Thursday, December 30, 2010

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, January 2, 2011, the Second Sunday after Christmas (Year A)

Posted each Thursday, Lectionary Ruminations focuses on the Scripture Readings, taken from the New Revised Standard Version, for the following Sunday per the Revised Common Lectionary. Comments and questions are intended to encourage reflection for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged. All lectionary links are to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead. (Other references are linked to the NRSV via the oremus Bible Browser.)


Jeremiah 31:7-14
v. 7 I wonder effect it would have if I started my next sermon by proclaiming “For thus says the LORD.” Most of the Presbyterians in small churches that I know need to take the admonition to “Sing aloud with gladness” more seriously. Who is “the chief of the nations”?

v. 8 A promise of restoration. What promise do we find for ourselves in this passage?

v. 9 Why do the remnant weep?

v. 10 Why do the nations need to hear this?

v. 11 Could this be one of the roots of a ransom theory of the atonement?

v. 12 I like the image of a life likened to a “watered garden”. How many people in our society are experiencing a life akin to a dried up, dead garden?

V. 14 Here is an image I can relate to.

Psalm 147:12-20
v. 16 People along the mid-Atlantic and north-Atlantic coast of the US should be able to relate to this verse this week.

v. 18 This is the second reference in this Psalm to God’s “word”. See verse 15 for the first. It appears again in verse 19.

vs. 12-10 It should be clearly evident why this Psalm was paired with the Jeremiah Reading. But the Psalm seems to emphasize the emotions of the return while ignoring the lament aspect of the deportation that preceded it. Where do we, as Americans, as Christians, and as Presbyterians find ourselves today, in exile or having returned?

Ephesians 1:3-14
v. 3 What are “spiritual blessings”?

v. 4 Here is a verse in support of predestination and election.

v. 6 Who is “the Beloved”?

v. 7 Now we have “blood” atonement after the ransom of Jeremiah 31:11.

v. 10 A verse in support of divine “fate”?

v. 11,14 What is our “inheritance”?

John 1:(1-9) 10-18
Note: This is perhaps my favorite passage in the Bible. This is also the first passage I translated from the Greek when learning Greek.

v. 1 Can we read and hear this read without recalling the first creation account of Genesis 1?

vs. 6-9 In a matter of weeks we have moved from the birth of John the Baptizer, to his questioning of Jesus identity, and now his testimony. Once again, I am wondering how much we are missing when we reflect about the relationship and connection between John the Baptizer and Jesus.

v. 12 What is the meaning of “power”?

v. 13 Is there any theological difference between being born “of God” and being born from above? How might William James enlighten us to the meaning of being born of God?

v. 15 Why the parenthesis in the NRSV? So what?

v. 17 “Law” versus “Grace and truth” or ‘Law and grace and truth”?

v. 18 Are there not some passages in the Hebrew Scriptures to refute the claim that “No one has ever seen God”? Once we have come to know God the Father through the only son, should we not focus on our relationship with the Father rather than the Son?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Winterization Blues - A Sailor's Depression

Solitary sailor upon the sea, as seen through
one of the lenses of my binoculars
This is my first winter as the owner of a sailboat. Warmer than average temperatures in mid-November and a mid-November sailing outing lulled me into postponing starting to winterize my 1983 C&C 24 until early December. Even though I will be keeping the boat in the water all winter, as the previous owner had done, there was still some work required before winter’s freezing temperatures set in.

My first winterization required two half-day workdays. On the first day, I cleaned the cabin, bilge, and storage compartments. I also added antifreeze to the fresh and salt water lines, spending most of my time winterizing the head. None of these tasks, however, made the boat un-sailable. Fortunately, I completed these tasks before the first hard freeze.

On my second day, I not only added a second bow line and spring line but also fogged the outboard, removed both sails, and removed most of the running rigging, rendering the boat un-sailable without an equal amount of pre-sail work.

I have never owned a vacation home in the mountains or at the beach, or anywhere else for that matter, but now I think I can empathize with how owners of vacation homes might feel after closing up their getaway for the season. Nearing the end of my second workday, I felt like I was saying goodbye to a good friend before leaving on a long trip, and we did not know when we would see each other again. No longer would I be able to drive the 20-30 minutes to the dock, and within another 15-20 minutes have the boat rigged and out on the water. Winter had not yet set in and I was already thinking about – dreaming about – sailing next spring, perhaps as soon as April, or even March.

My winterization blues intensified yesterday when, from the sixth floor window of a beachfront timeshare at Virginia Beach, I looked out over the ocean and saw a lone sailboat out on the water. I picked up my binoculars, lying nearby, and focused on this solitary sailor on the sea. As inches of snow and ice from a recent storm were still covering the beach and boardwalk, some sailor and crew were enjoying a post storm sail on a nearly glassy sea bathed in sunshine, and I wished I were out on the water with them.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Return to Narnia: Review of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Marquis Poster
It has been over thirty years since I last read The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  So when my wife and I went to see The Voyage of the Dawn Treader in 3-D yesterday, we did not remember all the details of the story and in some ways, it was like returning Narnia after a long absence. Fortunately, time in Narnia is not the same as time in our world.

The casting of the character that played Eustace, and his performance, were superb. We hated the character from the first frame in which he appeared. By the end of the film, his transformation was complete, a transformation evidenced in both his face and his demeanor.

The same actors who played the characters of Edmund and Lucy in the first two films reprised their roles. With a few more years on them, they fit perfectly into the story, which is set after the first two films.

We had seen the previous two movies on the big screed but this was the first one we saw in 3-D. While the 3-D certainly added depth, it seemed not to be exploited for shock effect. I do not remember, for instance, any swords, arrows, dragons or sea monsters flying out toward the audience, which in my opinion, was just as well. While the world of Narnia is certainly a fantasy world and a world of magic where good and evil often battle, it is not a world where 3-D would be used for any other reason than to tell a good story. I am not a big 3-D fan and I wonder what our experience would have been different if the film had not been presented in 3-D.

By the end of the film, I was saddened to leave Narnia behind and to return to the shadow lands where the work of the White Witch was still covering roads and walkways.

I heard a few weeks ago that while The Voyage of the Dawn Treader opened at number one, it was a weaker opening compared to the first two films. I hope it is grossing enough to bring at least one more film, if not all four waiting for the big screen, into production. This classic tale deserves to have all seven installments available for viewing if the remaining four are produced with the same artistry as the first three.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, December 26, 2010, the First Sunday after Christmas (Year A)

Posted each Thursday, Lectionary Ruminations focuses on the Scripture Readings, taken from the New Revised Standard Version, for the following Sunday per the Revised Common Lectionary. Comments and questions are intended to encourage reflection for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged. All lectionary links are to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead. (Other references are linked to the NRSV via the oremus Bible Browser.)


Isaiah 63:7-9
v. 1 Can you enumerate (list and count) the gracious deeds and praiseworthy acts of the LORD? How high can you count?

v. 8 In verse 7 Isaiah speaks in the first person plural of “us”, but in verse 8 shifts to the third person “they” and “their”. Why the shift? What difference does it make?

v. 9 I like this verse. Perhaps I have never noticed it before. I like that “It was no messenger or angel” but the LORD’S presence that saved them. Remember, this is before Christ!

Psalm 148:1-14
v. 1 Is it stating the obvious to identify this as a “praise” psalm.

v. 2 This is the second time (and the second reading) that angels are mentioned.

v. 3 Was the full moon with celestial halo around it on the winter solstice just before the full lunar eclipse less than a week ago praising the Lord?

v. 7 Even though, or perhaps because, I am a kayaker and a sailor, I can more easily accept the actual sun, moon and stars praising the Lord than I can accept “sea monsters” praising the Lord.

vs. 7-10 Verses especially appropriate for “Presbyterians For Earth Care”. After all, how can creation praise the Lord if humans pollute and destroy it?

v. 8 This reads like a winter’s verse, or else a mountain climber’s verse.

v. 11 Now we transition from the natural world to the political realm.

v. 13 What is “the name of the Lord”? Dare we write it? Dare we speak it

v. 14 What is “a horn”?

Second Reading Hebrews 2:10-18
v. 10 What a bummer! From the joy and celebration of Christmas a mere day ago we now get sufferings.

v. 11 Why WOULD Jesus be ashamed?

vs. 12-13 Where did these quotes come from?

v. 14 Can we read/teach/preach this without personifying “the devil”?

v. 17 Is “sacrifice atonement” the only understanding of atonement?

vs. 14-18 A fairly theological exposition of the incarnation, which is probably why this passage was chosen for the First Sunday After Christmas.

Gospel Matthew 2:13-23
v. 13 In Matthew, how many times does an Angel appear to Joseph in a dream?

vs. 13-14 Could this verse be an example of Midrash?

v. 15 Could there have been another theological reason for Jesus going to Egypt other than fulfilling of prophecy?

v. 16 Death in the slaughter on the innocents intrudes into the otherwise bucolic narrative of Christmas.

vs. 17-18 So all the infants were killed just so that prophecy could be fulfilled?

v. 19 Another angel, another dream, same old Jospeh!

v. 22 With so many dreams mentioned in the Bible, why does the church say so little about dreams, dreaming, and dream interpretation (other than Jungians)?

vs 13-23 It seems odd that Mary and Jesus are never mentioned by name but are referred to as “the child and his mother”.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, December 19, 2010, the Fourth Sunday of Advent (Year A)

Posted each Thursday, Lectionary Ruminations focuses on the Scripture Readings, taken from the New Revised Standard Version, for the following Sunday per the Revised Common Lectionary. Comments and questions are intended to encourage reflection for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged. All lectionary links are to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead. (Other references are linked to the NRSV via the oremus Bible Browser.)


Isaiah 7:10-16
v. 10 Who is Ahaz? Why did the LORD speak to him?

v. 11 What is the definition of “a sign”? If you were to ask the LORD for a sign, what sign would you ask for?

v. 12 What do you think of the response of Ahaz? To what story or incident in salvation history does not putting “the LORD to the test” refer?

v. 13 What is the meaning of this enigmatic verse?

v. 14 Note that the sign involves “the young woman” with child. There is no mention of a virgin. What is the meaning and significance of “Immanuel”.

v. 15 Another enigmatic verse. What is so special about curds and honey? Locusts and wild honey sounds more symbolic.

v. 16 What is bad news for some is good news for others. Why do Christians tend to quote and emphasize verse 14 while overlooking and neglecting verse 16?

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
v. 1 Who is the “shepherd of Israel? What are “cherubim”?

v.2 Why are only three tribes, and these three tribes, mentioned?

v. 3 What does it mean for God’s face to shine?

v. 4 God gets angry?

v. 7 This is beginning to sound like refrain or response.

v. 17 From the psalmist’s perspective, who is at God’s right hand?

v. 18 Promises! Empty promises?

Romans 1:1-7
v. 2 What are the holy scriptures to which Paul refers?

v. 4 “Declared” to be son of God? This does read like a high Christology. It sounds to me like Paul is saying Jesus was declared Son of God in his resurrection, not at his birth.

Vs. 1-7 This is a lot of theology to pack into the address of a letter. Do not forget that Romans is Paul’s longest letter.

Matthew 1:18-25
v. 18 Birth of Jesus! Are we not still in Advent? What does it mean “to be with child from the Holy Spirit”?

v. 19 The innuendo seems to be building.

v. 20 What is the significance, if any, that an angel appeared to Joseph “in a dream”?

v. 21 What is the significance of the name “Jesus”?

v. 22 How much does this verse drive what has preceded it?

v. 23 Why is this verse slightly different that the NRSV translation of Isaiah 7:14?

v. 25 What purpose does this verse serve?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Review of First Aid Afloat . . . Mate

FIRST AID Afloat
When I ordered First Aid Afloat, prepublication and sight unseen, I did not realize that the publisher, Wiley Nautical, was a British Publisher. I encountered the first giveaway on page 18, when I read, “Heart disease is the main cause of death in the United Kingdom.” While British-isms abound in this 127 page paperback, the only time the British bias is a detriment is on pages 108-109, where all the directions for obtaining radio medical advice refers to the Queen Alexandra Hospital, Portsmouth, and the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, and where all the references to the “coastguard” are to the British coastguard.

I am new to sailing, having bought my first sailboat only a few months ago. One of the first things I did after buying the 24 footer was to assemble a first aid kit.

While I might be new to sailing, I am not new to first aid or emergency medicine. In my younger years I was an American Red Cross Water Safety Instructor and held various ARC First Aid certifications as well as both ARC and American Heart Association CPR certifications. I was a Nationally Registered Emergency Medical Technician and worked as a professional EMT for nine months. Therefore, I knew the importance of having a well-stocked first aid kit aboard my sail boat, and I know how to use everything in it.

I bought First Aid Afloat not so that I could read it and use it in an emergency, but so that I could put in my boat’s first aid kit for other people to use in case I was not on board or I was sick or injured and could not render first aid to myself. Not overly technical and written and illustrated clear enough for the layperson, First Aid Afloat could very save a life, includingmy own.

What I like most about this book is that it is small boat specific. Both a powerboat and a sailboat appear on the cover, but neither is large. The text assumes one is aboard a small yacht. This is most obvious on page 54, where the text reads, “Commercially available splints for the leg are available, but tend to be bulky, and would tie up too much space on board a small yacht to be carried as part of the emergency kit."

A couple other examples of the small boat specificity of the text are on page 106. “When moving a causality, particularly in the small confined spaces on a yacht, you must consider personal and causality safety, the condition of the causality, manpower and equipment on board, and basic principles of lifting and moving.” Also “Improvisation is useful. For example, a stretcher can be fashioned from jackets and dinghy oars. The oars can be placed through the jacket sleeves with jacket fronts closed around them to create the stretcher, but always test that it will take the casualty’s weight before using it.”

There are probably more books about emergency first aid than could fit on a small boat, including many about first aid in wilderness and backcountry settings as well as first aid manuals specifically aimed toward recreational boaters and professional mariners. I find this slim volume complete enough for the small sailboat I own, one that will probably be limited to day cruises, or no more than an overnight cruise, and probably never out of radio range or more than a few hours from shore. It might even be the only first aid manual I keep in my boats first aid kit.

The list price of First Aid Afloat, by Sandra Roberts, is $26.95, but I bought it from Amazon.Com for $17.95.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, December 12, 2010, the Third Sunday of Advent (Year A)

Posted each Thursday, Lectionary Ruminations focuses on the Scripture Readings, taken from the New Revised Standard Version, for the following Sunday per the Revised Common Lectionary. Comments and questions are intended to encourage reflection for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged. All lectionary links are to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead. (Other references are linked to the NRSV via the oremus Bible Browser.)


Isaiah 35:1-10
vs. 1-2 We see more of Isaiah this week, the third week in a row the First Reading has come to us from this prophet. What is the connection between the health and productivity of the land and the well-being of the people of Israel?

v. 3 This verse signals a shift from the land to people.

v. 4 In Isaiah’s context, who were those with a fearful heart? Who has a fearful heart in our context?

vs. 5-7 Here is another shift, this time from people back to the land, where we started. In the case of humans, disabilities are overcome. In the case of the land, situations are reversed.

v. 8 I find it amazing that Isaiah envisions a “highway”. Where does this highway lead? What does it connect?

vs. 9-10 This is not quite a vision of the peaceable kingdom, but sure is close. It almost seems like a vision of paradise, or heaven.

Psalm 146:5-10
v. 5 In the context of this psalm and the Psalter, what does it mean to be “Happy”. Is this the same “happiness” enumerated in the Declaration of Independence? How are “help” and “hope” related?

v. 6 What does it mean to “keep faith”?

vs. 7-9 Is this an expression of the Bible’s preferential option for the poor and oppressed? How shall we Americans read and interpret this in light of our current national political debate?

Luke 1:47-55
v. 47 “Magnificat”

v. 48 Mary’s sentiment seems to reflect the same outlook as expressed in the other optional Psalm, 146:5-10

v. 49 Is there any significance to the use of “the Mighty One”?

v. 46-55 Mary’s psalm of praise, apparently following the template of Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 2:1-10, seems to move from the particular in verses 47-49 to the universal in verses 50-55. What shall we learn from the theological and doxological trajectory of Mary’s song?

James 5:7-10
vs. 7-8 This reads like an admonition to patiently wait even in the midst of apparently dashed expectations. How near is near?

v. 9 Would anyone like to speculate what people were grumbling about?

v. 10 Do suffering and patience necessarily go together? When might we be called NOT to be patient in the midst of suffering?

Matthew 11:2-11
v. 2 Note that even though he was in prison, he was hearing “what the Messiah was doing.” Also note that John had his own disciples and was apparently able to communicate with them.

v. 3 I know that this Sunday our Reading comes from Matthew rather than Luke, nevertheless, this verse seems out of place in light of last week’s Gospel reading which suggested that John knew Jesus was the Messiah. Am I reading more into last week’s reading than was there?

v. 5 This is the verse that seems to connect this Reading with the First Reading.

v. 6 How does this verse relate to verse 5?

v. 7-11 This Advent, more than ever before, I am becoming increasingly convinced that there was (and is) a theological, spiritual, and political connection between Jesus and John that is not fully expressed or explored in the Gospels, but is certainly hinted at. Other than Jesus and John, is there anyone in the New Testament portrayed as the fulfillment of prophecy?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, December 5, 2010, the Second Sunday of Advent (Year A)

Posted each Thursday, Lectionary Ruminations focuses on the Scripture Readings, taken from the New Revised Standard Version, for the following Sunday per the Revised Common Lectionary. Comments and questions are intended to encourage reflection for readers preparing to teach, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged. All lectionary links are to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible via the PC(USA) Devotions and Readings website, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead. (Other references are linked to the NRSV via the oremus Bible Browser.)


Isaiah 11:1-10
v.1 Note that in the NRSV this text is formatted as poetry, not prose. Does this affect how we interpret it? This verse is a good example of parallelism as a feature of Hebrew Poetry.

v. 2 Does this verse imply that the spirit of the LORD is the spirit of wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, and knowledge and fear of the LORD.

v. 4 Does this verse express a prejudice toward/for the poor and meek? Note the power of voice/word.

v. 5 Does “righteousness” equal “faithfulness”?

v. 6 Images of the “peaceable kingdom”. What is a fatling?

v. 8 Is there any significance to “asps” and “adders”?

v. 8 What is “knowledge of the LORD”?

v. 10 What does it mean for anyone to “stand as a signal”?

Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
v. 2 Echoes of Isaiah 11:4?

v. 4 More preference for the poor, needy and oppressed. Who is the “He”?

v. 18 What are the “wondrous things” the LORD does?

Why do you think this Psalm, out of all ofthem, was chosen to pair with the Isaiah Reading?

Romans 15:4-13
v. 4 When were “the former days”? What writings are included in and meant by “the Scriptures”?

v. 6 I hear echoes of Psalm 72:19.

v. 7 How did Christ welcome us?

v. 8 Did Christ welcome us as “a servant”?

v. 9 What is being quoted in this verse and in the following verses?

v. 12 Is this a quote of Isaiah 11:1?

v.13 A verse often used liturgically as a blessing/benediction.

Matthew 3:1-12
v. 1 When were “those days”? I prefer to refer to “John the Baptizer” rather than “John the Baptist”.

v.2 Note that John proclaims “the kingdom of heaven has come near”, not will or is coming near. What is “the kingdom of heaven” and what does it mean that it “has come near”?

v. 3 Where in Isaiah would you find this quote?

v. 4 What is the significance of john’s wardrobe?

v.5 It sounds like John’s preaching station was a popular destination.

v. 6 How do we reconcile John’s act of baptizing with later Christian understandings of the sacrament?

v.7 Are you surprised that “many Pharisees and Sadducees” were coming to John for baptism? Could John’s invective perhaps be more a reflection of Matthew’s perspective than John’s?

v.8 Good advice, regardless of who is being addressed.

v.9 How do we reconcile this verse with Romans 15:8? I recall that both John and Jesus had some interesting things to say about stones.

v.10 Note that “ax” is singular while “trees” is plural. What is the metaphorical fire?

vs.8-10 Is John still talking to only the Pharisees and Sadducees?

v.11 What is the difference between water on the one hand and the Holy Spirit and fire on the other hand? In light of this verse, what reasons can you think of to explain why Christians still baptize with water?

v. 12 What is a winnowing fork? What is it used for? What is a threshing floor? What is chaff? Does the imagery of this verse in any way follow the imagery of verse 8 and verse 10? Does the imagery of verse 8 and 10 foreshadow this verse?

vs. 11-12 while in verse 2 we learn that “the kingdom of heaven has come near”, in this verse we shift to the present and future tense: one is coming, He will baptize, he will clear, he will gather, he will burn.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

About the December 2010 Header Photo

This month's header photo is a recent one, less than a week old. I shot this looking south from Bear Hill in the Bear Hill Nature Preserve, Ulster, Co., NY, the morning of Thanksgiving.
Hiking around the southern Shawangunks has become sort of a Thanksgiving tradition the past couple of years, and this year was no exception. Since I do not get to the mountains as much as I would like, these Thanksgiving hikes have provided me with several "summit" photos that I have used for headers.

1,950 feet above sea level is barely worth claiming as a summit, even by eastern standards, but when one lives near sea level, it sometimes has to do.