Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Micah 5 and 6

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary Year 1 (most recently Nov 9, 2014).

Summary:  The inclusion of chapter 5 allows one to see Gospel in chapter 6, namely, that fulfillment of the law (so beautifully summarized in 6:6-8) will ultimately not depend on humanity but on God acting in Jesus Christ, his first born son, who will shepherd the people.  I spend a lot of time considering justice, especially within the context of Micah.

עלה ("olah" meaning "burnt offering", 6:6):  I realize that discussion of ancient Jewish offerings is not intuitively interesting.  But the this type of offering has significance here.  In a burnt offering, nothing is left for the people.  Normally an offering to please the gods allowed for fat to burn for the gods, and meat for the humans.  But in a burnt offering to God, nothing was left over.  In short, it is a total sacrifice, leaving no food behind for either the one making the sacrifice or even the priest.  The section in 6:6-8 should not be dismissed to lightly.  The world and ourselves are fundamentally broken to enter into the presence of God.

םשפט ("Mishpat" meaning "justice", 6:8): The word justice has a very broad meaning in the Hebrew Bible.  What does it mean in this case?
Perhaps a way to get at its meaning in Micah is too look at examples of injustice that the prophet cites:
Corrupt officials:
Micah 7:3 Their hands are skilled to do evil; the official and the judge ask for a bribe, and the powerful dictate what they desire; thus they pervert justice.
Corrupt rich people; violence:
Micah 2:2 They covet fields, and seize them; houses, and take them away; they oppress householder and house, people and their inheritance.
Micah 6:11-12 Can I tolerate wicked scales and a bag of dishonest weights? Your wealthy are full of violence; your inhabitants speak lies, with tongues of deceit in their mouths.  (See also mountain of the Lord that brings peace).
Corrupt priests:
Micah 3:10-11 who build Zion with blood and Jerusalem with wrong!  Its rulers give judgment for a bribe, its priests teach for a price, its prophets give oracles for money; yet they lean upon the LORD and say, "Surely the LORD is with us! No harm shall come upon us." (See also 3:5)
False worship
Micah 5:13-14 and I will cut off your images and your pillars from among you, and you shall bow down no more to the work of your hands; and I will uproot your sacred poles from among you and destroy your towns.

First point:  God cares about justice in that he both expects people to behave with justice and will punish injustice.
Second point:  For God, justice includes a totality of how society is oriented, especially toward those who lack resources. 
Third point:  Just about everyone, it seems, is commiting injustice.

I think the ethical imperative for us to live an honest and fair life is clear.  The question comes down to, however, how we try to promote, do or make justice beyond ourselves.  I think it is fair to say the imperative here is not simply a personal dictate to live an honest life, but to ponder, pray and act about injustice in the whole of society.  This for me is a very humbling task, one that makes me want to walk humbly and with God.

אהב ("Ahav" meaning "love", 6:8):  This word means "love" much like we use it in English -- it covers a great deal of things and relationships.  It is also used in Deuteronomy 6:5, where the Israelites are called to love God with the heart, soul and strength, perhaps a nice way to think about this verse.  This verse is the prophetic conversion of the command to love our God into the command to love our neighbor.  It has always been there, but now it is made clear.

צנע ("tsana" meaning "humble" (as verb), 6:8)  This verb only appears once in the Hebrew Bible.  Thus, not gonna say too much.  But I think its worth considering the other verb, walk -- in that this is a full body action, governing our entire sphere of action.  God wants the totality of society, but also the totality of our own actions, to be in line with his will.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

2 Kings 5:1-14 (Elisha and Naaman)

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary and the Revised Common Lectionary (Most recently All Saints Sunday, 2014).

I found this text fascinating though in terms of my understanding of a prophet.  Elisha's actions in chapter 5 and 6 offer a different vision -- a very Christ like vision -- of what it means to be a prophet and perhaps too, for this Sunday, a saint.

Key words:

נביה  ("Niveah" meaning "prophet" (2 Kings 5:13))  Often times we think of prophets as those who either a) predict the future or b) bring down the judging word of God.  In this case, the prophet also extends God's healing.  In this sense, God offers a foreshadowing of John's baptizing people in the river Jordan.  In fact, in chapter 6, the prophet Elisha saves lives and acts as a peace maker between Syria and Israel.

טהר ("tahar" meaning "cleanse, purify", 2 Kings 5:12, 13, 14)    We saw this word back in Psalm 51.  In Hebrew, this word is associated with pure metals (especially gold); it is often associated with ritual and ceremonial cleansing and furthermore, cleansed items used in worship. You could go a couple of ways here: First, that God's cleansing is like removal of dross from metal -- getting rid of the crap in our lives that we might be pure. Second, you could argue that the cleansing has a purpose (to be used in worship and service to God). Third, you could argue that ultimately forgiveness neats a ritual cleansing, including through washing with water or blood.

אראם  ("aram" meaning "syrian" (2 Kings 5:1))  It is worth pointing out that ARAM is not a Jewish country.  There are three vying kingdoms in the time of Elisha:  Israel (Northern Kingdom, with its capital in Samaria), Judah (the Southern Kingdom, with its capital in Jerusalem) and Syria (with its capital in Damascus).  They explicitly worship other gods and are routinely at war with the Israelites (and Judeans), as chapter 5 (see later in the passage too) makes clear.  Given this reality...
* God still is soverign over their armies (2 Kings 5:1)
* God still is willing to hear their soliders - Namaan
* God is willing to forgive one of their army members for attending worship of another God because his job requires it. (2 Kings 5:18)

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Joshua 24:1-15

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary, Year 1 (Most recently Oct 12, 2014)
Summary:  I found the subsequent verses (16-24) just as, if not more, fascinating.  Joshua does not simply offer them the promises, but also the consequences and challenges of following God.  Do we do the same in our preaching?  This text challenges me:  Do I preach the consequences of not serving the Lord as much as I preach the benefits of serving him? 

But if this is reading too far ahead, the preaching challenge of this text remains:  Can you preach the necessity of worshipping the Lord without preaching decision theology?

More practically:  What are the other gods out there today?  Who are the gods of old and the gods of the new?

 ירא ("yarah" meaning "fear", 24:13)  This word is translated as fear, revere and obey in various translations.  How we translate this word?  This linguistic question rests on a theological question:  what does it mean to fear the Lord?  We are back in the Ten Commandments and Luther's explanation of the first commandment:  "We are to fear, love and trust God above all things."

Fear could be understood more in terms of reverence -- be in awe of the Lord!  I think this is something that we need to preach and inculcate in our parishoners.  We often, post-enlightment, reduce the miraculous nature of God.  God still does wonders and the church must proclaim this. 

However, in vs. 20 Joshua suggests that not worshipping God has extremely negative consequences, including punishment by God.  More than respectful awe is meant by the word "fear" here.  As a pastor, I see people all the time motivated by their fears:  fears of being alone, fears of being scorned, rejected, poor, dead, the list goes on.  I discover that people are often profoundly motivated by their fears.  When we fear God, his consequences, his judgment above all things, in this and I would argue in this alone, do we find true freedom.   What we fear will be our God.

עבד ("ayved", "serve, worship or be slave", 24:13) This verb shows up throughout the Exodus narrative.  Who will the people serve?  Pharaoh or the Lord?  It is interesting that all these words are related:  serve, be slave, worship.  To worship is to serve, even be slave to; there is not thought of worship that does not entail obedience.

The Exodus narrative is done, but as the people enter the promise land, at stake is who the people will worship.  Before it was Pharaoh; but now their options are the gods of old or the gods of the new.  This reminds us that a) there will always be alternatives to worship of God; b) we will always be worshipping some god or another.  Atheism is not really possible.

רע ("rah" meaning "evil", 24:15)  There is a great expression here, "If it is evil in your sight to worship the Lord."  For some, worship of the Lord will be unacceptable, even among God's people.

בחר ("bakhar" meaning "chose", 24:15)  It is interesting that the people cannot choose the Lord.  They can only choose to worship other gods.  Even when Joshua declares his loyalty (seemingly a passage that gives evidence to decision theology), the Bible still does not want to say that we can choose God.  We have free will -- to turn away, but that is it.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Exodus 20 (10 Commandments)

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary, year 1 (Most recently on Oct 5, 2014)

"Ten Commandments":  This is not in the Hebrew.  It simply begins, "God spoke these words."

אנכי ("anocki", meaning "I", 20.2)  The first word of the ten commandments have nothing to do with rules, but God affirming his role as their savior and Lord.

לא ("lo", meaning "no", 20.3 and throughout the section)  This form of no means "really, do not."  Hebrew has another word for "no" in the case of most negative prohibitions; la is a supremely strong prohibition, almost could read:  "You will not take other Gods."

חסד ("khased", meaning "lovingkindness", 20.6)  This word means more than simply love as an emotion.  It is combined with the verb, עשה, which means "do."  Khased is the long-standing, faithful love of God that manifests itself in continued acts of generosity.  The question for interpretation is whether khased here refers only to God's love to Israel in this particular covenant (ie, God will loyal if you are loyal).  The evidence for Khased referring only to God's love in terms of this covenant stems from research on ancient convenants between dieties, kings and people.  However, Exodus 34 describes God's khased (the word is in Ex 34.6) after the apostasis.  This reveals that God's love, while bound in a covenant, is greater than the covenant.  Furthermore, I think it is fair to make the argument that the 10 commandments grow out of God's khased for the whole world, not just Israel.

רצח ("rasah", meaning "kill", 20.13)  Does this word mean murder or kill?  NET Bible note matches well with the TWOT bible on this:  "Refers to the premeditated or accidental taking of the life of another human being; it includes any unauthorized killing (it is used for the punishment of a murderer, but that would not be included in the prohibition). This commandment teaches the sanctity of all human life."

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Exodus 14:10-29 (Crossing the red sea)

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary, Year 1 (Most recently Sept 29, 2014).

For those on the NL:  I struggle a great deal with this text, because the innocent seem to suffer.  Perhaps, never really suffering oppression, I do not understand the harsh realities that undergird this text (escape from slavery and destruction of the military that allows for the system).  Here the Word of the Lord teaches me that some systems are so horrifically out of line with God's intentions that they will be destroyed, not simply by human weapons, but by God. 
If this is altogether too much, you can focus the fact that the Israelites are not so much told to be still, but to be quiet.  Sometimes, we need to be very quiet to see God at work!

ילחם from לחם   ("lakham", "fight", 14.4):  The word here means fight; in the niphil form (which it is here), it means wage war.  The "Lord Sabboth" (YHWH) is a God willing to fight for his people.

לכם("lakem"; two words, "to you all"; 14.4): God is not telling a particular individual to stay still, but the whole nation.  He will fight for all the people, the good, the bad, the lame.  In fact, he is speaking to the people that were just complaining.  He will free all who were enslaved.

תחרישון from חרש ("hkarash"; "be silent"; 14.4)  This word is translated here as "still" but it also means "be silent."  I think the be silent is more relevant here because the Israelites have been complaining.  Its not about "letting go" but "shutting up" ;-)
Here are some other uses of this verb: 
Esther 4:14 For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father's family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this."
Job 33:33 If not, listen to me; be silent, and I will teach you wisdom.
1 Samuel 7:8 The people of Israel said to Samuel, "Do not be silent in crying out to the LORD our God for us, and pray that he may save us from the hand of the Philistines."

רוח  ("ruach", "spirit"/"wind"; 14:21)  When I first read vs 21, I was thinking a lot of Genesis 1:  The Spirit moving; God dividing things; dry land appearing.  As it turns out, none of the words really match up.  Divide and dry land are different words than in Genesis 1.  Spirit here really means east wind...but...but...it is worth pointing out that the Spirit must be sent to engage against the forces of chaos and death.  I don't think one really stretches the Hebrew or theological narrative to say that the Exodus recalls, if not relives, the creation story of a God whose Spirit moves against chaos to create life.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Genesis 39:1-23 (Joseph in prison)

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary, Year 1 (most recently Sept 21, 2014).

Summary:  This snippet from Joseph is rather interesting because we'd probably be more likely to focus on the powerful scenes of reconciliation at the end of the story.  This particular chapter gives one large room to preach "social justice" sermons (injustice toward minorities) or "prosperity gospel" (work hard, endure and God will bless you and those around you).   I am still wrestling with the idea of a God who causes us to prosper.  I wonder if my generally liberal protestant background, which is so nervous about prosperity Gospel, undercuts a healthy understanding of God's blessings in our lives.

סלח ("saleakh", "thrive", 39:2, 3, 23)  Last week in the narrative lectionary we focused on blessing.  This week we come upon the word "thrive."  What does it mean to thrive?  Once again, we cannot deny the "worldly" aspect of God's presence in this world.  Joseph (and his masters) gain health and wealth through his work. 

Two wrinkles:  Perhaps this idea of thriving is an Old Testament way of saying bear fruit.  This verb also appears in
Psalm 1:3 They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.
Whenever their is fruit, there is service to the neighbor because fruit doesn't do the tree itself any good.

Second, life isn't so simple that those who believe in God, only good comes to them.  In fact, the story of Joseph indicates the opposite -- that a life in God, even a thriving life, includes set backs!Psalm 37:7 Be still before the LORD, and wait patiently for him; do not fret over those who prosper in their way, over those who carry out evil devices.
Proverbs 28:13 No one who conceals transgressions will prosper, but one who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.

עבד ("ayved", "servant, slave", 39:17, 19)  This word of slave will take on huge importance in the book of Exodus.  For now, I wanted to point out that Joseph is never called a "slave" until he is punished.  Everyone benefits from him and then he is showed no mercy.  I think this may be a more common feeling/experience of people outside the dominant social group.  A moral minority is uplifted, promoted and praised...one might even think that one has achieved a modicum of acceptance.  Then there is trouble; then there is name calling, no due process, imprisonment.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Genesis 6:16-22; 9:8-15

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary, Year 1 (Most recently Sept 5, 2015)
Summary:   This is a story that many "modern" people have trouble accessing.  It is a hard text for us as a pastors too.  I think the first connection point is found before this NL pericope begins, in vss 5-11, where God declares the world filled with violence.  No one living in 2014 should find it hard to imagine God's anger over the violence plaguing the world.  I don't think we need to walk away from God's fierce disappointment within this story.  This is the human condition.  Surprisingly God's wrath is absent, at least in words, from this story.  That is because God's wrath is connected with his abandonment.  This story is not about an angry God who leaves people to their own devices, but intervenes by destroying in order to bring about life.

What I wrestle with in this story is not simply the violence done by God, but the question of how eschatological to go with my sermon.  The story can be seen in light of Christ's ministry (teaching us the way of non-violence), Christ's death and resurrection (he creates a new non-violent humanity), but ultimately, Christ's next coming (he brings about a non-violent world.

I also wonder if a more personal appraoch is helpful, in that God is willing to kill us -- that within us which is hostile to him -- to make us alive.

Lastly, I would recommend reading the other flood narratives, especially the Epic of Gilgamesh.  It becomes quite clear our God is very different from other deities.

באה ("bo" meaning 'Go in':  6:17,18, 19):  The word, like many Hebrew words, can have a variety of meanings, ranging from "go in" to "come in" to even "bring in."  God "goes into"/"brings" the water; humans and the animals, "Go into" and are "brought into" the ark.  This is an interesting way of thinking about God's activity in Baptism, the ark of salvation (1 Peter); God destroys us in the water, but brings us home in the ark!

כל ("col" meaning 'all', repeatedly):  This word means all.  It is used throughout this section.  God's care is for ALL of creation, and one could argue, for ALL of humanity, in that we need to learn how be reborn to be less violent.

אות ("ot" meaning 'sign', 9:12)  God knows we need a sign, not just a covenant.  As the song said, "I need a sign!"

זכר ("zocar" meaning 'remember', 9:15)  The question here is -- why does God need to remember?  Perhaps linguistically we can get around this.  This verb is in the qal perfect, which means it is to be read as as imperfect, meaning incomplete action.  This can refer to future action or present on-going action.  This actually makes sense because the God of the whole heavens and earth is always shining clouds on the earth -- there is always a rainbow from God's perspective!  God is always remembering his covenant with us.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

1 John 1:1-2:2

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary Summer readings (most recently 2014).  It also occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary Easter (Year B) readings.

Separate note:  I had so much commentary, I divided this up into two posts:  1 John 1:1-4 and this post.

Summary:  This verse has a great verse (1 John 1:9) within some much more difficult verses about blood and sacrifice.  One could try to unpack the atonement theories of 1 John based on OT metaphors.  I think an easier and more helpful way is to think less about how the cross/blood/death actually accomplish this end and more what they actually accomplish.  I say this not simply because this is easier, but because I think 1 John is a study, not in the mechanics of justification, but in what forgiveness in Jesus offers us:  light, fellowship, and love.  These are juxtaposted, not with hell and wrath, but with darkness, isolation and fear, something that the people in my congregation experience all the time.

κοινωνια ("fellowship", 1.6)  This word has an intense meaning in the New Testament.  It ranges from
-  sharings of money (2 Cor 9:13; Romans 15:26; Hebrews 13:16)
-  sharings of a common spirit (2 Cor 13:13 original Trinitarian formula; Philippians 2:1)
-  sharings of Christ and his suffering (Philippians 3:10; 1 Cor 10:16)

It is a reminder that fellowship is not a diluted term in this passage or anywhere in the New Testament.  A look at the related noun κοινωνος (partner) reveals something similar.

αιμα ("blood"; think "hema" like "hematology"; 1.7)  The blood cleanses us from sin.  This is a tough one to wrap our minds around because we think of blood as very "dirty", certain not sterile and definitely not cleansing.  Is there a way to recover this ancient way of thinking of blood?

ινα ("so that", 1:9)  I remember back in Seminary one of my professors made a very, very big deal about how to translate this word.  The basic argument in this verse is that ινα cannot be translated, "with the result" and must be translated, "for the purpose of."  I do not think that argument is instructive here because there isn't a difference in God's purposes and God's results when it comes to forgiveness of the sinner.

In verses 2:1-2, Jesus is called three titles:
δικαινος ("righteous one", 2.1)  This is simply a good title for Jesus.  The question is, what does Jesus righteousness mean for you and for me?

παρακλετος ("advocate", 2.1) How Jesus and the Spirit are both called "advocates" are tough.  Interestingly, in the Gospel of John, when Jesus promises the advocate, John 14:16, he promises ANOTHER advocate, suggesting that he already was an advocate for us.

In the Gospel of John, the advocate seems more like a prayer partner, counseling us through sufferings.  In this case, the idea almost seems more legalistic, like one who is defending us before God's judgment.  Interestingly though, God's wrath is never mentioned in 1 John.  Judgment exists, but there isn't necessary a hell.  Simply darkness, isolation and fear.  Jesus seems to be reconciling us, in spite of our sins, back to the Father, back to light, back to fellowship and back to love.

ιλασμος ("atonement", 2:2) Discussing the entire meaning of atonement is well, well beyond the meaning of this passage here.  But I want to point out that this word here is the one connected to Leviticus, Romans.  Furthermore, as BDAG says about this word, "The unique feature relative to Gr-Rom usage is the initiative taken by God to effect removal of impediments to a relationship with God's self." ιλαστηριον definition.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

1 John 1:1-4

This passage is part of the 1 John 1:1-2:2 readings found in the Narrative Lectionary Summer readings (most recently 2014).  It also occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary Easter (Year B) readings.  I had so much commentary, I divided this up into two posts:  1 John 1:5-2:2 and this post.

Summary:  I realize its not entirely the purpose of 1 John 1, but the events in my congregation are really making me ask myself, in light of this passage:  What is of fundamental importance that I want to pass it along to my children?  What creates community in our family?  What creates joy in me and my wife to pass this along to our children?  What is the word of Life I want them to know?

Key words/concepts
ακουω, οραω, θεαομαι, ψηλαφαω (1 John 1:1)  The verb 'to hear' (ακουω) and 'to understand/see' (οραω) are both in the perfect, while 'to see' (θεαομαι) and 'to touch' (ψηλαφαω) are in the aorist. Again, an aorist tense suggests a one time event; a perfect tense has the connotation of a past action that creates an on-going and present status.  John (or the writer from the Johannine community), by using these tenses, suggests that although the original congregation can no longer touch or see Jesus because of his ascension, but the reality of hearing and understanding the word of God remains. This perhaps is not simply true of the original congregation, but us as well. We leave Sunday having seen and even touched Jesus in the bread and wine, but as we head out, we still are in the state of hearing and understanding.

ειμι ("to be", 1.2)   In both 1.1 and 1.2, the verb 'eimi' (to be) is used in the imperfect tense. In Greek, there really is no aorist tense of 'eimi,' the 'to be' verb. (which if you stop and think, makes a lot of sense). In both cases, the verb is translated with the English aorist form of the to be verb: "was." What is probably a more helpful translation is not the static "was" but an imperfect "was being" or "was and continues to be" or "has been"  In short, the English "was" makes it sound like the event of the Word being with the Father or the Word being from the beginning is over; the imperfect tense in the Greek suggests that that the Word continues to be with the Father and continues to be from the beginning.

απαγγελλω, μαρτυρεω, εχω, γραφω (1.3-1.4) The only verbs so far in the present tense are απαγγελλω (to proclaim), μαρτυρεω (to witness), and εχω (have + fellowship), and γραφω (to write), all of our actions.

εφανερωθη (1.2) The only God verb so far is "appear" (phanero-oo); always in the aorist.

λογος του ζωης (word of life, 1.1).  I was surprised to find that there was only one other place in the Bible where we find this phrase, Word of Life:  Philippians 2:16.  1 Peter 1:23 has a similar phrase, "living word of God" but truly "Word of Life" is only found twice.  Ponder what that means if anything. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Pentecost (Acts 2:1-11)

I want to redirect to my last year's post

In a nut shell, I find the church of Acts 1 to be very common:  A deeply loving and truly faithful community that doesn't outreach.  How can the Spirit move us from Acts 1 to Acts 2?  How can we as leaders be involved in this process?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Lutheran worship really has changed

I am preaching off the lectionary this week so I thought I would share some reflections on worship:

To celebrate our 275th anniversary as a congregation, we have been worshipping with elements from previous hymnals this Easter season.  As we’ve done this, I have been struck by how much worship has changed, especially over the past two generations.  This surprised me because I consider our church relatively traditional.  I have a great deal more sympathy for those of an older generation, who grew up using the Black and Red book, and who may struggle with elements in our worship service today.  Consider how the following elements of worship have undergone changes.

B & R bookToday
InstrumentExclusively organOrgan, but also piano, drums and even guitar
HymnsOften German chorales with 4-part harmonyMany Methodist/"American" hymns, but global hymns often written for unison singing
BaptismMainly infantsPeople of all ages; appears more frequently in lectionary and liturgy
Confession and ForgivenessIntense rite with conditional absolutionUnconditional absolution; perhaps no C&F, perhaps Thanksgiving for Baptism instead
Holy CommunionHandful of times per year; for confirmandsEvery week; for children, some congregations Baptism optional
Participation by lay people
Role of pastorPastor reads, prayers and preachesNumber of people involved in almost every aspect of worship
Role of choirChoir leads congregation;
primary way to be involved
One of many ways to be involved in worship
VolumeSilence permeates worship, including before serviceSocial aspect of church emphasized, e.g., Passing of the Peace
ScriptStick to what is written in worship bookPastors, even lay people, more likely to deviate from Rubric/Script, or not even use one
PietyInward and repentantTherapeutic and Praise

Perhaps when commenting on piety, I come too close to offering my own diagnosis here instead of simply laying out the facts.  We cannot turn back time and I am not suggesting this.  Yet as we move forward in our congregation (and likely others as well), it is really helpful to remember that long time members of this (and other congregations) have experienced significant shifts in their lifetime of how God is worshiped in our sanctuary.  We may still have a traditional worship, but it is markedly different than the traditional worship of 1960.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

John 12:12-27

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary for Palm Sunday.  It encompasses another RCL passage, John 12:20-33.  You can find my commentary for that, here.

A brief comment here on the remainder of the passage, John 12:12-19; I find two things worth sharing.
ωσαννα:  From the NET Bible:
"The expression hosanna, (literally in Hebrew, "O Lord, save") in the quotation from Ps 118:25-26 was probably by this time a familiar liturgical expression of praise, on the order of "Hail to the king," although both the underlying Aramaic and Hebrew expressions meant "O Lord, save us." As in Mark 11:9 the introductory hosanna, is followed by the words of Ps 118:25, "blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord."  ... In words familiar to every Jew, the author is indicating that at this point every messianic expectation is now at the point of realization. It is clear from the words of the psalm shouted by the crowd that Jesus is being proclaimed as messianic king. See E. Lohse, TDNT 9:682-84."

This leads me to wonder about Messianic expectations.  The text of Zechariah 9:9 is really indicative of the expectations:  After a victorious military campaign, the Messiah will enter in an era of peace, worship of God and human flourishing.  You could say this happens in the cross.  But what a bloody battle it was...

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

John 19:1-16a

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary, Year 4, Lenten cycle.  Most recently April 6, 2014.

Summary:  This text drips with irony.  The irony is intended to showcase the moral bankruptcy of the Jewish and Roman leaders, if not ultimately, the entire human race.  Pondering this text forces one to ask:  "Who are we anyway?"

ανθροπος ("human", 19:5)  The classic Latin phrase:  Ecce homo (behold the man) comes from here.  This is a sad image of "the human"; beaten and tortured, wearing his mock royal clothing.  Pilate and John seem to make a statement here about the human condition.  Who are we anyway?

πορφυρουν ("purple", 19:2).  Purple is the royal color; this exclusive dye came from snails, whose production and trade were controlled by the pheonicians.  Ironically, the very traders wore the snail down to virtual/actual extinction!  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoenicia  Again, who are we anyway?

εμαστιγωσεν ("flog", 19:1)  The Greek leaves two questions here.  First, whether Pilate himself actually did the beating (which the grammar suggests but would have been inconceivable historically).  Second, how severe was the beating?  The Vulgate, a 4th century translation, does not translate this verb in the most severe sense, although the NET suggests this should be done:
"This severe flogging was not administered by Pilate himself but his officers, who took Jesus at Pilate's order and scourged him. The author's choice of wording here may constitute an allusion to Isah 50:6, "I gave my back to those who scourge me." Three forms of corporal punishment were employed by the Romans, in increasing degree of severity: (1) fustigatio (beating), (2) flagellatio (flogging), and (3) verberatio (severe flogging, scourging). The first could be on occasion a punishment in itself, but the more severe forms were part of the capital sentence as a prelude to crucifixion. The most severe, verberatio, is what is indicated here by the Greek verb translated flogged severely (mastigo,w, mastigooÒ). People died on occasion while being flogged this way; frequently it was severe enough to rip a person's body open or cut muscle and sinew to the bone. It was carried out with a whip that had fragments of bone or pieces of metal bound into the tips."
εποιησεν ("make", 19:6) The Greek literally reads, "Because he made himself into a son of God."  Most translators take this to mean "claimed" or made in the "fashioned" sense.  But again, what an ironic assertion:  No one can make themselves into a son of God.  This comes from above as Jesus points out!

Λιθοστρωτον and γαββαθα ("lithostroton" and "gabbatha", 19:13)  First, a side note.  I find Biblical archeology fascinating because everyone is always trying to prove eveyone else wrong about what they have discovered or not.  It may be that such an insertion into John's Gospel offers a very late dating of John's Gospel.  But my sense is that such debates don't ever get resolved.

Anyway, what is interesting here is that the Greek and Hebrew (or really Aramaic) actually don't match up.  The word gabbatha speaks about the location, but Λιθοστρωτον describes the place as covered with in-laid stones.  In short, a tessellated floor.  Jesus, bloodied, yet innocent, is sentenced on a beautiful stone covered floor.

Καισαρα ("Caesar", 19:12)  For the Jews at this particular juncture to declare, "We have no king besides Caesar" is absurd.  The LORD is King.  This is irony to the point of absurdity.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

John 18:28-40

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary Year 4 Lenten Cycle.
Summary:  Pilate's character in the Gospel of John is complex.  It seems that John wants to drive home the point that not even Pilate is in control of the situation, but only Jesus.  In John's Gospel, Jesus is never the one on trial; humanity is.  Pilate's interview haunts us with the question:  What is truth?  The answer is obviously Jesus, but what does that mean?  And yes, our answer should be slightly offensive.  It got Jesus killed; it should at least get us in a little trouble.

μαρτυρεω ("testify", literally martyr, vs 18:37)  This word means to give a witness, like in court.  Jesus takes his place as the first Christian martyr, one who will be killed for the truth.  So many Christians died giving their witness that the word's meaning changed.

βασιλευς ("king", vs. 18:33,37)  BDAG define this as "One who rules as possessor of the highest office in a political realm."  Already this shows Pilate considers the whole trial as a sham.  Could Pilate really execute the king of the Jews?   Obviously not.

κοσμος ("world", literally cosmos, vs 18:37)  Just a reminder:  God loves the world, but the world doesn't love back:
Throughout the Gospel of John, the world doesn't like God. It doesn't understand God (1:10); it doesn't give like God (14:27) ; in fact, it hates God (7:7). Yet God loves it still.

αληθεια ("truth", vs 18:37,38)  BDAG writes, "truth is a favorite word of the Johannine literature" and play a major role in it.
John 17:17 God's word is truth
John 14:6 Jesus is the truth
John 16:13 Spirit leads to truth
John 8:32 Truth sets on free

Βαραββας ("Barabbas", vs. 40)  This word literally means "Son of the Father."  Quite an irony that "Son of the father" is chosen and its not Jesus!  This also picks up on the irony that the Jewish leaders are concerned about ritual purity as they hand Jesus over to death (18:28)

ληστης ("thief", vs. 40)  The word means robber or "brigand" (a lovely word, right!).  But Josephus, a Jewish historian writing during this time, always uses this word to mean social bandit/revolutionary.  It clearly can mean this too.  If you totally cannot focus on your sermon, you can read about what Josephus says about Jesus here:

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

John 18:12-27

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary, Year 4 Lenten cycle, most recently March 23, 2015
The RCL text for this week, focusing on the woman at the well, may be found here:

Summary:  This is a haunting and challenging passage for all of us.  Jesus is being smacked in the face while Peter warms himself by a fire, denying Jesus.  There is much law in this passage:  How do we deny his lordship in our lives?  But there is much Gospel too -- Jesus redeems Peter, in fact, he recreates the scene for Peter in John 21.

Some key words
η παιδισκη η θυρωρος ("servant girl, the gate keeper," 18:17)  John sets up an amazing juxtaposition here.  Peter is asked a question by a simple peasant child and he offers denial.  Jesus is interrogated by the chief priest's father in law, surrounded by armed men.   Even after having his face slapped, Jesus remains defiant; Peter is scared before any violence has been enacted.  Ironically, Jesus tells them to ask those who have heard his words to serve as a witness (21:9).  Peter is the first witness and fails...at least this time.

ανθρακια  ("anthracite coal," 18).  This minor detail is set beautifully within John's Gospel.  Where will Peter be forgiven?  At the breakfast coal fire (same word; the ONLY other time it appears in the whole Bible).  Jesus goes right to the spot of Peter's denial to forgive Peter.  He recreates the scene to forgive and redeem Peter!

ουκ ειμι ("I am not", 18:17)  Peter twice says "I am not."  This can be part of the statement "I am not a disciple."  But existentially, Peter is saying something even more.  He is nothing.  When push comes to shove, he is nothing.  He has denied Christ and in doing so, has denied himself of everything.  Of course he is cold.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

John 13:1-17

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary Year 4 Lenten Cycle, most recently on Mar 16, 2014.

Summary for John 13:1-17:  In this passage, Jesus asserts himself as a moral example and THE teacher, concluding with a challenging 'if' statement about blessings.  Perhaps this law-filled message is a good one to hear during Lent -- our journey to the cross is not simply one of mild self-imposed discomfort.  Rather, it is the difficult work of dealing with, if not healing, the sins of others in a caring manner.  Admittedly, there is plenty of Gospel too, revealed in the extent of Christ's love for us in both the foot-washing and the foreshadowing of the cross.  And yes, there's living water once again.

As I ponder this text within the context of Lent, I see the powerful interplay between faith, humilty and grace at work.   We will not be able to serve others, certainly not blessed by it, until we become aware of grace, of Jesus Christ and his tremendous self-emptying love.  I believe that only in acts of having our feet washed -- realizing that Jesus knows our sins, and still loves us and cares for us -- are we made into disciples.  We cannot "accept" Jesus, but we learn to confess him as teacher and Lord as we encounter him in times of weakness and sin.

Key words
εις τελος  ("completely", 13:1)  Jesus hear says he will love the disciples "to the end," literally.  It means more naturally "completely" but translators wanted to leave in this connection to Jesus words from the cross, "it is finished."  If they really wanted to do that though, they should have translated this passage as "He loved them to the finish."  A gift to my methodist friends:  The phrase could also mean "into fullness" or "into perfection." (Love divine anyone!!)

τιθησιν  (from τιθημι, "to place or lay down". 13:4)  In John chapter 10, Jesus declared he is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep.  Here Jesus lays down his garments.  I think this suggests his act of food washing is the beginning of his laying down his life for his disciples.  (Indeed 13:3 gives the context for Jesus' actions)

βαλλω  ("throw", 13:2 and 5).  In vs 2, this verb appears in a brutal form:  genitive perfect participle!  The point is that the devil throws something into Judas' heart, namely greed, fear and hatred.  Jesus, on the other hand, throws water into a basin.  Water to cleanse, water to heal and water to make whole.

ο διδασκαλος ο κυριος ("THE teacher THE lord"  13:13,14)  Every translator drops the article from both versus.  Jesus is not just a teacher or a lord, but THE teacher and THE lord.  This alone is worth preaching on.

ει and εαν (if, 13:17)  These words are best translated as "if."  Both are used in John 13:17
ει you understand, you are blessed εαν you do these things.
The first ει means more "since" than "if" when it is paired with an indicative verb, as it is in this case.  This is why the NIV gets it right by translating this "Now that you know these things"
εαν is more hypothetical and demands the subjunctive, as it is in this case. 
But this if could also be translated as "when"; see John 11:10; John 12:32.
In short, the sentence could read:
"Since you understand this, you are blessed when you do these things."

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

John 7:37-52

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary, Year 4, Lenten cycle, most recently Feb 23, 2014.

There are a number of preaching directions that examination of this text offers.  I think the biggest however is not simply a Greek work, but a Hebrew festival, namely, the feast of Tabernacles.  Jesus turns it all around!

Key words (by key I mean I found them interesting):
κοιλια ("stomach" or "womb" 7:38)  Elsewhere in John and throughout the Gospels/Acts, this word refers to womb.  (See John 3:4 and the first encounter with Nicodemeus or Luke 1:41).  In this case, it cannot be womb because Jesus isn't just talking about women; in fact, the possessive adjective here is "his"; "his womb" doesn't make sense.  But what does make sense is "belly", certainly not heart (NRSV).  This however, doesn't sound so good:  "Out of a believer's gut will come living waters."  But there might be something there to preach on!

χριστος ("Christ", 7:41)  Just a simple reminder that messiah in Hebrew = christ in Greek = anointed in English.  Calling Jesus the Christ is a huge confession of faith.  But it is also an interesting play on cultures and languages, where "Messiah Joshua" becomes "Jesus Christ" if not "Joshua Christ" a mismash of cultural terms, which is happening again and again in John's Gospel.

σχισμα ("schism"; 7:43)  Alas,  there is division because of Christ.  Always was and will be until Jesus comes again.  See note on feast here

εορτη ("feast"; 7:37).  This term appears a great deal in John's Gospel.  John 2:23  Feast of Passover
John 5:1  Feast, perhaps Pentecost
John 6:4  Passover
John 7:2  Tabernalces
John 10:22 Hannakah
John 11+ Final passover of Jesus

In John 7, the focus is on the tabernacle.  This concluded, on the last and great day, with a procession involving the proclamation of Psalm 118:25
"Save us, we beseech you, O LORD! O LORD, we beseech you, give us success!"

This perhaps gets at the heart of the division around Jesus.  What is success?  What do we want Jesus for?  What do we want for a Messiah?

A number of other preaching directions also come about reflecting on what else is happening during this festival:

During Sukkot, two important ceremonies took place. The Hebrew people carried torches around the temple, illuminating bright candelabrum along the walls of the temple to demonstrate that the Messiah would be a light to the Gentiles. Also, the priest would draw water from the pool of Siloam and carry it to the temple where it was poured into a silver basin beside the altar. The priest would call upon the Lord to provide heavenly water in the form of rain for their supply. During this ceremony the people looked forward to the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. Some records reference the day spoken of by the prophet Joel.
In the New Testament, Jesus attended the Feast of Tabernacles and spoke these amazing words on the last and greatest day of the Feast: "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." (John 7:37-38 NIV) The next morning, while the torches were still burning Jesus said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (John 8:12 NIV)

Textual criticism:
The actual reading of John 7:39 regarding the "coming" or "existenance" of the Spirit is really interesting.  There are three to four common ways the ancient texts read:
"the spirit was not yet"
"the Holy Spirit was not yet"
"the Holy Spirit was not yet upon the them"
"the Holy Spirit was not yet given"
The reading "the spirit was not yet" has the best internal evidence, but a number of the manuscripts line up behind the final two readings.  Many of the readings have corrections suggesting that many were not comfortable with the original!  Therefore, I agree with the NET assessment (which uses the "not yet given") translation
"Although only B and a handful of other NT MSS supply the participle dedome,non (dedomenon), this is followed in the translation to avoid misunderstanding by the modern English reader that prior to this time the Spirit did not exist. John's phrase is expressed from a human standpoint and has nothing to do with the preexistence of the third Person of the Godhead."

Back to me:  In John 1, the Spirit is already existing (John the Baptist sees it).  So I don't think we can really argue that the Spirit doesn't exist in John's Gospel before the resurrection.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

John 6:35-59

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary, Year 4, Lenten cycle, most recently Feb 16, 2014.

Here is a link to another John 6 post on the bread of life:
The themes of John 6 manifest themselves in every portion of the chapter.  This conclusion just drives home a few points, again, stated in the rest of the chapter (if not the whole book!).  A few ideas for sermons:

- eternal life is a present (its a gift):
        Jesus says that he will give διδωμι (6:51) the bread of life.  Everlasting life is a gift.

- eternal life is present
       The verb εχω ("have", 6:54) is in the present tense:  "The one who eats/drinks HAS eternally life CONTINUALLY" is how this passage should read.  There is a dimension of eternal life that includes the resurrection of the dead, but this is not when life begins.
       I think also worth dwelling on here is that the eternal life comes through the flesh and blood, the bread and the wine.  Jesus uses earthly things, even broken things, to give eternal life.  To get to eternal life, we've got to get into earthly life, to put it another way.  Much to ponder and many directions here for a sermon!

- eternal life is a presence
        Jesus says that those who eat μενω ("abide", 6:56) in him.  This is a key theme in the Gospel of John, in fact, one of the opening questions -- where are you abiding? (John 1:38).  Eteneral life is the same thing as staying with Jesus.  So what does eternal life look like?  Well, it looks/feels like that amazing feeling of knowing that we are in the presence of God.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

John 4:46-52

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary, Year 4, Lenten cycle, most recently Feb 9, 2014.

Summary:  Did the faith produce the healing?  Well, the Greek suggests that belief in Jesus' word only comes after the boy has been healed.  In this way, the word produced both the healing and the faith.  On the otherhand, the father demonstrates his faith by going to Jesus in the first place.  I don't think this story solves this age old conundrum.  I don't think it is meant to be solved.  What I find more interesting is that Jesus never proclaims the son healed; rather he says the son is alive.  I think there are many cases where are ministry isn't about offering people the healing they want, but giving them life, amid grief and illness.

Lastly, I cannot figure out why "go down" appears three times in this passage.

Key words:

βασιλικος ("royal", 4.46)  This adjective is related to the word for king.  The NET Bible claims this official must have been related to or working for King Herod.  The suggests that the person going to Jesus is willing to engage in risky business.  While Herod has not set out against Jesus, Jesus has already upset the temple in Jerusalem and shortly will have people coming after him to kill him.

ζη ("live", 4:50, 51, 53, present tense for of ζαω)  I don't know how the translators mess this one up.  Every single time the verb is in the present tense:  You son is alive.  There is nothing future about it.  Jesus says and it is so.  This is really important because it shows that the healing is not based on the faith of the person.  When is the healing accomplished.  When Jesus says so.  Why?  This question is not answered here.

ηρωτα ("ask" imperfect form of ερωταω, 4:47)  The man continually is asking for Jesus help here; a sign of faith or despiration?

ιασηται ("heal" aorist form of ιαομαι, 4:47)  This verb is not as common as I expected in the Gospels, a few times here and there, mostly in Luke and only once in Mark.  It comes into English as psychiatry. I think it is a deep question:  Is it our mission, or Jesus' mission, to offer healing?  Healing is almost always thrust upon Jesus, the only exception being his command that the disciples go and heal (Luke 9.2).  Even here it comes after the proclamation of the Word.  To put it another way, healing (and the sick) will come with the proclamation of the Word.  The words intnetion is not healing as we see it, but life.  I think this opens up more doors -- what is living?  How can be sick still have life?  In fact, the text next says he was healed of all his problems, just that the fever left him, he was better and he was living.

πιστευω ("believe", throughout this section, including 4:50)  This verb means trusting.  In this case, trust doesn't produce following Jesus, it creates a situation in which someone can walk away from Jesus.  Again, most times we think of trust as creating a situation of moving closer to Jesus, but in this case, the faith creates a situation of letting go, letting go of his anxiety about his son, letting go of his need to be next to Jesus.

καταβαινω ("come down," 4:47,49, 51)  Okay, I cannot figure it out.  This word appears three times in this story.  It appears big time in John 6 (the true bread from heaven).  And then it stops.  It is as if the incarnation reaches its high point in John's Holy Communion story (chapter 6) and then he is done going down.  I'd like some more thoughts on this.