Sunday, December 19, 2021

Luke 2:1-20

This passage occurs as the Gospel for Christmas Eve in all three lectionary cycles.

Summary:  I have no desire to summarize the meaning of the incarnation in Luke's Gospel.  This passage has layers and layers of meaning for us to draw on this year and every year.  I offer this as a way to hopefully point toward something in the passage that can help launch your reflection and preaching.

Words I found interesting:

οικουμενη(ν) ("world", 2.1)  The word for "all the world" here really means civilized world, coming from the Greek work οικος.  It is a reminder that for those in the Roman empire, this meant the ENTIRE world.

δογμα (literally dogma, meaning "decree", 2.1)  No important theological consideration.  Just that Rome has always been interested in promulgating dogma ;-)

απογραφη ("registration" 2.2)  A few directions one can go with this word. 
First, power of Rome:  Liddell Scott refers to this as "a register of persons liable to taxation."  Rome wanted a census because they wanted to tax and conscript people.  The first two sentences of Luke 2 are dripping with imperial power.

Second, challenge of history:  Luke's chronological placement of Quirinius doesn't add up in terms of a chronology.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Census_of_Quirinius. (Other scholars are more generous.) 

A note on Luke's 'historicity.'  Luke 1 (vs 4), Luke 2 and Luke 3 all start with details about the time period, a reminder that Luke is not trying to write a myth here, but trying to put Jesus' birth and life within the actual historical context.

Third, sin of a census:  In 2 Samuel 24:10, David confesses to sinning as he has engaged in a census.  Why is this a sin?  Because the idea was not to count your troops but to trust the Lord in battle.  In fact, it may be that the zealots (mentioned in the New Testament) arose out of anger of this census being taken. 

Can we put this altogether:  Even if you cannot accept as historical fact the coincidence of Jesus birth with the census, Jesus would have been a young child during a census, a brutal reminder of the power of Rome, a foreign and pagan power.  Quirinius' biography is a great story of the "Roman dream" where someone rose through military victory and shifting political allegiances.  In short, Luke's setting the stage is correct:  The Jews existed under an imperial power, hostile to their faith.  Jesus was born in an empire that cared not for him.  This imperial power was and remains the envy of all other empires in its military and administrative might.

To drive this point home, the angel proclaims, "who is Christ, the Lord."  In Greek, this is spelled Χριστος κυριος, which is the basic confession of faith (Christ is Lord) that ran contrary to the Roman confession of faith (Caesar Kurios).  The angel here offers a subversive confession of faith! 

καταλυματι  ("inn", 2:7)  There was no room for them in the inn.  Later Jesus will make room for himself in another inn -- the upper room (22:11; same word).  One take is that Mary and Joseph were with distance family and because it was so crowded, they put the baby and pregnant woman in with the animals.  Even if you want to imagine Jesus as a middle class person with distant relatives surrounding him...Luke's poetry still maintains its force:  The world didn't have room for him and the prince of all creation was sleeping in a bed of hay. 

μεγαλην (literally "great", 2:9 and 2:10).  Two things are great in this passage -- there is a great fear and then a great joy.  This sets up, in many ways, the background for the whole of Luke's Gospel:  Jesus will cause great fear, but also great joy.  It is a backdrop for any good Christmas sermon too -- there is great fear in our world, but because of Jesus, we have reason for great joy.

ημεραις  (days, 2:1; 2:6 and throughout Luke 1 and Luke 2) vs σημερον (today, 2:11)  Throughout the Gospel of Luke, but especially the early part, there are lots of things that are happening 'in those days'.  But Jesus birth happens today.  I wonder if there a sermon connection there, thinking about the pacing of life.  Women move slowly with a donkey; the shepherds are hurrying to see.  We have lots of days, but Christmas day is a different.  For me, Christmas Eve is one of the few times a year when I feel like I am not just living days, rushing from one activity to the next, but simply in the moment, dwelling in the proclamation.

To put it another way:  Christmas in America does everything is can to focus our attention on the past or the future.  The angels tell us to focus on the here and now, where God is! 

αγραυλουντες (participle form of αγραυλεω, meaning "living outdoors", 2:8)  This is a word we don't have in English.  It clearly does not refer to high class people!  Luke 2 begins in a powerful roman 'war room' in which the decision is make to count troops and tax citizens, but ends up in a field, in which the riches of heaven and the ranks of the heavenly host is unveiled.  Luke is moving us down the ladder of importance (Emperor, Governor, king of the Jews, middle class inn owners and finally to shepherds).  Yet, this precisely where the world's power is not is where God chooses to reveal God's self.

ευδοκιας ("pleasure", 2:14)  I often wondered about this word -- did God intend peace for all people or just those whom he liked?  First, the Greek has a textual problem.  The manuscripts seem divided (and even in manuscripts there are edits) whether this should be read as a nominative or genitive.

If we read it as a nominative:
N) glory to God; peace on earth; good will among humans (i.e. three items distributed in three realms)
If we read it as a genitive
G)  glory to God; peace on earth among humans of (his) pleasure.
If we go with option N) it seems that good will is toward all people, unambiguously.  Unfortunately, the evidence textually, even though divided, favors option G).
So, if we go with option G) we encounter a bit more ambiguity.  If this is the case (okay, bad pun there), Luke writes "upon the earth peace among people of pleasure/desire."  The Greek leaves out the phrase, "of him."  It simply states, "among people of desire."  I am not sure if we can, on the basis of grammar, solve this case (again, bad pun).  What is unambiguous is that God intends for peace on earth!  What is ambiguous grammatically and historically is how we humans live into this peace.

ρημα (literally "herema" meaning "word", 2:15)  This word is like logos, and it can mean thing or matter or word.  That I want to point out is that the shepherds literally say, "Let us behold the word."  John's Gospel is famous for such a construction (John 1:14), Luke has the same concept embedded here.

Ιωσηφ (literally "Joseph", 2:16) Just a reminder that Joseph isn't left out of the picture!

συμβαλλουσα (literally "symballoo", meaning "ponder", 2:19)  Mary "pondered these things in her heart."  The word for ponder is symbol -- to draw meaning, to pull together or literally to throw together.  This is fascinating that Mary is gathering together the images and thoughts of the angels in her mind.

Grammar Review:  Cognate Accusative
It is considered poor English to write a sentence in which the verb and object share the same word root.  For example:  I climbed a climb or I rode a ride.  We are trained to make the object and verb different words:  "I climbed a mountain" or "I rode a bike." 
Because of Hebrew's limited vocabulary as well as the importance of simplifying stories for oral transmission, cognate accusatives are very common.  Not so much in Greek, however.  Which is strange then that Luke uses two of them in this passage:
φυλασσοντεσ φυλακας (literally "guarded their guard," or "tended their flocks," 2.8)
εφοβηθησαν φοβου (literally "feared a great fear," 2.9)
Not sure why Luke does this other than to speculate he was reading a lot of the Old Testament as he wrote the Christmas narrative!

Monday, December 13, 2021

Luke 1:57-80

This passage is found in the Narrative Lectionary, Advent 4, Year B.  It is also found in the Revised Common Lectionary, Advent 2, Year C (Most recently, Dec 2021)

Summary:  As I reflected on Zechariah's words, I asked myself -- why does Luke give him so much time?  Most of us could have gone from the Magnificat right to the birth!  (And liturgically we normally do!)  I wrestled with answers having to do with John the Baptist, but then I realized the reason Luke spends so much time on Zechariah has nothing to do, really, with John the Baptist, and everything to do with Jesus.  Zechariah's song is Luke's way of proclaiming to us the key mission of Jesus Christ:  To be our Lord and Savior.  Why else would Luke exhaust so much ink between the Magnificat and the birth?  In this blog post, I look at the connection between Zechariah's words and the words of Christ from the cross and resurrection scenes of Luke's Gospel.

Where to go for a sermon:  A reminder of what this whole thing Christmas is all about -- the salvation that comes to us in Jesus Christ.

Key words (unrelated to my bigger point):
πνευματου αγιου  (form of πνευμα αγιος, meaning "Holy Spirit" 1:67).  The Holy Spirit makes frequent appearances in Luke's Gospel!  (In fact, this is the fourth appearance in Luke 1 - vss 15, 35 & 41).  The Holy Spirit's work here is in conjunction with prophesy, specifically the work of pointing the world toward Jesus Christ.

αφοβως ("without fear" 1:74) The prefix "α" in Greek means "without"; φοβος means "fear."  What a beautiful reminder, in our world of fear, that Jesus has come that we might worship without fear!  Paul, in Philippians 1:14, talks about how in prison he still worships without fear.

λατρευειν ("worship", 1:75) God has rescued us for a purpose -- that we might serve and worship God.  The act of redemption is not for our independence, but our fundamental binding to God.

Key words (related to my bigger point)
ευλογητος ("blessed" 1:68)  Zechariah begins his song with a word of blessing to the Lord.  The last activity in Luke's Gospel (really the last word) is also blessed (24:53; as a participle), when the disciples praise the risen and ascended Christ.

προφηταις ("prophet", 1:70; 24:25, 27, 44) Zechariah proclaims that God has brought about the promised salvation, promised through the prophets.  At the end of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus will explain how he is the fulfillment of the prophets.

εν τω ιερω ("in the temple"; 24:53)  The Gospel of Luke begins with Zechariah in the temple; and the circumcision, I assume, also happens at the temple.  In short, the Gospel (and the declaration of Jesus' mission through Zechariah) begins and ends in the temple.

διαθηκης ("covenant" 1:72)  Zechariah confirms that God has remembered his covenant.  During the Last Supper, Jesus promises a new covenant (22:20); more powerfully, Jesus tells them to remember this new covenant. (22:19)

αφεσιν αμαρτιων ("forgiveness" 1:77; 24:47)  Zechariah proclaims that John will bring knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of sins  (I am fighting every bit of my Lutheran fingers to write more about this).  For now though, recall, the first words of Christ from the cross are "Father, forgive them... (23:34) and then after the resurrection, he tells them that forgiveness is to be proclaimed in all the world.

εν τω παραδεις ("in paradise" 23:43)  Zechariah speaks of the one coming to be a light in the darkness and shadow of death (1:79).  From the cross, the tender mercy of God will break from on high and Jesus will be a light to the penitent thief!

ειρηνη ("peace" 1:79; 24:36)  Zechariah promises that the one coming will guide us in peace.  What are the first words of the resurrected Christ to the gathered disciples?  Peace.  When does peace come -- after the dawn has broken forth (talk about resurrection foreshadowing!!)

Monday, December 6, 2021

Luke 3:7-18

This passage is found in the RCL, Advent 3, Year C (Most recently Dec 12, 2021).  Luke 3:16-17 and 21-22 also occur in the RCL, Baptism of our Lord, Year C.

Summary:  It almost seems ironic to the Lutheran preacher that Luke refers to John "evangelizing"; here for it seems all law.  However, this is a great Lutheran sermon.  It fully offers the listener God's law, both instrumentally (vocation) but also theologically (terror that leads us to Christ).  Furthermore, it defines the role of the church:  God's gathering of baptized sinners, where God justifies them (cleanses) and sanctifies them (puts them to use).  Basically, Martin Luther must have written this chapter.  Haha!!

Okay, a more subtle commentary -- sanctification requires sifting.  Does the church sift us or has life already sifted us?!

Key words:
προσδοκαω ("wait" or "expect"; 3:15)  A great Advent words!  Interestingly, Luke uses this word a whole bunch (6x in Luke; 4x in Acts), far more often than anyone else. In this case though, the people are not waiting for Jesus, per se, but rather the Messiah, and wondering whether John would be it. Perhaps a reminder and a challenge -- what are we waiting for?

καρδιας ("heart"; 3:15)  The people wondered "in their hearts."  In Luke's Gospel, the hearts is the place where thought occurs, much like Hebrew!

ειη ("to be"; 3:15) The word here for "is" is in the optative mood, a rare usage indeed. Gotta give it to Luke -- using Hebrew thought with advanced Greek!

αλων ("threshing floor") and συναγω ("gather"; 3:17)  God gathers in the wheat to do something good with it.  It was beaten, yes, but this had a purpose -- make the grain productive for wheat.  This is sanctification.  God taking away our crap so that we can be useful for our neighbor.

διακαθαιρω ("cleanse"; 3:17).  This word's cousin καθαιρω is more familiar -- Catherize!  The job of the church is to cleanse us.

Grammar Review:  Super easy participle:
μελλοθσηας:   The "coming" wrath.  This is a verb function as an adjective.  Easy as pie.  Remember, not all participles are hard!  Many have direct and easy ways to translate them into English.  In this case, you just have to identify it as an adjectival participle (how?  It has the word "the" in front of it and it describes the word immediately following it).

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Luke 1:39-56 (Magnificat)

This passage occurs in the RCL Advent Season.  Some years it is simply an optional psalm passage.
 
Luke's Magnificat:
Summary:  Luke is such a gifted writer that the preacher need not do much more than slow down and help people hear what he writes. I have focused on joy.  In Luke's Gospel, joy is associated with the Jesus and communal worship. The Bible pushes this further and connects joy with suffering; if that seems an unfair stretch for this passage, Mary is certainly joyful amid great uncertainty, political oppression if not also family instability.

(Note, I add in some reflections on the verbs at the end).

Key Words:
εσκριτησεν ("stir with joy", from σκριταω 1:41,44). In the New Testament, this word appears only in Luke. The Hebrew word that LXX translators translated as σκριταω has fascinating imagery, including the movement of cattle released from a stall. There is something uncontrollable about this type of movement. In Ancient Greek it would refer to the movement of wind gusts.   (Alas, I couldn't come up with something concrete to tie together Spirit and joy here based on this word!)  John has an uncontrollable joy in encountering Jesus.

2014 additional note: When I think of this word now, I think of my own daughter skipping home from school in her excitement about the day.

αγαλλιασει ("extreme joy", 1:44; as a verb in 1:47) This word means a great joy that often results in body movement. It appears in other key places in the Bible both as a noun and verb
Psalm 51: Restore to me the joy of your salvation.
Psalm 100:2 Worship the Lord with gladness, come into his presence with singing
Luke 1:47 My spirit rejoices in God my savior
Acts 2:46 The original worshiping community
Matthew 5:12 (Beatitudes) Rejoice when they mistreat you...they did the same to the prophets.
(1 Peter also associates this word with faith in the midst of suffering and trials.)

χαρα ("joy"; not in this section!) Okay, okay, the word joy is not in this section. But joy shows up a lot in Luke
1:14: Joy at birth of John
2:10 Joy in the news of angels to the shepherds
10:17  This disciples returning from their 'mission trip' realizing that demons will submit to the name of Jesus.
15:10 and 7: Joy at a repentant sinner.
24:41 Joy of the disciples at the resurrection
24:52 The disciples end Luke's Gospel by worshiping in joy

Grammar: A hidden resurrection (Luke 1:37-38)
In many cases, it is impossible to translate word for word, not only because of meaning but also syntax. English translators are (almost) forced to hide a resurrection that happens in Mary.
Mary has just heard the Word of the Lord and responded in faithful obedience (1:37-38). The translators make it look like there is a new paragraph: "In those days..." where the Greek connects Mary's faith to the next move. It reads literally, "Raised up, Mary, in those days went." In fact the word for rise/rose is actually αναστατις, which means even "resurrection."
So, a nice Lutheran translation would be:
"May it be according to your word." Raised up to new life, Mary went to Elizabeth...

To put it simply, Luke subtly reinforces the notion that the Word of the Lord produces resurrection.

A 2018 addition:  One thing that I noted is looking at the verbs in the Magnificat associated with God's action:
look (48)
bless (48)
done (49)
[extend mercy] (50)
done (51)
*scatter (51)
*tear down (52)
uplift (52)
fill (53)
*send away (empty) (53)
help (54)
remember mercy (54)
speak (55)
First, God is the main agent.  This is not a social agenda for humans.  One could argue that humans should do all this following God's example.  However, Mary does none of this, at least not the destructive stuff.  Furthermore, most people that go about tearing down are rarely ever viewed, in their life, or even later, as agents of God.

Second, most of these verbs are positive, but a handful are "negative" or "destructive."  In short, God's primary work is giving life; the act of judging and punishing is secondary, or as Luther calls it, alien.

Third, all of the verbs are in the aorist tense, suggesting that they refer to one time events (typically in the past).  This means that Mary somehow sees Jesus birth as accomplishing (or having already accomplished) all of this.  Ponder that!!

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Luke 3:1-6

This passage is found in the RCL, Advent 2, Year C (Most recently Dec 5, 2021).

Summary:  A familiar text with many preaching paths. Once again we need to head to the wilderness, the familiar cry of John the Baptist, to restore our sights.  To put it another way, Advent remains a reason of repentance (whatever color we now use), but one where repentance isn't simply about personal sins, but a reorientation of our whole mind away from the crap out there about Christmas and toward the salvation of God unfolding in Jesus Christ.

Key words:
τετρααρχουντες ("rule as tetra-arch"; 3:1)  The word tetra-arch means rule as a piddly regional governor.  Luke includes a number of historical details in his Gospel, especially early on; Luke clearly wants to show that Jesus birth and life are actual events.

ρημα ("word"; 3:2)  This word means "word."  It will come into English the word "hermeneutic," i.e., the lens through which one looks at the data.  This is really interesting to read John's work like this:  "The hermeneutic of God came to John", which was forgiveness, baptism and repentance.  What if our repentance means viewing life through this hermeneutic!

βαπτισμα ("baptism"; 3:3). Originally, this word did not have religious meaning. It simply meant to dip. For your enjoyment, here are the Liddell-Scott Hellenistic meanings of the word. Wow!

I. trans. to dip in water
2. to dip in poison
3. to dip in dye, to dye
4. to draw water
II. intransitive the ship dipped, ie, sank

Try preaching that: Baptism as a dip in poison; as a dip in dye; as a drawing of water from God; as finally, a sinking ship!

μετανοεω ("repent"; 3:3) The Greek meaning of the word is "new mind."  In Lidell-Scott's ancient (and secular) Greek lexicon, repent means to change one's mind or purpose. We often put repentance together with sin, a fine thing, but perhaps we need to consider that repentance means often more than simply a struggle against temptation, but a paradigm shift, a transformation of our whole outlook, if not way of life and even being. In this case, there is a shift into the forgiveness of sins. Perhaps that is what Jesus ministry is really about, not simply our own forgiveness, but inculcating a world view that finally includes forgiveness.  Perhaps this is σωτηριον (salvation): when the world finally embraces forgiveness as the path.  Overarching point:  μετανοεω in Greek and in the New Testament means far more than forgiveness of sins.  (Or forgiveness of sins means far more than we think it does).

πληρωθησται (πληροω, fill or fulfill, 3:5) and ταπεινωθησται (ταπεινω, fulfill, 3:5):  The English renders these words as "raised up" and "made low."  Yet Luke (and Isaiah) use the words here for fill and humble.  These then echo other parts of Luke's Gospel (the Magnificat; Jesus words on the road to Emmaus).  These represent key features of Jesus mission:  To fulfill and to humble.

Grammar note:  Lack of punctuation in ancient languages
Original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts lack punctuation; it was added later by monks.  So we really don't know if Isaiah meant, "A voice cries out, 'In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord'" or "A voice cries out in the Wilderness, 'prepare the way of the Lord'."  The monks thought the former...probably good to go with their instinct, especially given the need, in the Exile, to walk through the wilderness from Babylon to Israel.  If this is the case, it seems that the Gospel writers change the punctuation to fit their own program of matching John's work with the description in Isaiah. 
A few options:  The scholarly one: Preach or teach, in a despising fashion, about how the NT abuses the OT
The Christological one:  Preach and teach about how the NT rightfully abuses (reinterprets) the OT to make it fit with Christ!
Or the pastoral one:  In this case both punctuation possibilities are valid.  John the Baptist cries out in the wilderness.  Yet he speaks to each of us to get into the wilderness, away from all the chaos of the world, to focus on God and God alone.

Monday, November 29, 2021

Luke 1:26-38 (Annunication)

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary during Advent.
Summary:

Many commentaries reading this passage display a hermeneutic of suspicion.  For example, the anchor Bible commentary was lamenting that Luke put everything in an OT style.  Strangely enough, this was proof that he was making this stuff up.  (Imagine, God works in a consistent manner over time).  The virgin birth becomes highly problematic within this hermeneutic of suspicion! 

I do not think Luke wants us to read with such cynical eyes.  First, Luke goes to great lengths here to give us names and dates, indicating he intends to write history, not fiction.  He even has the angel offer Mary a sign (the pregnancy of Elizabeth), reminding us of Mary's human need for proof.  While his characters may follow patterns of other Biblical characters, they seem to me to be real people with hopes and fears.  (Because the Bible characters, as it turns out, are real people with hopes and fears)

I think Luke offers us another hermeneutic:  belief in God's word to do miracles.  I use the word hermeneutic because Luke plays on the word herma in this passage; the word for "thing" in verse in 37 is "rema", but because of the heavy breathing on the "r", this comes into English"herma"; the word for "word" in verse 38 is also "rema" (herma).  We should read the Bible, not ready to doubt, but ready to be amazed at what God has done.  This hermeneutic, I believe, is what Luke intends that we might echo the angel and Mary in declaring that “All things (hermas) are possible through God”  and “Let it be done according to your word (herma).”

Key Words:
οηομα ("name"; appears throughout the section)  It is curious that the word name appears four times in this section.  In addition, every character has a name; even people not part of the immediate story, David and Elizabeth, are named.

καλεω ("call"/"invite"; appears throughout the section)  It is also curious that the word "call" appear four times in this section.  Clearly calling things a name is a vital part of this pericope.

παρθενου ("virgin" or "young woman"; 1:27)  Let's settle this debate.  Linguistically it is possible to imagine that Mary is simply referred to hear as a young woman and not a "virgin."  However, the word for virgin is parthenos (like the Parthenon building, to the virgin Athena).  Furthermore, Mary's very objection to the pregnancy is the fact that she has never known a man.

χαρις ("grace"; 1:28; 1:30)  In 1:28 this appears as a verb in the perfect passive form:  "Having been graced." It is interesting that the grace is in the perfect, in that the graceful event occurred previous to the angel's announcement.  What was the event that already gave her this grace? Perhaps her own immaculate conception?!  

Another tough thing about this idea of Mary's grace is found in the NET's translation notes.  They lament the Vulgate translation, "full of grace" because it presents the idea that Mary has grace to bestow on others.  While it is true that Mary's grace comes from God, it is hard to make the argument that Mary does not bestow grace on the rest of us through her role in the birth.  Catholics (and Orthodox) go too far, but we protestants have never quite done Mary justice!

Grammar Review:  Missing words
The phrase the "The Lord be with you" is not really what the Greek says. It simply reads "The Lord with you." (ο κυριος μετα σου)  This can be read as an imperative, as in it expresses a wish, "The Lord be or will be with you." Or as an indicative: "The Lord is with you." Interestingly, most translators translate a similar construction at the end of the Gospel of John (Peace to you) with an imperative/wish "Peace be with you." Using the same translation method they use here, that phrase in John's Gospel should read there "Peace is with you."  In this case, I would probably argue for the translation, "The Lord is with you" because a) the angel is standing right there and b) the angel says she is graced.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Luke 1:1-25

I have not been able to find this passage in the 3 year lectionary cycle.  However, I think it is a great passage for Advent.  In fact, it even has the word prepare in it!!  I am beginning to use Luke 1 for Advent season.

Summary:  This passage has some great theological nuggets around theodicy:  Even though Elizabeth and Zachariah are declared righteous, they still struggle with infertility and later disbelief of God's messengers!  

It is also interesting that Zachariah's disbelief is that God could be so good and powerful.  We can serve in the temple, we can do godly things, but do we really trust God!?  Zachariah would trust the casting of lots but not the word of the angel!!

Key Words:
διηγησις ('diagesis', meaning narrative, Luke 1:1)  Sometimes we speak of exegesis -- drawing things out of a Bible passage through analysis and hopefully prayer.  We are warned against inegesis -- putting ourselves in the story.  Luke commends us to something different here -- diagesis -- in which we walk alongside of the text, in conversation, putting in and pulling out from it.

κατηχηθης  (from κατηχεω, which sounded out is 'catechethes', Luke 1:4)  Luke reminds us that the early church took seriously the task of catechesis, of passing on the story of Jesus to the next generation.
 

Side note:  It is for this reason that I no longer right people who want to have Christmas songs and stories before Dec 24 or Dec 25.  I take seriously my job to pass along the story.
 
δικαιοι (meaning righteous, Luke 1:6)  She is righteous, yet barren, after what we can assume were years of prayers.

ελαχε (from λαγχανω, meaning lots, Luke 1:9)  In the ancient temple they drew lots.  A reminder that it is often hard to discern the will of God and perhaps leaving something to chance is okay!  This story starts to get at the ways in which we trust and don't trust God!

Ιωαννης  ("John", Luke 1:13)  John is the English form of Iohannes, the Latin form of the Greek name Ιωαννης (Ioannes), itself derived from the Hebrew name יוֹחָנָן (Yochanan) meaning "YAHWEH is gracious", from the roots יוֹ (yo) referring to the Hebrew God and חָנַן (chanan) meaning "to be gracious".    https://www.behindthename.com/name/john
(Note, that word "חננ", chanan, is found in Psalm 51, "Have mercy on me!")  This is an Old Testament name, found in the later parts.  It is linguistically different than Jonathan (The Lord gives).

It is interesting than that the pregnancy, Elizabeth claims, has taken away her disgrace (ονειδος, 1:25); John "delivers" in her "delivery."


χαρα and χαηρσονται (χαιρω) (meaning "joy" and "rejoicing", Luke 1:14)  The word joy will reappear throughout the Gospel, including with Mary, the 'lost and found' parables and then the resurrection!

Side note:  Luke 1:17 and Elijah turning the hearts is a reference to Malachi 4:6.  Last verse of the Old Testament (the Christian ordering) is a promise of God to bring reconciliation in to families.

κατεσκευασμενον (from κατασκευαζω, meaning "prepare, build, construct, furnish, equip", Luke 1:17)  This is the question -- how do we prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ.  Or more basically, which coming do you want to emphasize in our church this Christmas?  The pre-revised-common lectionary focused on the coming of Jesus in Jerusalem, the coming of Jesus in glory and the coming of Jesus in his ministry in middle age.  I am willing to focus on the coming of Jesus as a baby because I feel our cultural patterns mean we miss out on the season of incarnation.  But maybe this is a mistake, but I will willing to cast my lots, so to speak.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Luke 21:25-36

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, Advent 1, most recently Nov. 28, 2021.

Summary
Often times we categorize Bible passages as "Second Coming" or "Eschatological" passage and proceed to interpret them as referring to the consummation of things in Christ's return.  I think this provides a narrow lens for interpreting these passages, locating the destructive and constructive work of Christ in the future.  Jesus describes the reality of both chaos and redemption, something that was happening as the Gospels were being written and continues to happen again and again in our lives.

Note:  This is my first time really studying this passage in sometime.  I invite comments to help me flesh this out!

Key Words of contrast
Α.  Come vs Go
εγγιζω (meaning "approach or draw near"; as a verb ηγγικεν (21.20 and 28) and adjective ηγγυς (21.31)
and
παρερχομαι  (meaning "disappear or go away"; as a verb παρελθη (21.32) and παρελευσονται (21.33)

Perhaps the most crucial word in this entire section of Luke is εγγιζω.  It appears over and over in chapters 18-22 as Jesus "approaches" (εγγιζω) Jerusalem and Jesus preaches about the "approaching" (εγγιζω) events, including his death, resurrection and return.  

It is also worth noting that this verb is in the present tense -- Jesus is approaching here and now.  The redemption (and destruction) that Jesus brings is not located in the future, but in the present too.

On the other hand, Jesus presents a reality, not of something coming, but of something leaving and disappearing, namely, heaven and earth.  

Advent preaching idea:  All of the other things that make American Christmas "Christmas" will fade away -- the Bing Crosby music, the tinsel, the Amazon Prime deals.  What will abide?  The Word. This is where we should dwell.  Help people see what this is like though -  Advent Wreaths, daily devotions, singing carols, worship.

Β.  Destroy vs Redeem
ερημωσις (meaning "wilderness or destruction"; vs 20)
and
απολυτρωσις  (meaning "redemption"; vs 28)

Jesus suggests that the "end times" will bring about destruction.  First, it is in interesting that Jesus prophesies a time of wilderness, translated destruction in vs 20.  While this is a fair translation, it misses out on the Biblical theme of wilderness, a place of renewal and encounter with God.  The coming of Christ invites us into the wilderness, to encounter Christ.

I also think this contrast highlights the fact that what we call the "end times" -- would better be called the "fullness time." For in Christ will have our freedom, our redemption.

Advent preaching idea:  What does it mean for Jesus to approach us?  This passage suggests that Jesus coming and approaching us is never neutral; we are always changed by this encounter, either in that the world around us changes, we are invited into a wilderness (with John too) or we receive our redemption.  Of all of the above.

C.  Stand vs Flee
ιστημι (meaning "stand"; as a verb σταθηναι; vs 21.36)
and
εκφυγειν  (meaning "flee"; vs 21.36)

On the one hand, we are called to flee from certain things:  dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life.  On the other hand, we are called to be prepared to stand before Christ.

Advent preaching idea:  Christmas nostalgia can become a drug of choice to escape the cares of the world.  This is anti-incarnation.  We are called like Christ to be in this world, to stand before him, who is always present in places of need and hurt.  Christmas should be about us taking a step into the world, not away from it.  So where will people find solace and strength?  (Go back to the word.)

Note:  The verb meaning stand also appears in vs 28 (ανακυψατε; stand straight up)

Incomplete thoughts for a future post
ου μη means never
Indicative verb tense governs tense translation of related participles
αποψυχοντων   (αποψυχον) 26
biotikos



Monday, November 8, 2021

Mark 13:1-8

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary, along with Mark 13:24-37.
This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary, year B (Most recently: Nov 2021)

Summary:  If I had to preach this text, I would prefer to preach on vs. 13:9-11, which talks about the Spirit's work in and through the church between the first and second coming of Jesus.  But hey, if 1-8 is what you have got, the Greek can still open up some fruitful preaching doors: First, what is the foundation of your life?  And second, what is the destiny of life?

Two key insights:

λιθος ("stone", 13.1,2)
The NRSV translates the second half of verse 2 like almost every other translation:
"Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down."   However, the text literally reads:
"A stone here will never be permitted upon a stone, which will never be destroyed."

The NRSV translators take this to mean that every stone of this building will be destroyed.  I think it means this, but I also think we can take Jesus a bit more literally at his words:  These stones cannot be laid on the eternal rock, who is him. 

You might say I am digging here, but consider Mark 12:10 -- Jesus refers to himself as the rejected stone which has become the cornerstone.  Jesus builds on this earlier statement and says these stones no longer mean anything in light of him, who is the true and eternal temple.

The basic point, regardless of translation, is that in light of Jesus, the true temple and rock, this temple and rocks are unimportant, finally heretical.  I just think we can safely add that Mark allows Jesus to refer to himself, subtly, as an eternal rock.  Regardless, it brings us to the real helpful preaching point:  What is the foundation in your life?  For 1st century Jews, the temple would have been a foundation piece of their life, a center of mystery and meaning.  Jesus says, this doesn't really matter, he does.  Rather than critique first century Jews, we should ask ourselves:  What idols -- even of our building spaces -- have we built for ourselves?

In fact, the disciples do not use an adjectives to describe the stones, although almost all of the translators use the words "large" or even "magnificent."  The disciples use the word ποταπαι (13.1), which is a question word meaning:  What kind of?  or "Where are they from?"  In short, they ask Jesus a deeper question -- what kind of temple is this in front of us?  It is one made of human hands!

τελος ("end", 13:7)
The NIV translates the second half of verse 7 like almost every other translation
"Such things must happen, but the end is still to come."

The question is, how do we interpret τελος, here translated "end."  It can mean "fulfillment", "destiny", "aim", or even "perfection."  In fact, the translators use "fulfill" when translating συντελεω in verse 4 (the prefix συν- does not significantly change the meaning of the word here).

All too often when we think about the end times we think about...the end...instead of the fulfillment of all God intended for us.  It is too bad this week we do not have the Micah 5 lesson.  How much might our collective imaginations be stirred if we instead thought of them as "fulfillment days."  What must happen for God to fulfill all of God's promises?  What does the fulfillment look like?  In fact, the word Jesus uses to summarize all of this is "ωδιν(ων)" meaning birth pangs.  It is the birth of something new!

A few other notes:
13:2 Jesus twice uses the emphatic "no" construction in Greek "ou mh" ου μη (ie never ain't gonna happen).  This strong negative reinforces my previous argument that the old temple will not rest on the new temple, Jesus Christ. This is what Jesus says anyway, but the actual Greek reveals this in a subtle way.

13:1 The word for "building" here is "oikodomeh" οικοδομαι which can mean structure, but also edification or up-buidling. For example, Romans 14:19, "Let us pursue what leads to peace and the UPBUILDING of one another."

13:3 The phrase here in Greek to describe the disciples is "kata idian," translated "privately" (lit: according to their own).  κατά ιδιαν  This is used throughout the Gospel of Mark; this is the last time anything will be said privately though.  It is more comfortable to be the church in private than in public!!

Monday, November 1, 2021

Revelation 21:1-6

This passage occurs in the RCL Easter Season, Year C, most recently May 2019; it also occurs for All Saints' Day Year B
 
Summary:
This verse is paired in Year C with John 13:31-35, "By this they will know you are my disciples, if you love one another."  Jesus sets up a strong imperative in John 13 for us to create the Kingdom of God on earth through our mutual love.  But Rev 21 is a perfect antidote, that finally, we cannot create the Kingdom, but this is an act of God.  The Greek really spells this out.  Like much of the Johannine writing, these brief verses allude richly to the Old Testament and other places in John's Gospels.  In fact, the connection to the rest of John is quite striking in this passage.  But to get back to the juxtaposition of John 13 and Rev 21:  This is the tension of Christian community:  We must work for a better world, but know that we cannot get there until Jesus comes again.

Key Words
καταβαινουσαν ("descending", from καταβαινω, 21:2)
εκ του ουρανου ("from the heaven", 21:2)
απο του θεου ("from God", 21:2)
All of these words, put together, form a trifecta clearly showing that the holy city is not established by our activities on earth, but is entirely from God.

νυμφη ("bride", literally "nymph", 21:2)  The Bible begins and ends with a coupling of man and woman, a marriage, first of Adam and Eve and then later of Christ and the church.  I realize that Lutherans have tended to put marriage in the "left-hand" kingdom (and therefore allow it to be dictated by science and not Scripture), but clearly it is something that God cares for.  I guess it is a question worth asking -- what is the bride adorned with?

σκηνη ("tent", 21:3)  In the first chapter of John's Gospel, we read that "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." The word for dwell here is "σκηνεω " which means το tent or tabernacle. (The parallel to the OT is striking here; the next sentence in John's Gospel is "And we beheld his glory." In the OT, once the tabernacle was set up, the people could behold God's glory). This is the same word here. In some ways, this then is a powerful book end of the NT and the Johannine literature. It begins cosmically with God choosing to dwell with us on the old earth; now it ends with God choosing again to dwell with us on the earth he has again prepared for us.

ω ("omega", 21.6) One thing worth smiling about. The word "Omega" is a word in English. In Greek, it is a letter, literally, "Big O", Jesus says he is the "alpha and big O."

αρχη ("beginning", 21:6)
τελος ("end", 21:6)
The word in Greek for the "beginning and end" are "αρχη" and "τελος." Both of these words have all sorts of connotations. Arche can mean ruler (as in monarchy), first principle, beginning. (En arche = in the beginning). Telos can mean completion, final, last, ultimate. Jesus is the beginning and end; Jesus is the ruling principle and ultimate reality.  The point here is that Jesus is both the book ends of the story (in the beginning was the Word), but also the intellectual and emotional beginning and end.

Comments from early posts on Rev 21:

21.1 The word sea θαλασσα ("thalassa") is used just a few verses earlier (20.13); it was holding the dead. Perhaps one could argue that if the sea no longer exists, then death also no longer exists.

21.4 The word for wipe away εξαλειφω ("exaleiphoo") means more like wipe out than wipe away. The activity is probably a bit less sentimental than this pastor would like ;-)

Mark 12:38-44

This passage is found in the Revised Common Lectionary Year B (Most recently Nov 7, 2021)

Summary:  This is a case where the Greek does not alter the meaning, but simply forces us to slow down and examine Jesus' familiar words.  As I read the passage this time, I became struck by Jesus' condemnation of an overly consuming, self-aggrandizing and elitist clergy.  While I believe the office of ministry is a divine institution, I know that I personally can err very much in my execution of this office.  More generally, I think Jesus makes a comment on our consumption and our giving this day, a message that all of us need to hear.

βλεπω (12:38; "see")  The word here for "watch out" is simply the Greek 101 for see; Jesus will tell his followers to "watch out" five times in this section (12:38, 13:5; 9; 23; 33).

γραμματευς (12:38; "scribes") This word has an obvious English cognate:  "Grammar."  The question for us today is, whom do we need to watch out for -- who are the grammarians today?  I struggle with this question a bit more personally -- how do I become a grammarian, who says "no" to the working of the Lord, either in my congregation or in my denomination?  How do I NOT become someone whom Jesus warns against.  The further description of Jesus' critique includes:

they wear στολη (12:38, "stole" or "robe")
and sit in the 
προτοκαθεδρια (12:39, "first seat").  Ouch. 

κατεσθιω (12:40, "devour")  As you guessed, the Bible uses this word in an entirely negative fashion.  It also comes up in the prodigal son, where the son has consumed the father's property (literally, βιος, used also in this passage in vs. 44).  One can read this passage as a narrow critique of 1st century Jewish leadership, more broadly of religious leaders over time, or most broadly, against all over-consumption.  In what ways does our whole culture "devour widows houses while praying long prayers."  A prophetic voice is helpful here, but I think Jesus also calls each us to examine our own actions.

βιος  (12:44, "life"  The woman gives "the whole of her life" The word life here is "bios." So the sermon is not about stewardship, but about biology.  Or maybe better put, Stewardship includes biology.  Do we live to consume (food and status) or give of our whole life?

Grammar note:  Here we have a substantive participle "the ones who devour" and a participle that might also be adjectival (in this case, the ones who devour = the ones who pray) or circumstantial.  This participle (pray) can be translated both ways because it does not have an article in front of it.  When you do not have an article in front of the participle you translate that participle as a circumstantial participle, one that describes the circumstances under which the main action takes place.  If translated in this fashion, it would read, "the ones who devour widows houses while praying long prayers." Ouch! I think in this case, the circumstantial participle gives a better feel for their hypocrisy:  They pray while they sin.

Monday, October 25, 2021

John 8:31-36

This passage occurs on Reformation Sunday (last Sunday in October).
 
Summary:
This passage lays out the fundamental convictions of the Reformation:  That the normal human condition is bondage to sin; that in Christ, through faith, we are freed and Christ abides in us.  Worth noting in the Greek is the word μενω, which appears throughout the Gospel of John; justification is not here seen as simply forensic (ie, Jesus declares you righteous as if in a courtroom) but as ushering in the new creation:  Jesus abiding in us.  Worth also considering is the household nature of δουλος, or slave; not simply the worker, but also the lower member of the family.

To put it more bluntly, a sermon that talks about how the Jews have laws but we have Jesus misses the point.  All humans are bound to sin.  The American congregation in 2021, in an age in which freedom means personal liberty, needs to here the hard truths of John's Gospel:  our natural freedom is to serve sin. This true freedom is not about doing our own will, but serving Christ.  A good sermon, I believe, will help people see the false narrative about a) what freedom is (individual autonomy) and b) the power of this freedom (ultimately to isolate ourselves from God and others); but a great sermon, I believe, will show people what real freedom looks like (Christ abiding in us, that gives us the strength, courage and faith to overcome all manner of obstacles).

Key Words
1. μενω : (8:31; 35, meaning “abide.”)  

This word is translated here as “belongs” or “stays” which are probably fine, but the important thing to remember is that this word appears throughout the Gospel of John repeatedly; “abide in me…”  One might argue this concept of "abiding" is the most important in the Gospel.  Furthermore, when Jesus says that the "son abides forever" (vs. 35) this son-ship ultimately will include us, who are invited to also abide in the Father's house forever (basically, all of John 14 and 15).

Some more theological commentary on verse 31 for Reformation:  The Reformation idea of "Justification" is often presented in "forensic" terms, i.e., a courtroom metaphor.  God is judge and in Jesus Christ we are declared innocent, regardless of the content of our deeds, which inevitably fall short of God's glory (Romans 3:23).  While this metaphor has Scriptural warrant (see John 8:50) and preaching power, it also has its limits.  Both Paul (in Romans) and Jesus in John's Gospel move beyond simply forensic justification to new creation.  We are not simply declared free of our sins, but we are made new in Christ.  While other passages in John's Gospel delve more into this, in this passage in John's Gospel, we are "disciples" (vs 31) who receive a new status in the family (vs 35; see rest of John's Gospel). 

I realize I am stepping into a 500+ long inter-Lutheran argument about justification.  My point is to invite preachers to give at least a second thought to preaching only about forensic justification on Reformation Sunday, as if this is only what Paul, John and Luther taught.  Luther himself talks quite a bit about the new creation and when talking about justification, also describes it in terms of marriage or love between the believer and Christ.  As he writes in the Small Catechism:
"all this...in order that I may be His own, and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, even as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true." 

Grammar note on verse 31.
Verse 31 is a conditional phrase.  Greek can set up conditional phrases in a variety of ways, often with ει or εαν.  They mean different things.
εαν is really the Greek word for “if."  "ει" may be listed as meaning "if" when we memorize our first Greek words, but actually ει simply sets up a conditional sentence.  In other words ει can mean "if" but also "since" or even "In fact, not in this case."  εαν leaves “the probability of activity expressed in the verb left open.” (BDAG).  In this case, abiding in Jesus' word may or may not happen.

2.   ελευθερος:  (8:32;36, meaning “free”) and δουλος: (8:34;35, meaning “slave”)

 My sense of the Greek word for free is that it aligns itself with the idea of being unencumbered, not so much the freedom “for” as the freedom “from.”  But before we get into what this might mean, let's consider "slave."

Slavery provided the gas of the Greco-Roman economic engine. People became slaves through various means: captivity from war, kidnapping by slave hunters or debt. Slaves existed in all parts of the empire.

Slavery could be quite brutal, especially for slaves that engaged in mining. However, slaves often were attached to households and gained a certain amount of responsibility. Such slaves often helped raise the children (even educated them in manners), administer property, earn money and even sign legal contracts. Some slaves even owned other slaves. Even after manumission, the freed person would often pledge themselves to the former master or to a patron.

The slave was not simply the bottom of the macro social and economic structure, but the bottom of the micro social and economic structure, the household. This afforded some degree of comfort, security and even opportunity for advancement. However, there was nothing glorious about slavery. Regardless of their particular status in the house, the slave did the work that allowed the masters of the house to participate in civic life.  See:  http://paulandgreece.com/thessa/slave.htm

How one puts "freedom" and "slavery" together is crucial.  This passage likely has the potential to emphasize either a Jewish vs Christian (law vs Gospel) distinction or to emphasize our freedom over and against society's structures.  However, the New Testament suggests that while 1st century Judiasm may have been caught up in its own legalism, all sorts of legalism and other bondages existed then and now; furthermore, while we could say: "We had laws, Jesus comes to break laws, now we are free from these laws" the New Testament paints a more complex picture.

In fact, when the audience with Jesus says they have never been slaves, this is not true historically (see Exodus!); but it may be true theologically in that they never were slaves to God in they way they should have been.  This is perhaps a link to our "audience" today, that will protest that we've never been slaves before either.  Yet we find ourselves addicted all the time to so many things: our phones, our money, our status, our jobs, our kids' soccer teams, etc.  I think we can easily expose that our "liberty" is far less than we thought.

But I think the real preaching challenge is helping people understand the true nature of freedom.  This passage only lightly suggests what the Gospel of John and the New Testament more fully reveal:  freedom is serving -- being a slave to -- Christ.  How is service freedom?  How does the truth about Jesus -- sins are forgiven, the dead are raised, the new creation is dawning -- accomplish this freedom?

***

Sentence breakdown:  John 8:35

The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever.
Greek:  ο δε δουλος ου μενει εν τη οικια εις τον αιωνα, ο υιος μενει εις τον αιωνα
First step is to divide up the sentence into smaller parts:  divide at the comma!  
Second, look for the verb in the first part of the sentence.  In this case the verb is μενει.  You have to work a little hard because here you have the negative particle, “ου”.  So you have your verb: ου μενει which means “does not abide.” 
Then you look for your subject.  How to find a subject?  Look for nominative definite articles:  ο, το, η.  In this case, again, you have to take it one step further because you have the word δε in front of δουλος.  But now you have your subject (you can ignore “de” for now):  “ο δουλος” which means “the slave”
So now you have:  “The slave does not abide.”  The rest of the sentence until the comma are two prepositional phrases:  “εν τη οικια” and “εις τον αιωνα” which mean “in the house” and “into forever.”  Test yourself:  Why is the first example in the “dative” and the second example in the “accusative” case?

Do the same with the second half of the verse:  First, find the verb; then the subject (hint:  Look at the articles.)  Once you’ve done this, you can plow right through:  The son abides into forever.
When Greek doesn’t have participles or subjunctive phrases, it’s really a matter of finding the subject and verb; figuring out what the small words mean; conquering the prepositional phrases…and then presto, you’ve got English.