Saturday, December 30, 2017

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 for Baptism of the Lord (Year B)

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.

GENESIS 1:1-5
1:1 There are several ways the verb can be translated.  Is it “when God created” or “when God began to create” or something else altogether?  What difference does it make?  Take a close look at the user notes in one or two study Bibles, or better yet, the gleanings and notes in The Torah.  Why is this passage paired with Mark’s account of Jesus’ baptism?
1:2 What is the Hebrew word for “wind” and how else can the word be translated? Where did the waters come from?
1:3 What, if any, is the significance of light being the first thing created?
1:4 What if God saw that the light was not good? How did God separate the light from the darkness?
1:5 Can there be day without night, or night without day?
1:1-5 How does one preach/teach this passage in a post Copernican and postmodern world, especially considering there is at least one other Biblical (and different) account of creation?

PSALM 29
29:1 Who are the heavenly beings?
29:2 What is the name of the LORD? What is holy splendor?
29:3 What does the voice of the LORD sound like? Are these the waters of creation, the waters of the Exodus, or some other waters?
29:4 How are power and majesty related?
29:5 Is there anything special about the cedars of Lebanon?
29:6 What and where is Sirion?
29:7 How can a voice flash flames?
29:8 Where is Kadesh?
29:9 Has a storm ever compelled you to say “Glory!”?
29:10 How can anything sit enthroned over a flood?
29:11 How can the LORD, revealed in the storm, bless people with peace, when storms are anything but peaceful?
29:3-11 How can one teach/preach using storm god imagery while recognizing that storm god imagery is not the only imagery applied to the LORD?  Sleeping under a small tarp in the wilderness during a night time thunder and lightning storm and hiking on a high wilderness ridge during a daytime thunder and lightning storm has greatly influenced how I read this passage.  What are your experiences of storms and how do those experiences influence how you understand this passage? How might survivors of recent hurricanes read these passages?

ACTS 19:1-7
19:1 What do you know about Apollos?  Why does Paul mention him? Where is Ephesus? Was Paul surprised to find some disciples or was he expecting to find some disciples?
19:2 How could someone be a disciple and never have heard about the Holy Spirit? Why would Paul be asking this question?
19:3 Were these disciples actually baptized by John? If one was baptized by John and later became a disciple of Jesus, would they have to be re-baptized in the name of Jesus?
19:4 How did John’s baptism differ from baptism in the name of Jesus?
19:5 Note that they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, not in “the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
19:5-6 Did Paul baptize them with water or simply lay his hands on them?  What does it mean to speak in tongues?  What does it mean to prophesy?
19:7 “About” seems to be a relatively general term while “twelve” seems to be very specific and perhaps points to the twelve tribes of Israel and “the twelve” disciples of Jesus.

MARK 1:4-11
1:4 I much prefer the descriptive phrase “John the baptizer” rather than the more usual “John the Baptist.”   At least Mark agrees with Acts regarding a description of John’s baptism.
1:5 “All the people of Jerusalem” seems to be hyperbole.
1:6 Where does this imagery come from and what does it point to?  Might locusts refer to something other than bugs?
1:7 As I have asked in a previous rumination, what is so special about the thong of a sandal?
1:8 Might this be some literary foreshadowing, a reading of later developments back into the text?
1:9 When were those days?
1:10 What do the heavens being torn apart look like?  Is there a difference between the Spirit “descending like a dove” and “descending as a dove”?  Did anyone other than Jesus see these things?
1:11 Did anyone other than Jesus hear this voice? What did the voice sound like? Where and when will we read these or similar words again?

ADDENDUM

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. My various blog posts have appeared on PRESBYTERIAN BLOGGERS and Appalachian Trials.

Monday, December 25, 2017

A Grammatically and Politically Incorrect, and Irreverent, Christmas Tail

Joseph Christ and Merry Christmas, undocumented aliens engaged to be married, were on their way to the North Pole to be enrolled in Santa’s yule tide census, when they were overcome by a severe winter storm. Unable to find their way through the white out, Rudolph, a red knows rain dear, appeared from the mist of the storm to guide them to the nearest Holiday Inn, but there was no room available for them there, so Rudolph then guided them to a vacant Pottery Barn that had recently relocated.

The weary traveling couple found their way in to the empty store through an open window, gathered some packing hay that had been lying on the floor, and made a bed for themselves. Soon after they turned in for knight, Mary’s water broke and she went into labor. She eventually delivered her first born, swaddling him in some old newspapers that were stacked nearby, and laid him in a pile of warm, soft hay hastily throne into an empty Pottery Barn packing crate.

Before day brake, three wise guys showed up, explaining that they were really astrologers who had been consulting their star charts and realized that Mars and Venus had perfectly aligned in Aquarius with Mercury rising in Pisces, indicating that something was up not to fire from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Knot long to tarry, the king’s ton trio left presents of bit coins, Frank’s incense, and Muir.

After the three hombres departed, Joseph and Mary fell into a deep sleep, during witch they were warned in a big dream not to try to cross the US-Canadian border or the INS would arrest and deport them. They never maid it to the North Pole. Instead, they decided to eventually settle just a little to the north in Nazareth.

Santa, learning of their plight, quickly sledded down their way, slipped down the Pottery Barn chimney, and left presents for the parents and their newborn child. Joseph received a gift card to Home Depot. Merry received a gift card to Target. Baby Jesus received US Citizenship documentation.


For something more serious and reverent, read my short Christmas essay from last year, THE CHRISTMAS EVE CANDLE.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 for The 1st Sunday after Christmas Day (Year B)

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 61:10-62:3
61:10 How does one’s whole being exult? Most Presbyterians only exult with the mind.  What ar garments of salvation and the robe of righteousness? I find it interesting that both bridegroom and bride imagery is employed.
61:11 It seems righteousness must take root and grow and does not materialize out of thin air. I like the organic imagery.
62:1 How can vindication be like the dawn and a burning torch?
62:2 What is the significance of being called by a new name? What could this new name be?
62:3 What is a diadem? Why are the crown and diadem in God’s hand rather than on God’s head?

PSALM 148
148:1-2 These verses could easily be adapted for use as a Call to Worship.  Note, however, that it is the angels and the heavenly host, not humans, being called to worship.
149:3 The Hubble Telescope might offer us images of shining stars praising the LORD.
149:4 What waters are above the heavens?
149:5 Which creation story does this allude to?
149:6 Where are the bounds?
149:7 What comes to your mind when you think of sea monsters?
149:8 Shall we think of tornadoes and hurricanes as praising God even as they leave behind death and destruction?
149:9 How can the mountains and hills praise the Lord when in Appalachia they are being removed for the coal beneath them?
149:10 Not long ago the Pope said that animals go to heaven, so perhaps they should indeed be praising the Lord.
149:11 After numerous physical features and living creatures are named, humans finally appear.
149:12 How does the presence of both “men” and “women” speak to patriarchy?  How does the presence of both “old” and “young” speak to a church that is graying and which has more or less failed to attract the younger generation?
149:13 What is the name of the Lord and how can it be praised if it is not pronounced?
149:14 What is a horn and why would the Lord raise one up for the people?

GALATIANS 4:4-7
4:4 What is “full” time?  Is this kairos time, chronos time, or the eschaton?  John Shelby Spong used a phrase from this verse as the title of his book about the birth of Jesus.  Why would Paul refer to Jesus being born of a woman rather than of the Virgin Mary?
4:5 Who were under the law?
4:6 What do you think about translating “Abba” as “Daddy”?
4:4-7 These verses seem to base adoption as God’s children upon Jesus’ birth, so why did he have to die?

LUKE 2:22-40
22:22 What time was this? What is this referring to?
22:23 Where is this written?
22:24 Why two turtledoves but no partridge in a pear tree or three French hens?
22:25 Is there anything special about the name Simeon?  What is the consolation of Israel?
22:26 I wonder how this was revealed. Perhaps it was revealed in a dream.
22:27 What was customary under the law?
22:28 The child’s father and mother simply let Simeon take the child in his arms?
22:29 Who is the master?
22:30 What has Simeon seen?
22:31 To who does “the peoples” refer?
22:32 Gentiles?  I think Luke might be the only Gospel that could say this.
22:33 Why are the father and mother not named?
22:34 What is the nature of this prophesy?
22:35 What is the meaning of “a sword will pierce your own soul too?” Mary is finally named. Why is the father not named?
22:36 Do we know anything else about Anna? Note that she is called a “prophet!”
22:37 She never ate? She never went home? Why are we being told this about Anna?
22:38 I wonder what Anna said.
22:39 Note yet one more reference to the law, but this time not the law of Moses, rather, the law of the Lord.
22:40 Luke is long on prose but short on detail. We have learned more about Simeon and Anna than about this unnamed child. Does this verse remind you of any other verse in Scripture?

ADDENDUM
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. My various blog posts have appeared on PRESBYTERIAN BLOGGERS and Appalachian Trials.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 for The 4th Sunday of Advent (Year B)

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.

PREFACE
Be aware that the PC(USA) Presbyterian Planning Calendar lists the Lectionary Readings for Christmas Eve on the December 24th calendar block rather than the Lectionary Readings for the 4th Sunday of Advent, or both sets of readings.

Apparently there is some discussion going around about some congregations offering only one service on December 24th, a Christmas Eve Service. I serve half-time as the Interim Pastor of a small congregation of less than fifty members with an average of 20 in worship. We normally have only one Sunday service and one Christmas Eve Service but on Sunday, December 24th, 2017, we will be offering two services on December 24th. The first service will be our usual 11:00 AM Service of the Lord’s Day which will focus on the Lectionary Readings for the 4th Sunday of Advent. Our second service will be a 7:00 PM Christmas Eve Candlelight Service of Nine Lessons and Carols which will focus on celebrating the birth of Christ.

What are you and your congregation scheduling for December 24th?

2 SAMUEL 7:1-11, 16
7:1 What king are we talking about?
7:2 David seems to be speaking to Nathan as God might. Who was Nathan? What does the “ark of God” represent?
7:3 What did David have in mind? How did Nathan know this?
7:4 What carries more authority, the word of the king or the word of the LORD? Why did the word of the LORD come to Nathan at night?
7:5 Why the question?
7:6 What seems to be at stake here? What is the difference, if any, between a tent and a tabernacle?
7:7 Why is God asking questions? Are these rhetorical questions?
7:8-9 Why the history lesson?
7:10 Has this not already been accomplished?
7:11 The first part of this verse seems misplaced. Note the play on the word “house.”
7:16 Was this fulfilled?

Luke 1:46b-55
This Canticle was an Alternate Reading last week, the 3rd Sunday of Advent. This week, the 4th Sunday of Advent, it is the Primary Reading and the Psalm is the Alternate. I think the Magnificat works better this week than last. You may want to compare this Canticle to Hanna’s song in 1 Samuel 2:1-10.
1:46b Who is speaking? When, if ever, has your soul magnified the Lord? See #600 in The Presbyterian Hymnal and #99 and #646 in Glory to God: Hymns, Psalms, and Spiritual Songs.
1:47 When did your spirit last rejoice?
1:48 What does it mean to be called blessed?
1:49 Here is an alternative way to address and speak of God.
1:50 What does it mean to fear God? Why am I thinking of Edwin H. Friedman?
1:51 What does it mean for the proud to be scattered in the thoughts of their hearts? Since when did hearts think?
1:52-53 These verses all address a reversal, something that has already been accomplished, not something yet to come.
1:54 How has God helped Israel?
1:55 Once again Sarah is overlooked, yet without her Abraham would not have had any descendants.

PSALM 89:1-4, 19-26
89:1 How can the Psalmist, or anyone, sing forever and proclaim anything to generations?  Is this nothing more than poetic hyperbole?
89:2 How firm are the heavens?
89:3-4 Apparently an allusion to the First Reading.  Does this verse justify the Lectionary pairing this Psalm with the First Reading?  This Psalm is actually an alternate. Another possibility is the Magnificat, Luke 1:46b-55.  What is this verse quoting?
89:19 Who is the faithful one? Note that the rest of the reading is a narration of the vision.
89:20 What makes oil holy?
89:21 Must we anthropomorphize God?
89:22 Are enemies, by definition, wicked?
89:23 Do all foes hate their enemy?
89:24 What is a “horn?”
89:26 So David is the Son of God?

ROMANS 16:25-27
16:25 What does Paul mean by “my gospel?”  What is the mystery that has been revealed?
16:26 What does Paul mean by “prophetic writings?”
16:27 Here is a nice ascription of praise that could be used liturgically.

LUKE 1:26-38
1:26 In the sixth month of what? Why Gabriel? Why Nazareth?
1:27 Why a virgin? How can we read this verse with 21st century sensibilities without reading our prejudices back into the text? Why the house of David?
1:28 What does Gabriel mean by addressing Mary as “favored one?”
1:29 Apparently Mary did not know what Gabriel meant. When was the last time you were perplexed by a greeting and pondered what it meant?
1:30 I think the phrase “Do not be afraid” is the crux of this text. Why might Mary have been afraid? Have you found favor with God?
1:31 Note that Mary “will” conceive.  She apparently was not yet pregnant. Why name him Jesus?
1:32-33 This is quite a prophecy!
1:34 A good question.
1:35 Is there a difference between being called “Son of God” and actually being the Son of God? What if Mary have proclaimed #metoo?
1:36 Apparently Elizabeth was between the second and third trimester. The way she is described reminds me of Sarah. How were Mary and Elizabeth related?
1:37 Could this be the key verse of the passage rather than 1:30?
1:38 Where have we heard “Here am I” before?  What if Mary had not let it be according to Gabriel’s word?

ADDENDUM
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. My various blog posts have appeared on PRESBYTERIAN BLOGGERS and Appalachian Trials.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 for the 3rd Sunday of Advent (Year B)

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 61:1-4, 8-11
61:1 What does it feel like to have the spirit of the LORD upon oneself?  What else can one be anointed with in addition to the spirit and oil?
61:2 What is “the year of the Lord’s favor” and “the day of vengeance of our God” and how can they be mentioned in the same sentence?
61:3 What is a garland? What is oil of gladness? What is so special about oaks?
61:4 What other ancient ruins come to your mind in addition to Jerusalem?  Iona?  Lindesfarne?
61:8 Has the identity of the speak just shifted? Does justice involve more than just hating robbery and wrongdoing? Who are “them?”
61:9 What does it mean for a people to be blessed by the LORD?
61:10 Has the identity of the speaker again shifted? What does it feel like for one’s whole being to exalt in God?  God has clothed us with a tux and gown?
61:11 Do righteousness and praise just appear or do they grow and blossom?

PSALM 126
126:1 In other words, we thought it not possible?  Note that this is in the past tense. When did the Lord restore the fortunes of Zion?
126:2 Why laughter? Shall we read this verse as a commentary on Isaiah 61:9?
126:3 What great things has the Lord done for us?
126:4 What is so special about the watercourses in the Negeb? What and where is the Negeb?
126:5-6 These verses, like Advent, proclaim a reversal of the status quo.
126:6 Shall we read this verse as a commentary on Isaiah 61:11?

LUKE 1:46b-55
This canticle is an alternative to the Psalm. How will you decide which one to use?
1:46b Who is speaking? When, if ever, has your soul magnified the Lord? See #600 in The Presbyterian Hymnal and #99 and #646 in Glory to God: Hymns, Psalms, and Spiritual Songs.
1:47 When did your spirit last rejoice?
1:48 What does it mean to be called blessed?
1:49 Here is an alternative way to address and speak of God.
1:50 What does it mean to fear God? Why am I thinking of Edwin H. Friedman?
1:51 What does it mean for the proud to be scattered in the thoughts of their hearts? Since when did hearts think?
1:52-53 These verses all address a reversal, something that has already been accomplished, not something yet to come.
1:54 How has God helped Israel?
1:55 Once again Sarah is overlooked, yet without her Abraham would not have had any descendants.

1 THESSALONIANS 5:16-24
5:16 This is good advice. Is this the second shortest verse in the Bible?
5:17 More good advice. What does it mean to “pray without ceasing”? What do you know about contemplative prayer and contemplative living?
5:18 I find giving thanks in all circumstances harder than praying without ceasing or always rejoicing. I have been in some circumstances where I would have had great difficulty giving thanks.
5:19 Oh, how many ways we quench the Spirit. Let me count the ways.
5:20 How do we despise the words of prophets? What prophets are being referred to? Who are today’s prophets whose words are being despised?
5:21 How do we “test” anything, let alone everything? Does this verse address the spiritual discipline of discernment? Does this verse support the mission of Consumer Reports or the Underwriters Laboratory and similar organizations and institutions? How do we hold fast to what is good? What is good?
5:22 How many forms of evil are there?
5:23 Note the tripartite “spirit and soul and body.”  What is the difference between spirit and soul?  I would feel more comfortable with “mind, body and spirit”. I think I have never heard this used as a benediction or blessing but I like it.
5:24 Who is it that calls? What does it mean to be called?

JOHN 1:6-8, 19-28
1:6 Are some “sent” and others not? What is the difference between “sent” in this verse and the “calls” of 1 Thessalonians 5:24?
1:7 “Witness” and “testify” are not usually part of the mainline and Presbyterian vocabulary.  Do they make you feel uncomfortable? How much do we hear them as legal terms and how much do we hear them as religious terms?
1:8 Was someone saying John was the light?
1:19 In this context, who or what is a Levite? It seems that John’s testimony was given in the context of him being questioned or examined. Was John on trial?
1:20 “Confessed” is an interesting choice of words.  John says, “I am not” while Jesus will say, at least seven times, “I am”! Were some hoping, even saying, that John was the Messiah? Is the gospel writer attempting to knock John the Baptizer down a notch or two?
1:21 People thought John was Elijah or Kahlil Gibran? Is this and the preceding verses more a commentary on John the baptizer or more of a commentary on the zeitgeist?
1:22 Why is John’s identity so important?
1:23 Are these John the Baptizer’s words or John the Evangelist’s words?
1:24-25 In verse 19 it was Jews sent by priests and Levites. Now it is those sent by the Pharisees. What is the connection between the Pharisees and baptism?
1:25 Is the presumption that it would have been alright for the Messiah, Elijah, or the prophet to baptize?
1:26 What did John mean by “Among you stands?”
1:27 Is there anything significant or symbolic about untying sandals?
1:28 What difference does it make where this took place?
                                                                  
ADDENDUM
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.