Monday, June 27, 2016

Galatians 6:1-18

This passage occurs as the RCL New Testament Lesson during year C, most recently July 2016.

Summary one:  This passage is full of contradictions, or as Lutherans call them, dialectics.  We are called to bear one another's burdens, yet carry our own load; boast in our work, yet only boast in Christ; we are called to do good for all, yet do good chiefly for those in the community.  Phew.  I don't think a preacher or pastor or theologians should resolve these tensions.  This is life in the spirit, which we are called to walk in (5:25).  I think Paul's challenging words here call us into a community of discernment.  Ultimately, we are called in this community back to the cross, where we can realize we will not get it right, but finally Christ will bring about a new creation.

Summary two:  Paul presents us with a couple of images of the church here.  A hospital, a family and a big arrow to the cross.  Perhaps even a military unit.

Summary three:  The canon within the canon, ladies and gentlemen, is, Christ crucified and the new creation.  Done.

Key words:
προσλαμβανω ("catch", Gal 6:1)   The word here for catch is "prolambano." "λαμβανω" is a common word in Greek, meaning give or take. The pro prefix is also a familiar word meaning before or ahead of time.   So this word means 'catch ahead.' Interestingly, this phrase then almost means "If you catch someone before they sin..." The point here is not simply admonishment but prevention of further injury.

καταρτιζω ("restore", 6:1)  The word for "restore" here is "katartizo" which is related to the Greek medical term for "set a bone in place." This obviously takes skill, time and care. What a powerful image about admonishment! Another image comes from Hebrews 11:3, where God καταρτιζ-ed, ie, "prepared", the world by his Word. Talk about skill and time and energy!

πνεθματικος ("spiritual"), 6:1, the word for "spiritual" appears a lot in other Pauline writings, see 1 Cor 2:13, but it is not developed in Galatians. It is worth noting here that the point of our justification, of our ultimate union with Christ, is not to disregard the world, but the enter more fully into it, to help heal others.

βασταζετε ("bear"), 6:2 (and also 6:5).   In 6:2, "Bear one another's burdens" is in the present imperative: Continually and keep bearing one another's burdens. This is an on-going work. It also appears in 6:5.

Curiously there are different Greek (and English) words used for the object of the bearing:
Bear one another's burden (6:2)
Each must carry their own load (6:5)
The first object, burden or βαρος, probably means more weight (and can mean emotional weight).

The second one, load or φορτιον, means more merchandise, a specific thing you could carry, a load. Does Paul intend anything with these different images? Maybe one could say put them together something like this: You are responsible for making your own ship float but this does not absolve you from helping your neighbor's sinking boat either. I wonder if this is a case, like the Gospel of John, where you can try to splice synonyms and not get very far!

καυχμα ("boast", verb in 6:14, 6:4)  The NRSV and NIV locate the pride in different places, based on how they translate εαυτου. The NRSV indicates the pride is in the work. The NIV (and NET) translate it as "Each can take pride in himself." It really says, "in himself" (eauton).   Eauton can mean his as in possessive, but if this were the case, Paul would use the word in the genitive.  (At least I think!)   Here I'd go with the NIV.

Ultimately, none of this boasting really matters because the only thing finally worth boasting about is the cross.  Paul warns here ultimate against spiritual pride, in that we can make the cross (or faith in it) a matter of our own doing by turning faith into works or faith itself into a work, instead of a gift.

oικειος, ("household", 6:10).  This word is really beautiful.  It describes a family member, a relative, one who would dwell with you.  Ephesians 2:19 also contains this:
"So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God,"
I sometimes shy away from the idea of a family as a metaphor for church because it can be closed off (everyone considers their family loving but ask that to a new person coming in).  Yet it speaks to the intense care we can and should have for one another.

στοιχησουσιν ("walk," 6:16) This verb has its root in a military or ordered formation.  Paul also uses this verb in chapter 5:25.  Paul commends us to walk in the "stoicheo" of the Spirit; now we are to walk in-line with the standard of Christ crucified and the new creation

κανον ("standard", 6:16)  The word in chapter 6 is "canon," ie standard or law!  What is the canon within the canon:  Christ crucified and the new creation!

Grammar Review:  Negative imperatives
μη + verb, 6.7.   A μη imperative should be translated, "No longer" ie "Stop being afraid."   In this   "Stop being deceived."  (Notice the case of "mock" -- present.  God is continually not mocked, or in better English, God is never mocked.")

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Luke 9:51-62

Summary:  Clearly Jesus is focused and determined here.  The Greek highlights this.  This passage is a humbling reminder for a culture that wants to fit Jesus into our life rather than build our life on Jesus.  Church becomes one of many competing activities instead of the encounter with the living Lord that weekly re-orients our life.  The good news? Jesus does not let the rejection of pagans stop him from dying on the cross for them and for us; likewise our lack of focus and prioritization of Jesus does not change his death for us on the cross.

Key words:
αναλημψεως (meaning "ascension", 9:51)  This inclusion of this word is a reminder that the ascension is an integral part of the plan for Jesus.

το προσωπον εστηρισεν ("strengthened his face", 9:51)  It is interesting that Luke uses the word face (προσωπου) three times in this three verses.  Almost no English translations capture this.  Luke wants to give us a visual here.  Jesus has set his face toward Jerusalem.  His eyes are on the prize!

του ("the" in the genitive, 9:51)  Greek can show intention by combining "του" + an infinitive.  Greek can also show intention with the preposition "εις" meaning "for."  In 9:51 Luke stacks all of this together to create one long sentence of purpose!

ετοιμασαι (meaning "prepare", 9:52)  The word prepare shows up frequently in the Gospel of Luke and often at important times:

John the Baptist prepares for John (1:17, 1:76, 3:4)
God's celebration of Jesus birth (Luke 2:31)
Prepare for passover (22:8)
Prepare spices for burial (23:56, 24:1)

προτον ("proton" meaning "first", 9:59,60)  The core problems is neither love nor duty with family.  However, the key is the word first -- proton.  What is first in your life?

A proton is the building block of the periodic table -- of chemistry.  It is the foundation upon which every atom exists.  In fact, an atom can be stripped on neutrons, even temporarily electrons.  But without a proton, an atom, by definition, ceases to exist.  What is integral and essential for us today?

Monday, June 20, 2016

Galatians 5:1;13-25

Summary:  Freedom means something different for Paul than for modern Americans.  For modern Americans freedom means license to live as we please.  In Paul's eyes freedom is not about the individual, but living as the new creation in community.  I think it is greatly worth preaching on this topic -- what does freedom actually mean?  Freedom allows us to reject -- even crucify -- the flesh and embrace service together in the community.   At the bottom of the post I offer some more suggestions on preaching.

ενεχεσθε ("hold in", from ενεχω, 5:1) This little verse is a good example of how context helps us translate.   Paul here commends us not to "be subject/be burdened" (ενεχω) to the yoke of slavery. This word, ενεχω (enecho), is tough to translate.  Literally it means "hold in."  It has the connotation of "cherish inward wrath at one," or perhaps "be seized" with something, as in get caught up in a situation.   Elsewhere in the NT (Mark 6:19; Luke 11:53) it means hold a grudge or be bitterly opposed to.   If one inserts this translation, one gets this meaning: "Christ set you free; don't be opposed to the yoke of slavery!" That doesn't sound right!

So...let's look at the whole context.  Galatians as a whole and specifically chapter 5 suggest the yoke of slavery is not the burden of following Jesus but the burden of (antiquated) laws and works-righteousness.   Thus, we need a different translation; ultimately we will take on the burden of slavery to Christ.  To capture this, a best sense is probably "caught up in"  as in, "don't get caught up in the law again."  I think the NIV does the best job with this translation (be burdened).

αφορμη(ν) ("opportunity," 5:13) A little bit more word play.  Paul tells us here not to "indulge the flesh" (NIV). Paul literally writes: Not freedom for αφορμη in/to the flesh, but through love serve/slave one another. The word αφορμη is pretty interesting and alone would make for a good sermon in a few ways. The word comes from apo (from) + horme (ορμη with rough breathing accent).  "horme" comes into English as "hormone," meaning "stir" or "impulse."   An apohorme then is a base from which the impulse comes.  Moreover, the word can also mean the capital of a banker. So you have three metaphors for how our freedom can be abused: we follow the hormones of our flesh; we use our freedom as a base of operations for the flesh or it becomes the capital on which we draw to sin...Grace becomes the bank that we rob...

λογος ("word," 5:14) Paul curiously phrases this verse: "The law can be fulfilled in one command, love one another as yourself." First off, he does not use the word command; he uses the word "logos."  I am speculating here, but I wonder if Paul almost wants to elevate this above the idea of commandments, if not the law itself. (Paul uses similar language in Romans 13:9). It as if Paul is saying -- loving your neighbor belongs to the eternal Word; the other stuff we have are laws and words.  In fact, the command, "Love you neighbor as yourself" is not really a command, but in fact, an indicative statement: "You will love your neighbor as yourself." While Greek can use the future indicative for a command, I find this fascinating that the most essential command is, in fact, not a command.   We cannot be told to love our neighbors.  This is not a possibility for obedience.  We can obey simply tasks, but love of our neighbor is a divine gift, a fruit of the Spirit.

πεπληρωται ("fulfill", from πληρoω, 5:14)  Summed up is not a strong enough translation for this verse.  It means more brought to fullness or completion.  I think the translation: "The law is completed in one word, in this: Love your neighbor as yourself"

εσταυρωσαν (form of "σταυρoω", 5:24)   It is striking here that Paul says that Christians are actually doing the crucifying of the flesh. Normally these sorts of activities are done by God or left in the passive; here the verb is in the active.   First off, only those who are are of Christ can do this (vs 24) and the Spirit is guiding us (vs 25).  Clearly Paul puts this in terms of the trinity, but Paul does not let our own activity off the hook...

στοιχημεν ("walk", 5:25)   The word for walk here is "stoicheoo."  This word has a rather interesting meaning and related sets of words, but basically, it comes from the word for rows. The idea here is that to "walk" in the spirit here would mean to "assemble orderly ranks for walking."  In short, to walk in the Spirit is probably not as free as we think it is today.  It is certainly not as independent as we'd have it either.

Some reflections on preaching:  How do we convince people that freedom in Christ is true freedom, greater than their political, sexual and economic freedoms they find in our culture today?  Perhaps one way to show this is how our "freedoms" turn out not to be as freeing as we thought!

I also think the challenge with the word love is that people here love against a background of autonomy; I do not think any Biblical writer could possible imagine the extent to which people in our preaching audience view themselves as independent moral agents.  In short, I think the ancients viewed the moral task of life as taking one's place in the "circle of life", finding one's place within the complex matrix of human and divine relationships that exist.  I think modern Americans view the moral task as "finding oneself" and then maybe, just maybe, inserting oneself back into this moral matrix, but likely on one's own terms!  Sin was something that jeopardized one's place in this moral matrix; today sin is likely a failure to "let it go" and "be yourself."  Even if this is sounding like a rant...any discussion about Paul's notions of freedom (and love) must be restored to a far more communal way of approaching life than the individual notions we have today.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Luke 8:26-39

Summary:  Just because someone has broken free of their chains, does not mean they are free of their demons.  This is story about Jesus freeing an outcast of their demons and restoring them to life.  It takes identifying the problem, the prayerful word of God, a person who can integrate the healed back into society and frankly, an economic cost to the whole.  As I read this story this year, I think about the great challenge it is to heal and restore people.  It is not impossible, but it is a greater work than I first thought.

Key Words:
εδεσμευετο αλεσεσιν (from δεσμευω αλυσις, meaning "bound in chains", 8:29)  What is interesting is that even though the man can break free of his chains, he is not free.  The Bible presents a complex relationship between chains and imprisonment and freedom.  At points God comes to set the prisoner free.  As Jesus quotes from Isaiah:  "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."  (Luke 4:18-19)  On the other hand, Paul will write numerous points about his work in chains (Ephesians 6:20, Acts 28:20; Philippians 1:14).  This does not stop the message, but the message goes forth.  As Paul most pointed says in 2 Timothy 2:9 "...for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained."  External chains do not always reveal the inner and more enduring chains.  External freedom may not be true freedom.  To put it another way, just because someone has broken free of their chains, does not mean they are free of their demons.

ερημος (pronounced "heramos," meaning wilderness or desert; 8:29)  This word comes into English as "hermit."  The desert is a spiritual place in the Bible, a place where demons do dwell, but God is also present (think temptation story with both the devil and angels present).

λεγιων (pronounced "legion", 8:30)  This could simply refer to the fact that there are many demons...or could be an illusion to a Roman military unit; a hostile, non-kosher, occupying force!  Here is my take:  In order to exorcise a demon, you have to know its name!  We must name the problems in this world to solve them!

αβυσσος (pronounced, "abyssos", 8:31)  The word abyss is the place of the dead in Scripture; it also seems to refer to the primordial chaos waters.
Romans 10:7 "or 'Who will descend into the abyss?'" (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).
Genesis 1:2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.
Sadly, this is the only place in Luke's Gospel where the word abyss is found!  I was wanting some more fun!

βοσκοντες (meaning "tend", 8:34)  A nice example of a substantive participle...but I digress.  The point here is that the emancipation of the demon possessed man (the outcast in society) cost the society something, even with Jesus present.  What are we willing to give up to help the outcasts?  I would love to say that its not a zero sum game (because it isn't), but giving life to the outcasts in society is not without costs.

εφοβηθησαν (verb from "φοβος", pronounced "phobos" meaning "fear", 8:35).  The reaction to the healing of the person is fear.  How often might we react in fear to God's emancipating work?  How can this be overcome?  Fortunately the fear is not of the man, but of Jesus.  How might the healing work of God have a cost for the ones doing the healing and freeing work?

θεος ("theos", meaning God 8:38).  This is a subtle reminder that Jesus = God.  Jesus tells him to tell what God has done; he tells what Jesus has done. 

κηρύσσων (pronounced, "kerusso" akin to kerygma, meaning "proclaiming", 8:39) Jesus officially commissions the disciples to "proclaim" in 9:1; here is his first commissioning, however.  The disciples have lots of training before they are sent out; in this case, this person is sent out to declare the Word of the Lord in his life.  I wonder if we spend so much time preparing people for grand commissionings (seminary) that we overlook the very basic task of commissioning people in our midst to talk about God's work in their lives. 

A little grammar bonus:
τι εμοι και σοι ("what to you and to me", 8:28)  The Greek here seems pretty mild "What is to you and to me?"  It really means "What is your problem with me?"  It is used often to set up an adversarial conversation between two parties.  Interestingly, this will be how Jesus approaches his mother at Cana (in John 2)

Side note:  If you are curious about how Luke and Mark are different in this story:  Mark uses imperfect tenses for verbs, highlighting the on-going battle.  Luke uses aorist.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Luke 7:36-8:3

This passage occurs in the RCL during year C, most recently June 2016. 
This passage also occurs in the Narrative Lectionary, Year 3, most recently Feb. 2017.

Summary:  A.M.A.Z.I.N.G. story.  It is a beautiful story of what forgiveness looks and feels like.
It is profound that this passage is paired with the Galatians 2:15-21 reading.  In that passage we hear about what the process of justification (forgiveness) and sanctification (Christian living) look like in propositional truth form.  In this passage, we see what it looks like in narrative form.  I love the Paul passage, but the Luke one may be easier to preach on.  What does justification look like:  The world's opinion of you has not changed, but you can worship the crucified savior.  What does sanctification look like:  The world's opinion of you has not changed, but you can go in peace.  As either Paul or Luke portray is, sin does not go away, either inside or outside, but Christ's love, given to us in faith, gives peace and joy.

Key words: 
ηλειφεν (from αλειφω, aleipho, meaning "anoint", 7:38)  This word is interesting because of where it appears in the Old Testament (or the Old Testament translated into Greek, the Septuagint).  Priests were anointed (Exodus 40:13; Numbers 3:3); those in grief mourn (2 Samuel 12:20; 14:2).  Either of these offer great ways to think about Jesus:  He is being anointed priest by a grand sinner; or the woman is in mourning over his death.  I vote for the later because she uses μυρον (7:37) or myrrh, which is used for the burial of the dead.

Note:  Although this word means anointed, it is not the same word as anoint like a king.  That word in Greek is "Christ"!

αγαπη (agape, meaning "love", 7:42)  The proper/necessary/automatic response to forgiveness is love.  Duh.  But...why is this not always the case for us when we experience forgiveness?  Perhaps we do not believe we have sinned; perhaps we do not know what love is.  The story suggests that the Pharisee, being unaware of his sins, did not appreciate his forgiveness and therefore did not love (or know how to love?).  If this is the case, then good preaching should make us feel really bad (right!?) in order to make us realize how much Jesus loves us.  I think this is somewhat true, but I wonder what else there might be.

Another take: the new creation loves and rejoices in forgiveness.  But this is often hidden from us.  We don't feel forgiveness and we don't feel love when we are in church and experience church.  God preaching reminds us that even when we don't "feel" it, God is still present, forgiving us and renewing us, even amid death and sin, that are always present realities.

To put it another way -- how do I know I am forgiven?  We have permission to worship the cruficified savior.

εχαρισατο (from χαριζομαι, charizomai, meaning "forgive" or "grace", 7:42)  It is important, at least to me, to acknowledge that humans do not forgive each other.  We can be gracious to each other and cancel debts, but forgiveness of sin belongs to God.  This is why there is such consternation that Jesus actually forgives (αφιημι).  Outside of commissioned priests, finding examples of humans forgiving each other is truly rare in Scripture, if arguably at all.  We are called to be gracious to one another and forgive (if not bear) one another's burdens.  But when it comes to a final reckoning, this belongs to God, and not my neighbor.

σεσωκεν (from σωζω, sozo, meaning "save", 7:50)  Beautiful use of perfect tense in Greek.  The faith saved her in the past but creates a future state of being saved.

ειρηνην (Irene (extra "n" is because its accusative case), meaning "peace" 7:50)  This is a stark look at the peace of Christ.  The community looks down on her, yet she has peace.  Peace in Christ does not mean the external reality has changed.  It means inside we know who Jesus is and that Jesus loves us.

αυτιας ("of theirs", 8:3)  This feminine plural dative...means this:  women were funding Jesus ministry.  They were also commissioned.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Galatians 2:11-21

This passage occurs as the RCL New Testament lesson during year C, most recently June 2016.  It sometimes appears as Galatians 2:15-21.

Summary:  I feel like Paul's point is easier than to sing than to preach:  We are saved by grace; we still sin; Christ dwells in us.  The solution to sin is not a better you or me, but Christ dwelling in me and you.

Last lectionary cycle (2013) I played with the phrase "orthopedics" and walking with the Gospel.  I wore two shoes.  The first shoe was for the the law.  In fact, I wore no show on one foot.  I could only see my bear, stinky, calloused and splotchy haired feet:  A reminder I am a mortal sinner who is not God.  The other shoe was a work boot for the mission trip.  Christ forgives us but also makes a home in us, so that, just like him, we might live for God, which of course, means a life of praise and service toward the neighbor.

Key words and concepts:
κατεγνωμενος ("condemned," καταγινωσκω, 2:11)  Some translations stick in a "self-condemned" here because the verb is in the passive.  (It literally reads "He was condemned".)  Not sure if it is fair to read this as self-condemned or not.  What I do know is that the NIV's "he was in the wrong" is about a sugar coated as a summer fair cotton candy stick...

αφοριζω ("set aside," 2:12)  Being set aside is not always a bad thing. Paul says he is "set aside" to be an apostle (Rom 1:1) and Paul even addresses this fact in Gal 1:15!!  For what are we as baptized Christians set-aside?

ορθοποδεω ("walk consistent with", 2:14). (Loan word in English: orthopedics!) Paul here talks about walking correctly toward/with the truth of the gospel! Great image. This is perhaps our goal as pastors, to give people the right shoe!  Somehow walking with Christ includes being crucified with him and living to God (2:20).

Side note:  This word is a only used once in the New Testament.  Sometimes people use the frequency of infrequent words to justify Pauline authorship.  Unfortunately, there are just as many single use words (technically:  hapax legomenon) in Galatians as in Ephesians, a letter whose authorship is often debated; for a nice article on the difficulties of using hapax legomenon as evidence of authorship, see a good wikipedia article.

πιστεως χριστου ("faith of Christ", 2:16):  This is a little phrase in a big theological debate:  How to translate:  Faith of Jesus Christ?  There are two clear options:
A) Objective genitive: The genitive is the object; faith's object is Jesus Christ.  Faith in Jesus Christ.
B) Subjective genitive: The genitive is the subject; Jesus Christ is the subject who has the faith.  Jesus Christ's faith

If you push toward objective translation, you are basically saying we are justified by Christ's faith in God, which may mean our own faith is not necessary for salvation.  I am comfortable leaving this translation ambiguity, because Galatians 2:19-20 argues that our and Christ's hearts became one in faith anyway!

For those curious, though, the NET Bible summarizes the challenge: A decision is difficult here. Though traditionally translated "faith in Jesus Christ," an increasing number of NT scholars are arguing that πιστεως χριστου and similar phrases in Paul (Rom 3:22, 26; Gal 2:16, 20; 3:22; Eph 3:12; Phil 3:9) involve a subjective genitive and mean "Christ's faith" or "Christ's faithfulness" (cf., e.g., G. Howard, "The 'Faith of Christ'," ExpTim 85 [1974]: 212-15; R. B. Hays, The Faith of Jesus Christ [SBLDS]; Morna D. Hooker, "πιστις χριστου," NTS 35 [1989]: 321-42). Noteworthy among the arguments for the subjective genitive view is that when πιστεως takes a personal genitive it is almost never an objective genitive (cf. Matt 9:2, 22, 29; Mark 2:5; 5:34; 10:52; Luke 5:20; 7:50; 8:25, 48; 17:19; 18:42; 22:32; Rom 1:8; 12; 3:3; 4:5, 12, 16; 1 Cor 2:5; 15:14, 17; 2 Cor 10:15; Phil 2:17; Col 1:4; 2:5; 1 Thess 1:8; 3:2, 5, 10; 2 Thess 1:3; Titus 1:1; Phlm 6; 1 Pet 1:9, 21; 2 Pet 1:5). On the other hand, the objective genitive view has its adherents: A. Hultgren, "The Pistis Christou Formulations in Paul," NovT 22 (1980): 248-63; J. D. G. Dunn, "Once More, PISTIS CRISTOU," SBL Seminar Papers, 1991, 730-44. Most commentaries on Romans and Galatians usually side with the objective view.

Some grammar odds and ends:
2:12 Lesson on infinitive phrases: The phrase "Before they came..." is in "articular infinitive with preposition" construct. Which basically means it reads like this: "Before the coming them" and should be translated, "Before they came." First translation help: The subject of any infinitive phrase in Greek is in the accusative. Second translation help. The verb here is in the aorist. Which suggests not as much past time but "point" or "event" time. Before the event of their coming...or even "Before their arrival." 

2:14 Lesson on the subjunctive: Paul uses an "ei" clause; because the verb of the clause is in the indicative and not the subjunctive, you can (and should) translate the "ei" as "since" and not "if."