Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 for Trinity Sunday (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.

Regarding Trinity Sunday and the Doctrine of the Trinity, you might also want to take a look at Random Reflections on the Trinity as well as Dance of the Trinity.

GENESIS 1:1-2:4a
For once, the lectionary prescribes that the First Reading of the Day begins where the Bible begins, “In the beginning” at Genesis 1:1.  This is also, perhaps, one of the longest Readings in the lectionary outside of Lent and the Passion narrative.  Am I stating the obvious when I note that this is the “first” creation account?  I take the Bible too seriously to take it literally.  Thus, I read Genesis 1:1-2:4a as a mythopoeic reflection on human origins rather than a scientific explanation of them.  Can we read and interpret this passage without reference to Genesis 2:4b and following?  How does reading this on Trinity Sunday influence our understanding and interpretation of the passage and how does this passage inform our understanding of the Trinity?
1:1 What translation do you prefer, “when God created” or “when God began to create?”?What difference does the translation make? What was before the beginning?
1:2 What is a “wind from God”? How else might we translate the Hebrew word sometimes translated “wind”?
1:3 This is more or less Creation ex nihilo!  Can we read this without also thinking of the prologue of John? Did God create a wave, a particle, or a string? Note that God creates simply by saying. What does this suggest about the creative word as well as the power of naming?
1:4 What would have happened if God saw that the light was not good? Does the light being good automatically mean that the darkness is bad or evil?
1:5 Note that God is the one who names.
1:6 Are you familiar with this three tiered cosmology? What and where is this dome? How do we deal with this antiquated cosmology?
1:7 God seems to like separating things.  See 1:4.
1:8 Again God names.  See 1:5.
1:9 If I understand the most recent scientific thinking about the beginnings of the earth, there was once just one large land mass or supercontinent before it broke apart, but one should not use science to “prove” Scripture, otherwise we will end up defending scripture against science if the science changes.
1:10 I wonder what criteria God used to determine “good”?
1:11-12 Note that vegetation precedes animal life.
1:13 Would there have been time, or a way to tell time, if there had been no evening and morning?
1:14-15 According to the three tiered cosmology, these lights are under the waters above them. Here we have the roots of both astrology and astronomy.
1:16 So where did the light come from in day one if God did not create the Sun until day four? Does it make a difference that we now know that the moon is not a light but reflects the light of the sun?
1:17-19 These verses seem somewhat redundant following 1:4-16.
1:20 Creatures appear after vegetation in this account.  How is this different compared to the second account of creation beginning in Genesis 2:4b?
1:21 I wonder what is meant by “great sea monster”?  Could this verse have referred to whales, Leviathan, the Kraken, or Nessie?
1:22 Who, or what, are told to be fruitful and multiply? Is this the first blessing?
1:23 We are now at the end of the fifth day and humans still have not appeared.
1:24 Living creatures on land appear after living creatures in the water and the air.
1:24-25 Note that sea creatures and birds are told to be fruitful and multiply in 1:22, but here, animals of the earth are NOT told that.
1:26 Where did this “us” come from and how do we deal with it?  There is that “dominion” word that has caused us so many environmental problems and which we will encounter again in Psalm 8:6.
1:27 What does it mean to be created Imago Dei, male and female?
1:28 Note that with the exception of 1:22, we are not told that God blessed any other creatures or parts of creation other than humans.  In light of how we have historically interpreted and applied the admonition to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion,” I think this has been more of a curse than a blessing as far as we “exploit neighbor and nature, and threaten death to the planet entrusted to our care.” How shall we deal with the “be fruitful and multiply” admonition in light of the threat of overpopulation and right to life issues?
1:29-30 It sounds like we have been given plants to eat, but not animals. Maybe God is a vegan!
1:31 Note that we progress from good to very good!
2:1 Scientifically speaking, are the heaven and the earth ever finished?
2:2-3 Why does God need to rest?  Does God tire? What did God do on the eighth day?
2:4a How does this verse add anything to what proceeded?  What is the meaning of “generations?”

8:1 “O LORD” = Tetragrammaton.  Even though I do not always point it out, be aware that when LORD appears in all upper case letters, it is really the name of God that appears in the text. Are Christians bound by the Hebrew tradition of not pronouncing the majestic name of God? How shall we interpret this verse when we now know there is no “above” the heavens but rather a “beyond” the heavens; no up there but rather an out there?
8:2 What do babes and infants speak other than gibberish? What is a bulwark?
8:3-4 Is there a difference between “creating” and “establishing”? There is no finger of God in the first creation account, only the voice of God. Why am I thinking of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam? I will never forget my sense of awe and wonder the first time I looked through a telescope and saw for myself the rings of Saturn.  I think I have heard it said that the Hubble telescope enables us to look back through time to the first moments after creation.  Do images from the Hubble telescope in any sense show us the face of God? I am reminded of William Shakespeare's monologue in which Hamlet asks "What a piece of work is a man!"
8:5 What does it mean for humans to be a little lower than God? How are human crowned with glory and honor?
8:6 Need I say anything more about “dominion” other than that an ecological awareness forces us to abandon outdated understandings?  See my comments regarding Genesis 1:26.
8:7 Why are sheep and oxen, out of all the animals, named?
8:9 Is this simply a refrain?

2 CORINTHIANS 13:11-13
This short Second Reading and the short Gospel Reading compensates for the long First Reading.
13:11 What does Paul mean when he writes “put things in order?”  What was his appeal? Why are we often inclined to not agree? What does it mean to live in peace?
13:12 What is a “holy kiss”?  Who are the saints?
13:13 Is this verse, a Trinitarian blessing, the only reason this Reading appears on this day, Trinity Sunday? Does anything else in this reading really add anything to the mystery of the Trinity?

MATTHEW 28:16-20
This short Gospel Reading and the preceding short Second Reading compensates for the long First Reading.
28:16 Why are there only eleven disciples? Which mountain had Jesus directed them to?
28:17 Some of the eleven doubted?  I wonder which ones doubted and which ones did not. What or who did they doubt? Can one worship even when one doubts?
28:18 Who gave this authority to Jesus and when?
28:19 How does verse proceed from 28:17? Is this Trinitarian baptismal formula the only verse that commends this reading as appropriate for Trinity Sunday?
13:20 What had Jesus commanded the disciples? What and when is the end of the age?  What is an age?  When did the age begin?

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.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Review of Chris Bolgiano's The Appalachian Forest

Review of The Appalachian Forest, A Search For Roots and Renewal by Chris Bolgiano (Stackpole Books, 1998, 280 pages)

Book on the left, Shavers Fork on the right
I was born and have spent most of my life in the Appalachian Mountains. They are my second home, yet Chris Bolgiano provided me not only with a refreshing review of the region and the environmental threats related to its forested areas  but also abundant new information. She tied it all together with a well written, informative, and entertaining narrative. I highly recommend her book.

Of all the federal land in the southern Appalachians, I am most familiar with the Monongahela National Forest, but I am also familiar with Shenandoah National Park, the Nantahala National Forest, and The Pisgah National Forest.  Thanks to Bolgiano, I am now also familiar with other federal lands in the Appalachian mountains, how these lands contain and preserve some of the last remnants of the once Great Appalachian Forest as well as the hope for the emergence of a new Great Forest, and threats to the forest from clear cutting, strip mining, acid rain, and development.

Bolgiano reminded me that forests are more than trees. In addition to a thorough discussion of the American Chestnut and other trees indigenous to the Appalachians, she provides an  overview of some of the flora and fauna other than trees that inhabit this ecosystem, including ginseng, salamanders, black bears, and the mysterious “balds” unique to many Appalachian summits. She also provides a history of some of the people associated with the southern mountains, including the Scots-Irish “who formed the backbone of the Appalachian mountain culture,” and the Cherokee, some of whose descendants still live on a reservation in the area. I also met contemporary white water rafters and kayakers, mountain bikers, and environmentalists in the books pages.

I was fortunate to read the entire book over a four day period while camped along the banks of Shavers Fork, one of the longest and best native trout streams in the heart of West Virginia’s Monongahela National Forest. The setting, I am sure, added to Bogliano’s informed but not overly scientific yet engaging style to provide me with an enjoyable read.

This post is an edited version of a post that originally appeared on The Trek.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 for the Day of Pentecost (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.

PREFACE: With options for the First Reading, Second Reading, and Gospel, there are various permutations of Reading arrangements. If you use the Acts passage as the Frist Reading you would use the 1 Corinthians passage as the Second Reading.  If you use the Numbers passage for the First Reading you could use either the Acts reading or the 1 Corinthians passage as the Second Reading but I think the Acts passage would be the better choice. How will you decide which Gospel Reading to use?

ACTS 2:1-21
2:1 What was the day of Pentecost before the coming of the Holy Spirit?  Who are the “they?” Where might that “one place” have been?
2:2 What came; a sound like the rush of a mighty wind or an actual mighty wind? Does it matter? Where is heaven?
2:3 What is a divided tongue?  How does a tongue, even a tongue as of fire, rest on someone?
2:4 What does it mean to be “filled with the Holy Spirit”.  Rosetta Stone, eat your heart out!
2:5 What purpose does this verse serve?
2:6 Who is in the crowd? Where did the crowd gather? Have you ever been bewildered?  What bewilders you? Who was speaking?
2:7 Have you ever been amazed and astonished by a Christian spiritual experience? Who were asking the question?  What Galileans were speaking?
2:8 Is this a Gospel rhetorical question?
2:9-11 Lay readers, and even some clergy, hate reading these verses.  I think, however, that this list serves a very important theological purpose. Is there anything special about the areas listed, or the number of areas listed?
2:11 What are God’s deeds of power?
2:12 Earlier it was bewildered, amazed and astonished.  Now it is amazed and perplexed.  What does this mean? When was the last time you were perplexed by a Christian spiritual experience?
2:13 Who sneered?  Does this verse explain at all why most PCUSA Presbyterians shun offering fermented wine at communion?  Are most Presbyterians afraid of losing control and appearing to be filled with new wine?  Rather than being filled with new wine, or any wine, we are filled with grape juice, a nice, safe alternative void of all power and warmth, (like the Spirit in most of our congregations?).
2:14 Why was Peter always the first to open his mouth? Who was Peter addressing? Where only men of Judea in Jerusalem?  Where were the Judean women?
2:15 As if people are not drunk before 9:00 AM?  Some people are just coming home from all- night parties at that time.
2:16 One cannot go wrong by quoting from a Jewish prophet when your audience is filled with devout Jews.
2:17-21 Is this a case where a prophecy in the Hebrew Scriptures prefigures a later event, or where a prophecy is used as an apology for a later event?  Should we interpret these verses in light of Pentecost or only within their context within the Hebrew Scriptures?
2:17-18 Does the Pentecost experience place us in the last days?  Note the inclusive character of these verses.
2:19-20 What shall we make of these portents and signs?
2:20 What and when is “the Lord’s great and glorious day”?
2:21 What does it mean to call on the name of the lord?  Saved from what?

NUMBERS 11:24-30
11:24 What are “the words” of the Lord? Is there anything special about the number seventy?  Is there any story like this in the New Testament?
11:25 In the NRSV the Lord, not LORD, comes down.  Does this make any difference?  Why did the Lord take some of the spirit that was on Moses and put it on the seventy elders?  Was there not enough Spirit to go around so it had to be rationed?  What does it mean to prophesy? Why could they not prophesy again?
11:26-29 Why are these two men named when the seventy are not named?  Why might they have remained in the camp? What did it mean to be registered?
11:27 Was this a young filer of complaints, a tattle-tale, or bearer of good news?
11:28 Why did Joshua want to stop Eldad and Medad from prophesying? Did he perhaps feel threatened? In my mind this seems to disqualify Joshua as Moses’ successor?
11:29 Indeed, would that all.  We can only hope and pray that it be so. It seems Moses was not concerned about safeguarding his power or authority but was willing to share it and see the prophetic and Spirit empowered circle expand.
11:30 Is the prophesying of Medad and Eldad the reason Moses and the elders returned to the camp.  I want to know the rest of the story.

PSALM 104:24-34, 35b
104:24 How could this verse serve as an interpretive lens for Numbers 11:26-29? What are the works of the LORD?
104:25 The sea kayaker and sailor in me is nodding his head.
104:26 Was this verse Thomas Hobbes’ inspiration for the title of his political treatise? How do we deal with perhaps purely mythical beings when we encounter them in Scripture?
104:27-28 Ergo, all creatures depend upon the LORD.
104:29 What does it mean for God to hide God’s face? What shall we make of the connection between the withdrawal of breath and death?
104:30 I love the juxtaposition of 104:29 and 104:30, especially the imagery of breath/death and spirit/creation. How do these verses apply to the institutional church in light of Pentecost? What is the relation between breath and spirit?
104:31 Would the LORD not rejoice in the LORD’s works?
104:32 I think this verse is applying storm imagery to the LORD.  How does this inform our interpretation of Acts 2:2?
104:33-35b These concluding verses could be adapted to function as a Call to Worship. For example:
     One: The LORD be with you.
     All:   And also with you.
     One: We will sing to the LORD as long as we live.
     All:   We will sing praise to our God while we have being.
     One: May our meditation be pleasing the LORD,
     All:   for we rejoice in the LORD
     One: Bless the LORD, O my soul.
     All:   Praise the LORD!
     One: Let us worship the LORD!

1 CORINTHIANS 12:3b-13
12:3b Is this really true?
12:4-6 Why am I thinking of Isabel Briggs Myers and her book Gifts Differing? Why do we tend to reserve the reading of these verses for the Rite of Ordination? Are gifts, services, and activities synonyms?
12:7 Is every Christian given a manifestation of the Spirit?
12:8-10 Do you think that Paul meant for this list to be exhaustive?  What is your gift?  What service do you perform? What activity are you engaged in? What is your manifestation of the Spirit?
12:11 What does “activated” mean? Note that it is the Spirit that chooses.
12:12 How does this analogy or metaphor help us make sense of the Pentecost experience?
12:13 Do you think Paul meant for “Jews or Greeks, slaves or free” to be exhaustive?  What does it mean to be “made” to drink?  Do Christians have no choice in the matter?  What does it mean to “drink” of one Spirit?  Is this an allusion to the Eucharist?

JOHN 20:19-23
20:19-23 What day does this take place?  How does this passage inform our understanding of the Pentecost experience? Did we not read these verses on the Second Sunday of Easter?
20:19 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?  Is this the Johannine Pentecost? What is the relationship between breath and Spirit?
20:23 To whom was Jesus speaking? How shall we Protestants deal with this verse? How does this verse follow from what precedes it?

JOHN 7:37-39
7:37 And what festival would that be? In the Christian tradition, what is the difference between a feast day and a festival day, if any?
7:38 May only believers drink? What Scripture passage does Jesus quote and what is the original historical and literary context of that passage?
7:39 So Jesus had to be glorified before there was a Spirit?  Did the author of the Gospel know this at the time Jesus quoted scripture, or does this comment make sense only in hindsight? How does the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit help us understand this verse?


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.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

My Sleeping System: I Am Satisfied With Its Performance

I recently upgraded my camping sleeping system. It now consists of four main components: a sleeping bag, a stuff sack that serves as a pillow, a sleeping bag liner, and a sleeping pad.
Sleeping bag, liner, pillow stuff sack, & pad
Sleeping Bag
I chose synthetic over down because I already had a down bag. Thinking I might be camping while exploring water trails via my kayak in addition to backpacking, camping while bicycle touring, and car camping, I wanted a synthetic bag that would still offer some insulation even when damp or a little wet. After some research and snuggling into four of my top preferences, I chose the Regular Length Marmot Cloudbreak 30 because it offered the best fit.
Sleeping Bag Liner
Wanting to keep my bag clean and extend its temperature range, I added a Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor sleeping bag liner.  The liner theoretically extends the comfort range of my Cloudbreak down to 15 degrees, but I have yet to experience anything colder than 30 degrees, and then I was toasty warm. The liner also offers me the possibility of sleeping in just it on top of the bag in warm weather. One night last August it was rather warm when I turned in for the night. It was too warm to be in my bag so I crawled into just the liner and it kept me warm.  Only when the temperature dropped a few hours later and I woke up cold did I zip the bag around me.
Stuff Sack Pillow
I carry both the bag and liner in a nylon stuff sack made by Outdoor Products. Half of the inside of the stuff sack is covered with fleece. At night I turn the stuff sack inside out, stuff it with clothing or other soft gear, and use it as a pillow.
Sleeping Pads
My sleeping pad is a closed cell ¾ length Therm-A-Rest RidgeRest SOLite.  It provides enough insulation and padding from the hard, cold ground to give me a good night’s sleep. I was later seduced by a sale to obtain a full length open cell Therm-A-Rest NeoAir Voyager and added to that the Therm-A-Rest Trekker Chair ultralight, compact chair sleeve to convert the mattress into a chair.
The SOLite is far lighter than the NeoAir Voyager but it also takes up more space. The NeoAir Voyager offers more padding and insulation, and takes up less space, but weighs more. There is also the possibility that the NeoAir Voyager might spring a leak while in the field, resulting in no comfort and no insulation, while the SOLite is practically indestructible. I can also more easily use the SOLite to sit on during a rest stop than I can the NeoAir Voyager.
For longer backpacking trips where weight and reliability is an issue, I carry the SOLite. For shorter backpacking trips, cycling trips, and car camping where weight is not as much an issue, and when I could get by for a night or two if it sprang a leak, I carry the NeoAir Voyager. When I finally take that overnight kayaking trip I will use the NeoAir Voyager because it will be easier to fit into my kayak than the SOLite.
This post originally appeared on The Trek and has been slightly edited.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Collecting Stoves

I started backpacking decades ago; therefore I have gone through several stoves and have seen backpacking stoves evolve. Because I don’t like throwing functional things away, I now have quite a collection of stoves.

My first backpacking stove was a Primus Ranger, similar to the Grasshopper, which used a removable butane fuel cartridge. I used that stove in some pretty cold conditions but the pot support wasn’t very stable. Pots could be easily knocked off. Nor did it come with a windscreen and I didn’t know much about windscreens back then. I don’t know what ever happened to that stove. It is not part of my collection.

During a few warmer weather trips in my early days of backpacking, which were also my minimalist days, I carried and used an old Boy Scout folding aluminum heat tab stove. I used it only to boil water for tea and to rehydrate freeze dried meals, using an old Maxwell House International Coffee tin to hold water for boiling. I once made the mistake of loaning that stove to someone for a canoeing trip. The person’s canoe flipped and he lost my stove as well as a cook set I had loaned him.

L to R, 8R, 111B, Gaz, Stesco
L to R, Whisperlite, PocketRocket

The Optimus 8R with a detachable mini pump was my first liquid fuel stove. Though a bit heavy by today’s standards, it nests inside a 2 liter Sigg pot. I used a 2 liter bottle of Coleman white gas for long trips involving a lot of stove use, a ½ liter bottle for short trips when I did not expect to make much use of the stove, and a 1 liter bottle for those in between trips.

When I started doing more winter backpacking, I upgraded from the Optimus 8R to the Optimus 111B. The 111B has a larger fuel tank than the 8R plus a built in pump. Maybe it is my imagination, but the 111B, while larger and heavier than the 8R, seems to crank out more heat and thus melt snow and boil water faster than the 8R. On group trips of six or more people, I often used both the 8R and the 111B so that we could boil water and cook/fry food at the same time.

Even though I do not use them much anymore, both the 8R and the 111B are workhorses. They served me well for about twenty years in some pretty rough conditions. They are my oldest stoves, but I have kept them because when their brass is cleaned up and shiny, they are almost works of art. Maybe someday they can be placed in a museum.

When I started doing more summer car camping at the beach rather than all season backpacking, I picked up a Gaz Twister on sale. A fuel canister stove, it was less prone to flare ups and didn’t need to be occasionally pressurized like the 8R and 111B. I also had a couple Gaz lanterns that would attach to the same canisters. I used those lanterns in the late evenings for light. The stove, lanterns, and canisters were a little bulky, but hey, I was car camping.

After my car camping days ended, I started hiking and backpacking again. I still use the Gaz Twister with the smallest fuel canister available. The canister nests inside a small pot, and the stove fits inside the top of the stuff sack with the pot.

Because it is almost impossible now to find Gaz fuel canisters in the U.S., I recently purchased a MSR Whisperlite International and a MSR PocketRocket. I use the PocketRocket on shorter trips in warmer weather and the Whisperlite for longer trips and in cold weather. When I take the Whisperlite I use an 11oz bottle of MSR SuperFuel for shorter trips and a 20oz bottle for longer trips.  I carry the Whisperlite inside an MSR Alpine Stowaway 1.6 Liter Pot which I use for boiling water. I carry a MSR fuel canister for the PocketRocket in a metal cup I also use for boiling water and eating out of.

I have played around making my own alcohol stoves out of Coke cans and have tried them around the house but have not yet taken one with me to use as my primary stove for heating water. I am still experimenting with finding a good pot support for the alcohol stove, so if you have any suggestions, please let me know.

Although I have never taken it camping, my stove collection includes an antique/vintage/rare British manufactured Stesco Hikers Stove. This white gas burning stove is indeed a work of art and an engineering marvel. It has no moving parts other than the screw on lead lined cap and removable pot supports, which means the flame is not adjustable. A cork placed through the burner coil seals in the gas when not in use. I was fortunate that a colleague gave it to me after he retired and was cleaning out the garage in preparation for a move.

Yes, I have more backpacking stoves than I will ever need, but each one seems to fill a niche. Each one also reminds me of memorable trips, including backpacking trips to Dolly Sods, the White Mountains, the High Peaks of the Adirondacks, and on the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

This post has been slightly edited from a version that originally appeared on The Trek.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 for the Seventh Sunday of Easter (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.

ACTS 1:6-14
Will you handle this Reading differently depending on whether or not your community observed and celebrated Ascension Day last Thursday?
1:6 Who are the “they” who has come together? What do they mean by “restore the kingdom of Israel”?
1:7 When will those who predict or claim to know when Christ will return learn not to?
1:8 Do you have power?  Has the Holy Spirit come upon you? Note the progression from the local to the global. How shall we interpret this if humans ever colonize Mars?
1:9 In the NRSV the action is in the passive.  Must we read “lifted up” as a physical reference?  In English, we occasionally say we “lift up” things without physically touching them or physically moving them.  What might the cloud symbolize? Do not forget the what is “up” in Jerusalem is “down” on the opposite side of the earth.
1:10 Were the two who were wearing white robes really men?
1:11 I think this is a good question.
1:12 Is the mount of Olives really a sabbath day’s journey from Jerusalem?  What is a sabbath day’s journey? How far is it?
1:13 Were they staying and eating in the same upstairs room? What is the significance of the naming? How many are named. Who is not named?
1:14 Might “constantly” be hyperbole? Who might the other women, in addition to Mary, have been Why are they and Jesus’s brothers not named?  Who were Jesus “brothers”? Were they biological brothers? How many were there?
1:13-14 That eleven men are named, but only one woman, in my mind makes this a sexist and patriarchal passage.  What would your reaction be if the passage read, “When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs were they were staying.  All of them were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, the other Mary, Martha, and Salome, as well as his brothers.”?

PSALM 68:1-10, 32-35
68:1 Is this Psalm paired with the First Reading only because of the “Let God rise up” language? What does it mean for God to rise up?
68:2 This makes God sound like a hot wind.
68:3 Do we ever act like the righteous?
68:4 Now we have “cloud” imagery to pair with the First Reading. This verse could be adapted for use as a Call to Worship.
            One: The Lord be with you.
            All:   And also with you.
            One: Sing to God.
            All:   Sing praises to God’s name.
            One: Lift up a song to the LORD who rides upon the clouds.
            All:   Be exultant before the LORD.
            One: Let us worship God
68:5 Where is God’s holy habitation?
68:6 Was Israel once desolate and a prisoner? Whom is the Psalmist talking about?
68:7 This sure sounds like a reference to the Exodus? How do you handle the “Selah” if at all?
68:8 When was the last time you heard someone begin a prayer with the address “God of Sinai”?
68:9 What is God’s heritage?
68:10 Was God’s flock needy?
68:32 Not only Israel but “kingdoms of the earth” are called to sing praises to God. This verse could also be adapted, and or combined with 68:4 for use as a Call to Worship.  Try writing your own inclusive Call to Worship using this verse. Note another Selah.
68:33-34 Here we have “rider in the heavens” and “skies” language to add to the “rise up” language of 68:1 and the “cloud” imagery of verse 68:4. When was the last time you heard God addressed as “O Rider in the Heavens?”
68:34 Here we find more sky imagery, leading me to wonder about what spiritual vacuum reports of UFOs and aliens might be filling.
68:35 My God is “awesome”!  How do you understand this affirmation?  What does it mean to be “awesome”? This verse offers more imagery and language for a Call to Worship.

1 PETER 4:12-14; 5:6-11
4:12 What is meant by ‘the fiery ordeal”?  Shall we read this any differently in light of the Holocaust/Shoah or even Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
4:13 “Rejoice”?  Really?  Is this supposed to a pep talk? Christ was not burned at the stake so how does experiencing a fiery ordeal equate with sharing Christ’s Sufferings?
4:14 I find this verse easier to take than the one before it. Have you ever been reviled for the name of Christ? I am wonder why “spirit of glory” is not capitalized but “Spirit of God” is capitalized.
5:6 What does it mean to humble oneself under the mighty hand of God? We usually exult God. Why would God exult us?
5:7 What might a Psychiatrist say about this verse?
5:8 In other words, “Pay attention.  There be Lions” and tigers, and bears, oh my! Revelation refers to Christ as the Lion of Judah. How do we reconcile the lion image as a biblical image for both Christ and the devil?  I wonder what Simba, or Aslan, might have to say this verse.
5:9 Might “all the world” be a hyperbole? Was persecution really that widespread?
5:10 Now I hear a word of hope rather than resignation but I wonder long “a little while” might be?  I like the “restore, strengthen, and establish” language and would consider using it as a Blessing or Benediction.
5:11 What function does this verse serve?

JOHN 17:1-11
17:1 What “words”? Worshipers might need to be reminded what preceded this passage. Can we still think of heaven as being up? What “hour” is Jesus referring to?  Is there a Quid pro quo here?
17:2 Did Jesus really refer to himself in the third person?
17:3 I like this image of eternal life more than eternal habitation on clouds playing harps or residing in the New Jerusalem: it is a state of mind or spirit rather than a place.
17:4 What work was Jesus given to do and how did he finish it?
17:5 Jesus had glory in God’s presence before the world existed?  Oh, that is right.  I forgot.  This is the Gospel According to John. See John’s prologue, John 1:1-18.
17:6 How could Jesus make known God’s name when Jews would not pronounce God’s name?
17:7-8 I think Jesus is attributing more knowledge and understanding to his followers than they really possessed at the time, or now.
17:9 Why the distinction between Jesus’ followers and the world?
17:10 How has Jesus been glorified in others?
17:11 If Jesus is no longer in the world but still coming to God, then where is he? What name has God given to Jesus?  How can those for whom Jesus prays in any sense of the word be “one” as Jesus and “his Father” are one?

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.