Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Scripture Readings for Sunday, October 1, 2017

Hello Everyone,

My heartfelt thanks go to the people of Peace United Church who helped celebrate the life of Irma Lunceford on Friday. My heartfelt thanks for all the people of Grey Eagle UMC who help with the hog roast on Saturday. The people working in the church in these celebrations bring Glory to God. Thank you.

Our text for this coming Sunday are:

Exodus 17:1-7 – The wandering Israelites have run out of water and are complaining to Moses. Moses says they are quarreling (arguing) with him and testing the Lord. A commentary I just read (Opening the Old Testament) says the word “testing” is more like “bringing a lawsuit or suing”. The people are waging a lawsuit against God. The issue is their lack of water and their thirst, but the greater issue is the people’s feeling that God has abandoned them. “Is the Lord among us or not?” (verse 7) Do you ever feel abandoned by God? What does it take for you to know that God is with you? Always with you. A miracle or just the reassurance of the Holy Spirit?

Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16 – A number of Psalms are the recounting of Israel history. Some are longer, such as Psalm 105, and some are short, such as Psalm 114. Psalm 78 is one of the long ones which is why we only have nine verses for this reading. The first four verses are the introduction that says the writer (and subsequent readers) will tell the stories through the generations. Verses 12-16 briefly mentions the crossing of the sea with the parted waters, the leading of the cloud during the day and the fire at night, and the water that came from the rocks (see above).

Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32 – According to the commentary in my Bible, the proverb in verse 2b is about the people thinking that their present sufferings are a result of a previous generation’s sin. God says that all human life belongs to him and it is only the person who sins who will die. (Since we all die at some point then we must all be sinners.) The people claim that God is unfair, inferring that their sufferings comes from God for no good reason. God states that it is the people who are unfair and when they turn away from righteousness they will die. A close reading of this passage (verse 26) shows that it is not God who will bring their death but the choices they make. Choosing to follow God’s way brings salvation and life. “I have no desire for the death of anyone, says the Lord God. Turn, then, and live.” How much suffering is the result of our own choices? How much suffering is the result of the choices of other people? Does God make us suffer (the prime question of Job)?

Psalm 25:1-9 – In one respect, this Psalm seems to be David demanding God to protect him. Read another way, it might be David pleading for protection and forgiveness. Have your pleadings ever bordered on demands? Do you think God is bothered by the way we pray? Does not God understand us and look past the “tone of voice” we use?

Philippians 2:1-11 – One of the greatest passages of the New Testament! Perhaps we should all take time to memorize all eleven verses. First, we are to take the example of Christ in our treatment of others. We are to place other people’s sufferings and interests before our own. We are to treat each other as equals. Beginning at verse 5, many people believe that Paul is quoting an early church hymn. Jesus did not hold on to his "God-hood" but gave it up to become one with us. In Jesus’ humanity he died on the cross with humble, self-giving love. Because of that act, God (not Jesus) lifted him up. Notice the downward and upward movement of the words. Does Jesus becoming human make a difference in the way you respond to God’s love? To quote a song, “What if God was one of us?”

Matthew 21:23-32 – In the telling of Matthew’s Gospel, this story happens the day after Jesus entered Jerusalem (Palm Sunday) and cleansed the temple of the buyers and sellers. Jesus is challenged by the chief priest and elders of the community to tell them where is authority comes from. Jesus challenges them about the authority of John the Baptist. When they are unable to answer Jesus, because any answer they give will put them in a bad light with the people, he poses a parable, “A father asks two sons to do some work; one says ‘No’ but does it anyway and the other says ‘Yes’ but doesn’t do it. Who did the will of the father?” Then, one of the most difficult statements of Jesus for those of us who profess to follow Jesus, “The tax collectors and prostitutes are going to the Kingdom of God before you.” Not only did Jesus make the statement to the religious leaders of the Temple, I think he also challenges all of us who are comfortable, complacent, or feeling secure in our place in the Kingdom. Are we doing the work of the Father who asks? Are we responding to his call? Are we willing to be challenged?

Have a great week!

