Friday, January 13, 2017

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 for The 3rd Sunday After Epiphany (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 9:1-4
9:1 Who were those in anguish?  When was the former time? Where is the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali and what is so special about these lands?  When might the latter time be? Who is “he”?  Why is the sea associated with Galilee?
9:2 Who walked in darkness and lived in a land of deep darkness? Have you ever walked in the dark? What is the nature of the great light that has shined?
9:3 Who is being addressed? What does it mean to multiply the nation? I am a little troubled by the mention of plunder.
9:4 Who is the “you” that has broken these things?  Who was the oppressor?  What happened “on the day of Midian”?

PSALM 27:1, 4-9
27:1 Who shall you fear and of whom shall you be afraid?  In my experience, fear can be a crippling and paralyzing experience for congregations facing an uncertain future and needing to change.  The “light” of this verse explains why this psalm was paired with the Isaiah reading (See Isaiah 9:2).  When read together, how does this Psalm enter into dialogue with the First Reading and vice versa? Why does this verse remind me of Taizé?
27:4 A worthy petition, don’t you think?  Does living in the house of the LORD mean living in the Jerusalem temple?Does this verse not express the desire of all Christian mystics?
27:5 What might qualify as a “day of trouble”?  Being concealed under the cover of a tent and being set high on a rock (for all to see) seem like a mixed metaphor.  As a backpacker, I really like the tent imagery, and as a rock climber I like the rock imagery.
27:6 What does it mean to have your head lifted up above your enemies? Does the “tent” in this verse and in Psalm 27:5 allude back to the Tabernacle or Tent of Meeting before the Temple was constructed?
27:7 This verse could be used as a response in bidding prayer or as the opening petition in a prayer.
27:8  What can happen to people who see the face of God?  What does it mean to seek God’s face?  What does God’s face represent?
27:9 Why might God ever hide the divine face, turn the servant away, and cast the servant off, and forsake the servant?

1 CORINTHIANS 1:10-18
One problem with this passage might be that we are too familiar with it and our preconceived notions of what it says and means might get in the way of fresh interpretations.  On the other hand, readers may want to review Is Christ Divided: A Report Approved by the 200th General Assembly (1988), Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) as a lens through which to view and interpret this passage.
1:10 How does Paul strengthen his appeal?  Has he played the “Christ” card? Would Paul be making these statements if there were not disagreements and divisions?
1:11 Who is Chloe and Chloe’s people? Has Paul already taken sides by acting on a report from Chloe’s people? Has Paul been triangulated?
1:12 Who was Apollos?  Who was Cephas? Have you ever heard talk in your particular church approximating what Paul is describing here?
1:13 Are these rhetorical questions presuming the answer “No”?
1:14-15 I think Paul, in another letter, claimed to never have baptized.  Even in this verse, Paul does not seem to totally trust his own memory. Who were Crispis and Gaius?  
1:16 Why the parenthesis? Who was Stephanas?  What is the meaning of “household?”  Might this household have included children and infants?
1:17 On what basis is Paul arguing that eloquent wisdom might empty the cross of Christ of its power?  Is Paul simply feigning humility? For generations after Paul, Philosophy was considered the handmaiden to Theology.  Where would the Gospel be without philosophical reflection?
1:18 what do you make of the juxtaposition of foolishness and the power of God?

Matt 4:12-23
After an excursion into the Gospel According to John, we are now back to a somewhat lectio continua reading of Matthew.
4:12 Why did Jesus withdraw to Galilee upon learning that John had been arrested.  From where did Jesus withdraw?
4:13 Apparently, Jesus withdrew from Nazareth.  What, if any, is the significance of Capernaum?  Are Zebulun and Naphtali the only reasons why the Isaiah 9:1-4 Reading appears in today’s Lectionary Readings?
4:14-16 Other than the fulfillment of prophecy (See Isaiah 9:1-4), is there any other significance to Capernaum?  Does it sometimes seem like Matthew goes out of the way to document fulfillment of prophecy?  Why does Matthew 4:15-16 differ slightly from Isaiah 9:2 in the NRSV?  Does it matter?
4:17 Have fun unpacking Jesus’ proclamation.  How has the Kingdom of heaven come near?
4:18-19 How does this version of the call of Simon and Andrew differ from last week’s account in the reading from John 1:29-42?  Why the difference?  
4:20 Note the word “immediately”.  What is the meaning (or meanings) of “followed”?
4:21 Why might Jesus’ first four disciples have been two sets of brothers?
4:22 Note another appearance of “immediately.” What more do John and James leave behind compared to what Simon and Peter left behind?  What are we called to leave behind when we follow Jesus?
4:23 Should we assume that Simon, Andrew, James and John were “following” Jesus as he went through Galilee. What is the “good news of the kingdom” and does it differ from “the Gospel”? Is “every disease and every sickness” hyperbole?

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.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Calligraphy Caim


A good friend gave me a Sheaffer Maxi Calligraphy Kit and a fifty sheet Calligraphy Paper Pad for Christmas. The Sheaffer Kit included a small instruction book. I have been learning and practicing calligraphy ever since.

This above is a scanned copy of my latest creation after several failed attempts. The words to the Celtic Caim are not original and slightly different from the traditional. The lettering, my attempt to employ "The Uncial Hand," which according to the instruction book "is often called an 'early Christian' alphabet, as it was used during the 4th and 5th centuries for scriptural texts and sacred writings," and coloring was all done by hand with the exception of the Celtic Cross. I used a rubber stamp and ink pad for the cross and then shaded it with a green colored pencil. The finished piece is 8 x 10.

My renewed interest in calligraphy and illuminated manuscripts has been in part piqued by recently reading about and studying the calligraphy and illuminations of The Saint John's Bible, especially the Gospels and Acts volume. My studying and reading is in preparation for a four day continuing education event called "Illuminating the Text," which will focus, in part, on the Gospels and Acts volume of The Saint John's Bible.

The above illuminated calligraphy also betrays my interest in Celtic Christianity and Celtic Christian illuminated manuscripts, especially The Book of Kells and The Lindisfarne Gospels, both of which I have had the opportunity to see with my own eyes.

Morning Mystic

Sitting at the kitchen table
Meditating
Helios rises above a snow blanketed hillside
His morning rays parting winter clouds
Now shining through frosted pains

Eyes closed
I am mindful that my façade is illuminated
My inner gaze transfigured
My awareness heightened
Basking in this warming radiance

Optics, physics, and celestial mechanics explain the miracle
This coincidental transcendent experience I must ponder
Bathed in the intuitive brilliance of mystical union
An encounter some seekers would envy
"Lord Jesus Christ, Have Mercy on me"

                                                                               JEH 2017

Review of Belden Lane's "Backpacking with the Saints"

Backpacking with the Saints: Wilderness Hiking as Spiritual Practice. By Belden C. Lane. Oxford University Press, 2015. 266 pp. $24.95

I am not the first person to experience, reflect on, and write about the spiritual dimension of wilderness. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and John Muir are just three writers in that genre that come immediately to my mind. After reading Backpacking with the Saints: Wilderness Hiking as Spiritual Practice, I will add Belden C. Lane’s name to that list.

A 266 page hardback is not a book most would want to carry in their pack. For those heading out into the wilderness searching for and expecting a spiritual experience, this is a book to be read before heading out. For those who unexpectedly experience something spiritual while in the wilderness, this is a book to be read after you return home to help you debrief.

Belden Lane is Professor Emeritus of Theological Studies, American Religion, and History of Spirituality at Saint Louis University and an ordained Minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). His writing immediately betrays his academic credentials as well as his own spiritual and mystical experiences in the wilderness. Each chapter pairs reflections from one of his hiking, backpacking, or kayaking adventures with reflections upon his reading of a saint’s writings during that trip. The narrative is spiced with enough tidbits about Leave No Trace, boots, blisters, stoves, tents, packs, Backpacker Magazine, and trail descriptions and lore to satisfy any hiking or backpacking enthusiast.

Even though Lane writes from a Christian perspective, he unapologetically also draws from Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, and Muslim spiritual and mystical sources as well secular writers such as Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, John Muir, Wendell Berry, Edward Abbey, Anne Lamott, and Barbara Kingsolver. When Lane backpacked into Missouri’s Moonshine Hollow, for instance, he carried with him and reflected on the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh. When he journeyed to Missouri’s Taum Sauk Mountain, he took with him and reflected on writings by Jelaluddin Rumi.

While not preachy, the chapters are organized according to a classic understanding of the spiritual journey interpreted through a backpacking metaphor. I think anyone who considers himself or herself “spiritual” or “religious” will relish in the open mindedness of this work along with enough meat to chew on to engage their heart and mind regardless of their religious or spiritual tradition or lack thereof.


I think Backpacking with the Saints: Wilderness Hiking as Spiritual Practice can inform all whose wilderness wanderings and trips include a spiritual dimension.

A slightly longer of this review originally appeared on The Trek.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 for The Second Sunday After Epiphany (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 49:1-7
49:1 Who is speaking?  Why are the coastlands but not the mountains addressed?  Is this a statement about call, about when life begins, or both? What is significant about being named?
49:2 How shall we deal with the militaristic imagery?
49:3 Is Israel a person, a people, or a nation?
49:4 How has the one speaking labored in vain?
49:5 Why am I hearing echoes of 49:1?  What is the relation between Jacob and Israel?
49:6 How could an entire nation/people be a light to the nations?  It only works in English (NRSV?), but the two occurrences of “light” in this verse might lend itself to a play on words.
49:7 How many ways is God identified here? Is this a reference to pre-Christian anti-Semitism? Whaat does it mean to be chosen?

PSALM 40:1-11
40:1 Is this Job’s psalm?  Is the speaker an individual, a community, or both?  What does it mean for the LORD to incline an ear?
40:2 How shall we interpret “rock” when we encounter it in pre-Christian Hebrew Scriptures?
40:3 What does the new song symbolize?  Why do so many worshipers seem to complain about learning and singing new and unfamiliar hymns? What is the relationship, if any, between fear and trust?
40:4 What does it mean to make the LORD one’s trust?  What is the difference between trust and faith?
40:5 What are some of the LORD’s wondrous deeds?
40:6 Does this verse condemn or outlaw sacrifice and offering outright?  In light of this verse, why do we still collect or take up an offering during worship? What is the difference between a burnt offering and a sin offering?
40:7 Where have I heard “Here I am” before? Why am I thinking of singer/songwriter/musician Dan Schutte? What is the scroll/book? 
40:8 This imagery/languge reminds me of Jeremiah 31:33.
40:9 What is “the great congregation”?
40:10 Why would the speaker even be tempted to conceal the LORD’s steadfast love and faithfulness?
40:11 What is the relation between the LORD’s mercy and the LORD’s steadfast love and faithfulness?

i Corinthians 1:1-9
1:1 Who was Sosthenes and what do we know about him?
1:2 Paul might be “called to be an apostle” but the church in Corinth is “called to be saints.”  What are you and your church called to be?  What do we know about Corinth and the church there?
1:3 A nice liturgical greeting that combines elements of both Greek and Hebrew letter writing, but how do we deal with the fact that it is not Trinitarian?
1:4 Why “my God” rather than “our God”?
1:5 What “speech and knowledge of every kind” does Paul have in mind?
1:6 What is the testimony of Christ and how is it strengthened?
1:7 What spiritual gifts might Paul be thinking of? What does Paul mean, or what is he referring to, when he writes about “the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ?”
1:8 What is “the day of our Lord”?
1:9 Here is another call (see Isaiah 49:1), this time “into the fellowship of his Son.”

