Friday, September 30, 2011

The Reflectionary: Scripture for Worship on October 2, 2011

The church I attend uses a Sunday School program based on the "Godly Play" curriculum. When talking with one of the parents/teachers some time ago, one of the things he talked about is how much attention the curriculum pays to the liturgical calendar. Of particular note, he was impressed by how the "green" weeks on the church calendar (what the Revised Common Lectionary calls "Ordinary Time") are instead referred to as the "Good Green Growing Time." This helps the children (and their parents?) to understand that every Sunday is important, and that God is always at work.

I'll keep using the "official" language here, but I'm curious if anyone else has had similar experiences with alternative nomenclature for the various seasons of the liturgical calendar.

That said, here are the passages for October 2, 2011, the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A). All Scripture links are to the CEB via BibleGateway.com unless otherwise noted, but if you prefer another translation, feel free to use that instead (either with your own Bible, or via the drop-down menu at BibleGateway.com).

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20
  • This passage contains the Ten Commandments. Many Christians have had these items memorized since childhood. But why are these particular items considered so important to God? Why make a special point of these commands as opposed to others?
  • It's especially obvious that the lectionary cuts out a couple of pieces of this passage. This is done all the time, for various reasons. Here's a link to the full section. What is contained in those verses? Should they have been left in for the public reading on Sunday morning? What might be gained or lost?
  • I don't want to pull out any particular commandments so as to set them up as more or less important than another, but I do want to reflect on some specifics about a few commandments.
    • In regard to the command not to create images: Some have taken this as a command against any kind of visual art, especially within church. How do you feel about such an interpretation? If the command is not a total injunction against visual art in church, what is the commandment getting at? What is actually being forbidden? What are the limits? I find myself tempted to say only "images intended to be worshiped" are forbidden, taking my cue from verse 5, but the expansive language of verse 4 tells me that I perhaps shouldn't jump to that conclusion.
    • What does it mean to "honor" one's parents? Do you think this is easier or harder in the modern era, especially now that we have so much knowledge about how families may become broken? How might this command be appropriately obeyed by a person who has suffered great abuse at the hands of a parent?
    • In regard to the command against covetousness, why are these particular items singled out? Assuming that these items are chosen because of certain realities of that culture and era, what items might be singled out if the commandment were being written specifically for us, in our own culture and era?
Psalm 19:1-14

Philippians 3:4b-14
  • One of the down-sides to BibleGateway.com is that the site doesn't really know how to handle partial verses, such as that called for with verse 4b here. The letter "b" indicates that only a part of the verse is to be read as part of the lectionary. In this case, the reading starts with the second part of the verse, which begins "If anyone else...."
  • I can only speak for myself on this, but I find it intriguing that when Paul lists why he might have reason "to put confidence in physical advantages," he seems to list things that are prior to his conversion (whatever may be said of the other items, the item on persecution is clearly such). Why does he choose to set up his argument in this way, rather than by listing things that might provide temptations for him to "put such confidence in physical advantages" now that he knows Christ?
  • It is often pointed out that the word translated here as "sewer trash": σκυβαλα, is a vulgar term, potentially denoting human excrement. I know of no English translation that translates this word retaining that vulgarity (with the possible exception of Wycliffe's version). The reasons why translators might shy away from such language are perhaps understandable, but what should we understand from the fact that an author of Holy Scripture himself uses such language in this instance?
  • Paul clearly sets up a dichotomy between his pre-Christian life and his life in Christ. Those of us in the Presbyterian tradition often cannot point to such a clear conversion experience. How then might we appropriate such a passage?
Matthew 21:33-46
  • This is definitely one of those readings where it might be helpful to go back and look at last week's gospel passage, since this one starts off right where that one left off. For example, listeners in the congregation who haven't looked at this passage in advance might not remember that Jesus is still talking to the elders and Pharisees who came to Jesus to ask about Jesus' authority. How might thinking of this passage in that context affect one's understanding of this parable?
  • It's common to look at parables and ask who each of the people in the parable might represent. Who is the landowner? Who are the tenants? Who are the servants? Who is the son? These are fairly basic questions, and it is certainly good to ask them. Borrowing again from "Godly Play" for the moment, it might also be helpful to ask "Where might you be in this story?"
  • In this story, as in many such passages of Scripture, we are told that those who Jesus is talking about "knew Jesus was talking about them." I find myself wondering when they figured it out. After all, Jesus' explicitly says to the Pharisees things like "Haven't you ever read in the Scriptures...?" and "God's kingdom will be taken away from you." Who else would Jesus have been talking about? Indeed, were they so dense about whether or not Jesus just might be talking about them that they couldn't come up with a less self-incriminating response to Jesus' question at the end of the parable? Or did they simply realize that no better answer could be given, just decide to take their lumps, and figure out a way to deal with the pesky parable purveyor later?
  • How should we in the modern era see this passage as having something to say about the Jewish people? Would these teachings be limited to the Jews of Jesus' day, or are there implications for the nation of Israel and Jewish people today? Should we be afraid, or otherwise careful, about real implications that might be here (but which may not be politically popular)? Or is any application of this passage to Jewish people (either as a whole, as opposed to specific Jewish leaders, or in regard to Jewish people living in the modern era) a misapprehension of Jesus' words?

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