Monthly Archives: September 2011

Look at the fruit and not the spines

Prickly Pear Cactus
Prickly Pear Cactus; photo by R. Shaw

Matthew 7:16 You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles?

I like raspberry jam and cactus jelly. Both of these plants are tricky to harvest due to their spines. But both are worth an occasional prick to sample these tasty fruit.

I have also encountered people who present a prickly exterior. They are quick to find fault and slow to smile or give thanks. But when I show that I won’t give up easily, they too produce excellent fruit.

Some brambles and thistles produce tiny fruit or too many spines protect the seeds to justify the effort of harvesting them.

But I have yet to meet anyone who does not produce fruit demonstrating a kernel of the Holy Spirit within.

When have you found a sweet fruit produced by a prickly person?

October 2nd: “Confidence”

I. Establish the text

A. Select the Pericope: Second Reading Philippians 3:4b-14

C. Other texts for Year A for World Communion Sunday, October 2nd in Ordinary Time

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

4b Today, our salaries and prestige are signs of attainment.

5-6 What would we list as outward signs of status? Citizenship, academic degrees, professional titles, salary, residence location, … Deacon, Elder, Minister, Missionary, …

7-8 Accolades in other areas become losses/dung due to frittering time that could have been used deepening a relationship with Christ.

9 Material success by one’s own hands is inferior to anything Christ might enfold upon the recipients.

10-11 Salvation is attained within the fellowship of Christ’s suffering, not by suffering alongside Christ.

12-14 Conversion is not a brief prayer, but a continual daily striving.

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

  • Should this passage be shortened/extended?
  • Will the hearers need an introduction before it is read?

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

  • When scribes hand copied the Bible, various errors crept in or were ‘corrected’ by later editors.
  • This boast is given as a response to “evil workers” who espoused a false theology.
  • Followed by applying this theological declaration by seeking a heavenly citizenship.

II. Literary Study.

III. Question the text.

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: Religious trappings are a detriment to fellowship in the sufferings of Christ.
  • Emotional Center: Paul rejected the accolades that many had striven for and failed to attain so that he might attain resurrection from the dead.

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • Paul listed persecution o f the Church among his achievements.

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

Gerald F. Hawthorne (Word Biblical Commentary: Philippians, Word Inc., 1983) does not split verse 4. He notes the rhetoric form Paul used was designed to praise/blame; thus by praising his own accomplishments, Paul implicitly diminished his opponents for their not being his equal. Hawthorne unpacks Paul’s belonging to the tribe of Benjamin: a tribe although small, was esteemed; Benjamin was Rachael’s second son, the only one of the 12 born in the promised land; Jerusalem was within the lands assigned to Benjamin; Israel’s first legitimate king, Saul, was from Benjamin; When the kingdom split, only Benjamin remained loyal to Judah, the tribe of David; famously faithful Mordecai was a Benjaminite. Examining the Greek word for “loss,” Hawthorne concludes that Paul not merely counted these accolades as loss, but actually lost the benefit of them by claiming Christ. Hawthorne’s explanation links this passage to Paul’s Damascus Road experience, when Paul experienced a “radical transvaluation of values.” … “To this end, Paul, although dead to sin by the virtue of Christ’s death for him, nevertheless, bu his own continuous, conscious choice was prepared to take this fact seriously, to take sides with Christ against himself, to bring his practice in the world in line with his position in Christ, to renounce his own selfish desires, and say “yes” to Christ who was calling him to conform himself to his death by daily taking up his cross in self-sacrificing service to others.”

Morna D. Hooker (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “Letter to Philippians,” Abingdon, 2000) concurs with Hawthorne that Paul may have been forcibly stripped of the privileges associated with his Jewish achievements as a result of his conversion to Christianity.

Ernest W. Saunders (Knox Preaching Guides: 1 Thessalonians | 2 Thessalonians | Philippians | Philemon, John Knox Press, 1981): “Them movement of the discussion is surprising and significant – he first mentions the power of the resurrection, then fellowship of the suffering. … [W]e cannot enter into Christ’s suffering and death apart from the assurance of resurrection-life.”

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

Not Alone?

2 Kings 6:17 Then Elisha prayed: “O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the LORD opened the eyes of the servant, and he saw; the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

Like many writers, occasionally I encounter a dry spell.

This week, for instance, I quickly found the passage that spoke to me and selected a verse. Yet I could not see where it would lead me and how I might illustrate the truth it revealed. I stared at it several times, only to close the file and work on another project. Even when I had discerned a title, the illustration would not be revealed. Finally I went for a walk, hoping God might open my eyes.

A barking dog opened an opportunity to meet a writer of poetry, sitting on her front stoop. As we chatted I learned that she was hoping to get past her writer’s block, that she might see an inspiration. And thus in a few seconds, through a chance encounter of two strangers, our eyes were opened to support we did not realize existed.

When did you find help from an unexpected source?

September 25th: “Truth Telling”

I. Establish the text

A. Select the Pericope: Gospel Matthew 21:23-32

C. Other texts for Year A for Sunday, September 25th in Ordinary Time

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

23 Imagine coming into church on Sunday morning and someone, not a member of the church, was teaching a class. What if the teacher was someone who had a reputation as a rabble-rouser and a reputation as teaching heresies? Would we not ask exactly the same question of authority?

24-25a Jesus traps the Pharisees in a lose-lose question. Often it is the Pharisees that attempt to trap Jesus in a lose-lose question.

25b-27a How would we handle a revival that began outside the church or as a para-church movement? Is AA, Promise Keepers, … of God or of human invention?

27b Can we instead recognize that God may use any and every item of human invention for divine purposes. The church must be able to recognize God’s presence in all things.

28-30 Such typical responses to chores!

31c-32 Sinners, although last among people, are first in the kingdom of God when they recognize their sins, and seek to repent of such.

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

  • One variant changes the order of the sons so that the first son agreed to go but did not, with the listeners affirming the one who refused, yet went. This variant may have to do with chiastic structure so it better parallels what follows with tax collectors and prostitutes who believe and repent.
  • Another variant keeps the order the same, but the listeners reply that the second son does the will of the father (says he will go, but does not). Could this refer to the tax collectors and prostitutes who believe, but do not change their ways and to the Pharisees who do not believe but do justice?

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?

  • This occurs in Matthew on the morning after Jesus triumphant entry into Jerusalem.
  • Jesus proceeds to tell two other parables after this one also against the Pharisees: The parable of the murderous tenants, and the rejected stone which became the cornerstone.

III. Question the text.

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

M. Eugene Boring (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “Gospel of Matthew.” Abingdon, 1995) notes that those who will judge Jesus, here pronounce judgment on themselves. After listing instances in this Gospel of Jesus exercising authority, he notes that the climax of the Gospel is Jesus announcement that God has given him all authority. He opines that “We don’t know,” can be a legitimate religious response, however, since the chief priests have pressed a yes/no question they must at least struggle with the ambiguity. He describes the parallel structure of the parable of the two sons and the following parable of the landowner and the vineyard. He reflects that both parables tell how God will take from Jewish/false leaders and will give to new leaders. He rejects interpretations that Israel was rejected. He also reminds interpreters to ask themselves “whether they have set up phony sovereignties in place of the one God, and thus might be addressed in the “you” from whom the kingdom is taken.”

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?

— Our actions describe better than our words the authority that we have given to Jesus.

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

— What authority do we give Jesus? And how do we respond to that authority?

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

— Encourage careful introspection of how we acknowledge Christ throughout our whole lives.

Immeasurable Gifts

Philips MRI
Philips MRI

1 Corinthians 2:12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.

Our comfort with physical science allows us to think that real things must be measurable. We can measure distances. We can observe the effects of forces exerted between objects due to gravity, electricity, magnetism, and even nuclear forces. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) used by doctors daily relies on measuring the change in the spin of subatomic particles, a phenomenon that cannot be directly observed.

What cannot be measured is the interconnections between each person and God, all spiritual gifts depend on this one gift.

How do I know this gift is real? The same way I know that the images produced by MRI are correct. They are consistent. The gifts of the spirit consistently produce fruit for the building of the Kingdom of God.

Where have you seen God immeasurably at work?

September 18th: “Satisfied”

I. Establish the text

A. Select the Pericope: Matthew 20:1-16

C. Other texts for Year A for Sunday September 18th in Ordinary Time

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

1 The Creator of heaven and earth (a k a the Landowner) gives us purpose in his earthly kingdom.

2 The workers agreed before working to what they eventually received.

3-7 Later workers trusted the landowner to pay them a fair wage. Where were these workers “early in the day” when the landowner began hiring people?

5-6 The Landowner goes out again and again looking for workers.

6 An eleventh hour decision.

6b What are we waiting for? Why are we idle about evangelism? What is our excuse? Just because we arrived late is not an excuse for not sharing the gospel, by word and by deed, with others!

8 This order would encourage jealousy and bait any greed.

9 Usual daily wage would have been just enough to keep a family from starvation so the laborer could return the following day to work.

15 Parable against works righteousness and other criteria for limiting the kingdom of heaven to those meeting a human interpretation of minimal expectations for salvation.

16 What is the significance of the order reversal? How does this amplify or modify the equality of the reward given to all of the laborers?

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

Jesus has just told the disciples “It would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.” To which Peter asks: “Who then can be saved?” [Peter may have been thinking realistically, with the rich being able to propagate their genes by their wealth. But Jesus was thinking spiritually.] Peter also asks: “We have left everything and followed you. What then shall we have?” To which Jesus answers: The first shall be last and the last shall be first.” Those who seek to hang onto what they have shall lose it, but those who give up what they have, for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven, shall gain everything.

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?

Several commentaries note the grammatical parallels with 19:16-30 especially that the concluding sentence in both passages are similar. In the preceding story of Jesus’ encounter with the rich man who wants to know that he must do to gain eternal life, Jesus tells him he must sell everything and give it to the poor. In this parable, the landowner gives away his wealth beyond what the laborers have earned.

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

v. 2 NRSV interprets paying the laborers a denarius as the usual daily wage.

III. Question the text.

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

Did those chosen last presume they were not good enough to work in the field? Were they invisible members of the community?

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: The reward of heaven equally blesses all who receive it. Those who make great sacrifices and demonstrate superior piety will be generously rewarded. But so too will those who arrive in the last hour. So the first ought not lord over the last.

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

  • Consider the necessity of even menial jobs to the success of a company or to a community. When garbage workers go on strike, and refuse piles up, their necessity is quite apparent!
  • Definition of Success: “I get to do what I like doing, and I get paid enough to live.”
  • Fairness of some people carrying the full burden of the costs of having a church for others.
  • This parable highlights the impetus for Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins.

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

Brian Stoffregen (Gospel_Notes.topic@ecunet.org) notes that “those who begrudge the landowners generosity were those who felt that they had earned what they received, rather than see their work and wages as gifts.” Later he notes that employment is also a gift.

M. Eugene Boring (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “Matthew” Abingdon, 1995): “Grace is always amazing grace. Grace that can be calculated and ‘expected’ (v. 10) is no longer grace. (cf. 22:11-14)” [p. 394]

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?

Although we can find biblical criteria to show that we have earned salvation, God can set that criteria aside to provide sufficient grace to whomever He chooses to justify.

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

God and only God determines who he might exclude from grace.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

Christ’s message is grace, not punishment for failure to meet standards.

Hard Questions

Philippians 2:3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.

I suppose every team has a troublemaker.

As a Naval officer I had to learn everything about the equipment under my care and manage a team of technicians. Unfortunately one technician liked to use his technical know how to sass his peers and his supervisors, which meant me.

In order to qualify on my watch station I had to demonstrate my knowledge of the entire plant, including the piece of equipment that this irksome petty officer maintained. I may have had superior knowledge of the underlying physics, and the interdependence of this machine, but he proceeded to quiz me on the location of test points and set screws, some of which were hidden.

I am confident he asked me these questions to puff himself up. But in do so, he taught me how we know differently, not better than one another.

What lessons have you learned from a troublemaker?

September 11th: “Peace”

I. Establish the text

A. Select the Pericope: John 20:19-23

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

C. Other texts for Sunday September 11th, 2011

  • Exo 14:19-31

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

19 From whom do we have fear of now that we must keep our doors locked?
Is the doors being locked a metaphor for the minds of the disciples being shut to the possibility of Jesus rising from the grave? Mary just announced it to them!

20 The other 10, had also seen Jesus’ hands and feet.

21a Repetition of blessing after the disciples recognized Jesus and rejoiced.

21b Christians are sent!!! A different verb is used for Christ being sent vs. disciples being sent. The difference is demonstrated when the other disciples try to tell Thomas about the resurrection versus Jesus showing Thomas the resurrection.

22 Christ breathes the Holy Spirit upon us, yet we still have to receive it. N.B. parallel with God breathing a breath into Adam in Gen 2. In Gen 2, Adam had no choice but to receive the breath. In John 20, the disciples are commanded to receive the breath. It is up to the disciples to choose whether or not to receive it.

23 What an awesome responsibility! Forgiving sins and retaining sins. While our actions of forgiving/holding is in the future/present (present tense verb), the Jesus’ has completed this in the past (perfect tense verb).

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

This is part II of the Easter Sunday story. Mary had seen Jesus that morning.

The next chapter is another appearance story containing the testing of Peter and the call to John.

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?

  • Last Gospel written, about AD 95, after expulsion of Christians from Jewish synagogues. Hence, v 19 “for fear of the Jews” even though the disciples were all Jews. Written as a spiritual/philosophical rather than factual/with parables exposition, by the “beloved disciple.” It has the purpose of shifting the reader from learning about Christ to telling about Christ. John lacks a prophecy of the Second Coming, substituting the presence of the Paraclete. Hence, v 22 “he breathed on them and says to them receive the Holy Spirit/Breath.” Is this John’s version of Pentecost?

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

  • Luke records a parallel scene after the revelation on the road to Emmaus. These two ran back to Jerusalem and found the eleven gathered in the upper room. Jesus came and stood among them. They were troubled and thought they saw a ghost. Jesus showed them his hands and feet and offers to allow them to “handle” him and he eats with them.
    Luke allows us to see more of the Apostles feelings of fear of seeing Jesus. In John they are awe-struck in wonder and amazement and disbelief.
  • Attested to in 1 Cor 15:5 and Acts 10:41-44.

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

  • 19 How does Jesus enter the room? Does that matter? Since they had to see Jesus’ hands and side, presumably he had entered in an ordinary manner. Could the verb for “he came” include the meaning “he entered?” For example the phrase he came to church presumes entrance in the normal way. Why not here?
  • 21 Christ is sent differently than how he sends us. A few variants use the same verb in both locations. G. Sloyan (Interpretation: John) notes that elsewhere the terms are used interchangeably. But the TNDT notes: the verb used for Christ’s stresses “to send forth,” differing from the verb used for disciples, which stresses the fact of sending, by its relating of sender and sent and its consequent implication of a commission, especially in Hellenistic Greek. Subsequent discussion in TNDT notes both the interchangeability and a difference which links the verb linked to Christ more closely with commissioning or sending forth. Thus the disciples’ sending is subordinate to Jesus’ commissioning by the Father.
  • 22. “Jesus breathed on them and says to them receive the Holy Spirit.” The noun used for Holy Spirit (/pneuma/) is used widely for breath and for wind as well as for spirit. But there is also a word for natural wind and a verb related to /pneuma/ that could have been used to make the distinction between breathing and Spirit less clear.

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?

  • Prose. Functions as a factual account of what happened.

III. Question the text.

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?

  • Christ is present in the sending of the apostles (and all those who believe yet have not seen).

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • Jesus expects Thomas to believe having heard, rather than demanding seeing.

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

  • This is easy to read as a past event, without present consequences.

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

Gail R. O’Day (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “The Gospel of John”) notes difficulties in translating v. 23. She notes that the Council of Trent relied on this verse to defend the sacrament of penance and to differentiate rituals of repentance from baptism. She asserts that forgiveness of sins is the work of the entire community. She notes parallels with 3:19-21, 8:21-24, 9:39-41, and 15:22-24, which in turn shed light on understanding that the retention of sin is a function of sinner and not by the community.

G. Sloyan (Interpretation: John) reminds the preacher that belief is a gift of God. John would associate the failure to believe with an absence of grace from God. “By the Spirit’s power Jesus is making his disciples corporately remitters of sin. Failure to receive such remission will come only when this is the sinners’ choice.”

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?

Christ bursts through locked doors to send believers to be the Church with the authority of the Holy Spirit, in spite of human doubts.

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

Despite our doubts that keep us from believing that Christ lives, the risen Christ assures us of Divine presence as we are sent out with the Holy Spirit to forgive sins.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

Recognize that we too have been sent by Christ to forgive sins.