Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 for The 4th Sunday After Epiphany (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.

Micah 6:1-8
6:1 Rather than the usual and customary “This is the word that came to Micah” we have a call to “Hear”.  How much is this opening verse influenced by, an allusion to, and/or a midrash on Deuteronomy 6:4 and similar passages?  Does it make any difference that early Judaism tends to be an aural faith? 
6:2 Are the mountains and foundations of the earth serving as witnesses?  Judges?  It is usually the people of Israel complaining to and about the LORD.  Now the LORD is complaining about the people. Is the LORD taking his people to court?
6:3 What has the LORD done?  Has the LORD wearied the people? Is the LORD really looking for an answer?
6:4 It seems God is recounting Salvation history.  I like the fact that the LORD mentions Miriam along with Moses and Aaron.   Exactly what are “the saving acts of the LORD” and how does one “know” them? How many of them are there?
6:5 What did King Balak devise?  What did Balam answer him?  What happened from Shittim to Gilgal?
6:6-7 What is a burnt offering? What is so special about calves a year old? Are the LORD’s questions rhetorical questions?
6:8 Who is speaking in this verse, Micah or the LORD?  According to my math, doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God is equal to or greater than all the genuflections, burnt offerings, sacrifices, and offerings we could possibly render, but it does not pay the bills. What is justice? What is kindness? How do we walk humbly with God?

15:1 Are these rhetorical questions?  What are the expected answers? Was the Lord’s tent ever on the Lord’s holy hill? The tent reminds me of the tabernacle or tent of meeting. The Lord’s holy hill reminds me of the Jerusalem Temple on the Temple Mount.
15:2 How does one walk blamelessly? Does truth come only from the heart?
15:3 How do we slander, do evil, and take reproach?
15:4 What does it mean to fear the LORD?
15:5 There goes capitalism and the economy! May we take a bribe against the guilty? What does it mean to never be moved?
15:1-5 If taken literally, these verses seem to suggest that no one may abide in the LORD’s tent.  No one may dwell on the LORD’s holy hill.  Does bringing these verses into conversation with Micah 8 offer any additional insight?  Why are these virtues spelled out rather than appealing to the Ten Commandments?

1:18 What is the message about the cross?  What is the meaning of “foolishness”
1:19 As an amateur philosopher, I find this verse a little disconcerting.  Maybe we need to deconstruct it and explore its deep structure.  By the way, where is this written?
1:20 Are these rhetorical questions?  Whom might Paul have had in mind?
1:21 So while human wisdom will be destroyed, it is alright for God to be wise? I wonder how Paul would have reacted a century later when Christian Theology was so heavily influenced by Platonic Philosophy.
1:22 So “wisdom” is being used as a metaphor or code word for “Greeks”?  What about Christians who centuries later would refer to Plato as a proto-Christian?  What sort of “signs” do Jews demand?
1:23 How is the proclamation of Christ crucified a “stumbling block” to Jews?  How is the proclamation of Christ crucified “foolishness” to Gentiles?
1:24 Here we encounter call language again.  What does it mean to equate “the power of God” and “the wisdom of God” with Christ?
1:25 How can weakness be strong?
1:26-29 This might have preached in Paul’s day, but what about white, upper middle class, Christian America?  This might preach in an economically distressed, immigrant, or even middle class congregation, but in Old First Church, filled with lawyers, bankers, and college professors?  Why does Paul seem to equate wisdom with power and nobility? Certainly there were some early Christians who were wise by human standards, powerful, and of noble birth.
1:30 Wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption are not necessarily words we use in common, everyday conversation.  How can a teacher or preacher unpack them?  While Paul started out in this passage apparently antagonistic toward wisdom, he concludes by claiming that Christ Jesus is the wisdom from God.  What gives?  How might Paul’s “wisdom from God” compare and/or contrast with the Fourth Gospel’s “word/logos”? Has Paul employed any Greek rhetoric in his argument?
1:31 Where is it so written and how does that writing’s context inform this passage?

MATTHEW 5:1-12
5:1 Why is “crowds” plural?  What mountain did Jesus go up? Why did his disciples go to Jesus after he sat down? This is such a familiar passage, how can we hear it again as if for the first time? What do we call the large section of teaching which this begins?  How many sections of teaching material are there in Matthew?
5:2 And centuries later the body of Christ still teaches primarily by speaking.
5:3-12 This year, for the first time, my appreciation and interpretation of this verse is influenced and enhanced by the calligraphy and illumination of this passage in The Saint John’s Bible. "Beatitude" may mean "blessed" bust some would argue that "happy" would be a better translation. If that is the case, then I immediately start to think of songs by Bobbly McFerrin and Pharell Williams.
5:3 In this and in the following eight verses, what does it mean to be ‘blessed”? What does it mean to be poor in spirit?  Who are the poor in spirit today? What is the kingdom of God?
5:4 I wonder if mourners find this verse comforting.
5:5 What does it mean to be meek?
5:6 Might this at all inform our understanding of the Eucharist?
5:7 What does it mean to be merciful?
5:8 What does it mean to be pure in heart?  What about the prohibition about looking upon the face of God? Does this verse suggest that the heart, rather than the brain, is the primary spiritual organ?
5:9 You may want to consider “Peacemaking: The Believer’s Calling” adopted by the 1980 UPCUSA GA. http://www.pcusa.org/resource/peacemaking-believers-calling-text/
5:10 Why might “the kingdom of heaven” appear twice, here as well as in 5:3?
5:11 Note the change in form, from “blessed are the ‘whatever’”, to “blessed are you.” While 5:3-12 were indirect and hypothetical, this verse is direct and personal.
5:12 Do you rejoice? Are you glad? Would we rejoice and be glad if there were no great reward in heaven?

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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