Archives for January 2002

Bible Study, 4 Epiphany (B) – January 29, 2012

Discussion Leader: Jill Stellman, Nashotah House Theological Seminary

Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Deuteronomy 18:15-20 ; Psalm 111 ; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 ; Mark 1:21-28
(Click on the link to jump down the page to each reading.)

Welcome to this week’s online Bible study. Please join in the conversation. If you find you don’t have time to go over all the readings, please simply consider the following verses from this week’s scripture:

“Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions and crying with a loud voice, came out of him” (Mark 1:23-26).

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Deuteronomy 18:15-20 (New Revised Standard Version)

15 The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet.
16 This is what you requested of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said: ‘If I hear the voice of the Lord my God any more, or ever again see this great fire, I will die.’
17 Then the Lord replied to me: ‘They are right in what they have said.
18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command.
19 Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable.
20 But any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak—that prophet shall die.’

Comments from this week’s seminarian, Jill Stellman:

This passage refers back to a previous passage, Deuteronomy 5:22-27, where Moses reminds the people of Israel that when they were given the Ten Commandments, they did not think they could handle listening to God directly, and so they asked Moses to be an intermediary and tell them what God says to them. In this passage, God promises to send the people of Israel a prophet who will continue to function in this way, giving them God’s message. Having a prophet appointed by God is another way that the Israelites are set apart from the nations that surround them. The verse just before this passage says that the people of Israel are not to “give heed to soothsayers and diviners,” as other nations do. Instead, God will raise up a prophet like Moses that will have God’s message, so soothsayers and diviners are unnecessary for them.

In what ways does being a part of God’s people now, i.e. being Christian, set us apart from the world around us?

How do you listen to God?

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Psalm 111 (Book of Common Prayer, p. 754)

1 Hallelujah!
I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart,
in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.

2 Great are the deeds of the LORD!
they are studied by all who delight in them.

3 His work is full of majesty and splendor,
and his righteousness endures for ever.

4 He makes his marvelous works to be remembered;
the LORD is gracious and full of compassion.

5 He gives food to those who fear him;
he is ever mindful of his covenant.

6 He has shown his people the power of his works
in giving them the lands of the nations.

7 The works of his hands are faithfulness and justice;
all his commandments are sure.

8 They stand fast for ever and ever,
because they are done in truth and equity.

9 He sent redemption to his people;
he commanded his covenant for ever;
holy and awesome is his Name.

10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;
those who act accordingly have a good understanding;
his praise endures for ever.

Comments from this week’s seminarian, Jill Stellman:

This psalm is a song of praise, beginning with a call to praise for the entire congregation. The psalm then gives many reasons for praising the Lord. It speaks of the greatness of God’s works, and generally alternates between speaking of God’s might and/or majesty in those works and God’s mercy toward God’s people. There is a kind of frame regarding knowledge – verse 2 says that God’s deeds “are studied by all who delight in them,” and verse 10 provides the familiar saying, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” The psalmist tells us that studying God’s works leads to praising God. We can see God’s majesty, power, righteousness, and compassion in the things that God has made, and this leads us to praise God with all our might.

What parts of God’s creation cause you to praise him spontaneously?

How does creation show that God is gracious and full of compassion?

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1 Corinthians 8:1-13 (New Revised Standard Version)

1 Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that ‘all of us possess knowledge.’ Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.
2 Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge;
3 but anyone who loves God is known by him.

4 Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that ‘no idol in the world really exists’, and that ‘there is no God but one.’
5 Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords—
6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

7 It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.
8 ‘Food will not bring us close to God.’ We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.
9 But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling-block to the weak.
10 For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols?
11 So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed.
12 But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.
13 Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.

Comments from this week’s seminarian, Jill Stellman:

It might seem that this passage has nothing to do with contemporary society. After all, no one sacrifices animals in temples set up to Roman gods anymore. Paul is making a more general point here, though. He is telling the Corinthians that their behavior is causing some who are weaker in faith to return to belief in idols. In an echo of the reading from Deuteronomy, Paul is telling the Corinthians that in order to set a good example and prevent their “weaker” brothers and sisters in Christ from returning to old beliefs, they need to be set apart from the society of their day by refraining from participating in some beloved social activities. Refraining from these activities may cost them friends and possibly important social connections, but Paul tells them that he is willing to give up all of this for the sake of saving the weak in faith, and that the Corinthians should be, too. In the same way, there are activities in our society that we might participate in that may cause those with a weaker faith to lose their faith, and we need to be sensitive to this.

What kinds of current social activities might cause other Christians to lose their faith, or to misunderstand the meaning of true faith in Christ?

Are we willing to give up some of our comfort and/or activities we enjoy for the sake of others?

How would you respond to the statement, “For some people, your life is the only gospel they will ever read”?

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Mark 1:21-28 (New Revised Standard Version)

21 They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught.
22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.
23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit,
24 and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’
25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’
26 And the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’
28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

Comments from this week’s seminarian, Jill Stellman:

In Mark’s gospel, Jesus seems to not want others to know that he is God’s Son. People seem to understand that he is special from the very beginning, though, and that shows in this reading, the first activity in Jesus’ ministry after he calls his disciples. The passage begins with the amazement of the people not because of a miracle that he has worked, but because of his teaching. They can see that when Jesus teaches, he does so in a confident, authoritative manner without the equivocation that the scribes may have had. Jesus then proceeds to provide a concrete example of his authority by casting out a demon, who knows exactly who Jesus is and says so. Jesus hushes the demon (a reminder of Psalm 107:42b: “all wickedness will shut its mouth”) and casts it out. The crowd is even more amazed at this demonstration of his power, even over unclean spirits, and though Jesus may not want anyone to know that he is “the Holy One of God,” people begin to spread the word about him.

How does Jesus’ teaching amaze you?

Where and/or how do you see Jesus’ power demonstrated today?

Bible Study, 3 Epiphany (B)

January 22, 2012

Jessica Abell, Church Divinity School of the Pacific

“As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake – for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” (Mark 1:16-17)

Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 62: 6-14; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20 

Jonah 3:1-5, 10 

Jonah did his best to run from God’s command to proclaim repentance to the people of Nineveh. And we know that Jonah did not take the redemptive outcome well, actually. He goes off to sulk when Nineveh is spared. The portion left out of the lectionary this week, Jonah 3:6-9, is a decree of lament and penitence by the King. The King hears the protests of his people and calls all his subjects into a mighty fast. Even livestock were included. Regardless, Nineveh, in what is modern-day Iraq, was redeemed and spared. Transformation and repentance happened.

Now, extreme fast may be a bit much for everyone, but the core of this idea echoes throughout our readings this week. Abstain. Live simply. Turn your lives around. Live differently throughout the city.

How is your life now like a life lived in Nineveh? Describe your residential and work neighborhoods and communities, if you have any of these in urban areas. What community issues are unresolved? Are there empty lots, foreclosed homes, and unfinished developments? Urban life needs an active community life in order to be healthy and secure. How is yours?

If you live in a suburban, ex-urban, or rural area, how do you view “the city”? Have you ever been a resident of an urban area?

We do not know anything about the collective sins of Nineveh, but we do know that God was greatly displeased and sent his prophet Jonah. Does the city or our community life have prophets calling us to repentance? Who are the voices advocating for change?

Psalm 62:6-14

This psalm seems crafted for a meditative practice, and is poignant when chanted. The idea of God as our rock and refuge is a theme in many psalms. But there is another important idea in this psalm: let go of the scales, of the competition among God’s peoples. Do not seek wealth.

Try to listen to this psalm several times this week. You could chant it yourself or in a group, or you could use pre-recorded mp3 versions on your computer or mp3 player. If this Bible study happens once weekly, then pray the psalm together more than once, at least.

Simply say or listen to Psalm 62 more than once. You may note how you respond, although that is not necessary. It is enough to rest in these words of safety and comfort. The message of divesting from worldly matters is clear; turn toward God and toward support, refuge, and hope.

Here are some online resources:
http://www.audiotreasure.com/mp3/Psalms/Psalms.htm
http://www.wordproject.org/audio/en/psalms_audiolist.htm

Of course, if you have someone in your life who enjoys reading aloud with you, that seems ideal! Perhaps you could record your own version of today’s psalm as well.

1 Corinthians 7:29-31 

“For the present form of this world is passing away” (verse 31).

When I engage an epistle in depth, I like to examine Eugene Peterson’s “The Message” (NavPress, 2005). I can usually find something practical between my basic grasp of New Testament koine Greek and the idiomatic scriptural interpretation of this Bible. This helps me in applying the passage to my own Christian communities, if appropriate. We have a different eschatology, that is, a sense of the end times and the fulfillment of Creation, than did Paul. Paul fully expected the second coming of Christ to occur, literally, at any moment. But that this did not happen as expected does not negate the message: Live simply and do not weigh yourselves down the things of the world. This world does not hold ultimate truth, but rather will pass away. Here is the passage as found in “The Message”:

“I do want to point out, friends, that time is of the essence. There is no time to waste, so don’t complicate your lives unnecessarily. Keep it simple – in marriage, grief, joy, whatever. Even in ordinary things – your daily routines of shopping, and so on. Deal as sparingly as possible with the things the world thrusts on you. This world as you see it is on its way out” (1 Corinthians 7:29-31,“The Message”).

Paul’s letters to the church in Corinth address particular issues of that community and attempt to answer specific questions asked of him. A primary theme of this letter is how the new life in Christ changes the priorities of the new Christians. What are the things of this world that distract us?

How would your life change in relation to success and wealth if you had one week to live? What would you do or not do?

Mark 1:14-20 

One theme stands out in this week’s readings: call and response. We hear of the surprising redemption of an entire people, an awakening to the transience of this world and the gathering of the first disciples of Jesus in these passages. This week, read and inwardly digest, discuss and contemplate these lectionary readings in your life. Is God calling you to engage? To be a part of what the Very Rev. Joy Rogers, dean of St James’ Cathedral, Chicago, calls “the divine hide and seek,” the sacred game of seeking God and being sought by God?

Rejoice, for Nineveh is spared, the old world passes away, and God calls us each to act, if we will but follow Him. How will we dance with the universe this week? How will we bear the light and the gifts of Epiphany in the world? How will we respond when we hear God’s call to turn towards God? Rejoice!

I am finishing up my time in seminary right now. I have just completed the General Ordination Exams, and I am engaging in a national job search. Of course, I feel as if I have dropped everything to follow Jesus on this path, but it is not really true. Not like these disciples did. Did I just walk away from job and family when called?  No! I planned and packed and said tearful good-byes to my communities after I had carefully vetted seminaries, and after having been vetted myself by my diocese and bishop. I brought my family across the country, and I have that support with me on this path. And so when I consider the trust and risk involved with the responses of Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John, I am humbled and inspired.

Jesus was preaching a message of change and transformation, and a pending time of fulfillment. When have you felt that the “time was ripe” for change in your life?

God calls us in the midst of our lives, using the tools of our everyday situations. How can the work you are doing be framed as ministry?

Bible Study, 2 Epiphany (B) – January 15, 2012

Discussion Leader: Bryan Pearson, Episcopal Divinity School

Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
1 Samuel 3:1-10(11-20); Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1:43-51
(Click on the link to jump down the page to each reading.)

Welcome to this week’s online Bible study. Please join in the conversation. If you find you don’t have time to go over all the readings, please simply consider the following verse from this week’s scripture:

“And Jesus said to Nathanael, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man’” (John 1:51).

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1 Samuel 3:1-10(11-20) (New Revised Standard Version)

1 Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.

2 At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room;
3 the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was.
4 Then the Lord called, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ and he said, ‘Here I am!’
5 and ran to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call; lie down again.’ So he went and lay down.
6 The Lord called again, ‘Samuel!’ Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call, my son; lie down again.’
7 Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.
8 The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy.
9 Therefore Eli said to Samuel, ‘Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” ’ So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

10 Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ And Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.’
11 Then the Lord said to Samuel, ‘See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle.
12 On that day I will fulfil against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end.
13 For I have told him that I am about to punish his house for ever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them.
14 Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering for ever.’

15 Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli.
16 But Eli called Samuel and said, ‘Samuel, my son.’ He said, ‘Here I am.’
17 Eli said, ‘What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.’
18 So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, ‘It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.’

19 As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground.
20 And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.

Comments from this week’s seminarian, Bryan Pearson:

As we enter a new year, change is happening. Change always precipitates or occurs concurrently with a transition in our lives. The reading from 1 Samuel is all about transitions. This story of Samuel and Eli was probably collected, edited, and placed into the book we call 1 Samuel during the time of King Josiah. King Josiah’s reign was a huge period of reform and transition for the southern kingdom of Judah. King Josiah must have felt that this story revealed something important about transitions.

In the reading itself, we witness the change of leadership from Eli to Samuel. Eli’s sight is growing dim and Samuel’s time has come. Through a theophany, Samuel has a vision and hears the word of the Lord. What he hears is not pleasant, for it is a pronouncement of judgment upon his mentor Eli. Eli accepts this transition, and Samuel becomes the prophet.

