Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Luke 1:57-80

This passage is found in the Narrative Lectionary, Advent 4, Year B (Most recently: Dec 20, 2015)

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.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Ezra 1:1-4; 3:1-4, 10-13

These passages are found in the Narrative Lectionary, Advent 3, Year 2. (Most recently Dec 13, 2015)

Summary:  Ezra is a complex story about the relationship between the church and state; between religious freedom and persecution; between civic religion and cult.  Given what is happening in our country, this seems like a profoundly relevant passage.  Challenge -- making it connection to Christmas and Advent?  I think one can find this in chapter 3:10-13 and the idea that the foundation has been laid, but the building is not yet there.  We praise God for the foundation, but wait for the fullness of the temple.
Key words: 

רוח ("rauch" meaning "spirit"; 1:1) The NIV translates this as "heart."  It is literally "spirit."  The imagery is that God awoke the spirit of Cyrus.  This is an interestingly reflection on how God interacts with the powerful in the world.  Oh, Lord, send again your spirit to awaken our leaders!

נדבה ("nedabah" meaning "freewill offering";1:4)  This can refer to a specific type of offering, see here for info on this.  What is significant is that the people would be under no royal edict to offer this worship.  It seems strange that, first, Cyrus would allow people to go home, second, that he would allow people to rebuild the temple, and then third, would not compel people to worship there.  (Later in 3:4, there will be mandatory offerings too, but this time imposed by the Jewish religious leaders, not the Persian king.)

כאיש אחד  (a preposition, a noun and an adjective meaning "as one man" translated "together"; 3:1)  The NRSV translates this as "together" but I don't think that this gives a the sense of unity here full justice!  Perhaps this is the unity we experience as we worship on Christmas Eve!

הוסד ("whosed" from a verb meaning "to establish or found";3:11)  What I want to point out here is that though foundation is laid, it will be years before the temple is built.  Numerous obstacles will occur including a seemingly friendly offer from Samaritans that turns into a total road block.  (This is a reminder that religious freedom and worship are not always easy!) 
Perhaps in this we can connect to Advent -- we give thanks to the Lord, like the ancient Jews, because the foundation of the new world of Jesus Christ has been laid, but we have not yet seen the full tabernacle.  Just the foundation is good enough though, for praise!

Luke 3:7-18

This passage is found in the RCL, Advent 3, Year C (Most recently Dec 13, 2015).

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).

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Isaiah 40:1-11

The passage is found in the Narrative Lectionary, Advent 2, Year 2 (Most recently Dec 6, 2015).

Summary:  This passage is almost impossible to translate because one has Handel's Messiah in the background!  If I were not preaching during Advent, I would use this passage to highlight the work of the Holy Spirit, as that which kills but also creates through compassion and comfort.  But I am preaching in Advent so I will focus, most likely, on preparing the way.  In what way do we need a wilderness, a time of disconnecting, to connect to God?  In what way is God's Holy Spirit present to us in the wilderness?  I would argue that the wilderness is not a time of listening to inner voices, but a time of being comforted by the communion of saints and hearing the Word of God.

Key words:
נחם ("nakham" meaning "comfort, repent or compassion", vs 1)  This word appears in all sorts of amazing and significant passages.  It can mean a range of things -- comfort, repent or have compassion.  The idea is someone taking a deep breath.  In this case, the translators of every language, whether Greek speaking Jews in the 4th century BC, or Jerome in the 4th century AD, to modern English translators, have translated this word to mean "comfort."  I agree!  The question remains linguistically in the passage -- who is doing the comforting?  The ancient Israelites to each other?  God?  The pastoral question for us is -- who comforts us?  How is do we experience God's comfort?
Lastly, it is interesting that the Greek translation of this word παρακαλεω (parakaleo) will also be used as a title for the Holy Spirit in John's Gospel!

מדבר ("midbar", meaning "wilderness", vs 3)  Wilderness does not mean "place where God is not."  The book of Numbers records God's faithful presence in the wilderness.  Wilderness can mean a time of reflection and examination, comfort and repentance, but certainly not banishment from God. 
Final note:  If you are curious about the position of the comma in the sentence:
A voice cries out in the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord...see this week's post on Luke 3

רוח ("ruach" meaning "spirit, voice or breath", vs 7)  The "literal" translation could be "the spirit of God blows upon it."  I find it quite strange that anyone would want to translate this as breath.  What is God's breath if not God's spirit?  This is important because it helps us recognize that the Spirit's work specifically in this passage but also more generally in the work of putting to death.  It is also worth noting that the Spirit is connected here to the Word of God (vs 8) and finally proclamation of the good news (9)

רעה ("rahah" meaning "shepherd", vs 11) It is striking that the glory of the Lord is revelaed not simply in power, but in merciful compassion.  God's alien work may be bringing about death and destruction, but the proper and crowning work of God is exhibiting mercy.
Side grammar note:  the is technically a verbal noun, like "the one who shepherds" or more literally "shepherder"

Luke 3:1-6

This passage is found in the RCL, Advent 2, Year C (Most recently Dec 6, 2015).

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.

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!
***Warning on the next word:  The first four sentences are stuff you all know.  But read on...

μετανοεω ("repent"; 3:3) The Greek meaning of the word is "new mind." Stories later in the Gospel -- Bartimaus or the woman anointing Jesus -- show someone whose life is transformed by Jesus. So it may not be explicit (in that the word repentance may not be used), but the repentance continues. 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.
In that 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 the OT to make it fit with Christ!
Or the pastoral one:  Say, in this case, both 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.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Josiah Reform: 2 Kings 22

This passage is found in the Narrative Lectionary for Advent 1, year 2 (Most recently Nov 29, 2015).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Isaiah 5:1-7

This passage is found in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C (Most recently August 2016).
 This passage is found in the Narrative Lectionary for Christ the King Sunday, Year 2 (Most recently Nov 22, 2015).

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trivia:  Noah planted vineyard in Genesis 9:20

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Hosea 13:1-11

This passage is found in the Narrative Lectionary year 2 (Most recently Nov 15, 2015)

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

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

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

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

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

Mark 13:1-8

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 15, 2015)

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

Two key insights:

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

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

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

The basic point, regardless of translation, is that in light of Jesus, the true temple and rock, this temple and rocks are unimportant, finally heretical.  I just think we can safely add that Mark allows Jesus to refer to himself, subtly, as an eternal rock.  Regardless, it brings us to the real helpful preaching point:  What is the foundation in your life?  For 1st century Jews, the temple would have been a foundation piece of their life, a center of mystery and meaning.  Jesus says, this doesn't really matter, he does.  Rather than critique first century Jews, we should ask ourselves:  What idols -- even of our building spaces -- have we built for ourselves?

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

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

A few other notes:
13:2 Jesus twice uses the emphatic "no" construction in Greek "ou mh" (ie never ain't gonna happen). Interestingly, the sentence literally reads, "A stone will never rest upon a stone, which will never be destroyed." I think the standard translation is fine, but there is another sense that the literal Greek reveals here -- No stone will be permitted on the stone that cannot be destroyed. 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" 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). This is used throughout the Gospel of Mark; this is the last time anything will be said privately though.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Mark 12:38-44

This passage is found in the Revised Common Lectionary Year B (Most recently Nov 8, 2015)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 19, 2015

Mark 10:46-52

This passage occurs in both the Revised Common Lectionary Year B and the Narrative Lectionary Year B.  See note below on its potential as a Reformation day passage.  (Most recently Feb 21, 2016).
I prefer the Mark 10:46-52 text for Reformation Day than the John 8 text (here is my commentary on this passage).  You have a man crying out for mercy (Luther's search); a religious crowd opposed to him (sinful self and world); a display of Jesus compassion; Jesus' Word giving life; Proclamation that faith saves; lastly, new life in following Christ.
To review:
Salvation, even new creation, by faith alone
The mercy of Christ
The sinfulness of the world, even in religious matters
The redeeming Word

Or John 8, with landmines of antisemitism.  You make the call...

οδος ("road" or "way", from οδος, vs. 46)  This word has layers of meanings.  It is one of those words that can simply mean "path for travel" but more abstractly "way"."  Early Christians were called followers of "The Way."  In Mark 8, 9, and 10, Jesus has been on the way.  This journey in Mark is about spiritual blindness and sight.  It begins with the disciples blind to Jesus power; it ends with blind Bartimeaus receiving sight.  It points toward the reality that any talk about spiritual journey without struggle, sin and setback is nonsense.

Βαρτιμαιος ("Son of honor", 46) We don't know many names of those cured by Jesus, but this one has a name -- Son of honor.  In this case, the son of honor is banished by the crowd, mocked and insulted.  Perhaps this is foreshadowing of Jesus, the true son of Honor, being mocked by the crowd.  Furthermore, it is ironic that James and John, the sons of Zebedee, ask for power and get the cross.  This man calls out for mercy and gets resurrection.

ελεησον ("mercy", from ελεεω, 48)  A key feature of Martin Luther's journey was the search for mercy.  Is this what people hunger for today?  It certainly is what Christ has come to bring.

στας ("stand", 49)  For the first and only time in Mark's Gospel, Jesus stands still.  He takes a pause from the journey on the road to have compassion on this man.  The story pivots on Jesus' action here (you could even do a need chaistic structure within the story with this as the fulcrum).  It is worth remembering about this story and really the whole Reformation, that Jesus' love and compassion are at the center.

θαρσει ("take courage", 49)  This word can also mean "be audacious."  Christ is calling us to follow him, over and against the cries of the world.

εγειρε ("raise" or "resurrect", 49)  Jesus has been proclaiming his eventual resurrection.  Now the resurrection is happening -- the kingdom of God unfolding in our midst.  What makes it possible?  The voice of Jesus -- the word of God.

σεσωκεν ("save", from σωζω 52)  This word refers to both "earthly" salvation as well as heavenly.  Explosive term.  It can meal heal, but also save.  But basic point here:  It is not simply about the afterlife.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Ruth 1:1-17

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary, Year 2 (Most recently: Oct 18. 2015)
Summary:  This moving passage about love and grief needs no Hebrew to be understood.  However, the Hebrew helps us see that Naomi has a very deep faith.  A deep faith that lets her weep, that lets her "let go" and finally that lets her embrace.

רעו ("rahav", meaning "famine", vs 1)  For most Americans, the idea of famine is nonsense.  Grocery stores are always full, in years of drought and years of floods.  Yet in the Bible, famines are quite common.  Often they move the plot along (famine forces Abram to move to Egypt; famine forces prodigal son to near starvation).

בית לחם ("Bethlehem", meaning "house of bread" vs 1)  This little verse suggests to the person familiar with the Hebrew Bible (or whole Bible!) that something special is going on here. Bethlehem is a small town...from which both David and Jesus come!  Great and beautiful irony that Jesus and David come from town called "house of bread."

פקד ("peqad", meaning "visit" vs 6)  This verb, when used in conjunction with the Lord, is quite significant.  In this case it means something like, "God turned full attention toward..."  While is not necessarily good, it is used in a few cases of something wonderful happening in the Bible:
- Birth of Isaac (Gen 21.1)
- God deciding to free Israelite people from slavery (Exodus 4.31)
- Birth of Samuel (2 Sam 2:21)
- Cyrus rebuilding temple in Jerusalem (Ezra 1.2)
In short, its inclusion here is quite a bold statement by Naomi

אמה ("am", meaning "mother" vs 8; see note on "h")  I was struck by the fact that Naomi instructs them to go to the house of their mothers.  Is this because this is a gathering of women?  Or that their fathers are dead?  Perhaps they know grief too?!

note:  the ה"h" on the end signifies "direction" as in "go in the direction of your mother"

חסד ("kesed" meaning "steadfast love", vs 8)  This is a crucial word in the Old Testament.  What I want to point out is that Naomi's words are deeply theological.  She is able to discuss both the Lord visiting her people; the Lord's steadfast love; the Lord's arm against her in death.  This is a complex and mature faith, one that should not be overlooked.

ותבכינה (a conjugated version of (בכה), meaning "weep", vs 9)  A feminine plural is not a common verb conjugation in Hebrew (alas!)  But notice how although Naomi kisses, they all weep.  The word weep is akin to wail.  It is a deep expression of grief (Psalm 137:1, Genesis 21:16).  I wonder how often, in America, we do not let people weep as they should.