Monday, January 29, 2018

Readings for Sunday, February 4, 2018

Hello Everyone,

The Christian season of Lent will begin in 15 days with Ash Wednesday. We will have a Service of the Imposition of Ashes on Wednesday, February 14 (yeah, I know, Valentine's Day) at 6:00 PM at Peace United Church and 7:30 PM at Grey Eagle UMC.

On the following Sunday, February 18, we will begin the Journey to the Cross and Resurrection with a worship series titled "The Road to Light". If you have any pictures of roads that I could use in worship at Grey Eagle UMC, please email them to me. Then, each Wednesday we will meet for coffee and discussion about the previous Sunday's scripture. For instance, on Sunday, February 18, our Gospel lesson will be Mark 1:9-15. Then on Wednesday, February 21, we will gather at 6:00 PM at PUC to discuss the lesson and the sermon. Grey Eagle UMC will meet at 7:30 PM. This will be our pattern throughout Lent.

This week is the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany. Our lessons, some comments and questions from 2012 follow.

Isaiah 40:21-31 – I often use part of this passage, verses 28-31 along with verses 1-8, in funeral services. After a series of questions in verses 12-20, the prophet begins to offer the answer: God. The main question is asked in verse 27: where is God in all our troubles (many Israelites are exiled in Babylon)? Verses 28-31 are the reply: God has not forgotten his people and he will strengthen them so that they may soar like eagles.

Psalm 147:1-11, 20c – A psalm of praise for God who creates all things. You may as well read the entire psalm because it continues the list of all that God does. My main question: despite all of these great things, in whom does the Lord delight and take pleasure?

1 Corinthians 9:16-23 – Following his discussion on the eating of meat sacrificed to animals Paul defends the rights of apostles to be supported by the church. Beginning in verse 15, Paul argues that he has not made use of that right. His one duty/obligation is to proclaim the gospel and if something he does would subtract from that message then he won’t do it. When proclaiming the Gospel to Jews then he will live up to their standards so as to not appear a hypocrite and thus push them away from the Gospel. The same holds true for other people: those outside the law (Gentiles), the weak, and others. The ultimate goal is to win some people to the Gospel. Is there anything in your life that would cause others to reject Christ?

Mark 1:29-39 – Whose house did they go to spend the night? Who was there and was sick? What does this tell us about Simon (Peter)? After sundown (that is, after the Sabbath) who came to the house? What did Jesus do for them? Before sunrise where did Jesus go and for what reason? Why do you think everyone was searching for Jesus? Where did Jesus want to go and why? What was the message Jesus wanted to proclaim (see 1:15)?

Have a blessed week serving God by serving your neighbor.

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Readings for tomorrow, January 28, 2018

Hello Everyone,

I just realized that I hadn't sent out my weekly Lectionary Readings email to you this week. I apologize. If every I miss, you can head to my blog,, and on the right side there is a list of the previous months and years I have posted something. If you go back three or six years you should be able to find the relevant commentary.

The following is a combination of what I wrote in 2012 and 2015.

Deuteronomy 18:15-20 – This passage actually finishes with verses 21 and 22 which concerns discerning true and false prophets. Who is speaking here (the majority of the book is essentially his last will and testament)? Why is it necessary for the people of Israel to have prophets? What should the people do when they hear the words of a prophet and what will happen if they don’t? What will happen to a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods? What will happen if they speak false words claimed to be God’s? (2012)

Psalm 111 – Where will the psalmist give thanks for the Lord? Describe the “Works of the Lord”. What has the Lord done? In verse 4, how is the Lord described? In verse 9, what did the Lord do? (2012)

1 Corinthians 8:1-13 – Is it OK to eat meat that has been sacrificed to an idol, Apollo in this case? Some say “yes” and some say “no”. Paul says it is OK only if it doesn’t hurt someone else who may be weaker in faith. This doesn’t mean much to us today unless we substitute something in for meat. What about the use of “cuss” words, swearing? Is it OK to swear in church? For me, words only have the emotional content that we attach to them. I can hurt someone without swearing and I can swear without hurting someone. But I think Paul would caution us that if the use of swear words causes offense to someone who ends up leaving the fellowship of the church then it is best if we don’t swear. By the way, if you swear while in my company, I will NOT be offended. Remember, I worked in the meat (nice connection) packing industry for 12 years. (2015)

Mark 1:21-28 – Where does Jesus and the first disciples go? What did they do on the Sabbath? What did Jesus do first and why was the congregation amazed? Who interrupts the proceedings and what does he say? What was the response of Jesus? Again, what was the congregation’s response? What are the demons of our times? How should we respond?

In addition, in 2015 I wrote the following about church attendance and it is still relevant today.

Over the last couple of days I have read three or four articles online about worship. Worship is the time when the Body of Christ comes together each week to praise God, to offer up our prayers, to sing a new song together, seek to be more like Jesus in love for others, and to be refreshed with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It is a time when, in fellowship with others, we give back to God what God has first given us. Oswald Chambers, in his book “My Utmost for His Highest”, wrote:
Worship is giving God the best that He has given you. Be careful what you do with the best you have. Whenever you get a blessing from God, give it back to Him as a love-gift. Take time to meditate before God and offer the blessing back to Him in a deliberate act of worship. If you hoard it for yourself, it will turn into spiritual dry rot, as the manna did when it was hoarded (see Exodus 16:20). God will never allow you to keep a spiritual blessing completely for yourself. It must be given back to Him so that He can make it a blessing to others.
One article said that without worship we loose Christianity and cited an example of Sudan in the 1500’s. When they were overrun by the Muslims and the Christian pastors were killed or driven off, some people went to the head of the church in Ethiopia and asked him to send pastors to lead worship. He refused and the church was gone from Sudan within 100 years.

Another article said that successful churches do a lot of planning for their worship services and evaluate what went right and what didn’t. Another commentator wrote:
Perhaps that is why it makes me sad when people take church attendance so lightly. It isn't that we will go to hell if we attend church only once a month or so, but something is definitely lost. Well, maybe hell isn't far off the mark. I think life without community, hope, light, or meaning is close to hell. Oh, we can have those things without church, but I wonder if the world can? (Michael Piazza, Liberating Word email received 1/28/2015)
If you are not regularly attending church, why not? What is missing from your life? How can being a part of a worship community bring you closer to God? If you live near Peace United Church in Long Prairie or Grey Eagle United Methodist Church, will I see you this weekend? If you don’t live nearby, will you find a church you can attend regularly?

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Readings for Sunday, January 21, 2018

Hello Everyone,

The following is a slightly edited repeat from my 2012 commentary. Enjoy.

Yeah!!!! Jonah’s Back. So here we go.

Jonah 3:1-5, 10 – PLEASE, Please, please read all of Jonah. It is only 4 chapters long. Here is the synopsis and with only one question: Jonah is called to go east to Nineveh but hops a ship to go west. Ship runs into a nasty storm and as a last straw the crew throws Jonah overboard. Jonah is swallowed by a (pay attention here) large FISH, not a whale. Jonah prays to God. Fish vomits Jonah up on a beach. Jonah goes to Nineveh and prophesied “Forty days more and Nineveh will be overthrown.” All of Nineveh repents, from the king to all the people to even the animals, and God has mercy. Jonah pouts and pouts (he hates Nineveh). God makes a bush grow to give Jonah some shade. It dies and Jonah pouts. God chastises Jonah asking, "And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?". The question: What do Jonah do?

Psalm 62:5-12 – Verses 5 and 6 are a repeat of verses 1 and 2. Verses 3 and 4 tell us that the psalmist is suffering at the hand of others. Who is the psalmist waiting for and why? Who is the psalmist speaking to in verses 8-10? What does he want them to do? What two things belong to God in verses 11-12? What does the last part of verses 12 say to you and how do you resolve it with Paul’s teaching that all are saved by faith alone?

1 Corinthians 7:29-31 – This is the second week of five we will spend in 1 Corinthians. This can be a difficult passage to understand. What is Paul asking believers to do and why? What is Paul’s expectation when he wrote the letter? What about our times? How should we behave?

