Monday, November 23, 2015

Josiah Reform: 2 Kings 22 (Narrative Lectionary for Nov 29, 2015)

Note:  My hope is to make this passage helpful for Advent 1 preaching.
My approach to this passage for Advent 1 will be to talk about the gift that is Advent.  By gift I do not mean some sort of rigid battle against Christmas in our church or homes for four weeks.  Rather by gift I mean the reminder and invitation to focus on Christ these coming weeks.  How can our home and house be a dwelling place of God?  I think a sharper Advent message about repentance is possible; this year I will focus on the gift of Advent, home devotions and worship of Christ.

בית ("bet" meaning "house": 22:4,5,6):  The word of the temple here is the house of God. We often call our churches houses of worship, but house of God?  The description, in both its "everyday-ness" but also its "holiness" is a fertile juxtaposition.  How can our church be a house of God?  How can our own homes be a house of God?  Part of Advent  is the grand theme of preparing our life for the second coming of Christ.  Perhaps a more realistic assignment is preparing our homes for company.  A happy middle -- preparing our homes to celebrate the first coming of Christ?!

חלדה ("Huldah", 22:14)  Just a reminder we have a prophetess here.  This like 600 BC and we have women speaking the truth to power.

נתנ ("nathan" meaning "give"; 22:5,8,9, 10)  This word can be tricky to spot, in spite of the fact that it is one the most common Hebrew words in the Bible.  The word is tricky first because linguistically "n"s tend to disappear when prefixes or suffixes get attached.  (This is true in English and Latin - con-operation becomes cooperate, e.g.)  This word is also tricky to spot because it is often translated in different ways (to avoid repetition of the word 'give').

In this passage, נתנ can mean "entrust" as in vs 5 when Josiah orders the money given (entrusted) to the supervisors and eventually workers.  It can also mean "present" when the priest is presented with the book of the Law (vs 10).  I think this gets at a lot having to do with money:  it is a gift that it also something with which we are entrusted.  It also gets at the law:  It is a gift, a present to us.

קרב ("qareb" meaning "tear", 22:11)  This is a traditional sign of repentance, also cited in Joel 2:13.  If one wanted to focus on repentance during Advent, this would be a great place to start.

A little bonus:
גדר ("gadar" meaning "build esp a wall" vs 22:6)  Used here to make a noun, in the form of the
"the one who..."  we have the word "the one who builds of a wall" or "mason."  This then is awesome in that the money is given over to the masons who help recover lost wisdom in the bowels of the temple. 

A leadership bonus I:
When people have both skills and are entrusted by leadership, great things happen

Reforms and human covenants do not last forever.  They are still good.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Isaiah 5:1-7 (Narrative Lectionary for Nov 22, 2015)

Summary:  This is an action packed passage.  Lots of connections to the rest of Bible, allusions to a wedding, word play and rotten food.  I think the image of the vineyard is really worth taping into.  What kind of work is involved in growing grapes.  What can go wrong?  Our hope is finally to be connected to a stronger vine, who is Christ our vine and our King!

Key words/concepts:
Romantic connotations:  
ידיד (yadeed, meaning "beloved", vs 5:1)  I was recently at a Jewish and Christian wedding in which this phrase was used by the betrothed to refer to one another.  While I do not know what Jewish weddings looked like 2750 years ago, this is clearly an intimate word.

שיר (shur, meaning "song", vs 5:1) Interestingly, this word begins "Song of Songs."...which quickly discusses life in a vineyard.  I do not mean to put in too heavy of "love" overtones here, but it is clear that singing a song to a beloved is an intimate, if not downright romantic, thing to do.

כרם   (karem, meaning "vineyard", vs 5:1)  Huge word in the Bible.  In the book of Isaiah:

Isaiah 27         The whole redemption of Israel is in the metaphor of a new vineyard
Isaiah 65:21    The actual redemption of Israel includes new vineyards
The Psalmist also describes God's work in Israel in terms of a vine:
You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. 
You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land. 
The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches (80:8-10)

The New Testament also picks up on the Vineyard. 
First, Mark 12/Matthew 21 clearly reference in Isaiah 5 parable.
Second, Matthew 20/ Luke 20 contain another another parable dealing with vineyards; see also Luke 13
Third, Jesus describes himself as the vine (John 15)

Trivia:  Noah planted vineyard in Genesis 9:20

באשים (beusheem, meaning "wild grapes" really "stinky"!, 5:2,4)  This word here means bad grapes, but really means stinky, both literal but also moral.  As the TWOT writes,
"Thus this word either describes objects that have a foul odor, bad relationships between people creating abhorrence, and the general principle that evil deeds are so rotten that they have a bad smell in God's nostrils."
That is what happens when we go astray:  stink.

משיר ושית (meaning "thorns and briars", 5:6) A note on the Hebrew here:  thorns and briers is, I would argue, an example of using two words to paint one picture:  a mess of unhealthy vegetation.  This phrase would be lost on me, but I recall, with great joy, singing the third verse of Joy to the World: Nor thorns infest the ground.  If you are looking for a nice to way to segue from this passage into Advent and Jesus, there you go.

The point is that vineyards can be fertile or not...bear good fruit...or thorns.

Play on words
In verse 7 there are some plays on words
Justice (משפח) vs bloodshed (משפט)

Righteousness (צעקה) vs crying out (צדקה
This is not sermon stuff, but a reminder of the poetry of the prophets.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Hosea 13:1-11 (Narrative Lectionary for Nov 15, 2015)

Summary:  Hosea is a relatively unknown book that contains problematic imagery.  Furthermore, there are a number of spots in the passage where the Hebrew meaning is unclear.  Given all of that, I would like to focus on just a few avenues into a sermon for this passage.

אהב ("love"; 11:1).  It is very rare that God declares his love for the people (or any individual for that matter).  Malachi 1:2 is the only other example I could find of this.   
- The love is for the whole people, not just an individual.
- Great love is often revealed in great suffering. 
- Matthew will pick up this verse and ascribe it to Jesus.  Jesus is the new Israel, not just the Messiah!

אוכיל (from אכל meaning "to eat"; 11:4)  This word, along with many others, suggest a  very caring and intimate relationship between God and the people.  I think one could argue here for a rather feminine understanding here of God.  Perhaps this is a can of worms, but suffice to say, the imagery in Hosea is really tough.  This is a beautiful moment of loving kindness.

שוב (shuv "return"; 11:5)  The people will not return because they have not returned (this play on words is missed in the NIV, which translates the word שוב  as repent.  It is a reminder that repenting means changing the road we are on.  Or more realistically:  people, places and things.

נחמים (from נחם "comfort" or "compassion"; 11:8)  This word is a fascinating one in Hebrew because it means something along the lines of "take a deep breath in a way that changes one's emotional mind."  Like a worked up parent, God is taking a deep breath before executing punishment on the child.  The word is often seen as problematic because the idea of God changing one's mind is theologically difficult for many.  Used as a noun in this verse, it simply means compassion and mercy.  Definitely not problematic.  However, verse 8 does point toward the malleability of God's will, always seeming to move toward mercy over justice.
הושע  The name Hosea (or more accurately, Hoshea) is pretty fascinating, likely meaning "the salvation" or "He saves."   But like all things ancient Hebrew, there is a bit of uncertainty!  I had some fun looking at this website this morning for some background:  Here.

Mark 13:1-8 (RCL for Nov 15, 2015)

Summary:  If I had to preach this text, I would prefer to preach on vs. 13:9-11, which talks about the Spirit's work in and through the church between the first and second coming of Jesus.  But hey, if 1-8 is what you have got, the Greek can still open up some fruitful preaching doors: First, what is the foundation of your life?  And second, what is the destiny of life?

Two key insights:

λιθος ("stone", 13.1,2)
The NRSV translates the second half of verse 2 like almost every other translation:
"Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down."However, the text literally reads:
"No stone here will be permitted upon a stone, which will never be destroyed."

The NRSV translators take this to mean that every stone of this building will be destroyed.  I think it means this, but I also think we can take Jesus a bit more literally at his words:  These stones cannot be laid on the eternal rock, who is him. 

You might say I am digging here, but consider 12:10 -- Jesus refers to himself as the rejected stone which has become the cornerstone.  Jesus builds on this earlier statement and says these stones no longer mean anything in light of him, who is the true and eternal temple.

The basic point, regardless of translation, is that in light of Jesus, the true temple and rock, this temple and rocks are unimportant, finally heretical.  I just think we can safely add that Mark allows Jesus to refer to himself, subtly, as an eternal rock.  Regardless, it brings us to the real helpful preaching point:  What is the foundation in your life?  For 1st century Jews, the temple would have been a foundation piece of their life, a center of mystery and meaning.  Jesus says, this doesn't really matter, he does.  We as Christians certainly make idols out of our own buildings, and perhaps for many, we worship our own institutional space as much as the 1st century Jews.

τελος ("end", 13:7)
The NIV translates the second half of verse 7 like almost every other translation
"Such things must happen, but the end is still to come."

The question is, how do we interpret τελος, here translated "end."  It can mean "fulfillment", "destiny", "aim", or even "perfection."
All too often when we think about the end times we think about...the end...instead of the fulfillment of all God intended for us.  It is too bad this week we do not have the Micah 5 lesson.  How much might our collective imaginations be stirred if we instead thought of them as "fulfillment days."  What must happen for God to fulfill all of God's promises?  What does the fulfillment look like?

Monday, November 2, 2015

1 Kings 18:20-39 (Narrative Lectionary for Nov 8, 2015)

Summary:  The coolest thing in the Hebrew is reconstruction of the altar by Elijah.  While Elijah is known in this passage for his courage, the Hebrew suggests he is also a healer.  In fact, Elijah's work on the altar could really be seen as a model for understanding the necessary healing of the church today.  First, it connects the people to God's work in the past; Second, it connects people to God in prayer.  Third, it symbolizes the intended transformation of the people:  a house of seeds, nourished by water and sent ablaze by fire.  I don't want to miss the counter-cultural courage of Elijah; I just want to uplift Elijah's capacity to rebuild.

Key words:

פסחים (from "pesach", meaning "hobble?"; 18:21 and 18:26)  This verb is crazy here.  This word is likely a homograph, where two words are spelled the same, but have different meanings.  (Like "bear" can have two meanings in English). The more common word with this spelling comes into English as "pass over", as "Passover."  Elisha is playing on this here?

More likely, it means "be lame" or "hobble."  In this sense you could translate this as "How long will you waffle between..."

The other possibility is "dance"  The TWOT suggest,
"1Kings 18:21, "how long 'halt' ye (KJV) between two opinions?" Another suggested translation is, "how long will you 'hobble' on two crutches?" (i.e., Yahweh and Baal). (3) 1Kings 18:26, "and they (the priests of Baal) 'leaped' upon/'hobbled' upon the altar, " presumably a reference to some kind of pagan ritual dance. V.P.H."
-> How long will you dance between two gods?!

Either way, waffle or dance could be pretty powerful stuff (okay, both a bit poetic, but we are talking about Elijah here.  Gird your loins and preach it.)

בשם ((really ב+שם), shem, meaning "name"; 18:24)  What is at stake here is really the "name" of the LORD.  The name of the LORD does not simply mean the pronunciation, but the reputation of the LORD.  Is the God of Israel the faithful God, the living God, the true God...the answering God?  Or not?

ענה (meaning "answer" or "respond"; appears 8 times in this passage).  Baal does not answer.  God does.  This is the crux of the matter for ancient Israel as it is for us today.  Does God respond to us?

רפה ("rapa", meaning "heal"; 18:30) This word is translated here as "repair."  However, it is normally translated as healing.  If we are to rebuild churches, we need to heal them.  Heal them first with their sense of the past by reaffirming God's presence in their history; second, heal them with prayer.  Third, heal them with water (Baptism); Fourth heal them with fire (Holy Spirit); heal them with hope -- expect the church to be the seeds of the future.

בית סאתים זרע (three words meaning "house of grain seeds"; 18:32)  Elijah has the people built a moat around the alter big enough for two bags of seed.  The Hebrew opens up another layer of interpretation.  The literal Hebrew is this:  "Make a healing (or trench) as a house of grain seed, two bags, circling the altar."  The altar will be circled as by a house of grain.  What a beautiful image of the church, an alter surrounded by a house of seed grain, nourished by water, by prayer and by the fire of God!
And yes, in 18:38 the actual Hebrew word does mean lick; the waters were licked!

Mark 12:38-44 (For Nov 8, 2015)

Summary:  This is a case where the Greek does not alter the meaning, but simply forces us to slow down and examine Jesus' familiar words.  As I read the passage this time, I became struck by Jesus' condemnation of an overly consuming, self-aggrandizing and elitist clergy.  While I believe the office of ministry is a divine institution, I know that I personally can err very much in my execution of this office.  More generally, I think Jesus makes a comment on our consumption and our giving this day, a message that all of us need to hear.

βλεπω (12:38; "see")  The word here for "watch out" is simply the Greek 101 for see; Jesus will tell his followers to "watch out" five times in this section (12:38, 13:5;9;23;33).

γραμματευς (12:38; "scribes") This word has an obvious English cognate:  "Grammar."  The question for us today is, whom do we need to watch out for -- who are the grammarians today?  I struggle with this question a bit more personally -- how do I become a grammarian, who says "no" to the working of the Lord, either in my congregation or in my denomination?  How do I NOT become someone whom Jesus warns against.  The further description of Jesus' critique includes:

they wear στολη (12:38, "stole" or "robe)
and sit in the 
προτοκαθεδρια (12:39, "first seat").  Ouch. 

κατεσθιω (12:40, "devour")  As you guessed, the Bible uses this word in an entirely negative fashion.  It also comes up in the prodigal son, where the son has consumed the father's property (literally, βιος, used also in this passage in vs. 44).  One can read this passage as a narrow critique of 1st century Jewish leadership, more broadly of religious leaders over time, or most broadly, against all over-consumption.  In what ways does our whole culture "devour widows houses while praying long prayers."  A prophetic voice is helpful here, but I think Jesus also calls each us to examine our own actions.

βιος  (12:44, "life"  The woman gives "the whole of her life" The word life here is "bios." So the sermon is not about stewardship, but about biology.  Or maybe better put, Stewardship includes biology.  Do we live to consume (food and status) or give of our whole life?

Grammar note:  Here we have a substantive participle "the ones who devour" and a participle that might also be adjectival (in this case, the ones who devour = the ones who pray) or circumstantial. See, it can go both ways because the participle "pray" does not have an article in front of it.  Normally you translate this type of participle as a circumstantial participle, one that describes the circumstances under which the main action takes place.  If translated in this fashion, it would read, "the ones who devour widows houses while praying long prayers." Ouch! I think in this case, the circumstantial participle gives a better feel for their hypocrisy:  They pray while they sin.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

John 11:32-44 (RCL for Nov 1, 2015)

Summary:  This emotional passage does not need to deep exegesis to understand.  But as always, the Greek amplifies the emotions, especially of Mary.  Furthermore, the Greek offers some poignant connections to other parts of John's Gospel.

Key words:

ερχομαι & οραω (11:32 and 11:34, also 1:39; 1:46; 4:29; 19:33; 20:8 "Come and see").  These two verbs come together a number of times in John's Gospel. A quite impressive list actually:
A) When Jesus begins his ministry and calls his disciples.
B) When the woman at the well returns to her hometown to invite others (different cognate for "come");
C) When they bring Jesus to Lazarus' tomb.
D) When they find Jesus on the cross.
E) When they come to the empty tomb.

John's Gospel invites us to come and see, even Jesus on the cross and finally the empty tomb.  The result of coming and seeing is believing.

In this passage, however, the two words come together in two very emotional ways.  The more obvious one is when they invite Jesus to see the tomb of Lazarus.  The more subtle one is that Mary came (ηλθεν) and saw (ιδουσα; note feminine participle endings may be more difficult to spot, sadly).  In this case, she falls at Jesus feet (see next note).  She has done what a disciple should do, she has come and seen. What happens when we come and see, not in intellectual or hopeful curiosity, but in grief?

ποδος (from πους, meaning "foot" as in words that have "pod" in them; 11:32)  Mary will fall to Jesus feet twice in a short time.  Mary cries at Jesus feet in this story; after her brother is revived, she will fall to Jesus feet to anoint them.  Twice she worships at Jesus feet; the first in lament for her situation; the second in lament for Jesus situation.

Two other powerful scenes happen at Jesus feet.  The other is when the women (including Mary) gather at the foot of the cross.  The last is when Mary (Magdalene) stoops down to where Jesus' feet were in the tomb.  Also, in chapter 13 of John's Gospel, Jesus will wash the disciples' feet.  In short, if there are feet involved, it is likely an emotionally charged passage, relating to the profound cruciform servant-hood of Christ and his followers!

κλαιουσαν (from κλαιω, meaning "weep" 11:33)  Simple point:  People in the Bible cry.  We give so little permission for people to cry today.  Jesus himself cries here (11:35; it is a different word, εδακρυσεν) but don't get caught up in that.  Death produces tears even from the Lord of Life.

ει...αν (if, if; 11:33)  Mary has a particularly harsh construction of Greek here for Jesus.  This combination of ει...αν indicates "a hypothetical that is actually false."  In short, it should best be translated, "If you had been here, WHICH YOU WERE NOT, my brother would not have died."

εμβριμωμενος (from εμβριμαομαι, meaning "snort in", 11:38)  This word means "admonish in anger" visually in the sense of a "horse snorting."  I think its this word that has given rise to all sorts of terrible interpretations that Jesus is really mad in this passage that they don't believe.  I think this is kind of nuts.  I think a better translation is simply this:  "Jesus was so worked up about this death that he looses control of his breathing..."  To put it another way, Jesus does the uncool thing of lose control of his emotions.  Unlike the rest of humanity, when Jesus' gets angry, no one is hurt, but the deepest emotion, love, and deepest power, resurrection, is unleashed.

Lastly, if this passage were not for all Saints, it might be worth focusing on what it means to unbind Lazarus, but I think the interaction of Mary is where its at!