Monday, August 24, 2015

Readings for Sunday, August 30, 2015

Hello Everyone,

Thank you for all who helped make “Church at Birch” a success despite the fact we had to move it into the church due to wind and rain. Thank you also to Randy Schwinghammer for his guitar work in support of our hymn singing.

Please keep in your prayers the family of Darlene Chase. Her funeral will be tomorrow at Peace United Church, Long Prairie, at 11 am.

We are continuing our sermon series, “We Believe” this Sunday, but we have finished our reading of Ephesians. I am not sure if any of this week’s assigned Lectionary readings will fit the the topic “We Believe in the Coming of God’s Realm and Reign in the World”. If not, I will choose another lesson.

Our reading for this week are:
Song of Solomon 2:8-13 – This book of the Bible is sometimes called “The Song of Songs” from the very first verse of the book. Christians, for the most part, are very uncomfortable with SoS. It doesn’t mention God, or God’s work of redemption. We have also been discomforted by its overt depiction of human sensual sexuality. Essentially, it is a love poem. However, as the commentator in my Bible puts it, “The song became part of the Bible precisely because readers felt that its depiction of physical human love is so beautiful and deep that it expresses the love between God and humans better than any other human document.” In our reading, the woman (the church?) is speaking about her lover (God?) and she quotes him in verses 10-13. He (God?) is asking her (the church?) to go with him.

Psalm 45:1-2, 6-9 – In the Bible I use in preparing these notes this Psalm is titled “Ode for a Royal Wedding”. The psalmist is so overjoyed with the upcoming wedding that he wants to write this for the king (verse 1). He then heaps praises on the king (verses 2) while reminding him that his rule (verses 6-7) and everything he has, including the queen (verses 8-9), are gifts from God.

OR Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9 – Deuteronomy reads like a last will and testament by Moses. In these verses, Moses tells the people to listen to everything he has to tell them and to follow them completely without adding anything to them or taking anything away. If they do so, God will give them the land, Canaan, that lies before them.

Psalm 15 – Who can live with God? According to the psalmist only those who are blameless, who speak truth, who do not slander, do not commit evil, do not reproach neighbors, do not lend money at interest, and do not take bribes.

James 1:17-27 – James begins like a letter but reads more like a series of lessons on how to live as followers of Jesus. If you want to get the full impact of what James says to us start at the beginning and read all of chapter 1. Are you facing trials (v. 2)? Face them with joy. Are you lacking in wisdom (5)? Ask God who generously gives. Feeling lowly (9)? Boast in being raised up? Feeling wealthy (10)? Boast in being brought low. Facing temptations (12)? They are not from God for God tempts no one. It comes from your own desires. Feeling generous (17)? That generosity comes from God. Are you so angry that you want to berate someone or everyone (19)? Try being slow to speak and quick to listen. The followers of Christ are people who do God’s word when they hear them. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23 – After 5 weeks in John 6, we return to the Gospel of Mark. When I finish the current sermon series I will start another 9 week series, “On the Mend”, based on the Mark lectionary readings starting with this one. This means I will be two weeks behind but I think it will be a good series. The lectionary has given us only part of the story focused on cleanliness going into the body versus coming out of the body. It skips the part where Jesus chastises the Pharisees for being hypocrites. I will probably us all 23 verses. The question that we might want to ask ourselves is, “Which does more harm to God’s Church and/or God’s children: what I eat and drink or how I verbally abuse other people?”

May you be blessed by our readings this week and may you grow stronger in God’s love that you may share that love with others.

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Readings for Sunday, August 23, 2015

Hello Everyone,

I started this email a couple of hours ago before the rain in Long Prairie started. Then at about 3 pm the power went out. Fortunately, I hadn’t written too much so this restart isn’t too bad.

One announcement: This coming Sunday GEUMC will have it’s annual “Church at Birch”. Worship is being held at Janet and John Roe’s place on Big Birch Lake, 11057 Todd County Rd. 47, about a mile south of the church. We will start worship at 9:00 AM and there will be a potluck brunch following worship. I hope to see you there.

Here are the Lectionary Scriptures assigned for this coming Sunday. (I will be continuing my sermon series, “We Believe”. This week: “We believe in Faith and Good Works.”)