John 1:29-42
1:29 What happened the day before the “next day”?  Who saw Jesus coming? What is the theological significance of the proclamation “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!?”  Try unpacking that!
1:30 When did John say this?
1:31 I think John the Evangelist seems to put John the Baptizer’s ministry into a broader theological context than the Synoptic Gospels seem to do.
1:32 What is significant about John’s testimony?  See 1:33. In at least one other Gospel it seems that only Jesus saw the Spirit descending.
1:33 Why does John the Baptizer go out of his way to deny that he knew Jesus (see 1:31)? Who sent John to baptize?
1:34 Is it enough to see but not testify?  Can one testify if one does not see?  How many titles/identities does John bestow upon Jesus? Does it matter that John says “this is” rather than “here is” or “he is?”
1:35 Sometimes this Gospel can be redundant (see 1:29).  So what day is it now?  What do you make of the fact that John the Baptizer had his own disciples? Were these two disciples with him the day before?
1:36 Speaking of redundancy, see 1:29.
1:37 What is the meaning (or what are the meanings) of “follow”?  Does this mean that some of Jesus’ first disciples had earlier been disciples of John the Baptizer?
1:38 Jesus asks a direct question. Why don’t the two give him a direct answer?  What is the meaning (or what are the meanings) of “looking”?  Why does this Gospel translate “Rabbi”?  What are you looking for?  What are people in the pews looking for?
1:39 “Come and see!”  Is not this the invitation all Christians and churches ought to be extending?  On the other hand, how can we invite people to “Come and see” if we ourselves have not “seen?”  Is there any significance to the time?
1:40 Is this not the first mention in John of the name of one of the disciples of Jesus?  Who was the other person?
1:41 Following up from the previous verse, who are the “we”, Andrew and who?  I think we can assume from the context that the other person with Andrew was not his brother Simon Peter.  Why is Messiah translated?  See 1:38.
1:42 Does this make Andrew the first successful evangelist, the first person to “bring” someone to Jesus?  Is it not a little rude to meet someone for the first time and immediately insist on calling them by another name?  As in 1:38 and 1:41, why is “Cephas” translated?  What language does the name “Peter” come from?  What language does the name “Cephas” come from?  Does it matter?  

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. My various blog posts have appeared on PRESBYTERIAN BLOGGERS and Appalachian Trials.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 for The Baptism 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.

ISAIAH 42:1-9
42:1 In Isaiah’s original context, whom would Isaiah identify as the servant? Was the Spirit put on him because he was already a servant, or did he become a servant because the spirit was put upon him? In light of today’s Gospel Reading, who is the servant, John the Baptizer or Jesus?
42:2 Why does this matter?
42:3 What is a “bruised reed”? Why would a dimly burning wick be quenched?
42:4 This is the third occurrence of the word “justice” (42:1 and 42:3).  What is the nature of this justice?
42:5 Now that we have the formulaic “Thus say God, the LORD”, might we ask who was speaking in verses 1-4?  I like the pairing of “breath” and “spirit”. Which creation account, if either, does Isaiah allude to?
42:6-7 To whom is the LORD speaking? Does this passage at all inform any doctrine of call? Note the plural “nations”! Could the dark prison be a metaphor?
42:8 What is the name of the LORD?
42:9 Change is difficult.  Are most people in the pews willing and ready to accept that former things have come to pass?  What are the new things that the LORD now declares?

PSALM 29
29:1 Who are the “heavenly beings”?  Are there heavenly beings in addition to angels, cherubim and seraphim?
29:2 What is the LORD’s name (See Isaiah 42:8)? What is “holy splendor”?
29:3 Is the Psalmist alluding to the first creation account or simply alluding to the attributes and praise of the God of the storm?  Might we find some some baptismal imagery and language here? 
29:4-10 I love loud, crashing thunder and bright lightning streaking across the sky because it reminds me of the awesome grandeur of God.  What if we baptized from maelstroms rather than cute, little, calm, manageable fonts?  Perhaps a domesticated God is not worthy of praise. Consider this quote from Annie Dillard: “On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of the conditions. Does any-one have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies' straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake some day and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.” Teaching a Stone to Talk, Harper & Row, 1982
29:5 What is so special about the cedars of Lebanon?
29:6 Who or what is “Sirion”?
29:7 Is this a reference to lightning or to volcanic eruptions?
29:8 What and where is the wilderness of Kadesh?
29:9 What about the still, small voice of God in 1 Kings 19:11-13?
29:10 I thought the LORd sits enthroned above the cherubim.
29:11 After all the previous violent storm imagery, how shall we interpret this blessing of peace? One could adapt this as a blessing, for instance: “May the LORD give strength to you. May the LORD bless you with peace.”

ACTS 10:34-43
10:34 Who was Peter speaking to? It has been awhile since we have heard from Peter.  While it might be true that God shows no partiality, I think we cannot say the same of the institutional church.
10:35 Does “nation” refer to geographical realities or ethnic and religious groups? Does this verse point to any sort of universalism? What does it mean to “fear” God? Can someone fear God and not be a practicing Jew or Christian? How does this verse fly in the face of justification by faith through grace?
10:36 Why “peace” rather than salvation?
10:37 Did John “practice” or “preach” baptism? Does this verse justify this Reading being selected for “Baptism of the Lord”? This verse almost makes it sound like the Gospel began to be preached even before Jesus was baptized by John and began his public ministry.
10:38 What is the difference between being anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power? Does this verse suggest that all illness is a result of oppression by the devil? What does it mean for God to “be with” someone?
10:39 Why a “tree” rather than a cross?
10:40 Note that Jesus wasraised”. He did not rise on his own.
10:41 How does this verse impact our theology of the Lord’s Supper/Eucharist?
10:42 How does this verse inform our understanding of ordination?
10:43 “All the prophets”?  Really?  I think Peter is prone to a little hyperbole.

MATTHEW 3:13-17
3:13 When was “Then”? How will you answer people when they ask “if Jesus was sinless, why did he seek to be baptized?”?
3:14 Was John asking the above question?
3:15 How does Jesus being baptized by John “fulfill all righteousness”?
3:16 Jesus “saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him,” but did anyone else see it? How do dove’s descend?
3:17 Whose voice is heard? Who heard this voice?  Might this verse prefigure anything similar in 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.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 for The 1st Sunday After Christmas (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 63:7-9
63:7 Can you recount all the gracious deeds and praiseworthy acts of the LORD? How many are there? What are they?  What is the difference between mercy and steadfast love?
63:8 In  63:7 Isaiah speaks in the first person plural of “us”, but in verse 8 shifts to the third person “they” and “their”.  Why the shift?  What difference does it make? What is Isaiah quoting?
63:9 I like that “It was no messenger or angel” but the LORD’S presence that saved them.  Remember, Isaiah was writing before Christ!  How was the LORD present if not through an intermediary?

PSALM 148
This Psalm can easily be adapted for use as a Call to Worship.
148:1 Is it stating the obvious to identify this as a “praise” psalm. How can we praise the Lord from the heavens?
148:2 This is the second time (and the second reading) that angels are mentioned.  Are angels part of the heavenly host? What other creatures or beings are in the heavenly host?
148:3 How do the sun, moon and shining stars praise the Lord? Maybe sometimes we should hold worship services in observatories or planetariums.
148:4 What waters are above the heavens?  Must we buy into this pre-Copernican three tiered cosmology to interpret this Psalm? What and where are the lowest heavens?
148:5 How is the name of the LORD to be praised when it is not to pronounced? Which creation account does this Psalm allude to?
148:6 What are the bounds of the highest heavens and the waters above the heavens? How do we read and interpret this in light of contemporary cosmology’s theory of an ever expanding universe?
148:7 Even though, or perhaps because, I am a kayaker and a sailor, I can more easily accept that the actual sun, moon and stars praise the Lord than I can accept “sea monsters” praising the Lord. What sea monsters are we talking about –Leviathan, Nessie, the Kraken?
148:8 How does hot fire relate to cold hail, snow and frost? These verses might work for the First Sunday of Christmas in the northern hemisphere, but what about the southern hemisphere?
148:9 What is the difference between a mountain and a hill? The hills are figuratively alive with the sound of music, praise music, and Julie Andrews is not even mentioned in the verse. Are fruit trees and cedars the only two kind of trees?
148:10 Have all living things now been included?
148:7-10 How can creation continue to praise the LORD if humans pollute and destroy it?  Does Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” have anything to say regarding these verses?
148:11 Now we transition from the natural world to the political realm.
148:12 I like the gender and age inclusiveness of this verse.
148:13 What is “the name of the Lord”?  Dare we write it?  Dare we speak it?  If not, how do we praise and exalt it?
148:14 What is “a horn” and what does it symbolize?

