Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Readings for Sunday, November 4, 2012

Hello Everyone,

First, please keep the people and communities of the East Coast who have been devastated by hurricane – tropical storm Sandy, especially families who had loved ones killed by the storm.

Second, I found this quote from John Wesley today. He wrote it in his journal on October 6, 1744, just before a Parliamentary election in Great Britain. It seems quite relevant today:

“I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them, 1. To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy: 2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against: And, 3. To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.”

There is a great commentary around this quote by Josh Tinley titled “6 Ways You Can Prepare for Election Day”

Third, please keep me in your prayers as I begin a new ministry and/or worshipping community geared to young adults and young families.

Finally, this week at Grey Eagle UMC and Peace United Church we will be celebrating All Saints Sunday. At Grey Eagle UMC we will remember Evelyn Feierabend. At Peace United Church we will remember Wilma Speidel, Hazel Flanagan, and Isabelle Clasen. If there is anyone I have forgotten please let me know ASAP.

The readings for All Saints Day (November 1) are, without comment, Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9 or Isaiah 25:6-9, Psalm 24, Revelation 21:1-6a, and John 11:32-44.

The readings for this Sunday are:

Ruth 1:1-18 – The story of Naomi and Ruth is a beautiful tale of redemption and salvation. Two people from the furthest margins of society – widows without sons living in a foreign land – who find a place within society through faithful care of those in need. The first 5 verses set up the story: a family moves to a foreign land due to a famine. The husband dies leaving his wife to raise two sons. They both marry but then die before any children are conceived. In the remaining verses of this reading, the mother, Naomi, decides to go home to Bethlehem. One daughter, Orpah, goes back to her family, but the other, Ruth, goes with Naomi. Ruth declares to Naomi that “where you go, I will go; etc. . . ” (verses 16-17). I always find it odd that many couples choose these verses for their weddings since it is a pledge from a daughter-in-law to her mother-in-law and not between wife and husband.

Psalm 146 – This psalm celebrates God who helps those in need and those who put their trust in God. Verses 5-7a says that God is happy with those who are faithful, who give justice to the oppressed, and who feeds the hungry. Verses 7b-9 states that the Lord sets prisoners free, gives sight to the blind, lifts up the oppressed, loves the righteous, watches over strangers, and cares for orphans and widows.

Deuteronomy 6:1-9 – Moses tells the people that there is one primary commandment that they need to keep and need to teach their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren: Love God with everything you’ve got! Write it on your hand; stamp it on your forehead; post it on your doors. Don’t forget!

Psalm 119:1-8 – This is an acrostic Psalm. There are 22 stanzas of 8 verses each. Within the stanza, each line starts with a word beginning with the same letter. If this were written in English there would be 26 stanzas that begin with each letter of the alphabet. Verses 1-8 would begin with “A”. In this Psalm verses 1-8 begin with “Alef”, the first letter of the Hebrew language. This stanza celebrates the life of those who follow God’s laws.

Hebrews 9:11-14 – More on the role of Jesus Christ as the ultimate High Priest. Basically, if the sacrifice of goats and sheep were supposed to purify the flesh of people then Christ sacrifice of himself purifies our “conscience from dead work to worship the living God.”

Mark 12:28-34 – Our readings over the last three or four months have shown us the journey of Jesus that ends at Jerusalem. The story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is told on Palm Sunday. The story of Jesus’s last meal, prayer, arrest, trial, beatings, and crucifixion is told on Passion Sunday (same Sunday as Palm Sunday) and on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Jesus’ resurrection is told on Easter Sunday. However, what happens in Jerusalem between Jesus’ entry and his last meal is not told until now. For the next three Sunday’s we will hear Jesus’ teaching and healings on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of his final week. On Monday Jesus comes back into Jerusalem, curses a fig tree, clears the temple of the buyers and sellers, teaches about the fig tree, and has his authority questioned by the chief priests, scribes, and elders. He tell a parable about a wicked tenant, dodges a question about paying taxes, and then dodges a question about a woman and her seven brother-husbands. This then brings us to our reading. A scribe challenges Jesus about the greatest commandment. This question is standard fare for the rabbis of Jesus day. When Jesus answers about the greatest commandment and the second greatest commandment the scribe is impressed and adds that these two are even greater then any and all sacrifices in the temple. Jesus says that he is not far from the kingdom. How far from the kingdom am I? How far are you? Do we love with all we are? Do we love neighbor like we say we love God?

