Thursday, February 24, 2011

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, February 27, 2011, the Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

Posted each Thursday, Lectionary Ruminations focuses on the Scripture Readings, taken from the New Revised Standard Version, for the following Sunday per the Revised Common Lectionary. Comments and questions are intended to encourage reflection for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged. All lectionary links are to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead. (Other references are linked to the NRSV via the oremus Bible Browser.) Lectionary Ruminations is also cross posted on my personal blog,

Isaiah 49:8-16a
v. 8 “Thus says the Lord” certainly leaves no doubt about whom Isaiah claims is speaking here. What is the “time of favor” and “day of salvation” being referred to? What does it mean that God has “kept” us and “given” us as a covenant to the people?

v. 9 What prisoners are being referred to? Are “the prisoners” the same as “those who are in darkness”? How can bare heights be anyone’s or anything’s pasture if it is bare?

v. 10 Is this a reference to only physical hunger and thirst? Who is the one having pity? How can springs of water serve as a guide?

v. 11 This is not mountain top removal mining being referred to here. Might this same thought be expressed by a phrase such as “Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.” (See Isaiah 40:3-4)

v. 12 Why might the north and south be mentioned, but not the poetic parallel east and west? Is there anything special about the land of Syene?

v. 13 How do the heavens sing and how does the earth exult? How do mountains sing? Why would the heavens and mountains sing and the earth exult because the LORD has (note the tense) comforted the LORD’s people and will have (note the tense) compassion on the Lord’sSuffering ones?

v. 14 Have you ever felt like Zion?

v. 15This is one of my favorite passages in Isaiah, alluded to by A Brief Statement of Faith line 49. What does it mean that God cannot forget us?

v. 16 So God has my name tattooed in the palms of God’s holy hands? How special!

Psalm 131
I think this might be the shortest psalm in the Psalter!

v. 1 The first two lines sound to me like a lament, but the third and fourth lines sounds more like confessions of a follow of Scottish Common Sense Philosophy.

v.2 In light of Isaiah 49:15, I cannot but help envision myself as a nursing child at the breast of a maternal God.

v. 3 What does it mean to “hope in the Lord”? (See Psalm 130:7)

1 Corinthians 4:1-5
v. 1 Who is the “us”? What does it mean to be “stewards of God’s mysteries”? What are “God’s mysteries”?

v. 2 What does it mean to “be found trustworthy?”

v. 3 Who is judging and who is being judged and for what?

v. 4 In other words, we have all committed sins we are not even aware of committing?

v. 5 So if we expect the Lord to be our judge, we should refrain from judging one another until Jesus returns and then truly allow him to be our judge? For PC(USA) Presbyterians, what does this say about the Rules of Discipline in the Book of Order?

Matthew 6:24-34
v. 24 What does this verse tell us about any Pastor trying to serve yoked churches? Oh, this is not about churches but God and wealth. Most of the wee-kirks I have served have not had much wealth, nevertheless, I think it is just as easy to worship the wealth they do not have as much as the wealth they might have.

v. 25 According to the rules of logic and rhetoric, how does “Therefore” follow from the verse preceding it? Who is speaking here? I am sorry Jesus, but in this post recessionary period of high unemployment, it is very difficult not to worry just a little. Yes, life is more than and clothing, but according to Maslow, until theses basic needs are met, it is difficult to focus on needs further up the hierarchy.

v.26 Yes, I think that to God I am more valuable than a bird, but as a teenager I also read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Quoting from THE SPARROW “Not a sparrow falls to the ground without your heavenly father’s knowledge; but the sparrow still falls.” (See Luke 10:29-30)

v. 27 Most Medical Doctors and Psychologists would probably argue that we actually subtract hours from our life by excessive worrying.

v. 28 But I and the people I am responsible for are not lilies.

v. 29 True, lilies in the field appear more glorious than Solomon or any fashion model, but Solomon could afford a great wardrobe and fashion models can afford Botox, cosmetic surgery, personal trainers, and to afford a wardrobe most of us could never hope to afford.

v. 30 I am glad St. Patrick’s Day is not too far away, because it sounds like I am going to be wearing green.

v. 33 If I strive first for the kingdom of God, can I still strive second for these other things?

v.34 Perhaps the Lord’s Prayer “give us this day our daily bread” and the story about daily manna can be instructive here. Frankly, today’s troubles are more than enough for today. I would like to put off some of them until tomorrow so that I do not have to worry about them until tomorrow.

I have specifically invited the congregation I serve at North Church Queens to read these ruminations before worship, as they may form the bulk of my Sermon, entitled “Lectionary Ruminations”. I will copy these ruminations and distribute them to worshipers before worship.

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Snowy Presidents Day

Presdients Day morning snow
in Ridgewood, Queens, NYC
A few days after most of the “Day after Christmas Storm” and snow falls following had melted, thanks to a recent high in Central Park of 67, New Yorkers awoke to yet another snow this Presidents Day morning. As I walked Myrrhlyn around the block around 7:30 am, there were sidewalks that were hardly any snow had accumulated and sidewalks where an inch or more had already piled up and made walking treacherous. Up to two inches, or more, had already accumulated on tops of cars and anything else elevated above the warm ground, like the tables and plastic chairs in our back yard.

Here is the NY1 Weather Update posted on twitter about 6:00 AM this morning, just an hour and half before our morning walk.
“Snow ends around noon time. 2 to 4" expected. High: 38. Tonight:Snow showers/22.Tue: Windy/Partly cloudy.31. Wed: Dry/40”
While NY1 predicted 2-4 inches, other forecasters have predicted 3-5 inches, with perhaps more accumulations to the north and west of the City. Eventually, the snow, which is still falling at 8:30 am, is to change over to a wintery mix by later this afternoon.

Could Punutawney Phil have been wrong? Maybe Spring was just not as near as we expected, and hoped.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Prayer for Scientists and People of Faith on the occasion of Evolution Weekend

This is Evolution Weekend. I searched the internet, hoping I would find a suitable prayer for scientists and people of faith to use in Worship on Sunday, but did not find anything I found acceptable. Here is what I ended up writing, borrowing a key phrase from The Clergy Letter Project Open Letter Concerning Religion and Science.
God of mystery,
you have given us hearts to be warmed by your Spirit
and minds to be enlightened by your knowledge.
May all people of faith come to believe
that the timeless truths of the Bible
and the discoveries of modern science
may comfortably coexist.
And may scientists of all scientific disciplines,
learn that not all people of faith are luddites, creationists, or believe in a flat earth,
but warmly embrace foundational scientific truths
as complimentary of, rather than obstacles to, their faith.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A Momentous Day I was Proud to be a New York Presbyterian

It is not every day that Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)  Ministers and Elders get to vote of amending our church’s confessional documents. In fact, the opportunity has presented itself only three times in the past twenty-eight years. In 1991 we added A Brief Statement of Faith—Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to our Book of Confessions.  In 1999 we amended the language of the Nicene Creed to reflect a growing ecumenical consensus concerning its liturgical use.

Ministers and Elders of the PC(USA) are now considering whether or not to amend the Book of Confessions by adding the Confession of Belhar.  To do so would require that two thirds of the presbyteries concur with the amendment. So far, the voting is close, hovering around that two-thirds mark.

The Confession of Belhar was born in 1982 in the midst of apartheid. The confession, named after a suburb of Cape Town, was not so much the Dutch Reformed Mission Church’s response to apartheid but to the heretical theology that buttressed it.

The confessional bravery and theological astuteness of those who drafted and adopted the Belhar Confession, and the confession itself, have both challenged and encouraged Christians around the world. If the PC(USA) adopts this confession, it would be the first, and the only one out of eleven other confessional statements in the Book of Confessions, from the Southern Hemisphere.

I think the PC(USA) should adopt it. With our nation’s history of slavery and Jim Crow, and the Presbyterian history of splitting along Union and Confederate lines at the time of the Civil War, the Confession of Belhar forces us to confront our past. With our nation’s current debate around issues of race, including issues of immigration, and the appearance that Sunday morning is still the most segregated hour in America, the Confession of Belhar ca help us examine present practices and behavior.

New York City Presbytery, of which I am a Minister member, considered and voted on adding the Confession of Belhar to the Book of Confessions at its most recent meeting, held January 25, 2011. I experienced a heightened sense of the historic importance of what we were doing as we debated the issue. The hairs on the back of my neck were about to rise as the momentous nature of the vote sunk into my consciousness.

The vote was not at all close. The “yeas” were 96. The “nays” were 0, zip, nada. The Presbytery of New York City had voted unanimously to concur with adding the Confession of Belhar to the Book of Confessions! The sanctuary where we were meeting erupted with applause as the result of the vote was announced.

I am not always proud of what we New York City Presbyterians do and do not do in our presbytery meetings, but on this occasion, I was most proud of my colleagues in Ministry. I hope that by the time all the presbyteries vote, I will be as proud to be a member of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) as I was proud to be a member of New York City Presbytery on January 25, 2011.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Going Coastal New York City

Coverof the Second Edition
For me, one of the highlights of the 2011 New York Boat Show was meeting Barbara La Rocco, president and founder of Going Coastal, Inc. and author of Going Coastal New York City, the definitive Urban Waterfront Guide for the Big Apple.

When my wife and I moved to new York City three and a half years ago, one of the first local guide books my wife purchased was the first edition of Going Coastal New York City. The only problem with the guide was that, at the time, we did not know enough about our local ecological and political geography to take full advantage of it. We were still learning our way around our immediate neighborhood and how to negotiate the subway system. We had yet to broaden our excursions or explore the larger area, including the coast.

Three and a half years later, including kayaking and sailing on the Hudson and Jamaica Bay as well as kayaking on the East River, we have started to learn our way around the Big Apple. We know, however, that there is a lot more to learn about and explore. Unfortunately, I had forgotten that we had a copy of the First Edition of Going Coastal New York City in our library because it would have been a good resource to help us expand our exploration and learning.
I forget what drew my interest to the Going Coastal booth at the 2011 New York Show, but something about the booth compelled me to take a closer look and strike up a conversation with the person in the booth. That person was Barbara La Rocco. As we talked, I learned that we know many of the same people, especially those associated with the Sebago Canoe Club, of which my wife and I are members. Barbara and I talked about kayaking, sailing, and pump out stations. I also asked her that if I bought a copy of the Second Edition of her book (not realizing that we already had a copy of the First Edition) if she would sign it. She said yes. I did and she did.

Barbara and me
at the 2011 New York Boat Show
I started browsing through this little 281-page guide while riding the subway on the way home and was impressed by its content. I learned that the “Paerdegat” in Paerdegat Basin, where my wife and I usually launch our kayaks, means “horse gate” in Dutch. We have been paddling in Paerdegat Basin for nearly three years and never knew the etymology of the name. Now we know. Thanks, Barb.
Now that I better know my way around New York City, including many of its waterways and coastal areas, I think Going Coastal New York City will be a more valuable guide, telling me things I did not know about places I have already been and directing me to new places to explore and enjoy.
After having purchased the Second Edition, and having discovered the First Edition in our library and comparing the two editions, I think the Second Edition is a vast improvement. The First Edition was printed in only black and white. The second edition is printed in black, blue and white, blue being used primarily to designate water areas on the numerous maps. As a result of the introduction of blue ink and a different font, I find Second Edition more eye appealing and inviting.
The Second Edition of Going Coastal New York City is an invaluable resource for any New Yorker, new or longtime resident, wanting to learn more about the sixth borough, the water around New York. I highly recommend it. With six years between editions, the Second Edition contains enough updated material to justify its purchase even if you already own the First Edition.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

New York City Ice Storm

Ice Covered Tree in Ridgewood
Tuesday night
"Notification issued 2/2/11 at 4:20 AM. The National Weather Service has issued an Ice Storm Warning for New York City until 9:00 AM this morning. Freezing rain mixed with sleet will continue through mid-morning bringing a total of 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch of ice accumulations. Exercise extreme caution when traveling."
I did not need this Notify NYC email this morning to tell me that it was nasty out there. Last night, while walking the dog, we were both slip sliding along as we made our way around the block. At least once, I had a firm footing but Myrrhlyn, did not, and looked like Astro on his treadmill, moving his legs but not going anywhere as his paws slid across the ice. Another time Myrrhlyn had the secure footing (or pawing) while I was on an icy patch. He simply pulled me along as I slid across the ice.
Ice covered branch in Ridgewood
Wednesday morning
The trees along our walk last night, encrusted with a film of ice and silhouetted by streetlights behind them, took on an eerie translucent glow, reminding me of the “Crystalline Entity” from a Star Trek Next Generation episode.
This morning the ice was a little thicker, but also more brittle and granular. Sometimes I broke through it to the sidewalk below. The mounds of snow, left over from three previous storms, were a different story. Myrrhlyn loves to climb on these snow mounds. Whereas his paws used to break through, the mounds sometimes engulfing him to near chest level, this morning he was able to walk on top of them, the thin layer or ice and crust supporting his sixty pounds.

I have experienced far worse ice storms while I was living in the Appalachian Mountains, but we usually received one or two a year and were used to coping with them. This is my third winter in New York City but my first Big Apple Ice Storm. New Yorkers seem to be coping well, as we do with most things.  On the other hand, on this Gound Hog's day, I am ready for Spring.

About the February 2011 Header Photo

I am suffering from Alpine Withdraw, not having been to the mountains, let alone a summit, for far too long. That means my catalog of digital summit photos has all but been exhausted. Therefore, this month’s header photo features a fake summit but a summit never the less.
Soon after moving into our present home, I purchased and bolted to the wall above the door in my office/study a Metolius Training Board. Let me explain Training Boards for my non-climbing readers.
Training Boards are a passive exercises/training device climbers use to build arm, hand, wrist and finger strength. Constructed out of rosin that simulates the feel of rock, Training Boards are an excellent way to get and stay pumped at home with only ten minutes of exercise a day. A training Board is the next best thing to a simulated rock wall.
Since I did not want to be staring at a blank wall while I hung and pulled on my training board, I mounted a poster size image of a mountain in an alpine setting on the wall behind the Training Board. Although they do not appear in this cropped photo, draped across the top of the poster is a short strip of Tibetan Prayer Flags.
The Metolius Training Board above my door is my summit away from the summit, a reminder of past adventures and a call to future ones.