Friday Facts: Lectionary A – Seventh 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. 

1 Corinthians 3.18-20

18 Let no one cheat himself. If anyone among you seems to be full of worldly wisdom, let them become a fool, in order that they may become truly wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolish to God. For it is written “He catches the wise in their craftiness” 20 and again “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are useless.”

If you read through the letters of Paul, you’ll find that Paul loves contrasts. He loves to pit things against each other in order to illustrate his point. For those of us who are Lutheran, it’s important to know that Martin Luther plucked our favorite contrasts (Law/Gospel, saint/sinner, etc.) straight out of Paul’s epistles. But one contrast that doesn’t get as much airtime, but is no less important for Paul is wisdom and foolishness. You see, Paul lived in an ancient world that was obsessed with wisdom. Religious wisdom, ethical wisdom, scientific wisdom, you name it, they were interested in learning as much as they could. Paul himself was no slouch, quoting Greek poets in his letters and arguing the finer points of the Law in good Rabbinic style. But, just as Paul builds up the Law only to show its futility, he proclaims that all of the wisdom he had accumulated was foolishness in the eyes of God. In fact, Paul goes so far as to say that, “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise.”

At the heart of Paul’s contrast is the knowledge that human wisdom is nothing but another leg in our self-salvation project. Through the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, Paul understands that more than any failure, it is our triumphs: our wisdom, our religiosity, or our moral good behavior that stand between us and our Lord. Before the crucified Lord of glory, all of our wisdom becomes foolishness. And the foolishness of a God who died and rose again from the grave becomes a wisdom which passes all understanding. Because he bears the yoke of Jesus Christ, Paul lives in a topsy-turvy world. A world where saints are sinners, and sinners are saints. A world where wisdom is foolishness, and foolishness is wisdom. A world where God loves sinners and died to saved them.

 

Friday Facts: Lectionary A – The Second 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. 

1 Corinthians 1.1-9

1 Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God and Sosthenes, his brother [in Christ] 2 to the church of God, the one in Corinth, to the ones sanctified by Jesus, to the ones called holy, with everyone who calls upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, in all places, both there and here among us. 3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 I give thanks to my God always concerning you, on account of God’s grace given to you in Christ Jesus 5 because in him you have grown rich in everything, in every word and all knowledge. 6 Thus, the witness of Christ in confirmed in you, 7 so that you do not lack any gift , having received the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who also sustains you, without fault, until the end, the day of our Lord Jesus. 9 God, through whom you were called into the community of His son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, is faithful.

We have here the greeting from another ancient letter, and it resembles the greeting from Paul’s letter to the Romans, which I reflected upon a few weeks ago. Paul employs a similar vocabulary to describe himself and the church at Corinth as in Romans 1.1-7, and if you’re interested in either his word choice or the genre of ancient letters, I’d refer you back to that post, which you can find here.

In dealing with the Corinthians, I’d like to take a little time to talk about Paul’s greeting in context of his entire first letter. Paul paints the Corinthians in glowing terms. According to him, they are “sanctified by Jesus,” “holy,” “rich in everything,” “without fault,” etc. If the letter ended here, you’d think that the Corinthians have the whole church thing figured out. Taken in isolation, you might even think that Paul’s praise indicates that the Corinthians present the perfect model for modern Christians to emulate.

Then comes the rest of the letter. According to Paul, among other things, the people of the Corinthian church are split by factions (1.10-11), “filled with self importance” (4.18), sexually immoral (5.1), suing each other in court (6.1), and defrauding each other (6.8).  Paul even goes so far as to say that the Corinthians’ church service “do more harm than good” (11.17)! So, what gives? How can Paul open his letter with glowing tones and then go on to list the manifest faults of the Corinthians? I believe that this contrast presents a perfect opportunity to talk about Forensic versus Transformative Justification. To vastly oversimplify: in the transformative view, justification changes a person’s inner being. Once that being has been changed, the person then goes on to do good things. In the forensic view, justification happens by declaration. God declares the sinner to be righteous, without any change in their essential being.

It is quite obvious from this passage, that the Corinthians have not been transformed much at all by the gospel of Jesus Christ. They continue to squabble, cheat, and sin. And yet, Paul is confident that God has called them “holy.” To use Martin Luther’s terminology, we have here an example of people who are simul iustus et peccator. Justified by God’s word, sinners by their own action. In other words, it will take something other than the Corinthians good behavior to bring them “without fault” to the last day.

Building the Perfect Pastor: Thoughts from Capon II

dog-capon-obit-blog427Though it may come as a surprise to some who know me, the two authors that have made the greatest contribution to my identity as a pastor are not, denomination-wise, Lutherans. They are an Episcopal priest, Robert Farrar Capon, and a Presbyterian pastor, Eugene Peterson. In this (infrequently) recurring feature, I will lay out some of the insights that I’ve learned from the two of them, as I endeavor to build the perfect pastor, or at least the perfect job description. You can find the first installment here.

While not as punny as his first pastoral criteria, Capon’s second musing on the requirements for pastoral ministry is no less topsy-turvy. He writes that, in addition to being faithful, the pastor must be wise. But, despite Capon’s credentials as a professor of New Testament Greek, he binds no intellectual or experiential requirements to the wisdom of pastorhood. Instead, like Paul, he points out that true pastoral wisdom is realizing the paradox that your hands are empty and full at the same time. The wise pastor is the pastor who realizes that “the world is already drowning in its efforts at life; it does not need lifeguards who swim to it carrying the barbells of their own moral and spiritual efforts.” The wise pastor’s hands lie empty because the wise pastor refuses to carry any of the self-help and character improvement that burdens the wisdom of the world. And yet, though empty of wordly wisdom, God has filled the wise pastor’s hands with foolishness, the folly of the cross that is wiser than human wisdom (1 Cor 1.25). “Preachers are to come honestly emptyhanded to the world, because anyone who comes bearing more than the folly of the kerygma -of the preaching of the word of the cross” has completely missed the boat. The paradox of pastoral ministry is that it relies not on worldy wisdom, power, or social adeptness, but on the stumbling-block foolishness of a crucified, carpenter King.

For those interested in reading Capon’s thoughts in their original context, you can find them in: Kingdom, Grace, Judgement: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002, 243-245. Check back soon for part 3.

Friday Facts: Lectionary A – Advent 4

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. 

Romans 1.1-7

1 Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called, an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 who long ago promised through his prophets in the holy writings 3 concerning his son, the one who became the offspring of David, according to the flesh, 4 the one appointed son of God according to the Spirit, consecrated by means of the resurrection of the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and a calling into the obedience of faith among all the gentiles for the sake of his name, 6 in whom you also are called by Jesus Christ, 7 to all the beloved of God who are in Rome, the called saints, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

In reading my translation, you may notice that the opening seven verses of Romans are long, rambling, and not quite a sentence. The reason for Paul’s rambling lies in the genre. Romans is an ancient letter, and at the beginning of an ancient letter, the author often listed three things: 1) their name 2) their credentials 3) to whom they wrote. In today’s post, I’d like to focus on number two, Paul’s credentials, and one of the credentials in particular.

Paul calls himself several titles at the beginning of his letter. While there’s different ways the relationship between them, I’ve chosen to list them separately in my translation, because I’d like to discuss one in particular: “called.” The word that Paul uses for “called” is κλητός and it occurs ten times total in the New Testament. Eight of the occurrences come in letters (seven in Paul, once in Jude), usually during the greeting, as we have here in Romans. It seems to be a standard word to describe Christians in the 1st century AD and in fact, Paul uses it three times in these seven verses alone: Paul is called, the Christians in Rome are both called by Jesus Christ, and called saints. At face value, the adjective (which comes from the verb καλέω “to summon”), simply means that Christians have been summoned by Jesus Christ, just as he summoned the disciples on the lake shore. But, there’s another resonance in the word that comes out when we look at its only occurrence in the Gospels.

κλητός appears only once in the Gospels. It makes its appearance in Matthew 22.14, usually translated “For many are called.” However, in looking at the context of 22.14, coming at the end of the parable of the banquet, it becomes clear that “called” is too blase a translation. Better would be “for many are invited” or even more strongly “for many are summoned to the banquet.” And a look in a lexicon of Koine Greek confirms that the primary sense of κλητός is “to be invited for dinner.” To be κλητός is not simply to have your name read out at the beginning of God’s eternal roll call; to be κλητός is to have your name on the guest list for the eternal feast of the Lamb. Taken together with the Gospel reading for the day, a preacher could even say that God has invited us in for Christmas dinner.

 

Friday Facts: Lectionary A – Advent 2

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. 

Romans 15:4-13

4 For as much has been written before, all of it has been written for our learning, in order that we would have hope through perseverance and through the encouragement of the writings. 5 May the God of encouragement and perseverance give to you the same mind in each other according to Christ Jesus, 6 in order that together in one voice you would praise God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, receive one another, just as Christ also received you into the glory of God. For I say that Christ became a circumcised servant for the sake of the truth of God, in order to confirm the promises to our ancestors 9 and in order that the Gentiles would praise God on account of his mercy, as it is written: On account of this I will sing praise to your name. 10 And again he says, Rejoice, gentiles, with his people 11 and again, Praise the Lord all nations, and give praise to him all peoples. 12 And again, Isaiah says, The root of Jesse will be the one who comes to lead the Gentiles, in him, the Gentiles will hope. 13 May the God of hope fill you with all grace and peace in believing, so that you overflow with hope in the power of the Holy Spirit.

For former Greek students, the mention of the subjunctive may cause flashbacks of angst and woe. Just when you thought you had gotten a handle on the multiplicity of Greek verb endings, your professor revealed that Koine Greek had another complete set of endings for you to learn. And as in many cases where two languages have different manners of expression, the reason for the existence of the subjunctive is not always self-evident to native English speakers. Luckily for us, St. Paul provides an object lesson in the subjunctive in Romans 15.

There are three subjunctive verbs in our pericope: “have,” “give,” and “fill.” If you look up at the translation that I’ve provided, I’ve translated those verbs with words like “May” and “would.” The reason for this choice is that the subjunctive expresses eventuality. Eventuality means that the speaker fully expects the the things he or she has said to come to pass, but acknowledges that they are not yet reality.

So what’s the upshot of all of this (aside from delighting grammar nerds like me)? How can a preacher talk about the subjunctive without boring their congregation to death? In the case of our pericope, the key lies in realizing that Romans 15 comes at the end of the letter. In fact, by Romans 15, Paul has begun the conclusion of his letter, and so, he switches to the subjunctive in order to express his hopes and blessings for the congregation at Rome. Remember, at the time of writing his letter, Paul had never met the Christians in Rome. Thus, he can’t talk about the reality of their situation, but he can talk about the eventuality of their situation. With full confidence, Paul shares his faith that the God of hope will fill them with all grace and piece in believing, so that they overflow with hope in the power of the Holy Spirit.