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:  http://www.stpaullititz.net/smallcatechism.html).  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.

Rob


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).

Summary:
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!