Thursday, December 22, 2016

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 for The Baptism of the Lord (Year A)

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 is a further revision and refinement of my Lectionary Ruminations and Lectionary Ruminations 2.0.  Focusing on The Revised Common Lectionary Readings for the upcoming Sunday from New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible, Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 draws on over thirty years of pastoral experience.  Believing that the questions we ask are often more important than any answers we find, without over reliance on commentaries, I intend with sometimes pointed and sometimes snarky comments and Socratic like questions, to encourage reflection and rumination for readers preparing to lead a Bible study, draft liturgy, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged.

ISAIAH 42:1-9
42:1 In Isaiah’s original context, whom would Isaiah identify as the servant? Was the Spirit put on him because he was already a servant, or did he become a servant because the spirit was put upon him? In light of today’s Gospel Reading, who is the servant, John the Baptizer or Jesus?
42:2 Why does this matter?
42:3 What is a “bruised reed”? Why would a dimly burning wick be quenched?
42:4 This is the third occurrence of the word “justice” (42:1 and 42:3).  What is the nature of this justice?
42:5 Now that we have the formulaic “Thus say God, the LORD”, might we ask who was speaking in verses 1-4?  I like the pairing of “breath” and “spirit”. Which creation account, if either, does Isaiah allude to?
42:6-7 To whom is the LORD speaking? Does this passage at all inform any doctrine of call? Note the plural “nations”! Could the dark prison be a metaphor?
42:8 What is the name of the LORD?
42:9 Change is difficult.  Are most people in the pews willing and ready to accept that former things have come to pass?  What are the new things that the LORD now declares?

29:1 Who are the “heavenly beings”?  Are there heavenly beings in addition to angels, cherubim and seraphim?
29:2 What is the LORD’s name (See Isaiah 42:8)? What is “holy splendor”?
29:3 Is the Psalmist alluding to the first creation account or simply alluding to the attributes and praise of the God of the storm?  Might we find some some baptismal imagery and language here? 
29:4-10 I love loud, crashing thunder and bright lightning streaking across the sky because it reminds me of the awesome grandeur of God.  What if we baptized from maelstroms rather than cute, little, calm, manageable fonts?  Perhaps a domesticated God is not worthy of praise. Consider this quote from Annie Dillard: “On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of the conditions. Does any-one have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies' straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake some day and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.” Teaching a Stone to Talk, Harper & Row, 1982
29:5 What is so special about the cedars of Lebanon?
29:6 Who or what is “Sirion”?
29:7 Is this a reference to lightning or to volcanic eruptions?
29:8 What and where is the wilderness of Kadesh?
29:9 What about the still, small voice of God in 1 Kings 19:11-13?
29:10 I thought the LORd sits enthroned above the cherubim.
29:11 After all the previous violent storm imagery, how shall we interpret this blessing of peace? One could adapt this as a blessing, for instance: “May the LORD give strength to you. May the LORD bless you with peace.”

ACTS 10:34-43
10:34 Who was Peter speaking to? It has been awhile since we have heard from Peter.  While it might be true that God shows no partiality, I think we cannot say the same of the institutional church.
10:35 Does “nation” refer to geographical realities or ethnic and religious groups? Does this verse point to any sort of universalism? What does it mean to “fear” God? Can someone fear God and not be a practicing Jew or Christian? How does this verse fly in the face of justification by faith through grace?
10:36 Why “peace” rather than salvation?
10:37 Did John “practice” or “preach” baptism? Does this verse justify this Reading being selected for “Baptism of the Lord”? This verse almost makes it sound like the Gospel began to be preached even before Jesus was baptized by John and began his public ministry.
10:38 What is the difference between being anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power? Does this verse suggest that all illness is a result of oppression by the devil? What does it mean for God to “be with” someone?
10:39 Why a “tree” rather than a cross?
10:40 Note that Jesus wasraised”. He did not rise on his own.
10:41 How does this verse impact our theology of the Lord’s Supper/Eucharist?
10:42 How does this verse inform our understanding of ordination?
10:43 “All the prophets”?  Really?  I think Peter is prone to a little hyperbole.

MATTHEW 3:13-17
3:13 When was “Then”? How will you answer people when they ask “if Jesus was sinless, why did he seek to be baptized?”?
3:14 Was John asking the above question?
3:15 How does Jesus being baptized by John “fulfill all righteousness”?
3:16 Jesus “saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him,” but did anyone else see it? How do dove’s descend?
3:17 Whose voice is heard? Who heard this voice?  Might this verse prefigure anything similar in Matthew?

I am a Minister Member of Upper Ohio Valley Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and am serving as the Interim Pastor of the Richmond United Presbyterian Church, Richmond, Ohio. Sunday Worship at Richmond begins at 11:00 AM. Some of my other blog posts have appeared on PRESBYTERIAN BLOGGERS and The Trek.

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