Monday, August 14, 2017

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time / Proper 16 (Year A)

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 is a further revision and refinement of my Lectionary Ruminations and Lectionary Ruminations 2.0.  Focusing on The Revised Common Lectionary Readings for the upcoming Sunday from New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible, Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 draws on over thirty years of pastoral experience.  Believing that the questions we ask are often more important than any answers we find, without over reliance on commentaries, I intend with sometimes pointed and sometimes snarky comments and Socratic like questions, to encourage reflection and rumination for readers preparing to lead a Bible study, draft liturgy, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged.

EXODUS 1:8-2:10
1:8 Thus begins the Moses cycle/narrative.  What does this verse say about the importance of memory? Changes in administrations often have consequences.
1:9-10 How might these verse inform current thinking and analysis of American immigration policy?
1:10 I can understand the fear of insurrection, but why the fear of escape?
1:11 What do we know about Pithom and Rameses?
1:12 What lesson might be learned from this?
1:13-14 What Governments are ruthless today? What economic systems are ruthless?
1:15 Were Shiphrah and Puah the only two midwives?
1:16 Why kill the males but allow the females to live?  The opposite would seem to make better sense.  I wonder if Shiphrah and Puah served as midwives only to Hebrew woman or also to Egyptian women
1:17 In this context, what does it mean to fear God? Were Shiphrah and Puah Jews, or not? Did Shiphrah and Puah engage in civil disobedience?
1:18 Oh no!
1:19 When is it okay to lie? Is this verse also meant as an insult to Egyptian women?
1:20 God apparently rewards lying and disobeying civil authority.
1:21 Was not having a family considered a curse?
1:22 Was Moses the only Hebrew baby boy not thrown into the Nile? In a sense, Moses was thrown into the nile, but placed in a little floating ark first. How might this verse and Exodus 1:16 inform our understanding of the account of the slaughter of the innocents found in Matthew
2:1 Why are the man and woman not named?  Is there anything special about the house of Levi?
2:2 What might have happened if the woman had seen that he was not a fine baby? Is there anything significant about the time span of three months?
2:3 What else was once plastered with bitumen and pitch? What is the Hebrew word translated as “basket,” how else is this Hebrew word used in the Hebrew Scriptures, and how else might it be translated?
2:4 Did the mother tell the sister to watch or did the sister take this watching upon herself?
2:5 This seems like a fortuitous and ironic development.
2:6 Why did she think this might be a Hebrew baby?
2:7 I think the sister acts somewhat boldly here as she makes the best of the opportunity. Could an Egyptian not nurse the baby?
2:8 This sounds like a strange construction since this is the boys sister and thus his mother is also her mother, yet she is referred to as “the girl”.
2:9 The child’s own mother ends up nursing the child who might have died if the daughter of the man who ordered his death had not found him and had pity.
2:10 Yes, this explains the name Moses, bit is there also some foreshadowing going on here?

PSALM 124
12:1-2a When I begin a responsive reading and the response sounds shallow, hollow, and barely audible, sometimes I will repeat the call phrase.  Might something similar be happening here?
12:2b Who are Israel’s enemies that attacked?
12:2b-6 Does this Psalm reflect the Exodus? Why is this Psalm paired with the First reading? 
12:4-5 This apparent reference to the Exodus seems to be jumping ahead of the story.
12:6 Blessed be the LORD indeed.
12:7 The snare has been broken but the LORD was the one who broke it.
12:8 This sounds like a familiar refrain. What else is there other than heaven and earth?

ROMANS 12:1-8
12:1 What is a “living” sacrifice?  What is “spiritual” worship?  Is there such a thing as unspiritual or spiritless worship? How might Paul have addressed the Shoah?
12:2 What is the difference between “conformed” and” transformed”?  How are our minds renewed?  Why does Paul write about the renewing of our minds rather than the renewing of our hearts?
12:3 How do we measure our faith? Do you think that sometimes Paul thought too much of himself?
12:4 What does Paul mean by “members?”
12:5 I understand the logic with the exception of the last phrase.  How are we individually members one of another? Might holography and holograms help us here?
12:6-8 “We have gifts that differ” in the NRSV is “We have gifts differing” in the KJV. The KJV rendering is the biblical phrase that inspired Myers and Briggs to title their book applying Jung’s type theory Gifts Differing.  You may want to also look at 1 Corinthians 12. What are your gifts? Is Paul’s list meant to be exclusive?

MATTHEW 16:13-20 (SJB)
16:13 Where did Jesus enter from?  Is there anything special about the district of Caesarea Philippi?  Why would Jesus ask his disciples this question?  Does the average person in the pew or Bible Study have a clue about the baggage associated with “Son of Man” language and imagery?
16:14 Apparently there were various views of who Jesus was. I guess times have not changed.
16:15 Here is the quintessential question. What is your answer? IMHO, Statements of Faith prepared for examination of a candidate or transferring minister tells us more about a person’s breadth of theological education and ability to think systematically rather than about what a person actually believes.
16:16 As usual, Peter is the first to speak up.  Did he get it right or did he stick his foot into his mouth? Compare the Gospel parallels.  Can we think of each of the Gospels as a somewhat unique answer to this question? Do Paul’s writings offer us yet another answer?
16:17 What does this say about the nature of revelation?
16:18 What is the play on words with “Peter” and “rock”?  Do you recall how in the Gospel Reading just two weeks ago this “rock” starting sinking because of little faith? What and where is Hades and what are its gates?
16:19 What are the “keys to the kingdom”?  What does it mean to “bind” and to “loose”? Where, previously in Matthew, have we encountered “binding” and “losing” language?
16:20 Why would Jesus order his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah?  What do you know about “the messianic secret?” Has this passage just equated “the Son of Man” with “the Messiah”?

ADDENDUM
I am a Minister Member of Upper Ohio Valley Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and am serving as the Interim Pastor of the Richmond United Presbyterian Church, Richmond, Ohio. Sunday Worship at Richmond begins at 11:00 AM. Some of my other blog posts have appeared on PRESBYTERIAN BLOGGERS and The Trek.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time / Proper 15 (Year A)

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 is a further revision and refinement of my Lectionary Ruminations and Lectionary Ruminations 2.0.  Focusing on The Revised Common Lectionary Readings for the upcoming Sunday from New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible, Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 draws on over thirty years of pastoral experience.  Believing that the questions we ask are often more important than any answers we find, without over reliance on commentaries, I intend with sometimes pointed and sometimes snarky comments and Socratic like questions, to encourage reflection and rumination for readers preparing to lead a Bible study, draft liturgy, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged.

Genesis 45:1-15
45:1 Much has transpired between this week’s First Reading and last week’s First Reading.  Does any of what transpired between the two readings matter? Has Joseph reached his limit? Perhaps Joseph did not want to let the Egyptians know that the men before him were his brothers.
45:2 I wonder what the Egyptians and household of Pharaoh thought when they heard Joseph weeping? What was the cause of his tears?
45:3 Note that Joseph asks if “his” father, not “our” father was still alive. Why were the brother’s dismayed by Joseph’s presence?
45:4 Why does Joseph repeat himself?
45:5 Is this an example of Joseph engaging in some theological reflection?  Why would Joseph’s brothers be angry? Joseph is the one we might expect to be angry.
45:6 It sounds like things will get worse before they get better.
45:7 Might we compare Joseph to Noah?
45:8 Might Joseph have been older than Pharaoh?
45:9 How many ways might this verse be interpreted?
45:10 Was there anything significant about the land of Goshen? Why might Joseph want to keep hit family close by?
45:11 How will Joseph provide for his brothers? From what resources will he draw?
45:12 Why is Benjamin singled out?
45:13 Is Joseph rubbing it in?  Is he blowing his own horn? In other words, go back and tell Dad that my dreams have come true.
45:14 Once again, why Benjamin?  What was so special about the relationship between Joseph and Benjamin?
45:15 Would Joseph’s brothers not talk with him before this?  I wonder what they talked about.

PSALM 133
133:1 In light of today’s First reading, is this supposed to be a comment on Joseph’s family?  Would it be a comment on Joseph’s family before or after the reunion narrated in the First Reading? Where is Edwin H. Friedman when you need him?
133:2 I have always appreciated the sensual nature of this verse.  What does oil symbolize?
133:3 What and where is Hermon?  What is significant about Hermon’s dew? What did the LORD do (no pun intended) at Hermon? Is the Lord’s blessing life for evermore?

ROMANS 11:1-2a, 29-32
11:1 Might Paul have answered this rhetorical question differently after the Shoah?  Even though we are currently reading the Joseph narrative and the Pauline corpus lectio continua, the “Benjamin” connection between this Second Reading and the First Reading is a nice one. See Genesis 45:12 & 14.
11:2 What does Paul mean by “foreknew”?
11:29 What are the gifts of the calling of God? Christians in particular ought to remember this verse when engaging in dialogue with religious Jews.
11:30-31 Who are “they” and how have they been disobedient?
11:32 What does it mean to be imprisoned in disobedience?

MATTHEW 15:(10-20) 21-28
(15:10) I think every time Jesus says something like “listen and understand” that we can expect some enigmatic saying to follow. The crowd will probably neither listen nor understand.
(15:11) What comes out of the mouth?  Is Jesus commenting on the digestive system?
(15:12) What did the disciples think? Did the disciples take offense?
(15:13) Does this verse reflect a negative view of the Pharisees?  Is Jesus saying that the Pharisees are plants not planted by God?
(15:14) Leave them alone even though they are blind or “because” they are blind?  Might there be some creeping anti-Semitism in this verse?
(15:15) What parable?  Why is it that Peter is usually the first one to open his mouth – and then stick his foot in it?
(15:16) Me thinks the answer is “YES”! At times it seemed like the disciples misunderstood Jesus nearly as much as the Pharisees. Is our understanding any better?
(15:17-18) Oh, that parable!  So Jesus was in fact talking about the digestive system.  Is Jesus saying that words are dirtier than crap?
(15:19) All these come from the heart?  This is an impressive list. Is anything not mentioned that you might have expected to be here?
(15:20) Is this a comment about religion or hygiene?
15:21 What place did Jesus leave? Is there anything significant about Tyre and Sidon?
15:22 What makes a “Canaanite” woman different than any other woman, or a Jewish woman?  What do you know about “The Jesus Prayer,” Hesychasm and the Philokalia? How do post-moderns deal with demons?
15:23 Why does Jesus ignore this woman?  Why do the disciples want to send her away?
15:24 Who are the lost sheep of the house of Israel?
15:25 What does a kneeling posture signify? This is the second time this woman calls Jesus “Lord”!  Is her supplication not an example of the simplest prayer of a believer?
15:26 Did Jesus just call this woman a bitch?
15:27 Did this woman just accept the insult of being labeled a bitch by Jesus yet still refer to him as “master”?  Must “crumbs” refer to bread crumbs or any type of leftover?
15:28 Now Jesus addresses her as “woman”! Whom else as he addressed this way? What makes her faith “great”?  How would anyone know that the woman’s daughter was healed instantly?

ADDENDUM
I am a Minister Member of Upper Ohio Valley Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and am serving as the Interim Pastor of the Richmond United Presbyterian Church, Richmond, Ohio. Sunday Worship at Richmond begins at 11:00 AM. Some of my other blog posts have appeared on PRESBYTERIAN BLOGGERS and The Trek.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Prayer for August 6, 2017 - Hiroshima Day

Seventy-two years ago this coming Sunday, August 6, the United States ushered in the Atomic Age by dropping an atomic bomb upon Hiroshima, Japan. Here is an original prayer for use in worship that recognizes this as well as the fear that North Korea will possess nuclear warheads and ICBMs capable of reaching American soil.

God of peace,
we are mindful that seventy-two  years ago today,
as the only nation with an atomic bomb,
we unleashed the power of the atom upon Hiroshima, Japan.
Now we are but one of many nations possessing
the incredible destructive threat of nuclear weapons,
and we fear that North Korea will soon have that same capability.
Help us, the United Nations, and the peace loving nations of the world
find a  diplomatic and peaceful solution to the nuclear threat posed by North Korea,

that the Korean Peninsula, Japan, we, and the world might live free from fear of nuclear war.
In the name of the Prince of Peace we pray. Amen.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Hard Learned Backpacking Lessons

Reflecting on some of my earliest backpacking adventures, I sometimes wonder how I managed to survive. For example, over the Christmas / New Year’s holiday during my senior year of high school, two friends and I embarked on our first multi-night winter backpacking trip. We were not only inexperienced but lacking in both knowledge and wool. Our primary attire was cotton: cotton blue jeans, cotton long johns, and probably cotton tops. If I was lucky, my socks were wool, but I really don’t remember. My toboggan was synthetic. I also wore a nylon (but not very waterproof) pull-over parka. I knew nothing about hypothermia, and my backpacking partners probably didn’t either.
Our first late December day began with frost on the grass, crisp air, and a bright shining sun in a clear blue sky that warmed us as we hiked. Since none of us had bothered to check the weather forecast, we had no idea what was in store. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.
Current signage where Forbes Road intersects the LHHT
That day we hiked some back roads on the western slope of Pennsylvania’s Laurel Ridge until we could access the historic 1758 Forbes Road. Over two hundred years later, it was little more than a Jeep trail. We backpacked along this famous but unmarked route until it intersected the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail on the eastern side of Laurel Ridge near the ridge line. Making it to one of the new Adirondack style trail shelters on this new trail, we camped for the night, safe and secure in our lack of knowledge and inexperience, still unaware of and unprepared for what we would face the following day.
The next morning we packed up and started hiking under overcast skies. Eventually a fine mist started falling, and with the falling moisture, the temperature started dropping as well. After we were damp from the mist, the precipitation eventually changed to a wet snow that started accumulating. As darkness approached, we found ourselves getting cold. Little did we know we were starting to experience the initial stages of hypothermia.
My backpacking partners on our second day
Growing increasingly confused, weak, and uncoordinated, we hiked on through the cold and snow, looking for the next shelter. We eventually become benighted, but about eight miles after setting out from the previous night’s shelter, we managed to locate the next one. Once inside, we built a roaring fire in the fireplace, warmed up, hung our wet cotton up to dry in the heat of the fire, and refueled with a warm meal and warm liquids. One of our sleeping bags had also become wet and we used the dry warmth from the fire to dry it as well.
Evaluating our predicament, we planned to hike the next day the few miles to the closest road, find a phone, and call to be picked up. Our third morning we found the trail covered with several inches of snow. The temperature was below freezing, but at least the snow had stopped falling and the there was little wind. We managed to hike out, arrange to be picked up, and lived to backpack another day.
That's me on our last day before we bugged out
That was over forty years ago, but it was not the last hard learned backpacking lesson I have encountered. I now know not to wear cotton when conditions can be cold and damp, to check the weather forecast before heading out on the trail, and to generally be better prepared. All those hard learned lessons have served me well but have not prevented me from experiencing additional hard lessons from the trail. For instance, a year after this ill-fated trip . . . 

An earlier and slightly different version of this post originally appeared on The Trek.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time / Proper 14 (Year A)

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 is a further revision and refinement of my Lectionary Ruminations and Lectionary Ruminations 2.0.  Focusing on The Revised Common Lectionary Readings for the upcoming Sunday from New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible, Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 draws on over thirty years of pastoral experience.  Believing that the questions we ask are often more important than any answers we find, without over reliance on commentaries, I intend with sometimes pointed and sometimes snarky comments and Socratic like questions, to encourage reflection and rumination for readers preparing to lead a Bible study, draft liturgy, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged.

PREFACE: I have adopted a more ecumenical enumeration of the Liturgical Day, using “Ordinary Time” and “Proper” designations rather than “After Pentecost”  as in the Presbyterian Planning Calendar because the date of Pentecost changes from year to year. This change will help users more easily find what they are looking for.

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
37:1 Why are Jacob’s grandfather Abraham not mentioned? Why is Isaac not named? Were not both Jacob’s father and grandfather aliens? Is Jacob no longer an alien?
37:2 Here we have the beginning of the Joseph narrative’ almost as if a separate narrative has been spliced on.  Is there anything significant about Joseph being seventeen years old?  Why are Bilhah and Zilpah referred to a “His father’s wives” rather than maids or servants? Who were Bilhah and Zilpah’s sons? Is Joseph a tattletale or snitch?
37:3-4 Note that in 37:1 Joseph’s father is referred to as “Jacob” but here he is referred to as “Israel.” Is there any symbolic significance to a long robe with sleeves? This is beginning to read like the story of yet another dysfunctional family.
37:12 What do we know about Shechem?
37:13 What usually happens when people respond “Here I am?”  Are there any other instances in Scripture were a person responds to another human (rather than to God) “Here I am?”
37:14 What sort of “word” might Jacob have been expecting or wanting Joseph to bring back? What do we know about the valley of Hebron?
37:15 Why is Joseph in Shechem when his father sent him to the valley of Hebron?  Was Joseph wandering in the fields because he was lost? Do you think this was an ordinary “man?”
37:16 Would you expect a stranger to know the whereabouts of Joseph’s brothers?
37:17 What do we know about Dothan?
37:18 Note to self: play ominous music here!
37:19 Why do his brothers refer to Joseph as “this dreamer?”
37:20 A conspiracy is hatched. What other dreamers have people tried to kill? How might this verse shed light on Psalms that speak of being rescued from the pit?
37:21 What might have been Reuben’s motive for saving his brother?
37:22 How do we know what was Reuben was thinking?
37:23 I wonder what Joseph’s brothers did with his robe.
37:24 What is the meaning and significance of the fact that the pit was empty with no water in it?  What was this pit for?
37:25 Who are the Ishmaelites?  What do we know about Gilead? What purpose do the Ishmaelites serve?
37:26 Is Judah concerned only about making money from their bother’s demise? What prefiguration might be intended?
37:27 Might Reuben have influenced Judah? Had Judah foiled Reuben’s plan?
37:28 Who drew Joseph up out of the pit, his brothers or the Midianite traders?  What is the difference between Midianites and Ishmaelites?  Is there any symbolic significance to the twenty pieces of silver? You might recall that Jesus was betrayed for thirty pieces of silver. Maybe the difference between twenty and thirty was due to inflation.

PSALM 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b
105:1 In the NRSV, “LORD” is all upper case.  Therefore, what would be the “name” to call on?  What are the LORD’s deeds? Who are the peoples?
105:2 Are Hymns in worship sung “about” God or “to” God? Are the LORD’s wonderful works the same as the LORD’s deeds?
105:3 How does one “Glory in” the LORD’s name when the LORD’s name is not pronounced?
105:4 How can we continuously seek God’s presence? Is the LORD not always with us?
105:5 Are both “miracles” and “judgments” among the LORD’s works in 105:2? What judgments has the LORD uttered?
105:6 Why is Isaac not mentioned?
105:16-22 Is this why this psalm is paired with the First Reading.
105:45b How often do we end up praising the LORD for something we at first thought was a curse or calamity?

ROMANS 10:5-15
10:5 From what does Paul quote?
10:6-7 Is Paul quoting or composing? How would ascending into heaven be the same as bringing Christ down?
10:8 What is Paul quoting?
10:9 So public confession as well as an interior faith are essential?  What if there is only one but not the other?
10:10 What is the relationship between justification and salvation, confession and faith?
10:11 What Scripture is being quoted?
10:12 Who was wanting to make a distinction between Jew and Greek?
10:13 What does it mean to call on the name of the Lord? What is Paul quoting?
10:14 Is this nothing more than the old “Can someone who has never heard of Christ be saved?” question? Later Christians would baptize Plato and Aristotle as proto-Christians.
10:15 Must one be sent in order to proclaim?
10:15 Should all candidates for the ministry of proclamation have their feet examined?  It is no wonder Paul was once confused with Hermes.

MATTHEW 14:22-33
14:22 I am always surprised when I read “Immediately” in a Gospel other than Mark.  Other side of what? Why might Jesus have sent the disciples off without him?
14:23 Here we have a “Summit to Shore” narrative!  Thanks, Matt! If Jesus went up to the mountain alone, why are we told he was alone when evening came? Some of us go to the Mountains not because they are there but to find peace and solitude. Summits, like shoes, are liminal places.
14:24 Meanwhile, back on the boat . . . remember the disciples on the boat?
14:25 So the disciples spent the entire night on a boat battered about by winds on the open water?
14:26 Why were the disciples terrified? Did the disciples think they were seeing any old ghost or the ghost of Jesus?
14:27 Here we have yet another “immediately.”  Is this the heart of the passage? Where else have we already heard – or will later hear – “do not be afraid?”
14:28 If? IF?  Did Peter not know or was he not sure?  Why did Peter need to be commanded?
14:29 Was Jesus issuing a command or giving permission? Are we, and when are we, similarly bidden by Jesus to “come?”
14:30 How could Peter not have noticed the strong wind before he left the boat? I cannot help but read this as a metaphor. Does it make any difference that it was the wind and not the waves that frightened Peter?
14:31 As a former American Red Cross Water Safety Instructor, I think Jesus should have remembered “Throw, Row, Tow, Then Go!”  Was Peter’s faith really “little”?  After all, none of the other disciples set out to walk on the water, except Peter!  What was it Peter doubted? What is the relationship between faith and doubt? Is little faith better than no faith or can little faith be a dangerous thing?
14:32 Why might the wind have ceased when Jesus and Peter got into the boat?
14:33 What convinced these disciples that Jesus was the Son of God – that he walked on water?  That he “saved” Peter?  That the wind stopped when Jesus and Peter climbed into the boat? What has it taken – or what will it take – to convince you that Jesus is truly the Son of God?

ADDENDUM
I am a Minister Member of Upper Ohio Valley Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and am serving as the Interim Pastor of the Richmond United Presbyterian Church, Richmond, Ohio. Sunday Worship at Richmond begins at 11:00 AM. Some of my other blog posts have appeared on PRESBYTERIAN BLOGGERS and The Trek.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time / Proper 13 (Year A)

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 is a further revision and refinement of my Lectionary Ruminations and Lectionary Ruminations 2.0.  Focusing on The Revised Common Lectionary Readings for the upcoming Sunday from New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible, Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 draws on over thirty years of pastoral experience.  Believing that the questions we ask are often more important than any answers we find, without over reliance on commentaries, I intend with sometimes pointed and sometimes snarky comments and Socratic like questions, to encourage reflection and rumination for readers preparing to lead a Bible study, draft liturgy, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged.

Genesis 32:22-31
32:22 Much has transpired in Jacob’s story since last week’s Reading.  How can we help people keep up and catch up between lectio-continua Lectionary Readings when so much transpires between Readings?  Is there any significance to the fact that we all told it was the same night? Where is the Jabok?
32:22-24 Why would Jacob send everyone else, along with his possessions, across the Jabbok but stay behind and alone?
32:24 Who, or what, might this “man” be?
32:25 Is this the first Biblical documentation of a sports injury? What is the meaning, symbolism, and significance of this injury?
32:26 What might be the significance of daybreak?  What sort of blessing might Jacob be asking for? What sort of beings can offer a blessing?
32:27 Why might the “man” want to know Jacob’s name?  Is it all surprising that Jacob divulges his name?
32:28 What is going on here?  How can this “man” change Jacob’s name?  What does it mean that Jacob has “striven with God and with humans and have prevailed.?” Who were the humans Jacob strove with and when did he prevail?  When did Jacob strive with God and prevail?
32:29 Why might Jacob want to know the “man’s” name and why does the “man” not divulge it?
32:30 I thought Jacob was wrestling with a “man.” Was this “man” really God?  It was a good thing Jacob wrestled with God during the night, thereby not being able to see God’s face, otherwise he might not have lived, or maybe he would have.  Does the concept of the Dark Night of the Soul in any way help us interpret this passage?
32:31 Did the preceding events occur in normal time and space or in a dream/vision?  As Dumbledore once said to Harry Potter, “Just because something takes place in your head does not mean it is not real”. I cannot help but read this account from a Jungian perspective, reading this as a mythopoeic account meant to explain more than we might know about Jacob and his descendants’ special place in salvation history, or even as an archetypal account meant to shed light on our own internal spiritual struggles.

PSALM 17:1-7
17:1 This Psalmist sounds like a lawyer pleading a case.  Does anyone really have lips free of deceit?
17:2 How does the LORD vindicate?  Doe God not see everything?
17:3 Does the “if you visit me by night” phrase justify pairing this Psalm with the First reading?  How does God try the heart?  How does God visit us by night?  How does God test us?
17:4 What does “by the word of your lips” mean and refer to?
17:5 What are the LORD’s paths?  Note that “paths” is plural!
17:6 This reads like a call to prayer.
            One: We call upon you, O LORD.
            All:   You will answer us, O God.
            One:  Incline you’re your ear to us.
            All:   Hear our prayers.
17:7 How does God wondrously show steadfast love?
17:15 What happens when one beholds the face of God? Is the “when I awake” phrase another reason to pair this Psalm with the Genesis 32:22-31 Reading? This Psalm, paired with the First Reading, could easily provide the textual basis for a sermon on Biblical dreams and the spiritual discipline of keeping a dream journal and interpreting one’s dreams.  If you are not familiar with the Spiritual discipline of dream interpretation see any number of writings by Morton Kelsey or John Sanford. While it is more about the Psychology of Transformation than dream interpretation, see especially Sanford’s The Man Who Wrestled With God.

ROMANS 9:1-5
9:1 I think Paul might doth protest too much.  Who would have accused Paul of lying?
9:2 What is the source of Paul’s strong emotions?
9:3 Could there be a pun in this passage?
9:4-5 What a list: adoption, glory, covenants (plural), giving of the law, worship, promises, patriarchs (no matriarchs?), Messiah! Paul seems to be defending his concern for his Jewish community and affirming his heritage

MATTHEW 14:13-21
14:13 What did Jesus hear?  What can we learn from Jesus withdrawing in a boat to a deserted place?  From experience I know that kayaking and sailing can be like a retreat and spiritual experience.  Note that “crowds” and “towns” are both plural.
14:14 Does Christ’s compassion always lead to him curing the sick?
14:15 Do the disciples express a totally utilitarian concern? Is there more to the expression “This is a deserted place” than meets the eye?
14:16 What is the meaning of this?
14:17 What do you make of the numbers “five” and “two” not to mention “five loaves” and “two fish”?  What can churches hoarding and guarding their invested resources and endowments learn from this?
14:18 Where did the disciples get the five loaves and two fish?
14:19 “He ordered” sounds like strong language. I would much prefer “He invited” but we get the language we get.  What does the “blessed and broke” language remind you of?
14:20 What do you make of there being twelve baskets of leftovers after the crowds shared just five loaves of bread and two fish? Is there any symbolic significance to the number twelve?
14:21 As usual, only the men count!  Women and children are just accouterments.  This crowed could easily have numbered about fifteen thousand or twenty thousand.
14:13-21One of the favorite places I visited in the Holy Land was Tabgha. If you are not familiar with Tabgha I suggest that you Google and read about it, being sure to look at the images of its famous mosaic.

ADDENDUM
I am a Minister Member of Upper Ohio Valley Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and am serving as the Interim Pastor of the Richmond United Presbyterian Church, Richmond, Ohio. Sunday Worship at Richmond begins at 11:00 AM. Some of my other blog posts have appeared on PRESBYTERIAN BLOGGERS and The Trek.