Monday, July 21, 2014

Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 for Sunday, July 27, 2014, the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 is a revised continuation of Lectionary Ruminations.  Focusing on The Revised Common Lectionary Readings for the upcoming Sunday from New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible, Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 draws on nearly thirty years of pastoral experience.  Believing that the questions we ask are often more important than any answers we find, without overreliance on commentaries I intend with comments and questions to encourage reflection and rumination for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged.  All lectionary links are to the via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website.

29:15 It must be nice to be able to set one’s own wages.
29:16 I find it interesting that we have a story involving two daughters (not twins) in the midst of a story about two brothers (twins)!
29:17 I think “lovely” is the preferable translation.  Could the description of Leah and Rachel be seen at all as sexist or demeaning of women?
29:18 I wonder if it was love of lust.  Is there any significance to the number seven?
29:19 Is this the meaning of the question “Who gives this women to be married”?
29:20 Tempus fugit?
29:21 Biblical euphemisms for sexual intercourse can sound so . . . . biologically crude.
29:22-25 It is ironic that the trickster has been tricked.  Is this a Biblical example of the principle that what goes around comes around?
29:27 What is “the week”?  Why does Laban say “we” will give? Who is the we?
29:28 In the end, Jacob got what he wanted, and more so.

105:1-3 Is this the song Jacob sang on his wedding night(s)? Several versus could be adapted as a Call to Worship.
105:5 What wonderful  works has the LORD done?
105:6 Why is Jacob not mentioned?
105:8 The pairing of Jacob and Rachel can be seen as partial fulfillment of God’s Covenant. Is a thousand generations meant as figurative language or an actual number?
105:9 Why are the women/mothers hardly ever mentioned?  Can the reader supply their names and still be faithful to the text?
105:45b Why do so many Psalms end with this phrase?

128:1 What is the meaning of “fear”?  What does it mean to “walk in God’s ways”?
128:2 In light of today’s First Reading, are Leah and Rachel the fruit of the labor of Jacob’s hands?
128:3 Is this why this Alternate Psalm was chosen to be paired with the First Reading?
128:4 Is the woman not also blessed?
128:5 A nice blessing/benediction for a citizen or inhabitant of Jerusalem, but what about Christians in an American church?

8:26 We do not know how to pray as we ought.  That is why the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray.  That is why Teaching Elders and Educators ought to be educated in the school of prayer and prepared to teach others how to pray.  Yes, that was me standing on my soap box.  My D. Min. project at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary (2004) was GUIDANCE IN AND EXPERIENCE OF LITURGICAL PRAYER AS AN ELEMENT OF PERSONAL AND COMMUNAL WORSHIP IN THE REFORMED TRADITION.  Please contact me if you would like to schedule me to lead a workshop or retreat on prayer.
8:27 How does the Spirit intercede for us?
8:28 Do we really know this?
8:29 There is that Presbyterian word “Predestined”!  What do you make of it?
8:30 And there is that other good Presbyterian word “called”!  What do you make of this progression: Predestined called justified glorified?
8:31 This is one of my favorite verses.  Does the second question answer the first?  Is the second question rhetorical or does it assume the answer “No one.”
8:33-34 Interesting verses to someday juxtapose with the Rules of Discipline in the Book of Order.
8:34 In verse 26, Paul writes that the Spirit intercedes for us.  Now he writes that Christ Jesus intercedes for us.  Can Paul not make up his mind, or was he just not being careful?  Why would he intentionally say both?
8:35 Paul asks “Who” but answers with a list of “whats”.  This reads like a “Vince Lombardy before the big game in the locker room” sort of speech.
8:36 Oh well, there goes the momentum of v. 35. What sheep are slaughtered?  Where is this written?
8:37 Wait, maybe not!  Maybe Paul will pull out a great one liner.
8:38-39 Paul, can I quote you on that?  Is there any thing missing from this list?  I wish Paul had said “. . . nor things past, nor things present, nor things to come”.
8:39 Is there anything not in creation?

13:31 How many parable did Jesus but before them in Matthew?  Are all parables in Matthew about the kingdom of heaven?  What do you know about mustard seeds?
13:32 Is the mustard plant really the greatest of shrubs and does it eventually become a tree?
13:33 What do you know about yeast? What is yeast?
13:44 Mustard seeds and yeast are natural and organic.  A treasure is not.
13:45-46 Here we have another item of value, but at least it is organic. Would this be a shrewd investment?
13:47-50 Something smells fishy.  We have moved from “kingdom parables” to apocalyptic prognostications.  A net and fish is a combination of manufactured and natural items combined in one parable. Is this a parable about the net, about fish, or about the kingdom which is even more?
13:49 What and when is the end of the age? How does it feel to be compared to fish?
13:50 Where have we heard this imagery before? How shall moderns and post-moderns deal with such imagery?
13:51 This is a good question. I would love to ask this question after every sermon.  Unfortunately this is a bad answer because it was not true.  These people need to learn a lesson in wisdom from Socrates.
13:52 An entire sermon could probably be preached  and an entire hour of education could probably be developed around this single verse.  Who are the scribes? What is our treasure?  What among our treasure is new?  What among our treasure is old?  What among our treasure is valuable and what is junk? Can treasure also be junk?  Is anyone else thinking of Phyllis Tickle’s The Great Emergence?

This coming Sunday, July 27th, I will be preaching at the FirstPresbyterian Church, Martin’s Ferry, OH.

Monday, July 14, 2014

“The Race for Survival”

In an attempt to contribute to the discussion about whether or not the PC(USA) ought to participate in observing Evolution Weekend, I am posting a sermon I preached in observance of Evolution Weekend, February 15, 2009, at North Church Queens, Flushing, NY.

While Pastor at North Church we observed Evolution Weekend in many ways, including showing films on a Friday or Saturday evening followed by a discussion, and including prayers for scientists in the liturgy.  I did not preach a sermon focusing on evolution or even mentioning evolution every year, but in 2009 I did.

“The Race for Survival”
A Sermon based on 2 Kings 5:1-14 and 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

          2009 seems to be filling up with observances of significant birthdays of significant historical figures.  Presbyterians and Reformed Christians around the world will celebrate John Calvin’s 500th Birthday this coming July 10.  This past week we marked the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin, both born on February 12, 1809.

          With the election of Illinois Senator Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States and his frequent references to that other Illinois Senator elected President, there has been renewed interest in Lincoln and his presidency.   The popularity of Doris Kearns Godwin’s 2005 book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, has added to that renewed interest in the 16th President.

          While Americans are renewing their interest in Lincoln, Brit’s are renewing their interest in Charles Darwin.  Buried in Westminster Abby with full state honors, Darwin is one of England’s more famous sons.  In addition to this year being the 200th year since Darwin’s birth, it is also the 150th anniversary of the publication of his seminal work On the Origin of Species. 

          At first it might seem that the day of birth is the only thing Lincoln and Darwin have in common.  But consider this stretched, perhaps even forced, but original metaphorical comparison:  As Lincoln freed slaves from involuntary servitude; Darwin freed moderns from their bondage to pre-modern religious dogmas.

          Now segue to the reading from 2 Kings 5 and the story about the healing of Naaman.  When Naaman presented himself to the King of Israel with a letter from the King of Aram requesting that the King of Israel cure Naaman of his leprosy, the King of Israel thought that the King of Aram was “trying to pick a quarrel” with him.  In some circles, especially religious circles, even mentioning the name of Charles Darwin, or his theory of Evolution, would be akin to picking a quarrel.  I, however, have no bone to pick with Darwin.  Nor do I desire to pick a quarrel with you or anyone else.   On the other hand, not mentioning him in a sermon during the year in which we mark his 200th birthday and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species might be considered irresponsible.  Perhaps as Elisha healed Naaman of his leprosy, I might help heal us of some of our fear of talking about both faith and science in the same hour and in the same room, especially an hour of Christian worship in a Christian sanctuary.

          Personally, I have never had a problem reconciling my faith with the theory of evolution.  I have always been a scientifically minded, and not since early adolescence have I taken the entire Bible literally.  In high school I was on a college preparatory scientific track that included five years of math and both Chemistry and Physics in my junior year.  I was named one of three outstanding Chemistry I students.  In my spare time I hung out in the Planetarium and once spent all night in the cold winter air with the person who taught both physics and astronomy to view Comet Kohoutek. All my vocational testing in high school indicated that I should have entered the scientific field as a chemist, physicist, or mathematician.  But I wanted to me a minister.

          Between high school and college I spent a week in Wilmington, Delaware with a lot of other scientifically minded teenagers.  On three of those days I worked with physicists at the DuPont Research Facility.  In college I continued to study math even though I was majoring in Social Work, and had accumulated enough hours in Math and Psychology to qualify for and be inducted into Chi Beta Phi, a National Scientific Honorary.  My older brother holds a Bachelors degree in Electrical Engineering and a Master’s degree in Chemistry.

          Science is in my blood.  It is in my DNA. I can no more ignore Darwin than I can ignore Calvin.  Thus it should not surprise you that a few years ago I signed an open letter from American Christian clergy concerning Religion and Science, part of the Clergy letter Project.  The Clergy Letter Project is an organization that has created and maintains a statement signed by American Christian clergy of  different denominations rejecting creationism, with specific reference to points raised by intelligent design proponents. This effort was organized in 2004 by biologist Michael Zimmerman, now Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana.”

          The text of the letter states “Within the community of Christian believers there are areas of dispute and disagreement, including the proper way to interpret Holy Scripture. While virtually all Christians take the Bible seriously and hold it to be authoritative in matters of faith and practice, the overwhelming majority do not read the Bible literally, as they would a science textbook. Many of the beloved stories found in the Bible – the Creation, Adam and Eve, Noah and the ark – convey timeless truths about God, human beings, and the proper relationship between Creator and creation expressed in the only form capable of transmitting these truths from generation to generation. Religious truth is of a different order from scientific truth. Its purpose is not to convey scientific information but to transform hearts."

          "We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as “one theory among others” is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children. We believe that among God’s good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will of our Creator. To argue that God’s loving plan of salvation for humanity precludes the full employment of the God-given faculty of reason is to attempt to limit God, an act of hubris. We urge school board members to preserve the integrity of the science curriculum by affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core component of human knowledge. We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth.”  End of letter.

          The Clergy Letter Project has designated the weekend closest to Darwin’s birthday as Evolution Weekend, an opportunity for serious discussion and reflection on the relationship between religion and science. One important goal of the weekend is to elevate the quality of the discussion on this critical topic - to move beyond sound bites. A second critical goal is to demonstrate that religious people from many faiths and locations understand that evolution is sound science and poses no problems for their faith. Finally, as with The Clergy Letter itself, which has now been signed by more than 11,000 members of the Christian clergy in the United States, Evolution Weekend makes it clear that those claiming that people must choose between religion and science are creating a false dichotomy.

Through sermons, discussion groups, meaningful conversations and seminars, religious leaders and religious communities, by participating in Evolution Weekend, attempt to show that religion and science are not adversaries.  Perhaps before this time next year, the session will officially choose to endorse and participate in Evolution weekend and North Church can offer itself as a religious community where people of faith do not have to choose between science and religion.

          A few years ago my interest in science led me to read The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey by Spencer Wells.  Doctor Wells heads up the Human Genographic Project, not to be confused with the Human Genome Project, though there are some similarities.  Doctor Wells and the Human Genographic Project used DNA to trace human migration.  Their research suggests that all humans are indeed descendants of the same woman and man, but not as we might usually think.

          According to findings of the Human Genographic Project: “Mitochondrial Eve – the mother of us all—lived in Africa around 150,000 years ago.  She represents the root of the mitochondrial family tree, and as such she unites everyone around the world in a shared maternal history.  Adam, the man from whom all men alive today ultimately derive their Y-chromosomes, lived 59,000 years ago; more than 80,000 years after that estimated for Eve.

          These dates obviously do not represent the date of origin of our species—otherwise Eve would have been waiting a long time for Adam to show up.  They simply represent the time, peering back into the past, when we stop seeing genetic diversity in our mitochondrial DNA and Y-chromosome lineages.

          We are a relatively young species.  Around 60,000 years ago—only 2,000 generations—our ancestors all lived in Africa.  Another way of saying this is that all modern humans were in Africa until at least 60,000 years ago.”

          Thus, while it does seem scientifically true that we can indeed trace the origin of our species back to one woman and one man, they did not live in a garden between the Tigris and Euphrates less than 5,000 years ago, as Bishop Usher once suggested.  They lived in the Rift Valley of Africa over 60,000 to 150,000 years ago.

          Now segue to the reading from 1 Corinthians 9, where Paul writes to Christians in Corinth that “in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize.”  Is that not the essence of Darwin’s theory of evolution, the survival of the fittest, and that all species are running in a race and that only those that adapt survive?  If I understand Darwin’s theory correctly, it is a species’ ability to genetically and biologically adapt over time that enables a species to survive and that accounts for evolutionary change.

          While it is not fair to apply Darwin’s theory of biological change to social systems, Social Darwinism has done just that.  Rather than appeal to misapplied evolutionary theory, however, I appeal to the philosophy of Hegel and his theory of dialectic; of thesis, antithesis and synthesis, to argue that the institutional Church must also change and adapt if it is to survive as an institution.  The reason Judaism, Christianity and Islam and other “living” religions have survived is because they have been able to adapt.  When religions do not adapt to changing times and circumstances, they die out.  They lose the race.

          Hegel argued that which is true will survive.  Another way of stating it is that which survives is true.  If our faith changes and adapts to answer new questions and face new situations that could not even have been imagined two thousand years ago, then our faith is true and will survive.  If our faith is too concrete, too static, too fundamentalist, and too rigid, unable to change and adapt, then it probably will not survive and after its demise will be judged not to be true.

          While I think that Darwin’s theory of evolution is the best scientific explanation for the various species now inhabiting planet earth and for why some species have become extinct, I do not believe in evolution.  I do not place my faith in Darwin.  I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and place my faith in God, the Holy One of Israel.  While I think the theory of evolution is the best explanation of how life evolved on earth, it offers absolutely no explanation of why it evolved.  For that I must turn to Scripture.

          I think Darwin offers us the best explanation of how different species have so far won the race for survival.  I think the Bible offers us the best message for finding meaning in light of the fact that so far humans seem to have won that race.

Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 for Sunday, July 20, 2014, the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 is a revised continuation of Lectionary Ruminations.  Focusing on The Revised Common Lectionary Readings for the upcoming Sunday from New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible, Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 draws on nearly thirty years of pastoral experience.  Believing that the questions we ask are often more important than any answers we find, without overreliance on commentaries I intend with comments and questions to encourage reflection and rumination for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged.  All lectionary links are to the via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website.

28:10 Is there anything special or significant about these travel plans, about Beer-sheba, or about Haran?
28:11 Why is the “certain place” not named? Stones, sometimes carved, were used as pillows in many ancient cultures? What do you know about “The Stone of Destiny” or “Stone of Scone”?  Could this be an example of “dream incubation”?
28:12 Is there any symbolic relationship between the Tower of Babel and Jacob’s ladder?  Do Angels really need a ladder to travel between earth and heaven? How might a Freudian or Jungian be inclined to interpret this dream?
28:13 If Angels were ascending and descending via the ladder, how did the LORD end up standing beside Jacob?  Why are Sarah and Rebekah not mentioned along with Abraham and Isaac?
28:14 Why does this sound familiar? Is “dust of the earth” a play on words or perhaps an allusion to another biblical narrative?
28:15 Where have we heard this before?  What if the Lord does not keep this promise? Does this verse suggest that the LORD might leave Jacob after the promise is fulfilled?
28:16 How could Jacob not have known the LORD was in that place? Check out this link to learn more about Celtic thin places.  Is it not true that God is in every place?  What do you know about the Celtic concept of a “Thin Place”? Where might God be in our world, and in our lives, yet we do not know it?
28:17 When was the last time you or anyone walked into the sanctuary or any other part of a church building and exclaimed “How awesome is this place”?  Why do some places and not others suggest transcendence?  How is fear related to awesomeness?
28:18 What is the meaning and significance of this action?  Is this an example of raising an Ebenezer?  What might this story suggest about ancient obelisks, Celtic Crosses, or modern day Peace Poles?
28:19a What is the literal meaning of “Bethel”?

139:1 It sounds like God is carrying out the function of the TSA.
139:1-6 It also sounds like God knows us better than we know ourselves.
139:5 What is the meaning of this verse?  Is this a good thing or a bad thing?
139:6 From a Socratic perspective this Psalmist was very wise.
139:7 Are these rhetorical questions?  What is the expected answer?
139:8 How might one “ascend” to heaven or “descend” to Sheol? What and where is “Sheol”?
139:9 What are the wings of the morning?
139:10 Proof positive that God is right handed and therefore all right handed people are created in the image of God and all left-handed people are evil – or maybe not.
139:11-12 So whether it is day or night makes no difference to God? How might these verses inform our understanding of Psalm 23?
139:23-24 If we invite God to search us and know us in this way, if God knows our sins better than we do, then why do we still confess our sins? 

8:12 If we are debtors, but not debtors to the flesh, what are we debtors to?
8:13 What does it mean to “put to death the deeds of the body”?
8:14-17 What is Paul contrasting when he contrasts “a spirit of slavery” with “a spirit of adoption”?  Do Americans read and hear this differently due of our own nation’s sordid history of involuntary servitude?  When do we cry “Abba! Father!”?  Considering Paul’s previous use of “debts” and his use here of “inheritance” he seems to be focused on financial terminology, images, and metaphors.
8:18 But the sufferings of the present time are still sufferings. What sufferings was Paul referring to?  What is the meaning of “this present time”? What would Marx say about this passage?
8:19-21 For the creation, not just humans, BUT THE CREATION, waits. From a theological and ecological perspective, can Global Climate Change be viewed not only as a result of sin, but a symptom of sin?  If so, would there be a temptation to throw up our hands and say “There is nothing we can do about Global Climate Change?  It is up to God to redeem the situation?
8:22 How might this passage inform our understanding of “mother earth” and Gaia?
8:23 What are the first fruits of the Spirit?
8:24-25 I hope for many things I can see.  I can see them, but they are realistically out of my reach.

13:24 It seems we have another kingdom parable involving seeds, this time good seeds.
13:25 Weeds, salt, or Agent Orange—what does it matter.  What does Just War theory say about such a practice?
13:25-26 Know you know how all those weeds ended up in your garden!  It is no coincidence that species of plants that are not native to an area are referred to as “invasive species”?
13:27  Oh no, more slavery language.  Gag!
13:28-29 The workers are presented with an agricultural, or rather an ethical, dilemma.
13:30 I am hearing overtones of the hymn “Harvest Home” and we are still months away from Thanksgiving. Why would it be easier to separate the weeds from the wheat at the harvest rather than doing so earlier?
13:36 Which house?  Whose house? Once parables are explained, are they still parables?
13:37-43 Who is the Son of Man?
13:38 The field is the world, not the church.  Does that mean there are no weeds growing in any churches?  With all this talk about weeds, is anyone getting the munchies? Who is the evil one?
13:39 Is the Devil the same as the evil one? Because they both appear today, shall we make any connection to the angels of this parable with the angels of Jacob’s dream?  Why do Presbyterians not talk much about angels?
13:37-42 How do these apocalyptic verses inform the popular image of hell?

13:43 This is a truly Semitic rather than a classical Greek metaphor.  Would it make a difference if Jesus said “Let everyone with eyes see”?

Monday, July 7, 2014

Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 for Sunday, July 13, 2014, the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 is a revised continuation of Lectionary Ruminations.  Focusing on The Revised Common Lectionary Readings for the upcoming Sunday from New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible, Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 draws on nearly thirty years of pastoral experience.  Believing that the questions we ask are often more important than any answers we find, without overreliance on commentaries I intend with comments and questions to encourage reflection and rumination for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged.  All lectionary links are to the via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website.

25:19-20 Last Sunday, Isaac and Rebekah got hitched.  This week, we learn about their offspring.  First, however, we are reminded of Isaac and Rebekah’s ancestry.  Why such an emphasis on lineage?
25:21 Where have we read about something like this before? I wonder how long the couple were not able to conceive.
25:22 Is this an example of pre-natal care or pre-natal prayer?
25:23 Is this an example of prophecy or foreshadowing? How many “nations” can we now trace to Abraham?
25:24 Did we not see this coming based on the previous verses?
25:24-26 What do these names, Esau and Jacob, mean?
25:28 I wonder how old Rebekah was.
25:27-28 Can you spell “conflict” and “dysfunctional family”?  What greater conflict might be represented by the personal conflict between Esau and Jacob?
25:31 What is a “birthright” and what does it mean to sell it?  How can such a thing be sold?
25:30-32 Was Esau prone to hyperbole and impulsiveness?
25:34 If Esau despised his birthright, did Jacob despise his bother?
25:29-34 Is Jacob’s behavior an example of unbridled capitalism or exploitation?

How does this Psalm serve as a commentary on or contrast to the First Reading?  Does it make any difference that these verses are only part of a larger acrostic work?
119:105 This is a rather well known verse, thanks to its use in the liturgy.  Does such familiarity make it more difficult to read and hear it in new ways?  What “word” is being referred to?
119:106 What does it mean to “confirm” an oath?
119:110 What might be the nature of this “snare”?
Are “word”, “ordinances”, “law”, “precepts”, “decrees”, and “statutes” mere synonyms, used for poetic reasons, or are there nuanced differences being suggested?

8:1 I hate it when readings begin with a “therefore” because I always wonder what came before. Who would condemn those who are in Christ Jesus?
8:2 What is the “law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus”?  Note how law/Spirit/life is contrasted with law/sin/death.
8:3 How was the law weakened by the flesh? What is the meaning of “likeness”?  Does “likeness” suggest anything less than full humanity?
8:4 What is the “just requirement of the Law”?
8:3-11 In our day and age, how do we deal with all this “flesh” and “spirit” language?
8:11 This sounds like life now, not everlasting life later.  Is it also true that those whom the Spirit does not dwell in are already “dead”? Is there a difference between

13:1 What day? Same day as what? Whose house did Jesus leave? What sea did he sit beside?
13:2 Why did Jesus get into a boat?
13:3 If Jesus told the crowds many things, why is this parable, and not some other parable or parables, included in the Gospel?  Is this parable about a sower, about the seeds, or about something else altogether? What else might Jesus have taught the crowd that we are not informed about?
13:9  Maybe the sower was sowing seed corn.
13:18 Does the fact that we have this verse mean that Jesus or the Gospel writer knew or assumed we do not have ears?
13:19 What is understanding?
13:20-21 What do roots look like and how does one establish them?
13:22 Are “cares of the world” the same as Paul’s “flesh” in the Second Reading?
13:23 So not all seed, even if it falls on good soil, bears the same quantity?  What about quality?
In retrospect, was this parable about a sower, about the seed that was sown, or about the soil where the seed was sown, or something else all together?  Why did Jesus tell this particular parable?  What was Jesus trying to tell the crowd that he could tell them only through this parable?


I will be preaching at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Chester, WV on July 13 but I will not be preaching from the Lectionary.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Forty-four Miles on the GAP

I recently enjoyed cycling a forty-four mile section of the Great Allegheny Passage, my first trip on this iconic rail-trail attraction and my longest ride to date.

I met up with my nephew Chris and his friends Keihly and Tyler, all experienced cyclists, at the Youghiogheny Canoe Outfitters & Campground at milepost 114 In West Newton, PA.  They had begun their trip that morning, cycling the 31 miles from Pittsburgh and arriving at the campground next to the trail about forty-five minutes before I drove in.

Dinner at The Trailside Restaurant and Pub
After setting up my tent we drove to The Trailside Restaurant and Pub where we enjoyed a great dinner and some cold brews.  I had the Cuban Panini washed down with a couple ice cold Sam Adams Summer Ales. It was delicious.

Back at the campground after dinner we built a fire in the fire ring and enjoyed camaraderie and conversation before turning in around 10:30 PM. The sound of occasional trains rambling up and down the tracks just across the Youghiogheny River was adequately muffled by ear plugs so I could sleep.  A nearby fire siren which sounded at around 11:30 PM and seemed to wail for an eternity, however, pierced the earplugs and woke us all. The 70 degree overnight temperature combined with the lack of a breeze and high humidity made for a muggy sleep outside of my sleeping bag.

After breaking camp the next morning we rode our camping gear laden bikes the three-quarter mile into West Newton where we enjoyed breakfast the Gary’s Church Wagon. I fueled up for the day’s ride by downing a couple cups of coffee and a 2 by 4; two pancakes, two eggs over easy, two sausage patties, and two slices of wheat toast, as well as a glass or two of ice water.  After our bill was paid the establishment was kind enough to fill our water bottles with ice and cold water.

Taking a break at Roundbottom Campground
We finally seriously hit the trail around 11 AM and peddled fifteen miles before our first break at mile 99 and the Roundbottom Campground.  After another fourteen miles we took a long break in Connellsville at a trailside Martin’s Grocery store.  Enjoying our purchases outside at a picnic table, with shoes and socks off, I downed 8oz of Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia, a cold bottle of Dasani, and a peach.  Fueled by our Martins purchase and with clean, dry socks on my feet and sunscreen on my arms and face, we left Connellsville for Ohiopyle, fifteen miles to the east.

A few miles from Ohiopyle we were treated to an outstanding view up the gorge on the inside of a turn, followed a few miles later by double side view of the river as we peddled onto and then stopped on the middle of the trestle just outside of town. Once in Ohiopyle, forty-four trail miles east and 461feet higher than our day’s starting point of West Newton, we paused for a break and snacks at the OhiopyleBakery and Sandwich Shop. Afterward, I bid farewell to my cycling companions and drove home.  They, on the overhand, were going to cycle another eleven miles to Confluence and their reservations at a B&B, and from there, after multiple days on the trail, all the way to Washington, DC.

Looking upstream from the bridge into Ohiopyle
I thoroughly enjoyed the forty-four miles of the GAP that I experienced.  The trail was well maintained, well-marked, and had plenty of amenities.  At times the trail was exposed to full sunlight.  At other times I felt enveloped by the deep mountain laurel, rhododendron and quartzite filled Penn’s woods. As I was enjoying the company and the scenery of the day’s ride I was thankful for the opportunity to experience it and thinking about how I might someday ride the whole trail, including the C& O Trail, from Pittsburgh, PA to Washington, DC.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 for Sunday, July 6, 2014, the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 is a revised continuation of Lectionary Ruminations.  Focusing on The Revised Common Lectionary Readings for the upcoming Sunday from New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible, Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 draws on nearly thirty years of pastoral experience.  Believing that the questions we ask are often more important than any answers we find, without overreliance on commentaries I intend with comments and questions to encourage reflection and rumination for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged.  All lectionary links are to the via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website.


Even after skipping over some verses of chapter twenty-four, this is still the longest of the day’s Readings.
24:24 Who is speaking?
24:35-40 Is sounds like things have turned out pretty well for Abraham and Sarah.  Almost sacrificed, Isaac is now of marrying age.  What to do? He cannot marry one of the locals, can he?  Do we find in these verses the roots of a prosperity Gospel?
24:37 The land Abraham and Sarah are living in is still considered a foreign land.
24:42 What is it about springs? Is the LORD not also the God of the person speaking?
24:42-44 Do these verses remind you of any verses in the NT, John 4:1-42 perhaps?
24:45 What does it mean to “speak in one’s heart”?
24:47 Who are these people and why are they being named?  What is the significance of the ring and bracelets?
24:49 Is the servant speaking to Rebekah, the LORD, or someone else?
24:58 Can we consider this “The call of Rebekah”?
24:59 Why does Rebekah have a nurse?
24:60 Can we read this as the blessing of Rebekah?
24:61 I wonder how many maids accompanied Rebekah.  How does a nurse differ from a maid?
24:62 What do we know about these places?
24:65 Why was Rebekah not veiled until she was about to meet Isaac? How does this verse shed light on current debates about the hajib?
24:67 Why did Isaac take Rebekah into his mother’s tent rather than his own? Freud might have something to say about this verse.

45:10-15 While these words were not originally addressed to Rebekah, they do seem to fit.  This reads like a liturgy from a royal wedding.  Has anyone reading here ever used them in a wedding liturgy?
45:11b Is this just an example of the sexism of patriarchy?
45:16-17 The psalm seemed to have been speaking to and of the Bride.  Now it seems to speaking to the Bridegroom/King.

Perhaps this alternate reading is suggested by the love mentioned in Genesis 24:67.
2:8-13 Can you hear these words coming from, perhaps, Rebekah’s mouth?  These are some of the most sensual passages in Scripture.  I think we do them disservice to spiritualize them and see them as anything less than biblical erotica.  Do Presbyterians hear them any differently after the most recent General Assembly?
2:9 Why the plural “our”?
2:11 Why do we have this reference to the seasons and weather?
2:12-13 Do these verses suggest more than just natural fertility and human love?

7:15 Here are some Pauline verses I can finally identify with!
7:16 Why?
7:17 Does the devil makes us do it?
7:18 I too, know this.
7:19 Sometimes even the good we think we are doing is corrupted and ends up being sinful.
7:20 I doubt if the “sin” defense would stand up in a court of law.
7:21 Is this just a play on words or 180° theological move?
7:22-23 What is the contrast being made between “inmost self” and “members”? How many “laws” are there?
7:24 Could we ever use this liturgically as part of a Confession of Sin or does it sound to antiquated?
7: 25 What does this phrase add to Paul’s argument?

11:16 Why might I read this differently in my 50’s than I would have in my 20’s?
11:17 Is this a quote? From what or where is Jesus quoting?
11:18-19 Why does John get dragged into this? It seems that prophets are damned if they don’t and damned if they do?  How do those in the pews hear and understand “Son of Man”?  What point is Jesus making by referring to Lady Wisdom and “Her” deeds?
11:25 What “things” have been hidden from some and revealed to others?  Who are the “wise and intelligent” and who are the “infants”?  Does the mention that the Lord of heaven and earth has “hidden” these things place this in the genre of apocalyptic literature or a mystery religion?

11:28-30 These verses seem to stand on their own.  Are they out of context?  Do they naturally and logically follow from what precedes them?  How might they add to our understanding of the previous verses? I think a whole sermon could be preached, a whole lesson developed, around these three verses. What is Christ’s yoke?  What is his burden? 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

French Onion Dip

While dipping some ruffled chips in prepackaged French Onion Dip I began wondering why the dip is called what it is.  What is so French about it? I mean, why not Basque Onion Dip or Parisian Onion Dip? I thought that perhaps the delicious dip got its name because when someone who eats it on their chips smacks their lips the dip smacks back in a French kiss sort of way.

Imagine my surprise when I Googled the question “Why is French Onion Dip called French Onion Dip” and discovered that other people with too much free time on their hands also searched the internet for an answer to this deep existential question—and had actually received answers. Some answers attributed the name of the dip to its being made from French Onion Soup mix.  Others attributed the name to the soup mix which derived its name from a soup made with French bread.  One answer even stated that the dip was invented in France! If that were the case, then like Champagne, only dip made in France ought to bear the moniker French Onion Dip. Se la vie.
Then I began wondering why, immediately after the American 2003 invasion of Iraq, Bob Ney had not sought to rename this delicious dip Freedom Dip and introduced legislation to replace the bag of French fries and tub of French Onion Dip held up, lofty and high by the right arm of the Statue of Liberty, with a torch of freedom.  If political and diplomatic hindsight can teach us anything, perhaps it has taught us the proper response after the 2003 Invasion of Iraq would have been to rename this delicious dipping concoction I Told You So Dip. Then, every time we dipped a chip in this delicious mixture, we would immediately be reminded of how right the French were and how wrong we were.
Seriously, though, what is so French about this dip?  Is it the onions that are French, or the dip itself?  Would a similar dip made in Georgia from local onions qualify as Vidalia Onion Dip even if it contained some variant of onion other than Vidalia?  Do onions even grow in France and if they do, are they any good?  Alas, I am at a lost for an answer. Even Jean-Paul Sartre has been purported to have said: “Everything has been figured out, except why French Onion Dip is named what it is”.
After a while I began wondering about the potential cultural significance of French Onion Dip. What if Marie Antoinette had opined “Let them eat chips dipped in French Onion Dip”? What if American beatniks had been identified by their gathering in coffee houses around bowls of chips, dipping them in French Onion Dip, rather than their wearing French berets? What if Che Guevara’s revolutionary idea had been to provide every Argentine a bag of chips and a tub of French Onion Dip?  What if Bob Marley had sung about the pleasures of eating chips dipped in French Onion Dip rather than smoking ganja?
May I have some more chips and French Onion Dip please?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Back to Cross Creek: Kayaking

I returned to Cross Creek Lake County Park yesterday for the first time since I served as a lost hiker for a mock search and rescue.  This time I went to the park to go kayaking.

Cross Creek Lake is a 258 acre Big Bass and a Panfish Enhancement Lake located in western Washington County, PA.  Horsepower is limited to 10 HP or less but that did not matter much yesterday afternoon because I saw only three small fishing boats during the hour and a half I was on the lake.  I almost felt like I had the lake to myself.

I put in at Lynn Portal Road Boat Launch primarily because it is the closet to where I am living, but unlike the County Park Road Boat Launch it also offers a low floating dock great for getting in and out of a kayak.  Since it is located in a shallow no-wake zone, entry into and exit from kayaks is easier.  There is a concrete handicapped parking pad next to the dock that makes it convenient to unload and load.  The main graveled parking lot is just a few yards above the dock, an easy walk.  A new restroom facility with one side dedicated to men and other to women sits at the end of the parking lot.  One or two picnic tables are nearby.  There was only one other car in the parking lot when I was there probably belonging to a couple fishing from the bank nearby.

With the sun shining brightly on the warm and humid afternoon I occasionally splashed my face and bare arms with water to cool down and made sure I stayed hydrated.  My paddle occasionally became tangled in weeds when paddling through shallow areas near shore but they were easily removed.

While paddling I saw fish in the clear water and a few jumping in the distance.  Several water birds rested on trees or bushes near shore until I approached and then they flew away.  Once, when paddling about fifteen yards from shore I saw some bushes move.  On closer inspection I saw a mother raccoon and three or four baby raccoons drinking from the lake.

While I did not explore every cove and inlet I did paddle from one end of the lake to the other, from the Lynn Portal Road Boat Launch to the breastworks at the opposite end of the lake and also an area where large earth moving equipment was excavating, perhaps developing a new use area.  During the hour and a half I was on the water I paddled 5.5 miles according to my GPS.

My paddle at Cross Creek Lake County Park was only my third paddle this season and the first time ever to paddle my Necky Chatham 17 on fresh water.  While I missed the expanse of Jamaica Bay, my former paddling location, I did not miss the Bay’s power boat traffic or occasional garbage.  Cross Creek Lake, in comparison, was almost pristine and secluded.