Friday Facts: Lectionary A – Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

Friday Facts is a  weekly feature here on Trout and Cast Iron. Every week, I’ll read through the lectionary texts for the following Sunday in their original Hebrew and Greek. On Friday, I’ll choose one of the texts, provide a new translation, and highlight one point of interest from a linguistic, ancient history, or concordance point of view. The hope is that Friday Facts can provide a spark to preachers who find themselves preparing their Sunday sermon on a short schedule. 

Matthew 5.21-22, 27-28, 31-32, 33-34

21 You have heard that it is said…22 but I, myself, say to you…

27 You have heard that it is said…28 but I, myself, say to you…

31 It is said…32 but I, myself, say to you…

33 Again, you have heard that it is said…34 but I, myself, say to you…

There is rhythm in this week’s gospel lesson from the Sermon on the Mount. Over and over, Jesus introduces his teachings with this formula, contrasting what has come before with what he now brings. There’s a lot to unpack within Jesus’ new teachings themselves, but they also provide an opportunity to reflect on a broader topic.

You see, the formulaic nature of this section of the Sermon on the Mount reflects the fact that Jesus didn’t write his sayings down. He was a preacher, not a scribe, after all. The repetition within the sermon is a common feature of oral cultures. It both serves as a organizational principle, and it’s a help towards memorization. The repetition helps the words to stick in a hearer’s brain.

And for the Lutheran preacher, this leads to a further reflection: The gospel is living word. It is primarily a speech act, transmitted by the living voice of one person to another. Therein lies the rub. We live within in a culture of strange media. On the one hand, we are dominated by the text around us. In books, on the internet, on signs. On the other, we are also dominated by an ephemeral audio/visual culture. From cable television, Netflix, and Youtube we consume vast amounts of information, but it is information that is not designed to stick. Think about the last television show you watched and how many lines of dialogue you can remember.

But, as you sit down to write your sermon, read these words and remember that they are designed to stick. With their built in repetition, they are intended to work their way into the brains of their hearers. The Gospel is a living word, which does its work far beyond the few minutes that you spend preaching it from the pulpit. But, if your sermon obscures the oral nature of the Gospel, if your sermon cleans off the stickiness and turns the Word into just another chunk of the mass of audio that people consume, it becomes nothing more than dead letter.

Friday Facts: Lectionary A – The Third Sunday after Epiphany

Friday Facts is a  weekly feature here on Trout and Cast Iron. Every week, I’ll read through the lectionary texts for the following Sunday in their original Hebrew and Greek. On Friday, I’ll choose one of the texts, provide a new translation, and highlight one point of interest from a linguistic, ancient history, or concordance point of view. The hope is that Friday Facts can provide a spark to preachers who find themselves preparing their Sunday sermon on a short schedule. 

Matthew 4.12-23

12 Having heard that John was arrested, he went up to Galilee. 13 And leaving behind Nazareth, he settled by the sea in Capernaum, in the region of Zebulon and Naphtali 14 in order to fulfill the saying of Isaiah, the prophet 15 “Land of Zebulon and land of Naphtali, way by the sea, on the other side of the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. 16 The people who sit in darkness have seen a great light and light shines on those who sit in a dark land of death.”

17 From then, Jesus began to preach, saying “Repent! For the kingdom of heaven draws near!”

18 Walking along the sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon the one called Peter and Andrew, his brother, for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow after me, and I will make you fishers of people.” 20 And, leaving behind their nets, they immediately followed him. 21 Going forth from there, he saw two other brothers, Jacob the son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets. And he called them. 22 And, leaving behind the boat and their father, they immediately followed him.

23 And he wandered in the countryside of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing all disease and all sickness among the people.

Rather than present the text all in one block, I’ve chosen to divide it up today, in order to illustrate an important principle of exegesis. Namely, that the first task of interpreting a lectionary text is to figure out whether you agree with the way that the editors have cut up the text. In this case, I think that the compilers of the Revised Common Lectionary have lumped together four separate stories. From top to bottom, they’ve lumped 1) Jesus’ move to Capernaum, fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah 2) the beginning of Jesus’ preaching and his first public sermon 3) the calling of Jesus’ first disciples, four fishermen 4) the beginnings of Jesus’ public ministry in Galilee. Get four other students of the New Testament in the room and they’ll give you four other ways of dividing this text. All this is to point out that it’s important to remember that lectionary selections, titles of sections, even chapter and verse numbers are not Holy Writ. It’s good to be cognizant that organization of a text is itself an act of interpretation. Not only that, but I’ve found that thinking about the organization of the text is a helpful way to focus my own sermon preparation.

For example, in organizing the text as I’ve done, I’ve noticed something: leaving aside the last clause of verse 23 (which in my opinion properly belongs with verse 24 and 25), Matthew sets up the beginning of Jesus’ ministry as involving two things: moving and speaking: Jesus goes up to Galilee, leaves behind Nazareth, settles in Capernaum, walks by the seashore, and walks further by the seashore. When he’s not walking, Jesus preaches, talks, and calls. And it’s in the walking and the talking that the church begins. Jesus calls the first four disciples before he ever does a miracle. He selects the rocks that he builds his church on before he even the sermon on the mount. The disciples who carry the Gospel to the ends of the earth follow him when all that he’s said is “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven draws near” and “Follow me.” And if you plaster verse 23 on to the end of this section, you might miss that.

 

 

Friday Facts: Christmas Edition!

Friday Facts is a new weekly feature here on Trout and Cast Iron. Every week, I’ll read through the lectionary texts for the following Sunday in their original Hebrew and Greek. On Friday, I’ll choose one of the texts, provide a new translation, and highlight one point of interest from a linguistic, ancient history, or concordance point of view. The hope is that Friday Facts can provide a spark to preachers who find themselves preparing their Sunday sermon on a short schedule. 

Luke 2.7

And she gave birth to her son, her firstborn, and she swaddled him and she laid him down in a feeding-trough, because there was not a place for them in the guest room.

Because this Sunday is Christmas, and we all have many things to do, I’ll try to keep it short today. I like concordance studies, i.e. looking up a word in the Bible and seeing where else in the Bible it appears. They certainly can be done in English, but I appreciate them most in Greek because they often throw light on nuances of translation. The Christmas story is a great example, because the translation of one word in the text changes our idea of what’s actually going on. That word is καταλύματι, and it comes at the end of verse 7. For those of us who do the majority of our reading from translations heavily influenced by the King James Version (the NRSV included), the standard rendering of καταλύματι has been “inn.” And this translation conjures up images of “No Vacancy” signs, callous inn-keepers turning the young couple away, and a remarkable lack of hospitality on the part of the city of Bethlehem.

Image my surprise when I looked up where else καταλύματι occurs in Luke and found it in Luke 22.10-12: And [Jesus] said to them, “Behold, when you go into the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him into the house into which he goes. And you will say to the master of the house, ‘Our teacher says to you, ‘Where is the κατάλυμα where I can eat the Passover with my disciples?’ And that one will show you a large, furnished upstairs room. Prepare there.” Here, the κατάλυμα is clearly not an “inn,” but a specific room inside of a house. Moreover, Luke has another word he uses when he clearly means ‘inn.’ In the parable of the Good Samaritan, he writes “And going to him, he bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine [on them]. And having placed the man on his own donkey, he led him into an inn (Gk. πανδοχεῖον).”

So what’s going on here? It seems that instead of looking for a Motel 6, Mary and Joseph were staying with relatives in Bethlehem. And it just so happened that their house was stuffed with all the relatives who had arrived in town for the census. Because there was no room in the upstairs guest bedroom, Mary and Joseph had to stay in another room in the house, which, as was common in ancient Palestine, was the room that also housed the animals.

Does this radically change the Christmas story? No. The central fact is the same: Our Lord was born into humble circumstances in the midst of beasts of burden. But, Jesus was also born into a house overwhelmed by out-of-town relatives, which just goes to show that He really does know all of our hopes and cares. Merry Christmas indeed!

Go Away from me Lord! Hallesby on Luke 5.8

But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down on his knees before Jesus and said: Lord, go away from me, for I am a sinful man! – Luke 5.8

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If the Lord will live in a person’s heart, He first must crush it. And the hearts which He will use in His work, He will crush the most thoroughly.

It was not only Peter who recognized the terror in his heart. If the Lord will make us useful, we must be able to see our sin, and seeing sin breeds terror. We must look so deeply at our own heart, our own god-fearing, our own Christian work, such that it becomes our despair. If we shall receive “the wisdom which comes from God,” we must first see our own stupidity.

Therefore, do not become discouraged, my dear co-laborers, when you experience this crushing blow from the Lord. You think that everything is impossible, but nothing is as impossible as you doing something righteous in God’s kingdom.

You think that you are unworthy? Yes, but who is worthy? No one. It is only through grace that we become co-laborers in the Lord’s work. As long as you realize this, it will go well with your labors.

You realize that you’re ill-fitted for the work? Good. As long as you realize it, the Lord can use it. For there is nothing which can make you fitted that you don’t receive from God, and He gives grace to the humble.

No one is so well-suited to win over people as a humble person. A humble person never takes a high position among the believers. A humble person never sows splits and disagreements in the Lord’s flock. And a humble person has an entrance into the heart and conscience of the unconverted that nobody else has.

From Hallesby, Ole. Daglig Fornyelse: Andaktsbok for Hjemmet. Translated by Kristofer Coffman. Oslo: Lutherstiftelsens Forlag, 1951, 104.

 

A Meditation for Palm Sunday

Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, “I do believe, help my unbelief! – Mark 9.24

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Thus cried out the believing father in his need. And thus cry out all the faithful in their need. The Scriptures tell about faith’s secret, and, in truth, faith is a secret-filled thing. Among others, we find the secret of faith, that one can never be born again without the old self dying. The self’s death and faith’s birth are inseparable.

And death is always painful; the death of the old self is no different, and so, there will always be a painful side of faith. A sinner cannot come to faith in Christ, without at the same time losing faith in himself.

Therefore, in its beginning, faith is always a sorrowing, sighing, crying, doubting faith, because a sinner doesn’t see his faith; a sinner only sees his unbelief. And so we pray unceasingly, like the desperate father, “Help my unbelief!”

But, in other ways, we can see that faith is there. First and foremost, because the sinner suffers on account of his unbelief, and prays for faith.

At that point, faith is already a reality with him, for to believe is to come to Christ with your sins, as the Haugeans say.

He who comes to the feet of Christ’s cross with all his daily sins, he believes, even if he can only see his own doubt, and cannot yet see his faith.

Faith only lives as long as it is wrestling, says Luther.

Here this, you dear children of God, who so often are unsettled and never can grasp your faith as well as you wish.

Cry out like the father in the text: I believe, Lord, help my unbelief!

From Hallesby, Ole. Daglig Fornyelse: Andaktsbok for Hjemmet. Translated by Kristofer Coffman. Oslo: Lutherstiftelsens Forlag, 1951, 81.

Mark 4:1-9 Sower, Soil, and Seeds

Listen! Imagine a sower going out to sow.

Sometimes, in the course of following a lectionary, odd juxtapositions of season and text come about. For those following the Narrative Lectionary, this Sunday is one of those odd juxtapositions. Here in Minnesota, we’re bracing for the coldest weekend of the winter. Snow blankets the ground, and the prediction has the mercury falling down near negative twenty. And yet, in the selections from Mark’s gospel, Jesus tells us a parable about growing seeds.

The parable of the sowers is a parable for preachers, not for hearers.  Too often, the preacher will stand up and shout at their hearers, “Don’t you want to produce a good crop? Be good soil!” But to shout those words is to twist the audience of the parable. This parable doesn’t endeavor to inspire its hearers to run out and produce good fruit. Rather, Jesus intends this parable to give direction to those who are called to preach the word. To his preachers, Jesus says, “Go out and preach the word, in all places. Sometimes it will take root, sometimes it will be choked out, but God (not the preacher) will be responsible for that growth.” The challenge of this parable is to abandon the need to find the best soil and the need to try to change the seed to fit the soil type. The word of God is to be cast out with reckless abandon, and we must trust that God will give the growth.

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