Monday, March 31, 2014

Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 for Sunday, April 6, 2014, the Fifth Sunday in Lent (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.

First Reading - Ezekiel 37:1-14

37:1 What does it mean for “the hand of the LORD” to come upon a person?  Has the hand of the LORD ever come upon you or upon someone you know?  What does it mean to “be brought out by the spirit”? I interpret this reading as a vision experienced by Ezekiel, certainly not an account of anything that happened in real time and space, but only within the psyche of Ezekiel.

37:3 Is there any significance to the fact that the LORD addresses Ezekiel as “Mortal” rather than by name?  Is the LORD asking a rhetorical question?  I think the “mortal” passes the buck with his answer.

37:4 Can bones hear?

37:5-6 What linguistic and theological moves are being made by connecting breath with life

37:7 Apparently bones CAN hear!

37:8 Oh no! No breath!

37:9 Can the breath hear? What do you know about the four winds?  I cannot read this passage without thinking of the four winds of Native American spirituality. When the last time you heard a minister was refer to the four winds in a prayer or use it liturgy?

37:10 Was the breath the last, or the most essential ingredient?

37:11 Oh, so these were not bones at all, but a living nation feeling dried up, proof positive that this is a vision not to be taken literally.

37:12 Is this verse about a physical resurrection or a spiritual resurrection, physical graves or metaphorical graves?

37:13 What sort of grave bound people is the mortal prophesying to?

37:14 What are the linguistic and theological connections among wind, breath, and spirit? IMHO, this is a verse that many aging congregations and congregations of the aging, often feeling “very dry” and completely cut off, almost in the grave, need to hear and reflect upon.  Are they willing, REALLY willing, to have the LORD put the spirit within them?

Psalm - Psalm 130
121:1-8This is not only one of my favorite Psalms but one of my favorite passages in the entire Bible. How might our interpretation and preaching being affected when we encounter one of favorite, or even least favorite, passages of Scripture?

121:1What sort of images do you see or think of when you read or hear “out of the depths”.  I cannot but help but interpret “depths” from a Jungian perspective.  You might be more inclined to take a psychoanalytic reproach.  How many of us are NOT thinking of one form of depression or another?

121:2 When we implore the LORD to hear our voice, is it really to catch God’s attention or to focus our own?  What is a supplication?

121:3 Does the LORD mark iniquities, or not? Who CAN stand?

121:4 Forgiveness, and Grace!  I like the translation “revere” as the KJV and RSV was “feared,” suggesting a wrathful, rather than an awesome, God.What does it mean to revere?

121:5 Note the shift from direct address to narrative. What does it mean to “wait for the LORD”?  How do you “wait” for the LORD? In a culture of fast food and instant gratification, this verse might be more poignant today than ever before.  Why am I thinking of the contemplative tradition as well as centering prayer.

121:6 Is there something more going on here than Hebrew poetry?  What does it mean for the morning watch when the morning arrives?  What does it mean for the person waiting for the LORD, hoping in God’s word, to see and witness the arrival of what one has been waiting for?

121:7 Note the shift from the first person narrative to direct address admonition.  The Psalmist started out by addressing the Lord and is now addressing Israel. What is “steadfast” love? What power redeems?

121:8 Is still direct address or a shift back to narrative? In other words: “Wait for no one or nothing else. Place your hope in no other person or no other thing than the LORD.”

8:6 This reads like a proverb and can almost stand on its own.  What does Paul mean by “flesh” and “spirit”? What does he mean “death” and “life and peace”? How many times and in what other places does Paul employ a flesh/spirit dualism? Does it make any difference that Paul was writing before Descartes and we are reading after Descartes’ mind/body split? 

8:7 How does 8:6 lead to 8:7? What does Paul mean by “God’s Law”?

8:8 How might Paul’s statement run counter to the doctrine of the incarnation?

8:9 If we are indeed “in the Spirit” as Paul says, then why did he have to say what he said in verses 6-8?

8:9-11 Does Paul use “Spirit of God” and “Spirit of Christ” synonymously?  How many mainline Christians, especially staid Presbyterians, mind find Paul’s focus on the Spirit unsettling?

8:10-11 Does it help or hurt to read this passage in juxtaposition with Ezekiel 37:1-14, especially Ezekiel 37:14?

Gospel - John 11:1-45
11:1-45 Spoiler alert:  If you do not know how the Easter Story ends, this might give it away.  Is there any way to make this 45 verse Reading shorter while still maintaining its integrity?

11:1 Does is make any difference that we are told the man’s name and the names of his sisters?

11:2 Why the redundancy of telling us Lazarus was sick?

11:3 What is the nature of this “love”?

11:4  Jesus’ response sounds much like his response in last week’s reading, John 9:3. What is this ”Son of God” language doing here?  I would expect to see “Son of Man” language.

11:6 Why the two day wait?


11:7-8 What is significant about Judea?

11:9-10 I know Jesus was speaking generally, but technically, there are only two days a year when there are twelve hours of daylight. Does the light/darkness dualism suggest a hint of Gnosticism?

11:11-12 Was Jesus simply using a euphemism for death, or is there something else going on here?

11:13-14 How many times did the disciples not understand Jesus.  How many times do worshipers in the pews not understand the preacher?

11:15 Believe what?

11:16 Die with who?  If Thomas means Jesus, then Thomas does not seem to doubt his resolve to follow Jesus to his own death.

11:17 What is the significance of four days? Did it take two days to travel when where Jesus was to Bethany?

11:18 Is there any significance to this geographical information?

11:19 What does this suggest about Lazarus or about Mary and Martha?

11:20 Is this a typical Martha/Mary response? Do you go to meet Jesus or do you wait for Jesus to come to you?

11:21 Is Martha blaming Jesus for her brother’s death?

11:22 Is Martha expressing true faith or something else?

11:23 Why “Again”? When has he risen before?

11:24 What is the matter, Martha, is not the promise of resurrection on the last day enough to comfort you in your grief?

11:25 One of Jesus’ “I am” sayings.  Where do we find the others and what are they? Is this passage nothing but background, of creating the opportunity, for this “I am” saying?

11:25-26 Do YOU believe this?  Exactly what are we being asked about?

11:27 Mary really does not answer the question, nevertheless, this reads, and sounds, like an early Christian confession of Faith.

11:28 I did not hear Jesus calling for Mary, did you? Why the “privately”? After confessing that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and the one coming into the world, why does Martha refer to Jesus as “Teacher”?

11:29 Mary finally comes to Jesus.

11:30 Why did Jesus not accompany Martha when Martha went to Mary?

11:32 Mary joins the blame game.  At least the sisters agree on something!

11:33 Why would seeing tears disturb and move Jesus in a way he had not yet been moved and disturbed? Is there a difference between being “greatly disturbed” and “deeply moved”!

11:34 “Come and see” sounds like something someone would say about Jesus, not Lazarus. Maybe that is the point.

11:35 And what do we know about this verse?

11:37 Is this more than a rhetorical question?

11:38 Is this nothing more than foreshadowing?

11:39 Is there any significance to the fact that it is Martha, rather than Mary, who comments about the stench?

11:40 When did Jesus say this to Martha?

11:41 Who are the “we”?

11:41-42 Are words sometimes better than silence?

11:43 Would Lazarus not have come out if he had not been called?

11:44 How did Lazarus come out if his feet were bound with strips of cloth?  How did he see where to go if his face was wrapped in a cloth? Could there be more to the command “Unbind him, and let him go” than meets the eye? Maybe Jesus was referring not just to the strips of cloth. Obviously we cannot take read this literally.

11:45 How many are “many” and what about the Jews who had come with Mary but did not believe in him?

ADDENDUM
There are many connections this Sunday among all four readings, perhaps too many.  Countless sermons can be preached and lessons taught on any one of these texts or combination of them and the preacher/teacher might feel overwhelmed.

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