Monthly Archives: May 2012

June 3rd: “Born Anew”

Nicodemus went to Jesus to seek help, but ended up with more questions than answers. How can I be born over? If I cannot tell from whence the wind/Spirit comes, how am I to be born of it? Who is the Son of Man?
Question for discussion: How has the cross, and not the reader’s decision, been the source of transformation?

This Week’s Passage: John 3:1-17

I. Establish the text

C. Other texts for Year B, Trinity Sunday

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

1 Frequently Jesus’ ministers to those who are weak, but here Jesus ministers to the mighty.

2a Why does Nicodemus come at night? To hide from others? Because of darkness in his own soul? How do we come to Jesus?

2b Nicodemus tells Jesus that he has come to learn from a recognized authority. Although Nicodemus does not tell what it is he has come to learn, and perhaps he does not concisely know. Do we truly know what it is that God must teach us?

3 To what implied question does Jesus respond? Is it: “Are these miracles of the Kingdom of God”?

4 Can an old dog be taught new tricks? Can life-long sinners be saved and taught to live within the law?

5 Does Jesus refer to the waters of baptism or to amniotic fluid? Is it the Spirit or the breath of life?

8 You can’t tell where a person born of the Spirit comes from or where s/he is going, nor control how they will be transformed, only that the Spirit is present in them.

9-10 Jesus has explained this as clear as mud.

11 Note shift from 1st person singular to 1st plural, and to 2nd plural “you people do not receive”.

12-17 Jesus implies Nicodemus and his colleagues won’t believe heavenly things, then proceeds to tell him heavenly things.

12 But Nicodemus has believed earthly things. He has recognized the miracles as divine signs.

14 See Numbers 21:4-9. The seraphim snake that Moses raised in the desert saved the people from its venomous bite, which was sent among them as punishment for their rebuke of God for the lack of food and water in the desert.

17 This is an important corrective to those who might read 3:16 exclusively.

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

  • Some interpreters deem Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus ends at verse 15. If so 16 through 21 are didactic material. If part of the conversation, verses 16-18 function as a transition to illustrating the acceptance of salvation as being and acting in the light.

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

  • Some variants expand verse 13 to read, “No one who has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man, [who is in heaven].”
  • John used several words with multiple meanings that smooth English translations cannot accommodate.

II. Literary Study.

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

3 & 7: /anothen/ again, anew, from above, over. If Jesus spoke in Hebrew or Aramaic, he would not have a word with this double meaning. But John, writing in Greek, does. I believe that John was more concerned with capturing the ambiguity of meaning that Jesus would have used to make his hearers really think about the impossibility of being “born again.” We must not allow a simple spiritual reading, as if one may be “born from above” without having to crawl back into one’s mother’s womb and do over that which we would like to correct the second time around. Nor must we allow a reading that one need only be born twice: once physically and once in Christ, but we must recognize turning to God as a life long process, needing to be born again and again and again. Repenting not only our additional sins that require us to turn once again to Christ, but also of inflicting once again our sins against Christ. Being “born again” is both continually available and calling for great personal sacrifice and trial.

7: Jesus uses 2nd person singular when addressing Nicodemus (I say to ye) but the 2nd person plural when describing rebirth (you all must be born from above).

16: /kosmos/ earth, cosmos, universe. God loves not only this planet but the whole of creation. O’Day notes that comsos frequently refers to those people at odds with Jesus and God.

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?

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Theological discussion that flows into a a theological discourse.

III. Question the text.

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

Nicodemus went to Jesus to seek help, but ended up with more questions than answers. How can I be born over? If I cannot tell from whence the wind/Spirit comes, how am I to be born of it? Who is the Son of Man?

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?

“Born again,” as Nicodemus complained, complicated, rather than illustrated, being able to see the Kingdom 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?

  • Center of Gravity: What must I do to see the Kingdom of God?
  • Emotional Center: This is unexplainable Spirit work.
  • Music: “Lift High the Cross”

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • Nicodemus, the leader of the religious establishment, gets a lesson on God’s establishment.

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

  • John 3:16 has become so familiar the illogical, unearned, and uncontrolled process it requires can get ignored.

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

Gerard Sloyan (Interpretation: John. John Knox Press, 1988.) interprets Nicodemus’ dialog with Jesus as exemplifying a religious debate that continued to separate the new Christian sect from the traditional Jewish order. “One party rejects the other’s speech as literalist; the other responds by complaining of an unwarranted use of figure.” Two thousand years later, Water and Spirit language seems obvious to us, but would have been nonsensical to 1st century Jews. Thus Nicodemus opts for the literal interpretation of “born /anothen/”.

Gail R. O’Day (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “The Gospel of John.” Abingdon, 1995.) notes that the Greek word order of verse 11 echoes Nicodemus’ opening words in verse 2 (we know). Verse 3:15 “makes explicit the salvific dimension of the crucifixion. … The cross thus makes sense of the double meaning of anothen: To be born from above is to be born again through the lifting up of Jesus on the cross.” She warns preachers of the temptation to pare this rich text into either a story about a religious leader questioning Jesus or as a lesson on faith and judgment. She warns that “contemporary usage of ‘born again’ privileges anthropology over christology,” emphasizing personal change over the external source of that change: the cross.

Fred B. Craddock (Knox Preaching Guides: John. John Knox Press, 1982.) recommends preachers approach this text as a dialog between two perspectives. The first is earthly. It lines up historical and logical evidence arriving at a clear conclusion without risk or decision. The second insists life is God given from above: unearned, unacheived, uncontrolled, uncharted, and uncalculated; as mysterious as the wind. He recommends preachers consider verses 16-21 separately as they form a theological reflection.

Kenneth E. Bailey (The Presbyterian Outlook, “John 3:1-15: Jesus and Nicodemus”. Feb. 11, 2008.) summarizes that the Trinity is the topic of discussion by Nicodemus and Jesus. Three times Jesus used the phrase “Truly, truly, I say to you …” each pointing to a different person of the Trinity: in verse 3: the Father; in verses 5-8: the Spirit; and in verses 11-15: the Son.

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?

— Seeing the kingdom of God requires an illogical rebirth by God.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

— Acceptance that the cross and not the believer is the source of personal transformation.

May 27th: “A People on Fire”

Contrast the wind of Pentecost with a tornado, both shake the world off its pedestal, but the Holy Spirit breathes life into those who inhale it, so together Church builds the kingdom of God.
Question for Discussion: How has the Spirit been poured into your life for the building of the Kingdom of God?

This Week’s Passage: Acts 2:1-21

I. Establish the text

C. Other texts for Year B for Pentecost

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

1 Recall that Pentecost was a harvest feast. Is Luke making a parallel between the harvest of grain and the harvest of believers?

1 “They were all together:” who? Acts1:14-15,26: The eleven, Mary the mother of Jesus and his brothers, Matthias about 120.

2 Sound [white noise?] only? No movement? “Fills the whole house” and later fills the whole house with people.

3 How do we manifest “tongues of fire” today? What kind of lamps do we burn in the sight of the communities we live in?

4 Whether this is glossolalia or xenolalia, is not important. What is important is that the Holy Spirit enabled them.

5 These Jews were thus prepared for the receiving of God’s Word. Contrast with Gen 11:3 who are listening for their own word.

6 Which sound brought the people together, the white noise or the xenolalia?

6&8 This passage puts the gift of comprehension in the hearer. Consider communication theory: Communication is affected and effected by the transmitter, the medium, and the receiver. Violent wind noises normally disrupt communication. Differences in language normally disrupt communication. Differences in culture normally disrupt communication.

7 Look at who the speakers are. They are not scribes who had studied other languages, but laborers.

9 Some of the nations cited no longer existed even at this time, however ethnic roots die slowly.

13 What excuse would be given today to ignore God at work among us?

14 The circle of potential converts begins to expand: Jews and Jerusalemites. How might we expand our circle of converts?

15 Were there not men in those days who were drunk every day?

16 The occasion for Joel 2:28 ff. was the impending judgment in the day of the LORD (Joel 2:1-11). The crucifixion of Christ fulfills the judgment of the Lord.

17a The whole communication process is under the auspices of the Holy Spirit working in opposition of normal communications theory.

18 Even the clergy will receive the Spirit!

19-21 Proto-apocalyptic literature.

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

  • Omits most of Peter’s remarks and the reaction of those present to those remarks.

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

3 “tongues being divided as fire.” Usually read as “tongues of fire that are divided” but could this also be read as “tongues divided like a fire divides.” Many pictures show the apostles with individual flames on their heads, but could this describe something fleshy like a tongue that divides and rests on them like the flames of a fire divide?

III. Question the text.

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

Apostles: Assuming Peter’s speech is indicative of the apostles’ reactions, they were well prepared for what was happening to them. The 50 days of prayer and waiting, seeing of the risen Jesus. When the Spirit came in power they were ready to preach.

Crowd: Although the Crown is said to contain devout Jews, they are not ready for what is happening around them and thus are perplexed by it. Thus rather than recognize the action of God, in the hearing of speech in their own language, they deride it as falsities.

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?

Countries listed generally from east to west crossing the Mediterranean twice then jumping back east through Crete to Arabia. Is this equivalent to a round the world tour?

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: The Spirit enables communication of the Good News to new people.

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • The reality experienced by the disciples conflicted with the expectations of the crowd.

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

  • From The Presbyterian Outlook “In this Corner by Marj” September 6, 1999: The town fire chief recently became a new member of the Presbyterian Church. When being question by the session, he told them he did have one concern. “I read in the Bible,” he said, “and I’ve always worried about Pentecost. Those flaming tongues jumping around just aren’t safe.” [Of course he’s right. It isn’t safe letting the Holy Spirit jump around like that, inflaming hearts and souls. It could cause genuine change in the church.]
  • Contrast the wind of Pentecost with a tornado, both shake the world off its pedestal, but the Holy Spirit breathes life into those who inhale it, so together Church builds the kingdom of God.
  • How has the Spirit been poured into your life for the building of the Kingdom of God?

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

William Willimon (Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching: Acts: JKP). He cites Ps 127:1 – “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” [This is the difference between Gen 11 (Tower of Babel) and Acts 2.] He suggests a parallel with the birth narrative of Jesus and an allusion to Gen 1:2 (The breath of God moved over the face of the waters at the creation.). He asserts that Pentecost has not reversed Babel: the community scattered there has not been restored. The story does not claim that there is only one tongue now, nor is there a claim of a miracle of hearing, instead of speaking. “The miracle here is one of proclamation. Those who had no “tongue” to speak the “mighty works of God” now preach.” “To those in the church today who regard the Spirit as an exotic phenomenon of mainly interior and purely personal significance, the story of the Spirit’s descent at Pentecost offers a rebuke. … The Spirit is the power which enables the church to “go public” with its good news, to attract a crowd and … to have something worth hearing.”

Robert W. Wall (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “The Acts of the Apostles” Abingdon, 2002) notes parallels with the giving of the Torah at Sinai, which also occurred fifty days after the Passover, and hence gathering in Jerusalem to celebrate. While the Torah unified Israel, so to does the Spirit unify Christians. He notes Pentecost is a recurring event in Acts: 8:17; 10-44-11:18, and 19:1-6.

May 20th: “Belonging to Christ”

If we desire to have God answer our prayers for ourselves and our neighbors, we must listen to Jesus’ prayer for his disciples, preparing them/us for trials in the world.

If these exegetical notes are useful, I would appreciate your encouragement. Please comment on this page, send me a note, or share the link on your favorite social media. — Robert Shaw

This Week’s Passage: Gospel John 17:6-19

I. Establish the text

C. Other texts for Year B for 7thSunday in Easter

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

9-10 Jesus prays for the disciples even before they know they need prayer.

11-15 Prayer for protection. How does spiritual oneness protect us today?

16-19 Disciples set apart from the world for conveying God’s word.

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

  • The lectionary divides this prayer into three parts, each on the seventh Sunday of Easter in successive years.
  • This prayer concludes Jesus’ final meal with his disciples that included the foot washing and handing a dipped piece of bread to Judas.
  • It is followed by Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion.
  • Worship attendees will need to know the context of this prayer.

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 Synoptic Gospels (Mark 14:32-42, Matthew 26:-46, Luke 22:40-46) Places this prayer at Gethsemane or the Mount of Olives and shows Jesus as anguished and reluctantly accepting the Father’s will. He mandates those with him to pray that they not come into a time of trial.

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

/didomi/ “given” appears 17 times in this chapter: 13 times the Father gives to Jesus, 4 times Jesus gives to 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?

  • Prayer by Jesus about himself and his disciples in their presence.

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?

  • Jesus requested that God the Father protect the disciples that entrusted to Jesus and provide them unity in the world.

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

  • Fred Craddock encourages the preacher to demonstrate by example, even naming those present, what it feels like to be prayed for by Christ.

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

Fred B. Craddock (Knox Preaching Guides: John, John Knox Press, 1982), citing Deuteronomy, Psalms, and Romans, contends that Scripture does not make a sharp distinction between addresses to people (sermons) and addresses to God (prayer) and neither should preachers. “Good preaching is not solely to the people; good preaching is also in behalf of the people.”

Gerard Sloyan (Interpretation: John, John Knox Press, 1988): “The prayer is, in the last analysis, a plea for unity among believers. … If the disciples are at on in this fashion, this should provide a motive for the world’s belief.”

Gail R. O’Day (The New Interpreter’s Bible, Abingdon, 1995) perceives this prayer as concluding Jesus’ farewell meal. She reminds interpreters that in this prayer, Jesus had stopped talking with/to the disciples (or to the larger faith community), and talked directly to God. By overhearing this prayer readers glimpse life with God.

Brian Stoffregen (Ecunet.org/Sermonshop, May 09, 1999) “”Where I am they also might be with me,” refers more to the relationship with the Father than being at a particular place. Do we have to go to heaven to see Jesus’ glory, or, can we see it here and now by faith and through our relationship with the Father, in “his hour” and his completion of the work God had given him to do (v. 4)?”

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 prays for his disciples that the Father would protect them from the world and grant them oneness for their mission in the world.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

If we desire to have God answer our prayers for ourselves and our neighbors, we must listen to Jesus’ prayer for his disciples, preparing them/us for trials in the world.

May 13th: Women of the Church Sunday “Communion as Love”

Christ’s commands us to love one another, even to the point of dying for one another.

This Week’s Passage: John 15:9-17

I. Establish the text

C. Other texts for Year B for 6thSunday in Easter

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

9 Like a parental tradition: Dad did it for me. I did it for you. You do it also.

10 Like parental advice that a child stay within the rules to keep the child from suffering the ill effects of when the rules are violated.

11 Not for the sake of the parent are the rules laid down, but for the sake of the child’s joy.

12 This is the summary of the second table of the law. It fully summarizes all of human law.

13 Supreme sacrifice v. the reserved sacrifice of Navy colleagues who regretted the risk they were taking for their country, do it only for their parent’s sake.

14 Danger is to assume if-then-else theology. The else is not mentioned.

15 Unlike a servant who only has orders, friends know the big picture. C.f. story of crews digging hole after hole in a street only to fill them up again. By mid afternoon they were beginning to become disgruntled. But when they found out that the city had lost the maps of the sewer system, they were able to continue their task with renewed energy.

16 The Church is not a voluntary organization! The church is a group of people called by God to do his work in this time and in this place, especially to make disciples of all people and to love one another.

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

    • This is the central portion of a longer teaching. It follows a section that relates the listeners as branches of Christ. A section that prophesies how followers of Christ will be hated for their faith follows this section. In this context, the larger teaching is a command to love one-another in the face of death, to martyrdom.

II. Literary Study.

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

10 /ean … thrhwshte/ (Aorist Active 2nd person Plural Subjunctive) ‘if you all would watch over’ or ‘if you would guard.’ Usually translated as ‘if you keep.’ Often understood as ‘if you obey.’ If-then or rule-based theology is easy. Meet the requirements and you get in otherwise you don’t. But guarding over the commandments may be harder. Guarding would necessitate that they continue to be relevant for future generations.

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?

      • Cenger of Gravity: This is a commandment to emulate Christ, loving one another, even to the point of dying for one another.

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

    • The commandment to love one another will be readily heard absent of the expected depth and cost of that love. Becoming a church member costs nothing. Becoming a Christian costs everything! The human ear will readily isolate the cost of abiding in love to Christ, who paid it all. Yet, true discipleship demands that followers of Christ love even to the point of being labeled radicals. Giving to the church is a radical expression of the foolishness of being a Christian.