HEBREWS 2:10-18
2:10 How is it fitting that anything suffer?
2:11 What is the meaning of sanctification? Why would Jesus be ashamed? 
2:12-13 Where did these quotes come from?
2:14 Can we read/teach/preach this without personifying “the devil”?
2:15 Can we be freed from the fear of death without being freed from death? Why are so many people afraid of death?
2:16 In the context of this verse, who are the descendants of Abraham?
2:17 What was the function of the high priest? Is “sacrificial” atonement the only possible understanding of atonement?
2:18 Is there any difference between how Jesus was tested and how we are tested? Why must anyone be tested?
2:14-18 This seems like a fairly theological exposition of the incarnation, which is probably why this passage was chosen for the First Sunday After Christmas, but we still end up with suffering.  The distance from the cradle to the cross, both in terms of geography and time, is not much at all.

MATTHEW 2:13-23
2:13 In Matthew, how many times does an angel appear to Joseph in a dream?  Has an angel of the Lord ever appeared to you in a dream?  Why Egypt? John Shelby Spong has a theory to explain why Egypt!  Why would Herod want to destroy the child Jesus?
2:14 Is there any significance to their starting out at night? Why isn’t the child or the child’s mother named?
2:13-14 Could this story be an example of Midrash?  Spong thinks so.
2:15 Could there have been another theological reason for Jesus going to Egypt other than the fulfilling of prophecy?  What verse is being quoted?
2:16 The slaughter on the innocents intrudes into the otherwise bucolic narrative of Christmas.  Did Why did Herod kill all children as old as two years?
2:17 So all the innocents were slaughtered just to fulfill prophecy? Screw prophecy! Could be another example of Midrash?
2:18 In its original context what was this verse speaking about?
2:19  Another angel, another dream, same old Joseph!
2:20 Why the plural “those” when only Herod was seeking to kill Jesus.
2:21 It seems Joseph always does what an angel tell him to do.
2:22 How many Dreams has Joseph experienced now? With so many dreams mentioned in the Bible, why does the church say so little about dreams, dreaming, and dream interpretation (other than Jungians)?  What is the difference between Israel and Judea and where is Galilee?
2:23 Why is the author of Matthew so eager to note the fulfillment of prophecy?  It seems that so far that is the purpose of this Gospel—to show the fulfillment of prophecy. How prophecies have now been fulfilled?
2:13-23 It seems odd that Mary and Jesus are never mentioned by name but are referred to as “the child and his mother”.

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.

The Christmas Eve Candle

            Most Christian congregations celebrate the eve of Christmas with some sort of candlelight service. Worshipers receive a small white candle inserted into a clear plastic cup, plastic holder, or paper ring to catch dripping wax. At some point during the liturgy, all the candles are lit, the lights dimmed or turned off, and all sing Silent Night or some other Christmas carol by candlelight as they recall and celebrate the incarnation of the Light of the World. When well-crafted and executed, the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service can be the most memorable and cherished worship service of the whole year, eliciting both tears and smiles for those who attend.

            When I was much younger, say around nine or ten years old or maybe a little older, I looked forward to attending the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service not only for its message of joy and peace but also for the candle. I always brought the candle from the service home with me and used it the rest of the winter to wax the runners of my sled.

            With a fresh coat of wax on my hand-me-down sled’s old, rusty runners I could race down neighborhood hills faster than you could say Jack Frost. I would sometimes swish and swoosh down slopes in a serpentine pattern. Other times I would just make a beeline straight down the grade, trying to see how fast and how far I could go.

