Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Mark 6:1-13 (RCL for July 5)

To summarize: 
In recent weeks (years) Christians (in America) have often felt discouraged by the social setting in which we find ourselves.  In this passage, the Greek makes it abundantly clear that Jesus sends out his disciples into a very difficult world, one that basically rejects him.  Into this world, the disciples are sent out
A) in teams
B) to proclaim, call to repent, and heal
C) to move on from those who reject them (ie, not live in anger, but in hope for the next interaction!). 

Sounds like good advice for the missionary church in the West today!

χειρων (from χειρ, meaning "hand", 6:2,5)  Jesus does not just preach to people, he touches their lives.  Even the disciples who go out proclaiming Christ use oil, suggesting they too touched people!  The church is a mouth-house of the word, indeed, but proclamation is not separate from getting our hands dirty!

A trifecta of words Mark words uses to show just how bad it was for Jesus:
εσκανδαλιζοντο (from σκανδαλιζω, meaning, "to take offense", 6:3):  The word comes into English as scandalized; the world was scandalized by the teachings of Jesus!  Our goal is not to make the teachings of Jesus inoffensive to the world!

ελεγεν (imperfect of λεγω, 6:4)  Jesus is repeatedly saying he has no honor!  The imperfect tense means on-going action; Jesus did not say once, but continually was telling them he had no honor.

εθαυμαζεν...απιστιαν (amaze (θαυμαζω) and unbelief (απιστια), 6:6); In spite of the fact that the crowd is amazed at Jesus' teaching, they still are reluctant to believe.

In short, the environment in which Jesus sends out his disciples is one where
- Jesus teaching is offense, in spite of wisdom (σοφια, 6:2) and miracles!
- Jesus repeatedly acknowledges the difficulty he is facing
- Jesus is not recognized as Lord and Savior


εδυνατο...δυναμιν (both from the word power/ability, ie, dynamite; as a plural noun meaning miracles, 6:5)   The word for "able" as in "able to cure them" is "dyna-mai" which in noun form is "dynamis," or power comes from.  For those preaching the 2nd Corinthians Text, this is the same power that Paul talks about.

μαρτυριον (witness, 6:11) The testimony we are to offer is not necessary against them; the Greek is ambigious. It could actually be as witness to or for them.  Regardless, we are not supposed to exhaust our resources fighting those who do not accept Jesus.

εθεραπευον (from θεραπευω, to heal, 6.5 and 6.13) I wrote about this word in a previous blog post:
http://lectionarygreek.blogspot.com/2011/05/acts-1722-31.html
Basically, Jesus turns the Bible upside-down by actually doing the service toward people, something that did not happen in the Old Testament.  Furthermore, he sends out his people into the world to serve (therapy) the world!





Thursday, June 25, 2015

Mark 5:21-43 (RCL for June 28)

Summary:  This story is classic Mark:  A power struggle is at hand, between Jesus and the world, between the crowds and the religious leadership, between life and death, between despair and faith.  In the end, Jesus will serve as champion, or perhaps in a surprising way, a calm, peaceful and loving savior.  Regardless of what tact one takes in working through this passage, one should wrestle with what it means to "save."  This passage, like most in Mark, suggests a far bigger definition of save than our typical religious discourse!

Key words:
συνηχθη (aorist passive from of συναγω, meaning "gather", 5:21).  This verb has a clear English cognate:  Synagogue, where folks were gathered.  In this case we have two synagogues -- the unofficial gathering (συνηχθη) around Jesus and the synagogue (συναγωγος).  Mark lets us know that the real power is in the gathering around Jesus.

σωθη (aorist passive subjunctive of σωζω, meaning "save"; 5:23).  In American Christianity, the word save almost always connotes a future state, often hell, from which one is "saved."  In this case, the word σωθη is best translated "heal", as it can in Greek.  A few points here:
- In the Bible, saving and healing are neither distant linguistically nor conceptually.
- Salvation grows out of faith.  In both stories, faith is needed.  In the second story, Jesus supplies the faith when we have lost it.
- Salvation is necessary for living.  It proceeds it grammatically vs 23 and in our lives!
- Salvation brings new life.  In both stories, Jesus salvation brings NEW life.
- Salvation does not simply come from the spoken word.  In the later case, Jesus speaks and the girl arises.  But in the first case, simply the touch of Jesus heals the woman.  Jesus is the incarnate word -- when we think about how to heal people, it it not only our words, but also our touch.
- Saving is also for this life; I do not mean to juxtapose the importance of ultimate salvation against earthly in-breakings of the Kingdom of God.  They are related.  We can embrace the work of our savior in this life time.  The NET Bible writes, "This should not be understood as an expression for full salvation in the immediate context; it refers only to the woman’s healing."  Again, there is a real discomfort among Christians about talking about the work of Jesus Christ outside of life after death. 
To put it another way, I am becoming more convinced that when people show up at church on a Sunday, they are dying.  One could argue, they are already dead.  They need to be saved, that is, encounter the living Christ and hear his word, in order to live.

ελεγεν (imperfect of λεγω, meaning "say", 5:28)  The woman is repeatedly saying to herself -- not once -- that if she touches him, she will be healed.

μαστιγος ("whip" or "illness", 5:29)   The word for "disease" here comes from the word for whip; as in Jesus was whipped.

εξ αυτου ("of him", 5:30).  Here I beg to differ with the translation, "The power went out from him."  The Greek here does not say this.   It reads "The from him (εξ αυτου) power went him."  The positioning of "of him" means that it modifies the noun (power) not the verb (going-out).  The translators are lumping this preposition in with the verb and missing the connection between Jesus and the power.  Furthermore, this "of/from him" (εξ αυτου) is kind of interesting...the power that arises from him?  Again, the preposition εκ/εξ can describe all sorts of relationships that encompass movement from/out of/originating in.  The power originating in him?  The power arising out of him?  The power belonging to him?  Regardless, the power is connected to Jesus, not simply in the air!

"Get up".  In vss 41 and 42, two words are used to describe the young girl getting up:  either εγειρω in vs. 41 or ανεστη in vs. 42.  Both are words used for resurrection in the New Testament; the reaction, εκστασει (if you sound it out in English, ecstasy!), is that of the women at the tomb in Mark 16.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Mark 4:35-41 (RCL for June 21)

A guest post for this week by Rev. James Rowe of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Kingston, NY:

The assigned Gospel reading for this Sunday (Lectionary 12) is the powerful story of Jesus calming the storm. By itself, it is a wonderful story. But knowing the surrounding context can be quite helpful. This story begins with the little phrase "on that day, when evening had come" (4:35a) which means that Mark has set this story as a continuation of the parables of the kingdom Jesus has just spoken (4:1-34). In addition, it also serves as the introduction to story about the Gerasene demoniac (5:1-20), the first Gentile encounter Jesus has in Mark's Gospel.  The calming of the storm can serve both as a reflection on what the kingdom is like and also as an introduction to what it means to live in that kingdom as disciples.

Mark's Gospel tends to use the disciples as foils to Jesus, people who witness the unbelievable in Christ again and again and still struggle to understand who he is and what he is up to. Mark 4:35-41 highlights that usage in a few ways. First, Jesus is referred to as "he" (αυτον) as distinct from the  disciples.  Second, when they wake up Jesus, they do not refer to him as "Lord" (κυριος) but as "Teacher" (διδασκαλος) which seems to imply that the disciples still do not know who he truly is. 
Finally, the question of the disciples ("Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?" 4:41b) goes unanswered, both showing their unbelief and also giving us readers a question to ponder as Jesus will soon be casting a legion of demons into pigs and ultimately into the sea he has just overpowered with a word.
 
When it comes to preaching this text, it could be interesting to end the sermon with the same question: "Who then is this, that even the wind and sea obey him?" We preachers tend to tie our sermons off with pretty bows and end with "amen" or some Pauline phrase, but Mark's Gospel gives us a variety of texts where the lack of conclusion opens us up to the possibility of what God is doing in the "storms" of the world and in our lives. 

Rob's response to Jim's post:
In Jim's post, he put something in parenthesis that I wanted to unpack.  He wrote, "The Greek for awake is actually 'arose'."  Indeed, the word here is εγειρω, which also means raised up or even resurrected.  Once again, a subtle foreshadowing of the unfolding mystery in Mark's Gospel.  In this passage of Jesus calming the storm, the word μεγας (mega, meaning big) shows up three times:  a BIG storm; a BIG calm and a BIG fear.  When Jesus power is revealed, it brings both calm and fear, an ironic, if not dialectical combination of emotions.  Perhaps the bigger the demonstration, the bigger the fear!  This also points to the resurrection in Mark's Gospel, when the full revelation of Jesus power is accompanied by great calm in the tomb but also also fear in the first witnesses (φοβεω, Mark 16.8).  

One other little grammar point on fear:
Cognate Accusative:  This fancy term is when the verb and object both are from the same word, like "I rode a ride."  It is considered bad English, but is quite common in Hebrew and in NT Greek.  In this case, Mark says they "feared a big fear" (εφοβηθησαν φοβον)  The weird conjugation of an aorist passive 3rd person plural makes this tough to see.  But it is really simple:  They feared a big fear!


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Mark 4:26-34 (RCL for June 14, 2014)

Here is my post for Mark 4:26-34
http://lectionarygreek.blogspot.com/2012/06/mark-426-34.html

I suggest three possible directions for a sermon:
1)  Reflection on church growth and how a congregation can open themselves to this
2)  Reflection on daily dying and rising and what growth looks like in a Lutheran context
3)  Reflection on Christ as the mustard seed

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Mark 3:20-35 (RCL for June 7)

Here is my updated posting for Mark 3:20-25.  I focus on the verse about "unforgivable sins."  I also add some commentary on Mark's sense of the Holy Spirit.
http://lectionarygreek.blogspot.com/2012/06/mark-320-35.html

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Baptismal Festival: Activities for kids

For Pentecost this year we had nine Baptisms.  The folks becoming baptized were people of all ages (6 mon to 35 years) which caused much celebration but also a bit of a catechetical task:  How do we teach and preach about Baptism to people at different ages.  We ended up having a big intergenerational class on Baptism.  Here were some activities we did and some learnings for next time:

1)  Jesus Baptism
The basic point we wanted to get across to kids was that Jesus was baptized.  We had some coloring sheets, mazes and a YouTube video we showed.  I give this an A/A- for effectiveness. 

I was anticipating 10 kids and 30 showed up so I had to divide them into groups.  It was great to have parental help.









2)  Following Jesus
The next point we wanted to make was that Baptism is an invitation and command to follow Jesus.  To this end we did two things.  First, we had the kids make two footprints.  In one footprint they wrote their name; in the other they wrote something they could do to follow Jesus.  (Pray; go to church; be kind, etc). 

This picture here shows one of a three groups that did this.  We ended up with a sheet 100 feet long that made a great children's sermon!

The other thing we did was have kids color in a big poster that said "Come Follow Me."  This was a great filler of time when the activities went to quick/slow.

I give this an A+





3)  Forgiveness of sins
I wanted to convey something about the forgiveness of sins in Baptism.  I had this chemistry example set up whereby I would have a liquid (vinegar) clean off sins (baking soda).  It didn't really work because one kid kept saying over and over "That is vinegar."  Regardless, there are much better examples of chemistry and color change that I would use in the future, like this one.








4)  Adoption as child of God
We had each child make a sign that said "I, ____, am a child of God, claimed in my Baptism."  We took pictures of the kids.  I hoping to make a collage of the pictures.  Again, we had a bunch more kids than anticipated and I don't know if we got enough photos taken!

This was great overall and the picture I have here is absurdly cute.















5)  Baptism as Body of Christ; Communion of Saints
I made a weaving craft that used the waters of Baptism (blue strips of paper) to weave together three hearts, one for Jesus, one for saints in glory, one for saints living.

I think the craft was super cool.  But it proved too hard for many kids.  I think had I had a smaller crowd, I could have worked with the kids more; it was not at the "give them the supplies and model and let them figure it out" kind of thing.

There would be a way to simplify this in terms of multiple hearts; as it was, kids used lots of tape to make something that looked a bit like what I intended.

Holy Trinity 2015 (John 3:1-21, Romans 8:12-25 and Isaiah 6:1-8)

I have written a fair amount regarding this week's texts.  So I'd like to share with you the links to those pages:

John 3:
http://lectionarygreek.blogspot.com/2014/01/john-31-21-nicodemeus.html
This is a broad look at the story of Nicodemus.  I find an interesting connection with the Holy Trinity Isaiah text in this way -- In Isaiah, there is a death.  The story of Israel's people seems coming to a grinding halt, if not end.  But God is King and so the story moves on.  In the same way, Nicodemus' story seems at an end; but God is King; the Spirit is ALIVE and so the story moves on.

http://lectionarygreek.blogspot.com/2012/03/john-314-21.html
breaks down John 3:16
We've heard John 3:16 a million times before. For this week, I broke it down, word by word. Awful for a sermon, yes, but a closer look reveals how this really is the Gospel in a nutshell. Fun Greek fact: The phrase eternal life is literally "eons of a zoo." God's eternal party is a zoo! Helpful Greek fact: This eternal zoo is not a future reality, but a present one, available here and now.


Romans 8:12-25
http://lectionarygreek.blogspot.com/2011/07/romans-812-25.html
is a very thorough review of Romans 8:12-25.  Summary:
Paul describes in some beautiful and novel ways our relationship to God through the work of the Holy Spirit. First, Paul uses the word adoption (υιοθεσια); he, alone among NT writers, uses this concept to talk about our relationship to God. Second, Paul uses a string of "συν" verbs to talk about our togetherness with God: We have inheritance, suffering and glorification WITH Christ. Lastly, Paul says we have the first-fruit of the Spirit. EVERY time before this, first-fruits went to God to appease him. Now, God is offering us the first-fruit (απαρχη) of the Spirit. I am still pondering the interpretation of verse 23, but it is clear that Paul is pushing the dimensions of the God-humanity relationship in new (and strange) directions, made possible by the work of the Holy Spirit through Christ.


Also, here is the link to my previous work on Isaiah:
http://lectionarygreek.blogspot.com/2009/06/isaiah-61-8.html
I seriously need to re-work this.