Thursday, November 24, 2011

Lectionary Ruminations for for Sunday, November 27, 2011, the First Sunday of Advent (Year B)

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 may be linked to the NRSV via the oremus Bible Browser.)

Isaiah 64:1-9
v. 1-9 In the NRSV this Reading is formatted as poetry rather than prose.

v. 1 Why is the tearing open of the heavens associated with the coming down of God?

v. 2 Both images seem to suggest something happening quickly; not instantaneously but not slowly.

v. 3 Hey God, remember when?

v. 4 So there ARE other gods, but gods who do not work for those wait for them?

v. 5 I find the order interesting. Did we sin because God was angry? Did wetransgress because God hid from us?

v. 6 I like the leaf imagery followed by the wind imagery, the wind blowing fallen dry leaves here and there.

v. 7 So it is God’s fault that no one calls on the divine name because God has hidden the divine face from us?

v. 8 Yet? From an early church perspective, God’s work is not done until is is fired by the Holy Spirit.

v. 9 You can be a little angry, God, but please, do not be exceedingly angry. You can remember my iniquity for a little while, but please, not forever. Do not be too hard on us, God, after all, we are your people.

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
v. 1 An interesting first verse in light of last week’s Readings. What are cherubim and where would you find them?

v. 2 Who are Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh and why are they mentioned when no one else is mentioned except Joseph?

v. 3 What does God’s shining face represent?

v. 4 Is God angry with people’s prayers rather than the people who pray those prayers?

v. 5 is this Anti-Eucharistic imagery?

v. 7 I think I am hearing a refrain.

v. 17 Who is at God’s right hand?

v. 18 Is this a quid pro quo?

v. 19 Is this déjà vu all over again.

1 Corinthians 1:3-9
v. 3 This is always a good way to begin a letter.

v. 5 What does it mean to be enriched in speech and knowledge?

v. 7 What does it mean to lack in a spiritual gift? What is Paul referring to when he writes about “the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ?”

v.9 Here is a good Reformed word – “called”.

Mark 13:24-37
v. 24 It takes only the first four words to make this reading sound apocalyptic.

v. 25 This verse always reminds me of a passage in C. S. Lewis’ “The Last Battle” in the Chronicles of Narnia.

v. 26 What is it about clouds?

v. 27 How many times does Scripture mention the four winds? The mention of “the four winds” reminds me of Native American and Pagan spirituality.

v. 28 I find this verse enhanced by personally experiencing the need to pick and eat figs soon after they are ripe because they will not stay ripe very long before they will spoil on the branch.

v. 30 How do we interpret this verse about 50 generations later?

v. 34 What does it mean to be spiritually awake?

ADDENDUM
This Sunday is the First Sunday in Advent and the first Sunday in Liturgical Year B – the year of Mark’s Gospel.

In addition to serving as the half time Pastor of North Church Queens and writing Lectionary Ruminations, I also tutor part time. If you or someone you know needs a tutor, or if you would like to be a tutor, check out my WyzAnt page and follow the appropriate links.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

One Fat Sheep and Ninety-nine Lean Sheep - A Sermon

“One Fat Sheep and Ninety-nine Lean Sheep”
A Sermon based on Ezekiel 34:11-16,20-24 and Matthew 25:31-46
By The Reverend John Edward Harris, D. Min.
North Church Queens
Flushing, NY
November 20, 2011
Christ the King Year A

This morning, through the prophet Ezekiel, we have once again encountered a familiar biblical metaphor, one that speaks of God as a shepherd. For Ezekiel, if God was a shepherd, then the people of Israel scattered throughout the Middle East after the fall and destruction of Jerusalem in 597, were God’s scattered sheep.

Following Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Jerusalem in 597, Nebuchadnezzar installed Zedekiah as King of Judah. However, Zedekiah revolted against Babylon and entered into an alliance with Pharaoh. Nebuchadnezzar responded by invading Judah and began another siege of Jerusalem in January 589 BC.

In 587 BC, the eleventh year of Zedekiah's reign, Nebuchadnezzar’s army broke through Jerusalem's walls, conquering the city. Jerusalem was plundered and Solomon’s Temple was destroyed. The city was razed to the ground. Most of Jerusalem’s brightest, best and most talented were taken into captivity in Babylon. Only a small number of Jews were permitted to remain, left behind to tend to the land. Those Jews Jews who had not been taken into Babylonian captivity and could escape dispersed throughout the Middle East, becoming, metaphorically, God’s lost sheep.

Through Ezekiel, God promises to rescue and gather the lost sheep and to feed them with good pasture. God promises to nurse back to health any sheep that was injured. God promises to strengthen any sheep that was weak. Hearing, through the prophet Ezekiel, the prophet to the exiles, that God would seek out these lost sheep, these dispersed Jews, rescuing them from the places to which they had been dispersed, bringing them back into their own land, the Land of Israel, the land of milk and honey, would be good news if you were a Jews of the Diaspora.

However, there is also some bad news contained in Ezekiel’s prophecy. God also promises to destroy the fat and strong sheep, feeding them not with rich pastures, but with justice. Through Ezekiel, God promises to judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep, claiming that the fat sheep have pushed with the flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with their horns until they scattered the weak sheep far and wide.

Just as we might ask what came first, the chicken or the egg, we might wonder if the weak sheep are week because they are lean, or if they are lean because they are week. On the one hand, the weak sheep are lean because the strong sheep have pushed and butted them around, preventing them from grazing in the best pastures, where they could eat their fill and no longer be lean. On the other hand, the lean sheep are weak because the strong sheep have pushed and butted them around, preventing them from grazing in the best pastures where they could eat their fill and grow stronger. While the weak sheep grow weaker and the lean sheep grow leaner, the strong sheep grow stronger and the fat sheep grow fatter because they have kept the best pastures for themselves.

Some scholars indentify the fat sheep as the nations, which, at that time, oppressed Israel, particularly Babylon. One could also interpret the fat sheep as the leaders of Israel who grew fat while the city was being besieged, the leaders of Israel whose failed foreign policy led to the city’s destruction.

Fast forward about six hundred years and we hear Jesus talking about himself as if he were a King, sitting on a throne, judging between the nations, separating people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the … goats. It might surprise us that Jesus talks about sheep and goats when Ezekiel mentioned only fat, strong sheep and weak, lean sheep, except Ezekiel did not mention only sheep. In verses 17-19, verses we did not read this morning, Ezekiel also writes about God judging between “sheep and sheep, between rams and goats.” Therefore, Jesus was well within the prophetic tradition of Ezekiel, and may very well have had Ezekiel’s prophecy in mind, when he to talked about judging between the nations, metaphorically referring to them as sheep and goats. Sheep and goats, after all, are closely related. They are in the same subfamily but in are separate species.

According to Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus will judge between the sheep and the goats not based on how they appear, fat or lean, strong or weak, but how they act. The sheep who fed the hungry, the sheep who gave drink to the thirsty, the sheep who welcomed the stranger, the sheep who clothed the naked, the sheep who cared for the sick, the sheep who visited the imprisoned, will be judged righteous and will inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world. They will enjoy eternal life.

On the other hand, the sheep who did not give food to the hungry, the sheep who did not give drink to the thirsty, the sheep who did not welcome the stranger, the sheep who did not clothe the naked, the sheep who did not care for the sick, and the sheep who did not visit the imprisoned, will be judged accursed, finding themselves not in the kingdom prepared for them since the beginning of time but in the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. They will suffer eternal punishment.

Now, fast-forward another 2,000 years. These are not the days of Ezekiel. Neither our city, nor our nation, is besieged by a foreign power. Instead, we are besieged by the threat of another recession, and the growing economic disparity between the rich and the poor, a disparity that is reaching proportions not seen since just before the great Depression.

Economists not only tell us that the income gap between the rich and poor in our nation is growing increasingly wider, but that the middle class, the backbone of American prosperity, is shrinking. Economists also tell us that the latest generation of Americans will be the first generation in our country’s history to enjoy a lower standard of living than enjoyed by their parents. Meanwhile, as Congress and its Super Committee cannot reach a compromise on a national budget, they have apparently determined at least one matter of national importance, that when it comes to school lunches, frozen pizza is indeed a vegetable. The United States Congress, just this past week, voted to rebuke new USDA guidelines for school lunches that would have increased the amount of fresh fruit and vegetables in school cafeterias and instead declared that the tomato paste on frozen pizza qualified it as a vegetable.

It is no wonder that hundreds, if not thousands of Occupy Wall Street protestors, prevented from actually occupying Wall Street, have instead occupied Zuccotti Park and numerous other public areas across the country in our major cities. The weak and lean sheep have grown weary of the fat and strong sheep pushing and butting them around and, as of yet, have not found any other or more constructive forum and way to express the frustration and outrage.

No, these are not the days of Ezekiel. These are not the days of Jesus. But I am convinced that if these were the days of Jesus that he would be camped out in Zuccotti park rather than roaming the halls of Congress or the trading floors of Wall Street. I think Jesus would be appalled that politicians who claim that this is a Christian Nation are proposing a national budget that would make the weak and lean sheep even leaner and weaker while enabling the fat and strong sheep to grow even stronger and fatter. A nation that fails to care for its hungry, its thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the prisoner, not to mention its homeless, its aging, and its veterans, has no right to call itself or consider itself a Christian nation, or even a just and good nation!

Earlier in Matthew 18:12-14, we hear Jesus say “What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.” From a Christian ethical perspective, we might say, in our context that it is the wealthiest one percent of American sheep that has gone astray. As the wealthiest one percent has gone astray, they have left the other ninety-nine percent behind.

In our current economic, political and social context, “The One Percent” was at first a 2006 documentary about the growing wealth gap between America’s wealthy elite compared to the overall citizenry. The film's title refers to the top one percent of Americans in terms of wealth, who controlled 42.2 percent of total financial wealth in 2004. More recently, the Ninety-nine percent has become the self identifying rallying cry of the unemployed, under-employed, college graduates with thousands of dollars of student loan debts but who cannot find a job to help them pay off their debt because there are no jobs, former home owners who have had their mortgages foreclosed, and the millions of Americans without access to health care, who are demonstrating against the concentration of wealth by the top 1%

Who are the 1%. Based on 2009 tax year filing data, the Internal Revenue Service says an adjusted gross income of $343,927 or more will put you in the top 1 percent of taxpayers. I doubt if many, or any, of us worshiping here this morning would qualify. Yet, “Roughly 11% of Congress have net worth of more than $9million, according to a USA TODAY analysis of 2010 financial disclosures complied by the center for Responsive Politics. That is enough to put them in the top 1% of wealth. Congress also has 250 millionaires, the data shows. The median net worth: $891,506, almost nine times the typical household.” No wonder Congress is doing nothing. They can afford to do nothing. Follows of Christ, however, must do something.

I am not alone in thinking that if Jesus were here today, we would find him in Zuccotti Park. We probably would also find there John Calvin. According to Setri Nyomi, the General Secretary of the World Communion of Reformed Churches, “The cause of demonstrators involved in the “Occupy Wall Street” movement would have been supported by John Calvin, the 16th century church reformer who helped shape modern-day Protestantism” In a lecture he delivered this past Tuesday at Princeton Theological Seminary, he said “I am sure [Calvin] would have been in the streets of New York or London with a placard. ” After all, Calvin wrote extensively about social and economic justice, almost as much as he did about theology. Calvin cared as much about Geneva having a working sewer system for all who lived there as he cared about the salvation of all who lived there. According to Nyomi, “Calvin expressed opposition to all forms of social oppression resulting from money.” Nyomi believes Calvin’s words resonate with life today. “The church of the 21st century needs to align itself with voices of justice … even if it means being out there in the streets,” he writes.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, November 20, 2011, Christ the King (Reign of Christ) 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 may be linked to the NRSV via the oremus Bible Browser.)

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
v. 11 How did God lose these sheep in the first place?

v. 13 How can one not read this and be a Zionist?

v. 16 God will search out and rescue the 99% while punishing the 1%?

v. 20 I think it is time for me to eat less, exercise more, and drop a few pounds.

vs. 23-24 David, King of the 99%!

Psalm 100:1-5
v. 2 If we are to worship God with gladness, why do so many worship services feel like a funeral and so many worshipers act like they are mourners?

v. 3 How many people in the pew understand the nuance of “LORD” and “God”? Does this verse justify this Psalm being paired with the Ezekiel Reading?

Ephesians 1:15-23
v. 15 How might Paul have heard of the Ephesians faith?

v. 17 What is “a spirit of wisdom and revelation”?

vs. 18-19 I love these phrases: the riches of his glorious inheritance, the immeasurable greatness of his power.

vs. 20-21 Yes, this Sunday is Christ the King.

Matthew 25:31-46
v. 31 How much do we need to know about the theologically loaded title “Son of Man” to responsibly interpret this passage? Does the mention of a throne justify this being the Gospel Reading for Christ the King?

vs. 32-33 The Gospel’s “sheep and goats” juxtaposed with the “sheep and sheep” of the Ezekiel Read seems to offer us a mixed, or confused, metaphor.

vs. 35-45 How do members of the Tea Party and the 1% read these verses.

v. 46 Must there be eternal punishment?

ADDENDUM
The conclusion of another lectionary cycle brings us to Christ the King. Do these Readings say anything new to us in 2011 that they did not say in 2008? Does the emergence of both the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street movement, not to mention the fact that we are already into the campaign cycle of the next Presidential election, influence how we interpret these Readings?

In addition to serving as the half time Pastor of North Church Queens and writing Lectionary Ruminations, I also tutor part time. If you or someone you know needs a tutor, or if you would like to be a tutor, check out my WyzAnt page and follow the appropriate links.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, November 13, 2011, the Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (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 may be linked to the NRSV via the oremus Bible Browser.)

Judges 4:1-7
v. 1 Here we go again. This is beginning to remind me of déjà vu all over again. How many times did the Israelites do what was evil in the sight of the LORD? How many times do we?

v. 3 This is beginning to sound like a broken record. How many times do we cry out to the LORD, asking the LORD to get us out of trouble we have gotten ourselves into?

v. 4 What blasphemy, a female prophet! With regard to male prophets, how often are we told who their wife was?

v. 5 Do you think the Palm of Deborah was known by that name in Deborah’s day?

v. 6 How dare Deborah speak for God!

Psalm 123:1-4
v. 1 I though God was enthroned on the cherubim. Are the cherubim in heaven or in the Temple?

v. 2 So God is a master and maid while we are servants and mistresses. While the Israelites in the Judges passage cry to the LORD, the psalmist simply looks to the LORD. Maybe those eyes were sad, droopy puppy dog eyes that the LORD simply could not resist.

vs.3-4 Are the main complaints contempt and scorn?

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
v. 1 What times and seasons? If nothing needs to be written to the Thessalonians about times and seasons, then why does Paul bring it up?

v. 2 Is this an example of chiastic structure: “day lord / thief night”?

v. 3 Since I am of the male persuasion, I chose not to comment on this verse. If there is anyone of the female persuasion out there who would like to comment, please do so.

vs. 4-5 There is a lot of “light” and “darkness” to keep track of. Beware of racial stereotypes.

v. 6 Since the overriding metaphor is staying awake, why does Paul add “sober”?

v. 8 Does the breastplate of faith and love, and the helmet of salvation, change the metaphor? Note that a breastplate and a helmet are entirely defensive rather than offensive.

v. 10 Is Paul using “sleep” to mean more than one thing?

Matthew 25:14-30
v. 14 “It is as if” make this what? What is “it”?

v. 15 What is a talent? Ability to do what?

v. 18 What were the abilities of the first and second slaves? What was the ability of the third slave?

v. 21 What does it mean to enter into the joy of the master?

v. 24 Maybe the third slave said too much in addition to not doubling the talent.

v. 27 If we take this too literally, it begins to break down seems illogical.

vs. 28-29 I think I will not read these verses aloud anytime soon in Zuccotti Park.

v. 30 Have we heard anything like this before? Where?

ADDENDUM
In addition to serving as the half time Pastor of North Church Queens and writing Lectionary Ruminations, I also tutor part time. If you or someone you know needs a tutor, or if you would like to be a tutor, check out my WyzAnt page and follow the appropriate links.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Lectionary Ruminations for Sunday, November 6, 2011, the Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (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 may be linked to the NRSV via the oremus Bible Browser.)

Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25
v. 1 What do you know about Shechem? The listing of “elders, heads, judges, and the officers” suggests a rather organized society, just forty years after the Exodus.

v. 2 Why does Joshua point back one generation to Terah rather than to Abraham?

v. 14 What is this talk about putting away other gods all about?

v. 15 Three choices: Serve the gods our ancestors worshiped before God called Abraham, serve thelocal gods of the Amorites, or serve the LORD.

vs. 14-18 Is this about monotheism, or about recognizing that of all the gods, only one, the LORD, is the one who has saved us?

v. 19 “You cannot serve theLORD”?

v. 23 Did the people actually have statues of gods, or is this a metaphorical “put away”?

v. 25 Is this the third covenant? What statutes and ordinances are being referred to?

Psalm 78:1-7
v. 1 Who is the speaking?

v. 2 What are “dark sayings from of old”?

v. 3 This sounds like a reference to the oral tradition.

v. 4 Why might you want to hide dark sayings from children?

v. 5 Is the speaker not a child of his/her ancestors?

vs.1-7 This Psalm reads like a call to educational ministry and mission. What would this psalmist say about the state of Biblical literacy, or lack of, in today’s church?

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
v. 13 How might we be uninformed?

v. 14 What does Paul mean “God will bring with him”?

v. 15 What is this all about?

vs. 16-17 Does this presuppose a pre-Copernican three tiered universe? How do we translate this into modern cosmological terms?

v. 18 How are these words encouraging? See item #16 on page 914 in the PC(USA) Book of Common Worship. See also page 949.

Matthew 25:1-13
v. 1 A kingdom parable?

v. 2 Why ten bridesmaids? Why five foolish and five wise?

v. 5 What is this about “delay”? Note that both the wise and the foolish become drowsy and fall asleep.

v. 6 Why midnight? Who shouted?

v. 9 What about sharing?

v. 12 This sounds curt.

v. 13 This point does not fit. Based on what precedes, the point ought to have been “Be prepared. Keep a supply of oil.” Otherwise, the wise bridesmaids should not have slept while the foolish bridesmaids did sleep.

ADDENDUM
In addition to serving as the half time Pastor of North Church Queens and writing Lectionary Ruminations, I also tutor part time. If you or someone you know needs a tutor, or if you would like to be a tutor, check out my WyzAnt page and follow the appropriate links.