Have a blessed and glorious week serving the Lord. If you are hunting this weekend, please hunt safely.

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Readings for Sunday, October 28, 2012

Grace and Peace,

More rain today which is much needed. I had hoped to get the leaves and nuts mowed up this morning but that of course didn’t happen. I had tried yesterday but the battery was dead on the lawn tractor and the short charges I was giving it didn’t do the trick because of the frequency of the stops I make. Oh, well, I’ll have to try again after some drier weather.

Our readings this week continues in Hebrews and Mark and we come to an end with Job. I may actually have to preach this week on the book of Job.

Job 42:1-6, 10-17 – In the first verses of this reading Job humbly acknowledges that he spoke without knowledge and repents. In the skipped verses God rebukes Job’s friends. In the last verses, God restores to Job all that he lost and more. My Bible commentary says, “It is important not to see this scene as some sort of reward for behavior, since the entire drama has been played to defeat such a notion. God gives all this to Job out of God’s wondrous goodness.” In a patriarchal (man centered) society, Job’s new world is radically different. Note that the 3 daughters are named, not the sons, and they receive an equal share of the inheritance which was unheard of in the ancient world.

Psalm 34:1-8 (19-22) – The psalmist praises God for delivering him from his troubles. Note the words that start each sentence: “I will bless the Lord”, “My soul makes its boast”, “O magnify the Lord”, “I sought the Lord”, and finally “O taste and see that the Lord is good.” The psalmist has faith that God will protect and redeem the afflicted.

Jeremiah 31:7-9 – God promises a future in which all of God’s scattered people will be reunited including the blind, lame, pregnant, and those women giving birth. The path home will be smooth, straight, and next to a flowing brook.

Psalm 126 – The psalmists celebrates the reversal of fortune for the Israelites by God. It will be like water in a desert, mourners shouting with joy, and farmers reaping their sheaves.

Hebrews 7:23-28 – The understanding of Jesus as High Priest by the writer of Hebrews has intensified in chapter 7. These last six verses sum up the argument that priests in the temple, especially the high priest, is no longer needed. The temple priests must make continual sacrifices for the people whereas Jesus only needed to make one sacrifice, himself, for the sins of all people. The temple priests had to choose and train new priests because they would eventually retire and die, whereas Jesus died once, rose, and lives forever. The temple priests had to make a sacrifice for their own sins, while Jesus was without sin, or, as Hebrews 7:26 puts it, “[Jesus is] holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.”

Mark 10:46-52 – Not too many people who are healed by Jesus get named in the New Testament, but this blind beggar does: Bartimaeus. The gospel writer is funny here: he names the beggar twice. In Aramaic “Bar” means “son of”. That means that “Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus” is a repetition. (FYI – “Abba” means “father” in Aramaic, In the passion narrative, Barabbas means “Son of the father”. Jesus, who took his place on the cross, is also a “Son of the Father” = Barabbas. There must be some irony here.) This healing of a blind man occurs right after Jesus’ 3 announcement of his impending death and resurrection and the disciples’ confusion of what this means. This story is also at the end of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem because the next story is his entry into that great city. This journey started north of Galilee in chapter 8 and when they reached Bethsaida, on the coast of Lake Galilee, Jesus cured an unnamed blind man. This healing is follow by Peter’s declaration of who Jesus is, the first announcement of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and Peter’s attempt to stop him. Throughout this journey the disciples are continually blind to the work of God in Jesus. How are we blind to the work of God in Jesus in our modern day and age?

Have a great week! Don’t forget to take a moment each day to let Jesus serve you. Then let Jesus show you the work of God.

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Monk Manifesto

I received the following in a daily reflection email written by Rev. Michael Piazza and he passes along something he discovered. It is well worth considering.


Dr. Christine Valters Paintner is the online Abbess of Abbey of the Arts ( abbeyofthearts.com ) and the author of seven books on monastic spirituality and creativity. She is seeking to recruit people to a contemporary monastic lifestyle that might enrich us all and our world too. She invites you to commit to the “Monk Manifesto.” It would be a great order for life, but, at the very least, it might be a helpful exercise for the next 90 days, which would bring you to the new year better prepared:

Monk Manifesto : A public expression of your commitment to live a compassionate, contemplative, and creative life.

1. I commit to finding moments each day for silence and solitude, to make space for another voice to be heard, and to resist a culture of noise and constant stimulation.

2. I commit to radical acts of hospitality by welcoming the stranger both without and within. I recognize that when I make space inside my heart for the unclaimed parts of myself, I cultivate compassion and the ability to accept those places in others.

3. I commit to cultivating community by finding kindred spirits along the path, soul friends with whom I can share my deepest longings, and mentors who can offer guidance and wisdom for the journey.

4. I commit to cultivating awareness of my kinship with creation and a healthy asceticism by discerning my use of energy and things, letting go of what does not help nature to flourish.

5. I commit to bringing myself fully present to the work I do, whether paid or unpaid, holding a heart of gratitude for the ability to express my gifts in the world in meaningful ways.

6. I commit to rhythms of rest and renewal through the regular practice of Sabbath and resist a culture of busyness that measures my worth by what I do.

7. I commit to a lifetime of ongoing conversion and transformation, recognizing that I am always on a journey with both gifts and limitations.

Imagine for a moment that you are a modern monk and this is how you lived. How would your lifestyle need to change? Well, you've been looking for help being different; perhaps this is one path you could try.

Rev. Michael Piazza
Co-Executive Director, Center for Progressive Renewal


Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

It was Psalm 104, not 109

Hello Everyone,

I have just discovered that I put down the wrong verses for Psalm 104. Instead of verses 1-9 with 19-22 as an option, the verses are 1-9, 24, 35c. I don’t know which Psalm I was looking at when I wrote the commentary but it was certainly NOT 104. (I think it was Psalm 109.)

Psalm 104 praises God for God’s great creation. The description of that creation is not something we moderns would recognize. Think of earth not as a large ball but a large flat (or slightly convex) table top covered by water and land. In verse 2 the heavens (or firmament) would be like a tent or umbrella stretched over the table and the clouds fix under it. (The sun, moon, and stars are fixed in the firmament.) Above the tent would be the waters (verse 6) which seep through the tent as rain. In verse 5 the table (earth) is set on it table legs (foundations) to keep it steady. The psalm goes on to praise God for the plants, trees, birds and animals. Verse 24 again praises God for the creatures of the earth. Verse 35c is simply, “Praise the Lord!”. If you read Genesis 1 carefully you will see this idea of earth as a table. This was a fairly common understanding of earth in ancient Mid-East.

Sorry for the error. Praise the Lord!

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Readings for Sunday, October 21, 2012

Hello Everyone,

I mentioned in my sermon on Sunday something called “Schroeder’s Cat”. I got the name wrong. It should have been “Schrodinger’s Cat”. It deals with a paradox of Quantum Mechanics and Quantum Physics: matter can exist in two states at once. Here is a link to a Wikipedia page that explains Schrodinger’s thought experiment. After reading a good portion of it, I still don’t get it, but God still works in mysterious ways.

Our readings for this week are:

Job 38:1-7, (34-41) – After 35 chapters of Job’s friends, by now there are four, declaring that Job was somehow guilty and Job maintaining his innocence and demanding an explanation from God, God final speaks. And, boy, does God speak! God’s words here are troubling because God’s defense to Job is to basically to say, “Who are you to question me?” God’s defense goes from 38:1 through 41:34 with one small interruption by Job at 40:4-5. We will read more of God’s response next week but the question we must wrestle with is “Is this the answer we would want to hear if we were Job?”

Psalm 104:1-9, (19-22) – This is a classic psalm of a victim of society. The psalmist asks for protection and then call for the destruction of his persecutors’ family, property, and life. In verse 21 the psalmist proclaims that God’s love is steadfast and God will deliver.

Isaiah 53:4-12 – This is the last half of the last and longest of Isaiah’s four servant songs. The full song starts at 52:13. This song is often read during Holy Week and on Good Friday. You can see many parallels between this song and the passion of Jesus. A question to ponder: did Isaiah prophesy the death of Jesus or did the writers of the Gospels shape the passion story to reflect the realities of the victimage system that Isaiah reports in his song?

Psalm 91:9-16 – The words, especially the verses, of the song “On Eagle’s Wings” come from Psalm 91. In this Psalm, the psalmist seems to be reassuring a victim that God will protect them. Perhaps this psalm should have been the words of Job’s friends rather then their accusations of guilt.

Hebrews 5:1-10 – The basic argument of the writer of Hebrews goes something like this: the human high priest at the temple was a sinner like us therefore needed to offer sacrifices for his and our sins; Jesus, who was without sin, became the perfect sacrifice and suffered for our sins; therefore, Jesus is the perfect high priests who no longer needs to offer sacrifices for sin for us: once was enough. The person of Melchizedek is found in Genesis 14:18-20 (where Abram gives him a tithe of all he had) and is then mentioned in Psalm 110:4 which Hebrews quotes.

