Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Luke 9:28-36

This passage is found in the (Lutheran) Revised Common Lectionary on Transfiguration Sunday, Year C (Most recently:  March 3, 2019)

Summary:  The Greek gives one license to drive this sermon in just about any Scriptural direction one's heart desires.  It is all there -- Baptism, end times, resurrection, even the Exodus.  The inclusion of Elijah and Moses already suggested this, but the Greek allows for all sorts of connections!

Key words that are unique to Luke's account:

οκτω ("eight"; 9:28)  In the early church, the 8th day was significant because it was the day on which the resurrection and hence all Christian worship, was celebrated.  In modern times, we often think we worship on the 7th day, but really, we worship on the 8th day!  That the transfiguration happened on the 8th day.  In this way, Luke points us toward the resurrection.  A possible sermon:  Our baptismal charism is the ability to see resurrection where others see death!?

προσευχομαι ("pray"; 9:28)  Jesus prays quite a bit in Luke's Gospel, far more than in the other gospels.  (In fact, although he does pray in John's Gospel, the word is never used!)  In fact, in Luke's Gospel, Jesus is praying as the heavens are opened in his baptism.  Jesus prays other times too, but these are unique to Luke's Gospel.  This suggests that for Luke, there is a connection between prayer, baptism and the gates of heaven being opened for us.

εξαστραπτω ("shone brightly"; 9:29) The Greek for "brilliant" (his coat) has tucked within it the word "astra" like "astronomy." Jesus is bright like the stars. Interestingly, the only other place this word appears in the whole Bible is Ezekial and Daniel, perhaps a reminder that transfiguration has an eschatological bent -- it is the future breaking in and not simply the past catching up!

What is worth noting is that the word transformation (μεταμορφοω) is not used in Luke's Gospel (as opposed to Matthew and Mark.  Jesus face just became "other" (ετερον, literally "hetero.")

εξοδος ("departure"; 9:31) The word for "departure" here is literally "exodus." Moses is talking with Jesus about Jesus' exodus.  A couple of points here:
- The term exodus is not accidental.  There are a number of other allusions to the original exodus:
They go up a mountain to encounter God (ορος 28); God's glory (δοξη 31) appears in a cloud (νεφελη 34) through which a voice appears; the humans seek to build a tent/tabernacle (σκηνας 33) to worship him.
- Jesus has just been preaching about his death and resurrection; so quickly turning to this event gives us permission to read the paschal mystery in light of the exodus!
- Is the Christian exodus more of a social/political exodus (leaving behind oppressive governmental systems) or is a spiritual exodus (away from the power of death and sin).  Both?  Regardless, it seems fair to understand Jesus mission within the context of the second book of the Bible, one of liberation.
- Jerusalem is the goal of this exodus.  Jesus will soon set his face toward there (9:53); he will be crucified, resurrected and ultimately glorified there.  Why is this so important to Luke?

Note:  For those hungry for some more morsels, I also have a previous post on this text

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Luke 6:27-38

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, 7th Sunday of Epiphany, most recently February 20, 2019.  

Summary:  Books and books have been written about Jesus words here.  I unpack how Jesus uses the verb "love" here, which I think may open up some new preaching directions for those who feel they've been down this road before.  At the end of the day, I think Jesus is challenging the individuals and the whole community to love, I mean really...truly love, even those we don't want to love.

αγαπάτε ("love", verses 6:27, 6:32, 6:35)  Most people reading this blog will be familiar with the various words for "love" in Greek and know that αγαπη refers to a "higher" love, the sustained and sacrificial love embodied by Jesus Christ.  If you want to preach on this word, consider at least two other points

1)  This word is used as a verb throughout this section.  In English "love" is the same word whether a verb or noun.  We likely miss the fact that Jesus offers "love" here as an action, not a concept.   Furthermore, αγαπάτε is a present tense verb, indicating the action is on-going.  So a better translation would be "Constantly engaging in the act of loving to your neighbors."  Love is not a concept here, love is an action.   The entire structure of Jesus mini sermon is verbs in command form, unpacking what it means to love:
Offer (cheek; metaphorically, vulnerability)
Do not stop (again, vulnerability)
Lend & Do not ask for return
Do good
Be merciful

My sense is that almost any sermon can wax and wane poetically on loving and do to others...a good sermon will conclude with God's mercy for us...but I wonder if a sermon that really gets at what Jesus is trying to say will linger a bit on the verbs in this section. 

2) The verb is in the second person plural.  This means it is not necessarily directed to individuals but to the community.  In fact, this whole section is generally in the plural
* Back in verse 20 Luke indicates that Jesus is speaking to his disciples.  
* More importantly, nearly all of the other nouns and pronouns in this section are plural.  
In short, a more analytic translation of Jesus famous dictums would be:
"You all, keep loving, totally and sacrificially, your enemies, and likewise you all keep doing to those who keep hating you all."
"Just as you all are wishing that the people will keep doing to you all, you all are to keep doing to them likewise."

This is not to say that there isn't an individual component to this command.  Linguistically, 2nd person plural can refer to each individual in a group or the group as a whole.  Furthermore, Jesus switches to the 2nd person singular when talking about having your check hit.

I think this 2nd point, that the verb "love" is in the plural can be put into a sermon in two ways.  First, loving enemies is really hard.  Don't do it alone.  Second, Jesus isn't just calling us as individuals to think about our actions, but think about how we act as a whole body of disciples.

χαρις ("credit", 6:32, 33, 34)  This word is normally translated as "grace" or "gift."  Those words would make for very awkward English:  "What grace is that to you?"  But that is literally the translation!  This is brought home in verse 35, when Jesus talks about how God is good to the ungrateful and wicked.  The word for ungrateful is αχαριςτος, literally, without grace.  

What to make of this?  Perhaps Jesus just uses the word grace to mean credit.  But that seems odd, especially given the repeated use of the word.  I would offer that Jesus is suggesting that the root of love is grace, namely, God's grace to us.  As he concludes his argument, be merciful as God is merciful.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Luke 5:1-11

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary, 5th Sunday of Epiphany (which doesn't necessarily happen every Epiphany).  Most recently, February 10, 2019

Summary:  This is a great metaphor for the Christian life:  Jesus interrupts our life.  Asks us to do something small for the Kingdom.  We agree.  Jesus then pushes us beyond our comfort zone, to go deep.  We balk.  We do it.  We discover the riches of God's love.  This works something deep in our soul where we are brought to our knees.  We rise, ready to serve.

Key words:
εμβας (from εμβαινω, meaning "embark", 5:3)  Let's be clear:  The movement here begins with Jesus.  Not us.  Jesus gets in the boat, even uninvited!

επαναγαγε (meaning "put out to see", 5:3,4)  Jesus commands Peter and the others twice to put out their boats.  The first time, he calls them to cast out their boat

ολιγον (meaning "few" or little", 5:3).  Then, later the second time, he calls them to set their boats into the

βαθος (meaning "deep," 5:1)

At first Jesus only asks for a bit of favor - a little movement!  The second time he asks them to take a risk.  The first time Jesus asks them to use what they have, in comfortable ways, for Jesus' purpose.  The second time, Jesus asks them to go a bit deeper -- less comfortable.  The word βαθος in Greek, like English, can refer simply to a physical measurement (something is deep), but also connotes a more mystical deepness, of something unknown and perhaps even unknowable (Psalm 69:2; Michah 7:19, 1 Cor 2;10 and Ephesians 3:18).  This seems a fitting metaphor for our life in Christ.  At first, we are asked to do something we know how to do, something we like to do, and then boom, we find ourselves pushed beyond our comfort zone, into the deep end of the pool!

επιστατα (vocative form of word meaning "master", 5:5)  It is only in Luke's Gospel that the disciples calls Jesus by this name.  In parallel stories in the synoptics, Jesus is referred to as teacher.  While Luke indicates that Jesus is teaching (εδιδασκεν, 5:3), Jesus keeps with επιστατα.  Luke here seems to be suggesting a higher level of respect and admiration.  If I were translating this word, I would use "guru."  In ancient Greek επιστατα can mean "one who is set over, a commander, of a tutelary god, a president, steward of the games, a training-master."  (Liddell Scott)   BDAG also suggests this word is used as one would lead the student/mentee into virtue.  In short, this word might include teaching, but it is more of a moralistic if not wholistic teaching.  It describes one who is entrusted with the responsibility of a project, and that project might be our moral formation.  In short, when Peter calls Jesus this name, he is demonstrating great faith.

It is also worth noting that Peter's confession of sin follows his witness of Jesus power and even after his obedience to Jesus.  Evangelism that begins with proclamation of wrath may not be the only way to bring a potential follower of Christ to his or her knees!

τα δικτυα (plural of "δικτυον" meaning "nets", 5:2, 4, 5, 6)  They are not cashing a fishing line; they are casting a net!  So, go fish!  Use your fishing metaphors, but don't use a fishing line.

ζωγρων (meaning "capture alive", 5:10)  It seems really strange here that would capture humans like fish.  Isn't Jesus about freedom and life?!  Jesus uses a different word than "fish"; he uses a word that means capture alive, as opposed to kill  In fact, in Ancient Greek, this word had two meanings:
1) to take alive, take captive instead of killing
2) to restore to life, revive
Jesus is interested in a live harvest!