Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Readings for Sunday, January 4, 2015

Hello Everyone,

Well, we have come to the end of another calendar year. We say goodbye to 2014 and hello to 2015. How will you make 2015 better than 2014? The old idea of making a “New Year’s Resolution”. Personally, I started my resolution on December 3, 2014 when I took my first steps on the treadmill Cheryl and I have at home. My goal at that time was to walk 20 to 25 minutes 3 days a week and eventually get to 30 minutes a day 5 days a week. Well, I am doing just that. My legs ache a little but I am beginning to feel better. Sometimes my walk turns into a short trot as I try to stretch myself. (Listen carefully and you can hear me patting myself on the back!)

I don’t tell you this to make you feel guilty. I avoided regular exercise for years and no matter what anyone said I just did not want to do it. What changed was our Parish Nurse, Judy Lightowler, said she would coach me, encourage me in this effort. I also talked to my Primary Care Physician who has always asked about my exercise, or lack thereof, and she gave her approval. What I want you to think about is “What can you do to improve your life and health?” If you know, find a partner to work with you and find someone to encourage you.

What can you do in 2015 to make your church better than in 2014? When we have a baptism at our churches or when we remember our own baptism, as we will do this coming Sunday, we pledge to God to do five things. When you do these five things, hopefully improving in 2015 in the areas where improvements can be made, your church is strengthened and will grow. Don’t depend on someone else to do these five things; do them yourself. But also remember, it is not all about you but is about God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit working in the Church that Jesus established.

Your baptismal vows include the line that “as members together in the body of Christ and in this congregation, we renew our covenant faithfully to participate in the ministries of the Church by our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness, that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.”

Prayers – Are you praying for your church, your ministers, the other people? Praying daily or just occasionally? A praying church will be a growing church.

Presence – Are you attending church worship as often as possible? If you are not in town to attend your church are you attending church wherever you are? If you cannot physically be in church, did you know that most Sundays Grey Eagle UMC streams its worship online?

Gifts – What are you giving back to the church? Are you making a tithe? Are you able to give a little more in the coming year? Our churches cannot function without your generous gift. Please pray about what you can give to the church.

Service – What are you able to do for the church and with the church? Can you lead or participate in a local mission outreach? Can you contribute to the vitality of the church by what you do? Do you have ideas about what the church could be doing, have you shared those ideas, and would you be willing to lead?

Witness – Are you telling others about your faith in Jesus Christ? Are you inviting others to know Jesus? Are you inviting family, friends, and others to attend worship with you? If others watched you would they see a witness to Christ?

If you have read this far, thank you for your patience. We now turn to the readings for this Sunday,

This Sunday is both the “Second Sunday after Christmas” and “Epiphany Sunday”. We will also be renewing our baptismal vows and Sunday will be “Covenant Renewal Sunday”. Our Lessons for each of these Sundays are:

Second Sunday after Christmas
Jeremiah 31:7-14 – A song of praise to God for the Israelites returning to Jerusalem from Babylon.

Psalm 147 – Praise to God for God’s care of Jerusalem.

Ephesians 1:3-14 – In Christ we have received spiritual blessings, adoption into God’s family, and inheritance toward redemption.

John 1:(1-9) 10-18 – The Word, who exists with and as God, became flesh and lived in the world. The world rejected the Word, but we have received it, grace upon grace.

Epiphany Sunday
Isaiah 60:1-6 – The glory of the Lord has come and the nations will come bringing gifts of frankincense and gold.

Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14 – A prayer to God to bless the king who will reign with justice and the nations will bring gifts.

Ephesians 3:1-12 – The mystery revealed to Paul is also for the Gentiles which is why Paul preaches and suffers in other nations.

Matthew 2:1-12 – The magi, number unknown, visit the child of Joseph and Mary bringing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The king is disturbed by the news.

Covenant Renewal Sunday
Joshua 24:14-18 – At the end of his life, Joshua calls on the people to commit their lives to God.

Jeremiah 31:31-34 – A new covenant will be written, not on stone tablets, but on the hearts of the people.

