Monday, December 10, 2018

Luke 3:7-18

This passage is found in the RCL, Advent 3, Year C (Most recently Dec 16, 2018).

Summary:  It almost seems ironic to the Lutheran preacher that Luke refers to John "evangelizing"; here for it seems all law.  However, this is a great Lutheran sermon.  It fully offers the listener God's law, both instrumentally (vocation) but also theologically (terror that leads us to Christ).  Furthermore, it defines the role of the church:  God's gathering of baptized sinners, where he justifies them (cleanses) and sanctifies them (puts them to use).  Basically, Martin Luther must have written this chapter.  Haha!!

Okay, a more subtle commentary -- sanctification requires sifting.  Does the church sift us or has life already sifted us?!

Key words:
προσδοκαω ("wait" or "expect"; 3:15)  A great Advent words!  Interestingly, Luke uses this word a whole bunch (6x in Luke; 4x in Acts), far more often than anyone else. In this case though, the people are not waiting for Jesus, per se, but rather the Messiah, and wondering whether John would be it. Perhaps a reminder and a challenge -- what are we waiting for?

καρδιας ("heart"; 3:15)  The people wondered "in their hearts."  In Luke's Gospel, the hearts is the place where thought occurs, much like Hebrew!

ειη ("to be"; 3:15) The word here for "is" is in the optative mood, a rare usage indeed. Gotta give it to Luke -- using Hebrew thought with advanced Greek!

αλων ("threshing floor") and συναγω ("gather"; 3:17)  God gathers in the wheat to do something good with it.  It was beaten, yes, but this had a purpose -- make the grain productive for wheat.  This is sanctification.  God taking away our crap so that we can be useful for our neighbor.

διακαθαιρω ("cleanse"; 3:17).  This word's cousin καθαιρω is more familiar -- Catherize!  The job of the church is to cleanse us.

Grammar Review:  Super easy participle:
μελλοθσηας:   The "coming" wrath.  This is a verb function as an adjective.  Easy as pie.  Remember, not all participles are hard!  Many have direct and easy ways to translate them into English.  In this case, you just have to identify it as an adjectival participle (how?  It has the word "the" in front of it and it describes the word immediately following it).

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Luke 1:57-80

This passage is found in the Narrative Lectionary, Advent 4, Year B (Most recently: Dec 20, 2015).  It is also found in the Revised Common Lectionary, Advent 2, Year C (Most recently, Dec 9, 2018)

Summary:  As I reflected on Zechariah's words, I asked myself -- why does Luke give him so much time?  Most of us could have gone from the Magnificat right to the birth!  (And liturgically we normally do!)  I wrestled with answers having to do with John the Baptist, but then I realized the reason Luke spends so much time on Zechariah has nothing to do, really, with John the Baptist, and everything to do with Jesus.  Zechariah's song is Luke's way of proclaiming to us the key mission of Jesus Christ:  To be our Lord and Savior.  Why else would Luke exhaust so much ink between the Magnificat and the birth?  In this blog post, I look at the connection between Zechariah's words and the words of Christ from the cross and resurrection scenes of Luke's Gospel.

Where to go for a sermon:  A reminder of what this whole thing Christmas is all about -- the salvation that comes to us in Jesus Christ.

Key words (unrelated to my bigger point):
πνευματου αγιου  (form of πνευμα αγιος, meaning "Holy Spirit" 1:67).  The Holy Spirit makes frequent appearances in Luke's Gospel!  (In fact, this is the fourth appearance in Luke 1 - vss 15, 35 & 41).  The Holy Spirit's work here is in conjunction with prophesy, specifically the work of pointing the world toward Jesus Christ.

αφοβως ("without fear" 1:74) The prefix "α" in Greek means "without"; φοβος means "fear."  What a beautiful reminder, in our world of fear, that Jesus has come that we might worship without fear!  Paul, in Philippians 1:14, talks about how in prison he still worships without fear.

Key words (related to my bigger point)
ευλογητος ("blessed" 1:68)  Zechariah begins his song with a word of blessing to the Lord.  The last activity in Luke's Gospel (really the last word) is also blessed (24:53; as a participle), when the disciples praise the risen and ascended Christ.

προφηταις ("prophet", 1:70; 24:25, 27, 44) Zechariah proclaims that God has brought about the promised salvation, promised through the prophets.  At the end of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus will explain how he is the fulfillment of the prophets.

εν τω ιερω ("in the temple"; 24:53)  Although it does not use the same word in chapter 1 as chapter 24, the Gospel of Luke begins with Zechariah in the temple; and the circumcision, I assume, also happens at the temple.  In short, the Gospel (and the declaration of Jesus' mission through Zechariah) begins and ends in the temple.

διαθηκης ("covenant" 1:72)  Zechariah confirms that God has remembered his covenant.  During the Last Supper, Jesus promises a new covenant (22:20); more powerfully, Jesus tells them to remember this new covenant. (22:19)

αφεσιν αμαρτιων ("forgiveness" 1:77; 24:47)  Zechariah proclaims that John will bring knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of sins  (I am fighting every bit of my Lutheran fingers to write more about this).  For now though, recall, the first words of Christ from the cross are "Father, forgive them... (23:34) and then after the resurrection, he tells them that forgiveness is to be proclaimed in all the world.

εν τω παραδεις ("in paradise" 23:43)  Zechariah speaks of the one coming to be a light in the darkness and shadow of death (1:79).  From the cross, the tender mercy of God will break from on high and Jesus will be a light to the penitent thief!

ειρηνη ("peace" 1:79; 24:36)  Zechariah promises that the one coming will guide us in peace.  What are the first words of the resurrected Christ to the gathered disciples?  Peace.

Luke 3:1-6

This passage is found in the RCL, Advent 2, Year C (Most recently Dec 9, 2018).

Summary:  A familiar text with many preaching paths. Once again we need the wilderness, the familiar cry of John the Baptist, to restore our sights.  To put it another way, Advent remains a reason of repentance (whatever color we now use), but one where repentance isn't simply about personal sins, but a reorientation of our whole mind away from the crap out there about Christmas and toward the salvation of God unfolding in Jesus Christ.

Key words:
τετρααρχουντες ("rule as tetra-arch"; 3:1)  The word tetra-arch means rule as a piddly regional governor.  Luke includes a number of historical details in his Gospel, especially early on; Luke clearly wants to show that Jesus birth and life are actual events.

ρημα ("word"; 3:2)  This word means "word."  It will come into English the word "hermeneutic," i.e., the lens through which one looks at the data.  This is really interesting to read John's work like this:  "The hermeneutic of God came to John", which was forgiveness, baptism and repentance.  What if our repentance means viewing life through this hermeneutic!

βαπτισμα ("baptism"; 3:3). Originally, this word did not have religious meaning. It simply meant to dip. For your enjoyment, here are the Liddell-Scott Hellenistic meanings of the word. Wow!

I. trans. to dip in water
2. to dip in poison
3. to dip in dye, to dye
4. to draw water
II. intransitive the ship dipped, ie, sank

Try preaching that: Baptism as a dip in poison; as a dip in dye; as a drawing of water from God; as finally, a sinking ship!

μετανοεω ("repent"; 3:3) The Greek meaning of the word is "new mind."  In Lidell-Scott's ancient (and secular) Greek lexicon, repent means to change one's mind or purpose. We often put repentance together with sin, a fine thing, but perhaps we need to consider that repentance means often more than simply a struggle against temptation, but a paradigm shift, a transformation of our whole outlook, if not way of life and even being. In this case, there is a shift into the forgiveness of sins. Perhaps that is what Jesus ministry is really about, not simply our own forgiveness, but inculcating a world view that finally includes forgiveness.  Perhaps this is σωτηριον (salvation): when the world finally embraces forgiveness as the path.  Overarching point:  μετανοεω in Greek and in the New Testament means far more than forgiveness of sins.  (Or forgiveness of sins means far more than we think it does).

πληρωθησται (πληροω, fill or fulfill, 3:5) and ταπεινωθησται (ταπεινω, fulfill, 3:5):  The English renders these words as "raised up" and "made low."  Yet Luke (and Isaiah) use the words here for fill and humble.  These then echo other parts of Luke's Gospel (the Magnificat; Jesus words on the road to Emmaus).  These represent key features of Jesus mission:  To fulfill and to humble.

Grammar note:  Lack of punctation in ancient languages
Original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts lack punctuation; it was added later by monks.  So we really don't know if Isaiah meant, "A voice cries out, 'In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord'" or "A voice cries out in the Wilderness, 'prepare the way of the Lord'."  The monks thought the former...probably good to go with their instinct, especially given the need, in the Exile, to walk through the wilderness from Babylon to Israel.  If this is the case, it seems that the Gospel writers change the punctuation to fit their own program of matching John's work with the description in Isaiah. 
A few options:  The scholarly one: Preach or teach, in a despising fashion, about how the NT abuses the OT
The Christological one:  Preach and teach about how the NT rightfully abuses (reinterprets) the OT to make it fit with Christ!
Or the pastoral one:  In this case both punctuation possibilities are valid.  John the Baptist cries out in the wilderness.  Yet he speaks to each of us to get into the wilderness, away from all the chaos of the world, to focus on God and God alone.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Luke 21:25-36

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, Advent 1, most recently Dec. 2, 2018.

Summary
Often times we categorize Bible passages as "Second Coming" or "Eschatological" passage and proceed to interpret them as referring to the consummation of things in Christ's return.  I think this provides a narrow lens for interpreting these passages, locating the destructive and constructive work of Christ in the future.  Jesus describes the reality of both chaos and redemption, something that was happening as the Gospels were being written and continues to happen again and again in our lives.

Note:  This is my first time really studying this passage in sometime.  I invite comments to help me flesh this out!

Key Words of contrast
Α.  Come vs Go
εγγιζω (meaning "approach or draw near"; as a verb ηγγικεν (21.20 and 28) and adjective ηγγυς (21.31)
and
παρερχομαι  (meaning "disappear or go away"; as a verb παρελθη (21.32) and παρελευσονται (21.33)

Perhaps the most crucial word in this entire section of Luke is εγγιζω.  It appears over and over in chapters 18-22 as Jesus "approaches" (εγγιζω) Jerusalem and Jesus preaches about the "approaching" (εγγιζω) events, including his death, resurrection and return.  

It is also worth noting that this verb is in the present tense -- Jesus is approaching here and now.  The redemption (and destruction) that Jesus brings is not located in the future, but in the present too.

On the other hand, Jesus presents a reality, not of something coming, but of something leaving and disappearing, namely, heaven and earth.  

Advent preaching idea:  All of the other things that make American Christmas "Christmas" will fade away -- the Bing Crosby music, the tinsel, the Amazon Prime deals.  What will abide?  The Word. This is where we should dwell.  Help people see what this is like though -  Advent Wreaths, daily devotions, singing carols, worship.

Β.  Destroy vs Redeem
ερημωσις (meaning "wilderness or destruction"; vs 20)
and
απολυτρωσις  (meaning "redemption"; vs 28)

Jesus suggests that the "end times" will bring about destruction.  First, it is in interesting that Jesus prophesies a time of wilderness, translated destruction in vs 20.  While this is a fair translation, it misses out on the Biblical theme of wilderness, a place of renewal and encounter with God.  The coming of Christ invites us into the wilderness, to encounter Christ.

I also think this contrast highlights the fact that what we call the "end times" -- would better be called the "fullness time." For in Christ will have our freedom, our redemption.

Advent preaching idea:  What does it mean for Jesus to approach us?  This passage suggests that Jesus coming and approaching us is never neutral; we are always changed by this encounter, either in that the world around us changes, we are invited into a wilderness (with John too) or we receive our redemption.  Of all of the above.

C.  Stand vs Flee
ιστημι (meaning "stand"; as a verb σταθηναι; vs 21.36)
and
εκφυγειν  (meaning "flee"; vs 21.36)

On the one hand, we are called to flee from certain things:  dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life.  On the other hand, we are called to be prepared to stand before Christ.

Advent preaching idea:  Christmas nostalgia can become a drug of choice to escape the cares of the world.  This is anti-incarnation.  We are called like Christ to be in this world, to stand before him, who is always present in places of need and hurt.  Christmas should be about us taking a step into the world, not away from it.  So where will people find solace and strength?  (Go back to the word.)

Note:  The verb meaning stand also appears in vs 28 (ανακυψατε; stand straight up)

Incomplete thoughts for a future post
ου μη means never
Indicative verb tense governs tense translation of related participles
αποψυχοντων   (αποψυχον) 26
biotikos



Monday, November 12, 2018

Mark 13:1-8

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary for March 13, 2016, along with Mark 13:24-37.
This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary, year B (Most recently: Nov 18, 2018)

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.  Rather than critique first century Jews, we should ask ourselves:  What idols -- even of our building spaces -- have we built for ourselves?

In fact, the disciples do not use an adjectives to describe the stones, although almost all of the translators use the words "large" or even "magnificent."  The disciples use the word ποταπαι (13.1), which is a question word meaning:  What kind of?  or "Where are they from?"  In short, they ask Jesus a deeper question -- what kind of temple is this in front of us?  It is one made of human hands!

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."  In fact, the translators use "fulfill" when translating συντελεω in verse 4 (the prefix συν- does not significantly change the meaning of the word here).

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?

A few other notes:
13:2 Jesus twice uses the emphatic "no" construction in Greek "ou mh" ου μη (ie never ain't gonna happen).  This strong negative reinforces my previous argument that the old temple will not rest on the new temple, Jesus Christ. This is what Jesus says anyway, but the actual Greek reveals this in a subtle way.

13:1 The word for "building" here is "oikodomeh" οικοδομαι which can mean structure, but also edification or up-buidling. For example, Romans 14:19, "Let us pursue what leads to peace and the UPBUILDING of one another."

13:3 The phrase here in Greek to describe the disciples is "kata idian," translated "privately" (lit: according to their own).  κατά ιδιαν  This is used throughout the Gospel of Mark; this is the last time anything will be said privately though.  It is more comfortable to be the church in private than in public!!

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Mark 12:38-44

This passage is found in the Revised Common Lectionary Year B (Most recently Nov 11, 2018)

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.  This participle (pray) can be translated both ways because it does not have an article in front of it.  When you do not have an article in front of the participle you translate that 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.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

John 11:1-45

This passage is found in the Revised Common Lectionary for Lent, Year A and All Saint's Day, Year B  (Most recently for Nov 4, 2018); The All Saints reading is shorter, verses John 11:32-44.

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.

μνημειον ("tomb", 11:38).  The word for tomb is literally "mnemonic" as in something we use to help us remember -- they have gone to a "memorial."  (Jesus is also buried in a tomb, a place of memory).

εδακρυσεν ο Ιησους  (aorist form of δακρυω, "Jesus wept", 11:35)  This verse is shorter in English (two words) than in Greek (three words.)  Why?  Because Greek adds in the word "ο" with Jesus, it literally reads "The Jesus wept" or "The God who saves wept."  Jesus name in Hebrew - Joshua - means "God (YHWH) saves."  

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!