Thursday, October 26, 2017

Readings for Sunday, October 29, 2017

Hello everyone,

This Sunday we will be continuing with the sermon series "Difficult Scripture". When I was soliciting ideas someone wrote about "Afterlife"; what happens after we die and will we know our loved ones and friends? How does Heaven and Hell figure into all of this? Some people's ideas about heaven and hell come from the vivid imagery of Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy. The three volumes of this work are: Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise. Our thoughts about heaven and hell are also influenced by the Greek and Roman mythologies of Hades. Many deep thinkers-theologians, such as N.T. Wright, believe that the everyday Christian's thought about heaven and hell are simply wrong. So, what does the Bible says? A lot, judging from all the scriptural references I found on the [all-knowing] internet. Here are the scriptures I have chosen for this Sunday:

Ecclesiastes 9:1-6 - Ecclesiastes (Teacher) is one of the most pessimistic books of the Bible. In this section, the Teacher says that whatever one does - good, bad, or indifferent - there is only one outcome, death. "As are the good, so are the sinners; those who swear are like those who shun the oath. This is the evil in all that happens under the sun, that the same fate comes to everyone." And, "The living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing." And finally, "[The dead] never again will they have any share in all that happens under the sun." In other words, when we die, we die, and that's it. This is the primary thought of the Old Testament about death. Only one verse in Isaiah, and a couple of verses in Daniel, begin to point to resurrection. Sorry to start off with a downer, but read on.

1 Corinthians 15:12-25, 35-38, 42-44, 50-57 - Paul writes about the promise of the resurrection of the dead. It all hinges on whether Christ has been raised from the dead or not. If Christ has been raised then all will be raised. If not, then there is no resurrection for anyone. But, in fact, Christ has been raised and is the "first fruit" of all resurrection. (12-15) How are the dead raised and what will our bodies be like? I don't think that Paul really knows the answer but he uses a metaphor of a seed that buried and then becomes a plant. God gives the body God chooses. (35-38) What is sown dies (the seed) and is raised with a new body that is imperishable, glorious, and spiritual. (42-44) Finally, the earthly body cannot inherit the kingdom so all will be changed and death will be defeated. The victory of this promise has already been given in Jesus Christ. (50-57) Please note here that Paul never talks about a heaven or hell where people go immediately upon death. He is talking about a resurrection some time in God's future. So far, not many answers about "afterlife". Maybe Jesus has some ideas, so read on.

John 3:16-17, 5:24-29, 12:44-50 - You know John 3:16 from heart, but do you also know verse 17: God sent the Son so the world (Cosmos - all humanity? animals? creation?) might be saved. 

Now to chapter 5. Anyone who hears and believes Jesus' words has eternal life and does not come under judgment. (Well, that's good new!) Then Jesus makes the assertion that the dead will hear his voice and live. (What?) The Father has given Jesus the authority to execute judgment. The dead will exit their graves and those who have done good will have a resurrection to life and those who have done evil to a resurrection of condemnation. (Is this a "works theology"? What happened to "hear and believe"?) Note that the dead are dead until they hear the voice of Jesus. 

And now to chapter 12. This may be the most difficult of the readings. Whoever believes in Jesus believes in God. Jesus comes as a light so that believers won't stay in the darkness. [Here's the kicker:] Jesus doesn't judge anyone who hears and doesn't keep his words because Jesus came to save the world, not judge it. On the last day, the word of Jesus will serve as judge. That word was given to Jesus by the Father as a commandment and that commandment is eternal life! (What? Is Jesus saying that everyone is saved to eternal life?) Once again, no words about afterlife, heaven and hell. Just eternal life.

So, what about Luke 16:19-31, the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus? Jesus talks about the rich man dying and going to Hades where he is tormented. You know the story! Well, it was a PARABLE about helping the least among us while we are here on earth. It was not a literal description of heaven and hell.

What about Revelation and the eternal pit of fire? (Revelation 20:11-15) Revelation was written in coded language to give hope to the Christians who were being persecuted, tortured, and killed by the Roman Empire (The Whore of Babylon). Read Revelation as a book of hope and not a map of our future or a literal description of New Earth (Heaven come down to earth) and hell (death and Hades are cast into the fire.)

I know this has been long and I hope I have intrigued you. If you want to read the texts that were assigned by the Lectionary for this Sunday, go to Readings for Sunday, October 26, 2014 or Scripture Readings for October 23, 2011.

See you on Sunday!

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Readings for Sunday, October 22 and 29, 2017

Hello Everyone,

I will be on vacation this coming Sunday. Please welcome Bob Kutter as he leads worship. His text for this Sunday, October 22, will be:

Luke 10:1-11 - Here are some notes I wrote about this passage on July 2, 2013:

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 – Jesus sends out 70 (or 72) disciples and gives them instructions. Did you know that the fields are still ready for harvest for God’s Reign? Why do you think that Jesus wanted them to carry nothing on their journey? Why were they prevented from changing the place they were staying? What were they to do when a town rejected their message? We often think about the message of God going out to individuals but this passage speaks about town accepting or rejecting it. So, since Jesus brings up Sodom in verse 12 (another section skipped by the lectionary due to its difficulty), what if there is but one new believer in the town? (Abraham talked God down to 10 righteous people. Why didn’t he get down to 1?) What do you think Jesus meant when he said “I saw Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning”? One of my favorite books on human nature is “I See Satan Fall Like Lightning” by Rene Girard. To get the gist of what the book is about read the reviews at

On October 29, I will return to our sermon series on "Difficult Scripture". Our theme is "Death and Afterlife". What happens when we die? Do we immediately get transported to heaven (or hell for that matter)? Will we know and recognize our loved ones? What will we be like - human, angel, or something else? Our lessons will be:

Ecclesiastes 9:1-6 - All humans, good, bad, and indifferent, will die as will all animals. Evil happens; good happens; and all will die. The dead know nothing, they have no reward, and even the memory of them are lost. All is vanity and we are all but dust.

