Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Readings for Sunday, October 5, 2014

Hello Everyone,

First, THANK YOU to all the people in both churches who worked at our dinners this weekend. Grey Eagle UMC had their annual hog roast on Saturday and served approximately 240 people. Peace United Church hosted the monthly Community Friendship Dinner on Sunday and served about 115 people. It takes a lot of people working together to make these events happen. Thank you so much.

We have three more weeks of our current sermon series, “Making Sense of the Bible”. Next Sunday’s theme is “The Bible and Science”. Does science nullify the Bible? Do we dismiss science because we believe the Bible? Should we be like Christian Scientists who reject medicine because the Bible says we receive healing through prayer? Are dinosaurs which lived millions of years ago God’s cosmic practical joke because the Earth was created 6,000 years ago? How do we reconcile science and the Bible? Or should we?

The lectionary readings for this week are:

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20 – The Big Ten; ‘nuf said, except for: There is an old rabbi maxim that in any list you should pay most attention to the first and the last. The last command is, “You shall not covet.” If you consistently break this one then this could lead to breaking #9, then 8, then 7 and then 6. So, to sum up the Big Ten: You shall have no other God and do not covet.

Psalm 19 – All of creation proclaims the glory of God and God’s law are perfect, sure, right, clear, pure, and true. The law is to be desired (coveted?).

Isaiah 5:1-7 – Verses 1 and 2 are a parable of the vineyard that is cared for but produces only wild grapes which are very sour. The people of Judah were supposed to produce good fruit but failed. What is God to do, tear out the hedges and tear down the walls so that it will become a wasteland? God expected justice and righteousness but only got bloodshed and grief. This is a troubling text as we contemplate a God who can remove his protection. Is God being vindictive? Is God giving up? Or is this a way God facilitates change in hardened hearts?

Psalm 80:7-15 – The psalmist pleads with God to restore the vineyard. (See above.)

Philippians 3:4b-14 – Paul states that he has all the right credentials under Jewish law and tradition: a circumcised member of the clan of Benjamin and a zealous protector of the Pharisee understanding of Jewish faith, someone who persecuted the followers of Christ. Yet, once he knew Christ all of that is now “rubbish”. (Actually in Greek it is a coarse word for dung, manure. In English we would say “sh__”.) Now, however, he knows the power of Christ. Paul is leaving his past behind and pressing on to the future. Are we willing to leave the past behind and move confidently into God’s future or do we cling on to the past? Church will never be like it was in the 1950’s or 60’s. What we have is tomorrow. Textual notes: in verse 9 “faith in Christ” could also be “faith of Christ”. In verse 12 “reached the goal” could be read as “been made perfect.” In verse 14, “heavenly call” could be “upward call”. Do these alternate translations make a difference?

Matthew 21:33-46 – In last week’s reading Jesus was challenged and he told the parable of two sons. This week, at the same spot, Jesus gives the parable of the vineyard. The elders and chief priests would have recognized the allusion to Isaiah, above. A man builds a vineyard and rents it out. When it is time to collect the produce due him, he sends several slaves who gets beaten up, stoned and killed. He send more who suffer the same fate. Finally, he sends his son who is promptly killed. As in Mark’s version of the story, Jesus asks the listeners what the landowner will do. In Mark’s version, Jesus answers his own question, “He will send an army to kill the tenants and rent it to better people.” In this version the answer is given by the elders and priests. Jesus then quotes Psalm 118:22-23 and when the elders and priests understand that he means them, they want to kill him. Does Matthew better understand that violence is human in origin than Mark?

Have a great week serving God by serving your neighbor.

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Readings for Sunday, September 28, 2014

Hello Everyone,

One announcement: Grey Eagle UMC’s 8th Annual Hog Roast is this Saturday, September 27, starting at 4:30 PM. GE people, there are still jobs to be done and if you want to volunteer call Janet Roe or Nancy Kutter. PUC people, make plans to enjoy the dinner and fellowship.

While we are not currently following the lectionary appointed texts in our worship on Sunday I hope you will continue to read the Bible. Following the lectionary texts is one way, of many, to read the a good portion of the Bible. If you have your own daily reading plan, I encourage you to continue. If you don’t have a plan there are many available on the internet (www.biblestudytools.com or www.biblegateway.com and look for the links to the reading plans). Or, if you have a smartphone, you can use the app “You Version” which is available for all platforms and is 100% free. This app also supports many reading plans.

Our text for this coming Sunday are:

Exodus 17:1-7 – The wandering Israelites have run out of water and are complaining to Moses. Moses says they are quarrelling (arguing) with him and testing the Lord. A commentary I just read (Opening the Old Testament) says the word “testing” is more like “bringing a lawsuit or suing”. The people or waging a lawsuit against God. The issue is their lack of water and their thirst, but the greater issue is the people’s feeling that God has abandoned them. “Is the Lord among us or not?” (verse 7) Do you ever feel abandoned by God? What does it take for you to know that God is with you? Always with you. A miracle or just the reassurance of the Holy Spirit?

Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16 – A number of Psalms are the recounting of Israel history. Some are longer, such as Psalm 105, and some are short, such as Psalm 114. Psalm 78 is one of the long ones which is why we only have nine verses for this reading. The first four verses are the introduction that says the writer (and subsequent readers) will tell the stories through the generations. Verses 12-16 briefly mentions the crossing of the sea with the parted waters, the leading of the cloud during the day and the fire at night, and the water that came from the rocks (see above).

Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32 – According to the commentary in my Bible, the proverb in verse 2b is about the people thinking that their present sufferings are a result of a previous generation’s sin. God says that all human life belongs to him and it is only the person who sins who will die. (Since we all die at some point then we must all be sinners.) The people claim that God is unfair, inferring that their sufferings comes from God for no good reason. God states that it is the people who are unfair and when they turn away from righteousness they will die. A close reading of this passage (verse 26) shows that it is not God who will bring their death but the choices they make. Choose to follow God’s way brings salvation and life. “I have no desire for the death of anyone, says the Lord God. Turn, then, and live.” How much suffering is the result of our own choices? How much suffering is the result of the choices of other people? Does God make us suffer (the prime question of Job)?

Psalm 25:1-9 – In one respect this Psalm seems to be David demanding God to protect him. Read another way it might be David pleading for protection and forgiveness. Have your pleadings ever bordered on demands? Do you think God is bothered by the way we pray? Does not God understand us and look past the “tone of voice” we use?

Philippians 2:1-11 – One of the greatest passages of the New Testament! Perhaps we should all take time to memorize all eleven verses. First, we are to take the example of Christ in our treatment of others. We are to place other people’s sufferings and interests before our own. We are to treat each other as equals. Beginning at verse 5 many people believe that Paul is quoting an early church hymn. Jesus did not hold on to his “God-hood) but gave it up to become one with us. In Jesus’ humanity he died on the cross with humble, self-giving love. Because of that act, God (not Jesus) lifted him up. Notice the downward and upward movement of the words. Does Jesus becoming human make a difference in the way you respond to God’s love? To quote a song, “What if God was one of us?”

Matthew 21:23-32 – In the telling of Matthew’s Gospel, this story happens the day after Jesus entered Jerusalem (Palm Sunday) and cleansed the temple of the buyers and sellers. Jesus is challenged by the chief priest and elders of the community to tell them where is authority comes from. Jesus challenges them about the authority of John the Baptist. When they are unable to answer Jesus, because any answer they give will put them in a bad light with the people, he poses a parable, “A father asks two sons to do some work; one says ‘No’ but does it anyway and the other says ‘Yes’ but doesn’t do it. Who did the will of the father?” Then, one of the most difficult statements of Jesus for those of us who profess to follow Jesus, “The tax collectors and prostitutes are going to the Kingdom of God before you.” Not only did Jesus make the statement to the religious leaders of the Temple, I think he also challenges all of us who are comfortable, complacent, or feeling secure in our place in the Kingdom. Are we doing the work of the Father who asks? Are we responding to his call? Are we willing to be challenged?

Have a great week!

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Readings for Sunday, September 21, 2014

Hello Everyone,

Before I get to the readings I have one quick announcement.

Anyone who has not already received a copy of “Making Sense of the Bible” by Adam Hamilton and who wishes to join in on the weekly study I have two or perhaps three books available. Let me know ASAP that you want a copy as the first study happens tonight, 7:00 PM, at Grey Eagle UMC. I will do my best to get the book there before you get there. There is also a daytime study which will start tomorrow, 2:30 PM, at Peace United Church.

Last Sunday, I started a sermon series based on that book. The text I used for that was 2 Timothy 3:14-17 and John 1:1-5, 14. I believe those will be the same texts this week (though I may change my mind).

This week’s lectionary texts have some interesting tales and lessons. I hope you will take some time to read them.

Exodus 16:2-15 – The Israelites are in the desert heading to Mt. Sinai. They are running out of food and complaining to Moses. Moses, in turn, complains to God. God then makes provision for the Israelites to eat quail and manna. This will be a recurring cycle of complaints and God’s provision. Do we follow in the Israelites’ pattern of complaint? Do we complain even when we have been blessed? How has God provided for you? Have you given thanks?

Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45 – I just learned something new! Psalm 105:1-15 can also be found, nearly word for word, at 1 Chronicles 16:8-22. This Psalm recounts the history of ancient Israel from Abraham to the entering into the land of promise.

OR Jonah 3:10-4:11 – Jonah is a prophetic book with only one prophecy: “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”. Yet, the prophecy is not fulfilled. I stated on Sunday that some people, not many, would categorize Jonah as a tale of fiction. Think about it. If this great little story were not in the Bible we might think of it as a fairy tale where doom is overcome with good. There is much exaggeration in Jonah also. The big fish (not whale). Living three days in the belly of that fish. Nineveh, as described in Jonah, is 10 times bigger, both in land area and population, than ancient Nineveh ever was. Every single person, from king to lowest slave, repents. All people and all animals sit in mourning with ashes covering them. So, what is the Biblical point of the story of Jonah? Some think that it was written during the time of Ezra-Nehemiah when there was a push to expel or kill all non-Jews in the land. In Jonah, God’s love and grace is available even to the hated and reviled Ninevites and the story becomes a counterbalance to parochialism and xenophobia. When have we looked down on outsiders and people we don’t know or understand? When, like Jonah, have we pouted when God doesn’t do what we thought God should do?

Psalm 145:1-8 – A psalm praising God’s goodness. Read verse 8. Compare it to Jonah 4:2. Verse 9 should have been included: “The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made.” Verse 8 and 9 pretty much sums it up.

Philippians 1:21-30 – After being in Romans for the last 12 weeks we turn to Philippians. Paul opens the letter with a greeting and a prayer for the people of the church at Philippi. He then informs them of his circumstances which is in prison. In this passage, Paul states that, though he would rather die to be with Christ, he know that there is a reason for his continued life on earth: the people of Philippi. Paul then asks the Philippians to live their lives in a way that honors Jesus. How do we live our lives? Are we honoring God and Jesus? How is that reflected in our work, our play, and with our family and friends?

Matthew 20:1-16 – You want some work to be done and you need a lot of workers to get it completed. At the beginning of the day, 6 AM, you hire a bunch at $10/hour. You hire more at 9 AM, then at 12 noon, again at 3 PM, and finally a few more at 5 PM. The work is finally completed at 6 PM. How much do you pay the workers? $120, $90, $60, $30, and $10, right? Not according to Jesus. Everyone gets $120. “So the last shall be first and the first shall be last.” Scratch your head and go figure! “God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made.” (OK, where did you read that?)

