Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Matthew 22:15-22

This passage occurs in the RCL "Pentecost"/"Ordinary"/"Proper" Season, Year A, most recently October 2014.

Summary:  One does not find the Greek words for church and state in this passage, as much as this passage is used to justify all sorts of behavior and relationships between church and state.  What is mentioned though is the word "εικον" meaning icon, or image.  The temptors of Jesus, forgetting Genesis 1, say that the coin bears the image of Caesar.  They answer the truth, but not the whole truth.  An image of man is still an image of God.  Money, whether it says, "In God We Trust" or "Caesar" or anything, isn't exempt from God's creation.  It still has to do with humans and how we live in this creation, and thus it still belongs under God's dominion.

Freedom note:  I am using this passage to launch a Reformation 500 series on the Freedom of a Christian.  I pick this passage because Jesus discusses that even those of us free in Christ still have responsibilities before other people.

Key words: 
παγις ("hunter's trap", used as a verb, 22.15) The word for ensnare comes from the root for trap. What a cruel image of the pharisees trying with metal jaws, to trap Jesus. 

αποστελλω ("send" 22.16).  The literal phrase here is that his enemies "apostled their disciples," a reminder that Jesus is not the only one with apostles and disciples...

υποκριτης ("actor/hypocrite", 22.18) The word for hypocrite means actor, or one who plays a part.  (He answered above the others from stage.)  This is not necessarily a negative word, but in the NT it is used exclusively that way.  Jesus isn't interested in actors, but real people with real sins that need real forgiveness.

εικον (image/icon, 22.20) The word here for "head" or "portrait" here is literally "eikon," which means image. So the question is whose image? If it is a human head, the answer could just as easily have been "God." (See Genesis 1!)

Translation/Grammar review:  Idioms
Some things in a language are simply impossible to translate literally.  This week Jesus is told, "You do not look into the face of people."  This doesn't sound so nice.  It simply means, "You don't look at exterior things."  (Which is a positive assessment).  He is also told he doesn't care about nothing.  Missing from this idiom is the word "opinion."  Jesus doesn't care about the opinions of others, in the sense that he acts free from petty judgments of others.  You could take them literally, and perhaps derive some meaning; that said, with idioms, it is often best to let professional translators do the work...

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Matthew 21:33-46

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A; Most recently October 8, 2017.

The meaning of the parable is clear:  Ancient Israel rejected prophets of old; they will reject and kill Jesus.  Somehow God will rebuild on the rejected Jesus.  How do we find a Gospel message relevant for people's lives?  While there is some really interesting stuff in verse 34 about sending and bearing fruit, I sense myself drawn to verse 42 and the proclamation that God will rebuild on the rejected stone.  This verse points toward the faithfulness of God, who rebuilds on Christ.  I think we can apply this to people's lives: even through we again and again reject God's commands and even love in our lives, God rebuilds us on Christ.

Key Words in verse 34 -- which sets up the whole thing
ηγγισεν (from εγγιζω, meaning "approach", 21:34)  This word, meaning "approach" or "come near", appears at turning points in the Gospel:
3:2  John Baptizes Jesus (John the Baptist say the Kingdom of Heaven is approaching/near)
4:17 Jesus begins ministry (Jesus says the KoH is approaching/near)
10:7 Jesus sends disciples (He instructs them to proclaim KoH is approaching/near)
21:1 Jesus is approaching/near Jerusalem
26:45/46  Jesus is betrayed (The hour is near/approaching)

What is interesting is that each time the Kingdom of Heaven is approaching, these is movement of Jesus and arguably a movement of the Spirit.

καιρος (kairos, meaning "season", 21:34)  This word means 'season' or 'ideal time.'  In this case, it describes the harvest season.  It is always a reminder that in Jesus there is the fullness of time!

απεστειλεν (from αποστελλω, meaning "send", 21:34)  I am amazed at how many times in Jesus' parables in Matthew we have (the character representing) God sending out people.  I think we often think of this as a concept in John's Gospels, but it is really crucial to Jesus' ministry.  We are sent out, certainly if and when the Kingdom of Heaven is approaching!  This word is important because it reminds us that the Kingdom of Heaven, while principally about the movement of Jesus into this world and toward the cross (see discussion on ηγγισεν) it involves our movement too.

καρπος ("fruit", 21:34)  Again, we find a word that appears throughout scripture to describe the impact of the Spirit and the Kingdom of Heaven in our life:  We bear fruit.  In this case, workers are sent to gather the fruit.  What a beautiful image of ministry -- gathering the fruit that God has already created.  As the word αυτου ("of him") remind us, the fruit belongs to God.

Other interesting words
οικοδεσποτης  (oikos - despot, meaning "owner of the land", 21:33)  This is a fun word in Greek.  It is built on two smaller words that we can recognize: oikos and despot!  It is interesting that Jesus would refer to God as an οικοδεσποτης, which was unlikely a favorable comparison for working-class listeners.  It is a reminder that first, these are parables and not allegories; second, it all belongs to God.

υστερον (meaning "last," 21:37)  The word here for "last" is used 4 times in Matthew 21 and 22; and also in Matt 25 and 26, but rarely ever appears elsewhere in the NT...Matthew is starting to emphasize the final nature of things and of his Gospel.

εντραπησονται  (future passive of εντρεπω, "respect", 21:37)  The word for "respect" means more like embarrass...in short, they will be embarrassed enough to show respect.  In the rest of the New Testament, it is always used within a context of shame rather than respect.  Perhaps this is a reminder that respect within an honor/shame culture has a different meaning; perhaps it is a reminder that Jesus ends up shaming the pharisees and religious leaders.  Ironically their attempts at shaming Jesus (killing him outside of Jerusalem) only lead to his glory!

οικοδομεω (meaning "build" "erect" or even "rebuild", 21:33 and 21:42)  The word here for builder is the same as in vs. 33. God built something.  People messed it up.  God will rebuild.  God is always at work revising the mistakes of our bad construction, relaying the foundation of our lives on Christ that we may bear fruit!

εθνει (ethnos, meaning "gentiles", 21:43)  The word for "people" here is "Gentiles."  Interestingly, Paul will talk about how he has a harvest of Gentiles in Romans 1:13, a case where Scripture is fulfilling itself!

Monday, October 9, 2017

Matthew 22:1-14

This passage occurs in both the Narrative Lectionary (Year 1) and the Revised Common Lectionary (Most recently October 15, 2017).

Summary:  It is all about the right clothing.  The only clothing that can work at the heavenly wedding banquet is our Baptism.  I suspect there is a bunch of historical criticism that would help make sense of this parable, but I am not sure if that makes a good sermon.

Apologetic note:  Just because someone is thrown out doesn't mean they can't be invited a second time; or that we have permission not to care for them.

Key Words/Grammar insights:
καλεω (kaleo, "call" or "invite"; 22:3, 4, 8, 9 (14 as adjective)).  The word here for invited is simply the perfect of καλεω which means to call/invite. This word is used in various forms throughout the passage.  Jesus calls us to invite those willing to come because many of those invited were not interested.  A reminder that in all Gospels, but truly in Matthew, Jesus cares for people the world does not; the b-list people, so to speak.

τεθυμενα (tethymena, perfect participle of θυω, "slaughter" or "kill", 22:4).  This word can mean sacrificed.  If one were to go this route, then this parable could be interpreted within the paradigm of the conflict between Jews and early Jewish converts to Christianity:  Jesus has died (been sacrificed); many early Jews are not accepting him.  The temple is destroyed and that nation has fallen, perhaps as punishment for lack of conversion. This may be way to explain the passage, but I am not sure if this insight makes for a good sermon.  If one wants to go this route, one can also look at
εφιμωθη (aorist passive form of φιμοω, phimo-oo, "silence"; 22:12) Jesus will silence the Sadducees later this chapter (22:34).  This parable is not intended simply as a myth, but as a description, I would argue, of how Jesus' was and is being received.

ενδυω/ενδυμα ("clothe" as verb; "clothing" as noun; 22:11, 12).  Matthew's Gospel talks about clothing a few times (more than any other Gospel, incidentally).  We learn that John the Baptist is clothed in Camel's hair (3:4); we learn not to worry about our clothing (6:25-28); we meet the angels wearing white (28:3).  Which leads to the question -- what should one wear to the heavenly banquet?

To get at this, I did a word search on ενδυω ("clothe/wear" to find examples of people wearing stuff in the New Testament, especially as it would relate to the heavenly banquet.  I've included them and underlined the word as the NRSV translates as ενδυω:
1 Corinthians 15:54 When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: "Death has been swallowed up in victory."
Romans 13:14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
Luke 24:49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."
Matthew 27:31 After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.
Ephesians 4:24 and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Ephesians 6:14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness.
1 Thessalonians 5:8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.
Revelation 19:14 And the armies of heaven, wearing fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses.
Galatians 3:27    As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

To me, the only thing that can meet all of these criterion:  the gift of Jesus Christ in faith, love and righteousness, eternally pure and immortal yet also ready to die to the world, is our Baptism.

υβριζω (hubrizoo (rough breathing over υ), meaning "mistreat"; 22:6)  The word for mistreat here is "hubriz-oo," literally, have hubris.

Tiny little grammar note.  22:5 shows both ways that Greek can show possessive; his field and his business)

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Philippians 2:1-13

This passage occurs as a New Testament Lesson in the RCL "Pentecost"/"Ordinary"/"Proper" Season, Year A, most recently September 2014.  It also occurs at other points in the Lectionary, including Palm Sunday.

This is a very rich passage. By itself it stands as one the most powerful description of Christ and his work.  Worth pointing out though is that Paul continues to build off the imagery the rest of his letter to discuss not simply Christ's work on the cross, but also Christ's work on us.  He changed his shape (μορφη) into humility but will co-shape (συμμορφος) ours into glory, not simply through his suffering, but even our own.

Key words:

μορφη ("shape" or "form"; 7, 8)  If you look up this word, you will find it appears twice in Philippians, once in verse 7 and once in verse 8.  Jesus had the form/shape of God; took the form/shape of a human.  Sounds good.  However, later on in Philippians, Paul comes back to this word, but using it with the prefix συν (the -n becomes a -m...see note below) .  First, in verse 3:10 where he says that he is being συμμορφιζομαι-ed into Christ's death and later when he is  being συμμορφος with Christ's resurrected body (3:28).  Paul moves from talking about the form of Christ to the co-formation of the believer, both into suffering, death and then resurrection.  I think the word μορφη can be used to guide one's reflections on the whole letter:  The transformation of Jesus creates the transformation of the believer.  To put it another way, I see Philippians as Paul's personal exposition on his line in Romans 8:17:  If children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ -- if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

εκενωσεν and κενοδοξια ("emptied" from κενω, 7; conceit, 3)  Much is made from κενω, which means to empty.  I find it interesting that Paul gives warning just a bit earlier about conceit, literally false glory.  The only way to true glory, for Christ and for us, is through suffering and death.

κατεργαζομαι ("work out", 2:12; from kata (intensifier) and erg-oo (to work))  One possible meaning for this verb is simply "achieve" but another one is "to work up," ie, to make use of; fields, for example, are worked on to make them ready for harvest.  This verse can be problematic in that it makes it sound like our salvation is our responsibility.  However, Paul's never verse, 2:13, makes it clear that God is the author of our salvation.  I think in this case, Paul uses salvation (σωτηρια) to describe our entire relationship with God in Jesus Christ, specifically the process of dying and rising.  It is worth noting that the verb here (and also for "co-form" (see above) are in the present tense, suggesting this an on-going process.

Grammar/translation:  The morphing "n"
When someone learns Hebrew, they learn verbs like n-t-n, which means to give.  They then try to read these in the Bible and discover it hardly ever exists in that form and most often the "n"s drop out in conjugation so that words like y-t-l-m mean he gives or something like this.  This is true in Greek, but in a different way.  The problem is not Hebrew, but the letter "n" which has a soft sound.  It tends to morph into other sounds.  This actually happens in Latin.  For example, con is the prefix for "with"  But notice how often that "n" disappears or morphs:  communication, cooperation, combat, comfort, command, corroberate.  This happens in Greek, especially when verbs add the prefix συν.  The weekness of the "n" sound is also shown in the fact that its moveable (ie not very necessary).

Monday, September 18, 2017

Matthew 20:1-16

This passage occurs in both the Revised Common Lectionary and the Narrative Lectionary (most recently March 1, 2015).

Summary:   Tough parable for us.  Most churches preach grace, but when exposed like this, grace just seems, well, unfair!  But grace it is.  And grace abounds.  I find grace in that God goes after the lazy (αργος); furthermore, even the envious (πονηρος, evil in fact) get into heaven.  We do not enter God's Kingdom based on our heart being perfect, but simply by God's grace.  I also find grace to be the hiring, not the pay-day; It is all by God's grace that we are hired in the first place and get to belong to God, to work in his vineyard.  I also find grace irresistible in that even the grumpy don't get kicked out of God's vineyard!

Key words
απεστειλεν (aorist form of αποστελλω, apostello, meaning "send"; 20.2).  John's Gospel get a lot of publicity for the idea of sending (even within the Trinity), but Matthew uses the word αποστελλω 22 times! (Mark 20; Luke 25; John 27).  Here they are even sent into the...

αμπελων(α) (ampelon, meaning "vineyard"; 20:1,2,4 and 7).  First, it is interesting that Matthew and John have such a strong connection here, with vineyard and sending.  Another comparison worth exploring is between the parables in chapter 20 and 21, both about vineyards.

αργος (argos, meaning idle; 20.6)  I have no unique insights to add to this word.  I just want to point out:  God goes after the lazy, those not fit for work elsewhere, those who simply stand around.

αποδος (from αποδιδημι. meaning "pay/give back"; 20:8)  Matthew uses this word quite frequently in his Gospel:
Matthew 6:4, give in secret, your father will reward/pay/give back in secret (see also 6:6, 6:18)
Matthew 12:36 On judgement day, we will have to "give back" an account of our life (see also 16.27)
Matthew 18 and the parable of the unforgiving servant -- lots of pay back in this story!
Matthew 22:21  Give/render to Caesar what is Caesar.
Matthew 27:58  Pilate gives the dead body back.
In the case of Matthew 20, the workers are paid/rendered/given back their wages.  The question is:  What is salvation?  Working in the vineyard or getting paid?  I would argue that the moment of salvation is becoming one of God's workers in the vineyard.  Ultimately, as long as we view salvation as pay, there is likely little joy along the way and much frustration about the salvation state of our piers.

καυσων(α) (causon, like caustic in English; 20:12)  It is worth reminding ourselves that doing Christ's work is not always easy.  I wonder if the Gospel for this passage is found way back in Matthew 11:  Come to me, all your who are heavy laden..."

τοις εμοις (dative with "the of me"; 20:15)  The Greek here is not good English, but the English reader can make sense of it.  When you have the word "the" without a noun it means more like "things", in this case, "the 'the' of me" or "the 'things' of me."  The question is here, is the master talking about money or people?  It seems that in the case of God, the things of God are the people. 

πονηρος ("wicked" or "envious"; 20:15)  Even the wicked still get into the vineyard!!  God is really gracious.

ισους (isous, from isos, meaning the same, as in "iso-metric"; 20:15)  The problem is that the master is making people equal to each other.  This should call to mind Philippians, in that Jesus did not regard equality (same word) as something to be exploited, but humbled himself.  In this case, becoming like Christ is being willing to work in the vineyard and to rejoice over a repentant sinner instead of being frustrated they get the same "reward" as us!

Last bonus:  The evil eye in 20:15
The literal translation of 20:15 is "Or is your eye evil because I am good."  God does not describe himself as generous but as good. Ultimately goodness is tied into generosity.  Furthermore, those disgruntled are described as having an evil eye.  A reminder that a reward is given to those with jealousy and evil in their hearts, not just those pure in heart.  God is good.  He gives to humans. Regardless of how long they worked; regardless of how lazy they are; regardless of how good they are.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Matthew 18:21-35

This passage occurs in the RCL "Pentecost"/"Ordinary"/"Proper" Season, Year A, most recently September 2014. 
Summary:  A classic tale of forgiveness.  A man owes an absurd amount (Roughly 10.8 billion by my calculations).  After being forgiven he arrests his friends who him a couple of hundred dollars.  Take your pick:  Are we debtors, beggars or slaves?  All popular American terms.  At least the first one...

Key words:
δανειον  ("debt"; 18.27) The use of this word for "debt" here is unique in the NT.  The word normally carries with it a suggestion of interest, even usury with this debt.  Most simply it means a loan.  God is calling the loan and then forgives it.  What has God loaned you!?

ει τι ("whatever" 18.28)  The exact construction of the phrase "Pay what you owe me" is rather interesting. It actually includes an "ει τι" phrase. This phrase is normally translated "if anything," as if to say, the man was not even really sure what the debt was, if in fact, it was anything.

παρακαλεω ("encourage"/"plead"; 18.29, 32)  This is a powerful theological word used twice in this section.  Also used in the present tense.  Here the image is one of constant begging (used in present tense).  (The word for Holy Spirit is derived from this word:  "paraclete")

συνδουλος ("fellow-slave" 18:28, 29, 31, and 33)  The Greek can put "fellow" and "slave" together in one word.  Powerful word.  Fellow slave.

Grammar review:  Future vs. Subjunctive:  Sins aren't subjunctive in this case!
The Greek language is obsessed with the future.  There are multiple ways to show the future implications of a given action.  Worth noting is that there is no future subjunctive.  Either something will happen in the future or it might happen starting from this moment forward in an unknown time.  But you cannot do "might happen in the future"; that simply means might happen.  Today, when Peter is asking Jesus about forgiving others, he does not put the verb αφησω (forgive) in the subjunctive.  The whole sentence is in the future.  In short, Peter expects sin and forgiveness. The sentence literally reads: "How often will my brother against me and will I forgive him? Until seven times?"

Monday, September 4, 2017

Matthew 18:15-20

This passage occurs as a New Testament Lesson in the RCL "Pentecost"/"Ordinary"/"Proper" Season, Year A, most recently September 2014. 
Summary:  Jesus seems to let us off the hook today, telling us we can treat sinning Christians like gentiles and tax collectors, as long as we've gone through the appeal court system.  However, this is the worst news of all, because Jesus spends most of his time eating with tax collectors and even getting harassed for his association with them.  In other words, Jesus doesn't give us permission to drop them, but rather instructs us to bear them, teach them and even get persecuted because we continue to care for them over and against their difficulties toward us.  Yes, he does let us remove our heart strings a bit from them, but not our moral obligation.  Hence why Jesus has to promise us his presence in the midst of conflict!

Key Words:
αδελφος (brother/sister; found throughout section)  Earlier in Matthew's Gospel, he refers to his followers as his brothers and sisters (12:49).  He is telling his disciples that in the church they are also brothers and sisters to one another. 

εθνικος (pagan, gentile, literally "ethnic"; 18:17)  Jesus suggests we treat Christians who have greatly sinned against us as gentiles.  Interestingly, Jesus final words in the Gospel of Matthew instruct us to preach to the gentiles (all the nations of the world; same root word) and earlier Jesus reminds us to love our enemies, because even the gentiles to this.  Jesus is not giving us permission to be rude and dismissive to our brothers and sisters in Jesus, even those whom we are angry with.

τελωνης ("tax collector"; 18:17)  Jesus eats with tax collectors.  He repeatedly takes heat for being seen with them.  So considering someone a tax collector means something more like this:  "Treat them in such a way that no one knows how much they anger and embarrass you, bearing your cross and thanking God for this opportunity to become a more patient and compassionate person."

συμφωνησωσιν ("agree" or "match", from συμφωνεω; 18:19)  The actually meaning of this word is not that interesting.  What is interesting is the derivation, "symphony" which means "together-sounds."  Jesus says that if we make a symphony, God listens.  Haha!

συνηγμενοι ("gathered"; passive perfect participle from "συναγω"; 18:20)  This participle covers up a familiar word:  synago, from which we get synagogue.  The voice is significant here.  We do not gather ourselves in the church, but rather are gathered God.  Thus, we are moving  from human action to God's promise. Also worth noting that Jesus promises his presence in the midst of the office of the keys and congregational conflict.  The church is a gift, however human and sinful it can be!
Translation Issue:  Hypothetical situations with εαν

Technically, this word is a combination of:  ει αν, both of which are "subjunctive" markers.  Put them together and you have a very hypothetical situation.  If you have the word εαν, the writer/speaker is not specifying if this will actually happen.  It means something like, "if" or perhaps "whenever."  If is used in Greek to set up a simple phrase (so necessary for science), if-then.  So in our text for this week, Jesus is not promising conflict; nor is he promising that people will not listen.  He is simply saying, "If you experience this, well, then do this..."

Also worth noting:  Every other verse in this section has an "if" clause, yet in 18:20 Jesus simply declares -- Where two or three are gathered, I am in the midst of you.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Track vs Field: The unchurched and churched

Reformation 500 and the unchurched
This summer my congregation did a great deal of research into the unchurched in our community.  This was part of our celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.  We are thinking about the call of the Holy Spirit to continue to reform the church, in this case, our congregation.  One of our projects was to build a "Thesis 96" wall outside our church.  We invited people in the church and community to write their statement (or thesis) to the church.  It has been really awesome to see what people have written.  But that is for another day!

Our hope through the Thesis 96 project and our Reformation 500 celebrations is to consider -- what prevents people from accessing God's grace in our culture, specifically our community, today?  How could be better reach out to the unchurched in our community.

Track vs Field Understanding
Back to the unchurched.  I confess that I often end up with a view of the unchurched and churched that looks something like this: 

In this view, there are unchurched and churched people.  Each group is divided into two subgroups:  The unchurched has people that are really opposed to the Gospel (we'll call them atheists) and people that are somewhat open ("seekers"); the churched has people that come ("participants") and those that really are involved ("elders").  We could nuance this chart, maybe adding a few more arrow segments, but basically the idea is to move people from left to right.  If they are questioning, get them in the door.  If they are in the door, get them involved.  There are tons of books written to give churches tools as to how to make this conveyor belt process work.
There are also tons of blogs/books written as to why people are drifting from right to left on this chart!  Given this mentality, it is easy to feel like we are fighting an impossible task, running right into the head waters of our culture that is increasingly ambivalent, if not hostile to church, institutions and in many ways, commitments.
As we did research, which included looking at data and talking to people in our community, it occurred to me that this track or linear view was really inadequate for our task.  I want to propose a more "field" than "track" view of the churched and unchurched.
In reality, there are many reasons why people are unchurched.  Some of it comes out of opposition to the church or the idea of God.  Frankly though, survey after survey shows that most Americans do not consider themselves strident atheists.  Most people instead are out of church totally or most Sundays for a variety of reasons
- They moved to a new community or had a huge change in their family situation
- They were burned out on their church
- They were abused by their church
- They have never been to church and have never been invited (7 out of 10 unchurched people has never been invited)
- They work on Sundays or have made a commitment to their child's sporting "career."
Furthermore, there are lots of ways that people plug into church
- Some people are "all in" - "elders" who come nearly every Sunday and serve in leadership
- Some are homebound members
- Some connect only with certain areas of ministry - education or social ministry or a particular outreach of the church
- Some come when they are can, but are really busy
- Some connect only online
- Some travel extensively and are only plugged in when they are in town
In short, we do not have two or even four groups that could fit on a line.  There are people all over the highway in terms of church involvement or not.
General Motors' Maven
General Motors has a subdivision called Maven, which is providing short term rentals of GM cars.  It is designed to compete with ZipCar.  General Motors has come to the conclusion that for certain phases of life, people want access to a car, but neither want nor can afford ownership.  In some cities, people use Maven for weekend getaways, in other cities people use Maven to get across town and still in other cities people use it as their vehicle for money making through Uber!  What is most striking though is that General Motors does not simply think this kind of car utilization is for a phase of life; it acknowledges that many people will never own a car, but will be interested in using a car.  General Motors set up Maven so that even if people are not buying cars, they can still make a profit in the car industry!
To put this perspective back into our discussion about churched and unchurched, I think we should realize that just like many people today will not own cars, but will still use them, many people in our congregation will not be "all in" and may, in fact, never be "all in" but they will still be in the sphere of our congregation.  Just like people are automobiles for different reasons and to different extents, the people who come into our congregation will engage in different ways.  This does not mean they are bad or incomplete Christians or even that they only have a consumer mentality, but their life set up prevents them from being "all in."
Creating paths instead of a track
Rather than trying to move everyone along some mythical church conveyer belt, I suggest we embrace a far scarier task:  Providing more (personalized!) paths to faith development.  Let's assume that young families are not going to come more than twice a month.  How can we help them pray at night with their kids?  Let's assume that homebound members cannot serve on committees.  How can we keep them connected and feeling a part of the decision making process at the church?  Let's assume that the person who only comes to play in the handbell choir is unlikely to come for anything else.  How can we make that 6 hours a month she commits to the church as faith filled as possible?
The goal of making disciples may ultimately have a linear or clear trajectory, namely, helping people see their relationship with God in terms of transformation rather than transaction.  However, the map of people's engagement with the church is anything but linear.  To put it another way, I feel liberated - my job is not simply to move people from an increasing pool of unchurched to a shrinking pool of churched.  My task is to help the congregation figure out "faith paths" that can move people toward a deeper commitment to their Lord and the church, acknowledging this will not necessarily look "all in" from a church perspective.  This does not mean that serving Jesus demands anything less than "all in"; rather, this acknowledges that being "all in" to Jesus will manifest itself in a variety of levels of engagement with the church, particularly one congregation.

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.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Matthew 16:13-20

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A, most recently Aug 27, 2017.
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 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 whether 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 1:  Verb tenses -- when Jesus asks the disciples, "Who do you say that I am?" the verb is in the imperfect, noting a repeated action.  Jesus continually asks and continues to this day to ask:  Who do you say that I am?

Grammar note 2:  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.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Matthew 15:21-28

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A, most recently in August 2017.

Note:  My post for this passage grows out of a session of Summer Greek I helped teach at United Lutheran Seminary on August 18, 2017.  So exciting to help future pastors see how Greek can impact their preaching.  I definitely learned a great deal from them.  This post also reflects the events that happened in August 2017, when there was a violent White Supremacy rally in Charlottesville, VA.  Unfortunately, Donald Trump's words following this event threw gasoline on the oldest fire in America: racism.

Summary:  Most times I would preach on the woman's faith and the dynamics of prayer. I would wrestle with Jesus reluctance to be a God of mercy and justice for her; was Jesus sense of mission changed by this and other interactions?  I really don't think so, but wow, this is a tough passage!

This year though, based on events in our nation, my attention is drawn to the disciples and their unwillingness to speak on behalf of the needy.  I see their hardness of heart as the primary objective of Jesus' healing.  Ultimately, in order for the church to be a place big enough for Jews and Gentiles, the Jewish followers of Jesus are going to have to accept Gentiles.  As the book of Acts and Paul's letter to the Galatians shows, this is a long road.  In short, I see this story beginning with #ShePerisisted and ultimately turning into #JesusPersisted because he is willing to walk a long, long path with his disciples to open their eyes to God's mercy.  To draw it back to today's context, I see a lot of people really hesitent to listen to the cries of the voiceless.  This is our call and struggle as a church, to move from #ShePersisted to #WePersisted in that as a church we begin/continue to speak for those who are voiceless.  We can do this because #JesusPersisted for you and for us, forgiving our hardness of heart and opening our heart to the depth of God's love.

Key Words:
Related to Jesus
εξελθεν (from εξερχομαι, meaning "go out", 15:21)  and ανεχωρησεν (from αναχωρεω, meaning "withdraw" or "depart", 15:21):  By using both of these verbs in one sentence, Matthew really draws out that Jesus wants to get away.  Perhaps this reflects Jesus' own need for Sabbath; Since John's beheading, he has continually had a desire for a break.  I think many people these days are overwhelmed by world (and not just personal) events and want to get away and take a breather!

λογον (meaning "word", 15:23)  It is quite remarkable that the word incarnate does not have a word for this woman!

απεσταλην (perfect form of αποστελλω, meaning "send", 15:24)  Given the importance of this verb in the New Testament (and in Christian theology) it is an incredibly powerful statement.  As it is presented here it sounds cruel rather than compassionate.

ιαθη (from ιαομαι, meaning "heal", 15:28)  It is interesting that Matthew uses this particular word here for "heal"; only two people are "healed" (as indicated by ιαθη) in Matthew's Gospel.  The other one is the Roman Centurian's youth (see 8.8, 8:13), another pagan youth whose parent/guardian must plead on their behalf.  I am not sure if I would want to analyze what kind of healing then is associated with ιαθη as opposed to other verbs, but I find it interesting that Matthew links these two stories.  Also interested is that the only other citation in Matthew's Gospel of this verb is a link to an Isaiah 6 passage where God basically declares that God will not ιαθη Israel...

While such a discourse is likely beyond a sermon, this passage is all about healing -- who is really healed?  The girl of course, but what about her mother?  (seems safe to say yes).  What about the disciples?  There is a rift between these two groups that needs to be healed and this is ultimately the work of Christ.

Related to the woman
καναναια ("Canaanite", 15:22)  This is the only time in the New Testament we see this word, although it is very common in the Old Testament.  It is worth noting that Mark describes her as a more generic pagan, but Matthew opens up the door to an ancient blood fued by using the word Canaanite.

εκραζεν ("cry out", 15:22,23)  The word for cry out comes into Enlgish as "crazy."  She literally went crazy!  What is most significant here is that the verb is in the imperfect tense, which describes on-going action.  #ShePersisted.  She kept and kept crying out.

ελεησον με κυριε  (15:22)  Her cry here is just about the perfect liturgical cry: Kyrie Elision.  Just as we so often begin worship and later with multiple chants of this, she begins her worship (the passage indicates, yes, she did worship) with multiple chants of this.

κυριος ("Lord", 15:22,25,27)  It is fascinating to see the way in which "Lord" shows up in this passage.  She calls on Jesus as Lord.  In the Septuagint, the translators would translate YHWH as Kurios.  So, here is she picking up on the ultimately proper Jewish prayer, giving her bold confession of faith, calling Jesus both God and son of David?  Or is she simply using the word in Greek to mean "master."  In short, should we translate this as "lord" (generic term of respect) or "LORD" (translation of ancient name of God).  This starts to get at the nature of her faith -- does she really know this is God?  Does she have a bedrock faith in a God of justice and mercy?  Or is she really grasping at straws?  Can we ever tell with faith in crisis?

Note:  I do not know what to make of the plural use of this noun in verse 27.  Perhaps one could maintain that it adds to the confusion about her intentions.

Related to the disciples
ηρωτουν (from ερωταω, meaning "ask", 15:23)  This verb is also in the imperfect.  The disciples keep asking Jesus.

απολυσον (from απολυω meaning "send away", 15:23)  This harkens back to the feeding of the 5,000, when the disciples ask to send away the multitude!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

1 Kings 19:1-18

The narrative lectionary year 4 includes this passage for All Saints Sunday.  It also occurs a number of times in the Revised Common Lectionary (or at least portions of it).

Summary:  If you are preaching All Saints, what a great image of a saint:  discouraged, yet fed through the tangible word to obedient yet difficult service.  Theology of the cross, reformation and vocation all in one.  One could even get to spiritual warfare and anfechtung through the voices that Elijah heres in the messengers. 

What I find interesting in the Hebrew this week is the use of the word "soul" or "life."  The Hebrew (and LXX) use words that we often translate as soul.  Yet the death would be very physical; furthermore, the treatment is very physical.  Back to all saints:  our sainthood is lived out and revived in this world.

Key Words:
נוח ("nuach"; "rest" vs 3)  Elijah does not ditch his servant, but rather gives him rest.  This word is where the name "Noah" comes from.

נגע ("naga"; "touch", vs 5 and 7)  This word can mean touch or strike.  Did the angel touch him or prod him?  What was this touch like?

נפש ("nephish"; vs 10 and throughout).  The word nephish here, sometimes translated soul, is the word used for "life"; a reminder, as always, that our pseudo-Greek worldvied of souls and bodies is not Hebrew (nor Biblical!)  Elijah's soul needs food and water!  This relates to other words and ideas in this section -- eat, touch, even hear!

דממה ("dammah"; "silent voice" vs 12).  The NSRV translates this phrase as "sheer silence."  Yet the Bible seems to suggest it is a small whisper.

Translation issues:
vs. 2: "If"/"let" and the jussive mood.
If you read the Hebrew, you will not find the words "if" when Jezebel speaks, "May the gods do X if I have not done Y." The reason is that the verbs, "do" and "add", are in the jussive mood. Greek grammars all call is subjuntive mood, but Hebrew Grammars call it different names based on the person (ie type of subject, I, you, or he/she/it). The long and short of it, the Hebrew here is a hypothetical folded into a vow. "May the gods kill me if I don't kill you."

Hebrew consectuive verbs.
vs. 3 Hebrew has no adverbs, really. Instead it places verbs in a consecutive fashion. In this case, you have "he was afraid, he was standing and he was going." Or more accurately, "He was going in a fearful and standing way" or even better "He immediately ran scared."
vs.5 Based on the two consecutive verbs, "get up" and "eat," we can red the "get up" as an adverb. Ths, Elijah is not told to stand up and eat, but rather, eat immediately.

Matthew 14:22-33

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A, most recently August 13, 2017

Summary:  This passage provides wonderful image of faith:  so powerful, yet so fragile.  Faith can move mountains.  This is good news.  The better news is that Jesus comes to us amid the storm.  The best news, I think, is that Jesus lets us stay in the boat when we only have little faith. 

Key Words
απολυση (meaning "release", 14:22)   Jesus here "releases" the crowd.  Prior to the feeding of the 5,000, the disciples wanted Jesus to release the crowd.  Now that they have been fed, he is releasing them.  Also interesting is that now Jesus must compel (ηναγκασεν, from αναγκαζω) them to leave as well.

προσευξασθαι (meaning "to pray", 14:23)   The verb to "pray" is a middle voice verb.  Typically middle voice means the object and subject are the same, in that the subject is doing the verb to itself (for instance, shaving would be a good candidate in English for a middle voice verb!)  This would suggest that prayer involves some sort of movement, externally or internally, to prepare oneself for prayer.  I remember once I was invited "to assume the posture of prayer." 

βασανιζομενον (participle form of βασανιζω meaning "torment"; 14:24)  This word can even mean torture (as in the the beast is basanized at the end of Revelation)

θαρεσειτε (meaning "be of good cheer, 14:27)  I am fascinated by this.  Is Jesus here commanding faith?  Is it possible for the individual to suddenly turn one's disposition around?  I believe here that we are saved from this dilemma when we realize that the next words of Jesus to Peter are pure promise:  εγω ειμι.  "I am" says Jesus.  "I am" is not simple a declaration that Jesus is present, but that Jesus is God, for εγω ειμι is the same of God.  As Jesus says this, he reveals to Peter that he is indeed God and he is with Peter.  Without the promise of his presence and divinity, Jesus words to Peter would be cruel.  Why can Peter take courage?  Because Jesus is there with him, not because Peter needs to "get it together."

ει συ ει (meaning "since it is you", 14:28).  The word "ει" is often translated "if."  However, its translation is really governed by the tense of the verb to which it is linked.  If it is linked with a subjunctive tense verb, then it is building a hypothetical case; if it is linked with an indicative tense verb, then it is building a true case.  Here it is used with an indicative verb, meaning Peter believes it is a true condition: Since it is you, command me.  [In the case of A, which is a true scenario, then B; rather than: In the case of A, which may or may not be true, then B]

ολιγοπιστε (from ολιγ meaning "few" and πιστε meaning "faith", "of little faith", 14:33) A gracious reminder that we can still be in the boat with Jesus and only have a little faith.  Having lots of faith is not a requirement for journeying with Jesus.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Matthew 14:13-21

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A, most recently in August 2017.

Summary:  The feeding stories are very familiar. The basic point of the passage should not be lost:  Jesus has compassion on people and feeds them.  We are called, in spite of obstacles, to do likewise.  That said, there are some beautiful wrinkles in the Greek that will hopefully open up your imagination for preaching!

Key words
κατά ιδιον (meaning "by himself", 14:13)  After hearing the news of Herod and John, Jesus is probably feeling many emotions.  For the first time in the Gospel, Jesus wants to go off by himself.  Matthew really emphasizes how much Jesus wants to get away:  by himself, in the wilderness, in a boat.

σπλαγχνισθη (from σπλαγχνιζομαι, meaning "compassion", 14:14)  Jesus has compassion -- which in Greek literally reads "Jesus intestine someone."  The word for compassion in Greek is intestines because when you have compassion your stomach turns over.  The nature of Jesus is on full display -- grieving he wants to be alone, yet seeing the crowd his guts churn.  You can decide whether this is the human or divine in Jesus...or both!

θεραπεω (therapeo, meaning "heal", 14:14)  I've written about the word therapy elsewhere, but I simply want to point out today the link between therapy and compassion.  Jesus desire to do therapy arises out of his compassion.  In spite of the fact that Jesus is exhausted, his compassion moves not simply his mind, his heart, or even his intestines, but his whole body.  Sometimes we get to move into ministry from a position of strength.  Sometimes we are called into ministry when depleted.  (By ministry I don't just mean ordained ministry, but the call to minister given to all Christians)

απολυσον (from απολυω, meaning "release", 14:15)  The disciples ask Jesus to "release" or apoluoo the people.  Perhaps a haunting question:  Do you think the disciples are worried about Jesus needing rest, the crowd needing food or them needing an emotional and physical break from the people?  I suggest the later...  Sadly, they want to send the people back to the place where they came from, to the city.  Frankly, I empathize with the disciples here.  The task of ministry can be overwhelming.

δοτε (aorist form of δίδωμι, meaning "give", 14:16): In this case, the verb δοτε is in the aorist. This is the same tense of the verb that is used in the Lord's prayer, "Give us this day."  Jesus taught his disciples to pray to God to give them their daily bread.  Now he commands them to give others daily bread.  The aorist form of the verb also provides insight.  The aorist tense suggests a one time event.  Jesus is not asking the disciples to worry about the crowd's consistent daily needs, simply to worry about this one night.  Perhaps this suggests that the disciples, in their worry about future provision, are forgetting their task is in the present.

ουκ ("no" or "not", 14:17) The disciples response to Jesus begins with the word no and reveals their sense of scarcity.  They focus on what they do not have. [Grammar note:  the word ουκ ends in κ because it comes before a vowel]

φερετε...αυτους ("carry them", 14:18)  Okay...I am going out on a limb here.  The Greek here literally reads, "Carry them to me."  Normally we assume that Jesus is referring to the bread and the fish.  Which is probably true.  But I was struck by the fact that the next motion in the passage involves the people.  Perhaps Jesus is telling the disciples:  "Bring the people to me."  This opens up a few sermon possibilities:  First, that our purpose is always to bring people to Christ; second, that Jesus believes the crowd has more and that once they come close they will actually be moved to share..."

λαβων ευλογησεν κλασας εδωκεν ( take, bless, broke and gave, 14:19)  These words appear again in Matthew 26:26, when Jesus is hosting the last supper/first Holy Communion.

[missing word here, 14:19.  The disciples now give the food to the crowd; however, the verb give is missing. It literally reads "The disciples (to) the crowds." Maybe the disciples also took the bread and broke it and give it...and not just gave it!

εχορτασθησαν (from χορταζω, meaning "to fill", 14:20)   The word here for "fill" is related to the word for grass -- the crowd sat on the grass "chortos" and later was "chortazo"-ed. Perhaps a subtle reminder that God's abundance is always there -- even in the midst of a "herma" (wilderness, vs 13; and 15) and when the "oora" (hour) has past (vs 15).

Monday, July 31, 2017

Genesis 32:22-31

This passage is found in the Narrative Lectionary, Year 2 (Most recently Sept 27, 2015)
This passage is also found in the Revised Common Lectionary at points during Pentecost season., most recently October 2016 and August 2017.

Summary:  This passage is rich with names and their meanings.  But don't get distracted by all of this.  The main action is not in the words, but in the dirt!  God is getting down and dirty with Jacob, wrestling away.  God will stop at nothing to transform us [insert segue to cross], so that, quoting Luther, "I might be his own!"

Key words:
בד (pronounced "bad", meaning "alone", 32:24)  Jacob's being alone harkens back to the first case of man being alone in the Bible, namely the Garden of Eden (2:18).  A few contrasts and connections:
- Cause of loneliness:  Adam did not have a partner yet; Jacob has alienated his loved ones (his brother; his uncle)
- God meets dust:  In Genesis 2, God creates out of the dust; in Genesis 32, God "gets dusty" (see below)
- God blesses through creation:  In the Garden, God creates a woman; in Genesis 32, God creates a humble Jacob, ready to love, forgive, be forgiven.

אבק ("abaq", meaning to wrestle; literally dust, 32:24)  It is worth pointing out that the word for wrestle is related to the word for dust (they are the same spelling and root.)  To wrestle is literally to get dusty.  God gets down and dirty with Jacob to transform him.

יעקב ("Yakov" or "Jacob", 32:27)  The name Jacob means "he cheats" or "he steals."  I've read before that names had power in the ancient word; knowing the name gave one authority over another.  I still think this is true when I teach children.  Once I know there names, I can much more easily manage their behavior!  The point is that Jacob's revelation of his name was giving God power over him; but it also reveals humility because Jacob's name was a confession of sin.

שרית  (conjugated form of  שרה, "Sarah", meaning "strive", 32:28)  This is fascinating.  The root word of "Israel" (ישראל) is "Sarah" (שרה), which means strive/struggle.  Of all the patriarchs and people in the Bible, Israel has the name Sarah in it!!  As a side note, the full meaning of the word is hard to ascertain because it is not used that often in the Bible.  Sarah certainly embodies the striving and struggling as much as anyone in the OT.

As a curious side note, the first example of the name is "Israel" in recorded history is from 1200 BC Egypt:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merneptah_Stele

יכל ("yacal", meaning "able", 32:28)  This is fascinating verb because it simply means "can" and "is able."  I think the translation of "prevail" is far too strong.  I think endure is much better translation.  I think it is worth pointing out that the only victory over God in life (again, I just "endure" as a better verb) is through submitting to God.

פניאל ("Peniel" meaning "face of God", 32:30)  What I would like to point out here is that most English translations leave this as Peniel.  The Greek (LXX) leaves it as "the place he saw God."  This brings up a great question about Old Testament translation -- when do we translate the meaning of names and places and when do we leave them as is?  (Do we expect people to read footnotes!)

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary, year A, most recently July 2017

Rather than offer a summary of these parables, I will offer a word or two comment on each parable.  Hopefully this can offer a connection to a parable for you

Parable of the mustard seed
παραθηκεν ("put before", 13:31)  Jesus does not tell them parables, he puts them before his disciples.  A reminder that we are invited to consider their meaning.

βασιλεια των ουρανων ("kingdom of heaven", 31)  A reminder that Matthew Gospel does not discuss the Kingdom of God, but rather the Kingdom of Heaven.  This is in contrast to the other writers of the new Testament.  Perhaps Matthew's Jewish roots made him uncomfortable using the word God?

λαχανων (-ον, "shrub/herb", 32) The word for tree/plant here signifies an edible plant.  A reminder that the mustard seed is intended for consumption by another, just like our lives.  While I am on the mustard seed...interesting the mustard seed was used to make chemical weapons in world war I.  Also used to make the first chemotherapy drugs.  A reminder that all things can be used for God's purposes.  Or not.

κατασκηνουν (-οω, "live in tent", 32)  John's Gospel tells us that Jesus "dwelt"/"tented" among us (same word.)  Is Jesus like one of the birds that dwells in the tree?  I don't think so, but hey, its a parable and always fun to ask the question:  Where is Jesus in this parable?

Parable of the kneading woman
ενεκρυψεν (literally and in meaning "encrypted", 33)  The kingdom is somehow hidden -- literally encrypted -- into this world.  I appreciate that this is a feminine protagonist!

Parable of the field and treasure
αγοραζει ("agorize" meaning "to buy or sell", 13:44;46)  Interesting economic metaphor.  If Christ is the one who finds us, the pearl, then Christ is the one who sells all that he has to buy us.  This is pretty way (the only way??) to use the buy/sell metaphor common in Christian soteriology.

μαργαριτας ("margarita" meaning "pearl", 45)  Just wanted to everyone to know the word for pearl is margarita.  The Kingdom of God is like a margarita :-)

ευρων (from ευρισκω meaning "find", 44; 46)  A reminder that there a many lost and found parables in the Bible!

Parable of the net
γενους (literally genous, meaning "type" or "species"; 47)  This word can even mean peoples or races.  The net is intended for all people!!  (Not just fish!)

συναγαγουση (from συναγω meaning "gather", 47)  The purpose of the net is to gather all people together.  The word literally means synagogue.  The net is to bring us all into the same synagogue...

συντελεια (meaning "completion", 48)  I have no idea why Christians don't call it the fullness of all time instead of the end of time.  The word is completion and fullness, not termination!

Friday, July 21, 2017

Freedom of a Christian Sermon Series

Here is a proposal for a sermon series on freedom of a Christian.  Feel free to use.  I would really love some help creating adult Sunday school materials.  Email me if you are interested!
Date Oct 22 
Gospel Matthew 22:15-22 (Paying taxes; rendering to Caesar)
Theme Freedom is both a freedom from…and a freedom for
Quick Take The culture tells us that freedom is about autonomy, the freedom, really the right, to do what we want.  Scripture teaches us that while we are radically free before God in Christ, we are radically bound -- freed for -- service to our neighbor.  This sermon will lay out this tension and unpack the trajectory of the series:  what freedom in Christ really looks like.
Possible OT Story David fights Goliath (1 Samuel 17)
Possible Psalm Psalm 41
Date Oct 29 Reformation
Gospel John 8:31-36 (Freedom in truth)
Theme Freedom to repent
Quick Take The culture tells us that sin is arachaic concept.  As we have abandoned the concept of sin, we have become no less judgmental of a culture.  In fact, most people (especially parents) experience tremendous guilt each day.  In Christ we are free to confess our sins and live in the hope of God's ensuring grace that can carry us and even transform us.  We are justified by God in Christ alone.  This means that no one has a right to judge us, except for THE judge, who has declared us loved.
Possible OT Story David's Fall (2 Samuel 11-12)
Possible Psalm Psalm 51
Date Nov 5 All Saints
Gospel Matthew 5:1-12 (Beatitudes)
Theme Freedom to grieve
Quick Take The culture tells us to celebrate the death of loved ones, who are, in some weird way, still with us.  We shame guilt and expect productivity to abound.  As Christians who believe in the resurrection, we know that we will see our loved ones again.  This means we are not simply saying goodbye, but until we meet again.  This hope allows us to grieve them not being here now.
Possible OT Story Naomi and Daughters (Ruth 1)
Possible Psalm Psalm 4, 6
Date Nov 12 
Gospel Matthew 25:1-13 (Parable of the Bridesmaids)
Theme Freedom to wait
Quick Take The culture tells us that we can have what we want, and have it now.  In Christ we have the hope to wait -- to be mindful of the present even!
Possible OT Story Joseph in prison (Genesis 40)
Possible Psalm Psalm 27/40
Date Nov 19 
Gospel Matthew 25:14-30 (Parable of the Talents)
Theme Freedom to give
Quick Take The culture tells us that life is about consumption.  Christ teachs us that live is about giving it away…and seeing it multiply! 
Possible OT Story Widow at Zarapheth (1 Kings 17)
Possible Psalm Psalm 23/24
Date Nov 26 Christ the King
Gospel Matthew 25:31-46 (Parable of the Sheep and Goats)
Theme Freedom to praise
Quick Take The culture tells us we are physical beings whose fulfillment is found in self-exploration and actualization.  In Christ we learn that our ultimate destiny is a life time of service that leads to an eternity of praise.  We can let go and fall into the embrace of a loving God, from whom all blessings flow.
Possible OT Story Miriam (Exodus 15)
Possible Psalm Psalm 150

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Romans 8:12-25

This passage occurs as a New Testament Lesson in the RCL "Pentecost"/"Ordinary"/"Proper" Season, Year A, most recently July 2017. 

Summary:  Paul describes in some beautiful and novel ways our relationship to God through the work of the Holy Spirit.  First, Paul uses the word adoption (υιοθεσια); he, alone among NT writers, uses this concept to talk about our relationship to God.  Second, Paul uses a string of "συν" verbs to talk about our togetherness with God:  We have inheritance, suffering and glorification WITH Christ.  Lastly, Paul says we have the first-fruit of the Spirit.  EVERY time before this, first-fruits went to God to appease him.  Now, God is offering us the first-fruit (απαρχη) of the Spirit.  I am still pondering the interpretation of verse 23, but it is clear that Paul is pushing the dimensions of the God-humanity relationship in new (and strange) directions, made possible by the work of the Holy Spirit through Christ.

Key Words:
υιοθεσια ("adoption"; 8:15, 23)  Paul employs the imagery of adoption to describe our relationship with God.  Rather profound, not only because of the metaphor itself, but because Paul had no Biblical antecedents.  Paul claims that our adoption comes with rights, including inheritance and glorification.  (oh, yes, and suffering too).

ει ("if"; 13, 25)  This word is often translated as "if" but it can also mean "since."  For example, in verse 25, it would be a much more natural reading in English: "Since we hope for what we have not seen, we wait in patience."  I've written about this word before in my grammar review, but in this passage, it does have an impact on translation, especially in verse 13.  [Basic review:  "ει" with subjunctive verb means "if"; with an indicative verb it can range from "if" to "since under the condition of X."  The verbs in vs. 13 are indicative, so we have some flexibility.]  If you read verse 13 with "if" it reads like a moral imperative:  sin and die or put to death the body and live.  But if you read it with "since" it makes a much more Lutheran reading:  "Since you are sinning, you will die; since you, by the Spirit, putting the deads of the body to death, you will live."  In otherwords, Paul may simply be describing a situation rather than prescribing a situation.

ματαιοτης ("futility" or "vanity" 8:20)  This is the main word of the book of Eccles. in the OT.  I think keeping it as "vanity" might be a better translation.  This is life before Christ:  not simply dark or evil, but vain and rather pointless.

απαρχη ("first-fruit"; 8:23)  Paul employs this word in a striking way.  Normally this word refers to the choice part of the sacrifice offered to God.  God explicitly commands this part; the rest can be used for secular (ie our) use.  Paul says that we now have the first-fruit of the Spirit.  There a number of ways to read this passage (I assume) but one that strikes me is this:  We have Christ, the first fruit sacrifice of God.  This means the age of sacrifice is over.  We no longer have to live in fear of appeasing God, but we can live as his children, assured of his mercy and grace.  Another way to think of it is this.  The Spirit is the first-fruit, in the sense of the Spirit is the downpayment, the promise, the sealed legal papers, of our future glory with God.  This word remains an enigma to me, but it is clear that Paul is pushing beyond the bounds of its normal cultic and OT usage. 

σαρξ:  (Note:  This is a much longer entry)
Paul uses σαρξ three times in this passage (8:12 (twice); 8:13). It seems to have a variety of meanings concretely and abstractly related to “flesh.” Although Paul uses the word in various ways, in Romans he tends to offer a negative view of σαρξ, presenting it as hostile to the purposes of God.

BDAG suggests a variety of meanings for σαρξ ranging from purely physical to more abstract. Although BDAG suggests that Paul uses σαρξ to signify a variety of these possible meanings, it also indicates that

“in Paul’s thought especially, all parts of the body constitute a totality known as sa.rx or flesh, which is dominated by sin to such a degree that whatever flesh is, all forms of sin are likewise present, and no good thing can live in the σαρξ.”

The Theological Lexicon of the New Testament offers a similar assessment: “Paul treats the flesh – the inferior part of the person – as the locus of the passions and covetousness.”

In the beginning of the book, Paul seems more neutral on flesh.  His argument against flesh grows!  For example, although Jesus is the descendant of David according to the flesh, he is designated son of God in power according to the Spirit (1:4). Indeed, faith, not our fleshly ancestry in Abraham, provides us with justification (Romans 4:24; Paul reiterates this point in chapter 9). Paul even writes that the inward – real – circumcision is not in the flesh, but in the heart by the Spirit (2:28-29). It is clear that even when Paul uses σαρξ in a more neutral manner, he views it as incomplete, if not incompatible, with God’s purposes and the work of the Spirit.

Although Paul uses σαρξ throughout Romans, it overwhelmingly appears in the middle of his letter. Here Paul explicitly describes σαρξ as hostile to purposes of the God. He writes, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh (7:18).” Most of chapter 8 negatively contrasts the flesh against the Spirit. For example, “To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace (8:6).”

In conclusion, Paul uses this word generally and also specifically in chapter 8 of Romans to describe something in our human nature opposed to God and the work of the Spirit. Paul seems more concerned with what it does (causes us to sin) than what it is (some entity in us). The Spirit will not work to improve the flesh, but the flesh and its works must be put to death.

Translation/Grammar Review:  συν verbs
Greek can easily make new verbs by combining prefixes to existing verbs.  In English, we could do this too, but perhaps not as easiliy:  "Co-suffering" would make sense, but it would be bad English.  But in Greek writers will often add suffixes freely to verbs to slightly modify their meaning.  Paul does this a number of times in this passage, see, for example, verses 16, 17 and 22.  Here Paul adds the prefix συν, which means "with" to a number of verbs.  Some words in English still have this prefix, for example:  "synergy" or "syntax."   But mostly in English we have words with the Latin "con" or "co" as their prefix (which also means "with").

At first, you might not notice the verbs because you don't see συν.  Don't worry!  The problem is "n" is a weak sound, so it often gets dropped -- in every language.  For example, it is not "con"operation, but cooperation.  It is not "con"munication, but communication.  The "n" is dropped or moved to another sound.  (In Hebrew this makes certain verbs very difficult to detect after they have been conjugated). 

This happens in verse 17: συγκληρονομοι, συμπασχομεν, συνδοξασθωμεν.  The point for translation is that you have to try to capture, in both 16-17 and 22 the great amount of "co"working that is happening:
We are "co" witnesses (16); "co" inheritors"; "co" sufferes and "co" glorifieders (spelling intentional).