Monday, August 18, 2014

Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 for Sunday, August 24, 2014, the Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 is a revised continuation of Lectionary Ruminations.  Focusing on The Revised Common Lectionary Readings for the upcoming Sunday from New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible, Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 draws on nearly thirty years of pastoral experience.  Believing that the questions we ask are often more important than any answers we find, without overreliance on commentaries I intend with comments and questions to encourage reflection and rumination for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged.  All lectionary links are to the via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website.

1:8 Thus begins the Moses cycle/narrative.  What does this verse say about the importance of memory? Might we consider this reading a feminist narrative?
1:9-10 How might these verse inform current thinking and analysis of American immigration policy and even recent events in Ferguson, Missouri?
1:11 What do we know about Pithon and Rameses?
1:12 What lesson might be learned from this?
1:13-14 What Governments are ruthless today?
1:15 Were Shiphrah and Puah the only two midwives?
1:16 Why kill the males but allow the females to live.  The opposite would seem to make better sense.  I wonder if Shiphrah and Puah served as midwives only to Hebrew woman or also to Egyptian women
1:17 In this context what does it mean to fear God? Did Shiphrah and Puah engage in civil disobedience?
1:19 When is it alright to lie?
1:22 Was Moses the only Hebrew baby boy thrown into the Nile? How might this verse and 1:16 inform our understanding of the account of the slaughter of the innocents found in Matthew 2:13-23?
2:1 Why are the man and woman not named?  Is there anything special about the house of Levi?
2:2 What might have happened if she saw that he was not a FINE baby? Is there anything significant about the time span of three months?
2:3 What else was once plastered with bitumen and pitch? What is the Hebrew word translated as “basket” and how else is it used in the Hebrew Scriptures?
2:4 Did the mother tell the sister to watch or did the sister take this watching upon herself?
2:5 This seems like a fortuitous and ironic development.
2:6 Why did she think this might be a Hebrew baby?
2:7 I think the sister acts somewhat boldly here as she makes the best of the opportunity.
2:8 This sounds like a strange construction since this is the boys sister and thus his mother is also her mother, yet she is referred to “the girl”.
2:9 The child’s own mother ends up nursing her child who might have died if the daughter of the man who ordered his death had not found him and had pity.
1:10 Yes, this explains the name Moses, bit is there also some foreshadowing going on here?

12:1-2a Sometimes when I begin a responsive reading and the response sounds shallow, hollow, and barely audible, I will repeat the call phrase.  Might something similar be happening here?
12:2b Who are Israel’s enemies that attacked?
12:2b-6 Does this Psalm reflect the Exodus? Why is this Psalm paired with the First reading?
12:8 This sounds like a familiar refrain.

12:1 What is a “living” sacrifice?  What is “spiritual” worship?  Is there such a thing as unspiritual or spiritless worship? How might Paul have addressed the holocaust, or Shoah?
12:2 What is the difference between “conformed” and” transformed”?  How are our minds renewed?  Why does Paul write about the renewing of our minds rather than the renewing of our hearts?
12:3 How do we measure our faith? Do you think that sometimes Paul thought to much oh himself?
12:4 What does Paul mean by “members”?
12:5I understand the logic with the exception of the last phrase.  How are we individually members one of another? Might holography and holograms help us here?
12:6 “We have gifts that differ” in the NRSV is “We have gifts differing” in the KJV. It is the biblical phrase that inspired Myers and Briggs to title their book applying Jung’s type theory Gifts Differing.  You may want to also look at 1 Corinthians 12. What are your gifts?

16:13 Where did Jesus enter from?  Is there anything special about the district of Caesarea Philippi?  Why would Jesus ask his disciples this question?  Does the average person in the pew or Bible Study have a clue about the baggage associated with “Son of Man” language and imagery?
16:14 Apparently there were various views of who Jesus was. I guess times have not changed.
16:15 Here is the quintessential question. What is your answer? IMHO, Statements of Faith prepared for examination of a candidate or transferring minister tells us more about a person’s breadth of theological education and ability to think systematically than they do about what a person actually believes.
16:16 As usual, Peter is the first to speak up.  Did he get it right or did he stick his foot into his mouth? Compare the Gospel parallels.  Can we think of each of the Gospels as a somewhat unique answer to this question?
16:17 What does this say about the nature of revelation?
16:18 What is the play on words with “Peter” and “rock”?  What and where is Hades?
16:19 What are the “keys to the kingdom”?  What does it mean to “bind” and to “loose”?
16:20 Why would Jesus order his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah?  Has this passage just equated “the Son of Man” with “the Messiah”?


I am currently serving at the Interim Pastor of The Presbyterian Churchof Cadiz, worshipping at 154 West Market Street, Cadiz, Ohio, every Sunday at 11:00 AM.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Cass Scenic Railroad

The sudden jerk and sounds of wooden passenger cars creaking, metal wheels straining against metal rail, and escaping steam meant we were moving.  If there was any doubt, the eerie shrill of the locomotive’s whistle signaled the beginning of our evening excursion.  From the old logging town of Cass, at 2,442 feet, we were headed for Bald Knob, West Virginia’s third highest peak at 4,482 feet, and a mountain view of August’s Supermoon and Perseid Meteor Shower.

I am not a train aficionado but as a young boy I played with model trains in several gauges.  Last Christmas I set up a LGB “G Scale” train under the Christmas tree around its base.  This was only the second time in my life, however, that I had been aboard a passenger train pulled and pushed by a working historic steam locomotive. The other time was a few years ago aboard the Wanamaker, Kempton and Southern Railroad, or Hawk Mtn. Line, in Berks County, Pa. On a recent evening it was West Virginia’s Cass Scenic Railroad.

I may not be a railroad buff but I am a born and raised in West Virginian Mountaineer. I love the rough peaks and valleys of the Allegheny Highlands, from Dolly Sods’ Bear Rocks to the towering faces of Seneca Rocks and the wind swept summit of Spruce Knob.  I also love learning about my native state’s mountain culture and history. It was only recently, however that I experienced an excursion on the Cass Scenic Railroad and experienced not only the summit of Bald Knob but a taste of West Virginia’s logging history.

When Shay No. 6, a 162 ton steam locomotive built for coal service on the Western Maryland Railway, left the station and began pulling four or five covered but open air passenger cars up the mountain toward Bald Knob, I was not sure what to expect.  A member of the crew occasionally informed us about natural and historical sites as we slowly rolled through the train yard and up the mountain.  A few minutes after leaving the station all signs of modern civilization were behind us.

Through thick Appalachian forest we climbed, sometimes up a phenomenal9 % grade,  an occasional clearing affording panoramic views of near and distant hillsides covered in trees , wisps of fog, and occasional evening sun, the higher summits enshrouded in clouds. Twice we came to a stop as the train changed directions on switchbacks too steep and too narrow for a curve.

A stop at Whittaker Station, elevation 3,264 feet, afforded a chance to get off the train, stretch legs, explore a recreated 1940’s logging camp, use modern rest rooms, and take some close-ups of the mighty locomotive, built in the 940’s,  pulling us up the mountain. 

Between Whitaker and Bald Knob the train stopped again, this time at a spring to take on water for the boiler, but we were not allowed off the train.

When we arrived near the top of Bald Knob, over two and a half hours after leaving Cass, eleven miles of track behind us, the mountain was enveloped by low clouds.  We disembarked there was no Supermoon or meteor shower to be seen.  The view from the scenic overlook was nothing but cloud and mist.  We still enjoyed complimentary beverages; mine an RC, and Moon Pies.

Eventually the locomotive’s whistle blew, signaling us to get back on the train.  We descended at a quicker pace than our climb, and with no stop to take on water or at Whittaker Station, we arrived back at Cass in less than two hours.
I cannot explain why it took this Mountaineer so long to finally experience the Cass Scenic Railroad but I am glad I finally did.  I look forward to a return visit when I have time to explore the town of Cass and other attractions associated with the Cass Scenic Railroad State Park.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 for Sunday, August 17, 2014, the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 is a revised continuation of Lectionary Ruminations.  Focusing on The Revised Common Lectionary Readings for the upcoming Sunday from New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible, Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 draws on nearly thirty years of pastoral experience.  Believing that the questions we ask are often more important than any answers we find, without overreliance on commentaries I intend with comments and questions to encourage reflection and rumination for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged.  All lectionary links are to the via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website.

45:1 Much has transpired between this week’s First Reading and last week’s First Reading.  Does any of what transpired between the two readings matter? Perhaps Joseph did not want to let the Egyptians know that the men before him wee his brothers.
45:2 I wonder what the Egyptians and household of Pharaoh thought when they heard Joseph weeping?
45:3 Why were the brother’s dismayed by Joseph’s presence?
45:4 Why does Joseph repeat himself?
45:5 Is this an example of Joseph engaging in some theological reflection?  Why would Joseph’s brothers be angry? Joseph is the one we might expect to be angry.
45:6 This is beginning to sound like our recent Great Recession!
45:7 Might we compare Joseph to Noah?
45:8 Might Joseph have been older than Pharaoh?
45:9 How many ways might this verse be interpreted?
45:10 Was there anything significant about the of Goshen? Why might Joseph want to keep hit family close by?
45:12 Why is Benjamin singled out?
45:13 Is Joseph rubbing it in?  Is he blowing his own horn?
45:14 Once again, Why Benjamin?  What was so special about the relationship between Joseph and Benjamin?
45:15 Would Joseph’s brothers not talk with him before this?  I wonder what they talked about.

133:1 In light of today’s First reading, is this supposed to be a comment on Jacob’s family?  Before or after the reunion narrated in the First Reading?
133:2 I have always appreciated the sensual nature of this verse.  What does oil symbolize?
133:3 What and where is Hermon?  What is significant about Hermon’s dew? What did the LORD do (no pun intended) at Hermon? Is the Lord’s blessing life for evermore?

11:1 Might Paul have answered this rhetorical question differently after the Shoah?  Even though we are currently reading the Joseph narrative and the Pauline corpus lectio continua, the “Benjamin” connection between this Second Reading and the First Reading is a nice one.
11:2 What does Paul mean by “foreknew”?
11:29 What are the gifts of the calling of God? Christians in particular ought to remember this verse when engaging in dialogue with religious Jews.
11:30-31 Who are “they” and how have they been disobedient?
11:32 What does it mean to be imprisoned in disobedience?

15:10 I think every time Jesus says something like “listen and understand” that we can expect some enigmatic saying to follow. The crowd will probably neither listen not understand.
15:11 What comes out of the mouth?  Is Jesus commenting on the digestive system?
15:12 What did the disciples think? Did the disciples take offense?
15:13 Does this verse reflect a negative view of the Pharisees?  Is Jesus saying that the Pharisees are plants not planted by God?
15:14 Leave them alone even though they are blind or “because” they are blind?  Might there be some creeping anti-Semitism in this verse?
15:15 What parable?  Why is it that Peter is usually the first one to open his mouth – and then stick his foot in it?
15:16 Me thinks the answer is “YES”! At times it seemed like the disciples misunderstood Jesus nearly as much as the Pharisees.
15:17-18  Oh, that parable!  So Jesus was in fact talking about the digestive system.  Is Jesus saying that words are dirtier than crap?
15:19 All these come from the heart?  This is an impressive list. Is anything not mentioned that you might have expected to be here?
15:20 Is this a comment about religion or hygiene?
15:21 What place did Jesus leave? Is there anything significant about Tyre and Sidon?
15:22 What makes a “Canaanite” woman different than any other woman, or a Jewish woman?  What do you know about “the Jesus prayer” and Hesychasm and the Philokalia? How do post-moderns deal with demons?
15:23 Why does Jesus ignore this woman?  Why do the disciples want to send her away?
15:24 Who are the lost sheep of the house of Israel?
15:25 This is the second time this woman calls Jesus “Lord”!  Is her’s not the most simple prayer of a believer?
15:26 Did Jesus just call this woman a bitch?
15:27 Did this woman just accept the insult of being labeled a bitch by Jesus yet still refer to him as “master”?  Must “crumbs” refer to bread crumbs or any type of leftover?
15:28 Now Jesus addresses her as “woman”! Whom else as he addressed this way? What makes her faith “great”?  How would anyone know that the woman’s daughter was healed instantly?


This coming Sunday I will be preaching and leading the 11:00 AM Worship Service at The Presbyterian Church of Cadiz, 154 West Market Street, Cadiz, Ohio. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 for Sunday, August 10, 2014, the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 is a revised continuation of Lectionary Ruminations.  Focusing on The Revised Common Lectionary Readings for the upcoming Sunday from New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible, Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 draws on nearly thirty years of pastoral experience.  Believing that the questions we ask are often more important than any answers we find, without overreliance on commentaries I intend with comments and questions to encourage reflection and rumination for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged.  All lectionary links are to the via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website.

37:1 Why Jacob’s grandfather Abraham not mentioned?  Were not both Jacob’s father and grandfather aliens?
37:2 Here we have the beginning of the Joseph narrative’ almost as if a separate narrative has been spliced on.  Is there anything significant about Joseph being seventeen years old?  Why are Bilhah and Zilpah referred to a “His father’s wives” rather than maids or servants?
37:3-4 Note that in 37:1 Joseph’s father is referred to as “Jacob” but here he is referred to a “Israel”.  This is beginning to read like the story of yet another dysfunctional family. Is there any symbolic significance to a long robe with sleeves?
37:12 What do we know about Shechem?
37:13 What usually happens when people respond “Here I am”?  Are there any other instances in Scripture were a person responds to another human (rather than to God) “Here I am”?
37:14 What do we know about the valley of Hebron?
37:15 Why is Joseph in Shechem when his father sent him to the valley of Hebron?  Was Joseph wandering in the fields because he was lost? Do you think this was an ordinary “man”?
37:17 What do we know about Dothan?
37:18 Note to self: Play ominous music here!
37:19 Why do his brothers refer to Joseph as “this dreamer”?
37:20 A conspiracy is hatched. What other dreamers have people tried to kill? How might this verse shed light on Psalms that speak of being rescued from the pit?
37:21-22 What might have been Reuben’s motive for saving his brother?
37:23 I wonder what Joseph’s brothers did with his robe.
37:24 What is the meaning and significance of the fact that the pit was empty with no water in it?  What was this pit for?
37:25 Who are the Ishmaelites?  What do we know about Gad? What purpose do the Ishmaelites serve?
37:26 Is Judah concerned only about making money from our bother’s demise? What prefiguration might be intended?
37:27 Might Reuben have influenced Judah?
37:28 Who drew Joseph up out of the pit, his brother’s or the Midianite traders?  What is the difference between Midianites and Ishmaelites?  Is there any symbolic significance to the twenty pieces of silver?

105:1 In the NRSV, “LORD” is all upper case.  Therefore, what would be the “name” to call on?  What are the LORD’s deeds? Who are the peoples?
105:2 Are Hymns in worship sung “about” God or “to” God? Are the LORD’s wonderful works the same as the LORD’s deeds?
105:3 How does one “Glory in” the LORD’s name when the LORD’s name is not pronounced?
105:4 How can we continuously seek God’s presence? Is the LORD not always with us?
105:5 Are both “miracles” and “judgments”  among the LORD’s works in 105:2?
105:6 Why is Isaac omitted?
105:16-22 Now we learn why this psalm is paired with the First Reading.
105:45b How often do we end of praising the LORD for something we at first was a curse?

10:5 From what does Paul quote?
10:6-7 Is Paul quoting or composing? How would ascending into heaven be the same as bringing Christ down?
10:8 What is Paul quoting?
10:9 So public confession as well as an interior faith are essential?  What if there is only one but not the other?
10:10 What us the relationship between justification and salvation, confession and faith?
10:11 What Scripture is being quoted?
10:12 Who was wanting to make a distinction between Jew and Greek?
10:13 What does it mean to call on the name of the Lord? What is Paul quoting?
10:14-15 Is this nothing more than the old “Can someone who has never heard of Christ be saved?” question? Later Christians would baptize Plato and Aristotle as proto-Christians.
10:15 Should all candidates for the ministry of proclamation have their feet examined?  It is no wonder Paul was once confused with Hermes.

14:22 I am always surprised when read “Immediately” in a Gospel other than According to Mark.  Why might Jesus have sent the disciples off without him?
14:23 Here we have a “Summit to Shore” narrative!  Thanks, Matt! If he went up to the mountain alone, why are we told he was alone when evening came? Some of us go to the Mountains not because they are there but to find peace and solitude.
14:24 Meanwhile, back on the boat . . .
14:25 So the disciples spent the entire night on a boat battered about by winds on the open water?
14:26 Why were the disciples terrified? Did the disciples think they were seeing any old ghost or the ghost of Jesus?
14:27 Here we have yet another “immediately”.  Is this the heart of the passage? Where else have we heard, or will hear, “do not be afraid”?
14:28 If?  Did Peter not know or was he not sure?  Why did Peter need to be commanded?
14:29 Was Jesus issuing a command or giving permission?
14:30 How could Peter not have noticed the strong wind before he left the boat? I cannot help but read this as a metaphor.
14:31 As a former American Red Cross Water Safety Instructor I think Jesus should have remembered “Throw, Row, Tow, Then Go!”  Was Peter’s faith really “little”?  None of the other disciples set out to walk on the water, except Peter!  What was it Peter doubted? What is the relationship between faith and doubt?
14:32 Why might the wind have ceased when Jesus and Peter got into the boat?
14:33 What convinced these disciples that Jesus was the Son of God, that he walked on water?  That he “saved” Peter?  That the wind stopped when Jesus and Peter climbed into the boat?


On Sunday, August 17, 2014, I will be preaching at The FirstPresbyterian Church of Cadiz, Ohio

Monday, July 28, 2014

Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 for Sunday, August 3, 2014, the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 is a revised continuation of Lectionary Ruminations.  Focusing on The Revised Common Lectionary Readings for the upcoming Sunday from New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible, Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 draws on nearly thirty years of pastoral experience.  Believing that the questions we ask are often more important than any answers we find, without overreliance on commentaries I intend with comments and questions to encourage reflection and rumination for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged.  All lectionary links are to the via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website.

32:22 Much has transpired in Jacob’s story since last week’s Reading.  How can we help people keep up and catch up between lectio-continua Lectionary Readings when so much transpires between Readings?  Is there any significance to the fact that we all told it was the same night? Where is the Jabok?
32:22-24 Why would Jacob send everyone else, along with his possessions, across the Jabbok but stay behind and alone?
32:24. Who, or what, might this “man” be?
32:25 Is this the first Biblical documentation of a sports injury? What is the meaning, symbolism, and significance of this injury?
32:26 What might be the significance of daybreak?  What sort of blessing might Jacob be asking for?
32:27 Why might the “man” want to know Jacob’s name?  Is it all surprising that Jacob divulges his name?
32:28 What is going on here?  How can this “man” change Jacob’s name?  What does it mean that Jacob has “striven with God and with humans and have prevailed.”? Who were the humans Jacob strived with and when did he prevail.  When did Jacob strive with God and prevail?
32:29 Why might Jacob want to know the “man’s” name and why does the “man” not divulge it?
32:30 I thought Jacob was wrestling with a “man”. Was this “man” God?  It was a good thing Jacob wrestled with God during the night, thereby not being able to see God’s face, otherwise he might not have lived, or maybe he would have.  Does the concept of the Dark Night of Soul in any way help us interpret this passage?
32:31 Did the preceding events occur in normal time and space or in a dream/vision?  As Dumbledore once said to Harry Potter, “Just because something takes place in your head does not mean it is not real”. I cannot help but read this account from a Jungian perspective, reading this as a mythopoeic account meant to explain more than we might know about Jacob and his descendants’ special place in salvation history.

17:1 This Psalmist sounds like a lawyer pleading a case.  Does anyone really have lips free of deceit?
17:2 How does the LORD vindicate?  Doe God not see everything?
17:3 Does the “if you visit me by night” phrase justify pairing this Psalm with the First reading?  How does God try the heart?  How does God visit us by night?  How does God test us?
17:4 What does “by the word of your lips” mean and refer to?
17:5 What are the LORD’s paths?  Note that paths is plural!
17:6 This reads like a call to prayer.
            One: We call upon you, O LORD.
            All:    You will answer us, O God.
            One:  Incline you’re your ear to us.
            All:    Hear our prayers.
17:7 How does God wondrously show divine steadfast love?
17:15 What happens when one beholds the face of God? Is the “when I awake” phrase another reason to pair this Psalm with the First Reading.    This Psalm, paired with the First Reading, could easily provide the textual basis for a sermon on Biblical dreams and the spiritual discipline of keeping a dream journal and interpreting one’s dreams.  If you are not familiar with the Spiritual discipline of dream interpretation see any number of writings by Morton Kelsey or by John Sanford. While it is more about the Psychology of Transformation than dream interpretation, see especially Sanford’s The Man Who Wrestled With God.

9:1 I think Paul might doth protest too much.  Who would have accused Paul of lying?
9:2 Why does Paul express such strong emotional language?
9:3 Could there be a pun in this passage?
9:4-5 What a list: adoption, glory, covenants (plural), giving of the law, worship, promises, patriarchs (no matriarchs?), Messiah!

14:13 What did Jesus hear?  What can we learn from Jesus withdrawing in a boat to a deserted place?  From experience I know that going kayaking in my 17 foot Necky Chatham kayak or 24 foot C&C Sailboat (for sale) can be like a retreat and a spiritual experience.  Note that “crowds” and “towns” are both plural.
14:14 Does Christ like compassion always lead to curing the sick?
14:15 Do the disciples express a totally utilitarian concern? Is there more to the expression “This is a deserted place” than meet the eye?
14:16 What is the meaning of this?
14:17 What do you make of the numbers “five” and “two” not to mention “five loaves” and “two fish”?  What can churches hoarding and guarding their invested resources and endowments learn from this?
14:18 Is this not a call to evangelism?
14:19 “He ordered” sounds like strong language. I would much prefer “He invited” but we get the language we get.  What does the “blessed and broke” language remind you of?
14:20 What do you make of there being twelve baskets of leftovers after the crowds shared just five loaves of bread and two fish? Is there any symbolic significance to the number twelve?
14:21 As usual, only the men count!  Women and children are just accouterments.  This crowed could easily have numbered about fifteen thousand or twenty thousand.


Monday, July 21, 2014

Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 for Sunday, July 27, 2014, the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 is a revised continuation of Lectionary Ruminations.  Focusing on The Revised Common Lectionary Readings for the upcoming Sunday from New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible, Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 draws on nearly thirty years of pastoral experience.  Believing that the questions we ask are often more important than any answers we find, without overreliance on commentaries I intend with comments and questions to encourage reflection and rumination for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged.  All lectionary links are to the via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website.

29:15 It must be nice to be able to set one’s own wages.
29:16 I find it interesting that we have a story involving two daughters (not twins) in the midst of a story about two brothers (twins)!
29:17 I think “lovely” is the preferable translation.  Could the description of Leah and Rachel be seen at all as sexist or demeaning of women?
29:18 I wonder if it was love of lust.  Is there any significance to the number seven?
29:19 Is this the meaning of the question “Who gives this women to be married”?
29:20 Tempus fugit?
29:21 Biblical euphemisms for sexual intercourse can sound so . . . . biologically crude.
29:22-25 It is ironic that the trickster has been tricked.  Is this a Biblical example of the principle that what goes around comes around?
29:27 What is “the week”?  Why does Laban say “we” will give? Who is the we?
29:28 In the end, Jacob got what he wanted, and more so.

105:1-3 Is this the song Jacob sang on his wedding night(s)? Several versus could be adapted as a Call to Worship.
105:5 What wonderful  works has the LORD done?
105:6 Why is Jacob not mentioned?
105:8 The pairing of Jacob and Rachel can be seen as partial fulfillment of God’s Covenant. Is a thousand generations meant as figurative language or an actual number?
105:9 Why are the women/mothers hardly ever mentioned?  Can the reader supply their names and still be faithful to the text?
105:45b Why do so many Psalms end with this phrase?

128:1 What is the meaning of “fear”?  What does it mean to “walk in God’s ways”?
128:2 In light of today’s First Reading, are Leah and Rachel the fruit of the labor of Jacob’s hands?
128:3 Is this why this Alternate Psalm was chosen to be paired with the First Reading?
128:4 Is the woman not also blessed?
128:5 A nice blessing/benediction for a citizen or inhabitant of Jerusalem, but what about Christians in an American church?

8:26 We do not know how to pray as we ought.  That is why the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray.  That is why Teaching Elders and Educators ought to be educated in the school of prayer and prepared to teach others how to pray.  Yes, that was me standing on my soap box.  My D. Min. project at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary (2004) was GUIDANCE IN AND EXPERIENCE OF LITURGICAL PRAYER AS AN ELEMENT OF PERSONAL AND COMMUNAL WORSHIP IN THE REFORMED TRADITION.  Please contact me if you would like to schedule me to lead a workshop or retreat on prayer.
8:27 How does the Spirit intercede for us?
8:28 Do we really know this?
8:29 There is that Presbyterian word “Predestined”!  What do you make of it?
8:30 And there is that other good Presbyterian word “called”!  What do you make of this progression: Predestined called justified glorified?
8:31 This is one of my favorite verses.  Does the second question answer the first?  Is the second question rhetorical or does it assume the answer “No one.”
8:33-34 Interesting verses to someday juxtapose with the Rules of Discipline in the Book of Order.
8:34 In verse 26, Paul writes that the Spirit intercedes for us.  Now he writes that Christ Jesus intercedes for us.  Can Paul not make up his mind, or was he just not being careful?  Why would he intentionally say both?
8:35 Paul asks “Who” but answers with a list of “whats”.  This reads like a “Vince Lombardy before the big game in the locker room” sort of speech.
8:36 Oh well, there goes the momentum of v. 35. What sheep are slaughtered?  Where is this written?
8:37 Wait, maybe not!  Maybe Paul will pull out a great one liner.
8:38-39 Paul, can I quote you on that?  Is there any thing missing from this list?  I wish Paul had said “. . . nor things past, nor things present, nor things to come”.
8:39 Is there anything not in creation?

13:31 How many parable did Jesus but before them in Matthew?  Are all parables in Matthew about the kingdom of heaven?  What do you know about mustard seeds?
13:32 Is the mustard plant really the greatest of shrubs and does it eventually become a tree?
13:33 What do you know about yeast? What is yeast?
13:44 Mustard seeds and yeast are natural and organic.  A treasure is not.
13:45-46 Here we have another item of value, but at least it is organic. Would this be a shrewd investment?
13:47-50 Something smells fishy.  We have moved from “kingdom parables” to apocalyptic prognostications.  A net and fish is a combination of manufactured and natural items combined in one parable. Is this a parable about the net, about fish, or about the kingdom which is even more?
13:49 What and when is the end of the age? How does it feel to be compared to fish?
13:50 Where have we heard this imagery before? How shall moderns and post-moderns deal with such imagery?
13:51 This is a good question. I would love to ask this question after every sermon.  Unfortunately this is a bad answer because it was not true.  These people need to learn a lesson in wisdom from Socrates.
13:52 An entire sermon could probably be preached  and an entire hour of education could probably be developed around this single verse.  Who are the scribes? What is our treasure?  What among our treasure is new?  What among our treasure is old?  What among our treasure is valuable and what is junk? Can treasure also be junk?  Is anyone else thinking of Phyllis Tickle’s The Great Emergence?

This coming Sunday, July 27th, I will be preaching at the FirstPresbyterian Church, Martin’s Ferry, OH.

Monday, July 14, 2014

“The Race for Survival”

In an attempt to contribute to the discussion about whether or not the PC(USA) ought to participate in observing Evolution Weekend, I am posting a sermon I preached in observance of Evolution Weekend, February 15, 2009, at North Church Queens, Flushing, NY.

While Pastor at North Church we observed Evolution Weekend in many ways, including showing films on a Friday or Saturday evening followed by a discussion, and including prayers for scientists in the liturgy.  I did not preach a sermon focusing on evolution or even mentioning evolution every year, but in 2009 I did.

“The Race for Survival”
A Sermon based on 2 Kings 5:1-14 and 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

          2009 seems to be filling up with observances of significant birthdays of significant historical figures.  Presbyterians and Reformed Christians around the world will celebrate John Calvin’s 500th Birthday this coming July 10.  This past week we marked the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin, both born on February 12, 1809.

          With the election of Illinois Senator Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States and his frequent references to that other Illinois Senator elected President, there has been renewed interest in Lincoln and his presidency.   The popularity of Doris Kearns Godwin’s 2005 book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, has added to that renewed interest in the 16th President.

          While Americans are renewing their interest in Lincoln, Brit’s are renewing their interest in Charles Darwin.  Buried in Westminster Abby with full state honors, Darwin is one of England’s more famous sons.  In addition to this year being the 200th year since Darwin’s birth, it is also the 150th anniversary of the publication of his seminal work On the Origin of Species. 

          At first it might seem that the day of birth is the only thing Lincoln and Darwin have in common.  But consider this stretched, perhaps even forced, but original metaphorical comparison:  As Lincoln freed slaves from involuntary servitude; Darwin freed moderns from their bondage to pre-modern religious dogmas.

          Now segue to the reading from 2 Kings 5 and the story about the healing of Naaman.  When Naaman presented himself to the King of Israel with a letter from the King of Aram requesting that the King of Israel cure Naaman of his leprosy, the King of Israel thought that the King of Aram was “trying to pick a quarrel” with him.  In some circles, especially religious circles, even mentioning the name of Charles Darwin, or his theory of Evolution, would be akin to picking a quarrel.  I, however, have no bone to pick with Darwin.  Nor do I desire to pick a quarrel with you or anyone else.   On the other hand, not mentioning him in a sermon during the year in which we mark his 200th birthday and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species might be considered irresponsible.  Perhaps as Elisha healed Naaman of his leprosy, I might help heal us of some of our fear of talking about both faith and science in the same hour and in the same room, especially an hour of Christian worship in a Christian sanctuary.

          Personally, I have never had a problem reconciling my faith with the theory of evolution.  I have always been a scientifically minded, and not since early adolescence have I taken the entire Bible literally.  In high school I was on a college preparatory scientific track that included five years of math and both Chemistry and Physics in my junior year.  I was named one of three outstanding Chemistry I students.  In my spare time I hung out in the Planetarium and once spent all night in the cold winter air with the person who taught both physics and astronomy to view Comet Kohoutek. All my vocational testing in high school indicated that I should have entered the scientific field as a chemist, physicist, or mathematician.  But I wanted to me a minister.

          Between high school and college I spent a week in Wilmington, Delaware with a lot of other scientifically minded teenagers.  On three of those days I worked with physicists at the DuPont Research Facility.  In college I continued to study math even though I was majoring in Social Work, and had accumulated enough hours in Math and Psychology to qualify for and be inducted into Chi Beta Phi, a National Scientific Honorary.  My older brother holds a Bachelors degree in Electrical Engineering and a Master’s degree in Chemistry.

          Science is in my blood.  It is in my DNA. I can no more ignore Darwin than I can ignore Calvin.  Thus it should not surprise you that a few years ago I signed an open letter from American Christian clergy concerning Religion and Science, part of the Clergy letter Project.  The Clergy Letter Project is an organization that has created and maintains a statement signed by American Christian clergy of  different denominations rejecting creationism, with specific reference to points raised by intelligent design proponents. This effort was organized in 2004 by biologist Michael Zimmerman, now Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana.”

          The text of the letter states “Within the community of Christian believers there are areas of dispute and disagreement, including the proper way to interpret Holy Scripture. While virtually all Christians take the Bible seriously and hold it to be authoritative in matters of faith and practice, the overwhelming majority do not read the Bible literally, as they would a science textbook. Many of the beloved stories found in the Bible – the Creation, Adam and Eve, Noah and the ark – convey timeless truths about God, human beings, and the proper relationship between Creator and creation expressed in the only form capable of transmitting these truths from generation to generation. Religious truth is of a different order from scientific truth. Its purpose is not to convey scientific information but to transform hearts."

          "We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as “one theory among others” is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children. We believe that among God’s good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will of our Creator. To argue that God’s loving plan of salvation for humanity precludes the full employment of the God-given faculty of reason is to attempt to limit God, an act of hubris. We urge school board members to preserve the integrity of the science curriculum by affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core component of human knowledge. We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth.”  End of letter.

          The Clergy Letter Project has designated the weekend closest to Darwin’s birthday as Evolution Weekend, an opportunity for serious discussion and reflection on the relationship between religion and science. One important goal of the weekend is to elevate the quality of the discussion on this critical topic - to move beyond sound bites. A second critical goal is to demonstrate that religious people from many faiths and locations understand that evolution is sound science and poses no problems for their faith. Finally, as with The Clergy Letter itself, which has now been signed by more than 11,000 members of the Christian clergy in the United States, Evolution Weekend makes it clear that those claiming that people must choose between religion and science are creating a false dichotomy.

Through sermons, discussion groups, meaningful conversations and seminars, religious leaders and religious communities, by participating in Evolution Weekend, attempt to show that religion and science are not adversaries.  Perhaps before this time next year, the session will officially choose to endorse and participate in Evolution weekend and North Church can offer itself as a religious community where people of faith do not have to choose between science and religion.

          A few years ago my interest in science led me to read The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey by Spencer Wells.  Doctor Wells heads up the Human Genographic Project, not to be confused with the Human Genome Project, though there are some similarities.  Doctor Wells and the Human Genographic Project used DNA to trace human migration.  Their research suggests that all humans are indeed descendants of the same woman and man, but not as we might usually think.

          According to findings of the Human Genographic Project: “Mitochondrial Eve – the mother of us all—lived in Africa around 150,000 years ago.  She represents the root of the mitochondrial family tree, and as such she unites everyone around the world in a shared maternal history.  Adam, the man from whom all men alive today ultimately derive their Y-chromosomes, lived 59,000 years ago; more than 80,000 years after that estimated for Eve.

          These dates obviously do not represent the date of origin of our species—otherwise Eve would have been waiting a long time for Adam to show up.  They simply represent the time, peering back into the past, when we stop seeing genetic diversity in our mitochondrial DNA and Y-chromosome lineages.

          We are a relatively young species.  Around 60,000 years ago—only 2,000 generations—our ancestors all lived in Africa.  Another way of saying this is that all modern humans were in Africa until at least 60,000 years ago.”

          Thus, while it does seem scientifically true that we can indeed trace the origin of our species back to one woman and one man, they did not live in a garden between the Tigris and Euphrates less than 5,000 years ago, as Bishop Usher once suggested.  They lived in the Rift Valley of Africa over 60,000 to 150,000 years ago.

          Now segue to the reading from 1 Corinthians 9, where Paul writes to Christians in Corinth that “in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize.”  Is that not the essence of Darwin’s theory of evolution, the survival of the fittest, and that all species are running in a race and that only those that adapt survive?  If I understand Darwin’s theory correctly, it is a species’ ability to genetically and biologically adapt over time that enables a species to survive and that accounts for evolutionary change.

          While it is not fair to apply Darwin’s theory of biological change to social systems, Social Darwinism has done just that.  Rather than appeal to misapplied evolutionary theory, however, I appeal to the philosophy of Hegel and his theory of dialectic; of thesis, antithesis and synthesis, to argue that the institutional Church must also change and adapt if it is to survive as an institution.  The reason Judaism, Christianity and Islam and other “living” religions have survived is because they have been able to adapt.  When religions do not adapt to changing times and circumstances, they die out.  They lose the race.

          Hegel argued that which is true will survive.  Another way of stating it is that which survives is true.  If our faith changes and adapts to answer new questions and face new situations that could not even have been imagined two thousand years ago, then our faith is true and will survive.  If our faith is too concrete, too static, too fundamentalist, and too rigid, unable to change and adapt, then it probably will not survive and after its demise will be judged not to be true.

          While I think that Darwin’s theory of evolution is the best scientific explanation for the various species now inhabiting planet earth and for why some species have become extinct, I do not believe in evolution.  I do not place my faith in Darwin.  I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and place my faith in God, the Holy One of Israel.  While I think the theory of evolution is the best explanation of how life evolved on earth, it offers absolutely no explanation of why it evolved.  For that I must turn to Scripture.

          I think Darwin offers us the best explanation of how different species have so far won the race for survival.  I think the Bible offers us the best message for finding meaning in light of the fact that so far humans seem to have won that race.