Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Readings for Sunday, February 1, 2015

Hello Everyone,

Over the last couple of days I have read three or four articles online about worship. Worship is the time when the Body of Christ comes together each week to praise God, to offer up our prayers, to sing a new song together, seek to be more like Jesus in love for others, and to be refreshed with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It is a time when, in fellowship with others, we give back to God what God has first given us. Oswald Chambers, in his book “My Utmost for His Highest”, wrote:

Worship is giving God the best that He has given you. Be careful what you do with the best you have. Whenever you get a blessing from God, give it back to Him as a love-gift. Take time to meditate before God and offer the blessing back to Him in a deliberate act of worship. If you hoard it for yourself, it will turn into spiritual dry rot, as the manna did when it was hoarded (see Exodus 16:20). God will never allow you to keep a spiritual blessing completely for yourself. It must be given back to Him so that He can make it a blessing to others.

One article said that without worship we loose Christianity and cited an example of Sudan in the 1500’s. When they were overrun by the Muslims and the Christian pastors were killed or driven off, some people went to the head of the church in Ethiopia and asked him to send pastors to lead worship. He refused and the church was gone from Sudan within 100 years.

Another article said that successful churches do a lot of planning for their worship services and evaluate what went right and what didn’t. Another commentator wrote:

Perhaps that is why it makes me sad when people take church attendance so lightly. It isn't that we will go to hell if we attend church only once a month or so, but something is definitely lost. Well, maybe hell isn't far off the mark. I think life without community, hope, light, or meaning is close to hell. Oh, we can have those things without church, but I wonder if the world can? (Michael Piazza, Liberating Word email received 1/28/2015)

If you are not regularly attending church, why not? What is missing from your life? How can being a part of a worship community bring you closer to God? If you live near Peace United Church in Long Prairie or Grey Eagle United Methodist Church, will I see you this weekend? If you don’t live nearby, will you find a church you can attend regularly?

We are continuing our in-depth reading of the Gospel of Mark, “The Beginning of the Good News”. This week we will be reading chapter 4. At the end of chapter 3 Jesus told the scribes a parable about Satan casting out Satan. Chapter 4 is all about parables, with the exception of the last story. In the opening scene, Jesus and the disciple are by the lake and a great crowd is pressing in on them. They get into a boat and push out a little ways so that Jesus can teach the crowds. He tell them the parable of the sower who scattered seeds on the path, on rocky ground, on weedy ground, and on good soil. He ends the parable by saying, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”

When the disciples get Jesus alone they ask about the parable. He quotes Isaiah 6:9-10 saying that parables were meant to confuse those on the outside of the Kingdom. Jesus then gives them the meaning of the parable. This is unfortunate for us because this interpretation of the parable is the only one we hear. Go back and read the parable again and try to hear it in new ways. Is it the parable of the seeds? Is it the parable of the sower? Is it the parable of the soils? Or is it a parable of something else?

This discussion is followed by a question on the purpose of a lamp. Then there are the parables of the growing seed and the mustard seed. The gospel writer then says that Jesus only spoke to the crowds with parables and would explain those parables to his disciples.

At the end of the day, Jesus tells the disciples that they need to cross to the other side of the lake. They get in and Jesus promptly goes to sleep in the stern. A wind storm arises and the disciples become afraid (remember, four of them are fishermen and should know how to handle their boat). They wake Jesus up and he commands the winds to cease. He turns to the disciples and asks, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

As society continues its rapid changes and as young people turn to work, social activism, gaming, and the internet, leaving church behind, the church (a boat?) is in the midst of a great storm. Many people have sounded the death knell of the church. “Why are we afraid? Have we still no faith?” That question from Jesus to us doesn’t mean we can sit back and do nothing, hoping that Jesus will fix it all. No. When the storm ended for the disciples they still had to bail out the boat and put the oars into the water to get where they were going. What do we have to do to get where Jesus is taking us?

The lectionary readings for this Sunday are:

Deuteronomy 18:15-20 – When Moses is gone, God will raise up an new prophet like Moses. Is this referring to Joshua, later prophets, or Jesus?

Psalm 111 – The Psalmist call on all to worship and praise God for all that God has done.