Mark 1:14-20 – Mark is in a hurry to tell his story so he doesn’t elaborate on the details. Verses 12 and 13 are about Jesus’ temptation with no details. The same for verses 14 and 15 about the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Just a brief mention. Matthew 4 and Luke 4 give more detail to both. Where is Jesus in verse 16? Who were the first two disciples and what was their occupation? What did Jesus say they will do? Who were the next two disciples? Who was their father? What were they doing at the time?

Have a great week serving God by serving your neighbors.

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Readings for Sunday, January 14, 2018

Hello Everyone,

On Sunday (January 7) I asked the question "What did I commit to?" when I said "yes" to Jesus and was baptized. Prior to the act of saying "Yes" we need to hear what God is calling us to do (this week). Once we say yes, we need to learn to fish (January 21), we need to be cleansed of those things that hold us back (January 28), and we need to go out to proclaim the Good News, the message of God's reign of love (February 4). Finally, through all of this God's Spirit will bring transformation: of our lives, of our work, of our families, of our communities, and of our world, slowly but surely God's work will be done (February 11).

When you said "Yes" to God, where has God's Spirit taken you? Where will the Spirit drive you tomorrow, next week, next year?

The Lectionary Readings for this week are:

1 Samuel 3:1-20 – The boy Samuel is living with the priest Eli. God calls Samuel but Samuel mistakes it for Eli. Eli then tells Samuel how to respond. When he does, God tells the boy about what will happen to Eli and Eli’s sons, who have not followed in their father's path.

Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 – A psalm about the inescapable God, who knows us, surrounds us, and is wherever we are. Are you open to that presence? Can you feel God's Spirit?

1 Corinthians 6:12-20 – This can be a disturbing passage. First, “all things are lawful”, as Paul seems to be quoting the saying of the Corinthians. However, not all things are beneficial, he reminds them. Paul then writes about fornication (sexual intercourse outside of marriage) and tells the Corinthians to “stop it”. It seems that some in the Corinthian church were being sexually promiscuous because they thought all things were lawful. Paul says our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit and we should glorify God with our bodies. 

John 1:43-51 – After Andrew and Simon follow Jesus (verses 35-42), Jesus calls Philip to follow. Philip in turn finds Nathanael and asks him to check out Jesus. Who have you found and asked to "check out Jesus"? Who have you invited to church with a simple "Come and see"?

Have a wonderful week serving and loving God by loving neighbors.

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Readings for Sunday, January 7, 2018

Hello Everyone,

Yes, 2018! Have you gotten into the habit of using that or do you catch yourself writing 2017?

And, what about the habit of faith? Or should I say, the habits of doing those things which foster faith? Do we pray daily? Do we attend worship services more than just Christmas, Easter, weddings, and funerals? Do we give to the church and other charitable organizations generously? Do we help the church and other organizations that are helping the disadvantaged? Do we witness to our faith, inviting others to know Jesus Christ and his salvation? Those five actions (prayer, presence, gifts, service, and witness) are part of our covenant with God when we are baptized into the church. We also recommit ourselves to them when we baptize others into the church.

This Sunday is "Baptism of the Lord Sunday" and, as the first Sunday in the new year, a day in which we will renew our covenant with God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is a time to remember just what it was we committed to when we gave our lives to Christ. 

Our readings this Sunday are:
Genesis 1:1-5 – “In the beginning when God created . . . .” God saw that the light was good.

Psalm 29 – Ascribe glory to the Lord for his voice is over the waters, powerful, full of majesty, breaks cedars, flashes like flames, shakes the wilderness, causes oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare.

Acts 19:1-7 – Paul finds some disciples of John the Baptist in Ephesus. He asks them if they had received the Holy Spirit but they had only been baptized for repentance. Paul instructs them about the Holy Spirit and lays his hands on them so they could receive it.

Mark 1:4-11 – John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus. Coming out of the water Jesus sees the “heavens torn apart”, the Spirit descends upon him “like a dove”, and the voice from heaven declares Jesus to be “my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased”. I love the dramatic nature of Mark when Jesus sees the “heavens torn apart”. Compare that with Matthew 3:16 “suddenly the heavens were opened to him” and Luke 3:21 “and he was praying, the heaven was opened.”

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary