Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Readings for Sunday, September 30, 2012

Hello Everyone,

Today has been a battle of me against the flying insects that seek warmth as the weather gets cooler. So far today I, armed with a trusty flyswatter, have dispatched 1 wasp (a daily occurrence), 2 box elder bugs, and at least a dozen flies. The wasps are so slow that one can swat them out of the air.

Including last Friday, in the next several weeks I will be celebrating the presence of God in the lives of many people. Last Friday we celebrated the life of Isabelle Clasen, 97, with her family. This coming Saturday I will celebrate the wedding of Gina Miller and Mitchell Scott. Then on Sunday Peace United Church celebrates the baptism of Kailey Luebesmier. The weekend of October 13 and 14 will bring the wedding of Becky Tschida and Thomas Willing and the baptism of Henry Fuechtmann, both at Grey Eagle UMC. I praise God for the Spirit’s presence in all our lives and in all times of our lives.

Our readings this week include:

Esther 7:1-6, 9-10, 9:20-22 – This is the only time in the three year lectionary cycle that we read from the book of Esther. Also note that this book does not mention God nor the worship of God. Here is my mini-synopsis of the story of Esther: Many Jews live in exile in Persia (now Iran). King Ahasuerus has a party and wants to show off his beautiful wife, Vashti. She doesn’t come when he summons her. To avoid shame he has her killed. There is a search for a new queen (“Persian Idol” anyone?). Esther, a Jew, wins. Her cousin Mordecai (M) discovers a plot to kill the king. King is saved and M is honored. M tells Esther not to tell King who she is. Haman (H), King A’s advisor, takes a dislike to M and plots to kill all Jews. M find out and pleads with Esther to intervene. Esther throws a party, reveals H’s plot to kill M and all Jews by hanging. King A is angry and orders H to be hanged. All Jews are saved and allowed to kill their enemies. Feast of Purim is instituted. Our reading highlights only Esther’s party, the revelation of the plot, Haman’s death, and the institution of Purim. All the messy stuff is passed over but you can easily read the entire book of Esther in one sitting. Good reading.

Psalm 124 – A psalm celebrating God saving Israel from destruction by their enemies. Memory verse: 124:8, “Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth.”

Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29 – Short version: the people complain about manna (boring) to Moses, Moses complains about the people to God, and God anoints 70 elders to help Moses. Those 70 prophesy once. Two men not in the meeting of the 70 also prophesy. Joshua complains about them to Moses who says he wished everyone would receive God’s Spirit and prophesy. Are we often like the Israelites and complain about the amount or quality of a gift God has given? Do we look back on the “good old days” and complain about what we have now? Do we complain when someone has some gift of God that we don’t have?

Psalm 19:7-14 – The laws of the Lord are good (stated 6 different ways). Following the laws brings rewards. We had this Psalm two weeks ago. Do you remember the memory verse I mentioned then, verse 14?

James 5:13-20 – We skipped over several good passages in James between last week’s reading and this one. 4:11-12 warns against using the law to judge others. There is only one Judge and we are not it. That would be God. 4:13-17 warns against boasting. 5:1-6 warns against the wealthy who cheat workers and oppress the poor. 5:7-11 exhorts those who suffer to have patience because the Lord is coming. 5:12 is a memory verse. Our verses this week are the closing remarks by James to his church. He exhorts us to pray for the sick, pray for forgiveness, sing praises, and work to bring back those who have left the church. Have you asked a former church member to come back? Have you prayed for forgiveness? Have you sung songs of praise?

Mark 9:38-50 – There are two short passages here. In the first the disciples complain about a non-follower casting out demons using Jesus’ name. The second is Jesus warning the disciples (us?) to not cause children to be scandalized (stumbling block, stumble). Does Jesus mean in a literal sense that we should cut off our hand or foot or eye if they cause us to sin? I wonder how the Biblical Literalists take this passage, although I have never met a one arm, one foot, half blind Christian. Also, you should not verse 40 and compare it to Luke 9:50. Then compare those two verses with Luke 11:23 and Matthew 12:30. Does Luke contradict himself? Does Mark contradict Matthew? Does Mark and Matthew contradict at least one Luke verse? How do we handle Biblical contradictions? Or is it best to live in the tension of the contradictions?

Have a great week as you wrestle with the violence of Esther and the contradictions of the Gospels.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Readings for September 23 2012

Grace and Peace to you through the power of the Holy Spirit.

First, some sad news. I was informed this morning that a long time member of Peace United Church (Long Prairie United Methodist Church before that) Isabelle Clasen has passed away. The funeral is tentatively being planned for Friday, 11:00 AM, at Peace United Church North. If anything changes with that schedule I will let you know. Our prayers go out to the family.

