Monthly Archives: February 2011

March 6th: “Seeing God”

I. Establish the text

A. Select the Pericope: Matthew 17:1-9

B. Establish translation: Review NIV, NRSV, TEV, BHS/NA26, …

C. Other texts for Year A for Transfiguration of the Lord Sunday

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

1.   Six days after Peter rebukes Jesus for predicting his demise.

1.   Why these three? Why only three? C.f. Moses taking the elders up Sinai.

2.   C.F. Moses’ face shining. Is it Jesus who was changed or is it we who are changed so we recognize the divine?

3.   Is this to contradict those who say Jesus was Elijah/Moses? New Moses/Elijah?

4.   Peter tries to preserve the scene. How do we hold on to God, to keep God as we want God to be?

5.   C.f. cloud overshadowing Sinai when God speaks to Moses.

6.   C.f. Israel trembling in fear at the voice of God on Sinai.

o   Jesus does not leave us bowed and awed in worship, but commands us to act.

o     We look up now and see an empty cross. Yet we know that God is very much near. No further than our next breath.

o     What would have happened if they had told? Would the crowds have held themselves back lest they look upon God? Would the authorities have pressed for his execution sooner or not at all? Would the disciples have been considered mad?

II. Literary Study.

B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?

Based on Mark, Matt greatly elevates the incident (by ARCH TAYLOR to SERMONSHOP_2002_02_10.topic@ecunet.org):

  • 1] In Mark only brightness of Jesus’ clothing is mentioned, but Matt says his face shone like the sun (c.f. Rev 1.13ff in description of Jesus and Dan 12.3 the brightness of the righteous in the future kingdom.
  • 2] Mark places Elijah first and uses singular verb “appeared” adding only incidentally “with Moses” which may have been a later gloss (c.f. Eduard Schweitzer) but Matt while retaining the singular of the verb writes “Moses and Elijah.”
  • 3] Matt changes Peter’s address to Jesus from “rabbi” to “Lord.”
  • 4] Mark says Peter “didn’t know what to say” but Matt has Peter say to Jesus, “if you are willing…”.
  • 5] In Mark the disciples are fearful at that moment, but in Matt not until after they hear the voice from the cloud, at which time they fall on their faces.
  • 6] In Matt, “Jesus came and touched them and said Get up.” This is an addition to Mark which Schweitzer says is post resurrection assurance that the risen Jesus will come and raise up the disciples when they die. Fenton (Penguin) says all these details of “improving” on Mark show Matt really thought of Jesus’ early return in triumph.

III. Question the text.

B. Are there any unusual details? Un-named characters? ‘Pointless’ description? Meanings of names of characters? What does a literal meaning of natural metaphors imply?

Every detail seems to be packed with theological meaning.

  • High mountain — Sinai?
  • His face shone like the sun and his clothes became dazzling white — compare to Moses after being on Sinai
  • Moses & Elijah — The law & the prophets. Two OT persons who did not die but were taken directly into heaven.
  • Three dwellings — Is open to interpretation. But compares to the festival of the booths.
  • Bright cloud — Cloud over Sinai.
  • The voice uses the words similar to those delivered at Jesus’ baptism.
  • Jesus touched them — healing.

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • Why were the disciples witnesses to this transformation yet ordered to be secret until after the resurrection?

F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?

  • The preacher will have to make this real for the congregation. What change happened to the disciples after this transfiguration? How are Christians transfigured by Jesus today?

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

Robert Gundry (Matthew, Eerdmans Publishing, 1982) notes the parallel of Moses ascending Sinai with Aaron, Nadab, Abihu and seventy elders who saw God (Exod. 24:9-11) with Jesus here taking Jesus taking Peter, James, and John up a new Sinai. He also notes that Joshua, went with Moses for the final ascent into the cloud to receive the law (Exod. 24:13). Thus according to the Greek form, “Jesus” was with Moses at Sinai and Moses was with Jesus at the Transfiguration. The shining of Jesus face following the transfiguration parallels the shining of Moses’ face following epiphanies (Exod. 34:29-30). He considers verses 9 – 13 as a separate pericope.

M. Eugene Boring (The New Interpreter’s Bible: Vol. VIII; “Matthew,” Abingdon, 1995) argues for keeping verses 9-13 with verses 1-8; none-the-less he also notes that the phrase “coming down the mountain” completes the scene which began with going up the mountain (v. 1). He refutes the idea that the presence of Moses and Elijah at the Transfiguration prefigures “the Law and the Prophets,” and instead discerns their presence because of their similarity with Jesus: Both Moses and Elijah were prophets initially rejected by the people, but later vindicated by God; Both were avocates for the Torah; Both were considered transcendent persons who did not die, but were taken directly to heaven.

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?

In the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy and her traveling companions are finally standing before the wizard with the remnants of the witch’s broom, trembling in fear before a face surrounded with fire and smoke. Then Toto wanders off and pulls aside the curtain hiding the man behind the curtain, pulling the levers that created the smoke and the powerful image and thundering voice. “Pay no attention to the man in the booth!” he commands, as he finally realizes that his charade is over.
Peter and James and John standing with Jesus on the mountain top have the opposite experience. For nearly three years they have come to know Jesus as the man in the booth. Someone anointed with the Holy Spirit, as kings and prophets had been anointed in ages past. But here, for a moment, God pulls aside the curtain and they find themselves standing before God incarnate.

B. Focus Statement: Central, controlling, unifying theme.

Like giving the Tin Man a heart shaped watch, the Scarecrow a diploma, and the Cowardly Lion a medal of valor, and telling Dorothy how to use her Ruby Slippers, by the Transformation we learn to use gifts we already have but fear/deny using them.

A Lesson for February 23rd

Yellow flowers growing beside a rock
Canyon Flowers (2010 copyright R Shaw)

2 Corinthians 2:15For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing;

What do you smell like?

Today’s reading from Ruth gives us an example of generating positive aromas for God. Ruth took care of her widowed mother-in-law and Boaz saw that Ruth had a favored place among those gleaning in his fields. The passage from Matthew also generates and interesting aroma by offering a sacrifice of reconciliation before offering a sacrifice to God.

Early one spring morning, I found these flowers in a dry gulch, nestled against a rock where they found shelter from the afternoon sun and in turn they offered color to miles of sandstone and a few dry shrubs. When we brighten the world around us, we offer the aroma of Christ to God.

So how do you smell to God?

February 27th: “Hand Writing”

I. Establish the text

A. Select the Pericope: Isaiah 49:8-16a

B. Establish translation: Review NIV, NRSV, TEV, BHS/NA26, …

C. Other texts for Year A in Ordinary Time

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

8a While we may need God today, God must coordinate response to our needs with the needs of other people, for the building of God’s kingdom.

8b Israel is not offered a covenant, but to be a covenant.

9 How are we captives and needing to “feed beside the road”?

10 Are we willing to be guided?

11 What are is blocking our spiritual growth?

14 When people perceive that God has forsaken them, is this because they are ignoring God’s work in the world?

15 Even if/when people forget God, God remembers us!

16 Divine crib notes? What might we metaphorically write on our hands?

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

F. Are there any significant variants in the manuscripts? Why?

  • In verse 12, Aswan v. Sinim

II. Literary Study.

A. What is the history of the text? Who wrote it? When? In what social context? What Historical/Religious/Sociological factors influenced its writing?

B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?

C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms

D. What is the literary style of the text? And how does it affect the reading? What does a poetic form do to the meaning? Lament/Praise/Petition? Any subtle variations in the repetitions? What is emphasized/minimized by the repetition?

III. Question the text.

A. Observe the passage from the perspective of its characters.

B. Are there any unusual details? Un-named characters? ‘Pointless’ description? Meanings of names of characters? What does a literal meaning of natural metaphors imply?

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • Center of Gravity: Although we may perceive that God has forgotten us, the LORD has engraved our names on his hands.
  • Emotional Center: What is blocking us from recognizing God with us?

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

E. Is there anything you wish the author had included in the passage? Why do you think this was not a part of Scripture?

F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

Christopher R. Seitz (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “The Book of Isaiah 40-66,” Abingdon, 2001) parses the chapter into a Servant Song that opens the chapter (vv. 1-6), its elaboration (vv. 7-12), a hymn (v. 13), and finally a response for Zion (14-26). He questions if vv. 8-13 are part of the original text, as it is not clear who is being answered; the Servant or Israel?

Wolfgang Roth (Knox Preaching Guides: Isaiah, John Knox Press, 1988) partitions the text into two sections: The inclusion of separated Kin (1-13) and the surprise of a Deserted mother (49-14 – 50:3).

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?

B. Focus Statement: Central, controlling, unifying theme.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

A Lesson for February 16th

image processing of Augusta Victoria after 192...
Image via Wikipedia

Isaiah 64:1-2
O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence …
to make your name known to your adversaries,
so that the nations might tremble at your presence!

Have you ever wanted God to give you a clear, unequivocal sign; desired proof the LORD does reign in heaven; longed for an event that everyone could see, hear, touch, smell, and taste that would establish what we have believed for millennia; hoped for an event that would end every argument about faith? Isaiah asked for precisely this kind of earth-shaking cataclysmic event?

Such a sign would end rivalries between religions; would end strife between nations; would focus our energies on caring for one-another rather than beating our enemies before they might hurt us.

But after such a cataclysmic tearing of the heavens, would we lose our humanity? Would we lose what separates us from other animals; lose our ability to believe in something that we cannot sense, lose our desire to strive for a future we can only glimpse?

How does your faith in God, who works in the background,  empower you to strive to minister with your neighbors?

February 20th: “Temple Building”

I. Establish the text

A. Select the Pericope: 1 Corinthians 3:10-23

B. Establish translation: Review NIV, NRSV, TEV, BHS/NA26, …

C. Other texts for Year A for Ordinary Time

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

10a    The privilege of working with a congregation is indeed a divine grace!

10b We continually build atop what others have built. Even when an inferior work is cleared away, a trace remains. A weak stone left behind will damage what is built atop it. A structure aligned to solid stone can draw strength from that stone.

11 We do not lay a new foundation, but lay a foundation atop a foundation previously laid by Christ. Even a builder who scrapes the ground and drives poles through the soil seeks to build atop a bedrock foundation previously laid by the one through whom all things were and are made.

12-13 Sometimes we choose to build with wood or even straw, for this is the material God has made readily available for us. Although these materials will not last a conflagration, they may provide a framework for others to build alongside and shelter for the builders. How might we integrate this with Paul’s metaphor of the Church being the body of Christ with many members with different purposes essential for the health of the whole (c.f. 1 Cor. 12)?

14-15 First century masons must have erected scaffolding from which stone walls would have been build. Those who erected scaffolding were critical to the process and thus essential to the final product. While their work no longer shows, they benefit from it.

16-17 Can we be God’s temple individually, or only collectively?

18-20 c.f. Clowns for Christ!

21-23 While good preaching might draw people to a congregation, people stay with a congregation for the presence of Christ Jesus and the connections of the Holy Spirit, in spite of the weaknesses of their pastor.

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

  • The chapter begins with Paul belittling their spiritual maturity, noting their quarreling. Using an illustration of planting and watering crops, Paul offers a path to end the divisions between those who would follow him or Apollos.
  • The lectionary suggests skipping vv 11-16, omitting Paul’s architectural illustration and focusing on his cerebral illustration.
  • The next chapter rebukes against judging between or against Apollos and Paul.

II. Literary Study.

C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms

  • Verses 16-17 the pronouns ‘you’ are plural. The pronouns in the next several verses are 3rd person singular, but translated as 2nd person plural for inclusivity.

D. What is the literary style of the text? And how does it affect the reading? What does a poetic form do to the meaning? Lament/Praise/Petition? Any subtle variations in the repetitions? What is emphasized/minimized by the repetition?

  • This is rhetorical preaching! Paul alternates creatively between excoriating the Corinthians for their miss behavior and encouraging them to build for God.

III. Question the text.

B. Are there any unusual details? Un-named characters? ‘Pointless’ description? Meanings of names of characters? What does a literal meaning of natural metaphors imply?

What is the difference between ‘hay’ and ‘straw’ as building materials? Why not list cloth between wood and straw?

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • Center of Gravity: We build God’s temple together atop what other’s have built.

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • There is an implied conflict occurring at the Corinthian church regarding the teachings of Paul, Apollos, and Cephas.

E. Is there anything you wish the author had included in the passage? Why do you think this was not a part of Scripture?

  • I would have liked to seen more about making progress with materials that might not withstand the Day, so that more lasting materials can be incorporated into the structure. This concept is better handled in chapter 12.

F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?

  • Need to provide examples of how congregation members are building a temple for God that exists beyond the walls of this physical church.

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

Craig Blomberg (The NIV Application Commentary: 1 Corinthians, Zondervan, 1995) citing David Prior (1985): “No doubt every Christian’s work is mixed in quality; no doubt we all shall have the awesome sadness of seeing much of our work burned up.” He cautions against allegorizing the six building materials in v. 13, but rather they intend to contrast three fire resistant materials with three combustible materials. He writes extensively about separating carnal Christians from other Christians, affirming both the impracticality of doing so and Paul’s admonition against carnal Christians. His debate on carnal Christians yields a recognition that Christians should be building graceful fellowships rather than physical (carnal) institutions.

William Baird (Knox Preaching Guides: 1 Corinthians | 2 Corinthians, John Knox Press, 1980) perceives this passages as directed towards assessing the work of ministers, leaders of God’s church, warning them that ministry demands responsible work.

J. Paul Sampley (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “First Letter to the Corinthians”, Abingdon, 2002) comments that “all believers must build (or grow), and all will face a judgment day.” But that “the work of each person, what one builds, not one’s chosen material, is what will be tested by judgment’s fire.”

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?

The Spirit dwells within us and together we are building God’s Temple atop the works of other people and ultimately atop Christ.

B. Focus Statement: Central, controlling, unifying theme.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

Build carefully so the spiritual temple we build is lasting.

A Lesson for February 9th

Learning sign language
Learning sign language (Image by daveynin via Flickr)

Isaiah 59:1 See, the Lord’s hand is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.
2 Rather, your iniquities have been barriers between you and your God,
and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.

Some people I struggle to hear. Unless I can see their face, I cannot understand what they are saying. For many years I have augmented my hearing with speech reading, using clues about words and emotions people wear on their faces. Whenever practical, I prefer to talk face-to-face, rather than pick up the phone, because in addition to non-verbal clues, physical presence lowers barriers between people.

So also with God. But God is always present and ready to hear us, yet we put up barriers and hide our faces. But we fool only ourselves, for God still hears our voice and knows our heart.  Thus we lose when our barriers hide God’s presence and muffle God’s voice.

How do you open yourself to God, when you have something to hide?

February 13th: “Love Changes Everything”

I. Establish the text

A. Select the Pericope: 1 Corinthians 13

B. Establish translation: Review NIV, NRSV, TEV, BHS/NA26, …

C. Other texts for Year A for Sunday in February 13

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

1 Speech without love is only noise.

2 Prophecies used without love fall on deaf ears. Consider Samuel’s use of the prophecy he received while sleeping in the Temple with Eli. He tells Eli only reluctantly, because of the love he has for Eli, yet if he did not love Eli he could have used the prophecy for Eli’s downfall..

3 Martyrdom without love is suicide. Contrast this with Father Kolbe (sp?), who chose death out of love for his fellow Concentration Camp prisoners.

6 Love does not rejoice at the downfall of one’s enemy.

8b These are the very gifts that Paul notes in the next chapter that are so sought after.

13 Does Paul mean that all other spiritual gifts will pass away, except these three? Has he expanded on faith and hope elsewhere?

F. Are there any significant variants in the manuscripts? Why?

  • 3 [ kauqhsomai | kauchswmai ] These words differ only in two letters which are similar in sound. This could have easily been a scribal error. Most translations favor ‘I may be burned’, but the NRSV favors ‘I may boast’. The former is more consistent with the theme of sacrifice in this sentence.

II. Literary Study.

A. What is the context of the passage, and the book?

  • In the preceding Chapter, Paul explains the necessity of the variety of gifts. He compares the variety of gifts in a congregation to the variety of functions in a body. Thus each gift is essential for the life of the whole body.
  • The chapter is followed by an argument on the proper use of speaking in tongues and seeking after spiritual gifts. Set after the “Love Chapter,” Paul appears to use speaking in tongues as an example of how not using the gift of love minimizes the value of a spiritual gift and how to discern proper use of a spiritual gift with love for those present.

B. What is the history of the text? Who wrote it? When? In what social context? What Historical/Religious/Sociological factors influenced its writing?

  • This letter is at least Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth (5:9). It was written in response to a letter from this church (7:1).
  • The city of Corinth is a busy Greek seaport and capital. It was famous for its prosperity, trade, and materialism, but infamous for its prostitutes. Aphrodite, goddess of love and fertility, was their patron diety. The city set the standard for luxury and licentiousness.
  • The congregation contained a diverse cross-section of the population: rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, slave and landowner, educated and not. The diversity may have driven the formation of factions within the congregation (11:17-34). The conduct of the members ranged from asceticism to licentiousness.
  • The letter may be considered in two sections: rical in style. However this text interrupts the rhetoric and is almost poetic. It is a breather from Paul’s assertive answers to the Corinthians answers.

C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms

  • gegona is Perfect, Active, Indicative, First person, Singular in contrast to v. 4 where the verbs are Passive.
  • agape — the Latin translation of this word yields the word charity. This is not lust (eros), not sexuality, not romantic love, not courtly love; not friendship(filia), but concern WITH other children of God. Although the Greek words for “love” have significant overlap (see below under commentaries).

III. Question the text.

B. Are there any unusual details? Un-named characters? ‘Pointless’ description? Meanings of names of characters? What does a literal meaning of natural metaphors imply?

The mirror/face-to-face and child/adult metaphors imply that we are incomplete in our understanding of love and of God.

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • Paul explains that spiritual gifts should be used with charity, otherwise they are useless.

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • The best of spiritual gifts are imperfect now and thus REQUIRE the use of charity with these gifts to compensate for the imperfections.

F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?

  • As a reoccurring wedding text, it is probably selected as hope for what the love between the couple might be, as a description of love, and as a passing from childhood to adulthood. But really this text is a description of how to use other gifts.

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

Roy A. Harrisville (Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament: I Corinthians). “If, for Paul, love is to the spiritual gifts what Christ is to the members of his body, and if love is the presence of Christ in his body, then “love,” that way beyond all this” spells “Christ.” He partitions the chapter in to three sections [perhaps a three point sermon]: 1-3: the uselessness/nothingness of gifts apart from love; 4-7: love’s nature and activity; and 8-13: love’s imperishibility.

Craig Blomberg (The NIV Application Commentary: 1 Corinthians). “The verb agapaw can be used interchangeably with fileo (e.g. in John 21:15-17) [Perhaps the meanings overlap, but in the John 21 passage Jesus uses agapaw while Peter responds with fileo. Peter isn’t getting Jesus’ question.], while in the LXX agapaw can even refer to Amnon’s incestuous love/lust for his sister Tamar (2 Sam 13:1)!” “Agaph transcends jealousy without destroying it; it is right, for example, to be upset when someone runs off with your spouse! ‘Love does not move us to seek justice for ourselves,’ but it should ‘drive us to move heaven and earth when seeking justice for others.'” [quoting Lewis B. Smedes]. “The most loving thing to do for the repeatedly abusive, perennially alcoholic husband is not to cover-up for him or to believe his empty promises of reform, but to insist that he seek professional help and to refuse to carry on with “business as usual” if he does not.”

William Baird (Knox Preaching Guides: 1 Corinthians / 2 Corinthians). “Love is not a special charisma for a particular believer; love is essential to the exercise of every Christian.” “Agaph, in contrast to other Greek words for love, signifies unmotivated, spontaneous love.” Regarding v. 3: “Here Paul has stopped preaching to the charismatics and started meddling with us liberals!”

A Lesson for February 2nd

Bread-Baking in Winter
Bread-Baking in Winter (Image by Baha'i Views / Flitzy Phoebie via Flickr)

Mark 8:23 [Jesus] took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Can you see anything?” 24 And the man looked up and said, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.”

How many times do you need to encounter Jesus? In this passage, Jesus lays his hands on the blind man twice before he can see clearly. In the preceding passage, the disciples had seen Jesus feed five-thousand people with five loaves of bread and four-thousand with seven loaves of bread, yet they still feared not having bread to eat. If those who had experienced Jesus face-to-face needed more than one encounter, why should we expect to grow in faith any faster?

When I consider some of the various things I do (making bread, riding a bicycle, swimming, writing computer code) some learned quickly others had a longer learning curve, a blurry vision phase. Faith is no different. Each day my faith grows and deepens.

How do you help your faith grow?