Mark 10:35-45 – From last week to this week we skip Jesus’ third prediction of his death and resurrection. The first prediction (8:31) prompted Peter to try to prevent Jesus from going to Jerusalem. The second prediction resulted in the disciples arguing among themselves about how was the greatest. The third prediction result in our reading this week: James and John demand Jesus to install them at his right and left hands as trusted lieutenants in Jesus’s glory. Jesus tells them they will have the cup he will drink and the baptism he had. The positions of right and left hands had already been prepared for others. (In the Gospel of John, Jesus came into his glory at his crucifixion. Who were at his right and left at the time of his glory?) Of course when the other disciples find out what James and John had asked they were upset. For the third time in Mark Jesus says something about the first being last; see 8:35 and 10:31. Do you think Jesus really want us to consider and understand the idea of first as last and last as first?

May the Lord bless your readings this week and your service in this world.

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Readings for Sunday, October 14, 2012

Hello Everyone,

As I was beginning to write about the Gospel passage I was listening to one of my all time favorite band songs “Eryri (Where Eagles Sing")” by Karl Jenkins and the Cory Band. You may enjoy it here: "Eryri" This video also has "Abide With Me".

Our scripture lessons for this coming Sunday are:

Job 23:1-9, 116-7 – Chapters 1 and 2 of Job are the setting for a great theological debate: Why do bad things happen to good people (Rabbi Harold Kushner became famous when he wrote a book with that title) and what is God’s role in those bad things? (The technical theological term for this problem is “theodicy”.) In Chapter 2 Job says that life is no long worth living. Beginning in Chapter 4 each of Job’s (so called) friends offer their explanation of why Job is suffering. Their take: Job sinned and God is correcting/punishing Job who in turn declares his innocence/righteousness. The friends then say even if Job doesn’t know what he did he should just repent. Of course, Job, who is an upright and blameless man, can’t do that. In our reading, and you should probably include 10-15, Job states that he want to go into God’s court and face his accuser (God or Satan?) for an explanation and to give his own testimony knowing that God will then find him innocent. Verses 8-9 states one problem for Job, “Where is God?”

Psalm 22:1-15 – Jesus spoke the first line of this psalm while dying on the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” It echoes the words of Job in the feeling that God is no longer present to the sufferer. On the one hand the psalmist affirms God’s holiness and all that God has done for Israel. On the other hand the psalmist is enduring many problems at the company of evildoers. Carefully read the entire Psalm 22 and pay attention to the back and forth nature of the psalmist’s words.

Amos 5:6-7, 10-15 – Amos warns the rich that their behavior of not caring for the poor, needy, orphans, widows, and foreigners will bring Israel to ruin. Is the United States of America in need of listening to this prophet? How has the disparity between the wealthy and the poor brought division to our country? Last year’s 99% protests were supposed to highlight the problems but has anything changed? Just yesterday there was an article on the StarTribune highlighting this issue. You can read the story here: "Rich Poor Gap"

Psalm 90:12-17 – Verses 1 and 2 state God’s majesty and eternity. Verses 3-11 then state how people are suffering God’s wrath, “for all our days pass away under your wrath.” Our reading then asks God to show us, teach us, and work in us so that we might know the favor of God.

Hebrews 4:12-16 – Verses 12 and 13 states that the “word of God” is living and active. It pierces our hearts and know all about us. Is this “word of God” the Bible or Jesus or both? If it is the Bible, do we often think that it is static and that our understanding of it ended sometime in the past, say with Augustine, Luther, Calvin, or Wesley? Or is the Bible speaking new things to each generation such that each generation must struggle with their own understanding? Verses 14-16 introduce a prominent theme in Hebrews: Jesus as our Great High Priest who has been tested as we are and remained sin free. This theme will continue for the next three or four weeks.

Mark 10:17-31 – Another difficult reading especially for Americans. Even middle class Americans are wealthier than the majority of the world. (If your personal household annual income is $12,000 and you live alone you are wealthier then 88% of the world. Check your status here: GivingWhatWeCan.org) So, how do our “things”, our possessions, our money, keep us from following Jesus? The young rich man was upright and blameless and lived as God commanded. He would be a good candidate for any of our churches especially if he tithed . Yet Jesus says that he must give everything away to be able to follow him. Oh how we love to rationalize our way around that one. Even the usually clueless disciples recognize the problem. No one can do that. The disciples are the ones who have given up everything to follow: work, homes, and families. Jesus answers that God is able and that they will receive everything back (much like Job at the end of his story) AND eternal life.