May God bless you and your work wherever you may go!

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor

Monday, September 8, 2014

Readings for Sunday, September 14, 2014

Hello Everyone,

Beginning this Sunday, I will be embarking on a sermon series based on Adam Hamilton’s book “Making Sense of the Bible: Rediscovering the Power of Scripture Today”. I think this will be an exciting series and I hope you can attend one of the Bible studies with this book. The studies begin on Tuesday, September 16, 7:00 PM at Grey Eagle UMC and Wednesday, September 17, 2:30 PM at Peace United Church. The study, like the sermon series, is 6 weeks long.

I have not decided which scriptures we will be reading as I do the series but I will continue to send out a weekly cheat sheet on the assigned lessons.

One other note, John Frerichs and I will be hosting a 4 handed cribbage tournament on Saturday, September 20 from 9:00 AM to Noon. If you and a partner would like to sign up please email me or call the church number below. There is no entrance fee and there are no monetary prizes. It is all for the love of the game.

Our readings this week are:

Exodus 14:19-31 – Death has come to the firstborn males of Egypt but has passed over the Israelites. Pharaoh tells Moses and Aaron to get out and the Israelites leave hastily. When they get to the Red (Reed) Sea they set up camp. But then the Pharaoh has a change of heart (his heart hardens) and he and his army chase after the Israelites. Charlton Heston (I mean Moses) lifts his hands and his rod, the waters part, the Israelites cross over, and the Egyptian army of chariots are bogged down and drown. This was a great movie but the reading still leaves us with many questions about God and violence. How do you understand the concept of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart? Why didn’t he soften it?

Psalm 114 – A short psalm celebrating God’s victory in the Exodus from Egypt.

or Exodus 15:1b-11, 20-21 – Verses 1b-18 are a song remembering God’s victory over the Egyptian army. This song is attributed to Moses. Verse 22 is attributed to Moses’ sister Miriam. Notice the strong similarity to verse 1b. Some say that Miriam’s song is the older of the two and that the longer song is an expansion.

OR Genesis 50 15-21 – Following the death of Jacob, Joseph’s brothers seek Joseph’s forgiveness for what they did to him. Acknowledging what they did to him, Joseph feels that God took their bad intentions and turned it into something good. The brother have final assurance of their forgiveness from Joseph. Do you have complete assurance that God forgives you?

Psalm 103: (1-7), 8-13 – Please, ignore the verse marking here and just read the entire Psalm 103. I think this one Psalm boils down, in 22 verses, the essence of God: Holy, forgiving, healing, redeeming, loving, merciful, working justice for the oppressed, compassionate, everlasting to everlasting. Bless the Lord, O my soul!

Romans 14:1-12 – The weak and strong in faith should be sensitive to each other and not judgmental. The words about eating are about whether Christ followers should eat non-kosher meat or meat sacrificed to pagan gods (the only source of meat in many cities around the Roman empire). The words about honoring a certain day is about which Jewish festivals should Christians observe. And since we are all accountable to God we should not be passing judgment on others, for “ALL knees will bow to God and ALL tongues will give God praise.”

Matthew 18:21-35 – Let’s do some simple math to put the parable in perspective. A “denarius” is one day’s labor. Keeping it simple a worker works 8 hours a day for 5 days a week at $10/hour and he takes 2 weeks of unpaid vacation. So $10 x 8 hours x 5 days x 50 weeks = $20,000 a year. (This worker is poor!) A “talent” is equal to more that 15 years of labor work or < $300,000. The first guy in the parable owes the king 10,000 talents or more that $3 Billion (yes, with a B). He is forgiven. The second guy owes the first guy $800 ($10 x 8 hours x 10). Guy #2 is thrown into debtor’s prison. The king finds out and “unforgives” the first guy and sends him to be tortured. “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever is loosed on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 18:18). Reread the parable and consider verse 18. Do you see a connection? The judgment we pass will be the judgment we receive. The most troubling line in this text: “So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” Jesus isn’t always as sweet as we want him to be.

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Readings for September 7, 2014

Hello Everyone,

This week will be Communion Sunday at both churches. This would be an opportune time to invite the people of our churches who haven’t been in church for a while to come back. Please don’t hesitate to invite them to join you in worship.

Our readings for this week are:

Exodus 12:1-14 – Moses has confronted Pharaoh and ten plagues have taken place. Pharaoh’s heart continues to harden. In our reading the Lord instructs Moses and Aaron about the first Passover Meal. A year old male lamb (sheep or goat) is to be slaughtered and its blood painted on the doorpost and lintel of their houses. The lamb is to be roasted and eaten that night with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. The hardest part of this reading is that the Lord will pass through the land and city and every firstborn son, human and animal, will be killed. The Lord will “pass over” the houses with the lamb’s blood. How are we to understand this passage in light of Jesus’ revelation of the Lord of Love?

Psalm 149 – The psalm praises God for God’s goodness to the people of Israel. Like many psalms, it takes a dark turn at the last part of verse 6. But who is the psalmist speaking about? In verse 5, the psalmist turns from speaking of God to speaking about the faithful people of Israel. The two edged sword is in the people’s hands. They are the ones who will execute vengeance and judgment. All for the glory of God. Does God need or want that kind of glory?

OR Ezekiel 33:7-11 – Ezekiel was a prophet during the time Babylon besieged Jerusalem, eventually destroying the city and its temple. In the first part of our reading, verses 7-9, God warns Ezekiel to proclaim what God says to him. God’s warnings are to help people turn back to God. In the second part, verses 10-11, the Lord proclaims that he has no desire to see the wicked perish and is ready to take back the repentant. In what ways do we fail to turn back to God when God is always ready to forgive? (Theological mind twister: Does repentance happen because we are forgiven or are we forgiven because we repent?)

Psalm 119:33-40 – We have encountered Psalm 119 twice before this summer. If you recall, this is an acrostic by stanza psalm. Each stanza is 8 verses and each verse in each stanza starts with the same Hebrew letter. This reading is the fifth stanza and the verses start with the letter “He” or ה. The psalmist appeals to the Lord to be taught the Law that leads to righteousness. He asks the Lord to turn his heart and his life to the Lord’s way. What does it take for us to be turned from the world’s ways to the Lord’s Way? How can we desire God instead of desiring things and power?

Romans 13:8-14 – The last two weeks we read all of Romans 12. The lectionary skips 13:1-7, which is about our being subject to the governmental authorities including paying our taxes (13:6). Paul returns to how we are to live as followers of Christ: love. Basically, he says that all of the commandments are fulfilled in the simple act of loving our neighbors. He then appeals to us to not gratify our human desires but to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Leave behind the works of darkness and put on the armor of Light living honorably. See my questions for Psalm 119.

Matthew 18:15-20 – This little passage is often called “The Rule of Christ”. What are we to do if someone in church hurts or sins against us? There are three steps. 1) Talk to the person who hurt you one on one. 2) If the first step doesn’t restore the friendship then take two or three others with you and have another talk. Those others are witnesses. 3) If those don’t work then take it to the church. If the offender still refuses to listen or change then she or he is to be put out of the church. They are to be like Gentiles or tax collectors. But what did Jesus do for Gentiles and tax collectors? He talked with them, ministered to them, healed them, and ate dinner with them. If the people we put out of the church are to be like Gentiles and tax collectors then we have a lot of work to do with them because the Good News is to go to all people.

May you be blessed by the readings this week. May God work through you to lead you in his paths of righteousness. May you love your neighbors inviting them into a life changing relationship with God and Jesus Christ.

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor