Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Mark 11:1-11

This passage occurs in the RCL Year B for Palm Sunday, most recently March 28, 2021.

Summary:  Mark uses some really bizarre words in his Greek, that as usual, Matthew, Luke and the translators cover up for you.  How lovely.  This passage gets at the core of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, though:  We are sent to free other people (creation!) to serve the Lord.

It is worth noting that although the disciples perform well in this passage, they are not the one's who will save the world.  In short, this passage is one that can get at the heart of the Gospel:  We are servants of the Lord, sent to make a difference in this world.  Jesus is the Lord, sent to make a different world.

Key Words
αποστελλει ("send"; 11.1, 3)  The disciples have been sent out a number of times in Mark's Gospel and will continue to be sent, hence the term "apostles."  It is interesting that in Scripture there is not a clear line between being a disciple and an apostle.  To be a disciple is to be sent.

λυσατω (from λυω; meaning "untie" or "loosen"; 11.2)  Jesus frees an ass so the ass can be useful.  Preach on that.  I double dare you.  It gets better

ο κυριος αυτου χρειαν εχει (11.3)  The Greek is straight forward:  "The Lord of it need has."  It is striking:  The Lord has a need!! 

κοψαντες (from κοπτω, meaning "cut" or "lament"; 11.8)  Every other time this word is used in the New Testament, it means lament as in beat one's chest (Luke 8:52, 23:27; Matthew 11:17, 24:30; Rev 1:7, 18:9)  This is not say that it means lament in this case, but it is an interesting choice of words, perhaps foreshadowing a future lament!!

ωσαννα ("Hosanna"; 11.10)  Meaning he saves us -- more at http://lectionarygreek.blogspot.com/2014/04/john-1212-27.html

Quirky words I can't quite figure out 
ελαιων ("olives"; 11.1, 13.3, 14.26)  I missed that the Mount of Olives almost becomes Jesus' home base during the passion; he launches his entry into Jerusalem from there; he announces the destruction of the temple; he prays after the Last Supper.  Not sure what to make of this -- he keeps coming and going!

φερετε ("carry"; 11.2, 11.7)  It is a bizarre use of words in that the disciples are asked (and do) carry the colt to Jesus.  (Both Matthew and Luke use a different word, meaning "lead.")  Is the colt that small and is this an ironic scene, if not a parody of a royal procession?  Or is there something about being a disciple that suggests we might have to work -- to carry a donkey??

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

John 12:20-33

This passage occurs in the RCL Lent Season, Year B, most recently March of 2021.

This pericope highlights the engagement and even confrontation between Jesus and the world.  It looks like this:
1)  world hungers for Jesus, meets him in community
2)  call to discipleship -- which is service
3)  call to suffering -- which is glory
4)  call to judgement -- which is resurrection
I think this does model how people actually encounter Jesus and the church.  People find a community that has something to do with Jesus, they hear about serving others, but finally they encounter Jesus Christ crucified.  This in turns sheds light on all other things, including evil, judgment and resurrection.  I hesitate to make some nice ordo salutis here, but I wonder if one could play around here with this passage and how people actually experience Jesus, especially for the first time.
I'd go further to say that this passage highlights three ways in which we are to act as the church:  worship, service and finally suffering.

αναβαινω vs. προσκυνεω ("go up" and "worship" 12:20):  John puts a little play on words here; a funny juxtaposition.  The word for "go up" means literally this "go" and "up"; the word for worship means "fall down at one's knees to kiss the ground."  They went up to kneel.  Worship involves getting out of bed, moving around and then finally being humble, even still, in the presence of God.

διακονος ("servant"; 12:26):  The word here for servant comes from table-waiter.  It will come into English with the whole slew of church related "diakon/deacon/diaconal" words.  Here Jesus says that if they want to see Jesus, they must see the servant, because he identifies himself not simply as but with the servant.  It is striking that in the next chapter Jesus washes the feet of his disciples.  This dialogue in chapter 12 offers us the suggestion that Jesus' washing of the feet was not simply an internal community action, but a reminder to the disciples of their posture in the world.

ψυχη ("soul" or "life";12:25; 27)  The word for life here is "psyche," which can also mean soul. It comes into English as psychology, etc.   The same word comes into play in verse 25 and 27, both when Jesus is talking about his disciples, but also himself.  (why the translators hide this, I'll never know...)  While he does not make the same crucifixion promise as he does in the synoptics, here he connects the cost of discipleship with his death on the cross. 

εκλω ("drag"; 12:32) The word for "draw" here means to forcibly draw, as in draw ships out to see; drag in oar in water, drag to court. It can mean draw as in attract, but it seems to have a more forceful image. This word will come back at the end when Peter casts out his nets at Jesus' command and he draws in the fish. Interestingly, Peter will also draw his sword in the Garden. Jesus will drag us up to him.  I guess here is the question:  Is this a word of universal salvation or universal judgment.  If you continue the argument to 12:48, you've got to wonder, does Jesus draw men up to judge them??

Grammar:  Greek subjunctive:  εαν
Greek has all sorts of subjunctive (ie, not 100 percent going to happen) possibilities, as most languages do.  The most "maybe yes, maybe no" form is simply: εαν, which we find repeatedly in this section.  This means things are really up in the air...in this case, our willingness to serve others as Christ served us.  What also seems up in the air is whether Jesus will come back.  But we know that to be true, so relax.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Book Review: The End of Youth Ministry


The End of Youth Ministry, Andrew Root, (Baker Academic) 2020

Note:  I don't write this review to critique Dr. Root.  His work is great.  I wrote it so that I can look back years later and remember the structure of his argument and the most memorable quotes.  I put it on my blog (in addition to printing a copy I placed in the book) to spur conversation and encourage others to read it.

Root takes on THE question of youth ministry, at least within Suburban contexts:  Why do parents and kids choose other activities over youth group?  It is not because youth group isn’t fun!  Root argues that kids choose other activities than youth group because of massive shifts in how people parent today.  Parents today operate out of this basic logic: 

a) Their child’s happiness is paramount. 

b) Happiness comes as a child finds ‘their thing.’

c) The thing allows for both recognition and development of an authentic and unique identity.

d) Children find their thing by participating in heavily structured adult activities. 

To summarize, today’s parents are “coaches, managers, and financers who work to turn up the signal of their children’s broadcast identities…[they] hover or bulldoze to make sure their children get all the recognition they deserve.  And many young people appreciate this, calling mom their best friend, sensing that they need all the help they can to win recognition and therefore be happy with their self-definition. (84)  Rather than acknowledge these changes, most youth ministry exhausts itself trying to provide the need of the previous generation –a fun and safe place for youth growing up too fast with their free time.  (See Goonies or just about any 1980s movie for examples of youth with almost no activities and no adult supervision).

Root presents a theologically grounded vision for what youth ministry could look like within our current situation.  Instead of trying to offer youth a competing means to happiness, we should draw them into the joy God intends.  He offers compellingly, that opposed to happiness that is fleeting, “joy, then, is the communal experience of life coming out of death, which produces union with God and neighbor.  It can be an individual experience, but it always takes us into something beyond us.” (146)   He explains that Youth Ministry should enable us communally to share and learn to re-tell our own story within the story of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. 

Overall, Root does a fine job of making his argument through fictional dialogues with people.  This makes it and his other works more enjoyable to read; for those interested, the footnotes point to further research and analysis.  Nonetheless, his sociological and theological arguments may be too much for people.  But he clearly makes his point that parenting today is very differently.  Can you imagine this sentence being written in 1988:  “Because so many young people are waiting longer to get a driver’s license, mom or dad becomes wingman and friend with whom to debrief it all (72).”   

While compelling, Root’s vision for how youth ministry could emerge is both radical and abstract.  Root doesn’t claim this book is a handbook on how to move forward, but I think the nuts and bolts youth worker, who loves youth and planning activities for them, may have trouble using it.  For example, one of his deepest insights is about identity and ‘open takes.’  Our identity is discovered neither in activities nor in ourselves.  It is fundamentally an ‘open take’, open to God’s agency, given to us by Jesus.  As he beautifully writes, “Youth Ministry, then, is for Jesus Christ, because through open takes it invites young people to find their identity exchanged for Christ.” (183)  Powerful!  But it may leave the average youth worker puzzled with next steps.

What might have provided some more connection for youth workers (and potentially strengthened his argument) would have been reflection on how some of what he hopes for is already happening.   Pre-pandemic, youth ministry has been moving away from youth group based models.  Furthermore, many churches are grounding youth ministry within an inter-generational community of service, learning and worship that either was or would allow for the interweaving of Biblical story, congregational story and the story of the youth’s lives.  Lastly, the pandemic certainly forced our youth ministry into a reflective space, focused not on programs, but life seen through the prism of death, resurrection and joy.

I found it worth reading on three levels.  First, I found it helpful as a church professional who cares for youth.  What does ministry look like for a bunch of hyper-scheduled kids?   They don't need an activity, they need a space to find their their true identity in Jesus and discover this joy!  Second, I found it helpful as a theologian.  We aren't like the Lion King where we understand ourselves to have an inherited identity.  We perceive that we create our own identity.  What does faith look like in this context?  Lastly, I found it helpful as a parent to laugh at myself and observe how I parent vs how I was raised.

Last great quote in which Root stitches together faith, Luther and identity:  Faith is not trust in propositions or commitment to participate, but the identification with personhood in and through stories.  Faith is the gift of Jesus Christ, as Luther told us, making faith not data but a person.  And a person can only be known and more importantly, shared in through narrative discourse, through prayer, preaching and confession." (166)

John 3:16

This passage occurs in the RCL Lent Season, Year A and B, most recently March of 2021.  It also occurs in the Narrative Lectionary Year 4 Epiphany cycle.
Summary:  We've heard John 3:16 a million times before.  For this week, I broke it down, word by word.  Awful for a sermon, yes, but a closer look reveals how this really is the Gospel in a nutshell.  Fun Greek fact:  The phrase eternal life is literally "eons of a zoo."  God's eternal party is a zoo!  Helpful Greek fact:  This eternal zoo is not a future reality, but a present one, available here and now.

John 3:16.  Broken down.

ουτως γαρ ηγαπησεν ο θεος τον κοσμον, ωστε τον υιον τον μονογενη εδωκεν, ινα πας ο πιστευων εις αυτον μη αποληται αλλ εχη ζωην αιωνιον

ουτως γαρ:  Two interjections, combining to mean:  "For in this manner"  Don't spend too much time here, we have bigger fish to fry.

ηγαπησεν (αγαπη):  This word supposedly means divine, only from God love.  In this particular sentence that's what it means: divine, pure, gracious, awesome, life changing love.  Interestingly, later in this section people will love the darkness more than the light.  First, this shows that agape is not simply a divine thing.  Second, it reminds us how absurd (and misdirected) some of our love really is.

ο θεος:  God (think theos as in theology)

τον κοσμον:  The world.  This word in English is cosmos, like universe or cosmopolitan or cosmetic.  The point is that in the Gospel of John the world does not love God (John 7:7; 15:18,19; 17:14).  God's love comes over and against the world that does not like God

ωστε:  that.  Conjunction.  Don't worry.

τον υιον τον μονογενη:  only begotten son.  Nice like adjectival participle here.  The son, the only begotten.  If you break the Greek down you get :  mono-gene.  The only one who has the Father's genes are the son.  In this case, Christ is the only one who really is of the Father, who has his dna to love a world that doesn't love him back.

εδωκεν:  Gave.  Jesus Christ is the gift.

ινα:  In order.  God's giving of his son had a purpose

πας ο πιστευων:  Substantive participle:  All who believe.  Because it is present tense we should make it:  All who are constantly believing.  Remember, in John's Gospel, believe is a verb; faith is a not a think, it is an action, a constant trusting not in a thing, but in a person.
εις αυτον:   In fact you cannot trust in something but have to trust INTO something.

μη αποληται:  Be lost, be destroyed.

αλλ :  but

εχη :  STOP.  read carefully: This is a present tense verb.  This means that we HAVE the eternal life, not we will have, but we HAVE the eternal life.  In John's Gospel life begins here and in as we, through faith, live in the son.

ζωην αιωνιον:  literally:  eons of zoo.  That is the grand goal of God:  eons of zoo.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

John 2:13-22

This passage occurs in the RCL Lent Season, Year B, most recently March of 2021.  It also occurs in the Narrative Lectionary Year 4 Epiphany season.
There is a great play on words in this section that our English translators (perhaps through no fault of their own!) cover up.  Jesus uses five different terms to describe the temple complex.  The most challenging distinction is between house of market and a house of God.  I do not think our churches are in danger of becoming marketplaces, even those with starbucks in their lobbies.  I still think when it comes to Sunday morning, these are the two options, two alternative worlds we live in:  a house of market, where we have to work, pay bills and shop or a house of God, where we can rest, receive God's grace and give thanks.

Key words - two small ones and then a big one!
φραγελλιον ("whip", 2.15) The word here for whip will be used against Jesus in Matthew and Mark.  It is worth reflecting on, Greek aside, why Jesus is so angry.  What is the abuse against which Jesus so rallies?

λυω ("free"; "destroy", 2:19)  The word here for destroy actually means to loosen (remember the basic verb conjugation charts?). It also means to destroy, but an interesting idea.  How does Jesus death set him free?  He is almost commanding them to free him!

Temple:  Five for one!
There are five words used here for temple:
ιερον (2:15):  The word hieron (rough breathing mark means its English equivalent starts with an "h") This word comes into English as hierarchy.  It refers to the whole temple complex, including the whole cultic and sacrificial system.  It is interesting to note that all the animals being purchased were for sacrifices.  Any system of sacrifice inevitably leads to priestly power, abuse and money; in short, hierarchy.

οικος του πατρος μου (house of my father; 2:16)  Jesus here identifies his relationship to God and the temple.  If it belongs to his father, it belongs to him too.  What does it mean for something to be God's house?  How might we look at church differently if we saw it as God's house?

οικος του εμποριον (house of market; 2:16)  German has a nice word:  Kaufhaus, in which the word for shopping center contains the word house.  Since we don't in English, the writers drop it and say, "market" instead of the literal "house of market."  While our churches today may not be a house of market, I wonder if this really is the alternative to church:  a few more hours to purchase things on TV, at the mall or on the internet; a few more hours to work; a few more hours to pay bills.

ναον (temple; 2:19)  This word properly refers to the actual sanctuary, as opposed to the entire court.  (Ie the place where the people worshiped and the priest made sacrifices).

σωματος (body; in nominative:  σωμα; 2:21)  In the Gospel of John, in spite of how "spiritual" everything seems, there is no escaping the bodily death and resurrection of Jesus!  Finally, the place of sacrifice, the place of worship, the dwelling of God is in Jesus body.  Jesus had already alluded to this at the end of chapter 1 when he said that angels would descend on him, referring to Jacob, and calling himself, indirectly, Bethel, the house of God, the earthly portal to heaven.

2.16 Jesus switches words here from the narrators "temple (hieron)" to "oikos (house).

2.20 Jesus now switches to the word "naos" (temple) which means building that is a dwelling place of the holy; Paul tells us in 1 Cor that we are a "naos." Then John inserts that Jesus is talking about the temple of his body (somatos). In short, Jesus is shifting away from talking about a place of worship to a house of God to a dwelling place of God to finally himself.