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.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 for Sunday, March 30, 2014, the Fourth 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.

16:1 God calls the shots, and chooses the Kings, not Samuel.  What is a “horn” and what does it represent?

16:2 Who was more powerful and to be feared, Saul or Samuel? Where will this sacrifice take place?

16:3 Why does the LORD keep focusing on Jesse rather than simply revealing the next king?

16:4 Why did the elders of Bethlehem tremble?

16:5 The Lord had instructed Samuel to invite Jesse, but Jesse invites more.

16:1-5 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 with the LORD as the main instigator and conspirator.

16:6-7 Good advice both for political parties as well as Pastor Nominating Committees, or any nominating committee. Outward appearance certainly influences people, as to credentials, but how does one judge another’s heart?

16:10 Do you see any symbolism in there being seven rejected sons? Why are only the three sons named? How much does Jesse know about what Samuel is doing?

16:11 Why was the youngest son the only son not present and presented?

16:12 How does this verse read when juxtaposed with verse 7?

16:13 What do you make of the spirit of the LORD coming mightily upon David AFTER Samuel anoints him? I wonder what ever happened to David’s older brothers.

What can one about the most popular passage in the Bible that we have not already said? How can we read and hear it in new and unexpected ways?  How much does the First Reading influence any interpretation for this Sunday?

23:1 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 seems to draw upon verse 11 of the First Reading.  How might the shepherd imagery be lost or diminished in modern and urban culture?

23:2 As a backpacker and hiker, I resonate with the imagery of green pastures and still waters.

23:3 What does it mean for a soul to be restored? What is a right path?

23:4 Do you prefer the “darkest valley” of the NRSV or the “valley of the shadow of death” of the KJV and RSV? Why do we associate dark places with evil?  What is the difference between a rod and a staff?  How can a rod and a staff protect?

23:5 How does it feel to walk into a room and find a table prepared for you?  Would you sit at a table in the presence of your enemies and dine? 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 anointing with oil when 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 than it already does to some people.

23:6 Is there a difference between goodness and mercy or is this pairing just the nature of Hebraic poetry? 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 Jerusalem Temple, or something else?

5:8 Can we read this verse in juxtaposed with Psalm 23:4?  What does it mean to live as children of light? Does the Dead Sea War Scroll shed any light on this verse?

5:9 I love this verse.  It sounds like something Gandalf might say to Bilbo, or Frodo might say to Sam.

5:10 And how does one find out what is pleasing to the Lord?  Does Paul have a scavenger hunt in mind?

5:11 Can one expose works of darkness without shining light on them?  I am thinking of Christian muckrakers, whistleblowers, and gadflies.  Something about old fashioned photography with film helps me appreciate this verse more than does digital photography.

5:12-13 What secret things do you think Paul has in mind?  Is 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. There is something to be said about transparency in all things.

5:14 What is the author of Ephesians quoting here?

9:1-41 This is one really loonnngggg Reading?  Are you going to shorten it?  I think I will use only verses 1-12. 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 teasing 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 Cartesian mind/body split in John.  Both the spiritual and the physical seem to exist in the same sphere but operate on different plains of awareness.

9:2 What is wrong with this question?

9:3 What is wrong with this answer?

9:4 Who are the “We”? What night is coming?

9:5 What is Jesus when he is not in the world?

9:6-7 Why spit on the ground and make mud and put it on the man’s eyes? Why was the man not healed until after he went and washed?

9:8 Why was he not identified as a beggar before now?

9:9 “I am the man” sounds a lot like one of the “I am” sayings of Jesus in John’s Gospel.  Might this be intentional?

9:10 This is a legitimate question.

9:11 Is there any significance to the construction “the man called Jesus”?

9:12 How could this man knot know where Jesus is?  What might John be suggesting in this verse?

9:13 Who brought the man to the Pharisees and why?

9:14 Oh no!  Not the Sabbath?  Surely there must be a law against spitting or making mud on the Sabbath!

9;15 Why is this man being questioned?

9:16 Imagine that, religious authorities having a divided opinion!  Let’s put it to a vote, after all, the majority is always right.  Or can councils sometimes ere?

9:17 A radical proposal - let the one whose life was changed have the final word. Do prophets usually heal?

9:18 I think skepticism is a good thing.

9:19 Can the parents legitimately answer the last question.  Read this verse in juxtaposition with the question asked in 9:2.

9:19-21 What does it mean that “he was of age”?  Are the man’s parents passing the buck?

9:22-23 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”?  The man had previously, in 9:17, proclaimed that Jesus was a prophet.  Did the man parents think that Jesus was the Messiah but were afraid to say so?

9:24 The Pharisees knew Jesus was a sinner. What do we know?

9:25 This man seems to be choosing his words carefully.

9:26 Has the answer not already been established?

9:27 Is this sarcasm or acerbic wit?  I think the Pharisees doth protest too much.

9:28 Is this the only reference in Scripture to “disciples of Moses”? Was the man really a disciple of Jesus?

9:29 But we know where he has come from, don’t we?

9:30-33 An astonishing application of logic and astonishing testimony from who is turning out to be an astonishing man.

9:32 Is this a true statement?

9:33 Perhaps this is the key verse!

9:34 The typical response to questioning and challenging personal and institutional authority. Why the plural “sins” rather than the singular “sin”?

9:35 After thirty-four verses of narrative, “Son of Man” terminology is raised.  Why the change?  Here is the progression as I see it:
            9:1 Rabbi
            9:17 Prophet
            9:22 The Messiah
            9:33 Man from God
            9:35 Son of Man

9:36 How many people in the pew will also ask questions about “son of man” terminology?

9:37 Is this the first time in John that Jesus has identified himself as “the son of man”?

9:38 And another step in the progression listed in the comments for 9:35, now we have “Lord” and a statement of, not blind, but seeing faith.

9:39 Where do we find ourselves in this verse.  Where does the institutional church usually, or sometimes, find itself?

9:40 And the answer to this question is?

9:41 Does spiritual blindness excuse sin?  Perhaps there is something to be said for spiritual blindness. Perhaps spiritual blindness absolves one of responsibility.  Being spiritually illuminated brings with it spiritual responsibility.

ADDENDUM
I am now approved and available for pulpit supply and other work within the bounds of Upper Ohio Valley Presbytery.  Send an email to harrisjohnedward@gmail.com to inquire about dates.  

Monday, March 17, 2014

Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 for Sunday, March 23, 2014, the Third 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.

17:1 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).  What does it mean to journey by stages? 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.

17:2 I empathize with both Moses and the people.  Why did the people look toward Moses for water rather than finding it themselves? What does it mean to “test the LORD” and why is quarreling with Moses apparently equated with testing the LORD?

17:3 This seems like a valid complaint.  Sometimes a known discomfort is preferable to the unknown.

17:4 Why does Moses ask for advice about what to do with the people rather than asking for water or help finding water?

17:5 Not all church leaders are blessed with such a staff, or any staff for that matter.  I am envious of Moses.

17:6 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? I wonder what the elders thought and how they felt as they witnessed this.

17:7 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.  Does the name of your church suggest its character?

95:1 Is it too obvious to see a connection between this Psalm’s “the rock of our salvation” and the Frist Reading’s “rock at Horeb”?

95:1-2 This sounds like a call to worship.

95:3 Who, or what, are these other “gods”?

95:4-5 Depths, heights, sea and land: what else is there?

95:6-7 Here is another possible Call to Worship.  Why do most mainline Protestants hardly ever bow down and kneel? Are our knees too old and arthritic?  Do the last two lines mix metaphors? Note that 7b more properly belongs to verse 8 rather than verse 7.

95:7b-8 What does the voice of God sound like? This verse obviously points back to the First reading, which argues for an intentional linguistic and theological connection using the word “rock” in 95:1.  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.

95:9-11 Based on these verse, why might so many churches be struggling with declining membership and declining financial resources?

95:11 What, or where, is God’s “rest”?

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

5:2-3 Where is all this “boasting” coming from?  See also verse 11.

5:3-5 sufferings . . . endurance . . . character . . .  hope.  This argument reminds me of the concept of disciplined training in the sense of “no pain, no gain.”  Is the Holy Spirit to be equated with God’s love?

5:6 Who are the ungodly and what does it mean that Christ died for them (or us)?

5:7 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.

5:8 Following Paul’s argument, how did Christ’s death prove God’s love for us? Does this statement assume we are the “ungodly” of verse 6?  What is the connection, if any, between the “still weak” of 5:6 and “still were sinners” of this verse?

5:9 It seems to follow from Paul’s argument that we are already justified but not yet saved from the wrath of God.

5:10 Smilarly, it seems that we are already reconciled but not yet saved.

5:11 What does Paul feel a need to boast?  What is the difference between boasting and bragging?

4:5-42 This Reading is longer than most Gospel readings and I am considering shortening it by ending it at with verse 15.  Will you read it all or truncate it??

4:5 Is there anything significant about the setting?  What do you know about Sychar?

4:6 What once happened at Jacob’s well? Is there anything significant about the time? Note that in last week’s Gospel reading, and just prior to this in the Gospel, Nicodemus 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 might John be trying to communicate by this juxtaposition?

4:7 Can we consider this John’s version of the Parable of the Good Samaritan?  What is more significant, that it was a Samaritan, or that it was a woman?

4:8 Is this a throw away verse?

4:9 I think this is an understandable question, but does not the Samaritan woman violate some norms by asking it?

4:10 What, or who, is the gift of God? What is living water?

4:11 What purpose does this verse serve?

4:12 Is this a rhetorical question?

4:13-14 Even though it appears that Jesus does not answer the questions posed of him, this might be 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.

4:15 Did the Samaritan woman really understand what was being offered to her?

4:16-26 What do these verses add to the story?  Could we not stop reading at the end of verse 15 and still get the point?

4:16 Why would Jesus want her to call her husband?

4:17 Is this any more than an example of semantics and word games?

4:18 How would Jesus know this and what does it matter how many husbands she has had of who she is now living with?

4:19 What does the woman mean by “prophet”?

4:20 What is the woman talking about?

4:21 What hour might that be?

4:22 I think this sounds a little judgemental.

4:23 What does Jesus mean when he says “the hour is coming”?  What does it mean to worship “in spirit and truth”?  If one does not worship in spirit and truth, then how is one worshiping?

4:24 God is indeed spirit.  Later we will lean that Jesus is the truth.

4:25 How would a Samaritan know and believe this?

4:26 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?

4:27 Why were the disciples astonished that Jesus was speaking with a woman.

4:28 Did the woman leave her water jar on purpose?  Why?

4:29 Can we categorize the woman’s speech as a witness?  Evangelism?  Preaching?

4:30 Did you know that early Christians were sometimes referred to as “followers of the way”? 

4:31-34 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?

4:32 What food did Jesus have that the disciples did not know?

4:33 So often it seems that the disciples simply do not get it.  They think too literally and concretely.

4:34 What does Jesus mean?

4:35-38 These verses sound a bit apocalyptic.  What does it mean to enter into another person’s labor? Who is the sower and who is the reaper?

4:39 So the woman was a witness and evangelist! They believev because of her testimony, not because of what they say Jesus do or heard him say.

4:40 Why do you suppose Jesus stayed, depending on your perspective, as long as two days, or as little as two days? Is there any significance to the number two?  Where do you think he stayed?  Do you think the disciples also stayed?

4:41 so some did believe because of his word and not just what the woman’s testimony.  What was Jesus word?

4:42 Is this not what all teachers and preachers long to hear?  What is the difference between secondary and primary faith, and a primary and secondary witness?

Monday, March 10, 2014

Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 for Sunday, March 16, 2014, the Second 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.


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

12:1 How do you think the LORD said this, in a dream, a vision, or what?  Note the spelling of the name “Abram”.  This reads like an archetypal call narrative.  Where was Abram’s country?  Who were Abram’s kindred?

12:2 In retrospect, it seems the LORD delivered on these promises.

12:3 This verse, alone, ought to be enough to combat anti-Semitism.

12:4a Why did Abram take Lot with him?

121:1 I recall that 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 suggesting this verse is setting up a comparison between the local mountain deities, which do not provide help, and the LORD, which does.  When such diverse interpretations present themselves, how do we decide?  With the following Monday being Saint Patrick’s Day, you may want to consider this psalm in conversation with the Legend of Patrick lighting the Easter fire on the “hill” Slane.

121:2 Regardless of which interpretation you follow, this assertion still follows. Must one be a “creationist” to think of the LORD as making heaven and earth?

121:3 What does it mean that our foot will not be moved?  What difference does it make if the LORD slumbers or not?

121:4 Is there any difference between “slumber” and “sleep”, or this simply an example of Hebrew poetic construction?  Does “Israel” refer to a people, a nation, or both?

121:5 What does it mean for the LORD to be a “keeper” and  “Shade”? Why is the shade on the Right hand and not the left?

121:6 I love this verse, but while I can recall some hot summer days when it seemed like the sun was striking me, and I have been sunburned more than once, I cannot recall the moon ever striking me or burning me.

121:7 Now here is a verse I can treasure!

121:8 What is the “going out” and the “coming in” being referred to and does it make any difference that they appear in this order?

Second Reading - Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
4:1 I see an obvious connection to the First Reading, but it would seem that Christians of non-Jewish background cannot claim Abraham as our ancestor, according to the flesh, as Paul did.

4:2 Why does Paul use “if”?  Was Abraham justified by works or not?

4:3 Where does Scripture say this?

4:4 Except in the church!

4:5 I like that trust is connected with faith, a theme emphasized in the PC(USA) A Brief Statement of Faith.

4:13 Is Paul engaging in exegesis, Midrash, or eisegesis?  What law was there for Abraham since Moses had not received it?

4:14 Could one not argue for trust and faith in the law?

4:15 How does the law bring wrath?

4:16 What is “it”?  Faith is connected with grace, and with grace there is a guaranty.

4:17 Following Paul’s theological reasoning, perhaps we should be considered “Abrahamians” rather than “Christians”.

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? What do you know about Pharisees?  Is there any symbolism or significance associated with the name “Nicodemus”?

3:2 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? What ‘signs” was Nic referring to?

3:3 “Very truly, I tell you” seems to be a formulaic introduction to teachings in John.

Does being “born from above” give one a bird’s eye, or angel’s eye view?

3:4 Nic is confusing obstetrics and gynecology with theology, stuck in a literal rather than metaphorical understanding.  What do you know about “rebirth therapy” and “rebirthing”?

3:5 See my comments for 3:3. Jesus not connects water with spirit but both water and spirit with “birth from above”.

3:6 Is Jesus, or John, introducing a dualism from another source?

3:7 What does it mean to be astonished?

3:8 What is Jesus comparing everyone born of the spirit to: the wind, our the hearing of the wind, or our not knowing where it comes from and where it goes? Modern weather measurements and forecasting does indeed allow us to know where the wind comes from and where it goes.

3:9 Thanks, Nic, for asking the question we have all been wanting to ask.

3:10 Touché!  Must religious and spiritual leaders always have all the answers?

3:11 See 3:3. 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?  Is this a singular or a plural “you”?

3:12 is the earthly/heavenly duality the same thing as the flesh/spirit duality?

3:13 Does this verse reflect a post ascension perspective?  How will people in the pew hear and understand “Son of Man”?

3:14-15 Here is a passage worth exploring from a Jungian perspective. Consider the rod of Asclepius.  Be sure to read the Hebrew scripture alluded to. One could preach a whole sermon just on these two verses.

3:16 What could I say that has not already been said?

3:17 I wish some hell, fire, and damnation preachers who often use Scripture to beat people down would remember this verse.

ADDENDUM

I have not been preaching very regularly, but this coming Sunday I will be preaching at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 508 Indiana Avenue, Chester, WV 26034, at the 11 AM Service.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Power of a Time Tested, Traditional Liturgy: Notes From Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday was almost as late as it could be in the calendar this year because Easter is also almost as late as it can be.  Even though spring was barely two weeks away, yesterday afternoon, when I looked out the window as I was preparing to leave the house for the Ash Wednesday service, I could see snow flurries gently falling from the sky.  I thought ashes and snow should not be included in the same sentence let alone occur on the same day.

This year’s Ash Wednesday was the first in nearly thirty years that I was not serving a church as a Pastor and the first in several years that I was not responsible for all or part of the Ash Wednesday service.  Not even the church I have been attending was marking the day with a service so I worshipped in a church of a different denomination but one I was not unfamiliar with.  I have even preached and co-lead worship in another congregation of the same denomination, but that was over six years ago.

It felt both odd and refreshing to be sitting in the pews rather than standing behind the pulpit or presiding at the table and to not know anyone attending the service.  I find it difficult not to be critical when I am a worshiper rather than a worship leader and yesterday was no exception.  The priest fumbled the liturgy a bit, but so have I, and he recovered well.  I thought the sermon was a little lacking, the preacher trying to pack too much into it, but he proclaimed the Word nevertheless.

I lean toward high church but high church done in a relaxed and folksy manner.  Yesterday’s Ash Wednesday service came close to that.  Among the twenty some in the sanctuary I saw some dressed in suits and ties and others in blue jeans and T- shirts.  The priest and acolytes were robed and the appropriate liturgical color was used.  While candles were burning there were no smells or bells but we knelt for prayer and stood for the Gospel. Worshipers seemed relaxed rather than stilted.  The priest moved naturally and seemed comfortable with the liturgy.
Yesterday was the first time in several months that I have heard all four lectionary readings included in the worship and I have missed them.  After a sermon which seemed to touch on all four readings, worshipers were invited to the rail where they received the imposition of ashes, the sign of the cross being traced on their forehead with the ash left from burning last year’s Palm Sunday palms, reminding me that from dust I came and to dust I shall return. 

Hearing and participating with worshippers as the Priest led them in the Sursum Corda lifted my heart and spirit.  Walking to and kneeling at the rail to receive the Eucharist engaged my body in a way it has not been engaged in worship in a long time.  Drinking real wine from a common cup warmed my throat and faith.

Yesterday was only the second time in months that I have received the Eucharist. It was the first time in recent memory I drank from a common cup containing real wine.  I prefer frequent celebration of the Eucharist and, if I had my way, I would offer wine as well as unfermented grape juice in the cup, but as a worship leader I do not always get my way.
I have missed what I experienced yesterday.  I do not necessarily need to worship in a high church liturgical setting every Sunday and might grow tired of it if I did, but once in a while I need it. Once in a while I need the power of a time tested, traditional liturgy to carry the Gospel rather than relying on the hymns, sermon, or prayers  employing contemporary language but void of biblical imagery.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 for Sunday, March 9, 2014, the First 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.


FOR AN UPDATED AND REVISED VERSION, GO TO THIS LINK

2:15 Does the fact that this verse places us within the second account of creation affect how to interpret this verse? What is different about the LORD God of the second account of creation compared to the God of the first account of creation? Is “man” the best translation of the Hebrew?

2:15-17 What is so special about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?  Was it poisonous?  Please note that there is no mention of what sort of fruit tree this was.  It was not necessarily an apple tree. What are the possible meanings/interpretations of “death”?

3:1 Note that the antagonist is a “serpent” but not necessarily a snake. Had the LORD God made the serpent?  Is the serpent playing word games, or what?

3:2-3 The woman seems to offer an honest defense, although she seems to recount God saying more than we were originally told.  Did God actually say all this, or has the woman embellished the original admonition?

3:4 Depending on what “death” means, it seems that the serpent can be judged truthful.  On the one hand, the man and the women will eventually die a biological death, but not immediately.  On the other hand, I think it can be argued that the man and woman are about to die a spiritual death.

3: 5 So, knowing good and evil makes one like God?  Is this why the woman eats of the tree, to be like God? Or does she eat of the tree simply to know good and evil?

3:6  It seems wisdom is associated with knowing good and evil.  The amateur philosopher in me is beginning to squirm.  How can we relate this story to Plato’s analogy of the cave?

3:7 The metaphor of “open eyes” representing knowledge seems more Indo-European than Semitic, yet this second account of creation almost certainly comes to us from the Semitic oral tradition.  I find it interesting that in the New Testament “their eyes were opened” is what the disciples experienced on the way to Emmaus as Jesus explained to them all that had happened. For those who appreciate a little risqué Biblical humor, here is a joke I learned from one of my college Religion Professors.  Q: If Eve wore a fig leaf, what did Adam wear? A: (go to the Addendum of Lectionary Ruminations for the Answer)

2:15-17, 3:1-7 Is this the best text to introduce Lent?  How much of our interpretation of this text is influenced by Augustine’s doctrine of original sin? Consider Matthew Fox’s Original Blessing for a different perspective on this text.

32:1 This may be an appropriate Psalm if one reads the Genesis account within the framework of original sin, but what if one does not?  In light of this verse, I wonder iof the man and woman of the Genesis Reading sew fig leaves together and make loincloths primarily to cover their genitals or to cover their sin? What does it mean that “sin is covered”?

32:2 I read no deceit in either the man or the woman of the Genesis Reading. Did you?

32:3 How can someone “keep silence” while at the same time “groaning”?

32:4 What does God’s heavy hand feel like?  What do you and your congregation do with the “selah”?  Do you ignore it, read it, or interpret it musically?

32:5 Confession is good for the soul as well as the psyche.  Does God forgive the guilt of our sin without forgiving the sin? What is worse, sinning, or trying to cover up our sin?  Why am I thinking of President Nixon and the Watergate scandal?

32:6 How does the “therefore” leading to an admonition follow from an individual’s experience? What does the rush of mighty waters represent or symbolize?

32:7 What does it mean that God is a “hiding” place?  Are there some theological gymnastics going on as hiding one’s sin is replaced by hiding in God?

32:8 Who will do the instructing here? Who will be doing the watching?

32:9 How do we read this and the previous verse in light of the Genesis reading? In other words, “don’t be an ass”?

32:10 From you experience, does it ring true that the wicked are tormented?  Does being surrounded by steadfast love prevent one from being tormented?

32:11 I hear a Call to Worship in this verse.

5:12 It does not seem right to begin a Reading with “Therefore”.  We are not given the premise of the argument.  What was it that Paul was saying?  Is Paul speaking literally, figuratively, or in a mythical sense?  If death spread to all because of sin, then did sin spread like a virus?  Viral infection offers a different image than sin being passed on through procreation. 

5:13 If we had no law, we would not be aware of our sin?

5:14 What does it mean that death “exercised dominion”?  Portraying Adam as “a type of the one who was to come” is a significant theological move.  Why does Paul play it? You may want to consider Karl Barth’s  Christ and Adam: Man and Humanity in Romans 5

5:15 How is the free gift not like the trespass?  What is the “free gift”?

5:16 Is it worth exploring the juxtaposition of trespass/condemnation and free gift/justification?

5:17 It sounds as if now, people exercise dominion if life, whereas before, death exercised dominion.

5:18 Here is another “therefore” but at least this time we know what came before it. Is this “act of righteousness” the same as the “free gift” in 5:16?

5:19 Note the verb tenses. 

5:12-19 What does it mean to think of and talk about Jesus as “the second Adam”? Would Paul have altered his argument if he had understood modern biology and DNA?

4:1 I cannot help but read this account and its parallels without thinking of Martin Scorsese’s 1988 controversial film adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis’ 1960 novel The Last Temptation of Christ.  I have not yet seen the new Jesus movie to know how it handles this account.  Why would the Spirit lead Jesus into the wilderness?  What does the wilderness represent? You may also want to explore this passages theological connection with The Desert Fathers and Contemplative Prayer.

4:2 What does the forty days and forty nights remind you of? Why would Jesus fast?  What do you and your congregation know about fasting?

4:3 What do you make of the fact that “the devil” and “the tempter” are apparently used interchangeably? What is the temptation here?  Might the tempter be attempting to sow seeds of doubt?

4:4 What do you make of the fact that Jesus responds by quoting Scripture?

4:5 Was this a literal “taking”?

4:6 What warning is there in the fact that the devil could correctly quote Holy Scripture? What is the nature of this temptation?

4:7 Is there more going on here than proof-texting?  Are Jesus and the devil lobbing Scripture texts like hand grenades? How do we test God?  Why am I thinking of Exodus 17:7?

4:8 A week after the Transfiguration of the Lord, I might be hearing this verse a little differently then I would on any other Sunday. Why can we not take this literally?

4:9 What is the nature of this temptation?

4:10 First it was the devil, then it was the tempter, now it is Satan.  Should we read “Satan” as a name or a title?

4:11 Here comes the reinforcements, even if a little late.  What does it mean that the angels came and “waited” on Jesus.

4:1-11 Do we read this passage as a description of real events in time and space or the description of a spiritual wrestling within Jesus?

ADDENDUM
Q: If Eve wore a fig leaf, what did Adam wear?
A:  A hole in it.