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:

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).

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Matthew 13:1-9;18-23

This passage occurs in the RCL "Pentecost"/"Ordinary"/"Proper" Season, Year A, most recently July 2017.  Since the two sections have similar vocabulary, I will focus my comments on one section, namely 18-23.

Summary:  What is this parable about:  The soil?  The seed?  In the parable, certain individuals endure hardship, survive temptation and finally bear fruit.  How is that going to happen?  How will they, to use the metaphor of the parable, have deep soil?  As Jesus says, the parable is about the sower, the sower who constantly comes to us again and again, sowing the seed that we might finally be at a point in our lives where the soil is deep, that we might repent, turn and be healed (13:15), that we will bear fruit.

Key words: 
παραβολή ("parable"; 3, 18)  Just a reminder:  This is Jesus first parable! (In Matthew's Gospel and therefore, the New Testament!)

σπειραντος ("the one who sows", participle of σπειρω; 18)  There is nothing distinct about this word, but it is worth pointing out that Jesus says the parable is about this, namely, the one who throws his seed, even into wasteful places!

καρπος ("grain"/"fruit"; 8, 23)  The first time through the parable, most translators translate the word as "grain" or a "crop."  Which is too bad because one misses the crucial connection to bearing fruit, one of the few metaphors that is consistent across the entire New Testament.  I love this image, because you can do so much with it:
* Fruit is not for the sake of the tree that produced it (our life is about our neighbor)
* Fruit often takes a season if not years to produce (patience)
* Fruit doesn't last long (our good works are needed every day)
* Fruit needs pollination (need a word outside of ourselves)
* Fruit needs the death of a flower...

καρδια ("heart"; 19)  Interestingly, this word never refers to the actually beating heart inside the body in the NT!  Hebrew and Greek map the whole heart-brain-feelings-thoughts a bit differently, but the basic point is that the heart here is not the Hallmark center, but the core of who we are, including our thoughts.

Small but interesting words:
σπειρος  ("seed"; multiple times; also see 13:38)  In Greek the word "seed" is actually a participle made into a noun, literally "The thing that is sown."  It is worth point out that in verse 38 the good seed are the sons of the kingdom (as opposed to the seed being the Word).   Jesus switches the metaphor, reminding us, that these are parables and not allegories.

παντος ("all"; 19)  The Greek here reads literally, "Everyone hears the word and does not understand it."  It is a little suggestion in the Greek that all hear, even though all do not understand.

ακουω ("hear"; multiple times)   Warning:  Overly pietist comment coming up:  Hearing the word is not sufficient.  In this parable hearing must move to understanding.

σκανδαλιζεται ("stumble"; 21)  This means "scandalize"; how does the word scandalize you?
απατη ("deception"; 22)  An interesting side note on this word.  It closely sounds like "agape" which Christian communion meals were often called.  2 Peter 2:13 plays on this a bit a condemns the "apate" at the communion meals.

Grammar Review:  Substantive participles
In Greek, you can make "substantive" participles very easily.  They are also easy to translate.
They follow the following pattern:  "The one who does X/Y/Z"  In English, this idea is accomplished with a relative pronoun clause:  I like the woman who married me.  Greek also has relative clauses, but the substantive participle is common.  Here we have a nice one:
ο τον λογον ακουων
Step one:  Identify it as a substantive participle.  How?  Well, you have a "the" (ie a definite article:  ο) and you only have one, otherwise it would be an adjectival.
Step two:  Get the participle:  ακουων
Step three:  Translate the basics under the formula "the one who does X":  The one who hears
Step four:  Correct for voice and tense:  Don't have to hear.
Step five:  translate the other stuff:  "The one who hears the word."  Greek will often sandwich important stuff for the substantive participle clause in between the article and the particple

Give it a try, with the last five words of verse 19...

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Potential Sermon Series

I am thinking about doing a sermons series on Freedom of a Christian this fall, in conjunction with the 500th anniversary of the reformation.  My hope would be to think more concrete about the actual freedoms we have as a Christian

- The freedom to grieve
- The freedom to fail
- The freedom to "be ourselves"
- The freedom to love

In short, I think Luther correctly interprets Scripture by pointing toward our radical and amazing freedom in Christ.  I just want to unpack this a bit.

I would aim for a 5 to 6 week preaching series.  I would like to offer adult education classes on the same material for Sunday morning Bible study  (something along the lines of this:  Perhaps we would look at the Galatians (and Luther's commentary) alongside of this for the Bible study.

Let me know if this is of interest to you.  I've included below the list of Gospel passages for this time period.


1-Oct Matthew 21:23-32 Jesus challenges temple teachers
7-Oct Matthew 21:33-46 Parable of the Vineyard
15-Oct Matthew 22:1-14 Parable of a (harsh) banquet
22-Oct Matthew 22:15-22 Paying taxes; rendering to Ceasar
29-Oct Matthew 22:34-46 Jesus teaches on the law and being greater than David
5-Nov Matthew 23:1-12 Love of false and fancy things
or Matthew 5:1-12 Beatitudes
12-Nov Matthew 25:1-13 Bridesmaids
19-Nov Matthew 25:14-30 Talents
26-Nov Matthew 25:31-46 Sheep and Goats

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Matthew 10:40-42

This passage occurs as a RCL "Pentecost"/"Ordinary"/"Proper" Season, Year A, most recently June 2017. 

Summary:  We are familiar with the Great Commission of Matthew:  Go therefore...  This week we hear the Least Commission:  We are sent to do small things to the least of these.

Key Words
αποστειλαντα ("send" aorist participle of αποστελλω 10:40)  Perhaps you might be familiar with the phrase or concept:  "The sending of the Trinity."  This idea develops out of verses like this one:  The Father sends the Son; who sends the Spirit; who, along with Jesus, sends the disciples.  This motif is most recognizable in John (John 3:16 for Father sending son; John 14:26 and 15:26 for the sending of the Spirit; John 20:21 for Jesus sending the disciples.).  Luke has a similiar phrase in 10:16:  "Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me" (This verse uses the same participle as Matthew 10:40; Mark 9:37 also is similar).  The point of these various Scripture citations is to show that Trinitiarian thinking is deeper in Matthew (and the other Gospels) than we often give credit.  Furthermore, one of the earliest ideas of the Trinity was this procession of sending.  It is also worth noting that even in Matthew's Gospel Jesus equates action with himself to action to God. 

This ties also back to Matthew 10:5 and the sending of the disciples by Jesus.
δεχομενος ("welcome" present participle of δεχομαι; 10:40).  This word can also mean accept (See Matt 18:5).  Instead of accepting Jesus, you need to accept your pastor, who stands in line of the apostles :-)

μισθος ("wages" or "reward" 10:41,42)  I am not sure what to make of it, but Matthew uses this word way more than the other Gospels.  I think it might reflect the fact that Matthew aims at the working class, who would be well aware of the reality of wages and rewards?  For the most part Matthew is telling others that they already have their reward or that they will not get theirs!  In this case though, Matthew has Jesus offer us a promise:  If you welcome a prophet, you get your reward; if you give a small cup of water, you also gain your reward.  The question remains, what is the reward?

προφητης ("prophet" 10:41)  Worth noting:  For Matthew, the notion of prophecy is very important; the word appears 34 times.  By comparison, in Mark the word only appears 5 times!  Luke 28; John 14. It is always worth remembering that connections to the OT are important for Matthew, but Luke doesn't leave them out!

μικρων ("least of these" from μικρος 10:42).  This phrase is often understood to mean "children."  This is because in Matthew 18 Jesus explicitly connects the phrase little ones with the word for children.  Also, Jesus says, "Who welcomes children, welcomes me" in all three synoptics.  So, it is probably a fair translation to say, "children" here.  However, I think that Matthew 25 and, "Do unto the least of these" is probably a fair direction for understanding this passage too.  Jesus is always concerned about the least in society, of which children are an example.  I'd rather leave the translation as the "least of these" instead of "children" to leave open this ambiguity.  As a side note, some manuscripts use the word "least" that is found in Matthew 25 (ελαχιστος).

Grammar Review:  ου μη
In Greek the strongest denial of a possibility is ου μη.  It probably best means "It ain't never ever gonna happen."  Whenever you see this, you can know the speaker is completely and totally sure about something.  In this case, we will never lose our reward when we give a cup of cold water to the least of these.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Matthew 28:16-20

This passage occurs both in the Narrative Lectionary and the Revised Common Lectionary (Trinity Sunday).

Well, this passage clarifies a few things:
* Jesus did have to suffer
* The law still exists in the new creation
* Commissioning is just as important as proclamation
* Baptizing is subordinate to making disciples; yet Baptism binds us to God
* The resurrection changes God's name
While we are at it, let's also clarify two other things
* The Trinity was in Matthew's Gospel
* Some, not all, doubted

Okay, I will be less pugnacious, but Matthew brilliantly closes out of his Gospel.  Only five verses, but it really does tie together so much of Matthew's writing.
Key Words

ορος ("mountain", 28:16)   Mountains show up at many key points in the Gospel of Matthew:  The sermon on the Mount, the tranfiguration and the betrayal of Jesus.  Matthew may be connecting some of the "dots" within his story here.  I wrote about this in my comments on Matthew 5 as well.

εταξατο ("command" from τασσω, 28:16)  Even after the resurrection, the concept of obedience still exists.  I write this because recently I've been engaged in some discussions with "hyper" Lutherans who want to functionally deny the role of the law within the new creation.  The law still exists; the new creation does the law.  But okay, let's avoid this discussion and actually get to something that we can preach:  Living as a disciple means obeying, even as we doubt.  (See below for more on law and Gospel post resurrection)

προσεκυνησαν ("worship", from προσκυνεω, 28:17) and εξουσια ("authority" or "power", 28:18). The President of Luther Seminary once gave a great sermon linking this passage (Matthew 28:16-20) with the temptation of Christ.  It will be on a mountain that the devil offers Jesus all authority if Jesus would worship him.  Poetically, here it is on a mountain that the disciples worship him as the hear that Jesus has all the authority.  The point of the sermon (by Dr. Richard Bliese) was that devil tried to convince Jesus that suffering wasn't necessary for his authority and glory, but Jesus would have none of it.

εδιστασαν ("doubt", from δισταζω 17)  Back in chapter 14, Jesus rescues a sinking Peter and asks him why he doubted.  Here we are, after the crucifixion and resurrection, and doubt still lingers.  Interestingly, Jesus does not rebuke them for their faith (or even false worship) but simply puts them to use and offers them the promise of his presence.  What is Jesus response to failure on the part of the disciples?  Commissioning and promise.  I would argue that in both John 22 and Matthew 28, Jesus not only hands over the promise but also employs people.  This to me suggests that law can function as Gospel when it lets us know that Jesus cares about us.  In other words, when someone tells us to quit smoking, we can hear this as law but also as love in that the person cares about us.  The failure of church to commission people is a failure to communicate God's love for them.  Ultimately I would argue that it is the promise of Jesus' presence that will give them the strength to carry out this command!

μαθητευσατε and βαπτιζοντες ("teach" and "baptize", 19)  Interestingly, the only imperative verb in verse 19 is "make disciples."  The rest are participles that likely describe the verb "teach."  [Grammatically you can argue that "go," although not an imperative, functions like this because of its position.]  In the Greek, baptizing and teaching are not imperatives, they are participles that describe the manner of making disciples.  This is true in the parish too; we make disciples by baptizing them and teaching them.  One should not press too hard here because even if "baptize" only modifies "make disciples" it is still commanded to us by Jesus!  However, it reminds us that Baptism without teaching is not what Jesus commanded. 

I would also add that the purpose of our teaching is making disciples...Do we look at Christian Education as formation??

Side note on the verbs here:  The main verb (μαθητευσατε ) is in the plural (second person).  No one of us is commanded to make disciples.  It always take the community to accomplish this task.

εις το ονομα ("into the name" 19)  Two points here.  First off all, there is only the most scant evidence that Matthew's Gospel did not originally have the Trinitarian name.  All the major manuscripts have it.  In fact, each and every manuscripts has it.  The main evidence against it consists of one or two Greek Fathers who don't include it when they cite Matthew, most importantly Eusebius.  However, Eusebius wrote around 300; the Didache (110 AD), which heavily quotes from Matthew's Gospel includes the name Father, Son and Holy Spirit within its Baptismal formula. (The Didache also use the word "into" and not "in" reflecting Matthew's language)

Second point, we are baptized into the name of God.  There is something that happens in Baptism that joins us to Christ.

μεθ υμων ("with you"; the word μεθ is μετα but the letters change before a vowel, much like "a" becomes "an", vs 20).  It is a good reminder that Jesus offers a plural promise here:  "With all of you."  More importantly though, the words "with you" appear in the middle of the words "I am."  "I am" or εγω ειμι can also signify the name of God (see one of the previous' weeks entries on this).  Here though we find the construction "I with you am."  In the middle of God's name is "with us."  I would argue that God's name has been changed by the death and resurrection of Jesus.  God is forever bound to humanity in a way that God was not before (see tearing of temple curtain).  Even if the whole name of God thing seems like a stretch, Jesus is indicating that after the crucifixion and resurrection he is truly Emmanuel, or God with us, as the angel declared in the beginning of the Gospel. 

Grammar:  How Greek often switches subjects.
In verse 17, Matthew says that "some doubted."  He actually doesn't use the word "some," but the words οι δε.  These two words simply mean "The and."  How did the translators get to "some" from "the and"?

This particular construction (δε ("and") following the word οι/ο ("the")) almost always implies a new subject.  Often times Greek writers will do this; perhaps to save space because it is quicker to write "ο δε" then to write out "the other person I was just writing about."  This device, I assume, almost functioned like a period or a paragraph start; "attention reader, new subject."  For example, Matthew uses this construction back in verse 16 to switch the narrative from the Jews to the disciples. We have a paragraph marker there, but in the original Greek, which lacked punctuation, this didn't exist. 

In verse 17, the question becomes, who is Matthew referring to when he switches the subject? We are not told of anyone on the hill.  It seems the only option is to assume Matthew here switches from all eleven disciples to a smaller group within that.  While a minority think he means all the disciples (and thus is NOT switching subjects), most people assume he is referring to a subset within the disciples.  Regardless at least some of the people on that hill are doubting...and Luke tells in Acts they all keep moving forward with the team!

Monday, June 5, 2017

Genesis 1:1-2:4a

The Narrative Lectionary begins the Year 4 cycle with this lesson.  The Revised Common Lectionary includes it for Holy Trinity Sunday (Year A); it is also in the Easter Vigil
Summary:  I'd like to offer in Genesis 1 order is not a bad thing.  The enemy seems to be a lack of structure, authority and clarity.  To be brought into God's creative task, namely, to be reestablished in his image, is to be brought into the task of organizing creation.  It seems like much of the creative task of today's world, if not today's church, is the breaking free of authority.  But fragmented or autonomous living is not the intention of God's creation.  I do not argue, nor do I think Genesis 1 justifies, huge systems that simply promote uniformity if not excessive consumption of resources.  Yet, I think Genesis 1 does speak against our universal, but particularly 21st century American, notion of autonomy as the goal of the human, if not even the spiritual human.

Key Words/Concepts:
ברה (b-r-h, "create", Genesis 1:1, 1:27, 2:3)  The Bible uses many words to describe God's creative activity in Genesis 1.  Surprisingly, many of the words are common verbs that Adam, other humans and the rest of creation do:  speak, name, divide and bring forth.  This is not the case with "barah."  Only God can create, not just in Genesis, but throughout Scripture.  The use of verbs throughout chapter 1 suggests there is something co-creative about creation, but yet God's creative capacity as the creator stands beyond any other entity in creation.

As a side note, in Psalm 51, when David prays for a new heart, the verb is "barah", suggesting that a new heart is only possible from God.

רףה (r-ph-h, "bear fruit", Gen. 1:22, 28).  I like this verb because it reminds me of Jesus' injunction to "bear fruit."  But in this particular story, I find it helpful to remember that just as God tells humans to be fruitful, he also commands the birds and fish the same way.  Creation is not simply our domain!

צלמ (ts-l-m, "image", Gen 1:26,27).  The NET captures discussions about this topic very well, crouching its discussion within the confines of the book of Genesis:  The "image of God" would be the God-given mental and spiritual capacities that enable people to relate to God and to serve him by ruling over the created order as his earthly vice-regents.

משל (m-sh-l, Gen 1:18 as verb; 1:16 as noun).  There are a whole series of words relating to power and authority in these verses.  Many of these words are poured over and often critiqued in a post-colonialism world.  I appreciate what the TWOT (Bible works) gives a helpful insight on this verb: "There is no specific theology to be drawn from the meaning of the word. Yet the passages cited and the seventy or so others not cited demonstrate the importance of the principle of authority, the absolute moral necessity of respect for proper authority, the value of it for orderly society and happy living and the origin of all authority in God, himself. Authority is of many degrees and kinds. It has various theoretical bases. It originates in God. Man has no authority at all as man but simply as God's vice regent."
While our society today may be very afraid of power in the hands of super governments and super corporations, there is an instinct in the OT, certainly in Genesis, that anarchy is not a good thing.  Indeed, creation is a story of God providing order over chaos.  Of course ancient man needed to subdue creation.  "It was a jungle out there."  But of course too, the total destruction of habitat for countless animals was also not desired either.

"Us" - Let us create mankind in our image.  There are a number of ways to think about this verse.  One possibility is that the "us" reflects the Trinity; another is that the "us" is the "royal we"; another is that the "us" reflects angels, ie, the heavenly court.  I don't think we will ever solve this linguistic and theological conundrum.  However, I offer another idea and that is that God is saying to the rest of creation, let's create out of you something in my image.  Given that humanity comes from genetically and is dependent biologically on the rest of creation and that creation has already been involved in creation itself, I think this makes sense.

נתנ (n-t-n, Gen 1:17, 1:29) The final statement of God about creation is that it is a gift!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Acts 2:1-11

Summary:   Luke's use of language in his first two sentences of Acts chapter 2 sets up an incredible contrast.   Verse one captures the togetherness of the pre-Pentecost community; verse two shows the Holy Spirit bursting the community into the world.  As I contemplate the church over the centuries, I wonder if we always stand between verse 1 and 2; full of love and community, but waiting for the awesome movement of the Spirit to push us outside of ourselves.   Moving churches out of their walls is a Herculean task, but God is up to it!

Image one: The pre-Pentecost community (Verse 1 captures all of chapter 1)

ομου + επι το αυτο ("together" and "all together") Luke uses a rather redundant phrase. Both halves mean "together"; in English he basically wrote "They were together with each other in the same place." Luke wants to drive the point across that they were united. It is important to note that a united church is not a church in mission; a united church is a church waiting for mission.

(Snarky side comment:  The church of Acts 1 may as well be called First Lutheran Church of Jerusalem.  Great doctrine.  Great fellowship.  Perfect Committee Structure.  No outreach.)

εν τω συμπληρουσθαι (συμπληροω; fulfill)  To the point: By employing this particular construction, Luke makes it clear that they did not simply come together on Pentecost, but they had been together for a while. A few other points here about the verb fulfill:
* The verb fulfill occurs three times in just a few verses. The days of Pentecost were being fulfilled; the house was filled; now the people are filled.
* The verb is in the present  suggesting it is ongoing action; especially when paired with an imperfect as the main verb. The notion suggested here is that they have been together (rather obediently!) since Jesus told them to wait.
* Purely grammar note: Chapter two begins with an articular infinitive using the construction, εν τω + infinitive which means "During the ..." In this case, the verb is "fulfill."

Summary, Luke does not simply imply "The group was assembled for the celebration" but rather, "As the day of Pentecost approached, they were continually together in the same place."

Image two: The Spirit comes [vs 2 (and the rest of Acts)]

ηχος ("sound"; literally echo!) The Spirit comes as an echo...that has reverberated across the years.

φερημενης (φερω; "carry") The wind that comes is a carrying wind; a wind that will carry the disciples outside of their walls.

βιαιος ("violent") When this word occurs in the OT, it describes the wind blowing back the waters during Exodus.   Maybe that is one metaphor for the Spirit's activities during the 21st century: Making a way through the troubled waters for the church. Interestingly, this word is used in classical Greek to describe the "power" or "strength" of Hercules. This may also be a way to think about the Spirit -- overcoming the Herculean task of getting Christians to leave the door. Sometimes this might take shaking things up a bit!

To put this together, the Spirit carries with it...a hint of upheaval...that echoes across the centuries.

A few other points:
ευλαβης ("devout"; 2:5)  The men in Jerusalem are considered "devout".  Interestingly, Simeon was labeled as devout as well -- a rather rare term in the NT (only used four times). As Jesus was revealed (as a baby) to a devout man, the church was revealed (as a baby!) to a devout man.

ιδια διαλεκτω ("Our own language" literally "the idiom dialect"; 2:6) Luther hits the nail on the head: Muttersprache.

ακουω ("hear"; 2:6,8 and 11)  This verb means listening. Perhaps the more important activity of the Holy Spirit is working on the ears of the listener! 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Luke 24:44-53 (Ascension)

This passage occurs for Ascension in the RCL, all three years; sometimes this is marked on a Thursday other times it takes the place of Easter 7.

Summary:  Normally good-byes are sad.  But not the Ascension!  Luke wants to point out a few things about the ascension.  Namely that it is a commissioning; a celebration; and a crescendo.  A closer look at the Greek suggests this often overlooked story is vitally important for the Christian understanding of God in Christ Jesus.  In fact, as I read Luke's account of the Ascension this year (2013) I am realizing I have improperly truncated the Gospel.  The Gospel must include forgiveness and resurrection but also the sending of the Holy Spirit who brings us into the witness of the Gospel.  But if that just sounds too much for your Lutheran piety, you can go with this:  Jesus knows that preaching forgiveness will get us into trouble because the world cannot handle law and Gospel.

Key Words:
μαρτυρες ("witness", from μαρτυς, 24:48) The Greek word there for witness is "martyros," from which we get our word Martyr.  It originally had a simple legal connotation, as in give testimony, or generally, to speak on someone's behalf.  Yet in the Christian context, it very quickly came to mean suffer for this proclamation, including Jesus himself.   So Jesus says (literally), "You are martyrs of these things."  This is the ultimate commissioning:  You will go out and testify to the resurrection and forgiveness of sins and be persecuted for it.

χαρας ("joy", from χαρα, 24:52)  Luke uses this word more than other authors.  It is significant that worship of the ascended Christ still fills the believers with great joy.  Luke makes the point:  Just because Jesus isn't here on earth doesn't mean we cannot worship him. In fact, worship of the risen (and ascended Christ) still fills the believers with joy.  Jesus ascension means unlimited access instead of only local contact; hence the possibility of a universal church.

προσκυνησαντες ("worship", προσκυνεω, 24:52)  For all of the times Luke has Jesus praying, this is the only instance where people are worshiping in his Gospel.  The only other mention of the verb is in the temptation of Christ where Jesus declares we must worship God alone.  For Luke, the ascension confirms Jesus' divinity in a way that allows the disciples to worship him as God in way even his resurrection did not.  The ascension completes his first mission on earth: his suffering, his resurrection and his commissioning.  Now he shall return to be exalted and come again in glory.

διηνοιξεν ("open", 24:45)  We saw this verb last week in Acts account of Lydia's Baptism.  It is interesting that this word is associated in Acts and Luke with understanding the Word.  It also suggests the need for proclamation, because the Scriptures need to be opened.  They are not self-explanatory.

καθισατε ("sit", καθιζω, 24:49)  The disciples are told to "sit" until the Holy Spirit comes.  Part of the Christian life is waiting.

δυναμιν ("power" from δυναμις. 24:49)  This word comes into English as dynamite.  Christ calls us to be both the martrys and dynamite for the world.  The two seem related in tragic ways; yet, Christ does not call us to cause suffering in others, but simply to suffer for others as the world persecutes the news of forgiveness and resurrection.

Grammar concept:  hendiadys; or in this case, hendiatris
Hendiadys refers to the literary device of using two words to mean one thing.  For instance:  "formless and void" of Genesis 1 means "a whole lot of nothing!" or perhaps more accurately, "chaos."

In this case, Jesus refers to Scriptures by calling them:  Moses, Prophets and Psalms.  Here he is referring to all of the OT, not simply Gen-Deut; 12 prophets and Psalms.  He is laying out the Tanakh (Torah, Prophets and Writings) division of Scripture.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

1 Peter 3:13-22

his verse appears in the RCL for Easter 6A, most recently May 21, 2017

Summary:  The Greek in this passage is quite difficult, so much so, in fact, that it reads more like a puzzle.  I've tried to identify some meaningful pieces of the puzzle.  Once you put them together, you get a clear image:  God saves us; our job is to do good and share the good news.  Repeat:  God saves.  I also explore the meaning of the some of the key words.

Key words:
ζηλωται  ("zealotai", adjective meaning "be zealous", 3:13)  The word for "be eager" is "zelotehs," ie, be a zealot. It is a reminder that we are not simply encouraged to do good, but hunger for righteousness!

τον φοβον αυτων (meaning "the fear of them, 3:14)  Interestingly, this phrase is translated, "Do not fear what they fear." But it literally reads, "Do not fear their fear..." in an age of fear, this perhaps a more helpful translation!

απολογια (apology, meaning "defense", 3:15)  The word for defense here is "apologia" (ie apology); the word here for "reason/accounting" is "logos." In some ways our apology for the faith, our defense is not simply a negative word but finally is the logos, or Christ.  In other words, we are not really defending something but giving away the word, who is Christ.

απαξ ("hapax" (rough breathing) meaning "once and for all", 3:18)  Basic idea:  Jesus does not have to die again.

ζωοποιηθεις ("zoo-poietheis" meaning "make alive", 3:18)  There is also another word in this verse: "zoopoie-oo." "To make alive." This verb in the New Testament appears almost exclusively in the context of the Spirit.  Furthermore, it is only God who makes alive! Yet in the previous verse, we were called to "do good" (agathopoie-oo). A reminder of our calling -- do good and give a witness; and the Spirit's calling - to make alive.

αντιτυπον ("antitype" meaning "prefigure", 3:21) The word for "prefigured" is "antitupos" (anti here does not mean apposed but pre)

σωζει ("sozo" meaning "save", 3:21)  The verb "save," used in conjunction with Baptism, is in the present tense.  This means that it does not simply save at one point, but continues to save us (a nice tie in then with the Gospel lesson about continual repentance).

συνειδησεως and επερωτημα (3:21)  The real question is what does the phrase "an appeal (επερωτημα) of a good conscience (συνειδησεως ) to God" mean. There is a lot of ink written about this construction; the word "appeal" is a less frequent word, making its intrepretation more challenging.  I suggest this verse is not about works-righteousness or some sort of baptismal pledge. It seems clear that the overall thrust of the passage is on the work of God through the resurrection to create life. And in the end, if justification by faith means the death of the sinner and the resurrection of the new creation, certainly this creation has a clear conscience before God.  Regardless, Baptism saves us through the resurrection of God; there is no sense that our good works save us!

Grammar Review:  When a sentence becomes a puzzle
3:13 This sentence is complex one in Greek; 1st of all, the word for "do bad" is a substantive participle; the word for "good" is substantive adjective (the good) and the verbs are all out of order...In this case, one might really need to look at other translations even to get started.  Break down what one knows and then see if one can put it together:
Και τις ο κακωσαν υμας εαν του αγαθου ζηλωται γενησθε
Και and
τις The accent marks will tell you if it is a pronoun (any, a, certain) or a question (who/what/where).  In this case, you have a question mark at the end, so it makes it easier to figure out it is a question.
ο κακωσαν υμας The one who does you bad/harm
εαν  If
του αγαθου of the good.  Why is this in the genitive?
ζηλωται looks like a verb, but it means 'zealous'  In this case we can go back and figure out that seeking and good go together: seeking the good
γενησθε are (in subjunctive)  That this is in the second person tells us that the subject of the sentence is "you."
So...And what the one who does you harm if of the good seeking you are?
Or  "What becomes of the one doing bad to you if you are doing good?
Phew!  Again, break down what you know and use other translations to help!