Monday, November 27, 2017

Mark 13:24-37

This passage is for the Narrative Lectionary for March 13, 2016 (along with Mark 13:1-8)
It is also for Revised Common Lectionary for Advent 1, Year B, most recently Dec 3, 2017

Summary:  Check your 2nd coming baggage at the ticket counter and preach the text!

For those preaching on those during Advent:  This passage is a great passage for a culture swamped with Christmas chores.  Our focus should not be on to-do lists that come and go, but on Jesus Christ and his Word!

Otherwise:  I also think you can play around with the word authority and derive the mission of the church from Mark's Gospel:  While we await the coming of Christ in an age of idolatry masked as piety, we are to pray and teach prayer; cast out unclean spirits and heal people; we are to spread the Good News of repentance and forgiveness.

Key words:
γρηγορειτε ("watch out". 13:34, 35 and 37)  This word comes into English as "Gregory".  To note:  in the very next chapter the disciples will not be able to stay awake...

θλιψις ("suffering", "distress" or "tribulation";  13:24 and also 13:19)  This is hard word to translate.  "Suffering" has all sorts of baggage, both in the Bible and in our culture.  "Tribulation" can mean a particular thing to certain people.  As Wikipedia helpfully summaries:

In the futurist view of Christian eschatology, the Tribulation is a relatively short period of time where anyone who chose not to follow God before the Rapture and was left behind (according to Pre-Tribulation doctrine, not Mid- or Post-Tribulation teaching) will experience worldwide hardships, disasters, famine, war, pain, and suffering, which will wipe out more than 75% of all life on the earth before the Second Coming takes place.

I would translate it "distress" here.  But I want to focus on why.  Normally I believe in "canonical" translation, that is, help people see connections within the larger context of Scripture.  However, suffering and tribulation are such buzzwords that they distract from the immediate point of Jesus:  There will be an age of false messiahs and prophets who will claim to be saviors.  The great distress is living in an age where people turn away from the true worship to idolatry, the worst kind, where people call it Jesus but it is not.

Power:  There are three different words in this passage that relate to power.
αι δυναμεις (25):  When this word (coming directly into English as "dynamite") is in the plural, it means miracles or deeds of power.  In this case, it is translated "the powers," a logical translation, but strange use of the word!

δυναμεως (26):  Here the word is an adverb meaning powerfully

εξουσιαν (34):  Here the word means authority.  The man in the passage has conferred authority on his people.  It is worth noting that in spite of the fact that the end is coming, Jesus has still given us authority to do works.  In chapter 6 of Mark's Gospel, Jesus gives his disciples authority.  In that case, they were called to cast out unclean spirits, heal, evangelize and preach repentance.  In chapter 11 you might also argue that Jesus gives his disciples authority to pray, to teach and to forgive.  If you put these together, you come up with the mission of the church in Mark's Gospel:
While we await the coming of Christ in an age of idolatry masked as piety, we are to pray and teach prayer; cast out unclean spirits and heal people; we are to spread the Good News of repentance and forgiveness.

Grammar note one:  Why learning future participles is a waste of time
The construction of 13.25 is so odd.  The word for 'fall' here (from pimp-oo; πιμπω) is a present tense participle used with the a "to be" verb in the future tense. This construction (instead of a future participle) is a good lesson of why you should not waste any time learning future participles. They are so rare and even Greek speakers avoided them with other constructions, using the familiar English construction of:  "They will be falling"

Grammar note two:  Strong future denials
In 13.31 the promise of Jesus that his Words will never pass away is a ου μη construction, ie, a STRONG future denial. Also interesting is that this word (parercho-mai; παρερχομαι) appears in 2 Cor 5:17, Behold, Everything has passed away.  This could effectively be translated, "no way, never gonna happen."

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Matthew 21:33-46

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A; Most recently October 4, 2020.

The meaning of the parable is clear:  Ancient Israel rejected prophets of old; they will reject and kill Jesus.  Somehow God will rebuild on the rejected Jesus.  How do we find a Gospel message relevant for people's lives?  While there is some really interesting stuff in verse 34 about sending and bearing fruit, I sense myself drawn to verse 42 and the proclamation that God will rebuild on the rejected stone.  This verse points toward the faithfulness of God, who rebuilds on Christ.  I think we can apply this to people's lives: even through we again and again reject God's commands and even love in our lives, God rebuilds us on Christ.

Key Words in verse 34 -- which sets up the whole thing
ηγγισεν (from εγγιζω, meaning "approach", 21:34)  This word, meaning "approach" or "come near", appears at turning points in the Gospel:
3:2  John Baptizes Jesus (John the Baptist say the Kingdom of Heaven is approaching/near)
4:17 Jesus begins ministry (Jesus says the KoH is approaching/near)
10:7 Jesus sends disciples (He instructs them to proclaim KoH is approaching/near)
21:1 Jesus is approaching/near Jerusalem
26:45/46  Jesus is betrayed (The hour is near/approaching)

What is interesting is that each time the Kingdom of Heaven is approaching, thre is movement of Jesus and arguably a movement of the Spirit.

καιρος (kairos, meaning "season", 21:34; 41)  This word means 'season' or 'ideal time.'  In this case, it describes the harvest season.  It is always a reminder that in Jesus there is the fullness of time!

απεστειλεν (from αποστελλω, meaning "send", 21:34)  I am amazed at how many times in Jesus' parables in Matthew we have (the character representing) God sending out people.  I think we often think of this as a concept in John's Gospels, but it is really crucial to Jesus' ministry.  We are sent out, certainly if and when the Kingdom of Heaven is approaching!  This word is important because it reminds us that the Kingdom of Heaven, while principally about the movement of Jesus into this world and toward the cross (see discussion on ηγγισεν), it involves our movement too.

καρπος ("fruit", 21:34)  Again, we find a word that appears throughout scripture to describe the impact of the Spirit and the Kingdom of Heaven in our life:  We bear fruit.  In this case, workers are sent to gather the fruit.  What a beautiful image of ministry -- gathering the fruit that God has already created.  As the word αυτου ("of him") remind us, the fruit belongs to God.

Other interesting words
οικοδεσποτης  (literally, oikos - despot, meaning "owner of the land", 21:33)  This is a fun word in Greek.  It is built on two smaller words that we can recognize: oikos and despot!  It is interesting that Jesus would refer to God as an οικοδεσποτης, which was unlikely a favorable comparison for working-class listeners.  It is a reminder that first, these are parables and not allegories; second, it all belongs to God.

αμπελωνα ("vineyard", 21:33)  Jesus tells three vineyard parables, almost right in a row.  This seems clearly the one built the most on Isaiah 5, in which the vineyard owner builds a tower, as this vineyard owner does here as well.  It is a sermon series by Jesus :-)  It shows us how good stories and metaphors work, they continue to unfold in new ways.  It reminds us of Jesus' creative genius to somehow use old wine skins!

υστερον (meaning "last," 21:37)  The word here for "last" is used 4 times in Matthew 21 and 22; and also in Matt 25 and 26, but rarely ever appears elsewhere in the NT...Matthew is starting to emphasize the final nature of things and of his Gospel.

εντραπησονται  (future passive of εντρεπω, "respect", 21:37)  The word for "respect" means more like short, they will be embarrassed enough to show respect.  In the rest of the New Testament, it is always used within a context of shame rather than respect.  Perhaps this is a reminder that respect within an honor/shame culture has a different meaning; perhaps it is a reminder that Jesus ends up shaming the pharisees and religious leaders.  Ironically their attempts at shaming Jesus (killing him outside of Jerusalem) only lead to his glory!

οικοδομεω (meaning "build" "erect" or even "rebuild", 21:33 and 21:42)  The word here for builder is the same as in vs. 33. God built something.  People messed it up.  God will rebuild.  God is always at work revising the mistakes of our bad construction, relaying the foundation of our lives on Christ that we may bear fruit!

εθνει (ethnos, meaning "gentiles", 21:43)  The word for "people" here is "Gentiles."  Interestingly, Paul will talk about how he has a harvest of Gentiles in Romans 1:13, a case where Scripture is fulfilling itself!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Philippians 2:1-13

This passage occurs as a New Testament Lesson in the RCL "Pentecost"/"Ordinary"/"Proper" Season, Year A, most recently September 2018.  It also occurs at other points in the Lectionary, including Palm Sunday.

A separate post looking at Philippians 2:5-11 is here

This is a very rich passage. By itself it stands as one the most powerful description of Christ and his work.  Worth pointing out though is that Paul continues to build off the imagery the rest of his letter to discuss not simply Christ's work on the cross, but also Christ's work on us.  He changed his shape (μορφη) into humility but will co-shape (συμμορφος) ours into glory, not simply through his suffering, but even our own.

Key words:

μορφη ("shape" or "form"; 7, 8)  If you look up this word, you will find it appears twice in Philippians, once in verse 7 and once in verse 8.  Jesus had the form/shape of God; took the form/shape of a human.  Sounds good.  However, later on in Philippians, Paul comes back to this word, but using it with the prefix συν (the -n becomes a -m...see note below) .  First, in verse 3:10 where he says that he is being συμμορφιζομαι-ed into Christ's death and later when he is  being συμμορφος with Christ's resurrected body (3:28).  Paul moves from talking about the form of Christ to the co-formation of the believer, both into suffering, death and then resurrection.  I think the word μορφη can be used to guide one's reflections on the whole letter:  The transformation of Jesus creates the transformation of the believer.  To put it another way, I see Philippians as Paul's personal exposition on his line in Romans 8:17:  If children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ -- if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

εκενωσεν and κενοδοξια ("emptied" from κενω, 7; conceit, 3)  Much is made from κενω, which means to empty.  I find it interesting that Paul gives warning just a bit earlier about conceit, literally false glory.  The only way to true glory, for Christ and for us, is through suffering and death.

κατεργαζομαι ("work out", 2:12; from kata (intensifier) and erg-oo (to work))  One possible meaning for this verb is simply "achieve" but another one is "to work up," ie, to make use of; fields, for example, are worked on to make them ready for harvest.  This verse can be problematic in that it makes it sound like our salvation is our responsibility.  However, Paul's never verse, 2:13, makes it clear that God is the author of our salvation.  I think in this case, Paul uses salvation (σωτηρια) to describe our entire relationship with God in Jesus Christ, specifically the process of dying and rising.  It is worth noting that the verb here (and also for "co-form" (see above) are in the present tense, suggesting this an on-going process.

A really geeky language point:
Grammar/translation:  The morphing "n"
When someone learns Hebrew, they learn verbs like n-t-n, which means to give.  They then try to read these in the Bible and discover it hardly ever exists in that form and most often the "n"s drop out in conjugation so that words like y-t-l-m mean he gives or something like this.  This is true in Greek; alas, the problem is not Hebrew, but the letter "n", which has a soft sound.  It tends to morph into other sounds.  This actually happens in Latin.  For example, con is the prefix for "with"  But notice how often that "n" disappears or morphs:  communication, cooperation, combat, comfort, command, corroberate.  This happens in Greek, especially when verbs add the prefix συν.  The weakness of the "n" sound is also shown in the fact that its moveable (ie not very necessary).

This is why συμμορφος is spelled as it is, instead of συνμορφος!

Monday, August 28, 2017

Track vs Field: The unchurched and churched

Reformation 500 and the unchurched
This summer my congregation did a great deal of research into the unchurched in our community.  This was part of our celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.  We are thinking about the call of the Holy Spirit to continue to reform the church, in this case, our congregation.  One of our projects was to build a "Thesis 96" wall outside our church.  We invited people in the church and community to write their statement (or thesis) to the church.  It has been really awesome to see what people have written.  But that is for another day!

Our hope through the Thesis 96 project and our Reformation 500 celebrations is to consider -- what prevents people from accessing God's grace in our culture, specifically our community, today?  How could be better reach out to the unchurched in our community.

Track vs Field Understanding
Back to the unchurched.  I confess that I often end up with a view of the unchurched and churched that looks something like this: 

In this view, there are unchurched and churched people.  Each group is divided into two subgroups:  The unchurched has people that are really opposed to the Gospel (we'll call them atheists) and people that are somewhat open ("seekers"); the churched has people that come ("participants") and those that really are involved ("elders").  We could nuance this chart, maybe adding a few more arrow segments, but basically the idea is to move people from left to right.  If they are questioning, get them in the door.  If they are in the door, get them involved.  There are tons of books written to give churches tools as to how to make this conveyor belt process work.
There are also tons of blogs/books written as to why people are drifting from right to left on this chart!  Given this mentality, it is easy to feel like we are fighting an impossible task, running right into the head waters of our culture that is increasingly ambivalent, if not hostile to church, institutions and in many ways, commitments.
As we did research, which included looking at data and talking to people in our community, it occurred to me that this track or linear view was really inadequate for our task.  I want to propose a more "field" than "track" view of the churched and unchurched.
In reality, there are many reasons why people are unchurched.  Some of it comes out of opposition to the church or the idea of God.  Frankly though, survey after survey shows that most Americans do not consider themselves strident atheists.  Most people instead are out of church totally or most Sundays for a variety of reasons
- They moved to a new community or had a huge change in their family situation
- They were burned out on their church
- They were abused by their church
- They have never been to church and have never been invited (7 out of 10 unchurched people has never been invited)
- They work on Sundays or have made a commitment to their child's sporting "career."
Furthermore, there are lots of ways that people plug into church
- Some people are "all in" - "elders" who come nearly every Sunday and serve in leadership
- Some are homebound members
- Some connect only with certain areas of ministry - education or social ministry or a particular outreach of the church
- Some come when they are can, but are really busy
- Some connect only online
- Some travel extensively and are only plugged in when they are in town
In short, we do not have two or even four groups that could fit on a line.  There are people all over the highway in terms of church involvement or not.
General Motors' Maven
General Motors has a subdivision called Maven, which is providing short term rentals of GM cars.  It is designed to compete with ZipCar.  General Motors has come to the conclusion that for certain phases of life, people want access to a car, but neither want nor can afford ownership.  In some cities, people use Maven for weekend getaways, in other cities people use Maven to get across town and still in other cities people use it as their vehicle for money making through Uber!  What is most striking though is that General Motors does not simply think this kind of car utilization is for a phase of life; it acknowledges that many people will never own a car, but will be interested in using a car.  General Motors set up Maven so that even if people are not buying cars, they can still make a profit in the car industry!
To put this perspective back into our discussion about churched and unchurched, I think we should realize that just like many people today will not own cars, but will still use them, many people in our congregation will not be "all in" and may, in fact, never be "all in" but they will still be in the sphere of our congregation.  Just like people are automobiles for different reasons and to different extents, the people who come into our congregation will engage in different ways.  This does not mean they are bad or incomplete Christians or even that they only have a consumer mentality, but their life set up prevents them from being "all in."
Creating paths instead of a track
Rather than trying to move everyone along some mythical church conveyer belt, I suggest we embrace a far scarier task:  Providing more (personalized!) paths to faith development.  Let's assume that young families are not going to come more than twice a month.  How can we help them pray at night with their kids?  Let's assume that homebound members cannot serve on committees.  How can we keep them connected and feeling a part of the decision making process at the church?  Let's assume that the person who only comes to play in the handbell choir is unlikely to come for anything else.  How can we make that 6 hours a month she commits to the church as faith filled as possible?
The goal of making disciples may ultimately have a linear or clear trajectory, namely, helping people see their relationship with God in terms of transformation rather than transaction.  However, the map of people's engagement with the church is anything but linear.  To put it another way, I feel liberated - my job is not simply to move people from an increasing pool of unchurched to a shrinking pool of churched.  My task is to help the congregation figure out "faith paths" that can move people toward a deeper commitment to their Lord and the church, acknowledging this will not necessarily look "all in" from a church perspective.  This does not mean that serving Jesus demands anything less than "all in"; rather, this acknowledges that being "all in" to Jesus will manifest itself in a variety of levels of engagement with the church, particularly one congregation.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Matthew 15:21-28

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A, most recently in August 2017.

Note:  My post for this passage grows out of a session of Summer Greek I helped teach at United Lutheran Seminary on August 18, 2017.  So exciting to help future pastors see how Greek can impact their preaching.  I definitely learned a great deal from them.  This post also reflects the events that happened in August 2017, when there was a violent White Supremacy rally in Charlottesville, VA.  Unfortunately, Donald Trump's words following this event threw gasoline on the oldest fire in America: racism.

Summary:  Most times I would preach on the woman's faith and the dynamics of prayer. I would wrestle with Jesus reluctance to be a God of mercy and justice for her; was Jesus sense of mission changed by this and other interactions?  I really don't think so, but wow, this is a tough passage!

This year though, based on events in our nation, my attention is drawn to the disciples and their unwillingness to speak on behalf of the needy.  I see their hardness of heart as the primary objective of Jesus' healing.  Ultimately, in order for the church to be a place big enough for Jews and Gentiles, the Jewish followers of Jesus are going to have to accept Gentiles.  As the book of Acts and Paul's letter to the Galatians shows, this is a long road.  In short, I see this story beginning with #ShePerisisted and ultimately turning into #JesusPersisted because he is willing to walk a long, long path with his disciples to open their eyes to God's mercy.  To draw it back to today's context, I see a lot of people really hesitent to listen to the cries of the voiceless.  This is our call and struggle as a church, to move from #ShePersisted to #WePersisted in that as a church we begin/continue to speak for those who are voiceless.  We can do this because #JesusPersisted for you and for us, forgiving our hardness of heart and opening our heart to the depth of God's love.

Key Words:
Related to Jesus
εξελθεν (from εξερχομαι, meaning "go out", 15:21)  and ανεχωρησεν (from αναχωρεω, meaning "withdraw" or "depart", 15:21):  By using both of these verbs in one sentence, Matthew really draws out that Jesus wants to get away.  Perhaps this reflects Jesus' own need for Sabbath; Since John's beheading, he has continually had a desire for a break.  I think many people these days are overwhelmed by world (and not just personal) events and want to get away and take a breather!

λογον (meaning "word", 15:23)  It is quite remarkable that the word incarnate does not have a word for this woman!

απεσταλην (perfect form of αποστελλω, meaning "send", 15:24)  Given the importance of this verb in the New Testament (and in Christian theology) it is an incredibly powerful statement.  As it is presented here it sounds cruel rather than compassionate.

ιαθη (from ιαομαι, meaning "heal", 15:28)  It is interesting that Matthew uses this particular word here for "heal"; only two people are "healed" (as indicated by ιαθη) in Matthew's Gospel.  The other one is the Roman Centurian's youth (see 8.8, 8:13), another pagan youth whose parent/guardian must plead on their behalf.  I am not sure if I would want to analyze what kind of healing then is associated with ιαθη as opposed to other verbs, but I find it interesting that Matthew links these two stories.  Also interested is that the only other citation in Matthew's Gospel of this verb is a link to an Isaiah 6 passage where God basically declares that God will not ιαθη Israel...

While such a discourse is likely beyond a sermon, this passage is all about healing -- who is really healed?  The girl of course, but what about her mother?  (seems safe to say yes).  What about the disciples?  There is a rift between these two groups that needs to be healed and this is ultimately the work of Christ.

Related to the woman
καναναια ("Canaanite", 15:22)  This is the only time in the New Testament we see this word, although it is very common in the Old Testament.  It is worth noting that Mark describes her as a more generic pagan, but Matthew opens up the door to an ancient blood fued by using the word Canaanite.

εκραζεν ("cry out", 15:22,23)  The word for cry out comes into Enlgish as "crazy."  She literally went crazy!  What is most significant here is that the verb is in the imperfect tense, which describes on-going action.  #ShePersisted.  She kept and kept crying out.

ελεησον με κυριε  (15:22)  Her cry here is just about the perfect liturgical cry: Kyrie Elision.  Just as we so often begin worship and later with multiple chants of this, she begins her worship (the passage indicates, yes, she did worship) with multiple chants of this.

κυριος ("Lord", 15:22,25,27)  It is fascinating to see the way in which "Lord" shows up in this passage.  She calls on Jesus as Lord.  In the Septuagint, the translators would translate YHWH as Kurios.  So, here is she picking up on the ultimately proper Jewish prayer, giving her bold confession of faith, calling Jesus both God and son of David?  Or is she simply using the word in Greek to mean "master."  In short, should we translate this as "lord" (generic term of respect) or "LORD" (translation of ancient name of God).  This starts to get at the nature of her faith -- does she really know this is God?  Does she have a bedrock faith in a God of justice and mercy?  Or is she really grasping at straws?  Can we ever tell with faith in crisis?

Note:  I do not know what to make of the plural use of this noun in verse 27.  Perhaps one could maintain that it adds to the confusion about her intentions.

Related to the disciples
ηρωτουν (from ερωταω, meaning "ask", 15:23)  This verb is also in the imperfect.  The disciples keep asking Jesus.

απολυσον (from απολυω meaning "send away", 15:23)  This harkens back to the feeding of the 5,000, when the disciples ask to send away the multitude!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

1 Kings 19:1-18

The narrative lectionary year 4 includes this passage for All Saints Sunday.  It also occurs a number of times in the Revised Common Lectionary (or at least portions of it).

Summary:  If you are preaching All Saints, what a great image of a saint:  discouraged, yet fed through the tangible word to obedient yet difficult service.  Theology of the cross, reformation and vocation all in one.  One could even get to spiritual warfare and anfechtung through the voices that Elijah heres in the messengers. 

What I find interesting in the Hebrew this week is the use of the word "soul" or "life."  The Hebrew (and LXX) use words that we often translate as soul.  Yet the death would be very physical; furthermore, the treatment is very physical.  Back to all saints:  our sainthood is lived out and revived in this world.

Key Words:
נוח ("nuach"; "rest" vs 3)  Elijah does not ditch his servant, but rather gives him rest.  This word is where the name "Noah" comes from.

נגע ("naga"; "touch", vs 5 and 7)  This word can mean touch or strike.  Did the angel touch him or prod him?  What was this touch like?

נפש ("nephish"; vs 10 and throughout).  The word nephish here, sometimes translated soul, is the word used for "life"; a reminder, as always, that our pseudo-Greek worldvied of souls and bodies is not Hebrew (nor Biblical!)  Elijah's soul needs food and water!  This relates to other words and ideas in this section -- eat, touch, even hear!

דממה ("dammah"; "silent voice" vs 12).  The NSRV translates this phrase as "sheer silence."  Yet the Bible seems to suggest it is a small whisper.

Translation issues:
vs. 2: "If"/"let" and the jussive mood.
If you read the Hebrew, you will not find the words "if" when Jezebel speaks, "May the gods do X if I have not done Y." The reason is that the verbs, "do" and "add", are in the jussive mood. Greek grammars all call is subjuntive mood, but Hebrew Grammars call it different names based on the person (ie type of subject, I, you, or he/she/it). The long and short of it, the Hebrew here is a hypothetical folded into a vow. "May the gods kill me if I don't kill you."

Hebrew consectuive verbs.
vs. 3 Hebrew has no adverbs, really. Instead it places verbs in a consecutive fashion. In this case, you have "he was afraid, he was standing and he was going." Or more accurately, "He was going in a fearful and standing way" or even better "He immediately ran scared."
vs.5 Based on the two consecutive verbs, "get up" and "eat," we can red the "get up" as an adverb. Ths, Elijah is not told to stand up and eat, but rather, eat immediately.

Matthew 14:22-33

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A, most recently August 13, 2017

Summary:  This passage provides wonderful image of faith:  so powerful, yet so fragile.  Faith can move mountains.  This is good news.  The better news is that Jesus comes to us amid the storm.  The best news, I think, is that Jesus lets us stay in the boat when we only have little faith. 

Key Words
απολυση (meaning "release", 14:22)   Jesus here "releases" the crowd.  Prior to the feeding of the 5,000, the disciples wanted Jesus to release the crowd.  Now that they have been fed, he is releasing them.  Also interesting is that now Jesus must compel (ηναγκασεν, from αναγκαζω) them to leave as well.

προσευξασθαι (meaning "to pray", 14:23)   The verb to "pray" is a middle voice verb.  Typically middle voice means the object and subject are the same, in that the subject is doing the verb to itself (for instance, shaving would be a good candidate in English for a middle voice verb!)  This would suggest that prayer involves some sort of movement, externally or internally, to prepare oneself for prayer.  I remember once I was invited "to assume the posture of prayer." 

βασανιζομενον (participle form of βασανιζω meaning "torment"; 14:24)  This word can even mean torture (as in the the beast is basanized at the end of Revelation)

θαρεσειτε (meaning "be of good cheer, 14:27)  I am fascinated by this.  Is Jesus here commanding faith?  Is it possible for the individual to suddenly turn one's disposition around?  I believe here that we are saved from this dilemma when we realize that the next words of Jesus to Peter are pure promise:  εγω ειμι.  "I am" says Jesus.  "I am" is not simple a declaration that Jesus is present, but that Jesus is God, for εγω ειμι is the same of God.  As Jesus says this, he reveals to Peter that he is indeed God and he is with Peter.  Without the promise of his presence and divinity, Jesus words to Peter would be cruel.  Why can Peter take courage?  Because Jesus is there with him, not because Peter needs to "get it together."

ει συ ει (meaning "since it is you", 14:28).  The word "ει" is often translated "if."  However, its translation is really governed by the tense of the verb to which it is linked.  If it is linked with a subjunctive tense verb, then it is building a hypothetical case; if it is linked with an indicative tense verb, then it is building a true case.  Here it is used with an indicative verb, meaning Peter believes it is a true condition: Since it is you, command me.  [In the case of A, which is a true scenario, then B; rather than: In the case of A, which may or may not be true, then B]

ολιγοπιστε (from ολιγ meaning "few" and πιστε meaning "faith", "of little faith", 14:33) A gracious reminder that we can still be in the boat with Jesus and only have a little faith.  Having lots of faith is not a requirement for journeying with Jesus.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Matthew 14:13-21

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A, most recently in August 2017.

Summary:  The feeding stories are very familiar. The basic point of the passage should not be lost:  Jesus has compassion on people and feeds them.  We are called, in spite of obstacles, to do likewise.  That said, there are some beautiful wrinkles in the Greek that will hopefully open up your imagination for preaching!

Key words
κατά ιδιον (meaning "by himself", 14:13)  After hearing the news of Herod and John, Jesus is probably feeling many emotions.  For the first time in the Gospel, Jesus wants to go off by himself.  Matthew really emphasizes how much Jesus wants to get away:  by himself, in the wilderness, in a boat.

σπλαγχνισθη (from σπλαγχνιζομαι, meaning "compassion", 14:14)  Jesus has compassion -- which in Greek literally reads "Jesus intestine someone."  The word for compassion in Greek is intestines because when you have compassion your stomach turns over.  The nature of Jesus is on full display -- grieving he wants to be alone, yet seeing the crowd his guts churn.  You can decide whether this is the human or divine in Jesus...or both!

θεραπεω (therapeo, meaning "heal", 14:14)  I've written about the word therapy elsewhere, but I simply want to point out today the link between therapy and compassion.  Jesus desire to do therapy arises out of his compassion.  In spite of the fact that Jesus is exhausted, his compassion moves not simply his mind, his heart, or even his intestines, but his whole body.  Sometimes we get to move into ministry from a position of strength.  Sometimes we are called into ministry when depleted.  (By ministry I don't just mean ordained ministry, but the call to minister given to all Christians)

απολυσον (from απολυω, meaning "release", 14:15)  The disciples ask Jesus to "release" or apoluoo the people.  Perhaps a haunting question:  Do you think the disciples are worried about Jesus needing rest, the crowd needing food or them needing an emotional and physical break from the people?  I suggest the later...  Sadly, they want to send the people back to the place where they came from, to the city.  Frankly, I empathize with the disciples here.  The task of ministry can be overwhelming.

δοτε (aorist form of δίδωμι, meaning "give", 14:16): In this case, the verb δοτε is in the aorist. This is the same tense of the verb that is used in the Lord's prayer, "Give us this day."  Jesus taught his disciples to pray to God to give them their daily bread.  Now he commands them to give others daily bread.  The aorist form of the verb also provides insight.  The aorist tense suggests a one time event.  Jesus is not asking the disciples to worry about the crowd's consistent daily needs, simply to worry about this one night.  Perhaps this suggests that the disciples, in their worry about future provision, are forgetting their task is in the present.

ουκ ("no" or "not", 14:17) The disciples response to Jesus begins with the word no and reveals their sense of scarcity.  They focus on what they do not have. [Grammar note:  the word ουκ ends in κ because it comes before a vowel]

φερετε...αυτους ("carry them", 14:18)  Okay...I am going out on a limb here.  The Greek here literally reads, "Carry them to me."  Normally we assume that Jesus is referring to the bread and the fish.  Which is probably true.  But I was struck by the fact that the next motion in the passage involves the people.  Perhaps Jesus is telling the disciples:  "Bring the people to me."  This opens up a few sermon possibilities:  First, that our purpose is always to bring people to Christ; second, that Jesus believes the crowd has more and that once they come close they will actually be moved to share..."

λαβων ευλογησεν κλασας εδωκεν ( take, bless, broke and gave, 14:19)  These words appear again in Matthew 26:26, when Jesus is hosting the last supper/first Holy Communion.

[missing word here, 14:19.  The disciples now give the food to the crowd; however, the verb give is missing. It literally reads "The disciples (to) the crowds." Maybe the disciples also took the bread and broke it and give it...and not just gave it!

εχορτασθησαν (from χορταζω, meaning "to fill", 14:20)   The word here for "fill" is related to the word for grass -- the crowd sat on the grass "chortos" and later was "chortazo"-ed. Perhaps a subtle reminder that God's abundance is always there -- even in the midst of a "herma" (wilderness, vs 13; and 15) and when the "oora" (hour) has past (vs 15).

Monday, July 31, 2017

Genesis 32:22-31

This passage is found in the Narrative Lectionary, Year 2 (Most recently Sept 27, 2015)
This passage is also found in the Revised Common Lectionary at points during Pentecost season., most recently October 2016 and August 2017.

Summary:  This passage is rich with names and their meanings.  But don't get distracted by all of this.  The main action is not in the words, but in the dirt!  God is getting down and dirty with Jacob, wrestling away.  God will stop at nothing to transform us [insert segue to cross], so that, quoting Luther, "I might be his own!"

Key words:
בד (pronounced "bad", meaning "alone", 32:24)  Jacob's being alone harkens back to the first case of man being alone in the Bible, namely the Garden of Eden (2:18).  A few contrasts and connections:
- Cause of loneliness:  Adam did not have a partner yet; Jacob has alienated his loved ones (his brother; his uncle)
- God meets dust:  In Genesis 2, God creates out of the dust; in Genesis 32, God "gets dusty" (see below)
- God blesses through creation:  In the Garden, God creates a woman; in Genesis 32, God creates a humble Jacob, ready to love, forgive, be forgiven.

אבק ("abaq", meaning to wrestle; literally dust, 32:24)  It is worth pointing out that the word for wrestle is related to the word for dust (they are the same spelling and root.)  To wrestle is literally to get dusty.  God gets down and dirty with Jacob to transform him.

יעקב ("Yakov" or "Jacob", 32:27)  The name Jacob means "he cheats" or "he steals."  I've read before that names had power in the ancient word; knowing the name gave one authority over another.  I still think this is true when I teach children.  Once I know there names, I can much more easily manage their behavior!  The point is that Jacob's revelation of his name was giving God power over him; but it also reveals humility because Jacob's name was a confession of sin.

שרית  (conjugated form of  שרה, "Sarah", meaning "strive", 32:28)  This is fascinating.  The root word of "Israel" (ישראל) is "Sarah" (שרה), which means strive/struggle.  Of all the patriarchs and people in the Bible, Israel has the name Sarah in it!!  As a side note, the full meaning of the word is hard to ascertain because it is not used that often in the Bible.  Sarah certainly embodies the striving and struggling as much as anyone in the OT.

As a curious side note, the first example of the name is "Israel" in recorded history is from 1200 BC Egypt:

יכל ("yacal", meaning "able", 32:28)  This is fascinating verb because it simply means "can" and "is able."  I think the translation of "prevail" is far too strong.  I think endure is much better translation.  I think it is worth pointing out that the only victory over God in life (again, I just "endure" as a better verb) is through submitting to God.

פניאל ("Peniel" meaning "face of God", 32:30)  What I would like to point out here is that most English translations leave this as Peniel.  The Greek (LXX) leaves it as "the place he saw God."  This brings up a great question about Old Testament translation -- when do we translate the meaning of names and places and when do we leave them as is?  (Do we expect people to read footnotes!)

Friday, July 21, 2017

Freedom of a Christian Sermon Series

Here is a proposal for a sermon series on freedom of a Christian.  Feel free to use.  I would really love some help creating adult Sunday school materials.  Email me if you are interested!
Date Oct 22 
Gospel Matthew 22:15-22 (Paying taxes; rendering to Caesar)
Theme Freedom is both a freedom from…and a freedom for
Quick Take The culture tells us that freedom is about autonomy, the freedom, really the right, to do what we want.  Scripture teaches us that while we are radically free before God in Christ, we are radically bound -- freed for -- service to our neighbor.  This sermon will lay out this tension and unpack the trajectory of the series:  what freedom in Christ really looks like.
Possible OT Story David fights Goliath (1 Samuel 17)
Possible Psalm Psalm 41
Date Oct 29 Reformation
Gospel John 8:31-36 (Freedom in truth)
Theme Freedom to repent
Quick Take The culture tells us that sin is arachaic concept.  As we have abandoned the concept of sin, we have become no less judgmental of a culture.  In fact, most people (especially parents) experience tremendous guilt each day.  In Christ we are free to confess our sins and live in the hope of God's ensuring grace that can carry us and even transform us.  We are justified by God in Christ alone.  This means that no one has a right to judge us, except for THE judge, who has declared us loved.
Possible OT Story David's Fall (2 Samuel 11-12)
Possible Psalm Psalm 51
Date Nov 5 All Saints
Gospel Matthew 5:1-12 (Beatitudes)
Theme Freedom to grieve
Quick Take The culture tells us to celebrate the death of loved ones, who are, in some weird way, still with us.  We shame guilt and expect productivity to abound.  As Christians who believe in the resurrection, we know that we will see our loved ones again.  This means we are not simply saying goodbye, but until we meet again.  This hope allows us to grieve them not being here now.
Possible OT Story Naomi and Daughters (Ruth 1)
Possible Psalm Psalm 4, 6
Date Nov 12 
Gospel Matthew 25:1-13 (Parable of the Bridesmaids)
Theme Freedom to wait
Quick Take The culture tells us that we can have what we want, and have it now.  In Christ we have the hope to wait -- to be mindful of the present even!
Possible OT Story Joseph in prison (Genesis 40)
Possible Psalm Psalm 27/40
Date Nov 19 
Gospel Matthew 25:14-30 (Parable of the Talents)
Theme Freedom to give
Quick Take The culture tells us that life is about consumption.  Christ teachs us that live is about giving it away…and seeing it multiply! 
Possible OT Story Widow at Zarapheth (1 Kings 17)
Possible Psalm Psalm 23/24
Date Nov 26 Christ the King
Gospel Matthew 25:31-46 (Parable of the Sheep and Goats)
Theme Freedom to praise
Quick Take The culture tells us we are physical beings whose fulfillment is found in self-exploration and actualization.  In Christ we learn that our ultimate destiny is a life time of service that leads to an eternity of praise.  We can let go and fall into the embrace of a loving God, from whom all blessings flow.
Possible OT Story Miriam (Exodus 15)
Possible Psalm Psalm 150

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Potential Sermon Series

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

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

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

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

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


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

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Matthew 28:16-20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

1 Peter 3:13-22

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 15, 2017

Acts 17:16-31

This passage is found in the Narrative Lectionary, Year 4 (Most recently May 18, 2014)
This passage, really Acts 17:22-31, is also found in the Revised Common Lectionary, Easter 6A)

Here is some commentary on the speech:
Also, here is a link from my travels to the aeropagus a number of years ago:

In this blog post I focus on the terms Epicurean and Stoic.  I think we all know many of these two stripes

Επικουριος (17:18)
Basically:  Lead a "happy" life, which consists not in lust but in moderation and keeping one's nose clean.  The gods exist, but don't interfere with human life; talk of good life makes sense, but talk of judgement and other-worldly salvation makes no sense.

NET Bible: 
An Epicurean was a follower of the philosophy of Epicurus, who founded a school in Athens about 300 B.C. Although the Epicureans saw the aim of life as pleasure, they were not strictly hedonists, because they defined pleasure as the absence of pain. Along with this, they desired the avoidance of trouble and freedom from annoyances. They saw organized religion as evil, especially the belief that the gods punished evildoers in an afterlife. In keeping with this, they were unable to accept Paul's teaching about the resurrection.
Epicurus believed that what he called "pleasure" is the greatest good, but the way to attain such pleasure is to live modestly and to gain knowledge of the workings of the world and the limits of one's desires. This led one to attain a state of tranquility (ataraxia) and freedom from fear, as well as absence of bodily pain (aponia). The combination of these two states is supposed to constitute happiness in its highest form. Although Epicureanism is a form of hedonism, insofar as it declares pleasure to be the sole intrinsic good, its conception of absence of pain as the greatest pleasure and its advocacy of a simple life make it different from "hedonism" as it is commonly understood.
Epicureans do not deny the existence of God, simply that the gods have moved on and are unconcerned with human life; His materialism led him to a general attack on superstition and divine intervention. 

Στοικος (17:18)
Basically, lead a virtuous life.  This is difficult, but seed of good in each of us can be fostered to overcome evil.  God is in everything.  Although at odds with Epricureans, both stress an avoidance of passion.

NET Bible:
A Stoic was a follower of the philosophy founded by Zeno (342-270 B.C.), a Phoenician who came to Athens and modified the philosophical system of the Cynics he found there. The Stoics rejected the Epicurean ideal of pleasure, stressing virtue instead. The Stoics emphasized responsibility for voluntary actions and believed risks were worth taking, but thought the actual attainment of virtue was difficult. They also believed in providence.

Wiki on Scotism vs Christianity: 
The major difference between the two philosophies is Stoicism's pantheism, in which God is never fully transcendent but always immanent. God as the world-creating entity is personalized in Christian thought, but Stoicism equates God with the totality of the universe, which was deeply contrary to Christianity. The only incarnation in Stoicism is that each person has part of the logos within. Stoicism, unlike Christianity, does not posit a beginning or end to the universe.
Stoic writings such as the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius have been highly regarded by many Christians throughout the centuries. The Stoic ideal of dispassion is accepted to this day as the perfect moral state by the Eastern Orthodox Church. Saint Ambrose of Milan was known for applying Stoic philosophy to his theology.

σπερμολογος (17:18):  Seed talker, but more literally, sperm-logos.  For someone who simply picks up scraps of info; a babbler.
κατειδωλον (17:16):  Full of idols.  kata intensifies words!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Psalm 23, take 2

For Good Shepherd Sunday I've looked at Psalm 23.  Given people's emotional resonance with the Psalm, this passage does not call for one's "exegetical underwear."  That said, reading the actual Psalm presents more "earthy" image than the bucolic landscape scene the Psalm often conjures in our minds.  There is wet grass to be eaten, wine to be poured, death to be encountered and God's disciplining rod to be felt slamming into our side. To put it another way, God doesn't simply want to paint pictures, but truly revive our soul that we might return to his temple, time and time again, even in our everlasting life, made possible by the Good Shepherd.

Instead of key words, I offer a translation with commentary.

Verse 1:
"Yahweh shepherds me.  I do not lack."

The word "LORD" in Hebrew is Yahweh. This most of us know; I think two things are worth reflecting on here. First is that in English we always put the word "The" in front of the "LORD." In Hebrew it simply reads, "Yahweh is my shepherd." Second, we read the "LORD" with a certain complacency unimaginable to early readers of this.  The Hebrew reader replaces "Yahweh" and always says, "Adonai"

The word "Shepherd" is a verbal noun in Hebrew, that is, it is a participle (shepherding) that has been fixed into a noun. Thus, every time you read the word "Shepherd" in the OT, you are reading something much more akin to, "The one shepherding." If you notice the Vulgate and Septugint translation of this verse actually leave the word as a verb: "The Lord shepherds me."  Although telling people their favorite Psalm has been mistranslated is unlikely to be helpful, it is worth noting that God's work as a shepherd is an action!

The word for lack here,חסר, (kaser) is also used in Deuteronomy 2:7, when God says the people lacked nothing.   At this point the people were in the wilderness and had been for years.  A reminder that what God says we need is probably different from our own estimation.

The Greek (and Latin) add the word "nothing."  The Hebrew simply reads: "I am not wanting..."  The "nothing"; but I it implicit enough in the language that I do not consider this a translation foul!

Verse 2:
He makes me rest in meadows of lush grass; he leads me beside still waters.

I've translated this as "lush grass" and not "green pastures."  The word "green" as in "Green pastures" does not appear in the Hebrew.  The word is "grass." God is not simply giving us a pretty picture, but food!

The second half of this verse is often translated, "He leads me besides to still waters."  However poetic, this does not fully capture the idea.  The Hebrew here, מנחה (minukah), means "resting place." As Bible Work's TWOT dictionary says: "Basically the root nûaµ  (which means resting place) relates to absence of spatial activity and presence of security, as seen, e.g. in the ark which "rested" on Mount Ararat (Gen 8:4),"  The NET prefers the more active "refreshing" but I think the words, "still waters" captures the sense of rest that comes from utter trust.

Verse 3:
He restores my soul.  He leads me in paths of righteousness for his glory.

The word "restore" is the reason I find Hebrew so wonderful but so frustrating. If you look at the word in English, you might have no clue that its root is שוב, which means to turn, even to repent. The sentence could read, "He turns my soul."  This is the verb used in the phrase, "Return to the Lord your God!"  Here God is returning our soul to him.

Soul, here נפש, (nephish) can mean a variety of things, but certainly not the idea of a wispy part of us that lives on after we die.  The Hebrew is trying to get at the core of our being; the NET tries to get at this by saying, "He restores my strength."  I think soul is fine, but you can see how the English ends up making this whole Psalm more "spiritual."

The word "name" as in "Name's sake" might be a little weak here. The word שם in Hebrew "Shem" means name, but in the sense of "reputation" or even "glory."

Verse 4:
Though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.

How does one translate "Valley of the shadow of death"?  I again defer to the TWOT dictionary, which is so helpful here: "It describes the darkness of eyelids tired from weeping (Job 16:16), the thick darkness present in a mine shaft (Job 28:3), the darkness of the abode of the dead (Job 10:21ff; Job 38:17), and the darkness prior to creation (Amos 5:8). Emotionally it describes the internal anguish of one who has rebelled against God (Psa 107:10-14; cf. Psa 44:19ff [H 20f]). Thus it is the strongest word in Hebrew for darkness." Shadow of darkness is probably too weak a translation, but the idea here is that it encompasses more than death.  The NRSV tries to get at this by writing, "Though I walk through the darkest valley" but really, for the average reader, "Valley of the Shadow of Death" gets at this...

The Hebrew here juxtaposes two words:  rod and comfort.   נחם (nakam, comfort) is a lovely word, but I'd like us to slow down and considering Bible Work's BDB definition of שבט (shebet), used here for "rod":  rod, staff, for smiting; for beating cummin ; as (inferior) weapon; fig. of  chastisement; national; individual. b. shaft, i.e. spear, dart. c. shepherd's implement, club; used in mustering or counting sheep.

Strange that this would be comforting!

Verse 5:
You prepare a table in the presence of those wishing me harm; you anoint my head with oil; my cup is full of wine

The phrase "in the presence of my enemies" delights the investigator!  It has the sense of "in front of my enemies."  I have read this Psalm many times but it never caught me that the table is not simply prepared privately amid trouble but literally, in the presence of enemies the person is having the table set!  Also the word for enemies is another verbal noun.  Much like shepherding, this word has an active connotation; the enemies are actively seeking your down-fall!

(heehee) The word here for "oil" is also "fat" and the word here for "overflow" is "saturate," so here we have a feast with saturated fats :-)  In fact, the Greek uses the word "made drunk."  There is something a bit almost vindictive about this verse:  "I am getting drunk thanks to you in front of those who hate me!"

Note:  The NET Bible has a long commentary on the word "anoint" and why the use "refresh" instead.  I will save that for the very hungry, but suffice to say, the Hebrew literally reads, "He fattened the oil on my head."

Verse 6:
Surely goodness and love will pursue me all my days and I will continue to return to the house of the Lord for all my days.

Sometimes translated, "faithfulness" חסד, kesed, means "love-in-constant-action-over-and-against-people's stupidity."  To avoid a mistranslation, translators often avoid "love" because that is such an emotional word.  However, it is more than faithfulness.  Also, that it is חסד means that the subject (or possessor) is God! 

"Follow" is too passive for רדפ.  It means pursue, like pursue enemies!

The Hebrew literally reads, "I will return in(to) the house of the Lord."  I like the image not simply of dwelling but of returning to the house of the Lord.  The verb is in a continuous tense, so the idea here is that just as God's goodness and love pursue the person, the person returns to God's temple.  Furthermore, the continuous nature of the verb allows us to imagine, in a way that is probably untenable to the Hebrew mind, always returning to the house of the Lord, even after death!  The literal translation probably leans more toward "all the days of my life" instead of "forever" but again, I think this continual tense of the verb allows us to imagine the idea of a forever returning to God's holy presence.