Monday, July 11, 2016

Genesis 18:1-15 (Genesis 18:1-10a)

This passage is found in the RCL , Year C, most recently in the summer of 2016.  In this case, it is Genesis 18:1-10a
This passage is found in the Narrative Lectionary Year 2 (Most recently: Sept 20, 2015). 
Summary:  Right after the beautiful image of Adam and Eve in the garden, we get a glimpse of real families and the problems:  infertility, if not infidelity and all sorts of sibling rivalries.  What is at stake?  Can God be a faithful God over and against human sin and weakness?  The answer here is clearly "yes."

איש ("ish", meaning "man", 18:2)  The word here does not mean angels, dieties or anything else divine.  It simply means man.  Which raises all sorts of interesting questions.  First, do the three men represent the Trinity?  This seems unlikely.  Why?  First, the two men separate themselves from the "LORD" (18:22).  This seems a strange behavior for the Trinity, supposedly united in an eternal dance of love.  Second, the two men are referred to as "messengers" (or angels in 19:1).  Even the New Testament refers to them as angels (Hebrews 13:2).  It seems strange to refer to the second and third person of the trinity as messengers/angels!

Side note on ancient languages:  In both Hebrew and Greek, the word for messenger (αγγελος or
מלאכים) is the same as the word for angel (think ev-angelical means good -message!).

Second, can God take a human form without the incarnation?  This seems really intriguing.  Was God merely appearing as a human...or was God actually taking human form...or is God always in human form?  Well, for starters, food was consumed (18:8).  Real food!  Real stomachs!  This was not just a ghost, but a living human being.  It seems possible that God could, in fact, take a human form...but this makes a strange case for the significant of Christmas.  The significance of Christmas is not that God became human but HOW God became human, namely as a virtual refugee born among animals and proclaimed to shepherds.

צחק ("saqaq", meaning "laugh", 18:12)  Simply play on words:  Sarah "laughs" (saqaq) and will name her child "he laughs" (Yitzhak, or anglicized, "Isaac")

היפלא ("hi-iphaleh" two words, meaning "if wonderful", 18:14)  Some translations take this in a negative way, "Is anything too difficult or too hard."  The root here is one of wonderful and miracle -- is anything too amazing, too miraculous for God.

TWOT offers a great insight into this word (really root word) about the fact that the miracle is not as important as the revealed fact that God is for (or against) us.

"Preponderantly both the verb and substantive refer to the acts of God, designating either cosmic wonders or historical achievements on behalf of Israel. that is, in the Bible the root pl° refers to things that are unusual, beyond human capabilities. As such, it awakens astonishment (pl°) in man. Thus, the "real importance of the miraculous for faith (is) -not in its material factuality, but in its evidential character... it is not, generally speaking, the especially abnormal character of the event which makes it a miracle; what strikes men forcibly is a clear impression of God's care or retribution within it" (Eichrodt). We may add that it is essential that the miracle is so abnormal as to be unexplainable except as showing God's care or retribution."

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Colossians 1:1-14

This passage is found in the RCL year C, last appearing in Summer 2016.

Summary:  This passage is unlikely see much preaching time because it is paired with the parable of the Good Samaritan!  But there is some interesting stuff in here, especially as one considers the rest of the letter.  Overall, Paul really expects the people who believe in Christ to live differently than the rest of society.  Living as a follower of Christ never was, is or will be easy.  But no fear, for Christ is the true hero, the one who has come to rescue us.

Key words:
αγιοις (hagios, meaning "saint", 1:2)  This word is a tough one to translate.  Literally it means "holy ones" or latinized, "saints."  In the original church, the believers viewed each other as saints.  Overtime, this term came to refer to a small number of Christians (the "marines" if you will).  But in the original church it was everyone.  So do we translate this as "saints" reminding people that they, as Christians, are saints, or do we avoid this word to avoid its every day meaning as a "1-in-1000 person who someone how rose above the rest of us."

ευχαριστουμεν (from ευχαριστω, "eucharistoo", meaning "thanksgiving", 1:3)  Just a quick reminder that our fancy Holy Communion term "Eucharist" meanings "thanksgiving."  It was used in the New Testament not simply to refer to the action of Jesus in Holy Communion (he gave thanks) but also to refer to any giving of thanks to God!

καρποφορουμενον (from "καρποφορεω", meaning "bear fruit", 1:6)  This summer's Biblical theme ought to be fruit.  Although we've left Galatians, Paul continues to talk about the idea of bearing fruit!

αξιος ("axios," meaning "worthy", 1:10)  Some scholars consider Colossians deutero-Pauline, in that Paul did not write it.  Typically such scholars really do not like the housevcodes at the end of the letter. I don't agree with this assessment; I think Colossians is very much like Paul; if not him, then someone who studied a great deal under Paul and who was him or herself brilliant and inspired wrote it.  But lest we think that worthiness is not a Pauline concept:
Philippians 1:27     Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ
Romans 16:2          So that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well.
1 Thessalonians 2:12    Encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.
See also Ephesians 4:1:    I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.

Some words on atonement and the work of Christ
The letter to the Colossians quickly shifts away from prayers for the believers and moves into a hymn of Christ's praise.  In this week's passage we read a few metaphors used to describe for the work of Christ:
- κληρου (from κληρος, "kleros" meaning "inheritance", 1:12)
We gain an inheritance in Christ.
- ερρυσατο (from ρυομαι, "hermai" meaning "rescue, 1:13)
Christ rescued us from darkness (literally the word is hero!)
- απολυτρωσιν (from απολυτρωσις, "apolytrosis" meaning "redemption, 1:14)
Christ redeemed us through forgiveness.

In some ways, these are all classic theological notions involve the Christ who suffers and then defeats death.  What new insights or perspectives might Colossians offer us?  It seems though that the redemption is not (or at least not primarily) from God's wrath, but rather the powers of sin.  Sin has a really power to captivate us.  This does put us before God's wrath (3:6), but this is not the real problem, rather sin is.  To put it another way, Colossians is not describing substitutionary atonement (where Jesus takes our place on the cross and therefore the punishment of our sins) and more of a synthetic atonement where Christ's death and resurrection have cause in us the death of the old and the rising of the new.

We need a hero.  Who has finally arrived!

Monday, July 4, 2016

Luke 10:25-37

This passage occurs in the RCL, Year C.  Most recently Summer of 2016.
Summary:  This is a classic passage that needs no complex exegesis to make it understandable.  One can tell it as a morality tale (we should be the Good Samaritan); or one go a Lutheran route (Christ is the Good Samaritan).  But if you want to try something else...A word I'd never caught before was the word for inn -- πανδοχειον -- literally all-are-welcome.  I find this a comforting image of the church -- a place where anyone and everyone comes to receive mercy and healing on the road of life.  (okay, okay, it is not a great image of repentance, but nonetheless, it is worth pondering:  why do people find comfort at a local bar/inn and not the church).

Other words:

σπλαγχνιζομαι ("splagchnizoma", meaning "compassion", 10.33)  This word means compassion in Greek; it comes from intestines.  To have compassion meant your guts were turned over.

ζωην (from ζωη "zooe" meaning life, 10.25)  In John's Gospel Jesus affirms that everlasting life is not something that begins after death, but begins here.  You can really see this in the Greek in his Gospel, where many of the tenses regarding everlasting life are in the present:  he who believes HAS everlasting life (John 3:36).  In this passage from Luke, Jesus also connects everlasting life with earthly life.  (Do this, Jesus says, and you will live.)  Jesus denies a distinction between everlasting life (the lawyers' question) and life.  To live with God is everlasting life, which begins here on earth.  However, Luke here connects them with moral action.  What does everlasting life look and feel like?  Like showing mercy.  I have no desire to drive a wedge between Luke and John or between faith and works here.  Simply, the everlasting life is the life in the new creation, where our faith transforms us into God's instruments of mercy.

πως ("poos" meaning "how", 10.26)  Jesus does not say, "What does the law say?"  Rather he says, "How do you read the law?"  A reminder that people can read the same laws in different ways!