Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Matthew 2:1-12

This passage occurs in both the Revised Common Lectionary and Narrative Lectionary during the Christmas season.
 
Summary:  Don't get hung up on the meaning of the word magi and who they were.  The issue at stake is:  Who is Jesus?  The epiphany of our Lord has begun.  He is Messiah, King, and Shepherd.  Deconstruct the titles and gifts as you will; a good sermon on this text should focus on Christ's identity.  Especially interesting are the parallels between this passage of Matthew 2 and the later scenes with Herod, the chief priests, the scribes and Pilate.

Key words:
μαγοι ("magoi", meaning "magi", 2:1)  as Liddell Scott puts it:  "one of the wise men in Persia who interpreted dreams."  They were probably not kings...but they do bring royal gifts and are granted a royal audience.  They were almost certainly not Jews.  Rather than fixate on their wealth or non-wealth, I think their gentile status is a powerful point, especially in Matthew's Gospel, which spent chapter 1 in a Jewish genealogy.  Jesus is for everyone.

χριστος ("Christ", meaning "anointed", 2:4)  This is a crucial term in Matthew's Gospel.  Jesus is the anointed one, prophesied about for centuries in Judaism.  Matthew uses the term three times in chapter 1.  It will be featured in Peter's confession of faith (16:16) and will later be used in Jesus' suffering and trial (various points in 26 and 27).  In fact, almost all of these titles here for Jesus show up again in Jesus passion:

King of the Jews:  βασιλευς των Ιουδαίων (2:2)  Later in Jesu's life, this will be the accusation made against him, that he claims this (Matthew 27:11); finally, this will be put on Jesus cross (27:37).  It is worth asking -- should only Herod be scared?  No.  All of Jerusalem.  Why?  There is a political-historical reason, but I think a spiritual reason we can all connect with -- what does it actually mean if Christ is king of our life?

Leader:  ηγούμενος (2:6) who shepherds (ποιμαινω, 2:6)  Jesus will tell the people that the Shepherd is going to be struck down (26:31)

In some ways, you could probably match up the gifts of the magi with these various offices (gold for the king; incense for the Messiah; myrrh for the shepherd-leader.)  My point is not to pin down a one-to-one comparison, but rather to say that the text invites one to think about WHO is Jesus Christ.  Hence this is an epiphany text, a revelation of who Christ is.  Like all good texts about Christ's identity, it points toward his suffering and death as well.  A good sermon on this passage invites the reader to consider who Christ is as well.

Two little morsels:
θησαυρος ("thesaurus" meaning treasure, 2:11)  No great analysis, just a lovely word to know in Greek/English.
λιβανον ("Lebanon" meaning incense, 2:11)  The word for incense comes from cedar, because its bark provided the incense.  This is especially funny to me because I live in Lebanon County where people refer to Lebanon as a type of bologna made here.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Luke 1:26-38 (Annunication)

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary during Advent.
Summary:

Many commentaries reading this passage display a hermeneutic of suspicion.  For example, the anchor Bible commentary was lamenting that Luke put everything in an OT style.  Strangely enough, this was proof that he was making this stuff up.  (Imagine, God works in a consistent manner over time).  The virgin birth becomes highly problematic within this hermeneutic of suspicion! 

I do not think Luke wants us to read with such cynical eyes.  First, Luke goes to great lengths here to give us names and dates, indicating he intends to write history, not fiction.  He even has the angel offer Mary a sign (the pregnancy of Elizabeth), reminding us of Mary's human need for proof.  While his characters may follow patterns of other Biblical characters, they seem to me to be real people with hopes and fears.

I think Luke offers us another hermeneutic:  belief in God's word to do miracles.  I use the word hermeneutic because Luke plays on the word herma in this passage; the word for "thing" in verse in 37 is "rema", but because of the heavy breathing on the "r", this comes into English"herma"; the word for "word" in verse 38 is also "rema" (herma).  We should read the Bible, not ready to doubt, but ready to be amazed at what God has done.  This hermeneutic, I believe, is what Luke intends that we might echo the angel and Mary in declaring that “All things (hermas) are possible through God”  and “Let it be done according to your word (herma).”

Key Words:
οηομα ("name"; appears throughout the section)  It is curious that the word name appears four times in this section.  In addition, every character has a name; even people not part of the immediate story, David and Elizabeth, are named.

καλεω ("call"/"invite"; appears throughout the section)  It is also curious that the word "call" appear four times in this section.  Clearly calling things a name is a vital part of this pericope.

παρθενου ("virgin" or "young woman"; 1:27)  Let's settle this debate.  Linguistically it is possible to imagine that Mary is simply referred to hear as a young woman and not a "virgin."  However, the word for virgin is parthenos (like the Parthenon building, to the virgin Athena).  Furthermore, Mary's very objection to the pregnancy is the fact that she has never known a man.

χαρις ("grace"; 1:28; 1:30)  In 1:28 this appears as a verb in the perfect passive form:  "Having been graced." It is interesting that the grace is in the perfect, in that the graceful event occured previous to the angel's announcement.  What was the event that already gave her this grace? Perhaps her own immaculate conception?!  Another tough thing about this idea of Mary's grace is found in the NET's translation notes.  They lament the vulgate translation, "full of grace" because it presents the idea that Mary has grace to bestow on others.  While it is true that Mary's grace comes from God, it is hard to make the argument that Mary does not bestow grace on the rest of us through her role in the birth.  Catholics go to far, but we protestants have never quite done Mary justice!

Grammar Review:  Missing words
The phrase the "The Lord be with you" is not really what the Greek says. It simply reads "The Lord with you." (ο κυριος μετα σου)  This can be read as an imperative, as in it expresses a wish, "The Lord be or will be with you." Or as an indicative: "The Lord is with you." Interestingly, most translators translate a similar construction at the end of the Gospel of John (Peace to you) with an imperative/wish "Peace be with you." Using the same translation method they use here, that phrase should read there "Peace is with you."  In this case, I would probably argue for the translation, "The Lord is with you" because a) the angel is standing right there and b) the angel says she is graced.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Mark 1:1-8

This passage occurs in the RCL during Advent (year 2, week 2; most recently Dec. 7, 2014)
 
Summary:
The Greek in this passage is not complex, but it is riddled with problems.  I guess you could say the same thing about John:  He is not complex, but presents us a great riddle:  What do we do with him?  Perhaps the hermenuetic offered by Mark about Isaiah is the proper one for us today.  Mark rips Isaiah out of his historical context and reestablishes the passage's meaning christologically.  In the same way, let's rip John out of his context and interpret him christologically:  You need more than confessing your sins.  You need the son of God to send out the Spirit to forgive your sins in your Baptism!  Sure, that adds a bit of theology to the whole thing, but as Mark shows, that is the job of a proclaimer :-)

->  My added insight for 2014:  Mark's Gospel begins with the theology of the cross.  Where do we find God?  In the wilderness, on the edge, in a stinky socially unacceptable man.  Jesus will keep showing up in the wrong places in the Gospel of Mark (and all the Gospels).  Jesus will keep showing up in our lives in the wrong places too.

Here are some problems:
Citation problem:  Isaiah in verse 1:2 andv 3
Mark says "Just as it is written in the prophet Isaiah" and then goes to quote Malachi.  He doesn't get to Isaiah until verse 3.  (My guess is that Malachi wouldn't be known to his audience but Isaiah perhaps would have been).  Even if you ignore this problem, Mark is clearly a bad student of the OT because he takes the verse out of context.  Clearly Isaiah was not talking about John the Baptist!  But wait a minute.  If Mark takes Isaiah out of its historical context and reinterprets the passage in light of Christ...then cannot we do the same??

Word problem:  John the Baptist/baptizing in verse 1:4
Literally the text reads "John the one who baptizes" or even "John, while baptizing."  However, I do not think calling him "John the Baptist" is an unfair translation.  In fact, Mark will call John the Baptist elsewhere, 6:25; 8:28.  Here Mark is emphasizing his activity of baptizing.  The most complex thing however is simply the word "baptism."  We have 2,000 years+ of interpretation of this word.  In this pre-theological usage it simply means, "to dip in water to wash."  It came to mean, according to the Freiberg dictionary, "of Jewish ritual washings wash, cleanse, purify by washing."  The point of all this is that John's Baptism is not necessarily what we think of as our baptisms.  This is not a baptism of grace; it is not a baptism of binding oneself to Jesus ministry, much less his death and resurrection.  John was telling people to commit themselves and signify their repentance with Baptism.

Textual problems:  "Of God" in verse 1:1
The phrase "of God" (tou theou) is not found in all the manuscripts. It is pretty debatable from a textual point, although I think Nestle Aland 27's double brackets are a bit strong.  Some significant manuscripts have it.  The NET Bible notes offer a really fascinating hypothesis as to why the "son of God" is dropped from varius manuscripts (based on the particular letters that are used).  However, this is kind of a moot point for the Gospel of Mark.  Jesus clearly is the son of God in the book; the question is when and how do we learn this. From the first line of the book?  No.  From the cross.  From a centurion nonetheless.  Perhaps it simply adds to the great mystery novel that Mark wrote...

Punctuation problem:  "In the wilderness" in 1:3
The position of the phrase "in the wilderness" is arbitrary.  We do not have the original punctuation is either Hebrew or Greek.  Later Jewish monks added the punction (suggested by the original likely meaning of the verse), "A voice cries out, 'In the wilderness prepare the way'" but the writer of Mark moves the break and makes it "A voice cries out in the wilderness, prepare the way."  Admittedly, we really don't know Mark's original punctuation (this was not passed on for the first four centuries at least) but Mark definitely seems to suggest a change from the Hebrew.

Participle problem:  "confessing" in 1:5
The tenses of the Greek participles fight against an "Ordo Salutis" in this passage. Baptizing and confessing occur at the SAME time CONTINUALLY. Not one after the other (imperfect active verb with a present participle == concurrent, on-going action).  The people do not confess and then get baptized or the otherway around.  They are doing both of them.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Micah 5 and 6

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary Year 1 (most recently Nov 9, 2014).

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.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burnt_offering_(Judaism)

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)

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary and the Revised Common Lectionary (Most recently All Saints Sunday, 2014).

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

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary, Year 1 (most recently Oct 19, 2014).
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

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary, Year 1 (Most recently Oct 12, 2014)
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)

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary, year 1 (Most recently on Oct 5, 2014)

"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)

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary, Year 1 (Most recently Sept 29, 2014).

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.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Genesis 39:1-23 (Joseph in prison)

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary, Year 1 (most recently Sept 21, 2014).

Summary:  This snippet from Joseph is rather interesting because we'd probably be more likely to focus on the powerful scenes of reconciliation at the end of the story.  This particular chapter gives one large room to preach "social justice" sermons (injustice toward minorities) or "prosperity gospel" (work hard, endure and God will bless you and those around you).   I am still wrestling with the idea of a God who causes us to prosper.  I wonder if my generally liberal protestant background, which is so nervous about prosperity Gospel, undercuts a healthy understanding of God's blessings in our lives.

סלח ("saleakh", "thrive", 39:2, 3, 23)  Last week in the narrative lectionary we focused on blessing.  This week we come upon the word "thrive."  What does it mean to thrive?  Once again, we cannot deny the "worldly" aspect of God's presence in this world.  Joseph (and his masters) gain health and wealth through his work. 

Two wrinkles:  Perhaps this idea of thriving is an Old Testament way of saying bear fruit.  This verb also appears in
Psalm 1:3 They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.
Whenever their is fruit, there is service to the neighbor because fruit doesn't do the tree itself any good.

Second, life isn't so simple that those who believe in God, only good comes to them.  In fact, the story of Joseph indicates the opposite -- that a life in God, even a thriving life, includes set backs!Psalm 37:7 Be still before the LORD, and wait patiently for him; do not fret over those who prosper in their way, over those who carry out evil devices.
Proverbs 28:13 No one who conceals transgressions will prosper, but one who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.

עבד ("ayved", "servant, slave", 39:17, 19)  This word of slave will take on huge importance in the book of Exodus.  For now, I wanted to point out that Joseph is never called a "slave" until he is punished.  Everyone benefits from him and then he is showed no mercy.  I think this may be a more common feeling/experience of people outside the dominant social group.  A moral minority is uplifted, promoted and praised...one might even think that one has achieved a modicum of acceptance.  Then there is trouble; then there is name calling, no due process, imprisonment.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Genesis 6:16-22; 9:8-15

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary, Year 1 (Most recently Sept 5, 2015)
 
Summary:   This is a story that many "modern" people have trouble accessing.  It is a hard text for us as a pastors too.  I think the first connection point is found before this NL pericope begins, in vss 5-11, where God declares the world filled with violence.  No one living in 2014 should find it hard to imagine God's anger over the violence plaguing the world.  I don't think we need to walk away from God's fierce disappointment within this story.  This is the human condition.  Surprisingly God's wrath is absent, at least in words, from this story.  That is because God's wrath is connected with his abandonment.  This story is not about an angry God who leaves people to their own devices, but intervenes by destroying in order to bring about life.

What I wrestle with in this story is not simply the violence done by God, but the question of how eschatological to go with my sermon.  The story can be seen in light of Christ's ministry (teaching us the way of non-violence), Christ's death and resurrection (he creates a new non-violent humanity), but ultimately, Christ's next coming (he brings about a non-violent world.

I also wonder if a more personal appraoch is helpful, in that God is willing to kill us -- that within us which is hostile to him -- to make us alive.

Lastly, I would recommend reading the other flood narratives, especially the Epic of Gilgamesh.  It becomes quite clear our God is very different from other deities.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enlil

באה ("bo" meaning 'Go in':  6:17,18, 19):  The word, like many Hebrew words, can have a variety of meanings, ranging from "go in" to "come in" to even "bring in."  God "goes into"/"brings" the water; humans and the animals, "Go into" and are "brought into" the ark.  This is an interesting way of thinking about God's activity in Baptism, the ark of salvation (1 Peter); God destroys us in the water, but brings us home in the ark!

כל ("col" meaning 'all', repeatedly):  This word means all.  It is used throughout this section.  God's care is for ALL of creation, and one could argue, for ALL of humanity, in that we need to learn how be reborn to be less violent.

אות ("ot" meaning 'sign', 9:12)  God knows we need a sign, not just a covenant.  As the song said, "I need a sign!"

זכר ("zocar" meaning 'remember', 9:15)  The question here is -- why does God need to remember?  Perhaps linguistically we can get around this.  This verb is in the qal perfect, which means it is to be read as as imperfect, meaning incomplete action.  This can refer to future action or present on-going action.  This actually makes sense because the God of the whole heavens and earth is always shining clouds on the earth -- there is always a rainbow from God's perspective!  God is always remembering his covenant with us.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Matthew 16:21-28

This passage occurs in the RCL, year A (most recently Aug 31, 2014).
 
Summary:  Whatever one does, we shouldn't water down this passage.  It is harsh.  As I reflect on it this year, I am really struck by the tenses of the verbs, that "deny" and "pick up" are aorist or one-time events, yet follow is a present, or on-going event.  This suggests to me, with a Lutheran understanding of Baptism and vocation, of a life-long cross that we inherit in our Baptisms, the cross of service to our neighbor.  We are always following Jesus, discovering what this cross entails.  It looks different, but it is always the same -- care of our neighbor.   Lastly, I think the good news for me is actually found in the next story, the transfiguration.  We get overwhelmed by the cross but then Jesus opens our eyes to his glory -- and we can carry on.

οπισω ("behind", 16:23,24)  This word appears twice:  Get behind me Satan and then if you want to come behind me.  In life, we are never truly our own free agents, but either following the forces of evil or Christ.  Hmm...too dramatic.  Don't water down this passage.

απαρνησασθω ("deny", 16:24) and αρατω ("pick up", 16:24)  What I have always struggled with here is that these verbs are in the aorist tense, which suggests a one-time event.  Does this mean we should move toward a decision/one-time event understanding of faith?  Keep reading...

ακουλουθειτω ("follow", 16:24) this is in the present tense.  We are to pick up the cross one time, but then continue to follow Jesus are whole lives?  Rather than understand this to mean that we make a one-time decision to follow Jesus, I argue we need to re-think what Jesus means by cross here.  When I think of picking up my cross, I think of my baptism.  The cross given to me in a my baptism confers on me the life orientation of living a disciple.  In my life, this same cross -- living as a disciple -- unfolds in different ways, always through service to the neighbor.   It is always the same cross-  dying to myself and to the world, but it looks different -- patiently bearing the criticism of others, apologizing to my colleages when I am wrong, listening to my neighbor whine, potty training my daughter and so forth.  In life, we don't get one particular cross, one challenge to bear, but the whole weight of our neighbor's needs is ever upon us.
To put it another way, the cross of life should weigh upon us so heavy that we call out to Jesus for mercy and forgiveness.  And he then can carry the cross for us.

σταυρον ("cross" 16:24)  Just a quick reminder that before we get to sentimental about cross, this was an ancient capital punishment device.  We need to make the cross abstract to make sense of it (ie, we don't need to nail wood planks and walk around with them); but we need to not make it too abstract that we lose the challenge of it.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Matthew 16:13-20

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A, most recently Aug 24, 2014.
 
Summary:  This passage of Peter's confession has a number of familiar theological words that I try to unpack a bit.  This year I want to unpack for my congregation the setting, Caesarea Philippi, home to all sorts of crazy, pagan, awful stuff.  It can be easy to look at our world, even our country, even our community, and feel overwhelmed and disgusted.  Even at those times our job as a church is to confess Christ, in and out of season, whether it is popular or not.  What is our confession?  It is that he is the Christ, the anointed savior, son of the living God.

Idea for a children's sermon:  the whole fish i-ch-th-u-s thing (Jesus Christ God's Son Savior) as the most basic confession.

καισαρειας φιλιππι (Caesarea Philippi, 16:13):  This town is not a coincidental mention.  It was a trading hub, located along some major land routes and in possession of a great harbor.  It had been associated, in the past, with Baal (OT Canaanite god) and Pan (Greek god).  In Jesus day, it was one of the Roman capitals in the area, with immense building projects undertaken by Herod, including the construction of a temple in honor of Augustus.  In fact, one of the temples was believed to be located at the gates of hades, a direct connection to the underworld.  Philippi epitomized the Greco-Roman religious mileau of the day: a pantheistic cult that continuued to give more space to emperor worship; above all, a worship of beauty, sex, power and money. 

One can go even further though and think about the extent to which these are all not simply dead gods, but gods of death.  At the main temple in Caesarea Philippi, which was a temple believed to be the gates of Hades, people would offer dead animal sacrifices  (http://www.generationword.com/Israel/caesarea_philippi.htm good pictures!).  Hence the importance in Peter's confession that God is a living God! 

If you want to go even further, you can study more about what worship of Pan actually entailed, but now we have an adult only sermon.

υιος του ανθροπος  (Son of Man 16:13).  As Christians we instantly recognize this title to refer to Jesus.  In fact, we often look at this title as one that uplifts Jesus as the pinnacle of humanity.  That he was a pinnacle is not arguable; but what the pinnacle entails is up for debate!  In the Old Testament, this particular title for an individual or humanity seems to suggest humanities weakness:
- What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? (Psalm 8:4; See also Psalm 144:3)
If even the moon is not bright and the stars are not pure in his eyes, how much less man, who is but a maggot-- a son of man, who is only a worm!" (Job 25:5-6)
God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? (Numbers 23:19)
God also calls Ezekiel the Son of Man a number (80?) times; it is a way of reminding Ezekiel he is not divine.  In short, to Bible calling Jesus the Son of Man ascribes both majesty but also humilty to Christ. 

χριστος  (Christos, Messiah, 16:16)  Christos is Greek for anointed.  In Hebrew, the word for anointed is Messiah.  Peter is calling Jesus the Messiah.  The Old Testament strongly associates Messiah with a king, in the line of David, one who leads and protects the people.  The idea seems to be that a Messiah is a divine talisman, in that he has special protection (1 Sam 26:23; Psalm 20:6).  Interestingly, in Leviticus (4:6 eg) the High Priest is also referred to as the "annointed" or "Messiah."  Furthermore, Isaiah in chapter 61, declares himself annointed for his vision, hence prophet could also be understood as the role of the annointed (Psalm 105:15 connects this as well).  As Messiah then could be understood to capture three offices:  king, priest and prophet, which matches up with Calvin's understanding of Christ and his offices.  The question for me, beyond the blog post, is whethere there is really a developed understanding as the Messiah as one who will suffer in the Old Testament.  While Kings, priets and especially prophets may suffer, there seems a much stronger note of victory, even theology of glory, surrounding this term.  This would explain why Peter so soon afterwards does not want Jesus to suffer!  (In short, Peter knew his Old Testament!).  It also shows a great contrast with the term son of Man!

πετρος /πετρα Petros Petra:  We've all heard that Peter's name means Rock, because he was the Rock on which the church would be built.  Both words clearly have a the same first few letters (Petr), but I am not sure if we must necessarily infer that Peter the person is what the church will be built on.  Beyond some linguistic oddities (Petra is a feminine noun and ends in an a, nothing like Peter's name's ending), the far more logical thing is that the church will be built on the confession, which comes from heaven.  I think the Bible really underscores this by showing Peter's misunderstanding just a few sentences later.

αδης hades:  See my blog post on words for hell in the Bible.  http://lectionarygreek.blogspot.com/2012/09/mark-938-50.html

Grammar note:  In the infinitive phrase "Who do you say that I am" the word "I" is in the accusative (me).  Why?  Because in the subject of an infinitive clause is in the accusative, not the nominative.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

1 John 1:1-2:2

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary Summer readings (most recently 2014).  It also occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary Easter (Year B) readings.

Separate note:  I had so much commentary, I divided this up into two posts:  1 John 1:1-4 and this post.

Summary:  This verse has a great verse (1 John 1:9) within some much more difficult verses about blood and sacrifice.  One could try to unpack the atonement theories of 1 John based on OT metaphors.  I think an easier and more helpful way is to think less about how the cross/blood/death actually accomplish this end and more what they actually accomplish.  I say this not simply because this is easier, but because I think 1 John is a study, not in the mechanics of justification, but in what forgiveness in Jesus offers us:  light, fellowship, and love.  These are juxtaposted, not with hell and wrath, but with darkness, isolation and fear, something that the people in my congregation experience all the time.

κοινωνια ("fellowship", 1.6)  This word has an intense meaning in the New Testament.  It ranges from
-  sharings of money (2 Cor 9:13; Romans 15:26; Hebrews 13:16)
-  sharings of a common spirit (2 Cor 13:13 original Trinitarian formula; Philippians 2:1)
-  sharings of Christ and his suffering (Philippians 3:10; 1 Cor 10:16)

It is a reminder that fellowship is not a diluted term in this passage or anywhere in the New Testament.  A look at the related noun κοινωνος (partner) reveals something similar.

αιμα ("blood"; think "hema" like "hematology"; 1.7)  The blood cleanses us from sin.  This is a tough one to wrap our minds around because we think of blood as very "dirty", certain not sterile and definitely not cleansing.  Is there a way to recover this ancient way of thinking of blood?

ινα ("so that", 1:9)  I remember back in Seminary one of my professors made a very, very big deal about how to translate this word.  The basic argument in this verse is that ινα cannot be translated, "with the result" and must be translated, "for the purpose of."  I do not think that argument is instructive here because there isn't a difference in God's purposes and God's results when it comes to forgiveness of the sinner.

In verses 2:1-2, Jesus is called three titles:
δικαινος ("righteous one", 2.1)  This is simply a good title for Jesus.  The question is, what does Jesus righteousness mean for you and for me?

παρακλετος ("advocate", 2.1) How Jesus and the Spirit are both called "advocates" are tough.  Interestingly, in the Gospel of John, when Jesus promises the advocate, John 14:16, he promises ANOTHER advocate, suggesting that he already was an advocate for us.

In the Gospel of John, the advocate seems more like a prayer partner, counseling us through sufferings.  In this case, the idea almost seems more legalistic, like one who is defending us before God's judgment.  Interestingly though, God's wrath is never mentioned in 1 John.  Judgment exists, but there isn't necessary a hell.  Simply darkness, isolation and fear.  Jesus seems to be reconciling us, in spite of our sins, back to the Father, back to light, back to fellowship and back to love.

ιλασμος ("atonement", 2:2) Discussing the entire meaning of atonement is well, well beyond the meaning of this passage here.  But I want to point out that this word here is the one connected to Leviticus, Romans.  Furthermore, as BDAG says about this word, "The unique feature relative to Gr-Rom usage is the initiative taken by God to effect removal of impediments to a relationship with God's self." ιλαστηριον definition.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

1 John 1:1-4

This passage is part of the 1 John 1:1-2:2 readings found in the Narrative Lectionary Summer readings (most recently 2014).  It also occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary Easter (Year B) readings.  I had so much commentary, I divided this up into two posts:  1 John 1:5-2:2 and this post.


Summary:  I realize its not entirely the purpose of 1 John 1, but the events in my congregation are really making me ask myself, in light of this passage:  What is of fundamental importance that I want to pass it along to my children?  What creates community in our family?  What creates joy in me and my wife to pass this along to our children?  What is the word of Life I want them to know?

Key words/concepts
ακουω, οραω, θεαομαι, ψηλαφαω (1 John 1:1)  The verb 'to hear' (ακουω) and 'to understand/see' (οραω) are both in the perfect, while 'to see' (θεαομαι) and 'to touch' (ψηλαφαω) are in the aorist. Again, an aorist tense suggests a one time event; a perfect tense has the connotation of a past action that creates an on-going and present status.  John (or the writer from the Johannine community), by using these tenses, suggests that although the original congregation can no longer touch or see Jesus because of his ascension, but the reality of hearing and understanding the word of God remains. This perhaps is not simply true of the original congregation, but us as well. We leave Sunday having seen and even touched Jesus in the bread and wine, but as we head out, we still are in the state of hearing and understanding.

ειμι ("to be", 1.2)   In both 1.1 and 1.2, the verb 'eimi' (to be) is used in the imperfect tense. In Greek, there really is no aorist tense of 'eimi,' the 'to be' verb. (which if you stop and think, makes a lot of sense). In both cases, the verb is translated with the English aorist form of the to be verb: "was." What is probably a more helpful translation is not the static "was" but an imperfect "was being" or "was and continues to be" or "has been"  In short, the English "was" makes it sound like the event of the Word being with the Father or the Word being from the beginning is over; the imperfect tense in the Greek suggests that that the Word continues to be with the Father and continues to be from the beginning.

απαγγελλω, μαρτυρεω, εχω, γραφω (1.3-1.4) The only verbs so far in the present tense are απαγγελλω (to proclaim), μαρτυρεω (to witness), and εχω (have + fellowship), and γραφω (to write), all of our actions.

εφανερωθη (1.2) The only God verb so far is "appear" (phanero-oo); always in the aorist.

λογος του ζωης (word of life, 1.1).  I was surprised to find that there was only one other place in the Bible where we find this phrase, Word of Life:  Philippians 2:16.  1 Peter 1:23 has a similar phrase, "living word of God" but truly "Word of Life" is only found twice.  Ponder what that means if anything. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Pentecost (Acts 2:1-11)

I want to redirect to my last year's post
http://lectionarygreek.blogspot.com/2013/05/acts-21-11.html

In a nut shell, I find the church of Acts 1 to be very common:  A deeply loving and truly faithful community that doesn't outreach.  How can the Spirit move us from Acts 1 to Acts 2?  How can we as leaders be involved in this process?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Lutheran worship really has changed

I am preaching off the lectionary this week so I thought I would share some reflections on worship:


To celebrate our 275th anniversary as a congregation, we have been worshipping with elements from previous hymnals this Easter season.  As we’ve done this, I have been struck by how much worship has changed, especially over the past two generations.  This surprised me because I consider our church relatively traditional.  I have a great deal more sympathy for those of an older generation, who grew up using the Black and Red book, and who may struggle with elements in our worship service today.  Consider how the following elements of worship have undergone changes.

B & R bookToday
Music
InstrumentExclusively organOrgan, but also piano, drums and even guitar
HymnsOften German chorales with 4-part harmonyMany Methodist/"American" hymns, but global hymns often written for unison singing
Sacraments
BaptismMainly infantsPeople of all ages; appears more frequently in lectionary and liturgy
Confession and ForgivenessIntense rite with conditional absolutionUnconditional absolution; perhaps no C&F, perhaps Thanksgiving for Baptism instead
Holy CommunionHandful of times per year; for confirmandsEvery week; for children, some congregations Baptism optional
Participation by lay people
Role of pastorPastor reads, prayers and preachesNumber of people involved in almost every aspect of worship
Role of choirChoir leads congregation;
primary way to be involved
One of many ways to be involved in worship
Mood
VolumeSilence permeates worship, including before serviceSocial aspect of church emphasized, e.g., Passing of the Peace
ScriptStick to what is written in worship bookPastors, even lay people, more likely to deviate from Rubric/Script, or not even use one
PietyInward and repentantTherapeutic and Praise


Perhaps when commenting on piety, I come too close to offering my own diagnosis here instead of simply laying out the facts.  We cannot turn back time and I am not suggesting this.  Yet as we move forward in our congregation (and likely others as well), it is really helpful to remember that long time members of this (and other congregations) have experienced significant shifts in their lifetime of how God is worshiped in our sanctuary.  We may still have a traditional worship, but it is markedly different than the traditional worship of 1960.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

John 20:1-18 (Easter)

Here are links for Greek commentary on all four Gospel
Matthew 28:1-10
Mark 16:1-8
Luke 24:1-12
John 20:1-18

Summary:  The big story in John is that Mary needs to hear Jesus call her by name.  At that point, she recognizes Jesus.  In our grief and sorrow, we can over look Jesus and his resurrection until we hear Jesus call us by name, which he does in our Baptisms.  But if you already preached THE John sermon, here are some other ideas.

Key words:
μνημειον ("tomb", 20:1)  This word comes from the Greek for memory (like English "mneumonic" is something that helps you remember).  The complaint almost reads, "They have taken Jesus out of my memory!"  There is something to play with here, about memory and loved ones.  Jesus isn't just a memory; your loved ones aren't just a memory.  Jesus is alive!

οιδαμεν ("know" from ειδω, 20:2, 9 and 13).  This word comes from ειδω, which means to see.  In the perfect sense (I have seen), it means I know.  The point here is that John is subtly combining the ideas of knowing and seeing; and there is a lot more of seeing going on than first anticipated.  Also, this verb is in the plural, suggesting that Mary is not alone (hence synchronizing with the synoptics).

εθηκαν ("place", from τιθημι, 20:2) This verb is all over John's Gospel, most importantly in chapter 10, when Jesus discusses himself as the Good Shepherd who will lay down his life.  No one lays down Jesus; only Jesus himself does this.  Jesus also praises one who lays down his life (John 15:13) and asks if the disciples will lay down their life (13:37)

οθονια ("fine linen", 20:5, 6 and 7)  I never realized it was high quality linen they put around Jesus!  Interestingly, this can refer in ancient Greek to a sail.  Okay.  Back to reality.  The point is that Jesus had the finest stuff that he even took time to roll up!

αυτους ("themselves", 20:10)  This word here is translated as "home."  But the Greek doesn't say home.  It literally reads, "They went back to themselves."  I think one can picture them simply going off to ponder what had happened rather than simply going back to life as it were
 
ο κηπουρος ("gardener", 20:15)  The big deal here is that Jesus is THE gardener.  Where is Jesus after the resurrection.  GARDENING!  Also worth noting is that like in the OT, when angels speak the Word of the Lord, the Lord shows up.

Grammar note:
20:9  Infinitive phrases:  subject takes accusative
Just a quick reminder that in infinitive phrases, the subject is found in the accusative case.  Hence "it was necessary for Jesus to rise from the dead" and not "it was necessary for him to raise Jesus from the dead."

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

John 12:12-27

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary for Palm Sunday.  It encompasses another RCL passage, John 12:20-33.  You can find my commentary for that, here.

A brief comment here on the remainder of the passage, John 12:12-19; I find two things worth sharing.
ωσαννα:  From the NET Bible:
"The expression hosanna, (literally in Hebrew, "O Lord, save") in the quotation from Ps 118:25-26 was probably by this time a familiar liturgical expression of praise, on the order of "Hail to the king," although both the underlying Aramaic and Hebrew expressions meant "O Lord, save us." As in Mark 11:9 the introductory hosanna, is followed by the words of Ps 118:25, "blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord."  ... In words familiar to every Jew, the author is indicating that at this point every messianic expectation is now at the point of realization. It is clear from the words of the psalm shouted by the crowd that Jesus is being proclaimed as messianic king. See E. Lohse, TDNT 9:682-84."

This leads me to wonder about Messianic expectations.  The text of Zechariah 9:9 is really indicative of the expectations:  After a victorious military campaign, the Messiah will enter in an era of peace, worship of God and human flourishing.  You could say this happens in the cross.  But what a bloody battle it was...

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

John 19:1-16a

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary, Year 4, Lenten cycle.  Most recently April 6, 2014.

Summary:  This text drips with irony.  The irony is intended to showcase the moral bankruptcy of the Jewish and Roman leaders, if not ultimately, the entire human race.  Pondering this text forces one to ask:  "Who are we anyway?"

ανθροπος ("human", 19:5)  The classic Latin phrase:  Ecce homo (behold the man) comes from here.  This is a sad image of "the human"; beaten and tortured, wearing his mock royal clothing.  Pilate and John seem to make a statement here about the human condition.  Who are we anyway?

πορφυρουν ("purple", 19:2).  Purple is the royal color; this exclusive dye came from snails, whose production and trade were controlled by the pheonicians.  Ironically, the very traders wore the snail down to virtual/actual extinction!  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoenicia  Again, who are we anyway?

εμαστιγωσεν ("flog", 19:1)  The Greek leaves two questions here.  First, whether Pilate himself actually did the beating (which the grammar suggests but would have been inconceivable historically).  Second, how severe was the beating?  The Vulgate, a 4th century translation, does not translate this verb in the most severe sense, although the NET suggests this should be done:
"This severe flogging was not administered by Pilate himself but his officers, who took Jesus at Pilate's order and scourged him. The author's choice of wording here may constitute an allusion to Isah 50:6, "I gave my back to those who scourge me." Three forms of corporal punishment were employed by the Romans, in increasing degree of severity: (1) fustigatio (beating), (2) flagellatio (flogging), and (3) verberatio (severe flogging, scourging). The first could be on occasion a punishment in itself, but the more severe forms were part of the capital sentence as a prelude to crucifixion. The most severe, verberatio, is what is indicated here by the Greek verb translated flogged severely (mastigo,w, mastigooÒ). People died on occasion while being flogged this way; frequently it was severe enough to rip a person's body open or cut muscle and sinew to the bone. It was carried out with a whip that had fragments of bone or pieces of metal bound into the tips."
εποιησεν ("make", 19:6) The Greek literally reads, "Because he made himself into a son of God."  Most translators take this to mean "claimed" or made in the "fashioned" sense.  But again, what an ironic assertion:  No one can make themselves into a son of God.  This comes from above as Jesus points out!

Λιθοστρωτον and γαββαθα ("lithostroton" and "gabbatha", 19:13)  First, a side note.  I find Biblical archeology fascinating because everyone is always trying to prove eveyone else wrong about what they have discovered or not.  It may be that such an insertion into John's Gospel offers a very late dating of John's Gospel.  But my sense is that such debates don't ever get resolved.

Anyway, what is interesting here is that the Greek and Hebrew (or really Aramaic) actually don't match up.  The word gabbatha speaks about the location, but Λιθοστρωτον describes the place as covered with in-laid stones.  In short, a tessellated floor.  Jesus, bloodied, yet innocent, is sentenced on a beautiful stone covered floor.

Καισαρα ("Caesar", 19:12)  For the Jews at this particular juncture to declare, "We have no king besides Caesar" is absurd.  The LORD is King.  This is irony to the point of absurdity.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

John 18:28-40

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary Year 4 Lenten Cycle, most recently, March 30, 2015.
 
Summary:  Pilate's character in the Gospel of John is complex.  It seems that John wants to drive home the point that not even Pilate is in control of the situation, but only Jesus.  Pilate's interview haunts us with the question:  What is truth?  The answer is obviously Jesus, but what does that mean?  And yes, our answer should be slightly offensive.  It got Jesus killed; it should at least get us in a little trouble.

μαρτυρεω ("testify", literally martyr, vs 18:37)  This word means to give a witness, like in court.  Jesus takes his place as the first Christian martyr, one who will be killed for the truth.  So many Christians died giving their witness that the word's meaning changed.

βασιλευς ("king", vs. 18:33,37)  BDAG define this as "One who rules as possessor of the highest office in a political realm."  Already this shows Pilate considers the whole trial as a sham.  Could Pilate really execute the king of the Jews?   Obviously not.

κοσμος ("world", literally cosmos, vs 18:37)  Just a reminder:  God loves the world, but the world doesn't love back:
Throughout the Gospel of John, the world doesn't like God. It doesn't understand God (1:10); it doesn't give like God (14:27) ; in fact, it hates God (7:7). Yet God loves it still.

αληθεια ("truth", vs 18:37,38)  BDAG writes, "truth is a favorite word of the Johannine literature" and play a major role in it.
John 17:17 God's word is truth
John 14:6 Jesus is the truth
John 16:13 Spirit leads to truth
John 8:32 Truth sets on free

Βαραββας ("Barabbas", vs. 40)  This word literally means "Son of the Father."  Quite an irony that "Son of the father" is chosen and its not Jesus!  This also picks up on the irony that the Jewish leaders are concerned about ritual purity as they hand Jesus over to death (18:28)

ληστης ("thief", vs. 40)  The word means robber.  But Josephus, a Jewish historian writing during this time, always uses this word to mean social bandit/revolutionary, it clearly can mean this too.  If you totally cannot focus on your sermon, you can read about what Josephus says about Jesus here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josephus_on_Jesus

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

John 18:12-27

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary, Year 4 Lenten cycle, most recently March 23, 2015
 
The RCL text for this week, focusing on the woman at the well, may be found here:
http://lectionarygreek.blogspot.com/2014/01/john-4-woman-at-well.html

Summary:  This is a haunting and challenging passage for all of us.  Jesus is being smacked in the face while Peter warms himself by a fire, denying Jesus.  There is much law in this passage:  How do we deny his lordship in our lives?  But there is much Gospel too -- Jesus redeems Peter, in fact, he recreates the scene for Peter in John 21.

Some key words
η παιδισκη η θυρωρος ("servant girl, the gate keeper," 18:17)  John sets up an amazing juxtaposition here.  Peter is asked a question by a simple peasant child and he offers denial.  Jesus is interrogated by the chief priest's father in law, surrounded by armed men.   Even after having his face slapped, Jesus remains defiant; Peter is scared before any violence has been enacted.  Ironically, Jesus tells them to ask those who have heard his words to serve as a witness (21:9).  Peter is the first witness and fails...at least this time.

ανθρακια  ("anthracite coal," 18).  This minor detail is set beautifully within John's Gospel.  Where will Peter be forgiven?  At the breakfast coal fire (same word; the ONLY other time it appears in the whole Bible).  Jesus goes right to the spot of Peter's denial to forgive Peter.  He recreates the scene to forgive and redeem Peter!

ουκ ειμι ("I am not", 18:17)  Peter twice says "I am not."  This can be part of the statement "I am not a disciple."  But existentially, Peter is saying something even more.  He is nothing.  When push comes to shove, he is nothing.  He has denied Christ and in doing so, has denied himself of everything.  Of course he is cold.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

John 13:1-17

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary Year 4 Lenten Cycle, most recently on Mar 16, 2014.

Summary for John 13:1-17:  In this passage, Jesus asserts himself as a moral example and THE teacher, concluding with a challenging 'if' statement about blessings.  Perhaps this law-filled message is a good one to hear during Lent -- our journey to the cross is not simply one of mild self-imposed discomfort.  Rather, it is the difficult work of dealing with, if not healing, the sins of others in a caring manner.  Admittedly, there is plenty of Gospel too, revealed in the extent of Christ's love for us in both the foot-washing and the foreshadowing of the cross.  And yes, there's living water once again.

As I ponder this text within the context of Lent, I see the powerful interplay between faith, humilty and grace at work.   We will not be able to serve others, certainly not blessed by it, until we become aware of grace, of Jesus Christ and his tremendous self-emptying love.  I believe that only in acts of having our feet washed -- realizing that Jesus knows our sins, and still loves us and cares for us -- are we made into disciples.  We cannot "accept" Jesus, but we learn to confess him as teacher and Lord as we encounter him in times of weakness and sin.

Key words
εις τελος  ("completely", 13:1)  Jesus hear says he will love the disciples "to the end," literally.  It means more naturally "completely" but translators wanted to leave in this connection to Jesus words from the cross, "it is finished."  If they really wanted to do that though, they should have translated this passage as "He loved them to the finish."  A gift to my methodist friends:  The phrase could also mean "into fullness" or "into perfection." (Love divine anyone!!)

τιθησιν  (from τιθημι, "to place or lay down". 13:4)  In John chapter 10, Jesus declared he is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep.  Here Jesus lays down his garments.  I think this suggests his act of food washing is the beginning of his laying down his life for his disciples.  (Indeed 13:3 gives the context for Jesus' actions)

βαλλω  ("throw", 13:2 and 5).  In vs 2, this verb appears in a brutal form:  genitive perfect participle!  The point is that the devil throws something into Judas' heart, namely greed, fear and hatred.  Jesus, on the other hand, throws water into a basin.  Water to cleanse, water to heal and water to make whole.

ο διδασκαλος ο κυριος ("THE teacher THE lord"  13:13,14)  Every translator drops the article from both versus.  Jesus is not just a teacher or a lord, but THE teacher and THE lord.  This alone is worth preaching on.

Grammar
ει and εαν (if, 13:17)  These words are best translated as "if."  Both are used in John 13:17
ει you understand, you are blessed εαν you do these things.
The first ει means more "since" than "if" when it is paired with an indicative verb, as it is in this case.  This is why the NIV gets it right by translating this "Now that you know these things"
εαν is more hypothetical and demands the subjunctive, as it is in this case. 
But this if could also be translated as "when"; see John 11:10; John 12:32.
In short, the sentence could read:
"Since you understand this, you are blessed when you do these things."

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

John 7:37-52

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary, Year 4, Lenten cycle, most recently Feb 23, 2014.

Summary:
There are a number of preaching directions that examination of this text offers.  I think the biggest however is not simply a Greek work, but a Hebrew festival, namely, the feast of Tabernacles.  Jesus turns it all around!

Key words (by key I mean I found them interesting):
κοιλια ("stomach" or "womb" 7:38)  Elsewhere in John and throughout the Gospels/Acts, this word refers to womb.  (See John 3:4 and the first encounter with Nicodemeus or Luke 1:41).  In this case, it cannot be womb because Jesus isn't just talking about women; in fact, the possessive adjective here is "his"; "his womb" doesn't make sense.  But what does make sense is "belly", certainly not heart (NRSV).  This however, doesn't sound so good:  "Out of a believer's gut will come living waters."  But there might be something there to preach on!

χριστος ("Christ", 7:41)  Just a simple reminder that messiah in Hebrew = christ in Greek = anointed in English.  Calling Jesus the Christ is a huge confession of faith.  But it is also an interesting play on cultures and languages, where "Messiah Joshua" becomes "Jesus Christ" if not "Joshua Christ" a mismash of cultural terms, which is happening again and again in John's Gospel.

σχισμα ("schism"; 7:43)  Alas,  there is division because of Christ.  Always was and will be until Jesus comes again.  See note on feast here

εορτη ("feast"; 7:37).  This term appears a great deal in John's Gospel.  John 2:23  Feast of Passover
John 5:1  Feast, perhaps Pentecost
John 6:4  Passover
John 7:2  Tabernalces
John 10:22 Hannakah
John 11+ Final passover of Jesus

In John 7, the focus is on the tabernacle.  This concluded, on the last and great day, with a procession involving the proclamation of Psalm 118:25
"Save us, we beseech you, O LORD! O LORD, we beseech you, give us success!"
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feast_of_Tabernacles

This perhaps gets at the heart of the division around Jesus.  What is success?  What do we want Jesus for?  What do we want for a Messiah?

A number of other preaching directions also come about reflecting on what else is happening during this festival:

During Sukkot, two important ceremonies took place. The Hebrew people carried torches around the temple, illuminating bright candelabrum along the walls of the temple to demonstrate that the Messiah would be a light to the Gentiles. Also, the priest would draw water from the pool of Siloam and carry it to the temple where it was poured into a silver basin beside the altar. The priest would call upon the Lord to provide heavenly water in the form of rain for their supply. During this ceremony the people looked forward to the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. Some records reference the day spoken of by the prophet Joel.
In the New Testament, Jesus attended the Feast of Tabernacles and spoke these amazing words on the last and greatest day of the Feast: "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." (John 7:37-38 NIV) The next morning, while the torches were still burning Jesus said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (John 8:12 NIV)
http://christianity.about.com/od/biblefeastsandholidays/p/feastofbooths.htm

Textual criticism:
The actual reading of John 7:39 regarding the "coming" or "existenance" of the Spirit is really interesting.  There are three to four common ways the ancient texts read:
"the spirit was not yet"
"the Holy Spirit was not yet"
"the Holy Spirit was not yet upon the them"
"the Holy Spirit was not yet given"
The reading "the spirit was not yet" has the best internal evidence, but a number of the manuscripts line up behind the final two readings.  Many of the readings have corrections suggesting that many were not comfortable with the original!  Therefore, I agree with the NET assessment (which uses the "not yet given") translation
"Although only B and a handful of other NT MSS supply the participle dedome,non (dedomenon), this is followed in the translation to avoid misunderstanding by the modern English reader that prior to this time the Spirit did not exist. John's phrase is expressed from a human standpoint and has nothing to do with the preexistence of the third Person of the Godhead."

Back to me:  In John 1, the Spirit is already existing (John the Baptist sees it).  So I don't think we can really argue that the Spirit doesn't exist in John's Gospel before the resurrection.
 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

John 6:35-59

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary, Year 4, Lenten cycle, most recently Feb 16, 2014.

Here is a link to another John 6 post on the bread of life:
http://lectionarygreek.blogspot.com/2012/08/john-63541-51.htm
The themes of John 6 manifest themselves in every portion of the chapter.  This conclusion just drives home a few points, again, stated in the rest of the chapter (if not the whole book!).  A few ideas for sermons:

- eternal life is a present (its a gift):
        Jesus says that he will give διδωμι (6:51) the bread of life.  Everlasting life is a gift.

- eternal life is present
       The verb εχω ("have", 6:54) is in the present tense:  "The one who eats/drinks HAS eternally life CONTINUALLY" is how this passage should read.  There is a dimension of eternal life that includes the resurrection of the dead, but this is not when life begins.
       I think also worth dwelling on here is that the eternal life comes through the flesh and blood, the bread and the wine.  Jesus uses earthly things, even broken things, to give eternal life.  To get to eternal life, we've got to get into earthly life, to put it another way.  Much to ponder and many directions here for a sermon!

- eternal life is a presence
        Jesus says that those who eat μενω ("abide", 6:56) in him.  This is a key theme in the Gospel of John, in fact, one of the opening questions -- where are you abiding? (John 1:38).  Eteneral life is the same thing as staying with Jesus.  So what does eternal life look like?  Well, it looks/feels like that amazing feeling of knowing that we are in the presence of God.



Tuesday, February 4, 2014

John 4:46-52

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary, Year 4, Lenten cycle, most recently Feb 9, 2014.

Summary:  Did the faith produce the healing?  Well, the Greek suggests that belief in Jesus' word only comes after the boy has been healed.  In this way, the word produced both the healing and the faith.  On the otherhand, the father demonstrates his faith by going to Jesus in the first place.  I don't think this story solves this age old conundrum.  I don't think it is meant to be solved.  What I find more interesting is that Jesus never proclaims the son healed; rather he says the son is alive.  I think there are many cases where are ministry isn't about offering people the healing they want, but giving them life, amid grief and illness.

Lastly, I cannot figure out why "go down" appears three times in this passage.

Key words:

βασιλικος ("royal", 4.46)  This adjective is related to the word for king.  The NET Bible claims this official must have been related to or working for King Herod.  The suggests that the person going to Jesus is willing to engage in risky business.  While Herod has not set out against Jesus, Jesus has already upset the temple in Jerusalem and shortly will have people coming after him to kill him.

ζη ("live", 4:50, 51, 53, present tense for of ζαω)  I don't know how the translators mess this one up.  Every single time the verb is in the present tense:  You son is alive.  There is nothing future about it.  Jesus says and it is so.  This is really important because it shows that the healing is not based on the faith of the person.  When is the healing accomplished.  When Jesus says so.  Why?  This question is not answered here.

ηρωτα ("ask" imperfect form of ερωταω, 4:47)  The man continually is asking for Jesus help here; a sign of faith or despiration?

ιασηται ("heal" aorist form of ιαομαι, 4:47)  This verb is not as common as I expected in the Gospels, a few times here and there, mostly in Luke and only once in Mark.  It comes into English as psychiatry. I think it is a deep question:  Is it our mission, or Jesus' mission, to offer healing?  Healing is almost always thrust upon Jesus, the only exception being his command that the disciples go and heal (Luke 9.2).  Even here it comes after the proclamation of the Word.  To put it another way, healing (and the sick) will come with the proclamation of the Word.  The words intnetion is not healing as we see it, but life.  I think this opens up more doors -- what is living?  How can be sick still have life?  In fact, the text next says he was healed of all his problems, just that the fever left him, he was better and he was living.

πιστευω ("believe", throughout this section, including 4:50)  This verb means trusting.  In this case, trust doesn't produce following Jesus, it creates a situation in which someone can walk away from Jesus.  Again, most times we think of trust as creating a situation of moving closer to Jesus, but in this case, the faith creates a situation of letting go, letting go of his anxiety about his son, letting go of his need to be next to Jesus.

καταβαινω ("come down," 4:47,49, 51)  Okay, I cannot figure it out.  This word appears three times in this story.  It appears big time in John 6 (the true bread from heaven).  And then it stops.  It is as if the incarnation reaches its high point in John's Holy Communion story (chapter 6) and then he is done going down.  I'd like some more thoughts on this.