Monday, November 3, 2014

The Girl or the King?

It’s been about two hundred years in ancient Israel’s history since this royal experiment began with the anointing of Saul. Not long after the Israelites entered the Promised Land with Joshua as their leader they began begging for a king like all of their neighbors had. Yahweh, the God of Israel, was suspicious of the idea and put them off as long as possible – raising up judges to settle disputes and lead in times of crisis. But judges weren’t good enough for the people of Israel. They wanted a king.

God obliged and gave them King Saul. After Saul came David. After David came Solomon, and after that the names get harder and harder to recite, not just because of the phonetic gymnastics one has to do to differentiate between Rehoboam and Jeroboam, but because the details of their reigns are less and less exemplary the longer the monarchy continues. The quality of leadership in Israel goes downhill quickly, eventually even causing a split among the twelve tribes into two different kingdoms, with two different capitals and two different temples. The people are breaking the covenant God so graciously gave them left and right, up and down. Worship is happening at the wrong places and in wrong ways. The people are turning to idols and abandoning worship of Yahweh and Yahweh alone. Simply put, God’s people are falling apart at the seams.

Which is how a young girl ends up in service to the enemy’s wife.

Naaman is the commander of the army of the king of Aram, or Syria. It seems a little odd that a foreigner is recognized as having been given a victory by the Lord, as Naaman is, but not too odd in the book of 2 Kings. 2 Kings is all about how God tries to send warnings to Israel and Judah, how God tries to get their attention and bring them back to faithfulness. Often this happens by foreign armies over-powering God’s chosen people. The political nation is weak because of the weak spiritual condition of the people. The Arameans are just one in a string of foreign nations who are used by God to try to warn the Israelites their lack of faithfulness to the covenant is going to be their downfall.

In another battle of another war this young girl, we don’t even have her name, is taken into captivity and enslaved in the commander’s household. She had to have been terrified, absolutely terrified - - taken from her home, her family, the only world she knew - - taken by these new people, to this new household, in this new city for who. knows. what. purposes. She ends up a gift to Naaman’s wife, another girl to wait on her, a token of his appreciation, a sign of his success and importance, another slaved added to his list of property.

A fictionalized novel of this story for young readers (Adara by Beatrice Gormley) imagines the young girl becomes her mistress’s story-teller, masterfully weaving tales about her beloved Israel for the double purpose of entertaining and keeping her memories alive. One day, having noticed Naaman’s increasing discomfort with a chronic skin condition, she spins in a tale about the prophet Elisha back in Israel, the successor to the great prophet Elijah, carrying his mantle and his reputation as he healed in the name of Yahweh and called the people away from the worship of Baal. Certain of his ability to heal, she plants the seed of an idea in her mistress’s mind. “Take Naaman to Elisha, and he will be healed.”

She would be an easy player to overlook in this story, as she likely was in Naaman’s household. She’s a child. She’s a girl-child. She has no name, no family. She is an Israelite; the Arameans just showed how insignificant Israelites are by defeating them in battle. She is very literally a nobody in the middle of a whole story of power players, and still she speaks up. Still she finds a way, she finds the courage to tell what she knows to be true, what she has either experienced herself or what she has heard about others experiencing at the hand of Elisha. This young girl, putting her fear aside, looking with compassion on her enemy, desiring wholeness for one who is broken, points with confidence to the one who can heal, and it is because of her word, her courage, her testimony that healing eventually comes.

She stands in stark contrast to the king of Israel to whom Naaman, his entourage, and his riches go with a letter from the king of Aram. Remember, the girl told Naaman to seek a prophet, but Naaman’s boss, the king of Aram, seems a bit skeptical. Some little known prophet seems an unlikely source of healing, so the king tells Naaman to go instead to the king of Israel. Certainly another king must have the power, the resources, the influence to find the right source of healing.

Society tells us a lot about what power and greatness are and who has it. A friend of mine was telling me this week about a book she has been reading during the election season, The Power Broker by Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Caro. In the book, Caro tells stories about how power hungry the United States Senators were in the mid-twentieth century. Senator Carl Hayden of Arizona was known to enter the Senate cafeteria and lay his cane on whatever table he chose to sit at for lunch. Often that chosen table would already have a group of secretaries or Senate staffers sitting there eating, but everyone knew that if Hayden laid his cane on your table, you had all better be gone by the time he returned with his lunch a few minutes later.
Most Senators also insisted that when they wanted the elevator in the Senate Office Building, they wanted that elevator immediately! To let elevator operators know that it was a Senator waiting, the Senator would buzz the elevator's call button three times. When that signal was heard, the operator was to skip all other stops (even if others already in the elevator needed a certain floor) and pick up the waiting Senator without delay. Once when Senator McCarran of Nevada heard the car pass him by after he had rung three times, he turned on his heel, stomped back to his office, called the Sergeant-at-Arms, and ordered the poor young elevator operator fired on the spot (which he was).

Kings were supposed to have THIS kind of power and influence in the ancient world, but the king of Israel shows instead how irrelevant he has become. “I’m supposed to heal someone?” he asks incredulously, tearing at his clothes in fear and anger and grief. “You’ve just destroyed my army and taken my people into captivity and now you’re going to taunt me by asking for my help in healing? I don’t know anything about healing!” And he doesn’t! He can’t heal Naaman himself! He doesn’t even know to whom he should send Naaman to find healing in his own nation! Used to his power and privilege, used to being the center of the world around him, he displays instead how disengaged, how out of touch he is with the world around him, with the places where life is really being lived and healing is really taking place right in his own nation.

A young girl points to the place of healing, but the very king of Israel is downright useless at leading others to new life.

Sometimes it feels like the church in the 21st century is a lot more like the king of Israel than the young girl. Sometimes it feels like the church in the 21st century is still relying on some false sense of societal importance and prestige that just isn’t really here. Sometimes it feels like the church in the 21st century is perfectly happy to keep the world at arm’s length, continuing to deal only with people of the right status, right the position, the right honor – exchanging regal letters while hurting and broken people are standing right outside our gates begging for something that will relieve their pain and bring them wholeness. We complain that after school activities are held on Wednesday evenings, sporting tournaments on Sunday morning. We worry that changes in our understanding of tradition might threaten our integrity. We fear that our generosity may be taken advantage of if we give of ourselves and our resources too freely.

But all the while, people who are seeking God’s blessing, seeking God’s healing, seeking a place to belong, to be welcomed, to grow in faith, and to serve others are standing right outside our doors not finding themselves anywhere closer to wholeness and life because we’re too busy clinging to what we once were.

Sometimes it feels like the church in the 21st century is a lot more like the king of Israel than the young girl - - the young girl whose witness leads to healing.

What would it look like if we took on her courage? Speaking not angrily, not in a bullying way, but simply and compassionately. Telling what we know to be true, what we have experienced. We know of a prophet. We have seen a healer. We have heard the good news of God's gift in Jesus our Lord. We have experienced his grace and his truth and his welcome.

What would it look like if we took on her blindness to differences? Inviting not just those who are exactly like us, but those who we would otherwise hold at a distance, even those we might call enemies.

What would it look like if we had her willingness to put her reputation on the line by risking everything she had - - her word and her honor - - to do the right thing? Speaking up for what we believe to be true even if it makes us unpopular, even if it could invite ridicule.

What would it look like to be the church pointing to Jesus for all who come seeking, for all who need healing, for all who desire wholeness and acceptance and peace?

It would look a lot less like a church that waits for newcomers to walk through the door than a church that goes out to serve others in the name of Christ.

As Pope Francis recently said, it would look a lot less like a church that is moralizing and a lot more like a church that is merciful.

It would look a lot less like a church that worries it’s actions will offend and a lot more like the prophets who demand justice and inclusion.

It would look a lot less like a church that hides itself away in four beautiful walls serving itself and a lot more like a the body of Christ entering into the world that is suffering and pointing to the one who can bring peace.

The church of the 21st century, First Presbyterian Church of Hudson, WI has a choice to make. Will we be the girl or the king? May our choice bring glory and honor to God and healing in the world. Amen.

cane photo credit: practicalowl via photopin cc
courage photo credit: Laurensea via photopin cc

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Preaching this week

What started as a post on the Narrative Lectionary Facebook group has just gotten too long to put there.  I'm trying to figure out what to do with the text this week - - Acts 16:16-34

Still not totally sure how I'm going to go this week, but more and more I'm being pulled (that's not even a strong enough word) by the Spirit to lift up the horror of these Nigerian kidnappings.  I don't know exactly how to relate it to the text; there are some connections that seem to work, others that are stretches, many that are in the middle (work to a point, but then fall apart).  I've decided to give myself some grace on this.  I am an extremely textual preacher.  If this one deviates a little in order to say what needs to be said, I'm going to be OK with that. Some ideas and (possible) directions are below.

|1.  We have the ability to project on our walls during worship (or order of worship goes there).  During the sermon I'm going to make a slideshow displaying each of the known names one at a time, 4 seconds each.  Unknown names will be listed as "Daughter of God #1, etc)  I understand 30+ more girls may have been taken from another village.  I need to try to find that info again.

2.  I am drawn to the idea of the slave girl having no name and the drive to make sure these girls' names are known (with all the complexity that comes with that in terms of confidentiality).  It's not as easy to forget someone whose name is known. This works a little better if the texts that are read are the Lydia and slave girls stories, not so much if it's slave girl and jailer, since his name isn't known either.

3.  There seems to be something important here about follow-through in ministry/mission.  We don't really know if Paul's "exorcism" in the end was a good thing.  He certainly did it more out of annoyance than concern anyway.  We don't know if making this slave-girl less useful to her masters freed her from much.  It may have made her more disposable, and without any kind of lasting relationship with her, Paul may have done more harm than good.  There's a real good warning in this to what happens after (God willing) these girls are released.  The outrage better turn into some real support in a responsible way for these girls and change in the larger system that allows stuff like this to happen.  (Education, education, education - - not seeing people as property or a means to an end like in the story of the slave-girl in the first place)

4.  I only slip in Mother's Day stuff when it actually makes sense with the sermon.  This time it might.  We have mothers, fathers, families, communities weeping over what is going on.  The tag line might "#BringOurGirlsBack" pull the baptismal connection.  Although, since this is a school with girls of mixed religious backgrounds, "our" might go all the way back to our shared heritage in Abraham or even just simply our shared humanity.  Side note: The "our" has been a little disturbing to me personally.  It sounds too possessive for me instead of uniting like it's intended to me.  Were they our girls when they were studying?  It works great for the actual families and villages.  Feels colonialist coming from Americans.

5.  The other Mother's Day connection I fear, but don't think I can speak out loud is the idea that some of these girls are likely being made mothers against their will as we speak.  It makes me sick.

I don't think I'm much closer in figuring out how I'm going to preach this Sunday.  In fact, somehow I'm just ending up more pissed at Paul and his selective use of influence.  There might be a sermon in there somewhere, but I'm not convinced the text is saying that.

Monday, February 17, 2014

What's next?

The Enneagram work I did on the RevGals Big Event 7.0 (whew - - there were a lot of links there!) has been more and more amazing for me as time goes by.  I'm always kind of interested in these personality things, from Myers Briggs Personality Type to "Which Downton character are you?" (Mr. Bates, in case you care.)  I had heard about the Enneagram, but I didn't really get it the first time around.  More and more, though, in the time leading up to the trip, and I mean even in the 12-18 months before the trip, I have been trying to figure out what makes me tick.  Why do I act the way I do?  Why are some things easy for me that seem like they should be hard, but other things are practically deadening to my soul that seem like they should be easy?  And a LOT of the latter things are things that are pretty important for my vocation as a pastor - you know, like talking to people that I don't really know well or have a purposeful working relationship with or being able to follow through with an idea I dreamed up.  I was getting frustrated with myself (and sensing frustration from some in my congregation) about things that are related to my personality.  The enneagram came at just the right intersection of rising frustrations and my desire for things to be different.  And hey --  A new thing to learn about? "Sounds cool.  I'll try anything once," said your resident 7.

About the 7 - - So, some of the things I learned about myself as a 7 are that I have a hard time following through with things usually because my brain is looking forward to the next thing I can try that might bring enjoyment or excitement.  I am pretty easily distracted.  I love learning about new things and can be legitimately researching for something I need and get pulled into 542 other things that catch my attention and inquisitiveness on the way.  My "sin" is my desire to acquire - experiences, things, knowledge.  Some of those sound worse than others, but ultimately it can be problematic because I use this acquisition to try avoid feeling and dealing with pain.  It is all fascinating.

Somehow knowing that this tendency to be distracted and scattered is part of what makes me me makes it something easier to deal with.  It had been driving me crazy more and more lately, and somehow finding the source of it has given me new energy to try to curb it a little.  I don't want to get rid of it all together, because it's part of who I am, but I do need to put some reins on it in order to live more fully into my calling and family.

So, with that background last night I wrote out a plan for "productivity" that I'm going to try.  I know there are all sorts of systems to read up on or buy into.  They sound great.  But let's be honest, there's no way I'm going to be able to keep my attention on a book telling me how to pay attention.  It's laughable.  So, I'm writing my own and I'm trying it this week.  I have done VERY minimal reading about Pomodoro that I liked, so that certainly has bled into my thoughts and plan somewhat, but otherwise I'm sort of piecing this together on my own.

Here are my "Productivity Principles" I'm trying this week in no particular order:
1.  Only sign into email twice a day (likely 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m.) and answer or compose emails for only an hour each time AT MOST.  This might mean making more phone calls to try to cut down on stupid email time.
2.  9:00-9:30 is for making my daily to-do list and making sure it includes the reminders that are already programmed on my phone.  Part of making the to-do list is prioritizing the order of the events.
3.  Set non-negotiable times for things that need to happen away from the church building (hospital visits, other errands).
4.  Use Pomodoro 25 minute work periods and 5 minutes "rest" periods to work through the list.  This even applies to the 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. email hours.
5.  Facebook and internet use are only OK during the 5 minute rests, except for when it comes to sermon prep days when I hit the preaching blogs and FB groups. This is going to be hard to navigate, but I'll try it out more tomorrow.
6.  This is sort of based on a Pomodoro thing - - When an interruption has to occur, I will need to decide immediately if it's time sensitive enough to deal with on the spot or if it can just be added to the list in an appropriate spot.  If it needs to be dealt with, I've got to not let myself get derailed by it entirely so I can come back to the plan.
7.  I've got to try to keep a clean office.
8.  One thing at a time.  If I think of another thing that also needs to be done, write it down, and prioritize it a the next break.  One thing at a time.

So that's the plan for a little while.  I'm going to try to work it and tweak it and see how it goes.  Some of it seems ridiculously normal for the rest of the world, but for me it's going to be new.

A question I have for which I am seeking input, particularly for minister-types, but maybe there's more overlap with other vocations than I'm imagining - - How do you decide "what's next"?  What helps set your priorities for the day or week?  A couple criteria I'm sort of bouncing around right now that relate to my 7-ness and some growing edges I need to work on:
1.  Is someone else waiting for me to finish my piece so they can do their piece?
2.  What tasks will help me make and nurture personal connections with other people?

Enneagram photo credit: Grace Commons (Wicker Park Grace) via photopin cc

Clocks photo credit: FJTUrban (sommelier d mojitos) via photopin cc

Friday, February 14, 2014

Me? Praying?

Lately, I've been doing something really out of character for me.  I've been praying.  Prayer in any sort of traditional, identifiable mode has never really been the center of my spirituality or faith.  At times I've felt the need to try to identify some of the things I do as prayer, journaling, talking to myself, just watching and paying attention and wondering in order to feel like I was doing faith right.  Maybe those things were prayer for me, maybe they weren't.  I don't know.  My intent has really been to pray through them, to talk and listen to God, if that has anything to do with it.  I just don't consider myself much of a pray-er.

So, what's even more strange strange about this desire lately to mull things over with God, is that it has come at a time when I've been feeling myself grow in some ways very much away from traditional or mainstream Christian thought about things like the nature and person of Jesus (let's just throw a big one out there), God's activity and intervention in daily life, and even prayer.  I'm believing less about the effectiveness of prayer while being drawn more into it, and MY GOD it feels good.

I'm not really satisfied yet with any particular prayer practice.  I haven't been able to fall asleep in the evenings without spending time holding things and people and situations and feelings from my day in the light of God.  I just do this with my thoughts while I curl up on my side and begin to drift off.  I'm way over my 15 year old-me anxiety about falling asleep while praying.  (I used to make myself do an old school kneel beside my bed to try to stay awake in those days, but I finally quit when I woke up one night 3 hours later flopped at the side my bed with really sore knees.)  I'm OK with just holding up those things that need to be held until I am relaxed enough to rest.

On the RevGals Big Event I brought a journal I started (read: used twice) 4 years ago for Praying in Color, along with my box of fancy colored pencils. I am NOT an artist.  I'm not even one of those artists who says she's not an artist who really is.  I really do have no ability to takes ideas in my mind and visual represent them on paper.  I'm OK with that.   I'm not an artist, but I love my fancy colored pencils.  Anyway, I played in that journal one day in a way that was new to me - - not writing down things in my mind and doodling around them as I prayed them, but sort of drawing and praying my way through a Scripture passage, a psalm - answering the questions the text asked explicity, listening for questions I heard it asking that weren't right there.  It was a really cool experience I didn't try to create, but just sort of happened.  I wonder if I can do it again.

I'm not sure where all this goes.  I'm afraid I might end up to forcing it somewhere to try to fit it in some sort of official prayer "box." That would suck because I know it would kill it for me, but I also would love to nurture it and grow it because it has been so good.  I'm afraid if I carve out time, like make appointments for myself, something of the blessing of the spontaneity will be lost and it wiil just die.

 (Oh my GOODNESS, my enneagram 7 is SHOWING!!!)

I guess I'll just have to see.  It's time to go to bed now, so maybe this is something I can pray on.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Signs of healing

Struggling AGAIN with how to deal with Sunday's text choices.  The Narrative Lectionary offers up any possible combination of two stories from John's gospel - the sign that takes places at the healing of the royal official's son (John 4:46-54) and the healing of a man in the Bethesda pool in Jerusalem (John 5:1-18).  I already spent time over at the RevGals sermon discussion incoherently rambling (i.e. whining) about healing stories (which is similar to my rambling/whining about the whole gospel of John).  I'll try not to do that again.

Here's the thing - - Everything that drives me crazy about the over-personalization of every single Bible story comes to light when we come across a healing story.  I don't like it when these stories get read, and we move into a discussion that says if you just ask or pray for it, healing will come, because it doesn't.  Or it doesn't always. So then, in an effort to cover up for this God who didn't come through this time, we offer a perfectly wrapped up, individualized lesson in any number of ways:
1.  Well, we don't mean physical healing or cure EVERY time.
2.  Sometimes just asking is what makes things better.
3.  Asking for healing may have been what you wanted, but God knew better and gave you something you needed.
I don't like that.  It seems disingenuous.  Rope people in with stories about God who heals, Jesus who promises healing, then tell them we didn't really mean it.

I made my earlier rant about healing stories in the Bible, but now that I'm thinking it through, I don't think it's the stories in the Bible that are my problem.  My problem is the way we make 1-to-1 translations of things that are reported in Scripture to things we want to happen in daily life today.  Even we more liberal readers will do this literal application of Scripture thing with the stories about Jesus that we wouldn't do with stories about, say, Noah, or Moses, or Naaman.  We would laugh at the idea that we should build an ark for all the world's animal's if it looked like it's were going to rain.  We would put on a life jacket or better yet get a boat before trying to cross the Red Sea.  We'd think someone was CRAZY if they told us to put our hand in the water seven times and expect healing.  So, why is it that we would never take these pieces literally, but we read a story about Jesus healing and immediately start to figure out how to get physical healing for ourselves and our loved ones.

We do it because we want healing for them.  We do it because we love them.  We do it because we love life and we want to live it to its fullest.

And in all of this I'm not saying that healings with no other explanation than the intervention of God don't happen.  I actually think they do and they can.  I'm also not saying it is wrong to ask for healing.  I do and I encourage others to also.

I guess I'm just saying that every healing story in Scripture doesn't have to be about "how to get healing."*     Especially not in John.  Especially not when the healing is called a sign.

A colleague of mine just posted this in response to some of my thoughts that I'm also spilling over on Facebook:
"...[A] sign serves no purpose if you take it's meaning too literally.  If you refuse to move from a stop sign because it says stop, then you have taken the sign to (sic) literally.  If you expect the curves ahead to look exactly like the sign depicts then you are taking the sign too literally.  If you see Jesus' sign and think it's just about healing you've ignored the true meaning of the sign or taken it too literally."

 In John signs are supposed to point to something.  Signs aren't "the thing;" they point to "the thing."  So if we stop at the healing when we're reading a story that is called a "sign" in John, we're stopping too soon.  "The thing" is not the act of healing; "the thing" is the one doing the healing.  The sign points to the nature and mission of God (h/t David Lose for much of this), so what does this particular healing story tell us about the nature and mission of God?  And then the application, how can we join that nature and mission as followers of Christ?

I think I'm going to use those questions to write my sermon.

photo credit: @Doug88888 via photopin cc

*In fact, I'm not really sure these stories exist at all - the "how to" kind.  I think the witness exists that we can and should pray for healing, and that we may or may not get it the way we hoped.  There isn't really a witness to a sure fire way to get healing every time.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Scandalous Thoughts

The title caught your attention, didn't it?  It would have caught mine.  Let's not kid ourselves.  We LOVE a scandal.

I was watching the Kardashians last night (judge me, I don't care), and it was interesting to watch the inside version of the Kris/Bruce Jenner split. In the tabloids it was all crazy. Step siblings slamming step siblings, etc etc. Behind the scenes (giving them the benefit of the doubt in terms of reality TV), all sides of the family were sitting at one table trying to figure out how to navigate the waters so that the youngest sisters didn't get hurt by it all. We, the entertainment-consuming public, much prefer a dramatic scandal over real-life families working through their stuff as best they can. (Don't worry. My glasses aren't too rose-colored.)

Over at the Working Preacher Narrative Lectionary commentary for this week David Lose lifted up the idea that maybe we preachers have been over-scandalizing the story of Jesus and the woman at the well (John 4:1-42) for a long time. It's a good read, and you should check it out. What if it really isn't that big of a scandal?  What if she isn't a prostitute?  What if she isn't "living in sin"? What if all of the other women in town really don't care if they're with her at the well and really don't look down their noses at her?  What if there are perfectly good, non-scandalous reasons for all these things we have turned into a soap opera so that there's this great story of Jesus rescuing this dark woman from her shady past?  Because if that's all the story is, than for many of us in middle of the road America it's a pretty distant story.  It doesn't really speak to us, as we perceive ourselves, not all that sinful, fairly righteous (not saying it's true, just saying we think of ourselves this way).  It's a good story about how Jesus fixes the really bad people, but we are not the really bad people.

But what if this story isn't about the scandal of a cast-aside prostitute, and instead is about someone having a personal encounter with Jesus?  For many in our culture that would actually be scandal enough.  She doesn't just sit there politely and smile and nod.  She stops what she's doing that productive. SCANDAL!  She listens AND talks back. SCANDAL! She challenges Jesus and questions what he says.  SCANDAL! She engages him, explores what he says, and ultimately decided to believe him and tell others about him.  HUGE SCANDAL!

From several different angles, these days what she does is ultimately scandalous even for many in our culture.  The right-wing conservative Christian part of our society might be scandalized by questioning Jesus, challenging him in general, but add in her gender and there's another whole layer to it all.  Questioning God?  Thinking about things deeper than they appear on the surface?  Challenging the divine.  That's scandal.  On the other side of the spectrum, totally secular, ultra-liberal audience might find scandal in the faith she eventually professes - - faith that changes her life.  Who would believe and trust and follow anything other than herself? I love the way John lifts up, encourages and blesses even, a faith that explores and grows, a faith that isn't blind, but sees in the sense of seeking and searching until God is revealed.  It's a blessed scandal.

photo credit: NapInterrupted via photopin cc

Saturday, December 21, 2013

In the beginning

I've got a start on my sermon for tomorrow.
John 1:1-18

               Three years of seminary for me started one hot Tuesday in Decatur, Georgia, July 6, 1999.  Sixty-two of us piled into the only classroom being used that month on the campus of Columbia Theological Seminary with our blue Nestle-Aland Greek New Testaments in one hand and in our other, the hardcover, black J. Gresham Machen,  publication date, 1963, although it really hadn’t changed much at all since it was first published in 1923.  Why should it?  Ancient Greek hadn’t changed any in that amount of time.
               Greek School met five days a week for about six hours a day, and that was our first taste of seminary.  It was the introduction, the prologue so to speak.  For the first four and a half days, we memorized the alphabet of squiggly letters, from alpha to omega, the beginning to the end.  We practiced making the sounds, some familiar, some foreign.  We spent a whole day and half just on the accent system of Greek before we moved on to conjugate a few verbs and decline a few nouns. 
It was exciting to be in the classroom learning the original language of the New Testament, to begin this new step in life, following through on a calling from God, but at the same time… Well… It was also sort of anticlimactic.  “I see, you see, he sees, we see, you (pl.) see, they see”  “I know, you know, he knows, we know, you (pl.) know, they know”  It wasn’t exactly hearing the New Testament like the first Christians did.  In fact, we weren’t hearing the New Testament at all.
Until Friday afternoon.  Prof. Wayne Merritt, a white-haired, leather-skinned, salty older man, had been teaching Greek to new seminarians for decades, but we were one of his last summer classes.  It was clear throughout the eight weeks that he would much rather be out on a boat with a cold beer in the hot summer sun than in the second floor classroom of Campbell Hall with a new batch of pre-ministers.  When we came back from lunch we found Greek scrawled across the blackboard, but this time it wasn’t just six forms of the verb “to loose”; it looked like a real sentence.  The eager among started pestering Prof. Merritt, “What is it?  Where is it from?” we all asked.  “You tell me,” Prof. Merritt answered.

We wanted to turn in our Greek New Testaments to find these mysterious words and use our memories or our English translations to figure out what he said, but all we were allowed to use was our lexicon.  “En Arche” – in the beginning, “ho logos” the Word.  In the beginning was the Word.  We were doing it. “Kai ho logos” and the Word. “pros ton Theon” with God.  And the Word was with God.  We could finish the sentence from memory at that point, but figuring out the Greek, what form the words were in, why they were translated the way they were, what they meant because of their tense, became much more important to us than it ever had before.  In the beginning was the Word, and how the Word, the logos is read, what the logos says, reveals more than a memory, or written or typed words on a page ever can.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

These eighteen verses of the gospel of John are called the prologue, but I’ve been thinking of them more as a prequel.