Monday, January 22, 2018

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 for The 5th Sunday after Epiphany (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 40:21-31
40:21-31 This is one of the longer readings we have seen in a while.  How does the fact that this Reading is printed as poetry rather than prose affect or influence your interpretation and application?
40:21 What have you known? What have you heard? What are the foundations of the earth? Is the prophet asking merely rhetorical questions? Listen for an echo in 40:28.
40:22 Who is “he?”  I am surprised by “the circle” of the earth as I would have expected a flat earth with four corners rather than a flat disk. Why are humans compared to grasshoppers?
40:23 These images seem to assert God’s sovereignty.
40:24 What are the “they?” What is Isaiah talking about? In light of the recent US Government shut down, Republican as well as Democratic leaders should perhaps ponder this verse.
40:25 God is now talking. As in 40:21, are these rhetorical questions?
40:26 Now who is speaking? What are the “these?” What is God referring to?
40:27 Is there any other instance in Scripture of anyone speaking these words? What is meant by “way?” What “right” is being referred to and has God really been ignoring it?
40:28-31 These verses are sometimes used in the funeral service.
40:28 I hear an echo of 40:21.  This sounds like a confession of faith. Does either of the Genesis creation accounts inform this this verse?
40:29 What faint and powerless might Isaiah have in mind?
40:30-31 This is one of my favorite passages to read as part of a Service of Witness to the Resurrection and that fact probably colors my interpretation of it. No one is immortal and death may strike at any age.
40:31 What does it mean to “wait” for the Lord? What does renewing one’s strength feel like? Why am I thinking of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogy? How many and what countries, beside the United States, have adopted the eagle as its national bird? I wonder if this is the favorite verse of marathoners and power walkers (I am neither). I wonder how Tom Brady and the New England Patriots read this verse.

PSALM 147:1-11, 20c
147:1 Why is it that some worshiping communities simply do not like to sing hymns and spiritual songs? How can the church carry on its tradition of musical praise when many public schools no longer offer music education and fewer and fewer people are learning to play the organ?
147:2 Who are the outcasts of Israel? What period in Jewish history does this reflect? How might recent political events, like the United States recognizing Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel?
147:3 Are the brokenhearted and wounded the same people as the outcasts of Jerusalem?
147:4 I wonder what God has to say about all the organizations that, for a small fee, will name a star after someone and then register that name. I wonder what names ancient Jews gave to the stars.
147:5 This sounds like a confession of faith as well as an expression of praise. Compare this verse to Isaiah 40:28.
147:6 Note the inversion, lifting up the downtrodden and casting down the wicked who were presumably on top because of their wickedness.
147:7 See my comments regading 147:1. What is our closest modern equivalent to the lyre?
147:8 God the cloud coverer and rain preparer.
147:9 Does God give food even to carnivores?
147:10 So God is not a horse racing or track and field fan?
147:11 What is the meaning of “fear?” Do you fear God? Might Rudolph Otto help us interpret this verse?
147:20c This is always a good way to end a Psalm and in this case the last/ending line echoes the first/opening line.

1 Corinthians 9:16-23
9:16 What is the meaning of “if?” I can almost resonate with Paul’s assertion about woe.
9:17 I think Paul’s comment calls for some spiritual and psychological honesty by those who preach.
9:18 How do “compensated” preachers handle this one?
9:19 How did Paul make himself a slave?
9:20 How could Paul make himself  a Jew when he was already a Jew?
9:21 Who were outside the law?
9:22 How did Paul become weak?  Can anyone truly be everything to all people? How would Paul have dealt with a non-homogeneous, pluralistic worshipping, spiritual, religious community? Was Paul self-differentiated?
9:23 How did Paul share in the blessings of the gospel?

Mark 1:29-39
1:29 Who were “they”? Where did Simon and Andrew live? Why are James and John mentioned?
1:30 So Simon was married? Who was and where was his wife?  Were Simon and Andrew living with Simon’s in-laws or were Simon’s in-laws and Andrew living with Simon? Who are “they” and who is “him?”
1:31 Who is “He?” What is the significance of her serving? Is there some patriarchal sexism behind this text?
1:32 Is “all” perhaps hyperbole?  What is the relationship between being sick and being possessed?
1:33 I think “the whole city” is again hyperbole? How many people might have inhabited Capernaum at this time (see Mark 1:21)?
1:34 Did Jesus cure many or all? Did he cast out many or all demons? Is his not permitting the demons to speak an example of Mark’s messianic secret?
1:35 So Jesus was a morning person!  Why pray in a deserted place? Was Jesus alone? How might this verse inform our understanding of the need for a spiritual discipline of prayer and retreat?
1:36 Who were Simon’s companions and why were Simon and his companions hunting for Jesus?
1:37 So Simon and his companions found Jesus! I did not know Jesus was lost. Is “everyone” another hyperbole? Is Simon referring to physical or spiritual searching?
1:38 What towns neighbored Capernaum? Why am I thinking of Eugene Peterson?
1:39 What if Jesus had proclaimed the message but not cast out demons? What if he had cast out demons but not proclaimed the message?  Must proclaiming the message and casting out demons go hand in hand? Why is there no mention in this verse of healing the sick (see my comments for Mark 1:32.

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.

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