Thursday, December 30, 2010
v. 8 A promise of restoration. What promise do we find for ourselves in this passage?
v. 9 Why do the remnant weep?
v. 10 Why do the nations need to hear this?
v. 11 Could this be one of the roots of a ransom theory of the atonement?
v. 12 I like the image of a life likened to a “watered garden”. How many people in our society are experiencing a life akin to a dried up, dead garden?
V. 14 Here is an image I can relate to.
v. 16 People along the mid-Atlantic and north-Atlantic coast of the US should be able to relate to this verse this week.
v. 18 This is the second reference in this Psalm to God’s “word”. See verse 15 for the first. It appears again in verse 19.
vs. 12-10 It should be clearly evident why this Psalm was paired with the Jeremiah Reading. But the Psalm seems to emphasize the emotions of the return while ignoring the lament aspect of the deportation that preceded it. Where do we, as Americans, as Christians, and as Presbyterians find ourselves today, in exile or having returned?
v. 3 What are “spiritual blessings”?
v. 4 Here is a verse in support of predestination and election.
v. 6 Who is “the Beloved”?
v. 7 Now we have “blood” atonement after the ransom of Jeremiah 31:11.
v. 10 A verse in support of divine “fate”?
v. 11,14 What is our “inheritance”?
John 1:(1-9) 10-18
Note: This is perhaps my favorite passage in the Bible. This is also the first passage I translated from the Greek when learning Greek.
Friday, December 24, 2010
Thursday, December 23, 2010
v. 1 Can you enumerate (list and count) the gracious deeds and praiseworthy acts of the LORD? How high can you count?
v. 8 In verse 7 Isaiah speaks in the first person plural of “us”, but in verse 8 shifts to the third person “they” and “their”. Why the shift? What difference does it make?
v. 9 I like this verse. Perhaps I have never noticed it before. I like that “It was no messenger or angel” but the LORD’S presence that saved them. Remember, this is before Christ!
v. 1 Is it stating the obvious to identify this as a “praise” psalm.
v. 2 This is the second time (and the second reading) that angels are mentioned.
v. 3 Was the full moon with celestial halo around it on the winter solstice just before the full lunar eclipse less than a week ago praising the Lord?
v. 7 Even though, or perhaps because, I am a kayaker and a sailor, I can more easily accept the actual sun, moon and stars praising the Lord than I can accept “sea monsters” praising the Lord.
vs. 7-10 Verses especially appropriate for “Presbyterians For Earth Care”. After all, how can creation praise the Lord if humans pollute and destroy it?
v. 8 This reads like a winter’s verse, or else a mountain climber’s verse.
v. 11 Now we transition from the natural world to the political realm.
v. 13 What is “the name of the Lord”? Dare we write it? Dare we speak it
v. 14 What is “a horn”?
Second Reading Hebrews 2:10-18
v. 10 What a bummer! From the joy and celebration of Christmas a mere day ago we now get sufferings.
v. 11 Why WOULD Jesus be ashamed?
vs. 12-13 Where did these quotes come from?
v. 14 Can we read/teach/preach this without personifying “the devil”?
v. 17 Is “sacrifice atonement” the only understanding of atonement?
vs. 14-18 A fairly theological exposition of the incarnation, which is probably why this passage was chosen for the First Sunday After Christmas.
Gospel Matthew 2:13-23
v. 13 In Matthew, how many times does an Angel appear to Joseph in a dream?
vs. 13-14 Could this verse be an example of Midrash?
v. 15 Could there have been another theological reason for Jesus going to Egypt other than fulfilling of prophecy?
v. 16 Death in the slaughter on the innocents intrudes into the otherwise bucolic narrative of Christmas.
vs. 17-18 So all the infants were killed just so that prophecy could be fulfilled?
v. 19 Another angel, another dream, same old Jospeh!
v. 22 With so many dreams mentioned in the Bible, why does the church say so little about dreams, dreaming, and dream interpretation (other than Jungians)?
vs 13-23 It seems odd that Mary and Jesus are never mentioned by name but are referred to as “the child and his mother”.
Monday, December 20, 2010
"Our church is going through a very difficult time. We have an Endowment Fund - established some time in the 1960's when the church was flourishing. As with many churches we are seeing a decrease in the number of members - death and relocation mostly.
We've received some new members and for them we are grateful.
We have two full time pastors who refer to themselves as co-pastors. They have been instrumental in attracting new members and the youth are coming!
The problem is that we (still) have members who were here during the affluent years. Then, the membership was composed of the wealthy and the locally renown.
That group of members believe the Endowment Fund is not growing as it should be but is instead being relied upon to grow our church (aiding in community outreach, food pantry, Christmas baskets, youth work opportunities within the church during the summer months, youth mission trips, etc.). This group believes the Endowment Fund money is forbidden fruit and not to be used even when the need is evident!
We all realize that money earmarked or set aside for certain purposes should not be touched. However, is it truly "Christian" to keep an Endowment Fund and never use it (?) especially when the local poverty level is nearly twenty-five percent?
I'm so sad for this ugly turn of events. Unfortunately, if our co-pastors are forced out, I will be leaving too. I simply cannot worship in a church that worships money."
One thing I thought of when reading this email was a brief article in The Presbyterian Outlook from last year, "Tips for Taking Hold of Financial Distress."
I find this a perpetually recurring a tough question for churches. How can we pay for X (our building, our staff, our denominational per capita dues, mailing newsletters) when there is hunger in our communities, when there is cholera in Haiti, when there are human rights abuses around the world and here at home? Well, sometimes we do hold too tightly to things we could/should let go. But we do need to be careful about dismissing expenditures as unnecessary.
Because there's also a truth that some of the "less important" stuff goes into what makes us feel like - and function as - a community. My husband works for a faith-based organization. Every fall we used to have a company-wide picnic with entertainment, catered food, bounce houses for the kids, etc. Until one year there was Hurricane Katrina and the fellowship committee decided that the money usually spent on the picnic could better be spent aiding the people and communities devastated by the storm.
How could that possibly have been a wrong decision?
But it set a precedent - there's always a pressing need - and the company picnic is no longer the tradition. Since that time, company moral and team spirits have been plummeting, turn over has increased. Is this coincidence? Perhaps. Perhaps not.
It's a tough question. Your thoughts?
Friday, December 17, 2010
Like most people, I love a good story, especially one that has great characters. Which is why I love the Christmas story in Luke so much, because the characters a so rich. They’re also great evangelists, which I always like to read about, because I know I fall down in that area often; I need good role models to look up to and try to emulate.
Here are some of those great characters, and what we can learn from them when it comes to evangelism.
I love the story of Zechariah at the start of Luke. What a great dramatic curtain raiser to the Gospel story. I’ve often imagined what it would be like to be sent into the most holy and sacred part of the temple (so holy I’ve heard they tied a rope to your foot so they could pull you out if you saw God and were struck dead), and there before me is a heavenly angel.
I always feel for the people in the Bible who do what I know I would do in those situations: I’d be completely incredulous. Here’s poor Zechariah, terrified, overwhelmed by fear, and every time I read about his reaction it feels to me like he gets dinged on a technicality. When the angel Gabriel tells him that he and his wife are going to have a son, Zechariah states the obvious.
“How will I know this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.”
I feel for you Zechariah; I probably would have responded the same way. But Gabriel is not amused. He tells Zechariah that because he questioned him, Zechariah will be mute until all that has been foretold actually happens.
Later, when John is born and then circumcised eight days later, the floodgates open and Zechariah pores forth with his story to the entire assembly. John will be a prophet who prepares the way before the Messiah.
In Chapter 2 we witness the great story about those lowly shepherds keeping watch over their flocks. An angel comes again, this time with an entire angelic back-up choir, to tell of the birth of Jesus. The shepherds want to see this great thing that has happened in Bethlehem, and when they do see it for themselves, they tell anyone in the community who will listen. And then they continue praising God and retelling the story through worship.
Simeon and Anna
Next we hear from Simeon, a righteous and devout man who had already been tipped off by the Holy Spirit that he would get to see the Messiah before he died. Following another nudge by the Spirit, he shows up at the Temple just in time for Jesus’ circumcision. Before the entire community he declares that this baby is indeed the Messiah.
And then immediately we read of the faithful testimony of the prophet Anna, who is at the Temple at that time and “began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”
We are Mute, but Can Learn From These Examples
How often have I been as mute as Zechariah? In his case, he wanted to tell the story, but was forced to be silent until the right time. I have to admit, I often don’t want to tell the story of Jesus. My muteness isn’t ordained it’s self-prescribed. And my fear isn’t because I’ve seen something heavenly; it’s because I fear what others in the culture will think of me. I fear rejection by my peers. I fear I will be discounted and perhaps even discriminated against.
I want to be more like those shepherds. I want to see the great thing that has happened – is happening in my life today – and then tell everyone who will listen. I want to keep telling the story through worship. Or I want to stand before the community like Zechariah, Simeon and Anna, and share the Good News, because it really is good news. I want to be faithful to those times the Holy Spirit nudges me into action to share with others that news.
It’s worth telling and retelling the Christmas story, because it’s such an important story. Not only because it tells of the time when a poor, vulnerable baby came into this world to be her King. But because it reminds us that the story of Jesus is something truly good and worthy of sharing, and it gives us concrete examples of how to do that.
This Christmas let us tell the world a story.
Thursday, December 16, 2010
v. 10 Who is Ahaz? Why did the LORD speak to him?
v. 11 What is the definition of “a sign”? If you were to ask the LORD for a sign, what sign would you ask for?
v. 12 What do you think of the response of Ahaz? To what story or incident in salvation history does not putting “the LORD to the test” refer?
v. 13 What is the meaning of this enigmatic verse?
v. 14 Note that the sign involves “the young woman” with child. There is no mention of a virgin. What is the meaning and significance of “Immanuel”.
v. 15 Another enigmatic verse. What is so special about curds and honey? Locusts and wild honey sounds more symbolic.
v. 16 What is bad news for some is good news for others. Why do Christians tend to quote and emphasize verse 14 while overlooking and neglecting verse 16?
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
v. 1 Who is the “shepherd of Israel? What are “cherubim”?
v.2 Why are only three tribes, and these three tribes, mentioned?
v. 3 What does it mean for God’s face to shine?
v. 4 God gets angry?
v. 7 This is beginning to sound like refrain or response.
v. 17 From the psalmist’s perspective, who is at God’s right hand?
v. 18 Promises! Empty promises?
v. 2 What are the holy scriptures to which Paul refers?
v. 4 “Declared” to be son of God? This does read like a high Christology. It sounds to me like Paul is saying Jesus was declared Son of God in his resurrection, not at his birth.
vs. 1-7 This is a lot of theology to pack into the address of a letter. Do not forget that Romans is Paul’s longest letter.
v. 18 Birth of Jesus! Are we not still in Advent? What does it mean “to be with child from the Holy Spirit”?
v. 19 The innuendo seems to be building.
v. 20 What is the significance, if any, that an angel appeared to Joseph “in a dream”?
v. 21 What is the significance of the name “Jesus”?
v. 22 How much does this verse drive what has preceded it?
v. 23 Why is this verse slightly different that the NRSV translation of Isaiah 7:14?
v. 25 What purpose does this verse serve?
Thursday, December 09, 2010
vs. 1-2 We see more of Isaiah this week, the third week in a row the First Reading has come to us from this prophet. What is the connection between the health and productivity of the land and the well-being of the people of Israel?
v. 3 This verse signals a shift from the land to people.
v. 4 In Isaiah’s context, who were those with a fearful heart? Who has a fearful heart in our context?
vs. 5-7 Here is another shift, this time from people back to the land, where we started. In the case of humans, disabilities are overcome. In the case of the land, situations are reversed.
v. 8 I find it amazing that Isaiah envisions a “highway”. Where does this highway lead? What does it connect?
vs. 9-10 This is not quite a vision of the peaceable kingdom, but sure is close. It almost seems like a vision of paradise, or heaven.
v. 5 In the context of this psalm and the Psalter, what does it mean to be “Happy”. Is this the same “happiness” enumerated in the Declaration of Independence? How are “help” and “hope” related?
v. 6 What does it mean to “keep faith”?
vs. 7-9 Is this an expression of the Bible’s preferential option for the poor and oppressed? How shall we Americans read and interpret this in light of our current national political debate?
v. 47 “Magnificat”
v. 48 Mary’s sentiment seems to reflect the same outlook as expressed in the other optional Psalm, 146:5-10
v. 49 Is there any significance to the use of “the Mighty One”?
v. 46-55 Mary’s psalm of praise, apparently following the template of Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 2:1-10, seems to move from the particular in verses 47-49 to the universal in verses 50-55. What shall we learn from the theological and doxological trajectory of Mary’s song?
vs. 7-8 This reads like an admonition to patiently wait even in the midst of apparently dashed expectations. How near is near?
v. 9 Would anyone like to speculate what people were grumbling about?
v. 10 Do suffering and patience necessarily go together? When might we be called NOT to be patient in the midst of suffering?
v. 2 Note that even though he was in prison, he was hearing “what the Messiah was doing.” Also note that John had his own disciples and was apparently able to communicate with them.
v. 3 I know that this Sunday our Reading comes from Matthew rather than Luke, nevertheless, this verse seems out of place in light of last week’s Gospel reading which suggested that John knew Jesus was the Messiah. Am I reading more into last week’s reading than was there?
v. 5 This is the verse that seems to connect this Reading with the First Reading.
v. 6 How does this verse relate to verse 5?
v. 7-11 This Advent, more than ever before, I am becoming increasingly convinced that there was (and is) a theological, spiritual, and political connection between Jesus and John that is not fully expressed or explored in the Gospels, but is certainly hinted at. Other than Jesus and John, is there anyone in the New Testament portrayed as the fulfillment of prophecy?
Tuesday, December 07, 2010
"Hi, I was recently elected elder of finance and a member of session. I am looking for discussion on best practices for church finance. Also, I am the youngest elder on session by fifteen years and am considering asking if I can create a private blog for our session discussion topics. Thoughts or comments?"
Perhaps I find Nick's questions so interesting because I, too, am a recently elected elder in the PC(USA). I'm also fairly young and will be only the second elder in our congregation to give birth while actively serving on session. (Please note that I don't intend to actually be at a session meeting for the big event!) I don't know to which committee(s) I'll be assigned, but I'm willing to bet that Children, Youth, and Families is more likely than Finance. I'd love to serve on Adult Ed and Nominating (both committees on which I've participated as a lay member).
Does anyone have any church finance or committee experiences to share? Advice to give?
And does anyone's church use a private blog for conversation?
Nick, my family uses a private blog for communication and it's been very helpful for us. I'd imagine, though, that with an older session you might have some people who aren't too comfortable with the internet and others with significant security concerns. Another group to which I belong has a blog, and I made a very simple step-by-step cheat sheet to help each of them log in. I passed out hard copies at a meeting and this tactic met with great approval.
Monday, December 06, 2010
The God Article is both a blog about Church/Theological/Liturgical-related things (on the 'Church' tab) and also a blog about progressive Christian perspectives (on the 'State' tab) on politics in the US. There are also tabs that are more just for fun: "Signs From God?" is a sometimes humorous look at Church Signs. Quotables is a list of the author's favorite quotes. And Good Stuff is a random sampling of the author's interest including Good Books (a book review), Good Web Reads (a blog roll of sorts), Good Stuff (shameless promotional type stuff) and Good-n-Fit (a personal weight loss blog). This blog seeks to walk a balance between not taking itself too seriously and at the same time taking the subject matter very seriously. It is not with out its controversy because of its willingness to look at matters like homosexuality from a progressive Christian perspective. Its Facebook fan page continues to grow weekly and many of its article are frequently shared throughout Facebook and Twitter. Give The God Article a look and decide for yourself if it is worth sharing.
Friday, December 03, 2010
Astronomers tell us that the earth moves around the sun in a repeating and fixed pattern. The interaction between the sun and the earth give us the seasons which repeat in a regular and predictable fashion. The earth rotates and the sun appears and disappears in a regular and predictable manor, day and night. Ancient peoples, based on what they saw in the sky, possessed a cyclical view of the world.
Thomas Cahill, in his book The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels (Nan A. Talese,Doubleday:1998) makes the case that the Jews were the first people to break out of this cyclical worldview and think about time and history as linear. Their view of the world gave humanity our future.
Cyclical religion goes nowhere because, within its comprehension, there is
no future as we have come to understand it, only the next revolution of the
Since time is no longer cyclical but one-way and irreversible, personal
history is now possible and an individual life can have value.
Physicists tell us the universe has a beginning and will have an end. The idea that "time is an arrow" moving in one direction is now how most of us think about time.
Of course our current calendars, while moving forward also acknowledge the cyclical nature of things. The years change, but January comes every year. There is, as far as we know, no one calendar that expresses time more accurately than another. Jews have their calendar, Muslims have theirs, the Chinese have theirs. The secular world and most Christians follow the the Gregorian calendar (which replaced the Julian calendar in the late 1500s)
All this talk about calendars and time, brings us to Advent and the church year.
What is interesting about the church year is that it is not based on the sun or the moon or the seasons.* The church calendar is based on the life of Christ. His birth, his death, his resurrection and his future coming. The liturgical calendar disconnects us from the world's reckonings. Our time is measured, not by the sun nor the moon, nor the dictates of society. Our time finds its orientation and focus in the incarnation and resurrection, events that transcend and disrupt material time and space.
So if you feel, as I often do, somewhat disoriented and at odds with the secular world during Advent take heart. Advent is doing what it is supposed to do. Advent grabs us by the shoulders, spins us us out of secular time and turns us, off balance and a little dizzy, to face the coming era when
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn
war any more (Isaiah 2:4)
...with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den.
They will not hurt of destroy on all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:4-9)
A blessed Advent to you all.
* I know that the date of Easter is calculated is based on the lunar cycle but the moon is a tool to fix a date, the event is what is important.
To read more about calendars, see Calendars Thought the Ages.
To read more about Advent and the church year, see here, and here.
Thursday, December 02, 2010
v.1 Note that in the NRSV this text is formatted as poetry, not prose. Does this affect how we interpret it? This verse is a good example of parallelism as a feature of Hebrew Poetry.
v. 2 Does this verse imply that the spirit of the LORD is the spirit of wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, and knowledge and fear of the LORD.
v. 4 Does this verse express a prejudice toward/for the poor and meek? Note the power of voice/word.
v. 5 Does “righteousness” equal “faithfulness”?
v. 6 Images of the “peaceable kingdom”. What is a fatling?
v. 8 Is there any significance to “asps” and “adders”?
v. 8 What is “knowledge of the LORD”?
v. 10 What does it mean for anyone to “stand as a signal”?
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
v. 2 Echoes of Isaiah 11:4?
v. 4 More preference for the poor, needy and oppressed. Who is the “He”?
v. 18 What are the “wondrous things” the LORD does?
Why do you think this Psalm, out of all ofthem, was chosen to pair with the Isaiah Reading?
v. 4 When were “the former days”? What writings are included in and meant by “the Scriptures”?
v. 6 I hear echoes of Psalm 72:19.
v. 7 How did Christ welcome us?
v. 8 Did Christ welcome us as “a servant”?
v. 9 What is being quoted in this verse and in the following verses?
v. 12 Is this a quote of Isaiah 11:1?
v.13 A verse often used liturgically as a blessing/benediction.
v. 1 When were “those days”? I prefer to refer to “John the Baptizer” rather than “John the Baptist”.
v.2 Note that John proclaims “the kingdom of heaven has come near”, not will or is coming near. What is “the kingdom of heaven” and what does it mean that it “has come near”?
v. 3 Where in Isaiah would you find this quote?
v. 4 What is the significance of john’s wardrobe?
v.5 It sounds like John’s preaching station was a popular destination.
v. 6 How do we reconcile John’s act of baptizing with later Christian understandings of the sacrament?
v.7 Are you surprised that “many Pharisees and Sadducees” were coming to John for baptism? Could John’s invective perhaps be more a reflection of Matthew’s perspective than John’s?
v.8 Good advice, regardless of who is being addressed.
v.9 How do we reconcile this verse with Romans 15:8? I recall that both John and Jesus had some interesting things to say about stones.
v.10 Note that “ax” is singular while “trees” is plural. What is the metaphorical fire?
vs.8-10 Is John still talking to only the Pharisees and Sadducees?
v.11 What is the difference between water on the one hand and the Holy Spirit and fire on the other hand? In light of this verse, what reasons can you think of to explain why Christians still baptize with water?
v. 12 What is a winnowing fork? What is it used for? What is a threshing floor? What is chaff? Does the imagery of this verse in any way follow the imagery of verse 8 and verse 10? Does the imagery of verse 8 and 10 foreshadow this verse?
vs. 11-12 while in verse 2 we learn that “the kingdom of heaven has come near”, in this verse we shift to the present and future tense: one is coming, He will baptize, he will clear, he will gather, he will burn.