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Wrestling with the Word, episode 25: Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (June 14, 2009) May 27, 2009

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Second Sunday after Pentecost

Sight and faith appear as contrasts in the Bible. What we see, particularly about success and failure –or superiors and inferiors, people of importance and those of little influence—sends a message about who is to be feared and obeyed and who is to listen. Faith, on the other side, (we could also call it vision) turns the tables on everything that is so apparent. God’s promises constantly speak of the weak becoming strong, the small becoming great, and the faithful poor overcoming their oppression. These promises of God are so different and so difficult to comprehend that God uses various images taken from things we can see. Three of our lessons for the day present these promises through the imagery of vegetation.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 25: Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year B.

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Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15
The psalm is a thanksgiving in the form of a hymn. The joyful song in which the worshiper participates in the hymnic section (verses 1-4) celebrates the effect God’s intervention has had on the psalmist. On the basis of verses 5-11, it seems as though this thanksgiving is the response to God’s answer to a previous lament. God’s covenant loyalty (steadfast love) and fidelity form the content of the joyful song offered with musical accompaniment. At the conclusion (vss. 12-15), the psalmist looks forward to the flourishing of the righteous who, unlike the wicked portrayed as grass that flourishes and dies, bear fruit like the palm trees. They are planted and remain strong in the courts of the Lord as proof that the Lord is “my rock” (tsûr; see Gen. 49:24; Deut. 32:4, 18; Ps. 78:35 //”redeemer”; Isa. 30:29; 44:8) and righteous (yāšār).

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Ezekiel 17:22-24
In contrast to the destructive actions of the rulers of nations, the Lord takes the necessary actions to establish a rightful rule and thus steer history to God’s intended end.

Context
Beginning at 17:1 Ezekiel tells the parable of the cedar and the two eagles which essentially details the actions of Zedekiah. This king of Judah had no right to the throne of David. When the Davidic king Jehoiachin went off to exile in Babylon, Jehoiachin’s uncle Mattaniah showed up. Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, made Mattaniah king and changed his name to Zedekiah. This action broke the Davidic lineage. In exchange for the throne, Zedekiah made a covenant with the Nebuchadnezzar, but then he turned to the Egyptians for help against the Babylonians. The Lord regarded this act not only as immoral but as a personal affront against himself in whose name the covenant would have been carried out (17:13-18). On Zedekiah will fall the same judgment as the exiles of 597 (17:19-21).

Key Words
Vss. 22-23. wešātaltî ’ānî ‘al har-gābōah wetālûl behar merôm yisrā’ēl ’eštālennû = “And I myself will plant (it) upon a high and lofty mountain; on the mountain height of Israel I will plant it”: The mountains considered “holy” in the OT are Sinai and Zion. Ever since YHWH took up royal residence on Mount Zion, this mountain became the focal point for worshipping YHWH and learning the torah in the present and in the future (Ps. 48: 2; Zech. 14:10). Not only Israel, but the “nations” will also come to Zion to worship YHWH and learn the torah.

V. 24.  weyāde‘û…kî ’’anî YHWH = “… and (they) shall know that I am the Lord”: The formula appears at Isa. 60:16 on the basis of Israel’s exaltation over other nations. Ezekiel uses it most frequently following announcements of judgment (5:13; 17:21; 21:5, 22) and of salvation (here; 34:30; 35:12; 36:36; 37:14). This expression is similar to those used, particularly by the Priestly writer, throughout the plague stories in Exodus 5–14.

V. 24.  kol-‘atsê hassādeh = “all the trees of the field”:  The trees join in the judgment of God (Jer. 7:20; Ezek. 31:15; Joel 1:12, 19), as well as in blessing (Lev. 26:4), even eschatologically (Isa. 55:12; Ezek. 34:27; cf. Ps. 96:12-13) to celebrate the coming of God to establish justice, that is, an orderly and peaceful reign, in the world).

V. 24.  ’anî YHWH dibbartî we‘āsîtî = “I the Lord have spoken and I  will do it”: This power of the word of the Lord to accomplish what it says takes on special meaning during the exilic period. See also Ezek. 22:14; 36:36; 37:14; Isa. 44:6-8; 55:10-11).

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2 Corinthians 5:6-10 (11-13)
While life on earth is full of uncertainty and suffering, God assures us of a new and vigorous life in God’s presence so that here and now we might be God’s ambassadors for the sake of others.

Context
The apostle is encouraging the Christians in Corinth. In the first section of chapter 4 he described the human condition of weakness as precisely where the power of God might be revealed. The gospel itself is placed in our fragile earthenware bodies so that we do not claim power for ourselves. At the same time, faith gives us strength to be confident and hopeful; “we do not lose heart” (4:16). In 5:5 he writes that God “has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.”

Key Words
Vv. 6, 8.  tharrountes … tharroumen = “of good courage”:  The word of encouragement or even boldness over against overwhelming odds is attested in the OT at Deut. 31:7, 23 (Moses to Joshua); Josh. 1:6, 9 (God to Joshua), 18 (the people to Joshua); 2 Sam. 10:12 (Joab to his army); Dan. 10:19 (God to Daniel). Paul uses the word only in 2 Corinthians (here; 7:16; 10:1,2).

V. 7. dia pisteōs gar peripatoumen, ou dia eidous = “for we walk by faith, not by sight”: Our faith rests in the Risen Lord whom we do not see, and our sight will be clear only on the last day (1 Cor. 13:12). See also Hebrews 11:1.

V. 10.  emprosthen tou bēmatos tou Christou = “before the judgment seat of Christ”:  Paul speaks of the judgment seat of God at Rom. 14:10 as a way of removing from Christians the privilege of judging one another; here the emphasis is on our pleasing God by our earthly behavior.

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Mark 4:26-34
Jesus teaches that the kingdom of God grows without human cooperation or understanding and that God’s universal kingdom develops from small beginnings.

Context
Beginning at 4:1 Jesus began to teach beside the Sea of Galilee those crowds who gathered around him. At first, he told the parable of the sower (vv. 1-9) and then privately explained it to his disciples (vv. 10-20). In light of the remark at vv. 34-35, the analogy with the lamp under the bushel (vv. 21-25) and the two parables of our pericope were part of Jesus’ teaching “the word” to the crowds.

Key Words
Vv. 26, 30.  houtōs estin hē basileia tou theou hōs  ….  pōs homoiōsōmen tēn basileian tou theou ē en tini autēn parabolē thōmen = “Thus the kingdom of God is as if …. With what can we compare the kingdom of God or what parable shall we use for it?” Jesus explains his reason for telling about the kingdom in parables at vv. 10-12. In another sense, the need to explain the kingdom by analogies is related to the difficulty of addressing people “at home in the body” who live by sight with a faith-filled vision; see 2 Cor. 5:7.

Vv.  26-32.  “seed … sprout and grow … blade … ear … grain … grain of mustard seed … seeds … shrubs … branches”:  Note how all this imagery relates to the first lesson from Ezekiel 17 and to Psalm 92 with its rich imagery of the palm. As for the birds in the branches, the creation Psalm 104 (see Episode 23, Day of Pentecost) describes this function of trees in God’s creation (vss. 16-17). In addition to Ezekiel 17:22-24 and 31:6, the imagery of birds in the trees serving as a message about the “nations” is repeated in Daniel 4:20-22.

Looking Ahead:
Episode 26 for the Third Sunday after Pentecost will focus on Mark 4:35-41.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 24: The Holy Trinity, Year B (June 7, 2009) May 25, 2009

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The Holy Trinity

The theology of the Trinity presents a challenge to every interpreter of Holy Scripture. Almost anything that one says or writes will prove to be inadequate, perhaps even heretical. However the concept of a Trinity is stated, it remains a mystery. On the other hand, even more challenging would be to explain the God of the Bible without indicating that God the Father is the Creator and Sustainer of the world and everything in it; that God the Son is the Redeemer who became human, died for our sakes, and was raised to life; that God the Holy Spirit moves among us to enlighten and guide us, even to make us who we are. Each of the passages for this Sunday called The Holy Trinity points us to one or two Persons of this Trinity, but all together these passages provide us with a perspective on life that is otherwise unreachable.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 24: The Holy Trinity, Year B.

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Psalm 29

The psalm is a hymn of praise that extols the majesty and glory of God in the midst of the tumult of a storm. Borrowing much imagery and even precise wording from Ugaritic poetry about Baal, the psalmist indicates the enthronement of YHWH over the watery chaos (“the flood”). The psalm summons the divine court  to praise YHWH, not Baal. The age-old majesty becomes the basis for the plea that YHWH render strength and salvation to the people of Israel.

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Isaiah 6:1-8

The God whose holiness drives people to their knees acts to forgive sin and to bridge the gulf between people and God.

OR

Those who are judged and then forgiven by the presence of God and his Word, God commissions to be his spokespersons–no matter how difficult and incomprehensible that mission might be.

Context

The historical allusion to the year of Uzziah’s death sets the passage at about 742 B.C.  It was a time of impending disaster on the international scene, for Tiglath-Pileser III, king of the ever-expanding Assyrian Empire, had the kingdoms of Palestine in his sights. Takeover of the whole region by this brilliant military leader was inevitable, and the Assyrians were well known for their brutality and ruthlessness. As Isaiah’s preaching developed, the Assyrian kings were interpreted as Yahweh’s instruments of judgment upon the people of Israel, and so the judgment which this prophet preached, though it was Yahweh’s word and command, would come at the hands of the Assyrians (see especially Isa. 10:5-11).

Key Words

V. 1-2.  yôšēb … melē’îm … ‘ômedîm = “sitting … filling … standing”:  The use of the participles in a vision indicates an ongoing action, something like a glimpse into eternity.

V. 3.  melô’  kol-hā’ārets kebôdô = “the fullness of the whole earth is his glory”:  The literal translation indicates that the whole world somehow manifests the glory of God.

V. 4.  “foundations shook … voice … smoke”:  These characteristics of a volcanic eruption occur throughout the OT (see, e.g., Exod. 19:16-18) as signs of God’s presence.

V. 5.  ‘ôy lî kî-nidmētî = “Woe is me!  For I am done for”:  The reason for his “woe” is the notion that, when a human being looks at God who is “other,” the observer will die.  There exists such a qualitative difference between the transcendent God and sinful humanity that we cannot withstand the encounter (see Exod. 33:20; Judg. 13:22; and the surprise of Jacob that he remained alive at Gen. 32:30).

V. 8.  hinenî šelachēnî = “Here I am.  Send me”:  The response “Here I am” is identical to that of others who are summoned by God to fulfill a particular task. cf. Abraham at Gen. 22:1; Moses at Exod. 3:4; Samuel at 1 Sam. 3:2ff. In the other cases, the addressee is called by name.

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Romans 8:12-17

Having been given our identity as children of God because of Christ, we are privileged to call God Abba, provided we suffer with Christ so that we might be glorified with him as well.

Context

Since the beginning of this chapter, Paul has been making the distinction between life in the flesh and life in the Spirit. The chapter, in fact, begins with the announcement that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (v. 1). That freedom won by Christ Jesus is thus freedom from the law of sin and death, and the newly won freedom of life in the Spirit is life and peace.

Key Words

V. 14. hosoi gar pneumatic theou agontai, houtoi huioi theou eisin = “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God”: At Galatians 5:18 Paul uses this expression “led by the Spirit” to describe those who are not under the power of the law and whose lives are not directed by the “works of the flesh.”  Living by and in “the Spirit” defines Christians as “children of God.” Paul uses “children of God” again at v. 19 where their appearance lies in the future, and so we “wait for adoption” (v. 23).

V. 15.  abba ho patēr = “Abba the Father”:  These are the words Jesus uses for God in his prayer in Gethsemane (Mark 14:36). At Gal. 4:6 Paul indicates that because God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts we can call God “Abba! Father,” and doing so, makes us “children of God” (v. 16). That statement indicates that calling God “Abba Father” is an expression of praise by Christians, that is, a response to God’s action in Christ. The future adoption enables us here and now to live as God’s children, and in calling God Abba we can access here and now the peace of God defined at 5:1.

V. 17. “if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ”: At Gal. 3:26, Paul writes that baptism makes us “children of God” and as such, “heirs of the promise to Abraham.” At Gal. 3:16 the “one” seed of Abraham is Christ, and so Christ is the heir of God. Yet, the coming of Christ and the justification he effected, enables believers (who “put on Christ” in baptism) to belong to Christ and to become joint heirs with him of the Reign of God.

V. 17. eiper synpaschomen hina kai syndoxasthōmen = “provided we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him”: Those who are called by the Spirit to bear the name of Christ follow his steps to glory, namely through the cross. Paul had explained that key theological reality at 6:4: baptism into Christ Jesus is baptism into his death, and that is the means by which we rise with him, walking in newness of life starting now. The teaching stands in sharp contrast to a teaching that baptism makes Christians safe from wordly threats. After all, Paul wrote this letter when Nero was Emperor of Rome.

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John 3:1-17

In response to the confession of Nicodemus that Jesus comes from God, Jesus indicates that what is necessary for participating in the kingdom of God and in the salvation he offers, is that one be born anew.

Context

According to John, Jesus went up to Jerusalem three times during his life.  This encounter with Nicodemus occurred during the first visit at the time of the Passover.  Many people already came to believe in Jesus because of the signs he performed, but Jesus , we are told, did not trust himself to them … for he himself knew what was in people (2:24-25).

Key Words

V. 3.  ean mē tis gennēthē anōthen = “unless someone is born from above”:  The issue is not simply another birth but an existence based on heavenly origins.  The statement is explained further by v. 13 where “the Son of man” is identified as the one who descended from heaven; see John 1:1-14.

V. 3.  tēn basileian tou theou = “the kingdom of God”:  After this initial reference to the kingdom, a synoptic emphasis, John usually talks about “life” rather than the kingdom.

V. 14.  kai kathōs Mōysēs hypsōsen ton ophin en tē  erēmō, houtōs hypsōthēnai dei ton huion tou anthrōpou = “and as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up”:  The “lifting up” is an important expression in John’s Gospel. Here, by comparison to the visible raising of the bronze serpent, and at 8:28, the verb appears to refer to the crucifixion. At 12:32, 34 the word refers to the resurrection/ascension. Strikingly, the word dei = “must” is used here, as it is in the synoptic tradition, regarding the necessity of the suffering and resurrection of the Son of Man (see Mark 8:31). The result of looking at the uplifted serpent is “life” in Num. 21:9 and “salvation” at Wisdom of Solomon 16:5-7.

V. 16. houtōs gar ēgapēsen ho theos ton kosmon, ōste ton huion ton monogenē edōken = “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son”: The tense of the verb for “loved” signifies a once for all act. It thus points to the crucifixion rather than to a more general affection for the created world. Appropriating this message to one’s life results in “eternal life.”

V. 17. “For God sent the Son into the world (eis ton kosmon), not to condemn the world (ton kosmon), but that the world (ho kosmos) might be saved (sōthē) through him”:  While the work of God in Jesus is described here in the third person, at 12:47, Jesus speaks in the first person of his purpose in the same terms: not to condemn but to save the world. At 1 John 4:14 the author writes similarly: “the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world (sōtēra tou kosmou). Recall that according to the angel’s words to Joseph, the name of the baby Mary will bear will be “Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).

Looking Ahead

The lessons for next Sunday, Second Sunday after Pentecost:

  • Psalm 92
  • Ezekiel 17:22-24
  • 2 Corinthians 5:6-13
  • Mark 4:26-34

Wrestling with the Word, episode 23: Day of Pentecost, Year B (May 31, 2009) May 16, 2009

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The Day of Pentecost

What would we do without the Spirit? We confess in the Apostles Creed that “I believe in the Holy Spirit,…”, but Martin Luther teaches in his Small Catechism that we cannot believe in much of anything without the Spirit. “I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith,…” As we move from the beginning of Scripture through to the end, the Holy Spirit plays many roles in creation and redemption, apart from the role of enlightener that Luther describes. It is small wonder that the church regards this day when God poured out the Spirit to be the birth-day of the church.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 23: Day of Pentecost, Year B.

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Psalm 104: 24-34, 35b

The psalm is a beautiful hymn about God the Creator and the whole creation. It has attracted much attention and study because of its similarities to the Egyptian Hymn to the Sun God (Aton). Verses 1-4 praise God who, like a master builder, put the sky in place. Verses 5-9 celebrate the Lord’s mythical defeat of the Deep and the assignment of the waters on the earth. Verses 10-18 announce that springs and rains make vegetation grow so that the animals and humans have places to live and food to eat. Verses 19-23 extol the Lord for using night and day to the advantage of living things on earth. Our verses first celebrate the sea (a mythological enemy) as a delightful creation by the Lord where ships sail and Leviathan plays (vss. 24-26). Then the section praises God for the breath/Spirit that creates and sustains all life (vss. 27-30). The psalm starts its conclusion with announcing the glory of God in the phenomena of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions;  then it culminates in a first person statement of joy expressed through song and meditation (vss. 31-35).

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Ezekiel 37:1-14

Although the people lost hope in God and experienced death, God, through an inspired spokesperson, gives new life in the spirit and reunites them with himself.

Context

The people of Israel had been exiled to the land of Babylon in 597 B.C. and again in 587 B.C. In the fifth year of the first exile, that is, in 593 B.C., God called Ezekiel, a priest, to prophesy to the exiles. Much of his prophecy was directed to a false optimism as he preached to the exiles the destruction of their Jerusalem, their home. Finally, according to 33:21, a messenger came with the word that Jerusalem had fallen. Thereafter, the prophetic word from Ezekiel was one of restoration to the land, of promise to the exiles. Our pericope, therefore, belongs to that section of the book which promises such return.

Key Words

V. 1.  wayyôtsî’ēnî berûach YHWH = “and the spirit of the Lord brought me out”:  Note the connection of the Spirit with the hand of the Lord at 3:22-24 and 8:1-3. More specifically, the movement by the Spirit is attested at 3:12, 14 “Then the Spirit lifted me up”) and in the New Testament at Mark 1:12 (drove Jesus) and Acts 8:39 (snatched Philip).

V. 4.  hinnabē’ `al-ha`atsāmôt = “prophesy to/concerning these bones”:  the prophetic word is the means by which the dead will come to life.

V. 5. anî mēbî’ bākem rûach wihyîtem = “I will keep bringing among you spirit/breath/wind, that you may live”:  The word “spirit” is used is various ways in the prophecy; at v. 1 it seems to be God’s spirit; here it is the animating spirit for humans; at v. 9 it is the wind. That the rûach of God creates and restores life can be see also at Genesis 6:3; 6:17; 7:22 (all P). Job 12:10; Psalm 104:30. Note the contrast with Genesis 2:7 where the animating force that God breathes into Adam’s nostrils is not ruach but nešāmâ = “breath.”

V. 6.  wîda‘tem kî-’anî YHWH = “and you shall know that I am YHWH”:  The expression occurs eighty-six times in the Book of Ezekiel. Note the priestly emphasis (P) in the story of the exodus (Exodus 14:18), demonstrating that God is known by acts of judgment and salvation.

V. 11.  yābešû ‘atsmōtēnû = “our bones are dried up”:  Note Proverbs 22:17 where “a downcast spirit” is what “dries up the bones.”

V. 11.  we‘obdâ tiqwatēnû = “and our hope is perishing”:  The object of Israel’s hope is YHWH (see Psalm 39:7); at time “hope” is even used as an epithet for YHWH (“Hope of Israel”;see Jeremiah 14:8; 17:13).

V. 11.  nigzarnû lānû = “we are cut off”:  For the impact of such exclusion see the use of nigzar at 2 Chronicles 26:21 (King Uzziah was excluded from the temple); Psalm 88:6 (cut off from your hand = dead); Isaiah 53:8 servant of the Lord “cut off from the land of the living”).

V. 14.  kî-’anî YHWH dibbartî we‘āsîtî = “for I, YHWH, have spoken and I have done it”: The notion that it is the spoken word that accomplishes the great acts of the Lord is one that became particularly prominent during the Babylonian Exile; cf. Genesis 1; Isaiah 55:10-11; the Deuteronomistic history.

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Acts 2:1-21

God sends the promised Spirit, thus establishing the new community in the new Day in which the usual barriers that separate people disappear.

Context

In the days following Jesus’ ascension into heaven, the disciples gathered in Jerusalem to elect a replacement for Judas who died because of his betrayal (Acts 1:15-20). There they elected by lot Mathias over Joseph (1:21-26).

Key Words

V. 1.  tēn hēmeran tēs pentēcostēs = “the Day of Pentecost“:  The Greek word for the Feast of Weeks that the Jewish people celebrated fifty days after the Passover time. The fiftieth day marked the end of the grain harvest and the season to begin the offering of first fruits (Exod. 23:16; 34:22; Lev. 23:15-21; Num. 28:26-31; Deut. 16:9-12. This temporal reference for receiving the Spirit stands in contrast to John 20:19-23; there the resurrected Jesus bestows the Holy Spirit on the evening of Easter Day.

V. 2.  hōsper pheromenēs pnoēs biaias = “like the rush of a mighty wind”:  the coming of the Holy Spirit = pneumatos hagiou (v. 4). The words for “wind” and “spirit” are different here, although the word pneuma could have been used for both (see John 3:8). The appearance of “fire” along with the sound of the “wind” recall ancient theophanies (see Exod. 19:16-19; Isa. 66:15-16.

V. 4. kai eplēsthēsan pantes pneumatos hagiou ‘ “and all were filled with the Holy Spirit”: The expression bursts forth in Luke—Acts. It starts with the stories of the conception and birth of John and Jesus (Luke 1:15, 41, 67), Jesus’ baptism and temptation (Luke 4:1), and then extends beyond the Day of Pentecost to the ministry of Peter (Acts 4:8), Stephen (7:55), the call of Saul (9:17), the ministry of Barnabas (11:24) and of Paul (13:9). Thus, Acts 2:4 serves as the turning point for “all.”

V. 8. gleukous memestōmenoi eisin = “they are filled with new wine”: Note the Greek word for “filled with” is not the same as the one used for the Spirit in v. 4.

V. 11.  akouomen lalountōn autōn tais hēmeterais glōssais = “we hear them telling in our own languages”:  the miracle thus seems to be one of hearing in tongues (languages) rather than one of speaking in tongues (glossolalia; cf. 1 Cor. 14).

Vss. 17-18.  Additions to the quotation from Joel 2:28-32 are the words “in the last days …, God declares” (v. 17) and “they shall prophesy” (end of v. 18). The first addition assures “afterward” is interpreted as “the Day of YHWH.”

V. 21. “Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”: These words from Joel 2:32 appear also at Romans 10:13 where Paul uses them to begin his section about hearing and preaching the word of God.

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Romans 8:22-27

Over against the suffering of this life, both for Christians and for all the world, God promises a glorious new life—a promise in which hope sustains us and for which the Holy Spirit enables us to pray.

Context

The 8th chapter of Romans describes what it means to be in the Spirit. The Christian life itself is life in the Spirit (vv. 1, 11). Spiritual life means living as children of God (vv. 12, 17). Now Paul turns to spiritual life as living in hope for a new day (vv. 18-30).

Key Words

V. 22.  hē ktisis systenazei kai synōdinei achri tou nun = “the creation has been in travail together and suffering agony together until now”:  The image of suffering as the birth pangs of a woman is common throughout Scripture (Ps. 48:6; Songs 8:5; Isa. 13:8; 21:3; 42:14; 45:10; 54:1; Jer. 4:31; 6:24; 13:21; 13:21; 22:23; 31:8; 49:24; 50:43; Mic. 4:9, 10; 5:3; John 16:21; Gal. 4:27; 1 Thess. 5:3.

V. 23.  tēn aparchēn tou pneumatos = “the first fruits of the Spirit”:  The image of first fruits derives, of course, from the agricultural world and was part of the festival of weeks when the Jewish people returned the first produce from the ground to the Lord; as they delivered the offering they recited the historical confession of Deut. 26:5-9). Apart from agriculture the expression appears in the following ways:  of a father’s strength to produce offspring (Gen. 49:3), of Israel’s relationship with the Lord (Jer. 2:3), of those who have fallen asleep (1 Cor. 15:20), of those who belong to Christ (15:23), of God’s creatures who are Christian (James 1:8), of the redeemed (Rev.14:4).

V. 23.  en heautois stenazomen = “among us we groan”: The same verb is used in v. 19 for the “eager expectation” of the creation. (RSV’s “inwardly” does not take into account the collective nature of suffering among the Christian community.)

V. 23.  huiothesian apekdexomenoi = “as we are waiting for adoption”:  The expression “adoption” occurs also at Gal. 4:5 as the gift which God gave in his Son (there the adoption is a present reality).

V. 23. tēn apolytrōsin tou sōmatos hēmōn = “the redemption of our bodies”: Though the verb “redeem” and the active participle “redeemer” occur often in the OT, the noun form “redemption” appears only rarely in the NT. Paul uses the same word at 3:24 and 1 Cor. 1:30 (also Eph. 4:30).

Vv. 24, 25.  elpis = “hope”:  Throughout the Epistle to the Romans Paul emphasizes “hope” as the way to wait for what is still to come (5:2, 4, 5; 8:20, 24, 25; 12:12; 15:4, 12, 13). At Hebrews 11:1, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Further, at Galatians 5:5 Paul writes, “For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait for the hope of righteousness.”

Vss. 26-27. “the Spirit helps us …, intercedes with sighs too deep for words… the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God”:  The functions of the Spirit listed here are critical to our communication in prayer with God. Jude 20 instructs readers to “pray in the Holy Spirit.”

V. 27. ho de eraunōn tas kardias oiden = “the one (God) who searches the heart”: This understanding of God sounds similar to Ps. 139:1.

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John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

In the face of the world’s persecuting the disciples as it persecuted Jesus, God the Father and God the Son will send the Paraclete who will guide the disciples in their witnessing and prove to the world it was wrong in sentencing Jesus to death.

Context

In the preceding verses, Jesus had been talking about the difficulties the disciples will have with the world that will hate them as it hated him.

Key Words

15:26. hotan elthē ho paraklētos hon egō pempsō hymin = “When the Paraclete comes whom I will send to you”: Jesus introduced the Paraclete at 14:26 as “another Paraclete” who will come when he leaves, but there the one who will send the Paraclete is the Father. At 1 John 2:1 Jesus is the Paraclete (NRSV “the Advocate”) who stands “at the side of” sinners on the day of judgment to represent us before God the Judge. The Paracelete is called here “the Spirit of truth,” a description introduced at 14:17 and repeated at 16:13. The relationship of “the truth” to Jesus is common in John’s Gospel (1:14; 8:32 and 36; 14:6; 19:37-38). At 16:13 the Spirit will “guide you into all the truth,” just as the Lord is petitioned to “lead me in thy truth and teach me, for thou art the God of my salvation (Ps. 25:5).

15:26-27. ekeinos martyrēsei peri emou; kai hymeis de martyreite = “That one (the Paraclete) will bear witness to me; and you also are witnesses”: The function of witnessing might involve not only telling the story and meaning of Jesus life and death but also taking the stand in a court case. Therefore, NRSV’s “testify” is appropriate.

16:8. kai elthōn ekeinos elegzei ton kosmon peri hamartias kai peri dikaiosynēs kai peri kriseōs = “and coming, that one (the Paraclete) will prove the world wrong regarding sin and justice/righteousness and judgment”: The function of the Paraclete here seems to focusd on reversing the conviction of Jesus at his trial before the Sanhedrin and Pilate  (still to come in chapter18).

16:13. kai ta erchomena anaggelei hymin = “and he (the Spirit) will declare to you the things to come”: In the OT God is the one who speaks the word and makes it come to pass. Therefore, God declares what will happen because God’s word effected them. The prophet second Isaiah, speaking God’s word to the exiles in Babylon, uses “trial speeches” in which YHWH takes the idols of Babylon to court and sues them. The idols cannot tell in advance what will happen (Isa. 44:7 kai ta eperchomena pro tou elthein anaggeilatōsan hymin), and so they are imposters. God, on the other hand, is the one who announced of old and declared it (44:8 ouk ap’ archēs ēnōtisasthe kei apēggeila hymin; see also 42:9; 46:10; 48:14). In this court God summons the people of Israel, “You are witnesses” (44:8 martyres hymeis este) to the uniqueness of God. The verdict determines that God’s word can be trusted.

Looking Ahead
The lessons for next Sunday, the Holy Trinity:
Psalm 29
Isaiah 6:1-8
Romans 8:12-17
John 3:1-17

Wrestling with the Word, episode 22: Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year B (May 24, 2009) May 13, 2009

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Seventh Sunday of Easter

The key words for this final Sunday of the Easter season are life, apostleship, and mission. The lessons describe God’s determination to spread the good news of eternal life that can be ours through Jesus’ resurrection. It was not enough to raise only Jesus from the dead. Neither was it sufficient that only Jesus’ immediate followers should follow him to his Father’s house where many rooms await (John 14:1-6). God’s invitation extended to the world, and so Jesus appointed and sent out apostles so that many others might hear God’s invitation. That sending is called mission—God’s mission to reach out to others with the promise of life.

Download or listen toWrestling with the Word, episode 22: Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year B.

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Psalm 1
The first psalm in the Bible is a wisdom psalm, like 112, 119, 127, 128, and 133. Wisdom teaching, found also throughout the Book of Proverbs, teaches the simple doctrine that the good (the wise) are rewarded with health and wealth, but the wicked (the fools) are destined for destruction. Reactions to this doctrine appear in the Book of Job and in Ecclesiastes. In the Psalter, such reactions appear in Psalms 49 and 73. This psalm promises blessing for those who delight in the torah of the Lord and meditate on the torah day and night. Standing at as the lead psalm, it establishes the context of the entire Psalter as fidelity to the instruction of the Lord. The benefits of this “righteousness” are fruitful and continuing life (v. 3). The wicked will not be acquitted in the court of God’s law (v. 4) and will, therefore, “perish” (v. 6).

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Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
Although a trusted disciple has betrayed the Lord, God wills that another replace him and that God’s mission continue through twelve apostles.

Context
The author of Luke-Acts has just reported the ascension of Jesus from the mount called Olivet into heaven (1:6-11). Then he tells of the return of the disciples into the city of Jerusalem which lay across the narrow Kidron Valley. In the city, the disciples returned to the upper room where they had previously shared the Last Supper with the Lord (vv. 12-13b). The list of 120 believers includes the remaining eleven apostles, along with “the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers” (vv. 13b-14).

Key Words
Vv. 16. “The scripture had to be fulfilled”:  Unfortunately, the omission of verses 18-20, eliminates the scriptures to which reference is here made. Both are contained in verse 20. “Let his habitation become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it” is a quotation of the LXX version of Psalm 69:25. Psalm 69 is a lament that provided some of the background for the narrative about the crucifixion of Jesus (“for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink”); the psalmist laments the enemies who have put him in such turmoil, and the verse quoted (verse 25) is the curse uttered upon those enemies. Thus Peter cites the psalm to demonstrate that the events surrounding Judas’s death fulfill the Scripture. Likewise, the second quotation “His office let another take” derives from Psalm 109:8, a lament in which the sufferer wishes the worst on his enemy.

V. 22.  martyra tēs anastaseōs autou = “a witness of his resurrection”:  This criterion set forth by Luke would apply not only to the “Twelve minus One” but also to Cleopas and Anonymous (Luke 24:13-35) and, according to John 20:11-18, to Mary Magdalene. Eventually Paul would also qualify on the basis of the Lord’s appearance to him on the Damascus road (Acts 9; 1 Cor. 15::8-9), and indeed the author of Luke-Acts uses the word “apostle” of Paul (Acts 14:4, 14).

V. 25. labein ton topon tēs diakonias tautēs kai apostolēs = “to take the place in this ministry and apostleship”:  The author of Luke-Acts uses this word for “ministry” also at v. 17. At 6:4 the same word appears, along with prayer, as the responsibility of the twelve, of Barnabas and Saul at 12:25 and of Paul at 21:19. In a speech by Paul, the apostle uses the word of himself at 20:24 and often in his own writings (see Rom. 15:8; 1 Cor. 3:5; 2 Cor. 3:6; 6:4, etc.). Apart from apostles, Paul calls “ministers” those with governmental authority (Rom. 13:5); he also uses the word for Phoebe (Rom. 16:1) where the word is translated “deaconess.”

V. 26.  kai edōkan klērous autois = “and they cast lots for them”:  The election is not the result of a crap game because the action is preceded by their prayer to the Lord Jesus. It was Jesus who chose the first twelve apostles out of a larger group of disciples (Luke 6:12-16), and so the Risen Jesus selects Matthias as successor to Judas. The insistence on keeping the number at 12 is reminiscent of the numbering of the tribes of Israel.

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1 John 5:9-13
Having made credible the identity of the Son by bearing divine witness to him, God offers to all who believe in him the gift of eternal life.

Context
The verses bring the body of the letter close to an end, verse 13 actually introducing the conclusion and summary. That same verse actually identifies one of the reasons for writing the letter, and the reason here is almost identical to the purpose stated for the writing of the Gospel according to John (John 20:31).

Key Words
V. 10. ho mē pisteuōn tō theō pseustēn pepoiēken auton = “Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar”: Much earlier in the book, the author wrote that claiming we are without sin makes God a liar (1:10). The author uses the word differently in chapter 4. He uses the word “liar” for those who say they love God but hate their neighbor (4:20; see also 2:4).

V. 11. kai autē estin hē martyria = “And this is the testimony”: The testimony that God testified concerning his Son (v. 10) is that through his Son God gave us eternal life. The author wrote earlier that the apostolic testimony is that of eternal life with the Father now revealed to us (1:2) and that Jesus promised us eternal life (2:25). The concluding verse of our pericope announces that this gift of life is the reason the author has written the book. Other purposes of the author’s letter are the following: “that our joy may be complete” (1:4), “that you may not sin” (2:1), to give “an old commandment” (1:7), “because your sins are forgiven for his sake” (2:12), “about those who would deceive you” (2:26), “that you may know that you have eternal life” (5:13).

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John 17:6-19
Jesus prays for his disciples that though they do not belong to the world, he sends them into the world just as God sent him to fulfill God’s mission in the world.

Context
Continuing with his Last Discourse with his disciples that he began at 13:31 with the words “Now is the Son of man glorified, and in him God is glorified,” Jesus has explained in a variety of images his own relationship with the Father and the relationship of the disciples with himself. He had spoken to them of the ways he would be with them and of the role of the Counselor to come. At the end of chapter 16, the disciples confessed their belief that Jesus had come from God, but Jesus prophesies that their belief will turn to desertion and that he will be alone with the Father. Jesus concludes that portion of the discourse by announcing that “in the world you have tribulations; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (16:33). Now in chapter 17 he began a prayer to which the disciples are allowed to listen, a privilege indeed because it is the intimate conversation between Father and Son. In the first five verses, Jesus has announced again that “the hour has come,” and that eternal life is a present reality for those who know God and himself.

Key Words
V. 9.  “I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours.” The ambivalence in John’s Gospel about God’s relationship to the world is evident here:  contrast and compare, e.g., John 3:16 with 16:33 and here.

V. 14.  “not of the world”:  The expression is applied both to the disciples and to Jesus.  The identity of Christians and of Christ himself is not tied to the world that Christ has overcome, but to God. For such an alienation of Christians in the world, see also Philippians 3:20, 1 Peter 1:1, 17; 2:11.

V. 18.  “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent you into the world”:  The word “sent” reflects the word “mission” and continues that “sending/missioning” of God into the broken world which began with the call of Abraham in Gen. 12:1-3 and continued through Moses for the salvation of Israel (Exod. 3:10) and then through the prophets.

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Looking Ahead
The lessons for next Sunday, the Day of Pentecost:
Psalm 104;24-34, 35b
Acts 2: 1-21 or Ezekiel 37:1-14
Romans 8:22-27 or Acts 2:1-21
John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15