Monthly Archives: December 2011

Extended Family

Isaiah 54:1 Sing, O barren one who did not bear;
burst into song and shout, you who have not been in labor!

Christmas can be especially difficult for those who have been denied children or spouses.

Yet, I recall seeing a teenager sitting every Sunday during worship with a childless couple. I don’t know who received more in that relationship; the girl who received sage counsel from someone other than her parents, or the couple with whom she sat. For both smiled more broadly when they sat together.

How has a community of faith expanded your “family”?

January 1st: “Dedication”

In Luke 2:22-40 the infant Jesus is recognized as the continuation of God’s salving work.

I. Establish the text

A. Select the Pericope: Luke 2:22-40

C. Other texts for Year B for 2nd Sunday in Christmas

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

22-24 Is it “their purification” or Mary’s? How long is the rite of purification? [40 days after the birth of a male child, 80 days after the birth of a female child.] How did this relate to circumcision? [8th day. Jesus circumcision was reported in the immediately preceding verses] What does this paraphrase? [Lev. 12:1-8] A pair of doves was the pauper’s offering as opposed to a lamb. [Luke probably combined Jesus’ dedication in the Temple as the first-born son with Mary’s purification. Exo. 13:2 & 12-16 proscribes a ritual of redemption for each male offspring, whether of livestock or child, to commemorate the sacrifice of the first-born males so that Israel might be redeemed of slavery in Egypt. Analogously, Christ as God’s first (and only) born son by his sacrifice becomes the redemption of all of God’s people from slavery to sin.

25 What is the meaning of the name Simeon? [One who hears.] Does this say that he was deeply spiritual and by the Spirit he was aware of God’s will?

26 Where is the phrase about not tasting death until the Lord comes again?

27 Things do not happen by chance. God acts through all things providentially. [For Simeon, rather than seeing is believing, believing is seeing God in ordinary things.]

28 Here is the leap of faith. Seeing God’s power through a helpless infant.

29 Is Simeon saying that his whole life was for the saying of these two sentences and that his work on earth was completed? What is my succinct purpose in life? While we are told that Anna was “of great age,” we know nothing of Simeon’s age or health for doing additional work for the building of God’s kingdom on earth.

30 Simeon recognizes Jesus as God’s salvation and not Israel’s. How does God’s salvation differ from our salvation?

31 Jesus did not appear from the clouds, as in Greek/Roman mythologies, but came from among the people in an ordinary way, exemplifying how God works through ordinary events to bring about the Everlasting Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

34 And Christ has continued to be a sign for the rising and falling of many of those who “Wrestle with God” and continues to be opposed. [Craddock: “Anyone who turns on a light, creates shadows.]

36 What are the meanings of Anna [Hebrew: Hannah => Grace], Phanuel [Hebrew: Face of God], and Asher [Happy]? This means she was probably widowed at in her twenties, as women would have married in their early teens.

37 Eighty-four while common today, was about two lifetimes as recently as 1900.

38 Even at her advanced age, she still advances the kingdom in meaningful ways.

39 What about the flight into Egypt? [not in Luke but only in Matthew]

40 In this passage the baby is only destined for divine favor, and is not God incarnate as in John’s Gospel.

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

  • Picks up 8 days after Jesus birth.
  • In the next passage Jesus is twelve years old.

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?

  • The dedication of Jesus in the Temple is not recorded in the other Gospels.
  • Dedication of Samuel in the Temple at which Hannah his mother prophecies that Samuel will be the LORD’s savior of the people.

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?

  • Although Anna’s speech is not recorded, parallels with Simeon’s prophecy allow the reader to imagine verbal similarities.

III. Question the text.

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

The pronouncements of Simeon and Anna are public events. Simeon and Anna do not hesitate to offer the spiritual blessings they perceive Jesus and his parents need. Similarly today the youth need the spiritual lessons of the value of ritual that only the older generation can give. [from PresbyNet: GOSPEL NOTES FOR NEXT SUNDAY note 3464 by CAROLINE ENGELBRECHT on Dec. 20, 1999]

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?

  • Mary and Joseph strictly followed the Jewish law and custom for the dedication of Jesus.
  • Spiritually oriented people were able to see the greatness into which Jesus had been destined from his birth.

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

  • This text parallels the experience of many couples on showing a new baby to friends and family, and modern ritual of baptism. In some congregations, when a child is baptized, the pastor presents the child to the congregation, walking up and down the aisles, during which many will reach out and touch the child, silently adding their blessing.

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

Fred B. Craddock (Interpretation: Luke, John Knox Press, 1990) notes “the importance for Luke of the continuity between the two Testaments, between Judaism to Christianity, between synagogue and church.” Thus the obedient purification of Mary and redemption of Jesus fulfills Old Testament law and signals New Testament purification redemption.

R. Alan Culpepper (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “The Gospel of Luke,” Abingdon, 1995) notes parallels with Simeon’s prophecy with passages in Isaiah. He notes that just as the Holy Spirit promised that Simeon would not see death before witnessing the arrival of the Messiah, so to does Jesus foretell that some of his disciples would not taste death before witnessing the kingdom of God. In the Reflections section, Culpepper notes the use of ritual in modern life and its waning in daily prayer and study in most households as compared with a generation ago. He challenges the modern Christian “to find effective rituals for celebrating the presence of God in the ordinary.”

James J. H. Price (The Presbyterian Outlook, December 4-11, 2000, “Presented in the Temple”) asks: “Do we really think that all flesh has seen the salvation of God? Does Simeon’s robust confidence in the arrival of God’s purposes of wholeness and renewal for the world connect with the world which knows the terrorist bombings of the USS Cole and other acts of violence?” He concludes: “The fulfillment of God’s promises within history are not always visible.”

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?

Jesus was/is a continuation of the Old Testament, a continuation of God’s saving work.

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

Change questions of “What are we looking for and waiting for God to provide?” into recognizing God’s continuing action among us and offering that to our neighbors.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

Hearers of this passage are called to listen to the Holy Spirit like Simeon and offer the saving grace of Christ like Anna.

Rejoicing with God

Luke 1:46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.

I walked out of the nursing home, looked upward and said: “That was great, God! When do we get to do that again?”

Months earlier I had begun visiting a woman whose health was failing. If anyone came to visit, she would pretend to sleep. None-the-less, week after week I came and stood by her bed and prayed silently. Eventually she made eye contact with me and nodded when I asked if she would like me to pray with her. Soon we would chat when I came to visit.

I doubt I was the only person who helped her engage the world, but for having the opportunity to see God work in her and through her my soul rejoiced.

How does your soul magnify the Lord?

Signs of Redemption

Zechariah 3:4The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.” And to him he said, “See, I have taken your guilt away from you, and I will clothe you with festal apparel.

Each Sunday I pour water into the baptismal font after the prayer of confession to remind us of our being made clean by our baptism.

Once a month we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, demonstrating that God has deemed us righteous.

Each Sunday we shake hands with one another during worship, blessing each other with the peace of Jesus Christ.

What images help you understand God’s mercy?

December 18th: “Hoping for the Impossible”

I. Establish the text

A. Select the Pericope: Luke 1:26-38

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

C. Other texts for Year B for 4th Sunday in Advent

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

26 Sixth month of Elizabeth’s seclusion.

27 What nuances did the word “virgin” carry in the first century? Was the betrothal period designed to validate the virginity of a wife?

28 Considering only the hardships Mary was destined to endure, would we want to be similarly “favored”?

29 At this point, Mary would be unaware of the “favor” that had been bestowed upon her, yet fully aware of the hardships of living in Nazareth. Do we consider ourselves “favored”?

31 Hence the name: “Son of Mary” and not the “Son of Joseph”. Referring to a child by his mother inferred the mother had not passed the betrothal test.

32 What experiences would Mary have to trust/believe a son born to her out of wedlock would be called the “Son of the Most High”? What experiences have we received to trust future revelations?

33 Would first century readers have expected a series of ancestral rulers to continually reign? Is the papacy a human attempt to provide a continual physical/personal presence (c.f. Saul in 1 Samuel)?

34-37 The technical questions bothered 1st century people as much as 21st century people.

38 Would we as readily accede to such a request? How had Mary been prepared to accede to such a vision? Would she have heard of Zachariah’s vision in the temple and accede rather than risk retribution for expressing doubt?

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

  • Verse 26 provides a change of focus from Elizabeth to Mary.
  • Verses 39-45 show Mary validating the proof the angel offered. 46-56 the readers hears of Mary’s belief, perhaps hidden by her haste to see Elizabeth and validate the vision.

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?

  • Matthew compacts the entire annunciation to Mary into one verse: 1:18 “Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.” He presents the incarnation from Joseph’s point of view, who also received a vision (1:19-25) instructing him to accept the pregnancy and the child.

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

  • /ParQevnos/: virgin (female and male), also used for maiden and sweetheart in other 1st Century literature.

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: Jesus was the Son of God at his birth.
  • Emotional Center:
  • Music: “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise”

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • Luke fails to comment on Mary’s change of heart from perplexed by the Gabriel’s initial words to humbly acceding to his request. This shows Mary as completely pliable to divine revelation.

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

  • This is so well known, many will have a hard time hearing the nuances and scandal.

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

Fred B Craddock (Interpretation:Luke, John Knox Press, 1990.) immediately notes the parallel of Mary’s pregnancy with Elizabeth’s: both events demonstrate God’s grace toward the world and power to work in the unable, and that they have sons for our sake. He observes that God’s reasons for choosing Mary are not disclosed. [Perhaps following God’s pattern for selecting David as king.] He links the annunciation to Mary with the annunciation to Sara with the phrase: “For nothing is impossible with God.”

R. Alan Culpepper (“The Gospel of Luke”, The New Interpreter’s Bible, Abingdon, 1995.) highlights nuances which show Mary’s son as greater than Elizabeth’s son. Gabriel’s greeting parallels the assurances given in Judges 6:12. He cites Tobit as rising Mary’s fear. Tobit tells of a jealous angel who successively appeared on a bride’s wedding night and killed her bridegrooms. He reflects: “Today many assume that those whom God favors will enjoy the things we equate with a good life: social standing, wealth, and good health. Yet Mary, God’s favored one, was blessed with having a child out of wedlock who would later be executed as a criminal [and a heretic].” “The ultimate scandal is that God would enter human life with all its depravity, violence, and corruption. Therefore, the annunciation ultimately is an announcement of hope for humankind.”

Rosalind Banbury-Hamm (“Celebrating the good news,” The Presbyterian Outlook, November 7, 2005, p. 25): “Yet, the ways that we celebrate Christmas may water down the gospel from a heady, full-bodied wine to a weak drink that no punch.”

James J. H. Price (“Called to Be a Vessel!” The Presbyterian Outlook, November 26, 2007, p. 16) asserts: “Luke’s aim is not to report a biological miracle, but to confess the divine origin of Jesus as Messiah, Son of God.” He notes: “The Spirit is associated with creation, not primarily procreation (see Ezekiel 37:1-14; Job 32:8; 33:4). It is worth noting that in Hebrew “Spirit” is a feminine word and in Greek a neuter word, thus not associates with a male figure.”

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?

Through the faith of a powerless maiden, the power of the Most High manifested grace to the world through Jesus.

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

Finding favor with God.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

Appreciate the scandalous risks that God imposed choosing Mary and thereby see God in our lives.

Thank You Gifts

Psalm 50:12 If I were hungry, I would not tell you,
for the world and all that is in it is mine.

What do you get for someone who has everything?

For several years I have answered the question: “What do you want for Christmas?” by saying: “World peace.” Although I appreciate the occasional tie, gourmet coffee, or even whirled peas, I hope to hear of support to organizations trying to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, or house the homeless, for I am none of these. Even better would be hearing efforts to volunteer with a similar organization.

How do you say thank you to your friends and parents?

December 11th: “Expect Joy”

I. Establish the text

A. Select the Pericope: Isaiah 61:1-11

C. Other texts for Year B for 3rd Sunday in Advent

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

1a The first time I preached, I imagined I was like a little league batter holding the bat fearfully, but with the coach’s firm arms around me, his hands over mine, helping me to steady the bat, reminding me to watch the ball all the way until it hit the bat, then at the exact instance he commands into my ear: “SWING!” Thus my prayer is that God will speak into my ear for the sake of hitting a home run for the Gospel!

1b-3a The definitive statement of what to preach!

3b-4 This is the hoped for change in the hearers of the Word of God. (NB: see quote at end from Rabbi Diamond.)

5 While others will share our work, it also means that others will control our possessions. If we bring others into the church, it also means that our church family will change.

5 Change of subject from 3rd to 2nd person.

6 These are the rewards that a growing church can claim!

7 Change of subject back to 3rd person and of speaker from the prophet’s presenting of the Word of God to the very words of God.

7 THE REASON FOR THE SEASON!

8 Justice is not forgotten in the making a new covenant with God.

10 Shift of speaker back to the prophet.

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

  • I am at a loss as to why the RCL omits vv 5-7.
  • The opening words “The spirit of the Lord LORD is upon me” suggest the beginning of a new prophecy.
  • Chapter 62 follows from 61:10 with more exhortations for praise. The tone shifts sharply in Chapter 63 towards the laying of guilt before Israel, while continuing the theme of salvation.

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

3 BHS notes that /L’BLY TsUN/ “mourner of Zion” is “probably added”. However, all the translations on my self, except the REB, include these words.

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?

  • Written by post exilic scholars of the Isaiah’s school. Often referred to as Third Isaiah. If so, it may have been written to celebrate return from exile.
  • In canonical form, it appears as having been written at the time of exile. Thus it calls out to the people to rejoice in the face of the tribulations of captivity.

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

1-2 Luke uses a paraphrase of this as Jesus’ self-identification when teaching. In that context, Jesus is the ONE upon whom is the spirit of God. But Isaiah permits a broader usage.

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

1 /RUC/ Spirit/breath. This is the same word used in Gen 1:2 for the breath/wind of God that hovered over the face of the waters. When used as “breath” it often means gusty breathing. It conveys “speech” that come with breath. When used as “wind”, this word suggests a ‘breath of heaven’. When used as “spirit”, it stems from recognition that breath is essential for the life of flesh. (BDB p. 924a) Thus “spirit” in the sense of that which is divinely animating.

1 NIV uses “Sovereign LORD” for /’aDoNaY YHVH/, which may be preferable to the NRSV “Lord GOD”.

1 Hebrew reads: to proclaim to captives: “freedom” and to prisoners: “release from darkness.” Emphasizing what is proclaimed.

1 /PQC-QUC/ “Release;” Lit. “Opening of eyes” NIV: “release from darkness.”

7 NIV, TEV, & NJB interpret this like: “because of shame … will receive double” NRSV, REB, NAB: “Because having received double shame.”

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 usually indented as poetry. But may be more similar to modern liturgical writings.

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?

11 Here it is the earth or a garden that causes roots and stems to put forth. Elsewhere is this not attributed to 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?

  • COG: To proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor!
  • Music: “All Hail the Power of Jesus Name!” Tune: CORONATION

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • This text calls the people to rejoice for the coming of the salvation and vindication of the LORD, even though this is not yet at hand.

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

  • A Christian congregation will hear this as the words of the eternal Christ spoken through the prophet Isaiah. Yet it is a song of one who has received the garment of salvation, rather than that of the one who bestows it.
  • I will need to connect this passage to the hurtings of the congregation, so that they may rejoice with Isaiah for the promise of redemption in the Lord.

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

Henry Sloan Coffin, “The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 40-66: Exposition”; The Interpreter’s Bible (Abingdon, 1956). “The contrast between ‘the year of the LORD’s favor’ and ‘the day of [his] vengeance’ is important: grace is God’s constant attitude toward [people]; vengeance is an occasional judgment necessary to remove obstacles to his grace.” “Such rejoicing in God alters the spiritual climate, clears the atmosphere so that his face is more plain, and restores morale.”

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?

God’s promise of salvation is always before us, yet we must rejoice today because we look to the future with assurance of God’s justice and redemption.

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

Although we may be afflicted, brokenhearted, and bound to circumstances, although we see ruins of what was around us, God calls us to rejoice in the promise of the year of his favor, for in worshiping the Lord we can see new possibilities.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

To learn to sing God’s praises in the face of adversity.