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary

Monday, September 18, 2017

Readings for Sunday, September 24, 2017

Hello Everyone,

Please keep the Kamphenkel and Lunceford families in your prayer with the passing of Irma (Bebolt Kamphenkel) Lunceford. The funeral has been set for this Friday, September 22, 2017, at 11:00 AM at Peace United Church. Visitation will be the same day beginning at 9:30 AM.

Our Worship/Sermon Series, The Season of Creation, will conclude this Sunday. The theme will be "Food". Benjamin Franklin (or Christopher Bullock or Edward Ward - see Quotes Uncovered) once wrote, ". . . in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." I would add food to that list. No one can do without nutrition and will not live long without it. We hunt, gather, cultivate, and raise animals for food. All are a gift of God.

This week’s lectionary texts have some interesting tales and lessons. I hope you will take some time to read them.

Exodus 16:2-15 – The Israelites are in the desert heading to Mt. Sinai. Specifically, they are in the "Wilderness of Sin" (verse 1). They are running out of food and complaining to Moses. Moses, in turn, complains to God. God then makes provision for the Israelites to eat quail and "what is it?" (manna). According to verse 31 it was like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey. This but one of a recurring cycle of complaints against God and God’s provision for the people. Do we follow in the Israelites’ pattern of complaint? Do we complain even when we have been blessed? How has God provided for you? Have you given thanks?

Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45 – Three years ago, when I first posted this, I learned something new! Psalm 105:1-15 can also be found, nearly word for word, at 1 Chronicles 16:8-22. This Psalm recounts the history of ancient Israel from Abraham to the entering into the land of promise. 

OR Jonah 3:10-4:11 – Jonah is a prophetic book with only one prophecy: “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”. Yet, the prophecy is not fulfilled. I have stated in the past that some people, not many, would categorize Jonah as a tale of fiction, a short story at that. Think about it. If this great little story were not in the Bible we might think of it as a fairy tale where doom is overcome with good. There is much exaggeration in Jonah also. The big fish (not whale). Living three days in the belly of that fish. Nineveh, as described in Jonah, is 10 times bigger, both in land area and population, than ancient Nineveh ever was. Every single person, from king to lowest slave, repents. All people and all animals sit in mourning with ashes covering them. So, what is the Biblical point of the story of Jonah? Some think that it was written during the time of Ezra-Nehemiah when there was a push to expel or kill all non-Jews in the land. In Jonah, God’s love and grace is available even to the hated and reviled Ninevites and the story becomes a counterbalance to parochialism and xenophobia. It has been a constant refrain from certain people in power these day to call for the exclusion of Muslims and Hispanics. Are we simply resorting to parochialism and xenophobia when we looked down on outsiders and people we don’t know or understand? Does not God love the Ninevites, Muslim, and Hispanic? When, like Jonah, have we pouted when God doesn’t do what we thought God should do?

Psalm 145:1-8 – A psalm praising God’s goodness. Read verse 8. Compare it to Jonah 4:2. Verse 9 should have been included: “The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made.” Verse 8 and 9 pretty much sums it up.

Philippians 1:21-30 – After being in Romans for the last 12 weeks we turn to Philippians. Paul opens the letter with a greeting and a prayer for the people of the church at Philippi. He then informs them of his current circumstances: prison. In this passage, Paul states that, though he would rather die to be with Christ, he knows that there is a reason for his continued life on earth: the people of Philippi. Paul then asks the Philippians to live their lives in a way that honors Jesus. How do we live our lives? Are we honoring God and Jesus? How is that reflected in our work, our play, and with our family and friends?

Matthew 20:1-16 – We skip over Chapter 19 which includes Jesus' teaching about divorce, his blessing some children, and his encounter with the rich young man (camel through the eye of a needle). Here is our story: You want some work to be done and you need a lot of workers to get it completed. At the beginning of the day, 6 AM, you hire a bunch at $10/hour. You hire more at 9 AM, then at 12 noon, again at 3 PM, and finally a few more at 5 PM. The work is finally completed at 6 PM. How much do you pay the workers? $120, $90, $60, $30, and $10, right? Not according to Jesus. Everyone gets $120. “So the last shall be first and the first shall be last.” Scratch your head and go figure! “God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made.” (OK, where did you read that?)