Have a great week serving God and neighbor!

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Readings for Sunday, October 7, 2012

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

This Sunday is celebrated in many denominations around the world as “World Communion Sunday”. While not all churches will celebrate, this event should help Christians everywhere understand that Christ’s Church should be (to use the fourfold creedal description) One, Holy, Universal, and Apostolic.

This week we begin a new series of readings in Job and Hebrews and Jesus comments on the abuse of women.

Job 1:1, 2:1-10 – The story of a man who is not even Jewish and doesn’t live in Israel. Some scholars feel that chapters 1 and 2 and chapter 47:7-17 were later additions to a much older story (Job 3-47:6) of suffering and God’s part in it. Notice some of the ironic elements of the opening chapters: Satan is just another angel walking around in the court of God; God gives permission for the deaths of Job’s children; and Job’s wife’s black humor when she tells him that he should just “curse God and die”.

Psalm 26 – This Psalm could be from the mouth of Job. The Psalmist is besieged by an enemy (vs. 9-10), has lived a life in love and devotion to God (vs. 3-8), and desires God to save him (vs. 1-2, 11-12).

Genesis 2:18-24 – The human that God has created need a “suitable companion” or “helper as a partner”. This helper is not to be a subordinate to be dominated but an equal companion to help cultivate and populate the earth. Animals are created and named but none are suitable. God then creates from the one human two people, male and female. Verse 25 adds that they were naked and not ashamed. Why is humanity so ashamed of nakedness?

Psalm 8 – The Psalmist celebrates God’s good creation and humanity’s place within it. When we look at the stars, the sun, and the moon we realize just how insignificant we are in the glorious creation. Yet, God has given us top billing (dominion, rule, stewardship) in that creation, or at least over the creation that we call earth. At one time we equated dominion with domination and we have not been good stewards: garbage all over dry land and the ocean and waterways; species that have be made extinct or are near extinction because of our actions; polluted air; radioactive contamination; multi and super resistant viruses; to name just a few. Have we placed humanity in the role of god over God’s creation?

Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12 – The verses in chapter one may be the essential statement on Jesus being God and at the same time being God’s Son. “This Son is the perfect reflection of God and is the exact imprint of God’s very being.” If we look at Jesus we should see God. If the God we imagine and follow doesn't look like Jesus then perhaps we need to reevaluate the God we believe in. In the second portion of the reading, the writer of Hebrews quotes from Psalm 8. Then Jesus becomes human not to continue human domination of creation but to “taste death for everyone.” It is through Jesus’ death that we have salvation. It is difficult in this reading to discern that God didn't order Jesus’ death or decree his death. But God knew that in becoming human, God, in Jesus, would be put to death by humanity. It is that act of giving himself over to our system of death, Jesus gives us salvation from sin and death. It is a fine, but extremely important distinction.

Mark 10:2-16 – This must be the worst text that could come up on World Communion Sunday, especially the first half. The second section, verses 13-16, in which Jesus takes children into his arms and blesses them might be the better choice on WCS. Remember though, these are not the clean well dressed children that we see in church each week. Think of the snotty nosed, dirt and mud encrusted children of Mumbai or Sao Paulo or any slum of the world today. These are the children that the Kingdom of God belongs to; the lowest on the hierarchy of value in Jesus’ day.

Now back to the first section on divorce. Jesus says that divorce was allowed because humanity is sinful. He is also commenting on how women were abused by the system of divorce in his day. Any MAN could divorce his wife for whatever reason (see Deuteronomy 24:1-4). The woman was kicked out and left destitute. She could either become a beggar or a prostitute or resign herself to slow death. Jesus says that this is wrong and sinful. To use the law to exclude people from full participation in society (remember women were just above children on the hierarchical totem pole) is sinful. For many centuries the church used the words of Jesus here to abuse women by telling them they must stay in destructive, violent, abusive families. To use Jesus’ words (instead of the law) to exclude people from full participation in society (abused women often withdraw from all other helpful relationship due to shame) is sinful. What are the sexual politics that exclude people from full participation in society and other relationships today?

I always have to wrestle with the texts that go against my assumptions, comfort zone, or feeling. I often lose to God. How is your wrestling match going?

May the Lord Bless you always!!!