2011 – We have plans…

If you have not discovered this, the Fresh Read blog follows the pattern of the sermons at Bethany EFC, Madison, WI.  So here is what is in store as the calendar flips to 2011.

  • Haggai and Malachi – two minor prophets who wrote during the period of the restoration – the story line ties in with Ezra and Nehemiah.  By the way, “minor” is not significance, but refers to the size of the book.  Zechariah is also from that period, but that would take us far afield.
  • Romans 6-8 – for Lent, we will be in these three chapters on living in the Good News – this will allow me to dig out notes from Greek Exegesis class from, well never mind what year, and to explore theology, rhetoric and the Christian life. 
  • Gospel Talk – what is the “gospel” and how can one share it in brief form without turning it into something it is not.
  • After that, the horizon if fuzzy – my schedule says “Fruit of the Spirit” which would be a study of Galatians 5:16-26. 
  • In Addition I am still pondering the Christ or Gospel centered nature of preaching and will have some ongoing posts about that.
  • Finally, we may start a GATEWAY II course, which would give information on theology, biblical study and the church.  for my GATEWAY blog see http://gatewaymadison.wordpress.com

How Far Would You Go? Magi vs Scribes

For fun I Google mapped the distance from Jerusalem to Bethlehem.  It was about 5 miles – though Google Maps could not trip route it.  Then I Googled Babylon (Iraq) to Jerusalem, and it was about 500 miles (as the crow flies), but again Google could not trip route that distance.

The Magi travelled, most likely from Babylon (in current day Iraq) by the roads of the Fertile Crescent – well over 500 miles.  That is because of a Star and the memory of a prophecy of a King.  The Scribes did not bother to go from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, though they had the text in front of them, and some interesting travelling companions – it was only 5 miles.

How far are you willing to go to find wisdom?

Why Shepherds?

In the Birth Narratives (Luke 1, 2 and Matthew 1, 2) there are kings and rulers: Caesar, Herod, Quirinius, Archelaus, the ruler of Micah 5:2 (Mt 2:6), David (Lk 1:26-32), the Proud (Lk 1:51).  The child is called “a Savior, who is Christ (Messiah) the Lord…” (Lk 2:11). 

So why shepherds?


So why Shepherds?

First, because they are commonplace.  It was once said of Harry Truman, that if someone had thrown a rock into a crowd, they would have hit someone like Truman.  That is he was very ordinary and very American.  So the shepherds were very ordinary and very ancient middle eastern.  If you tossed a rock into the hills, maybe even today, you might hit one.

Second, because the child-king is different from other kings.  He was born to no wealth, no privilege and no great family name.  He had nothing to make him stand out (except for all those angelic and prophetic announcements).

Third, there have been a lot of Shepherd-leaders in Israel. 

  • Abraham was a keeper of flocks – we see that when his hired hands got into conflict with Lot’s so they parted ways – Lot to the plains and Abraham to the hills. (Genesis 13)  He gains additional wealth, measured by flocks after his adventures with Abimelech (Genesis 20). 
  • Moses was watching sheep and goats in Midian, the middle of nowhere, when God called him to be the shepherd of the hebrew people and lead them out of Egypt.  One professor I had in Seminary suggested that the language of Psalm 23 suggests the story of the Exodus.
  • David was out watching sheep when Samuel came along to anoint him to be King.

Jesus himself talks about the importance of spiritual shepherds in John 10.  And to this day “pastor” means shepherd.  The church is supposed to have servant-leaders who know their people by name, who feed them (the word of God) and bring them to quiet waters, and guard them against all enemies.

So, it turns out Shepherds are a good choice.

Mind Your Business – Luke 2:8

Mind Your Business

  “Mind your own business,”

My mother said when I was

Inserting my nose and opinions

Into the lives

 of friends and foe alike.

Get your head out of the clouds

And take care of business.

You have work to do today

And more tomorrow

And even more the day after.

Mind your own business

Said shepherd mothers to their sons.

There are ewes and lambs to watch

Wolves and foxes to watch for

And brambles and crevices.

It is dark, and it is cold  

Make sure you are awake

As your watch crawls slowly to dawn

Or you’ll lose your lambs

And death will come to the flock.

Minding our business,

Passing the watches of the night,

Watching our flocks one night

When it came, but it was not death

It was light, joy and song.

It had to be angels

There’s no other option

They came, first one,

And then a host,

Speaking and then chanting

A baby has been born in David’s city,

Yeah, that happens all the time,

Saul had a girl last year at this time

And got to leave us with the sheep

To keep watch with his new family.

But this child is different,

He comes with a choir

Angels, looking like soldiers,

Armed with words not swords,

Told us to go and see.

Mind your own business,

I thought, as look at the sheep

The same sheep I had watched

For days, weeks and months.

Mind your own business.

Glory to God

In the highest

Peace on earth

To whom God chooses

As He minds His business

So we go, and see the newling

Like one of our lambs,

In a stall, not under the stars,

But with straw and

That country smell we know.

She had been

Minding her business

And he his,

When angels came to them

About a boy child

To be called Jesus.

So we looked,

And it was as they had said

We left our business

To observe for once

Something of heaven.

Mind your own business!

We did get back to our sheep,

Who were watched by the Almighty

While we, we watchers,

Became tellers of tales

Mind this business!

Angels, a baby,

Signs and wrapped cloth,

Sheep and straw

And something totally new.

Now you, mind this!

Your business goes on each day

As the day before,

And the day to come.

The Lord has come,

Mind this business!

David E. Carlson, 2010

“But the answer must be Jesus!”

what is grey, climbs in trees....

Sunday School Teacher:  what is grey, climbs in trees, eats nuts and has a big tail?

Sunday School Kid: Well it sounds like a squirrel, but the answer has to be Jesus.

  I have been wondering about the frequent claim that all sermons should be tied to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  It is said that we need to tie whatever text we read to the main story line, which is the history of redemption, or the story of salvation.  We fall into the danger of becoming moralists, bible information dispensers, self-help gurus, it is said, if we don’t make the link.

Here is the issue, are we thereby imposing on a text the need to say, “But the answer is Jesus.”  One can present the book of Ruth as the story of God’s providential care in the lives of ordinary people, of the importance of keeping the laws regarding the poor and needy and of the value of faithful living.  Or one can focus on the Jesus connection: Boaz and Ruth are in the line of David, which is the line of the Messiah and of Christ.  It is even possible to turn the book into an extended parable of the Gospel.  I would cover all those points, but make the “Jesus connection” at the end, where the book does.

I prefer to think that the connection should be made when it is evident in the text itself.  We are in a church which is all about the history of redemption, but sometimes the text is practical advice (A gentle answer turns away wrath – Prov 15:1) or a reminder of God’s mercy to the weak and the alien (the servant Girl and Naaman in II Kings 5).

A friend was surprised in a message from Proverbs 1-9 that I did not tie the text to Christ – but the passage was about the value of wisdom.  Now in the series the theme of Wisdom was tied to Christ – “in who all wisdom dwells”, but that sermon allowed the passage to speak to one aspect of the life of wisdom.

In other words, sometimes you can talk about a squirrel.

Melodic Line – Book overview

   This is a second entry from the Simeon Trust workshop that I recently attended.  One of the principles of study that the Simeon Trust presents is the concept of the Melodic Line.  Let me give you  their definition:

“Books of the Bible and the Bible as a whole have a coherent, sustained message similar to the unique melody of a song…It unites the whole book, concisely stating what the whole book is about.  The theme of any passage will be related (directly or indirectly) to this theme or melodic line.”  (from Workshop Handout)

The idea is that we should treat the Bible in a literary way, and to look for the theme or main idea(s) that are presented by each author.  This keeps us from grasping at random verses that strike our interest, while we miss the main thrust of the book.  It also is a way to keep us interpreting passages in their context.

For example, the Book of Acts is often a source book for the phenomenon of the Holy Spirit, or for church organization.  But the Melodic line would have to do with the expansion of the Gospel – summarized in

Acts 1:8
    But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

The melodic line of Proverbs is represented by Proverbs 1:7

Proverbs 1:7 – ESV
    The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
        fools despise wisdom and instruction.

 I am currently preparing to peach on the prophetic books of Haggai and Malachi, and am reading with my printed out text and colored pencils to discern the “melodic line.”  This is very useful, and I wish I had learned this concept earlier in my studies.

 By the way, do you know  the source for the  melodic line in the graphic above?

Luke 1,2 Is there a Pattern?

I have been preaching from the birth narratives (Luke 1,2; Matthew 1,2 and John 1 as well) for about 25 years.  There is always something new to see in them.  This year, after becoming more interested in narrative structure, I started to ask if there is some overall structure to Luke 1,2.  So I took a stab at an outline of sections, and then i checked what I did with some more academic works from the Library.

So first, here are the agreed on narrative units to Luke, 1,2.

  • Lk 1:1-4 (intro to Luke)
  • Lk 1:5-25
  • Lk 1:26-38
  • Lk 1:39-56
  • Lk 1:57-80
  • Lk 2:1-20
  • Lk 2:21-40
  • Lk 2:41-52

Now before you read on, why don’t you take a look at these sections and see how they might be related to each other.  Do you see inclusio, parallelism, chiasm, or chaos?

Now, here is my modified outline, which is very much influenced by J. A. Fitzmyer, Anchor Bible 28, The Gospel According to Luke I – IX.  He sees that the main literary structure is a parallel comparison of John and Jesus, but in every instance Jesus is shown to be superior.

A.  About John – Lk 1:5-25

   B.  About Jesus – Lk 1:26-38

     C.  The Visitation – Lk 1:39-56

A’  Birth of John – Lk 1:57-80

         (a.  v. 57-58 – birth

          b. v. 59-80 – circumcision, name, song

    B’  Lk 2:1-40

          a.  Birth, shepherds, song  2:1-20

          b.  Circumcision, naming, song  2:21-40

           C’   The Temple   2:41-52

the Annunciation sections A, B have numerous parallels, other sections are less exact.  The various “songs” appear in an inexact way.  So we can call this a loose parallel structure.

So how did you do, is your outline better than mine?