Sunday, May 24, 2015

Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 for Sunday, May 31, 2015, Trinity Sunday (Year B)

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.

PREFACE: What do we do with Trinity Sunday, one of only two Sundays (also Christ the King) with a special theme not specifically related to an event in the life and ministry of Christ? I once heard a professor in a Doctor of Ministry seminary say that the Doctrine of the Trinity is not Biblical but it is essential. In the Roman’s Reading one can fond reference to the Spirit of God; Abba, Father; and Christ. Is that the Trinity? In your mind, is the Trinity a conundrum, an enigma, a paradox, or simply a mystery we must ponder?

6:1 In what year did King Uzziah die and why does it matter? Should Isaiah’s vision be literalized?
6:2 What are seraphs?  Consider Numbers 21:4-9. And “feet might be a euphemism for what?
6:3 Does the threefold “Holy” justify this passage being used on Trinity Sunday? What or who are “hosts”?
6:4 What are pivots and thresholds?  What sort of smoke filled the house and why?
6:5 Why does Isaiah express woe? What is the danger of seeing the LORD of hosts?
6:6 How can a figurative/symbolic live coal blot out sin?
6:8 “us”? Why am I thinking of Dan Schutte?

29:1 Who and what are the heavenly beings?  Are there more types of heavenly beings than angels and/or seraphs?
29:2 What is holy splendor?
29:6 What, or where, is Sirion?
29:8 Where is Kadesh? Is there anything special or significant about its wilderness?
29:3-10  So much for “still small voice” imagery.  How does an establishment church of the middle class status quo come to terms with a storm God?
29:11 God’s people will certainly need strength to survive a storm.  When was the last time a storm brought  peace?  Or is this peace the peace of a calm after a storm?

8:12 If we are not debtors to the flesh, what then are we debtors to?  I doubt Paul had MasterCard or Visa in mind.
8:13 What does Paul mean by “flesh” and “Spirit”? Must there be a dichotomy between Spirit and flesh?
8:14 How are we led by the Spirit of God?
8:15 Theologically speaking, why does Paul contrast a spirit of slavery with a spirit of adoption?  When did you last cry “Abba! Father!”?
8:16  How many spirits are being mentioned in this passage?
8:17 Is that a pretty big “if” as in “if, in fact we suffer”?

3:1 Were not all Pharisees leaders?
3:2 Consider John 4:6-7 as juxtaposition.  We?  For whom, or of whom, is Nic speaking?  What signs?
3:3, 5 Is being born from above the same as being born of water and Spirit?
3:4 What are “re-birthing” therapies?
3:6 Must we read and interpret this through a Pauline lens? See Romans 8:13.
3:7 Are we still astonished by this statement of Jesus?
3:8 I think Jesus was not referring to direction.  So we do not know where people born of the Spirit come from or are going to?
3:9 Is this not still our question?
3:10 I think professional Church types are all a little like Nic at night at one time or another.  We really do not fully understand of what we speak, teach and preach. Sometimes we are groping for answers in the dark.
3:11 We?  Our? For whom, or of whom, is Jesus speaking?
3:12 Of what earthly things did Jesus talk about that Nic did not believe? Now it seems that we have two dichotomies, flesh/spirit and earth/heaven.
3:13 Ascension day has passed, but in the context of this passage, it has not yet happened. Is this an anachronism – a Post Ascension Theology being read back into a pre Ascension event – the Evangelist putting words into the mouth of Jesus? Or is this an example of Jesus being prescient?
3:14 I refer you back to Isaiah 6:2 and again suggest you read and ponder Numbers 21:4-9.  Perhaps Numbers 21:4-9 would have been a better First Reading to pair with this Gospel than the passage from Isaiah.
3:16-17 Maybe too much has already been read and said about this passage. Then again, maybe not enough has been preached about this passage in its literary context.

ADDENDUM
A group of ministers/preachers were sitting together at a table and discussing the Doctrine of the Trinity. Unexpectedly, Christ appeared, pulled up a chair and sat down with them.  One of the ministers/preachers explained to Jesus how the group had been discussing the Doctrine of the Trinity, trying to understand it, but were still perplexed, so asked Jesus “How can these things be?” Jesus responded “Are you Christian ministers/preachers of the Word and Sacrament and yet you do not understand these things?

I am currently serving at the Interim Pastor of The Presbyterian Churchof Cadiz, worshiping at 154 West Market Street, Cadiz, Ohio, every Sunday at 11:00 AM.    Please like The Presbyterian Church of Cadiz on facebook

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Nineteen Miles on the Brooke Pioneer and Wheeling Heritage Trails

Trail Just South of Wellsburg
One of my favorite bicycle rides is a nineteen mile back and forth route on the paved rail-to-trail Brooke Pioneer Trail and the northernmost section of the Wheeling Heritage Trail. With ample parking spaces usually available in the gravel lot just south of Wellsburg and Buffalo Creek and north of Smith Oil on the river side of WV Route 2, I usually begin the riding between 6.7 and 6.8 on the Brooke Pioneer Trail and head south.

Ruby Park, 4 ½ miles south between mile markers 2.2and 2.1 offers a small clearing, sitting bench, and one of the cleanest outhouses I have ever seen. The park is a great place to get off the trail  for a rest and stretch break that is at about the halfway point for a nineteen mile ride from Smith Oil to the Pike Island Dam and back. I usually lean my bikes up against the post and rail fence while I walk and stretch. A small mowed trail leads down to the Ohio River to a fishing spot that offers a water level view of the river and across to Ohio. An access road from the park leads up to WV Route 2. In the past there has been a trash receptacle at the Ruby Park but I have sometimes it found it overflowing. The last time I stopped at the park, however, there was no receptacle. I wish there was also a picnic table at this park. The Pike Island Dam lies another 4.9 miles south of here.

Ruby Park from the South
2 ½ miles south of Ruby Park I make a seamless transition from the Brooke Pioneer Trail in Brooke County to the Wheeling Heritage Trail in Ohio County when I ride across the bridge over Short Creek, which is also the county line. This is the northernmost terminus of the Wheeling Heritage Trail, mile 13.83. After crossing the bridge over Short Creek, the Wheeling Heritage Trail lies traverses an open area offering a sunny ride on clear days but also a windy ride on blustery days. This section of the Wheeling Heritage Trail is also closer to four lane Route 2 than any section of the Brooke Pioneer Trail but I have never felt traffic was a safety issue.

Nine and half miles south of my starting point and located at mile 8.7 on the Wheeling Heritage Trail, the Pike Island Dam offers a great place for halfway rest stop. It is offers a paved parking area to access the trail to ride north toward Wellsburg or south toward Wheeling. A small bike rack and a bench are situated near the entry gate to the dam. Modern, clean restrooms, one for men and one for women, are usually open to visitors during daylight hours. I have sometimes used the sink in the restroom to splash cool water on my face and neck after a hot, humid summer ride and to refill my water bottle with fresh, cool potable water. The last time I rode to the dam, however, the walkway to the restrooms was locked and a sign stated the restrooms were closed due to a security issue, the security level being “Brown”.

At The Pike Island Dam
The character of this ride changes as the season changes. In early spring and late fall the view of the river is almost totally unobstructed. From late spring to early fall, however, trees in leaf and high weeds can block the view of the river. Various colorful wildflowers and blooming bushes and trees offer a spectrum of colors other than green from mid-spring to mid-summer. I have also seen rabbits, groundhogs, geese (sometimes a lot of geese) and deer on, crossing, or near the trail.  During midweek rides I have made this trip without seeing another person on the trail. On weekends I have seen not only other riders but in-line skaters and walkers, some with baby carriages.

When I felt like I wanted a longer trip I have continued riding south of the Pike Island Dam for another 8.7 miles to the southern end of the Wheeling Heritage Trail.  When I have returned to where I started and want to ride a little longer I have continued my ride north into Wellsburg on the Yankee Trail. While crossing streets and sometimes on streets, the streets of Wellsburg are usually not that busy. Several eating establishments, including Subway, Dairy Queen, the Station Grill, Wendy's, and Pizza Hut are located within sight and just yards from the Yankee Trail. The Crooked Dock, on the banks of the Ohio River, lies just a few blocks west at 12th Street.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Sanctification Through Prayer

“Sanctification Through Prayer”
A Sermon based on John 17:6-19
By The Reverend John Edward Harris, D. Min.
The Presbyterian Church of Cadiz
Cadiz, Ohio
May 17, 2015
7th Sunday of Easter Year B

            Today’s Gospel Reading is part of a prayer known as Jesus’ final or High Priestly Prayer, a prayer which constitutes nearly the entire 17th Chapter of John’s Gospel.  In the first part of the prayer, verses 1-5, Jesus prays for himself. In the second part, verses 6-19, which is today’s Gospel Reading, Jesus prays for his disciples. In the final section, verses 20-26, Jesus prays for future believers.
            The entire prayer contains over 640 words but the section we read today encompasses only 330 words. Our typical Prayers of the People, the prayer after the Sermon and middle hymn, are usually about 370 words in length. The versions of the Lord’s Prayer we use in worship, by comparison, contain between 60-70 words.
            Even though John’s Gospel does not contain the Lord’s Prayer, which we find only in Matthew and Luke, we can hear echoes of the Lord’s Prayer in today’s Gospel Reading.  In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus asked that God’s name be hallowed. In today’s Reading from John we hear Jesus say in verse 6 that he has made God’s name known and in verse 12 that has protected his followers in God’s name. In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus addressed or prayed to God as “Our Father.” In verse 11 of today’s Reading from the Fourth Gospel he addresses God as his “Holy Father”.  In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus prayed that we be delivered from evil. In verse 15 of Today’s Gospel Reading Jesus asks that his followers be protected “from the evil one.”
             The Greek word translated in Matthew 6:9 as “hallowed” when Matthew tells us Jesus prayed “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” and in Luke 11:2 where Luke tells us Jesus prayed “Father, hallowed be your name” is translated in John and most other places in the New Testament as “sanctify”, as when in verse 17 in today’s Gospel Reading Jesus prays that his followers be sanctified, and in verse 19 notes that he sanctified himself so that we also may be sanctified.
            While “sanctify” is a very religious or churchy word it is not a word we use as often as we used to. It is not a very popular word. In fact I wondered whether or not I should even use it in today’s sermon title. From the Latin word sanctus, sanctification literally means “made Holy” or “set apart for a holy purpose”. Our word “sanctuary,” referring to a place “set apart” or “made holy” for worship, comes from the same Latin root, and we do not hesitate to use that word.
             As Daniel Migliore notes in his Introduction to Christian Theology entitled Faith Seeking Understanding, a text used by many seminaries for their Introduction to Theology courses, “the word ‘Sanctification’ means ‘to make holy,’ but for some people that definition may be more a hindrance than a help.” Writing in 2004, he notes “We should not understand holiness here in the sense of moral flawlessness or religious otherworldliness. It certainly has little to do with the smug attitude of a so-called Moral Majority. Becoming holy or sanctified in the New Testament sense means being conformed to the image of Christ by the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives.” “Sanctification is the process of growth in Christian love.” (pp. 240-241).
            Drawing upon the writings of John Calvin, Karl Barth, and Paul Tillich, Migliore enumerates six “marks of growth” in Christian life or in the process of sanctification; 1) maturing as hearers of the word of God, 2) maturing in prayer, 3) maturing in freedom,  4) maturing in solidarity with others, 5) maturing in thankfulness and joy, and finally,  6) maturing in hope. (pp. 239-247). It is the second mark in the process of sanctification or  growth in Christian life, maturing in prayer, that I want to focus on today. The other five marks will have to wait for another day and another sermon, perhaps.
            As Migliore notes:
            Prayer is a concrete expression of our love of God. It is personal communication with God, calling upon God as a strong and caring father or mother (cf. Matt. 6:9; Rom. 8:15; Isa 66:13). For the Christian, God is not something but someone—and primarily someone who is spoken to, rather than spoken about. Moreover, this someone addressed in prayer is not feared as a tyrant but genuinely loved as the sovereign and free God who exercises dominion with astonishing goodness and mercy. Prayer is thus our acceptance of the invitation to call upon God in confidence. Maturing in prayer does not mean mastering certain techniques or becoming virtuosos of the spiritual life. It means, on the contrary, being open and honest to God, praising God but also crying to God in our need, and even crying out against God. (p. 242)
            While I generally agree with Migliore or else I would not have quoted him, I disagree with him on two points. First, I think that God is not someone whom we speak to but speak with. Secondly, I think that while maturing in prayer does not mean mastering certain techniques, most Christians can always learn more about prayer, including ways to pray they may never have been exposed to.
            We should not feel belittled or inadequate if we sense that we really do not know how to pray.  While the desire to pray may be innate, the ability to pray is something than can be taught. For instance, the New Testament tells us that John the Baptizer taught his disciples how to pray and I think we can assume he would not have taught them if they had already known how to pray. Likewise, Jesus disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, just as John the Baptizer taught his disciples, and I think it is safe to say that Jesus disciples would not have asked for instruction in prayer if they felt they already knew how to pray.
            The first and foremost school of prayer is the Book of Psalms. The Psalter is not only the hymnbook but the prayer book of both ancient Israel and the early Church. By reading the psalms, or better yet praying the psalms, we learn the language, the vocabulary, the cadence, and the topics of prayer. That is why I think it is important to include a reading from the Psalter in worship almost every Sunday. So pray the psalms as if they were your own prayers. Commit your favorite Psalms or some of the verses of your favorite Psalms to memory.
            Another school of prayer is common or public worship. Because, as our Directory for Worship notes, “Prayer is at the heart of worship” (W-2.1001), our Sunday liturgy includes a Prayer of Confession, a Prayer for Illumination before we hear God’s Word, Prayers of the People in which we petition God for ourselves and offer intercessions on behalf of others near and far, and after the offering a Prayer of Thanksgiving, or the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving when we celebrate the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, in which we thank God for all that God has done for us. Following the Thanksgiving we pray in unison the prayer of all Christians, the Lord’s Prayer.
            Unfortunately our expectation that Worship is more or less an hour long limits us to how and how much we pray in any particular service. A century or two ago, when worship services were traditionally two or even three hours long, it was not uncommon for the Prayers of the People, what used to be called “The Pastoral Prayer” or “Long Prayer”, to last an entire hour. Even I can remember squirming as a young child sitting next to my father in the pew wondering when the black robed preacher would ever stop praying. It seemed to me that his “Pastoral Prayer” was longer than his sermon.  I hope that none of our younger worshipers think that about me.
            Some forms and types of prayer, however, take longer than others and are not suited for common worship. Devoting only about an hour a week to be with God, and only part of that hour to prayer, may not offer us enough time  to intentionally “be conformed to the image of Christ by the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives” (Migliore p. 240), or to be sanctified through prayer. So unless you attend some sort of prayer services, take classes or workshops on prayer, read books about prayer, or participate in some sort of experimental and experiential prayer group, you may never be exposed to the a full breadth and depth of Christian prayer. Moreover, relying just on the types and forms of prayer we use in common worship may not be enough to sustain you in your personal prayer life. Such a diet of prayer may not be enough to help you grow in your Christian life, especially when you remember that pray is about talking with and not always to God.
            Bradley P. Holt, in his book Thirsty for God: A Brief History of Christian Spirituality, writes “Most of us think of prayer as talking to God, and most often we do so when we need something, so our prayers become requests. This is an authentic form of prayer, but it is a very narrow type.” (pp 18-19) And Gordon Wakefield, in The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Spirituality, notes that “Prayer in Christian Theology and experience is more than pleading or petition; it is our whole relation to God. (v.) The section of our Directory For Worship that talks about “Prayer in Personal Worship” states that “Prayer is a conscious opening of the self to God, who initiates communion and communication with us. Prayer is receiving and responding, speaking and listening, waiting and acting in the presence of God.” (W-5.4001).
            We are often too preoccupied acting in the presence of God to set aside a time and a place for waiting in the presence of God. We are often too concerned speaking to God to listen to God. We are often too busy responding to God to receive from God. We are often much like Martha who was distracted by her many tasks and not enough like Martha’s sister Mary who chose the better part  by sitting at the Lord’s feet simply listening to what he was saying. (Luke 10:38-42).
            One form or style of prayer known as Contemplative Prayer of Centering Prayer traces its roots back to early Christians but for a while was more or less forgotten in the west while continually practiced in the eastern or Orthodox Church. It was eventually reintroduced in the west but for centuries its practice was more or less confined to monasteries and convents. In the past few decades, however, it has been rediscovered not only by many average Roman Catholics but even Main Line Protestants. “Through books and conferences” Roman Catholic Priests, including Basil Pennington and Thomas Keating, and others, have been “teaching people how to center themselves by quietly being in the presence of God, without petition” or even words. (Bradley, p. 148)
            Somewhat akin to the ever more popular Mindfulness Meditation and other forms of mediation, both secular as well as from Hindu and Buddhist origins, Contemplative Prayer , Centering Prayer, or Christian Meditation offers Christians who desire a closer and more intimate relationship with God to quiet the outer and inner dialogue as one avenue for the Holy Spirit to work in our lives to conform us to the image of Christ, or to Sanctify us. But such prayer usually takes, at a minimum, twenty minutes, and can easily expand to thirty minutes or even a full hour, not something we have time for in a hour long service of worship.

            In today’s Gospel Reading we heard Jesus, in one of his longest known prayers pray that we might be sanctified. While we cannot sanctify ourselves, for only God can sanctify us, through our own prayers, common prayers in worship and private prayers at home, especially contemplative or centering prayer, we can open ourselves to being sanctified, to be made holy, to be conformed to the image of Christ by the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives. 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 for Sunday, May 24, 2015, the Day of Pentecost (Year B)

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.

2:1 How did early Christians know the day of Pentecost had arrived when they had not yet been filled with the Holy Spirit? In othger words, what are the Jewish roots of Pentecost? Who are “they” and what does it mean (existentially and theologically) that “they were all together in one place”?
2:2 What Greek word is translated as wind and how else might it be translated? Why were they sitting in a house?
2:3 What is a divided tongue?
2:4 Do you think some of them spoke in other languages better than others? Was this the first and original Rosetta Stone?
2:5 What is the difference between a devout Jew and a Jew? Where these Jesws living in or actually visiting Jerusalem?
2:6 When was the last time you were bewildered?
2:7 When was the last time worship where you usually attend left you or anyone else amazed and astonished?
2:8-11 Why are all these but no other places mentioned?
2:10 What is the difference between a Jew and a proselyte?
2:11 What are God’s deeds of power?
2:12When was the last time your sermon or Bible study amazed and perplexed anyone? I would settle for people simply asking “What does this mean?”
2:13 What is the difference between new wine and old wine? Cannot both intoxicate?
2:14 Why Peter?
2:16 Off all the Prophets, why Joel?
2:17-21 Do  you think Peter really said this, or are some words being put into his mouth at a later time?
2:17-18 If God poured out the Spirit on all flesh, sons as well as daughters, both male and female slaves inverse, then why does Peter address only “men” in verse 14?

37:1-14 Remember that this is only a vision, not an historical account.
37:1 What does it mean for “the hand of the LORD” to come upon a person?  Has the handoff the LORD ever come upon you or upon someone you know?  What does it mean to “be brought out by the spirit”? I interpret this reading as a vision experienced by Ezekiel, certainly not an account of anything that happened in real time and space, but only within the psyche of Ezekiel.
37:2 What might the valley of dry bones symbolize?
37:3 Is there any significance to the fact that the LORD addresses Ezekiel as “Mortal” rather than by name?  Is the LORD asking a rhetorical question?  I think the “mortal” passes the buck with his answer.
37:4 Can bones hear?
37:5-6 What linguistic and theological moves are being made by connecting breath with life
37:7 Apparently bones CAN hear!
37:8 Oh no! No breath!
37:9 Can the breath hear? What do you know about the four winds?  I cannot read this passage without thinking of the four winds of Native American spirituality. When was the last time you heard a minister refer to the four winds in a prayer or use it liturgy?
37:10 Was the breath the last, or the most essential ingredient?
37:11 Oh, so these were not bones at all, but a living nation feeling dried up, proof positive that this is a vision not to be taken literally.
37:12 Is this verse about a physical resurrection or a spiritual resurrection, physical graves or metaphorical graves?
37:13 What sort of grave bound people is the mortal prophesying to?
37:14 What are the linguistic and theological connections among wind, breath, and spirit? IMHO, this is a verse that many aging congregations and congregations of the aging, often feeling “very dry” and completely cut off, almost in the grave, need to hear and reflect upon.  Are they willing, REALLY willing, to have the LORD put the spirit within them?

104:24 What works?
104:25 The sea may be a metaphor or even symbol of uncreated chaos left over from the creation.
104:26 Is this Hobbes’ Leviathan? Shamu? The Kraken? Nessie?
104:27-28 So God sustains even sea monsters?
104:29 What does it mean for God to hide the divine face? What does it mean to take away the breath? How else might the Hebrew word for breath be translated?
104:30 Does this verse alone justify pairing this Psalm with the Acts passage and to read on Pentecost Sunday?
104:31 What does it mean for the LORD to rejoice?
104:32 Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, Oh My! Is it bad science, and bad theology, to associate natural geologic phenomena with God?
104:33 Is this talking about continuous song?
104:34 What does meditation refer to?

8:22 Who is “we”?  Read this verse in light of Psalm 104:32. Does this verse legitimize Christians speaking of “mother earth”?
8:23 What does it mean to groan inwardly?
8:24-25 Is Paul making the distinction between hope and truth? Faith and fact?
8:26 Why do we not know how to pray as we ought?  Can prayer be taught?  Is there any comparison between “sighs too deep for words” and glossolalia? Might this verse be used to theologically  explain Contemplative Prayer?
8:27 Does this verse suggest that the Spirit resides in individuals in the heart (rather than the mind)? What does it mean that the Spirit has a mind?

See the ruminations above and note that the Acts Reading can be used either as the First Reading or the Second Reading, meaning one would use either Ezekiel 37:1-14 or Romans 8:22-27 but not both.

15:26 Is the Fourth Gospel the only New Testament writing to refer to the Spirit as the Advocate.  How do you reconcile this verse with the filioque clause of the Nicene Creed?
15:7 Why can the Advocate not come to believers until after Jesus leaves them?
15:11 Who is “the ruler of this world”?
15:12 What else do you think Jesus wanted to say that he did not say?
15:13 Where does the Spirit of Truth hear what he (or she?) speaks?

ADDENDUM

I am currently serving at the Interim Pastor of The Presbyterian Church of Cadiz, worshiping at 154 West Market Street, Cadiz, Ohio, every Sunday at 11:00 AM.    Please like The Presbyterian Church of Cadiz on facebook

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Fellowship of the Ring Assembled

A good friend of mine, knowing I like both Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and LEGO, assembled a group of over a dozen LEGO LOTR mini-figures from e-Bay and presented them to me as a birthday gift. I love the gift of orcs, hobbits, men, a dwarf and a wizard but without a certain elf and a certain man the Fellowship of the Ring was not complete. The Fellowship was missing Aragorn and Legolas.

I was able to locate The King of Gondor and the ace Archer of the Elves searching by searching Amazon and ordered them. After they arrived from separate vendors, including one vendor in Europe, I assembled the mini-figures, placed them on a base plate with the rest of the Fellowship, and displayed them on the book shelf where several Tolkien and Tolkien related books are shelved.

Now that the Fellowship is complete, the adventure awaits.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Meeting Jesus, or Aragorn, or Viggo Mortensen on the Beach

I recently participated in a spiritual formation event where the leader invited participants to close their eyes and through guided imagery imagine meeting Jesus on a beach. I guess I should not have been surprised that the Jesus I encountered resembled the fictional character Aragorn as portrayed by Viggo Mortensen in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. After all, I had watched all three films over a four of five night period just a week or two before and images from the films were probably still freshly imprinted on my subconscious. While the character Gandalf is often interpreted as the Christ figure in Tolkien’s epic tale, it is Aragorn who is the king, the king who at first appears as a recluse ranger, often serves others rather than seeking to be served, defies death and even appears to be eresurrected, and ultimately receives the crown that acknowledges his kingship.

I first read Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogy when I was in high school. Once I started reading them I could not put them down. Eventually, one evening as I was reading, I realized that parts of the Lord of the Rings reminded me of parts of Scripture, especially the Jewish Scriptures or Christian Old Testament. It was then that I gained a new appreciation of Scripture, viewing it not as some dry, boring, religious text from the ancient past but as a spiritual story filled with epic adventure, ancient archetypal myth, conflict, love, betrayal, and struggle. It is no wonder then that decades later, when I imagined meeting Jesus on the beach, Jesus looked an awful lot like the character Aragorn portrayed by Viggo Mortensen.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Prayer Pet Peeve

If I hear one more Ordained Minister, especially a Seminary educated PC(USA) teaching elder, or even a presbytery trained Commissioned ruling elder, invite people to pray by saying “Please bow your heads in prayer” I think I will scream.  I might just yell out “Not everyone bows their heads when they pray and there are various positions for prayer.” Ordained ministers and trained worship leaders ought to know better and be more inclusive by recognizing that there are various postures for prayer.

orans  ('"praying") position
Some people may indeed bow their heads with eyes closed or open when they pray but other people may look up or straight ahead with eyes closed or eyes open. Some people pray with hands uplifted as in the ancient orans position. Others pray, as I often do in public and in private, with open hands at waist level, a praying posture that seems to me to be a gesture of both offering as well as receiving. Just before The Prayers of the People in The Service of the Lord's Day I say "I invite you to find a stable and comfortable posture for prayer and to focus your heart and mind upon God," an invitation to prayer that suggests people may pray in whatever position works for them.

When I am about to celebrate the Eucharist I sometimes tell worshippers that the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving is a “heads-up, eyes-open kind of prayer” (See The Companion to the Book of Common Worship, edited by Peter C. Bower, page 64.) and that they ought to prayerfully observe what is happening at the table as we pray. If their heads are bowed down for the Great Thanksgiving they will not see what is happening at the table.

If you want to invite people to pray with you why not simply do so by saying “Let us pray.” Such a call to prayer invites people to pray whatever way they feel comfortable praying without feeling compelled to bow their heads or ostracized by not bowing their heads. After all, words do have meaning, and if I hear you say “Please bow your heads in prayer” I assume that is what you really mean because you do not know any better. If all you mean is “Let us pray together” then say so.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Cleaning Your Hydro Flask

A few months ago my good friend Dave gave me an 18 oz Hydro Flask he had purchased at REI. I have been using it almost everyday ever since to take hot Chai Tea to drink as I drive to work and as I work at my desk once I arrive. The Hydro Flask keeps the tea so hot that I sometimes leave the lid open so it will cool down faster.

Some days it can take me an hour or two before I finish my tea, and then I often fail to rinse out the Hydro Flask until I get home at the end of the day, at least eight hours later, sometimes longer.

After a few months of nearly daily use my Hydro Flask was starting to look pretty stained inside and no amount of dish soap, water, and brushing seemed to make a difference. After a little research I tried generic denture tablets. I dropped a whole tablet in the bottom of the empty Hydro Flask, filled the flask  up with hot water, and let it sit over night. The next morning I scrubbed the inside of the flask with a brush.

The first tab tablet made a major difference but did not remove all the discoloration. The next night I used two denture tablets and by the next morning nearly all the stain was gone. The third night I used one more tablet, allowed the flask to soak all night, and then brushed and rinsed in the morning. My Hydro Flask looked as good as new on the inside.  Now I am using a denture tablet once a week, allowing the flask to soak all night, and brushing and rinsing the next morning.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 for Sunday, May 17, 2015, the Seventh Sunday of Easter (Year B)

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.

1:15 What and when were “those days”?  When did “those days” begin and when did they end?  Is there anything significant about the number 120?
1:16 What is the scripture (note the singular) to which Peter refers? I find this to be an interesting collection: Friends, the Holy Spirit, David, Judas, those who arrested Jesus.
1:17 Do I detect regret combined with disbelief?
1:21 Was this the church’s first leadership crisis? Why does it have to be one of the men?
1:22 Is the author referring to John’s baptism of Jesus, or John’s ministry of baptism, which began before John baptized Jesus?  Did Jesus have disciples before he was baptized? What does it mean to be a “witness to the resurrection”?  Could not a woman have fulfilled this role?
1:23 Who are “they”? Were Joseph and Matthias the only two people who fulfilled the criteria enumerated in 1:21-22?
1:24-25 How might God answer this prayer?
1:26 How does one cast lots and why do we not make decisions in the church this way today? What ever happened to Matthias and Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus?

1:1 Are the wicked, sinners, and scoffers poetic synonyms?
1:2 When was the last time you took delight in any law?  What did the Psalmist mean by “:meditation”? How might Christians familiar with various schools of meditation or contemplative prayer understand this passage?
1:3 Is there a Torah riparian zone?  Does this passage make any more sense in light of last Sunday’s Gospel reading?
1:4 What is chaff and when and why is it exposed to the wind?
1:5 What is the congregation of the righteous?
1:6 Is there a difference between watching over the way of the righteous and watching over the righteous? How does this verse influence our belief that Jesus is the way and how does our belief the Jesus is the way influence our interpretation of it?

5: 9 Who are “we”? How does God give testimony if not through humans?
5:10 Can God really be made a liar?
5:11 How is eternal life in God’s Son testimony?
5:12 How does one “have” the Son? How might Psalm 1:3 amplify this verse?
5:12-13 What does it mean to believe in the name of the Son of God? What is the difference between life and eternal life? How could those to whom John was writing believe in the name of the Son of God and not know they had eternal life?

17:6 How do Christians reconcile Jesus saying this with Jewish conception of the unpronounceable name of God?
17:7 How do “they” know this?
17:8 What words?
17:9 Does this suggest that Jesus loved and cared more for his followers than the world?
17:10 How has Jesus been glorified in those given to him by God?
17:11 At the time Jesus prayed this prayer, what did he mean when he prayed “I am no longer in the world”?
17:12 Why the past tense?  What scripture? This passage reminds me of the parable of the good shepherd.
17:13 How will Jesus’ joy be made complete in his followers?
17:14 What do they belong to if not the world?
17:15 Who is the evil one?
17:16 Why is this idea repeated so many times in this prayer?
17:17 Sanctify them in the truth or in the word?
17:18 How hs Jesus sent his followers into the world.
17:19 Theologically, how does Jesus sanctify himself?

ADDENDUM

I am currently serving at the Interim Pastor of The Presbyterian Church of Cadiz, worshiping at 154 West Market Street, Cadiz, Ohio, every Sunday at 11:00 AM.    Please like The Presbyterian Church of Cadiz on facebook.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 for Sunday, May 10, 2015, the Sixth Sunday of Easter (Year B)

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.

PREFACE: May 15 is Mother’s Day but the last time I checked Mother’s Day was not a liturgical day? How will you deal with this Hallmark Day? If I were leading worship I would pray for mothers with a petition such as this one within the Prayers of the People but I would not preach a sermon on Mother’s Day or sing any sort of hymn tying into Mother’s Day. Have you considered what women who have never wanted to be a mother, or wanted to be a mother but have not been able, hear when motherhood is celebrated in worship? How do people feel when we celebrate motherhood in worship when they themselves have not had a good relationship with their mother or their mother was abusive?

10:44 How does the Holy Spirit fall?  Does hearing refer to physical or spiritual phenomena, or both?
10:45 When was the last time someone in your worshiping community was astounded?  What is the gift of the Holy Spirit and how is it poured out?
10:46 What was more astounding, the people speaking in tongues, or the people extolling God?
10:47 Is this a rhetorical question? Here is an example of people receiving the Holy Spirit before they were baptized, but there are other instances in Acts where people are baptized and then receive the Holy Spirit.
10:48 How do we reconcile baptism in the name of Jesus Christ with Trinitarian baptismal formula?

98:1 What makes song new?  Are old songs not good enough?  How can we talk about God’s right hand and holy arm without over anthropomorphizing God?  Is this a right hand conspiracy?
98:2 How has the LORD revealed vindication?
98:3 Is it possible for the LORD to not to remember?
98:4 What sort of noise is joyful?  Does “all the earth” refer only to human beings or to all living creatures? Could “all the earth” also refer to waterfalls, wind, the sound of waves braking on a sandy beach, etc?
98:5-6 What?  No organ?  No piano? No guitar? No drums?
98:7 I think the question I raised in relation to 98:4 has been answered.
98:8 I have heard floods literally clap, but I have never heard hills literally, only metaphorically, sing.
98:9 Will God judge all the earth, or only human beings? Is the pslmist making any distinction between the earth and the world?

5:1 Is it also true that everyone born of God believes that Jesus is the Christ?  Is being “born of God” the same as being born anew, or born from above?
5:1-2 Note the transition from the singular “child” to the plural “children”.  To what commandments is the author referring?
5:3 Would Paul agree that the commandments are not burdensome?
5:4 What is the meaning of “conquer”?  What is the meaning of “faith”?
5:5 Is there a difference between believing and saying that “Jesus is the Son of God”? Does this verse ask a rhetorical question?
5:6 To what is the author referring when writing about “water and the blood”?  How does the “Spirit” testify?  What does the author mean “the Spirit is the truth”?

15:9 Who is speaking?  How does one abide in anyone’s love?
15:10 Whose commandments?  What are these commandments?  If we keep the Son’s commandments, can we then ignore the Father’s commandments? What is the difference between the Son’s commandments and the Father’s commandments?
15:11 Is your joy complete?
15:12 Is this the answer to my question raised in relation to 15:10? But 15:10 spoke of commandments inn the plural. In this verse commandment is singular.
15:13 What does it mean to lay down one’s life?
15:14 So this friendship is conditional?
15:15 Did Jesus ever call people servants?
15:16 This is sounding very Reformed and Presbyterian!  The Father will give us whatever we ask only if we bear everlasting fruit? What does it mean to ask “in my name”?
15:17 I heard only one command in 15:12, so why the switch back to the plural?

ADDENDUM
I am currently serving at the Interim Pastor of The Presbyterian Church of Cadiz, worshiping at 154 West Market Street, Cadiz, Ohio, every Sunday at 11:00 AM. Please like The Presbyterian Church of Cadiz on facebook.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 for Sunday, May 3, 2015, the Fifth Sunday of Easter (Year B)

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.

8:26 How do you deal with angels in your teaching and preaching?  Why Philip? So what that this is a wilderness road?
8:27-28 There is a lot in this verse to unpack.  Why are we told so much about this man? Is there anything special about Ethiopia? What is a eunuch? What or who is “the Candace”? Why would an Ethiopian come to Jerusalem to worship?
8:29 Has the angel of 8:26 become the spirit?
8:30-31 Why would the Ethiopian be reading aloud? Why would anybody read anything on their own if they needed a guide to help them understand it?
8:32b-33 Where in Isaiah is this found?
8:34 What an opportune question!
8:35 Perhaps the lesson we should learn from this is to proclaim the good news beginning with where people have questions.
8:36 Was there a reason why this Ethiopian eunuch should not have been baptized?
8:37 This sure sounds like confessional language but does it say everything we would expect an adult being baptized today to say?
8:38 To bad we don’t have a description of the baptism. Then again, maybe we should be thankful that we don’t have a description.
8:39 Why would the Spirit snatch Philip away?
8:40 What do you know about Azatos? Did Philip stop proclaiming the good news when he arrived at Caesarea?

22:25 Who, or what, is the great congregation?  What vows?
22:26 What do we do with the shift from the second person to the first person?
22:27 How many ends does the earth have? How many families of the nations are there?
22:28 How do we understand dominion?
22:29 Who are sleeping in the earth? Is death being contrasted with life?
22:30 How can the Psalmist speak for posterity? How many generations?
22:31 How can anything be proclaimed to people not yet born? Done what?

4:7 Who is “us”?
4:8 What does it mean to say that God is love?
4:9 Why did God’s love have to be revealed?
4:10 How can a sacrifice atone? Does this passage presume any particular theory of the atonement?
4:11 But what does it mean to love one another?
4:12 What does not seeing God add to the argument? How is God’s love perfected in us?
4:13 Who is “we”? Is it logical to shift from so abruptly from loving to abiding, from the Son to the Spirit?
4:14 What is the meaning of “world”?
4:15 See Acts 8:37. What does it mean to abide?
4:16a What is the difference between knowing and believing?
4:16b I think this is not only good poetry but good theology.
4:17 What and when is the day of judgement?  What does  “as he is, so are we in this world” mean?
4:18 I like this verse.  What does this verse say to hell, fire and damnation preachers and their sermons?
4:19 Could be argued that without God’s love we cannot love?
4:20 How does this verse inform Christian ethics? What about loving people who are not brothers and sisters in Christ?
4:21 After fourteen verses about love why say anything about a commandment? Who is “him”? How does this relate to the New Commandment of John’s Gospel?

15:1 Is there a difference between a vine and the true vine? What is the meaning of “true”? Is there such a thing as the false vine?
15:2 What branches do we find within ourselves? Even fruit producing vines are occasionally cut back.
15:3 How does the word cleanse? Is cleansing the same as pruning?
15:4 How do we abide? See 1 John 4:13.
15:5 Note that this is one (of the seven) “I am” sayings of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel. What is more important, bearing lots of inferior fruit or less but superior fruit?
15:6 Are we still talking about the branches within us? I think it is wrong to, in any way, connect this verse to any concept of hell or fires of hell.
15:7 Is Jesus the same as his words? Whatever we wish?
15:8 Is bearing much fruit something other than becoming Jesus disciple? Not that Jesus uses the plural “disciples”.

ADDENDUM
I am currently serving at the Interim Pastor of The Presbyterian Church of Cadiz, worshiping at 154 West Market Street, Cadiz, Ohio, every Sunday at 11:00 AM. Please like The Presbyterian Church of Cadiz on facebook.