1 Corinthians 15:12-25, 35-38, 42-44, 50-57 - This is a very long passage and I have tried to condense the reading by eliminating the bunny trails that Paul takes. Christ has been resurrected and because of that we will all be resurrected. When we are raised, what will our bodies be like? Paul doesn't know but he is assured that God knows. He says that our physical bodies will become spiritual bodies. But note that none of that happens until the end, when Christ returns and the "trumpets will sound". What I believe that Paul is saying is that when we die we are dead. When Christ returns at the end we will be raised. "Thanks be to God who gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."

John 3:16-17, 5:24-29, 12:44-50 - If Jesus comes to save the world (cosmos) and not to condemn it, are all saved (3:17)? Will all the dead (sinners and saints alike) be saved when they hear the voice of Jesus (5:25)? Or will sinners be raised to a resurrection of condemnation (5:29)? If Jesus doesn't judge those who reject his message (12:47) and he states that the Father's commandment is eternal life (12:50), are all saved in the end?

Aside: In theological terms, it is all about Universalism (all are saved), Eternal Punishment/Reward (you either go to hell or heaven forever) or, for the punishment portion, Annihilation (you are punished for a limited time and then you are no more.)

The Lectionary readings for October 22 can be found on the October 16, 2011 portion of "Readings for Sunday, October 9 and 16, 2011". The readings for October 29 can be found at "Readings for Sunday, October 26, 2014".

Have a great week! Invite a friend to church this week!

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor

Monday, October 2, 2017

Prayers for Victims of Las Vegas shooting and Readings for Sunday, October 8, 2017

Hello Everyone,

This morning we woke up to the shocking and tragic news of the shooting in Las Vegas. The last I heard, the gunman killed 58 and wounded 515. Here is the prayer I said, wrote, and posted on Facebook:

O Lord, most Gracious and Loving God, we cry to you this day for the families of those killed in Las Vegas. Send your comforting Spirit into their lives to give them strength through this difficult time. We cry out for the people who were injured. Send your healing Spirit into their lives. Guide the doctors, nurses and technicians who are caring for them. We cry out for the victims of violence anywhere in the world. When will the carnage end? When will people learn to love, respect and forgive others? When will our idolatry of money, sex, guns, power, and greed end? Send your Spirit, Breath, and Wind throughout the world to bring us to a time when your Love will reign/rule on earth as in heaven. We ask this in the name of your Son, the one who died at the hands of our violence, the only Son whom you lifted from the grave with Love and Forgiveness. In his name we pray, Amen.

This week we will begin a 6 week sermon series titled "Difficult Scripture". I received many suggestions, more than I can speak on in this series. Only two topics were voted on by two people. It seems like people have their own individual "difficult scripture". This week we are beginning with "Money".

Sometimes it seems that pastors/clergy will get into trouble with a few people in their congregations when they talk about politics, sex, and money. When talking about money, do people get upset because they know they may not be giving enough to the church? In other words, are they feeling guilty?

I don't intend to make anyone feel guilty, but maybe all of us can re-examine the reasons we give what we give. Every single one of us can pray about and ask ourselves, "Am I giving what God desires from me?"

Our texts are:
Malachi 3:8-10 - It seems that the people of Judea are beginning to return from Babylon and the temple, a smaller, less ornate version of King Solomon's Temple, has been rebuilt. However, there is the issue that not enough people are bringing their tithes of grain and animals and the priests are being denied their sustenance. God issues a challenge: if you bring your tithes God will "open the windows of heaven" and "pour down an overflowing blessing" in return. Are we being like the Judeans by scrimping on our giving and not trusting God to provide?

2 Corinthians 9:6-8 - In his letter to the Romans, and in other letters, Paul says we are no longer bound by the law. Does this mean we no longer have to give to the church? In this passage from his second letter to the 1st Church of Corinth, Paul echos Malachi's point: one who gives as little as possible and begrudgingly, will similarly get little. But someone who gives bountifully and happily will likewise reap God's bounty. Paul reassures us that God will "provide you with every blessing in abundance". Finally, don't forget that God loves a cheerful giver. When it comes to giving to the church, are you the tightfisted giver or the cheerful giver?

Matthew 19:16-26 - What do we need to do to gain eternal life? That is the question of a young man to Jesus. Jesus tells him to keep the commandments. "Which ones?", the man asks. (I assume that Jesus meant all of them.) Jesus gives him a short list: don't murder, don't commit adultery, don't steal, don't lie, honor mom and dad, and love your neighbor as yourself. "I've done all these! What else?" the man says. "Well," says Jesus, "sell all you have and give the money to the poor." I can just see and hear the reaction of the young man. Saddened, he leaves for it turns out the man is wealthy and has many possessions. What is our relationship to our possessions? Does the fact that we have so much mean we are violating one of the commandments which Jesus didn't mention: we should not bow down to worship idols? But, praise be to God for through God all things are possible!

For some commentary and questions on the assigned Lectionary texts see

For a slightly different take on the same Lectionary lessons see:

Have a blessed week serving your neighbors. Love for others starts with God and moves through you.

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary