Thursday, September 30, 2010

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, October 3, 2010, the Twenty-Seventh 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.)

Lamentations 1:1-6, 3:19-26
vs. 1-2 Yes, this is about Jerusalem, but It could as easily be applied to a rust belt city like Detroit, or New Orleans, still recovering from Katrina.

v. 3 She who now lives among the nations is the one in whom all the nations will be blessed.

v. 4 Lamenting the loss of the religious tourist trade.

v. 5 And why is Zion suffering?

v. 21 What is it exactly that is called to mind that brings hope?

vs. 22-23 Is this what brings hope? How easily we forget!

Psalm 137:1-9
vs. 1-2 Does anyone remember the song “On The Willows” from the musical Godspell?

v. 4 But, according to Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, are not all Christians “resident aliens”?

v. 8 Shall we read this as a Biblical admonition for revenge and paybacks, or thePsalmist expressing both personal and communal agony?

v.9 This is always a fun verse to try to interpret.

vs. 8-9 I fear these two verses encapsulate some of the feelings of anger among those mourning the loss the Christian Establishment as we have moved into a post-Christian era. It is one thing to express such feelings. It is another thing to act on them by engaging in violence.

2 Timothy 1:1-14
v. 3 Paul, a apostle of Christ, claims to worship the same God in the same way his Jewish ancestors did.

v. 5 Did Lois, Eunice and Timothy all embrace the faith at the same time, or is Timothy actually the product of Christian nurture provided by his mother and grandmother?

vs. 6 What is the gift that needs rekindled? How is the laying on of hands associated with this rekindling?

v.7 Cowardice or power, love and self-discipline. Where do we fall in that contrast?

v.8 What shame has Timothy been feeling? What shame might we be feeling?

v. 11 Does Paul string together “herald”, “apostle” and “teacher” for alliterative emphasis, or is he actually claiming three different titles?

v. 14 What is the “good treasure” entrusted to Timothy?

Luke 17:5-10
vs. 5-6 How does verse 6 follow from verse 5? Does the new U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey, released recently by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, shed any light on this verse?

vs. 7-10 How do these verses follow from what came before?

v. 10 Well, I am feeling about as important and valued as whale dung on the bottom of the ocean floor. “Oh, forgive me God, the miserable sinner that I am.” So much for self-esteem.

This Sunday will be World Communion Sunday, and for many PC(USA) Presbyterians, the Sunday on which to receive the Peacemaking Special Offering.  How do any of the above lectionary passages relate to World Communion and/or Peacemaking?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Spring Cleaning in the Fall

We often think of cleaning house, really giving it a good scrubbing, in the spring. I guess that’s why they call it “spring cleaning.” We take advantage of the change in season and make an effort to clean up our houses, get rid of things we no longer use, and put a new shine on what is left over. I would make the suggestion that we adopt this practice whenever the season changes, regardless of the time of year. I would also suggest that we not limit this process to just “cleaning houses” but also cleaning up and throwing out old hurts, things that just seem to stick around regardless of how many times we take the scrub brush to them. We need to present ourselves as new creations before our God and shine as bright as the sun.

We all have things that we have regretted, wishing and hoping that they would eventually fade into the deep, dark recesses of our minds never to be heard from again. Then as time goes by, these things always resurface at the worst times of our lives, kicking us when we are already on the ground. We know that there is only one way to deal with these irritating issues. We need to take them to our God, admit that we have wronged Him and others we have hurt along the way. Then we ask for His forgiveness. This sounds way to simple, but all throughout God’s Word, He tells us that we just need to bring these things to Him. He has forgiven us before we even ask. God knows the very thing that is weighing heavily on our minds right now. He is just waiting for us to bring this nagging thing to Him in prayer. Ask in earnest to be forgiven, and allow God to be God. I believe we spend too much time getting in His way. After all, He was willing to give up His son in order that our sins would be taken away, nailed to the cross with Christ.

In this day and age, we tend to spend much of our lives feeling guilty for things we know are wrong, but it seems like feeling guilty is more satisfying to us as a way of reaping well deserved blame and punishment on ourselves. Yet it’s not enough to keep us from repeating the same offense later in life. God is here with us to wait patiently, listen intently, and if it is His will, to answer our prayers. We just need to start cleaning house and throwing out old stuff we know is not in God’s plan. Getting rid of the excess baggage will be just what we need to gain the freedom to move forward.

I have made an effort to follow my own advice and I have scrubbed the closets of my mind with a strong cleaner, God’s Holy Word. This is the best stain remover for old hurts, painful memories, and things in our past that seem to just get worse as time goes on. We all could use a bit of spring cleaning this fall. Let’s break out those brooms and start sweeping. You will be surprised what you find among the dust bunnies.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Monday Blog Club

Welcome to Monday!

1) Talitha P blogs at Madame Future Moderator: Some day I'm going to grow up to moderate something very important; like a Session, or a Presbytery, or maybe even the General Assembly of the PC(USA). Alternately, I might give up on all things establishmentarian and go live with Jesus in a tree.  I like Talitha because she reads Robert's Rules of Order for fun.  Or maybe it's because she's so passionate about mission work.  But what makes her stand out this week is her most recent post.

Here at the unofficial PC(USA) blog we're all about respectful conversation and, yes, even disagreement.  Check out that blog roll, folks!  But this week we got a few messages from someone with a passionate hatred (and mistaken understanding) of the denomination.  So stumbling upon Happy To Be Presbyterian was a wonderful surprise.  Especially today, when I was elected to serve as an elder for the first time.  So thanks, Talitha!

2) Over at Mark Time, Mark Smith recently reviewed Carol Howard Merritt's Reframing Hope.  (My brother-in-law is reading that one right now.)  He also discusses the unexpected turn his recent job search took.  Congrats, Mark, on the big leap: hearing and responding to a different call than you were seeking!  Best of luck and God's blessing on your journey.

3) Meanwhile, Rev. Carl Wilton continues his short story, "A Treasurer's Tale" over at Monmouth Presbytery Clerk's Corner.  The tale begins (with apologies to Charles Dickens):  

Ebeneezer Droodge, church treasurer, awoke with a start from his fitful sleep. That noise – what was it?

It was nothing, he assured himself. Probably a little too much tuna casserole at the church potluck. Sure, that was it. Tuna casserole.

No, wait – he was sure he’d heard it this time.

“Over here, Ebeneezer.”


“Over here, on your computer. Where you sit up late every night fussing with the church spreadsheets.”

Friday, September 24, 2010

One of the Three Forbidden Subjects

There are three subjects which we tend to not want to talk about in the context of church: money, sex and death.

We recently started a series of studies at my church on death and dying from a Christian perspective. It's a mid-week study; one session at noon for the "lunch bunch" and another in the evening after a shared supper. The study is being facilitated by the Pastor and I.

The one thing that really stood out in this past Wednesday's sessions (it was our first of nine) was the level of emotion that rose to the surface among the participants. That's understandable, I'm inclined to think, if for no other reason than that for the last 100 years or so, we've done everything we can, it seems, as a culture and as church, to remove death as far away from us as possible.

I remember when, a few months prior to his death, my father called me into his study, told me to sit down and write down a list he was going to give me. "What's the list for?" I asked. "It's a list of things to do when I die," he replied. It was a conversation I did not want to have; not at all. But yet, my father, in his wisdom, knew that it was a conversation that we had to have.

Yes, we've tried to banish death from our thoughts. A hundred years ago, the vast majority of people died at home. Now the overwhelming majority die in some sort of institution: hospitals, nursing homes, etc. And when a loved one dies, we're immediately (or pretty quick) shuffled out of the room, not to see our loved one again until they appear in a casket at the funeral home, or in the case of cremation, not until we're handing a small container holding their ashes.

According to Rob Moll, in his wonderful little book, The Art of Dying: Living Fully Into the Life to Come, we've lost the Christian practice of dying well. There are a number of reasons for that, cultural ones for the most part, due to shifts from agrarian to urban life, the incredible advances in medicine, and so forth. But regardless of the reasons, we as Christians have lost something when it comes to death.

In his book, Moll writes:
"There is an untapped reservoir of Christian belief about dying. Christians are people who claim to worship and have the life of the risen Son of God. A renewed practice of Christian dying should affect not just the dying and those caring for them, but will fundamentally affect church life and individual spiritual lives from beginning to end."
The beginning point for recapturing a Christian view of death and dying is simply this: that we start talking about it openly and without fear of showing some emotion. That conversation will inevitably involve seeing how the biblical material might inform our views of death and dying. That conversation will recognize the central importance of death for Christian faith: that is, the death, and resurrection, of Jesus who is the Christ.

So let's start the conversation. Let's recover the spiritual practice of dying.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, September 26, 2010, the Twenty-Sixth 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.)