What are the transitions that have occurred in your life over the past year? How have they been good and how have they been difficult? In these transitions, where do you see the presence of God? Is there part of your life that is like Eli, and God is moving you out of that part? What are the parts of your life that are like Samuel, new parts of your life where God is present?

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Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17   (Book of Common Prayer, p. 794)

1 LORD, you have searched me out and known me;
you know my sitting down and my rising up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.

2 You trace my journeys and my resting-places
and are acquainted with all my ways.

3 Indeed, there is not a word on my lips,
but you, O LORD, know it altogether.

4 You press upon me behind and before
and lay your hand upon me.

5 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain to it.

12 For you yourself created my inmost parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

13 I will thank you because I am marvelously made;
your works are wonderful, and I know it well.

14 My body was not hidden from you,
while I was being made in secret
and woven in the depths of the earth.

15 Your eyes beheld my limbs, yet unfinished in the womb;
all of them were written in your book;
they were fashioned day by day,
when as yet there was none of them.

16 How deep I find your thoughts, O God!
how great is the sum of them!

17 If I were to count them, they would be more in number than the sand;
to count them all, my life span would need to be like yours.

Comments from this week’s seminarian, Bryan Pearson:

It is speculated that this psalm was composed during the post-exilic period. The post-exilic period was a time when the Judeans were able to return to their homeland after years of being in exile. This psalm captures the emotions of their return and their faith that nothing can separate them from God.

Have you ever had an experience were you felt cut off, separated from God? How did you feel after that experience? What has that experience taught you about God and yourself?

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1 Corinthians 6:12-20 (New Revised Standard Version)

12 ‘All things are lawful for me’, but not all things are beneficial. ‘All things are lawful for me’, but I will not be dominated by anything.
13 ‘Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food’, and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.
14 And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power.
15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!
16 Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, ‘The two shall be one flesh.’
17 But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.
18 Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself.
19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own?
20 For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.

Comments from this week’s seminarian, Bryan Pearson:

Paul letter to the Corinthians is a rhetorical argument formed to help the Corinthians understand their relationships (personal and communal) with God. The Corinthians currently had two major misconceptions about their relationships with God.

The first misconception is that if one loves God, then one is incapable of sin because a person who loves God would not choose to do anything contrary to the love of God. Therefore, “all things are lawful for me” and “all sin is outside of the body.” The second misconception is that one’s sin only affects the individual and not the community. This is the idea of “sins against the body itself.”

Paul unravels both of these misconceptions and reminds the Corinthians that we are in a relationship with God and each other. Everything that we do affects God because God dwells within us. Everything we do also affects the other members of the body of Christ. This means our utmost duty is to glorify God, who loves us through the sending of his son Jesus.

The deep theology Paul is unpacking is captured beautifully in our Confession of Sin that we pray weekly at the Holy Eucharist. Read that confession (Book of Common Prayer, p. 360) and reflect upon the following questions. What does it mean to love God with our whole hearts? How do my actions affect God? How do my actions affect others? What does it mean that God dwells inside of me? How can I glorify God?

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John 1:43-51 (New Revised Standard Version)

43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’
44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.
45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’
46 Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’
47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’
48 Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you come to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’
49 Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’
50 Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’
51 And he said to him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’

Comments from this week’s seminarian, Bryan Pearson:

The gospel of John was written to a community that was struggling. They had been cast out of their synagogues and labeled heretics for their beliefs. One can imagine that this raised a lot of skepticism and doubt within each person and the community.

The gospel passage, I believe, is written specifically to comfort the Johannine community. It was not intended to remove all their skepticism and doubt, or condemn them for it. No, the story of Nathanael and Jesus’ closing line in verse 51 promised the community that Jesus is the incarnate Son of God. Jesus has and will continue to be revealed to you as you struggle and wrestle with the things happening to you because you are a disciple of Jesus.

Where in your life is God asking you to “come and see”? What would be the cost to you if you heeded God’s call? How would that affect you, your friend, your family, and your community? How can you value your skepticism and doubts, but remain open to God?

Bible Study: 1 Epiphany (B)

January 8, 2012

J. Gregory Morgan, General Theological Seminary

“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased’” (Mark 1:9-11).

Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Genesis 1:1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11 

Genesis 1:1-5

We now believe that this passage was committed to written form around the time of the Babylonian Captivity (6th century BC) when Israel had been defeated, the temple had been destroyed, and many of her people had been sent into exile. One of the great challenges facing the Hebrew people would have involved their doubts – under these very difficult circumstances – about the power of the Hebrew God, Yahweh. In addition, they would have encountered the competing gods or idols of the people who held them captive while in exile. Seen in this light, what function might this particular passage have played in restoring or sustaining their ancient faith?

