Wednesday, October 31, 2018

John 11:1-45

This passage is found in the Revised Common Lectionary for Lent, Year A and All Saint's Day, Year B  (Most recently for March 29, 2020); The All Saints reading is shorter, verses John 11:32-44.

Summary:  This emotional passage does not need to deep exegesis to understand.  But as always, the Greek amplifies the emotions, especially of Mary.  Furthermore, the Greek offers some poignant connections to other parts of John's Gospel.

Key words:

ερχομαι & οραω (11:32 and 11:34, also 1:39; 1:46; 4:29; 19:33; 20:8 "Come and see").  These two verbs come together a number of times in John's Gospel. A quite impressive list actually:
A) When Jesus begins his ministry and calls his disciples.
B) When the woman at the well returns to her hometown to invite others (different cognate for "come");
C) When they bring Jesus to Lazarus' tomb.
D) When they find Jesus on the cross.
E) When they come to the empty tomb.

John's Gospel invites us to come and see, even Jesus on the cross and finally the empty tomb.  The result of coming and seeing is believing.

In this passage, however, the two words come together in two very emotional ways.  The more obvious one is when they invite Jesus to see the tomb of Lazarus.  The more subtle one is that Mary came (ηλθεν) and saw (ιδουσα; note feminine participle endings may be more difficult to spot, sadly).  In this case, she falls at Jesus feet (see next note).  She has done what a disciple should do, she has come and seen. What happens when we come and see, not in intellectual or hopeful curiosity, but in grief?

ποδος (from πους, meaning "foot" as in words that have "pod" in them; 11:32)  Mary will fall to Jesus feet twice in a short time.  Mary cries at Jesus feet in this story; after her brother is revived, she will fall to Jesus feet to anoint them.  Twice she worships at Jesus feet; the first in lament for her situation; the second in lament for Jesus' situation.

Other powerful scenes happen at Jesus feet. 
- When the women (including Mary) gather at the foot of the cross. 
- Mary (Magdalene) stoops down to where Jesus' feet were in the tomb. 
- In chapter 13 of John's Gospel, Jesus will wash the disciples' feet. 
In short, if there are feet involved, it is likely an emotionally charged passage, relating to the profound cruciform servant-hood of Christ and his followers!

κλαιουσαν (from κλαιω, meaning "weep" 11:33)  Simple point:  People in the Bible cry.  We give so little permission for people to cry today.  Jesus himself cries here (11:35; it is a different word, εδακρυσεν) but don't get caught up in that.  Death produces tears even from the Lord of Life.

ει...αν (if, if; 11:33)  Mary has a particularly harsh construction of Greek here for Jesus.  This combination of ει...αν indicates "a hypothetical that is actually false."  In short, it should best be translated, "If you had been here, WHICH YOU WERE NOT, my brother would not have died."

εμβριμωμενος (from εμβριμαομαι, meaning "snort in", 11:38)  This word means "admonish in anger" visually in the sense of a "horse snorting."  I think its this word that has given rise to all sorts of terrible interpretations that Jesus is really mad in this passage that they don't believe.  I think this is kind of nuts.  I think a better translation is simply this:  "Jesus was so worked up about this death that he looses control of his breathing..."  To put it another way, Jesus does the uncool thing of lose control of his emotions.  Unlike the rest of humanity, when Jesus' gets angry, no one is hurt, but the deepest emotion, love, and deepest power, resurrection, is unleashed.

μνημειον ("tomb", 11:38).  The word for tomb is literally "mnemonic" as in something we use to help us remember -- they have gone to a "memorial."  (Jesus is also buried in a tomb, a place of memory).

εδακρυσεν ο Ιησους  (aorist form of δακρυω, "Jesus wept", 11:35)  This verse is shorter in English (two words) than in Greek (three words.)  Why?  Because Greek adds in the word "ο" with Jesus, it literally reads "The Jesus wept." Jesus name in Hebrew - Joshua - means "God (YHWH) saves."  John tells us then "The God who saves wept." 

