Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Renew Your Covenant

Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

May the Blessings and Grace of God fill you up this and every day.

This coming Sunday (I write this on Tuesday, December 27, 2016) is New Year’s Day, January 1, 2017. Many of us will stay up to midnight on December 31 to celebrate the beginning of the new year. Some may go out to a gathering at a restaurant or bar to celebrate with friends. Some may stay home and ring in the New Year with family and/or friends. Many of those parties will include the use of alcohol as we toast the New Year with wine or sparkling wine or beer or another beverage of choice. Some will celebrate at sober-parties and toast the New Year with Coke, Pepsi, or 7-Up, or sparkling apple juice. Almost all of us will stay up to 12:30 or 1:00 am or later.

For most years, that is not necessarily a problem. We just sleep in on New Year’s Day, drinking lots of coffee, watch the parades and then watch the football games. This year New Year’s Day is on Sunday and both churches will be having worship services. In fact, this will be our 8th Annual Covenant Renewal Service. In my life, this is an incredibly important Sunday, following Easter, Pentecost, and Christmas. So I encourage you, in fact, I challenge you, to come to worship this Sunday.

Covenants are part of being a believer in God and a follower of Jesus the Messiah. God made numerous covenants with the people of Israel in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). In the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) Jesus makes a final covenant when he shared his last meal with the disciples. In Mark 14:24, when Jesus passes around the cup of wine he says, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” In Matthew 26:28 Jesus says, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” In Luke 22:20 he says, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”

A covenant is like a contract where two parties make an agreement and spell out the responsibilities of each party. When we were baptized we, or our parents, covenanted with God to be faithful to God’s call, presence, and work in our lives. (If we were baptized as infants, we then “confirm” that covenant during our Confirmation.) God and Jesus Christ, in turn, covenants with us to forgive us, save us, be with us, and strengthen us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (John 14-16, numerous verses). God is always faithful to God’s side of the covenant, but we often fail on our side. Often it is because we become tepid, blasé, or forgetful. We need to be reminded, sometimes daily, that we belong to God and that God calls us to better ways of living in love.

The purpose of the Covenant Renewal Service is not to re-secure God’s part but to shore up our side. We will remember our Baptism Covenant, restate our desire to follow God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), and remember Jesus’ command to and covenant with us as we eat together the Holy Meal; the bread and the juice; the Body and the Blood.

I hope and pray that you will join with me this Sunday in the Covenant Renewal Service.

Grace and Peace be with you in 2017,

Pastor Gary

What Sunday is this? Readings for Sunday, January 1, 2017

Hello Everyone,

First, many thanks go out to a successful and joyous Christmas Eve Worship. Thank you, Bob Kutter, for leading worship at Grey Eagle UMC and thanks to the approximately 115 people in attendance. Thanks to the 76 people who came to worship at Peace United and all the children who helped me ring the bells.

Second, thank you everyone who joined with me in worshiping on Christmas Day. It was an intimate, relaxed, quiet, and meaningful worship for me along with nine people at Grey Eagle and seven at Peace United. We may have been small in number but I am assured that God honors our worship no matter the size of the congregation.

Third, this Sunday, January 1 (yes, I know it is New Year's Day), we will be having our Annual Covenant Renewal Service. Suspecting that there will be a light turnout for worship that morning, I CHALLENGE EVERYONE to do your best to make it to church. I believe that we need an annual checkup on how we our keeping our side of the covenant with God and the first Sunday of the year is as good a time as any. Of course, God is always faithful to the covenant, but how are we doing? The service will include our Covenant Renewal Service with a remembrance of our Baptisms and the Service of the Table a.k.a. Communion.

So, what Sunday is this that we are coming up on? The Lectionary is all over on this one. It is either the First Sunday after Christmas, or it is New Year's Day, or it is Epiphany Sunday. There are four readings assigned to each of them. On top of that, we will have some different reading for our Covenant Renewal Service.

First Sunday After Christmas
Isaiah 63:7-9 - God's Mercy Remembered
Psalm 148 - Praise for God's Universal Glory
Hebrews 2:10-18 - We are brought to glory by the suffering of Jesus
Matthew 2:13-23 - The escape to and return from Egypt for Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus.

New Year's Day
Ecclesiastes 3:1-13 - Everything Has Its Time; God Gives Us Tasks
Psalm 8 - Divine Majesty and Human Dignity
Revelation 21:1-6a - The Seer John has a vision of the New Heaven and the New Earth.
Matthew 25:31-46 - The parable of the Judgment of the Nations: Goats to the left, Sheep to the right.

Epiphany Sunday
Isaiah 60:1-6 - The Light will shine in the darkness and all nations will come to it.
Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14 - Prayer for Guidance for the King; Three Kings Bring Gifts
Ephesians 3:1-12 - Paul has become a servant to the Gospel for the sake of the Gentiles.
Matthew 2:1-12 - The visit of the magi who bring three gifts.

Covenant Renewal Service
Joshua 24:14-15 - Joshua is coming to the end of his life and he calls all the tribes of Israel to listen to his charge: Remember what God has done for you and then choose whom you will serve. It will either be the One God who saved and saves you or it will be the gods of the people in whose land you now live. Or, as the Nobel Prize winning poet once sang: 

          But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
          You're gonna have to serve somebody
          Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
          but you're gonna have to serve somebody.

Joshua said that he and his family will choose to serve the Lord. Who will you serve?

1 John 1:5-2:6 - God is light. There is no darkness in God. (I would define darkness as violence, vindictiveness, and seeking retribution.) When we walk in the Light we have fellowship with one another and our sins are cleansed by the blood of Jesus. Those who claim to follow Jesus but do not live by his commandment (see below) are not true followers and do not live in the Light. "But whoever obeys His Word, truly in this person the love of God has reached . . . (wait for it . . . ) perfection."

John 13:12-20, 31-35 - It is the night that Judas betrays Jesus. Jesus and the disciples have gathered for a supper. Before they eat, Jesus puts a towel around his waist and washes the disciples feet. He then asks them about this act and tells them that they should be like servants (not like masters). Jesus then gives them one commandment, one thing to do, one way of living their lives: Love one another just as Jesus has loved them. Those words resound through the ages and speak to us. Do we as followers of Christ love each other? Do we love our neighbors as ourselves? Do we love God as God loves us?

Have a great week serving the Lord God by serving your neighbors. Have a wonderful New Year's Eve and I will see you on Sunday.

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Readings for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, 2016

Hello Everyone,

I hope and pray that all is well with you and your family. While we normally think of this time of year as being a time of joy, many people find Christmas and New Year's Eve to be a draining and depressing time. Please take time to check in with your loved ones and let them know that they are loved and valued.

As you already know, Christmas Eve is this coming Saturday. Grey Eagle United Methodist Church and Peace United Church will hold their candle lighting services at 4:00 PM. We conclude our sermon series "God Bless Us Everyone: The Redemption of Scrooge" based on Charles Dickens' serialized novel "The Christmas Carol". This Sunday the focus is on "Keeping Christmas Well". Bob Kutter will be leading worship at Grey Eagle UMC and I will be at Peace United. We hope to see you there.

For those who desire to worship on Sunday, December 25, otherwise known as Christmas Day, I will be at both church at our regular worship times: 9:00 am at GEUMC and 10:30 am at PUC. These will be very informal. We will read the Christmas stories, sing a bunch of Christmas carols, and talk about what Christmas means to us.

For the sermon series our lessons will be:

Luke 1:26-38 - The angel Gabriel visits the young girl Mary, who was engaged to the man Joseph, to tell her that she has been chosen by God to be the mother of God's Son, Jesus. "How can that happen since I am still a virgin?" she asked. "By the power of the Holy Spirit which will also make the child holy," said Gabriel, "for nothing is impossible for God." Put yourself in the place of Mary. How would you respond? Could Mary have responded differently?

Luke 2:1-20 - The emperor wants to count people and everyone has to go to their ancestral home for that count. Joseph traces his roots to Jesse and David so he packs up and takes pregnant Mary to Bethlehem. The town is crowded because of the census and the family that takes them in does not have a guest room (the same Greek word for the room Jesus had his last meal in with his disciples, see https://goo.gl/RIu1hf) for them. When it comes time to give birth, Mary is surrounded by the women of the house to give her privacy. The baby is then laid in the manger. Angels visit shepherd who are tending their sheep outside of Bethlehem to tell them about the birth of this child. They go into town, find the child, and they tell everyone what the angels said. Mary "pondered" in her heart all that happened.

Matthew 2:1-14 - This is the story of the visit of the wizards-magicians-astrologers to see the recently born King of the Jews. They first stop at Jerusalem because kings are usually born in the capital city. King Herod was frightened by their story; tells them no he is not here; then sends them to Bethlehem on the advice of the scholars. They find the boy; worship him as king; and gives the family three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. That night they are warned in their dreams to not go back to Herod so they return home without a stop in Jerusalem. Meanwhile, Joseph is warned in a dream that Herod wants to kill the boy Jesus. He packs up Mary and Jesus and they went to Egypt.

For Christmas Eve, the Lectionary assigns these verses:

Isaiah 9:2-7 - The prophet says that there is hope for the future for the people of Israel. Joy will be increased and their burdens will be lifted. For a son will be born who will be a Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. His kingdom will be established and there will be endless peace.

Psalm 96 - The psalmist call all the earth to sing a new song to the Lord. We are to declare God's glory to the nations and the people of all the nations for God is King and he will judge the nations with equity. This is good news so that the earth rejoices, the heavens are glad, the seas roar, the fields exult, and all the trees will sing for joy.

Titus 2:11-14 - God has appeared to bring salvation so that we may renounce impiety and worldly passions and live lives that are "self-controlled, upright, and godly". In the meantime we wait for the next appearance of Jesus. It is Jesus who gave himself so that we might be redeemed and become "zealous for good deeds."

Luke 2:1-20 - See above.

For Christmas Day, the readings are:

Isaiah 52:7-10 - The messenger brings the announcement of salvation because God reigns upon the earth and all shall see God's return. The Lord's return will bring comfort and redemption to the people of Jerusalem and Judah. All will see God's salvation.

Psalm 98 - Similar to Psalm 96 above, the psalmist calls on all creation to sing praises to the Lord. The Lord has made known his victory and remembers his "steadfast love" and "faithfulness". Let all of creation rejoice and sing.

Hebrews 1:1-4 (5-12) - In the past God spoke to the people through prophets. In the days of the writer of Hebrews, God spoke through a Son (Jesus). We believe that Jesus is fully God and fully human. We believe the first part because of verse 3. Christ is God, the exact imprint of God's very being, and Christ sustains all things by his powerful word (this may be a reference to the power of the Holy Spirit). Verses 4 through 12 are about humanity being superior to angels.

John 1:1-14 - This is the grand opening to the Gospel According to John. Jesus is the Word of God. This Word has existed from the beginning. The Word was with God and the Word is in fact God who created and creates all things. This Word became human (flesh). Yet the world did not see or recognize this human Word. But those who receive this Word become Children of God. This Word became flesh and we have seen it, "full of grace and truth."

Have a glorious, joyful, and fruitful week before Christmas. Share God's Word with all you meet by greeting them with "Merry Christ mas!" No, that is not a typo.

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Readings for Sunday, December 18, 2016

Hello Everyone,

Grace and Peace be with you in Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.

We continue our Sermon Series "God Bless Us Everyone: The Redemption of Scrooge". This is the Fourth Sunday of Advent and the theme is "The Hope of Christmas Future: Death-Defying Acts". Our scripture for this week are:

Revelation 1:4-8 - John of Patmos writes to seven churches in what is now Turkey about a vision he saw. These opening words testify to the fact that God (One God: Father, Son, and Spirit) has always been, is now loving and freeing us, and will always be into the future the Almighty.

Romans 8:4b-17 - If we live by the ways of the world's systems and powers (Paul calls this "flesh") we will surely die. If we live by the way of God's love in us (Spirit) we will find life, true life. If Christ lives in us then the Spirit is in us. If the Spirit is in us then we are the children of God. We are sisters and brothers to Jesus Christ and we inherit the Kingdom with him.

Luke 4:18-19 - Jesus has gone to the synagogue in Nazareth and is asked to read from scripture and speak. I asks for the scroll of Isaiah and reads from it. These are the words that inform Jesus' mission. 

Our Lectionary Readings are:

Isaiah 7:10-16 - The current king of Judah, Ahaz, is reluctant to call upon God for help. Isaiah is sent to him. He urges Ahaz to aks but still Ahaz refuses. So Isaiah say to Ahaz, "Ok, God will give you a sign anyway. A young woman will give birth to a son and his name is "God With Us". 

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19 - The Psalmist calls on the God to restore Israel to its former glory and the people will never again turn its back on the Lord.

Romans 1:1-7 - This is the beginning salutation of the letter from Paul to the church in Rome. He identifies himself as one who was set apart to proclaim the Gospel of God. This Gospel was promised by the prophets in Scripture (Old Testament). This Gospel is Jesus Christ who was raised from the dead and gave us grace and apostleship to bring the news to those who were not Jewish.

Matthew 1:18-25 - Joseph is engaged to Mary. She gets pregnant but it is not by Joseph. Rather than have her stoned, as is his right in that time and place, he decides to leave her quietly. Then the angel appears in a dream telling him to be the husband Mary needs and the father the child will need. The angel tells him that the child will be a boy and that he is to name the boy Jesus. When he awoke he did as the angel commanded.

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Lectionary Readings for December 11, 2016

Hello Everyone,

We will be continuing our Sermon Series "God Bless Us Everyone". This week's sermon is titled "The Life of Christmas Present: Look Upon Me". This sermon series does not follow the Lectionary Reading list. The two scripture lesson for the series are:

Deuteronomy 15:7-11 - Do you ever wonder if there is a Biblical Law commanding us to give willingly, joyfully, and generously to the poor? Well, here it is and it is NOT ambiguous. "If there is anyone in need in your community . . . open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land."

Matthew 2:1-18 - This is typically a reading for Epiphany Day (January 6, the 13th day after Christmas). This is the full and disturbing story of the visit of the magi who bring gifts to the recently born King of Israel. The Wizards of an Eastern Country or Kingdom see a sign in the stars and follow it to Jerusalem. They ask King Herod where the baby has been born. Herod hears this as a threat to his reign and rank in the Roman Empire. Consulting the priests and scribes, he learns that Bethlehem is the town, so he sends the Wizards on their way commanding them to return and let him know where to find the baby king. The Wizards find the child, give the gifts they brought, and prepare to leave. This is the story we most often read in our modern Christmas story. But there is more. An angel warns the Wizards to return home without going back to Herod. Another angel warns Joseph that Herod wants Jesus dead. Joseph then takes Mary and Jesus to Egypt to escape. When the Wizards fail to return, Herod gets really p----d off and sends troops to Bethlehem to kill every boy two years old or younger. (This lets us know that the visit of the Wizards could have happened two years after Jesus' birth. They may have seen the star sign when Jesus was born and taken two years of travel to find Jesus.) The big question of the story is, "If God's angel warned Jesus, why weren't the other families warned?" Maybe they did but the recipients of the message ignored the warning. Think of all the people who stay behind after being told to get out of the way of an incoming hurricane.

Our Lectionary Readings are:
Isaiah 35:1-10 - The wilderness will bloom abundantly and the desert will have its rain. Tell the weak and afraid to stand firm for the Lord will come to save. When that happens the blind will see, the deaf will hear, the lame will leap, and the speechless will sing with joy. A Highway will be built to bring the exiles back to Israel and the Holy Way will be made safe. The redeemed of Israel will return home and they will be joyful. Jesus refers to this passage in our Matthew reading below.

Psalm 146:5-10 - Those who place their hope in God are happiest. The Lord will bring justice for the oppressed, food for the hungry, and will set the prisoners free. The Lord lift up those bowed down and will watch over strangers, widows, and orphans.

James 5:7-10 - James calls for us to be patient in waiting for the Lord. Much like a farmer waiting for the harvest. Until the coming of the Lord we are to be patient with each other, not grumbling against another, and refraining from judging others because the true Judge is coming.

Matthew 11:2-11 - John the Baptist is in prison and hearing about the work and preaching of Jesus, the one he baptized. He sends messengers to ask Jesus if Jesus is the one John has been waiting for. Jesus tells the messengers to report to John what they have heard and seen: the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are made clean, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor hear the Good News. When they leave Jesus asks the crowds what they expected about John. He praises John claiming that there is no one greater then him. Yet, even the least in the Kingdom is greater than John. The rest of Jesus' discourse about John continues in verses 12-19. Verse 12 is especially interesting. The NRSV translation reads "the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence and the violent take it by force." It notes an alternate, "the kingdom of heaven has been coming violently, and the violent take it by force." The NET Bible has an alternate reading, "the kingdom of heaven is forcibly entered and violent people take hold of it." The NIV reads, "the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it." Whew. What do you make of this disturbing verse?

Have a great week reading scripture and listening to the voice of God lead you into all righteousness.

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor