Monday, May 18, 2015

Romans 8:18-39 (Narrative Lectionary May 24)

For those venturing beyond the great Pentecost story of Acts 2, I offer two posts of preaching commentary on Romans 8:

Pentecost (Acts 2:1-11)

Here is a re-direct to my updated post from 2013.

In a nut shell, I find the church of Acts 1 to be very common:  A deeply loving and truly faithful community that doesn't outreach.  How can the Spirit move us from Acts 1 to Acts 2?  How can we as leaders be involved in this process?

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Romans 6:1-14; Narrative Lectionary for May 17

Summary:  Paul has just "let the people off the hook", telling them how they are forgiven in Jesus Christ (Romans 4 esp Romans 5).  They are free!  In this part of Romans, Paul takes up the question:  Does freedom in Christ give license for more sin?  HECK NO!  For Paul, the forgiveness of sins, that is justification, brings about a new reality in Christ, a new creation ready to worship and serve.  This should not be surprising for any of us familiar with the New Testament, much less, like me, a student of Luther!  Freedom from sin for service! 

Some reflection on preaching:  The question I have been wrestling with recently is this:  How does Paul go about achieving this reality of creating servants for Christ?  This is probably a universal goal of pastors!  I maintain that Paul here preaches both law and Gospel; law in the didactic sense of presenting an image of renewed life in Jesus Christ (esp Romans 12 onward); law in the theological use as that which exposes sin (Romans 7); Gospel in its purity of what God has done for us (Romans 8).  While plenty of august theologians have tried to carve out Law from Gospel in Paul and then order sense is that we should feel free to preach the Word, in its fullness, both Law and Gospel.  Throughout Paul's letters, he is simultaneously exhorting, witnessing, admonishing and proclaiming.  While Paul fully trusted in God to bring about the new creation (by no human work of the law, I add), he also had no problem exhorting people.  Neither should we.   

Key words:

μη γενοιτο ("may it not come to pass!"; 6:1)  This expression, literally "no - become", means something like "Heaven Forbid!"  It is a very strong expression of rejection of the situation (see Luke 20:16 for another example of this).  I once heard a terrible sermon that basically exhorted us to sin so that we could experience God's grace.  Paul here says: no!

δεδικαιωται (past participle of δικαιοω, meaning "to justify"; 6:7).  No major translation translates this as justify, instead choosing, "freed".  This is disappointing given how important justification is for Paul's thinking, certainly in Romans.  Often justification is seen as a transaction (ie, forgiveness) but when Paul uses justification language, he presents justification as resurrection from death to life.  The one who has died has been justified from sin; has been restored apart from sin.

οπλα (hoplon, meaning "tool"; 6:13)  The word hoplon has clear military meaning, as hoplon was the word for a military shield (  Paul elsewhere uses this word within a military framework (2 Cor 10:4 or Romans 13:12).  But warfare is not the only meaning of this word.  Liddell-Scott describes this as:

I. a ship's tackle, tackling
II. tools, of smiths' tools
III. implements of war, arms,

Does God need me in his army?  Perhaps another way to consider this passage is in terms of the first two meanings.  How can I be like a tool for a smith to produce a full harvest for God?  How can I be like the tackling of a ship that can allow the church boat to set sail?

παραστησατε ("present"; 6:13)  I find this an incredibly powerful image of presenting ourselves to God.  Paul repeats this idea of presentation ourselves to God in Romans 12:1.  He returns twice in this section (16 and 19).  This is an incredibly strange and powerful idea of standing before the living God reporting for duty.  Who can abide his presence?  One whom has been justified; one who has been baptized; one has been put to death, because only then has the power of sin be extinguished.  Only those who have died are ready to live for Christ!

Grammar concept
συν:  A number of verbs in this section have the prefix συν/"syn" in front of them.  This prefix in Greek means "with" or "together"; some English words use this prefix, such as "synthesis" or "syntax."  More often we see English words with the Latin prefix for "with" or "together", namely, "co."  Literally Paul is saying things like this:
co-buried (6.4)
co-united (6.5)
co-crucified (6.6)
co-live (6.8)
Worth pointing out:  This is tough to capture in English because Paul uses the prefix for the verb and a preposition:  Christ co-buried with us.  In short, Paul is driving home the "cooperative" nature of Christ's work on our behalf.  Christ does not die in our place; there is nothing vicarious about this.  We too die, but we die in the cross given to us in our Baptisms instead of on a cross on  a hill in Jerusalem.
Further - Paul will use a series of συν verbs in Romans 8 (Holy Trinity text)

John 17:6-19; RCL for May 17

Today's blog post is by guest writer Rev. Jim Rowe.  Jim, also an ELCA ordained pastor, majored in classics.  We connected a conference.  I thought it would be great for him to do some exegetical work, especially as I try to have posts for multiple lectionaries!
The assigned Gospel reading for the 7th Sunday of Easter (if you are using the Revised Common Lectionary) comes from Jesus’ prayer to the Father on behalf of his followers before the Passion narrative. When looking at this text it can be helpful to look at a few things: 1) Read the entire prayer. All of John 17. 2) Pay attention to the larger context. This prayer comes immediately after Jesus finishes his long-winded farewell discourse (14:1-16:33) where he speaks to his followers about what discipleship looks like: “I am the way, the truth, and the life”; “I am the vine, you are the branches”; “Love one another just as I have loved you”; and the great “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (which sadly does not appear in the Revised Common Lectionary). This is the transition piece from discourse to Passion, from teaching about discipleship to modeling discipleship.

Key Words:
δίδωμι (to give) appears 17 times in this chapter, more than in any other chapter in the New Testament and more than any other verb in this chapter. The Father gives Jesus authority over all people to give eternal life to all whom the Father has given the Son. Jesus glorified the Father on earth by finishing the work the Father gave him to do. But the focus of the lectionary text is on those whom the Father gave to the Son from the world.

κόσμος (world) appears 19 times in this chapter and is incredibly important in the theology of John’s Gospel. The world came into being through the incarnate Word, Christ is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, For God so loved the world…, “I have conquered the world!”

For those whose theology states the world is a place to escape from, John’s Gospel suggests otherwise (17:15). The Creator is in such love with the world that the creative Word that spoke the world into existence will lay down his life to take away the sin of the world. God loves the world. Likewise, in John 17, for those who were given to Jesus by the Father (aka Jesus’ followers) the world and all in it are objects of great love (even laying down their lives?) because even though the world has hated them (17:14), Christ sends them into the world just as the Father has sent him into the world (17:18). God sent Christ into the world because of love, and so Christ sends his disciples (us) into the world because of love.

Being that this is the Easter season, a time of year when the Church has historically expanded on the teachings of the faith for the newly baptized, the appropriate question seems to be, “So What?” What does this text say about how the resurrection, Christ’s conquering of the world, mean for me (or my congregation or the entire world)? If Christ loves me (my congregation and the Church) so much that he has sent me (us) into the world, then how does that affect the way I live in the world? How does that love and protection (17:15) shape my actions and words as I work for peace and justice in all the world?

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Posts for May 10: Romans 5 (NL) and John 15 (RCL)

This week has two powerful theological texts.  For those working the Revised Common Lectionary

John 15:9-17
A tidbit:
φιλος ("friend"; 15.13;14)  Often the word "φιλος", related to φιλεω, is seen as a lesser type of love than αγαπη.  While there may indeed be a distinction, 15:13 brings them together:  αγαπη plays itself in acts of love for φιλος.  So, either we can rule out the possibilty of a distinction between the two... or we can see a tension here that is beautifully resolved.  If we take αγαπη to mean divine love, than we are left with this -- what is divine love?  Sacrifice for humans.  Where do divine love and human love meet?  In the cross!  Where do divine and human love meet?  In the lives of the disciples as we live out Christ's command to love one another, through the trials of life.

For those working with the Narrative Lectionary
Romans 5:1-11
δoθεντος (διδωμι, aorst paritiple, "give" 5.5) Paul uses an interesting tense here with the word “given” in that “we are given the Holy Spirit.” One would have expected a present or perhaps a perfect tense, but Paul again puts it in the aorist. Throughout this section, Paul is using the aorist tense to point toward the event of our justification – the cross.  It might seem that Paul is suggesting we get the spirit at Christ's death.  However, the spirit is not given to us in Christ's death, but rather through our Baptisms, as Paul will suggest in 1 Cor 12:13.  I believe Paul here is setting up his argument in Romans 6, that our Baptism and Christ's death are linked.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

RCL for May 3 (John 15 and Acts 8)

The Revised Common Lectionary Gospel for May 3 is John 15.  You can find my post by clicking here.

A tidbit of a sumptuous post:
αμπελος ("vine"; 15.1)  Like many metaphors in John's Gospel, a person new to the Bible can grasp its meaning, but a knowledge of the OT amplifies its significance.  The OT (Hosea 14; Jeremiah 2; perhaps also Ezekiel 19, but who understands Ezekiel...) makes the claim that Israel is the vine of the Lord.  Jesus here is saying "I am Israel."  All the promises, all the hopes (if not the judgment) of Israel in the Bible have been transferred to Jesus.

I have a bit older post on Acts 8 here.
Its all about the "way" but before we get there, a tidbit:
αναστηθι και πορευου ("Get up and go"; 8:26) Philip is told to "Get up and go" (a very familiar line from the OT; Abraham -- Get up and go!). The question is whether this is verbal coordination Hebrew style (Go in a quick way) or whether Luke is implying two separate verbs. 

Romans 1:1-17 (NL for May 3)

To write a Greek analysis of Romans 1:1-17 I could stand by, I feel, would be to undertake way more than I can possibly achieve in a decade.  So I will focus on Romans 1:16-17, with an eye toward the Romans 1:1-17.  I walk away with many questions because it is hard not to see 500+ years of dogmatic history written all over every verse. 

Key words:
ευαγγελιον ("eu-angelion" or "evangelion", meaning "Good news,", Romans 1:16)  What is the meaning of Gospel?  The answer to the question probably drives how one sees every other theological matter of significance.  What do we learn in Romans 1:1-17?

- It was promised beforehand in Old Testament
  Χριστος (Christos meaning Messiah, 1:1) While we often thing of "Christ" as Jesus name, it is a title meaning anointed.  The Jews of the 1st century were awaiting a "Messiah" which means anointed, or in Greek, "Christos."  To call Jesus the Christ was making a statement about who we was, namely, the long awaited Messiah of Jewish teaching.

...yet the Old Testament does not fully deliver it. (1:2)

...and it is for gentiles!

- It is beyond this life in that the resurrection is crucial (1:4);

...yet it is embedded in the social-political reality of the day:
κυριος (kyrios meaning Lord, 1:4)  This was the term for Caesar, so this is political, but it means that Jesus is the big boss, even bigger than the Emperor of Rome.  Significant throughout the Roman Empire, but especially in Rome.  Later on Christians would be forced to recant their confession that Jesus is Lord and confess Caesar is Lord.  See article here.  Many chose to retain the Christian faith even at the cost of their life.

...and it heavily involves this life. Even though the terms salvation (σωτερια 1:16) and sainthood (αγιος, 1:7) are used, it never talks about "going to heaven."  In fact, it talks about the power of God for this life, culminating the righteous shall LIVE by faith.

- It is apprehended by faith (1:17;  faith, πιστις, is mentioned 1:5, 8, 12) and results in righteousness (δικαιοσυνη 1:17).
...yet obedience is expected (1:5)
...and no indication is given that faith and works are split from each other

Lastly, the task of sharing the Gospel seems embedded in the Gospel itself.

I haven't even gotten to spiritual gifts, obedience, love, peace or half the other words in 1:1-17.  Paul covers just about every theological theme.  Any one of these words is a sermon, no a sermon series, no a theological tome.  Is there a way to organize this?  I think the best bet for preaching is pick one contour / dialectic and run with it.

επαισχυνομαι ("to be ashamed", 1:16)  This is most curious -- why in the world would Paul be ashamed?  Perhaps because it is so antithetical to the ways of the world that there will naturally be some shame involved?  Paul here is not talking about how is ashamed of other Christians (something we all probably experience) but he is discussing the possibility of being ashamed of the Gospel itself.  How could this be?  Have we domesticated our own faith so much that we do not see how it calls us to a fundamentally different way of life?

δυναμις (dynamis, like dynamite, meaning "power", 1:16).  What does Paul here mean by power of God?  The letter of Romans 1:1-17 suggests the power of God is involved with the both classic theme of resurrection, justification if not also sanctification.  Furthermore, the power of God could be interpreted within a framework of overcoming social boundaries.  Lastly, though, I would offer that for Paul, the power of God is wrapped up in the ability to endure suffering.  I think he gets at this in Romans 8, but most explicitly in 2nd Corinthians, does Paul give an image of how the power of God becomes that which allows Christians to endure hardship. 

  • 7 But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.  8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair;  9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;  (2 Corinthians 4:7-9)
  • 8 We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed (u`pe.r du,namin) ‘beyond our strength’ that we despaired of life itself.  9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death so that we would rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.  (2 Corinthians 1:8-9)
  • 4 but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities,  5 beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger;  6 by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love,  7 truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; (2 Corinthians 6:4-7)
  • but he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness." So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)
Grammar points: prepositions!

εκ πιστεως vs εις πιστιν.  Prepositions are notoriously difficult to translate between languages.  They often have many meanings; when one has mastered prepositions one really understands how a language works!  Skilled exegesis of Paul (and other authors) definitely requires one to get into the translation of prepositions.   Let's unpack the prepositions in Paul's phrasing from Romans 1:17 about righteousness being revealed εκ πιστεως εις πιστιν.  

εκ πιστεως means that righteousness is revealed a) by means of; b) consisting of/constituted out of; c) separate from; d) originating from; and a host of other possibilities -- faith.  

εις πιστιν indicates that righteousness has been revealed a) for the purpose of; b) into; c) leading toward; d) on behalf of; e) to, in the sense of corresponding to; and other possibilities -- faith.  To put it more theologically, does righteousness lead to faith?  Or does it create faith?  Is it for the faithful?  Does it speak to faith?  Depending on how one translates εις πιστιν, one could answer yes.

One could press these prepositions to interpret this phrase in a variety of ways.  How does one know where to go?   It turns out that Paul uses εκ πιστεως later in the same verse when he quotes from the Septuagint.  In this part of the verse, εκ πιστεως means "by means of faith" suggesting that the right way to translate/interpret this in the first use of εκ πιστεως is "by means of faith."  Phew.  Mysery solved.  However, Paul does not again use the phrase εις πιστιν forcing us to wonder -- what exactly did he mean? 

Ultimately, this is not simply a linguistic issue.  Paul's writing here would force even a native speaker in 58 AD to ask himself / herself -- what did Paul mean?  But the prepositions show us the range of possible meanings Paul intended.