Monday, May 29, 2023

Matthew 28:16-20

This passage occurs both in the Narrative Lectionary and the Revised Common Lectionary (Trinity Sunday), most recently June 4, 2021.

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 transfiguration 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)  
***I wrote in 2017:  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)

I would amend in 2023:  I would probably want to write this differently -- I am not sure the new creation does the law; I might say fulfills the law.  Regardless, the reality though is that the creation that we are on earth, both sinner and saint, needs and does the law.

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, whom 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, May 22, 2023

Acts 2:1-11 (Pentecost)

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 Acts 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.

I used to see the church of Acts 1 as "First Lutheran Church of Jerusalem."  Great doctrine.  Great fellowship.  Perfect Committee Structure.  No outreach.  Overtime I have softened on this, as I begin to see how unity is a precursor to ministry.

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."

In 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.'

διαμεριζομεναι (from διαμεριζω, meaning divide, 2:3, 2:45)  The spirit divides tongues among them; later they divide their property among each other!  It is interesting how the spiritual leads to the material -- they are related!

A few other points:
ευλαβης ("devout"; 2:5)  The men in Jerusalem are considered "devout".  Interestingly, Simeon (Luke 2) 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 devout men and women.

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.   While the tongues of flames get the attention, the Holy Spirit tends to work just as much through the ears as through the eyes!

απεφθεγξατο ("proclaim"; from αποφθεγγομαι; 2:14) Luke describes Peter's speech using a word here that means "dignified proclamation."  This is significant given the education and social rank of Peter; but it also shows that the Spirit does not simply give ecstatic or emotional speech, but that the Spirit can lead us to be articulate.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Luke 24:44-53 (Ascension)

This passage occurs for Ascension in the RCL, all three years; sometimes this is celebrated on a Thursday, the 40th day after Easter; other times it takes the place of Easter 7.

I added in 2022:  A long digression about repentance and metanoia

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, Luke's account of the Ascension challenges me to include sending in my list of core Gospel actions:  forgiveness and resurrection.  (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, well, 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.

 αρξαμνοι (participle form of "αρχω" meaning, in middle voice, to begin; 24:47)  In both Luke 24 and Acts 1, this word shows up:  begin.  The three year ministry of Jesus Christ is only the beginning of the work of God!  The promised Holy Spirit will move the disciples forward in mission and ministry!

αποστελλω ("sending"; 24:49)  This is the only indicative verb in this entire section is present tense.  I would argue this is the last action of Jesus on behalf of his disciples:  To send the Spirit.  One could make the argument, I think, this is why Jesus came back from the dead.  To send out the Spirit!  Interestingly, it is only once Jesus has sent the Spirit that the disciples can worship! 

One could also argue that this is in the present tense, suggesting that Jesus is continually (always) sending forth the Spirit.

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.


μετανοια(ν)  (literally metanoia, meaning perhaps "repentance", 24:47).  This is a word whose history of translation is fascinating.  

In classic Greek, the word simply meant:  "change one's mind" (Fascinating article on this here.  I believe it is by Robert Wilken.).  The word retains this meaning when used in the Greek OT.  In fact, in the translation of the OT into Greek, the translators almost never translated the classic OT word for repentance "shub" (שוב)  as metonoia.  The more common word translated as metanoia is "nakham" (נחם), which means to change one's mind, often after emotional consideration.  For a variety of reasons that remain unclear to me, in the early Latin church, the word came to be understood as "do penance."  Apparently Tertullian indicated this word should have been translated as "convert."

Codified by St. Jerome, this translation of metanoia as 'do penance' became the standard in Latin Christianity.  This way of thinking would hold sway over a millennia until late Medieval translators (Wycliffe and Luther) came along and 'liberated' the word from the medieval penance system.  The first of the 95 theses, in fact, is about the translation of this word!  Generally, these translators used words having to do with regret and repentance - emotionally loaded words.

Today, a critique of translating metanoia as "repent" has emerged.  Interestingly, one of those leading the charge is Richard Rohr, who aims for the pre-biblical idea of "change one's mind" or "new mind."  While I am not convinced that Rohr goes as far as his students, I think that some of his followers get pretty close to Gnosticism (see here for an example of this), wanting to claim that a specific new mind set, liberated from the past vestiges of bad religion, will free them to be special people.

That said, Rohr and others make a valuable contribution:  shame has limits.  True spirituality is not about fear and regret, but love and hope.  I also wonder how often our people experience shame over sins that are not biblical.  I mean, how many people in our congregations are taking anxiety medicine because they haven't lived up the beatitudes?  Far more often we lead lives of shame and are plagued with a sense of inadequacy that has nothing to do with a failure to love their neighbor, but rather living up to the expectations of their neighbor.  Metanoia in this case then often means rejecting these false judges and replacing them with ourselves as the determiner of true living.  Progress, I guess, but not terra firma.

That aside, God is okay with humans experiencing regret.  The people on Pentecost were, as it turns out, cut to the heart.  As Paul writes in 2 Cor 9-10, there is such a thing as godly sorrow.  Furthermore, metanoia does seem to imply regret in the Bible (Luke 17:4)

Alas, what to do.  I offer that the word metonoia has at least two strands of meaning:

- 'insight': when one has a paradigm shift that leads one to reconsider old ways to operating

- 'regret': when one has an emotional experience of guilt (perhaps even shame) that leads one to reconsider old ways of operating.

The former seems more Greek, the later more Hebrew.  While the NT is written in Greek, it is also hard to separate out the Jewish mindset of most of the New Testament voices.  Would first century Jews really aimed for a repentance that was simply a matter of "have a new mind"?

In this case (Luke 24:47), Jesus says "repentance for forgiveness of sins"  (They are linked by the preposition εις).  One way we could understand this verse to mean this:   repentance -- feeling bad -- is a precursor to forgiveness.  This works well and is an easily defended position.

However, I think one is also justified in saying that Jesus is saying, proclaim "a new way of thinking that results in the forgiveness of sins."  This could mean, for example, that one believes that forgiveness is actually possible!  I wonder how many people this is the new mind they actually need -- that a God of mercy is on the loose in this world!

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.

Monday, May 15, 2023

Acts 1:1-11 (Acts 1:1-14)

Acts 1:1-14 is the Narrative Lectionary passage in Year 1
Acts 1:1-11 or Acts 1:6-14 is the RCL passage for the Ascension/Easter 7.

Corona Times Observation:  The disciples want a restoration project.  Jesus wants them to be witnesses to the ends of the earth.  Our churches right now want things to "get back to normal" or "to restore what we were."  But this cannot be.  We have a new calling.

Really edgy sermon idea:  Acts 1 shows a united church that loves and prays together, but does not do any outreach.  It is "First Lutheran Church of Jerusalem", a small, tight-knit group that sings and worships with joy, fills committee spots and avoids outreach at all possible costs.

Less edgy:  A church must come together before it can go out!

For those note quite as bold:
Acts 1:1 may just summarize all of the book.  In fact, one word, sometimes missed by the translators, may summarize all of acts:  "began."  Luke says that his Gospel is "all that Jesus BEGAN to do and teach."  Jesus' work is not complete; it must be continued by his disciples.  By the Spirit, they carry forth and do the greater things Jesus told us we would do if we believed in him.  Well, if 1:1 explains the whole book, 1:2 leaves us curious how this all works.  Luke says Jesus communicated things through the Holy Spirit.  Acts could just of easily been called the Acts of the Holy Spirit.  But how does the Holy Spirit work?  Acts wrestles with how the Holy Spirit worked to guide the early church in making decisions about the doings and teachings of Christ.

Key words:
Θεοφιλος  ("lover of God", 1:1)  Luke may have written this to a specific person name Theophilos.  Or he writes it to all of us who love God!

ηρχατο ("begin" aorist form of αρχω, in 1:1)  It is worth noting that Luke says that Jesus begins his doings and teachings.  The completion of Jesus ministry will be done through the disciples.  This one verb, may in fact, tell you everything you need to know about the book of Acts!

τε και ("and and" in verse 1).  BDAG suggests this combination means "connecting concepts, usually of the same kind."  Here it links the words ποιειν (doing) and διδασκειν (teaching).  A helpful reminder than the hands and head are connected in Luke's mind!

εξελεξατο ("choose" aorist form of εκλεγω, in 1:2; see also 1:24; 6:5 and 15:7;22;25)  Throughout the book of Acts, the disciples have to make choices.  The tricky thing is figuring out how the Holy Spirit will guide this process of choice.  In Acts 1:2 no indication is given for this.  In 1:24, lots are used; in 6:5, the Spirit works through community's approval of the leadership's suggestion concerning deacons; in chapter 15, the choice is made through collective debate.  The book of Acts is a powerful study in how decisions are made in the Spirit!

επαγγελια(ν) ("promise", 1:4)  The NIV translates this as "gift."  This seems less helpful.  The word is promise:  Wait for the promise.

τω Ισραηλ ("to Isreal"; 1:6)  Jesus was teaching them about the Kingdom of God; they were concerned with the Kingdom which belongs to Israel.

αποκαθιστανεις ("to restore"; 1:6)  This sentence is a sermon in itself.  The disciples want Jesus to be on a restoration project of their particular tribe.  He is not interested in this.  He is interested in the salvation of the earth.
μαρτυς ("to witness"; 1:8)  This word looks like "martyr"...because it means just that.  Jesus hear commands his disciples to be witnesses.   When Jesus used the word it had no implication of suffering.  However, the early Christians who were witnesses became "martyrs."  The definition of the word was changed by the heroic actions early Christians.  So, Jesus here is calling his disciples to be martyrs.  Ouch!

Σαμαρια (Samaria; 1:8)  Jesus mission includes the "other side of the tracks."  This is a good way to think about the mission field:  your home town (Jerusalem and Judea), the "other" (Samaria") and the far away (the ends of the earth).

ομοθυμαδόν ("one mind" or "one passion" 1:14)  The people were united.  This is a beautiful scene of the early Christian community:  united in prayer and one might argue, doctrine.  The problem:  they did not do any outreach, but instead spent their time filling spots committees per historical expectations.  Unity does not mean preparation for mission!

Grammar/translation review:  Word order and Luke's grammatical mastery.
In Greek, word order is not essential for understanding the sentence; in English it is.  For example, "The boy hit the dog" and "The dog hit the boy" are two different ideas in English.  In Greek, the reader knows who did the action by the cases of the nouns, not their order in the sentence.  The nominative does the action; the accusative is the object of the action, regardless of which comes first.  This means that Greek (and to some extent Hebrew) can move words around for emphasis.  For example, Acts 1:2, is very convoluted if you just read the words:  until which day, after he taught the apostles whom he had chosen, he was ascended.  Permissible in English perhaps, but the sentence points out that good Greek can have words all over the place because the cases are governing their function, not word order.

In Acts 1:5 we have a very unusual split of some words:  εν πνευματι βαπτισθησεσθε αγιω 
Although the specific conjugation may be odd, (future passive 2nd person plural is fairly rare for verbs!), the words are pretty clear:  "In a spirit you will be baptized holy."  What is Luke doing?  Could holy be an adverb?  Unlikely. (Long grammar point: it would be in the accusative rather than dative).  Hmm... what to do?  Well, Luke earlier claims that Jesus will baptize us with the Holy Spirit.  (Let's use more clear Scripture to interpret less clear Scripture!)  So what could Luke possibly be doing here by putting Baptism in the middle of the Holy Spirit?  Well, duh, Luke is making the claim that the Holy Spirit and Baptism are bound up in each other!  To put it another way, Luke has stretched Greek language to show us that Baptism is in the Holy Spirit! 

This is something like, in my mind, when Handel has the tenor sing "The rough places plain," the word "rough" has small rapid changes; the note for "plain" is constant and smooth.

Sunday, May 14, 2023

John 17:6-19

This passage occurs in the RCL, Year B, Easter Season (most recently May 17, 2015). Also, a large portion of this passage is used within the RCL Year A Easter Season reading.

This post is from Guest blogger Rev. Jim Rowe.
The assigned Gospel reading for the 7th Sunday of Easter (if you are using the Revised Common Lectionary) comes from Jesus’ prayer to the Father on behalf of his followers before the Passion narrative. When looking at this text it can be helpful to look at a few things: 1) Read the entire prayer. All of John 17. 2) Pay attention to the larger context. This prayer comes immediately after Jesus finishes his long-winded farewell discourse (14:1-16:33) where he speaks to his followers about what discipleship looks like: “I am the way, the truth, and the life”; “I am the vine, you are the branches”; “Love one another just as I have loved you”; and the great “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (which sadly does not appear in the Revised Common Lectionary). This is the transition piece from discourse to Passion, from teaching about discipleship to modeling discipleship.

Key Words:
δίδωμι (to give) appears 17 times in this chapter, more than in any other chapter in the New Testament and more than any other verb in this chapter. The Father gives Jesus authority over all people to give eternal life to all whom the Father has given the Son. Jesus glorified the Father on earth by finishing the work the Father gave him to do. But the focus of the lectionary text is on those whom the Father gave to the Son from the world.

κόσμος (world) appears 19 times in this chapter and is incredibly important in the theology of John’s Gospel. The world came into being through the incarnate Word, Christ is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, For God so loved the world…, “I have conquered the world!”

For those whose theology states the world is a place to escape from, John’s Gospel suggests otherwise (17:15). The Creator is in such love with the world that the creative Word that spoke the world into existence will lay down his life to take away the sin of the world. God loves the world. Likewise, in John 17, for those who were given to Jesus by the Father (aka Jesus’ followers) the world and all in it are objects of great love (even laying down their lives?) because even though the world has hated them (17:14), Christ sends them into the world just as the Father has sent him into the world (17:18). God sent Christ into the world because of love, and so Christ sends his disciples (us) into the world because of love.

Being that this is the Easter season, a time of year when the Church has historically expanded on the teachings of the faith for the newly baptized, the appropriate question seems to be, “So What?” What does this text say about how the resurrection, Christ’s conquering of the world, mean for me (or my congregation or the entire world)? If Christ loves me (my congregation and the Church) so much that he has sent me (us) into the world, then how does that affect the way I live in the world? How does that love and protection (17:15) shape my actions and words as I work for peace and justice in all the world?

Monday, May 8, 2023

John 14:15-21

Summary:  Typically I have preached on the Acts 17 passage that matches up with this.  However, I would offer that this passage carefully shows that the work of Jesus and the Spirit are far more similar than we typically describe.  Still working on how this fleshes itself out into a Sermon -- likely the Acts passage puts this on display!  I wonder if the Acts passage shows this Spirit at work, as we bear witness to the truth.

Key words
αγαπατε & τηρησετε (love and keep)  These words are paired together a couple of times in this section.  A couple of points
  • In verse 14:15 they are in the plural - if "you all love me..."  In verse 14:23 they are in the singular "anyone who loves me."  This is a reminder that the command to love Jesus is both personal and collective.
  • Love and keeping commandments are related.  We so often think of holding to commandments as something that must be done out of duty alone; but here it is connected with love.
  • I've been spending a lot of time reading the Gospel of John this year.  I still am looking for what Jesus considers to be his commandments.  In the Gospel of John, the commandments I can find seem to be about love and trust.  While beautiful, these are two things impossible to manufacture, but which can grow.  They are feelings, but they lead to concrete actions.  
  • If I could put this together, Jesus is not saying, that the Holy Spirit will defend you against God when you don't do these things on the list; but rather, Jesus is saying, the Spirit will dwell in you so that love, faith and hope can grow.
αλλον (form of αλλος, meaning "another", 14:16)  While this word can mean "other" it can also mean "another."  I would lean toward "another" because in this way, Jesus identifies himself with the work of the Spirit.  The Spirit's activity will be the same as Jesus.  This is also suggested by Jesus' declaration that he will not leave them orphaned, but in fact, is coming to them.

παρακλετος (literally 'paraklete', meaning "counselor", 14:16)  I've done a longer posts on this word, you can read about this here:  Key nuggets
  • Paraklete is often translated "advocate"; this is very "cold" translation of this term.  The idea is for more intimate in John's Gospel.  The NET Bible offers a good footnote on this.
  • When advocacy is done by the Spirit, it is not protecting us from God's judgment, but rather giving us words of witness before the world.
η ("he is", forced into a subjective voice by the ινα clause).  My point:  The father intends to be with us.  Why I argue this, against the NIV translation that the Spirit will be with us?  The subject of the main sentence is "the father" as in the "the Father will give you another paraklete."  The subordinate clause, "in order that he might be with you forever" does not have a new subject in Greek.  The subject is included in the conjugated verb, "he/she/it is."  It does not make sense to me that the subordinate clause would get a new subject.  Jesus is making the point that the Father will still be with us through the Spirit. 

What is at stake here?  If you put together the idea of "advocate who is with us", too often we have a bad Trinitarian formulation in that God the Father is mad, God the son is bloody and God the Spirit is somehow arguing to God the Father that God the Father's judgment is all wrong, but that looking at God the Son, beaten up, will make God the Father forget his anger.  This is not the Gospel of Jhon.  Jesus is saying that God's Spirit will continue the work Jesus has done, to bring humanity back to God.

αληθεια (it adds an ς in the genitive case, means 'truth', 14.17)  First, I consider it ironic that the comforter is one who brings truth.  Typically truth and comfort do not go hand in hand!  Second, it is worth noting that Jesus just proclaimed himself the way, truth and life.  Now the Spirit is the vessel of truth.  Again, connecting the word of the Spirit and Jesus!

υμιν (you plural in dative form, 14.17 and 14.20)  Throughout this section, the you is always in the plural:  "All y'all will live."  "I am with all y'all."  This is especially worth noting when Jesus says "I am in you."  Typically we hear this in an inner-personal way -- Jesus is in my heart.  Yet this construction:  "εν υμιν" (20) should more be translated "among you."  The evidence of Jesus is not found within our own heart, but within the whole community.

Sunday, May 7, 2023

Acts 17:22-31

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary and Narrative Lectionary during the Easter Season. 

Note:  The previous few verses describe Paul's immediate reaction to Athens and will provide insight into this section of Scripture (Acts 17:16-21).

Summary:  Paul gives a great apology for the Christian faith here, weaving in Greek philosophy and religious thinking of his day.  Yet he never shies away from the most amazing and counter-cultural:  That Christ experienced a resurrection from the dead and he will return to judge people.  While we may not preach on this text, it is certainly worth reflecting on how Paul does it (or fine, be a modern biblical scholar:  how Luke does it through Paul).  The more one reads this passage, the more amazed one becomes at how subtly Paul uses words.  However, the reader of Paul's letters should not be surprised at Paul's amazing ability to proclaim Christ across cultural boundaries!

I have a websited dedicated to Paul's cross-cultural proclamation.  For more on Paul's visit to Athens, you can go here:

Key words:
Αεριου παγου ("areopagus" or "Mars Hill", 22)  Paul gives this speech on a hill named for the Greek god of war.  More remarkably, within 100 meters of him is the acropolis, upon which stood the Parthenon.  As Paul spoke about God not living in temples made with human hands, a 100 foot high statue of Athena was being worshipped with animal sacrifices; the smoke would have been rising up to the heavens behind Paul; to his left the meat would have been sold in the market.  Also, the Areopagus was the ancient court of Athens and hub of philosophical speculation.  It was the Harvard Cigar club and Supreme Court rolled into one.

δεισιδαιμονεστερους ("religious/superstitious", 22)  You can see the word "daimon" within the word.  It can mean god-fearing, but it also tends toward superstitious.  This word reminds us that Paul is going to splice words perfectly in this passage, subtly conveying his message.  He both compliments them and insults them all at once.

αγνοστω ("unknown" from αγνοστος, 23)  Paul says they have a monument to an "agnostic god."  I wonder how many in our society worship an "agnostic god."  A friend of mine told me the real division today is between conservative and liberal, not old denominations.  I told him I disagreed -- that the fundamental division is between those who believe in a living God and those who don't.

χειροποιητος ("hand made", 24)  While hand-made may have nice connotations today, in the Bible it inevitably refers to idols made from hands.  Which is a very, very bad thing.  I find this striking that everything made by human hands is tainted with sin in the Bible; even Solomon's Temple will be destroyed by Jesus (Mark 14:58) in order to make the new temple!

θεραπευεται ("serve" or "heal" from θεραπευω, 25)  This is fascinating word I would like to study more.  English speakers will recognize the word "therapy" and immediately move to healing.  However, the original meaning of this word was much more akin to serving the gods, like a priest.  In fact, in the Old Testament the word never means heals, as in God heals, but means the people serve the god or king.  Jesus turns the Bible upside-down by actually doing the service toward people.  My sense is that those who did service to the gods were healed and this is how this word came to have its dual meaning, but I need to research this more.

ψηλαφησειαν ("grope" or "search", 27)  Paul uses this word to describe our searching for God.  Interestingly, Homer will use this word to discuss cyclops after he is blinded.  A striking word to describe our searching for God outside of proclamation!

υπαρχω ("be at one's disposal; exist", 24&27)  I never have liked this Greek word because it seems to mean all sorts of the things.  The point I want to emphasize here is that when Paul says that God is not far away from us, he more closely means, God is available to us; ie, Paul is not simply discussing physical space, but spiritual space.  I argue for this translation because Paul uses the word back in verse 24 to discuss how everything is at God's disposal; by verse 27 Paul is arguing that God is also at our disposal. 

μετανοειν ("repent" from μετανοεω, 30)  Most times when Biblical writers use this word, they are picking up off of the old Testament concept of repentance as a turning of one's heart and really actions away from sin and toward God.  However, within this philosophical milieu of the Areopagus, Paul here, I argue, leans into its more Greek meaning, which means "new mind."  Paul is calling them to a new way of thinking, namely, that, God has provided for the:

αναστησας νεκρον ("resurrection from the dead," 31)  This was a radical concept for the Greeks.  The immortal soul was acceptable, but the resurrection from the dead was just gross.  It is after this comment that Paul's speech breaks down and people said, "They've had enough!"

Grammar review:  Moods and the Optative
Greek has a number of "moods" for verbs.  Moods are not like tenses.  Moods describe the role of the verb within the sentence.  For example, a verb may be in the indicative mood, which means it describes what happens:  "Peter eats dinner."  A verb may be in the imperative mood, which means it tells someone what to do:  "Eat dinner, Peter!"  A verb may be in the infinitive mood:  "Peter needed to eat."  A verb may also be a participle mood, like "Eating his dinner, Peter..."  A verb may also be in the subjunctive mood.  "If Peter would eat."  In English, however, you need to add helping verbs to make a verb truly subjunctive.  Greek simply slaps on a different ending, much to the chagrin of Greek learners!  Greek also has another mood, called the optative.  It is very rare, occuring less than 40 times in the New Testament.  In fact, 15 of these are Paul saying "μη γενοιτο."  (Heck no!)  The optative mood describes a wish.  It is probably best to assume the translators get it right when it comes to the optative.   Books upon books are written about the death of the optative mood in Greek.  Let me again save you the time:  Trust the translators with the optative.  With the subjunctive, well, its more subjective ;-)  There you have to watch them...