Fun with Hebrew

There are many different names attributed to God in the Bible.  Often, they are associated with a particular action being attributed to God.  Amy Grant made “El Shaddai,” which roughly means “God Almighty” famous.  Speaking of which, this video is way to 1990s to not let you see it.

Yeshua, the Hebrew version of the name Jesus, means “God Saves.”  The list goes on.

Often in Scripture, the translators would keep the Hebrew word and then translate it for those of us not in the know, but that isn’t the case in the Jeremiah lesson appointed for Sunday, which caught my attention.  Here, the prophet is sharing God’s vision of a future restoration for Judah.  Verses 15 and 16 are almost identical to the same prophecy given several chapters earlier in 23:5-6.  In both cases, the NRSV, and several other English translations choose not to publish the two word Hebrew phrase, but rather the English equivalent.

And this is the name by which it will be called: “The LORD is our righteousness.”

In doing a bit of digging, I came to realize a few things.  First, it seems the reason that the English translations don’t include the Hebrew original is because it includes the tetragrammaton, the four Hebrew letters that make up the holy name of God, a name so holy that it ought not be spoken, but rather, is always replaced when read in Hebrew by “Adonai” or in our English translations by LORD in small caps that the WordPress editor doesn’t allow.

What I found even more interesting, and another reminder in how our English translations lack a lot being read some two to five thousand years removed from their original contexts, is that the word translated as righteousness is likely a play on words.  Tzedeq, according to my handy HarperCollins Study Bible, could be a wordplay on the name Zedekiah, which also means “the Lord is righteous” and happened to be the name given to the last King of Judah who was appointed by Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon.  Tzedeq can also mean “legitimate,” which could very easily indicate that these parallel prophecies from Jeremiah are about a future king whose life and actions will indicate that the LORD is the legitimate King of Judah.

While it can be dangerous, and often self-serving, to read these prophecies backward through Jesus, that is what the RCL is inviting us to do by appointing Jeremiah 33:14-16 for the First Sunday of Advent.  The Branch, itself a word used to describe the Messiah, that will come and live a life showing the legitimate kingship of God is Jesus, whose birth and second coming we long for during this season of preparation.

Will it preach?  Maybe not, but just like Sheldon and Amy’s “Fun with Flags” series on “Big Band Theory” aren’t you glad you learned something today?

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The chaos of baptism

The astute student of the Lectionary will note that the opening verse of Genesis 1 are appointed to go alongside Mark’s version of the Baptism of our Lord.  Being less astute this week than maybe some others, when I read the lessons yesterday morning, I scratched my head, thinking how odd a choice that was.  For the life of me, I couldn’t make sense of what the beginning of creation had to do with baptism.  Thankfully, I do not sermonate in a bubble, and as I read my go-to resources this morning, it all began to fall into place.  So, in case you are suffering from the dullness of a week away from the office, a late kick for the Sugar Bowl, and household pets going bonkers over the Super Moon, I offer you, dear reader, the connection I have made.

In her Lectionary column for the Christian Century, Kat Banakis, an Episcopal priest in Evanston, IL, turned my attention to a further ramification of the heavens being torn apart than I had seen yesterday.  “But by splitting the heavens,” she writes, “God is going back earlier, to the beginning when the earth was separated into day and night, form and void, heaven punching out into the firmament above and sea below, back to that originality – and laying claim to Jesus within that.  In the rite of baptism, the same elemental water touches us and initiates us into the tribe of people who believe in Jesus’ Messiahship.”  In the margins, I wrote “water as chaos.”

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All of a sudden it hit me.  Not a new insight, mind you, but an insight in a newly profound way, that our baptism, in the model of Jesus’ baptism, tie us all the way to that moment when God made chaos to be order.  In the Hebrew, the word translated in Genesis 1.2 as “the deep” is tehowm, and it means deeper than deep.  It is the abyss, the chaos in which fear and darkness and death exist.  Nothing can exist in the deep.  It is formless and void.  Into that overwhelming nothingness, God speaks creation into being.  From the depths of chaos, God brings order.

If that isn’t a metaphor for our lives in Christ, I don’t know what it.  In our baptisms, we are pulled out of the overwhelming nothingness of the world and brought into the order of the Kingdom of God.  Yes, we still live our lives on this plane, where the is still sadness, darkness, and death, but in baptism, we are also welcomed into holiness, where God’s will bring all things into joy, light, and life.  In the water of baptism, we enter into that place where the heavens have been rent asunder. We are welcomed out of the chaos, having been brought into the light.

Shalom, Eirene, Pax, Peace

The world of Biblical studies is constantly changing.  New archaeological discoveries breed new realities.  New interpretive lenses bring new understanding.  Whether it is the Canonical approach, the Historical-Critical Method, the JEDP Documentary Hypothesis, or the Jesus Seminar, scholars need to publish or perish, and so Biblical studies journals are filled with papers.  Some aren’t worth the pixels on the screen, while others will stand the test of time.  One that continues to carry weight (pardon the pun), is The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, common called Strong’s Concordance, which was first published in 1890, but continues to find its home on the shelves of preachers to this day.  Strong’s is basically a list of every word that appears in the Bible; all 8,674 Hebrew and 5,624 Greek words contained therein. It is a helpful tool for anyone who would like work in the original languages of the Scriptures, but isn’t exactly a Greek or Hebrew scholar.

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That’s one Strong neck beard!

Strong’s Greek word number 1515 is Eirene, the Greek word for “peace,” which Jesus speaks over his disciples in the opening verse of Sunday’s Gospel lesson.  One of the definitions of eirene, way down at the number five slot is “of Christianity, the tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and content with its earthly lot, of whatsoever sort that is.”  How spectacular is that sentence?  Anyway, what struck me this morning is the reality of the disciples’ fear, and Jesus’ just as clear declaration of peace.

The disciples, despite having heard the testimony of Mary Magdalene that Jesus was raised from the dead, cannot find peace.  They are still very much stuck in fear, and are far from content with their earthly lot.  Whatsoever sort it is is still one of confusion, uncertainty, and the stark reality that the news of Jesus’ resurrection meant that the cross hairs of the Roman/Temple Alliance were aimed squarely at them.  Whether or not Jesus was actually raised from the dead, the fact that his body was missing from the tomb meant bad things for his closest companions.  They gathered in that upper room afraid for their lives, and Jesus entered the locked space, and said:

Shalom, Eirene, Pax, Peace

It’ll take several more encounters with the risen Jesus and a pretty hefty dose of the Holy Spirit before the disciples are able to find that tranquil state in which dying for their faith in the risen Lord isn’t something to be feared.  But on this night, the first evening of the resurrection reality, Jesus invites them to begin the journey.  He invites us as well.  In the midst of whatsoever sort of earthly lot are in, Jesus offers us the eirene of God that passes all understanding.  He invites us to find in him the tranquil state of the soul.

Jesus’ other name

Yesterday, I spent some time pondering the implication of Jesus’ fulfillment of the prophecy to Ahaz, specifically what it meant that Jesus was Immanuel, God with us.  We know, of course, that when push came to shove, and despite Matthew’s attempt to shove a round theological peg into the square hole of reality, Mary and Joseph did not name the child born in Bethlehem “God with us.”  No, they named him the name that was given to Joseph in a dream in this week’s appointed lesson from Matthew’s Gospel, the same name given to Mary by the Angel Gabriel in Luke’s version of the Nativity story.

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“She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

The angel that appeared to Joseph in his dream gives us insight into the meaning of Jesus’ given name.  Yeshua, the Hebrew original that gets bastardized into Jesus, means “to save” or “to deliver.”  According to that great theological resource, Wikipedia, it is a late Hebrew rendition of Yehoshua, which carries a stronger tie to God, as in “God saves” or “God delivers,” which is precisely the ministry of Jesus.

The promise of God’s deliverance of his people is not new in the person of Jesus.  By the turn of the Common Era, God had repeatedly stepped into salvation history to save and deliver his people.  From the time of Noah, God shows a track record of being unwilling to let humanity destroy itself in sinfulness and self-gratification.  On the ark, God saved a faithful remnant.  In Abraham, God chose a nation through which he would bring all nations into his saving embrace.  Through Moses, God delivered the Israelites from the bondage that came from Joseph’s brother’s unfair dealings and subsequent self-serving Pharaohs.  The prophets, Isaiah certainly included, again and again called the people of Israel to forsake their sins and be saved.  When it seemed clear that was not going to happen, God promised both punishment and redemption to his people.

There is never a point at which God is willing to give up on his hopes of restoring humanity to right relationship, which brings God ultimately to the person of Jesus, Yeshua, Yehoshua, God saves.

Repentance Requires Action

A good deal of my personal idiomatic dictionary revolves around the Simpsons, but only really from the period of about seasons 5-9.  I quit watching the show with any regularity while I was in college, but it had long since done its job to embiggen my vocabulary with perfectly cromulent words.  During season 8 there was an episode entitled “Bart after Dark,” in which Bart, after breaking a gargoyle at what turns out to be a burlesque house, has to work the front door in order to pay off the damage.  Hilarity ensues, of course, especially when Grandpa Simpson comes through the front door.

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If you watch that gif closely, you can see in Grandpa Simpson’s eyes the moment that repentance takes place.  Which leads me to the Bible because, of course it would.

Sunday’s Track 2 Old Testament lesson, disjointed as it may be, is a perfect story of repentance.  It even uses the Hebrew word “shoob” that would become the Greek “metanoia,” which is the basis of our idea of repentance.

Naaman was a hard-hearted sort of guy.  He had to be.  As a military leader, his success was dependent upon his ability to lead men into battle.  This task is not for the faint of heart, and the author of 2 Kings tells us that Naaman was very good at his job.  To top it off, he suffered from leprosy, a disease which, under normal circumstances, would have left Naaman ostracized and jobless, but this was not the case for Naaman.  Likely due to nothing more than his own tenacity in sticking up for himself, Naaman was able to keep his rank, his power, and his prestige, despite his unsightly affliction.

Still, Naaman knew that his life would be a whole lot easier if he was cured of his leprosy, and so, when his wife’s slave girl told him of a prophet in Israel who might be able to help him, he swallowed his pride and went.  His stiff-neck was bowed up at the prescription of Elisha, and yet, he was convinced by his servants to try and bathe seven times in the Jordan if it meant he would be healed.  Slowly, in fits and starts, Naaman was making his way toward repentance.

Finally, when he arose from the water the last time and saw that he was healed, Naaman repented, literally he re-turned, making his way back to Elisha in order to give thanks and to declare, unequivocally that there was only one God in the world, and that God resided in Israel.

Naaman’s journey to repentance wasn’t easy.  It required trust, some prodding, a gut check, and finally, following a set of directions that seemed ridiculous, but in the end, he found God.  Sometimes, that how it works in our lives.  In order to find God through repentance, it requires action.  We have to first find ourselves in need.  We have to trust that someone or something outside of ourselves can meet that need.  We might need someone else to help us along the way.  We might even find ourselves in an unknown place following a ridiculous set of instructions. In the end, when we have seen the work of God in the unlikeliest of places, true repentance then is to reorient our lives toward God and give thanks.  None of this is easy, but no one said it would be.  Repentance isn’t just the work of the mind or the heart, but it often requires physical action to find God’s grace.

Bathroom Mirror Worthy

One way to surround yourself with Scripture is to write a few of your favorite Bible verses on Post-It notes and hang them on your bathroom mirror.  That way, every time you brush your teeth, wash your hands, or do your hair, you can’t help but see things like “God is love” (1 John 4:8) or “God has a plan for you: plans to prosper and not harm; plans for hope” (Jeremiah 29:11) or “Faith is the confidence of things hoped for, the assurance of things unseen” (Hebrews 11:1).

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Maybe not this many

As I read the lessons appointed for Sunday, I ran across a quote from the Track 2 Psalm that was tailor made for my bathroom mirror.  “Refrain from anger, leave rage alone; * do not fret yourself; it leads only to evil” (Psalm 37:9,  BCP).  If I could figure out a way to refrain from anger in car line, my life would be so much easier.  If could manage to leave rage alone, I might not need blood pressure meds.  What really caught my attention was the Psalmist’s refrain through Psalm 37, “Do not fret yourself.”

According to Google, fret is a word that is actually coming back into vogue.  This is probably due to our increasingly stress based lifestyles of working too hard to make enough money to pay of the too much stuff we’ve convinced ourselves we need.  There is a second definition of fret, however, that is actually closer to the original Hebrew meaning. While we all know fret to mean “to be constantly worried or anxious,” it can also mean to “gradually wear away (something) by rubbing or gnawing.”  To put this in perspective, the Grand Canyon was made by water fretting rock.

In the Hebrew, this word that appears three times in Psalm 37, means “to be kindled into flame” or “to heat oneself in vexation.”

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Be it anxiety, stress, or anger, the constant force of negativity in our lives will eventually lead to a flame, which can easily grow into a flame thrower that does real damage to those around us if we’re not careful.

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In this bathroom mirror worthy passage, the Lord invites us to lay aside fretting, to not lot those things that would gnaw us into worry, frustration, and rage get the best of us, and instead, to take delight in the Lord.

God Searches – a sermon

Yesterday’s sermon can be heard on the Saint Paul’s website, or you can read it here.


It’s the most wonderful time of the year!  No, I’m not talking about Christmas, even though Hobby Lobby has been selling Christmas trees for more than a month now.  I’m not even talking about Pumpkin Spice Latte season.  Those things are like diabetes in a cup.  No, I’m excited because it is Parable Season!  As we wrap up the long Season after Pentecost, seven out of ten Sundays will feature at least one parable from Jesus.  This week, we are gifted with two: the Parable of the Lost Sheep and the Parable of the Lost Coin.  Certainly, these are two of my favorites.

Titles like those make Parables so easy to digest.  We already know what they are about before we even read them.  Of course, these parables weren’t told into a vacuum.  As much as preachers would like to make them universal fables, able to tell us how to live our lives 2,000 years after they were told, this is rarely, if ever, possible.  Jesus’ parables are always told in the context of a particular group of people for a very particular reason.  Our two parables today are told to a hodge-podge group that included Pharisees, tax collectors, scribes, and sinners.  Tax collectors and sinners, Luke tells us, were particularly drawn to Jesus.  His message of repentance and forgiveness must have struck a chord with these two traditionally ostracized groups.  They came from far and wide to listen to what he had to say.

Jesus’ popularity with sinners and tax collectors made him very unpopular with the Pharisees and the scribes whose life work it was to help the righteous live according to the Law.  Sinners and tax collectors were considered incorrigible.  It wasn’t worth the breath to try to convince them to follow the rules.  The teachers of the Law had long-since given up hope.  Rather than just roll their eyes at the naïve Rabbi from the boondocks who was trying to convert the heathens and ignore what Jesus was up to, the Pharisees and scribes began to grumble.  They grumbled that Jesus welcomed sinners and tax collectors.  Worse than that, he ate with them.  He received them into his life.  He risked being contaminated by their sinful ickiness.  He touched them, hugged them, and cared for them.  The content of their grumbling tells us that Jesus was in the habit of this sort of behavior.  He routinely risked his own purity in order to receive into himself all sorts of people.

Truth be told, if the Pharisees had simply grumbled about these things, we might not have this story.  The real problem is that they did more than grumble. The word that Luke uses here is the same word used to describe the murmuring of the Israelite’s in the wilderness.  Throughout the Bible, it is clear that grumbling and murmuring are near the top of the list of things one should never do: it often ends very poorly for those who decide to try it out.  Remember that time, after God had saved the Israelites from bondage in Egypt, when they murmured against God because they didn’t have enough water or enough food or even the right kind of food.  They murmured and they complained all the way to the point of building a golden calf to worship instead of the God they were so accustomed to complaining about.  As we heard this morning, they were a well-reasoned argument from Moses away from being utterly destroyed by God’s red hot wrath.

It is important that Luke uses this particular word to describe the complaints of the Pharisees and scribes.  In Hebrew, the same word that is translated as “murmur” also means “to lodge” or “to abide.”  Murmuring sets up a dwelling place of discontentment in your heart.  It pushes out hope and joy and peace, and replaces it with resentment, frustration, and dis-ease.  When murmuring sets up residence in your heart, there is no longer room for God, and when there is no longer room for God, you are lost.  The Pharisees and the scribes in our story today were lost, and it is to these lost religious leaders – full of righteousness murmuring, yet unable to make room for God – Jesus tells a series of three parables about lostness, two of which we hear today.

“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?”  I told this parable to our prEYC on Wednesday, and we decided that actually none of us would do that.  Why would you risk leaving ninety-nine sheep to be eaten by wolves to track down one that was already as good as dead?  That just doesn’t make any sense, but that’s what God does.  He relentlessly pursues that one lost sheep until he finds it.  Whether that lost sheep is a notoriously sinful person or a murmur-infected religious leader, God searches and searches and searches until he finds each and every lost soul, and each time he finds one, the celebration in heaven is like no party we have ever seen before.

“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?”  That seems reasonable Jesus.  Sure, when I lose something of value, I’ll dig around until I find it, absolutely.  “When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying ‘Rejoice with me for I have found the coin that I have lost.’”  Well, no, Jesus, I probably wouldn’t do that.  I doubt that having found my silver coin, I would then spend it and several more to throw a party over finding it.  That’s just foolishness.  It would be crazy to be so lavish, but this is exactly how God acts toward all of us who are lost.

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look how happy she is

God loves us like crazy.  He loves us with reckless abandon, and because of that deep and abiding love, God would risk everything to find a single lost soul.  In sending his Son to share our human nature and to live and die as one of us, God did risk everything, and the best part of this whole crazy story is that he risked it all to find you.  These parables aren’t stories about a God who desires to save all of us in some grand cosmic scheme.  They aren’t about a search for two coins or ten sheep or billions of people; these are stories about risking everything to find only one thing.  God left ninety-nine righteous sheep at risk to find one solitary lost soul.  God pulled out his lantern, got down on all fours, and risked what might be hiding under the couch to find you in your lostness, and he’ll do it again and again and again.  Every time you find yourself lost, know that God is already looking to find you, and when he does, there will be a party in heaven like you would not believe.  I can’t wait to one day see what that party is like on Sunday mornings, when millions of Christians are in church, confessing their sins, and turning toward God anew.  That party must be absolutely ridiculous!

The Pharisees, even as they lived faithful lives were completely lost.  They had forgotten that at the heart of God’s covenant with Abraham was the promise to bless all the people of the earth.  From the very beginning, it has been God’s deepest desire to restore to right relationship every lost soul, every sinner, every tax collector, every murmuring Pharisee.  From the very beginning, it has been God’s deepest desire to find you.  No matter where you got lost, God is searching with love and concern, and when he finds you, there will be joy in heaven.  “Rejoice with me,” God says, “for I have found my beloved who was lost.”  Amen.