Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Texts for Nov 16 (Isaiah 2 & Matthew 25:14-30):

For the RCL text for this week, Matthew 25:14-30, I have a link here:

I also have a link to the narrative lectionary Isaiah 2 here:

What strikes me as I further reflect on Isaiah 2 is just how absurd -- wonderful -- the claim is that the mountain of the Lord will be established as the highest.  The temple mount is not even the highest point in Jerusalem.  The mount of olives is already higher!  In fact, the kings put their temple on a higher portion of rock than the temple.

When we look out, we might only see God's work in terms of little hills, dwarfed by other problems and even kings that surround it.  But God's reign lives on after kings have died (Isaiah 6) and finally, God is not made in temples built with human hands (Acts 17).  To put it another way, God's future is in now way constrained by the present reality.  Peace can exist after war; God's teaching can exist after ignorance and rejection; salvation can occur after death.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Micah 5 and 6

Sorry, I have no RCL work for this week's text (Matthew 25:1-13). 

Summary:  The inclusion of chapter 5 allows one to see Gospel in chapter 6, namely, that fulfillment of the law (so beautifully summarized in 6:6-8) will ultimately not depend on humanity but on God acting in Jesus Christ, his first born son, who will shepherd the people.  I spend a lot of time considering justice, especially within the context of Micah.

עלה ("olah" meaning "burnt offering", 6:6):  I realize that discussion of ancient Jewish offerings is not intuitively interesting.  But the this type of offering has significance here.  In a burnt offering, nothing is left for the people.  Normally an offering to please the gods allowed for fat to burn for the gods, and meat for the humans.  But in a burnt offering to God, nothing was left over.  In short, it is a total sacrifice, leaving no food behind for either the one making the sacrifice or even the priest.  The section in 6:6-8 should not be dismissed to lightly.  The world and ourselves are fundamentally broken to enter into the presence of God.

םשפט ("Mishpat" meaning "justice", 6:8): The word justice has a very broad meaning in the Hebrew Bible.  What does it mean in this case?
Perhaps a way to get at its meaning in Micah is too look at examples of injustice that the prophet cites:
Corrupt officials:
Micah 7:3 Their hands are skilled to do evil; the official and the judge ask for a bribe, and the powerful dictate what they desire; thus they pervert justice.
Corrupt rich people; violence:
Micah 2:2 They covet fields, and seize them; houses, and take them away; they oppress householder and house, people and their inheritance.
Micah 6:11-12 Can I tolerate wicked scales and a bag of dishonest weights? Your wealthy are full of violence; your inhabitants speak lies, with tongues of deceit in their mouths.  (See also mountain of the Lord that brings peace).
Corrupt priests:
Micah 3:10-11 who build Zion with blood and Jerusalem with wrong!  Its rulers give judgment for a bribe, its priests teach for a price, its prophets give oracles for money; yet they lean upon the LORD and say, "Surely the LORD is with us! No harm shall come upon us." (See also 3:5)
False worship
Micah 5:13-14 and I will cut off your images and your pillars from among you, and you shall bow down no more to the work of your hands; and I will uproot your sacred poles from among you and destroy your towns.

First point:  God cares about justice in that he both expects people to behave with justice and will punish injustice.
Second point:  For God, justice includes a totality of how society is oriented, especially toward those who lack resources. 
Third point:  Just about everyone, it seems, is commiting injustice.

I think the ethical imperative for us to live an honest and fair life is clear.  The question comes down to, however, how we try to promote, do or make justice beyond ourselves.  I think it is fair to say the imperative here is not simply a personal dictate to live an honest life, but to ponder, pray and act about injustice in the whole of society.  This for me is a very humbling task, one that makes me want to walk humbly and with God.

אהב ("Ahav" meaning "love", 6:8):  This word means "love" much like we use it in English -- it covers a great deal of things and relationships.  It is also used in Deuteronomy 6:5, where the Israelites are called to love God with the heart, soul and strength, perhaps a nice way to think about this verse.  This verse is the prophetic conversion of the command to love our God into the command to love our neighbor.  It has always been there, but now it is made clear.

צנע ("tsana" meaning "humble" (as verb), 6:8)  This verb only appears once in the Hebrew Bible.  Thus, not gonna say too much.  But I think its worth considering the other verb, walk -- in that this is a full body action, governing our entire sphere of action.  God wants the totality of society, but also the totality of our own actions, to be in line with his will.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

2 Kings 5:1-14 (Elisha and Naaman)

Summary:  I don't offer too much here this week, because the All Saint's theme will likely prevail in most contexts.  If you would like some insight about the word saint, you can go here.

I found this text fascinating though in terms of my understanding of a prophet.  Elisha's actions in chapter 5 and 6 offer a different vision -- a very Christ like vision -- of what it means to be a prophet and perhaps too, for this Sunday, a saint.

Key words:

נביה  ("Niveah" meaning "prophet" (2 Kings 5:13))  Often times we think of prophets as those who either a) predict the future or b) bring down the judging word of God.  In this case, the prophet also extends God's healing.  In this sense, God offers a foreshadowing of John's baptizing people in the river Jordan.  In fact, in chapter 6, the prophet Elisha saves lives and acts as a peace maker between Syria and Israel.

טהר ("tahar" meaning "cleanse, purify", 2 Kings 5:12, 13, 14)    We saw this word back in Psalm 51.  In Hebrew, this word is associated with pure metals (especially gold); it is often associated with ritual and ceremonial cleansing and furthermore, cleansed items used in worship. You could go a couple of ways here: First, that God's cleansing is like removal of dross from metal -- getting rid of the crap in our lives that we might be pure. Second, you could argue that the cleansing has a purpose (to be used in worship and service to God). Third, you could argue that ultimately forgiveness neats a ritual cleansing, including through washing with water or blood.

אראם  ("aram" meaning "syrian" (2 Kings 5:1))  It is worth pointing out that ARAM is not a Jewish country.  There are three vying kingdoms in the time of Elisha:  Israel (Northern Kingdom, with its capital in Samaria), Judah (the Southern Kingdom, with its capital in Jerusalem) and Syria (with its capital in Damascus).  They explicitly worship other gods and are routinely at war with the Israelites (and Judeans), as chapter 5 (see later in the passage too) makes clear.  Given this reality...
* God still is soverign over their armies (2 Kings 5:1)
* God still is willing to hear their soliders - Namaan
* God is willing to forgive one of their army members for attending worship of another God because his job requires it. (2 Kings 5:18)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

2 Samuel 12 and Psalm 51

The RCL text for the week from Matthew 22:15-22 can be found here:

To get at the story of David, Bathsheba and Nathan, I looked at the Psalm 51 portion of the readings.

Summary:  There are rich theological themes in this Psalm 51.  For my blog this week, I try to get into some the words, which are rich in imagery in the Hebrew.  Hopefully these descriptive words can be a means to get into the Psalm and accompanying story of David, Bathsheba and Nathan.   As a side note, I've always seen the fullest expression of Gospel in this passage in the existence of the Psalm 51.  God turned David's sin into something that was enduring and lasting.  His child died, but his words of lament have comforted people for centuries.

Key Words:
נביא  ("Nivea" meaning "prophet", 51:1 (intro to Psalm):  The word prophecy often means prediction in modern popular imagination and film (Harry Potter/Star Wars).  The prophets in the Bible did not predict the future.  Rather, they spoke the word of God, which often included future possibilities for judgment or promises of blessing.  But the main job of the prophet was to speak the Word of the Lord to the present situation, in this case, a king who had sinned badly.  Very badly.

נתן  ("Nathan", name of the prophet, 51:1 (intro to Psalm):  The prophet's name "Nathan" means gift.  Even the harsh words of God are a gift to David here in that he calls David to repent, to have a restored relationship with God.  When we deny calling 'sin' 'sin' we deprive people of the gift of forgiveness and repentance.

רחמים ("rakamim" meaning "compassion", 51:2) The origin of this word רחם meaning is womb.  In the plural it means compassion; this is clearly feminine way of thinking about God's love; it is like a woman's care born in her womb. 

מחא ("makha" meaning "wipe", 51:2;9):  As the TWOT points out, almost every time this verb shows up in the Hebrew Bible, it is significant.  For example, God will wipe out the earth with a flood; God will wipe away every tear in the eschaton (Isaiah 25:8).  The literal action means:  "Erasures in ancient leather scrolls were made by washing or sponging off the ink rather than blotting. "  Literally erase away, expunge!  So that when God reads the book of life, he reads them no more.

כבס  ("kabas" meaning "launder", 51:3;7)  TWOT:  "to make stuffs clean and soft by treading, kneading and beating them in cold water...it is used always for clothing, 'to launder'"

טהר ("tahar" meaning "cleanse, purify", 51:3;7)  In Hebrew, this word is associated with pure metals (especially gold); it is often associated with ritual and ceremonial cleansing and furthermore, cleansed items used in worship.   You could go a couple of ways here:  First, that God's cleansing is like removal of dross from metal -- getting rid of the crap in our lives that we might be pure.  Second, you could argue that the cleansing has a purpose (to be used in worship and service to God).  Third, you could argue that ultimately forgiveness neats a ritual cleansing, including through washing with water or blood.

חול  ("khul" meaning "twirl" translated here as "born", 51:5) from the moment the person begins writhing, twirling, dancing, moving, even in pain, they are born with sin.

אמת  ("amat" meaning "faithfulness" or "truth", 51:6) What is it that God desires?  It is not simply truth as in a true statement, but faithfulness.  Something beyond propsitional truth is desired here.  We could do a lot more here, but the NET translates this nicely with integrity.

ברה  ("barah" meaning "create" 51:10)  Just a reminder that this verb is only associated with God as the subject.  Humans can fairly be described as co-creators in the sense of we can imagine, build, make, name...but we cannot create life; nor can we create a new heart.

קדש ("kadesh" meaning "Holy" 51:11)  This is the only time in the Old Testament we have an unambiguous reference to the Holy Spirit.  The NRSV does not do Christians justice when they translate the words with lower case holy spirit.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Joshua 24:1-15

For RCL folks this week, here is some work I've done on the NT lesson from Philippians.

Summary:  I found the subsequent verses (16-24) just as, if not more, fascinating.  Joshua does not simply offer them the promises, but also the consequences and challenges of following God.  Do we do the same in our preaching?  This text challenges me:  Do I preach the consequences of not serving the Lord as much as I preach the benefits of serving him? 

But if this is reading too far ahead, the preaching challenge of this text remains:  Can you preach the necessity of worshipping the Lord without preaching decision theology?

More practically:  What are the other gods out there today?  Who are the gods of old and the gods of the new?

 ירא ("yarah" meaning "fear", 24:13)  This word is translated as fear, revere and obey in various translations.  How we translate this word?  This linguistic question rests on a theological question:  what does it mean to fear the Lord?  We are back in the Ten Commandments and Luther's explanation of the first commandment:  "We are to fear, love and trust God above all things." 

Fear could be understood more in terms of reverence -- be in awe of the Lord!  I think this is something that we need to preach and inculcate in our parishoners.  We often, post-enlightment, reduce the miraculous nature of God.  God still does wonders and the church must proclaim this. 

However, in vs. 20 Joshua suggests that not worshipping God has extremely negative consequences, including punishment by God.  More than respectful awe is meant by the word "fear" here.  As a pastor, I see people all the time motivated by their fears:  fears of being alone, fears of being scorned, rejected, poor, dead, the list goes on.  I discover that people are often profoundly motivated by their fears.  When we fear God, his consequences, his judgment above all things, in this and I would argue in this alone, do we find true freedom.   What we fear will be our God.

עבד ("ayved", "serve, worship or be slave", 24:13) This verb shows up throughout the Exodus narrative.  Who will the people serve?  Pharaoh or the Lord?  It is interesting that all these words are related:  serve, be slave, worship.  To worship is to serve, even be slave to; there is not thought of worship that does not entail obedience.

The Exodus narrative is done, but as the people enter the promise land, at stake is who the people will worship.  Before it was Pharaoh; but now their options are the gods of old or the gods of the new.  This reminds us that a) there will always be alternatives to worship of God; b) we will always be worshipping some god or another.  Atheism is not really possible.

רע ("rah" meaning "evil", 24:15)  There is a great expression here, "If it is evil in your sight to worship the Lord."  For some, worship of the Lord will be unacceptable, even among God's people.

בחר ("bakhar" meaning "chose", 24:15)  It is interesting that the people cannot choose the Lord.  They can only choose to worship other gods.  Even when Joshua declares his loyalty (seemingly a passage that gives evidence to decision theology), the Bible still does not want to say that we can choose God.  We have free will -- to turn away, but that is it.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Exodus 20 (10 Commandments)

RCL folks, I have a link here to my blog post about the Epistle reading, from Philippians

NL folks, this week is the Ten Commandments.  I am not sure if its fair to summarize this passage.  As we all know, it begins with God's relationship to the Isrealites and moves into our relationship to our neighbor.  It includes promises and threats.  A few linguistic tid bits to keep in mind:

"Ten Commandments":  This is not in the Hebrew.  It simply begins, "God spoke these words."

אנכי ("anocki", meaning "I", 20.2)  The first word of the ten commandments have nothing to do with rules, but God affirming his role as their savior and Lord.

לא ("lo", meaning "no", 20.3 and throughout the section)  This form of no means "really, do not."  Hebrew has another word for "no" in the case of most negative prohibitions; la is a supremely strong prohibition, almost could read:  "You will not take other Gods."

חסד ("khased", meaning "lovingkindness", 20.6)  This word means more than simply love as an emotion.  It is combined with the verb, עשה, which means "do."  Khased is the long-standing, faithful love of God that manifests itself in continued acts of generosity.  The question for interpretation is whether khased here refers only to God's love to Israel in this particular covenant (ie, God will loyal if you are loyal).  The evidence for Khased referring only to God's love in terms of this covenant stems from research on ancient convenants between dieties, kings and people.  However, Exodus 34 describes God's khased (the word is in Ex 34.6) after the apostasis.  This reveals that God's love, while bound in a covenant, is greater than the covenant.  Furthermore, I think it is fair to make the argument that the 10 commandments grow out of God's khased for the whole world, not just Israel.

רצח ("rasah", meaning "kill", 20.13)  Does this word mean murder or kill?  NET Bible note matches well with the TWOT bible on this:  "Refers to the premeditated or accidental taking of the life of another human being; it includes any unauthorized killing (it is used for the punishment of a murderer, but that would not be included in the prohibition). This commandment teaches the sanctity of all human life."

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Exodus 14:10-29 (Crossing the red sea)

For those on the RCL, I've done a lot of work on the Philippians 2 work in the past:

For those on the NL:  I struggle a great deal with this text, because the innocent seem to suffer.  Perhaps, never really suffering oppression, I do not understand the harsh realities that undergird this text (escape from slavery and destruction of the military that allows for the system).  Here the Word of the Lord teaches me that some systems are so horrifically out of line with God's intentions that they will be destroyed, not simply by human weapons, but by God. 
If this is altogether too much, you can focus the fact that the Israelites are not so much told to be still, but to be quiet.  Sometimes, we need to be very quiet to see God at work!

ילחם from לחם   ("lakham", "fight", 14.4):  The word here means fight; in the niphil form (which it is here), it means wage war.  The "Lord Sabboth" (YHWH) is a God willing to fight for his people.

לכם("lakem"; two words, "to you all"; 14.4): God is not telling a particular individual to stay still, but the whole nation.  He will fight for all the people, the good, the bad, the lame.  In fact, he is speaking to the people that were just complaining.  He will free all who were enslaved.

תחרישון from חרש ("hkarash"; "be silent"; 14.4)  This word is translated here as "still" but it also means "be silent."  I think the be silent is more relevant here because the Israelites have been complaining.  Its not about "letting go" but "shutting up" ;-)
Here are some other uses of this verb: 
Esther 4:14 For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father's family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this."
Job 33:33 If not, listen to me; be silent, and I will teach you wisdom.
1 Samuel 7:8 The people of Israel said to Samuel, "Do not be silent in crying out to the LORD our God for us, and pray that he may save us from the hand of the Philistines."

רוח  ("ruach", "spirit"/"wind"; 14:21)  When I first read vs 21, I was thinking a lot of Genesis 1:  The Spirit moving; God dividing things; dry land appearing.  As it turns out, none of the words really match up.  Divide and dry land are different words than in Genesis 1.  Spirit here really means east wind...but...but...it is worth pointing out that the Spirit must be sent to engage against the forces of chaos and death.  I don't think one really stretches the Hebrew or theological narrative to say that the Exodus recalls, if not relives, the creation story of a God whose Spirit moves against chaos to create life.