Monday, May 29, 2017

Readings for Pentecost Sunday, June 4, 2017

Hello Everyone,

The following is from my reflections about Pentecost Sunday that I wrote on June 9, 2011. Many of the points I made then are still relevant today. Enjoy.

This Sunday is Pentecost Sunday and it is the traditional birthday of the church. Church, and how church is done, has changed over the millennium, sometimes for good and sometimes not. Sometimes it seems that the prayer of Jesus in John 17 that we be one together is just another utopian pipe dream. We argue about doctrinal differences, social policy, and who is right and who is wrong. We have even killed each other over those differences. Christianity currently has three main branches: Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant. Within Protestantism there are literally hundreds of denominations worldwide. One of the biggest problems for the 2000 year old church, especially in Europe and North America, is the loss of worshipers, particularly the teenagers and young adults. How are we to do church and be church that will be meaningful to this group? Can we do church without being church? Can we be church without doing church? The earliest church, the first few decades after Pentecost, was a gathering of people (mostly lower class workers, servants, and slaves) in homes around a meal to remember Jesus Christ in the bread and wine, to learn to live in God’s family with love, and to then reach out to others with the hope, love, grace and forgiveness of the Gospel. Can this be the model for “church” for our young people?

Since the color for Pentecost Sunday is red, I invite you to wear something red to church this Sunday. Guys, it can be as simple as wearing a red tie. Ladies, red hats in church would be fun if you have them. Pass the word on to others who don’t get this email.

Our readings this week are all about God’s Spirit.

Numbers 11:24-30 – There is trouble brewing in “desert” city (apologies to “Music Man”). The Israelites are still wandering in the desert and they are grumbling again. Earlier, when they complained about the lack of food to eat, God gave them manna. Now they are complaining to Moses about manna. Can you hear it? “Manna for breakfast, manna for lunch and manna for dinner. Manna pancakes, manna fried, manna biscuits, manna bread, manna chips, and manna soup; when will we get some meat?” Moses can’t bear the complaints and he complains to God. God tells Moses to find 70 elders. God then gives the elders a portion of the spirit that he gave Moses and they prophesy for one time. This is supposed to relieve the burden that Moses carries although we don’t know how it relieves that burden. God also promises to give the people meat to eat, so much that they will find it coming out of their noses and choking on it. (The quails that are given actually bring death to many of the people) This is the bulk of chapter 11. Our passage is only about the 70 elders and 2 others that receive God’s spirit.

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b – The entire Psalm is about praising God who has created all things. God’s spirit brings life and all is renewed. This Psalm is about the goodness of God and God’s creation except the little bit of verse 35 that the Lectionary skipped. After praising God for 34 verses the psalmist has to take a swipe at sinners and the wicked.

1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 – According to Paul, the Spirit is manifest in all Christians in different ways. Each gift that is given is given by the same Spirit. Paul also lists the gifts that are given by the Spirit. In verses 12-13 Paul compares the variety of gifts given to the one body of Christ, the Church, to the variety of organs and appendages of one human body, all working for the good of the body.

Acts 2:1-21 – The giving of the Spirit of God to the Disciples on Pentecost. Pentecost was a Jewish festival and many people had traveled to Jerusalem. The Disciples are gathered in the upper room. They hear a sound like the rushing of the wind. They see tongues as of fire resting on each of them. They then begin to speak in other languages. (This is not “speaking in tongues”.) The crowds gathered and heard the disciples in their native languages. Are they drunk? Peter begins to speak and tells the crowds that this was prophesied in the Scriptures (Old Testament). We read the last part of Peter’s sermon several weeks ago and we heard the results: 3000 we added to the believers. Since it is assumed that many of those new believers were from all the places listed in the text, when they returned home they became the foundation of church when the apostles got there.

John 7:37-39 – This is our last reading in John for a while, until December 17. Next week we will return to Matthew. In this short passage, Jesus calls on the people to come to the living waters which John associates with the Spirit.

The Spirit is a wind, a tongue of fire, and living waters. The Spirit gives gifts. How does the Spirit blow in you? Is it burning in and on you? Can you drink in the Spirit? What gift do you use for the glory of God’s kingdom/family?

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Readings for Sunday, May 28, 2017

Hello Everyone,
This week I have been busy, or not, with my “stay-cation”. Because of this, I am reprising my commentary from 2014, which I have been doing lately. You can find this week’s comments below or at my blog “Rural Minnesota Ministry” here: (I found typos in the blog which have been corrected below, but there is no guarantee that I found all of them).
Acts 1: (1-5) 6-14 – The day of Ascension is this Thursday, May 29. According to Luke, the writer of Acts, Jesus was with the disciples on and off for 40 days from the day of his resurrection (Acts 1:3). During this time he tells them not to leave Jerusalem (which is quite different from Matthew 28:10-11 and John 21:1 (Sea of Tiberias = Sea of Galilee, which is only a lake)). On the 40th day, while with the disciples, Jesus was “lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight.” They must have just stood there for some time with their heads tilted upward and the jaw agog when two men showed up and asked them why they were staring upward. Returning to Jerusalem they, the remaining eleven, then chose Matthias to replace Judas (verses 15-26).

Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35 – Praise be to God who saves Israel; who protects the orphans and leads out the prisoners; who gives rain to the land. Sing to God who gives power and strength to his people. Blessed be God!

1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11 – Peter continues to counsel his churches who are suffering “fiery ordeals”, probably some outside persecution. Is it possible to rejoice in our suffering? Is it good to be ridiculed because of Christ? Does it make any difference to know that other Christians are suffering at the same time we are suffering? Peter ends with hope and promise for those who suffer for God, he writes, will “restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.”

John 17:1-11 – All of John 17 is Jesus’ prayer for his disciples. It is generally agreed that there are three sections: for himself in his immediate circumstance, his current disciples, and the disciples and followers of the future (the church). Each year in the Lectionary cycle the seventh Sunday of Easter is focused on one or more of those sections. This year, year A in the cycle, his prayer is for himself (1-5) and the first part of his prayer for the disciples (6-11). The overall theme of the prayer is faithfulness to God’s ways so that God’s glory will be revealed and there will be unity in the midst of division. For the first thousand years of the church there was an uneasy unity with the power of the church located in Rome and Constantinople (Istanbul). The first schism (split) was about 1050 between east and west. The next schism was in the sixteenth century with Martin Luther, John Calvin, King Henry VIII, and the Anabaptists (we label it the Reformation). There are now several thousand denominations and splinter groups under the umbrella title of “Protestant”. Disunity seems to be our way of life. Oh how we grieve the heart of God. Please pray for the United Methodist Church as there are now people and groups who are calling for a separating over the issue of full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the life of the church. I believe we can find a middle way and stay unified.

May the Lord Bless You this week. Serve God by serving your neighbor.

Pastor Gary 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Readings for Sunday, May 21, 2017

Hello Everyone,

First, thank you to everyone at Grey Eagle UMC who helped make the Mother's Day Coffee and the Annual Waffle Supper so successful this past Saturday. Your work, dedication, and joy made the day wonderful. Thank you!

Secondly, this coming Sunday will be New Member Sunday. Several people who have been attending our church for a while and have supported the churches in many ways will becoming members. We welcome them and rejoice that they have graced Grey Eagle UMC and Peace United Church with their prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness. Join with us as we celebrate them this Sunday.

Our readings for this coming Sunday, the Sixth Sunday of Easter, comes from an email I sent in 2014:

Acts 17:22-31 – Paul stops in Athens while on his second missionary journey. This stop is recorded in Acts 17:16-34. As usual, Paul goes to the local synagogue and market places to speak about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What distressed him most about Athens is the number of idols and temples in the city. He was invited to speak to interested listeners at Areopagus (perhaps “Ares Rock” which became, in Latin, “Mars Hill”). Our reading is Paul’s short sermon, or at least a very condensed version of it. Paul employs a wonderful hook at the beginning in which he complements the Athenians on how religious they must be due to all the idols and temples they have. He quickly mentions a temple to “an unknown god” and suggests that this god is in fact God. Paul doesn’t mention Jesus by name (here) but some listeners are intrigued by “resurrection from the dead”. How do we tell others about God and Jesus? Do we start with something our listeners are interested in and guide their curiosity? Or do we “hit them over the head” with the Gospel? (Is it really the Gospel if we use it as a bludgeon?)

Psalm 66:8-20 – The entire Psalm is titled in my Bible as “Praise for God’s Goodness to Israel”. In our reading the Psalmist sees the hand of God in Israel’s trials and tribulations (vs. 8-12a) but he also sees that God guided them through to the other side (12b). Because of this, the psalmist will offer up burnt offerings of bulls and goats (13-15). Then the psalmists invites all who hear him to to listen to his story because God has listened and not rejected (16-20). Do we blame God for the trials in life or do we praise God for being present with us through those trials?

1 Peter 3:13-22 – Why do we suffer? (See Psalm 66 above.) That is humanity’s eternal question. Why do our good deeds and acts often result in our suffering? If we start with verses 8-9 we see that Peter is encouraging his readers, us, to continue doing the good things even if we suffer for it. He also suggests that we be ready with a defense that is presented gently and reverently. He asks if it is better to suffer for doing good or doing evil. The last 5 verses may seem a bit strange. It starts well by reminding us that Christ also suffered. It then become strange when Peter says that Christ made proclamation to the spirits in prison, that is, those who did not listen to God in the days of Noah. As Noah and seven others were saved through the waters so too we are saved through baptism. Are you scratching your head yet? And what is baptism? It is an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. So, what is the point of this passage? Suffering is okay if we are suffering for doing good? What about the baptism that saves us? And what about the spirits in prison? Were they set free, redeemed, by the proclamation of Christ?

John 14:15-21 – I think you should read the rest of the chapter (22-31) along with this passage for more information about the activity of the Holy Spirit. As it was last week, Jesus is discussing with his disciples the things that will happen when he is arrested, tried, crucified, and buried. He is trying to help them through the events with the promise of another Advocate. If the Holy Spirit is another Advocate, who was the first? Jesus. What is another phrase for Advocate in our legal system? Lawyer for the defense. What is this Advocate defending against? This world which is enslaved by sin and death represented by Satan, which means “Accuser” or “Prosecutor” This Advocate will:

     1) be with them forever (14:15)
     2) teach everything (14:26)
     3) remind them of Jesus’ words (14:26)
     4) testify on their behalf (15:26)
     5) prove the world wrong about sin, righteousness, and judgment (16:8)
     6) guide them into all truth (16:13)
     7) speak whatever the Spirit hears (16:13)
     8) declare what is to come (16:13) and
     9) glorify Jesus (16:14)

With the Holy Spirit as our defense, we need not fear the world nor the sufferings we may have to endure.

Have a great week serving God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit (One God now and forever) by loving your neighbors.

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Readings for Sunday, May 14, 2017

Hello Everyone,

One announcement: The 10th, 11th, or 12th Annual Waffle Supper at Grey Eagle UMC is this Saturday, May 13, beginning at 4:30 PM. "Dad's Belgian Waffles" will be busy making their famous waffles so that you can enjoy the sweet goodness. Cost is $7.50 in advance or $8.00 at the door. Tickets can be purchased at Central Minnesota Credit Union, Update Building Supplies, The Junction, most GEUMC members, and here at the Parish Office in Long Prairie.

The following comes from my May 13, 2014 posting at this site.

This Sunday, in the liturgical year, is the “Fifth Sunday of Easter”. The “season” of Easter, including Easter Day, is 49 days and 7 Sundays in length. According to Luke the resurrected Jesus appeared to the disciples and others for 40 days and on the 50th day, Pentecost, the Spirit descended and filled the disciples. With this new power and a new recognition of just who Jesus is the disciples, now apostles, began telling everyone the Good News.

2000 years later, it is difficult for us to keep the Easter excitement. Five Sundays after Easter we are busy planning vacations for the summer, opening up our cabins/lake homes for the coming summer, getting on the lakes to catch the lunker walleyes and northerns, and (when the water warms up) enjoying skiing and other water sports. We are busy in our yards and gardens and planning on the projects we need to do around our homes during the summer. AND we are still going to work. Did we forget about the Day of Resurrection? Have we forgotten the Good News as we go about our daily lives. Remember, it is STILL Easter and, in fact, every Sunday is Easter. Perhaps it is good that Pentecost will be here shortly for we do need the Spirit to revive our spirits; to bring a little Easter and Christmas back into our lives.

This Fifth Sunday of Easter our readings are:

Acts 7:55-60 – You should seriously consider reading the entire story of Stephen, Acts 6:8-8:3. Stephen becomes a deacon in the new church to make sure that the widows in the church were being treated well. He quickly becomes a street evangelist in Jerusalem. He is arrested and jailed on false charges. In his defense, Stephen gives a long speech that recounts Jewish history. He finishes by accusing the elders of the temple with being “stiff-necked” and “uncircumcised in heart and ears”. This enrages the elders and the crowds and they drag Stephen out of town and stone him to death. In the moment of death, Stephen asks God not to hold the slayers’ sins against them. Why does Stephen not protest the false charges? Why does Luke (same author as the Gospel) present Stephen as meekly going to his death? And where are his friends during all of this? Did the elders and priests really need to hear a recitation of their history?

Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16 – This psalm is 24 verses and my Bible give it the title “Prayer and Praise for Deliverance from Enemies”. (Titles and headings for section breaks are inserted by the particular Bible publisher. Chapters were assigned in the 13th century and verses were established in the 16th century. Even punctuation and capitalization were not part of the original Hebrew and Greek texts.) I read parts of this psalm during our Wednesday night Lenten services. The psalmist prays to God for relief and protection from enemies and expresses confidence that God will deliver him.

1 Peter 2:2-10 – Peter has called his church to holy and righteous living. The verse before our reading, 2:1, says, “Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy and all slander.” He then uses two metaphors to develop this admonition. We should be newborn babes longing for spiritual milk that we may grow into salvation. We should also be “living stones”, who, with other living stones, are built into a spiritual house in which we are all part of the royal priesthood. (Martin Luther developed the idea that we are all a “priesthood of believers”.) The cornerstone of this new house is Jesus Christ. This cornerstone was rejected by humanity. This stone is also the rock on which the non-followers stumble. What does it mean to be chosen by God? How can you be part of the royal priesthood? what is it that moves us from darkness into light? Who or what is this light?

John 14:1-14 – In chapter 13, Jesus and his disciples come together for a meal. It is the night when Jesus will be betrayed and arrested. Jesus begins by washing the disciples’ feet and then commanding them to love each other just like he loved them. Chapter 14 begins a three chapter discourse/conversation with them about what will soon be happening. Jesus uses a lot of images to help the disciples understand, some of which are in these 14 verses. Jesus speaks of a house with many rooms, a place where he will bring them. In answering a question from Thomas Jesus says that he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. In answering a question from Philip, Jesus says that if you have seen Jesus you have seen God (the Father). Finally, those who believe and follow Jesus will do all the works of Jesus plus many more. What does it mean that Jesus is the Way, Truth, and Life? If in knowing Jesus we know the Father why does so much of Christianity want to keep a separation? (Jesus turning the other cheek vs. God who smites evil doers.) What does it mean that Jesus “dwells” in God and God “dwells” in Jesus?

May the Spirit of the Resurrection fill and excite you with the endless possibilities of God good work in and through you!

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Readings for Sunday, May 7, 2017

Hello Everyone,

For those of us who live in Minnesota, yesterday (Monday, May 1) was certainly memorable with a wide swatch of Central Minnesota receive measurable snowfall. Fortunately, most of that snow has melted (it is in the mid-40 degrees as I write).

Two of the four readings are about Jesus as Shepherd: Psalm 23 and John 10. The reading from Acts describes the results of the Holy Spirit filling so many people on the Day of Pentecost. And the reading from 1 Peter is technically about slavery but there is a lot we can learn. Please check out my notes below from 2014. Oh, and by the way, take a try at rewriting Psalm 23 like I did below and send it to me. I love hearing from you.

Acts 2:42-47 – After Peter’s first sermon on Pentecost Day verse 2:41 says that 3,000 were added to the number of Jesus’ followers. The results of that first sermon and the addition of the new believers are reported in our passage. The followers did four things: learned from the apostles’ teachings, spent time in fellowship with the apostles (and each other?), ate together (breaking bread either means sharing meals or receiving communion), and praying together. The followers also felt the need for communal ownership of all property and distributing what was needed to those who needed it. This living in the light of Jesus produced followers who had glad and generous hearts; who praised God; and who had the goodwill of others. And each day the LORD lead many people to their fellowship. Does this sound like your church and your fellowship? Why not? What are our results from the outpouring of God’s Spirit?

Psalm 23 – God is my Shepherd. I have no needs
the Shepherd brings me to comfortable sleeping places
where the waters are calm and comforting.
My soul and spirit are made right
for the Shepherd leads me along his roads
because that’s what a good shepherd does.
Even when my days are the lowest and darkest
I fear nothing because of the Shepherd’s presence
which brings me comfort and peace.
The Shepherd is my gracious Host who prepares a place to eat
and my foes are at the table with me
the Host anoints me with fragrant oils
and keeps my wine glass fill with the finest wines.
With my Shepherd and Host,
my days are filled Good and Mercy
And the Lord invites me to live with him
all my days.

Now it is your turn. Send me your personal paraphrase of Psalm 23.

1 Peter 2:19-25 – OK, so this is really weird. The Lectionary Committee, in it’s efforts not to rile too many people, skips the reason and the subject of this passage. That reason is spelled out in verse 18, “Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh.” Now read verses 19-25. The subject matter of slavery makes a world of difference to the understanding of this passage. There is still a lot for us to learn from this passage about Jesus Christ: Christ suffered, he is our example, he did not return abuse, he did not threaten, he bore our sins in/on his body on the cross, and by his wounds we have been healed. Now freed from our sins we can return to God and Jesus our Shepherd.

John 10:1-10 – What does the Good Shepherd do? I understand, from reading and not from personal experience, that Jesus draws a lot of his imagery in this passage from the actual relationship shepherds have with their sheep. Sheep know the voice of their shepherd. They scatter when other people come to them but gather to the shepherd when they hear the shepherd’s voice. Sheep cannot be herded, like cattle, but must be led by the shepherd. I have seen Basque shepherds in Idaho, on their horses, leading the sheep to the next pasture. Also, there is a good sheepdog working hard to keep the occasional straggler or wanderer with the herd. So, if Jesus is the shepherd and his followers are the sheep, what does that make me? The sheepdog. Or maybe the sheepdog are the people who are visiting and inviting those who have wandered away to come back to church. So, to mix this analogy up, sometimes we who are the sheep following Jesus should also be the sheepdogs encouraging those who have dropped out of church to reconnect. Can you be a sheepdog at least one day this week?

May the Good Shepherd Bless you this day and lead you to greener pastures tomorrow.

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary