Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 for Sunday, May 4, 2014, the Third Sunday of Easter (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.

2:14a You might recall that this verse was also part of last week’s Reading. Do you remember whom Peter is addressing?
2:36 I hate it when a reading begin with a “therefore” because we do not hear the previous reasoning. Why does Peter refer to Jesus as “both” Lord and Messiah?  According to Peter, who crucified Jesus?
2:37 What does it mean and feel like to be “cut to the heart”?  When was the last time you were “cut to the heart” and what precipitated it?  Is there any significance to the fact that the crowd addresses Peter and the other apostles as “brothers”?
2:38 How do we reconcile the Trinitarian baptismal formula with Peter’s admonition to be “baptized in the name of Jesus Christ”?  How does this verse address those who argue that one must receive the Holy Spirit before being baptized?
2:39 What is the “promise” Peter refers to? In this context, we might know who “you” and “your children” are, but who are those “who are far away”?
2:40 I would love to hear all those “many other arguments”. How do you understand “argument”?
2:41 Is there any significance to the number three thousand?

116:1 Must one have a reason to love the LORD? What does the Psalmist mean by voice?
116:2 Would the Psalmist still have prayed if the Lord had not inclined an ear?
116:3 What are pangs? What is Sheol?
116:4 This is perhaps the shortest prayer in Scripture, sort of a fox hole prayer.
116:12 This is a good question to ask when talking and thinking about stewardship.
116:13 What is the cup of salvation? How might this verse influence our understanding of the Eucharist and vice versa? How does one call on the name of the LORD when the LORD’s name is never pronounced?
116:14 What does it mean to pay vows? What is a vow? Why pay them in the presence of the Lord’s people rather than privately?
116:15 In what sense is death ever precious?  What about the death of those not faithful?
116:16 Note that the Psalm transitions from narration to direct address.  Who or what is a serving girl? What bonds have been loosed?
116:17 What is a thanksgiving sacrifice?
116:18 see verse 13.  Might this Psalm be a liturgical form?
116:19 What and where are the courts of the house of the LORD?

1:17 This sounds a lot more polished than what we heard from Peter in the First Reading.  Is this an argument for works righteousness?  What is reverent fear? What exile is Peter referring to?
1:18 Is there any other way to read this verse other than through the lenses of a ransom theory of the atonement?
1:19 Is there any other way to read this verse other than through the lenses of a theory of blood atonement?  Must a ransom theory and blood theory go hand in hand?
1:20 This sounds like Peter is talking about a preexistent Christ. Might Presbyterians identify this as a passage that argues for predestination?
1:21 Is this Theocentric rather than Christocentric?
1:22 How does obedience purify?  Does this suggest a works righteousness?
1:23 The being “born anew” sounds like John’s being “born from above”, but what is this “not of perishable but of imperishable seed”?

24:13 What day is it? Is there any significance to the fact that Emmaus was seven miles from Jerusalem?  What do you know about Emmaus? Who are “them” and why are they not named?
24:14 What things had happened?
24:15 I wonder from what direction Jesus approached them.
24:16 How can one’s eyes be kept from recognizing Jesus? Have you ever not recognized someone you knew intimately?
24:17 Was this a rhetorical question?  Why did Jesus ask it?
24:18 Do we know anything else about Cleopas?  Is this question the height of irony, or what?
24:19 Is this another rhetorical question?  To refer to Jesus as a “prophet” is pretty low Christology and not much of a statement of faith.
24:20 Who crucified Jesus? Do they no longer hope this?  Has all hope been lost?
24:21 Notice the past tense.
24:22 Why are these “Some Women” not named?  What does it mean to be astounded?  When was the last time you were astounded and what astounded you?
24:23 Is there a difference between “seeing angels” and “seeing a vision of angels”?
24:24 Who are “those who were with us”?  Who are “us”?
24:25 Now the truth comes out.  How often have you wanted to preach something similar? What does it mean to be slow of heart?
24:26 Is this yet another rhetorical question?
24:27 We have the law and the prophets but no writings. Why no writings?  I wonder how long this interpretation took.
24:28 It sounds as though the two were either stopping or that Jesus started walking faster than they were walking.  Sometimes it seems like the church is still trying to catch up with Christ.
24:29 What does the time of day have to do with anything? This “stay with us” reminds me, in some sense, of the Transfiguration account. What were they staying in?
24:30 Déjà vu: Where have we heard this before?
24:30-31 I think these verses offers one of the best arguments for frequent—even every Sunday—celebration of the Eucharist.  Why did Jesus vanish from their sight as soon as they recognized him?
24:31 Read this in light of verse 16.
24:32 Is there any relation between the opening of the scriptures and the opening of the eyes? What does a burning heart feel like?  Has your heart ever burned and why?
24:33 Is “hour” perhaps more than a simple reference to the chronological time of day?  So these two are not numbered among the eleven. Who are their companions?
24:34 Who was saying this? Where and when did the Lord appear to Simon?  Did the Lord appear to no one else?
24:35 Does this offer new or additional meaning to the Eucharistic remembering?

Monday, April 28, 2014

What Difference Does a Tent Make?

Sometimes when I camp I place a small thermometer outside the tent.  I was camping this past weekend in tall, thin trees on a ridge at 2,500 feet.  When I turned in for the night it was raining and somewhat windy. I placed a thermometer on the ground outside the tent but under the rainfly.  Around 9:45 PM It read 48 degrees Fahrenheit.

The rain moved out, the sky cleared, the breeze died down, and the temperature dropped overnight. After waking up near 5:30 AM I unzipped the tent’s door, reached out, and brought in the thermometer.  I read 38 degrees Fahrenheit. As I was reading the thermometer the mercury started rising until it topped out at 45 degrees.  I repeated the procedure a few minutes later with the same result, a difference of seven degrees between in the tent and outside the tent.


I was using my new sleeping system, solo, in an eight year old Kelty Quartz, a 2 person, four season tent, on top of a footprint, rainfly securely staked down, with all the doors and vents closed but no other heat source other than body.  I speculate that if another person had been in the tent with me that the temperature difference might have been greater.  I also speculate that if I had been using my Sierra Designs Ultra Flash 2 person, lightweight, three season tent, which has netting all around it with no way to close it off that there would not have been as much, if any, temperature difference

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Statement of Faith

      In the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), when Candidates are examined for ordination as Teaching Elders (Ministers) and when Teaching Elders (Ministers) are examined for transfer from one presbytery (Council / Regional Governing Body) to another, they are usually required to present a written Statement of Faith.  I recently presented the Statement of Faith below as I was seeking to transfer from one presbytery to another.  My self-imposed restrictions were to keep it to one page with twelve point type and one inch margins.



STATEMENT OF FAITH

     I trust in Jesus Christ my Savior, acknowledge him Lord of all and Head of the Church, and through him believe in one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

     I accept the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be, by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the Church universal, and God's Word to me. My favorite Scriptures are the Psalms and the Gospel According to John.

     I sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads me to believe and do, and I vow to be instructed and led by those confessions as I lead the people of God. My favorite confession is A Brief Statement of Faith.

     I affirm the faith of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, recognizing the canon of Scriptures and the Nicene and Apostles' Creeds with their definitions of the mystery of the triune God and of the incarnation of the eternal Word of God in Christ Jesus. I baptize "in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost" but recognize that "the church shall strive in its worship to use language about God which is intentionally as diverse and varied as the Bible and our theological traditions." The Celtic Christian tradition’s earthy and everyday emphasis on the Trinity and the Eastern Orthodox tradition’s concept of perichoresis has helped me better understand, appreciate, and experience the mystery of the triune God. 

     I affirm the tradition of the Protestant Reformation, including the rediscovery of God's grace in Jesus Christ as revealed in the Scriptures, and the Protestant watchwords—grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone. I resonate with Calvin's definition of faith as "a firm and certain knowledge of God's benevolences toward us, both sealed upon our hearts and revealed to our minds by the work of the Holy Spirit" but fear we Presbyterians too often emphasize the intellectual dimension of faith while neglecting the affectonal and experiential dimension, including contemplative prayer and mysticism.

     I affirm the Reformed tradition, including the majesty, holiness, and providence of God, who creates, sustains, rules, and redeems the world in the freedom of sovereign righteousness and love. I also affirm the great themes of the Reformed tradition related to the central affirmation of God's sovereignty such as the election of the people of God for service as well as for salvation; covenant life marked by a disciplined concern for order in the church according to the Word of God, a faithful stewardship that shuns ostentation and seeks proper use of the gifts of God's creation including the enjoyment of God's good gifts, and the recognition of the human tendency to idolatry and tyranny, which calls the people of God to work for the transformation of society by seeking justice and living in obedience to the Word of God.

    I affirm the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as means of grace. Baptism is the sign and seal of our incorporation into Christ. The Lord’s Supper is the sign and seal of our eating and drinking in communion with the crucified and risen Lord who is spiritually and mystically present.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 for Sunday, April 27, 2014, the Second Sunday of Easter (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.

2:14a Whom is Peter addressing?
2:22 Are “deeds of power”, “wonders” and “signs” synonyms?
2:23 This does not sound like the same Peter portrayed in the Gospels.  “Definite plan and foreknowledge” sounds a little like predestination.  Who were outside the law?
2:24 Death might not have been able to hold Jesus indefinitely but apparently it had him for awhile, otherwise he could not have been freed.
2:25-28 Where does David say this?  Was David really talking about Jesus? How would you grade Peter’s interpretation of David’s words?
2:29 What argument is Peter making?
2:30 And God did this in the person of Solomon.
2:31 see my comments for 2:25-28.
2:32 Is Peter trying to show that the resurrection of Jesus fulfills prophecy or that the Scriptures foretold his resurrection?  What is the difference and does it matter?

16:1 How might the contemporary National Wildlife Refuge system help us understand this passage?
16:2 As you read this passage watch for the transitions between direct address and narrative. Why does the Psalmist seem to alternate between direct address to God and speaking of God in the third person?
16:3 Who are “the holy ones in the land”?
16:4 Whom is the Psalmist referring to?
16:5 What is a chosen portion?  Cup? Chosen portion?
16:6 I find this an interesting verse in light of the recent political history of the Middle East, especially regarding borders.
16:7 How does the heart instruct during the night?  Might this be a reference to dreams?
16:8 I find this to be an interesting verse.  Reference is usually made to the LORD’s right hand.  This verse almost make the LORD sound like an talisman.
16:9 With heart, soul, and body, is there more going on here than typical Hebrew poetry?
16:10 What is the “Pit” being referred to and why is it capitalized in the NRSV?
16:11 What is the path of life?  Compare the last line to 16:8.

1:3 New birth through resurrection from the dead!
1:4 Is this “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” inheritance being implicitly compared to any other inheritance?
1:5 What does this verse say about Peter’s eschatology?
1:6 What trials might Peter be referring to?
1:8 Is this verse evidence that Peter is writing to perhaps second generation or later Christians?
1:9 Should we make anything of the tense of “are receiving”?

20:19 This reading might be for the First Sunday After Easter, but the narrative is from the events of Easter day.   What is the significance of Jesus’ words “Peace be with you.”?
20:20 Did the disciples not recognize Jesus until after he showed them his wounds?
20:21 Why might Jesus have repeated what he said? How did the Father send Jesus?
20:22 Did the disciples receive the Holy Spirit?  If so, was it Jesus words or his breathing on them, or both, that allowed them to receive it?
20:23 To whom was Jesus speaking? How shall we Protestants deal with this verse?
20:24 Why was Thomas called the Twin? Why might Thomas have not have been there?  Where might he have been?
20:25 Would Thomas have said this if it were not for what is described in verse 20? In this Gospel’s scheme of things, whom might Thomas represent?
20:26 Now we are dealing with events on the same schedules as we are, a week after Easter.  Did the disciples make it a habit to gather in the same place on a weekly basis?  This time the doors are shut but not necessarily locked.  How many times have we now heard “Peace be with you.”?
20:27 Jesus invites Thomas to touch his wounds, but does Thomas do so?  Was seeing the wounds, and being invited to touch them, enough to ignite Thomas’ belief?
20:28 Can we categorize Thomas’s reaction as a statement of faith?
20:29 Whom is this verse referring to when it speaks of “those who have not seen and yet come to believe”?
20:30 I wonder what “other signs” are being thought of.  I think there is a novel or two waiting to be inspired by this verse.  Perhaps Dan Brown will take up the challenge, writing “The Other Signs of Jesus”. I find it interesting that this Gospel refers to itself as a “book”.
20:31 Who is the “you” being addressed?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Gear Review: Marmot Cloudbreak 30, Sea to Summit Thermolite REACTOP, Therma-a-Rest SOlite

Most gear reviews address only one item even though most items are not used in isolation but in combination with other items that might affect how they perform.  In this review I will evaluate my new backpacking sleeping system consisting of Regular Length Marmot Cleadbreak 30,  a  Sea to Summit Thermolite REACTOP sleeping bag liner, and a small (20 x 48) Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest SOlite sleeping pad. All were recently purchased from REI.

I purchased the regular length Marmot Cloudbreak 30, rated to 30 degrees Fahrenheit and weighing less than two pounds, after comparing it to three other similarly priced and designed bags, even climbing into all four and zipping them up around me.  I bought it to use when backpacking in wet weather, coastal kayaking, and sleeping aboard a sail boat, all situations where my old three-season down bag might get wet and loose its ability to insulate. After two consecutive nights in temperatures down to 30 degrees Fahrenheit, including rain, sleet, and snow, the second night, I found that the Cloudbreak 30 kept me warm enough if I used the bag liner and dressed properly.

The first night out the temperature dropped to about 45.  I wore Patagonia Capilene long underwear inside the liner bag but no socks and I had not eaten anything for three or four hours.  I awoke during the night with cold feet and a few other cold spots.  The second time the temperature dropped to 30 with rain that turned to sleet that turned to snow.  I wore the same Patagonia Capilene long underwear inside the liner bag but added clean, dry, wool socks and ate some carbs before turning in.  Even though the temperature was 15 degrees cold that the night before I slept warmer and never felt any cold spots.
The Cloudbreak 30’s regular length and roomy foot gave my toes plenty of room to wiggle, especially when they felt cold the first night, and left enough space for a poly bottle or even a stuff bag of boots if need be.  The girth felt a little constructing around my upper arms but no more than my old down bag.  As others have noted, the zipper can easily snag, and did a couple of times. Marmot should probably replace it with a larger tooth zipper.

I have never before used a sleeping back liner but I wanted one for three reasons, first, to help keep my new Cloudbreak 30 clean, second, to add extra degrees of warmth, and third, to serve as a summer weight bag when the Cloudbreak 30 is too warm.  The Sea to Summit Thermolite REACTOP sleeping bag liner,  weighing a mere 9 oz, is advertised to increase warmth by 14 degrees Fahrenheit, hypothetically allowing me to use  my  Cloudbreak down to 16 degrees Fahrenheit if I need to while also serving as a standalone warm weather bag. The REACTOP fulfilled my first two desires during my recent trip.  While the temperature did not drop below 30, I slept so warmly when it did that I can imagine being nearly as comfortable at  16 if I dress properly and keep myself fueled. I am still waiting for a summer night to see if the REACTOP will fulfill my third desire.
I used to use a full length inflatable Therm-a-Rest pad but recently misplaced it. Wanting to move toward more lightweight backpacking,  I replaced it with the small (20 x 48) Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest SOlite sleeping pad which weighs a mere 9 oz, far less than my misplaced Therm-a-Rest, although the SOlite takes up more space than the inflatable Therm-a-rest when rolled up. I may have felt a few more irregularities underneath my new SOlite compared to my old inflatable but too many.  I did not miss the old inflatable’s extra length but I did miss its ability to lay flat when inflated.  The SOlightt wanted to curl and partially roll up if my bag was not lying on top of it.  As a side benefit, the SOlight aluminized surface, advertised to reflect body heat back toward the body, could also serve in an emergency to help summon aid or identify location, something my misplaced inflatable would never have been able to do.  I also do not have to worry about the SOlight being stabbed by an errant branch or tent stake and losing its insulating ability or comfort.

Taken together, the above sleeping system weighs a little more than three pounds.
I recently used this sleeping system during a weekend in late March at over 4,000 feet.  As previously stated, the temperature the first night dropped to about 45.  It dropped to 30 the following night as rain first turned to sleet and then snow.  I woke up the second morning to about three inches of snow.

I used the new system in more than ten year old Sierra Designs Ultra Flash 2 person, lightweight, three season.  That is right, a three season tent!  Even though I was in a three season tent with netting all around, sleeping properly dressed and fueled inside a a REACTOP liner inside a Cloudbreak 30 on top of a short SOlite I slept toasty warm.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 for Sunday, April 20, 2014, the Resurrection of the Lord (Easter Day) (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.

PREFACE:
The Lectionary offers various alternate Readings.  The First Reading may be Acts 10:34-43 or Jeremiah 31:1-6.  The Second Reading may Colossians 3:1-4 or Acts 10:34:43.  If you choose to use the Acts passage for the First Reading, you would of course use the Colossians passage for the Second Reading.  If you choose the Jeremiah passage for the First Reading, you then have two passages to choose from for the Second Reading.  There are also two options for the Gospel.  Pick either John 20:1-18 or Matthew 28:1-10. 

10:34 What is the context of this passage? To whom is Peter speaking? What would it mean if God did show partiality?
10:35 What does “nation” refer to? What does it mean to “fear” God?
10:36-39 This reads like a brief synopsis of the life and ministry of Jesus.
10:38 Is not the Holy Spirit the same thing as power?
10:39 Why does Peter say Jesus was hung un a tree rather than a cross?
10:40 The Easter Proclamation!  How do you understand “allowed”?
10:41 What is the significance of eating and drinking with the resurrected Christ?
10:42 Who commanded “us”? What is the difference, if any, between preaching and testifying?
10:43 What “prophets” is Peter referring to?

31:1 At what time? How many families of Israel will there be “at that time”?
31:2 What sword and what wilderness?  Is this a reference to the Exodus or something else?
31:3 Who is “him”?  Who is “you”?
31:4-5 How is Israel virgin? Is something silently being contrasted here? Why all the “again”s?
31:6 What do you know about the hill country of Ephraim?  Sentinels usually watch for invaders.  Why would sentinels call for a pilgrimage to Jerusalem?

118:1-2 We have a call and response here that could easily be used or adapted as a Call to Worship.
118:14 How shall Christians read “salvation” in the Hebrew Scriptures?
118:15-16 Is the Psalmist quoting a glad song of victory? Does our congregational song usually sound like glad songs or funeral dirges?
118:17 What are the deeds of the LORD and how do we recount them?
118:18 What do you think was the nature of the Psalmist’s punishment? Can some punishments be worse than death?
118:19 What are, and where are, the gates of righteousness? Note that “gates” is plural, not singular!
118:20 I would love to know how you interpret this verse in light of verse 19. If there are many gates of the righteous, why is there only one gate of the LORD?
118:21 Note the shift from speaking of the LORD in the third person to speaking to the LORD in directr address.
118:22 Where and when will Christians hear this verse again?
118:23 What is the LORD’s doing? Why am I thinking of Billy Crystal?
118:24 What is the day the LORD has made?  How can we be glad in it? Like the first two verses, tis verse could be used or adapted as a Call to Worship, perhaps combined with 118:1-2, such as:

            One: O Give thanks to the LORD, for the LORD is good;
           All:  the LORD’s steadfast love endures forever!
           One: Let Israel say,
           All:  God’s steadfast love endures forever.
           One: This is the day that the LORD has made;
           All:  let us rejoice and be glad in it.
           One: Let us worship the LORD our God!

3:1 Why the “So”? Why an “if/then” statement even though the “then” is implicit? Is this raising a reference to baptism or the final resurrection?  What are the things that are above? 
3:2 Does it make any difference that the admonition refers to the mind rather than the heart? What does it mean to “Set your mind”? What things are above and what things are on the earth?
3:3 How have we died? What does it mean that your life is hidden?
3:4 I thought Christ has already been revealed in the life and ministry of Jesus.  Must this, by necessity, refer to the final resurrection at the end of the age?

See my ruminations for this passage above.

20:1 What is the first day of the week?  What does it mean that it was still dark?  How did Mary see that the stone had been removed from the tomb if was still dark?
20:2 Let’s speculate about the identity of the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved.  From the context, I think we can rule out Peter.  Whom might Mary have meant by “they”?  Why does Mary say, “we do not know”? If she was not alone, who was with her?
20:4 Poor Peter the slowpoke, slow to run, quick to speak. Maybe he was not a faster runner  because he was always sticking his foot in his mouth.
20:5 Why would he not go in?
20:6 Peter might be slow but he is not hesitant.
20:7 What is the significance to the wrapping from the head being folded and not with the other wrappings?  Why mention it if it is not significant?
20:8 I find it interesting that in reference to Peter, there is no mention of him believing.  In this passage, it is this “other disciple” that is the first to “believe”.
20:9 Based on this verse, what did the “other disciple” believe?  Did the disciple believe that Jesus had been raised, that the tomb was indeed empty, or that someone (they of verse 2) had taken the Lord out of the tomb?
20:10 This is a pretty anticlimactic verse.  I am glad the story does not end here.
20:11 Why did the disciples abandon Mary, leaving her all alone? Were they simply being typical men?  Why did Mary apparently not look into the tomb until the disciples had left?  Why did she have to bend over to look in?
20:12 How shall we moderns, or post-moderns, deal with angels when we encounter them in Scripture? Why had Peter and the other disciple not seen any Angels?
20:13 Did the angels speak in unison? Apparently Mary is still convinced that someone has taken and moved the body of Jesus.
20:14 How could, and why would, Mary not recognize Jesus?
20:15 Both Jesus and the Angels (in verse 13) address Mary in the same way and ask the same question, but Jesus asks even more than the angels asked.  Where else, when else, and who else has Jesus addressed as “Woman”?
20:16 After having first addressed her as “Woman”, Jesus now address Mary by name and she calls him “Rabbouni” rather than “gardener”.
20:17 Why would Jesus say this?  Was Mary attempting to grab hold of him or had she already done so? What do we make of Jesus’ talking about not yet having ascended?  What is the meaning of “brothers”?  Why “I am ascending” rather than “I will ascend”?
20:18 Does this make Mary the first post resurrection witness? Preacher? Evangelist? Perhaps, in recognition of the role played by Mary, the first words of any Easter liturgy ought to be spoken by a woman!

28:1 What is different in this account compared to John’s account?  How do we account for the differences?  Do the differences matter? Who was “the other Mary”?
28:2 I will repeat the same question as above.  Does the rolling away of the stone “cause” the earthquake?  Might the earthquake be symbolic of something else?
28:3 What do we usually associate lightning and snow with?
28:4 Are there any other occurrences in Scripture where an angel caused so much fear that people acted dead?
28:5 When and where else have we heard an angel say “Do not be afraid”?
28:6 Does seeing an empty tomb prove that Jesus was raised?
28:7 Why were the women not permitted to see the resurrected Jesus at the tomb?  Why did the disciples have to go to Galilee to see the resurrected Jesus?
28:8 How often in your experience has fear been accompanied by great joy?
28:9 Note that here, unlike John, the women are allowed to take hold of Jesus.  What is so special about “feet”? Had anyone in the Gospel, prior to this point, worshiped Jesus?
28:10 Note that this time it is Jesus, not an angel, who says “Do not be afraid”?  What are we afraid of when it comes to Easter, Jesus, and the resurrection?

ADDENDUM
Do not forget the multi-valiant character of John’s Gospel.  I think we may be tempted to become so engrossed by John’s description of the scene and dialogue of the first Easter that we may miss the deep structure.  John has been highly structured and symbolic throughout.  Why change at the resurrection account? I think John offers much more for preaching about the resurrection than Matthew.

For a short, non-lectionary based reflection on the resurrection with a scientific bent, check out my blog post “Easter 2014”.

Easter 2014

John M. Buchanan writes in the April 16, 2014 issue of The Christian Century that the canonical gospels not only provide us sparse accounts of the resurrection but what they do tell us they tell from different perspectives.  “It is almost as if they are telling us, like someone who warns us not to look directly at the bright sun, that we should not try to look too directly, that we should perceive this event in a different, deeper way—more heart than mind, more wonder than analysis.  Some things are bigger than our ability to say them.” (p. 3)

After what has seemed like one of the hardest, coldest, snowiest winters I can remember I am now enjoying longer days as the sun seems to be moving ever northward and stays up longer than the day before as I read Buchanan’s words. With Easter being almost as late as possible this year, the longer, warmer, and brighter days of spring have coincided with the approach of Easter.  I know that the cold, dark days of Lent, I mean winter, will end with the rising of the Son, I mean sun.

Thanks to John Buchanan and Bruce Springsteen, who reminds us that “Mama always told me not to look into the eye of the sun”, a caution reiterated by Astronomers appearing on public media every time we are about to experience a solar eclipse, we know not to look directly at the sun. Looking directly into that celestial object even with dark glasses can cause permanent eye damage. Yet something compels the astronomer as well as the non-scientist to study the heavenly sphere that warms us, illuminates us, and provides the energy our planet needs to sustain life. I remember making a pinhole box viewer to watch a solar eclipse and using a small telescope to project sun spots unto the ceiling of my bedroom.  Even though I was not looking directly at the sun I was still mesmerized by its brilliance.

I know that the sunlight now reaching the earth and tanning my skin as I sit poolside left the sun about eight minutes ago and that any sun spots I might project onto the ceiling I am seeing where they were about eight minutes ago.  Just because it takes light from the sun about eight minutes to reach us does not mean we cannot appreciate or observe it. Even though it is eight minutes old it can still illuminate, warm, and yes, even burn and blind.  It might be eight minutes old we can still wonder-- is it a wave, a particle, or a string?

I also know that in the strictest, most literal sense, the sun does not rise.  Our senses deceive us.  The sun only appears to rise as we, standing on the surface of a rotating earth, rotate with our planet on its axis, completing a rotation cycle about every twenty-four hours.  I also know that in the spring the sun only appears to be climbing ever northward.  What is actually happening is that the earth, constantly tilting on its axis in a yearly cycle, is now beginning to present its northern hemisphere toward the sun after having presented the southern hemisphere for six months. In spite of knowing better, however, I still talk about, and appreciate the “miracle” of a sunrise rather than a morning turnaround and relish in a northward marching sun even though I know it is not true.  Sometimes historical and culturally loaded language better describe our experience and enables us to share it rather than the sometimes hard, cold, precise language of science, but that does not mean I disregard science.


The good news reported by the canonical gospels comes to us from nearly two-thousand years ago yet it is still reaching us, still warming us, still illuminating us, and still granting us life.  As a trained theologian and amateur philosopher I could employ any number of metaphors and play language games in an attempt to both explain and make sense of what the gospels describe happening nearly twenty centuries ago. I could hopefully do so without breaking any of the laws of physics.  Long ago, however, I learned that any god that can be fully explained and understood is not a god worth praise and worship.  At the heart of the cosmos and faith is mystery, a mystery that compels us to explore, to ponder, and to understand, but a mystery nevertheless. If I could fully understand and explain what the gospels describe as a resurrection, perhaps it would no longer be worth believing in.  Like a darkened sun, collapsed in on itself as a black hole, it would lose its ability to illuminate and give life.

Here is the link to my Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 post for Easter, where I reflect on all six, primary and alternate, Lectionary Readings for Easter morning.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 for Sunday, April 13, 2014, Palm Sunday (Passion Sunday) (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.

 PREFACE:
For those who use the lectionary, the dual focus of this Sunday offers more Scripture than almost any other Sunday in the Church Year.  Since I come from and am firmly rooted in the Reformed Tradition I tend to think a sermon is a pretty important thing, yet this is one Sunday when I might be willing to allow Scripture to speak for itself without interpretation.

Unlike other parts of the Gospels, the passion narrative, even, or especially in its longer version, reads as a single unit and can very easily be adapted as dramatic reading or presentation.  If so, a sermon might actually detract rather than add to the service.  After all, who needs to interpret a well-produced movie or play?

Liturgy of the Palms Readings:

118:1 This verse is repeated in 118:29
118:2 This sounds like a liturgical direction.
118:19 What, and where, are the gate of righteousness?
118:20 What, and where is the gate of the LORD?
118:22 Why does this sound so familiar?
118:23 What is the LORD’s doing?
118:24 What day has the LORD made?
118:25 What sort of success is the psalmist praying for?
118:26 Who comes in the name of the LORD? The choice of this “Liturgy of the Palms” Psalm (say that three times) is obviously dictated by Matthew, in the “Liturgy of the Palms” Gospel Reading, which in verse 9 quotes this verse. I think it can be argued that whenever the new Testament quotes a verse or two from a Psalm that the entire Psalm is drawn into the interpretation, as in an oral Jewish culture when most of the audience would likely have known the Psalm and thought of it even if only one verse were quoted.  We experience the same when someone today quotes a line from a familiar poem, song or document and recall the entire text.  Yet few Christians know the Psalms like Christians once did, or Jews once did.  Incorporating this reading not only serves to ground the passion in its Jewish context but adds an interpretive introduction to the Matthew 21:1-11 reading and suggests that we might read Matthew 21:1-11 as Christian Midrash on Psalm 118.
118:27 What, and where, are the horns of the altar?
118:27 Here is a refrain that echoes 118:1

21:1 I wonder which two disciples Jesus sent.
21:2 Must we have both a donkey and a colt? 
21:5 What prophet is quoted and why does it appear that the author of Matthew does not understand Hebrew poetry?
21:7 How did Jesus sit on two animals at the same time?
21:8 Are we sure the  large crowd cut palm branches? Will you be using eco-palms this Sunday?
21:9 Where have we (and those in the crowd) heard this before? Why shout this?
21:10 Is this not the question we seek to answer?
21:11 Is this a satisfactory answer to the above question?

Liturgy of the Passion Readings:

50:4 I usually think of the teacher’s role being to educate, not “sustaining the weary with a word.”  I think of that as more of a preacher’s or shepherd’s role. Are the best teachers also the best learners?
50:5 What does it mean for God to open our ear and why is ear singular?
50:6-9 Do these verses justify this passage being chosen for this Sunday? How might these verses have influenced the Gospel accounts of the Passion?

31:9-13 I can imagine hearing these words from the lips of Jesus as he was being crucified, or at any time during his passion.  This Psalm reads like the thoughts and feelings of the dejected, rejected, and defeated. 
31:14-16 Nevertheless the Psalm, in the end, expresses prayerful trust.

2:5What mind was in Christ Jesus?
2:6 How does this verse both confirm and challenge our understanding of the Trinity?
2:6-8 These verses recall the passion.
2:9-11 These verses recalls the resurrection.
2:10 What do bended knees symbolize or represent?
2:11 “Jesus Christ is Lord” is one of the earliest, if not the earliest Christian Confession.  From this basic affirmation, how did we get to the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene, not to mention the Westminster Confession?  There is something to be said for simplicity, but simplicity, rather than precision, leaves room for multiple interpretations and levels of meaning.  I can live with that. Can you?

The longer reading, Matthew 26:14-27:66, is powerful if presented as a dramatic reading and can perhaps move and inform worshipers more than even the best sermon on this text.  If you have not yet already read my comments in the Preface, please do so now.  Rather than commenting on this Gospel Reading I will comment below on the abbreviated alternate.

27:11-14 Why would Jesus not answer these charges? What amazed Pilot?
27:15-23 It it mere coincidence that both prisoners were named Jesus?  What does the name “Barabbas” mean?
27:18 What do you make of this “jealousy”?
27:19 Here is yet one more example of a truth telling woman.
27:24 This hand washing is perhaps what Pilate is most remembered for.
27:25 How shall we deal with this verse without being anti-Semitic?  Who is “us” and “our children”?
27:27-31 How did Mel Gibson deal with this? What is the danger of focusing on these verses?
27:32 We all have our own particular cross to carry, and if a Roman soldier asks you to carry a cross one mile, offer to carry it two. What ever happened to Simon of Cyrene?
27:34 Why would Jesus not drink?
27:38-44 Was there anyone who did not deride, mock, or otherwise taunt Jesus? Note that in Matthew both bandits taunt Jesus.
27:45 What is the significance that the darkness began at noon and lasted three hours?
27:46 Was Jesus quoting something?  What does he quote?
27:51 What is the symbolism of the torn curtain? What rocks split?
27:52 What Saints?
27:54 Truth is here spoken not by the disciples, not by a woman, not by any of the Jews, but by Roman soldiers. What lesson might we learn from this?