Our readings this week are:

Proverbs 31:10-31 – While many assume that this poem is about a “Great Wife” scholarship has shown that the qualities described in the poem have numerous parallels in the description of Woman Wisdom elsewhere in Proverbs. When you read this poem closely the qualities describe a 21st century woman better then it describes women in the Mideast 3000 years ago. Granted, any woman in any age who does everything described here would drop from exhaustion.

Psalm 1 – What a great opening Psalm. The way of the righteous who delight in the law of the Lord will be blessed. The wicked are like chaff and will simply be scattered by the wind.

Wisdom of Solomon 1:16-2:1, 12-22 – Dig out your Apocrypha like last week to find this reading. If you don’t have a Bible with the Apocrypha here is a link to the passage: Bible Gateway . The author states that the wicked have made a pact with death. Beginning in the last half of 2:1 the words spoken come from the wicked and go through verse 20 (including the skipped verses). The author then says that they have been led astray and did not understand God’s will for them.

OR Jeremiah 11:18-20 – Jeremiah becomes aware of threats against him because of the words he speaks against the religious-political system but he trust in the Lord protection as he renews his commitment to the Lord.

Psalm 54 – This short Psalm run through a cycle: prayer for protection from enemies; assurance that God helps and vindicates; then a prayer of thanksgiving for that protection. What if, during difficult times, we prayed the same way? Petition, Assurance, and Thanksgiving. It doesn’t have to be long and involved. Let’s call it the PAT prayer.

James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a – In 3:13-18 James describes two kinds of wisdom: the worldly and God’s. His sentence on the wisdom from above summarizes his entire letter: wisdom from above is pure, peaceable, gentle, yielding, merciful, fruitful, and without favoritism or hypocrisy. In 4:1-3, James asks about the conflict within the church which come from desire of worldly things that lead to murder, disputes and conflicts. His answer to this problem comes in verses 7-8a: submit to God and draw near to God. There is a lot to ponder in this passage. Consider reading 4:11-17 also as this passage will be skipped.

Mark 9:30-37 – We skip over the story of Jesus’ transfiguration which we read during Epiphany last February. We also miss the story of boy with a spirit whom the disciples could not cure. The boy’s father has a great line in verse 24, “I believe, help my unbelief”. Now there’s a sermon! In our reading this week Jesus again tells the disciples what will happen when they get to Jerusalem. Like last week, the prediction brings out the human side of the disciples. Instead of Peter trying to prevent Jesus from going, now the disciples argue amongst themselves about who will be the greatest when Jesus’ reign begins. Again, Jesus has to tell them they have got it all wrong. He says, “Those who want to be first shall be last of all and servant of all.” What if our politics were conducted that way? What if Obama and Romney held that attitude?

There is a lot of reading this week. I pray that God will bless you through your study of scripture.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Readings for September 16, 2012

Hello Everyone,

Grace and Peace to you from Jesus Christ.

This past Sunday Cheryl and I travelled to Woodbury UMC for the installation of the Minnesota Annual Conference’s newest bishop, Bishop Bruce Ough (pronounced “Oh”). For those who have met and/or heard Bishop Sally Dyck, you will be struck by the contrast between the two. If you would like to meet Bishop Ough there will be an opportunity on the evening of October 2 at Alexandria UMC. More details of the event will follow.

Our readings for the week, including an extra one, are:

Proverbs 1:20-33 – Wisdom as personified by a woman seeking people who want to know more. Do we actively seek wisdom or do we just hope that as we age wisdom will come with experience?

Psalm 19 – How do we know there is God? In verses 1-6 the Psalmist says all of creation is telling us. How do we know how to live rightly? In verses 7-13 the Psalmist says that it is the law of the Lord that guides us in righteousness and keeps us from making wrong choices. MEMORY VERSE: Psalm 19:14.

Isaiah 50:4-9a – The Lectionary stops short of the full reading. This passage, through verse 11, is the Third Servant Song of four (42:1-9, 49:1-7, and 52:13-53:12 are the other three). You may want to read all of them to get the flavor. In these songs the servant suffers because of his/her devotion to God. Many, including me, see Jesus’s passion in these passages especially the fourth one.

Psalm 116:1-9 – There are quite a few Psalms that reflect the suffering Psalmist at the hands of the wicked and look to God for protection and vindication.

OR Wisdom of Solomon 7:26-8:1 – Look as much as you want, or just check the table of contents, but you probably won’t find this book in your Bible, unless you have a Catholic or Orthodox Bible. This is one of the Apocryphal or Deuterocanonical (Deuter = Second, Canon = Accepted) Books of the Bible. This book is similar to Proverbs but focuses more on wisdom. This passage is a part of a long passage on the nature of wisdom and, like our Proverbs reading above, is described as a woman.