May God bless you and your work wherever you may go!

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary

Monday, September 11, 2017

Scripture Readings for Sunday, September 17, 2017

Hello Everyone,

Grey Eagle UMC's Annual Hog Roast is fast approaching. Mark you calendars for Saturday, September 23, from 4:30 PM to 7:00 PM. All are invited.

Also mark your calendars for Tuesday, October 10. Gordon and Ardell Graner, UMC Missionaries serving in the Dominican Republic (which experienced four deaths and devastating destruction from Hurricane Irma), will be visiting Grey Eagle UMC. Together they visited our church 8 years ago and Ardell visited us 4 years ago. They are engaging and have a lot of information to share. I will keep you informed as details are firmed up.

Our scripture readings for this coming Sunday are:

Exodus 14:19-31 – Death has come to the firstborn males of Egypt but has passed over the Israelites. Pharaoh tells Moses and Aaron to get out and the Israelites leave hastily. When they get to the Red ( or Reed) Sea they set up camp. But then Yul Brenner (I mean Pharaoh) has a change of heart (his heart hardens) and he and his army chase after the Israelites. Charlton Heston (oops again: I mean Moses) lifts his rod, the waters part, the Israelites cross over, and the Egyptian army of chariots are bogged down and drown when the waters return. This was a great movie but the reading still leaves us with many questions about God and violence. How do you understand the concept of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart? Why didn’t God soften it? (Another one of those "difficult passages". What are your difficult scriptures? Send them in to me for my next sermon series.)

Psalm 114 – A short psalm celebrating God’s victory in the Exodus from Egypt.

or Exodus 15:1b-11, 20-21 – Verses 1b-18 are a song remembering God’s victory over the Egyptian army. This song is attributed to Moses. Verse 21 is attributed to Moses’ sister Miriam. Notice the strong similarity to verse 1b. Some say that Miriam’s song is the older of the two and that the longer song is an expansion. 

OR Genesis 50 15-21 – Following the death of Jacob, Joseph’s brothers seek Joseph’s forgiveness for what they did to him. Acknowledging what they did, Joseph feels that God took their bad intentions and turned it into something good. The brothers have final assurance of their forgiveness from Joseph. Do you have complete assurance that God forgives you? 

Psalm 103: (1-7), 8-13 – Please, ignore the verse marking here and just read the entire Psalm 103. I think this one Psalm boils down, in 22 verses, the essence of God: Holy, forgiving, healing, redeeming, loving, merciful, working justice for the oppressed, compassionate, everlasting to everlasting. Bless the Lord, O my soul!

Romans 14:1-12 – The weak and strong in faith should be sensitive to each other and not judgmental. The words about eating are about whether Christ followers should eat non-kosher meat or meat sacrificed to pagan gods (the only source of meat in many cities around the Roman empire). The words about honoring a certain day is about which Jewish festivals should Christians observe. And since we are all accountable to God we should not be passing judgment on others, for “ALL knees will bow to God and ALL tongues will give God praise.”

Matthew 18:21-35 – Let’s do some simple math to put the parable in perspective. A “denarius” is one day’s labor. Keeping it simple a worker works 8 hours a day for 5 days a week at $10/hour and he takes 2 weeks of unpaid vacation. So $10 x 8 hours x 5 days x 50 weeks = $20,000 a year. (This worker is poor!) A “talent” is equal to more that 15 years of labor work or < $300,000. 
The first guy in the parable owes the king 10,000 talents or more that $3 Billion (yes, with a B). He is forgiven by the king. The second guy owes the first guy $800 ($10 x 8 hours x 10). Guy #2 is thrown into debtor’s prison. The king finds out and “unforgives” the first guy and sends him to be tortured. “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever is loosed on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 18:18). Reread the parable and consider verse 18. Do you see a connection? The judgment we pass will be the judgment we receive. The most troubling line in this text: “So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” Jesus isn’t always as sweet as we want him to be. (Is this another one of those "difficult passages"?)

Don't Forget to send me your "Difficult Scriptures".

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Readings for Sunday, September 10, 2017

Hello Everyone,
Grace and Peace in Jesus Christ be with you!

Thanks to the Central Minnesota Adult & Teen Challenge for their songs and testimonies this past Sunday at Grey Eagle UMC. Thanks to all who made the dinner following worship successful.

This past Sunday at Peace United Church I began a short sermon series titled "Season of Creation" and our look at "Fire". The series will continue this Sunday at both churches with "Death" and our focus will be on the Exodus reading.

Our readings for this week are:

Exodus 12:1-14 – Moses has confronted Pharaoh and nine of the ten plagues have taken place. Pharaoh’s heart continues to harden. In our reading the Lord instructs Moses and Aaron about the first Passover Meal. A year old male lamb (sheep or goat) is to be slaughtered and its blood painted on the doorpost and lintel of their houses. The lamb is to be roasted and eaten that night with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. The hardest part of this reading is that the Lord will pass through the land and city and every firstborn son, human and animal, will be killed. The Lord will “pass over” the houses with the lamb’s blood. How are we to understand this passage in light of Jesus’ revelation of the Lord of Love?

Psalm 149 – The psalm praises God for God’s goodness to the people of Israel. Like many psalms, it takes a dark turn at the last part of verse 6. But who is the psalmist speaking about? In verse 5, the psalmist turns from speaking of God to speaking about the faithful people of Israel. The two edged sword is in the people’s hands. They are the ones who will execute vengeance and judgment. All for the glory of God. Does God need or want that kind of glory?

OR Ezekiel 33:7-11 – Ezekiel was a prophet during the time Babylon besieged Jerusalem, eventually destroying the city and its temple. In the first part of our reading, verses 7-9, God warns Ezekiel to proclaim what God says to him. God’s warnings are to help people turn back to God. In the second part, verses 10-11, the Lord proclaims that he has no desire to see the wicked perish and is ready to take back the repentant. In what ways do we fail to turn back to God when God is always ready to forgive? (Theological mind twister: Does repentance happen because we are forgiven or are we forgiven because we repent?)

Psalm 119:33-40 – We have encountered Psalm 119 twice before this summer. If you recall, this is an acrostic by stanza psalm. Each stanza is 8 verses and each verse in each stanza starts with the same Hebrew letter. This reading is the fifth stanza and the verses start with the letter “He” or ה. The psalmist appeals to the Lord to be taught the Law that leads to righteousness. He asks the Lord to turn his heart and his life to the Lord’s way. What does it take for us to be turned from the world’s ways to the Lord’s Way? How can we desire God instead of desiring things and power?

Romans 13:8-14 – The last two weeks we read all of Romans 12. The lectionary skips 13:1-7, which is about our being subject to the governmental authorities including paying our taxes (13:6). Paul returns to how we are to live as followers of Christ: love. Basically, he says that all of the commandments are fulfilled in the simple act of loving our neighbors. He then appeals to us to not gratify our human desires but to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Leave behind the works of darkness and put on the armor of Light living honorably. See my questions for Psalm 119.

Matthew 18:15-20 – This little passage is often called “The Rule of Christ”. What are we to do if someone in church hurts or sins against us? There are three steps. 1) Talk to the person who hurt you one on one. 2) If the first step doesn’t restore the friendship then take two or three others with you and have another talk. Those others are witnesses. 3) If that does’t work then take it to the church. If the offender still refuses to listen or change then she or he is to be put out of the church. They are to be like Gentiles or tax collectors. But what did Jesus do for Gentiles and tax collectors? He talked with them, ministered to them, healed them, and ate dinner with them. If the people we put out of the church are to be like Gentiles and tax collectors then we have a lot of work to do with them because the Good News is to go to all people.

May you be blessed by the readings this week. May God work through you to lead you in his paths of righteousness. May you love your neighbors inviting them into a life changing relationship with God and Jesus Christ. 

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor