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I generally like to begin with a quick look at the Greek for anything that catches my eye. I usually start here and then move to other resources for deeper study of any interesting linguistic points.
Working Preacher (of course): “The letter begins with a blessing for God rather than a thanksgiving for the Ephesians themselves. The theological and Christological emphases will continue throughout, yet it does not take much imagination to see the implications of God’s work for those to whom the letter is addressed. They have been adopted as children of God.”
Textweek: A variety of resources, here are a couple that caught my eye in particular —
“Visualizing Peace,” Alan Brehm, The Waking Dreamer. “You cannot overcome hatred with hatred. It’s an ancient concept: you can only overcome hatred with love. You cannot overcome violence with violence. You can only overcome violence with peace. And so it is that St. Paul viewed Jesus’ death as an act of peace overcoming the hatreds and divisions of the human family.”
Join the Feast, Ephesians 1:3-14, Elizabeth Smith, Union PSCE, 2009. “In a world full of injustice, pain and division, these words of adoption, grace and gathering all things up are sometimes hard to hear. Indeed, there is tension between what God has already done in Christ and what is left to be done in the world.”
Sermonwriter: “‘Blessed (Greek: eulogetos) be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (v. 3a). The form of this verse is called a benediction (good saying) or a berakah (the Hebrew word for blessing). It is a joyful response to the blessings that God has given (see v. 3b), and ascribes blessings or praise to God for his grace.”
Sermon on Ephesians 1:3-14 by Paul G. Fleischer: “In our text from Ephesians 1, with its soaring gospel truths proclaimed to us, the Lord would have us consider again the astounding truth that our eternal salvation was begun by God already before the foundation of the world. May the Spirit of God bless our consideration of verses 3-14.”
Dr. Ronald D. Worden: “In the Epistle to the Ephesians, Paul does not address a series of specific local problems as he does in 1 Corinthians, nor a single specific problem such as the “Colossian Heresy” (Col. 2:8-23)…Ephesus was large enough to have many problems. Paul “did extraordinary miracles” there (Acts 19:11), exorcizing evil spirits (v. 12), making “some itinerant Jewish exorcists” jealous (vv. 13-16), and supervising a public burning of magic books valued at “fifty thousand silver coins” (v. 19). But these problems were within the surrounding culture, not within the Christian community. So in Ephesians, more than in most of his other epistles, Paul waxes eloquently about spiritual blessings.”
Church in God’s Eternal Plan (EBSCO): “In the first three chapters we sense a vertical thrust: our eyes are directed chiefly upward to God and His Christ; in the last three chapters the thrust is horizontal: our eyes are directed chiefly to our fellow Christians and fellowmen. A few simple outlines may be suggested. All say about the same thing: The Nature and the Function of the Church, or, more popularly stated: The “Is”-ness and the Business of the Church.”
Proclaiming Ephesians (EBSCO): ” In this book, we have what has been described as “the quintessence of Paulinism,” one of the most mature and eloquent statements on the purpose of God, and the place of the church in the accomplishment of that divine purpose in history.”
Start with a quick look at the Greek on biblehub.
Working Preacher (of course): “Think of the perennial hot spots around the globe, or the places of enduring tribal violence, or the generation-to-generation legacy of racial tension in the United States. Then read Ephesians 2:14, “He is our peace.” We often speak of Christ creating peace between humanity and God, but in this reading, the peace that Christ brings is between one group of human beings and another as much as it is related to humanity’s standing before God. Hostility between us is overcome (v. 14) and reconciliation with God is also made real (v. 16).”
Textweek: A few resources in particular —
“Breaking Down the Dividing Wall,” Janet Hunt, Dancing with the Word, 2012. “When you consider what it is ‘to be brought near by the blood of Christ,’ what does this mean to you? How have you experienced this?”
“First Thoughts on Year B Epistle Passages in the Lectionary,” Pentecost 8, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia. “It is not the mission to recruit strength and build power. It all depends so much on whether you see the goal as withdrawal to another source of power beyond all things or coming home to the source of love within all things which is seeking to bring and hold them together.”
Commentary, Ephesians 2:14-22, Hyveth B. Williams, The African American Lectionary, 2009. “This passage is cause for the people of God to rejoice that God is reconciling, healing and bridging communities in both the spiritual and natural world.”
Sermonwriter: “People construct walls in their minds and hearts—walls that do not necessarily express themselves in physical form. We say, “Good fences make good neighbors.” But we must learn to ask, “Why do they make good neighbors?” We must learn that “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, that wants it down” (from “Mending Wall” by Robert Frost). That something is God. God wants to bring down the walls that divide us.”
Jesuswalk: Paul continues the construction analogy. “Built together” (NIV) is the Greek compound verb sunoikodomeo, “to build up or construct of various parts, build up (together).” You and I are not built for individual devotion and churchless lives as Lone Ranger Christians. We are to be built together with others.
Political Theology Today: “Peace. Justice. Citizenship. These are the catch phrases that the author employs. Laudable goals, to be sure, but the way in which the text moves from this ethnic (and potentially racial) conflict to the resolution are not only unorthodox but, for the gentile audience addressed, is jarring and potentially wounding.”
Theological Meditations on Ephesians 2:11-22 (EBSCO): This passage from Ephesians embodies the Pauline preoccupation with commenting on Gentile problems. The first two verses pile up harsh characterizations of Gentile outsiders from the perspective of God’s people Israel: They are the uncircumcized, aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. Following what Nils Dahl has termed the “soteriological contrast pattern,” Ephesians calls Gentiles to remember their godless heritage in order to cast into bolder relief the “immeasurable riches of God’s grace in Christ Jesus” (2:7) that are now theirs as “members of the household of God” along with their Jewish brothers and sisters (2:19).”
Ephesians 2:11-22 (EBSCO): “This twofold gift of peace and the divine rescue are inseparable. For it is in a single act, the creation of a new humanity in Christ, that the rescue is accomplished and peace achieved. Christ “create [s] in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace” (v. 15).”
I am leading our pastor’s text study this week, so I thought I’d share with you all the commentary snippets I have collected to share with that group:
2 Corinthians 4:16-5:10:
(Proclamation Commentaries: Paul and His Letters, Leander E. Keck): “What does ‘Spirit’ mean in Paul’s thought? To begin with, Paul shares the early Christian understanding of Spirit as eschatological gift of power; the divine presence is a gift received, not an essence released (Rom. 8:15; 1 Cor. 2:12; Gal. 3:2).
Also he regarded the Spirit as a sign that the New Age is already dawning, and receiving it is a mark of one’s participation in the future. The two metaphors that express this understanding appear to be uniquely Paul’s: down-payment (arrabón; 2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5) and first fruits…The arrabón is not so much a guarantee (as the RSV renders it) as a pledge (as the EB has); the word used to be rendered ‘earnest’ as in ‘earnest money’ in real estate. Earnest money is paid to indicate that the buyer will complete the transaction without delay…In Pauls’ mouth, both metaphors express the conviction that that Spirit means inauguration, not consummation. Both celebrate the present gift as something that points ahead, as a reality that characterizes Christian life between ‘already’ and ‘not yet.’” p. 98
“The ethical significance of Paul’s theology of body manifests itself throughout his letters…the basic theological position, ‘The body is not meant for immortality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.’ (1 Corinthians 6:12-20). Paul provides several warrants for this. (1) ‘God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?’ Paul’s rationale seems to be the following: (a) Christ’s resurrection transformed him (as sóma/self). (b) His resurrection is the prototype of the resurrection to come, of Christian somatic selves. (c) Christ’s present Lordship lays a claim on the body/self, destined for resurrection. (2) Because body equals self, Paul can express this claim by saying that the sóma of the Christian is an organ (‘member’) in the body of Christ. (3) ‘Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you.’ The mortal body/self is not a prison for the Spirit but its shrine. The body/self does not inhibit the Spirit; the Spirit, being stronger, sanctifies the body/self. Sanctification is not an intense religious experience but a moral process which hallows the self. (4) ‘You are not your own; you were bought with a price’ – a metaphor derived from the slave market. Redemption means belonging to Christ, whose death was the (implied) price paid. So the moral meaning of having the Spirit is the imperative: ‘Glorify God in your body’ – the actual selves you are. Paul’s ethics is body-ethics.” pp. 105-106
(Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament: II Corinthians, Frederick W. Danker): “In short, Paul is not concerned about winning cheap laurels from human beings in the present time. As he will state in 5:9, his constant aim is to ‘please’ God. And it is God who will reward him amply for his labors. Everything connected with the present is transitory. Paul wants to possess the things that will abide forever…There is no suggestion in 2 Cor. 4:17 that one can improve a relationship with God through virtuous performance. Such a perception would have nullified Paul’s strong protest against attempts to make bargains with God (cf Rom. 3:20), for reconciliation is God’s gift to the world (2 Cor. 5:19)” p. 69
“Facing the fact that death may take place before the return of Jesus Christ, [Paul] states that God will remedy the problem of present dissolution with a dwelling that is not subject to the vicissitudes of time…The life of resurrected body is in continuity with the Spirit-life in the mortal body. Therefore, when the body dies, the person is not found ‘naked,’ for the Spirit-life is not doffed in the process. Rather, there is more to put on; that is, God guarantees that we will be further clothed.” pp.70-71
“Confident that God will not be remiss in generosity, Paul goes on to explain that God “equips” (has prepared) us for the very goal of realizing the glorious expectation of fullness of life in the Spirit…To that end God gives us the Spirit as a guarantee or down payment for the future.” p. 74
“A few sentences earlier [Paul] wrote about groaning. Now he writes about courage, as he ponders the significance of one of the most important words in his vocabulary – faith. In Paul’s thought faith or commitment is intimately linked with uprightness… [through faith] the way is cleared for the Holy Spirit to create the new life of uprightness…Paul’s pneumatology is intimately connected with his Christology. His thoughts about the Spirit-filled and Spirit-permeated life are dictated by his understanding of the role of Jesus Christ in salvation.” p. 74
“The Greek word that underlies the phrase ‘what they have done’ connotes policy. The term good (agathon) refers to quality performance that in some way benefits others. The term evil (phaulon) denotes that which is substandard. Paul in effect says that Christ will judge whether one’s conduct was first or second class, of value to the public or self-centered. And the body is the instrument for production…In view of their familiarity with the Greco-Roman custom of recognition of public-spirited citizens, Paul’s Corinthians addressees would feel the persuasive force of the apostle’s line of argument, and they would agree, ‘We certainly do not want to appear before Christ as second-class performers.’” p.76
(The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, Paul Barnett): “Paul began to develop his teaching on the believers’ hope of glory at 3:12, as amplified in the ‘we all…are being transformed’ in 3:18. This universal transformation of the messianic people is picked up in their general resurrection (4:14) at which ‘we all’ must be made manifest at the tribunal of Christ (5:10). In a word, 4:16-5:10 engages in theological reflection on his
and their present and future.
Paul sets this out as an overarching eschatological contrast between this age, which is temporary and whose elements are visible, and that age which is to come, which is eternal and whose elements are as yet invisible (4:17-18). The present age ends and the coming age begins at that point when God ‘raises us…and presents us’ to Jesus (4:14), when we will be ‘made manifest’ at his seat of judgment (5:10). The general resurrection/judgment is the point at which the present age ends and the coming age begins. That moment is the hinge around which those eschatological ages turn.
Corresponding to and contingent upon this eschatological dualism is an anthropological dualism. The outer person (exo anthropos), who belongs to the present age, is wasting away, while the inner person (eso anthropos), who belongs to the coming age, is being renewed (4:16). The contrast between the two ages, present and coming, and between the outer and the inner person, is the source of powerful antitheses that characterize the majority of the verses in this passage. Whereas the eschatological dualism hinges on the general
resurrection, the anthropological dualism is created by the eschatological Spirit, whom God gives now as a ‘deposit, guaranteeing what is to come’ (5:5). It is the Spirit who creates the sense that the ‘outer person’ is ‘wasting away’ and the ‘inner person’ is ‘being renewed.’” p. 246
“Consistent with his insistence that, as yet, ‘we are at home in the body’ and therefore ‘are away from the Lord’ Paul canvasses the possibility that death, with its nakedness and bodily divestiture (5:1, 3, 4), could precede the arrival of the new age, though this is not his preference (5:8). It would be ‘far better’ to be ‘clothed upon’ with a heavenly dwelling at the onset of the end time than to be found naked — bodiless — at death, ‘far better’ to be ‘away from the body’ and present ‘with the Lord.’ If the dead will be ‘changed’ by resurrection (cf, I Cor. 15:52), the living — Paul’s concern in this passage — will also be changed at the resurrection by transfiguration, by the superimposition of a dwelling/garment from heaven. Thus while ‘we have a building from God,’ as God’s sure promise to be fulfilled at the general resurrection, we do ‘not yet’ have it in our present experience within this age.
How do we live in the time between ‘now’ and ‘not yet’? Against possible romantic or ethically minimal attitudes from a superspiritual worldview Paul’s attitude toward this ‘in-between’ time is carefully balanced. On
the one hand, there is to be confidence, based on the certainty of God’s purposes for those who are ‘in Christ’ (5:1, 6, 8), Of particular interest are the resumptives in this passage — ‘therefore we do not lose heart’ (4:16), ‘for we know . . .’ (5:1), ‘therefore we are always confident’ (5:6), ‘therefore we make it our goal”— which maintain the trajectory of hope. On the other hand, there is the sober recognition that we ‘groan’ with hope mingled with pain, like a woman in the pain of childbirth (5:2, 4); at the same time, however, God has given the Spirit as a ‘deposit, guaranteeing what is to come’ (5:5), Moreover, Paul sounds the strong ethical note that believers must seek to please the Lord, in light of his judgment tribunal at which all that they have done — whether good or evil — will be brought to light (5:9-10).” p. 248
The last few weeks have been rather tough in the life of our parish here in central MN. The busy-ness of Holy Week was followed by the death of a 16 year old member, followed by the death of an 82 year old member. Things are starting to settle down again here and life moves on (which feels wrong somehow). I will begin crafting and posting worship helps again this week. By way of apology, I am including the sermon I wrote for the 16 year old’s death (with names changed), hoping that it might be a help to someone struggling to offer the Gospel in a similar circumstance. I found the book, “This Incomplete One” to be a wonderful resources in crafting this difficult sermon.
Gospel Reading: John 11:21-27
I have been very blessed to know Christopher. I arrived here in this parish in the summer of 2013, and got to know Christopher pretty quickly in LYO and in confirmation. He was a reliable participant in both. As we made our way through the stories of the Old Testament that year, I grew to appreciate his willingness to talk and his honesty in the face of difficult questions.
His friendliness was readily apparent too. He was the one texting and calling others to make sure they’d be at LYO for some kickball or a round of thing-in-the-dark or whatever activity we had planned. I’ll never quite understand his desire to play kickball in work boots though…he may have gotten more distance on his kicks, but they couldn’t have been easy to run in!
I had fun with him on our trip to the National Youth Gathering in Detroit too. He was a blessing to the group that went. Ready and willing to participate in the Gathering activities, service work, and group bible studies; whatever the plan was he ready to be a part of it. Although my tradition of making my LYO groups try new foods didn’t go over that well with him. I could not get him to try Thai food for the life of me! I have been blessed to know Christopher.
I have many memories of Christopher from LYO, from confirmation, from our trip to Detroit, from church, from potlucks, from service work, from board game nights, from Camp House, and many other circumstances and situations. But some of my favorite memories are probably from VBS. My very first experience with this parish was VBS in 2013, I hadn’t actually started yet, but I brought my daughter by to participate. Funnily enough, I don’t think Christopher was there that year, I believe he was up at Camp House helping to get it ready for camp.
But in the next two years he was there (at least for part of it). He worked alongside an adult leader in the games station of VBS. And I can still clearly remember watching him helping to herd those bible schoolers through all sorts of games and activities. And what struck me the most about Christopher was his desire to see everyone participate. That would become something of a theme with Christopher. He wanted the kids to feel included and welcome. I distinctly remember watching him working so hard to get one of the younger kids, maybe 4 or 5 years old, who didn’t want to join the others in playing on the playground, to play Frisbee with him…to have fun and feel welcomed. I have been blessed to know Christopher.
As my mind turned to VBS and Christopher, I thought of one of the lessons we taught at VBS last year. Our theme verse was Micah 6:8, “what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.” But the lesson I’ve been thinking of in particular was on our third day that week, we focused on the portion of the verse that talks about “love kindness.” The word for kindness there is one of those tricky, but fun Hebrew words you find in the Old Testament. It’s the word hesed. It’s tricky and fun because it’s one of those words that are really hard to translate into English because it has so many possibilities.
In Scripture it is often translated as kindness, or mercy, or loyalty, or even love; in the Psalms it is often rendered as “steadfast love.” It’s a tricky and fun word because it conveys a powerful concept: the deep, abiding, eternal, and undeserved love that God has for us (and we sometimes have for each other). In thinking about Christopher my mind has returned again and again to that concept of hesed.
And it is no wonder that it has! Christopher has certainly known hesed, steadfast love. He knew it from his family. The love and support they have showered him with over these last two years (and before), has been a powerful example of hesed. In his faith statement for confirmation he wrote that his faith began around the dinner table at grandma and grandpa’s house with saying grace before meals. I’ve heard from his cousins about games of hide and seek played at dusk, and board games (some friendly, and some perhaps overly competitive) enjoyed on weekends. Christopher knew hesed from his family. Christopher knew steadfast love from his family.
Christopher knew hesed from his friends. I have seen, again and again, Christopher’s openness and friendliness lead to powerful relationships. Was he friends with everyone? Perhaps not, who is? But he was open to everyone and willing to try to have relationships with others. And others responded to that. Christopher showed hesed to others and others responded with hesed of their own. I watched deep relationships being formed on our trip to Detroit. I know several of his friends in particular showed hesed to Christopher and I’m sure many others of you did as well. Christopher knew hesed from his friends. Christopher knew steadfast love from his friends.
Christopher knew hesed from his community; all of his various communities: his neighbors, his church, his school. You all have showered him and his family with support, with prayer, and with hesed, with steadfast love. In these recent weeks I know they have received more food than a family 10 times their size could eat! They have received countless cards and gifts. Christopher knew hesed from his community. Christopher knew steadfast love from his community.
And most of all, Christopher knew hesed from God. He wrote that faith statement for confirmation a few months after his first surgery, the one to remove the tumor from his brain. And in it he wrote that the experience of cancer and surgery had shown him how important his faith is and how it drove his attitude (that kind, open, welcoming attitude of his) towards others and his own challenges. Christopher knew hesed from God. Christopher knew steadfast love from God.
But as I have been thinking about hesed these last few days I have come to a new understanding of it. In accompanying Christopher and his family through this hard, hard, time; I have been amazed to see, again and again, how they have endured through it all. And so, I think, maybe there’s another translation of hesed we could consider. “Steadfast love,” certainly! “Loving-kindness” or “loving-loyalty,” yes. “Mercy,” sure. But I think it could also be “enduring grace.”
Christopher certainly endured. He endured surgery, and pain, and weakness. But he never stopped caring, and he never turned bitter. We had a hard talk a couple of weeks ago; and he admitted to me that as he faced death he was mostly worried about his Mom (sorry [Dad], he worried about you too, but he obviously trusted your strength). And isn’t that just like Christopher? He endured and still cared, still loved.
[Mom] and [Dad] have certainly endured as well. I have watched as they have done everything in their power to support, care for, and love Christopher. I have seen the tender kisses from his mom. I have watched as his father carried Christopher and helped him get to wherever he needed to go. And you two have endured. You’ve been angry with God, I know. And that’s ok, I have been angry with God too. But you have not turned bitter…you have endured.
[Sister], and the rest of the family have endured as well. I have watched as you have hovered around Christopher for these last weeks in particular. Doing all that you can to love and support him, and his parents. [Sister], I have watched you reach out to your cousins in love and support, even while this burden weighs you down too. You all have endured.
By the grace of God you all have endured. And that’s the thing of it. We have at times wondered where God is in the midst of this cancer and death. We have at times felt abandoned and alone. But we have endured. By the grace of God we have endured. We have at times hoped and prayed and looked for a miracle; a miracle that did not come. We have joined with Martha in saying, “Lord, if you had been here, [Christopher] would not have died.” And we have endured. That’s where God has been in the midst of this terrible journey.
And maybe that is the miracle. That by the hesed of God we have endured. By enduring grace we have walked this journey. By enduring grace we shall continue to walk it. Jesus, in the garden of Gethsemane prayed that the cup might pass from him. But he endured. He endured betrayal, arrest, and abandonment. He endured insults, and torture, and cruelty. He endured the cross. He endured all of this for our sake. And he did not endure in vain. For the story does not end with the enduring of all that tragedy. It ends with relief. It ends with resurrection. It ends with life.
And so we too can endure. By God’s grace we can endure. Until we too find that relief. The relief of resurrection and life. The relief that is now, already and forever, Christopher’s. Amen.
Textweek.com is one of my go-to’s for commentaries and other resources, but occasionally there aren’t a lot of resources there; so I go scrounging on my own. Here’s what I found, may it help you too!
Here’s the textweek site for Feb 28, 2016 – http://textweek.com/Narrative%20Lectionary/N2Lent3.htm
Here are other commentaries on Mark 12:1-12 that I found with a brief blurb on each:
I may add more to this during the week.