λυσατε ("unbind", 11:44)  The word for unbind means to "loosen" or "free."  In short, Lazarus must be freed!  This itself might provide all sorts of interesting directions for a sermon -- the work of Jesus to bring new life also entails freedom.  What I find worth noting though is that the verb is a plural command.  It is the work of the community to free Lazarus.  Even when Jesus' power is on full display, the community of Christ still has work to do.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Ephesians 4:25-5:2

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year B, most recently August 12, 2018.

Summary:  It is summer, so I only offer a brief commentary here.  I mainly want to look at the words related to grace!

χαρις (grace; 4:29)  The word grace appears a number of times in Ephesians.  I want to consider what this particular writer (okay, I get it, there is a lot of debate about whether Paul wrote this letter.  If it turns out not to be Paul, the person who wrote it was a spiritual genius and student of Paul).  I am going to break down grace a bit, which is theologically impossible, but I think it is a necessary intermediate step

  • Out of the richest of grace, we have redemption through the blood on the cross (1:7)
  • Grace is revealed in the resurrection of Christ and us (2:6)
  • Grace is the revelation of the mystery of Christ (3:2)
  • Grace is imparted through faith (2:8) and leads to a life of good works
  • Grace becomes a way of life, building others up (4:29) and giving grace to others through forgiveness (4:32)
  • Grace, one might argue, is that which predestines us (1:6)

Grace isn't conferred in one moment, but becomes the vehicle, it seems through which the Spirit works; to put it another way, grace is the heavenly currency that can never be earned.

χαριζομαι (give freely or even forgive; 4:32)  This word typically does not mean "forgive" but means "be gracious" or "be generous", which includes forgiving one another.  I like this word here first because it reminds us that our forgiveness toward our neighbor is not an abstraction but must bear fruit in real life.  Second it connects to the broader theme of grace!

εχαριτωσεν (from χαριτοω, meaning "bestow freely"; 1.6)  The writer declares we have been freely bestowed with God's blessing through Christ.  The only other New Testament appearance of this word is in Luke's Gospel, to describe Mary as the "highly favored."  Turns out that in Christ we are all highly favored, bears of God's word to the world.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Mark 2:23-3:6

This passage occurs in the year B of the Revised Common Lectionary, most recently June 3, 2018.

Summary:  Mark paints a vivid scene here, one of intense conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees, or more deeply, between God and the hardness of the human heart.  This is what is really at stake here -- not the value of the Sabbath for our society today (which we lost) -- but the hardness of the human heart.  I would make the argument that precisely as our society lost the Sabbath, we became harder in our hearts.

Key words about healing
1.  θεραπευσει  (literally "therapy" meaning "heal"; 3.2)  English speakers will recognize the word "therapy" and immediately move to healing.  However, the original meaning of this word was much more akin to serving the gods, like a priest.  In fact, in the Old Testament the word never means heals, as in God heals, but means the people serve the god or king.  It seems that over time so much temple worship was focused on sacrifices offered in hopes of healing that temple service and healing became associated.  Interestingly, BDAG alludes to this possible shift in the meaning of their word, but does not offer any citations.  See a website about ancient temple practices in Greece (that I worked on!)

Key point for us:  Jesus turns the Bible upside-down by actually doing the service toward people without sacrifice!!

2.  εγειρε εις το μεσον  (meaning "arise in the middle"; 3.3)  The English translators simply record "stand in front."  But Jesus literally says, "Arise in their midst." First off, it is really a bold command, one that not only takes courage of Jesus to give, but also of them man to obey.  Second, it plays on the word for resurrection.  I am going out on a limb here but first
- He will be healed, not only in body, but in spirit.  He becomes bold!
- His healing is linked to his final healing, namely, the resurrection of the body.

3.  σωσαι ψυχην (meaning "save a soul"; 3.4)  Anyone who takes a class in Greek quickly learns that the word σωζω (in this case, in the form σωσαι) means more than a ticket to heaven, but means the broad work of salvation that comes to us through God.  It is also interesting that what is at stake here is not simply his hand but his ψυχην (psyche).  When God heals, God heals the whole of a person.  This has implications for how we understand ministry here (the healing of the whole person) but also how we understand the resurrection (the salvation and resurrection of the whole person!)

Key words about intensity of emotions
Side note:  Mark's linguistic genius is often overlooked.  He writes very intense short stories, using verb tenses and key words to quickly paint a dramatic scene.
1.  οργης (meaning "wrath", 3.5)  This is the only time when Jesus exhibits wrath in the whole New Testament.

2.  πωρωσις  (porosis, 3.5)  Jesus anger is over, the hardness of their heart.  This then has an implication for what is of fundamental concern for God:  hardness of our hearts.  The Frieburg dictionary puts it:
" a medical technical term, of covering with a callous or a thick growth of skin hardening; of the eyes dulling, blindness; figuratively in the NT, of unwillingness to learn insensibility, obstinacy, stubbornness."

3συλλυπουμενος (meaning "sympathy" or "concern"; 3.5)  This verb is really interesting.  The συλ beginning hides the fact that it really belongs to the συν family of verbs.  συν means "with" and is added to the beginning of verbs to suggest a joining.  In Greek, as in Latin, as in English, as in Hebrew, "n" is a weak sound and often gets eaten up by other sounds, in this case the ν becomes and λ just like the n in con-lect become an "l" to form "collect."  Point being is that Jesus has an incredible mixture of emotions.  He is wrathfully angry but also deeply grieving with them.

4.  ελεγεν; εσιπτων ("speaking" and "keeping silent", 2.27 and 3.4)  What I want to highlight here is that these verses are in the imperfect tense.  This tense describes on-going or repeated action (it is imperfect -- it is not complete!)  So Jesus was telling them repeatedly "Humans are not made..." and they were continually silent in response to Jesus' rebuke. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Good Shepherd Sunday: John 10 and Psalm 23

For Good Shepherd Sunday, I offer commentary on two different texts:

I am the Good Shepherd
A small sampling:
καλος ("good"; 10:11)  Good is an entirely understated way to put this.  The word in Greek means beautiful, ideal, model.  Try any of these out:  Model shepherd, beautiful shepherd, ideal shepherd.  They get closer to what is going on, although model shepherd can lead us astray pretty fast.  Good is also an entirely wrong way to put this.  What kind of shepherd goes and gets himself killed?  A very, very bad one.

Psalm 23
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.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Luke 24:36-48

Summary:  This passage serves as a beautiful encapsulation of Luke's themes.  If you want your mind blown, read this passage alongside of the song of Zechariah from Luke 1.  I will let you have that discovery, but suffice to say, Zechariah's words are fulfilled.  Luke demonstrates literary genius here as he wraps up his Gospel with a few more surprises and a few more Old Testament links...

While this is great for a Bible study, I am not sure if this is helpful for a sermon.  For a sermon I would focus on the sending of the disciples (likely a group of men and women at this point).  We find here the core of the Christian missionary proclamation:
The What:  Resurrection of Jesus and the forgiveness of sins
The Where:  Planet earth, beginning with Jerusalem
The Who:  The disciples
What I find most moving is that the what, where and who all involve very earthly things.  In fact, this commissioning is very grounded in this reality.

Key Words:
λεγει (36, "speak") What is worth noting here is that this word is in the present tense.  Luke suggests that Jesus was repeatedly saying "Peace be with you."  A good sermon is a reflection on the passing of the peace that we offer in worship; it is the peace of Christ that comes about after hell, sin and the death have been defeated, not a wimpy excuse for a "shake another hand time" during church.

ειρηνη υμιν (36, "peace unto you")  As I note in my passage on John 20, English has trouble capturing the force and meaning of what Jesus says.  First, there is no verb.  It simply reads "Peace among or unto you."  Perhaps Jesus is simply declaring the fact that because he is in their midst, peace is with them.  Or perhaps it is an expression of blessing and wish:  Peace be with you!  The other tricky part is the word υμιν, which is a plural dative.  First, the peace is not just for one person, but is for the whole group.  Second, the dative can have a variety of meanings, for example, it could be a distributive dative, meaning that there is a slice of peace for all the people. 

I actually wonder if Jesus is really saying less of a blessing and more of a statement of fact.  Peace is among you.

διαλογισμοι (literally dialogues, "thoughts", 21:38)  The NET Bible suggests this is an idiom (based on BDAG).  The point here is that the literal translation is not entirely helpful:  "Why do dialogues arise in your hearts" seems to suggest that Jesus isn't interested in conversations about faith with us; rather this particular phrase means "doubts."

χαρα ("joy", 41)  The name Kara in English comes from this Greek word, meaning joy.  Joy is an important word in Luke (and the New Testament!)
1:14  Prophecy of John the Baptist's birth
2:10  Angles announcing Jesus' birth
10:17  Disciples discover they can do miracles in Jesus name
15:7 and 10:  Parables of lost sheep and coins
24:41  Jesus disciple cannot believe from joy
24:52  The last sentence of Luke's Gospel
It serves as book ends!  The story begins with joy and ends with the heavens come to earth.

hendiadys; hendiatris (21:44)  Jesus says the "law, prophets and psalms."  By using these three words Jesus means "the whole of the Old Testament"; indeed, the Hebrew Bible refers to its three sections: The Torah, The Prophets and the Writings.  In this way Jesus uses three words to mean one thing.  The fancy term for this is: hendiatris.  (One through three!)

διηνοιξεν (from διανοιγω, meaning "open", 24:45)There are two points in the Old Testament when things are opened using this verb:
Genesis 3:5 and 7 (eyes of Adam and Eve opened as they sin)
Exodus 13  (first born opens the womb)
In other words, this is a dramatic opening.  It is also fitting that just as our eyes were first opened to the painful realities of life, now are our eyes are opened to God's love in this world!

του συνειναι ("to understand", 24:45)  Jesus actually intends us to understand some things.  In this passage, Jesus is concerned about both "head" and "heart."  They mean different things in Greek, but that Jesus is concerned with both "doubts in the heart" and "opening their minds" affirms that God is into the whole person!!  (Yes, learning is an act of worship!)

Quick grammar note:  Greek often puts an article with an infinitive, "articular infinitive"  (του+infinitive in this case).  Because it is in the genitive, this suggests that it is an articular infinitive of purpose:  Opened their minds so that they could understand!

For another day:
I've run out of time this week for my blog.  I'll finish these off below later --
μετανοιαν εις αφεσιν 47  Forgiveness remains central to Luke and the message of Jesus.  Even in a Gospel all about inclusion and charity, the cross given forgiveness is not a side theme!

εις παντα τα εθνη (47)  The focus of Jesus preaching is the whole world

απο Ιερουσαλημ (47)  Jerusalem still matters

μαρτυρυς (48)  Witness.  My mind explodes here.  See my passage on the ascension story in Luke.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Easter (RCL and NL)

Here are links for Greek commentary on the resurrection accounts in all four Gospel
Matthew 28:1-10
Mark 16:1-8
Luke 24:1-12
John 20:1-18

A teaser from the posts on Luke 24:1-12
προς εαυτον ("to himself"; 24.12)  Most translators take the phrase, "to himself" to mean "to his possessions," namely, Peter's house (including BDAG).  Hence they translate it "Peter went to his house."  Yet, Peter does not necessarily go to his home. It literally says, "He went away to himself." This could just as naturally read, "He went away by himself." As the KJV puts it "wondered in himself."  Most translators likely base their translation on John 20:10, where it is more clear that the disciples went home.  But Luke's imagery is of Peter walking away by himself, pondering these events, likely without any real direction in his wanderings.
Luke's presentation of the Resurrection story gives us permission to struggle with the Good News.  It is so good, so amazing, that even the first disciples struggled with it.

A teaser from the posts on Matthew 28:1-10 and Mark 16:1-8:
εσταυρομενον ("crucified"; 6).  This word is also in the perfect, meaning an action happened in the past that still describes the state of affairs.  The angel declares that even though he is risen, Jesus is still in the state of being crucified.  You are seeking the crucified one; he is risen.  Jesus is alive but he still has the wounds in his hands.

My pastoral thought, reflecting on the Greek, is that the women have the courage and compassion to go to the tomb.  It can be easy to make Easter into a day when we criticize those who focus on the grave; who focus on grief.  I think as Christians we have the power to grieve because we have hope.  In short, we can say good-bye and miss them because we will see them again.

A teaser from the post on John 20:1-18:
μνημειον ("tomb", 20:1)  This word comes from the Greek for memory (like English "mnemonic" is something that helps you remember).  The complaint almost reads, "They have taken Jesus out of my memory!"  There is something to play with here, about memory and loved ones.  Jesus isn't just a memory; your loved ones aren't just a memory.  Jesus is alive!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

2 Samuel 12 and Psalm 51

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary, Year 1 (most recently Oct 19, 2014); it also occurs many years in the Revised Common Lectionary during Lent.

Summary:  There are rich theological themes in this Psalm 51.  For my blog this week, I try to get into some the words, which are rich in imagery in the Hebrew.  Hopefully these descriptive words can be a means to get into the Psalm (and accompanying story of David, Bathsheba and Nathan).   As a side note, I've always seen the fullest expression of Gospel in this passage in the existence of the Psalm 51.  God turned David's sin into something that was enduring and lasting.  His child died, but his words of lament have comforted people for centuries.

Key Words:
נביא  ("Nivea" meaning "prophet", 51:1 (intro to Psalm):  The word prophecy often means prediction in modern popular imagination and film (Harry Potter/Star Wars).  The prophets in the Bible did not predict the future.  Rather, they spoke the word of God, which often included future possibilities for judgment or promises of blessing.  But the main job of the prophet was to speak the Word of the Lord to the present situation, in this case, a king who had sinned badly.  Very badly.

נתן  ("Nathan", name of the prophet, 51:1 (intro to Psalm):  The prophet's name "Nathan" means gift.  Even the harsh words of God are a gift to David here in that he calls David to repent, to have a restored relationship with God.  When we deny calling 'sin' 'sin' we deprive people of the gift of forgiveness and repentance.

רחמים ("rakamim" meaning "compassion", 51:2) The origin of this word רחם meaning is womb.  In the plural it means compassion; this is clearly feminine way of thinking about God's love; it is like a woman's care born in her womb. 

מחא ("makha" meaning "wipe", 51:2;9):  As the TWOT points out, almost every time this verb shows up in the Hebrew Bible, it is significant.  For example, God will wipe out the earth with a flood; God will wipe away every tear in the eschaton (Isaiah 25:8).  The literal action means:  "Erasures in ancient leather scrolls were made by washing or sponging off the ink rather than blotting. "  Literally erase away, expunge!  So that when God reads the book of life, he reads them no more.

כבס  ("kabas" meaning "launder", 51:3;7)  TWOT:  "to make stuffs clean and soft by treading, kneading and beating them in cold is used always for clothing, 'to launder'"

טהר ("tahar" meaning "cleanse, purify", 51:3;7)  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.

חול  ("khul" meaning "twirl" translated here as "born", 51:5) from the moment the person begins writhing, twirling, dancing, moving, even in pain, they are born with sin.

אמת  ("amat" meaning "faithfulness" or "truth", 51:6) What is it that God desires?  It is not simply truth as in a true statement, but faithfulness.  Something beyond propsitional truth is desired here.  We could do a lot more here, but the NET translates this nicely with integrity.

ברה  ("barah" meaning "create" 51:10)  Just a reminder that this verb is only associated with God as the subject.  Humans can fairly be described as co-creators in the sense of we can imagine, build, make, name...but we cannot create life; nor can we create a new heart.

קדש ("kadesh" meaning "Holy" 51:11)  This is the only time in the Old Testament we have an unambiguous reference to the Holy Spirit.  The NRSV does not do Christians justice when they translate the words with lower case holy spirit.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

1 Corinthians 1:18-31

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary (Year A), most recently in January 2017; then a portion of it during Year B (Lent 2018).

Rather than review this whole passage, I just want to offer an in-depth commentary on this one crucial verse:

"For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God."  1 Corinthians 1:18

...foolishness to those who are perishing
            Although the NIV, NRSV, NAU and NET translate απολλυμι as “perishing” it should not be understood as merely physical death.   The middle voice of this verb (it cannot be determined if the verb is middle or passive) means “ruin."  Looking at how Paul uses this verb throughout his letters to the Corinthians suggest Paul employs a metaphorical, or perhaps better said, theological layer when he uses the word "perish." 

            When Paul later uses the verb in the present tense in chapter 8:11, “So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed (απολλυται),” Paul does not mean that weak believers are immediately undergoing physical death.  Instead, Paul is trying to talk about the process of dying; or being captive to sin, the law and the flesh.  Paul will use this verb to refer to physical death (10:9, 10:10, and 15:18) but in these cases, the verb tense is aorist.  15:18 even refers to the physical death of Christians.  In short, all humans perish (aorist tense), but non-believers are perishing (present tense).

            This pattern of Paul using απολλυμι in the present tense to signify not an ultimate death, but the process of perishing, matches with 2 Corinthians and Romans.  These passages also continue the pattern of contrasting those being saved and those being ruined.
  • For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing;  2 Corinthians 2:15
  • And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.  2 Corinthians 4:3
  • If your brother or sister is being injured by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. Do not let what you eat cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died.  Romans 14:15
            This point is most saliently brought home by contrasting 1 Cor 15:18 which talks about the reality that Christians will die (aorist tense) with 2 Cor 4:9, that even through Christians are “struck down” they are not “απολλυμενοι.” 

What does this mean for a sermon:  Consider the ways in which life outside of Christ consists of perishing each and every day.

...power of God to those who are being saved
            Paul uses the word power in a variety of ways.  One of the most important, however, is that God’s power will bring about resurrection:  Both Jesus and ours.  (And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power, 1 Cor 6:14), It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power (15:43). 
The final word in the section "σωζω" is also a loaded theological term.  Although BDAG indicates this word can mean “heal”, Paul normally employs it to mean “save/preserve from eternal death.”  In America today, people often think about “being saved” as an event-triggered state which allows for a reality in heaven.  There are some verses in 1 Corinthians that could perhaps suggest this (1:21,7:16, 9:22,10:33).  However, for Paul, salvation seems to work in the opposite direction: the age-to-come reality breaks into our own present state.  For, in both 1:18 and 15:2, "σωζω" is in the present passive, indicating that salvation is not a one-time event, but an on-going process.  The consummation of our salvation comes on the final day of judgment (3:15,5:5), which Paul likens to a fire.  All that remains of the present age of darkness will be burned away.  Therefore, being saved means not only existing in, but being transformed by, this future reality.
            The most saliently comes across in verse 1:18.  The cross does not simply trigger a salvation event.  The wording is not:  The words of the cross is the power of God for salvation to those believing, as it is in Romans 1:16.  Rather it is the power of God to those being saved.  What is amazing is that the power of God is not simply the saving, but rather, to those being saved, the cross is the power of God.  At the very least the power of God entails something more dynamic than ultimate salvation; it may even include something more than being saved.
            2nd Corinthians gives an image of how the power of God becomes that which allows Christians to endure hardship. 
  • But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.  We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair;  persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;  (2 Corinthians 4:7-9)
  • We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed (u`pe.r du,namin) ‘beyond our strength’ that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death so that we would rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.  (2 Corinthians 1:8-9)
  • but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love,  7 truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; (2 Corinthians 6:4-7)
  • but he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness." So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)
            This is an amazing revelation of the power of God.  The power of God does not glorify the Christians, but propels them through suffering.  Paul even takes it a step further in Philippians: I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, Philippians 3:10
To conclude with another quote from Corinithians around power:
For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God. 2 Corinthians 13:4

What does this mean for a sermon:  Well, everything.  But I think the notion of dynamic salvation is crucial (pun intended); I also think clarifying the power of God is really important for people.  (This links up well with the connected Gospel passage on Matthew 5!)

Monday, January 1, 2018

Matthew 2:1-12

This passage occurs in both the Revised Common Lectionary and Narrative Lectionary during the Christmas season.
Summary:  Don't get hung up on the meaning of the word magi and who they were.  The issue at stake is:  Who is Jesus?  The epiphany of our Lord has begun.  He is Messiah, King, and Shepherd.  Deconstruct the titles and gifts as you will; a good sermon on this text should focus on Christ's identity.  Especially interesting are the parallels between this passage of Matthew 2 and the later scenes with Herod, the chief priests, the scribes and Pilate.

Key words:
μαγοι ("magoi", meaning "magi", 2:1)  as Liddell Scott puts it:  "one of the wise men in Persia who interpreted dreams."  They were probably not kings...but they do bring royal gifts and are granted a royal audience.  They were almost certainly not Jews.  Rather than fixate on their wealth or non-wealth, I think their gentile status is a powerful point, especially in Matthew's Gospel, which spent chapter 1 in a Jewish genealogy.  Jesus is for everyone.

χριστος ("Christ", meaning "anointed", 2:4)  This is a crucial term in Matthew's Gospel.  Jesus is the anointed one, prophesied about for centuries in Judaism.  Matthew uses the term three times in chapter 1.  It will be featured in Peter's confession of faith (16:16) and will later be used in Jesus' suffering and trial (various points in 26 and 27).  In fact, almost all of these titles here for Jesus show up again in Jesus passion:

King of the Jews:  βασιλευς των Ιουδαίων (2:2)  Later in Jesus's life, this will be the accusation made against him, that he claims this (Matthew 27:11); finally, this will be put on Jesus cross (27:37).  It is worth asking -- should only Herod be scared?  No.  All of Jerusalem.  Why?  There is a political-historical reason, but I think a spiritual reason we can all connect with -- what does it actually mean if Christ is king of our life?

Leader:  ηγούμενος (2:6) who shepherds (ποιμαινω, 2:6)  Jesus will tell the people that the Shepherd is going to be struck down (26:31)

In some ways, you could probably match up the gifts of the magi with these various offices (gold for the king; incense for the Messiah; myrrh for the shepherd-leader.)  My point is not to pin down a one-to-one comparison, but rather to say that the text invites one to think about WHO is Jesus Christ.  Hence this is an epiphany text, a revelation of who Christ is.  Like all good texts about Christ's identity, it points toward his suffering and death as well.  A good sermon on this passage invites the reader to consider who Christ is as well.

Two little morsels:
θησαυρος ("thesaurus" meaning treasure, 2:11)  No great analysis, just a lovely word to know in Greek/English.
λιβανον ("Lebanon" meaning incense, 2:11)  The word for incense comes from cedar, because its bark provided the incense.  This is especially funny to me because I lived in Lebanon County where people refer to Lebanon as a type of bologna made here.