Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Scripture Readings for Sunday, December 31, 2017

Hello Everyone,

I pray you had a blessed Christmas Day with family and friends yesterday. Today is the 2nd Day of Christmas, so everyone one sing, "On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me two turtle doves . . . ". 

On a serious note, the 12 Days of Christmas run from December 25 to January 5. January 6 is Epiphany. In some churches, Epiphany is celebrated on the Sunday before January 6. In some churches, it is celebrated on the first Sunday after Epiphany. However, the Sunday before Epiphany is either the first or second Sunday of Christmas and the Sunday after Epiphany is The Baptism of Christ Sunday.

So, that puts me in a bit of a bind as I choose what scripture and hymns we will be doing this coming Sunday. Is it the First Sunday of Christmas, Epiphany Sunday, or, just to add a twist, New Year's Eve, which has its own set of scriptures? Do we read about Jesus being named and dedicated (Luke 2), about the visit of the magi (Matthew 2), or about the judgement of the nations (Matthew 25)?

The various lessons for the various Sunday celebrations are:

First Sunday of Christmas
Isaiah 61:10-62:3 The Lord brings salvation and will cause righteousness and praise to spring up. All will see what God will do.

Psalm 148 All humanity, all creatures, and all creation are called on to praise God whose glory is above all.

Galatians 4:4-7 - At the right time God sent Jesus, born of woman, for salvation of all.

Luke 2:22-40 This really should start in verse 21. Jesus is named, then dedicated at the Temple. Simeon says that Mary will experience “a sword piercing her soul” because of Jesus. Old Anna sees Jesus at the Temple and praises God. Do you see Jesus and praise God?

New Year's Eve
Ecclesiastes 3:1-13 - For everything there is a season. (Turn, turn, turn . . .)

Psalm 8 - Looking at the stars, what are humans that God cares for us?

Revelation 21:1-6a - John the Seer witnesses a New Jerusalem come to earth.

Matthew 25:31-46 - The Nations will be gathered before Jesus and sorted sheep from goats. Criteria? How well we care for our sisters and brothers.

Epiphany Sunday
Isaiah 60:1-6 The glory of the Lord has come and the nations will come bringing gifts of frankincense and gold.

Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14 A prayer to God to bless the king who will reign with justice and the nations will bring gifts.

Ephesians 3:1-12 The mystery revealed to Paul is also for the Gentiles which is why Paul preaches and suffers in other nations.

Matthew 2:1-12 The magi, number unknown, visit the child of Joseph and Mary bringing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The king is disturbed by the news.

Have a great last week of 2017 and may 2018 be better. Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Readings for Sunday, December 24, 2017

Hello Everyone,

Well, enough snow has fallen here in Long Prairie today it looks like we will have a "White Christmas". I am no longer dreaming of a . . .

On Sunday, which is Christmas Eve, both churches will have two worship services. 

Grey Eagle UMC will have its regular Sunday Worship at 9:00 AM. Christmas Eve Candle Lighting Worship will be at 4:30 PM.

Peace United Church will have its regular Sunday Worship at 10:30 AM. Christmas Eve Candle Lighting Worship will be at 4:30 PM. 

And, in case you are wondering, I will be at Grey Eagle UMC for the Christmas Eve Worship and Kathy Wiire, a Lay Speaker from Hewitt, will be at Peace United Church.

We will be concluding our Worship Series "All Earth Is Waiting" this Sunday. The morning worship will focus on "The Peace of the World". Afternoon worship will focus on "God Moves into the Neighborhood."

Our lessons for the morning worship services (4th Sunday of Advent) are:

Isaiah 11:1-9 - A new leader shall be a descendant of David. The spirit of the Lord will be with him. He will be a righteous, fair judge who seeks equality for those left out of society. When this new leader reigns, enemies will become friends, and children will play freely without fear. This leader will be a child.

Isaiah 9:6-7a - This child who will lead will be called Extraordinary Councilor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. The peace the child brings will be without end.

Luke 1:26-38 - An angel visits a young girl/woman, Mary, and announces that she has been chosen to carry the fetus/embryo/child/son of God whose name will be Jesus. How? she asks. By the Spirit of God. Proof? Her elderly relative, Elizabeth, is now pregnant. To which Mary replies, "Let it be as you say."

Our lesson for the afternoon worship services (Christmas Eve) include:

Luke 2:1-20 - Carefully compare this birth story of Jesus with Matthew 1:18-25. What is the same and what is different? These are not the same story. Also, compare both of these with our lesson in John 1:1-18 and with Philippians 3:5-11, another "birth" story. In our Luke story, the Emperor wants a headcount of everyone who lives in the empire. Joseph packs up pregnant Mary and they travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem. (Note, the means of travel is not mentioned; they may have walked.) While there, Mary gives birth to a boy, who will be named later (verse 21). As all mothers have done through the ages, Mary wrapped up the boy and laid him in a feeding trough. The Greek word translated "inn" also refers to a variety of lodgings and it could have been there was no spare guest room with the relatives (Joseph, a descendant of David would have had lots of relatives). Meanwhile, angels appear to shepherd out in the fields telling them to get to town and look for the newborn boy who will be the Messiah. They find Mary, Joseph, and the boy and were amazed. They relayed the story of the angels and returned to their flocks. Mary will remember the encounter with the shepherds.

John 1:1-18 - The Gospel of Mark has no birth story or lineage. Matthew has a birth story with Joseph as the central figure and a lineage that starts at Abraham. Luke has a birth story with Mary at the center and a lineage that goes back to Adam, the original son of God. The Gospel of John, like Mark, has no birth story and no lineage, but flatly, or gloriously, states that Jesus, the Word, was with God all along. In fact, Jesus, the Word, was God who created all things. The Word became human; God moved into our neighborhood. Yet, the neighbors didn't understand what the Word was about and they rejected this Word. Yet those who welcome the Word understand what the Word brought: grace, truth, and the knowledge of God.

There are other readings and some comments for the 4th Sunday of Advent HERE and Christmas Eve-Day HERE.

Have a great week and I will see you on Sunday! Merry Christmas, Everyone!

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Readings for Sunday, December 17, 2017

Hello Everyone,

By the time you get to the end of the week, you will be tired of shopping, tired of listening to all the background Christmas music, and tired of the endless advertising urging you to buy more and more. Would you like to sit for a while, listen to great music, and tune out the advertising? Then this is the perfect opportunity:

Grey Eagle UMC is hosting a piano and organ concert on Saturday, December 16, at 2:30 PM. Wife and husband, Dr. Zhiyu (piano) and Dr. Eric Bigalke (organ), will perform works by Bach, Chopin, Liszt, Rachmaninoff, and selections from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Ballet. Together, they will perform some 4-handed arrangements of Christmas Carols. The concert will dedicate a 5'3" Cristofori Grand Piano given to GEUMC by Dr. John and Corrine Vener. For more information on the concert and about Drs. Zhiyu and Eric, go to this page on GEUMC's Facebook account: Free Concert

This Sunday is the Third Sunday of Advent. We will be continuing our sermon series "All Earth Is Waiting" with the focus on "Discovering Joy". The lessons we will be reading for this sermon are:

Isaiah 61:1-3, 11 - See comments for Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 below.

Joel 2:12-13, 21-24 - The prophet Joel has witnessed the destruction of the lands of Israel and Judah by swarms of locust (a nastier version of grasshoppers and crickets). All creation cries out for what was once fertile now lies in utter destruction. In this plague, Joel sees God's punishment for the sins of the people. In our reading, Joel reports the Lord calling all peoples to return with weeping, mourning, and fasting. Rend your hearts, the Lord says, and not your clothes. Joel reminds the people that the Lord "is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing." (verse 13) In verses 21-24 Joel urges the soil to be glad and rejoice and the animals to not fear. God will provide the rains so that once again the trees and the vines will bear fruit, the grains will grow in abundance.

Luke 1:46-55 - This passage is known as "The Magnificat". When Mary visits her relative Elizabeth and the full implication of what her pregnancy mean, she begins a poem/song with "My soul magnifies the Lord." She understands that the birth of her son, Jesus, will portend disaster to the rich and powerful and great things for the least, lost, and left-out of society. 

The readings assigned by the Lectionary and my comments on them in 2014 are:

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 – In Luke 4:16-30 Jesus visits his synagogue in Nazareth and is asked to speak. He asks for the scroll of Isaiah and he reads the first couple of verses from Isaiah 61 (leaving off the vengeance line). What is Isaiah saying to his people and to us? Are we a part of the hope for a future in which there will be honest, fairness, and justice for ALL peoples? Do you see in the world, despite all the injustice, war, violence, Ebola, poverty, etc., that God is causing “righteousness and praise to spring up before all nations”?

Psalm 126 – I think that the old Gospel Hymn “Bringing in the Sheaves” is partly based on this Psalm. On the one hand the Psalmist speaks of God having restored the people and nation of Israel so that the people rejoiced. On the other hand, the Psalmist asks God to restore their fortunes so that those who cry will become joyful. “They shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying (bringing in) their sheaves.”

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 – How are we to live lives as Christians in a world that seems to be dominated by so much evil and suffering? Paul is succinct: “rejoice always, pray unceasingly, give thanks in all circumstances, do not quench the Spirit, listen to the prophets, test everything, keep what is good, and abstain from evil.” Seems a bit hard, but I think the key to all of this is not quenching the Spirit. Let the Spirit guide you in all that you do and the Spirit will show you these things. Paul also asks God to “sanctify us entirely” so we may be blameless when Jesus returns. Finally, it is not about our faithfulness but is all about God’s faithfulness. “God will do this.”

John 1:6-8, 19-28 – Wait one doggone moment! Where’s Jesus? Why are we reading about this John guy again? Isn’t this Christmas? If you are asking these questions you stand with millions of Christians who go to churches that follow the Church calendar and the Common Lectionary, as we do. It is all about Advent, waiting, and preparation. This John guy (the Baptizer or the Baptist) was the one who came to prepare the way for Jesus’ ministry. John’s ministry, in the Christian view, was all about Jesus although there we many of John’s followers who thought otherwise (some of whom pop up in Acts). As we continue to prepare for the coming of Christmas and the next coming of Jesus, how are you preparing? John tells the Pharisees that there is one standing in their midst who will change everything. This Advent time, do you see the One standing in your presence who will change everything? Do you see Jesus in the lowly, left-out, least, and last of people? How will you respond?

May the Spirit of God lead you into entire sanctification and may you see Jesus in the people you encounter this week.

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Readings for Sunday, December 10, 2017

Hello Everyone,

Thank You! Bob Kutter for leading worship at Grey Eagle UMC this past Sunday. Thank You! also to all the people who helped with the Hanging of the Greens Service at Peace United Church. My vacation was good and refreshing. However, when I got to the office this morning, I was met with 122 emails in the inbox. Now that I have dispensed with all of them I move on with this coming Sunday's scripture readings.

This Sunday is the Second Sunday of Advent. I will be continuing with the sermon series that Bob Kutter started at Grey Eagle: "All Earth Is Waiting: Good News for God's Creation at Advent", by Katie Z. Dawson. (The link is to her book at Amazon.com.) This week's subject/emphasis is "Clear the Way". Our readings will come from the following Lectionary readings.

Isaiah 40:1-11 – There is a lot of familiar passages in this reading. I read verses 1-8 at many of the funerals I lead. We hear the word “comfort”. We are also reassured with the image of the shepherd feeding his flock and holding the lambs. But do we hear the voice in the wilderness crying out to us that the Lord is coming and is here? Do we hear the voice that commands us to make a way for the Lord? Are we prepared to see the glory of the Lord? God in the wilderness voice; God in the world.

Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13 – God’s past forgiveness of the people’s wrongs means that God’s steadfast love will grant salvation (verses 1, 2 and 7). However, we must be ready to hear that good news. A few years ago the UCC wanted to remind people that God’s word did not end with Jesus and the bringing together of the Bible. They said it like this: “Don’t put a period where God places a comma . . . The Still Speaking God”. Are we ready to hear that voice in the wilderness, in our neighbor, in God’s creation? Where do you hear and see the presence of God?

2 Peter 3:8-15a – Our reading is about the future coming of the Lord. By the time this letter was written the first generation after Jesus was dying off and people were beginning to wonder just when Jesus' coming would happen. (They thought it would happen during that first generation.) The writer assures people that the Lord will be coming in the Lord’s own good time, which, by the way, is not measured in our own timings (one day = 1,000 years). This slowness is the Lord’s patience in waiting for all to be saved. While we are waiting, we are to be living lives of holiness and godliness and at peace. So, the question is, “Are other people seeing God in you?” When you speak will they hear the voice of God speaking through you?

Mark 1:1-8 – “The beginning of the good news ("good news" = "gospel") of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” With those words, not even a sentence, we are off and running. Mark is the shortest Gospel with, what I feel to be, the most human Jesus. And when Jesus died the centurion declared, “Surely, this man was God’s Son!” (15:39). No birth story and no resurrection appearances (assuming that the original ending was at 16:8). John the Baptizer prepares the people for the coming of the Lord; the Savior who will baptize people with the Holy Spirit. (4-8) John then baptizes Jesus in the Jordan River (9-11). Mark states that Jesus was tempted in the desert but gives no description (12-13). Then, in verse 14, Jesus starts his ministry in Galilee. Mark is in a hurry to tell the good news and you can read the entire Gospel in one sitting. 

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor