The Hardest Question was an experiment in preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. All posting is finished, but the content will continue to live here in archive form. You can discover new content by former THQ curator Russell Rathbun at Question the Text.

 

Walk Into the Text

Bounce a bit. Explore some gaps. Argue. Embrace.

When the Rabbi’s read they walk into the text. They bring themselves to it and step across the edge of the scroll, jump up onto its body, bouncing a little, believing it will hold their weight. And then on hands and knees, they crawl through the furrows of words, examining, brushing away dirt, not like an archeologist hoping to unearth some dead, hardened thing but like a botanist examining growth patterns and evidence of the soil’s mineral content, water content or whether there is deep clay. And then they look for the cracks in the soil from which the word emerged. It is the cracks, the gaps that will allow them a way in.

The midrash is the exploration of those gaps. Stories and parables, proverbs and legal case studies prove their skill at mining those gaps. The text is changed by their having been there, there are footprints left behind, indentations, great hollowed out places, and covered over, smoothed out, portions.

Once an oral wisdom, that required a speaker—and what is an individual speaker if not a unique interpreter— midrash kept the text from hardening into stone. It was kept alive and fertile, even malleable but with deep and unknown roots. That, however, is not how I was taught to read our holy book. I was taught to search for answers, the calculable, defendable, the un-contradictable truth, but to the Rabbis it is not a book of monolithic answers it is a porous book of brilliant questions.

The Ancient Rabbis read the sacred text as questions and then answer the questions with questions and provide answers with stories of possibilities. The tents of opposing camps are set upon the text side-by-side, conclusions leaned up against refutations, some decaying some flourishing. All interpretations are partly wrong and partly right, which is why many need to be included so that something like truth can be glimpsed or gotten close to.

When the Talmud talks about the Rabbi’s students it doesn’t say there were 24,000, it says there were 12,000 pairs of students because the text is best studied with someone else, with a partner, someone to fight with, so through debate and challenge, disagreement, argument and wrestling the questions can be refined.

The Talmud interprets the phrase, “enemies in the gate” from Psalm 127:5 as referring to people studying Torah together, “Even a father and a son or a teacher and his student who are studying Torah together in one gate become enemies of one another, but they do not move from there until they become devoted friends.”

The study of the Christian scriptures needs the kind of midrashic inquiry that The Hardest Question attempted every week. With out a kind of deep, playful, lively digging into the text it is left to atrophy, we are left with a thing barely alive.

Thank you for engaging. I invite you to continue the wrestling at the gate at questionthetext.org.

Peace.

Russell Rathbun

 

 

 

The Rev. Russell

 

 

 

The Hardest Question was an experiment in preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. All posting is finished, but the content will continue to live here in archive form. You can discover new content by former THQ curator Russell Rathbun at Question the Text.

 

Seas between us Broad have Roared

A farewell to trusty friends.

THQ has entered a state of suspended (as in no new posts) animation (as in what been archived is still quite lively!)

I must admit, perched on the cusp of a new year as I am in this moment, that my personality is not well suited for nostalgia, Auld Lang Syne notwithstanding.

Maybe it’s because my memory is so pathetic. That’s something I would attribute to too much Testor™ model glue and paint—as I was an avid kit builder growing up—were it not for my dear mother’s propensity to be thinking about so much stuff all the time that some things just get pushed aside. Kind of like that monkeys jumping on the bed nursery rhyme. [Read more...]

The Hardest Question was an experiment in preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. All posting is finished, but the content will continue to live here in archive form. You can discover new content by former THQ curator Russell Rathbun at Question the Text.

 

Not Ready for the Darkness

I cannot pretend.

by Russell Rathbun

Gospel Reading:  Matthew 2:13-23

For Sunday, December 29, 2013—Year A:  Christmas 1

This is a weird scripture to read a few days after Christmas, it is appropriate in that it deals with baby Jesus, angels, Mary and Joseph. It is the right setting—the right characters are there, but it turns ugly so fast.

Just the other day it was all manger scene, crèche time, the nativity. I want to stay with that a little while longer. The beautiful baby Jesus in the middle in the manger, Joseph and Mary on either side, the shepherds and the wise men set a little back, the ox and ass, back further, the angel on the roof. [Read more...]

The Hardest Question was an experiment in preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. All posting is finished, but the content will continue to live here in archive form. You can discover new content by former THQ curator Russell Rathbun at Question the Text.

 

Having Epistle for Christmas?

Talking Escapees and Pioneers

by Russell Rathbun

Epistle Reading:  Hebrews 2:10-18

For Sunday, December 29, 2013—Year A:  Christmas 1

Going head-to-head with la sacra famiglia escaping to Egypt at the behest of an angel? This intense shot of systematic theology doesn’t stand a chance of making it center stage in many sermons for the first Sunday of Christmas. Personally, I can’t imagine preaching on it ever if I had another choice.  [Read more...]

The Hardest Question was an experiment in preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. All posting is finished, but the content will continue to live here in archive form. You can discover new content by former THQ curator Russell Rathbun at Question the Text.

 

Lament and Christmas

Beyond “Blue Christmas” liturgies, where does sorrow fit into the season?

by Lauren F. Winner

Psalm Reading:  Psalm 80:1-7

For Sunday, December 22, 2013: Year A—Advent 4

We are nearing Christmas, and we are given to pray, as a community, a psalm of lament.

I feel I understand more and more about this each year. Each year, I, or someone very close to me, edges very close to sorrow at Christmas. This year, my husband will spend Christmas without either of his children —for the first time in 22 years. I am anticipating he will be sad, and moody, and he will feel there is some injustice (custody disputes do that to a person), and he will feel bereaved. (And I anticipate my own narcissistic annoyance and lack of empathy, why isn’t my presence enough to dispel your gloom, and so forth and so on. Sounds fun, doesn’t it?) [Read more...]

The Hardest Question was an experiment in preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. All posting is finished, but the content will continue to live here in archive form. You can discover new content by former THQ curator Russell Rathbun at Question the Text.

 

Joseph Models the Embrace of a Child Who is Radically Unlike Him

If You Want to Welcome a Stranger, Have a Baby

by Lauren F. Winner

Gospel Reading:  Matthew 1:18-25

For Sunday, December 22, 2013: Year A—Advent 4

My colleague Stanley Hauerwas is always saying something like “if you want to learn how to welcome the stranger, have a kid; a kid is a stranger you have to welcome for at least 18 years”; “If you want to practice hospitality, have a child,” et cetera, et cetera. Having recently married a man with two daughters, I have been thinking a lot about Stanley’s quip, and how it is true in a tweaked and weird way for stepparents. [Read more...]

The Hardest Question was an experiment in preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. All posting is finished, but the content will continue to live here in archive form. You can discover new content by former THQ curator Russell Rathbun at Question the Text.

 

Church as Medium

Has God moved on to other platforms?

by Unvirtuous Abbey

Old Testament Reading:  Isaiah 35:1–10

For Sunday, December 15, 2013—Advent 3

“Tell your sister…you were right.” ~ Anakin Skywalker, Return of the Jedi

“This is very cruel, Oskar. You’re giving them hope. You shouldn’t do that.” ~ Amon Goeth, Schindler’s List

“Remember, Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.” ~ Andy Dufresne, The Shawshank Redemption

“It’s Christmas Day! I haven’t missed it. The Spirits have done it all in one night. They can do anything they like. Of course they can. Of course they can!” ~ Ebenezer Scrooge

A friend of mine once wondered out loud if God had abandoned the church as a medium. That the themes found so often in the Bible were now being better told in movie theatres, dance studios, novels, and other artistic forms. The point being that people go where they are fed, which in today’s world may not be the church, given the declining memberships in most denominations (there are exceptions, of course.) [Read more...]

The Hardest Question was an experiment in preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. All posting is finished, but the content will continue to live here in archive form. You can discover new content by former THQ curator Russell Rathbun at Question the Text.

 

Mixed Messages

Let Troubling Texts Lie?

by Unvirtuous Abbey

Gospel Reading:  Luke 1:46b–55 [Alternative]

For Sunday, December 15, 2013—Advent 3

Given the glitches in our technology, such as sending texts to the wrong person, I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if Gabriel had mixed up the messages and said to Zechariah:  “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; you have found favor with God.  You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.”  Of course, that being said, it would be easier to believe the story of a divine birth from a pregnant Zechariah than that of a pregnant Mary. [Read more...]

The Hardest Question was an experiment in preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. All posting is finished, but the content will continue to live here in archive form. You can discover new content by former THQ curator Russell Rathbun at Question the Text.

 

In Search of an Oppressor

The self-incriminating war against the war against Christmas.

by Mike Stavlund

Psalm Reading:  Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19

For Sunday, December 8, 2013: Year C—Advent 2

It seems one of the growing subtexts of the Christmas season is the self-perception of the subjugation and persecution of many Christians in North America. There is something in us that tries to present ourselves as mistreated, misunderstood, marginalized. Not unlike Jesus (who by the way seems to be under attack and in need of our defense)—all because someone with some empathy, manners, and/or cultural sensitivity kindly wishes us “Happy Holidays!” It must be a widespread conspiracy against Christmas. Yeah, that’s the ticket. [Read more...]

The Hardest Question was an experiment in preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. All posting is finished, but the content will continue to live here in archive form. You can discover new content by former THQ curator Russell Rathbun at Question the Text.

 

Merry Christmas?

John the Baptist was a little short on Yuletide joy.

by Mike Stavlund

Gospel Reading: Matthew 3:1-12

For Sunday, December 8, 2013: Year C—Advent 2

Most of us wouldn’t let J to the B into our sanctuaries, that’s for sure. He is more than a little imbalanced, dressed like a Mountain Man and surely smelling much worse. It would have taken some effort to look him in the eye and not stare at those bits of bugs stuck to the honey smeared in his beard.

Yes, that’s all very interesting, sir—may I give you the address of the shelter downtown?  [Read more...]