1 Peter 1:13-25 – We are called to live changed lives, different from our past and from society, because we have been cleansed by Jesus’s blood.

John 15:1-17 – Jesus is the Vine and the Father is the vine grower. We are the branches which die when disconnected from the Vine. However, we bear the fruit of love when connected. To love others as Jesus loves us is to bear the fruit of God’s economy.

Have a great New Year’s Eve celebration. If you drink, don’t drive. If you drive, don’t drink.

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Readings for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and the First Sunday after Christmas

Hello Everyone,

I hope and pray that everything is ready for Christmas in your house and this Christmas will be one of peace. Christmas Eve worship is at 4:00 pm at both Grey Eagle UMC and Peace United Church. Bob Kutter will be leading worship at Grey Eagle and I will be at Peace United. Everyone is welcome to attend.

I am, at this moment, wearing a T-shirt that has a cute shepherd scene outside Bethlehem and the caption “The Reason for the Season is Jesus”. So often we hear people wanting to “Put Christ back into Christmas.” Here is a great picture (meme) about that topic. It came from Carolyn Winfrey Gillette although it may not be original to her.

I love the true Christian sentiment of the answer.

The lectionary lessons assigned for Christmas Eve are:

Isaiah 9:2-7 – There will be a child born who will bring justice and peace and who will rule forever.

Psalm 96 – We sing a new song because God brings marvelous works. All creation should rejoice and sing!

Titus 2:11-14 – God’s grace has appeared bringing salvation to all through our God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Luke 2:1-14 (15-20) – Pregnant Mary goes with David to Bethlehem and gives birth to Jesus. Angels sing and shepherds visit.

The lessons assigned for Christmas Day are:

Isaiah 52:7-10 – The people will see the return of God who will comfort and redeem Jerusalem.

Psalm 98 – Again, we sing a new song because God’s victory is assured.

Hebrews 1:1-4 (5-12) – God has spoken to us by his Son who is the “exact imprint of God’s being”.

John 1:1-14 – The Word. The Light. The Life. And we have see his glory, full of grace and truth.

Finally, the lessons assigned for Sunday, December 28 (First Sunday after Christmas) are:

Isaiah 61:10-62:3 – The Lord brings salvation and will cause righteousness and praise to spring up. All will see what God will do.

Psalm 148 – All humanity, all creatures, and all creation are called on to praise God whose glory is above all.

Galatians 4:4-7 – When the time was right, God sent Jesus, born of a woman, so we might be adopted as God’s children.

Luke 2:22-40 – This really should start in verse 21. Jesus is named, then dedicated at the Temple. Simeon says that Mary will experience “a sword piercing her soul” because of Jesus. Old Anna sees Jesus at the Temple and praises God. Do you see Jesus and praise God?

Have a wonderful Christmas with family, friends, and the peace of Christ.

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Readings for Sunday, December 21, 2014

Hello Everyone,

This Sunday is the last Sunday in Advent and our attention turns to the mother of Jesus, Mary, and to an event that would have happened in March if Jesus was born in December. (Remember, no one knows the day Jesus was born because Matthew and Luke didn’t bother to tell us.) Mary’s advent, her period of waiting, would have been nine times longer than our Advent. The lesson in Luke that we read this past Sunday teaches us what Mary understood.

We marvel at Mary, the mother of the Messiah, herself a single, teenaged mother, herself poor and powerless. But she understood that the baby she would call Jesus was sent, not just to her, but to the world:
. . . To the hungry
. . . To the weak
. . . To the very young and very old
. . . To those who suffer or are in pain.
(Dean McIntyre, 2014 Advent Wreath Meditations, General Board of Discipleship UMC)

If we bear the Spirit of God and of Jesus, are we not also sent to those very same people? To whom will you be sent this Christmas and in 2015?

