Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Hello Everyone,

I recently submitted this blog site to "Methoblog" which aggregates Methodist bloggers and then "tweets" the links to new blog entries. If you have come to my blog through Methoblog, I welcome you. I normally use this site as my commentary on the Scripture Lessons we will be using at worship on the next Sunday at Peace United Church in Long Prairie, MN, and Grey Eagle United Methodist Church in Grey Eagle, MN. I also use this blog to link to our monthly newsletters or to recordings on YouTube of our worship service at Grey Eagle. Occasionally I will have something to say about the United Methodist Church as I did in the blog post before this one. Comments are welcome but I will probably not respond to most of them.

This coming Sunday we will continue with part three of the sermon series “Violence & God’s Redeeming Love”. Our theme this week is “Scapegoat, Sacrifice, Mythology.” If I haven’t said it before, I am basing this series on the book “Compassion or Apocalypse: A Comprehensible Guide to the Thought of Rene Girard” by James Warren. The link is to the Amazon Kindle version.

Our lessons are:

Leviticus 16:1-10, 20-22 – What is a “scapegoat”? In today’s understanding it is the person who gets blamed when something goes wrong whether they deserve the blame or not. For instance, who got the blame for a dismal season, and fired, on December 30, 2013, following the last regular season NFL football game? Five Head Coaches. Did they deserve all the blame? Probably not but they were the scapegoat. (Don’t cry for them, however, because they all received millions of dollars in contract buyouts.) This text is the implementation of the actual “scapegoat” or “Azazel”. On the Day of Atonement Aaron sacrificed a bull to atone for his family’s sin. he then had two goats brought before him and one was randomly chosen to be slaughtered and the on the other Aaron place his hands, and therefore all the sins of the people of Israel, on the goat which was then driven into the wilderness. This second goat was the scapegoat. Why do you think this was necessary?

2 Samuel 21:1-14 – When something goes wrong someone has to be blamed. This is an obscure story of a three year drought. It is also a story of David removing potential rivals to the throne. Perhaps David or his followers came up with a good story as to why 7 descendants of Saul, 2 sons and 5 grandsons, had to be killed: Saul broke a treaty with the Gibeonites made in Joshua 9 and therefore there is drought. Since Saul is already dead, killing some of his sons will appease God who will then end the drought. This God, as depicted in this story, sounds more like a god of the Greeks, Romans, Assyrians, and Babylonians, who must be appeased with blood when angered. Remember, someone must be blamed and rivals must be removed. Why not kill two birds . . . ?

Matthew 7:1-12 – Chapter 7 of Matthew is the last third of the Sermon on the Mount. When Jesus completes the sermon the crowds will be astounded and will laud him as one teaching with authority. In our twelve verses we have four different teachings, as titled by my edition of the Bible – Judging Others, Profaning the Holy, Ask Search Knock, and The Golden Rule. Think of these as the antidote to blaming others. If we see and deal with the sin in our own lives we won’t worry about someone else’s sin. If we look to God for all we need (ask, search, knock) we will be satisfied and not desire what others have. And if we live life as if our neighbors were us we would respect and treat them well. Living the life of the Sermon on the Mount breaks the cycle of imitative desire, rivalry, and violence.

As usual, I encourage you to continue reading the Lectionary Texts for this Sunday. At the conclusion of the current sermon series we will return to the Lectionary for our readings at Sunday Worship. The texts for this week are:

Micah 6:1-8 – This section of Micah is set in a courtroom with God as the prosecutor, the hills and mountains as the jury, and Israel (and us?) as the defendants. God wants an answer to why the people no longer love and follow God. What did God do to drive them away? The answer is “nothing”. What God has done is save his people. The people ask, in turn, “What can we do? Slaughter more calves, or rams, or offer rivers of oil, or even sacrifice our children?” This is a classic indictment of the sacrificial system because God wants none of it. What God wants from us is justice, mercy, and a steadfast and everlasting walk with him. (One commentator thought this was a better translation than “humble”.)

Psalm 15 – Another way of stating Micah 6:8.

1 Corinthians 1:18-31 – Paul is still setting up his response to the divisive issues that are tearing the First Church of Corinth apart. He want the church to know the true nature of God’s power and wisdom and it is not through force, threats, coercion, deceit, or condemnation. God’s power and wisdom was witnessed in the death of Jesus on the cross. God dying on the cross is a scandal (stumbling block) and downright foolish according to the wisdom of the world.

Matthew 5:1-12 – The upside down world of God’s power and wisdom is on full display in the opening verses of the Sermon on the Mount. In the world’s way of seeing things those with wealth, power, control, and the things that flaunt them are the blessed. If they were not blessed by God why would they have all those things? No, says Jesus, it is the poor in spirit (just the poor in Luke), the mourners, the meek, the hungry and thirsty, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted who are truly blessed. These are the people who suffer at the hands of the powerful. They are the true victims of society.

Have a great week serving and loving God by serving and loving your neighbor.

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor

Monday, January 27, 2014

Thoughts on Schism, or the Splitting the UMC

I usually use this blog site to post comments on upcoming lectionary texts. However, on Saturday I responded to a post in the United Methodist Clergy Group on Facebook about the possibility of the UMC splitting over the issue of Same Sex Marriage (SSM) or Same Sex Unions (SSU). The original post posited the inevitable split of the denomination over this long standing (since 1972) and volatile subject. Basically, supporters of SSM go to the left and supporters of one man one woman (OMOW) marriages go to the right (pun intended).

Currently, several pastors have be defrocked (basically kicked out) from the United Methodist Church for performing SSM even when the ceremony was 2 to 5 years ago. Usually what happens is someone in the pastor's church who believes in the traditional definition of marriage finds out about the ceremony and then complains to the pastor's District Superintendent. This starts a complaint process which leads to a church trial. If found guilty of violating the Book of Discipline (BoD) prohibition of SSM the pastor's punishment could be anything from a slap on the wrist to getting the boot.

Some supporters of OMOW have threatened to leave the denomination if the BoD is ever changed. Some supporters of SSM have threatened to leave if the BoD is not changed.

My response post was:

I think the UMC's Book of Discipline should be changed to reflect the fact that pastors and churches have come to different conclusions about the validity of same-sex marriage. Pastors and churches should each decide whether they can officiate or host the weddings of all couples. Those who decide against are free not to officiate or host. Those who decide for are then free to officiate or host without fear of repercussions. This should be a workable solution to our current situation.

I thought this was a good "middle road" idea which received some support but, as can be expected, I also got some mild push back. Nothing harsh, mind you. Those who responded directly to my post thought that it was unworkable. One thought that the "live and let live" was tantamount to endorsing SSM. Some thought on the responses, SSM, and schism.

1. The question, "What happens when a pastor and their charge (the church or churches to which we are appointed) disagree?" was asked a couple of times. This is not as unusual as you would assume. In the UMC, progressive (read liberal) pastors are appointed to rural conservative churches all the time and they get along well, usually. If a pastor who supports SSM is appointed to a church that supports only OMOW weddings then the pastor respects that decision and doesn't do SSM's at the church. (In rural conservative areas the possibility of SSM's at church is usually rare.) If a pastor supports only OMOW marriages is appointed to a church that will host SSM's then the pastor need not perform the ceremonies and another pastor can do them. This seems perfectly reasonable to me.

2. "Live and let live". While supporters of OMOW marriage will certainly see my proposal as endorsing SSM, I don't see it that way. Let me quote directly: "What those who propose this "live and let live" approach either cannot understand or simply dismiss is that we who oppose same-sex unions do so because we believe same-sex intimacy to be sin." The church has been down this road before over the last 200 years: slavery (which did lead to schism), women clergy, and divorced-remarried clergy (which was prohibited by the BoD at one period of our history) with arguments based on scripture on both sides about what the church should allow and/or endorse. We eventually got past those arguments and we need to get past this one.

3. When the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) was discussing allowing SSM many threatened to leave if the change was made. When the change was actually approved in 2009 many did leave the denomination. Some joined the Free Lutheran Church and many, around 600 (6 to 7% of the total ELCA), joined Word Alone to become a new denomination, the Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ. The ELCA resolution allows pastors and congregations to decide for themselves about supporting SSM. A congregation that supports OMOW marriages does not have to call a gay or lesbian pastor who is in a SSM or SSU nor allow the marriages. For those congregations that stayed in the ELCA it seems to be a workable situation.

4. My proposal is an acknowledgment that we, the United Methodist Church, will not agree on this issue in the near future. The proposal neither endorses SSM nor penalizes those who support it. I recognize that this does not satisfy either side of the issue, which leads to my last point.

5. Whatever the situation in the UMC, congregations and pastors will leave. If nothing changes then progressive pastors and churches will leave. If the UMC takes up full support for SSM then the conservative clergy and congregations will leave. A change to my proposal, "live or let live" or whatever you want to call it, will more than likely cause some clergy and congregations to leave. So be it. How many will leave? No one knows but if the ELCA is any indication then it will be 10% or less.

Does my solution solve the problems we are now facing? Probably not. Will this bring everyone into agreement? No. Will everyone be happy? Definitely not. A middle road, "via media", is never satisfactory to those who hold strong positions but it is, I think, the only way forward for the denomination I love, the United Methodist Church.

By the way, as I write this, Monday evening, January 27, 2014, the discussion in Facebook continues with 64 comments.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Readings for Sunday, January 26, 2014

Hello Everyone,

This Sunday we will continue with our sermon series, “Violence & God’s Redeeming Love”. This week’s theme is “Scandal, Violence, and Law”. Our scripture lessons will be:

Genesis 4:1-17 – Adam and Eve had two sons, Cain and Abel. Cain was a farmer and Abel was hunter/herder. Cain offered a grain, fruit, and vegetable offering and Abel offer a meat sacrifice. Whose offering was acceptable to God? Why was that offering more acceptable than the other? (The lesson really doesn’t say why but you may feel free to venture a guess.) What happened in Cain’s heart and what did God say to him? What did Cain do and what was God’s response? Where did Cain find a wife? What did Cain build? In my sermon series I am asking you to seriously consider the following sequence: Desire leads to Rivalry and Scandal; Scandal leads to Violence/Murder; Violence/Murder brings Peace (uneasy at best); and Peace founds Civilization. In our story: Cain desires what Abel has, God’s acceptance, which makes Abel Cain’s rival. That rivalry leads to the murder of Abel, which leads to an uneasy pact with God. Cain then founds a city.

Exodus 20:13-17 – The last five of the Big Ten; the “don’ts”.

Romans 7:14-26 – The law is good but it also points out our sins and in a way leads us into more sin. Woe is me! What can I do?

Matthew 5:17-48 – This is a large chunk of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus say that he hasn’t come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. What do you think he meant by that. He didn’t say he came to enforce the law but to fulfill it. The balance of this relatively long reading is about Jesus calling us to a “higher righteousness”. Each section begins, “You have heard it said . . . but I say to you . . .” Try living the Sermon on the Mount for a day or a week and you will see that this “higher righteousness” stuff is really difficult. With God, all things are possible.

Our Lectionary appointed lessons are:

Isaiah 9:1-4 – Isaiah has a vision of a new king who will lead the people in a new, more glorious light. Matthew quotes this passage in the reading below.

Psalm 27:1, 4-9 – The Psalmist is assured that the Lord will protect him and not abandon him in all his trials.

1 Corinthians 1:10-18 – After his introduction Paul sets out what he hopes to accomplish with his letter – unity. There are factions in the church each claiming the authority of one person or another. Paul wants to reestablish Christ, the message of the cross, as the only authority.

Matthew 4:12-23 – Jesus goes to the shore of the lake and calls four fishermen to follow him. Matthew reports that they “immediately left their fathers and their boats to go with Jesus.

May the Lord bless you this week in all that you do.

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Readings for Sunday, January 19, 2014

Hello Everyone,

This Sunday I will be starting a five week sermon series titled “Violence and God’s Redeeming Love”. The weekly subtitles are:

January 19 – Desire and Scandal
January 26 – Scandal, Violence, and the Law
February 2 – Sacrifice, the Scapegoat, and Mythology
February 9 – Revelation in Jesus
February 16 – Redemption with Compassion OR Apocalyptic Violence

Think of this sermon series as a love story with two possible but exclusive endings. How will the story end?

Our scripture lessons for this first Sunday are:

Genesis 2:15-18, 25, 3:1-7, 20-24 – These passages are part of the second creation account. The love story begins. When the human was created from the mud of the earth God placed him in the Garden and said “Eat whatever fruit you want except . . .” The human was lonely and God created animals. But the human was still lonely and God created woman. Then along came the snake who said “Wait a minute . . . God said what?” And the man and the woman where scandalized that God would withhold anything from them. They, who once only desired God, now desired something they couldn’t have. And death entered the world, but that is next week’s story.

Romans 5:12-21 – What came into the world when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, sin and death, has been redeemed by the Jesus through grace which leads to life.

Matthew 18:6-9 – As you read this familiar passage substitute the word “scandal” or “scandalizes” when you read “stumble” or “stumbling block”. The Greek word is “skandalon”. We stumble over scandals.

While I am in this sermon series we will not be using the Lectionary Readings but I, as I have always done, will continue to list and comment on them for your spiritual growth.

Isaiah 49:1-7 – The second of four “Servant Songs”. Here, the servant is identified as the nation of Israel, who is despised and abhorred.

Psalm 40 1-11 – In these verses the psalmist is faithful to God in everything. He seems to only desire what God has and gives. Then, in verses 12-15, we hear the voice of a victim of enemies, perhaps a victim of society. In the final two verses, 16-17, the psalmist places his trust total in the Lord.

1 Corinthians 1:1-9 – The first of six readings in chapters 1-3. These are Paul’s opening remarks to the believers in Corinth. This church would be called a “conflicted church” these days and an interim pastor who specializes in healing conflicted churches would be called or appointed. Paul writes a letter.

John 1:29-42 – John the Baptizer declares Jesus to be “the Lamb of God” and a couple of John’s disciples decide to follow Jesus instead. The invitation by Jesus was “Come and See”. How do you invite other into a relationship with Jesus and our church? Is “Come and See” sufficient these days?

Have a great week serving God by serving others.

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Readings for Sunday, January 12, 2014

Hello Everyone,

Now that we have gotten through the cold snap we look forward to this coming Sunday’s worship. Since we were not able to do our Covenant renewal service last Sunday, and the fact that I really like taking the time to renew our baptismal vows, we will have do it this Sunday. The scripture lessons will not change. Here is what I wrote last week:

Joshua 24:14-15 – Whom will you choose: God or the gods of money and power?

1 John 1:5-2:6 – God is Light and in God there is no darkness. Living in the Light means fellowship with each other. Claiming to be sinless we confirm that we still sin, but with confession God forgives.

John 13:12-19, 31-35 – We are to wash each other’s feet and follow Jesus’ commandment: love each other. By this the world will know that we are followers of Christ and that a new way of life is available to all: the way of love.

This Sunday is the First Sunday of Epiphany and is also known as Baptism of Christ Sunday. The scripture appointed for Sunday are:

Isaiah 42:1-9 – The first part, verses 1-4, are considered to be the first of four “Servant Songs” in Isaiah. Christians often interpret these songs as pointing to Jesus Christ. The purpose of the servant, as identified here, is to bring justice to all people. The second section, verses 5-9 are about God’s work in past (creation, redemption, saving the people) and the new things that God declares.

Psalm 29 – The Voice of God, who is to be worshiped!

Acts 10:34-43 – Peter’s sermon (extremely short) to the family and friends of Cornelius, a Roman Centurion. Synopsis: God shows no partiality, the message began with John the Baptist, the Holy Spirit anointed Jesus, Jesus performed good works with healing, Jesus died on the cross, God raise Jesus from the dead, and we are commanded to preach the Good News.

Matthew 3:13-17 – Jesus comes from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. John says “No.” Jesus says, “We must.” When Jesus come up out of the water the Holy Spirit comes upon him and a voice from heaven says “My Son, I am pleased.” Did you feel the presence of the Holy Spirit at your baptism? Have you ever felt the presence of the Spirit?

May the Lord bless you this week in all that you do. Love God! Love neighbors!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Sunday Devotional, January 5, 2014

With the extreme temperatures here in Central Minnesota, worship was cancelled at Grey Eagle UMC and Peace United Church. In its place, and with the help and expertise of John Young (DJ NEWS), we did a live streaming devotional. John recorded the stream and put it up on YouTube.

Peace of Christ Be with You,
Pastor Gary