Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Sermon for Boxing Day

The humblest day of the year has to be Dec. 26.  At least Dec. 24 gets to be Christmas Eve.  All the other dates between Thanksgiving and Christmas are the “Holiday Season.”  There’s great anticipation and much preparation in those days. The spirit of Christmas is there; but Dec. 26 is different.

Some calendars will say it is Boxing Day.  Boxing Day is an excuse for Brits and Canadians to take time off.  In the United States, Dec. 26 is not an exciting day.  In fact, it can be a depressing day.  It is the beginning of the “Let-Down Season.”  The decorations go away and along with them go all the holiday cheer and good tidings.  Early on the morning after Christmas, sales become testimonies to greed and selfishness.  The advertisers have picked up on this post-holiday let down and have even tapped into the after-holiday cynicism.  (“Haven’t you had a little too much Christmas?”)  Get ready, because the fitness ads are right around the corner.

In the lectionary tradition, the year is not ending with Dec.26; rather it is just beginning.  All the preparation and anticipation is coming to fruition.  Let’s learn from this.  We have spent the last month or so talking about Christ: about his first coming into the world and his second coming into the world which is yet to come.  The question before us on Dec. 26 (or on any other day) is “What does Immanuel (God with us) mean today?”

John the Baptist had a Dec. 26 moment.  He was wondering if all the anticipation and preparation had come to an end.  John had dedicated himself to a hard life: An outdoor life of living in the desert eating grasshoppers and honey.  He was decked out in his camel hair shirt and his old leather belt.  He was a voice crying in the wilderness.  John was a prophet – like Elijah (he dressed like Elijah) and his message was point blank – “The Lord is coming, so get ready now!  Turn from wickedness sinners and repent!  Be baptized, washed clean!”  John’s message was tough, but he had a vision that after him would come the Day of the Lord.  The one who would come after him would be the Son of Man, which meant the judge of all the earth.  The one who would come after him would be the Messiah, which meant God’s chosen king. This was breaking news and John was the herald of this arrival.

On John’s Dec. 26, all those rough years spent out in the desert and his bold proclamation (He pointed fingers at kings and called them sinners) is coming to an end.  John is in prison and he thinks he will probably be executed.  Was it worth it?  Was all the preparation and preaching in vain or in faith?  Was Jesus the one?  John had to know.  Maybe he doubted.  Maybe he wanted to see the fireworks start.  That’s a Dec. 26 moment.  He’s looking back.  You might even call it a Dec. 31 moment, because he is looking back and asking, “What was it all about? What gives it meaning?  What puts the seal on my life and validates it?”

Two of John’s disciples approach Jesus and ask him “Are you the coming one, or do we wait for another one?”  That is John’s Dec. 26 question.  He wants to know if he can look back at his ministry and connect it with Jesus, or should he should pick up and start getting ready for the next Christmas. After all, Dec. 26th is also the day when we pack it up and start looking forward for the next Dec. 25th.  But John wants to know if that is what he has to do or if he can go to the executioner knowing that he had seen the one he was preaching about.

Jesus’ answer is to let John and his disciples judge for themselves.  What have they seen and heard? The blind receive their sight, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the dead are raised and the poor have the good news brought to them.  Jesus asked them to weigh the miracles and all those signs of grace.  Is that Messiah work?  Jesus’ reply asks another question, “Well what did you expect?”  What sort of Messiah were you looking for?”

Some will focus on the birth of the Messiah on Dec. 25.  That picture of the Messiah is of a child wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger.  But the Dec. 26 Messiah must be one that can respond to prisoners and doubters and faithful.  It must be a Messiah who can give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, cleansing to the sick and life to the dying!

What kind of Messiah were you looking for?  The good news of Jesus is that the kingdom of God is about judgment, but it is also about graciousness.  The reign of God is here and is being established; all we wait for now is the victory party.

We prepare for the second coming (as John did for the first coming) but we do not have to wait for the Second Coming for these things to happen. We do not have to pack up our expectations and wait for another Christmas.  We don’t have to wait for another Savior to come.  The good news for Dec. 26 is that we can start living in the kingdom of Christ now, being joyful, being healed, being forgiven, being patient, being free, and traveling safe along the Holy Way.  We are not ending a season, but we are invited to begin enjoying the journey and the time and nurture it takes, enjoying the rule of God and the fellowship of the people around us.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Galatians 6:1 - Same or Also?

Warning!  The following article contains intense nerdish language.  Those who find this sort of discussion annoying would do well to follow the advice of C.S. Lewis: "If this [article] means nothing to you, if it seems to be trying to answer question you never asked, drop it at once.  Do not bother about it at all."

This week in my study of Galatians 6:1-10, I was reading the New Living Translation and found myself quite disappointed with their translation of the last part of 6:1.  My disappointment stems from the fact that I am actually quite fond of the NLT.  It is an excellent translation for public and private reading as it preserves the "big picture" of each book's message without the more colorful exuberance of a paraphrase such as The Message by Eugene Petersen (which I also appreciate by the way).  This article is certainly not a criticism of the NLT and definitely not a boycott against it.  That would be ludicrous.  Rather, I hope this comes across as a friendly disagreement with the translators from a respectful admirer of their work.  Additionally, I offer an alternate translation that I believe is important to understanding the whole teaching of Galatians 6:1-10.

The NLT translates the last part of 6:1 as follows: "And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself."  My criticism is the addition of the word same.  The use of the word "same" introduces the notion that when we seek to restore a fellow believer who has been overcome by sin (see Gal. 6:1a), then we are somehow potentially vulnerable to that sin as if it is a spiritual virus.  For instance, if one seeks to encourage Brother Rupert because he has been struggling with an addiction to gambling, one should be careful lest he or she start following Rupert to the casinos.  If one if not careful, then one is afflicted with the same temptation.  Such a scenario is possible, but this is not the true nature of the warning in 6:1b.  Additionally, reading the warning as a warning of the "same temptation" might hinder us from having the prescribed spirit of gentleness and love that allows us to courageously and humbly confront sin.  Fear of a viral nature of sin may cause otherwise useful believers to back away from the one in need.  Such a misinformed concern for the "purity" of one's religious walk is the very attitude that Paul is condemning throughout Galatians.  

So what does one do with the word "same?"  My question is where did the NLT translators get the word?  A better translation would not include the word "same" as it is not found in the original text.  The original text reads as follows in the Greek:  σκοπῶν σεαυτόν, μὴ καὶ σὺ πειρασθῇς.  The first word, σκοπῶν, is a participle.  I would translate it as "being careful" or something similar.  It adds to the imperative command to restore the one overcome by sin.  So, Paul is saying restore the brother but do so with care.  Of what?  Let's continue. . . .

σεαυτόν is a pronoun that is easily translated as "yourself." Later in the phrase the pronoun σὺ is used.  This is the second person pronoun "you."  The warning is that those involved in the restoring need to be watchful of their own selves in the process.  Of what?  Let's continue . . .

πειρασθῇς is a passive subjunctive verb.  The meaning of the root verb is to tempt.  The subjunctive mood means that the possibility of temptation is potential.  The passive voice indicates that the "you" in the phrase is not tempting, but rather might be tempted.  Thus, the warning to the restorer is to be careful so as not to be tempted.  (The small word μὴ is the negative that makes πειρασθῇς read "might not be tempted).

This leaves one word in our phrase that we haven't discussed yet - καὶ.  This is the word that the NLT may have chosen the translate as "same."  καὶ is a conjunction and is rarely translated as "same."  Most often, its English equivalent is "and."  The second most likely translation of καὶ is "also."  I suggest that "also" makes more sense.  Thus, the warning is not that the restorer "might be tempted with the same temptation," rather that the restorer "might also be tempted."  Perhaps with the same temptation, but the warning includes other temptations.  For instance, the temptation to be prideful, self-righteous, and condemning against a brother or sister overcome by a sin involving more public shame.  The context of Galatians 6 supports this with the additional warning in 6:3 that reads: "If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important."  (For the record, that is the NLT's translation of 6:3 and though NLT did not translate the verse literally, the translators have captured the meaning of the phrase expertly.)

I offer the following translation of 6:1b and accept critique but also the hope that others may find it useful in the context of chapter 6 . . . 

". . . paying attention that you yourselves should not also be tempted."

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Dream of the Rood

The Dream of the Rood

Translation by Richard Hamer (1970)

Hear while I tell about the best of dreams Which came to me the middle of one night While humankind were sleeping in their beds. It was as though I saw a wondrous tree
Towering in the sky suffused with light, Brightest of beams; and all that beacon was Covered with gold. The corners of the earth Gleamed with fair jewels, just as there were five Upon the cross-beam. Many bands of angels,
Fair throughout all eternity, looked on. No felon's gallows that, but holy spirits, Mankind, and all this marvellous creation, Gazed on the glorious tree of victory. And I with sins was stained, wounded with guilt.
I saw the tree of glory brightly shine In gorgeous clothing, all bedecked with gold. The Ruler's tree was worthily adorned With gems; yet I could see beyond that gold The ancient strife of wretched men, when first
Upon its right side it began to bleed. I was all moved with sorrows, and afraid At the fair sight. I saw that lively beacon Changing its clothes and hues; sometimes it was Bedewed with blood and drenched with flowing gore,
At other times it was bedecked with treasure. So I lay watching there the Saviour's tree, Grieving in spirit for a long, long while, Until I heard it utter sounds, the best Of woods began to speak these words to me:
"It was long past - I still remember it - That I was cut down at the copse's end, Moved from my root. Strong enemies there took me, Told me to hold aloft their criminals, Made me a spectacle. Men carried me
Upon their shoulders, set me on a hill, A host of enemies there fastened me. And then I saw the Lord of all mankind Hasten with eager zeal that He might mount Upon me. I durst not against God's word
Bend down or break, when I saw tremble all The surface of the earth. Although I might Have struck down all the foes, yet stood I fast. (OE 39) Then the young hero (who was God almighty) Got ready, resolute and strong in heart.
He climbed onto the lofty gallows-tree, Bold in the sight of many watching men, When He intended to redeem mankind. I trembled as the warrior embraced me. But still I dared not bend down to the earth,
Fall to the ground. Upright I had to stand. (OE 44) A rood I was raised up; and I held high The noble King, the Lord of heaven above. I dared not stoop. They pierced me with dark nails; The scars can still be clearly seen on me,
The open wounds of malice. yet might I Not harm them. They reviled us both together. I was made wet all over with the blood Which poured out from his side, after He had Sent forth His spirit. And I underwent
Full many a dire experience on that hill. I saw the God of hosts stretched grimly out. Darkness covered the Ruler's corpse with clouds His shining beauty; shadows passed across, Black in the darkness. All creation wept,
Bewailed the King's death; Christ was on the cross. (OE 57) And yet I saw men coming from afar, Hastening to the Prince. I watched it all. With sorrows I was grievously oppressed, Yet willingly I bent to those men's hands,
Humbly. They took up there Almighty God, And from the heavy torment lifted Him. The soldiers left me standing drenched with moisture, Wounded all over with the metal points. They laid Him down limb-weary; then they stood
Beside the corpse's head, there they beheld The Lord of heaven, and He rested there A while, tired after the great agony. The men then made a sepulchre for Him In sight of me. They carved it of bright stone,
And set therein the Lord of victories. Next, wretched in the eveningtide, they sang A dirge for Him; and when they went away, Weary from that great Prince, He stayed alone.
(OE 70) Yet we remained there weeping in our places
A good long time after the warriors' voices Had passed away from us. The corpse grew cold, The fair abode of life. Then men began To cut us down. That was a dreadful fate. In a deep pit they buried us. But friends
And servants of the Lord learnt where I was, And decorated me with gold and silver. (OE 78) Now you may understand, dear warrior, That I have suffered deeds of wicked men And grievous sorrows. Now the time has come
That far and wide on earth men honour me, And all this great and glorious creation, And to this beacon offers prayers. On me The Son of God once suffered; therefore now I tower mighty underneath the heavens,
And I may heal all those in awe of me. Once I became the cruellest of tortures, Most hateful to all nations, till the time I opened the right way of life for men. (OE 90) So then the prince of glory honoured me,
And heaven's King exalted me above All other trees, just as Almighty God Raised up His mother Mary for all men Above all other women in the world. (OE 95) Now, my dear warrior, I order you
That you reveal this vision to mankind, Declare in words this is the tree of glory On which Almighty God once suffered torments For mankind's many sins, and for the deeds Of Adam long ago. He tasted death
Thereon; and yet the Lord arose again By his great might to come to human aid. He rose to heaven. And the Lord Himself, Almighty God and all His angels with Him, Will come onto this earth again to seek
Mankind on Doomsday, when the final Judge Will give His verdict upon every man, What in this fleeting life he shall have earned. (OE 110)Nor then may any man be without fear About the words the Lord shall say to him.
Before all He shall ask where that man is Who for God's name would suffer bitter death As formerly He did upon the cross. Then they will be afraid, and few will know What they may say to Christ. But there need none
Be fearful if he bears upon his breast The best of tokens. Through the cross each soul Nay journey to the heavens from this earth, Who with the Ruler thinks to go and dwell." (OE 122)I prayed then to the cross with joyous heart
And eagerness, where I was all alone, Companionless; my spirit was inspired With keenness for departure; and I spent Much time in longing. Now my hope of life Is that I may approach the tree of triumph
Alone more often than all other men, Honour it well; my wish for that is great Within my heart, and my hope for support Is turned towards the cross. I have on earth Not many noble friends, but they have gone
Hence from earth's joys and sought the King of glory. With the High father now they live in heaven And dwell in glory; and I wait each day For when the cross of God, which here on earth I formerly beheld, may fetch me from
This transitory life and carry me To where there is great bliss and joy in heaven, Where the Lord's host is seated at the feast, And it shall set me where I afterwards may dwell in glory, live in lasting bliss
Among the saints. May God be friend to me, He who once suffered on the gallows tree On earth here for men's sins. Us He redeemed And granted us our life and heavenly home. Hope was renewed with glory and with bliss
For those who suffered burning fires in hell. (OE 150)The Son was mighty on that expedition, Successful and victorious; and when The one Almighty Ruler brought with Him A multitude of spirits to God's kingdom,
To bliss among the angels and the souls Of all who dwelt already in the heavens In glory, then Almighty God had come, The Ruler entered into His own land. 
Translation by Richard Hamer

The Dream of the Rood

Listen, the best of dreams    let me tell you
that I met with     near midnight
when the spear-bearers    were sleeping.
I thought I saw    a sparkling tree
lifted on high,    laden with light,
the brightest of trees.    All the beacon was
gilded with gold;    gems gripped it
gleaming across all earth,    and five of them
were on the cross-beam.    I saw an angel chorus,
beautiful creation;    no cruel gallows this:
holy spirits    beheld it there,
men throughout the world    and this wondrous creation.

Sublime, the tree was,    and I was foul with sin,
wounded and filthy.    I saw the wondrous tree
become more beautiful,    bound with streamers,
wound with gold;    gems gathered
nobly covering    the King's tree.
But through the gold    I could glimpse,
though buried by sinfulness,    that it began
to bleed on its right side.    I was racked with sorrow,
afraid before that fair sight;    I saw that fine beacon
change its colours;    it was moisture coated,
furled in flows of blood,    then folded in treasure.

So I lay there    a long while
sorrowfully staring at    the sacred tree,
until I heard    how it spoke;
the celestial wood    was saying these words:

"It was years ago,    or so I remember,
that I was torn    from the trees' edge,
ripped from my root.    Strong enemies gripped me,
made me a spectacle,    swung their criminals from me;
I carried men on my crossbeam    until I was fixed on a crag;
many enemies set me there.    I saw mankind's Lord
walk boldly, quickly,    eager to climb up.
There I could not,    against the Creator's will,
quiver or fall,    though I saw quake
the earth's surface.    I was able
to slaughter all the enemies,    but I stood firm.
The young man, Heaven's King,    cast off his clothes,
strong and firm spirited;    he stood on the gallows
bravely, beheld by many,    to break mankind free.
I trembled as the man embraced me;    I dared not topple to earth,
fall to the ground;    I had to stand fast.
As a cross I was raised,    carrying the mighty king,
heaven's lord.    I could not lean away.
They drove dark nails into me;    the dreadful cuts are still seen,
open, malicious wounds;    I dared not harm one of them.
They insulted us both together;    I was all besmeared with blood
from the man's side    once he sent forth his spirit.
On that hillside     I had to live through
many loathsome fates;    I saw the Lord of Hosts
terribly wracked;    darkness rolled over,
covering with clouds    the Creator's sky;
shadow swallowed    the shining light,
lowering darkness.    All earth lamented,
cried out the King's fall;    Christ was on the Cross.
But then friends    came from far
to the prince;    I perceived it all.
I was torn sorely by sorrows,    but lay down, submitting
with humble spirit.    They called on their high God,
lifted up their tormented burden;    they left me there,
standing stained with blood;    nails stabbed me.

"He had laid down his tired limbs,     they stood by his lordly head;
they gazed at heaven's lord,    and he rested there a while
weary after his great struggle.    They began to work on a tomb
carving it from the stone    in the sight of his slayer.
They set the mighty Lord inside    and began to lament,
wretched as dusk fell,    that they must depart again,
weary, from the renowned lord;    he remained, alone.
We crosses waited there    a long while
on our foundations;    the voice fell still
in the man;    the corpse grew cold,
the beautiful body.    Then men broke us trees
all to the earth;    awful fate!
We were thrown in a deep pit    but the Lord's thanes,
his friends, found us    
and graced me    with gold and silver."

"Now you may hear,    my beloved man,
how wicked men    wore at me
with sore sorrows.    The time has now come
when I will be honoured    far and wide;
men across earth    and all this glorious creation
came to this cross.    On me the King's son
suffered a while;    so I am now worshipped,
towering under heaven,    and I can heal
everyone    in awe of me.
Before, I was given    the hardest blame,
loathed by all,    until I life's way
could clear    for mankind.
So I am honoured    by the holy Lord,
heaven's guardian,    over all great trees,
just as his mother,    Mary herself,
all men's    almighty God
honours above    all womankind."

"Now I bid you,    beloved man,
to voice to the world    this vision,
reveal in words    that this is the wondrous tree
on which the Saviour    suffered
for mankind's    many sins
and Adam's    first act.
He tasted death;    but directly arose
through his great might    to help mankind
on Doomsday.    The Dread Lord himself,
Almighty God    with his angels
Will then judge,    wielding all judgement's power,
each one    according to how
he deserved    in this drifting life.
None may be    boldly unafraid
of the words    the Lord will speak:
he will ask the many there    if each man
dare, for his name,    know death's
bitter taste    as he did on the tree.
They will be afraid then,    and have few thoughts
of what they could    say to Christ.
None there    need fear
if they bear in their breast    the holy beacon;
through that cross    heaven's kingdom
each soul    will seek from earth
that is willing    to worship the Lord."

Then I bowed before the tree    with blissful spirit,
all eagerly,    there alone
without company.    I was keen
to depart this life    and spent many days
in longing.    It is now my life's joy
that I might seek    that sacred tree
more often    than all other men
to do it honour.    I desire that
much in my spirit,    and my protection is
the cross's rule.    I have remaining
few friends on earth,    but they have gone forth
careless of earth's joys    to find the wondrous King;
they live now in heaven    with the High Father
thinking on wonder;    and I wish for
that day    when the dreamed-of cross
that I saw    stand before me on earth
will fetch me    from this feeble life
and bring me    to where there is great bliss,
joy in heaven,    to join the Lord's people
always sitting    in unceasing bliss.
I will sit    where afterwards
I'll live in glory,    amidst good men,
enjoying joy.    The Just Lord is my friend
that endured before    here on earth
on the cross    for mankind's sins;
he redeemed us    and restored our life,
and our heavenly home.    Hope was renewed
with glory and bliss    for those who had endured burning.
The Son was victorious    on this venture,
mighty and swift.    When he came with many
men's spirits    to the sanctuary of God,
the Almighty Ruler,    the angels rejoiced
with all the saints    that had sat in heaven before,
living in glory,    that God was come,
heaven's king,    to where his homeland was.

Translated from the Anglo-Saxon by Mark Leech