Exegetical Exercise

Saint Paul, by Rembrandt

“What then are we to say about these things?”

There are two texts in the Uniform Series selection for Sunday, April 23: Romans 5:6-11 and Romans 8:31-39. These are my notes on those texts:

Background: Romans is one of Paul’s later letters, usually given a date in the late 50s CE; the longest letter (that’s why it’s first in book order, which is longest to shortest); arguably the most famous (Basis of how many evangelism tracts? How many memory verses come from Romans? How many super-famous commentaries on Romans, like Karl Barth’s, or even Giorgio Agamben’s The Time That Remains? How many famous heretics – now I am thinking about Marcion – want to reduce the Bible to any other book?); addressed to the church in the capital of the empire of its day. Longer and later both suggest that Paul had had time to work out his theological thinking, and was treating it in more detail, and that squares with the way the letter reads. It arguably works as a very short introduction to Reformed theology, for that matter. read the rest

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Easter Sunday


Mary Magdalene as “the myrrh bearer” approaching Christ’s tomb on Easter morning

[A sermon on one of the Uniform Series texts for today, Sunday, April 16: John 20:1-10.]

The church’s Easter greeting, for centuries, has gone like this: one says “Christ is risen!” – in whatever language – and the other responds “He is risen indeed!”

We have been saying this for centuries, maybe almost since the beginning of the church, so it has become routine enough that we might not always think about how outlandish it is: Christ is risen. From the dead. New life – for real. And how we’re identifying ourselves with this crackpot conspiracy theory, this cultish lunacy when we take part in this ritual, how we’re saying that we’re one of them: He is risen, He is risen indeed!

So it might be worth considering this morning: How believable, really, is the resurrection? How believable is it, for us, personally? read the rest

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Shabbat shalom

Image of synagogue at sundown

“The Sabbath is the presence of God in the world, open to the soul of man. It is possible for the soul to respond in affection, to enter into fellowship with the consecrated day.”
Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2005), 16.

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Good Friday

painting 1912 Crucifixion

” … but overcome evil with good.”

When I was in our local nursing home/rehab facility recently, recuperating from a hip replacement and hoping to get all the feeling back into my left foot (still working on that), I had a hard enough time sleeping that I would leave the TV on in the room overnight … it helped, although I can’t say why. This explains how it happened that one morning I woke up to a smiling preacher and his wife encouraging me about having a prosperous 2017. Followed by another smiling preacher encouraging me to lift my present illness whatever it was up to God and say “praise, praise” and have confidence that God was going to take care of it.

This had the paradoxical effect of triggering such a deep discouragement about the state of contemporary popular religion that by the time I went to Occupational Therapy the OT asked me if I was all right.

I had such a hard time articulating the problem I finally just had to put it aside … until this morning, when the basic theological disconnect hit me pretty hard. read the rest

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Exegetical Exercise

paiting Mary Magdalene at empty tomb

Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb from the vantage point of 16th century Venice

The Uniform Series text for Sunday, April 16 is actually two texts, John 20:1-10 and 1 Peter 1:3-5 & 8-9. Here are my notes on these texts:

John 20:1-10 / First impressions:

I can’t help taking a “real events” perspective on this text, thinking about how Mary Magdalene (or anyone, I) would feel in the wake of the horrible death of someone incredibly important to me, so anxious to get to the necessary tasks that I can’t get a full night’s sleep but am up long enough before the crack of dawn to have gotten washed and dressed and on the job … so there is a profound, hidden, unexpressed anguish in this scene – which makes it a lot like real life, considering that there is profound, hidden, unexpressed anguish all around us all the time, on the freeway or in a department store, or anywhere – not everyone all the time, of course, but someone any time, and everyone some time, and mostly the other lives we bump up against in the course of the day are mostly hidden from us, in anything but their most superficial dimension.

Running early in the morning had to seem out of place – surely? read the rest

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Palm/Passion Sunday

Henry Ossawa Tanner Jesus and Nicodemus

Jesus delivers a lecture on the nature of the Spiritual community.


That word, “whosoever,” is emphatic: no one is excluded from “whosoever,” it’s unconditional. And I confess, it’s the one forever in my memory of John 3:16, a trace of the King James Version we memorized when I was a little girl: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God sent not His son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” OK, that’s also John 3:17.

The point is that the old-fashioned – and I might add, precisely translated – language emphasizes something that is part of the tenor of the entire passage, namely, the extraordinarily inclusive invitation to eternal life Jesus seems to be issuing in his lecture in the presence of Nicodemus. read the rest

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Shabbat shalom

Image -

“When we celebrate the Sabbath we adore precisely something we do not see. To name it queen, to call it bride is merely to allude to the fact that its spirit is a reality we meet rather than an empty span of time which we choose to set aside for comfort or recuperation.”
Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2005), 16.

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