1 Kings 8:1, 6, 10-11, 22-30, 41-43 – Solomon’s workers have built the Temple to God in Jerusalem. The priests bring the Ark of the Covenant from the tent to the Temple. Once installed, smoke fill the Temple and Solomon offers a prayer (verses 22-53). There is some unintended irony in his prayer. Remember what Solomon has done to become king and to consolidate his power: several half-brothers and a couple of David’s adversaries are murdered at his command. He then prays, “[condemn] the guilty by bringing their conduct on their own head . . .” Perhaps the rest of Solomon’s story will tell whether his prayer is answered. One writer compared this story to the baptismal scene at the end of “The Godfather”. I would post a link to the YouTube clip but it is a bit grizzly.

Psalm 84 – The psalmist longs to worship God in the Temple. He or she knows the joy and happiness of worship. “For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.” (verse 10)

Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18 – Joshua’s leadership of Israel is nearing its end and Joshua convenes all of Israel to hear his witness. He knows how easy it is to turn away from following God and he pleads with the nation to remain faithful no matter what. He says that everyone must choose and the better way in life is to choose God.

Psalm 34:15-22 – The psalmist declares that God, the Lord, is keeping watch over the righteous and will punish the evildoers. The Lord will rescue the righteous from whatever afflicts them and the Lord will redeem those who love God.

Ephesians 6:10-20 – Paul urges the people of Ephesus to “be strong in the Lord”. This will come when they, and we put on the “whole armor of God”. The armor will protect us from the evil forces of this world. It is interesting that he says that our enemies are not other people (verse 12a) yet so often Christians claim that other people are the enemy. As Pogo once said, “We have seen the enemy and the enemy is us.” What is the armor? It is the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteous, shoes to proclaim the gospel, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God. Paul finishes by asking the community to pray “at all times in every prayer and supplication.” So, how do you dress in the morning?

John 6:56-69 – This is the last week on the “Bread of Life”. There is a bit of overlap from last week with verses 56-58 repeated. What Jesus says is troubling and not everyone can accept it and follow Jesus. Many disciples abandon him at this time. Jesus asks the 12 disciples if they want to leave also. They respond, “Lord, where can we go because you have the words of eternal life?” Even with their pledge to follow one will betray him. Where do you find life? Is it eternal?

May the Lord God bless your reading this week and may you taste the bread of eternal life.

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor
Peace United Church, Long Prairie
Grey Eagle UMC, Grey Eagle

Monday, August 10, 2015

Readings for Sunday, August 16, 2015

Hello Everyone,

This coming Sunday will be week six in our sermon series, “We Believe”. This week “We Believe in Transforming and Perfecting Grace”. I have mentioned grace a number of times in the series so far and now we will delve deeper. How has Grace been active in your life?

If you didn’t make it to church yesterday you missed a great day. Three children were baptized: Wesley John Tschida in Grey Eagle (If you are Methodist you gotta love the name!); Natalee Elaine Lahr and Myles William Rutledge Larson at Peace United! Thank you parents for allowing me to be a part of this blessed moment in your children’s lives.

Our lessons for this coming Sunday are:

1 Kings 2:10-12, 3:3-14 – David’s family has gone to pot and Bathsheba schemes to have her son, Solomon who is third or fourth in line, named as heir to the throne. Before you read our texts you should read the beginning of 1 Kings where David’s advisors find a beautiful young virgin to lay with the king because in his old age he cannot get warm. (I wonder what my wife would think of this arrangement?) In our reading, the first three verses records David’s death. In the verses that our reading skips Solomon assumes the throne and proceeds to eliminate any and all rivals including his half-brothers by assassination and banishment. The longer portion of our reading is the famous story of God asking Solomon to name any gift he desired and God would give it to him. As we know, Solomon asks for wisdom and the LORD is pleased. Seems odd considering what Solomon did before this.

Psalm 130 – We, the gathered congregation, recite this Psalm at nearly every funeral which I lead.

OR Proverbs 9:1-6 – Wisdom has set a feast and calls us to live and walk in the way of insight.

Psalm 34:9-14 – Those who desire the Lord will need nothing. This is followed by reminders to curb our tongues and refrain from evil.

Ephesians 5:15-20 – More exhortations from Paul to refrain from evil and to live a life proper to people who are followers of Christ. In this short reading, Paul invokes the triune God: “be filled with the Spirit . . . giving thanks to God the Father . . . in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This will be our starting point for talking about God’s Grace.

John 6:51-58 – Jesus is still arguing with the Jewish authorities over the meaning of Jesus being the bread of life (6:22-58). What Jesus says here causes concern and controversy. In fact, the words are so hard many disciples stop following him (6:66). The words that Jesus speaks verges on cannibalism. It is even more difficult if you change one word “eats”. In this passage there are three different Greek words that are all translated as “eats”. In verse 53 the English should be “eats”. In verses 54, 56, and 58 should be “chews” or “gnaws”. In verse 57 it might be translated “consumes”. This is indeed difficult to read and hear. How are we to “eat”, “chew”, and “consume” Jesus? How does that lead to eternal life?

May the Lord bless you this day as you read our Scripture lessons. “The Scriptures contain all that is necessary for our salvation.” (John Wesley)

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Readings for Sunday, August 9, 2015

Hello Everyone,

We are continuing our Sermon Series “We Believe”. This week’s topic will be “We Believe in Practicing Theology”. The word “theology” comes from two Greek words: “theo” meaning “God” and “ology” meaning “knowledge”. “Theology” = “Knowledge of God”. Everyone, especially every Christian, has some knowledge of God. However, knowledge in our heads should be paired with knowledge in our hearts and this knowledge is then lived out in our lives and with our hands. (I guess this makes us the 3-H and not quite the 4-H (Head, Heart, Hands, and Health).)

Our readings this week are:

2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33 – Much has happened in the family of David, King of Israel, from last week’s reading to this one. The child that was born Bathsheba and David dies. Later she becomes pregnant and gives birth to another boy who is Solomon. A son of David, Ammon, rapes his step-sister Tamar. Two years later, her full brother Absalom avenges her rape by killing Ammon. David is quite upset but eventually forgives Absalom. However, Absalom usurps the throne and declares himself king so David must flee for his life. After several battles, David’s loyal army defeats Absalom’s army, which brings us to our reading. As they are winning the last battle David commands his generals Joab, Abishai, and Ittai to deal gently with Absalom. In a strange tale, Absalom is riding a donkey that goes under a tree. Absalom’s head gets wedged in a branch fork of the tree while the donkey rides out from under him. One of Joab’s men saw it but did nothing except report it to Joab. Joab went and took three spears and thrust them through Absalom followed by 10 other men who finished killing him. Eventually, David is told the news and he mourns deeply for his son in verse 33.

Psalm 130 – We recite this Psalm at all the funerals we conduct in our churches. It is the sixth of seven so called “Penitential Psalms” which also include 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, and 143. All these Psalms express the sorrow of the psalmist for his/her sins. The last two verses in Psalm 130 exude hope because of God steadfast love and God’s power to redeem.

1 Kings 19:4-8 – Elijah and the people following him have killed 450 priests of Baal. King Ahab and Queen Jezebel hear the news and Jezebel vows vengeance. Elijah runs for the hills. Our verses tell how God provided for Elijah with cake and water.

Psalm 34:1-8 – The Psalmist praises God for God’s role in saving her from her troubles. The famous line is in verse 8: “O taste and see that the Lord is good.”

Ephesians 4:25-5:2 – In verse 4:17, Paul tells the Church at Ephesus that they “must no longer live as the Gentiles live.” What does that mean for us today? That is a great question to ponder. Beginning in verse 25, Paul writes about what it means to live as a Follower of Christ: speaking truth; being angry but without sin; laboring and working honestly; sharing with the needy; using words that build up and give grace and not take down; not grieving the Holy Spirit; putting away all bitterness, wrath, anger, wrangling, slander, and malice; being kind, tender hearted, and forgiving. He finishes with the idea that we should be imitators of Christ, living in love. These are strong words and they remind us on how we should live the “Christian” life. So much of what I hear in the media today from some, if not many, so called “Christians” does not sound like Paul’s understanding of what it means to be a Christian. They sound bitter and angry. They often slander others and their words reek of malice. How do we live as Christians in today’s world. To do that we have to practice our knowledge of Jesus (God). A good starting point for this Sunday’s message.

John 6:35, 41-51 – Jesus, the Bread of Life, is still point-counter pointing with the Jewish leadership over the meaning of “Bread of Life” and the idea that anyone who “eats” that bread will have eternal life. Verse 51 verges on cannibalism, which will have repercussions next week.

So, how do we follow Christ? The answer is easy: Imitate Christ. Or is it?

May God bless your week ahead and may you serve God by serving others.

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor