Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Acts 16:9-16

This passage occurs in the RCL Easter Season, Year C, most recently May 26, 2019.

Summary:  Two things caught my attention about this passage.  First, a woman wins an argument with Paul :-)  Second, Lydia has so much in her life going right for her.  Yet she is not content.  Often we assume that people need to hit rock bottom for the Christian Gospel to make an impact.  In Lydia's case, clearly something about her life was incomplete, even if she was not lamenting her life or commiting awful sins.  I wonder if this is a helpful angle for reaching the consumerists out there -- no, you are not awful, evil and hell-bent people, but deep down something is missing; the world of selling and consuming doesn't add up.

παρακαλων ("encourage" (participle form), 16:9)  It is interesting that the man "encourages" them to come to Macedonia.  You could call him an advocate for Macedonia.  In fact, the word for Spirit in John's Gospel (and the appointed text for this week) is παρακλητος, the noun form of this verb.

συμβιβαζων ("proving, pulling together, knit" (participle form), 16:10)  I find this is great verb for how we understanding the work of the Spirit -- we pull pieces together to build of picture, a map, of what the Spirit calls us to do.  When this word is used in Colossians it means "knit together."  We pull at pieces -- visions, stirrings of the hearts and basic facts -- to figure out the will of the Spirit.

κολωνια ("colony", 16:12)  This word does not really feature in the interpretation of this passage, but it speaks to how we can understand Paul's letter to the Philippians:  See here for more info.

πορφυροπωλις ("dealer in purple cloth", 16:14) Lydia, unlike the jailer, does not encounter the Gospel at a time of weakness, but of relative strength.  She is a rich merchant who sails the seven sees.  She is at worship.  Yet something isn't right; she hungers for something more.

Sad side note:  Purple cloth was ruined because of over harvesting of the snails that produced the dye.  It is believed those particular snails are actually extinct.

διηνοιξεν ("open", 16:14)  This word can simply mean "open" but it can also mean "open" in a more metaphorical way.  See the word dianetics and Scientology!!

ο οικος αυτης  ("the house of hers", 16:15)  This verse is often used as justification (or permission) for infant Baptism.  No changes here, but I think the translators over-translate here.  They translate it "She and her house."  It should read, "Her house was baptized."  First, the word "she" is missing.  The only thing in the nominative is "the house."  It seems unlikely "she" is implied in the verb because the verb baptize is in the singular, which would not match "she and her house."  Furthermore, the word "de" appears, which suggests a change in subject; "Lydia" was the subject in the previous sentence suggesting a new subject.  She was baptized; my point is simply that her house was not baptized as an afterthought, but that the act was done all together.

If I lost you, I think I might of lost myself with this last point.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Revelation 21:1-6

This passage occurs in the RCL Easter Season, Year C, most recently May 2019.
This verse is paired in Year C with John 13:31-35, "By this they will know you are my disciples, if you love one another."  Jesus sets up a strong imperative in John 13 for us to create the Kingdom of God on earth through our mutual love.  But Rev 21 is a perfect antidote, that finally, we cannot create the Kingdom, but this is an act of God.  The Greek really spells this out.  Like much of the Johannine writing, these brief verses allude richly to the Old Testament and other places in John's Gospels.  In fact, the connection to the rest of John is quite striking in this passage.  But to get back to the juxtaposition of John 13 and Rev 21:  This is the tension of Christian community:  We must work for a better world, but know that we cannot get there until Jesus comes again.

Key Words
καταβαινουσαν ("descending", from καταβαινω, 21:2)
εκ του ουρανου ("from the heaven", 21:2)
απο του θεου ("from God", 21:2)
All of these words, put together, form a trifecta clearly showing that the holy city is not established by our activities on earth, but is entirely from God.

νυμφη ("bride", literally "nymph", 21:2)  The Bible begins and ends with a coupling of man and woman, a marriage, first of Adam and Eve and then later of Christ and the church.  I realize that Lutherans have tended to put marriage in the "left-hand" kingdom (and therefore allow it to be dictated by science and not Scripture), but clearly it is something that God cares for.  I guess it is a question worth asking -- what is the bride adorned with?

σκηνη ("tent", 21:3)  In the first chapter of John's Gospel, we read that "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." The word for dwell here is "σκηνεω " which means το tent or tabernacle. (The parallel to the OT is striking here; the next sentence in John's Gospel is "And we beheld his glory." In the OT, once the tabernacle was set up, the people could behold God's glory). This is the same word here. In some ways, this then is a powerful book end of the NT and the Johannine literature. It begins cosmically with God choosing to dwell with us on the old earth; now it ends with God choosing again to dwell with us on the earth he has again prepared for us.

ω ("omega", 21.6) One thing worth smiling about. The word "Omega" is a word in English. In Greek, it is a letter, literally, "Big O", Jesus says he is the "alpha and big O."

αρχη ("beginning", 21:6)
τελος ("end", 21:6)
The word in Greek for the "beginning and end" are "αρχη" and "τελος." Both of these words have all sorts of connotations. Arche can mean ruler (as in monarchy), first principle, beginning. (En arche = in the beginning). Telos can mean completion, final, last, ultimate. Jesus is the beginning and end; Jesus is the ruling principle and ultimate reality.  The point here is that Jesus is both the book ends of the story (in the beginning was the Word), but also the intellectual and emotional beginning and end.

Comments from early posts on Rev 21:

21.1 The word sea "thalassa" is used just a few verses earlier (20.13); it was holding the dead. Perhaps one could argue that if the sea no longer exists, then death also no longer exists.

21.4 The word for wipe away (exaleiph-oo) means more like wipe out than wipe away. The activity is probably a bit less sentimental than this pastor would like ;-)

John 13:31-35

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, most recently May 19, 2019.

Summary:  I offer some initial reflections on the Greek.  If I preach on this, I will likely draw on the narrative in which it is set:  Jesus washing his disciples feet, Jesus being betrayed, Jesus about to be arrested, condemned and crucified.  Jesus is not just talking about love, but revealing it to his disciples.  Likewise, we are called to love each other.  In reality.

Key words:
εδοξασθη (aorist form of δοξαζω, meaning "glorify, 13:31,32):  I was struck by this word; what does it mean for Jesus to be glorified?  What does glory mean in John's Gospel.  In the Old Testament, the word for glory is associated with the awe-inspiring presence of God:
  • Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Exodus 40:34 
  • Blessed be his glorious name forever; may his glory fill the whole earth. Amen and Amen.  Psalm 72:19
John presents Jesus as the fullness of God's glory on earth.  The miracles of Jesus reveal this glory.
  • And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.  John 1:14
  • Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.  John 2:11 
  • Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. John 17:24 
  • So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.  John 17:5
Yet Jesus begins to discuss God's glory, especially in these passages (13:31-32) in connection with his crucifixion and resurrection.  This is kind of strange; either John wants us to see the resurrection as the glory (total Christus Victor) or John sees that somehow the crucifixion is an revelation of God's glory.  That is something truly worth considering, not as a theological question, but as a Biblical question -- does John go that far?

The other movement in terms of God's glory is that the disciples, by their actions, reveal God's glory:
  • My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.  John 15:8
This is something really worth pondering -- and struggling with as a Lutheran -- to what extent is God's glory revealed through our Spirit-led actions?

υμιν υμας (forms of "you", 13:34)   Jesus gives us a new commandment to YOU and declared he loved YOU.  But the YOU here is actually plural:  Y'ALL!!  Worth remembering that Jesus love is for the whole community, not just the individual.

διδυμι ("give"; 13:34)  Jesus gives this command in the present tense, "I keep giving you the new commandment."  We must be taught, again and again, to love each other.

μαθηται (form of  μαθητης, meaning "disciple"; 13:35).  The word for disciple means pupil.  Are we called to be a pupil of Jesus or his teachings?

Friday, May 10, 2019

John 10:22-30

This passage is from the Revised Common Lectionary.  It appears during year C on the 4th Sunday of Easter, often called "Good Shepherd" Sunday.

Summary:  So much promise.  Jesus knows us, Jesus gives us life, the Father holds us in his hands.   Still dreaming on this passage...

Key words/Grammar items:
εγκαινια  (Hanukah; 10:22)  Most translators call this the Festival/Feast of Dedication.  Which is true, but it would be known to most English readers, certainly in America, as the Hanukah!  Just a reminder that Jesus is a practicing Jew.  In fact, the action in John typically revolves around Jesus celebrating and interpreting anew the Jewish feasts.  The original Hanukah involved a miracle that allowed the temple to stay lit throughout worship...over and against occupation.  So when they ask Jesus if he is the Messiah/Christ, it is a very loaded question.

στοα του Σολομωνος (Solomon's Colonnade/Porch/Stoa; 10:23)  There is a portico that comes up a few times in the New Testament, where Jesus gathers.  Here is a website that does a nice job giving a quick summary:

εκυκλωσαν (encircled; 10:24)  The people have encircled Jesus, not gathered around him!  Also, they are speaking (ελεγον, imperfect tense) repeatedly to him.  There is conflict brewing!

αλλα  (but; 10:26)  Jesus inserts a hard contrast here:  "BUT you did not believe"

γινοσκω 27    This word is kind of boring in Greek:  Know, recognize.  But it likely is a translation of the Hebrew yada, which has a more intimate meaning.  Regardless, worth pondering -- what does it mean for Jesus to know us!!

ακουουσιν - ακολουθουσιν (hear and follow; 10:27).  They are not related, but I find it fascinating that in Greek the word for hear is embedded in the word for follow.  Following Jesus begins with listening and ends with listening!!  What is also worth noting, a GOSPEL move here, is that if we are to follow, this means that Jesus is leading.

διδωμι (give; 10:28) Jesus indicates he will always be giving us eternal life.  It is not a one time and done gift!

Thursday, May 2, 2019

John 21:1-19

This passage appears in the revised common lectionary, year C, the 3rd Sunday of Easter.

The passage describes beautifully the Christian's experience before God:  We are drawn out of our every day life, called into an encounter with the Risen Lord.  Jesus forgives us, restores us fellowship and sends us out to care for others.  In short, we are called back into the world, in service.

Key words:
συροντες  (συρω, meaning "drag", 21:8) and
ειλκυσεν (ελκω, meaning "draw" or "drag", 21:6 and 11)
Both of these words indicate that the disciples had to work to bring in their haul.  Serving Jesus and working in ministry are hard work!  (See note below on ειλκυσεν)

παιδια (meaning "child", 21.5) Paidia means "child" not "friend" as the NIV has it.  Jesus refers to the disciples as children.

ιχθυς (meaning "fish,"; 21:6, 8 and 11)  Just a friendly reminder that the fish became an early Christian symbol, as the letters formed an Anagram:  Jesus (I) Christ (X) God's (Th) Son (U) Savior (S).

εβαλεν (βαλλω) (meaning "cast" or "throw"; 21.7)  The word for "cast" nets is "βαλλω" which is used for both the nets and for Peter "casting" himself into the see.   Interestingly in 18:10 and 18:11, when Peter draw (ειλκυσεν) his sword and then was told to put it away (βαλε).  This is a great reminder about how this passage reveals the transformation at work in Peter.  He was casting away swords he had drawn; now he is drawing the fish-filled nets he has cast.

ανθρακαι(ν) (meaning "coal", 21.9)  Jesus is cooking over "anthrakia" which means "coals" (ie anthracite coal).  When Peter earlier denied Jesus, it was over a coal fire (the only two times this word appears in Scripture).  How often does God do this, where God takes the very place, location, thing, relationship, addiction, sin, fear and transform this into an instrument of God's healing.

εσχιθη (σχιζω, meaning "tear", 21.11)  The net is not torn (schiz-oo). Interesting that John concludes with the net not being schismed; in Mark's Gospel, the Passion ends with the curtain being torn! Different metaphors, for sure, but something about the nature of Jesus in both is nicely caught with this subtle difference.  The church will grow and grow, into a full harvest, but it will not schism.  Sadly the church has schismed, a reminder that we are already called to mend the nets of Christianity.
There are three interactions between Jesus and Peter.  The big point is that just as Peter denied Jesus three times, he professes his love three times.  However, linguistically, these three interactions are distinct.

φιλεω vs αγαπαω ("love")  What to say on the various words for that Peter and Jesus use?  Some feel this is a big deal (Peter responds to the question of do you love (apage) me by saying that he "philos" Jesus.  I don't think that John makes much of the dinstinction; he uses them interchangably. If anything, the ambiguity of "philo" and "agape" points toward the intimate (and therefore mutuable and vulnerable) and transcendent (unconditional and permenant) love of Jesus toward and with his disciples.

προβατα αρνιον ("sheep").  The flock includes "lambs" and "sheep", new/young and old/mature!

ποιμενα βοσκε ("tend") Feed/tend vs shepherd.  Feed and tending VS shepherding.  We are called to feed people (teaching ministry) and shepherd them (pastoral ministry).  Both of these verbs are in the present tense, suggesting this is an on-going action!

Fun with Greek
present tense:  Most of the verbs in sections 1-12 are in the aorist tense.  Except for the proclamation:  "He is the Lord" as well as the sentence "Jesus is coming, taking the bread and giving it them" suggesting this is an on-going task of the disciples.

αριστησατε (αρισταω; 21:12, 15)  This word means to break the fast with a meal.  I only highlight it because it has a clear English cognate:  artisan!  Jesus serves an artisan meal :-)

μη (21.5) Jesus asks a "meh" question which expects a "no" answer. (ou questions expect a yes answer. How can one remember this? Alphabet. m-n; o-y)

153:  There are so many theories about this number.  Some of them involve grammatica, where letters have numbers and therefore words have a number value.  MANY theories have been put forward about what this number may mean:  The whole variety of fish in the world and therefore the breadth of the Gospel "catch"; the number 153 is a triangle number, the sum of the numbers 1-17...  Anchor Bible commentary surprisingly goes into various ways people have looked at this.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

John 20:19-31

In the RCL, this passage appears on Easter II (April 28, 2019)

Summary:  This is a rich enough story to preach on every year.  There are so many directions!

What stands out to me this year (2019) is that Jesus wounds do not go away with the resurrection.  They are healed, but still present.  Furthermore, the disciples, AFTER having seen the risen Lord, still lock their doors.  In short, the changes brought by the resurrection are more subtle, more of a dialectic: "crucified AND risen", "afraid AND hopeful", "doubting AND believing."

Key Words:
λεγει ("speak", 20.19)  The verb here for "speak" is the present tense, which suggests repeated action: He continually was saying to them, "Peace be with you."

υμιν ("you all" in the dative, 20:19).  The Greek leaves out the word "is" in the sentence, simply declaring "Peace to you."  Hence, the Greek is a bit more ambiguous here as to whether Jesus is offering a blessing or making a statement: "Peace is with you" could work. All that the Greek has is "Peace to/for/with/by/in you."

θυρα ("gate", 20.19)  The word for "door" or "gate" here is θυρα; this word is used in other Gospels to talk about the entrance to Jesus tomb.  It can be hard to make cross-Gospel connections, so a bit simpler:  Jesus calls himself the θυρα, or the Gate in John's Gospel (10:1-9).  See also:

κεκλεισμενων ("locked", 20.26) The text literally reads: "The Jesus of locked doors/gates came stood into the middle of them." This is a very odd placement/case of the expression "locked doors/gates."  It may modify the circumstances under which Jesus came (ie, Jesus came in after the gates were locked), but it might also modify Jesus.  This is the more exciting possibility:  It could read "Jesus came while the doors were locked" or "Jesus of locked gates came." The former is the more likely translation, but John seems to suggest the latter through his narrative.  My point with the "locked gates" Jesus is that Jesus is very good at breaking down barriers that we establish.   

αποστελλω vs πιμπω ("send", 20.21) Jesus here will use different verbs for the father's sending and his sending of the disciples, αποστελλω vs πιμπω .  Don't read into this.  John just likes to use variety. See 8.29 and 17.18 for examples of Jesus using these verbs interchangeably.

ενεφυσησεν (aorist form of "breath-in", 20.22)  The verb "breath-in" is a rather rare verb in biblical Greek, appearing once in the NT and nine times in the OT Greek.  Significantly, in the OT it shows up in Genesis 2:7, when God breathes into the humans; in 1 Kings when Elijah revives a boy and also in Ezekiel 37, when God's Spirit breathes into the bones.  The disciples are coming alive!

αφεωνται & κεκρατηνται (perfect forms of αφηιμι & κρατω, meaning "forgive" and "hold", 20.23) The verb tenses of "forgiven" (αφεωνται) and "bound" (κεκρατηνται) are in the present for the disciple's actions, but in the perfect tense for the result -- the effect is lasting. Actually, the tense for forgive is in the aorist and the tense for bound is present.  This suggests that binding/retaining a sin takes energy -- we have to keep it up...I think this is true on an individual level, where retaining a sin takes energy as we hold a grudge. I think this also is true on a societal level, where calling something a sin and continuing to claim it as such takes energy too. 

τυπος ("mark", 20.25)  This word can mean "wound" or "mark" but clearly comes into English as another word:  "Type."  A τυπος originally meant a mark created by a blow or impression.  Eventually it came to mean a mold or form into which something could be made (you make such a form by impressing or blowing something!); then it came to mean example, often related to a set of teachings.  For example Paul writes in Romans 6:17 (NIV)
" wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted."

The idea being that Christ's teachings made an impression and formed a mold. 

So what is the mold and form of the Christian teachings?  Resurrected wounds from the cross!!  This is the substance of the Christian proclamation.

ου μη ("no-no", 20.25) The ου μη that Thomas uses is a strong future denial meaning "ou meh," as in "will never."

οκτω ("eight", 20.26) The number eight here is a reminder that Christians gather on the 8th day, the day after the (Jewish) Sabbath, the day of resurrection.  Baptismal fonts have eight sides...

απιστος ("unfaithful", 20.27)  Thomas never "doubts" as a verb. The word doubt is not used, but rather, unfaithful! Jesus says literally, "Do not be unfaithful but faithful."  Side note:  I've often wondered if Thomas struggled to believe the resurrection more emotionally than intellectually because he knew exactly what it meant if Jesus had been raised -- they would all have their lives totally changed...exactly what happened to Thomas, even traveling to India to proclaim Jesus is Risen!

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Luke 24:1-12

The church normally reserves discussion about doubt for Easter II and the person of Thomas.  But as I read Luke this year, the disciples spiritual blindness and doubt really struck me.  Luke does a masterful scene of portraying the difficulty of that morning and the struggle for the early disciples to believe.  Rather than cast doubt on the resurrection this amplifies its true meaning:  Christ is raised amid the chaos of real life, with darkness, doubt and even despair, not in a fairy tale world where everybody gets it.  Christ is raised and to be praised then, even as we struggle to figure it all out.

Key words:
βαθεως ("very early, or more literally, deep"; 24.1) The dawn is not simply described as early but as "Bathos" or deep. It is a deep dawn.

ευρον ("find", from ευρισκω; 24:2 and 3)  This lent we did a (lectionary based) preaching series on Lost and Found.  Finally we come to the end of Luke's Gospel, expecting to find Jesus.  The disciples too come to the tomb ready to find Jesus.  They instead they found the stone rolled away; more significantly, they did not find Jesus.  A possible preaching trajectory:  We do not find Jesus, we can only find evidence of the resurrection.  In short, we can linger in the tombs, linger in history, linger in apologetics, linger in "historicity" but none of this will ever show us Jesus.  The living Jesus must find us.  This finding us likely includes times of wonder, disbelief and pondering of what it all means.  In short, the disciples are all lost because they cannot fathom the height and depth of the resurrection.  Perhaps we do well, for a moment, to consider how mind-bending this is (see the work of NT Wright for the utter "shock" of the resurrection.)

απορεισθαι ("at a loss"; 24.4)  Previously I offered a break down of this word that is incorrect.  I offered that the word for "at a loss" is related to the word for vision -- "apo-ora-oo" literally "away from sight."  I leave this mistake on my blog as a reminder that learning means making mistakes!
It turns out this word is α-πορεω not απο-ρεω.  This means the word is:  "to be without resources, to be in straits, to be left wanting, to be embarrassed, to be in doubt, not to know which way to turn."  It adds to the level of confusion in the whole story.

τον ζωντα ("the living"; really "the living one"; 24.5)  Oddly enough, the translators are too literal here with the phrase "why are you searching for the living among the dead." The phrase "the living" is exactly what it says in Greek, word for word, but the grammar of the sentence dictates the translation:  "the one who is living" or "the living one."  Point A)  "The living among the dead" is more poetic.  When it comes to preaching, go for it!  Point B) It amplifies the confusion of the disciples.

ηπιστουν (disbelieving, from απιστεω; 24.11)  It is not only Thomas who doubts, but the whole crew!

θαυμαζω ("wonder"; "amaze"; 24.12) The word here is "thaumaz-oo" means "amaze" or "wonder" in Greek. You can even see the word "amaze" in it (even though does not give this as the etymology. Whatever.)  The vast majority of the time Luke uses this verb, it means wonder, as in amaze. For example, when Zachariah writes, "His name is John (1:63)" or when Jesus sees a person's faith, he is amazed (7:9 Roman centurion). So it seems a bit odd that Peter, according to the NIV and  NET translators, is left wondering and not being amazed. But perhaps a bit of a play on this is a helpful insight into all of us -- we are both wondering and amazed.

προς εαυτον ("to himself"; 24.12)  Most translators take the phrase, "to himself" to mean "to his possessions," namely, Peter's house (including BDAG).  Hence they translate it "Peter went to his house."  Yet, Peter does not necessarily go to his home. It literally says, "He went away to himself." This could just as naturally read, "He went away by himself." As the KJV puts it "wondered in himself."  Most translators likely base their translation on John 20:10, where it is more clear that the disciples went home.  But Luke's imagery is of Peter walking away by himself, pondering these events, likely without any real direction in his wanderings.

Some translation help (and perhaps a nugget for a sermon):

Three "buts"
μεν...δε (24.1):  The last verse of chapter 23 has a μεν, which demands a δε.  They both mean but/and, but are put together to form a pair, like:  "On the one hand, but on the other."  Luke lets us know that the story keeps going! 

αλλα (24.6):  This is the "big" but, the one that lets you know what comes before and after are significantly different (and cannot be joined by a simple word 'and').  In this case, the only "bit" but in the section comes between "He is not here" BUT "He is risen!"

σαββατων 24.1 Grammar note: The Greek literally says, "On the first of the Sabbath." This means the first day after Sabbath (ie the first day of the week), which would be the 8th day, or Sunday. This is why we worship as Christians on the 8th day, the day after the Jewish sabbath. Also, Jesus will appear to Thomas 8 days later, reaffirming this 8th day connection! (In Luke's Gospel, Jesus was also transfigured on the 8th day)

ιδου 24.4 The word "suddenly" is actually an interjection -- "idou" (like the Hebrew henneh)

μνησθητε 24.6 The word here for "remember" is related to the word for "tomb" (both have the same root, which in English comes in as mnemonic.

αροματα 24.1 The word for spice is "aroma"

αποκεκυλισμενον 24.2 Grammar note: The word "rolled away" is a participle here. It is perfect passive. This is a helpful verb for understanding what the perfect in Greek means. The stone had undergone the action of being rolled away and its present state was a result of that action. Perhaps a sermon idea: Something has been permanently changed by the Resurrection. The tombstone is gone

αστραπτουση 24.4 The angles in the tomb are flashing; Jesus says the son of Man will be "flashing" in his coming. (17.24)...hmm...Perhaps Luke suggests that in the resurrection, the kingdom has come?