Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Matthew 5:1-20

This week the narrative lectionary presents us with a very large chunk of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:1-20.  I have looked at this passage as two smaller passages previously.  I am not sure if I am up to the task of capturing all of 5:1-20 in one sermon. That said, I like how the narrative lectionary wants to help people here the beatitudes as part of the Sermon on the Mount and not as a "single hit."

Side note:  Both these posts have a lot of grammar insights.  I guess I had more time four years ago when writing these!

Two other words
φως ('phos,' meaning 'light', 5:14 and 16)  Jesus calls us the light of the world.  Later in Matthew's Gospel, Jesus even tells his disciples that they have the light inside of them (6:23)  But where does this light come from?  We might go to John's Gospel and its proclamation about Jesus as THE light of the world.  But can we get there in Matthew's Gospel?  Well, a few verses back (Matthew 4:16), Matthew quotes from Isaiah that the people walking in darkness have seen a great light as a savior is born.  The original light is not the people, but Jesus Christ.    Furthermore, the only person who shines in Matthew's gospel is Jesus, during the transfiguration (17.2). 

ορος ('oros', meaning "mountain", 5:14).  Look at what happens on mountains in Matthew's Gospel
Chapter 4:  Devil tempts Jesus from mountain top
Chapter 5:  Sermon on the mountain begins (light must be on a mountain top, not hill; same word!)
Chapter 14 & 15:  Jesus prays on mountain top
Chapter 17:  Transfiguration
Chapter 21-24:  Mount of Olives is the starting and ending point of the passover experience
Chapter 28:  Jesus encounters his disciples on a mountain top

In short, when stuck on Matthew's, run for the hills and make a nifty connection.

Mark 1:14-20

Here is a link to my previous work on Mark 1:14-20

I am struck this time by the word repent.  What does this word really mean?  As Lutherans we often combine this word with forgiveness and dream of our lenten sacrifices.  Yet the word in Greek literally means "new way of thinking."  While I would not want to make repentance into simply a "head" thing, I am wondering what about my worldview, my thinking, is different because I am a Christian?  Am I more hopeful?  What about my own perspective needs repenting?  What makes me hold onto the nets instead of jumping into the water?

Key words examined:  ευθυς, κηρυσσω, ευαγγελιον, μετανοεω, παραδιδημι with a grammar reflection on the present tense and Luther's 95 theses.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Matthew 4:1-17

I have written on Matthew 4:1-17 twice before:
Matthew 4:1-11 
Matthew 4:13-23

I have also written on John 1:43-51 before, for those using the RCL

Two notes for Narrative Lectionary 2015: 
1)  There is plenty of law in this text.  First, there is a struggle against temptation.  Second, there is the call both in word and deed to a total commitment to God.  Before you get too geared up, remember this text is used here as an Epiphany and not Lent I text.  Thus I think the focus should be illuminating something about Christ's identity; in this case, as the one who overcomes temptation.

2)   The NL includes Matthew 4:17, a call to repentance.  If one feels compelled to go in the law direction, I think looking at the bookends of the story is very helpful:  It begins with Jesus baptism and ends with a call to repentance.  Our own call to fight temptation, to repent, to struggle against sin, is grounded in our Baptism.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Matthew 3:1-17, Jesus Baptism, (and Mark 1:4-11)

I have done a number of blog posts in the past on the Baptism of Jesus:


A further comment for this year, especially for those preaching on the Gospel of Matthew.

A key word in Matthew's portrayal of the Baptism is:

μετανοια (metanoia, meaning "repentance", 3:8)  It might be tempting to dismiss these harsh words: "bear fruit worthy of repentance" or "the axe is ready..." We might want to view them simply as words of John the Baptist.  This would neglect the subsequent call of Jesus to repentance (Matthew 4:17) or his praise of repentance (Matthew 11:21).  Furthermore, it would dismiss the repeated passages where Jesus promises to burn away that which does not yield fruit (καρπος): 

Matthew 7:19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

Matthew 13:5-6  Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil.  But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away.  

Matthew 13:30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.' (In Greek the wheat "grain" is actually the word for fruit).

One could argue that in Matthew's Gospel, the Gospel in a nutshell is, "For God so loved the world, that he sent his son burn all that was not good."  In short, Matthew's Gospel and the words of John the Baptist provide the antidote to Baptismal theology robbed of its roots in repentance and destruction of the old Adam.  For Lutherans we have the language of this in our catechisms - what does Baptism mean for daily living?  "It means that our sinful self, with all its evil deeds and desires, should be drowned through daily repentance; and that day after day a new self should arise to live with God in righteousness and purity forever."

How do we preach this?  One could finesse; one could beat people down.  It is okay to start a fire this Sunday.  Just make sure you use the waters of Baptism to put out the fire and bring forth the new life.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Matthew 2:1-12

Summary:  Don't get hung up on the meaning of the word magi and who they were.  The issue at stake is:  Who is Jesus?  The epiphany of our Lord has begun.  He is Messiah, King, and Shepherd.  Deconstruct the titles and gifts as you will; a good sermon on this text should focus on Christ's identity.  Especially interesting are the parallels between this passage of Matthew 2 and the later scenes with Herod, the chief priests, the scribes and Pilate.

Key words:
μαγοι ("magoi", meaning "magi", 2:1)  as Liddell Scott puts it:  "one of the wise men in Persia who interpreted dreams."  They were probably not kings...but they do bring royal gifts and are granted a royal audience.  They were almost certainly not Jews.  Rather than fixate on their wealth or non-wealth, I think their gentile status is a powerful point, especially in Matthew's Gospel, which spent chapter 1 in a Jewish genealogy.  Jesus is for everyone.

χριστος ("Christ", meaning "anointed", 2:4)  This is a crucial term in Matthew's Gospel.  Jesus is the anointed one, prophesied about for centuries in Judaism.  Matthew uses the term three times in chapter 1.  It will be featured in Peter's confession of faith (16:16) and will later be used in Jesus' suffering and trial (various points in 26 and 27).  In fact, almost all of these titles here for Jesus show up again in Jesus passion:

King of the Jews:  βασιλευς των Ιουδαίων (2:2)  Later in Jesu's life, this will be the accusation made against him, that he claims this (Matthew 27:11); finally, this will be put on Jesus cross (27:37).  It is worth asking -- should only Herod be scared?  No.  All of Jerusalem.  Why?  There is a political-historical reason, but I think a spiritual reason we can all connect with -- what does it actually mean if Christ is king of our life?

Leader:  ηγούμενος (2:6) who shepherds (ποιμαινω, 2:6)  Jesus will tell the people that the Shepherd is going to be struck down (26:31)

In some ways, you could probably match up the gifts of the magi with these various offices (gold for the king; incense for the Messiah; myrrh for the shepherd-leader.)  My point is not to pin down a one-to-one comparison, but rather to say that the text invites one to think about WHO is Jesus Christ.  Hence this is an epiphany text, a revelation of who Christ is.  Like all good texts about Christ's identity, it points toward his suffering and death as well.  A good sermon on this passage invites the reader to consider who Christ is as well.

Two little morsels:
θησαυρος ("thesaurus" meaning treasure, 2:11)  No great analysis, just a lovely word to know in Greek/English.
λιβανον ("Lebanon" meaning incense, 2:11)  The word for incense comes from cedar, because its bark provided the incense.  This is especially funny to me because I live in Lebanon County where people refer to Lebanon as a type of bologna made here.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Luke 1:26-38 (Annunication, Advent IV)

For those working with the Luke text (RCL), here is a link to an updated piece:

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Luke 1:47-55 (Magnificat, Advent III)

Quick note:  For those working with the John text this week, a few brief notes:
John 1:6-8, 19-28:  http://lectionarygreek.blogspot.com/2008/12/john-16-8-19-28.html

Luke's Magnificat:
Summary:  Luke is such a gifted writer that the preacher need not do much more than slow down and help people hear what he writes. I have focused on joy.  In Luke's Gospel, joy is associated with the Jesus and communal worship. The Bible pushes this further and connects joy with suffering; if that seems an unfair stretch for this passage, Mary is certainly joyful amid great uncertainty, political oppression if not also family instability.

Key Words:
εσκριτησεν ("stir with joy", from σκριταω 1:41,44). In the New Testament, this word appears only in Luke. The Hebrew word that LXX translators translated as σκριταω has fascinating imagery, including the movement of cattle released from a stall. There is something uncontrolable about this type of movement. In Ancient Greek it would refer to the movement of wind gusts.   (Alas, I couldn't come up with something concrete to tie together Spirit and joy here based on this word!)  John has an uncontrolable joy in encountering Jesus.

2014 additional note: When I think of this word now, I think of my own daughter skipping home from school in her excitement about the day.

αγαλλιασει ("extreme joy", 1:44; as a verb in 1:47) This word means a great joy that often results in body movement. It appears in other key places in the Bible both as a noun and verb
Psalm 51: Restore to me the joy of your salvation.
Psalm 100:2 Worship the Lord with gladness, come into his presence with singing
Luke 1:47 My spirit rejoices in God my savior
Acts 2:46 The original worshipping community
Matthew 5:12 (Beatitutdes) Rejoice when they mistreat you...they did the same to the prophets.
(1 Peter also associates this word with faith in the midst of suffering and trials.)

χαρα ("joy"; not in this section!) Okay, okay, the word joy is not in this section. But joy shows up a lot in Luke
1:14: Joy at birth of John
2: Joy in the news of angels to the shepherds
15:10 and 7: Joy at a repentant sinner.
24:41 Joy of the disciples at the resurrection
24:52 The disicples end Luke's Gospel by worshipping in joy

Grammar: A hidden resurrection (Luke 1:37-38)
In many cases, it is impossible to translate word for word, not only because of meaning but also syntax. English translators are (almost) forced to hide a resurrection that happens in Mary.
Mary has just heard the Word of the Lord and responded in faithful obedience (1:37-38). The translators make it look like there is a new paragraph: "In those days..." where the Greek connects Mary's faith to the next move. It reads literally, "Raised up, Mary, in those days went." In fact the word for rise/rose is actually αναστατις, which means even "resurrection."
So, a nice Lutheran translation would be:
"May it be according to your word." Raised up to new life, Mary went to Elizabeth...

To put it simply, Luke subtly reinforces the notion that the Word of the Lord produces resurrection.