            One winter my waxed runners and cold, slick snow combined to enable me to sled so fast and far that I slid right off a three or four foot high stone wall holding back the hillside I had just sped down, and I landed on the concrete sidewalk below. I survived that adventure without a scratch, but my hand-me-down sled did not. The runners were bent and the wood cracked. Soon afterward I was the proud owner or a newer and even larger sled, not a Western Flyer but a Western Clipper!

            I still have that Western Clipper, though it is no longer new, and it has been years since anyone has used it. I also still bring home the candle from the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service, not to wax the runners of that old sled, but to remind me throughout the year that faith and trust in the incarnation of the Light of the World can help me negotiate the twists and turns of life, even when I find myself where I never expected to be.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 for the Nativity of Jesus Christ / Christmas Day (Year ABC)

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 52:7-10
52:7 Being a native of Appalachia and a lover of mountains, I resonate with this verse.  How does the mountain reference resonate with people not familiar with, or who do not have an affinity for mountains?  Why are feet the body part mentioned?
52:8 Who or what are your sentinels?  Note that the sentinels do not talk or yell – they sing. When and why did the LORD leave Zion?
52:9 How can ruins sing? How can the ruins of the mainline church and Christendom sing in a post Christian era?
52:10 What does it mean to bare an arm?  Is this anything like the euphemism “to roll up one’s sleeve”?  Is this a proof text for universal salvation?

Psalm 98:1-9
98:1 I am drawing connections with Isaiah 52:8 and 52:9. Why sing a new song and not an old song? What marvelous things has the LORD done? Why am I thinking of Billy Crystal?
98:2 What victory?
98:3 Must God be able to forget in order to remember?
98:4 What does joyful noise sound like? What is meant by “all the earth?”
98:5 What modern instrument might most resemble and sound like the lyre?
98:6 When was the last time you heard a trumpet or horn played in worship?
98:4-6 These verses call for joyous, hearty singing accompanied by strings and horns, not just organ or piano, and not shallow funeral dirges sometimes heard in churches.
98:7 How can landlubbers relate to this verse? How can the world roar?
98:8 We usually do not associate floods with joy but rather with destruction? What do floods clapping their hands sound like?
98:9 Is the LORD present, coming, or both?
98:7-9 I am thinking of musicians such as Paul Winter who incorporate animal sounds into their music. I am especially thinking of Paul Winter’s Winter Solstice live in the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine.

Hebrews 1:1-4 (5-12)
1:1 How long ago? How many and in what various ways? Does God no longer speak?
1:2 When are the last days? Why the plural “worlds”?
1:3 What do you make of “reflection” and “imprint”?  How are sins purified?
1:4 What name has been inherited? What are the angel’s names?
(1:5) When did God say this and where can we read it?
(1:6) Who or what is the firstborn?
(1:7) Are angels then associated with thunderstorms?
(1:8) Again I ask, when did God say this and where can we read it?
(1:9) Ergo the Son is “The Anointed one”! What is the oil of gladness?
(1:10) Who or what is being quoted?
(1:11) The earth and the heavens will wear out?
(1:12) This sounds like the temporary nature of creation is being contrasted with the eternal nature of God.

John 1:1-14
1:1 Is this an allusion to Genesis 1:1 or something else?  What do you know about the role of the logos in Greek Philosophy?
1:2 Can we cite this verse to argue for the preexistent Christ, or only the preexistent Word?
1:3 See Hebrews 1:2
1:4 How is life the light of all people?
1:5 How could darkness ever overcome light?
1:6 What doess it mean to be sent from God?
1:7 Not all witnesses are called to testify, but John is.  Who believes through you and your testimony?
1:8 Why does this Gospel tell us that John was not the light?
1:9 Is there such a thing as false light?
1:10 Another verse which seems to support the preexistent Word or light.
1:11 Who or what was his own?
1:12 What is meant by “power” and how does the Word give it away? How do people use power to become children of God?
1:13 How many different kinds of birth are there? What does it mean to be born of God?
1:14 If the Word became flesh, then what was the nature of the Word  before becoming flesh?

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, Appalachian Trials, and The Trek.