Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Letter to the Editor of the Wheeling Sunday News-Register


March 27, 2018

J. Michael Myer
Executive Editor, Sunday News-Register
1500 Main Street
Wheeling, WV 26003

The March 24th “March for Our Lives” rally in Washington, DC was perhaps the most newsworthy event of the weekend yet you relegated the superb AP Story to page four of the March 25th issue rather than featuring it on the front page. The content of the AP story itself offers enough reasons why it should have been featured on the front page.

Furthermore, you failed to even mention with any addition or a separate story that approximately three hundred local residents gathered at Wheeling’s Heritage Port on the same day for the same reason and that local college and high school students, some reading prepared remarks and some speaking extemporaneously, spoke passionately and coherently as they argued for common sense gun legislation. Shame on you. #NeverAgain.

John Edward Harris
Wellsburg, WV

Monday, March 26, 2018

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 for The 2nd Sunday of Easter (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.

ACTS 4:32-35
4:32-25 If you plan to preach using this passage you may want to read Acts 2 for context.
4:32 What is the size of this group?  Have you ever known of any group, or a Church, of one heart and soul? Why did common ownership go by the wayside?
4:33 What does great power look and sound like? Are there gradations of grace?
4:34 Are there needy persons in your church?
4:35 Who determined the need?

PSALM 133
133:1 Is this Psalm about kin or kirk? Do you know of any family or church that lives together in unity?
133:2 I love this sensual imagery but think it means more when we anoint with oil at the time of Baptism and when praying for healing and wholeness. If we never anoint with oil, the imagery seems to lose some of its power.
133:3 What and where is Hermon and what is so special about its dew?

1 JOHN 1:1-2:2
1:1 Who are “we?” What beginning is cited? I think three of the five senses – hearing, sight, and touch – are mentioned. What about the other two – taste and smell? How can we offer worship and other spiritual and religious experiences that address all the senses?  I think many of our churches need a more fully embodied, sensual worship that will help us get out of always being in our head.
1:2 What is the meaning of “revealed?” What is the difference between eternal life and everlasting life?
1:3 What is the nature of this fellowship?
1:4 How can writing a letter complete one’s joy?
1:5 Who is the “him” from whom they heard this message, Jesus, John the evangelist, or someone else? How can we be sensitive to and deal with issues of racism when contrasting images of light and darkness?
1:6 Why would someone say they have fellowship with God when they really don’t?
1:7 Why is walking in light connected with being cleansed with or by the blood of Jesus?
1:8-9 These verses are often used as part of a Call to Confession, such as found in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Book of Common Worship page 52.
1:10 What if someone knows they have sinned but do not care that they have sinned?
2:1 Why the “little children” address? Is it possible not to sin? “Advocate” is usually associated with the Holy Spirit, not Jesus.
2:2 What is an “atoning sacrifice?” How many theories of the atonement are you familiar with and which one or ones best address this passage?

John 20:19-31
20:19 Why did the disciples fear the Jews? What Jews did they fear? They themselves were Jews! What is the meaning and significance of “Peace be with you.?”
20:20 Did the disciples not rejoice when they heard the Lord? Why is seeing more weighty than hearing?
20:21 Why does Jesus repeat his greeting?
20:22 What is the symbolism and meaning of Jesus’ breathing on the disciples? Is “Receive the Holy Spirit” an invitation or a declarative command?
20:23 I thought only God had the power to forgive sin(s). Why do we and the Scriptures sometimes speak of sins (plural) and other times speak of sin (singular)? What is the difference and does it matter?
20:24 Why was Thomas called the Twin? I wonder why Thomas was not there and where he was.
20:25 Notice the eleven say nothing about hearing the Lord. I think we should call him Skeptical Thomas rather than Doubting Thomas. The other disciples and Jesus were living in the resurrection but Thomas was not.
20:26 Is there anything special about this house? Note that we are told that the doors were shut, not locked. (See 20:19). This is the third time we hear this greeting.
20:27 Jesus invites Thomas to do so but the text does not say that Thomas did as invited. Was seeing and hearing Jesus, and the invitation, enough for Thomas?
20:28 Is this an early Christian confession of faith?
20:29 Was “seeing” enough? (Reconsider my question for 20:27.) Was Jesus referring to post-resurrection sightings? We are not Thomas. We are not the first disciples. We did not witness this or the other signs Jesus did. We cannot put our finger in Christ’s wounds and see his hands. All we have are the stories passed on to us down through the centuries. Yet we ought to come to worship expecting to see Jesus. Can “Magic Eye” 3D images and optical illusions teach us anything about seeing Jesus in the present day?
20:30 What other signs?
20:31 I wonder what the criteria was for including these signs but not others.

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.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

And A Little Child Shall Lead Them


6 The wolf shall live with the lamb,
   the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
   and a little child shall lead them. (Isaiah 11:6)

Isaiah 11:6 has long been one of my favorite passages of Scripture. Whenever I hear it, and I usually hear it read in worship a few weeks before Christmas on the Second Sunday of Advent in Year A of the Revised Common Lectionary cycle, it evokes images of Edward Hick’s iconic Peaceable Kingdom and leaves me feeling warm and … well, peaceful.

Until recently, the most powerful images for me from Isaiah’s vision have been the ravenous wolf cohabitating with the domesticated lamb, the wild leopard reclining with the tame kid, and the calf and lion and the fatling coexisting in harmony. That changed on February 14th, 2018, when students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, located in Parkland, Florida, after seventeen of their colleagues were gunned down by a former student firing an AR-15, decided they were no longer going to accept politician’s thoughts and prayers. They started demanding common sense gun safety legislation instead.

Led by students like David Hogg, Emma Gonzalez and others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas and other schools across the nation, students at 10:00 AM on March 14th stood in class or walked out of class for seventeen minutes, one minute for each victim in the Parkland shooting, in protest. They were protesting to demand that our political leaders offer legislation rather than mere moments of silence, prayers, and thoughts.

What makes the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas different from students in other schools where mass shooting have occurred over the past two decades is that they can’t remember a day when school shootings were not part of their lives. All the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, and every high school in America today, were born after the April 20, 1999 Columbine High School massacre when 12 students and one teacher were murdered and another 21 were injured.

Many older adults, like me, have almost lost count of the death and carnage from mass shootings since Columbine. As disastrous as Columbine and Parkland were, they have become blurred in my memory with other catastrophic events like the assassination of JFK and Martin Luther King, Jr., the debacle of the Vietnam War, Watergate, and many other catastrophic events in my lifetime. 

Not so with high school students today. Their psychological and spiritual scars, and in some cases physical scars, left from mass shootings, serve as constant reminders that the politicians of my generation and the generation between me and students young enough to be my grandchildren have done absolutely nothing to end the culture of gun violence in our nation by limiting access to weapons designed not for hunting or self-defense but mass killing.

I applaud the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and other students from across the country who today take to the streets in Washington, DC and in large cities and small towns across the country to demand  that their lives and safety become a priority, and that we end gun violence in our schools and communities. Thoughts and prayers are not enough to honor the victims of gun violence. What we need now is action.

For too long, change has been twarted by cowards in the House and Senate, by the NRA Washington gun lobby, and now by the Trump Administration, who refuse to take common-sense steps that will save lives.

To the impotent politicians of my generation and younger who have so far been able to offer only thought and prayers, I say move out of the way and let the younger generation, a generation who are no longer innocent children but battle scarred adults, many of whom are already or soon will be registered voters, lead us into a more peaceable kingdom.


(The original March 14th post was revised and updated in light of the March 24 MARCH FOR OUR LIVES event in Washington, DC and similar events across the country. I read a slightly different version of the above at the Wheeling, West Virginia MARCH FOR OUR LIVES rally at Wheeling Heritage Port.)

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 for The Resurrection of the Lord/Easter (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.

ACTS 10:34-43
10:34 To whom was Peter speaking? Would anyone expect God to show partiality?
10:35 What does Peter mean by “nation?” Is it a political, a cultural, or an ethnic reference? What does it mean to fear God (See my comments on Mark 16:8)?
10:36 What does Peter mean by “the people of Israel?” Is this the Gospel?
10:37 What is the geographic relation of Judea to Galilee? Did the message begin with John or with Jesus?
10:38 Peter now seems to expand on 10:36. What is the difference between being anointed with the Holy Spirit and being anointed with power? What does it mean to be oppressed by the devil? How is satanic oppression related to satanic possession? How shall we handle possession and devil language in a post-Christian and post-modern world?
10:39 What does it mean to be a witness? In 10:37 it was Judea and Galilee. Now it is Judea and Jerusalem. Who are “they?” Why does Peter say Jesus was hung on a tree (rather than a cross)?
10:40 Note the passive: God raised Jesus. Jesus did not raise himself. What if God had not allowed him to appear?
10:41 Is this a proof text for the doctrine of predestination? What is the significance of eating and drinking? Is “rose” a passive or active verb?
10:42 Jesus was ordained? What does it mean to judge the living and the dead?
10:43 All the prophets? Really? Might Peter sometimes be prone to hyperbole?

ISAIAH 25:6-9
25:6 What mountain? Watch for the restatement of poetic parallelism. Does “all people” open up an argument for universalism? Might this inform our celebration of the Eucharist?
25:7 Why has a shroud been cast over all peoples? Is anyone else thinking of the Shroud of Turin?
25:8 Note that 25:6 talks about food and drink and 25:7 talks about death. Now we have death being swallowed up (like food is swallowed)! How will God wipe away tears?
25:9 What day? Who will say this? The Lectionary apparently views this as a passage that prefigures resurrection or in some way theologically informs our understanding of resurrection. How would this passage have functioned in the Hebrew Scriptures before Jesus? 

PSALM 118:1-2, 14-24
I am hearing echoes from last Sunday.
118:1 By definition, does not “steadfast love” endure “forever”?
118:2 This reads like common liturgy, that is liturgy for use in common, or public, worship.
118:14 What is the difference between strength and might? Does “salvation” mean something different in the Psalms than it does in the New Testament?
118:15-16 What is a victory song? Do you think that the Psalmist might actually be quoting a Psalm that never made it into the Psalter? What is so special about the “right hand” of the LORD?  Is this an example of a bias toward right-handedness?
118:17 What are the “deeds” of the LORD?
118:18 Are any punishments worse than death? Does this verse lend itself to images of a vengeful, wrathful God?
118:19 What, and where, are the gates of righteousness?
118:20 What is “this?” Is the Psalmist referring to a metaphorical gate or one of the gates leading in and out of Jerusalem?
118:21 What was the answer?
118:22 What stone might the Psalmist had in mind? How does this fit in with the rest of the Psalm?
118:23 What were the people seeing?
118:24 What day has the LORD made? What day has the LORD not made?

1 CORINTHIANS 15:1-11
15:1 Is this anamnesis? When and where did Paul proclaim this? Why did the Corinthians need reminding?
15:2 Are the Corinthians saved or are they being saved? Is salvation an event or a process? How does one hold firmly to a message?
15:3 How did Paul receive what he is now handing on and when did he receive it?  Where does Paul begin the narrative? Did he leave anything out? What were Paul’s scriptures?
15:4 Note the passive “he was raised”. Also note the second occurrence of “in accordance with the scriptures” in this reading.
15:5 Why are the appearances to women not mentioned?
15:6 When did Jesus appear to more than five hundred? Is there are problem caused by the fact that some have died?
15:7 Who is James? Is there a difference between “the twelve” of 15:5 and the apostles of this verse?
15:8 Why does Pail consider himself untimely born? I wonder if Paul had even heard of Jesus before Jesus was raised.
15:9 While Paul considers himself the least of the apostles, he still considers himself an apostle.
15:10 Is “I am what I am” an allusion to the tetragrammaton? Has this phrase made it into popular English? Is Paul bragging about how he worked harder than any of the apostles?
15:11 Who are they? Paul is claiming to be an apostle, but would the other apostles have been so quick to claim Paul?

John 20:1-18
20:1 The Mark reading claims that there were three women who came to the tomb after the sun had risen. Why the discrepancy? Who removed the stone? How and when was it removed?
20:2 Which disciple is “the one whom Jesus loved?”  Why did Mary say “we”? Why the shift from the singular to the plural? Who were the “they” whom Mary thought might have taken the Lord?
20:3 Why is the other disciple not named?
20:4 Was the other disciple faster, younger, or was Peter simply a slow poke?
20:5 Why might the disciple not have gone in right away?
20:6-8 What do you make of Peter seeing, but the other disciple seeing and believing? What did he believe?
20:9 How do you reconcile this verse with the preceding one? How could they not have understood?
20:10 This reads like a rather anticlimactic verse.
20:11 It seems the Mary is alone, so why the “we” back in verse 20:2? Peter and the other disciple were real jerks for leaving Mary all alone at the tomb.
20:12 Would you recognize an angel if you saw one? Why had the angels not appeared to Peter and the other disciple, or where they there all along but Peter and the other disciple did not or could not see them? The Mark reading mentions only one figure in white in the tomb. Again, why the inconsistency?
20:13 Do you hear an echo?  Now it is “I”, not “we.”
20:14 If you saw Jesus, would you recognize him? How could Mary not have recognized him?
20:15 I definitely hear an echo. Note that both angels and Jesus address Mary as “woman: and ask her “why are you weeping?” Where would Mary have taken the body of Jesus?
20:16 Does it make any difference that at first Jesus addresses Mary as “Woman” but later addresses her by her name? Why does John translate “Rabbouni”?
20:17 Was Mary attempting to hold on, or already holding on to Jesus? As if Mary could hold on to Jesus after the ascension? How do we try to hold on to Jesus when perhaps we shouldn’t? Does Jesus refer to his biological brothers or his spiritual brothers? Is ascension a process or an event?
20:18 I think this makes Mary the first “witness” of the resurrection. Does that not also make her the first evangelist?

MARK 16:1-8
16:1 Who was James?  How does one anoint with spices?
16:2 I wonder what the women would have experienced if the women had gone to the tomb before sunrise.
16:3 Why were they wondering who would roll away the stone? This stone was most likely not a spherical stone but a round stone much like a stone grinding wheel. How did they even now there was a stone blocking the entrance to (or exit from) the tomb?
16:4 What does this suggest?
16:5 Who was this young man? What does the white robe symbolize or suggest? Why was he sitting on the right side rather than the left or does it not matter? If it does not matter, why is the detail included? Why were they alarmed?
16:6 Why did the young man think the women were alarmed? Note the passive voice. Jesus did not rise. Jesus was raised.
16:7 Why is Peter singled out? Why would the resurrected Jesus go to Galilee? Had Jesus told the disciples that they would see him, resurrected, in Galilee? Is this anything like a return to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry?
16:8 What does the verb “fled” suggest? Are terror and amazement the same thing? Are you familiar with Rudolf Otto’s concept of the Mysterium Tremendum (or Mickey Hart’s recording by the same name)? If they said nothing to anyone, then how did the details of their experience become known? Did they at least tell Peter and the other disciples, as they had been instructed to?

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, March 12, 2018

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 for Palm/Passion Sunday (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: There is not only a dual emphasis/focus this Sunday but also several Alternate Readings. There is so much Scripture this day that I will not be offering verse by verse ruminations as usual.

LITURGY OF THE PALMS

MARK 11:1-11
11:1 Is there anything special we need to know about Bethpage and Bethany? Why would Jesus send two disciples rather than one?  Which two do you think he sent? What do you know about the Mount of Olives?
11:2 What village? How did Jesus know there would be a colt there? Note that there is only one animal.
11:3 Is this the only instance where Jesus refers to himself as the Lord?
11:6 Had Jesus given the two disciples some sort of secret message? Had Jesus been prescient or had he made prior arrangements to use the colt?
11:8 What is the meaning of spreading cloaks and leafy branches on the road?  What might be a modern equivalent?
11:9-10 What is being quoted? Does it matter? Why I am thinking Eucharistic liturgy?
11:11 All he did was look around? I find that somewhat anticlimactic.

OR

JOHN 12:12-16
12:12 What festival?
12:13 Why did the people take palm branches? What is being quoted? I find it significant that both Mark and John quote nearly the same text.
12:14 He “found” it? Again, note that there is just one animal. In John, Jesus sits on the colt after we are told about the palm branches. In Mark, we are told about the branches and cloaks after Jesus sits on the animal.
12:15 What is being quoted?
12:16 Hindsight is often 20-20. How much do we not yet understand?

PSALM 118:1-2, 19-29
118:1-2 This looks like a liturgical introduction and could be adapted as a Call to Worship.
118:19-20 What and where are the gates of righteousness?
118:22 Where will we hear this again?
118:24 What day? Did the LORD not make every day?
118:26 Who comes in the name of the LORD? Where will we hear this again?
118:27 What festal procession is being referred to? What and where are the horns of the altar? Shall we read the Gospel accounts of the Palm Sunday procession as fulfillment of or allusion to this verse?
118:29 Hear the refrain of 118:1

LITURGY OF THE PASSION

ISAIAH 50:4-9a
50:4 I take this verse personally. Note how this moves from teacher to one who is taught. I think the best teachers are still very much students.
50:5 How does God open our ears? Note that Semitic culture tended to be oral rather than visual.
50:6 Who is speaking?
50:7 What does it mean to set one’s face like flint?
50:8 Who is the “us?” Is this a Psalm of a single individual or is it giving voice to the community?
50:4-9a How does this passage inform our observance of Palm/Passion Sunday and how does our observance of Palm/Passion Sunday influence how we might read and interpret this passage?

PSALM 31:9-6
These verses sound as if they could have been spoken by Job!
31:9 What was the Hebrew understanding of the relation between the soul and the body?
31:12 Are we to read these words as referring to or prefiguring Christ’s Passion, or simply as a meditation or commentary on Christ’s Passion?
31:14 How might the psalmist maintain trust in God in spite of all the psalmist’s suffering?
31:16 What does it mean for God’s face to shine upon us?

PHILIPPIANS 2:5-11
2:5-11 Note that these verses appear as poetry, not prose.
2:5 What mind was in Christ Jesus? I can have the mind of Jesus?
2:6 What is God’s form? Is Plato’s theory of forms at all helpful here?
2:7 Was Jesus born in human likeness or was he born as human? How are likeness and form related?
2:9-10 What is so special about the name “Jesus” and was this name special before Christ?
2:10 There are beings in heaven with knees?  What beings under the earth have knees?
2:11 Is “Jesus Christ is Lord” the simplest and perhaps oldest confession of faith?

MARK 14:1-15:47
This is an extremely long passage. You may want to opt for the shorter alternative.  My ruminations cover only the shorter option of 15:1-39
15:1 What do you know about all the different players; the chief priests, the elders, the scribes, and the whole council? How would the above relate to Pilate?
15:2 Did Pilate say that Jesus was the King of the Jews? Is “You say so” any kind of an answer?
15:3 What things?
15:4 Apparently Pilot did not think “You say so” was an answer.
15:5 Why was Pilate amazed?
15:6 What festival?
15:7 What insurrection? Was Barabbas a rebel? Had he committed murder?
15:9 Why did Pilate refer to the “King of the Jews” rather than to Jesus?
15:10 Was Pilate’s analysis correct.  Was it jealousy that really motivated the chief priests?
15:12 Who was calling Jesus  the King of the Jews?
15:15 How could Pilate have Jesus crucified if he was not guilty of any crime? To whom did Pilate hand Jesus over to?
15:16-23 I think John Shelby Spong makes a strong argument for reading the crucifixion account, at least in its original form, as Midrash on Psalm 22.
15:16 What is a cohort?
15:17 Is there anything special about purple? I wonder where this cloak came from.
15:17-18 Where is the irony?
15:21 Why are Simon, Alexander and Rufus named?
15:23 Why wine mixed with myrrh?
15:25 Does the time matter?
15:31 What others had Jesus saved?
15:32 I know this is Mark, but I hear echoes of the ending of John.
15:33 Note the contrast—noon and darkness.  According to my calculations, Jesus was on the cross six hours.
15:34 Is Jesus quoting something? If so, what?
15:35-36 How might Elijah figure into all of this?
15:38 What symbolic statement is being made here?
15:39 What is the irony here?
15:40 Where there more women looking on than just those named?
15:41 How many women?
15:42 When does evening begin?
15:43 What council? Does this refer to the council mentioned back in 15:1?
15:44 Had Pilate expected Jesus to hang on the longer before he died?
15:45 Who else had the right to claim the body?
15:46 Where is the detail we are used to?
15:47 Where was Salome? Why does it matter that both Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses (Jesus’ mother?) saw where the body was laid? Had Joseph of Arimathea meant to keep it secret?

OR

MARK 15:1-39 (40-47)
See the above ruminations.

ADDENDUM
I am considering playing a dramatic recording of the Mark 14:1-15:47 Reading and preaching a short sermon of perhaps three to five paragraphs. What do you think of the idea?

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.