his army? How will he set up God's glorious kingdom centered on Mt. Zion (Jerusalem)? John sends his disciples to question Jesus. Jesus basically responds by saying that he is fulfilling the words of Isaiah and the Psalmist: "the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed among the poor." All of these things happened in chapters 8 and 9. Jesus then proclaims that John is the greatest prophet but no more important then the least person. Take a look at verse 12. This is a very difficult passage to understand and many have wondered what it is all about.

Have a great week serving the Lord in all that you do.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

December Newsletter Articles

For the month of December, I actually wrote two short articles. The first is about Advent and the second is about church membership. God bless your readings.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

What does Advent mean to you? Shopping? Decorating? Gift wrapping? Planning a family dinner? Watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas”?

Advent actually means waiting and anticipation. For some of us the waiting and anticipation is for a loved one to return from Iraq or Afghanistan. In a narrow sense, especially in the Church, Advent is about waiting for Christmas; an anticipation of the celebration of Christ’s birth. We can’t wait or anticipate the coming of the Messiah, the Christ, because that has already happened as witnessed to in Matthew 1 & 2 and Luke 1 & 2.

In a larger sense, Advent is about waiting for and anticipating the future return of Christ. Some call this the Second Coming. In my way of counting I would call it the Third Coming. Jesus’ birth to Mary was #1. Jesus’ appearance to the disciples in the 40 days of his resurrection would be #2. The future coming would therefore be #3: the Third Coming.

All of this activity of God through Jesus Christ his Son is for one reason: the reconciliation of the world and all humanity to God; the salvation of the world. In Jesus’ death on the cross we have been redeemed and made God’s children. In Jesus’ resurrection we have been shown God’s all powerful love and life. All of this is the free gift (a Christmas gift) of God to all the world and there is nothing we can do or say to change it or earn it.

Merry Christmas!

Pastor Gary

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ

I also want to write a little bit about church membership, which I promised last month. This gift of salvation and eternal life is unearned and requires nothing from us except acceptance of that gift. This means that being a member of a church does nothing to gain us salvation.

So, what does church membership mean? It means we wish to belong to an association of believers that we support and which supports us in our walk with God. It means that with the other members of the church we work and worship together to bring the Good News to the local community and to love our neighbors as we serve them. It means that we gather together with others that agree with the style of worship that most agrees with us. Membership is also an indication of the growth or decline of our particular church and the denomination to which we belong. (There are a few churches, usually not associated with a denomination, that don’t have “members” but only worshippers.)

Because we belong to a denomination, our churches pay (or tithe) a certain amount of money to support the work of the larger church in all of its various activities. For the UCC the amount is $10 per member. For the UMC the amount varies but is usually around $10 to $15. Having members on the rolls who could attend but choose not to or who live too far away to attend with any regularity cost the churches. Not much, mind you, but they cost the church none the less. 25 inactive members costs the churches $250.

If you have a son, daughter, brother, sister, mother, or father who lives in the area and is a member of our churches, or you have neighbors who are members, and they don’t attend please invite them to church. I would love it if they would be active members. If they are involved in another church or they choose not to come, ask them to withdraw as members. (Don’t worry. I and the church will be there for them in all their needs: baptisms, marriages, funerals.) Having inactive members costs the church. (By the way, I define active members as regular attendees, those who are home bound, in assisted living, in a nursing home, college students, and active military service.)

Peace in Christ,

Pastor Gary

Lectionary Readings for November 21, 28, and December 4

Wow, it looks like I haven't posted my lectionary thoughts recently. This Post will contain all three with December 5 first, then November 28 and 21. Happy Reading!

December 5:

This week we continue with our Advent readings as we get closer to Christmas. This week and next week the Gospel text will focus on John the Baptizer.

Isaiah 11:1-10 - The prophet foresees a time when a descendent of King David (a shoot from the root of Jesse, David's father) will rule with peace and justice. This descendent will have the spirit of the Lord within him along with wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, and the fear of the Lord. During this time, says the prophet, even the animals will not kill each other and will live peaceably together. Who is this descendent? With his death and resurrection Christians have proclaimed Jesus to be the one.

Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19 - Verse 20 says, "The prayers of David son of Jesse are ended." In this Psalm, David prays for a King who is righteous and just, who defends the defenseless, and who has a long live. During that reign, David prays for righteousness and peace for all. Verses 18-19 praises God for all the wonderful things God has done.

Romans 15:4-13 - In the first three verses of this chapter Paul says that those who are stronger (in their faith?) should support and encourage those who are weak and that our purpose is to build up our neighbors. The tenor of the text is that we need to welcome ALL ("each other"?) because the promises of God to Abraham are extended also to the "Gentiles".

Matthew 3:1-12 - This is the story of John the Baptizer who preached powerfully out in the wilderness and that everyone in Judea came to hear him and to be baptized by him in the Jordan. His basic message is "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." This was also Jesus' message but they interpreted it differently. John thought in terms of violence and Jesus thought in terms of reconciliation and welcome. Is it easier to hear John's words as applied to someone else rather then Jesus'?

The Kingdom is near. Does it make a difference?

November 28:

Here are the readings for this coming Sunday. If you come to church this Sunday you may not hear these scripture as both churches will be having their annual "Hanging of the Greens" service.

