Monday, November 30, 2009

World Aids Day 2009 Poster and prayer of Confession for the Church


Tomorrow is World Aids Day (Dec 01).

Almighty God, whose compassion is known throughout the world and whose love has endured across the centuries, we humbly come to You seeking forgiveness for our pride and pardon for our many mistakes.

As a Faith, we have failed to live by the words of Christ Jesus our King.

As the Church, we have mistakenly chosen to condemn other people to loneliness, suffering, and unbelief because of our self-righteous ways and bitter words.

As Christians, we have walked away from those who have HIV/AIDS. We have created a new class of lepers and pariah by withholding our love, protecting our religious values, and shunning those who needed our understanding and compassion.

Lord God, forgive our failures and help us to seek the pardon of those people we have offended most. Chide us for being spiritually and emotionally blind. Challenge us to become healers and helpers, supporters and servants to those whose hearts we have hurt and whose spirits we have damaged.

Sacred Savior, as the Church, we brought this upon ourselves. We failed miserably because we loved conditionally. We are ashamed of our arrogance and attacks. We are guilty of godlessness and insincerity. We are the hypocrites who smugly condemned others to hell, instead of graciously attracting them to heaven.

May this World AIDS Day be a time of remorse and atonement, as well as a call to compassion and mercy. May we be allowed to return to the embracing fold of humanity and be accepted in the global community as humble and contrite servants wherever we can help those afflicted by this disease, as well as becoming honest and combative soldiers in the fight to find a cure for HIV/AIDS.

In Christ’s Holy Name, we sorrowfully confess and humbly pray. Amen.


John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee



A larger version of the poster can be found at http://www.flickr.com/photos/traqair57/4134107040/sizes/l/

Nothing to See Here

Sorry, sorry!  This administrator has been too busy to ask for help lately!

A couple of quick notes before I put my nose back to the grindstone:

THANK YOU for all the wonderful volunteers to write for the unnofficial PCUSA Blog.  Emails coming shortly.  (Or not so shortly, depending)

I hope you all had moments of joy and others of quiet reflection this holiday weekend.  In lieu of my usual Member Blog Meet and Greet, I offer this:

My grandmother died near Thanksgiving one year when I was a young teen, and a trip to the cemetery has long been a holiday tradition for my family.  I am always mindful of the fact that - for many - holidays are more about sadness than joy.

So today I will point to Peter Stone's blog, When I Am Weak, then I Am Strong.  He isn't blogging about the holidays this week, but he is blogging about depression.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Advent Devotions: Salvationists



The season of Advent is a special time for salvation…

Luke 3:6 And all mankind will see God's salvation.

Podcast version here

When I was a teenager in Scotland, I worshipped with the Salvation Army. My best friend at the time, George, had joined the Salvationists and was a great trumpet player. He always seemed to have a good attitude, was very dependable as a friend, and worked hard at school. I wanted to be like that, so I went to the Army Hall for a number of Sunday morning meetings.

I liked seeing the worshippers in their uniforms and the worship was amazing. The participants sang enthusiastically and the brass band played along. It was a wonderful experience and I wanted to be part of their community, but to do so I needed to sign the pledge and I just wasn’t prepared to do that at the time.

I guess I wanted to have my cake and eat it, or to put it another way, I wanted to have my beer and drink it. Eventually, I stopped going to services because I knew I was being a hypocrite. It never affected George’s friendship with me. If he was disappointed, I never knew it. He was a true Christian and years later, when I fiercely battled against alcohol and struggled with my faith, George’s example kept me going at times. I could see God’s salvation in him when I was a teenager and it helped me seek Christ later in life.

Advent is a time when we can rediscover Christ. We often think about Him as the holy child in the precious manger, but for those of us who have struggled in life, He is much more than a Christmas card baby. Christ is the Savior of our souls. He is the Chosen One in whom God’s salvation can be seen by the entire world.

If you’re presently struggling with issues in your life and you’re feeling insecure, then please come to Jesus and receive His total reassurance. He has promised us that He will help to carry our burdens and restore us to God’s merciful love. It’s a wonderful blessing and a remarkable opportunity for salvation.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for the true Christians in our lives, whose characters and conduct attract us to God’s salvation. Bless them for their understanding and support. Bring us closer to You through God’s amazing love. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. He writes the devotional blog Heaven’s Highway.