1 Corinthians 8:1-13 – Is it OK to eat meat that has been sacrificed to an idol, Apollo in this case? Some say “yes” and some say “no”. Paul says it is OK only if it doesn’t hurt someone else who may be weaker in faith. This doesn’t mean much to us today unless we substitute something in for meat. What about the use of “cuss” words, swearing? Is it OK to swear in church? For me, words only have the emotional content that we attach to them. I can hurt someone without swearing and I can swear without hurting someone. But I think Paul would caution us that if the use of swear words causes offense to someone who ends up leaving the fellowship of the church then it is best if we don’t swear. By the way, if you swear while in my company, I will NOT be offended. Remember, I worked in the meat (nice connection) packing industry for 12 years.

Mark 1:21-28 – Jesus casts out a demon from a man while in the synagogue on the Sabbath.

Thank you for reading this long, and longer than usual, post. May God bless you as you serve you neighbors this week.

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor

Monday, January 19, 2015

Readings for Sunday, January 28, 2015

Hello Everyone,

I receive a daily email, actually only Monday through Friday, called “Sound Bites”. Last Thursday this came to my email:

"Ever since the creation of the world God's eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things God has made." (Romans 1:20)

People cannot see your faith. So they judge your faith by what they can see. People will trust their eyes long before they will ever trust your words. What do your visibles say about the invisible things you believe? -- Author Unknown

Reaching new people with the Gospel of Jesus is about what we do first and what we say next. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus’ actions bring the people to awe and wonder, though for some it is a challenge to the status quo and their authority. When Jesus does something people follow him and listen to his word. We have seen this in the first two chapters of Mark and it continues in chapter 3.

Mark 3:1-35

At the beginning of the chapter Jesus is still in Capernaum, the base of his operations. After pronouncing that the Son of Man was the Lord of the Sabbath (2:28) Jesus goes to the local synagogue on sabbath. Everyone was watching him because a man with a withered hand was there. Jesus asks the religious authorities and the crowd, “Is it was lawful to do good or to harm on the sabbath; to give life or to kill?” Hearing no response he simply tells the man to stretch out his hand which he does. The Pharisees then began to plot against Jesus. Jesus’ fame grew so much that crowds followed him wherever he went and the sick constantly tried to touch him to be healed. From all of the people who followed him, Jesus chose twelve to be apostles whom he sent to other villages to preach the good news and cast out demons. As his fame (or infamy) grows his family in Nazareth becomes worried and the scribes and Pharisees begin to circulate rumors that Jesus’ power can only come from Satan. Jesus says to them, “How can Satan cast out Satan?”. When Jesus’ mother and brothers arrive in Capernaum to take him back to Nazareth, Jesus questions the “true” family ties. Who are the true brothers and sisters of Jesus? Are they not the people who works with God in furthering God’s Kingdom?

Questions to ponder:
1. What is the wrong Jesus comes to set right?
2. How can Satan cast out Satan?
3. How can Jesus seemingly reject his mother?

Lectionary Lessons:
Jonah 3:1-5, 10 – Just read the entire 48 verse story of Jonah. Why doesn’t Jonah like the Ninevites? Why does Jonah pout at the end?

Psalm 62:5-12 – Trust nothing in this world but only trust God who has the power and the steadfast love.

1 Corinthians 7:29-31 – I had to a double take to see if I had the right passage. The time is short for the present form of the world is passing away.

Mark 1:14-20 – Jesus calls Simon, Andrew, James, and John away from their work as fishermen.

Have a great week serving others and proclaiming the love of God.

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Readings for Sunday, January 18, 2015

Hello Everyone, Grace and Peace of Jesus Christ to you,

We are in week two of our thirteen week journey through the Gospel of Mark. Last week I indicated that I would focus on what the Gospel of Mark can tell us about being “missional” people and churches. “Missional” means not being inwardly focused or overly concerned with our own wellbeing but being a church and a people who love others outside the walls of our church. “Missional” is about what we do to serve the people in our communities. “Missional” is also about connecting the people we serve to Jesus Christ. “Missional” is “mission” with “evangelism”. Our reading in Mark 2 has these two notions of being “missional”. More on that in a moment.

Please take a look at this video: “Evangelism in the 21st Century”.

Kimberly Reisman uses a metaphor of “embrace” for evangelism: opening arms, waiting, closing arms, and opening them again. A related metaphor might be the handshake: hand out, wait, close hand (maybe throwing the other hand on top), and opening hands.

Our focus scripture this week is Mark 2:1-28. Chapter 2 opens with Jesus’ fourth healing/cleansing. In chapter 1 we read about the man possessed by a demon, Simon’ mother-in-law’s fever, and a man with leprosy. This story is famous because four friends dig through a roof to lower their paralyzed buddy down to Jesus. When Jesus saw their (the friends) faith he forgave the paralyzed man’s sins. The local scribes were indignant because “only God can forgive” whereupon Jesus told the man to get up, which he did.

Jesus then goes to the lake, sees a tax collector named Levi, and calls him to “Follow Me.” Levi then throws a party for Jesus attended by other tax collectors and “sinners”. Again, the scribes are outraged for a man of faith does not associate with “those” people. Jesus told them that healthy people don’t need a doctor but sick people do, saying, “I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

The scribes and Pharisees begin to step up their challenge to Jesus’ authority. They want to know why the disciples don’t fast as the Pharisees and the followers of John the Baptist do. Jesus said that they need to party with the bridegroom while the bridegroom was still there. They then challenge Jesus on interpreting the Sabbath, because the disciples plucked grain and ate it on a Sabbath. Jesus’ reply was that Sabbath was given for humans and not the other way around.

The two missional moments? It happens when Jesus heals the paralyzed man and when he tells Levi to “Follow me” which leads to the party. Our we willing to help others in their need where they are and are we willing to have a relationship with “sinners” and their friends at their place?

Questions to ponder:
1. Can sins lead to paralysis? Can forgiving sins heal paralysis?
2. Are you willing to be seen eating and cavorting with “sinners”? (Remember, when you talk to me you are talking to a sinner.)
3. What do you think about when you hear the phrase “Son of Man”?
4. Who is Jesus’ most potent adversary, demons, disease, and paralysis or humanity?

The Lectionary Readings for this week are:

1 Samuel 3:1-20 – The boy Samuel is living with the priest Eli. God calls Samuel but Samuel mistakes it for Eli. Eli then tells Samuel how to respond. When he does, God tells the boy about what will happen to Eli and Eli’s sons.

Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 – A psalm about the inescapability of God, who knows us, surrounds us, and is wherever we are.

1 Corinthians 6:12-20 – This can be a disturbing passage. First, “all things are lawful”, as Paul seems to be quoting the Corinthians. However, not all things are beneficial. Paul then writes about fornication (sexual intercourse outside of marriage) and tell the Corinthians to “stop it”. It seems that some in the Corinthian church were being sexually promiscuous because they thought all things were lawful. Paul says our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit and we should glorify God with our bodies.

John 1:43-51 – After Andrew and Simon follow Jesus, Jesus calls Philip to follow. Philip in turn finds Nathanael and asks him to check out Jesus.

May your week be blest by the presence of “tax collectors and sinners” as you serve God by serving others.

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Readings for Sunday, January 11, 2014

Hello Everyone,
Grace and Peace to you from Jesus Christ,

As I announced at the end of last week, we are embarking on an immersion into the Gospel of Mark. This journey is entitled “The Beginning of the Good News.” We will be reading the entire Gospel, sixteen (16) chapters in thirteen (13) weeks. This means we will be reading one to one-and-a-half chapters each week. The first six weeks will be the first six chapters. On weeks seven through twelve we will read one-and-a-half chapters (or a little more). Then on the last week we will read Mark 16:1-8 (perhaps the original ending of Mark) along with the shorter ending of Mark (unnumbered) and the longer ending, verses 9 to 20.

The traditional designations for certain Sundays may be irrelevant to our readings. This Sunday is “Baptism of the Lord Sunday” and it happens that Mark 1 contains the baptism of Jesus. February 15 is designated at “Transfiguration Sunday” but we will not read about the transfiguration until two week later, on March 1. “Palm Sunday” is scheduled for March 29 but we will be reading about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem two weeks earlier, on March 15. Finally, Easter is scheduled for April 5 and that is the day we will be reading about the empty tomb in Mark 16. Confused yet?

Through these thirteen weeks I will continue to email the Revised Common Lectionary readings for each week and I encourage you to read the appointed lessons along with our selection from the Gospel of Mark.

Our Reading for this week:
Mark 1 – “The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (BTW, in Greek “gospel” means “good news”.) And so begins the Gospel of Mark. Mark then quotes Isaiah and introduces us to John the Baptist who called the people to repentance. With three verses we read about Jesus’ baptism and with two verses we read about his temptation. John gets arrested and Jesus starts his ministry in Galilee.

When traveling and preaching by the Sea of Galilee (it’s really just a lake, Lake Gennesaret) Jesus calls his first four disciples Simon, Andrew, James, and John. We then read about the healing of a man with an unclean spirit in the synagogue in Capernaum and the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law that same day. Word gets around about this amazing healer and many of the town’s people bring their relatives for Jesus to heal. Early the next morning Jesus goes off to pray and be refreshed. When S, A, J, and J find him so that he could heal more people Jesus declares his intent to go to all the towns and villages with his message.

We then read about a leper that is healed. My translation, the New Revised Standard Version, says that Jesus is moved with “pity” when the leper comes to him. It also contains a note about that word “pity” saying that other ancient writings have “anger”. This is what I love about the Gospel of Mark, it is raw in depicting the emotions of Jesus. Why would Jesus be angry? He can’t be angry with a disease, can he? Perhaps he is angry with the way society has treated the man who has to beg for food and clothing yet cannot approach anyone because of his disfiguring disease. Anyway, Jesus heals the man and instructs him to tell no one, but the man cannot contain his joy and shouts the news to everyone.

Three lessons to think about. First, do we, like Jesus, take some time to pray and be refreshed? Second, the message cannot be contained in one town, one church, or one gathering. It must be taken to other people, other towns, other places. Third, how can we not tell others about what Jesus has done for us? We should be like the healed leper who tells everyone!

Lectionary Readings:
Genesis 1:1-5 – “In the beginning when God created . . . .” God saw that the light was good.

Psalm 29 – Ascribe glory to the Lord for his voice is over the waters, powerful, full of majesty, breaks cedars, flashes like flames, shakes the wilderness, causes oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare.

Acts 19:1-7 – Paul finds some disciples of John the Baptist in Ephesus. He asks them if they had received the Holy Spirit but they had only been baptized for repentance. Paul instructs them about the Holy Spirit and lays his hands on them so they could receive it.

Mark 1:4-11 – John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus. Coming out of the water Jesus sees the “heavens torn apart”, the Spirit descends upon him “like a dove”, and the voice from heaven declares Jesus to be “my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased”. Again, I love the dramatic nature of Mark when Jesus sees the “heavens torn apart”. Compare that with Matthew 3:16 “suddenly the heavens were opened to him” and Luke 3:21 “and he was praying, the heaven was opened.”

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor

Friday, January 2, 2015

Mark, the Beginning of the Good News!

Hello Everyone,

I have been thinking about this new sermon series for the last 6 weeks or so. My favorite Gospel in the Christian Testament is the Gospel of Mark. I like it because it is short, fast paced, earthy, and to the point. This is, in the opinion of many scholars, though maybe not all, is the first of the four Gospels to be written. Much of Mark has been incorporated into Matthew and Luke.

And speaking of the shortness of Mark, I challenge all of us to read the entire Gospel, sixteen chapters in all, sometime in this coming week. Also, when you get to Chapter 16, notice the footnote at verse 8 and the “Shorter Ending of Mark” and the “Longer Ending of Mark”.

The sermon series that I will be embarking on beginning Sunday, January 11, will encompass the entire Gospel in 13 weeks. We begin at chapter 1 with Jesus’ baptism and end on Easter Sunday, April 5, with Chapter 16 and his resurrection. In between, we will follow Jesus from his ministry in Galilee to his death on the cross. Yes, we will be covering large chunks of Mark, at minimum one full chapter a week, but we will hear the Good News!

By the way, the title of the sermon series “The Beginning of the Good News” are the opening words of the Gospel According to Mark. Come journey with me and bring a friend with you.

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor