Thursday, March 31, 2011

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, April 3, 2011, the Fourth Sunday in Lent (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.)

1 Samuel 16:1-13
Out of Genesis and into 1 Samuel

v. 1 God calls the shots, and chooses the Kings.

vs. 1-2 I think these verses might read a little differently than three years ago in light of recent political events in the Middle East and North Africa.

v. 4 Why did the elders of Bethlehem tremble?

vs. 1-5 I think there is some fascinating political intrigue being alluded to in these verses. This sounds like nothing less than the makings of a coup d'état

vs. 6-7 Good advice both for political parties as well as Pastor Nominating Committees, or any nominating committee.

v. 10 Do you see any symbolism in there being seven rejected sons?

v. 12 How does this verse read when juxtaposed with verse 7?

v.13 What do you make of the spirit of the LORD coming mightily upon David AFTER Samuel anoints him?

Psalm 23
What can we say about the most popular passage in the Bible that we have not already said?

v. 1 Does it serve any theological and homiletically purpose to point out that “The LORD” is not a reference to Jesus but to the LORD God? How many Christians hear this Psalm as a Psalm about Jesus rather than a Psalm about God? The shepherd imagery draws upon verse 11 of the First Reading.

v. 4 Do you prefer the “darkest valley” of the NRSV or the “valley of the shadow of death” of the KJV and RSV?

v. 5 What does it mean to have one’s head anointed with oil and one’s cup overflowing. Can we really speak of overflowing cups when in the Eucharist we barely fill little plastic cups containing less than a shot glass? Can we speak of being anointed with oil when most congregations rarely, if ever, practice it? I argue for anointing with oil at the time of Baptism as well as the laying on of hands associated with prayers for healing and wholeness. If we practiced more anointing with oil, this popular Psalm might actually mean even more to some people.

v. 6 What does it mean to dwell in the house of the LORD all one’s life? Is “house of the LORD” a reference and/or allusion to the Temple, or something else?

Ephesians 5:8-14
v. 8 Can we put this verse in conversation with Psalm 23:4? What does it mean toliveas childreb of oflight?

v. 9 I love this verse. It sounds like something Gandalf might say to Bilbo, or Frodo might say to Sam.

v. 10 And how does one find this out? Does Paul have a scavenger hunt in mind?

v. 11 Can one expose works of darkness without shining light on them? I am thinking of Christian muckrakers, whistleblowers, and gadflies.

v. 12 What secret things do you think Paul has in mind? Id this a reference/allusion to mystery religions, or something else. Let us not forget the rumors that were spread about cannibalistic Christian rites when non-Christians were dismissed from the Eucharist.

v. 14 What is the author of Ephesians quoting here?

John 9:1-41
vs. 1-41 This is one really loonnngggg Reading? Are you going to shorten it? I think I will use only verses 1-12.

v. 2 What is wrong with this question?

v. 3 What is wrong with this answer?

v. 4 We?

v. 5 What is Jesus when he is not in the world?

vs. 6-7 Why was the man not healed until after he went and washed?

v. 11 Is there any significance to the construction “the man called Jesus”?

v. 14 Oh no! Not the Sabbath? Surely there must be a law against making mud on the Sabbath.

v. 16 Imagine that, religious authorities having a divided opinion! Let’s put it to a vote.

v. 17 A radical proposal - let the one whose life was changed have the final word.

v. 21 Plausible deniability or passing of the buck?

v. 22 Let us not forget that most scholars agree that John is the latest of the four canonical Gospels, perhaps here reflecting the historical split between Judaism and Christianity. What did it mean, what would it have meant, for a Jew to “be put out of the synagogue”?

v. 24 And what do we know?

v. 27 Sarcasm or acerbic wit? I think the Pharisees doth protest too much.

v. 28 Is this the only reference in Scripture to “disciples of Moses”?

v. 29 But we know where he has come from, don’t we?

vs. 30-33 An astonishing application of logic and astonishing testimony from who is turning out to be an astonishing man.

v. 33 Perhaps the key verse?

v. 34 The typical authoritative response to questioning and challenging authority.

v. 35 After 34 verses of narrative, “Son of Man” terminology is raised. Why the change? Here is the progression as I see it:
     v.   1 Rabbi
     v. 17 Prophet
     v. 22 The Messiah
     v. 33 Man from God
     v. 35 Son of Man

v. 38 And another step in the progression . . . . Lord.

v. 40 And the answer to this question is?

In the John Reading, there seems to be some relationship between blindness, sight, and sin. The man born physically blind receives his physical sight, while the Pharisees born physically seeing are spiritually blind and refuse to have their third eye opened. The man was not a sinner while the Pharisees are portrayed as sinners. I think this is the nature of John’s Gospel, often confusing us with the interplay of the physical and the spiritual as it compares and contrasts the two realms. This is pre-modern stuff. There is no mind/body split in the John. Both the spiritual and the physical seem to exist in the same world but operate on different planes of awareness.

Monday, March 28, 2011

A 25-Point Improvement

Rocky (not his real name), a freshman in a New York City public High School, received a score of 58 on his last Geometry test before I started tutoring him. On his next test, the first after I tutored him in Geometry for one and three quarter hours, his score was 83, a 25 point increase! The improvement was so significant that Rocky’s teacher wrote an encouraging comment of recognition on the top of Rocky’s test. I do not know who was more proud and satisfied: Rocky, his parents, or me.

To what do I attribute the 25-point improvement? During our first tutoring session, Rocky and I reviewed his most recent Geometry work; including teacher handouts, worksheets, and notes he had taken in class. Rocky knew theory but needed more practice applying it. I congratulated and reinforced him when he correctly solved a problem. I also corrected him when he wrongly applied a theory or made a calculation error.

During our conversation, I learned that Rocky might experience test anxiety that prevents him from doing his best work. I briefly demonstrated and had Rocky practice some anxiety and stress reducing techniques that he could use before and during a test if he felt nervous. At our second tutoring session, Rocky said he found the techniques helpful.

I am convinced that Rocky’s 25-point improvement was not attributed to my command of Geometry or superior tutoring skills but rather to the individualized attention I provided Rocky. Overcrowded public schools staffed by underpaid teachers cannot provide the individualized correction and encouragement a tutor can provide. For parents who cannot afford private school and want their child to excel, a tutor might provide their child with enough extra attention to help them get the most out of their public education.

So far I have tutored students in Bushwick, NY (a neighborhood in Brooklyn), Ridgewood, NY, and Glendale, NY (neighborhoods in Queens), but I prefer to tutor students in the Ridgewood, NY area.  I  have worked with students as young as sixth grade and as old as twelth grade, tutoring in both English Language Arts and Math, including Algebra, Geometry and Algerbra II/Trigonometry.  The greatest reward I receive tutoring is not the extra income it provides, but knowing that students like Rocky come closer to reaching their full potential.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, March 27, 2011, the Third Sunday in Lent (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.)

Exodus 17:1-7
v. 1 Let us not make no more of the name of the location than necessary. This is a geographical location, not a theological condition (even though it seems otherwise). Why would anyone camp at a place where there was no water to drink? Perhaps we can put this verse in conversation with the Gospel Reading.

v. 2 I empathize with Moses. What does it mean to “test the LORD”?

v. 5 Not all church leaders are blessed with such a staff. I am envious of Moses.

v. 6 Will Moses see God standing on the rock? What is so special about Horeb? Is it significant that Moses did this “in sight of the elders” rather than alone, with no one watching?

v. 7 I have yet to find a congregation named “The Massah and Meribah (put your denominational moniker here) Church” yet there are probably many which can rightly claim the name.

Psalm 95
v. 1 Is it too obvious to see connection between “the rock of our salvation” and the “rock at Horeb” in the first reading?

vs. 1-2 This sounds like a call to worship.

vs. 3-4 Depths, heights, sea and land: what else is there?

vs. 6-7 Still another call to worship. Why do most main line protestants hardly ever bow down and kneel? Are our knees too old and arthritic?

v. 8 This obviously points back to the First reading, which argues for an intentional linguistic and theological connection using the word “rock: in verse 1. Also, note that verses 1-7 were in the third person. With verse 8 the Psalm shifts to the first person and God becomes the speaker.

v. 11 Based on this verse, why might so many churches be struggling these days with declining membership and financial resources?

Romans 5:1-11
v. 1 I hate it when Readings from the Pauline corpus begin with “Therefore”. It means are missing the initial points of the argument. On the other hand, justification by faith is a keystone of protestant theology.

vs.2-3 Where is all this talk about “boasting” coming from? See also verse 11.

vs. 3-5 sufferings . . . endurance . . . character . . . hope . This argument reminds me of the concept of disciplined training in the sense of “no pain, no gain.”

v. 6 Who are the ungodly and what does it mean that Christ died for them (or us)?

v. 7 I confess that I have never been able to wrap my head around this one. It seems that it should be the other way around.

v.8 Following Paul’s argument, how did Christ’s death prove God’s love for us.Doe this statement assume we are the “ungodly” of verse 6?

v. 9 It seems that we are already justified but not yet saved from the wrath of God.

v. 10 Similarly, it seems that we are already reconciled but not yet saved.

John 4:5-42
vs. 5-6 Is there anything significant about the setting? What once happened at Jacob’s well?

v. 6 Note that in last week’s Gospel reading, and just prior to this in the Gospel, Nic came to Jesus by night. Now it is noon, when the sun is at its highest point in the sky and when it barely casts any shadows. Think about the temporal setting of this reading juxtaposed with the temporal setting of last week’s Gospel Reading. What is John trying to communicate by this juxtaposition?

v. 7 Can we consider this John’s version of the Parable of the Good Samaritan?

v. 13-14 I think this is the heart of the reading, a reading as deep and multivalent as Jacob’s well. Like last week’s Gospel Reading, I cannot help but interpret this reading, especially this verse, from a Jungian perspective.

vs. 16-26 What do these verses add to the story? Could we not stop reading at then of verse 15 and still get the point?

v. 23 What does Jesus mean when he says “the hour is coming”? What does it mean to worship “in spirit and truth”?

v. 26 Does this verse require us to read this passage in the context of and in conversation with all the other “I am” sayings in John, not to mention Exodus 3:14?

v. 29 Can we categorize the woman’s speech as a witness? Evangelism? Preaching? And the answer to this rhetorical question is?

vs. 31-34 First, Jesus was thirsty. Now his disciples are worried about him being hungry. Why all this emphasis on Jesus’ thirst and hunger when, I assume the point of the passage, is our spiritual thirst and hunger?

vs. 35-38 These verses sound a bit apocalyptic. What does it mean to enter into another person’s labor?

v. 39 So the woman was a witness and evangelist!

v. 40 Why do you suppose Jesus stayed, depending on your perspective, as long as two days, or as little as two days?

v. 42 Is this not what all teachers and preachers long to hear?

The John Reading is longer than most Gospel readings and I am considering shortening it by ending it at with verse 15. What do you think about this?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, March 20, 2011, the Second Sunday in Lent (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.)

Genesis 12:1-4a
This is one of the shortest First Readings we have seen in awhile.

v. 1 How do you think the LORD said this, in a dream, a vision, or what? Note the spelling of the name “Abram”. The archetypal call narrative.

v. 2 In retrospect, it seems the LORD has delivered on this promise.

v. 3 This verse, alone, ought to be enough to combat anti-Semitism.

v.4 Why did Abram take Lot with him?

Psalm 121
v. 1 I recall there are various interpretations of this Psalm, one being the “nature’ interpretation that sees in the hills evidence of the LORD’s presence, the other that suggests this verse is setting up a comparison between the local mountain deities, which do not provide help, and the LORD, which does. One such diverse interpretations present themselves, how do we decide?

v. 2 Regardless of which interpretation you follow, this assertion still follows.

v. 3 What does it mean that our foot will not be moved? So what that God never slumbers?

v. 4 Is there any difference between “slumber” and “sleep”, or this simply an example of Hebrew poetic construction?

v. 5 What does it mean for the LORD to be a “keeper”? “Shade”? “Right hand”?

v. 6 I love this verse, but while I can recall some hot summer days when it seemed like the sun was striking me, I cannot recall the moon ever striking me

v. 7 Now here is a verse I can treasure!

v. 8 What is the “going out” and the “coming in” being referred to and does it make any difference that they appear in this order?

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
v. 1 Obvious connection to the First Reading. It would seem that Christians of non-Jewish background cannot claim Abraham as our ancestor, as Paul did.

v. 2 If, but he was not.

v. 3 What is Paul quoting? Where does Scripture say this?

v. 4 Except in the church!

v. 5 I like that trust is connected with faith, a theme emphasized in the PC(USA) A Brief Statement of Faith.

v. 15 How does the law bring wrath?

v. 16 What is “it”? Faith is connected with grace, and with grace there is a guaranty.

v. 17 Following Paul’s theological reasoning, perhaps we should be considered “Abrahamians” rather than “Christians”.

John 3:1-17
This passage is so nuanced and so multivalent, I am not sure where to begin. I prefer a Jungian interpretation, but does that preach?

v.2 What is the significance that Nic comes at night? I see a literary and theological connection with the woman at the well, at noon, and wonder if we can only interpret both passages in dialogue with each other. I suspect this is not the Royal “we”, so who else is Nic speaking for?

v. 3 Seeing from above, a bird’s eye, or angel’s eye view.

v. 4 Nic is confusing obstetrics and gynecology with theology.

v. 5 Jesus connects water and spirit.

v. 6 Jesus separates flesh from spirit.

v. 8 What is Jesus comparing everyone born of the spirit to: the wind, our hearing of the wind, or our not know where it comes from and where it goes?

v. 9 Thanks, Nic, for asking the question we have all been wanting to ask.

v. 10 Touché

v. 11 Who is the “we”. What do “we” know and what have we “seen”? What is the nature of religious and spiritual knowledge, when we are post enlightenment interpreters of pre-enlightenment scripture?

v. 13 Does this verse reflect a post ascension perspective?

vs. 14-15 Here is a passage worth exploring from a Jungian perspective. Consider the rod of Asclepius. Be sure to read the Hebrew scripture alluded to.

v. 16 no comment

v. 17 I wish some hell, fire, and damnation preachers would remember this verse.

I made a prior commitment somehow to tie this Sunday’s sermon in with Celtic Christianity. I think I will focus on the Psalm and the story of Patrick building the Easter Fire on Slane, across the valley from and in defiance of the High King of Ireland building his fire on Tara.

Monday, March 14, 2011


Sacred number
Triune enumerator

Decimal declinator

The loneliest number
But more to come

Completeness, but not quite

Calculating out of sight

Monday, March 7, 2011

Returning to the United Nations

The UN Headquarters in New York City
Most residents of New York City have probably never visited the United Nations Headquarters in the Turtle Bay neighborhood of Manhattan overlooking the East River. I recently did.
I first visited the United Nations before I lived in New York. In fact, I visited it twice before moving to its host city. In the mid 90’s I participated in a three day, two night, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) United Nations Seminar organized by the Peacemaking Committee of Shenandoah Presbytery. At the time, I was a member of the committee. A few years later, I returned for a second tour of the UN. That tour was part of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Conference the year the conference was held at Hofstra University on Long Island.
Recently, I had the opportunity and pleasure to visit the UN a third time, but this time as a resident of New York City. I was helping with a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) Youth United Nations Seminar involving youth and their adult leaders from upstate New York. Most of the seminar took place around the corner from the UN in the fellowship room of The Presbyterian Church of the Covenant. The afternoon of the seminar, we walked down to the UN and enjoyed a group tour.
Visiting the United Nations is like visiting an art gallery and museum. Numerous displays depicting and interpreting the work of the UN are intermingled with paintings, tapestries, sculptures, mosaics, stained glass and cultural artifacts given to the UN by foreign governments and wealthy patrons. One could easily spend a few hours viewing the displays and art.
Visiting the UN is also like visiting a foreign country, except it is not a country. Although a passport is not required to enter the UN compound, (in fact, no identification is required), one leaves US territory when entering. Many of the employees of the UN are foreign nationals, and many of the visitors are not American. Tours are available in any number of languages, as there are six official languages spoken at the UN: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish.
When you add the work of the UN General Assembly, Security Council and its various agencies that takes place in the building to the displays, art, culture and languages found in the building, the UN can be an awesome and exciting place. I have been to the US Capital Building and even visited members of the Senate and House of Representatives in the offices. I have been in the West Virginia Capital Building and Governor’s Mansion. The United Nations, however, surpasses them all in terms of culture, art and international mystique.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, March 6, 2011, the Transfiguration of the Lord (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.)


Exodus 24:12-18
v. 12 While this reading stands on its own merits, I find it difficult to read it without looking for connections to the Gospel Reading and wonder how much we should read the Gospel account of the Transfiguration as a Midrash on this text. There are many similarities between the two texts, perhaps the least being the setting; that of a mountain. Why must Moses go up to God rather than God coming down? I can understand why “law” is singular, but why is “commandment” also singular?

v. 13 Note that that Moses does not go up to God on the mountain alone. He takes with him his assistant (and heir apparent), Joshua.

v. 15 What shall we make of the cloud?

v. 16 Shall we equate “the glory of the Lord” with the cloud? From personal experience, I know there is something “numinous” about being on a mountaintop, above tree line, when clouds enshroud the summit. What does the explicit linguistic connection to the creation account, i.e. six days and the seventh day, suggest about any theological connection?

v. 16 What does a devouring fire on top of a mountain look like? If this is what the people of Israel saw, what did Moses and Joshua see?

v. 17 How much is the forty days and forty nights a prefiguration of the forty years in the wilderness and how much is this a post Exodus influence on an earlier text?

Psalm 2
v. 1 A timely verse, considering recent world events.

v. 2 Who is the LORD’s “anointed”?

v. 4 I like this image of a laughing God, although we might debate the nature of the laughter.

v. 5 Zion, the holy hill, rather than the holy mountain Moses and Joshua ascended or upon which Jesus is transfigured.

v. 7 Why is “decree” singular? Is this the King speaking?

vs.8-9 A prophecy or promise, never, or not yet, fulfilled?

v.10 Sound advice in the world’s contemporary political and social climate.

v. 11 What is fear? When was the last time you served the LORD with trembling?

v. 12 Kiss God’s feet? Euphemistically? What is the symbolism being employed here?

Psalm 99
v. 1 The earth quakes but the people tremble (see Psalm 2:11). What are cherubim and where are they?

v. 3 What is God’s awesome name?

v.4 Here is a nice imagery of God appropriate for address.

v. 5 This sounds like a call to worship. Where and what is God’s footstool?

v.6 How does Samuel come to be included with Moses and Aaron? Who do you know who has cried to the LORD and God answered them?

v.7 A reference to the Exodus. Note that “decrees” and “statutes” are both plural.

v.8 An interesting juxtaposition: The forgiving God and the Avenging God. Can God have it both ways?

v.9 Another call to worship? Must we worship only at God’s holy Mountain? What and where is God’s Holy Mountain?

2 Peter 1:16-21
v. 16 What is a cleverly devised myth? How shall we read this verse as it relates to the mythopoeic nature of Scripture?

v.17 Did Jesus not have honor and glory before the event being recounted? What does the voice seem to echo?

v. 18 When Scripture relates the personal experience of the first followers of Jesus, what does that say about our own personal experience of the risen Christ?

v. 19 What is the prophetic message? How has it been confirmed? How can we do anything else than be attentive to a lamp shining in a dark place? What is the morning star and how does it rise in our hearts?

v. 20 This is why we interpret Scripture in community and why I invite, solicit, and encourage your comments responding to Lectionary Ruminations (hint, hint)

v. 21 Prophecy, like poetry and art, comes from somewhere other than the prophet, poet, or artist.

Matthew 17:1-9
v. 1 Six days later, after what? As Moses took Joshua, Jesus takes Peter, James and John.

v. 2 What does it mean to be transfigured? Has anyone else’s face ever shone like the sun? Has anyone elses clothes ever become dazzling white?

v. 3 What is the meaning of “Suddenly”? Why Moses and Elijah? What might they represent? Is there any significance to the fact that the three greats (Moses, Jesus, Elijah) are balanced by the three mere disciples (Peter, James and John)? It seems we have a dyad of trinities.

v. 4 Way to go Peter, interrupt a spiritual experience with mundane concerns. At that moment, I wonder if Jesus really thought it was “good” Peter was there. Why three dwellings rather than just one for all three?

v. 5 The text suggests a chronology of Jesus being transfigured before the bright cloud appeared. Note the reappearance of the word “suddenly.” What does the Gospel add or include that the Reading from 2 Peter did not?

v. 6 Were the disciples overcome by fear by hearing the voice or by hearing what the voice said?

v. 7 Was this a reassuring touch? Would there be any difference in interpretation if Jesus had said “Do not be afraid and get up.”?

v. 8 Where did Moses and Elijah go?

v.9 Why would Jesus “order” these three disciples to tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead”? Who is the Son of Man? Could this, indeed, be a misplaced resurrection appearance read back into the Gospel at an earlier point? How might this Reading prefigure the resurrection?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

About the March 2011 Header Photo

I shot this photo of a full moon over Mill Basin on the evening of September 28, 2010. Mill Basin is located in Southern Brooklyn and feeds into Jamaica Bay after passing under the Belt Parkway. Several marinas are located along its banks. Although I have twice explored Mill Basin by kayak, I have recently become more familiar with it as I have motored, and occasionally sailed, a C & C 24 through its waters and out into the more open water of the Jamaica Bay.