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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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...]

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.

 

Incarnation, Schmincarnation

What are we putting on, exactly?

by Danielle Shroyer

Epistle Reading: Romans 13:11-14

For Sunday, December 1, 2013:  Year A—Advent 1

Oh, the use of the word “flesh” in the New Testament letters: is there anything more thrilling to debate? Well get ready, because it’s Romans, and that means there are flesh words flying all over the place. Of course, they aren’t really flying. They are being fleshy and solid (and presumably bad, right?). [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.

 

Let’s All Get Left Behind

Where do you think you’re going?

by Danielle Shroyer

Gospel Reading: Matthew 24:36-44

For Sunday, December 1, 2013:  Year A—Advent 1 

When I was a teenager, I saw this video from the 1970’s that depicted the “rapture.” It had all of these nice looking people being neighborly and mowing their lawns and cooking in their kitchens until POOF!—all of a sudden, in a flash (and with terrible film editing) one of them was gone. The camera cut to an oven still on, untended, and then to a lawn mower lurching eerily down the lawn without anyone to steer it. This week’s lectionary text is the Scripture passage the video tossed up on the screen at the end, like a literal slam dunk for their point.  [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.

 

Just, Finally, Answer the Question

Are there extra points for being enigmatic to the end?

by Russell Rathbun

Gospel Reading: Luke 23:33-43

For Sunday, November 24, 2013—Christ the King

This is the final Sunday of the Church year, designated as Christ the King Sunday—and I am not going to rant about the theological irony of the title. I am not going to roll my eyes and ridicule the designators of Christ the King Sunday, as I have done every year, from the pulpit, in print, on THQ and to my children as I put them to sleep.

Sure in the past I have pointed out the holy day/feast day was established in 1925, after World War I— in the face of growing nationalism and secularism — that Christ the King Sunday was intended to proclaim the headship, the ruler-dom of Jesus over all human institutions, political entities, every economic and cultural ethos (even then kingdoms were kind of on the way out). This is despite the fact that the gospel of John says straight out that Jesus took off out of there, because they were coming to make him their king.

But Not this Year

This year to the establishers of this duly designated day and to the Lectionariers who promote it I say, “Thank You.”

Yes, thank you Lectionariers, who I have lambasted in the past (see below), you are smarter than I previously assumed. You did not name the last Sunday of the Church Year Christ the King Sunday (I am sorry, before my present research I thought you did). No, you perhaps saw the same theological incongruity that caused me so much irritation. And that is why you chose this reading for this Sunday. It is almost as if you have heard my previous criticisms and responded.

All About the Question

This pericope is all about the question, and I am all about the question, and this one really is the ultimate question one might have at the end of this narrative.

There are actually six questions in these ten verses—all of them unanswered. First of all, the leaders scoffingly ask, he saved others, why can’t he save himself if he is the chosen one of God? Then the soldiers mockingly ask, if you are the king of the jews, why don’t you save yourself? The nailed above his head reads: this is the king of the Jews. Question mark implied. Then one of the criminals hanging beside him, in utter desperation or a very dark and accusing sarcasm asks the seemingly hardest question: “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

The other criminal rebuked him, saying, Have you no respect? But that question still hangs there. Jesus say after, “today you will be with me in paradise,” but criminal one wasn’t asking about the afterlife, he was wanting some help getting down of that cross. He was wanting some salvation from the very real situation he was in. But Jesus doesn’t answer him. He answers the other guy who says, remember me when you come into you kingdom.

The Hardest Question

So what’s the question—some seem obvious, to be sure, but how about the underlying? Can you guess what I’m thinking? Can you propose an even better question?

THQ’rs, as we are transitioning the community to a new level of Questioning the Text, it’s time to step up, to get out of the woodwork and crank up the midrashic conversation going.

How do you read?


Russell Rathbun is a preacher at House of Mercy in St. Paul, Minnesota, the author of Midrash on the Juanitos (Cathedral Hill Press, 2010) and the curator of The Hardest Question. Russell’s researching his next book and has decided to let us in on the process.  Check out the latest at:  http://russellrathbun.com/

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.

 

The sky is falling! Everything is fine!

This is resolve, Jesus-style.

by Danielle Shroyer

Gospel Reading: Luke 21:5-19

For Sunday, Novemeber 17, 2013:  Year C—Lectionary 33

Who doesn’t love to preach on these doomsday apocalyptic texts?! In addition to being used only in positive and well-meaning ways (certainly never overblown or taken out of context) they also serve to remind us of another simple lesson Jesus wants to teach us: stay calm, even when the sky is falling. [Read more...]