Monday, April 16, 2018

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 for The 5th Sunday in Lent (Year B)


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.

ACTS 8:26-40
8:26 How do you deal with angels in your teaching and preaching?  Why Philip? Does it matter that this is a wilderness road?
8:27 There is a lot in this verse to unpack.  Why are we told so much about this man? Is there anything special about Ethiopia? What is a eunuch? What or who is “the Candace?” Why would an Ethiopian come to Jerusalem to worship?
8:28 Thank God he was not reading Numbers! I wonder what language he was reading.
8:29 Has the angel of 8:26 become “the Spirit?”
8:30 Why would the Ethiopian be reading aloud?
8:31 Why would anybody read anything on their own if they needed a guide to help them understand it? This passage, combined with the Gospel Reading from two weeks ago, offers all the reason we need for ongoing study of scripture.
8:32b-33 Where in Isaiah can we find this passage?
8:34 What an opportune question!
8:35 Perhaps the lesson we should learn from this is to proclaim the good news beginning with where people have questions, where they are in their journey, and not require them to start somewhere else.
8:36 Was there a reason why this Ethiopian eunuch should not have been baptized? Had Philip informed the Ethiopian about baptism or did the Ethiopian already know about the practice?
8:37 This sure sounds like confessional language but does it say everything we would expect an adult being baptized today to say?
8:38 To bad we don’t have a description of the baptism. Then again, maybe we should be thankful that we don’t have a description. I wonder what body of water they were near and used.
8:39 Why would the Spirit snatch Philip away? If Philip was snatched way, who was the witness to the Ethiopian rejoicing?
8:40 What do you know about Azatos? Did Philip stop proclaiming the good news when he arrived at Caesarea?

PSALM 22:25-31
22:25 Who, or what, is the great congregation?  What vows? What is the meaning of “fear?”
22:26 What do we do with the shift from the second person to the first person?
22:27 How many ends does the earth have? How many families of the nations are there? How many nations are there? Does “nations” refer to political entities or ethnic groups?
22:28 How do we understand dominion? Israel recognized the Lord as their ultimate ruler, but what about other nations?
22:29 Who are sleeping in the earth? Is death being contrasted with life?
22:30 How can the Psalmist speak for posterity? How many generations? Seven generations? Infinite generations?
22:31 How can anything be proclaimed to people not yet born? Done what?

1 JOHN 4:7-21
4:7 Who is “us?”
4:8 What does it mean to say that God is love?
4:9 Why did God’s love have to be revealed?
4:10 How can a sacrifice atone? Does this passage presume any particular theory of the atonement?
4:11 But what does it mean to love one another? It seems that the arguments is not only trhat God is love but that God is the source of our love.
4:12 What does not seeing God add to the argument? How is God’s love perfected in us?
4:13 Who is “we?” Is it logical to shift so abruptly from loving to abiding, from the Son to the Spirit? What does it mean to abide?
4:14 What is the meaning of “world?”
4:15 See Acts 8:37.
4:16a What is the difference between knowing and believing?
4:16b I think this is not only good poetry but good theology.
4:17 What and when is the day of judgement?  What does “as he is, so are we in this world” mean?
4:18 I like this verse.  What does this verse say to “hell, fire and damnation” preachers and their sermons? What is the meaning of fear? What is perfect love?
4:19 Could be argued that without God’s love we cannot love?
4:20 How does this verse inform Christian ethics? What about loving people who are not brothers and sisters in Christ? What about loving the stranger?
4:21 After fourteen verses about love, why say anything about a commandment? Who is “him?” How does this relate to the New Commandment of John’s Gospel?

John 15:1-8
15:1 Is there a difference between a vine and the true vine? What is the meaning of “true?” Is there such a thing as a false vine? Should we be thinking specifically of grape vines or will imagining any vine do?
15:2 What branches do we find within ourselves? Even fruit producing vines are occasionally cut back! How do pastor’s and how does the church prune?
15:3 How does the word cleanse? Is cleansing the same as pruning?
15:4 How do we abide? See 1 John 4:13. Is love our fruit?
15:5 Note that this is one (of the seven) “I am” sayings of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel. What is more important, bearing lots of inferior fruit or less but superior fruit?
15:6 Are we still talking about the branches within us? I think it is wrong to, in any way, connect this verse to any concept of hell or fires of hell.
15:7 Is Jesus the same as his words? Whatever we wish? What if I wish to win the lottery so that I can give it all away to charitable organizations?
15:8 Is bearing much fruit something other than becoming Jesus disciple? Note that Jesus uses the plural “disciples”.

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.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 for The 4th Sunday of Easter (Year B)


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.

ACTS 4:5-12
4:5 What happened the day before?  Who are the “they” of the “their”?
4:6 Annas and Caiaphas I am familiar with.  Who are John and Alexander?
4:7 What prisoners?  Did what? How are “power” and “name” connected?
4:8 Was Peter filled with the Holy Spirit prior to this or just for this?
4:9 Why is Peter being questioned? Are others also being questioned?
4:10 Juxtapose this verse and its “name” with Psalm 23:3 and 1 John 3:23
4:8-10 Peter’s response might have been better received if he had not accused his interlocutors of crucifying Jesus.
4:11 What is Peter quoting or alluding to?
4:12 This sounds like confessional language. How is healing (4:10) akin to salvation?

PSALM 23
23:1-6 Is this Psalm too familiar for us to hear it anew? If the Shepherd image no longer works for most people, what other images might we employ – dog walker, home health care or child care worker, guide?
23:1 Note that in the NRSV, LORD is all uppercase.  So what?
23:2 Have you ever been prone in a green pasture?  Have you ever been led by still waters?
23:3 Juxtapose with Acts 4:10 and I John 3:23
23:4 What is the darkest valley you have ever walked through?  Are a rod and a staff two different things or is this an example of Hebraic poetic repetition? How can a rod and staff comfort?
23:5 Have you ever eaten a meal in the presence of your enemies?  Has your head ever been anointed with oil? What is the meaning of an overflowing cup?
23:6 What and where is the house of the LORD? Would you want to dwell in the house of the LORD your whole life long?

1 JOHN 3:16-24
3:16 Who is “he”?  What does it mean to lay down one’s life? Consider John 10:11-18
3:17 Ouch! Perhaps we ought to read this in light of the Acts Reading (Acts 4:32-35) from two weeks ago.
3:18 Why the moniker “little children?”
3:19 It is beginning to sound like “truth” is being personified.
3:20 It sounds like one’s heart is the same as one inner voice or conscience. How and when do our hearts condemn us?
3:21 What does boldness before God look and feel like?
3:22 What has been asked? Whose commandments? Which commandments? Is there a quid pro quo here? Is this verse about prayer?
3:23 Where have I heard something like this before? Juxtapose this verse with Acts 4:10 and Psalm 23:3. What does it mean to believe in a name?
3:23-24 Consider this in the context of John 15:1-17.

John 10:11-18
10:11 And which Psalm are you know thinking of?
10:12-13 Who is the hired hand?
10:14 Should we make anything of the “I am” language? How do “I am” passages function in John’s Gospel?
10:15 Is Jesus referring to the crucifixion? See 1 John 3:16.
10:16 I love this verse and its invitation to think about Christian universalism.  What does it mean for there to be many folds in one flock? What is the difference between a fold and flock?
10:17 Does the Father need a reason to love the Son? Does the notion of Jesus taking up his life again conflict in any way with Jesus being raised rather than rising?
10:18 What command?

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.

Friday, April 6, 2018

A Season’s First Paddle

A season’s first paddle elicits mixed emotions. I am excited about getting back out on the water as I look forward to breathing in fresh air, feeling spray against my face, seeing various water birds, and hearing waves lap against the hull. I am also apprehensive. I wonder if I will be able to find all my gear after it being stored for the winter. If I find it, will it be in good condition? How many cobwebs, spiders, and rodent nests will I need to clean out from inside my kayak when I take it down from storage? Will my forward stroke be as strong as it was last fall?

The first paddle of the season also means trying out new gear obtained over the winter. Last fall I purchased a NRS cVest PFD to replace my old original PFD but did not wear it before I put my boat and gear away for the season. I also recently acquired a new NRS H2Core Silkweight long-sleeve shirt that I was looking forward to reviewing after wearing it for a few paddles.

Fortunately, there were no live animals or nests inside my Dagger Zydeco 9.0  when I took it down, just some old dried leaves, a couple dead stink bugs, and a little water, sand and gravel indicating that I had not done a very good job cleaning out my boat when I last hung it up. I easily loaded it on top the car, strapped it down, and headed to one of my nearest go to paddling locations.

258 acre Cross Creek Lake offers three put in locations, the nearest less than eleven miles from home. Under a partly sunny sky and a temperature around fifty, I pulled into the unloading area near the docks and ramp, but the docks were not yet in the water. The low level docks that usually float near the ramp had not yet been installed after being taken out for the winter. They were still sitting along the edge of the parking area.

As I started to take my boat off its racks, I was also surprised how windy it was. I had not noticed any wind back home when I loaded my boat on top of the car.  Now it was blowing hard enough that I had to make sure it did not catch my kayak as I lowered it down. As I carried my boat toward the lake, I saw that the wind was whipping up some large ripples, large enough, I later learned, to splash across my deck even though they were not cresting.

I managed to remain dry when entering the cockpit by slipping down into it from a concrete dock abutment that reached out into the lake. With the wind at my back, I paddled the most direct course I could toward another dock area at the eastern end of the lake. Along the way I passed at least a dozen small boats, each with one or two anglers fishing.

Thirty minutes later, as I neared the eastern end of the lake, I saw what I expected. The low-level kayaking dock had not yet been put into the water. Rather than getting out of my boat to stretch, I stayed in the cockpit, resting for a few minutes and drinking a few swigs from my water bottle, before heading back across the lake.

As soon as I turned around, I felt the wind blowing almost directly onto my face. Rather than paddling a beeline through the middle of the lake and directly into the headwind, I paddled toward shore in search of a wind break, but found none. Not wanting to be pushed backward, I kept paddling at a steady pace, focusing more than usual on making sure each stroke was efficient and hopping my return to the car was not too taxing.

Forty-five minutes after turning around, I was back to where I started. My hands and feet were a little cold but my core was warm. I quickly took my kayak out of the water, carried it up to the car, placed it on its cradles, and strapped it down.  Then I stowed my gear and was headed back home.

As I drove country roads across rolling hills, I thought about how satisfied I was with my new PFD and new paddling shirt. Upon reflection, my forward stroke felt pretty good, especially when I was paddling into the wind. All in all, it was a good, if short, season’s first paddle. I felt both tired and refreshed, a bit challenged but also invigorated, and I was already looking forward to my next paddle.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 for The 3rd Sunday of Easter (Year B)


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.

ACTS 3:12-19
3:12 When Peter saw what? What people did Peter address? Who walked?
3:13 What about Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, Rachel, Zilpa and Bilha?
3:14 How often do we make liturgical use of “the Holy and Righteous One?”
3:15 Is this the only occurrence of “Author of life?” How often do use that phrase liturgically? What had Peter and the others (Who were the others?) witnessed, the killing, the rising, or both?
3:16 Whose faith, Peter’s or the man’s?  What is faith in a name? Could this verse lead to using the name of Jesus simply as part of an incantation? What is faith that is through Jesus?
3:17 Why does Peter address the people as “friends”? Is ignorance any excuse?
3:18 Is “all the prophets” hyperbole?
3:19 Repent of or from what? Does “wiped out” suggest any sense of washing or cleansing?

PSALM 4
4:1 God of my right? What about God of my left?  What does the Psalmist mean by “You gave me room?”
4:2 Are vain words the same as lies?
4:3 What does it mean to be set apart by the LORD? Who are the faithful?
4:4 Sin only when you are not disturbed?  Does being disturbed promote sin? Ponder what? Can this verse be used in support of contemplative prayer or even mindfulness meditation?
4:5 What are “right sacrifices?” How could right sacrifices be offered after the destruction of the Second Temple?
4:6 Who were these “many?” Is there a difference between seeing the face of the LORD and the light of the LORD’s face shining on you?
4:7 Who are the they of “their?” Is the LORD the generator or source of our emotions?
4:8 Might this have been a Psalm associated with evening prayers?
4:1-8 Why was this Psalm paired with the First Reading?  What is their theological or thematic unity? 

1 JOHN 3:1-7
3:1 It is one thing to be called a child of God. It is another thing altogether actually to be one.
3:2 Who is the “he” yet to be revealed?  Does the writer have another—a second—revelation in mind, or is this Christ’s return?
3:3 Why the emphasis on purity? Does hope purify?
3:4 I thought sin was separation from God.  John’s definition of sin seems more instrumental and less existential than I am comfortable with. It is, however, one of the shortest definitions I know of.
3:5 John defined “sin” in the previous verse but writes about “sins” in this verse. What is the difference between sins (plural) and sin (singular)?
3:6 This reads like pretty strong language, especially when, as a Reformed Christian I believe that we all sin and fall short of the glory of God. What does “abide” mean and what is it all about?
3:7 What is the difference between being a child and a little child?  Does this verse, especially in light of verse 4, lead to a theology of works righteousness?

LUKE 24:36b-48
24:36b Where was Jesus standing and among whom was he standing?  What is the meaning of “peace be with you” and does it mean anything more than usual when spoken by the resurrected Jesus?
24:37 What is the difference between being “startled” and being “terrified”? Have you ever thought you saw a ghost?
24:38 What doubts was Jesus referring to? Does fear necessarily give rise to doubt?
24:39 The resurrected Jesus may have had flesh and bones, but resurrected flesh and bones, and therefore something inherently different than our pre-resurrected flesh and bones.
24:41 How does joy exist in the midst of disbelief and wonder? Do ghosts hunger?
24:42 Why do we not have the tradition of serving broiled fish on Easter morning or some other time on Easter?
24:43 Do ghosts eat?
24:44 The fish are Jesus’ words? The actions are his words? What was he talking about? Note the threefold TANAKH – Law, Prophets, and Writings.
24:45 How does Jesus open OUR minds to understand the scriptures? Why do our minds need opened?
24:46-47 Where is this written?
24:48 Witnesses of what things?
24:36b-48 Why does Luke tell us about broiled fish rather than bread. Is the author substituting fish for bones bread and wine, or are there no Eucharistic overtones here?

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.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Letter to the Editor of the Wheeling Sunday News-Register


March 27, 2018

J. Michael Myer
Executive Editor, Sunday News-Register
1500 Main Street
Wheeling, WV 26003

The March 24th “March for Our Lives” rally in Washington, DC was perhaps the most newsworthy event of the weekend yet you relegated the superb AP Story to page four of the March 25th issue rather than featuring it on the front page. The content of the AP story itself offers enough reasons why it should have been featured on the front page.

Furthermore, you failed to even mention with any addition or a separate story that approximately three hundred local residents gathered at Wheeling’s Heritage Port on the same day for the same reason and that local college and high school students, some reading prepared remarks and some speaking extemporaneously, spoke passionately and coherently as they argued for common sense gun legislation. Shame on you. #NeverAgain.

John Edward Harris
Wellsburg, WV

Monday, March 26, 2018

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 for The 2nd Sunday of Easter (Year B)

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.

ACTS 4:32-35
4:32-25 If you plan to preach using this passage you may want to read Acts 2 for context.
4:32 What is the size of this group?  Have you ever known of any group, or a Church, of one heart and soul? Why did common ownership go by the wayside?
4:33 What does great power look and sound like? Are there gradations of grace?
4:34 Are there needy persons in your church?
4:35 Who determined the need?

PSALM 133
133:1 Is this Psalm about kin or kirk? Do you know of any family or church that lives together in unity?
133:2 I love this sensual imagery but think it means more when we anoint with oil at the time of Baptism and when praying for healing and wholeness. If we never anoint with oil, the imagery seems to lose some of its power.
133:3 What and where is Hermon and what is so special about its dew?

1 JOHN 1:1-2:2
1:1 Who are “we?” What beginning is cited? I think three of the five senses – hearing, sight, and touch – are mentioned. What about the other two – taste and smell? How can we offer worship and other spiritual and religious experiences that address all the senses?  I think many of our churches need a more fully embodied, sensual worship that will help us get out of always being in our head.
1:2 What is the meaning of “revealed?” What is the difference between eternal life and everlasting life?
1:3 What is the nature of this fellowship?
1:4 How can writing a letter complete one’s joy?
1:5 Who is the “him” from whom they heard this message, Jesus, John the evangelist, or someone else? How can we be sensitive to and deal with issues of racism when contrasting images of light and darkness?
1:6 Why would someone say they have fellowship with God when they really don’t?
1:7 Why is walking in light connected with being cleansed with or by the blood of Jesus?
1:8-9 These verses are often used as part of a Call to Confession, such as found in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Book of Common Worship page 52.
1:10 What if someone knows they have sinned but do not care that they have sinned?
2:1 Why the “little children” address? Is it possible not to sin? “Advocate” is usually associated with the Holy Spirit, not Jesus.
2:2 What is an “atoning sacrifice?” How many theories of the atonement are you familiar with and which one or ones best address this passage?

John 20:19-31
20:19 Why did the disciples fear the Jews? What Jews did they fear? They themselves were Jews! What is the meaning and significance of “Peace be with you.?”
20:20 Did the disciples not rejoice when they heard the Lord? Why is seeing more weighty than hearing?
20:21 Why does Jesus repeat his greeting?
20:22 What is the symbolism and meaning of Jesus’ breathing on the disciples? Is “Receive the Holy Spirit” an invitation or a declarative command?
20:23 I thought only God had the power to forgive sin(s). Why do we and the Scriptures sometimes speak of sins (plural) and other times speak of sin (singular)? What is the difference and does it matter?
20:24 Why was Thomas called the Twin? I wonder why Thomas was not there and where he was.
20:25 Notice the eleven say nothing about hearing the Lord. I think we should call him Skeptical Thomas rather than Doubting Thomas. The other disciples and Jesus were living in the resurrection but Thomas was not.
20:26 Is there anything special about this house? Note that we are told that the doors were shut, not locked. (See 20:19). This is the third time we hear this greeting.
20:27 Jesus invites Thomas to do so but the text does not say that Thomas did as invited. Was seeing and hearing Jesus, and the invitation, enough for Thomas?
20:28 Is this an early Christian confession of faith?
20:29 Was “seeing” enough? (Reconsider my question for 20:27.) Was Jesus referring to post-resurrection sightings? We are not Thomas. We are not the first disciples. We did not witness this or the other signs Jesus did. We cannot put our finger in Christ’s wounds and see his hands. All we have are the stories passed on to us down through the centuries. Yet we ought to come to worship expecting to see Jesus. Can “Magic Eye” 3D images and optical illusions teach us anything about seeing Jesus in the present day?
20:30 What other signs?
20:31 I wonder what the criteria was for including these signs but not others.

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.