Monday, July 25, 2016

Luke 12:13-21

This passage occurs in the RCL Year C, most recently in July 2016.
Summary:  I am intrigued by the fact that Jesus does not make a distinction between "needs" and "wants."  So much of my Christian and cultural upbringing taught me to distinguish between "need" and "want."  God gives us what we need; not necessarily what we want; we can keep what we need and given to charity the things we "only" want.  I wonder if it is time for us to explode this distinction and say God gives us all we have; all we have is a gift to be shared!  All possessions, at some deep level, are simply wants.  All we truly need is God, a God who provides us with daily bread and who gives us his eternal Kingdom.

If you are preaching this after Luke 11:1-13 (the Lord's prayer and praying; the RCL's previous week's Gospel passage), this passage becomes a great way to build on what we mean by daily bread and "yours is the Kingdom"!

Key words:

οχλου (genitive of οχλος, "ochlos", meaning "crowd", 12:13)  It is someone in the crowd who calls to him;  The word here for crowd is οχλος, a fairly common word in the NT. It refers to the uneducated  mass of citizens; Jesus is among "the people."

κληρονομια(ν) ("kleronomia", meaning "inheritance", 12:13)  Breaking down this word explains the trouble people had and continue to have with it. The word is literally "portion-law."  κλερος means portion (or lot, as in cast lots); νομος means law (the ending has an "a" because it is a feminine word, but this doesn't change the fact that its root it still νομος).  An inheritance is meant to be a gift, a blessing to future generations.  Due to sin, we cannot leave a gift a gift, but we have to "protect" it with laws until the point where it no longer becomes gift.  It is interesting too that the people want to make Jesus, the savior, into a law-giver.  Again, due to sin, we cannot embrace a gift, but must install law!

πλεονεξια ("pleonexia", meaning "greed" or "coveting", 12:15)  Jesus warns them, "Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed."  The word here for "greed" is πλεονεξια.  This word, whenever it appears in the NT, has a negative connotation, most often used in laundry lists of obvious sins.   Most interesting, however, is the connection that Colossians 3:5 (the RCL's NT reading for this week) provides.  Paul writes that coveting, πλεονεξια is, in essence, idolatry.  Wow!  Greed as idolatry is in itself a great sermon (Walter Bruggeman gave a fantastic sermon on this at Luther Seminary in 2008).  One tidbit he shared is that as Paul connects coveting/greed and idolatry, he connects the last commandment (do not covet) to the first (one God; no idols).

υπαρχοντων (genitive participle of υπαρχω, meaning "possessions", 12:15)  Jesus warns of an excess of possessions.  It is worth reminding ourselves that the word for possessions, υπαρχοντων, does not simply mean toys or things.  It includes: means, resources, the things which one can claim for existence. In fact, the word is a substantive participle, literally meaning "the things that exist to him."
Two examples of where this word shows up:
Luke 8:3  These women were helping to support them out of their own means.
Luke 19:8  Zacchaeus says to Jesus:  Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor.
In other words, Jesus here is not distinguishing between needs and wants.  Perhaps this is really helpful for as American Christians who are told we can have what we need, but not what we want. 

Our tendency is to greatly exaggerate what we need!  Jesus here points out that our only need is God and God alone.

αναπαυου (command form of αναπαυω, meaning "rest"; 12:19)  We are a world hungry for relaxation -- stress relief from our anxieties.  The word for relax here is αναπαυω.  This word is used in Matthew 11:28, when Jesus promises us rest (Come to me all you who are weary and heaven laden for I will give you rest."  The parable asks us a haunting question:  Where do we seek our solace?  Where do we seek out rest?  Possessions inevitably require maintenance, rules and effort...and do not bring us the profound solace we had hoped for.

τρεφει (feed; 12:24), αμφιεζει (clothe; 12:28)  I put these two verbs together.  They appear in these verses:
Luke 12:24 Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds (τρεφει) them.
 Luke 12:28 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe (αμφιεζει) you
In both of these cases, the verb is in the present tense, indicating an on-going action.  God will continually feed and clothe us.  This is not a one-time action to start the human story in motion, but a continuous creator!

προστεθησεται (future passive form of προστιθημι, meaning "add", 12:31)  What is significant here is that this verb is in the passive voice, meaning that the subject (us) is not the agent (the one doing the work.)  If these things are to be added, it is not because of us, but because of God.  If you did not catch that God has agency, not us, in the next verse Jesus says that the Father gives us the Kingdom.

Two little grammar notes:
12:16 "A certain rich man..."   The literal translation of the clause is: "of a man certain rich produced good crops the field." The fact that the first three words - man, certain, rich - are all in same case shows they are related.

12:17/12:18   The verb ποιησω appears in both 12:17 and 12:18.  Even though both spellings are the same, it is conjugated (and therefore translated) differently.  The first time it is translated as an aorist subjunctive: "What shall I do?" In the other it is future indicative: "This I will do." Context determines the correct translation

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Luke 10:38-42

This passage occurs in the RCL, Year C.  It occurred most recently in summer 2016.

Summary:  This passage is a powerful contrast to the previous passage of the Good Samaritan.  The work of the church (or of Christian individuals) cannot be service to neighbor alone but also worship of Christ.  Perhaps the two are more connected than we think though.  Jesus commends the rich lawyer to show mercy.  In this passage Mary is praised for attentive listening.  Maybe in our culture of sound bites and tweets, active listening is one of the most powerful displays of mercy we can give someone.

Key words (and use of language):
For Martha:
υπεδεξατο (from υποδεξομαι, "hypodexato", meaning receive; 10:38).  The Liddell-Scott offers a tremendous number of variations on the meaning of this word.  It literally means, "to receive beneath the surface."
It also means, among other variants:
A)  to receive into one's house, receive hospitably.
B)  to give ear to, hearken to
C)  to take in charge as a nurse
D)  of a woman, to conceive

I commend this list (truncated) because all of these are good things.  They are powerful ways to think about hospitality to strangers or ways in which we can "receive beneath the surface."  Martha seems on the right track!

διακονια(ν) ("diakonia", meaning "service", 10:40).  The word diakonia means originally "table service" but came in the Christian tradition to mean acts of ministry.  Long-complicated development of this word that is still debated today.  Regardless, to describe oneself as doing diakonia on behalf of Jesus is a very good thing, something in fact, every Christian is called to in their baptism.

So what's the problem?
επιστασα  (from εφιστημι, ephistemi, meaning "stand over", 10:40)  Mary gets so frustrated she goes over to Jesus and is literally looking down on him (and her sister).  We can get so busy doing the work of the Lord that we lose sight of the Lord and develop an unjustified sense of our own importance.

Imperfect tense:  The words to describe Martha's worries: περισπαω (40), μεριμνας (41) and θορυβαζη (41) are all imperfect/present tense verbs, suggesting an on-going action.  She was consumed and continually worried.  All this said, I have a lot of compassion for Martha.  In my family (both of origin and current) people put a lot of effort into welcoming our guests.  It is hard for me to hear Martha criticized.

For Mary:
παρακαθεσθεισα (from παρακαθεζομαι, meaning "sit along side of"; 10:39)  Mary seats herself along side of Jesus, giving him attention.  How often do we have people simply sit alongside of us, without any agenda but to focus on us?

ηκουεν (ακουω meaning "listen"; 10:39) She listens.  In fact, the verb ακουεν is in the imperfect tense, showing this is an on-going action.  As I wrote earlier, I think this is profound.  She listened.  In our culture that wants to blog, livestream and tweet, she actually took time to listen.  Not for one or two sentences, but for a long time.  Maybe she loved it.  I am sure she did.  (Most times when I actually listen and truly give someone my focus, I love it too!) 

The worship of Jesus is ultimate.  I am not trying to refute the basic meaning of the story.  I wonder though, if here on Earth, in this time and cultural space, listening may be a profound way to love our neighbor.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Genesis 18:1-15 (Genesis 18:1-10a)

This passage is found in the RCL , Year C, most recently in the summer of 2016.  In this case, it is Genesis 18:1-10a
This passage is found in the Narrative Lectionary Year 2 (Most recently: Sept 20, 2015). 
Summary:  Right after the beautiful image of Adam and Eve in the garden, we get a glimpse of real families and the problems:  infertility, if not infidelity and all sorts of sibling rivalries.  What is at stake?  Can God be a faithful God over and against human sin and weakness?  The answer here is clearly "yes."

איש ("ish", meaning "man", 18:2)  The word here does not mean angels, dieties or anything else divine.  It simply means man.  Which raises all sorts of interesting questions.  First, do the three men represent the Trinity?  This seems unlikely.  Why?  First, the two men separate themselves from the "LORD" (18:22).  This seems a strange behavior for the Trinity, supposedly united in an eternal dance of love.  Second, the two men are referred to as "messengers" (or angels in 19:1).  Even the New Testament refers to them as angels (Hebrews 13:2).  It seems strange to refer to the second and third person of the trinity as messengers/angels!

Side note on ancient languages:  In both Hebrew and Greek, the word for messenger (αγγελος or
מלאכים) is the same as the word for angel (think ev-angelical means good -message!).

Second, can God take a human form without the incarnation?  This seems really intriguing.  Was God merely appearing as a human...or was God actually taking human form...or is God always in human form?  Well, for starters, food was consumed (18:8).  Real food!  Real stomachs!  This was not just a ghost, but a living human being.  It seems possible that God could, in fact, take a human form...but this makes a strange case for the significant of Christmas.  The significance of Christmas is not that God became human but HOW God became human, namely as a virtual refugee born among animals and proclaimed to shepherds.

צחק ("saqaq", meaning "laugh", 18:12)  Simply play on words:  Sarah "laughs" (saqaq) and will name her child "he laughs" (Yitzhak, or anglicized, "Isaac")

היפלא ("hi-iphaleh" two words, meaning "if wonderful", 18:14)  Some translations take this in a negative way, "Is anything too difficult or too hard."  The root here is one of wonderful and miracle -- is anything too amazing, too miraculous for God.

TWOT offers a great insight into this word (really root word) about the fact that the miracle is not as important as the revealed fact that God is for (or against) us.

"Preponderantly both the verb and substantive refer to the acts of God, designating either cosmic wonders or historical achievements on behalf of Israel. that is, in the Bible the root pl° refers to things that are unusual, beyond human capabilities. As such, it awakens astonishment (pl°) in man. Thus, the "real importance of the miraculous for faith (is) -not in its material factuality, but in its evidential character... it is not, generally speaking, the especially abnormal character of the event which makes it a miracle; what strikes men forcibly is a clear impression of God's care or retribution within it" (Eichrodt). We may add that it is essential that the miracle is so abnormal as to be unexplainable except as showing God's care or retribution."

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Colossians 1:1-14

This passage is found in the RCL year C, last appearing in Summer 2016.

Summary:  This passage is unlikely see much preaching time because it is paired with the parable of the Good Samaritan!  But there is some interesting stuff in here, especially as one considers the rest of the letter.  Overall, Paul really expects the people who believe in Christ to live differently than the rest of society.  Living as a follower of Christ never was, is or will be easy.  But no fear, for Christ is the true hero, the one who has come to rescue us.

Key words:
αγιοις (hagios, meaning "saint", 1:2)  This word is a tough one to translate.  Literally it means "holy ones" or latinized, "saints."  In the original church, the believers viewed each other as saints.  Overtime, this term came to refer to a small number of Christians (the "marines" if you will).  But in the original church it was everyone.  So do we translate this as "saints" reminding people that they, as Christians, are saints, or do we avoid this word to avoid its every day meaning as a "1-in-1000 person who someone how rose above the rest of us."

ευχαριστουμεν (from ευχαριστω, "eucharistoo", meaning "thanksgiving", 1:3)  Just a quick reminder that our fancy Holy Communion term "Eucharist" meanings "thanksgiving."  It was used in the New Testament not simply to refer to the action of Jesus in Holy Communion (he gave thanks) but also to refer to any giving of thanks to God!

καρποφορουμενον (from "καρποφορεω", meaning "bear fruit", 1:6)  This summer's Biblical theme ought to be fruit.  Although we've left Galatians, Paul continues to talk about the idea of bearing fruit!

αξιος ("axios," meaning "worthy", 1:10)  Some scholars consider Colossians deutero-Pauline, in that Paul did not write it.  Typically such scholars really do not like the housevcodes at the end of the letter. I don't agree with this assessment; I think Colossians is very much like Paul; if not him, then someone who studied a great deal under Paul and who was him or herself brilliant and inspired wrote it.  But lest we think that worthiness is not a Pauline concept:
Philippians 1:27     Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ
Romans 16:2          So that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well.
1 Thessalonians 2:12    Encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.
See also Ephesians 4:1:    I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.

Some words on atonement and the work of Christ
The letter to the Colossians quickly shifts away from prayers for the believers and moves into a hymn of Christ's praise.  In this week's passage we read a few metaphors used to describe for the work of Christ:
- κληρου (from κληρος, "kleros" meaning "inheritance", 1:12)
We gain an inheritance in Christ.
- ερρυσατο (from ρυομαι, "hermai" meaning "rescue, 1:13)
Christ rescued us from darkness (literally the word is hero!)
- απολυτρωσιν (from απολυτρωσις, "apolytrosis" meaning "redemption, 1:14)
Christ redeemed us through forgiveness.

In some ways, these are all classic theological notions involve the Christ who suffers and then defeats death.  What new insights or perspectives might Colossians offer us?  It seems though that the redemption is not (or at least not primarily) from God's wrath, but rather the powers of sin.  Sin has a really power to captivate us.  This does put us before God's wrath (3:6), but this is not the real problem, rather sin is.  To put it another way, Colossians is not describing substitutionary atonement (where Jesus takes our place on the cross and therefore the punishment of our sins) and more of a synthetic atonement where Christ's death and resurrection have cause in us the death of the old and the rising of the new.

We need a hero.  Who has finally arrived!

Monday, July 4, 2016

Luke 10:25-37

This passage occurs in the RCL, Year C.  Most recently Summer of 2016.
Summary:  This is a classic passage that needs no complex exegesis to make it understandable.  One can tell it as a morality tale (we should be the Good Samaritan); or one go a Lutheran route (Christ is the Good Samaritan).  But if you want to try something else...A word I'd never caught before was the word for inn -- πανδοχειον -- literally all-are-welcome.  I find this a comforting image of the church -- a place where anyone and everyone comes to receive mercy and healing on the road of life.  (okay, okay, it is not a great image of repentance, but nonetheless, it is worth pondering:  why do people find comfort at a local bar/inn and not the church).

Other words:

σπλαγχνιζομαι ("splagchnizoma", meaning "compassion", 10.33)  This word means compassion in Greek; it comes from intestines.  To have compassion meant your guts were turned over.

ζωην (from ζωη "zooe" meaning life, 10.25)  In John's Gospel Jesus affirms that everlasting life is not something that begins after death, but begins here.  You can really see this in the Greek in his Gospel, where many of the tenses regarding everlasting life are in the present:  he who believes HAS everlasting life (John 3:36).  In this passage from Luke, Jesus also connects everlasting life with earthly life.  (Do this, Jesus says, and you will live.)  Jesus denies a distinction between everlasting life (the lawyers' question) and life.  To live with God is everlasting life, which begins here on earth.  However, Luke here connects them with moral action.  What does everlasting life look and feel like?  Like showing mercy.  I have no desire to drive a wedge between Luke and John or between faith and works here.  Simply, the everlasting life is the life in the new creation, where our faith transforms us into God's instruments of mercy.

πως ("poos" meaning "how", 10.26)  Jesus does not say, "What does the law say?"  Rather he says, "How do you read the law?"  A reminder that people can read the same laws in different ways!

Monday, June 27, 2016

Galatians 6:1-18

This passage occurs as the RCL New Testament Lesson during year C, most recently July 2016.

Summary one:  This passage is full of contradictions, or as Lutherans call them, dialectics.  We are called to bear one another's burdens, yet carry our own load; boast in our work, yet only boast in Christ; we are called to do good for all, yet do good chiefly for those in the community.  Phew.  I don't think a preacher or pastor or theologians should resolve these tensions.  This is life in the spirit, which we are called to walk in (5:25).  I think Paul's challenging words here call us into a community of discernment.  Ultimately, we are called in this community back to the cross, where we can realize we will not get it right, but finally Christ will bring about a new creation.

Summary two:  Paul presents us with a couple of images of the church here.  A hospital, a family and a big arrow to the cross.  Perhaps even a military unit.

Summary three:  The canon within the canon, ladies and gentlemen, is, Christ crucified and the new creation.  Done.

Key words:
προσλαμβανω ("catch", Gal 6:1)   The word here for catch is "prolambano." "λαμβανω" is a common word in Greek, meaning give or take. The pro prefix is also a familiar word meaning before or ahead of time.   So this word means 'catch ahead.' Interestingly, this phrase then almost means "If you catch someone before they sin..." The point here is not simply admonishment but prevention of further injury.

καταρτιζω ("restore", 6:1)  The word for "restore" here is "katartizo" which is related to the Greek medical term for "set a bone in place." This obviously takes skill, time and care. What a powerful image about admonishment! Another image comes from Hebrews 11:3, where God καταρτιζ-ed, ie, "prepared", the world by his Word. Talk about skill and time and energy!

πνεθματικος ("spiritual"), 6:1, the word for "spiritual" appears a lot in other Pauline writings, see 1 Cor 2:13, but it is not developed in Galatians. It is worth noting here that the point of our justification, of our ultimate union with Christ, is not to disregard the world, but the enter more fully into it, to help heal others.

βασταζετε ("bear"), 6:2 (and also 6:5).   In 6:2, "Bear one another's burdens" is in the present imperative: Continually and keep bearing one another's burdens. This is an on-going work. It also appears in 6:5.

Curiously there are different Greek (and English) words used for the object of the bearing:
Bear one another's burden (6:2)
Each must carry their own load (6:5)
The first object, burden or βαρος, probably means more weight (and can mean emotional weight).

The second one, load or φορτιον, means more merchandise, a specific thing you could carry, a load. Does Paul intend anything with these different images? Maybe one could say put them together something like this: You are responsible for making your own ship float but this does not absolve you from helping your neighbor's sinking boat either. I wonder if this is a case, like the Gospel of John, where you can try to splice synonyms and not get very far!

καυχμα ("boast", verb in 6:14, 6:4)  The NRSV and NIV locate the pride in different places, based on how they translate εαυτου. The NRSV indicates the pride is in the work. The NIV (and NET) translate it as "Each can take pride in himself." It really says, "in himself" (eauton).   Eauton can mean his as in possessive, but if this were the case, Paul would use the word in the genitive.  (At least I think!)   Here I'd go with the NIV.

Ultimately, none of this boasting really matters because the only thing finally worth boasting about is the cross.  Paul warns here ultimate against spiritual pride, in that we can make the cross (or faith in it) a matter of our own doing by turning faith into works or faith itself into a work, instead of a gift.

oικειος, ("household", 6:10).  This word is really beautiful.  It describes a family member, a relative, one who would dwell with you.  Ephesians 2:19 also contains this:
"So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God,"
I sometimes shy away from the idea of a family as a metaphor for church because it can be closed off (everyone considers their family loving but ask that to a new person coming in).  Yet it speaks to the intense care we can and should have for one another.

στοιχησουσιν ("walk," 6:16) This verb has its root in a military or ordered formation.  Paul also uses this verb in chapter 5:25.  Paul commends us to walk in the "stoicheo" of the Spirit; now we are to walk in-line with the standard of Christ crucified and the new creation

κανον ("standard", 6:16)  The word in chapter 6 is "canon," ie standard or law!  What is the canon within the canon:  Christ crucified and the new creation!

Grammar Review:  Negative imperatives
μη + verb, 6.7.   A μη imperative should be translated, "No longer" ie "Stop being afraid."   In this   "Stop being deceived."  (Notice the case of "mock" -- present.  God is continually not mocked, or in better English, God is never mocked.")

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Luke 9:51-62

Summary:  Clearly Jesus is focused and determined here.  The Greek highlights this.  This passage is a humbling reminder for a culture that wants to fit Jesus into our life rather than build our life on Jesus.  Church becomes one of many competing activities instead of the encounter with the living Lord that weekly re-orients our life.  The good news? Jesus does not let the rejection of pagans stop him from dying on the cross for them and for us; likewise our lack of focus and prioritization of Jesus does not change his death for us on the cross.

Key words:
αναλημψεως (meaning "ascension", 9:51)  This inclusion of this word is a reminder that the ascension is an integral part of the plan for Jesus.

το προσωπον εστηρισεν ("strengthened his face", 9:51)  It is interesting that Luke uses the word face (προσωπου) three times in this three verses.  Almost no English translations capture this.  Luke wants to give us a visual here.  Jesus has set his face toward Jerusalem.  His eyes are on the prize!

του ("the" in the genitive, 9:51)  Greek can show intention by combining "του" + an infinitive.  Greek can also show intention with the preposition "εις" meaning "for."  In 9:51 Luke stacks all of this together to create one long sentence of purpose!

ετοιμασαι (meaning "prepare", 9:52)  The word prepare shows up frequently in the Gospel of Luke and often at important times:

John the Baptist prepares for John (1:17, 1:76, 3:4)
God's celebration of Jesus birth (Luke 2:31)
Prepare for passover (22:8)
Prepare spices for burial (23:56, 24:1)

προτον ("proton" meaning "first", 9:59,60)  The core problems is neither love nor duty with family.  However, the key is the word first -- proton.  What is first in your life?

A proton is the building block of the periodic table -- of chemistry.  It is the foundation upon which every atom exists.  In fact, an atom can be stripped on neutrons, even temporarily electrons.  But without a proton, an atom, by definition, ceases to exist.  What is integral and essential for us today?