Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Gear Review: Marmot Cloudbreak 30, Sea to Summit Thermolite REACTOP, Therma-a-Rest SOlite

Most gear reviews address only one item even though most items are not used in isolation but in combination with other items that might affect how they perform.  In this review I will evaluate my new backpacking sleeping system consisting of Regular Length Marmot Cleadbreak 30,  a  Sea to Summit Thermolite REACTOP sleeping bag liner, and a small (20 x 48) Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest SOlite sleeping pad. All were recently purchased from REI.

I purchased the regular length Marmot Cloudbreak 30, rated to 30 degrees Fahrenheit and weighing less than two pounds, after comparing it to three other similarly priced and designed bags, even climbing into all four and zipping them up around me.  I bought it to use when backpacking in wet weather, coastal kayaking, and sleeping aboard a sail boat, all situations where my old three-season down bag might get wet and loose its ability to insulate. After two consecutive nights in temperatures down to 30 degrees Fahrenheit, including rain, sleet, and snow, the second night, I found that the Cloudbreak 30 kept me warm enough if I used the bag liner and dressed properly.

The first night out the temperature dropped to about 45.  I wore Patagonia Capilene long underwear inside the liner bag but no socks and I had not eaten anything for three or four hours.  I awoke during the night with cold feet and a few other cold spots.  The second time the temperature dropped to 30 with rain that turned to sleet that turned to snow.  I wore the same Patagonia Capilene long underwear inside the liner bag but added clean, dry, wool socks and ate some carbs before turning in.  Even though the temperature was 15 degrees cold that the night before I slept warmer and never felt any cold spots.
The Cloudbreak 30’s regular length and roomy foot gave my toes plenty of room to wiggle, especially when they felt cold the first night, and left enough space for a poly bottle or even a stuff bag of boots if need be.  The girth felt a little constructing around my upper arms but no more than my old down bag.  As others have noted, the zipper can easily snag, and did a couple of times. Marmot should probably replace it with a larger tooth zipper.

I have never before used a sleeping back liner but I wanted one for three reasons, first, to help keep my new Cloudbreak 30 clean, second, to add extra degrees of warmth, and third, to serve as a summer weight bag when the Cloudbreak 30 is too warm.  The Sea to Summit Thermolite REACTOP sleeping bag liner,  weighing a mere 9 oz, is advertised to increase warmth by 14 degrees Fahrenheit, hypothetically allowing me to use  my  Cloudbreak down to 16 degrees Fahrenheit if I need to while also serving as a standalone warm weather bag. The REACTOP fulfilled my first two desires during my recent trip.  While the temperature did not drop below 30, I slept so warmly when it did that I can imagine being nearly as comfortable at  16 if I dress properly and keep myself fueled. I am still waiting for a summer night to see if the REACTOP will fulfill my third desire.
I used to use a full length inflatable Therm-a-Rest pad but recently misplaced it. Wanting to move toward more lightweight backpacking,  I replaced it with the small (20 x 48) Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest SOlite sleeping pad which weighs a mere 9 oz, far less than my misplaced Therm-a-Rest, although the SOlite takes up more space than the inflatable Therm-a-rest when rolled up. I may have felt a few more irregularities underneath my new SOlite compared to my old inflatable but too many.  I did not miss the old inflatable’s extra length but I did miss its ability to lay flat when inflated.  The SOlightt wanted to curl and partially roll up if my bag was not lying on top of it.  As a side benefit, the SOlight aluminized surface, advertised to reflect body heat back toward the body, could also serve in an emergency to help summon aid or identify location, something my misplaced inflatable would never have been able to do.  I also do not have to worry about the SOlight being stabbed by an errant branch or tent stake and losing its insulating ability or comfort.

Taken together, the above sleeping system weighs a little more than three pounds.
I recently used this sleeping system during a weekend in late March at over 4,000 feet.  As previously stated, the temperature the first night dropped to about 45.  It dropped to 30 the following night as rain first turned to sleet and then snow.  I woke up the second morning to about three inches of snow.

I used the new system in more than ten year old Sierra Designs Ultra Flash 2 person, lightweight, three season.  That is right, a three season tent!  Even though I was in a three season tent with netting all around, sleeping properly dressed and fueled inside a a REACTOP liner inside a Cloudbreak 30 on top of a short SOlite I slept toasty warm.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 for Sunday, April 20, 2014, the Resurrection of the Lord (Easter Day) (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.

The Lectionary offers various alternate Readings.  The First Reading may be Acts 10:34-43 or Jeremiah 31:1-6.  The Second Reading may Colossians 3:1-4 or Acts 10:34:43.  If you choose to use the Acts passage for the First Reading, you would of course use the Colossians passage for the Second Reading.  If you choose the Jeremiah passage for the First Reading, you then have two passages to choose from for the Second Reading.  There are also two options for the Gospel.  Pick either John 20:1-18 or Matthew 28:1-10. 

10:34 What is the context of this passage? To whom is Peter speaking? What would it mean if God did show partiality?
10:35 What does “nation” refer to? What does it mean to “fear” God?
10:36-39 This reads like a brief synopsis of the life and ministry of Jesus.
10:38 Is not the Holy Spirit the same thing as power?
10:39 Why does Peter say Jesus was hung un a tree rather than a cross?
10:40 The Easter Proclamation!  How do you understand “allowed”?
10:41 What is the significance of eating and drinking with the resurrected Christ?
10:42 Who commanded “us”? What is the difference, if any, between preaching and testifying?
10:43 What “prophets” is Peter referring to?

31:1 At what time? How many families of Israel will there be “at that time”?
31:2 What sword and what wilderness?  Is this a reference to the Exodus or something else?
31:3 Who is “him”?  Who is “you”?
31:4-5 How is Israel virgin? Is something silently being contrasted here? Why all the “again”s?
31:6 What do you know about the hill country of Ephraim?  Sentinels usually watch for invaders.  Why would sentinels call for a pilgrimage to Jerusalem?

118:1-2 We have a call and response here that could easily be used or adapted as a Call to Worship.
118:14 How shall Christians read “salvation” in the Hebrew Scriptures?
118:15-16 Is the Psalmist quoting a glad song of victory? Does our congregational song usually sound like glad songs or funeral dirges?
118:17 What are the deeds of the LORD and how do we recount them?
118:18 What do you think was the nature of the Psalmist’s punishment? Can some punishments be worse than death?
118:19 What are, and where are, the gates of righteousness? Note that “gates” is plural, not singular!
118:20 I would love to know how you interpret this verse in light of verse 19. If there are many gates of the righteous, why is there only one gate of the LORD?
118:21 Note the shift from speaking of the LORD in the third person to speaking to the LORD in directr address.
118:22 Where and when will Christians hear this verse again?
118:23 What is the LORD’s doing? Why am I thinking of Billy Crystal?
118:24 What is the day the LORD has made?  How can we be glad in it? Like the first two verses, tis verse could be used or adapted as a Call to Worship, perhaps combined with 118:1-2, such as:

            One: O Give thanks to the LORD, for the LORD is good;
           All:  the LORD’s steadfast love endures forever!
           One: Let Israel say,
           All:  God’s steadfast love endures forever.
           One: This is the day that the LORD has made;
           All:  let us rejoice and be glad in it.
           One: Let us worship the LORD our God!

3:1 Why the “So”? Why an “if/then” statement even though the “then” is implicit? Is this raising a reference to baptism or the final resurrection?  What are the things that are above? 
3:2 Does it make any difference that the admonition refers to the mind rather than the heart? What does it mean to “Set your mind”? What things are above and what things are on the earth?
3:3 How have we died? What does it mean that your life is hidden?
3:4 I thought Christ has already been revealed in the life and ministry of Jesus.  Must this, by necessity, refer to the final resurrection at the end of the age?

See my ruminations for this passage above.

20:1 What is the first day of the week?  What does it mean that it was still dark?  How did Mary see that the stone had been removed from the tomb if was still dark?
20:2 Let’s speculate about the identity of the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved.  From the context, I think we can rule out Peter.  Whom might Mary have meant by “they”?  Why does Mary say, “we do not know”? If she was not alone, who was with her?
20:4 Poor Peter the slowpoke, slow to run, quick to speak. Maybe he was not a faster runner  because he was always sticking his foot in his mouth.
20:5 Why would he not go in?
20:6 Peter might be slow but he is not hesitant.
20:7 What is the significance to the wrapping from the head being folded and not with the other wrappings?  Why mention it if it is not significant?
20:8 I find it interesting that in reference to Peter, there is no mention of him believing.  In this passage, it is this “other disciple” that is the first to “believe”.
20:9 Based on this verse, what did the “other disciple” believe?  Did the disciple believe that Jesus had been raised, that the tomb was indeed empty, or that someone (they of verse 2) had taken the Lord out of the tomb?
20:10 This is a pretty anticlimactic verse.  I am glad the story does not end here.
20:11 Why did the disciples abandon Mary, leaving her all alone? Were they simply being typical men?  Why did Mary apparently not look into the tomb until the disciples had left?  Why did she have to bend over to look in?
20:12 How shall we moderns, or post-moderns, deal with angels when we encounter them in Scripture? Why had Peter and the other disciple not seen any Angels?
20:13 Did the angels speak in unison? Apparently Mary is still convinced that someone has taken and moved the body of Jesus.
20:14 How could, and why would, Mary not recognize Jesus?
20:15 Both Jesus and the Angels (in verse 13) address Mary in the same way and ask the same question, but Jesus asks even more than the angels asked.  Where else, when else, and who else has Jesus addressed as “Woman”?
20:16 After having first addressed her as “Woman”, Jesus now address Mary by name and she calls him “Rabbouni” rather than “gardener”.
20:17 Why would Jesus say this?  Was Mary attempting to grab hold of him or had she already done so? What do we make of Jesus’ talking about not yet having ascended?  What is the meaning of “brothers”?  Why “I am ascending” rather than “I will ascend”?
20:18 Does this make Mary the first post resurrection witness? Preacher? Evangelist? Perhaps, in recognition of the role played by Mary, the first words of any Easter liturgy ought to be spoken by a woman!

28:1 What is different in this account compared to John’s account?  How do we account for the differences?  Do the differences matter? Who was “the other Mary”?
28:2 I will repeat the same question as above.  Does the rolling away of the stone “cause” the earthquake?  Might the earthquake be symbolic of something else?
28:3 What do we usually associate lightning and snow with?
28:4 Are there any other occurrences in Scripture where an angel caused so much fear that people acted dead?
28:5 When and where else have we heard an angel say “Do not be afraid”?
28:6 Does seeing an empty tomb prove that Jesus was raised?
28:7 Why were the women not permitted to see the resurrected Jesus at the tomb?  Why did the disciples have to go to Galilee to see the resurrected Jesus?
28:8 How often in your experience has fear been accompanied by great joy?
28:9 Note that here, unlike John, the women are allowed to take hold of Jesus.  What is so special about “feet”? Had anyone in the Gospel, prior to this point, worshiped Jesus?
28:10 Note that this time it is Jesus, not an angel, who says “Do not be afraid”?  What are we afraid of when it comes to Easter, Jesus, and the resurrection?

Do not forget the multi-valiant character of John’s Gospel.  I think we may be tempted to become so engrossed by John’s description of the scene and dialogue of the first Easter that we may miss the deep structure.  John has been highly structured and symbolic throughout.  Why change at the resurrection account? I think John offers much more for preaching about the resurrection than Matthew.

For a short, non-lectionary based reflection on the resurrection with a scientific bent, check out my blog post “Easter 2014”.

Easter 2014

John M. Buchanan writes in the April 16, 2014 issue of The Christian Century that the canonical gospels not only provide us sparse accounts of the resurrection but what they do tell us they tell from different perspectives.  “It is almost as if they are telling us, like someone who warns us not to look directly at the bright sun, that we should not try to look too directly, that we should perceive this event in a different, deeper way—more heart than mind, more wonder than analysis.  Some things are bigger than our ability to say them.” (p. 3)

After what has seemed like one of the hardest, coldest, snowiest winters I can remember I am now enjoying longer days as the sun seems to be moving ever northward and stays up longer than the day before as I read Buchanan’s words. With Easter being almost as late as possible this year, the longer, warmer, and brighter days of spring have coincided with the approach of Easter.  I know that the cold, dark days of Lent, I mean winter, will end with the rising of the Son, I mean sun.

Thanks to John Buchanan and Bruce Springsteen, who reminds us that “Mama always told me not to look into the eye of the sun”, a caution reiterated by Astronomers appearing on public media every time we are about to experience a solar eclipse, we know not to look directly at the sun. Looking directly into that celestial object even with dark glasses can cause permanent eye damage. Yet something compels the astronomer as well as the non-scientist to study the heavenly sphere that warms us, illuminates us, and provides the energy our planet needs to sustain life. I remember making a pinhole box viewer to watch a solar eclipse and using a small telescope to project sun spots unto the ceiling of my bedroom.  Even though I was not looking directly at the sun I was still mesmerized by its brilliance.

I know that the sunlight now reaching the earth and tanning my skin as I sit poolside left the sun about eight minutes ago and that any sun spots I might project onto the ceiling I am seeing where they were about eight minutes ago.  Just because it takes light from the sun about eight minutes to reach us does not mean we cannot appreciate or observe it. Even though it is eight minutes old it can still illuminate, warm, and yes, even burn and blind.  It might be eight minutes old we can still wonder-- is it a wave, a particle, or a string?

I also know that in the strictest, most literal sense, the sun does not rise.  Our senses deceive us.  The sun only appears to rise as we, standing on the surface of a rotating earth, rotate with our planet on its axis, completing a rotation cycle about every twenty-four hours.  I also know that in the spring the sun only appears to be climbing ever northward.  What is actually happening is that the earth, constantly tilting on its axis in a yearly cycle, is now beginning to present its northern hemisphere toward the sun after having presented the southern hemisphere for six months. In spite of knowing better, however, I still talk about, and appreciate the “miracle” of a sunrise rather than a morning turnaround and relish in a northward marching sun even though I know it is not true.  Sometimes historical and culturally loaded language better describe our experience and enables us to share it rather than the sometimes hard, cold, precise language of science, but that does not mean I disregard science.

The good news reported by the canonical gospels comes to us from nearly two-thousand years ago yet it is still reaching us, still warming us, still illuminating us, and still granting us life.  As a trained theologian and amateur philosopher I could employ any number of metaphors and play language games in an attempt to both explain and make sense of what the gospels describe happening nearly twenty centuries ago. I could hopefully do so without breaking any of the laws of physics.  Long ago, however, I learned that any god that can be fully explained and understood is not a god worth praise and worship.  At the heart of the cosmos and faith is mystery, a mystery that compels us to explore, to ponder, and to understand, but a mystery nevertheless. If I could fully understand and explain what the gospels describe as a resurrection, perhaps it would no longer be worth believing in.  Like a darkened sun, collapsed in on itself as a black hole, it would lose its ability to illuminate and give life.

Here is the link to my Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 post for Easter, where I reflect on all six, primary and alternate, Lectionary Readings for Easter morning.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 for Sunday, April 13, 2014, Palm Sunday (Passion Sunday) (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.

For those who use the lectionary, the dual focus of this Sunday offers more Scripture than almost any other Sunday in the Church Year.  Since I come from and am firmly rooted in the Reformed Tradition I tend to think a sermon is a pretty important thing, yet this is one Sunday when I might be willing to allow Scripture to speak for itself without interpretation.

Unlike other parts of the Gospels, the passion narrative, even, or especially in its longer version, reads as a single unit and can very easily be adapted as dramatic reading or presentation.  If so, a sermon might actually detract rather than add to the service.  After all, who needs to interpret a well-produced movie or play?

Liturgy of the Palms Readings:

118:1 This verse is repeated in 118:29
118:2 This sounds like a liturgical direction.
118:19 What, and where, are the gate of righteousness?
118:20 What, and where is the gate of the LORD?
118:22 Why does this sound so familiar?
118:23 What is the LORD’s doing?
118:24 What day has the LORD made?
118:25 What sort of success is the psalmist praying for?
118:26 Who comes in the name of the LORD? The choice of this “Liturgy of the Palms” Psalm (say that three times) is obviously dictated by Matthew, in the “Liturgy of the Palms” Gospel Reading, which in verse 9 quotes this verse. I think it can be argued that whenever the new Testament quotes a verse or two from a Psalm that the entire Psalm is drawn into the interpretation, as in an oral Jewish culture when most of the audience would likely have known the Psalm and thought of it even if only one verse were quoted.  We experience the same when someone today quotes a line from a familiar poem, song or document and recall the entire text.  Yet few Christians know the Psalms like Christians once did, or Jews once did.  Incorporating this reading not only serves to ground the passion in its Jewish context but adds an interpretive introduction to the Matthew 21:1-11 reading and suggests that we might read Matthew 21:1-11 as Christian Midrash on Psalm 118.
118:27 What, and where, are the horns of the altar?
118:27 Here is a refrain that echoes 118:1

21:1 I wonder which two disciples Jesus sent.
21:2 Must we have both a donkey and a colt? 
21:5 What prophet is quoted and why does it appear that the author of Matthew does not understand Hebrew poetry?
21:7 How did Jesus sit on two animals at the same time?
21:8 Are we sure the  large crowd cut palm branches? Will you be using eco-palms this Sunday?
21:9 Where have we (and those in the crowd) heard this before? Why shout this?
21:10 Is this not the question we seek to answer?
21:11 Is this a satisfactory answer to the above question?

Liturgy of the Passion Readings:

50:4 I usually think of the teacher’s role being to educate, not “sustaining the weary with a word.”  I think of that as more of a preacher’s or shepherd’s role. Are the best teachers also the best learners?
50:5 What does it mean for God to open our ear and why is ear singular?
50:6-9 Do these verses justify this passage being chosen for this Sunday? How might these verses have influenced the Gospel accounts of the Passion?

31:9-13 I can imagine hearing these words from the lips of Jesus as he was being crucified, or at any time during his passion.  This Psalm reads like the thoughts and feelings of the dejected, rejected, and defeated. 
31:14-16 Nevertheless the Psalm, in the end, expresses prayerful trust.

2:5What mind was in Christ Jesus?
2:6 How does this verse both confirm and challenge our understanding of the Trinity?
2:6-8 These verses recall the passion.
2:9-11 These verses recalls the resurrection.
2:10 What do bended knees symbolize or represent?
2:11 “Jesus Christ is Lord” is one of the earliest, if not the earliest Christian Confession.  From this basic affirmation, how did we get to the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene, not to mention the Westminster Confession?  There is something to be said for simplicity, but simplicity, rather than precision, leaves room for multiple interpretations and levels of meaning.  I can live with that. Can you?

The longer reading, Matthew 26:14-27:66, is powerful if presented as a dramatic reading and can perhaps move and inform worshipers more than even the best sermon on this text.  If you have not yet already read my comments in the Preface, please do so now.  Rather than commenting on this Gospel Reading I will comment below on the abbreviated alternate.

27:11-14 Why would Jesus not answer these charges? What amazed Pilot?
27:15-23 It it mere coincidence that both prisoners were named Jesus?  What does the name “Barabbas” mean?
27:18 What do you make of this “jealousy”?
27:19 Here is yet one more example of a truth telling woman.
27:24 This hand washing is perhaps what Pilate is most remembered for.
27:25 How shall we deal with this verse without being anti-Semitic?  Who is “us” and “our children”?
27:27-31 How did Mel Gibson deal with this? What is the danger of focusing on these verses?
27:32 We all have our own particular cross to carry, and if a Roman soldier asks you to carry a cross one mile, offer to carry it two. What ever happened to Simon of Cyrene?
27:34 Why would Jesus not drink?
27:38-44 Was there anyone who did not deride, mock, or otherwise taunt Jesus? Note that in Matthew both bandits taunt Jesus.
27:45 What is the significance that the darkness began at noon and lasted three hours?
27:46 Was Jesus quoting something?  What does he quote?
27:51 What is the symbolism of the torn curtain? What rocks split?
27:52 What Saints?
27:54 Truth is here spoken not by the disciples, not by a woman, not by any of the Jews, but by Roman soldiers. What lesson might we learn from this?

Monday, March 31, 2014

Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 for Sunday, April 6, 2014, the Fifth Sunday in Lent (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.

First Reading - Ezekiel 37:1-14

37:1 What does it mean for “the hand of the LORD” to come upon a person?  Has the hand of 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.

37:3 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 the last time you heard a minister was 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?

Psalm - Psalm 130
121:1-8This is not only one of my favorite Psalms but one of my favorite passages in the entire Bible. How might our interpretation and preaching being affected when we encounter one of favorite, or even least favorite, passages of Scripture?

121:1What sort of images do you see or think of when you read or hear “out of the depths”.  I cannot but help but interpret “depths” from a Jungian perspective.  You might be more inclined to take a psychoanalytic reproach.  How many of us are NOT thinking of one form of depression or another?

121:2 When we implore the LORD to hear our voice, is it really to catch God’s attention or to focus our own?  What is a supplication?

121:3 Does the LORD mark iniquities, or not? Who CAN stand?

121:4 Forgiveness, and Grace!  I like the translation “revere” as the KJV and RSV was “feared,” suggesting a wrathful, rather than an awesome, God.What does it mean to revere?

121:5 Note the shift from direct address to narrative. What does it mean to “wait for the LORD”?  How do you “wait” for the LORD? In a culture of fast food and instant gratification, this verse might be more poignant today than ever before.  Why am I thinking of the contemplative tradition as well as centering prayer.

121:6 Is there something more going on here than Hebrew poetry?  What does it mean for the morning watch when the morning arrives?  What does it mean for the person waiting for the LORD, hoping in God’s word, to see and witness the arrival of what one has been waiting for?

121:7 Note the shift from the first person narrative to direct address admonition.  The Psalmist started out by addressing the Lord and is now addressing Israel. What is “steadfast” love? What power redeems?

121:8 Is still direct address or a shift back to narrative? In other words: “Wait for no one or nothing else. Place your hope in no other person or no other thing than the LORD.”

8:6 This reads like a proverb and can almost stand on its own.  What does Paul mean by “flesh” and “spirit”? What does he mean “death” and “life and peace”? How many times and in what other places does Paul employ a flesh/spirit dualism? Does it make any difference that Paul was writing before Descartes and we are reading after Descartes’ mind/body split? 

8:7 How does 8:6 lead to 8:7? What does Paul mean by “God’s Law”?

8:8 How might Paul’s statement run counter to the doctrine of the incarnation?

8:9 If we are indeed “in the Spirit” as Paul says, then why did he have to say what he said in verses 6-8?

8:9-11 Does Paul use “Spirit of God” and “Spirit of Christ” synonymously?  How many mainline Christians, especially staid Presbyterians, mind find Paul’s focus on the Spirit unsettling?

8:10-11 Does it help or hurt to read this passage in juxtaposition with Ezekiel 37:1-14, especially Ezekiel 37:14?

Gospel - John 11:1-45
11:1-45 Spoiler alert:  If you do not know how the Easter Story ends, this might give it away.  Is there any way to make this 45 verse Reading shorter while still maintaining its integrity?

11:1 Does is make any difference that we are told the man’s name and the names of his sisters?

11:2 Why the redundancy of telling us Lazarus was sick?

11:3 What is the nature of this “love”?

11:4  Jesus’ response sounds much like his response in last week’s reading, John 9:3. What is this ”Son of God” language doing here?  I would expect to see “Son of Man” language.

11:6 Why the two day wait?

11:7-8 What is significant about Judea?

11:9-10 I know Jesus was speaking generally, but technically, there are only two days a year when there are twelve hours of daylight. Does the light/darkness dualism suggest a hint of Gnosticism?

11:11-12 Was Jesus simply using a euphemism for death, or is there something else going on here?

11:13-14 How many times did the disciples not understand Jesus.  How many times do worshipers in the pews not understand the preacher?

11:15 Believe what?

11:16 Die with who?  If Thomas means Jesus, then Thomas does not seem to doubt his resolve to follow Jesus to his own death.

11:17 What is the significance of four days? Did it take two days to travel when where Jesus was to Bethany?

11:18 Is there any significance to this geographical information?

11:19 What does this suggest about Lazarus or about Mary and Martha?

11:20 Is this a typical Martha/Mary response? Do you go to meet Jesus or do you wait for Jesus to come to you?

11:21 Is Martha blaming Jesus for her brother’s death?

11:22 Is Martha expressing true faith or something else?

11:23 Why “Again”? When has he risen before?

11:24 What is the matter, Martha, is not the promise of resurrection on the last day enough to comfort you in your grief?

11:25 One of Jesus’ “I am” sayings.  Where do we find the others and what are they? Is this passage nothing but background, of creating the opportunity, for this “I am” saying?

11:25-26 Do YOU believe this?  Exactly what are we being asked about?

11:27 Mary really does not answer the question, nevertheless, this reads, and sounds, like an early Christian confession of Faith.

11:28 I did not hear Jesus calling for Mary, did you? Why the “privately”? After confessing that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and the one coming into the world, why does Martha refer to Jesus as “Teacher”?

11:29 Mary finally comes to Jesus.

11:30 Why did Jesus not accompany Martha when Martha went to Mary?

11:32 Mary joins the blame game.  At least the sisters agree on something!

11:33 Why would seeing tears disturb and move Jesus in a way he had not yet been moved and disturbed? Is there a difference between being “greatly disturbed” and “deeply moved”!

11:34 “Come and see” sounds like something someone would say about Jesus, not Lazarus. Maybe that is the point.

11:35 And what do we know about this verse?

11:37 Is this more than a rhetorical question?

11:38 Is this nothing more than foreshadowing?

11:39 Is there any significance to the fact that it is Martha, rather than Mary, who comments about the stench?

11:40 When did Jesus say this to Martha?

11:41 Who are the “we”?

11:41-42 Are words sometimes better than silence?

11:43 Would Lazarus not have come out if he had not been called?

11:44 How did Lazarus come out if his feet were bound with strips of cloth?  How did he see where to go if his face was wrapped in a cloth? Could there be more to the command “Unbind him, and let him go” than meets the eye? Maybe Jesus was referring not just to the strips of cloth. Obviously we cannot take read this literally.

11:45 How many are “many” and what about the Jews who had come with Mary but did not believe in him?

There are many connections this Sunday among all four readings, perhaps too many.  Countless sermons can be preached and lessons taught on any one of these texts or combination of them and the preacher/teacher might feel overwhelmed.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Lectionary Ruminations 2.0 for Sunday, March 30, 2014, the Fourth Sunday in Lent (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.

16:1 God calls the shots, and chooses the Kings, not Samuel.  What is a “horn” and what does it represent?

16:2 Who was more powerful and to be feared, Saul or Samuel? Where will this sacrifice take place?

16:3 Why does the LORD keep focusing on Jesse rather than simply revealing the next king?

16:4 Why did the elders of Bethlehem tremble?

16:5 The Lord had instructed Samuel to invite Jesse, but Jesse invites more.

16:1-5 I think there is some fascinating political intrigue being alluded to in these verses.  This sounds like nothing less than the makings of a coup d'état with the LORD as the main instigator and conspirator.

16:6-7 Good advice both for political parties as well as Pastor Nominating Committees, or any nominating committee. Outward appearance certainly influences people, as to credentials, but how does one judge another’s heart?

16:10 Do you see any symbolism in there being seven rejected sons? Why are only the three sons named? How much does Jesse know about what Samuel is doing?

16:11 Why was the youngest son the only son not present and presented?

16:12 How does this verse read when juxtaposed with verse 7?

16:13 What do you make of the spirit of the LORD coming mightily upon David AFTER Samuel anoints him? I wonder what ever happened to David’s older brothers.

What can one about the most popular passage in the Bible that we have not already said? How can we read and hear it in new and unexpected ways?  How much does the First Reading influence any interpretation for this Sunday?

23:1 Does it serve any theological and homiletically purpose to point out that “The LORD” is not a reference to Jesus but to the LORD God?  How many Christians hear this Psalm as a Psalm about Jesus rather than a Psalm about God? The shepherd imagery seems to draw upon verse 11 of the First Reading.  How might the shepherd imagery be lost or diminished in modern and urban culture?

23:2 As a backpacker and hiker, I resonate with the imagery of green pastures and still waters.

23:3 What does it mean for a soul to be restored? What is a right path?

23:4 Do you prefer the “darkest valley” of the NRSV or the “valley of the shadow of death” of the KJV and RSV? Why do we associate dark places with evil?  What is the difference between a rod and a staff?  How can a rod and a staff protect?

23:5 How does it feel to walk into a room and find a table prepared for you?  Would you sit at a table in the presence of your enemies and dine? What does it mean to have one’s head anointed with oil and one’s cup overflowing.  Can we really speak of overflowing cups when in the Eucharist we barely fill little plastic cups containing less than a shot glass?  Can we speak of being anointed with oil when most congregations rarely, if ever, practice it?  I argue for anointing with oil at the time of Baptism as well as the anointing with oil when laying on of hands associated with prayers for healing and wholeness.   If we practiced more anointing with oil, this popular Psalm might actually mean even more than it already does to some people.

23:6 Is there a difference between goodness and mercy or is this pairing just the nature of Hebraic poetry? What does it mean to dwell in the house of the LORD all one’s life?  Is “house of the LORD” a reference and/or allusion to the Jerusalem Temple, or something else?

5:8 Can we read this verse in juxtaposed with Psalm 23:4?  What does it mean to live as children of light? Does the Dead Sea War Scroll shed any light on this verse?

5:9 I love this verse.  It sounds like something Gandalf might say to Bilbo, or Frodo might say to Sam.

5:10 And how does one find out what is pleasing to the Lord?  Does Paul have a scavenger hunt in mind?

5:11 Can one expose works of darkness without shining light on them?  I am thinking of Christian muckrakers, whistleblowers, and gadflies.  Something about old fashioned photography with film helps me appreciate this verse more than does digital photography.

5:12-13 What secret things do you think Paul has in mind?  Is this a reference/allusion to mystery religions, or something else?  Let us not forget the rumors that were spread about cannibalistic Christian rites when non-Christians were dismissed from the Eucharist. There is something to be said about transparency in all things.

5:14 What is the author of Ephesians quoting here?

9:1-41 This is one really loonnngggg Reading?  Are you going to shorten it?  I think I will use only verses 1-12. There seems to be some relationship between blindness, sight, and sin.  The man born physically blind receives his physical sight, while the Pharisees, born physically seeing, are spiritually blind and refuse to have their third eye opened.  The man was not a sinner while the Pharisees are portrayed as sinners.  I think this is the nature of John’s Gospel, often teasing us with the interplay of the physical and the spiritual as it compares and contrasts the two realms.  This is pre-modern stuff.  There is no Cartesian mind/body split in John.  Both the spiritual and the physical seem to exist in the same sphere but operate on different plains of awareness.

9:2 What is wrong with this question?

9:3 What is wrong with this answer?

9:4 Who are the “We”? What night is coming?

9:5 What is Jesus when he is not in the world?

9:6-7 Why spit on the ground and make mud and put it on the man’s eyes? Why was the man not healed until after he went and washed?

9:8 Why was he not identified as a beggar before now?

9:9 “I am the man” sounds a lot like one of the “I am” sayings of Jesus in John’s Gospel.  Might this be intentional?

9:10 This is a legitimate question.

9:11 Is there any significance to the construction “the man called Jesus”?

9:12 How could this man knot know where Jesus is?  What might John be suggesting in this verse?

9:13 Who brought the man to the Pharisees and why?

9:14 Oh no!  Not the Sabbath?  Surely there must be a law against spitting or making mud on the Sabbath!

9;15 Why is this man being questioned?

9:16 Imagine that, religious authorities having a divided opinion!  Let’s put it to a vote, after all, the majority is always right.  Or can councils sometimes ere?

9:17 A radical proposal - let the one whose life was changed have the final word. Do prophets usually heal?

9:18 I think skepticism is a good thing.

9:19 Can the parents legitimately answer the last question.  Read this verse in juxtaposition with the question asked in 9:2.

9:19-21 What does it mean that “he was of age”?  Are the man’s parents passing the buck?

9:22-23 Let us not forget that most scholars agree that John is the latest of the four canonical Gospels, perhaps here reflecting the historical split between Judaism and Christianity.  What did it mean – what would it have meant – for a Jew to “be put out of the synagogue”?  The man had previously, in 9:17, proclaimed that Jesus was a prophet.  Did the man parents think that Jesus was the Messiah but were afraid to say so?

9:24 The Pharisees knew Jesus was a sinner. What do we know?

9:25 This man seems to be choosing his words carefully.

9:26 Has the answer not already been established?

9:27 Is this sarcasm or acerbic wit?  I think the Pharisees doth protest too much.

9:28 Is this the only reference in Scripture to “disciples of Moses”? Was the man really a disciple of Jesus?

9:29 But we know where he has come from, don’t we?

9:30-33 An astonishing application of logic and astonishing testimony from who is turning out to be an astonishing man.

9:32 Is this a true statement?

9:33 Perhaps this is the key verse!

9:34 The typical response to questioning and challenging personal and institutional authority. Why the plural “sins” rather than the singular “sin”?

9:35 After thirty-four verses of narrative, “Son of Man” terminology is raised.  Why the change?  Here is the progression as I see it:
            9:1 Rabbi
            9:17 Prophet
            9:22 The Messiah
            9:33 Man from God
            9:35 Son of Man

9:36 How many people in the pew will also ask questions about “son of man” terminology?

9:37 Is this the first time in John that Jesus has identified himself as “the son of man”?

9:38 And another step in the progression listed in the comments for 9:35, now we have “Lord” and a statement of, not blind, but seeing faith.

9:39 Where do we find ourselves in this verse.  Where does the institutional church usually, or sometimes, find itself?

9:40 And the answer to this question is?

9:41 Does spiritual blindness excuse sin?  Perhaps there is something to be said for spiritual blindness. Perhaps spiritual blindness absolves one of responsibility.  Being spiritually illuminated brings with it spiritual responsibility.

I am now approved and available for pulpit supply and other work within the bounds of Upper Ohio Valley Presbytery.  Send an email to to inquire about dates.