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.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Mark 1:1-8

For this week's Revised Common Lectionary post, I updated my previous post on http://lectionarygreek.blogspot.com/2011/11/mark-11-8.html

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.