Thursday, January 31, 2013

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Readings for Sunday, February 3, 2013

Hello Everyone,

Rain (now ice) and snow in January in Minnesota. It certainly does make walking around outside a challenge. I think below 0 temperatures are coming tonight or tomorrow. So . . . repeat after me: “Spring is coming. Spring is coming. Spring is coming.”

This coming Sunday we will continue the new worship service. I see the key to the beginning of this worship is the sharing of our stories. We heard a couple of wonderful witnesses to the action of God in their lives this past Sunday: an affirmative prayer that lead to a decision that resulted in God’s Peace; the witness of joy coming in the form of a young grandson; the understanding of mission being in what we do where we are; and the joy of being a presence in other’s lives. How is God working in your life this week? I believe that everyone has a story that could be told each week. My only hope is that two or three will be willing to share and that there be two or three different people each week.

Our lessons this week are:

Jeremiah 1:4-10 – Even young boys have a story to share. Jeremiah shared God’s story and that story started for him when he was young. God’s proclamation to Jeremiah was direct and the objection of Jeremiah was set aside. God then touched Jeremiah’s mouth and his mission was given: pluck up, pull down, destroy, overthrow, build and plant nations and kingdoms. Now Jeremiah never literally did those thing but his words of God certainly upset the cart for the king, priests, and people of Judah.

Psalm 71:1-6 – The full Psalm, 24 verses, are the cry of an older person who is being persecuted by enemies. The Psalmist is crying out to God for protection and declaring his lifelong love of God which spans from birth (verse 6) to old age (verse 9). Verse 6 is the connection to the Jeremiah reading above.

1 Corinthians 13 – We have heard this chapter maybe too many times, mostly at weddings, and we tend to think we know it. We hear it with the ears of a wedding guest. Yes, this is the great proclamation of the greatest gift, love. So let’s think about that word, not “love” but “gift”. We often speak about “falling in love” or “being in love” or “head over heels in love”. Love becomes something we are “in”. But love is a gift that is received and given. It is also the gift that gives meaning to all the other gifts mentioned in chapter 12. Prophesy without love is nothing. Understanding (knowledge) with out love is nothing. Paul defines this gift of love by what it is, what it is not, and what it does in verses 4-7. Verses 8-12 seem to be saying that we can grow into that gift of love. Maybe a way of stating that is: the more we understand and are enveloped by the gift of love, the more we can give that gift to other, and in turn the more we receive the gift of love.

Luke 4:21-30 – Part 2 of last week’s lesson. Jesus has stated his mission and the people seem to receive the news well. But then Jesus seems to step into the storm when he challenges the people’s understanding of what the Messiah will do. God’s salvation is not just for the selected few but is for all. He reminds them of two esteemed prophets and who they served. Have you been so angered by what someone has said or proposed that you dismissed their argument, dismissed them, or maybe have even thought of some sort of violence against them? What about those today who value their right to own guns who are angered by any suggestion of gun control? Jesus’ message challenged the conventional thinking of his day. Does Jesus challenge our conventional thinking today? (For a good discussion about a Biblical understand of this issue see this article at Ministry Matters.)

Have a great week serving God and loving others.

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Readings for January 27, 2013

Hello Everyone, Grace and Peace to You,

When I got up this morning my thermometer outside on the north side of the house read –24 F or –30 C. Today turned out to be a long johns, wool socks, flannel shirt kind of day. That’s why we live in Minnesota – bone numbing cold. For those who are in Arizona, Texas, California, or Florida this week, don’t you miss this?

This Sunday is the Third Sunday after Epiphany. This week the Epiphany comes in Jesus’ own self awareness of what he has to do. That mission is the fulfillment of God’s work of salvation.

Our readings are:

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10 – The Old Testament books of Ezra and Nehemiah are essentially one book and they tell the story of the return of the people of Judah from Babylon. Ezra tells of the rebuilding of the Temple and Nehemiah tell of the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem and the reintroduction of the Law, the Holy Days, and the Government, albeit under Babylonian/Greek rule. Our reading recounts the reading of the Law to all the people, who gathered in Jerusalem, and their reaction. The two verses that are skipped, 4 and 7, are simply a list of names of those who were standing on the platform where Ezra read the scroll, much like a list of names of the dignitaries who stood on the platform when President Obama gave his inauguration speech yesterday. Imagine how you would feel if the founding documents of our country (the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution) were lost and forgotten for 70 or 80 years and then were discovered and read aloud to all people. (You may as well finish this section with verses 11 and 12 to find out what the people did.)

Psalm 19 – In the first half of this Psalm, verses 1-6, the psalmist declares that all of creation tells of the glory of God. The second half, verses 7-13, is all about how the Law of the Lord is perfect and warns and guides its followers. The final verse, verse 14, is our memory verse of the week, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and redeemer.”

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a – This is a continuation of our reading from last week and part of the larger section of the letter about the Gifts of the Spirit, chapters 12 to 14. It is also a lead up or introduction to the apex of these chapters, chapter 13. The first two-thirds of this passage, verses 12-26, Paul uses the metaphor of the human body to help his readers understand the importance of all gifts. This metaphor is then applied, in verses 27-31, to the church which Paul calls “the body of Christ.” Paul concludes by saying there is one gift (or three gifts) that is (are) available to all people and that is more important then any other gift. That is what chapter 13 is all about.

Luke 4:14-21 – After Jesus is baptized in chapter 3, Luke gives us the ancestral history of Jesus and then tells us of Jesus’ fast and temptation in the wilderness. Our reading is the opening of Jesus’ ministry which begins in the synagogues of Galilee. The Lectionary Committee, in their esteemed wisdom, had divided the story into two readings, this week and next. Verses 14 and 15 are the introduction of Jesus’ ministry. The next story is found in verses 16-30. Dividing this into two makes no sense because the declaration of Jesus’ mission (from Isaiah 6:1-2 and 58:6) is instrumental in the leaders’ and citizens’ attempt to murder him. All Jewish people of the time were looking for a Messiah to lead them to independence, self rule, and to expel the Romans. They didn’t want that Messiah to be Jesus, the mamzer (see Wikipedia) child of a poor widow named Mary who had the nerve to challenge their own reaction and rejection. How is Jesus the least likely person to be our savior and redeemer?

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

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Readings for Sunday, January 20, 2013

Thank you to all who helped with the two funerals I had yesterday (Walt Knudsen) and today (Laurence Karnes). Your help and work brought comfort to the families of these two gentlemen. Thank you!

Our readings this week are:

Isaiah 62:1-5 – In this oracle, the Lord declares that he will not rest until Zion (another name for Jerusalem) is restored to its former glory (like a crown or diadem) and all the world’s leaders will take notice. In verses 4 and 5, the Lord’s joy for this restored Zion will be like a new husband’s delight in his new wife. I think this metaphor works the other way also: as a new wife delights in her new husband.

Psalm 36:5-10 – This Psalm is in the form of ABA` but the lectionary chooses only to use B. The first section, A, verses 1-4, is about those who follow evil and ignore the Lord. The third section, A`, verses 11-12, is a plea to God to keep the evil people away. Our reading, the center section B, is about God’s steadfast love, faithfulness, and righteous judgment. B is good, but B is better with A and A`.

1 Corinthians 12:1-11 – This is the classic Paul statement on the gifts of the Spirit. Paul takes pains to point out that though there are many gifts, all gifts should be used for the common good. A gift, no matter what it is, if not used for the common good of the believing community is really no gift of all. What are your gifts and how can you use it or them for the common good of our churches?

John 2:1-11 – The Gospel of John is often thought of as the book of signs. This familiar story is the first sign of Jesus. The last sign might be thought of as either Jesus crucified on the cross or the empty tomb. In our story who is the primary actor who commands the people? Churches often have people who seem to take charge. Sometimes it is only in certain situations but sometime they seem to be in charge all the time. Can this be a problem for our church? Are we sometime reluctant (like Jesus?) to take orders from these persons? Back to the story: how is this miracle a “sign” for the disciples? Do we need signs?

Have a great week serving the Lord!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Readings for January 13, 2013

To my Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Grace and Peace to you.

This Sunday is the annual celebration of the Baptism of Christ. Each year in the Lectionary Cycle focuses on one of the Gospel versions, this year being Luke.

Our readings this week are:

Isaiah 43:1-7 – The obvious connection with the baptism of Jesus story is found in verse 2 except for the part of walking through fire. On second thought, though, Paul often refers to baptism as a dying and rising so maybe Jesus’ Passion, his arrest, trial, execution, death and resurrection could be thought of as a “fire”. Perhaps redemption comes through water and fire. Isaiah’s purpose here is not to “predict” or “foresee” Jesus but to offer words of hope for the restoration of the nation of Israel after the Babylonian destruction of Judah and Jerusalem. The scattered and shattered people will be returned to their land by the peoples who have captured them.

Psalm 29 – Again, the connection to the baptism of Jesus is obvious: “The voice of the Lord is over the waters.” However, this voice is not the voice that proclaims God’s love for his son, but the voice that flattens out the mighty cedar forests, that flashes like flames of fire, and that spins the oak trees.

Acts 8:14-17 – The apostle Philip goes to Samaria (an area, not really a country, between Judea and Galilee but which faithful Jews did not go to) to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus and people were believing. Philip baptized them with water. That is the background, found in verses 4-13, to our reading. Since this Philip was not one of the original disciples (see 6:1-6) the disciples in Jerusalem send Peter and John to Samaria. There, they laid their hands on the new believers who then received the Holy Spirit. This story points to a theological difference in some Protestant churches, namely, is one baptism of water sufficient or does there need to be a baptism of the Holy Spirit? Charismatic churches, Pentecostal and Assembly of God, emphasize the latter while most Protestant churches along with Catholics and Orthodox stress the former. Protestant churches also divvy up along the infant/adult baptism lines and the pouring/dunking baptism lines. What are your thoughts on baptism?

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 – The first 3 verses recount the people’s reaction to John the Baptist’s baptism and his proclamation of a greater one who will follow and who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. The other two verses seem a bit anti-climactic. In Mark’s version (Mark 1:9-11) of the story when Jesus is baptized and is coming up from the water the heavens are “torn apart” and the Spirit descends. In Matthew’s version (Matthew 3:13-17) Jesus has to argue with John to be baptized and when he is coming up from the water the Spirit descends and “alights” on him. In Luke’s version, after Jesus is baptized and when he is praying (implying a little time after the baptism) the Spirit in bodily form, like a dove, descends on him. In the Gospel of John (John 1:29-34) there is no actual recounting of the baptism, only the testimony of John the Baptist. Only in the Gospel of John are we told that someone other than Jesus saw the descent of the Holy Spirit.

May the Holy Spirit fill you life with love and may the power of the Spirit prod you to share the Good News!

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Readings for Sunday, January 6, 2013

Hello Everyone,

PUC’ers – With the vote to sell the South Building I am tentatively planning a final worship service at that building on January 13 (or January 20 if need be). This will be a time to remember all the good ministry that has happened there in the 55+ years that worship services have been held there and a time to say good-bye. The service will be with communion and will conclude with a decommissioning of the building. I know that this will be a difficult time for many but God is with us and calls us forward into God’s future.

This coming Sunday is Epiphany. The Orthodox Church celebrates the baptism of Jesus but the Catholic and Protestant churches celebrate the visitation of the Magi (wisemen) with Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Epiphany always falls on January 6, twelve days after Christmas. Epiphany is that moment of understanding, the “A-hah” moment.

This is also the first Sunday of the New Year, a good time to remember and renew our covenant with God. Once again in both churches we will have a “Covenant Renewal Service”. The verses listed below are for Epiphany and may or may not be used during this service.

Isaiah 60:1-6 – Christians have looked to these verses as the prophesy of Matthew’s story of the Magi. Isaiah, however, was looking forward to a time of the restoration of Israel to its former greatness with God as head. The language recalls God’s promise to Abraham that his descendants will be a light to all the nations. For Isaiah, when God arises all the nations will bring come swiftly (camels are fast) to Israel bearing expensive gifts (gold and frankincense).

Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14 – The Psalmist prays that God will bless and guide the king in all justice and mercy. He prays that the king will side with the least, lost, and left out people of the kingdom. He also prays that all the nations will pay homage to this king who upholds the rights of those in need. I had to chuckle at verse 9 (not in our reading) and all the versions of the Bible that I checked had “let his enemies lick the dust”. I wonder if that is where “bite the dust” came from?

Ephesians 3:1-12 – This passage may seem to be out of place for Epiphany but if Epiphany is that “A-hah” moment then Paul tells the church what his “a-hah” moment means for them. Because of his epiphany, Paul knew what he had to do: take the gospel to the Gentiles (all non-Jewish people). Paul believes that God’s eternal purpose was the salvation of ALL people including the rulers and authorities. This eternal purpose gives all people access to Jesus Christ in “boldness and confidence through (the) faith (in/by) him.” The Greek here, as in other places in Paul’s writings, simply says “through faith him”. That doesn’t make a lot of sense in English so translators (we) must then supply the words to make sense. Traditionally it has been read as “through faith in him”. It can also be read as “through the faith of him”. Is it something we do that gives us boldness and confidence or is it something that Christ did? To me it make a big difference.

Matthew 2:1-12 – Since we know this story so intimately how do we read it with a fresh understanding? First, read it slowly paying attention to details you may have forgotten or not known. Second, read a different translation version and notice the differences. Then try answering some questions. How many wise men (magi) were there? Where did they come from? Why did they come to Jerusalem? How long after Jesus’ birth did they arrive (see verse 16)? Who was Herod? What did he want the wise men to do for him? Why did they not do his request? Where did they find Jesus (it wasn’t in a stable)?

Did you have your Epiphany?

I pray that the Epiphany from God will come upon us each moment of our lives. Look for God’s a-hah moments.

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor