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.

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.

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)
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)
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)
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

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
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.