Today’s image has been created by John. It’s called “Poinsettia Star.”


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Lectionary Ruminations: Scripture for Worship on November 29, 2009


Here are the passages for November 29th, 2009, the First Sunday of Advent (Year C).  Although the month of November isn't even over yet, it's New Year's time on the liturgical calendar.  This is because the liturgical calendar starts with the season of advent: the four weeks prior to Christmas.   If you've been accustomed to using these weeks before Christmas to tell and retell the story of the birth of Jesus, you might be in for a surprise as you read the Scriptures assigned to Advent, which is a period of "waiting" in more ways than one.

All lectionary links are to the NRSV via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead.

Jeremiah 33:14-16
  • A common theme throughout Advent will be “something is coming.”  Especially for the Old Testament passages, it's worth remembering that these passages were written in anticipation of Jesus Christ’s coming, but without the full awareness that we have 2000 years after Christ’s birth.  In that vein, consider this short passage from Jeremiah.  Something is coming.  God declares that promises will be fulfilled, and that these promises are for all of God’s people, a fact underscored by mentioning both Israel and Judah, the divided kingdoms after Israel split a couple of generations after the reign of King David.  The fact that David’s name is invoked in this prophecy harkens back to happier times when God’s people were united in one Kingdom.  What does it mean to God’s people that God’s promises should be fulfilled by a “righteous Branch” out of David’s line?
  • We also see in this passage one of what will be a number of different names for the one that is coming to fulfill God’s promises.  Here, this figure is called “The LORD is our righteousness.”  What is the significance of specifying this title as a name in this way?
Psalm 25:1-10

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
  • As Paul writes this letter, it is obvious how much he cares for the people to whom he is writing.  Still, although Paul is using very warm language, he still indicates that the Thessalonians are lacking something in their faith.  What do you think Paul is referring to?
  • At the end of the passage, as Paul encourages the Thessalonians and writes of his desire to see them, he sends a message.  Something is coming.  Specifically, Jesus Christ will be coming, and apparently he won’t be coming alone.  Who do you think the “holy ones” are that Paul refers to?  Why does Paul make it a point to mention Jesus’ second coming at this point, right in the middle of his letter?
Luke 21:25-36
  • Like the 1 Thessalonians passage we read before this one, this passage of Luke takes the “something is coming” theme in a bit of a different direction than we might normally expect for the Advent season.  This is most definitely not the birth narrative that most of us have grown so accustomed to.  Why have the framers of the Revised Common Lectionary chosen these passages for us to reflect on as we begin the season of Advent?  
  • It may also be worth nothing that this is the second time in the past few weeks that we have read a Gospel passage where Jesus talks about events that many have associated with the end times.  Do you think that Jesus is talking about the “end times,” or did he have something else in mind?  Notice that Jesus gives specific signs that will occur in the times to which he is referring.  What do you find striking about these signs?  Is there anything about these signs that you don’t see happening in the present world?  How would Jesus’ followers 2000 years ago have seen the signs?
  • In verse 32, Jesus says that this generation would not pass away until the things he mentioned in the former verses have happened.  What does that mean for us?  Have we missed the coming of the kingdom?  What is Jesus talking about when he says “this generation will not pass away”?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Advent Prayers 2009: Call to Worship & Themes


November 29, 2009 - First Sunday of Advent  (purple candle, theme is Hope)
December 6, 2009 - Second Sunday of Advent  (purple candle, theme is Love)
December 13, 2009 - Third Sunday of Advent  (purple or pink candle, theme is Joy)
December 20, 2009 - Fourth Sunday of Advent (purple candle, theme is Peace)


First in Advent: HOPE

Call to Worship

Advent Guide:              Lord Jesus Christ, You are the Hope Bringer of the Universe, whose gracious promises strengthen our faith and brighten the spirits of our people.
All:                  You bring justice and righteousness to the Earth. You save the world from sin and free us from our fears.
(Lighting of First Purple Advent Candle)
Advent Guide:              Lord Jesus, Your Everlasting Light restores our eternal hopes. You are our Righteousness and Redeemer forever. Amen.

Second in Advent: LOVE

Advent Guide:              Lord Jesus Christ, You are the Almighty Messenger, sent from heaven to proclaim God’s Gracious Love to the people of this planet.
All:                  You have freely come among us to lovingly challenge our beliefs and change our ways.
(Lighting of Two Purple Advent Candles)
Advent Guide:              Lord Jesus, sanctify our people and make us acceptable to You. Reclaim and restore us to God’s Everlasting Love. Amen.

Third in Advent: JOY

Advent Guide: Lord Jesus Christ, You are the Everlasting Joy of God’s Heart and the Holy Savior of the nations.
All:      You come among us to release us from our burdens and take great delight in our eternal happiness.
(Lighting of Two Purple candles and the Pink Joy Candle)
Advent Guide:              Lord Jesus, quieten us with Your Precious Love and fill our spirits with heavenly joy. Amen.

Fourth in Advent: PEACE

Advent Guide:  Lord Jesus Christ, You are the Strength of God and the Sacred Shepherd of our souls.
All:      Your greatness is amongst us and Your power reaches out to the ends of the Earth.
(Lighting of Three Purple Candles & Pink Candle)
Advent Guide:              Lord Jesus, let us live securely in Your peace and be blessed forever by Your Holy Name. Amen.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Welcome

Welcome to Matthew Camlin, Minister of the Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (USA), husband, and father of three children.  Rev. Camlin blogs at The Solitary Broom Tree.

Over eight years of the ordained life, I have returned again and again to this chapter in 1 Kings, so fraught with evocative imagery and poignancy, and found echoes of my own spiritual journey. I have read it and found myself in the clinically depressed prophet who "sat down under a solitary broom tree" and asked that he might die. I have read it and found myself in the prophet of God on the run from those who would take his life. I have read it and found myself in the prophet who is unable to discern God's will in all the calamitous noise of the world, but finds it in the "sound of sheer silence." Most importantly, though, I have read it and found myself in the prophet who, despite depression, threats and distraction, hears God's voice saying, "What are you doing here? Go, return on your way, and do the work to which I still call you." Because it is my sacred calling from God to speak his Word and share the living water of his love with parched human souls, I have created this blog -- with the utmost humility -- to share God's Word with anyone who would set a spell beneath this tree with me and listen.

I've just found his blog and I've already linked to and quoted him on my own!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thursday Read and Learn: About BSD


Justice Seeker suggested that I write a post about the very successful Bible Study Discussion program at my church and share how it is set up and why it has been so well-received throughout our community.

First the caveat--I am relatively new to the program, so I don't have personal experience with its development. However, at our recent retreat for BSD leaders I asked about its history.

Some call BSD "BSF light" because it was created on the BSF model, but with more “grace and mercy.” For those not familiar with BSF, it is an interdenominational Bible study that is quite demanding and requires consistent attendance. I have never been to BSF, but it does have a reputation for being quite theologically conservative in its approach. When I first visited BSD, I was concerned about that until the Teaching Leader cited John Calvin in her lecture!

BSD was created by a woman in my church about 20 years ago and grew to almost 500 on Thursday mornings. She did use the BSF curriculum, which she adapted to a more Presbyterian point of view. Eventually copyright issues forced BSD to look for another curriculum and after trying a few different ones, it is now using a curriculum written at Sunset Presbyterian Church in Portland. (Sunset PC is now an EPC church, but was still in the PCUSA when we began using their materials.)

The basic organization of BSD remains similar to BSF: small groups discuss the lesson for the week with a designated group leader (who must be a church member); discussion is followed by a lecture by a Teaching Leader; and the small groups have a luncheon once a month. Child care is available at the church for all participants and it includes a short lesson for the kids based on the scripture their mothers or grandmothers are discussing that day. Group leaders meet together before their small groups for prayer and review of the day’s lesson and commit to contact each member of their group weekly outside of the group meeting.

Today, more than half of the participants in BSD are not members of my church. To prevent denominational squabbles, we discourage participants from talking about their own church, pastor or denominational viewpoints. Sometimes that is quite tricky! We do have several coed groups that meet on Sunday mornings as well.

I am very impressed with the commitment and consistency of the leadership and the participants in BSD. Many of these women are intimately familiar with the Bible as a result of many years of engaging in this high-expectations study. I think that the twin emphasis on study and fellowship is the key to the longevity and popularity of BSD.

It seems to me that the success of BSD comes from the intense and consistent focus on prayer, study and development of relationships between participants. Do you have a successful adult Bible study program at your church? If so, what do you think makes it successful?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Lectionary Ruminations: Scripture for Worship on November 22, 2009


Here are the passages for November 22nd, 2009, Christ the King Sunday (Year B).  Christ the King Sunday (some churches may refer to this Sunday as "Reign of Christ Sunday") is the last Sunday of the liturgical calendar, and is one that many Christians (let alone many Presbyterians) may be unfamiliar with, being a relatively recent addition to the liturgical calendar.  It was instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI.  This day is intended to remind Christians of the sovereignty of Christ.  Although the day is not as well known in many Protestant churches as it is in the Roman Catholic Church, it is gaining wider recognition through its inclusion in the Revised Common Lectionary, and is indeed recognized through the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website.  All lectionary links are to the NRSV via that website, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead. (Other references are linked to the NRSV via the oremus Bible Browser.)

2 Samuel 23:1-7
  • The first passage for “Christ the King” Sunday deals not with the kingship of Christ, nor even directly with the kingship of God, but rather features the "last words" of King David. If you read ahead after this passage, you’ll notice that the book of 2 Samuel has a bit more to say about King David.  Why should the census, for example, be related to us after David's "last words"?  And the book of 1 Kings, generally recognized as a continuation of the Samuel narrative compiled by the same author (or authors), features David for a bit more before shifting the story to Solomon. Why does the author feature David’s “last words” at the beginning of 2 Samuel 23, rather than at the end of David’s narrative? 
  • David’s story is a complex one, full of highs and lows, and the Bible does not shy away from telling of David’s shortcomings. When David says “If my house were not right with God, surely he would not have made with me an everlasting covenant,” how does David consider his house to have become right with God? What does David understand about God?
Psalm 132:1-12 (13-18)

Revelation 1:4b-8
  • As with the 2 Samuel passage, this Scripture reading for “Christ the King” Sunday contains language about kings that seems not to reference Christ himself, but rather human beings. However, in verse 5, Jesus Christ is said to be the ruler of the kings of the earth. Are the kings of the earth, generally speaking, aware of Jesus’ status over them? How does Jesus rule over them?
  • Verse 6 uses the language of “kingdom” to talk about those who follow Christ. In what ways are we a "kingdom"? 
  • Verse 7 references two Old Testament passages: Daniel 7:13, and Zechariah 12:10. If you check out these passages, you'll find the passages in contexts that don’t seem to make much sense when compared to the way the passages are being used here. Why is there such a difference? What does the author of Revelation intend for us to understand by using these passages here?
John 18:33-37
  • Finally, we come to a Scripture passage that deals directly with Christ as a King, but it is a passage that challenges any earthly concept of what a king should be. This familiar scene comes from shortly before Christ’s crucifixion. What are we to understand about Christ’s kingship from this passage?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Call for Contributors!


To avoid blogger fatigue, we like to shake things up from time to time here at the unofficial PC(USA) Blog.

Are you interested in contributing for a while? You can welcome new members weekly, write a feature about your experience with the church, talk about seminary life, or discuss another church-related topic that specifically interests you.

Are you willing to take on a weekly, monthly, or quarterly commitment?

In particular, we'd love to find someone new to post a weekly Lectionary Ruminations piece.  Mark Baker-Wright has done a great job for the past year and a half and is ready from some well-deserved time off.

Shoot us an email at pcusablog@gmail.com if you're interested in helping out for a bit!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Monday Welcome

We don't have any new blogs this week. Instead of highlighting member blogs from our fabulous blog roll, instead I thought I'd respond to Justice Seeker's question below about lay leadership.

Our congregation has a staff position called Director of Hospitality and Welcome (formerly Director of Lay Leadership and New Members).

Our recently retired Director of Lay Leadership, Cathy, introduced a program called The Ambassadors a few years ago. Each "Ambassador" gets a snazzy name tag and a special annual training session about how to be welcoming. The training sessions cover what should be the basics like:
  • Greeting people you don't know in your pew and the pew around yours.
  • Not just chatting with your friends while you're standing at the door to greet new arrivals.
  • Lifting your head, smiling, and verbally greeting people as they walk into the church if you're at the welcome center, even if they seem to know where they're going.
  • Leaving your "station" to walk people where they wish to go, whether it's the Fellowship Hall, restrooms, or nursery, instead of just pointing the way and sticking your nose back into a book.

Ambassador name tags are different from the regular name tags provided for all church members. The special name tag and training sessions are - I suspect - to impress on the Ambassadors how serious and important this role is. You don't have to wear your Ambassador name tag all the time, just when you're "on duty" but many of us wear them whenever we're in the building. (We have a newly expanded building and a growing congregation, so the Ambassadors are especially important to help everyone feel welcome and comfortable.) We have door greeting Ambassadors, welcome center Ambassadors, pew Ambassadors, roving Ambassadors, stealth Ambassadors, etc.

The neatest thing is that the term of an Ambassador's service never expires and every year Cathy added new Ambassadors to the roster. She retired this fall, and at least half of the congregation must be trained Ambassadors already. Cathy was running four training sessions in the chapel each summer to accommodate all of us! I suspect that her secret master plan was to enlist the entire congregation as Welcoming Ambassadors.

If you're ever in the neighborhood, please drop by for a visit and let us know how we're doing.

(We also have a lay mission team called Micah 6, but that's getting into another post for another week.)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Sunday Devotion: Project Being There


Matthew 10: 42 And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward."

There’s a married couple in our church who have adopted three great kids from Viet Nam. They did this because they wanted to care for children who were orphaned and needed a good beginning and solid foundation in their lives. It’s cost them a lot of time, energy, and resources to do this, but it’s a wonderful and priceless gift for each child. Those little ones were saved because an American couple cared deeply for them.

But it didn’t stop there. They knew that there were more kids in Viet Nam who needed to be provided for, so they set up a charity called “Project Being There.” They did this to raise awareness and money for an orphanage in Viet Nam. Last week, the group was involved in a Chili Cook Out in downtown Knoxville to let more people know about their organization.

I’m glad that our church has such people in its midst. I’m glad that we can help this new charity become effective in this crucial area. I believe that this is what Christ would call living an abundant life, where the blessings that we have can be generously shared with those in need. If giving a cup of cold water to a thirsty child is a divine gift in Christ’s eyes, then giving orphaned Vietnamese children a good start and a new hope must be holy and sacred to God.

Prayer:                        Lord Jesus, there are so many good things that are being done throughout our world by people of faith and people who care. Thank You for the gift of compassion and love which can be shared, nurtured, and grown across the entire globe. Bless the work of organizations like Project Being There and enable them to embrace the poor, encourage the orphan, and empower the rest of us to do what we can to make the world a better place. In Your Holy Name, we cheerfully pray. Amen.

John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. If you would like to comment on today’s message, please send him an email to pastor@erinpresbyterian.org.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Read and Learn -- Lay Leadership

I read a lot of blogs. I'm an administrator for a blogring, it is kind of part of the territory. A lot of the blogs I read are written by ministers -- imagine that. One thing that I find interesting in a lot of blogs are the sometimes passing references to lay leadership. This is a topic that came to mind recently when I visited a church out of State and then blogged about it.

One of my comments about that church was that it had all the welcome the guest procedures down. What it didn't have was a congregation who would say hello or even make eye contact with someone who was obviously a visitor. The Sr. Pastor posted a comment saying that he had printed off my blog post and taken it to a staff meeting. For some things, like information missing from a website, that is important. What I wanted to know is why didn't he forward it to his Board of Deacons? Aren't those the people who should be your front line in terms of hospitality to visitors? You know what? They aren't at my Church either. So, why not?

Today, one of my Church's Pastors mentioned that he is starting a spiritual discipleship project aimed at the Elders and Deacons. Grace mentioned to me today that her Church just did new officer training emphasizing the equality between laity and clergy in our polity. Well, maybe in our polity . . .

One of my pet peeves is that the best way to really foster growth in mission work is to support the rank and file members who have a vision or are doing something on their own. Our membership are degreed professionals (primarily). We can accomplish great things by empowering our own members. I would like to see a Church's mission team acting as the equivalent of a small business incubator for mission projects.

What would you like to see from your lay leadership and how do we get there?

JusticeSeeker
JusticeSeekerOK@aol.com

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

We Will Remember Them


Psalm 39:4      Show me, O LORD, my life's end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life.

2 Corinthians 8:5       And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God's will.

November 11th has always been a very special and solemn day for me as far back as I can remember. As a child I watched Remembrance Day parades and wondered why all of the pipers, soldiers, and people were marching in the street. Later on in life, I would attend solemn church services and school programs where everyone kept a minute’s silence at the 11th hour. The silence had a profound affect upon me and I have annually tried to keep it sacred.

A lot of people think about the older men and women at today’s Veterans’ Day marches, parades, and services. I don’t see them as old, frail, and grey haired. In my mind’s eye I picture them all as young twenty-something people whose hopes and dreams were set aside by two terrifying World Wars.

When I hear or read the names of those who died, I see them as young people who should have been at college, but who were called up for service of their country. Their lives were fleeting because they gave absolutely everything.

I feel sad and deeply humbled by their holy sacrifice. I hope that I have lived my life in ways that would not belittle their giving. I may never go to war or serve my country on a foreign battleground, but I will remember, respect, and honor those who have done that in the past, and who are still doing it today.

In Britain and across the many nations of what was once the British Commonwealth, the following beautiful statement is expressed after the sacred time of silence:

They shall not grow old as we who are left grow old. Age shall not weary them nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We will remember them. We will remember them.”

Prayer:                        Lord Jesus, we are thankful for Your sacrifice that has guaranteed us salvation. Today we also remember those young people who have given of their lives to secure the freedoms, liberties, and rights of our people. Help us to honor their sacrifice by living our lives freely and faithfully. In Your Holy Name, we humbly pray. Amen.

John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. If you would like to comment on today’s message, please send him an email to pastor@erinpresbyterian.org.

Lectionary Ruminations: Scripture for Worship on November 15, 2009


Here are the passages for November 15th, 2009, the Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B).  All lectionary links are to the NRSV via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead. (Other references are linked to the NRSV via the oremus Bible Browser.)

1 Samuel 1:4-20
  • This is another fairly well-known passage, but it has a few elements that may strike modern Christians as just a little odd.  First of all, notice that Elkanah has two wives, Hannah and Peninnah.  The book of I Samuel makes no reference to this bigamy as being a sin.  Why not?  How should we respond to this kind of reading in the Bible?
  • When Hannah goes to Shiloh to pray, and Eli the priest sees her, Eli thinks that she’s drunk.  Why does he immediately jump to this conclusion?  Is there something about Hannah’s prayer that is unusual?  Does Eli not normally come across people praying this way?
1 Samuel 2:1-10
  • The version of the Revised Common Lectionary used in the PC(USA)'s Book of Common Worship does not have a reading from the Psalms this week.  A rarity.  Rather, this passage, which consists of Hannah's prayer, is used in place of the weekly Psalm.
  • Why does Hannah "rejoice in (her) victory"?  What "victory" has she achieved at this point in the story?
  • Using only this passage as a description of what God is like, who do you understand God to be?  What kind of a picture of God is created?
  • Back when I was first starting my own blog, Transforming Seminarian, I experimented for a brief time with regular bible studies as blog entries, and a couple of reflections on the first chapters of I Samuel were among my earliest experiments.  Although my purpose there, more than four years ago, was a little different than what I do here now, I think it's safe to say that those were some of my earliest attempts at the kind of "question asking" that I have come to use regularly in lectionary reflections.  If you're interested, you're welcome to have a look.
Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18) 19-25
  • The Revised Common Lectionary allows churches the option of reading--or not reading--the verses in parentheses.
  • Besides the common thread of Christ's priesthood and the nature of his sacrifice, a common theme in Hebrews has been the author's use of Old Testament passages.  In this passage, verses 16 and 17 are a paraphrase of Jeremiah 31: 33-34.  If you check out the book of Jeremiah, you'll notice slight changes in the wording when compared to the book of Hebrews.  What should we make of these differences?  What might we learn from the context of Jeremiah that might help our understanding of this passage of Hebrews?
  • Living in community with other Christians can be hard.  My wife and I have been involved with a number of churches over the years that have wonderfully good intentions about reaching out to others in love, but who tend to overwork their leaders into burnout.  Then there are the problems that many Christians find in having to live up to certain ideals and expectations among other members of the community.  Some choose to respond by leaving the church, believing that they can follow Christ on their own.  The author of Hebrews seems to be writing to this kind of situation, as well, as apparently many Hebrew Christians were choosing to stop attending worship gatherings.  Why does the author tell Christians not to give up on meeting together?   Why should we continue to gather together as a community?  And how do we balance the demands of living a faithful Christian life with the need to allow ourselves to be taken care of?  How does understanding Jesus Christ as our priest affect the answer to these questions?
Mark 13:1-8
  • When I was in college, I learned of a man who, a few years earlier, had written a book with the title 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Could Be in 1988 (at least, that's how it's generally sold.  His own title was more emphatic that it would happen then).  When 1988 came and went with no Rapture, he made a second book describing why the Rapture could be in 1989. I haven’t actually read the books, but I do rest assured that 20 years have passed since then.  The same guy apparently tried a couple more times after that, before finally passing away in 2001, but it seems clear that he lost what little credibility he might have had by then.  Still, other books describing apocalyptic events and predicting when the last days will occur continue to be popular among Christians even today.  Why do you think this is?   Jesus warns that many will come in his name and deceive people.  How are we to determine what is real, and what is false?  How should we understand the birth pains Jesus describes at the end of the passage?  Does it matter when the end times will come?  Why or why not?

Monday, November 09, 2009

Two Dimensional Time

I recently wrote a technical blog post on another blog about the idea that time is really at least two dimensional.  Traditionally, I've always thought about the passage of time as being something that merely happens, like movement along the single axis of a chart, in one dimension.  I guest-lead our Sunday School class this weekend.  The topic was the simple topic of Biblical Inerrancy.  (We're reading Adam Hamilton's Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White.)

That topic always comes around to ideas about how the Bible has and hasn't changed over the course of history and whether or not that means anything to it's message, accuracy, or truth; and whether or not that means anything to my or our faith.

As a picture person, conceptualizing time in two dimensions rather than one has really helped me wrestle more effectively with questions like this.  In a two dimensional model of time, consider the that a time of perception (perceived time) is a vertical axis and the clock time at which an event is observed to happen (observed time) is an horizontal axis.

My crude ASCII-art rendering of this is below:

     ^
   9 | C.CA..AB.
   8 | A.....AB.
   7 | A.AB.....
   6 | A.AB.....
   5 | A........
     +----------->  Observed Time
       123456789

The way to read this is:
  • When we were at time T=5, we believed that A existed from T=1 to end of time.
  • When we were at time T=6, we believed that A existed from T=1 to T=3 and then B existed from T=4 to the end of time.
  • When we were at time T=7, we still believed the same things.
  • When we were at time T=8, we believed that A existed from T=1 to T=7 and then B existed from T=8 to the end of time.
  • When we were at time T=9, we believed that C existed from T=1 to T=3 and then A existed from T=4 to T=7 and then B existed from T=8 to T=9.
 The implication here is that not only were all of these scenarios "true" at one point in time, but that there is great insight available in how our perception of time changes over the course of time.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Lectionary Ruminations: Scripture for Worship on November 8, 2009


Here are the passages for November 8th, 2009, the Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B).  All lectionary links are to the NRSV via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead.

Ruth 3:1-5, 4:13-17
  • In the first part of this passage, there are several words in the text that can often be interpreted to suggest that Naomi is telling Ruth to seduce Boaz much as a prostitute might do, an impression increased by the fact that the lectionary skips the rest of chapter 13 and the beginning of chapter 14, creating the impression that virtually nothing has happened between Naomi's instructions and Ruth's marrying Boaz.    This interpretation, if accurate, is difficult to reconcile with the rest of book, which goes at some length to portray Ruth as exceedingly righteous.  In fact, in chapter 3, verses 10 and 11, which we didn’t read here, Boaz speaks of Ruth’s kindness and noble character, using words that it would be hard to imagine Boaz using if Ruth had just offered herself up to him sexually, even if one assumes that the sexual values in this context were not as restrictive as the values that Christians usually say the Bible prescribes.  How do we deal with this kind of passage?
  • Without question, Naomi is asking Ruth to take a huge risk by appearing to Boaz in the middle of the night as he is going to sleep.  That much seems clear.  But does Naomi intend for Ruth to send Boaz a signal of immediate sexual readiness, or simply one that Ruth’s mourning period for her original husband is now at an end, and that Ruth is ready to get on with her life?  
  • Whichever interpretation of Naomi's instructions one prefers, I expect we can agree that Ruth’s trust in Naomi is very high indeed.  What might we learn from this?
Psalm 127:1-5

Hebrews 9:24-28
  • Although the emphasis of this passage continues to be on Christ’s sacrifice, and on the fact that what Christ has already done for us, once-for-all, is the most important thing, we are given a glimpse into the nature of Christ’s second coming.  We’re not given very many details, and so there’s still plenty of room to debate about pre-millennialism, post-millennialism, a-millennialism, and all the rest.  We are simply told that Christ will come again to bring salvation to his people.   What do you think it will mean for Christ to bring salvation in his second coming?
  • By the way, although there's one more week we'll be in Hebrews in the Revised Common Lectionary, this is the last week I'm following David Scholer's series on Hebrews over at Transforming Seminarian.
Mark 12:38-44
  • It has often been pointed out that Jesus saved his harshest words for those who were the religious leaders of their time.  Just look at Jesus’ accusation that the teachers of the law “devour widows’ houses.”  The people who were supposed to be the best of God’s followers often turned out to be the most opposed to Jesus and his teachings.  I often think that this irony is entirely lost to many of the religious leaders of our own day (the ones I disagree with, obviously!), and it is a true tragedy.
  • The story of the widow who donates the copper coins, and Jesus’ praise of her action, is a famous one.  Despite Jesus’ praise, I do have to wonder what became of the widow afterward.  It is made abundantly clear that she had no money, and no resources to live on.  Who, if anyone, took care of her?  There’s no indication that she joined Jesus and his followers after this incident, so we can’t assume they took care of her.  Although I do believe that this story is not really telling people to give as much as they can, even to the point of destitution, I find the implications of such a passage troubling.  There's so much within Christianity that seems to tell us "give until it hurts, and then give a little more.  Whatever you're giving, it isn't enough.  After all, what can you give that will ever compare to what God gave you?"  I wouldn't dream of saying that anything we can offer would ever beat out God's gifts to us, but am I the only one who feels that passages like this can be abused all too easily?
  • But I don't want to neglect the importances of the widow's trust.  The widow is placed in stark contrast to the religious leaders Jesus had criticized, who were apparently willing to exploit other people to the point of destruction in order to get the recognition they wanted.  The widow trusted that, even though she had nothing, God would take care of her, and Jesus praised her for that. In a day when so many of us struggle financially, such trust is hard to come by.  How can we encourage such trust, while not making people feel guilty if they exercise healthy boundaries?

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Caregiver Sunday - November 15th

One of the pcusa.org features today is an article about upcoming Caregiver Sunday, November 15th.

If you follow my Tuesday posts here, you might remember that I work for a religious health care system.  I'm not a healthcare provider in my position at work.  I work in the information systems department.  As a leader in a "low touch" department, I often struggle with helping co-workers connect their day-to-day work with our patient-centric mission.  There are the usual things about doing work that enables care providers to do their work more effectively.

It occurred to me yesterday as I was going through a survey about my spiritual beliefs that there's a more faithful view of the work that I do.  It feels counterintuitive to find increased comfort with less detail, but my personal relationship with God tells me that I can trust that what I do in life (if I'm faithful to Him) is part of a larger and purposeful plan.  I don't have to necessarily connect my work activities to the corporate mission of healthcare, because I know that my work activities (if I'm faithful) are part of my larger purpose on earth.

That's a bit of a struggle, which encourages me in thinking that it's also a good position to spend more time examining.  Do you trust in your purpose at work?  Is it also part of your purpose on earth?

Monday, November 02, 2009

Famous!

I sometimes sit at our church's welcome center during the morning to greet visitors and direct traffic. (The staff offices are located upstairs, but we have a great welcome center on the ground floor that's staffed by volunteer "ambassadors.")

Imagine my surprise on Thursday morning when a woman arriving for the new Ten Commandments Bible Study stopped by the desk. "You're famous!" she said. "I saw your website in my new Presbyterian magazine."

After searching around for a bit, I figured out what she meant. The (unofficial) PC(USA) Blog's own Jody Harrington wrote a column for the November issues of Presbyterians Today introducing "five Presbyterian bloggers, each with unique style, content and point of view worthy of reading."

It's a diverse list!