Isaiah 2:1-5 - The prophet proclaims that there will be a day when God will rule the world and all nations and peoples will look to the Lord for justice, arbitration, and instruction. God's rule will mean that weapons will be turned into instruments of food production (or medicine or homes for the homeless). "Let us walk in the light of the Lord!"

Psalm 122 - This psalm is called a "Song of Assents" (this group includes Psalms 120-134) and "were likely sung by pilgrims on their way up to the temple on Mount Zion for feast celebration." It is used with our Isaiah reading because Isaiah says that God's rule will happen on his mountain and people will come up the mountain.

Romans 13:11-14 - Paul appeals to his readers in Rome to be ready for the coming of Jesus: "Salvation is nearer to us now then when we became believers." He urges them to put aside the desires of sin and put on the armor of light: Jesus Christ.

Matthew 24:36-44 - This Sunday we begin a new liturgical year. The liturgical year consists of 6 seasons: Advent (the 4 Sundays before Christmas), Christmas (12 days starting on Christmas day), Epiphany (varying lengths), Lent (40 days plus Sundays before Easter), Easter (49 days starting on Easter Sunday), and Pentecost (starts 50 days after Easter and ends 5 Sundays before Christmas). It also means we start reading in another Gospel. This is year A and the focus is on Matthew (B = Mark, C = Luke, with John scattered throughout all three years). Also, Advent is a time of preparing for the return of Jesus and we read passages where Jesus talks about his return. In this passage, Jesus reflect that no one knows when Jesus will return, not the angels and not even himself. This puts a lot of theologians into a conundrum because if Jesus is fully God and knows all that God know how can he not know this? Anyway, Jesus warns the disciples to always be ready because the hour will be unexpected.

May you be blessed by the readings this week and may you be so involved in the reading you lose yourself in God's Word.

November 21:

This coming Sunday we are combining "The Reign of Christ/Christ the King" Sunday with our Thanksgiving service I will mention and comment on nine different readings.

Reign of Christ/Christ the King Sunday

Jeremiah 23:1-6 - The prophet starts off by warning the current (evil) kings, called Shepherds, that their failure has driven the people, the Sheep, away from God. God will attend to them first and then gather the scattered people and give them good Shepherds. Contrary to the practices of the kings of other nations, the kings of Israel were called to lead their people like a shepherd leads the sheep, not to abuse their authority and make themselves rich on the backs of the people. The prophet then speaks of a day when a true descendant of David will reign wisely with justice and righteousness.

Luke 1:68-79 - This is a traditional Advent/Christmas reading when the priest Zechariah, when he gets his voice back after John the Baptist is born, proclaims God's goodness in raising up a Savior for the people of Israel/Judah. This reading has traditionally been called the "Benedictus", the first word in Latin.

Psalm 46 - This psalm proclaims that God is the source of refuge and strength and who ends all wars.

Colossians 1:11-20 - This section, which begins in the middle of a paragraph in my Bible, begins with a blessing of strength, joy, and thanksgiving. Verses 15-20 are, in theological terms, a "Christology". That is, it is a statement of who Jesus is; literally "Christ Knowledge". Notice all the things that Jesus is: image of God, firstborn of all creation, creator, before all things, universal glue, head of the body/church, firstborn from the dead, holds the fullness of God, reconciling all things to God, and giving peace through the blood of his cross.

Luke 23:33-43 - This passage is a Good Friday text and tells the story of the crucifixion of Jesus. Killed with 2 criminals, Jesus is mocked by the crowds to save himself if he is truly the Messiah and mocked by the soldiers to save himself if he is a king. There is also a plaque over his head with the words "The King of the Jews". How is this a picture of a "King"? Is Jesus here more of an "anti-King"? And if Jesus is a King, how would this King rule? The entire passion of Jesus tosses the concept of King of Israel on its head. It is a subversion of the rule of humanity and proclaims the true rule of God: the one who suffers our violence and says "Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing."


Deuteronomy 26:1-11 - Moses gives instructions about how to thank the Lord for the blessings of the land. It is about giving the first fruits and remembering everything that God has done: called Abraham, rescued them from Egypt, and given them a bountiful land.

Psalm 100 - This is a very short Psalm of Praise. When we give thanks do we make a joyful noise? Do we worship with gladness? Do we come into his presence with singing? "For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever and his faithfulness to all generations."

Philippians 4:4-9 - (Another "Christology" can be found in Philippians 2:6-11.) This passage starts with "Rejoice in the Lord always" and then proceeds to tell us how to live day to day with that joy. If we live always in that joy then we will have God's peace within.

John 6:25-35 - This is part of a long chapter 6 that begins with the feeding of 5,000 on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee. After the feeding, the disciples get into a boat to cross to the western side at night and get caught in a rough waters. Jesus walks out to the boat on the water and then calms the waves. The next day the crowd hurries around the lake to find Jesus. This begins a passage known as "the Bread of Life". The crowds seem to be not very thankful and Jesus perceives that what they truly need is God's presence within. That comes from eating of the Bread of Life or, in other words, believing in the one whom God has sent (verse 29). Are we truly thankful for ALL that God has given: His Presence, His Son, His forgiveness, His acceptance, His Spirit, and His Kingdom.

Here is the question I asked in church this week: What are all the quirky, odd-ball things you are thankful for.

Be thankful and know that God is loving, forgiving, giving and calling.