Thursday, July 29, 2010

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, August 1, 2010, the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

Posted each Thursday, Lectionary Ruminations focuses on the Scripture Readings, taken from the New Revised Standard Version, for the following Sunday per the Revised Common Lectionary. Comments and questions are intended to encourage reflection for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged. All lectionary links are to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible 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.)

Hosea 11:1-11
vs. 1-4 Last Sunday we heard about Hosea’s Children. This week we hear about God’s children. How many parents have you heard wax and wane like God about their errant, wayward children?

v. 4 Is there any special meaning or symbolism associated with “cords” and “bands”? Are they technical religious terms?

vs. 5-7 Is this an example of God exercising some “tough love”?

vs. 8-9 Is this an example of God having second thoughts? Is it an example of God repenting?

v. 9 “the Holy One in your midst” is one of my favorite monikers for God.

v. 10 Images of C.S. Lewis’s Aslan.

Psalm 107:1-9, 43
v. 1 Apparently this Psalm is intended to reflect Hosea 11:8-11 rather than Hosea 11:1-7.

v. 2 This sounds like a liturgical instruction.

v. 3 Note the four cardinal directions and similar language in the Invitation to the Lord’s Table (BOCW “A” p. 68)

v. 8 An invitation to return to v. 1?

v. 9 Like v. 3, language that could be used in a Eucharistic setting.

Colossians 3:1-11
v. 1 A hypothetical “if”?

vs. 1-2 How do we, in a post Copernican world, handle “above” language when it points to the spiritual dwelling place of the “ascended” Christ and of God (and of the Holy Spirit), when our “above” is “down” on the other side of the globe?

v. 4 What does it mean to “be revealed” both for Christ and for you?

v. 5 Is it safe to assume that this list is not exhaustive?

vs. 7-10 In answer to my question about v. 5, apparently not, because this verse seems to expand the list of vices.

v. 11 A nice theological move, but were we prepared for it? Is Paul suggesting that divisions based on such criteria are also expressions of disobedience?

Luke 12:13-21
v. 13 Was the person in the crowd being sincere, cynical, or simply showing respect by addressing Jesus as “Teacher”. Shall we hear this as a prefiguring of Luke 15:11-32?

v. 14 Why does Jesus refer to his interlocutor as “friend”? Does the question Jesus asks assume the answer “no one”?

v. 15 A nice one liner, especially within the context of American consumerism in the midst of a recession.

v. 16-20 Is there a risk that we might read too much into this parable?

v. 21 Is it ok to store up treasurers on earth if one is also rich toward God? Where does one draw the line between prudent investing for retirement and an obsessive/compulsive saving/hoarding of wealth?

Monday, July 26, 2010


Webster’s Dictionary defines the word compassion as “the sympathetic consciousness of others distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” In my opinion, we tend to spend more time in the “sympathetic consciousness” phase and little time in the “desire to alleviate it” phase. Let’s take a look at this definition and break it down so that a “cranie” like me can wrap my fractured brain around it.

When we think about the sympathetic consciousness of someone else’s problems, it sounds as if we are thinking about how terrible their situation must be. I know that I go through this phase several times each day, looking at others and thinking to myself just how bad they may have it, and how lucky I am not to be in their shoes. I’m also making note of their present condition so that I can be better prepared to avoid the same circumstances in the future. In the end, this thought pattern does not make me feel any better about myself, only satisfied that I’m not the person I have just seen.

When we think of the desire to alleviate the problems or burdens being placed on our neighbors or friends, we tend to shy away from getting involved in fear that their condition or situation may be a bit contagious, or that we may be influenced to move in a direction we know is very harmful to our future health and wellbeing. We all know that Jesus Christ did not practice this in any form at all. It was just His nature to help, to heal, to assume our burdens in order for our lives to become much easier to live out. He showed the ultimate compassion as He suffered His destiny on the cross. The bible teaches us that our God will never leave us nor forsake us. That, alone, is a huge demonstration of sheer compassion, and only someone as big as our God could manage to live up to such a guarantee. It’s a very compassionate promise, not only developing a “sympathetic consciousness “of another’s problems, but taking action to alleviate the burdens, while helping us to grow more like Christ in the entire process. This is an amazing experience, much like cocooning where the ground hugging caterpillar becomes the beautiful butterfly in flight. God’s grace enables us to overcome our problems and to carry on proudly and without shame.

I truly believe that if we all take that next step of true compassion and attempt to alleviate the problems or burdens weighing heavy on our families, friends and neighbors, the world will be forced to become a much better place to live. We would all be enveloped in a world of compassion, just as Christ wants it, and demands it.

Our savior never hesitates to jump right in regardless of the water temperatures and hold out his hand to a drowning soul who has a desperate need. We all know that we can turn to Him in these times of need, where we are mere mortals who do not have all the answers. I am comforted by the fact that I can give all my burdens to Jesus Christ, any time, any day, and expect the very same compassion from Him each and every time. When we are confronted with a neighbor’s problem, we need to jump right in and let the Holy Spirit guide us, speak through us, and deliver our message of compassion. I have experienced this over the last few days, and it is simply an awesome, majestic experience to have His words flow through you to help someone who is searching.

The “cranie” comment refers to the several brain surgeries I have had over the years. There is no offense intended, just lots of compassion for other “cranies” who know what I mean, right guys?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Asking Better Questions

Deepening our spirituality, our Christian faith, is sometimes just a matter of asking better questions.

It is our inclination, more over than not, for example, to ask, What do I want God to do in my life right now? Now, there is nothing particularly wrong with us wanting God to do something. And there's nothing particularly wrong with us asking God, in our prayers, to do this or that. We all often pray such prayers. Asking that particular question, though, can, if we let it, blind us or deafen us to what God is currently doing, keeping us from leaning into the Spirit's activity in our lives in the moment.

A better question to ask, however, might be: What is God doing in my life right now?

Asking the question thus can, if we allow it, lead us to a deeper awareness of the presence of God in our lives and a greater awareness of the ways in which God, who is the God of acting, is indeed acting in our lives.

Again, it is our inclination, I'm inclined to think, to ask, What do I want God to be doing in the world now and in the future. As with the previous question, that's not necessarily a bad thing. We should long for, and pray for, God to do this or that in the world around us. After all, we do pray for peace, if nothing else.

But phrasing the question like that seems to put us in the planning business for God; as if we are deciding what we want to do and asking God's involvement in and blessing on that plan.

But recasting that question another, perhaps better way, can again deepen our awareness of God's actions in the world around us. Maybe we could ask, What is God doing in the world around me right now and how might God be inviting me to participate in that?

A fancy theological/philosophical way of looking at that is in terms of "thinking God's thoughts after God."

These are questions which congregations (or Sessions or Presbyteries, Vestries, Synods, or denominations, etc.) should pay attention to, also.

Very often in our communal life (whether local churches or larger bodies) we plan and plan; we vision and revision; we devise plans and budgets accordingly. Not that there's anything wrong with that, it just seems like a good idea to turn those questions and processes around. What is God doing now in the life of our congregation and how can we lean into that? What is God doing now in the life of our denomination and how might God be inviting us to participate in that? What is God doing in the world right now and how might we, as disciples of Christ, participate in God's activity. Rather than asking God to join us in our cause, rather than asking God's blessing on what we have decided to do, maybe we should be asking how we can join in what God is doing, how we can participate with God in that re-creative, reconciling work in the world.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, July 25, 2010, the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

Posted each Thursday, Lectionary Ruminations focuses on the Scripture Readings, taken from the New Revised Standard Version, for the following Sunday per the Revised Common Lectionary. Comments and questions are intended to encourage reflection for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged. All lectionary links are to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible 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.)

Hosea 1:2-10
Two weeks ago Amos gave us a plumb line, and last week he gave us a basket of summer fruit. This week Hosea gives us a whore and children with names worthy of a lifetime in therapy.

v. 2 How is forsaking the LORD equivalent to committing great whoredom? Is this a charge of idolatry?

vs. 4, 5 Is there a distinction between the “Jezrell” of verse 4 and the “valley of Jazrell” in verse 5? In a culture where people name their children after relatives, movie stars, and sports stars, how can people comprehend the symbolic meaning of Hebrew names in general and “Jezrell” and his siblings in particular?

v. 7 Is sounds as though God is forsaking Israel but saving Judah. Hawkish politicians who place their faith in a strong military ought to take note of this verse.

v. 10 Is this a verse of hope in the midst of judgement?

Psalm 85:1-13
Shall we read this psalm as Judah’s response to the prophecy of Hosea? Or shall we read it as Israel’s expected response after a hoped for restoration?

v. 10 I particularly like the paired imagery of this verse.

v. 11 Some more nice imagery.

Vs. 9, 13 Note the possible connection between God’s glory and the productivity of the land. This reminds me of the connection between the king and the land of the Grail legend.

Colossians 2:6-15 (16-19)
v.6 Is there a difference between “living lives in Christ Jesus: and Jesus living in Christians?

v. 8 As an amateur philosopher, I object! What are the “elemental Spirits of the universe”?

v. 9 Incarnation!

v.10 What does it mean to “come to fullness” in Christ Jesus?

v. 14 Does this verse presume or demand a penal substitution theory of the atonement? Or is there another way to read it?

v. 15 How has God triumphed over rulers and authorities?

vs. 16-19 What is the author warning about?

Luke 11:1-13
v. 1 Is this the only reference to John teaching his disciples to pray? Was teaching his disciples to pray a pedagogy peculiar to John or did most religious leaders of that the day engage in such teaching? If John thought it necessary to teach his disciples to pray, and one of Jesus’ disciples asked Jesus to teach his disciples to pray, how much more do we need to be taught, and once thought, top teach others. While the desire to pray might be innate, praying well does not come naturally but is an art can be modeled, taught and nurtured. Presbyterians in particular ought to refer to Growing in the Life of Christian Faith, especially the preface.

v. 2-4 The prayer easily divides into two. Is there a correlation with the two tables of the law?

v. 5 Is there any significance to the number 3?

vs.5-8 Note the shift of perspective. Is there something missing here, like maybe a verse or two?

v. 13 Me, you, evil? So, we can ask, search, and knock, but regardless of what we ask for, search after, or knock for, all prayer is answered with the gift of the Holy Spirit?


Many would argue that a preacher ought to preach on prayer, and particularly the Lord ’s Prayer, at least once each year. Does the Gospel reading for today make this the best Sunday to do that?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Right Place, Right Time

It is very strange how our God manages to put us in certain places, and even stranger how we respond to His obvious challenges. I have found myself facing a few challenges over the past few months, and when I look back, I see evidence that God had His hand on my shoulder every step of the way. When we are in the middle of these strange or demanding situations, we sometimes do not feel God’s presence, but rest assured that He is with us regardless of the outcome. It’s only when we reminisce about these situations that we finally realize that God was with us the entire time, and that we can be assured of His presence in our daily lives.

One example deals with my decision to return to school after 23 years at the Chesterfield County (VA) Sheriff’s Office. This decision was a difficult one to make, but still a choice that needed to be resolved in my mind sooner than later. God had been sending me small signals, tiny little shoves that I chose to ignore. God’s perseverance paid off once again and I submitted. Its funny how once we do submit to His will, things start to fall into place. I have learned to trust God with all I have, giving everything to His will and hoping that He is watching over me. When I do a quick review of my life over the past few years, it is obvious that God has been tapping me on the shoulder and asking me to change into something more useful for His purpose. We all need to pay more attention to these little signals, these small signs that God has something in mind for our lives.

The second example is the fact that He has seen me through 5 brain surgeries, knee surgery, shoulder surgery and a bout with kidney stones. This is just amazing when I look back and witness God’s awesome power in my life. Was this just part of His plan to teach the doctors and nurses a better way of dealing with these issues? We all have these stories to tell, and tell we must. This is proof of our God’s existence and His mighty and awesome power over this universe. No matter how much doctors know, perform or diagnose, they have to admit that they are not in charge. It is our God that calls the shots. I truly believe that God has called many of my “shots” (no pun intended) and that I’m blessed because of this.

A third example came at me Sunday evening as I completed a 50 mile bicycle ride through Chesterfield County. I was only three blocks away from completing this unplanned ride and was feeling very tired, but better now that I was almost finished. As I coasted down the final hill and towards my final turn, a young teenager simply drove out of his driveway and into the path of my bike. I did not even have time to react before I was sailing over the hood of his car and on to the pavement. I landed about 20 feet on the other side and was about to get up when a caring neighbor rushed over to hold me down and keep me from further head or neck injury. Luckily, the accident occurred in front of an urgent care center and a fire station. Now tell me, is that pure chance or God’s plan, you make the call? The Emergency Medical Technicians were on the scene in less than 30 seconds. As they secured me on the backboard, my only concern was for the driver and my bike. My bike did not survive the crash. The driver, a young teen, had just gotten his license three weeks prior, and was visibly shaken. I wanted to assure him that I was fine and that I was not angry. I was very surprised at my response to the entire incident, where I should have been upset at the driver, yet I was more concerned about his obvious reaction to the entire scene. Its funny how God’s Holy Spirit has taken up residence in this meek, battered, banged up body, and is working to change me into something more, something better, something filled with love for my neighbor. I was genuinely concerned for the teenager, and for his parents who were visibly upset, and was not even thinking about my injuries. It was amazing to see God working in and through me. The next day, I contacted the family to make sure the teen was doing better, and that the father was looking after his son and not concerning himself with the accident, because that’s just what it was, an accident. I believe this incident was just one of God’s methods to teach. I just can’t figure out who is on the learning end, me or the driver?

When we consider all of the adverse events in our daily lives, we need to take a moment and look around to see where we are, and how we managed to get there. God has interesting and sometimes baffling ways of teaching us life lessons about who we are as children of God. I firmly trust in His Holy Word which tells us over and over that He will be there for us, if we only choose to believe. I, personally, would like to think that accidents are a big part of God’s plan to put us in the very spot He needs us, always in the right place, at the right time.

July Welcome Mat

Though I'm years out of school, July still means summer vacation to me so I'm taking off next Monday.

I think there'll still be plenty to read, though.  This week I'd like to welcome four, count them, FOUR fabulous members to the PC(USA) webring.

  1. The Healing Walk: Reflections on disability, healing, and wholeness from a guy with cerebral palsy. My disability was never something I integrated into my life until I got into my 30's. When I got into my 30's I had to confront the fact that my cerebral palsy had left me broken because, rather than making meaning out of it, I was always just trying to "get over it".

    My healing walk began a couple of years ago during my time as a hospital chaplain resident. I confronted the brokenness I had inside of me, and with the help of my fellow chaplain residents and my CPE supervisor, I began my journey towards a new relationship with my body, my disability, and my identity as a person with a disability.

    This blog is the latest way to work through many of the theological, physical, and emotional ideas that I have worked my way through along this path towards wholeness. I also began this blog in attempt to begin fashioning a new way of speaking about disability in general. I love the English language, but sometimes I feel it lacks ways to speak about our bodies in ways that are on target. We all know what it's like to be so overwhelmed by emotions or ideas that the best thing we can say to other people is something like, "Well, I don't know what to say. There are no words big enough to tell you how I feel." This may be true, but I also think that our language fails us when it comes to giving us ways to speak of our embodiment, our character, our race, our selves. I hope this blog helps given words to experiences that are too often wordless.
  2. Reason for Hope: The purpose of this blog is to help remind me to daily look for the hope that God brings, and to share it with others, who too may be looking for the light of hope in the darkness that sometimes creeps, and at other times crashes into our lives. As a Pastor at First United Presbyterian Church in Newville PA, I encourage congregational members at the end of the service with this charge, "In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience." (1 Peter 3:15-16a)

    I thought blogging is one way that I could practice what I preach, hence the name of the blog and the reason why the blog exists. "Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality." (Romans 12:11-13) "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." (Romans 15:13)
  3. Wrestling With Wrelevance: The purpose of this webblog is to attempt to convey my personal experience, as a recently returned Presbyterian Church (USA) Mission Co-Worker, as I readjust to a culture (both socially and ecclesiologically)which has changed significantly in the past nine plus years I was overseas. I am classically evangelical in my theology, strongly traditional in my choice of worship styles, somewhat socialistic in my economics, liberal in my sense of community outreach, and joyful in my born-again faith. This background, coupled with exposure to Presbyterian Partners on three different continents and roughly 8-10 different countries has made me feel most at home in Africa.

    As I then make this reentry to the USA, I am struck by the seeming busyness of life here which all but ignores those sitting by the wayside waiting to hear a good word from a denomination focused more on its own disagreements then the incredible movement of the Holy Spirit in our midst. We are an extremely small expression of the church of Jesus Christ the center of gravity of which is now in the southern hemisphere and Asia. I look forward to those countries to which we sent missionaries a hundred plus years ago, returning the favor and sending us missionaries to reclaim the country of the USA for Christ. Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus.
  4. La Bloga de Gregorio: I am an aspiring PC(USA) pastor (Austin Seminary, class of 2013) with a heart for Latin America. I have spent most of my adult life working in Latin America on development projects. I currently work for a faith-based non-profit called Healing Waters International ( We work to break the cycle of poverty through safe drinking water projects in poor communities in Latin America. We currently have a network of 95 water projects in the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Guatemala. From this network of systems we serve 130,000 people per day with safe drinking water. We build small-scale water purification systems in churches and empower the church to run the water project as a microbusiness enterprise.

    As a student at Austin Seminary, I will continue to work for Healing Waters on a part-time basis. My work with Healing Waters has inspired me to further explore the connection between my faith and development/social justice/poverty alleviation. That is what has inspired me to go to seminary and become a pastor. I have also been a youth group leader at Wellshire Presbyterian Church in Denver, Colorado for the last seven years. Thanks for reading my blog!

Thank you all for joining the discussion! I'm glad to read you here.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Go Fish!: "The PCUSA"?

I wish I was smarter, I really do. I would love to have the capacity to figure out the major problems of the world and fix what's wrong. I would relish being able to step into arguments between opposing sides and say, "here's the solution!" But I'm not that smart.

Without taking any sides, I would like to make an observation about the disagreements currently going on in our denomination. And I'd like to voice a fear of mine concerning the impact of those disagreements on the future of the denomination and the ability of all of us to spread the Good News.

Did you ever read the Dr. Seuss story, "The Zax"? I read that story to my kids countless times when they were little. It's about a North-Going Zax and and South-Going Zax who meet face to face in the prairie of Prax. Even though they are in a completely barren place with no barriers on either side, neither one of them will step aside to let the other continue on his journey. The North-Going Zax will only go North, and the South-Going Zax will only go South. Stepping to the East or the West is not an option for either of them.

A very vociferous argument ensues, but neither Zax will budge. Finally the South-Going Zax yells, "'I'll stay here not budging! I can and I will, if it makes you and me and the whole world stand still!'" You can guess what happened next. On the next page is a picture of an entire city and freeway system surrounding the two Zax standing face to face. The people driving by are completely ignoring the motionless creatures. The story ends, "In a couple of years, the new highway came through, and they build it right over those two stubborn Zax, and left them there, standing un-budged in their tracks."

My fear is that we are, or are becoming, those Zax, with non-believers in the culture whizzing by us. They're moving on. We're irrelevant. In Dr. Seuss' picture, there's no off-ramp to visit the Zax. The freeway goes around them and a bypass is built right over the top of them. The people are driving right by our churches, never coming in. Maybe, like in the picture, there's no off-ramp. We're not providing one, and the culture didn't see a need to build one.

If we are turned toward one another in debate, we are not turned toward the rest of the world. We are only interacting with one another, and not with the world. We cannot share the Good News of Jesus with others. The rest of the world will figure out how to move on with out us, and we'll be left behind like the Zax.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, July 18, 2010, the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

Posted each Thursday, Lectionary Ruminations focuses on the Scripture Readings, taken from the New Revised Standard Version, for the following Sunday per the Revised Common Lectionary. Comments and questions are intended to encourage reflection for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged. All lectionary links are to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible 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.)

Amos 8:1-12
v. 1 Last week it was a plumb line. This week is a basket of summer fruit. Exactly what fruit would have been in that basket? How, in what way, is this symbolic of the pronouncement that follows? From what follows, I think the fruit should have been rotten. This sounds to me like a pronouncement of judgment upon those of the business and entrepreneurial class who place business interests and profit above the needs of the people and society. Did Amos have Wall Street in mind?

vs. 11-12 I cannot help but read this in light of the New Testament, which equates “the word” with “the bread of life”. From a Christian perspective, of what use is physical bread if we do not also have spiritual bread?

Psalm 52
A psalm of judgment upon the same people Amos preaches against, or am I reading Amos in light of this Psalm?

v. 8 What is it like to be a green olive tree in the house of God? What is the central and controlling image here, that the olive tree is green? That the tree is an olive tree? That the tree is in the house of God? I would rather be an old, dried up tree of any kind in the house of God rather than being a green tree of any variety not in the house of God. But could any tree in the house of God not be green?

Colossians 1:15-28
vs. 15-21 I have not checked any reference, but I think this is probably an ancient hymn or fragment of a hymn. It certainly reads and sounds confessional.

v. 23 Does “provided” suggest that salvation is provisional? How has the Gospel been proclaimed to “every creature” under heaven? How does this verse inform a Christian understanding of environmentalism?

vs. 22 & 24 How does Christ’s “flesh” in v. 22 correlate to Paul’s “flesh” in v. 24? Is there any theological connection?

Luke 10:38-42
This has got to be one of the shortest Gospel Readings in the lectionary. I wonder why it is so short?

I have heard this passage interpreted in terms of the contrast between extrovert and introvert as well as kataphatic and apophatic, not to mention works righteousness and salvation by grace through faith. How can we read it without being influenced by other Gospel references to Mary and Martha, not to mention Lazarus?

vs. 40-41 In what ways are we distracted? How do we allow our worries distract us from listening to what Jesus is saying?

This is off topic, but if you are looking for reflections from and about the 219th General Assembly of the PC(USA), here a link to my blog post, just one of several about the GA, but one that includes hot links to several othere blogs which also reflect on the GA.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Sticking to the Original Story

In reviewing the latest actions of our General Assembly, one might think that a revolution was about to take place. You could surmise that a silent minority was speaking out, grabbing the attention of everyone in attendance, and placing their agenda before the entire group. This small minority seems very powerful and successful and bringing issues before our governing body. I believe there are several sayings that go something like “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” This minority group must be squeaking very loudly, and is demanding several quarts of oil. You would think that there would not be an issue at all, especially with God’s own language to guide us in any decision.

I will get a few things out in the open before I continue. First, I’m not discriminating against any group, and neither does the Bible. I’m not speaking out against any group of people regardless of their sexual preference, and neither does the Bible. I would welcome any group of people regardless of their sexual preference to join me in the pew on Sunday morning. But that’s just it, I would love for them to join me in the pew. I have had several gay friends in my lifetime. They were very admirable people who stood up for what they felt was right and honorable. I’m doing the same thing. I’m standing up for what I feel is the true meaning of God’s Word. I know that the Holy Spirit did not give the prophets the instruction to leave a little wiggle room in case things change in the future.

In a position of leadership in the church, the pastor has a great deal of influence over his or her congregation. This influence can be interpreted by any member of the congregation to mean vastly different things, especially if they are taking into consideration the sexual preference of the pastor involved. I, for one, would not want our young people being influenced by pastors who feel that the bond of marriage is not necessarily between a man and a woman, as it is written in God’s Holy Word.

God tells us in several places in His Word that a marriage is between a man and a woman. I have looked throughout the chapters and verses and cannot find any reference to a same sex partner. How can we ignore the fact that a practicing homosexual will not be open about their relationship or carry this way of life into their activities in the church? I do not believe that a person who is a practicing homosexual can keep this from being known, and may want it to be very well known among their congregation. Can we trust a practicing homosexual to never change the words in the Bible to be “inclusive?” I was a member of a large church in Baltimore Maryland where the pastors were open and accepting of this lifestyle. The words to chapters and verses in the bible were altered from their original language to reflect God’s being. The words to our favorite hymns were changed to be inclusive in order to keep peace in the congregation. This practice is not a true interpretation of the original text written by the prophets as told to them by the Holy Spirit. Are we questioning the truth of the Bible? I for one do not want to go down that road.

As Presbyterians, we need to take a hard look at this slippery slope we are putting ourselves at the top of. This slope, once we slip, is a bottomless cavern that will never allow us to see daylight, God’s light. I firmly believe that the Holy Spirit spoke through the prophets and instructed them, guided them to put pen to paper and write down what they were told. There is no other explanation for the clarity and accuracy of prophets like Isaiah and others who predicted things 400 years ahead of time. This was definitely a higher power working amongst these people. The last time I checked, these men were instructed to write in a manner that reflected God in the masculine tense. I believe all the texts in the New Testament prove Jesus was a man. I apologize to anyone offended by this, but I believe I’m stating fact, and not my particular opinion or my version of biblical text changed to please all parties involved.

Can’t we all just get along !

Beyond The Salmon of Doubt

In lieu of greeting new members of the web ring today, we gather for a retirement party.

Long time dedicated PCUSA Blogger Stushie has decided not to publish on the unofficial PC(USA) Blog anymore.

I don't always agree with what Stushie has to say, or how he says it, but I admire his convictions and his dedication.

Although I'll miss his Weekly Devotions here, those of us who are interested can find Stushie's writing at:
  • Heaven's Highway: Regular reflections of a Scottish Pastor living in the Bible Belt, including some unique religious art work and interfaith stories from around the world.
  • Aaron's Beard: Worship ideas and Sunday prayers. Celtic prayers and healing services. Church growth ideas and congregational devotions. Sunday worship for growing churches. Prayers of confession, illumination, intercession and thanksgiving. Advent and Lent, Easter and Christmas.
  • Stushie's Art
  • Celtic Devotions: Christian devotions with a Celtic flavor to them, written by a Scottish pastor, serving in the US Bible Belt.
and several more sites (see link above).

Thank you for all your work, Stushie.

May the hills lie low,
May the sloughs fill up,
In thy way.
May all evil sleep,
May all good awake,
In thy way.
(From Mystery on the Isle of Skye” by Phyllis A. Whitney)

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, July 11, 2010, the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

Posted each Thursday, Lectionary Ruminations focuses on the Scripture Readings, taken from the New Revised Standard Version, for the following Sunday per the Revised Common Lectionary. Comments and questions are intended to encourage reflection for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged. All lectionary links are to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible 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.)

v. 7 How many people know what a plumb is, what it does, and what it is for?

v. 10 Does the conflict between Amaziah and Amos reflect the conflict between the exoteric and esoteric forms of the Jewish faith?

v. 11Amos has apparently spoken truth to power. Who are the prophets in our day speaking truth to power?

v. 12 As a member of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) I read as a biblical warrant for maintaining the Washington Office of the church.

v. 14 Is this an example of feigned humility?

v. 17 This is not good news, nor the sort of news any political figure would want to hear.

Psalm 82:1-8
v. 1 How do we as monotheists handle passages like this, a passage that speaks of “the divine council” and God holding judgment “in the midst of the gods”?

v. 2 Shall we read this verse as a prayer having been answered by the prophecy of Amos?

v. 6 Who is speaking? Who are “gods”?

v. 8 When we pray this prayer, are we not asking for God to judge us as harshly as other countries?

Colossians 1:1-14
v. 1 Who is the real author of this letter, Paul or Timothy?

v. 2 Is there a distinction between “the saints” and “faithful brothers and sisters in Christ” or is this an example of multiple references to the same group?

v. 7 This is a tangential question, but what else do we know about Epaphras?

Vs. 11-12 This blessing could be used as a benediction.

v. 25 What is the meaning of “test”?

v. 28 This “right” answer seems to point toward praxis, that is right belief leading to right actions, rather than focusing on mere orthodox belief as the test of faith. Note the language: “Do” this and you shall live, not “Believe” this.

v. 29 How often, and in what ways, do we seek to “justify” ourselves rather than relying on God to justify us?

vs. 30-37 Have we heard this parable too many times to hear it as if we are hearing it for the first time and to hear it in new, fresh, and enlightening ways? How can we hear it anew every time we hear it?

I apologize for being a day late and a dollar short with this week’s Lectionary Ruminations. My usual posting day, Thursday, was a travelling day as I trekked from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly (GA) in Minneapolis to home in New York City. The time constraints of observing the GA and then blogging about what I observed on my personal blog, Summit to Shore, left little opportunity to post to Lectionary Ruminations before now.

Stushie's Last Post

Presbyterian polecat, Christian curmudgeon, theological dinosaur, heretic spotter, and apostate caller Stushie is now leaving the Presbyterian Blogger list of contributors. I think that you all know why.

As Douglas Adams wrote years ago: Goodbye, and thanks for all the fish!....:)

(For those of you who want to keep in touch, Heaven's Highway is still open)

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Stushie art: A Church Divided...

...cannot stand

I'm continually praying and inwardly weeping for the PCUSA. It may be on the verge of making a foolish, irreversible, and unscriptural decision.

A Church Divided

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Unfreezing the Frozen

I used this blog last week to describe how we as Presbyterians have earned the nickname “the frozen chosen.” This week, I will try to show how we, as Presbyterians, have not earned this nomenclature, nor do we deserve such a frigid description. Our own Book of Order (BOO, just love that acronym) goes to great lengths to show that we are all about evangelism and that we choose to live our lives in reflection of God’s greatness. The following statements are taken directly from our BOO, (there it is again) and prove a very different set of rules that govern our church, our faith and our mission to the world.

The statement describing our Evangelism begins with the fact that God sends us, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to announce the good news that in Christ Jesus the world is reconciled to God. This is a powerful proclamation, a very meaningful message that the world needs to hear. If we choose to keep this good news to ourselves, within the walls of our churches, then how can we increase the size of God’s family? I firmly believe that God’s wishes are for His children to share His goodness with others, and not just a select few that happen to be in the pew next to them.

The next statement in our BOO (okay, now I’m having too much fun with this) actually states that we are to “tell all nations and peoples of Christ’s call to repentance, faith and obedience.” This is a big assignment, especially when we think of how big “all nations and peoples” really is. This is a huge task and one that we, as Presbyterians, do not take lightly. This is a very important and crucial piece to an even bigger puzzle. We need to take a look at how we can influence others, particularly non-believers, and bring them to Christ. As Christians, this is a tall order that needs to be placed near the top of our priorities if we are ever to “grow in number” Acts 16:5.

My last statement on this issue has to do with how we as Christians, daily live out our vocations in the world, inviting those we meet to come and share the life of the people of God and join in our worship. This is stated very clearly in our Book of Order (just couldn’t say BOO again) and should be a big priority in our daily comings and goings. My interpretation of this, and its just that, my interpretation , is that we should live our lives in a manner that reflects positively on our faith, our church, our beliefs and our practice of worship. This will send strong messages to those searching for a place to worship and lead them to discover Christ in all His fullness. This will also convey to those watching that we, as Presbyterians, are comfortable in our expression of our faith in Christ, living out this belief for all to see. This is a big assignment, especially for the “frozen chosen” who tend to keep all of their great secrets about our wonderful God within the confines of our sanctuaries and fellowships halls. These feelings, these very positive “vibes” need to resonate throughout our communities and the world.

Let’s all make a pledge to bring a new member to our faith this year, and to share what we already know with someone just waiting to hear it. I bet we see new names in our guest books, so lets blow the dust off of them and get them ready.

As a footnote, I would never poke fun at a distinguished reference such as our own Book of Order. I just think it’s a great acronym, and one that is easily remembered, and it’s never my intention to offend anyone.


Monday, July 05, 2010

Happy Independence Day!

Here are some Independence Day posts from members of our blog ring:

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Advice to New Moderator Cynthia Bolbach

Bolbach, who is a lawyer and legal publishing company executive in Washington, acknowledged, “I don’t think our denomination is ready for [changing the definition of marriage], but what do pastors do in jurisdictions where same-sex marriage is legal?”

What do they do? They apply the current Church Law. On Independence Day, we should remind ourselves of the Freedom of Religion and Separation of Church and State. The Church does not have to apply Federal and State laws. It has the autonomy to do what its own ecclesiastical law rules, even if that means going to prison for it.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Sunday Devotion: Jabbing Jesus - Acts 9

Acts 9:5           "Who are you, LORD?" Saul asked. "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," he replied.

I read an article this week about a couple who decided to have an atheist wedding. They didn’t want God mentioned in the ceremony and no clergy person to conduct it. All they wanted was an event where they could publicly pledge their love for one another and be legally married.

How sad! I wonder if in years to come they will regret making that choice. And when old age, infirmity, and serious illness come their way, what will happen to their love? Will it just be gone forever?

The number of atheists is rising, but from what I’ve read it’s more of an anti-religious movement because people have been let down by the Church. Sometimes I think that more people would become followers of Jesus if Christians didn’t get in the way.

This week, our denomination has its biennial General Assembly. I used to be very interested in the proceedings and policies, but lately I’m tired of all the decisions and divisions, ordination wars and theological fist-fights that take place every time the GA meets. I feel that Jesus is being persecuted by His own people and if the usual Presbyterian shenanigans go on, then no wonder atheism is increasing. If our politics, polities, and procedures are all that the world sees of Christianity, then we really do get in the way of Jesus.

Prayer:                        Lord Jesus, forgive us for being poor witnesses of the Gospel and half-hearted servants of Your Kingdom. Keep us from getting in Your Way by insisting on getting our own ways. Re-teach us the path of Truth and fill us with Your Holy Life. In Your Sacred Name, we 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

Today’s image is one of John’s humorous snowman drawings. It’s called “Frosty the Vol Fan.” If you want to view a larger version of the drawing, please click on the following link:

Friday, July 02, 2010

Science, Religion, and a Cup of Tea

What is the relationship between science and religion? Thinking about this relationship and the various options can help you clarify your own thinking and help you properly understand the various discussions, debates and diatribes you may encounter. Understanding the other person's view on the relationship between science and religion can help you avoid a lot of talking past each other's conversations. I find it saves much frustration and for better or worse, shortens many conversations.

There are several kinds of relationships possible between science and religion.

Conflict: Either science or religion must emerge the winner. Religion has nothing to say to science. Or science must be completely subordinate to religion. This, of course, is the position of both science and religion fundamentalists.

Independence: Science and religion each have their own realm and don't have any reason to interact. "Religion tells us how to go to heaven, science tells us how the heavens go." This is where Stephen Jay Gould's Non overlapping magisteria idea might best fit. Science and religion each have their place but there is no "overlap" between the two disciplines.

Dialogue/Consonance: Science and religion each have their own realm and sometimes influence and interact with each other. Where there is overlap, each discipline's position must fit with what the other says.

Integration/Assimilation: This relationship encourages harmony between science and religion. Ultimately science and religion aid each other in our understanding of all that is.

Most people have a sense that both science and religion are concerned with "truth". But sometimes we work with a narrow sense of what truth is. We simplify truth and try to make truth reducible to a one or two sentence summary. The "truth" is more complex. One or two sentences will not sufficiently embrace the complexity of our world and certainly doesn't encompass the "truth".

John Polkinghorne often uses the helpful example of a teapot to encourage us to recognize that our views need some complexity. If one sees a teapot boiling there is both a how and a why answer to explain what is going on. The kettle is boiling because the stove is turned on. The kettle is boiling because someone is making tea. Both these statements are true. We have a more full understanding of what is happening when we accept both statements as true. Each statement captures different aspects of the same event.

Likewise, there must be some logical relationship between statements.

" The statements 'I have put the kettle in the refrigerator'
and 'I intend to make a cup of tea' just don't fit together. Because of
this need to make mutual sense, science and religion will have things to say to
each other."

(Polkinghorne, Quarks, Chaos, and Christianity, Questions to Science and Religion, New York: Crossroads,15.)

Sometimes, both science and religion seek to answer questions that have "simple" answers.

How does water boil?

What is the chief end of man?

Why is the sky blue?

What is your only comfort in life and in death?

Sometimes it can appear that science and religion are actually non overlapping magisteria. But on deeper reflection the "simple" answers become increasingly complex. Answering the question, "Why does water boil?" can be as simple as explaining that someone turned the stove on or it can become a discussion of how a stove works, how electricity (or gas) works, or a discussion of thermodynamics.

Sometimes science and religion struggle with more complex questions that are of interest to both disciplines.

Why is there something, rather than nothing?

Is this (the world, the universe) all there is?

Why do living things die?

What does it mean to be alive?

Each question can, like Polkinghorne's tea kettle, be answered by both science and religion. The answer of one discipline doesn't negate the answer of the other. I would suggest that we need the input of both.

I'd like to know, what do you think is the relationship between science and religion?
The four possible relationships of science and religion are from John Polkinghorne's book, Science and Theology. Polkinghorne's discussion is aid by Ian Barbour's insights.
Stephen Jay Gould's proposal for non overlapping magisteria is found is his book, Rocks of Ages. An essay of Gould's on NOMA may be found here.

The answers to the "simple" questions are:
Boiling water, here
What is the chief end of Man? here
Why is the sky blue? here
What is your only comfort in life and in death? here

To read more about John Polkinghorne, see here.

To read more about Stephen Jay Gould, see here.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, July 4, 2010, the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

Posted each Thursday, Lectionary Ruminations focuses on the Scripture Readings, taken from the New Revised Standard Version, for the following Sunday per the Revised Common Lectionary. Comments and questions are intended to encourage reflection for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged. All lectionary links are to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible 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.)

2 Kings 5:1-14
v 1. Why would theLORD give victory to the General of a foreign king? What is the nature of this “leprosy”?

v. 5 Is this an example of Old Testament international diplomacy? Is the silver, gold and garments a gift, a peace offering, a bribe, or what? What would be its current economic value?

v. 7 At least this king, unlike previous kings, knows that he is neither God nor exercises divine like power.

v. 8 Who really needs to learn that there is a prophet in Israel?

v. 10 Why did Elisha not even meet with the leper general?

v. 11 What is the significance of the number seven? Are there any other examples in Scripture of the restorative powers of the Jordan, or of someone washing seven times?

v. 14 What does this verse say about Elisha?

As a pastor, I resonate with this story. Sometimes it seems that people will take to heart major proposals but dismiss less major ones.

Psalm 30:1-12
The Psalm Reading is usually chosen as a commentary on the First Reading. How does this Psalm enlighten or expand upon the Reading from 2 Kings? Whose voice might we be hearing in this Psalm, the voice of the leper general or the voice of Elisha, or perhaps both, or another voice altogether?

v. 5 Personally, I love this verse.

v. 6 Maybe this verse explains why Presbyterians are so often unmoved when change is needed.

v. 9 Is the Psalmist attempting to blackmail God? Reason with God?

v. 11 Again, on a personal note, this verse ranks right up there with v.5.

Galatians 6:(1-6) 7-16
v. 1 By addressing his readers as “My friends” is Paul being honest? Patronizing?

vs. 2 & 5 Compare and contrast “Bear one another’s burdens” with “For all must carry their own loads.” What is the difference between a “burden” and a “load”?

v. 6 Is Paul arguing for just compensation, asking for a honorarium, gift or stipend, or something else here?

v. 7 How were the Galatians, or at least some of the Galatians, “mocking” God? How do we mock God today?

v. 8. How, or in what ways do we “sow” to our own flesh and how, or in what ways do we sew to the Spirit?

v. 10 Note that we (Christians) are to work for “the good of all” even though we may focus on the family of faith. I am reminded of a phrase from George Orwell’s Animal Farm, “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others”.

v. 11 An example of Paul taking over from his secretary? What a find it would be to discover or unearth the original manuscript of Paul’s letter to the Galatians! Maybe this could be another Indiana Jones sequal.

v. 14 What does Paul mean “the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world”?

v. 16 “The Israel of God” sounds like an odd phrase that I have honestly never before noticed. To whom does it refer?

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
v. 1 Compare the parallels in the other Gospels. Why send people out in pairs? I think the argument can logically be made that Jesus intended to visit at least thirty five towns and places. What does this verse say aboit the need for planning and preparation?

v. 7 Another economic imperative? Compare to Galatians 6:6.

vs. 9 & 11 Regardless of the reception, the message is nearly the same: “The kingdom of God has come near (you).” How do we know when it is appropriate to wipe the dust off our feet in protest and to move on?

v. 16 The logical argument is that whoever rejects you rejects the one who sent Jesus, which I presume is God.

vs. 17-19 How shall we interpret and apply these verses in the modern (or post modern) world which often shuns “the spiritual” as make believe and unreal? I mean, when was the last time a  spirit” submitted to you or anyone else you know?

v. 19 How has this verse influenced those who appeal to the longer ending of Mark to defend their “snake Handling”?

I apologize for posting this rumination a few hours later than usual. Time slipped by and I did not write this post until after I started travelling on my way to the Presbyterian General Assembly in Minneapolis. During the coming week I hope and plan to post news and reflections from and about the GA in my personal blog, Summit to Shore.  I make no apology for not making any connections between the lectionary readings and Independence Day, a civil holiday, not a liturgical day.