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.

 

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.

 

Snarky Talk about Resurrection

Who needs marriage?

By Nanette Sawyer

Gospel Reading: Luke 20:27-38

For Sunday, November 10, 2013:  Year C—Lectionary 32

Recently coming off of All Saints Day, I’ve been thinking about how all the people I love will someday die. It could be sooner or later, but it will happen. It’s sobering and painful (as well as an honor) to sit with others who have lost or are losing their loved ones already.

I’ve been taught that talking about death is morbid. I think our culture teaches this. We’re supposed to be the happy, clappy culture that functions like bouncy, bouncy Tigger and never like the old classic Winnie the Pooh who was quiet and contemplative (albeit a bit fluff-brained). But death is a reality we all face. And they faced it in Jesus’s day too. [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.

 

Minister to the 1%?

What do we do when we realize that wee man is a wretch?

by Carol Howard Merritt

Gospel Reading: Luke 19:1-10

For Sunday, Novemeber 3, 2013: Year C —Lectionary 31

When I became a pastor, I thought that I was disconnecting from money in some way. In my mind, I made a deal with God—I would serve the church, get the food and shelter I needed (without expectation of much more), and then I would never have to worry about money again. I’m not a materialistic person, so I assumed my new vocation would lead me to a hermetic detachment. [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.

 

Our Filthy Metaphors

How can we struggle with these demeaning figures of speech?

by Carol Howard Merritt

Old Testament Reading:  Isaiah 1:10-18

For Sunday, Novemeber 3, 2013: Year C —Lectionary 31

I sat in a circle of clergywomen, and once we realized that the space was safe with trusting bodies, we began to talk about the times when we had experienced sexism. Considering religious occupations are some of the only jobs left where women can be barred just for being women, the stories flowed.

Right when it felt like we were on the edge of despair, a friend said with the gravitas of a great preacher, “You know what? We. Make. People. No wonder why they want to keep us down. No wonder why they are afraid of us. We make people!” [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.

 

Almost for All People

Why does this awesome vision of hope have to end so badly?

by Roy M. Terry IV

Old Testament Reading:  Joel 2:23-32

For Sunday, October 27, 2013: Year C—Lectionary 30

For being such a small book Joel packs a punch in the Liturgical calendar. Not only do we hear Peter draw upon the minor prophet as he explains the events of Pentecost but also Joel is used every Ash Wednesday. [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.

 

Self-righteous Idiots

Who is actually the bad guy in this text?

by Roy M. Terry IV

Gospel Reading:  Luke 18:9-14

For Sunday, October 27, 2013: Year C—Lectionary 30

I am personally not a big fan of either of the characters in this parable. Both are just too easy, obvious, and set up to take a side.

The Pharisee immediately gets us churning with disgust while the tax collector makes his way into our compassion filled hearts. Surely the tax collector with all his sin and honesty will be exalted for his humility—and the fires of hell burn bright for those Pharisees! [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.

 

The Relentless Widow

Is this really how God works?

by Lia Scholl

Gospel  Reading: Luke 18:1–8

For Sunday, October 20, 2013: Year C—Lectionary 29

Our gospel lesson talks about a widow who wants justice. She goes to the judge to seek relief from her opponent. We’re not told what her complaint is. What are the injustices that she seeks to rectify? [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.

 

Jacob Fights Back

Wouldn't it just be easier to walk away?

by Lia Scholl

Old Testament Reading: Genesis 32:22–31

For Sunday, October 20, 2013: Year C—Lectionary 29

It was just after the Cold War, and those kitschy Gorbachev forehead fake tattoos were for sale in all the Spencer’s Gifts. I had a bald friend. He had a fake Gorbie tattoo. And a gas station down the street had a huge blowup dog—undoubtedly used for some beer commercial that I can no longer remember. My friend stood, with his tattooed forehead, in front of the two-storied dog, and said, in a horrible Russian accent, “In Russia, man bigger than dog.”

In Bible stories, I expect God to be bigger than man. [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.

 

Fear Doesn’t Mean Fear, Right?

Why doesn’t someone fix the translation?

by Russell Rathbun

Psalm Reading: Psalm 111

For Sunday, October 13, 2013—Lectionary 28

I don’t think liberals praise the Lord enough. I don’t mean to alienate anyone or divide folks into camps. I am just saying, I have been a conservative evangelical and am now a really liberal, liberal.  And I don’t praise the Lord enough.

Praise Like Crazy

I thank the Lord—for my food, the natural world, the gift of the scientific method—I express gratitude to the Lord—mostly publically in the Prayers of the Community and mostly for creation and love and the crisp fall air or the spring rain, but I do not praise the Lord.  It just feels uncomfortable to me. [Read more...]