Friday, November 28, 2014

Rethink Church Videos

United Methodist Communications has a new "Rethink Church" video out for Advent and Christmas. They offered to insert church information at the end of the video. I took them up on the offer and they modified the video for each of the churches I serve. Here they are:

Grey Eagle UMC Advent

Peace United Church

Thank you, UMCom!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Readings for Wednesday, Nov. 26, and Sunday, Nov. 30.

Hello Everyone,

Tomorrow night we will be holding “Thanksgiving Eve” worship services at both churches, 6:00 pm at Peace United and 7:30 PM at Grey Eagle UMC. How do we give thanks? For what do we give thanks? And to whom do we offer our thanks? Here is a short poem about thanks:


With what presumption have we dared to voice
"Thank You for home (although we hold the deed),
Our acre, trees, and flowers (ours by choice),
Our faithful dog and cat (though it's agreed
No one can own the latter), each good book
(A gift, or purchased), all else we foresaw
That we should cherish, and have made to look
Ours by possession (nine points of the law)."

With what presumption have we called them ours,
And even felt unselfish when we shared them--
When, if the truth be known, they have been Yours
From the beginning, Lord! You have prepared them
For us to borrow, using as our own:
So thank You, Father, for this generous loan.

-- Elaine V. Emans

Our readings for Thanksgiving Eve are:

Deuteronomy 8:7-18 – Deuteronomy, for the most part, is like the last will and testament of Moses as he instructs the people of Israel before they cross the Jordan and enter into Canaan where Moses can’t go. In this passage Moses tells them that everything the people of Israel will need will be provided by God. Moses also warns them of the temptation that comes with that blessing: forgetting God and assuming that they did it on their own. Isn’t that our temptation also as we live in a prosperous land? That all we have we got on our own?

Psalm 65 – The psalmist praises God and thanks God for all that has been provided.

2 Corinthians 9:6-15 – I have often used the beginning of this reading to emphasize generous giving. But notice the theme of the reading. God gives generously so that we will give generously. God gives the seeds so that we can sow them thereby increasing the harvest. It does no one any good to hoard the gifts we have received, for when we give, generously, we receive in abundance the righteousness of God.

Luke 17:11-19 – This very familiar story is the basis of thousands of sermons on giving thanks. Ten lepers, who, by definition, are the epitome of social outcasts, ask Jesus for healing. Jesus tells them to go see their priests. On the way they discover that they have been healed. One goes back to Jesus to thank him. Turns out that he is a Samaritan whom Jews thought were as bad as lepers. Did the other nine, whom we assume were Jews, kick him out of their group because he was a Samaritan? Did the Samaritan know that he would not be welcomed by the Jewish Temple priests? Or did the nine continue on to the Temple knowing that that is the place to encounter and thank God while the Samaritan return to Jesus knowing that Jesus was where he had an encounter with God?

Our readings for Sunday, November 30, the First Sunday of Advent, are:

Isaiah 64:1-9 – At the opening of this passage, Isaiah asks God to reveal God’s self; to come to earth and do something dramatic like God did in the past. Isaiah feels that God must be angry because the people have sinned and God has withdrawn. The key verse, perhaps, is Isaiah’s recognition that we are still God’s children and that God will mold us into who we shall be. The metaphor is God as the potter and we are the clay. What will God mold you, your family, and your church into?

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19 – The sentiment of this Psalm is similar to the Isaiah passage. The psalmist, Asaph not Solomon, starts with the metaphor of God as the Shepherd of Israel. However, this shepherd is missing and Asaph wants God to return. The skipped verses then turn to the metaphor of Israel as the vineyard that God has planted, but God has broken down the vineyard fence to allow looter to steal the fruit. The last three verses states that if God were to restore the people the people would be faithful.

1 Corinthians 1:3-9 – Remember that the First Church of Corinth is a troubled and divided congregation. It amazes me that Paul still gives thanks to God for this congregation. Notice what Paul says the congregation has been blessed with. Notice that Paul believes God will strengthen them for the future coming of Jesus. God has been faithful and will always be faithful for we are continually being called into fellowship with Jesus.

Mark 13:24-37 – Every year the first Sunday of Advent is also the first Sunday of the church year. Every year on this Sunday we begin another Gospel, Matthew, Mark, or Luke. And, every year, we start that Gospel near the end during Jesus’ last days leading up to his betrayal, arrest, trial and crucifixion. Why start there? Why don’t we start with the Christmas story instead of trudging through Jesus’ dreary speech about troubled times ahead? Perhaps, as someone once said, the beginning is in the ending. We should pay attention to what is happening in our world, like watching the trees in spring, to understand the coming of the Lord. If the waiting seems too long, don’t give up.

May the Lord bless you in all that you do and may you always keep waiting and give thanks.

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Readings for Sunday, November 23, 2014

Hello Everyone,

This Sunday, November 23, is known as “Reign of Christ” Sunday or, formerly, “Christ the King” Sunday. It marks the end of the year on the Christian calendar. Each year of the church calendar starts with Advent and then moves through Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and the season after Pentecost.

The Lectionary Readings follow the church calendar and this is the final Sunday of Year A in a three year cycle. Year A focuses on the Gospel of Matthew; Year B (which starts next week) focuses on Mark with a large dose of John (since Mark is so short); and Year C is about Luke. Next Sunday, with the start of Advent we will begin the Gospel of Mark.

Our lessons for this Sunday are:

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 – In the Old Testament the kings were considered to be the shepherd of the people. In the first 10 verses of this chapter, the prophet Ezekiel lambasts the kings as bad shepherds who didn’t feed the flock but used the flock to feed themselves. Beginning at verse 11 God declares that he will become the shepherd who will care for the sheep. Note that in the skipped verses, God also rebukes the sheep, rams, and goats who abuse the pasture and foul the waters. If God is our shepherd, are we being responsible sheep, caring for the pastures and waters for future sheep?

Psalm 100 – Five verses of pure joy and celebration of being the sheep of the Good (God) Shepherd.

OR Psalm 95:1-7a – A celebration of God’s goodness who has created all. We are glad to be the sheep of God’s pasture. (Are you sensing a theme going on here?)

Ephesians 1:15-23 – Paul says that he has heard how faithful the church in Ephesus has been and he gives thanks for them in his prayers. Paul prays for several things for the church: a spirit of wisdom and revelation; that their hearts may be enlightened; they may know the hope to which they have been called; to know God’s riches of inheritance; and to know God’s power for believers. That power was revealed in Christ’s resurrection who now sits above all earthly power, authority and riches. Christ is now the “head” of the church and the church is his “body”.

Matthew 25:31-46 – After talking with his disciples about the end of the age (Matthew 24:1-44) Jesus tells four stories, none of which are identified as parables. The four stories start like this: “Who then is the faithful and wise slave . . .?” (24:45); “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids . . . .” (25:1); “For it is as if a man, going on a journey . . . .” (25:14); and “When the Son of Man comes in his glory . . . .” (25:31). What will the “Master”, “Bridegroom”, “Master”, and “Son of Man” find when they return? These are stories of faithfulness in waiting and in action. Is the last story, our reading this week, to be understood as a literal description of the “last days”, divorced from the other three stories? Or is Jesus getting at something else? On its face value, this week’s lesson is about “works” that make us heaven bound no matter what you believe (“When did we see you . . . ?”). Where does faith play a role? If Jesus returned today, what would he find us and the church doing? Are we feeding, giving drink, visiting, caring, welcoming? Are we?

May the Lord bless you and move you this week; you who are the sheep of God’s pasture.

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A Short Story of Pain

How about that subject line? Did it catch your attention?

Many have experienced periods of intense crippling pain; mothers during childbirth, people dying of cancer, soldiers with wounds, many others. I went through a period of intense pain Tuesday night and Wednesday morning which caused me to miss work yesterday. While I do not want to compare the pain I felt with those I mentioned it was significant in my life.

It began Tuesday night while I was at Community Band in Wadena. It started small. I knew something was wrong but I completed rehearsal and immediately left for the 20 mile drive home. I was uncomfortable, a bit nauseous, and very much in pain. I almost didn’t make it home. I was hurting on the left side of my abdomen and the pain came in waves. Intense, crippling pain for 10 minutes then relative ease for 20 minutes or so. Cheryl got home shortly after I did and wanted to take me to the emergency room but I said no. I took all kinds of pain relievers (at least 5 different kinds) before bed and I tried to sleep. The intense pain continued in waves. At 1:30 am I got up, took two more different pain relievers and tried to sleep in the living room so I wouldn’t disturb Cheryl. By 6 am I was willing to go to the emergency room. When we got to the Long Prairie Hospital I was in the excellent care of PA Elizabeth Clark (Thank you, Libby), the nursing staff, and the radiologist who administered the CAT scan. After getting my medical information, including all the pain relievers that I had taken that night, they administered three drugs: dilaudid for the pain, Toradol to relax the ureter, and an anti-nausea med. The CAT scan showed that I had a kidney stone that was traversing its way to the bladder. A smaller one followed after I got home.

I don’t know if there is any “theology of pain”. Does God give us pain perhaps as a punishment for something? Is there a reason for pain, beyond it being a signal that something is wrong with our body? Is there anything good that comes of pain? In my own understanding I would answer those questions “No! I don’t know. Perhaps.” The pains we inflict on others through violence and war should teach us to stop hurting each other, but we humans never learn as long as old men can choose to send young men and women into combat and as long as society allows and ignores violence in our communities. The pain of childbirth leads to the joy of a daughter or son in our arms but what kind of world are we leaving them? The pain of a kidney stone or two? Well, I now no longer have any stones in my kidneys but will something good come of it? I don’t know. Tomorrow is a new day and maybe, with the help of God’s Spirit, I can help someone else’s pain a little bit. God willing.

Pastor Gary

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Readings for Sunday, November 16, 2014

Hello Everyone,

Today being Veteran’s Day (or Armistice Day in Europe) I ask you to thank and/or shake hands with veteran. Today also commemorates the 100th Anniversary of the start of World War I, the “war to end all wars”.

Our Lectionary readings for this week are:

Judges 4:1-7 – I am not sure why the Lectionary includes this snippet from the larger story of Deborah (and Barak and Jael) which spans the entire chapter 4 followed by a poetic version of the story in chapter 5. The book of Judges is a series of stories with the following theme:

1) The Israelites forget God (did what was evil in the sight of God, verse 1)
2) God raises up an enemy (the Lord sold them into the hands of . . ., verse 2)
3) The enemy oppresses the Israelites for a number of years (20 years in this story, verse 3b)
4) The Israelites cry out to God (verse 3a)
5) God raises up a judge and/or general (Deborah and Barak, verses 4-6)
6) The judge/general is reluctant and sets up some sort of test or condition (verses 8-9)
7) The judge-general defeats the enemy in spectacular fashion (verses 11-23)
8) The Israelites become faithful to God for forty years. (Chapter 5:31c)

This short reading of the story of Deborah and Barak gives us the first 5 elements of the cycle as noted above.

Psalm 123 – The Psalmist declares he will look to the Lord for his redemption from the oppression of rich and proud.

Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18 – This is a tough reading; all about the “terrible day of the Lord”. As you read through this and similar passages in the Old Testament remember this one thing: in OT times the people believed that everything that happened, good or bad, was caused by God. When the armies of Israel won a battle or war, that was God’s doing because they were faithful to God. If they lost, especially when Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed by Babylon, that too was God’s doing because they were unfaithful (verses 12-13 in our reading).

Psalm 90:1-12 – The Psalmist (Moses?) reflects on the short length of human life compared to the eternity of God. At the end we are all turned to dust and even the days we live are lived in toil and trouble (see Ecclesiastes). What do you think the psalmist was contemplating in verses 7-11 which are about God’s anger and wrath?

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 – As one of the earliest of his letters, Paul is looking for the eminent return of Jesus Christ. For non-followers of Jesus, that day may be ominous, but for the followers, there is nothing to be afraid of. Those who dwell in the light of Jesus Christ can live soberly in faith, love, and the hope of salvation. The last line of this reading is about encouraging each other and building each other up. Have you encouraged someone today? Have you helped another in their faith?

Matthew 25:14-30 – Chapters 24 and 25 of Matthew are Jesus’ final extended discourse (teaching) and the subject is “end of the age” (24:3). Jesus concludes the discourse with four parables beginning in 24:45: the Faithful or Unfaithful Slave, the Ten Bridesmaids (last week), the Talents (our reading this week) and the Judgment of Nations (next week). First thing about this week’s reading – talents are not the things you do well, like singing or carpentry, but is a large sum of money equivalent to 15 years of wages for a common laborer. At $10/hour, 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year, for 15 years it would equal about $312,000. The first slave gets $1,560,000, the second gets $624,000, and the third guy gets $312,000. Notice that the text says “as each had ability” (verse 15). The first two guys go off that trade their money on the markets and double their money. (An aside: the money we are talking about here is chump change for the people who trade on the stock, bond, and commodities markets today.) The third guy simply buries the money until the return of the master. When the master returns the first two are praised and the third is chastised and thrown out into the darkness. You should also know one fact, in Jesus’ day to protect someone else’s money from loss was the proper thing to do. The first two could have easily lost the money. So, the question to ponder is this: Is this a parable about the “end of days” (24:3) or is it about “stewardship” (25:14) or about something else? We learn in verse 29 that the money was not simply entrusted to each servant to protect but was given to them to be their own to do as they please. If this parable is about something else, could that something be “grace” which God freely gives to all?

Finally, I referenced a scene from “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” in my sermon this past Sunday. Organizational change, Church Renewal, is like this scene. It takes someone a bit crazy to start. Other’s may soon follow, rocking the boat. Things that steady the organization will have to be cut loose. Some people may be hurt and some lost. The organization may feel like it is upside down. You may not know whether you live or die. There will be life on the other side. Watch it here: “At World’s End – Up Is Down”. Enjoy.

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Readings for Sunday, November 9, 2014

Hello Everyone,

This coming week we are continuing our three week sermon series on Reach*Renew*Rejoice. What does it mean to be “renewed”? What is a renewal of faith for you personally? What does it mean to have renewal of our churches? What, do you suppose, will lead our churches in renewal?

The lectionary text for this week are numerous. One of the readings comes from the “Apocrypha” which are those Old Testament texts that the Catholic and Orthodox Churches have accepted and which are not included in the Jewish Tanakh or Protestant Old Testament. Therefore, the Lectionary gives some alternatives.

Our readings are:

Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25 – Joshua has reached the end of his time of leadership of the twelve tribes of Israel and he gathers everyone together for some last instructions. After reminding them of their history, Joshua pleads with the people to remain faithful to God. “Whom will you serve, God or the other gods? Me and my family will serve God!” When the people proclaim their loyalty to God, Joshua challenges them. Which god do you serve: country, money, power? What does it mean if you say you serve God? How long does the promise last? What do you make of Joshua’s challenge, “You cannot serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins.”?

Psalm 78:1-7 – This long psalm recounts God’s saving (redeeming) acts through the history of Israel. Verses 1-4 call upon the listeners to pay attention to that history, learn from it, and obey the commandments. The psalmist starts with Jacob (Israel, “one who wrestled with God”) in verses 5-7.


Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16 – Here is a link to the text: Wisdom 6:12-16. “Wisdom” in the Old Testament is nearly always depicted as a women. Wisdom is beautiful and is to be desired. If we desire Wisdom we will find her.

Wisdom of Solomon 6:17-20 – Here is a link to the text: Wisdom 6:17-20. Wisdom begins with a desire for instruction which leads loving wisdom. Loving wisdom leads to keeping the laws which leads to an assurance of immortality which brings us close to God. Therefore desire for wisdom leads us to a kingdom.


Amos 5:18-24 – The prophet is probably speaking for God in verses 18-20 and then quoting God in verses 21-24. Amos speaks against empty meaningless worship and rituals. Worship without justice is empty. In more modern terms loving Jesus without loving neighbors is meaningless. A personal faith without the service to others is egotistical. Churches and the people who attend them should make worship meaningful by always being in mission to others.

Psalm 70 – The psalmist calls on God to save him from his enemies.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 – In the earliest of Paul’s letters he is anxiously waiting for the return of Jesus. He urges his churches to faithful as the “Day of the Lord” is coming soon. The question here is “What happens to those who have died before Jesus returns?” His answer is that we are not to grieve because the dead will return with the Lord. The dead will be raise before the living are united with Christ. I think that this letter may be one of the first letters if not the first. If Paul sincerely believed in the imminent return of Christ, what are we to think nearly 2,000 years later.

Matthew 25:1-13 – This is the second of four parable about the return of the Son of Man. The first parable is at 24:45-51. This reading is about 10 bridesmaids waiting for the groom to collect his bride. Five anticipated a long wait and brought extra oil for their lamps. The other five did not. In the end the five who did not prepare were left out of the party with no hope of getting in. Remember, parables are not analogies or metaphors. Jesus might be suggesting something other then what you first think. Compare this to the Sermon on the Mount at Matthew 7:7-8.

Have a great week serving God by serving your neighbors. Invite someone to church this week!

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor