Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Readings for Easter 7, Sunday, June 1, 2014

Hello Everyone,

This Sunday’s readings are:

Acts 1: (1-5) 6-14 – The day of Ascension is this Thursday, May 29. According to Luke, the writer of Acts, Jesus was with the disciples on and off for 40 days from the day of his resurrection (Acts 1:3). During this time he tell them not to leave Jerusalem (which is quite different from Matthew 28:10-11 and John 21:1 (Sea of Tiberias = Sea of Galilee, which is only a lake)). On the 40th day, while with the disciples, Jesus was “lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight.” They must have just stood there for some time with their heads tilted upward and the jaw agog for two men showed up and asked them why they were staring upward. Returning to Jerusalem they, the remaining eleven, then chose Matthias to replace Judas (verses 15-26).

Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35 – Praise be to God who saves Israel; who protects the orphans and lead out the prisoners; who gives rain to the land. Sing to God who gives power and strength to his people. Blessed be God!

1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11 – Peter continues to counsel his churches who are suffering “fiery ordeals”, probably some outside persecution. Is it possible to rejoice in our suffering? Is it good to be ridiculed because of Christ? Does it make any difference to know that other Christians are suffering at the same time we are suffering? Peter ends with hope and promise for those who suffer for God, he writes, will “restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.

John 17:1-11 – All of John 17 is Jesus’ prayer for his disciples. It is generally agreed that there are three sections: for himself in his immediate circumstance, his current disciples, and the disciples and followers of the future (the church). Each year in the Lectionary cycle the seventh Sunday of Easter is focused on one or more of those sections. This year, year A in the cycle, his prayer is for himself (1-5) and the first part of his prayer for the disciples (6-11). The overall theme of the prayer is faithfulness to God’s ways so that God’s glory will be revealed and unity in the midst of division. For the first thousand years of the church there was an uneasy unity with the power of the church located in Rome and Constantinople (Istanbul). The first schism (split) was about 1050 between east and west. The next schism was in the sixteenth century with Martin Luther, John Calvin, King Henry VIII, and the Anabaptists (we label it the Reformation). There are now several thousand denominations and splinter groups under the umbrella title of “Protestant”. Disunity seems to be our way of life. Oh how we grieve the heart of God. Please pray for the United Methodist Church as there are now people and groups who are calling for a separating over the issue of full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the life of the church. I believe we can find a middle way (Via Media) an stay unified.

May the Lord Bless You this week. Serve God by serving your neighbor.

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Readings for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 25, 2014

Hello Everyone,

Our readings for this coming Sunday, which is the Sixth Sunday of Easter, are:

Acts 17:22-31 – Paul stops in Athens while on his second missionary journey. This stop is recorded in Acts 17:16-34. As usual, Paul goes to the local synagogue and market places to speak about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What distressed him most about Athens is the number of idols and temples in the city. He was invited to speak to interested listeners at Areopagus (perhaps “Ares Rock” which became, in Latin, “Mars Hill”). Our reading is Paul’s short sermon, or at least a very condensed version of it. Paul employs a wonderful hook at the beginning in which he complements the Athenians on how religious they must be due to all the idols and temples they have. He quickly mentions a temple to “an unknown god” and suggests that this god is in fact God. Paul doesn’t mention Jesus by name (here) but some listeners are intrigued by “resurrection from the dead”. How do we tell others about God and Jesus? Do we start with something our listeners are interested in and guide their curiosity? Or do we “hit them over the head” with the Gospel? (Is it really the Gospel if we use it as a bludgeon?)

Psalm 66:8-20 – The entire Psalm is titled in my Bible as “Praise for God’s Goodness to Israel”. In our reading the Psalmist sees the hand of God in Israel’s trials and tribulations (vs. 8-12a) but he also sees that God guided them through to the other side (12b). Because of this the psalmist will offer up burnt offerings of bulls and goats (13-15). Then the psalmists invites all who hear him to to listen to his story because God has listened and not rejected (16-20). Do we blame God for the trials in life or do we praise God for being present with us through those trials?

1 Peter 3:13-22 – Why do we suffer? (See Psalm 66 above.) That is humanity’s eternal question. Why do our good deeds and acts often result in our suffering? If we start with verses 8-9 we see that Peter is encouraging his readers, us, to continue doing the good things even if we suffer for it. He also suggests that we be ready with a defense that is presented gently and reverently. He asks if it is better to suffer for doing good or doing evil. The last 5 verses may seem a bit strange. It start well by reminding us that Christ also suffered. It then become strange when Peter says that Christ made proclamation to the spirits in prison, that is, those who did not listen to God in the days of Noah. As Noah and seven others were saved through the waters so too are we saved through baptism. Are you scratching your head yet? And what is baptism? It is an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. So, what is the point of this passage? Suffering is okay if we are suffering for doing good? What about baptism that saves us? And what about the spirits in prison? Were they set free, redeemed, by the proclamation of Christ?

John 14:15-21 – I think you should read the rest of the chapter (22-31) along with this passage for more information about the activity of the Holy Spirit. As it was last week, Jesus is discussing with his disciples the things that will happen when he is arrested, tried, crucified, and buried. He is trying to help them through the events with the promise of another Advocate. If the Holy Spirit is another Advocate, who was the first? Jesus. What is another phrase for Advocate in our legal system? Lawyer for the defense. What is this Advocate defending against? This would which is enslaved by sin and death represented by Satan, which means “Accuser” or “Prosecutor” This Advocate will:

1) be with them forever (14:15)
2) teach everything (14:26)
3) remind them of Jesus’ words (14:26)
4) testify on their behalf (15:26)
5) prove the world wrong about sin, righteousness, and judgment (16:8)
6) guide them into all truth (16:13)
7) speak whatever the Spirit hears (16:13)
8) declare what is to come (16:13) and
9) glorify Jesus (16:14)

With the Holy Spirit as our defense, we need not fear the world nor the sufferings we may have to endure.

Have a great week serving God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit (one God now and forever) by loving your neighbors.

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Readings for Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 18, 2014

Hello Everyone,

This Sunday, in the liturgical year, is the “Fifth Sunday of Easter”. The “season” of Easter, including Easter Day, is 49 days and 7 Sundays in length. According to Luke the resurrected Jesus appeared to the disciples and others for 40 days and on the 50th day, Pentecost, the Spirit descended and filled the disciples. With this new power and a new recognition of just who Jesus is the disciples, now apostles, began telling everyone the Good News.

2000 years later, it is difficult for us to keep the Easter excitement. Five Sundays after Easter we are busy planning vacations for the summer, opening up our cabins/lake homes for the coming summer, getting on the lakes to catch the lunker walleyes and northerns, and (when the water warms up) enjoying skiing and other water sports. We are busy in our yards and gardens and planning on the projects we need to do around our homes during the summer. AND we are still going to work. Did we forget about the Day of Resurrection? Have we forgotten the Good News as we go about our daily lives. Remember, it is STILL Easter and, in fact, every Sunday is Easter. Perhaps it is good that Pentecost will be here shortly for we do need the Spirit to revive our spirits; to bring a little Easter and Christmas back into our lives.

This Fifth Sunday of Easter our readings are:

Acts 7:55-60 – You should seriously consider reading the entire story of Stephen, Acts 6:8-8:3. Stephen becomes a deacon in the new church to make sure that the widows in the church were being treated well. He quickly becomes a street evangelist in Jerusalem. He is arrested and jailed on false charges. In his defense, Stephen gives a long speech that recounts Jewish history. He finishes by accusing the elders of the temple with being “stiff-necked” and “uncircumcised in heart and ears”. This enrages the elders and the crowds and they drag Stephen out of town and stone him to death. In the moment of death, Stephen asks God not to hold the slayers’ sins against them. Why does Stephen not protest the false charges? Why does Luke (same author as the Gospel) present Stephen as meekly going to his death? And where are his friends during all of this? Did the elders and priests really need to hear a recitation of their history?

Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16 – This psalm is 24 verses and my Bible give it the title “Prayer and Praise for Deliverance from Enemies”. (Titles and headings for section breaks are inserted by the particular Bible publisher. Chapters were assigned in the 13th century and verses were established in the 16th century. Even punctuation and capitalization were not part of the original Hebrew and Greek texts.) I read parts of this psalm during our Wednesday night Lenten services. The psalmist prays to God for relieve and protection from enemies and expresses confidence that God will deliver him.

1 Peter 2:2-10 – Peter has called his church to holy and righteous living. The verse before our reading, 2:1, says, “Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy and all slander.” He then uses two metaphors to develop this admonition. We should be newborn babes longing for spiritual milk that we may grow into salvation. We should also be “living stones”, who, with other living stones, are built into a spiritual house in which we are all part of the royal priesthood. (Martin Luther developed the idea that we are all a “priesthood of believers”.) The cornerstone of this new house is Jesus Christ. This cornerstone was rejected by humanity. This stone is also the rock on which the non-followers stumble. What does it mean to be chosen by God? How can you be part of the royal priesthood? what is it that moves us from darkness into light? Who or what is this light?

John 14:1-14 – In chapter 13, Jesus and his disciples come together for a meal. It is the night when Jesus will be betrayed and arrested. Jesus begins by washing the disciples’ feet and then commanding them to love each other just like he loved them. Chapter 14 begins a three chapter discourse/conversation with them about what will soon be happening. Jesus uses a lot of images to help the disciples understand, some of which are in these 14 verses. Jesus speaks of a house with many rooms, a place where he will bring them. In answering a question from Thomas Jesus says that he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. In answering a question from Philip, Jesus says that if you have seen Jesus you have seen God (the Father). Finally, those who believe and follow Jesus will do all the works of Jesus plus many more. What does it mean that Jesus is the Way, Truth, and Life? If in knowing Jesus we know the Father why does so much of Christianity want to keep a separation? (Jesus turning the other cheek vs. God who smites evil doers.) What does it mean that Jesus “dwells” in God and God “dwells” in Jesus?

May the Spirit of the Resurrection fill and excite you with the endless possibilities of God good work in and through you!

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Readings for Sunday, May 11, 2014

Hello Everyone,

Well, I am back from vacation but yesterday I came down with an aggravating head cold and I am really hoping not to loose my voice. I also see that I have been negligent in posting my Lectionary Commentary here.

I lift up my prayers of thanksgiving for Bob Kutter and Hollis Bishop who filled in for me the last two Sundays.

The photo sessions with Lifetouch Photos that was cancelled on April 16 has been rescheduled to Tuesday, May 27. This is a change from the original reschedule date of May 20 per a request from Lifetouch. Let me know if you wish to have your portrait scheduled for that day. I am hoping that everyone who got cancelled on April 16 will sign up for May 27. Everyone else is welcome to have your portraits taken that day too or on the Grey Eagle dates of June 20-21.

This coming Sunday is the Fourth Sunday of Easter and it is Mother’s Day. Our scripture lessons are:

Acts 2:42-47 – After Peter’s first sermon on Pentecost Day verse 2:41 says that 3,000 were added to the number of Jesus’ followers. The results of that first sermon and the addition of the new believers are reported in our passage. The followers did four things: learned from the apostles’ teachings, spent time in fellowship with the apostles (and each other?), ate together (breaking bread either means sharing meals or receiving communion), and praying together. The followers also felt the need for communal ownership of all property and distributing what was needed to those who needed it. This living in the light of Jesus produced followers who had glad and generous hearts; who praised God; and who had the goodwill of others. And each day the LORD lead many people to their fellowship. Does this sound like your church and your fellowship? Why not? What are our results from the outpouring of God’s Spirit?

Psalm 23 – God is my Shepherd. I have no needs
the Shepherd brings me to comfortable sleeping places
where the waters are calm and comforting.
My soul and spirit are made right
for the Shepherd leads me along his roads
because that’s what a good shepherd does.
Even when my days are the lowest and darkest
I fear nothing because of the Shepherd’s presence
which brings me comfort and peace.
The Shepherd is my gracious Host who prepares a place to eat
and my foes are at the table with me
the Host anoints me with fragrant oils
and keeps my wine glass fill with the finest wines.
With my Shepherd and Host,
my days are filled Good and Mercy
And the Lord invites me to live with him
all my days.

Now it is your turn. Send me your personal paraphrase of Psalm 23.

1 Peter 2:19-25 – OK, so this is really weird. The Lectionary Committee, in it’s efforts not to rile too many people skips the reason and the subject of this passage. That reason is spelled out in verse 18, “Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh.” Now read verses 19-25. The subject matter of slavery makes a world of difference to the understanding of this passage. There is still a lot for us to learn from this passage about Jesus Christ: Christ suffered, he is our example, he did not return abuse, he did not threaten, he bore our sins in/on his body on the cross, and by his wounds we have been healed. Now freed from our sins we can return to God and Jesus our Shepherd.

John 10:1-10 – What does the Good Shepherd do? I understand, from reading and not from personal experience, that Jesus draw a lot of his imagery in this passage from the actual relationship shepherds have with their sheep. Sheep know the voice of their shepherd. They scatter when other people come to them but gather to the shepherd when they hear the shepherd’s voice. Sheep cannot be herded, like cattle, but must be led by the shepherd. I have seen Basque shepherds in Idaho, on their horses, leading the sheep to the next pasture. Also, there is a good sheepdog working hard to keep the occasional straggler or wanderer with the herd. So, if Jesus is the shepherd and his followers are the sheep what does that make me? The sheepdog. Or maybe the sheepdog are the people who are visiting and inviting those who have wandered away to come back to church. So, to mix this analogy up, sometimes we who are the sheep following Jesus should also be the sheepdogs encouraging those who have dropped out of church to reconnect. Can you be a sheepdog at least one day this week?

May the Good Shepherd Bless you this day and lead you to greener pastures tomorrow.

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor