Thursday, April 28, 2011

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, May 1, 2011, the Second Sunday of Easter (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.)


Acts 2:14a, 22-32
v. 14a Whom is Peter addressing?

v. 22 Are “deeds of power”, “wonders” and “signs” synonyms?

v. 23 “Definite plan and foreknowledge” – This does not sound like the same Peter portrayed in the Gospels

vs. 25-29 Where does David say this? How would you grade Peter’s interpretation of David’s words?

v. 30 Since when has David been considered a prophet?

v. 32 Is Peter arguing for the resurrection, or something else?

Psalm 16:1-11
v. 3 Who are “the holy ones in the land”?

v. 4 Whom is the Psalmist referring to?

v. 5 What is a “chosen portion”?

v. 6 I find this an interesting verse in light of the recent political history of the Middle East, especially regarding borders

v. 7 How does the heart instruct during the night? Is this a reference to dreams?

v. 10 What is the Pit” being referred to?

Why does the Psalmist seem to alternate between direct address to God and speaking of God in the third person?

1 Peter 1:3-9
v. 4 Is this “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” inheritance being implicitly compared to any other inheritance?

v. 5 What does this verse say about Peter’s eschatology?

v. 6 what trials is Peter referring to?

v. 8 Is this verse evidence that Peter is writing to perhaps second generation Christians?

John 20:19-31
v.19 This reading might be for the First Sunday After Easter, but the narrative is from the events of Easter day. What is the significance of Jesus’ words?

v. 20 Did the disciples not recognize Jesus until after he showed them his wounds?

v. 21 How did the Father send Jesus?

v. 22 Did the disciples receive the Holy Spirit? If so, was it Jesus words or his breathing on them, or both, that allowed them to receive it?

v. 23 How shall we protestants deal with this verse?

v. 25 Would Thomas have said this if it were not for what is described in verse 20?

v. 26 Now we are dealing with events on the same schedules as we are, a week after Easter.

v. 27 Jesus invites Thomas to touch his wounds, but does Thomas do so? Was just being invited to do so enough to ignite Thomas’ belief?

v. 29 Whom is this verse referring to when it speaks of “those who have not seen and yet come to believe”?

v. 30 I wonder what “other signs” are being thought of. I think there is a novel or two waiting to be inspired by this verse. Perhaps Dan Brown will take up the challenge. I find it interesting that this Gospel refers to itself as a “book”.

v. 31 Who is the “you” being addressed?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Escaping the Urban Environment in Jamaica Bay

Kayaking in Jamaica Bay
I have been enjoying Jamaica Bay since the spring of 2008. This will be the fourth summer I will paddle a kayak in its waters and the second summer to sail in its waters. Over the past three years, there have been times when, under precise conditions and in the right locations, I have forgotten that I was paddling or sailing in New York City. There are places in the Bay where it seems that not a building is within sight. When jets landing and taking off from JFK are not flying over the Bay, whether I am in a kayak or a sailboat, I can imagine that I am in a vast wilderness area, surrounded by nothing but water, marshes, islands, and birds.

Thanks to my paddling friend Bonnie, I recently learned that the Gateway National Recreation Area, of which Jamaica Bay is a part, tops National Geographics list of Top Ten Urban Escapes. And no wonder. I have escaped the urban environment while on Jamaica Bay too many times to remember.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, April 24, 2011, the Resurrection of the Lord (Easter Day) (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.)


Hallelujah. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

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. Even though there are six passages, I will focus only on four.

Acts 10:34-43
v. 34 What is the context of this passage? What would it mean if God did show partiality?

v. 35 What do you think it means to “fear” God?

vs. 36-39 This reads like a brief synopsis of the life and ministry of Jesus.

v. 40 The Easter Proclamation! How do you understand “allowed”?

v. 41 What is the significance of eating and drinking with the resurrected Christ?

v.42 What is the difference, if any, between preaching and testifying?

v. 43 What “prophets” is Peter referring to?

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
vs. 1-2 A call and response.

v. 14 How shall Christians read “salvation” in the Hebrew Scriptures?

vs. 15-16 Is the Psalmist quoting a glad song of victory?

v. 17 How do we recount the deeds of the LORD? What are the deeds of the LORD?

v. 18 What do you thin was the nature of the Psalmist’s punishment?

v. 19 What are, and where are, the gates of righteousness?

v. 20 I would love to know how you interpret this verse in light of verse 19.

v. 21 A shift from speaking of God in the third person to speaking to God in the second person.

v. 22 Where will Christians hear this again?

v. 23 What is the LORD’sdoing?

v. 24 What is the day the LORD has made? How can we be glad in it?

Colossians 3:1-4
v. 1 An “if/then” statement even though the “then” implicit. What are the things that are above?

v. 2 Does it make any difference that the admonition refers to the mind rather than the heart?

v. 3 What does it that your life is hidden?

v. 4 I thought Christ has already been revealed in the life and ministry of Jesus. Must this, by necessity, refer to the parousia or to the final resurrection?

John 20:1-18
v. 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?

v. 2 Let’s speculate about the identity of the other disciple, the on 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”? Was she not alone?

v. 4 Peter, the slowpoke, quick to speak, slow to run.

v. 5 Why not go in?

v. 6 Peter might be slow, but he is not hesitant.

v. 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”.

v. 9 But based on this verse, what did the “other disciple” believe? That someone (they of verse 2) has taken the Lord out of the tomb?

vs. 10-11 Am anticlimactic verse. Then again, where else could the disciples have gone? Why did they abandon Mary, leaving her all alone? Were they simply typical men?

v. 12 How shall we moderns, or post-moderns, deal with angels when we encounter them in Scripture?

v. 14 How could, and why would, Mary not recognize Jesus?

v. 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.

v. 16 Jesus address Mary by name rather than by “woman” and she calls him Rabbouni rather than “gardener”.

v. 17 Why would Jesus say this? What do we make of Jesus talk about not yet having ascended? What is the meaning of “brothers”? Why “I am ascending” rather than “I will ascend”?

v. 18 Does this make Mary the first post resurrection witness? Preacher? Perhaps, in recognition of the role played by Mary, the first words of any Easter liturgy ought to be spoken by a woman!

ADDENDUM
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 any deep structure. John has been highly structured and symbolic throughout. Why change at the resurrection account?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, April 17, 2011, Palm Sunday (Passion Sunday) (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.)

For those who chose to observe the bifocal nature of this Sunday, there are six appointed Scripture Readings rather than four, and for one of the Readings there is a shorter (relatively speaking) alternative. I will focus on the shorter option.

Matthew 21:1-11
v. 2 Must we have BOTH a donkey and a colt?

v. 5 What prophet is quoted and why does it appear that the author of Matthew does not understand Hebrew poetry?

v. 8 Was it palm branches that were cut?

v. 9 Where have we (and those in the crowd) heard this before?

v. 10 Is this not the question we seek to answer?

v. 11 Is this a satisfactory answer to the above question?

Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
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 Psalm 116 verse 26. 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 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.

Note the refrain of verses 1 in verses 29.

How does this Psalm influence our interpretation of Matthew 21:1-11 and vice versa? How does this Psalm influence our view of Jesus?

Isaiah 50:4-9a
It seems that verses 6-9 are why this passage was chosen for this Sunday, but what about verses 4-5? I usually think of the teacher’s role being to educate, not “sustaining the weary with a word.”

Not only has the Psalmist been given the tongue of a teacher, the Psalmist’s ear has also been wakened to “listen as those who are taught.” Are the best teachers the teachers who are also students? By corollary, are the best preachers those who are also preached to? Are the best worship leaders those who also are led in worship?

Psalm 31:9-16
A prayer for deliverance from personal enemies is an obvious choice for the liturgy of the passion. We can almost 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. Nevertheless the Psalm, in the end, expresses prayerful trust.

Philippians 2:5-11
v. 8 recalls the passion while

v. 9 recalls the resurrection

v. 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.

Matthew 27:11-54 (The shorter Reading)
(The longer reading is Matthew 26:14-27:66. While I usually think any reading of Scripture calls for interpretation through some form of proclamation, this may be one Sunday where Scripture, without interpretation, can stand alone. Rarely do we have the opportunity to hear read in one service the entire Passion narrative. With a little effort, this reading could be presented as a dramatic reading with members of the congregation reading various parts.)

vs. 11-14 Why would Jesus not answer these charges?

v. 15-23 It it mere coincidence that both prisoners were named Jesus?

v. 18 What do you make of this “jealousy”?

v. 19 Another example of a truth telling woman.

v. 24 This hand washing is perhaps what Pilate is most remembered for.

v. 25 How shall we deal with this verse that could be interpreted as being anti-Semitic?

vs. 27-31 Biblical material for Mel Gibson.

v. 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.

v. 34 Why would Jesus not drink?

vs. 38-44 Was there anyone who did not deride, mock, or otherwise taunt Jesus?

v. 45 Is it in anyway significant that the darkness lasted three hours?

v. 46 Is Jesus by any chance quoting something? What does he quote?

v. 51 What is the symbolism of the torn curtain?

v. 52 Saints?

v. 54 Truth not from the disciples, not from a woman, not from any of the Jews, but from Roman soldiers.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, April 10, 2011, the Fifth Sunday in Lent (Year A)

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


Ezekiel 37:1-14
v. 1 What does it mean for “the hand of the LORD” to come upon a person, like it “came upon” Ezekiel. Has the handoff the LORD ever come upon you or upon someone you know? 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.

v. 3 Is there any significance that Ezekiel is addressed by the LORD as “Mortal” rather than by name? Does the LORD ask a rhetorical question? I think the “mortal” passes the buck with his answer.

vs. 5-6 What linguistic and theological moves are being made by connecting breath with life?

v. 8 Oh no! No breath!

v. 9 What do you know about the four winds? Personally, I cannot read this passage without thinking of Native American spirituality.

v. 11 Oh, so these were not bones at all, but a living nation feeling dried up, proof positive that this is a vision.

v. 12 Is this verse about a physical resurrection or a spiritual resurrection.

v. 14 IMHO, this is a verse that many aging congregations and congregations of the aging, often feeling “very dry” and completely cut off, need to hear and reflect upon. Are they willing, REALLY willing, to have the LORD put the spirit within them?

Psalm 130
This, and Psalm 121, are my favorite Psalms. Along with the 23rd Psalm, Psalm121and 130 were the first three Psalms I committed to memory.

v. 1 What sort of images rise to the surface in your mind 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 think of one form of depression or another?

v. 2 When we implore the LORD to hear our voice, is it really to catch God’s attention or to focus our own?

v. 3 So, does the LORD mark iniquities, or not?

v. 4 Forgiveness, and Grace! I like the translation “revere” as I think the KJV and RSV was “feared,” suggesting a wrathful, rather than an awesome, God.

v. 5 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. I am thinking of the contemplative tradition here, as well as centering prayer.

v. 6 Is there something more going on here than 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?

v. 7 Note the shift from the first person biographical to the direct address admonition. What is “steadfast” love? What is “great power to redeem”?

v. 8 In other words, wait for no one or nothing else. Place your hope in no other person or no other thing.

Romans 8:6-11
v. 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”? Must we read this as a dichotomy? Does it make any difference that Paul was writing before Descartes and we are reading after Descartes’ mind/body split?

v. 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?

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

John 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?

v. 3 I dare you to unpack this verse! In light of verse 5,, however, maybe the dare is not worth it.

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

v. 6 Why the two day wait?

vs.9-10 Is there a hint of Gnosticism here?

vs.11-14 Was Jesus simply using a euphemism for death, or is there something else going on here?

v. 16 Thomas does not seem to doubt his resolve to follow Jesus to his death.

v. 17 What is the significance of four days?

v. 20 A typical Martha/Mary response?

v. 21 Way to place the blame, Martha.

v. 23 Again?

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

v. 25 One of Jesus’ ”I am” sayings. Where do we find the others and what are they?

v. 27 This reads, and sounds, like an early Christian confession of Faith.

v. 28 I did not hear Jesus calling for Mary, did you?

v. 32 Mary joins the blame game. At least the sisters agree on something.

v. 33 Why would seeing tears disturb and move Jesus in a way he had not yet been moved and disturbed?

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

v. 35 And what do we know about this verse?

v. 37 More than a rhetorical question?

v. 38 déàja vu or foreshadowing?

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

v.44 How did Lazarus come out if his feet were bound with strips of cloth? How did heseewhere 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.

ADDENDUM
There are many connections among all four readings, perhaps too many. Countless sermons can be preached and lessons taught on any one of these texts, or any permutation of them, that the preacher/teacher might feel over whelmed. Add to this the fact that this is the Sunday before Palm/Passion Sunday. Thus, we seem to have a perfect storm of homiletical and educational responsibilities.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Ruminations from a WyzAnt Tutor

Me, wearing my Doctor's (D.Min) Academic Hood
I only recently learned about the WyzAnt Searchable Database of Tutors Nation Wide and my WyzAnt account went active less than a month and a half ago. Since then I have secured two students. I have tutored three times for a total of five and a quarter hours, earning a little extra income. More importantly, I have already made a positive contribution to the lives and academic success of my students. Although I am certified in twenty subjects, I am currently tutoring my students, a seventh grader and a ninth grader, in Math. Eventually, I will also tutor the seventh grader in English and Chess.

I am restricting myself to students within a mile or so walking distance of my home in Ridgewood, NY, a neighborhood of the New York City Borough of Queens, in order to avoid transportation costs. This limits the number of students I can tutor but allows me to keep more of the tutoring fees I earn. While I would like to add another student or two, for now, I am happy with just the two I am working with.

Both of my students are above average. They live in good, stable homes. They need a little more individualized attention than they receive in public school, however. I am tutoring each one between ninety minutes to two hours, once a week or every other week, depending on our schedules.

The families of these students and I would not have connected without WyzAnt, and so far I am very happy with the service and support WyzAnt provides. I appreciate that there were no upfront costs. Other than the optional background check, which I paid for, I was able to begin tutoring with no financial investment or commitment. Being assured that clients have their payment information of file before I show up to tutor means that I enjoy the peace of mind of knowing I will receive payment for the tutoring I provide. Handling all initial email contacts through the WyzAnt site guarantees a certain amount of protection and anonymity up until tutoring actually begins. The direct deposit option means I do not worry about my checks being lost in the mail.

While I found some of the certification tests a bit simple, especially so in my strong areas, I also realize that one does not have to be a rocket scientist to help a teenager with their math homework or preparing for the New York State Regents Exams. Anyone with a few years of college, and especially an advanced degree or two, will certainly think the certification tests are easy. On the other hand, the tests do serve to weed out any potential tutors who have no knowledge of the subjects they desire to tutor.

I have already recommended WyzAnt to some of my colleagues looking for part-time work and income. I have posted WyzAnt Posters with my personalized code, available from WyzAnt, around the neighborhood. I have also distributed WyzAnt business cards, also with my personalized code and available from WyzAnt, to my students so they can distribute them to their classmates.

I look forward to finding more students, tutoring more subjects, earning more extra income, and,mostof all, making a positive contribution to the lives and academic success of more students, thanks to WyzAnt.

Any tutoring I do through WyzAnt is independent of tutoring opportunities I find through other means.  So, if you or your child would like some indivualized tutoring in the privacy and convienance of your home, you  may respond to this post or sendme an email rather than going through the WyzAnt site.  Although I currently limit my WyzAnt tutoring to Ridgewood, I am willing to travel any reasonable distance accessable by subway or bus.  My current fee is $45/hr for a minimum of a one hour session, additional time available in 15 minute increments, for up to a three hour tutoring session.  I give a $5/hr discount to clients within a thrity minute walk of my home.

Monday, April 4, 2011

About the April 2011 Header Photo

This April 2011 Header Photo (scan of a print), posted four days late, features our third dog, Hermes (2005-2008), poised atop a rock and overlooking West Virginia’s Dolly Sods Wilderness, at an elevation of over 4,500 feet along the Alleghany Front.  Dolly Sods is a Wilderness Area in the Monongahela National Forest and one of my favorite hiking and backpacking areas. My excursions there have ranged from day hikes to weeklong backpacking trips.  It is only one of only three places I have ever seen a bear.  Hermes was with me when I saw it.