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
v. 1 What is the significance of the historical reference?

v. 2 Why was Jeremiah confined in the court of the guard?

vs. 7-8 Is the redundancy typical of Hebrew prophecy or is it serving another purpose?

v. 9 What is the symbolism of Jeremiah buying a field at Anathoth from his cousin Hanamel?

v. 14 No longer is it simply “the LORD” but is now “the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel;” Is there any significance to the longer moniker?

v. 15 Here is a verse that could very well serve as a prophetic sign of hope in the midst of our nation’s low economic recovery.

Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16
vs 1-2 Nice images: live, abide, shelter, shadow, refuge and fortress.

v. 2 It seems the Psalms almost always speak in terms of “trust” rather than “believe”. Does it make any difference?

v. 3 “snare of the fowler” suggests a human operative setting the snare, whereas “deadly pestilence” suggests a force of nature divorced from human agency.

v. 4 “pinions” and “wings” are iamages related to birds, but what sort of bird? “Shield and buckler” shift from foul imagery to military imagery.

v. 5 What are our night terrors?

v. 6 More ”pestilence”, but this pestilence stalks in darkness.

v. 14 Do all those who love God know God’s name? Do all those who know God’s name love God?

I think it is easy to see why this Psalm is paired with the Jeremiah Reading.

Reading 1 Timothy 6:6-19
v. 6 I think only Paul, of all the authors included in the New Testament, could begin a sentence with “Of course”.

V 10 Not that “the love of money”, and not money itself, “is a root of all kinds of evil.”

v. 11 How does this list of virtues compare with other Pauline lists of virtues?

v. 12 How does one fight the good fight? What is the difference between a “good” fight and a “bad” fight?

v. 13 What was the “good confession” Christ Jesus made in his testimony before Pontius Pilate? Is this the only New Testament reference to Pontius Pilate outside of the Gospels?

v. 14 What is “the commandment” to which Paul refers?

v. 15-16 Some of this sounds like confessional language, or the language of an early Christian hymn.

v. 17 Yes, this reading did begin by talking about riches, to which we now return. I have not checked the Greek, but the juxtaposition of the “uncertainty of riches” with the “God who richly provides” is a nice one in English.

v. 18-19 Is this the Judeo-Christian foundation of charity and philanthropy?

Luke 16:19-31
v. 19 And low and behold “a rich man” appears in the Gospel reading after Paul’s words to Timothy about riches and the love of money. What is the significance of the fact that this man was dressed in purple? Does “fine linen” suggest the same status? “Feasting sumptuously every day,” suggests this rich man was not eating franks and beans, but what?

v. 20 Is it an unfortunate coincidence that a poor man was named “Lazarus”, the name of the brother of Mary and Martha?

v. 22 How do we deal with the “angels” and this man being carried away to Abraham before Christ was crucified and resurrected?

v. 23 How do we deal with “Hades” and its torment?

v. 24 Can we read and hear this without being influenced by Dante’s Inferno?

v. 25 Is this an example if typical New Testament reversal; i.e. the first being last and the last being first?

v. 26 What is this “great chasm” and how do we deal with it? Shall we or shall we not be reminded and influenced by cartoonish images of bearing a cross to a chasm and then laying it down across the chasm to use as a bridge?

v. 29 If Moses and the prophets were not enough to warn this man, what makes anyone think they are enough for the guy’s five brothers? Is there any significance to the number five?

vs. 30-31 Is this an example of literary anachronism, reading back into the text a reference to something that according to the setting has not yet happened but which the author knows has already happened?

I think we need to guard against reading this too literally, and certainly not as history. How can we mine the message without also digging up a lot of unnecessary overburden?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Laughter in the Heavens

Sometimes, if we listen closely, we may just hear the roar of laughter coming from heaven. God and his troop of angels are all getting a big kick out of our comical behavior here on earth. I say this because if we think about how we go through our daily routine trying our best to get it right, but only to realize we are so far off the mark, we, too see the humor. We need to stop trying so hard, stop taking life so seriously in order to enjoy bits and pieces of it. After all, God did not say that we had to be completely serious, monotonous, robots just going through the motions. How boring would that be? God is a loving God who would want His family to enjoy life.

I know God has a bit of a sense of humor, and I know this each time I look in the mirror. I realize that God must have been smiling, or grinning from ear to ear when He decided to create this child. I can also use my analogy I have used in the past where Jethro, the lead character on the popular show “NCIS” goes around smacking his detectives on the back of the head when they just can’t seem to grasp the obvious. God just loves getting a laugh or two out of His children, and I do enjoy being His “comical” servant. I know that I have been able to give God a chuckle or two in my day. But I can’t think of a better way to serve Him than to bring Him pure enjoyment. With that enjoyment, I pray that He is happy not only with me, but happy that I am His. It brings a smile to my face when I think about that, and I hope it brings a smile to yours as well. You should feel wonderful that you are a child of God, and that you have been put here for His purposes. I bet you have given God a smile or two in your past, and we all know it will not be the last time God laughs at us.

I often wonder what it’s like when we just refuse to see things God’s way, even going as far as denying or avoiding being classified as a “born again” or a “bible thumper” when we are socializing or at work. I can only imagine how God feels when His children play the role of the obstinate little child who can’t seem to be satisfied with anything, refusing to quiet his or her behavior even after being offered many wonderful things in order to create peace in the world. How many times have we denied the offerings from our God because it just not what we wanted, only to find out later that it was what we needed? This is where I can just hear God chuckling and saying “see, I told you so.” This is why I know God has a terrific sense of humor. Even after we try so hard to disobey, to look the other way when He is trying to tell us something, He never leaves us. God refuses to abandon us, but does get chuckle out of our childish behavior even when “the boss” is smacking us on the back of the head.

I know that our God is a loving God, and therefore, quite often, we provide Him with laughter in the heavens.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Monday Blog Club

This week I'd like to highlight a few more members of our robust and diverse web ring.  Up this week are three blogs that begin with the letters K and L:

1) Kruse Kronicle: Commentary and reflection on ministry and culture in the twilight of Western Christendom.  This blog's author is elder Michael Kruse, who describes himself, saying, "I am presently serving as the chair of the of the General Assembly Mission Council of the Presbyterian Church (USA), but my horizons and involvement extend well beyond denominationalism. Of particular interest to me is how our daily work connects with the things of God."  And his interests include "annoying Presbyterians."  :-)

Kruse pulls out interesting articles and essays from various news sources, sometimes adding commentary and sometimes letting the pieces stand on their own.

2) Next is the Laughing Pastor.  "My grandmother taught me the art of laughter. She also taught me to be honest about life. Along the way as I share the ups and downs of my journey I consistently bump into laughter. Laughter is a many sided gift of which humor is only one aspect. I believe laughter is like prayer....with faith and hope there is always space for laughter."

Recent posts include texts, pictures, poetry, and links.  Definitely another blog worth a visit this week.
"In short...
Breathe more.
Enjoy Life.
Enjoy God.

3) Lighthouse/searchlight church: Participating in the mission of the light of the world by Robert Austell, pastor of Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC ... passionate about worship, music, and God's mission to the world . 

Welcome! The primary purpose of this blog is to explore and encourage around what it means to be winsome and sent into the world for God's glory. The definition of "lighthouse-searchlight" is a good place to start. Come peruse the blog!

Three excellent blogs this week.  Check 'em out!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Go Fish!: First Things First

At a church I once belonged to in Southern California a committee designed an action plan in case there was an earthquake during worship. A card was created to sit in every pew rack with instructions on what to do if natural disaster struck. I chuckled every time I saw the card because the number one instruction was "Pray!"

It seems obvious, but I guess we all forget from time to time that the number one thing to do is to "Pray!" Prayer is the foundation of all work of the church. Prayer, is critical before, during, and after we engage in any work of the Church, including evangelism.

In Reimagining Evangelism, author Rick Richardson lays out his case of how we collaborate with God in prayer for the purpose of evangelism. In Chapter 2 of his book he reminds us of what he calls is the "startling promise" in John 14: 10-14:

"Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it."

Richardson comments: "Notice, the secret of the miracles and the power of the prayers was once again this dynamic of collaboration. Jesus did what he did because he and the Father were one. The Father was living in him and doing the works. In our case, the Father and the Son have made their home in us by the Spirit (John 14:23). Witness and prayer are not first of all our work; they are God's work in us and through us. In witness and prayer, Another lives in us, and we are the junior partners."

We have to take the time, however, to be receptive to God's desire to collaborate with us, which means, we have to take time to pray. Furthermore, during that prayer time we not only speak, we listen. Richardson says he gets "quiet and receptive for a moment" and then he asks God the following questions:

"Jesus, where are you already at work? Lord, lead me to people who are receptive."

"Is there someone you want me to talk to, care for or pray with?" Is there someone here who is hurting?"

He then waits for the "nudge" that tells him to speak to particular people, or take specific actions.

In Presbyterian pastor Glenn McDonald's book, The Disciple Making Church; from Dry Bones to Spiritual Vitality, he speaks of the "Six Marks of a Disciple." One of the marks is "A Voice to Speak the Good News." The mark immediately before that one? "Knees for Prayer." McDonald recommends people develop a list of about 10-12 individuals or concerns, and then spend 15 minutes each day prayer and journaling about who or what is on the list.

At the end of the book, McDonald lays out "The Habits of a Disciple-Making Church." Number one, "Stay Centered through Prayer and Discernment." He says, "Prayer must not be a perfunctory seeking of God's blessing on our work. Our work itself is prayer - sustained waiting, listening, and calling on the name of the Lord."

These blog posts about evangelism always have "Go Fish!" in the title. I like the idea of "going" out into the world, and I'm playing on Jesus' promise of making the disciples "fishers of people." Unspoken in that title however is this command: "(Pray! Then) Go Fish!".

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, September 19, 2010, the Twenty-Fifth 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.)

Jeremiah 8:18-9:1
v. 18 Who is speaking?

v. 19b Who is speaking and who is being quoted?

v. 21 Para-sympathetic feelings? How is this image magnified by the crucifixion?

v. 22 Who is asking these questions? Are they rhetorical questions?

v.1 Is this a Holy lamentation?

How much might Jeremiah be inserting his own thought s and feelings into his prophecy. Who is hurting more, Jeremiah, God, or the people?

Psalm 79:1-9
v.1 Does this verse reflect a time after 58-586 CE?

v. 4 Is this the viewpoint of the Diaspora?

v. 5 A communal prayer that could fall upon the lips of an individual.

v. 6 “Why punish your children when others have totally neglected and ignored you?”

v. 8 “Give us a break! Don’t hold us accountable for the sins of our parents.”

v. 9 “If you forgive us, it will make you look better.”

1 Timothy 2:1-7
v. 1 What is the meaning and significance of “First of all”? Does this refer to time or importance? What do you make of the list “supplications,prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings”? Is there anyone excluded from the “all”? What does the “all” say to the generally individualistic and narcissistic prayers of American Christians?

v. 4 Is there a hint of universalism here? What is “the knowledge of the truth”. To quote Pilat, what is ‘truth?’. Or should we asking “who is the truth?”

v. 6 This verse is often used to defend a particular understanding of the atonement, but does it force us to embrace only one understanding?

v. 7 Why does Paul even have to write “(I am telling the truth, I am not Lying)”?

Luke 16:1-13
v. 1 It is anachronistic to do so, but read back into this recent Wall Street and Investment Banking scandals.

vs. 5-7 An example of one bad deed spawning another? Certainly Jesus was not intending to teach dishonesty, or was he?

v. 8 In my humble opinion, this is NOT one of Jesus’ best parables.

v. 9 What?

v. 10-13 These verses seem to redeem what preceded.

v. 13 a poignant verse during tough economic times and two months before an election that might have as one of its debates who pays how much in taxes and what entitlements will be cut.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Man's Best Friend

For those of you who have pets, particularly dogs, you know what I’m talking about when I say that they are great companions, some would even call them best friends. I can truly say that about my Great Dane Bruce. He is a great companion, a bit large, but a great friend and pal. We often have discussions in the evening about life and about how our days were. It’s a bit one sided, but Bruce does get a word in now and then. Regardless of my mood, or my temperament, Bruce is always wagging his tail and wanting attention, disregarding all of my overtones to just leave me alone for a bit. His love is so unconditional, but then again, we should be accustomed to this type of love.

God is so gracious with His love for us. It does not matter what we do, how we do it, who we upset, or how upset we get, He is there with open arms ready to give us the biggest hug possible. God is such a loving God that sometimes I think He gave us dogs so that we could get a very tiny glimpse into just how unconditional His love is for us and how wonderful it will be to join Him in heaven. I can just imagine all of the wonderful pets I have had in my life waiting there to greet me. It will be a stampede of genuine love and affection when they see me and come running with their tails wagging. I truly believe that “all dogs go to heaven.”

When we try to imagine how wonderful and blissful it will be when we get to see our Savior face to face, it is impossible to do. We, as humans, can only imagine how it will be, and when we do we fall so short of being even close with our anticipated dreams. There are no words presently in the English language to describe this occasion. God is saving the best for last. I know that when it is my time to visit my maker, I will be in awe of His grace and glory. We all need to take just a minute or two out of our hectic day to thank God’s son for going to heaven and preparing a place just for us. It is a beautiful home with many rooms, so many we can’t even count them.

When I try to imagine God’s unconditional love for me, I can’t help but think about my buddy Bruce. God’s plan is to be man and woman’s best friend. A pet is just a great example of God’s unconditional love for his children. This is such a gracious gift from our God that we have no means of repaying this incredible debt. But then again, God doesn’t want repayment, He just wants our love in return. I think I will try harder to show God my love, and maybe there will be a little left over for Bruce. God is a loving God, we just need to return a little of it occasionally, and show Him how we can be His best friend.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Monday Blog Club

In lieu of welcoming new members this week I'd like to take the opportunity to highlight a few members of our web ring. (Check out the blog roll at right.) Working our way through the alphabet - slowly - we're somewhere in the "I's."

First up is Kara Root, who blogs at in the hereandnow: musings on motherhood and ministry. Kara describes herself as "A typical Presbyterian minister, mom of two clever kids and two unruly dogs, and wife and proofreader of a wily theologian." If that's not enough to pique your interest, recent posts include Responsible Remembering: 9/11 & Now, When you don't have a year off to eat, pray and love..., and old letters and new life. This blog is worth a read, and not just because of the author's gift for titles.

Next we have Dr. Tod Bolsinger: husband, father, pastor, author, professor, hiker, runner, adventurer, and outdoors-lover who blogs at It Takes A Church...  Musings about Christian Community, the mission of Christ, leading through change and the life God intended for all of us. By Tod Bolsinger, pastor, author, and irregular blogger. The author has been off the grid backpacking recently, but recent posts include examinations of clergy burnout, seeing a pastor drinking alcohol in public, and "living beyond limitations" through parishioner example. Check him out!

Finally, It's not just about the camel dance. This blog, by Rev. Amy (associate pastor, music listener, cats-named-after-buffy-characters lover, laughter causer, sleep needer) hasn't been updated since the end of July. But the title's so great I couldn't resist checking in! I'm glad I did, because her summer posts detail youth mission trip and are a great read. Even if she does dis Missouri!

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Maybe I Will Raise My Copy of the Quran

Because I believe in free speech, I think the Rev. Terry Jones, pastor of Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, has the right to burn a few Qurans. After all, we Americans have the right to make fools of ourselves and show the world how ignorant and intolerant we can be.

I am wondering, however, how and where Terry Jones earned the title “Reverend”. My “Reverend” title was bestowed upon me after four years of college, three years of Seminary (the Church’s equivalent of Graduate School), a battery of psychological assessments and ecclesiastical exams, and the gathered wisdom of two local congregations (the one who sponsored my candidacy and the one who called me as a pastor) as well a regional governing body of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A). Unlike some “Reverends” , I did not obtain my Divinity or Theological Degree from a diploma mill or buy my ordination over the internet. Mr. Jones, what are your credentials?

Few Americans would undergo open-heart surgery from a “Surgeon” who obtained their M.D. from a correspondence school and their Board Certification over the internet, or be represented in a Court of Law by an “Attorney” whose law degree came from a diploma mill and the only bar they ever passed served drinks. Many Americans, however, are willing to follow blindly a so-called “Reverend” who has little if any theological education and whose ordination is worth about as much as three cereal box tops. Therefore, the Reverend Terry Jones serves as a Pastor of Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville and has already experienced more than his fifteen minutes of fame.

I will be among the first to admit that a theological education and the ecclesiastical bureaucracy can stifle the Spirit, but they also guard against ignorance and stupidity. I have a hunch that Mr. Jones’ theological qualifications are thin and his ecclesiastical credentials are slim, or else he would not be saying what he is saying and planning to do what he says he is planning to do.

Mr. Jones, I read the Quran when I was still in high school. The Quran, as is the Tanakah and the New Testament, is the foundational text of one of the world’s three great monotheistic faiths. Rather than burning a copy of the Quran on September 11, 2010, I think I will raise it from the shelf in my library where it has been sitting, carry it with me, and read it in public as a protest against ignorance and intolerance and sign of support for peace loving Moslems.

This post has been cross posted on my personal blog, Summit to Shore.

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, September 12, 2010, the Twenty-Fourth 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.)

Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28
v. 11 How shall we interpret what appears to be a stock prophetic phrase, “At that time”?

v. 11 Not just any wind, but a “hot” wind.

v. 22 God is sounding like the parent of a teenager. Will we ever outgrow our spiritual adolescence? When?

v. 23 Is this still God speaking, or Jeremiah speaking?

v. 25 This could have served as an introduction to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.

v. 27 What is the difference between the scene as described and a “full end”?

Psalm 14:1-7
v. 1 The general, generic “God”

v.2 The specific, relational “LORD”.

v. 3 Hyperbole? Or honest judgment?

v. 5 If no one does good (v. 3), then who is in the company of the righteous?

v.7 “When” suggests a reversal.

1 Timothy 1:12-17
v. 15 A classic call to confession.

v. 17 Ascription of praise

How do we teach/preach such a personal, autobiographical passage?

Luke 15:1-10
vs. 1-2 Are the tax collectors and sinners being juxtaposed with Pharisees and scribes?

v.3 This is not the first time in Luke that Jesus responds to questions about his behavior with a parable.

v.5 Is this the verse that inspired that “Jesus with a sheep on his shoulders” illustration I remember from childhood?

v. 7 Did Jesus just say that the Pharisees and scribes are righteous?

v. 8. Even though one coin has been lost, all the coins are of equal value, but there is no need to search for the coins that were not lost because we already know where they are.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Dancing with our God

I think I have mentioned several times in my past blogs about how God can play a part in our “dance” as we go through the motions of our daily lives. He can orchestrate a beautiful symphony of events that lead us down a path we, as servants of Him, never even know are there. We move through our daily routines never stopping to look around and admire God’s great creation we call home. I am beginning to realize that God places us where we can be of the greatest assistance to furthering His agenda, His big plan so that He can get the most out of our service to Him. I feel that I am in that place, and just at the right time. But then again, it is God’s big dance we are discussing, and whether we like it or not, it is flawless and perfect, and we, as His humble servants, need to follow it step by step

When God wants something from you, He generally will show you, but then let you muddle through, making mistakes along the way, until you finally figure it out for yourself. When we start to stray from His “pasture,” He will make sure we return to Him and remain with the rest of the sheep. When God wants us to venture, He will clearly show us a path. He will “make our paths straight” and give us direction on just how to get to where He is sending us. God uses the Holy Spirit to speak His truths to us and keep us on the straight and narrow. He will generally show us how to do the “dance” but then step back and watch as we make several attempts, improving with each step, until we get it right.

Our mission in this partnership is to make sure we are abiding by His word, His holy instructions as to where we need to go, and just what we need to do once we get there. I have completed my move to Virginia Beach, and I have begun my studies into His Word, and I have never felt more right about any other thing I have sought to do in my entire life. It is just amazing how God has allowed me to serve Him in this place and in this time. I eagerly anticipate my next class on campus at Regent University, with the hopes that I can interact with other students who have the same fervor, the same enthusiasm and desire to serve and to grow as we experience this wonderful assignment together. As I have mentioned in previous blogs, I am amazed, yet comforted by the professors and their openness towards sharing their faith while allowing the students to experience their own journey towards a deeper understanding.

I am not sure where God will place me as I move through this particular portion of the dance competition. I just know that the judges will have no choice but to move me on to the next level and allow me to perform, knowing that I’m on a mission and will not stop until I complete the task at hand. God is guiding me through this very difficult mission of completing my studies, then moving on to the next assignment. I have done more reading in the last several weeks than I have done in the last several years. It has been very rewarding and enlightening to take in God’s instruction and to know that I’m giving it my best effort at moving to the next level of competition. Giving me this wonderful opportunity to learn and grow in His Word has brought about a change, a welcome change I have sought for years, and now that I have found it, I cannot help but look for the next big step in my dance routine, my next big challenge that God will place before me. I will do nothing less than my best at the next level.

I know that I have no choice but to dance like there is no tomorrow, and to pray like there is.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Eggs, Salmonella, and Theology

Been avoiding eggs recently? In case you have been savoring the last days of summer media free (and good for you), 550 million eggs have been recalled because of contamination with salmonella, and 1469 people have become ill. Here is a link to a summary of the events. Here is what the FDA, the CDC, the Humane Society, and the Egg producers have to say about it. Finally, here is an article that begins to explore some of the complexities of the issues.

There have been calls for improved inspections and safety regulations. Many people who were previously unaware of how eggs are produced received a glimpse into modern factory farming.

Those are good things, but what if we try to think theologically about this situation. Would our response be different? Does our faith inform our response? What does theology and scripture have to do with chickens, eggs, salmonella and modern farming?

The first place to start is with the chickens. Modern poultry farming practices are not designed to be cruel, they are designed to be efficient. But we need to ask if efficiency at the expense of animal welfare is acceptable? What level of confinement is humane? How do we keep chickens healthy and safe? Should we be concerned about their happiness? Do modern poultry farming practices reflect our biblical mandate to care for creation? Do they reflect God's vision of shalom?

The next set of questions concerns our life together. Rural American needs jobs. Does the desirablility of jobs in rural America over ride other concerns? What about the environmental challenges of “factory farms”? How much pesticide use is acceptable? How much waste run off, is acceptable?

What about wages, and the health and safety concerns of farm workers? Farming is dangerous work. What does scripture say about our responsibilities toward each other and toward the evironment? Profitability may be the “chief end” of business, but should it be the only one? Or are there other concerns which should be “chief ends” as well? When choices must be made, how do we know what to prioritize?

The reformed tradition has understood that our work, whether we are workers, management or owners is to glorify God. What does that look like in modern agriculture? Are business owners required by their faith to sacrifice their profit for the common good? What if doing good puts your business at such a disadvantage that your business may not survive?

Finally, what about the poor? According to the USA Today article I linked you to above, "regular" eggs cost $1.10 nationally, cage free eggs $2.99 and organic eggs $4.89. Is it just to increase the price of a food by nearly three times? Given the increasing numbers of food insecure people in the US, is reforming egg production (or any agricultural practice) a luxury we cannot afford? Must we choose between chickens and people? Can we care for both?

I have asked a lot of questions today; and hard questions at that. Normally bloggers are all about answers - we can be an opinionated bunch. As a nation we are also all about the solution, and the faster we have a solution the better. But fast solutions are often superficial solutions. It seems to me, we might have better solutions, if we spend time pondering the complexities of a problem. And particularly if our pondering is theologically driven. Can theological reflection give rise to actual concrete, workable solutions?

I'd like to know, what do you think?

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, September 5, 2010, the Twenty-Third 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.)

Jeremiah 18:1-11
Judah was a Theocracy. How shall a secular democracy read, hear and interpret this passage? Or shall we read it only as a Church with no application to our nation?

v. 2 God sends Jeremiah to the potter’s house, where he will hear God’s words (note the plural), but who is the potter?

v. 4 Never allow good clay go to waste. It was not the clay that was spoiled but rather the vessel the potter was making that was spoiled.

v. 5 By comparison, or analogy, it is not the house of Israel that is spoiled but rather what the house of Israel has been shaped into.

vs. 7-8 The hypothetical refers to “a nation” and not necessarily Israel.

v. 8 And how do we deal with God saying “I will change my mind”?

v. 9 It seems that God is pleading for the people of Judah to do something that will convince the LORD to change the divine mind.

Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
Today’s Psalm seems personal, yet the First Reading is more corporate.

vs. 13-15 While Jeremiah offers us a potter metaphor, the Psalmist offers us a knitter metaphor. Both potters and knitters work with their hands to form raw material into finished products that can be both useful as well as decorative.

v. 16 A reference to Divine providence or perhaps even predestination?

v. 17 Is this a recognition of both God’s Holiness as well as transcendence?

Philemon 1-21
This is perhaps Paul’s most personal letter. It seems Paul is really laying on the accolades, which would leave Philemon looking like a jerk if he does not do what Paul is urging him to do.

v. 1 Paul, who as a prisoner has lost his freedom, is writing to Philemon about possibly freeing Onesimus.

v. 3 Typical greeting for a Christian/Greek letter.

v. 19 Shift from Paul dictating the letter to a secretary who writes, to Paul writing in his own hand.

Luke 14:25-33
v. 25 How many people constitute a “large” crowd?

v. 26 So much for family values!

v. 27 Talk of “the cross” before the crucifixion.

v. 28 Out of all the possible building projects, why a tower?

v. 31 And how shall we deal with this militaristic image?

v. 33 How does this verse follow from what precedes it? What is the logic? How will materialistic Americans in a consumer economy that is in the midst of “the great recession” hear this verse?