Our readings this week are:

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16 – King David has finally defeated all his enemies (although more wars will follow) and he wants to build God a “house”. David seeks his prophet Nathan’s advise and is told OK. God speaks to Nathan that night and says “Not so fast. Did I ever ask anyone to build me a house?” God then tells Nathan to tell David that David’s “house” and kingdom would be established forever. Note the play on the word “house”. Also note that hundreds of years later, when the Babylonians destroy Jerusalem, the Temple, and kill off the last heir to the throne of the King of Judah, the Jewish people struggled with their perception that God broke that promise. How does the baby born in Bethlehem (David’s hometown) restore that promise? Has God’s promise changed?

Luke 1:46-55 – This is Mary’s song when she was early in her pregnancy and went to visit her much older cousin Elizabeth. I read this passage this past Sunday. How does God enter into our world and to whom does God go to? The rich and powerful? The affluent and influent? Who is lifted up when God becomes one of us (the meaning of the word “incarnation”)?

OR Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26 – This long Psalm has 52 verses and my Bible tells me that there are two distinct parts: Verses 1-37 from which our reading comes from and which celebrates the promise God made to David in our reading above; and Verses 38-51 which questions God’s faithfulness when Jerusalem and the Temple are destroyed.

Romans 16:25-27 – Paul’s closing benediction to his letter to the church in Rome.

Luke 1:26-38 – The angel visits Mary, who is maybe 14 or 15. The message: you will get pregnant. This is “not so good” news because, as Mary says, she has no husband. The implication is that she will be shamed and outcast as a girl who went against societal norms. Yet, her response in verse 38 has intrigued Christians through the ages. What are you willing to go through and endure to serve the Lord?

May the Lord bless you through your service to others!

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Readings for Sunday, December 14, 2014

Hello Everyone,

First, here is something that came to my inbox today. The author is unknown and the story may be not be true but the sentiment it expresses is what Christmas is all about.


I recently heard a story on the radio of a woman who was out Christmas shopping with her two children. After many hours of looking at row after row of toys and everything else imaginable, and after hours of hearing both her children asking for everything they saw on those many shelves, she finally made it to the elevator with her two kids.

She was feeling what so many of us feel during the holiday season... overwhelming pressure to go to every party, every housewarming, taste all the holiday food and treats, getting that perfect gift for every single person on our shopping list, making sure we don't forget anyone on our card list, and the pressure of making sure we respond to everyone who sent us a card.

Finally the elevator doors opened and there was already a crowd in the car. She pushed her way into the car and dragged her two kids in with her and all the bags of stuff. When the doors closed she couldn't take it anymore and stated, "Whoever started this whole Christmas thing should be found, strung up and shot."

From the back of the car everyone heard a quiet calm voice respond, "Don't worry, we already crucified Him."

For the rest of the trip down the elevator it was so quiet you could have heard a pin drop.

Don't forget this year to keep the One who started this whole Christmas thing in your every thought, deed, purchase, and word. If we all did it, just think of how different this whole world would be.

-- Unknown

This Sunday is the Third Sunday of Advent. We are waiting . . . . “Waiting for what?”, you may ask. Christmas, Jesus, a star, calm, peace, love, hope, joy, sleep? Maybe we are waiting for a sense of belonging and a sense of meaning. Advent is waiting.

Our scripture lessons for this week are:

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 – In Luke 4:16-30 Jesus visits his synagogue in Nazareth and is asked to speak. I asks for the scroll of Isaiah and he reads the first couple of verses from Isaiah 61 (leaving off the vengeance line). What is Isaiah saying to his people and to us? Are we a part of the hope for a future in which there will be honest, fairness, and justice for ALL peoples? Do you see in the world, despite all the injustice, war, violence, Ebola, poverty, etc., that God is causing “righteousness and praise to spring up before all nations”?

Psalm 126 – I think that the old Gospel Hymn “Bringing in the Sheaves” is partly based on this Psalm. On the one hand the Psalmist speaks of God having restored the people and nation of Israel so that the people rejoiced. On the other hand, the Psalmist asks God to restore their fortunes so that those who cry will become joyful. “They shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying (bringing in) their sheaves.”

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 – How are we to live lives as Christians in a world that seems to be dominated by so much evil and suffering? Paul is succinct: “rejoice always, pray unceasingly, give thanks in all circumstances, do not quench the Spirit, listen to the prophets, test everything, keep what is good, and abstain from evil.” Seems a bit hard, but I think the key to all of this is not quenching the Spirit. Let the Spirit guide you in all that you do and the Spirit will show you these things. Paul also asks God to “sanctify us entirely” so we may be blameless when Jesus returns. Finally, it is not about our faithfulness but is all about God’s faithfulness. “God will do this.”

John 1:6-8, 19-28 – Wait one doggone moment! Where’s Jesus? Why are we reading about this John guy again? Isn’t this Christmas? If you are asking these questions you stand with millions of Christians who go to churches that follow the Church calendar and the Common Lectionary, as we do. It is all about Advent, waiting, and preparation. This John guy (the Baptizer or the Baptist) was the one who came to prepare the way for Jesus’ ministry. John’s ministry, in the Christian view, was all about Jesus although there we many of John’s followers who thought otherwise (some of whom pop up in Acts). As we continue to prepare for the coming of Christmas and the next coming of Jesus, how are you preparing? John tells the Pharisees that there is one standing in their midst who will change everything. This Advent time, do you see the One standing in your presence who will change everything? Do you see Jesus in the lowly, left-out, least, and last of people? How will you respond?

May the Spirit of God lead you into entire sanctification and may you see Jesus in the people you encounter this week.

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Readings for Sunday, December 7, 2014

Hello Everyone,

This coming Sunday is the Second in Advent. Our theme for the preaching series “Here Is Our God” is “God in the World: a New Heaven and a New Earth”. As you look to see the presence of God in the people around you this week can you see God transforming the world even in the midst of Ebola, ISIS, and other depressing news? Can you see the messengers of Hope in the world?

Isaiah 40:1-11 – There is a lot of familiar passages in this reading. I read verses 1-8 at many of the funerals I lead for the word bring “comfort”. We are also reassured with the image of the shepherd feeding his flock and holding the lambs. But do we hear the voice in the wilderness crying out to us that the Lord is coming and is here. God in the wilderness voice; God in the world.

Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13 – God’s past forgiveness of the people’s wrongs means that God’s steadfast love will grant salvation (verses 1, 2 and 7) but we must be ready to hear that good news. A few years ago the UCC wanted to remind people that God’s word did not end with Jesus and the bringing together of the Bible. They said it like this: “Don’t put a period where God places a comma . . . The Still Speaking God”. Are we ready to hear that voice in the wilderness, in our neighbor, in God’s creation? Where do you hear and see the presence of God?

2 Peter 3:8-15a – Maybe the most interesting part of this reading are the 3 1/2 verses that follow the reading. Our reading is about the future coming of the Lord. By the time this letter was written the first generation after Jesus was dying off and people were beginning to wonder just when the coming would happen. (They thought it would happen during that first generation.) The writer assures people that the Lord will be coming in the Lord’s own good time, which, by the way, is not measured in our own timings (one day = 1,000 years). This slowness is the Lord’s patience is waiting for all to be saved. While we are waiting we are to be living lives of holiness and godliness and at peace. So, the question is, “Are other people seeing God in you?” When you speak will they hear the voice of God speaking through you?

Mark 1:1-8 – “The beginning of the good news (gospel) of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” With those word, not even a sentence, we are off and running. Mark is the shortest Gospel with, what I feel to be, the most human Jesus. And when Jesus died the centurion declared, “Surely, this man was God’s Son!” (15:39). No birth story and no resurrection appearances (assuming that the original ending was at 16:8). John the baptizer proclaims the coming Savior (4-8) and baptizes Jesus (9-11). Mark states that Jesus was tempted in the desert but gives no description (12-13). And in verse 14 Jesus starts his ministry in Galilee. Mark is in a hurry to tell the good news and you can read the entire Gospel in one sitting.

So, here is my challenge to you: Read the Gospel of Mark by next Sunday and look for the presence and voice of God in the people and in the world. Blessing to you this week!

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor