Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 for The Transfiguration of the Lord (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 24:12-18
24:12-18 Why must Moses go up to God rather than God coming down? In Christ, God came down to us. What mountain is this? If it were not for this verse, would we still make a distinction between the two tablets of the law? I can understand why “law” is singular, but why is “commandment” also singular?
24:13 Note that that Moses does not go up to God on the mountain alone. Moses takes with him his assistant (and heir apparent), Joshua. Why does the NRSV say Modes went up “into” the mountain?
24:14 Who is Aaron?  Who is Hur?
24:15 What shall we make of the cloud?
24:16 Shall we equate “the glory of the Lord” with the cloud?  From personal experience, I know there is something “numinous” about being on a mountaintop, above tree line, when clouds enshroud the summit.   What does the explicit linguistic connection to the creation account, i.e. “six days and the seventh day”, suggest about any theological connection between this account and the first creation account? Is the giving of the law anything like a new creation?
24:17 What does a devouring fire on top of a mountain look like?  Does this suggest lightening or a volcano or something else altogether? If this is what the people of Israel saw, what did Moses and Joshua see?
24:18 How much is the forty days and forty nights a prefiguration of the forty years in the wilderness and how much is this a post Exodus influence on an earlier tradition?  Or is the mention of forty days and forty nights an allusion to the story of the flood? How might this passage inform our understanding of The Season of Lent?
24:12-18 While this reading stands on its own merits, I find it difficult to read it without looking for connections to the Gospel Reading and wonder how much we should read the Gospel account of the Transfiguration as a Midrash on this text.  There are many similarities between the two texts, perhaps the least being the setting; that of a mountain.

PSALM 2
2:1 Is this a rhetorical question?
2:2 Is this a reference to secularization? Who is the LORD’s “anointed”?
2:3 What is the meaning of this?  What are bonds?  What are cords?
2:4 I like this image of a laughing God although we might debate the nature of the laughter.
2:5 From laughter to wrath and fury.
2:6  Zion, the holy hill, rather than the holy mountain Moses and Joshua ascended or upon which Jesus is transfigured.  Is this “king” to be equated with the “anointed” of 2:2?
2:7 What decree?  Is this the King speaking? Why does this verse sound familiar?
2:8 Forget the Promised land, have all the earth!
2:9 Was iron the hardest known metal at the time?
2:8-9 I this a prophecy or promise never, or not yet, fulfilled? 
2:10 This sounds like good advice in the world’s contemporary political and social climate.
2:11 What is fear? When was the last time you served the LORD with trembling?
2:12 What does it mean to (euphemistically?) kiss God’s feet? 

PSALM 99
99:1 The earth quakes but the people tremble (see Psalm 2:11).  What are cherubim and where are they? If The LORD is king, who is not the king?
99:2 Is The LORD great only in Zion?  What is the meaning of “peoples”?
99:3 What is God’s awesome name?  How can one praise God’s name if it is not pronounced?
99:4 This is great imagery for God appropriate for addressing God in prayer. What is the meaning of “equity”?
99:5 This sounds like a call to worship.  Where and what is God’s footstool?  Not that this verse addresses the people while the previous verse addresses The LORD.
99:6 How does Samuel come to be included with Moses and Aaron?  Who do you know who has cried to the LORD and God answered them?
99:7 This is undoubtedly a reference to the Exodus. Note that “decrees” and “statutes” are both plural.  Whom did God speak to in the pillar of cloud? What does a pillar of cloud look like?
99:8 An interesting juxtaposition: The forgiving LORD and the avenging LORD. Can The LORD have it both ways? Can we?
99:9 This sounds like another call to worship?  Must we worship only at God’s holy mountain?  What and where is God’s holy mountain?

2 PETER 1:16-21
1:16 What is a cleverly devised myth?  I wonder what Rudolph Bultmann or Joseph Campbell might have to say about this? Were some claiming that the gospel was a cleverly devised myth? How shall we read this verse as it relates to the mythopoeic nature of Scripture?
1:17 Did Jesus not have honor and glory before the event being recounted? What does the voice seem to echo?  What event is being referred or alluded to?
1:18 When Scripture relates the personal experience of the first followers of Jesus, what does that say about our own personal experience of the risen Christ? 
1:19 What is the prophetic message?  How has it been confirmed?  How can we do anything else than be attentive to a lamp shining in a dark place?  Where might this dark place be? What is the morning star and how does it rise in our hearts? Might this be a reference or allusion to Mercury and/or Venus? Why do we see Mercury and Venus only in before sunset or just after sunrise? Will there be any need for a lamp once the morning star rises and the day dawns?
1:20 This is why Christians interpret Scripture in community and why I invite, solicit, and encourage your comments responding to Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 (hint, hint; plead, plead).  What do we do when someone offers a new or different interpretation that is at odds with the historic or current community?
1:21 Prophecy, like poetry and art, comes from somewhere other than the prophet, poet, or artist, but who gets to make that claim?  What does it mean that Scripture (and thus prophecy) is self-authenticating?

MATTHEW 17:1-9
17:1 Six days later, after what? See Exodus 24:16. As Moses took Joshua, Jesus takes Peter, James and John.
17:2 What does it mean to be transfigured?  Why am I thinking of Franz Kafka? Has anyone else’s face ever shone like the sun?  Has anyone else’s clothes ever become dazzling white?
17:3 What is the meaning of “Suddenly”?  Why Moses and Elijah?  What might Moses and Elijah represent?  Why would Moses and Elijah want to talk with Jesus, or Jesus want to talk with them? Is there any significance to the fact that the three greats (Moses, Jesus, Elijah) are balanced by the three mere disciples (Peter, James and John)?  It seems we have a dyad of trinities.
17:4 Way to go Peter, interrupt a spiritual experience with mundane concerns! I wonder if at that moment Jesus really thought it was “good” Peter was there. Why three dwellings rather than just one for all three? What is the meaning of “dwelling”?
17:5 The text suggests a chronology of Jesus being transfigured before the bright cloud appeared.  Note the reappearance of the word “suddenly.”  Why does this voice and what it says sound familiar? What does the Gospel add or include that the Reading from 2 Peter did not?  You may want to take another look at Exodus 24:16.
17:6 Were the disciples overcome by fear by hearing the voice or by hearing what the voice said?  What does it mean to “fall to the ground”?  Might falling to the ground refer to posture?  What might have been the nature of the fear that came over the disciples?
17:7 Was this a reassuring touch?  Would there be any difference in interpretation if Jesus had said “Do not be afraid and get up.”?
17:8 Where did Moses and Elijah go?  Why did they leave?
17:9 Why would Jesus “order” these three disciples to tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead”? Who is the Son of Man?  Could this, indeed, be a misplaced resurrection appearance read back into the Gospel at an earlier point?  How might this Reading prefigure the resurrection? Why does Jesus refer to this as a “vision”?  What is a “vision”? Have you ever experienced such a “vision”?

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.

Review of Freezer Bag Cooking: Trail Food Made Simple


Freezer Bag Cooking: Trail Food Made Simple
Author: Sarah Svien Kirkconnell
Softcover: 90 pages
Bay Street Publishing; copyright 2007

When a couple of canoeing friends loaned me a copy of Sarah Svien Kirkonell’s Freezer Bag Cooking: Trail Food Made Simple, I was so impressed by it that I ordered my own copy. A few months later, when I set out on a weeklong solo backpacking trip, all my dinners were Kirkonnell’s Freezer Bag Cooking recipes!

Part of what impressed me about Freezer Bag Cooking: Trail Food Made Simple was that most if not all the ingredients could be bought in a grocery store. I live in a small town and had to travel out of town to larger grocery stores to find all the ingredients. Fortunately, there are larger grocery stores within twenty miles of where I live.

I was also impressed that all the ingredients could be packed into a one quart zip lock freezer bag. When it came time to prepare my dinner, all I had to do was add boiling water to the bag, allow it to sit in an insulated cozy for between five to ten minutes, and perhaps open a pouch of tuna, chicken or salmon at some point during the process, and add it the bag as well.  At the end of each meal, all of which were tasty and filling, the empty zip lock bag served as a trash bag for any empty foil pouches and other trash I had accumulated throughout the day.

Admittedly, each freezer bag dinner weighed more than a freeze dried dinner would have weighed, but each freezer bag dinner also took up less space than a freeze dried dinner would have taken up and cost less. I would not want to rely solely of freezer bag dinners for a long backpacking trip such as thru hiking the AT, but I think freezer bag dinners are a quick, easy, and inexpensive alternative to freeze-dried meals for any backpacking trip or trek lasting up to a week.

Kirkonnell has written a few other books apparently similar to Freezer Bag Cooking: Trail Food Made Simple, including Freezer Bag Cooking: Adventure Ready Recipes, and more. She also publishes recipes and writes about trail cooking at www.freezerbagcooking.com.

This review originally appeared on The Trek

Friday, February 10, 2017

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 for the 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time / Proper 2 (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.

LEVITICUS 19:1-2, 9-18
19:1 Did The LORD speak in Hebrew?
19:2 What does it mean to be holy? Why should the people of Israel (and us by extension) be holy?  What is the difference between shall and should?
19:9-10 What do you know about gleaning?  In addition to this being a form of social welfare, it probably also is good ecology.  How has industrialized farming done away with such practices? What does this say to the 1% and to the 99%? How shall we read “alien” in light of the current anti-immigrant political climate?
19:11-12 So, contrary to last week’s Gospel Reading, it is ok to swear by the name of God as long as one swears truthfully?
19:13 Let’s put these words on display on Wall Street and in the lobby of America’s mortgage lenders. Is it permissible to defraud someone who is not a neighbor?  Who is a neighbor?
19:14 Praise God for the ADA.  I sometimes wonder what was going through the minds of people who designed and built church buildings before the ADA.  I fear congregations worshipping in pre ADA buildings are now paying the price for a lack of awareness and foresight.
19:15 As the economic disparity in America approaches levels that have not been seen since just before the Great Depression, this verse becomes ever more poignant.  In other words, justice is economically blind? What happened to the preferential option for the poor.
19:16 Good for kin and neighbor, but what about the stranger?
19:17 Is it okay to hate people who are not kin? Would you ever consider reproving your neighbor?
19:18 The first part of his verse points toward the Gospel reading.  The second part of this verse informs Jesus’ answer to the questions “Which is the greatest commandment?”
19:8, 10, 12, 14, 15, 17 Is the repetition of “I am the LORD” merely a literary device or does it suggest that these verse may have been used liturgically in a responsive fashion?  Might the repetition of “I am the LORD” also serve a theological function?
19:1, 9-17 How shall we read these verses in light of the Ten Commandments?

PSALM 119:33-40
119:33-40 Do not forget that this is the second week in a row the Psalm has been an excerpt from Psalm 119, an acrostic Psalm. What synonyms for “statutes” are used in these verses?
119:33 How does the LORD teach?  Note that “way” is singular. The “end” of what?
119:34 Does understanding precede the keeping of God’s law? Can we keep laws we do not understand?
119:35 Note that “path”, as “”way” in verse 33, is singular.
119:36-37 What is God’s responsibility and what is our responsibility for turning our heart and eyes?
119:38 What is The LORDS “promise”?  What does it mean to “fear” God?  You may want to revisit Aldous Huxley’s “mysterium tremendum as described in his The Doors of Perception and Rudolph Otto’s “mystery” or “numinous” as explored in his The Idea of the Holy: An Inquiry into the Non-rational Factor in the Idea of the Divine and its Relation to the Rational
119:39 What disgrace does the Psalmist dread?
119:40 Hey, God, look at me?  I might not have kept all your decrees, but I wanted to.  Give me life just for trying.

1 CORINTHIANS 3:10-11
3:10 How much of God’s grace has been given to Paul?  How much has been given to you? Is Paul bragging when he calls himself “a master builder”. If Paul laid the foundation, who is now building on that foundation?  How many ways are there to build on an already established foundation?
3:16 The Greek “you” is plural! What is the foundation of “God’s Temple”?  Did God’s Spirit dwell in the Jerusalem temple before it was destroyed?
3:17 Is Paul talking about self-destruction, or destroying the temple of another? How shall we read this in light of the Roman destruction of the Jerusalem temple?
3:18 Paul again writes about being “wise” and becoming “fools”, but become fools in order to become wise.  What is Paul doing with these word games and twists of logic?  Wittgenstein, please help me. Are there two types of wisdom?
3:19 Where is this written, Job 5:13 perhaps?  If so, I find it ironic since the Book of Job is traditionally classified as “Wisdom Literature”.
3:20 Where is this written, Psalm 94:11 perhaps?
3:21 What human leaders might Paul have had in mind? All things are yours?  What is Paul talking about?
3:22-23 So, in the end, all things are God’s?

MATTHEW 5:38-48
5:38 How many times have we not only heard this said, but cited out of context, and used to argue the opposite point for which it was intended?
5:39 It sounds as though Jesus is asserting his own authority over the law.  What do you know about “turning cheeks”?  The Just War theory has overturned any sense of not resisting evildoers. How can Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. help us here?
5:40 Did Jesus live in a litigious society?  What point is he making? What is the difference between a coat and a cloak?
5:41 Who might force you to go a mile and why?
5:42 Give?  How much?  Loan?  With our without interest?
5:43 I have not heard this one very often, if at all. Where might Jesus have heard it?
5:44 I actually find it easier to pray for those who persecute me than to love my enemies.
5:45 What is the point?
5:46 Does Jesus mean to suggest that the only reason to love is to be rewarded?
5:47 What does it mean to “greet”? Is Jesus talking about biological brothers and sisters or brothers and sisters in the faith?
5:48 Is human perfection really an attainable goal? How is perfection related to holiness? Does perfection refer to degree or status?

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, February 7, 2017

Archeological Reminiscence

            My parents slept together in the front upstairs bedroom.  Entering their bedroom through the only door, one would see a window in the right wall that looked out over our neighbor’s yard, house, and to the intersection below.  A window straight ahead on the west wall overlooked a busy street which was really a two lane state highway. Beyond the highway was a glass factory.  Visible above and beyond the glass factory roof were the hillsides of the eastern Ohio border sloping down to the river below.

            I do not remember if my parents’ bed was a king or a queen, but when I was a young child of perhaps four or five, it seemed gigantic.  I also don’t recall how often I slept with my parents, safely nestled between them, or why.  I must have slept with them at least once, perhaps more often, but I think spending the night with them in their bed was not something I was in the habit of.

            One night while I was lying with my parents in their bed, perhaps the very same bed in which I was conceived, the strangers I saw walking around that darkened room both scared and fascinated me.  I cannot remember if my parents were awake or sleeping at the time, but I was awake.  And rather than closing my eyes in fear, I watched those ghostly intruders, tall, thin, and dark, sauntering in procession between me and the walls.

            For some reason, I did not then tell or ever tell my parents about those shadowy figures – those phantoms of the night.  Perhaps I did not want to wake my parents at the time or burden them later. Perhaps I did not want to admit my fear or confess my fascination. They were my secret.

            While I was both afraid and in awe of those night visitors, I also felt somewhat safe and secure snuggled in between my sleeping parents.  Nevertheless, the memory of this experience, one of my earliest memories, has stayed with me for over fifty years.  In my mind’s eye, I can still see those ghostly figures, like ancestors dug up and visiting from beyond the grave, as if they visited me as recently as last night.

            I eventually came to theorize that the appearance of these nocturnal strangers probably coincided with cars and trucks travelling up and down the road, perhaps turning the corner below the house.  Maybe their headlights had somehow shone or reflected through the trees and curtains, through the windows, and projected shadows moving across the walls like images in Plato’s cave.

            To this young child, those specters were mysterious, fascinating, perhaps even malevolent, and I have never told anyone about them – until now.

               (Note: I started working on this while attending a writer's workshop at the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Fl in the spring of 2014. We chose from one of several Dali's paintings to use as a writing prompt.) 

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Trump's Gettysburg Address

If Donald Trump had been President on November 19, 1863:

“After the hugely victorious North utterly defeated the small handed south, and the south lost by something like a score of four to seven, here at Gettysburg, a great little town by the way, one of America’s great little towns, a town with a great Lutheran Seminary, though I am Presbyterian, and a town of smart people because they voted for me three years ago, I am honored to be here with some really important men with really big hands and great minds, totally qualified for the job, like me, some of our county’s top talent, to make America great again by dedicating this, the greatest and biggest battlefield our country has ever seen. This battlefield with be a huge benefit for development and the local economy, believe me. I promise.


The wall has already been started!
Even though this North-South thing is not over yet, we are now ahead of the game. We are not only going to crush those drug smuggling southern rapists sneaking across our borders, we are going to build a great wall along the Mason Dixon line and make the Confederates pay for it. They will be sorry they ever left this great nation. They lost this little skirmish here at Gettysburg and they are losers, big time losers. They can take their slaves and keep them but we will keep great men like Frederick Douglas. I have a lot of black friends. Black people love me, believe me, they would have voted for me if they could have, and Frederick Douglas is a black man, a great black man. He wants to abolish big government, just like me. He believes in free trade, unencumbered by government regulation, just like I do. Frederick Douglas and I have a lot in common, except I am President and he is not.

This battlefield is only the beginning. We must not only remember the great things great men did here today and before, we must remember what great men did everyday everywhere, like all the great people who came out to vote for me and who gave me such an overwhelming victory in the election and who came to Washington for my inauguration. Let the world take notice. Let the world remember what I did here today and what I said here today. Fox News will cover it but not the other news organizations that report only fake news.

Our work here in Gettysburg might be done but we have a lot more work to do to make America Great again, and now that all those Confederate losers are gone we are great, greater than we have ever been, now that I am your President. Let us have more dedications, increased development, and you will see how the measure of our great nation grows every day now that I am your President. Believe me. We lost a few great men here – and we will lose a few more – that is the price we must pay to make our nation great again, the price we must pay to stop southerners from taking our jobs, being a burden, and practicing abortion. The unnecessary killing must stop, and as your President I will make sure it will stop. I promise you. Believe me. People will look back and say that this Civil War thing was the best thing that ever happened to America. Believe me.

God bless you. God Bless America. Vote for me again this time next year to keep America great!”

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 for the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time / Proper 1 (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.

DEUTERONOMY 30:15-20
30:15 Why am I surprised to read “See” rather than “Hear” or “Listen”?  I am also somewhat surprised to read “today” rather than “this day”. Does this verse feed the so called “Prosperity Gospel?”
30:16 This is a rather long verse with a lot packed into it. Are ways, commandments, decrees, and ordinances synonyms used for emphasis or does each term refer to something different? Note that life is paired with prosperity.  Death is paired with adversity. How much is this a linguistic/poetic construction and how much is it a theological construction?  Does this verse lend itself to a justification by works or health/wealth/prosperity sort of faith?
30:17 Why now “hear” rather than “see”?  Is “hearing” an allusion to Deuteronomy 6:4?
30:18 I find it interesting that while death will come quickly if people’s hearts turn but the people will still enter and possess the land.
30:15-18 Note that 30:15-16 seems to be contrasted with 30:17-18.
30:19 Who can dispute with witnesses like heaven and earth?  In 30:15, the pairing was life/prosperity and death/adversity.  Now it is life/blessings and death/curses.  In 30:15 the scheme was A and A’, B and B’.  Here, it is A and B, A’ and B’.
30:20 This is the second occurrence of “loving the LORD your God: see 30:15. Can we remain faithful to the text while adding Sarah, Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, Bilhah, and Rachel?

PSALM 119:1-8
119:1 The First Reading establishes the choice.  The Psalm outlines the rewards or effects of the better choice.
119:1-8 Note the synonyms: (1) law, (2) decrees, (3) ways, (4) precepts, (5) statutes, (6) commandments, (7) ordinances, and (8) statutes (again).  What can teachers and preachers learn from the Psalmist’s literary creativity in addition to the Psalmist’s theology?  This Psalm is also an acrostic!  “Ah, but can Doctors even feign great homilies? I judge keeping lovely muses nasty.  Oh, please, quit reading sarcastic tomes.  Unveil virtuous workers. Xanex yields zero.” These first eight verses are all “aleph” verses. Do you ever play with words, rhyming schemes, acrostic constructions, parallelisms, alliteration, or chiastic constructions in your sermons? Try it sometime. Its fun!

1 CORINTHIANS 3:1-9
3:1 Picking up where we left off last week . . . are you a spiritual person or are you an infant in Christ?  What about most of the people in the Christian community in which you find yourself? Is Paul dissing or insulting the Corinthians, or maybe applying a little tough love?
3:2 As a preacher or teacher, do you serve milk, a Gerber’s Gospel, or a meat and potatoes Gospel?  How can we feed all the people with the Word of God when some people are infants in Christ and others are spiritual people looking for, and perhaps needing, a better-rounded and mature diet?
3:3 How much jealousy and quarreling exist in your congregation? Of all the sins Paul could have called out, he called out these two!
3:4 To whom do you belong? Who are the Paul and the Apollos in the communities we know?
3:5 Note that Paul, in this verse, sets himself on equal footing with Apollos and vice versa.  Peter and Christ have dropped out of the construction.
3:6 Are you a planter or a waterer?
3:6-7 God may give the growth, but who is the reaper?
3:8 What wages are appropriate?  Should planters be paid the same as waterers?
3:9 Note the “we/you” language.  Where do you fall in this dichotomy?  After all this agricultural imagery, why does Paul introduce “God’s building?”

MATTHEW 5:21-37
5:21 Note the emphasis on hearing rather than sight and seeing.  “It was said to those of ancient times” sounds like something in the past that has no or little influence in the present.  Who said this and to whom?  When were those ancient times?
5:22 Judgment, the council, the hell of fire – this sounds like increasing levels of punishment.
5:23-26 You might want to skip over these verses during the stewardship drive. What if you have something against your brother or sister?
5:24 How is reconciliation accomplished. Maybe it is time we in the PC(USA) revisit the Confession of 1967.
5:27 This is beginning to sound formulaic (see 5:21).
5:27-28 I remind you to comments made by Jimmy Carter when he was still President.
5:29-30 If we do not take this literally, then what is the meaning of the figurative language? How might young children hear this verse?
5:31 Note the slight change in the formulaic introduction. 
5:32 the logic seems flawed in the husband divorces his wife for reasons other than unchastity.
5:33 More formulaic language.  Does it make a difference that all these things were said rather than written?
5:34-36 How do we interpret these verses when we are required to take a civil oath, as in an oath of public office or court of law?
5:37 Goodbye equivocation and qualification.

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, January 31, 2017

Why I Hike Alone

Not another person in sight!
Contrary to generally accepted advice about always hitting the trail accompanied by a partner or as part of a group, I almost always day hike and backpack alone.

I often make last minute decisions about when and where to hike based on my sometimes erratic work schedule and the weather. I find it hard, weeks ahead of time, to commit to another person or group and join them on the trail. I might decide the day before or even in the morning to hit the trail for a six to eight mile day hike, and that does not give me a lot of time to find a hiking partner or others to decide whether or not to join me.  When I recently embarked on what ended up being a four day and three night backpacking trip, I did not decide what day I was going to begin my trip until the day before, and only then because I had to reserve camp sites ahead of time.

Although I am not antisocial, I am an introvert, and I like my quiet and alone time. I do not want to carry on a conversation with a hiking partner or participate in a group discussion while on the trail. Hiking alone, in silence, increases my chances of encountering and spotting wildlife. Only when I suspect that bears might be in the area will I attach a bear bell to my pack or a trekking pole, but even its little jingles are less bothersome and intrusive than an ongoing conversation with someone several feet away from me.

When I hike alone, I can hike as fast or as slow as I like and need. I do not worry about a straggler falling behind or slowing down the leader, even if the straggler or leader is just one other person. Furthermore, I can pack and prepare the food I want without taking another’s tastes or dietary restrictions into account. At night, I can snore as loudly as I want without disturbing others and without their snoring disturbing me.

Don’t get me wrong. I have indeed enjoyed hiking and backpacking with others. I have enjoyed several backpacking trips with a hiking partner and a few as part of a larger group, but in the past several years, that seems to be the exception rather than the rule. Since I do often hike and backpack alone, I always let someone know where I will be going, and when cell phone service is present, I use Facebook to “check in” at the beginning and end of my trek.

This post originally appeared on The Trek.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 for The 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time (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.

ISAIAH 58:1-9a (9b-12)
58:1 Last week, Micah shouted out to the mountains. This week, Isaiah shouts out to people what sounds like an indictment. This is not the sort of shout out people want to hear.
58:2 I think the two most important words in this verse are “as if”.  I think I detect some sarcasm on God’s part.  What place might sarcasm have in teaching and preaching?  Is this verse distinguishing between religiosity and praxis?
58:3 Is God mocking the religious?  How much do we serve our own interests rather than God’s interests on our Sabbath (Saturday or Sunday)?
58:4 Can you think of any religious community this verse might apply to?  What specific situation might Isaiah have had in mind?
58:5-7 I am hearing echoes of last week’s “what does the Lord require?”  Does a true fast mean giving up a portion of what the believer has to those who do not have it? These verses sound like the foundation of a Social Gospel ministry.
58:7 Truth is in order to goodness?  By their fruits you shall know them?
58:8 Who is the vindicator? What is a “rear guard” and what is their function?
58:9a Do the previous verses delineate preconditions for the LORD hearing our prayer?  It is usually the one whom the LORD calls who responds “Here I am” but in this verse it is the LORD who responds “Here I am” when the people call on the LORD.
(58:9b) What might “the pointing of the finger” refer to?
(58:10) This verses read like a restatement of 58:7-8.
(58:11) This verse offers images that suggest so many other passages, such as the vision of dry bones and the many biblical references to springs of living water.
(58:12) What ancient ruins? How might this promise of restoration serve as a vision of church renewal, revitalization and transformation, or even urban renewal?

PSALM 112:1-9 (10)
112:1 This verse reads like the antithesis of the Isaiah Reading.  What does it mean to “fear” the LORD?  When I read verses like this I am usually reminded of Aldous Huxley’s “mysterium tremendum” as described in his The Doors of Perception and of  Rudolph Otto’s “mystery” or “numinous” as explored in his The Idea of the Holy: An Inquiry into the Non-rational Factor in the Idea of the Divine and its Relation to the Rational.  It is one thing to obey God’s commandments, and another thing to delight in them.
112:2 The reward (like the punishment) goes to the next generation. Perhaps reconsider Isaiah 58:12.
112:3 Do verses like this fuel the health and wealth gospel?
112:4 You may want to juxtapose the light of this verse with the light of Isaiah 58:8 and 58:10
112:5 I assume the lending in this verse is a lending without interest.  How does this verse speak to Wall Street and investment bankers?
112:6 I assume this is not a reference to stubbornness.
112:7 What are evil tidings? Is your heart firm, secure in the LORD?
112:8 This sounds like a restatement of 112:7b. When is the end?
112:9 Based on this verse, this Psalm, and the First Reading, how might we define “righteousness?”  What does this verse say about our social safety net?  What is a “horn?”
112:10 Is this why some people are so opposed to Social Security, public assistance, and a general redistribution of wealth in our current context of such economic inequality?

1 CORINTHIANS 2:1-12 (13-16)
2:1 As an amateur philosopher who used to teach Introduction to Philosophy at the undergraduate level, I am getting tired of Paul bad mouthing “lofty words” and “wisdom”.  On the other hand, I like that he employs “the mystery of God” (see my comments on Psalm 112:1).  I think we need more mystery in our churches and in our lives.  What do you think?
2:2 Why does Paul seem to usually focus on Christ crucified rather than Christ resurrected?
2:3 What weakness, fear and trembling does Paul refer to? 
2:4 Is it possible teach and preach with plausible words of wisdom as well as a demonstration of Spirit and power? 
2:5 What about Anselm’s “faith seeking understanding”?  Thomas Aquinas opined “Philosophy is the handmaiden of Theology”.  Can our faith not rest on both human wisdom AND on the power of God?
2:6-7 Now Paul changes his tune!  If I did not know better, I might think he is referring to esoteric and perhaps even Gnostic teachings.  I think I smell the beginnings of a conspiracy theory novel here: “Secret and hidden teachings of Paul recently discovered and revealed!”  Dan Brown, are you reading this?  Were the Corinthians among the mature?  Are you?
2:8 When was the last time any ruler of any age got it right?  They Crucified Jesus.  They condemned Socrates.  Rulers always seek to quiet the voices of those who speak truth to power.
2:9 And what is Paul quoting, Isaiah 64:4 perhaps?  Do you think Paul was quoting from memory or from a text before his eyes? Was he quoting the Greek or the Hebrew?
2:10 Does God reveal through the Spirit today or did all revelation cease with the end of the New Testament era?  When we speak of Christ as the revelation of God, do we short change the Holy Spirit as revelatory?
2:11 Paul is starting to sound like a psychologist.  What is “the human spirit?”
2:12 Shall we compare and contrast the spirit of the world and the Spirit that is from God?  What gifts does God bestow?
(2:13) This sounds like a little Orwellian doublespeak, sort of hard to defend against let alone interpret.  Or maybe Paul is just being “spiritual” but not religious.  Is Paul contrasting human wisdom with spiritual wisdom?  Are you spiritual?
(2:14) Here is a topic for a Sunday School lesson, discussion, or sermon: “Spiritual Discernment”.
(2:15) If I have spiritually discerned everything I write here, am I therefore not subject to your or anyone else’s scrutiny! I think this verse sounds a little self-serving.
(2:16) Who has known the mind of the Lord?  Christ, maybe?  If we have the mind of Christ, do we then know the mind of God?  From what is Paul quoting?

MATTHEW 5:13-20
5:13-16 Have we heard these verse so many times that we cannot hear afresh? What more can be said about salt and light?  Do these first century metaphors still speak to us today or do we to translate them into new metaphors?  
5:13 How does salt lose its taste?   
5:14 Why are cities built on hills if they cannot be hid? 
5:15-16 Is Jesus endorsing bringing attention to one’s good works?
5:17-20 The usual formula is “the Law, the Prophets and the Writings”.  Why are the Writings not mentioned here?  What does this and the following verses have to do with the verses that preceded it?  Do you sense there is no thematic unity?  What “law” or “commandments” might Jesus have had in mind, only the Torah, or all the Levitical laws?
5:19 Note that even those who break laws and teach others to break laws will still be in the kingdom of heaven.
5:20 Do you think Jesus (and/or the early church) thought the scribes and Pharisees were a little lacking when it came to righteousness?  Speaking of righteousness, you might want to revisit the First Reading and the Psalm and bring them into conversation with Matthew 

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.