James 3:1-12 – What are the ways we hurt each other the most? Through the things we say. James exhorts us to tame our tongues and watch what we say. Reminds me of the Mark passage two weeks ago about what come out of a person is what defiles.

Mark 8:27-38 – We skip over the feeding of the 4,000 (probably Gentiles), an argument with the Pharisees, and the healing of a blind man. With the healing of a deaf man last week and the skipped reading of the healing of a blind man, Mark is calling us, his readers to hear and see what God has in store for us. Are we wearing earmuffs and blinders when it comes to God? This week’s reading has three related parts: Peter’s declaration of Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus’ telling the disciples about his impending death (and Peter’s refusal to HEAR), and Jesus telling the crowds that to follow him means taking up a cross and suffering.

“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Readings for September 9, 2012

Hello Everyone,

With Labor Day now past and all of our children back at school summer is unofficially over. The official end of summer happens on Saturday, September 22 when the hours of daylight equal the hours of nighttime. Oh where, Oh where has the summer gone?

We just had our one week in the Song of Solomon and now we move to three weeks of Proverbs. How can you go wrong when at least 2 verses in Proverbs extoll the virtues of having gray hair: Proverbs 16:31 and 20:29. 16:31 says, “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.” Judging from all my gray hair I must be really, really righteous. Anyway, our verses this week are:

Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23 – The theme of these six verses seems to be that the Lord looks favorably upon the poor, week, and disenfranchised of our world. Whom does the world favor? Most of us reading this should see ourselves not as one of the poor but as one of the rich and we need to ask ourselves if we are despoiling others (verse 23)? One of the remedies should be an attitude of giving for in giving we will be blessed (verse 9). Where do we fit into these words of wisdom?

Psalm 125 – I am fairly certain that the Lectionary Committee chose the Psalms to fit with the Old Testament reading. This is why during Pentecost when we have a choice of Old Testament readings we also have two Psalms readings. I am not totally sure how this Psalm fits with the Proverbs reading except to say that the Lord is with and blesses those who do good (no wrong) and who are righteous. Our definition of those who do good and are righteous can then be found in our Proverbs reading.

Isaiah 35:4-7a – I would recommend reading the entire chapter as Isaiah proclaims a time when the exiled people of Judah (Israel) shall return. The people who shall be returned to Zion will be the least, lost, and last of Israel: the blind, lame, speechless, sick, etc. The way home will be wide, easy, and safe with everything a traveler needs.

Psalm 146 – I think I commented on this Psalm last week, but I know I was wrong. My eyes looked at the wrong week and we should have had Psalm 15 to go along with our Deuteronomy reading. So, without writing anything new, I will simply copy and paste what I wrote last week. “This Psalm reflects many of the laws given by Moses in Deuteronomy and also reflects Isaiah and other prophets’ call for justice. Not only is God the creator of all that is but God cares for those in need: justice for the oppressed, food for the hungry, freedom for prisoners, support to the broken, love for the righteous, care for the strangers, orphans, and widows. If God is concerned for all these people why does the United States of America, the greatest and richest nation, have oppressed people (inequality), hungry children and adults, overcrowded prisons, broken families in poverty, and no love for immigrants? I’m just asking.” (This Psalm fits better with Isaiah then with the Deuteronomy reading!)

James 2:1-10, (11-13), 14-17 – This reading feels as if it were three readings: 1-7, 8-13, and 14-17. The first section is a warning about showing preference to the rich and powerful and ignoring the poor and powerless. The second is about loving your neighbor (the second greatest commandment) and how that love fulfills the Law. If, however, we try to live by the Law (and without love is implied) if we fail at one law we fail them all. For instance, check out Leviticus 20:10. Do we EVER uphold this law? If not, then we have broken the whole Law. The third section is about faith and works. If you have one, you have the other. Verse 18 say that our faith is shown by our works. If there are no works then there is no faith, at least this is implied. I can tell you I have faith until I am blue in the face, yet if I don’t love my neighbor by what I do for him or her then I am simply a liar (and breaking one of those pesky commandments).

Mark 7:24-37 – This reading contains two vignettes: the encounter with a gentile woman and healing a deaf person. In the first story, I have always claimed that Jesus learned something God’s love for all people but many disagree with me. In the insistence of the women to claim the healing power of Jesus for her daughter, Jesus learns that his mission is not just for the chosen people of God, the Jews, but for all people. Others claim that Jesus’ rudeness is simply his testing her faith, but I don’t recall Jesus testing anyone else’s faith. In this regard, look at the second story. Jesus does not test the deaf man’s faith, he simply heals him. What is the response to a healing? Telling everyone we know, which is what the formerly deaf man and his family does. What is our response to God’s healing salvation?

Have a great week reading God’s Word. Serve the Lord and your neighbor in all you do in love.

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor