Thursday, March 23, 2017

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 for The 5th Sunday In Lent (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.

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. That does not make it any less “real.”
37:2 Why is Ezekiel led all around?
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? If dry bones cannot hear, then who or what can?
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! What good is the word of the LORD if there is no breath, no inspiration?
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 worship leader refer to the four winds in a prayer, or use it in the liturgy? Note that the bones did not simply die. They were slain. What killed them?
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. How many aging congregations, large and small, feel like or even appear to be a valley of dry bones?
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?

121:1-8 This is not only one of my favorite Psalms but one of my favorite passages in the entire Bible, and one I have committed to memory. How might our interpretation and preaching being affected when we encounter one of favorite, or even least favorite, passages of Scripture?
121:1 What 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.” The KJV and RSV was “feared,” suggesting a wrathful God 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?  Who watches for the morning? 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 and admonition.  The Psalmist started out by addressing the LORD and is now addressing Israel. What is “steadfast” love? What power redeems?
121:8 Is this 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.”

ROMANS 8:6-11
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 Paul’s letter after Descartes’ mind/body split?  How might the death and life of the Ezekiel 37:1-14 Reading inform our interpretation of Paul for this particular Sunday?
8:7 How does Romans 8:6 lead to Romans 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? Note that it is “in the flesh” and not “of the flesh.” Is that significant? After all, this is the Fifth Sunday “in Lent” and not “of Lent”!
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? Is he really talking about “the Holy Spirit”? How many mainline Christians, especially staid Presbyterians, might 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?

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 Note that we told Bethany is the village of Mary and her sister Martha, but not told that both Mary and Martha are the sisters of Lazarus.
11:2 Why the redundancy of telling us Lazarus was sick? Where can we read about Mary anointing Jesus? What are we told that Lazarus was Mary’s brother but not directly told that Lazarus was Martha’s sister?
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.
11:5 Whereas Mary was named in 11:2 but Martha was not, Martha is named here but Mary is not.
11:6 Why the two day wait?
11:7 What is significant about Judea? Is there any significance to the “again”?
11:8 Is there a problem with the temporal language?
11:9 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?
11:10 Always have an external light source nearby if there is no light in you.
11:11 Was Jesus simply using a euphemism for death, or is there something else going on here?
11:13 I wonder how many times the disciples did not really understand what Jesus was talking about.  How many times do worshipers in the pews not understand the preacher?
11:14 No euphemisms here! Lazarus hadn’t “passed.” He had “died”! Christians on the resurrection side of Easter should not mask death with euphemisms and neither should preachers and pastors! Can I get off my soap box now?
11:15 Believe what?
11:16 Die with whom?  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 from where Jesus had been 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, even berating 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? What does “ rose again” mean in the Apostles’ Creed?
11:24 What is the matter, Martha, is not the promise of resurrection on the last day enough to comfort you in your grief? By the way, just what is “the last day?”
11:25 Is this one of Jesus’ “I am” sayings?  Where do we find the other “I am” sayings and what are they? Is this passage nothing but background, creating the opportunity or supplying the context for this “I am” saying?
11:26 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. Once again, a woman get it right when the male disciples often got it wrong.
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, 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? I am detecting some plot holes.
11:31 Who were these Jews?
11:32 See John 11:21. Mary joins the blame game.  At least the sisters agree on something! Does Mary have a foot fetish?
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?
11:36 To quote Tina Turner, “What’s Love got to do with it?”
11:37 Is this more than a rhetorical question? Are some of the Jews joining in on the blame game? How often do we want to blame someone, even God, when a loved one dies even of natural causes?
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 read this at only a literal level, if at all literally.
11:45 How many are “many” and what about the Jews who had come with Mary but did not believe in him?

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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