Thursday, March 31, 2011

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, April 3, 2011, the Fourth Sunday in Lent (Year A)

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.) Lectionary Ruminations is also cross posted on my personal blog, Summit to Shore.

1 Samuel 16:1-13
Out of Genesis and into 1 Samuel

v. 1 God calls the shots, and chooses the Kings.

vs. 1-2 I think these verses might read a little differently than three years ago in light of recent political events in the Middle East and North Africa.

v. 4 Why did the elders of Bethlehem tremble?

vs. 1-5 I think there is some fascinating political intrigue being alluded to in these verses. This sounds like nothing less than the makings of a coup d'état

vs. 6-7 Good advice both for political parties as well as Pastor Nominating Committees, or any nominating committee.

v. 10 Do you see any symbolism in there being seven rejected sons?

v. 12 How does this verse read when juxtaposed with verse 7?

v.13 What do you make of the spirit of the LORD coming mightily upon David AFTER Samuel anoints him?

Psalm 23
What can we say about the most popular passage in the Bible that we have not already said?

v. 1 Does it serve any theological and homiletically purpose to point out that “The LORD” is not a reference to Jesus but to the LORD God? How many Christians hear this Psalm as a Psalm about Jesus rather than a Psalm about God? The shepherd imagery draws upon verse 11 of the First Reading.

v. 4 Do you prefer the “darkest valley” of the NRSV or the “valley of the shadow of death” of the KJV and RSV?

v. 5 What does it mean to have one’s head anointed with oil and one’s cup overflowing. Can we really speak of overflowing cups when in the Eucharist we barely fill little plastic cups containing less than a shot glass? Can we speak of being anointed with oil when most congregations rarely, if ever, practice it? I argue for anointing with oil at the time of Baptism as well as the laying on of hands associated with prayers for healing and wholeness. If we practiced more anointing with oil, this popular Psalm might actually mean even more to some people.

v. 6 What does it mean to dwell in the house of the LORD all one’s life? Is “house of the LORD” a reference and/or allusion to the Temple, or something else?

Ephesians 5:8-14
v. 8 Can we put this verse in conversation with Psalm 23:4? What does it mean toliveas childreb of oflight?

v. 9 I love this verse. It sounds like something Gandalf might say to Bilbo, or Frodo might say to Sam.

v. 10 And how does one find this out? Does Paul have a scavenger hunt in mind?

v. 11 Can one expose works of darkness without shining light on them? I am thinking of Christian muckrakers, whistleblowers, and gadflies.

v. 12 What secret things do you think Paul has in mind? Id this a reference/allusion to mystery religions, or something else. Let us not forget the rumors that were spread about cannibalistic Christian rites when non-Christians were dismissed from the Eucharist.

v. 14 What is the author of Ephesians quoting here?

John 9:1-41
vs. 1-41 This is one really loonnngggg Reading? Are you going to shorten it? I think I will use only verses 1-12.

v. 2 What is wrong with this question?

v. 3 What is wrong with this answer?

v. 4 We?

v. 5 What is Jesus when he is not in the world?

vs. 6-7 Why was the man not healed until after he went and washed?

v. 11 Is there any significance to the construction “the man called Jesus”?

v. 14 Oh no! Not the Sabbath? Surely there must be a law against making mud on the Sabbath.

v. 16 Imagine that, religious authorities having a divided opinion! Let’s put it to a vote.

v. 17 A radical proposal - let the one whose life was changed have the final word.

v. 21 Plausible deniability or passing of the buck?

v. 22 Let us not forget that most scholars agree that John is the latest of the four canonical Gospels, perhaps here reflecting the historical split between Judaism and Christianity. What did it mean, what would it have meant, for a Jew to “be put out of the synagogue”?

v. 24 And what do we know?

v. 27 Sarcasm or acerbic wit? I think the Pharisees doth protest too much.

v. 28 Is this the only reference in Scripture to “disciples of Moses”?

v. 29 But we know where he has come from, don’t we?

vs. 30-33 An astonishing application of logic and astonishing testimony from who is turning out to be an astonishing man.

v. 33 Perhaps the key verse?

v. 34 The typical authoritative response to questioning and challenging authority.

v. 35 After 34 verses of narrative, “Son of Man” terminology is raised. Why the change? Here is the progression as I see it:
     v.    1 Rabbi
     v. 17 Prophet
     v. 22 The Messiah
     v. 33 Man from God
     v. 35 Son of Man

v. 38 And another step in the progression . . . . Lord.

v. 40 And the answer to this question is?

In the John Reading, there seems to be some relationship between blindness, sight, and sin. The man born physically blind receives his physical sight, while the Pharisees born physically seeing are spiritually blind and refuse to have their third eye opened. The man was not a sinner while the Pharisees are portrayed as sinners. I think this is the nature of John’s Gospel, often confusing us with the interplay of the physical and the spiritual as it compares and contrasts the two realms. This is pre-modern stuff. There is no mind/body split in the John. Both the spiritual and the physical seem to exist in the same world but operate on different planes of awareness.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, March 27, 2011, the Third Sunday in Lent (Year A)

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.) Lectionary Ruminations is also cross posted on my personal blog, Summit to Shore.

Exodus 17:1-7
v. 1 Let us not make no more of the name of the location than necessary. This is a geographical location, not a theological condition (even though it seems otherwise). Why would anyone camp at a place where there was no water to drink? Perhaps we can put this verse in conversation with the Gospel Reading.

v. 2 I empathize with Moses. What does it mean to “test the LORD”?

v. 5 Not all church leaders are blessed with such a staff. I am envious of Moses.

v. 6 Will Moses see God standing on the rock? What is so special about Horeb? Is it significant that Moses did this “in sight of the elders” rather than alone, with no one watching?

v. 7 I have yet to find a congregation named “The Massah and Meribah (put your denominational moniker here) Church” yet there are probably many which can rightly claim the name.

Psalm 95
v. 1 Is it too obvious to see connection between “the rock of our salvation” and the “rock at Horeb” in the first reading?

vs. 1-2 This sounds like a call to worship.

vs. 3-4 Depths, heights, sea and land: what else is there?

vs. 6-7 Still another call to worship. Why do most main line protestants hardly ever bow down and kneel? Are our knees too old and arthritic?

v. 8 This obviously points back to the First reading, which argues for an intentional linguistic and theological connection using the word “rock: in verse 1. Also, note that verses 1-7 were in the third person. With verse 8 the Psalm shifts to the first person and God becomes the speaker.

v. 11 Based on this verse, why might so many churches be struggling these days with declining membership and financial resources?

Romans 5:1-11
v. 1 I hate it when Readings from the Pauline corpus begin with “Therefore”. It means are missing the initial points of the argument. On the other hand, justification by faith is a keystone of protestant theology.

vs.2-3 Where is all this talk about “boasting” coming from? See also verse 11.

vs. 3-5 sufferings . . . endurance . . . character . . . hope . This argument reminds me of the concept of disciplined training in the sense of “no pain, no gain.”

v. 6 Who are the ungodly and what does it mean that Christ died for them (or us)?

v. 7 I confess that I have never been able to wrap my head around this one. It seems that it should be the other way around.

v.8 Following Paul’s argument, how did Christ’s death prove God’s love for us.Doe this statement assume we are the “ungodly” of verse 6?

v. 9 It seems that we are already justified but not yet saved from the wrath of God.

v. 10 Similarly, it seems that we are already reconciled but not yet saved.

John 4:5-42
vs. 5-6 Is there anything significant about the setting? What once happened at Jacob’s well?

v. 6 Note that in last week’s Gospel reading, and just prior to this in the Gospel, Nic came to Jesus by night. Now it is noon, when the sun is at its highest point in the sky and when it barely casts any shadows. Think about the temporal setting of this reading juxtaposed with the temporal setting of last week’s Gospel Reading. What is John trying to communicate by this juxtaposition?

v. 7 Can we consider this John’s version of the Parable of the Good Samaritan?

v. 13-14 I think this is the heart of the reading, a reading as deep and multivalent as Jacob’s well. Like last week’s Gospel Reading, I cannot help but interpret this reading, especially this verse, from a Jungian perspective.

vs. 16-26 What do these verses add to the story? Could we not stop reading at then of verse 15 and still get the point?

v. 23 What does Jesus mean when he says “the hour is coming”? What does it mean to worship “in spirit and truth”?

v. 26 Does this verse require us to read this passage in the context of and in conversation with all the other “I am” sayings in John, not to mention Exodus 3:14?

v. 29 Can we categorize the woman’s speech as a witness? Evangelism? Preaching? And the answer to this rhetorical question is?

vs. 31-34 First, Jesus was thirsty. Now his disciples are worried about him being hungry. Why all this emphasis on Jesus’ thirst and hunger when, I assume the point of the passage, is our spiritual thirst and hunger?

vs. 35-38 These verses sound a bit apocalyptic. What does it mean to enter into another person’s labor?

v. 39 So the woman was a witness and evangelist!

v. 40 Why do you suppose Jesus stayed, depending on your perspective, as long as two days, or as little as two days?

v. 42 Is this not what all teachers and preachers long to hear?

The John Reading is longer than most Gospel readings and I am considering shortening it by ending it at with verse 15. What do you think about this?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Grounded Scriptures: Responding to Catastrophe

The prophetic book of Joel is all about disasters.
It is kicked off dramatically by a huge locust invasion:
(1:4) What the cutting locust left,
the swarming locust has eaten.
What the swarming locust left,
the hopping locust has eaten,
and what the hopping locust left,
the destroying locust has eaten.

The first response is mourning for the loss of agricultural produce.
(1:5) Wake up, you drunkards, and weep;
and wail, all you wine-drinkers,
over the sweet wine,
for it is cut off from your mouth.

And even mourning on the part of the land:
(1:10) The fields are devastated,
the ground mourns;
for the grain is destroyed,
the wine dries up,
the oil fails.

Just as the plants themselves wither, so does the joy of the people, shrunk to a bare ghost of itself. They cry, they wail, they mourn loudly as if to get God’s attention. Then they appeal to God’s kindness. The people do this first, calling for a solemn assembly (1:14), and then so do the animals:
(1:20) Even the wild animals cry to you
because the watercourses are dried up,
and fire has devoured
the pastures of the wilderness.

The locusts appear to attack again (or maybe Joel’s just being poetically repetitive) and then finally Joel reports God’s response to the frantic pleas for help, with words of consolation.
(2:21-23) Do not fear, O soil;
be glad and rejoice,
for YWHW has done great things!
Do not fear, you animals of the field,
for the pastures of the wilderness are green;
the tree bears its fruit,
the fig tree and vine give their full yield.
O children of Zion, be glad
and rejoice in YHWH your God;
for God has given the early rain for your vindication,
and poured down for you abundant rain,
the early and the later rain, as before.

God’s blessing and consolation is seen in the return of things to their “natural order,” the seasonal rains as expected. God’s word is in the disruption, and God’s word is in the reconciliation.
The reconciliation part is easy to “get.” God loves us and wants to heal our world.
But it’s hard to get your mind around the idea that God may have deliberately SENT the army of locusts…(Joel doesn’t say why)… especially in a world recently rocked by natural disasters, where people say earthquakes are God’s punishment on our sins. I believe it is offensive and wrong to claim God punishes us like this, but nonetheless the idea is represented in scripture: Joel calls the locusts “God’s army.”

I think it is important to listen for God’s word in the world around us. We all know how to learn from experience, and that may be the best way to listen for God’s word. I mourn the tragic events in Japan without calling them divine punishment, but I still hope that perhaps we can hear God’s wake-up call that asks us to question the safety of nuclear power.
One lesson I think we can always learn from the major disasters of the earth is humility – knowing that the world doesn’t revolve around humanity. I kayak in Tomales Bay, which lies right on top of the San Andreas fault. If that fault were to open, the bay water (creatures & kayaks and all) would go cascading down right into it. This is a risk I take on my kayaking days. Although it is scary to think about, I know that my life is, cosmically speaking, smaller than the importance of the continental plates maintaining balance against one another. The continental plates are important, too. The ocean is important, and Good, even when it hurls vast quantities of water up our shorelines. Even Joel’s villain, the locust, is God’s own creature, and treasured in God’s sight. We live in fragile co-existence with many natural powers greater than ourselves – from locusts to tectonic plates. May we learn to live within our limits, to keep ourselves (and others) from perching on those risky edges, and to honor the goodness in all created things.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Welcome Mat

Good morning!  I apologize for not being around much over the past few weeks. RingSurf has been temperamental, and I've been distracted with a little spring nesting.  But I'm here today with good news: we have a new member of our webring! 

I'm thrilled to welcome Abbie Watters, who blogs about her journey out of Dallas and into RETIREMENT! at "No Longer Not Your Grandfather's CPA."

In her own words:

"I am an elderly Presbyterian Elder looking at life, the Church, grandchildren, and the weather. I started this blog when my husband and I were trying to sell our house in Dallas and move to Tacoma. It was originally just an outlet to moan and groan about the state of the housing market and our lack of success in selling. Since then it has evolved into my thoughts on everything that is going on around me, and since most of what I'm interested in is going on at the church, I have opinions about that. I report on Presbytery meetings I attend, and comment on whatever tempest in a teapot is currently brewing in the church. I also talk about my grandchildren and remember family times from the past with pictures dug out of shoeboxes. Last December I did a month-long series on "Reclaiming Joy", and currently, during Lent, I'm doing a series on "Words Matter" taking my cues from the Lenten study published by the National Council of Churches. I have also recently taken up the spiritual discipline of "Praying in Color" and occasionally post my doodles. Finally, I've embarked on a long overdue diet and I'm using the blog as accountability."

Welcome, fellow Presbyterian Blogger!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, March 20, 2011, the Second Sunday in Lent (Year A)

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.) Lectionary Ruminations is also cross-posted on my personal blog, Summit to Shore.

Genesis 12:1-4a
This is one of the shortest First Readings we have seen in awhile.

v. 1 How do you think the LORD said this, in a dream, a vision, or what? Note the spelling of the name “Abram”. The archetypal call narrative.

v. 2 In retrospect, it seems the LORD has delivered on this promise.

v. 3 This verse, alone, ought to be enough to combat anti-Semitism.

v.4 Why did Abram take Lot with him?

Psalm 121
v. 1 I recall there are various interpretations of this Psalm, one being the “nature’ interpretation that sees in the hills evidence of the LORD’s presence, the other that suggests this verse is setting up a comparison between the local mountain deities, which do not provide help, and the LORD, which does. One such diverse interpretations present themselves, how do we decide?

v. 2 Regardless of which interpretation you follow, this assertion still follows.

v. 3 What does it mean that our foot will not be moved? So what that God never slumbers?

v. 4 Is there any difference between “slumber” and “sleep”, or this simply an example of Hebrew poetic construction?

v. 5 What does it mean for the LORD to be a “keeper”? “Shade”? “Right hand”?

v. 6 I love this verse, but while I can recall some hot summer days when it seemed like the sun was striking me, I cannot recall the moon ever striking me

v. 7 Now here is a verse I can treasure!

v. 8 What is the “going out” and the “coming in” being referred to and does it make any difference that they appear in this order?

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
v. 1 Obvious connection to the First Reading. It would seem that Christians of non-Jewish background cannot claim Abraham as our ancestor, as Paul did.

v. 2 If, but he was not.

v. 3 What is Paul quoting? Where does Scripture say this?

v. 4 Except in the church!

v. 5 I like that trust is connected with faith, a theme emphasized in the PC(USA) A Brief Statement of Faith.

v. 15 How does the law bring wrath?

v. 16 What is “it”? Faith is connected with grace, and with grace there is a guaranty.

v. 17 Following Paul’s theological reasoning, perhaps we should be considered “Abrahamians” rather than “Christians”.

John 3:1-17
This passage is so nuanced and so multivalent, I am not sure where to begin. I prefer a Jungian interpretation, but does that preach?

v.2 What is the significance that Nic comes at night? I see a literary and theological connection with the woman at the well, at noon, and wonder if we can only interpret both passages in dialogue with each other. I suspect this is not the Royal “we”, so who else is Nic speaking for?

v. 3 Seeing from above, a bird’s eye, or angel’s eye view.

v. 4 Nic is confusing obstetrics and gynecology with theology.

v. 5 Jesus connects water and spirit.

v. 6 Jesus separates flesh from spirit.

v. 8 What is Jesus comparing everyone born of the spirit to: the wind, our hearing of the wind, or our not know where it comes from and where it goes?

v. 9 Thanks, Nic, for asking the question we have all been wanting to ask.

v. 10 Touché

v. 11 Who is the “we”. What do “we” know and what have we “seen”? What is the nature of religious and spiritual knowledge, when we are post enlightenment interpreters of pre-enlightenment scripture?

v. 13 Does this verse reflect a post ascension perspective?

vs. 14-15 Here is a passage worth exploring from a Jungian perspective. Consider the rod of Asclepius. Be sure to read the Hebrew scripture alluded to.

v. 16 no comment

v. 17 I wish some hell, fire, and damnation preachers would remember this verse.

I made a prior commitment somehow to tie this Sunday’s sermon in with Celtic Christianity. I think I will focus on the Psalm and the story of Patrick building the Easter Fire on Slane, across the valley from and in defiance of the High King of Ireland building his fire on Tara.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Grounded Scriptures: our ancestor the land

This is a small point but an important one.
Leviticus, again – sorry to you who are Leviticus-haters – here we have a concluding chapter, where the blessings and are laid out – the blessings as reward for good behavior, curses as recompense for unfaithfulness. Blessings are abundance, fruit, grain, and peace. Curses are enemy armies, pestilence and wild animals, and the wasting and withering of your crops and fruit trees. But even after many curses, the land is given a “sabbatical” to rest, and if the people repent, God’s favor will return:
Lev 26:40-42 But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their ancestors, in that they committed treachery against me and, moreover, that they continued hostile to me—so that I, in turn, continued hostile to them and brought them into the land of their enemies; if then their uncircumcised heart is humbled and they make amends for their iniquity, then will I remember my covenant with Jacob; I will remember also my covenant with Isaac and also my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land.

These fine fellows usually appear in age order: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Num 32:11, Dt 1:8 and throughout Deuteronomy, Kings, Chronicles, Psalm 105:9, I could go on and on). Some people look at this verse in Leviticus and say, ha, isn’t that funny, they reversed the order! Here it’s Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham.
Don’t laugh it off. There must actually be a reason for this. In the context of such a land-loving book, it is not enough to command gentle and holy treatment of the land. One must be reminded that God has a long-lasting and important relationship with the land. Here, in reverse order, they begin with the most recent covenant (jacob), move back to his father’s covenant (isaac), and HIS father’s covenant (abraham) – but the relationship older and more important than any of the above is God’s relationship to the land. There is no covenant between the land and God, but the land itself is a kind of covenant, a living, adapting, changing token of the relationship between God and humanity. For a people defined by their ancestors, to put God in the place in a lineage where Abraham’s father should be is a high honor indeed. It’s as if the land itself were their original ancestor, and God’s original partner in the relationship to humanity.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, March 13, 2011, the First Sunday in Lent (Year A)

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.) Lectionary Ruminations is also cross posted on my personal blog, Summit to Shore.

Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7
2:15 This verse places us within the second account of creation. If you do not know what I mean by that, post a question.

2:15-17 What is so special about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? Was it poisonous? Please note that there is no mention of what sort of fruit tree this was. It was not necessarily an apple tree.

3:1 Note that the antagonist is a “serpent” but not necessarily a snake. Is the serpant playing word games, or what?

3:2-3 The woman seems to offer an honest defense, although she seems to recount God saying more than we were originally told. Did God actually say all this, or has the woman embellished the original admonition?

3:4 Depending on what “death” means (Bill Clinton?), it seems that the serpent can be judged truthful. On the one hand, the man and the women will eventually die a biological death, but not immediately. On the other hand, I think it can be argued that the man and woman are about to die a spiritual death.

3: 5 So, knowing good and evil makes one like God? Is this why the woman eats of the tree, to be like God? Or simply to know good and evil?

3:6 It seems wisdom is associated with knowing good and evil. The amateur philosopher in me is beginning to squirm. How can we relate this story to Plato’s analogy of the cave?

3:7 The metaphor of “open eyes” representing knowledge seems more Indo-European than Semitic, yet this second account of creation almost certainly comes to us from the Semitic oral tradition. For those who appreciate a little risqué Biblical humor, here is a joke I learned from one of my college Religion Professors. Q: If Eve wore a fig leaf, what did Adam wear? A: (go to the Addendum of Lectionary Ruminations for the Answer)

Here is a more serious question. How much of our interpretation of this text is influenced by Augustine’s doctrine of original sin having been imposed upon this text and us for centuries. For a different perspective, look to Matthew Fox’s Original Blessing.

Psalm 32
v. 1 An appropriate Psalm if one reads the Genesis account within the framework of original sin. In light of this verse, I wonder: did the man and woman of the Genesis Reading sew fig leaves together and make loincloths primarily to cover their genitals or to cover their sin?

v. 2 I read no deceit in either the man or the woman of the Genesis Reading. Did you?

v. 3 How can someone “keep silence” while at the same time “groaning”?

v. 4 What does God’s heavy hand feel like? What do you and your congregation do with the “selah”? Do you ignore it, read it, or interpret it musically?

v. 5 Confession is good for the soul as well as the psyche. Does God forgive the guilt of our sin without forgiving the sin?

v. 6 How does the “therefore” leading to an admonition follow from an individual’s experience?

v. 7 What does it mean that God is a “hiding” place? Would Marx accuse believers of turning to opium as a way of dealing with trouble rather than trying to change the trouble?

v. 8 Who will do the instructing here?

v. 9 How do we read this and the previous verse in light of the Genesis reading? I have known a few horses and mules. Sometimes I myself can be an ass.

v. 10 From you experience, does it ring true that the wicked are tormented?

v. 11 I hear a Call to Worship in this verse.

Romans 5:12-19
v. 12 It does not seem right to begin a Reading with “Therefore”. We are not given the premise of the argument. What was it that Paul was saying? Is Paul speaking literally or in a mythical sense? If death spread to all because of sin, then did sin spread like a virus? Viral infection offers a different image than sin being passed on through procreation.

v. 13 So if we had no law, we would not be aware of our sin?

v. 14 What does it mean that death “exercised dominion”? Portraying Adam as “a type of the one who was to come” is a significant theological move. Why does Paul play?

v. 15 How is the free gift not like the trespass? What is the “free gift”?

v. 17 It sounds as if now, people exercise dominion if life, whereas before, death exercised dominion.

v. 19 Note the verb tenses.

What does it mean to think of and talk about Jesus as “the second Adam”?

Matthew 4:1-11
v. 1 I cannot help but read this account, and its parallels, without thinking of Martin Scorsese’s 1988 film adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis’ controversial 1960 novel “The Last Temptation of Christ”. Why would the Spirit lead Jesus into the wilderness? What does the wilderness represent?

v. 2 What does the forty days and forty nights remind you of?

v. 3 what do you make of the fact that “the devil” and “the tempter” are apparently used interchangeably? Might the tempter be attempting to sow seeds of doubt?

v. 5 Was this a literal “taking”? What warning is there in the fact that the devil could correctly quote Holy Scripture?

v. 7 Is there more going on here than proof-texting?

v. 8 A week after the Transfiguration of the Lord, I might be hearing this verse a little differently then I would on any other Sunday.

v. 10 First it was the devil, then it was the tempter, now it is Satan. Should we read “Satan” as a name or a title?

v. 11 Here comes the Calvary, even if a little late. What does it mean that the angels came and waited on Jesus.

How do you understand this passage: as a description of real events in time and space or the description of a spiritual wrestling within Jesus, more of a visionary encounter or recounting?

ADDENDUM: The answer is: A hole in it.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Grounded Scriptures: Hosea and Gomer - Don't Try This at Home.

At SFTS we are “giving up silence for Lent” – at least in the particular context of silence about violence. This is important. I remember once having a conversation with a very conservative Christian, and domestic violence was mentioned, and he felt the need to clarify that we were talking about “problematic” or “unhelpful” violence. I assumed this was as opposed to the kind that “builds up” or “teaches” or “strengthens” the woman.
I kick myself when I remember this conversation. How did I not explode with the loud truth that all violence is harmful, and that there is never a good place for violence between adults in a loving relationship?
So today I say it, and I write it. There is simply no legitimation for violence against a spouse or loved one.
And I have to pick up some pieces of the Bible and deconstruct them. Because there you will find what is apparently a legitimation for domestic violence – at least in metaphorical terms.

The prophet Hosea and his “wife” Gomer.
Hosea 1:2-8.
When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea, “Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD.” So he went and took Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.

The two of them go on to have children and to name them all kinds of prophetic names (“not pitied,” and “not my people” among them). In case this doesn’t tip you off that it’s a STORY and not a reality, I have good word from real Biblical scholars that “Gomer” is in no ways a woman’s name. It’s a man’s name, and “she” stands here for the nation of Israel (in the same way that her children do).

Plead with your mother, plead--
for she is not my wife,
and I am not her husband--
that she put away her whoring from her face,
and her adultery from between her breasts,
or I will strip her naked
and expose her as in the day she was born,
and make her like a wilderness,
and turn her into a parched land,
and kill her with thirst.
For she said, “I will go after my lovers;
they give me my bread and my water,
my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink.”
Therefore I will hedge up her way with thorns;
and I will build a wall against her,
so that she cannot find her paths.

The plot thickens. “She” is unfaithful. She loves the “lovers” (or foreign trading partners) who provide her with food. God proposes some wilderness solutions, to the point of starving her in the desert. These are interesting. They have real connotations of real economic situations – are the people of Israel remembering the God who fed them manna in the wilderness, or are they relying on the deceptive abundance of other kings?

No matter how we take the metaphor, it all looks like a nice case for the therapeutic values of violence. The [prophet’s wife / God’s people] is unfaithful to [the prophet/God], and so [the prophet / God] remedies the solution by making her suffer until she repents. Someone could try to preach it straight up: we are bad, so God will make us suffer until we repent. I’ll take that back. People DO preach that. Preachers legitimate suffering and violence all over the place. They call this a story of unconditional love, and say that the line “kill her with thirst” is spoken in love. They say that the sinful person must be loved back into obedience, through violent “tough love” and plenty of suffering.
You cannot preach this story without legitimating violence. So we must preach against it. We must tell people that this is horrific. That’s one of the problem with the detached, ungrounded way we read Scripture. We don’t even realize when it’s terrible, and we accidentally swallow a legitimation of violence. We read it all in “stained glass language” and couldn’t possibly hear it as sarcastic, or biting, or ironic. We’re blind to the harsher aspects of the text – and so we unwittingly accept the unacceptable.
Prophets speak from a place of desperation and urgency. The stakes are so high that they try to scare people into doing what is right. Sometimes this works. But even if it does, when it has costs as high as this we must not read such prophecy as sacred. It is indeed the story of God’s people struggling together with God and God’s prophets – but God is not the abuser, and violence is never okay.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Creation: It's all about us! Or not?

What is the proper motive for caring about the environment?

We have a responsibility to the earth. The Bible seems pretty clear about that. But is it
to care for or
to have dominion over or
to tend or
to subdue the earth?

As the list above suggests, we seem to have at least two different reasons that motivate us to care for the earth.

Some of us read Genesis and other Biblical texts and come to the conclusion that the creation has value and needs to be cared for by us because of what creation can do for us. Everything in the world has been given by God to us for our use. In this view the earth and everything in it exists for us. Things in the natural world have value because we can use them for our own good. Usefulness to humans is what gives things in nature their value. Certainly we need to use nature wisely, but that wise use is defined by our needs.

Others would read Genesis and others Biblical texts and say, while we certainly do use minerals, plants and animals to our benefit, these things have value and worth apart from their utility to us. In this view the natural world is loved and valued by God because God loves and values what God has created. Creation's worth and value come from God and are not located in usefulness to humans. Our use of natural resources must take into account the intrinsic value of creation.

On one level this is an interesting philosophical and theological question. But it also has real world implications. How many times have you heard someone say, "Why did God create mosquitoes? What good are they?" Since mosquitoes serve no readily apparent use for humans and in fact cause us discomfort and disease, why do they exist? What possible purpose could mosquitoes have? This is a trivial example but we seem to expect even the insect world to be "on our side".

There are of course, more serious examples. Should designated wilderness areas be off limits to any human use? Should there be designated wilderness areas at all? Can we require people to move out of wilderness areas? Should farmers be allowed to graze cattle on public wilderness lands? Should we open ANWAR to oil drilling? Is it important to have an endangered species list and to spend resources to preserve those animals? You can add you own questions to this list.

It seems to me, that before we tackle these quite difficult questions we need as a society, to spend some time thinking about the more basic question. So I'm asking, what is the proper motive for caring for the creation?

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, March 6, 2011, the Transfiguration of the Lord (Year A)

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.) Lectionary Ruminations is also cross posted on my personal blog, Summit to Shore.

Exodus 24:12-18
v. 12 While this reading stands on its own merits, I find it difficult to read it without looking for connections to the Gospel Reading and wonder how much we should read the Gospel account of the Transfiguration as a Midrash on this text. There are many similarities between the two texts, perhaps the least being the setting; that of a mountain. Why must Moses go up to God rather than God coming down? I can understand why “law” is singular, but why is “commandment” also singular?

v. 13 Note that that Moses does not go up to God on the mountain alone. He takes with him his assistant (and heir apparent), Joshua.

v. 15 What shall we make of the cloud?

v. 16 Shall we equate “the glory of the Lord” with the cloud? From personal experience, I know there is something “numinous” about being on a mountaintop, above tree line, when clouds enshroud the summit. What does the explicit linguistic connection to the creation account, i.e. six days and the seventh day, suggest about any theological connection?

v. 16 What does a devouring fire on top of a mountain look like? If this is what the people of Israel saw, what did Moses and Joshua see?

v. 17 How much is the forty days and forty nights a prefiguration of the forty years in the wilderness and how much is this a post Exodus influence on an earlier text?

Psalm 2
v. 1 A timely verse, considering recent world events.

v. 2 Who is the LORD’s “anointed”?

v. 4 I like this image of a laughing God, although we might debate the nature of the laughter.

v. 5 Zion, the holy hill, rather than the holy mountain Moses and Joshua ascended or upon which Jesus is transfigured.

v. 7 Why is “decree” singular? Is this the King speaking?

vs.8-9 A prophecy or promise, never, or not yet, fulfilled?

v.10 Sound advice in the world’s contemporary political and social climate.

v. 11 What is fear? When was the last time you served the LORD with trembling?

v. 12 Kiss God’s feet? Euphemistically? What is the symbolism being employed here?

Psalm 99
v. 1 The earth quakes but the people tremble (see Psalm 2:11). What are cherubim and where are they?

v. 3 What is God’s awesome name?

v.4 Here is a nice imagery of God appropriate for address.

v. 5 This sounds like a call to worship. Where and what is God’s footstool?

v.6 How does Samuel come to be included with Moses and Aaron? Who do you know who has cried to the LORD and God answered them?

v.7 A reference to the Exodus. Note that “decrees” and “statutes” are both plural.

v.8 An interesting juxtaposition: The forgiving God and the Avenging God. Can God have it both ways?

v.9 Another call to worship? Must we worship only at God’s holy Mountain? What and where is God’s Holy Mountain?

2 Peter 1:16-21
v. 16 What is a cleverly devised myth? How shall we read this verse as it relates to the mythopoeic nature of Scripture?

v.17 Did Jesus not have honor and glory before the event being recounted? What does the voice seem to echo?

v. 18 When Scripture relates the personal experience of the first followers of Jesus, what does that say about our own personal experience of the risen Christ?

v. 19 What is the prophetic message? How has it been confirmed? How can we do anything else than be attentive to a lamp shining in a dark place? What is the morning star and how does it rise in our hearts?

v. 20 This is why we interpret Scripture in community and why I invite, solicit, and encourage your comments responding to Lectionary Ruminations (hint, hint)

v. 21 Prophecy, like poetry and art, comes from somewhere other than the prophet, poet, or artist.

Matthew 17:1-9
v. 1 Six days later, after what? As Moses took Joshua, Jesus takes Peter, James and John.

v. 2 What does it mean to be transfigured? Has anyone else’s face ever shone like the sun? Has anyone elses clothes ever become dazzling white?

v. 3 What is the meaning of “Suddenly”? Why Moses and Elijah? What might they represent? Is there any significance to the fact that the three greats (Moses, Jesus, Elijah) are balanced by the three mere disciples (Peter, James and John)? It seems we have a dyad of trinities.

v. 4 Way to go Peter, interrupt a spiritual experience with mundane concerns. At that moment, I wonder if Jesus really thought it was “good” Peter was there. Why three dwellings rather than just one for all three?

v. 5 The text suggests a chronology of Jesus being transfigured before the bright cloud appeared. Note the reappearance of the word “suddenly.” What does the Gospel add or include that the Reading from 2 Peter did not?

v. 6 Were the disciples overcome by fear by hearing the voice or by hearing what the voice said?

v. 7 Was this a reassuring touch? Would there be any difference in interpretation if Jesus had said “Do not be afraid and get up.”?

v. 8 Where did Moses and Elijah go?

v.9 Why would Jesus “order” these three disciples to tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead”? Who is the Son of Man? Could this, indeed, be a misplaced resurrection appearance read back into the Gospel at an earlier point? How might this Reading prefigure the resurrection?