Since this passage is combined for lectionary purposes in the Epiphany season with the verses in the Gospel of Mark about the baptism of Jesus, what theological connection do you think can be made between the two?

What does the passage tell us about what preceded creation? Was there a time before there was created space? What was non-existence like? Does the passage imply that God was in control even at that point (prior to creation itself)?

What does the image of the “spirit” (in Hebrew, ruach or “wind” / “air” / “breath”) of God hovering over the face of the waters tell us about the Creator and Creation?

What is the role of light in this passage? Does light continue to have a special place in later scripture? How?

How does God use naming as part of the creative process? How might this be important?

Is there order implied in the way the passage is laid out? Is there a pattern? What would these elements tell us?

Does this account suggest that there was a struggle involved or that the creative process took place peacefully and without great effort on God’s part? In either case, what does this tell us?

Why does the passage indicate that God viewed creation as good? Why would this be important in the development of Judeo-Christian theology?

Psalm 29 

Many experts believe that this psalm may originally have been based on a Canaanite song to the god Baal, the storm god who brings thunderstorms, which make the ground fertile. How does the psalmist use this original theme for a new purpose here? How does Yahweh compare with Baal?

Alternatively, the psalm may have been composed as a reflection on the power of nature as seen in a thunderstorm and then applied to worship as a way of celebrating Yahweh’s power and might. Is (are) either (or both) of these theories helpful in understanding the psalm on a level beyond the literal?

Again, what connection – if any – do you see among the appointed lessons in Genesis, Mark (see above question) and Psalms for this Sunday?

Which words are repeated with the greatest frequency in this psalm? What does this tell us?

God is being described here in beautiful language, but what are we (listeners/hearers/readers) being asked to do in response?

Are there fertility images here that would cause scholars to propose the above theories on the origin of this psalm?

Why does the psalm appear to place so much emphasis on the power and strength of Yahweh? Is it conceivable that Yahweh was being challenged in some way so that a response might have involved a defense of the Hebrew God? Explain.

Acts 19:1-7 

It is clear that this passage was included because it references baptism on the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord. In a sense, it gives us a fuller understanding of the sacrament than what we might get from the gospel accounts alone. Theologically, we move from a baptism of repentance (John’s version) to a baptism in which the Holy Spirit is conferred on the believer or follower of Jesus. Here, re-baptism is invoked as a way of demonstrating the difference between the two views.

In this passage, those who were re-baptized spoke in tongues. However, this need not imply that all baptized Christians must have the gift of tongues or prophecy. In other passages in the New Testament we are reminded that there are many kinds of gifts and that when we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit in baptism that spirit can be manifested in a variety of ways. Do specific passages come to mind?

Finally, it is interesting that this passage seems to suggest the need for preparation in advance of baptism. This can help us understand the early church’s later emphasis on catechetical programs to instruct those preparing for the rite.

Mark 1:4-11

The first Sunday after Epiphany is the season when the church recalls the “manifestation” (from the Greek epiphaneia) of Jesus to the world.

We are not told why Jesus is baptized by John, but we do learn that the followers of the Baptizer came to him “confessing their sins;” his is a baptism of repentance for forgiveness. John says that he baptizes with water, while the one to follow will baptize with the Holy Spirit.

It is interesting, however, that only Jesus seems to be aware of the dove descending upon him at the moment he comes up out of the water, and only he seems to hear God say, “You are my Son; with you I am well pleased” – in contrast with the way this scene is depicted in the other Gospel accounts.

On your own, you may wish to research the larger question: why the secrecy in this Gospel?

Why do you think Mark begins his Gospel account with a message from God acknowledging his Son at his baptism while the only person to do so at the scene of the crucifixion (the end) is the Roman centurion – not only a Gentile, but an executioner representing the occupying power in Palestine?

Compare this passage with several in the Old Testament which seem to have served as inspiration for Mark’s account: Psalm 2: 7; II Samuel 7: 12-14; Isaiah 11: 2; and from today’s other lesson, Genesis 1: 1-5. How do these passages relate to Mark’s account?

Does the water of baptism recall the role of water at other points in the story of Israel in the Old Testament? Explain.

Does baptism relate symbolically to the later story of Jesus’ crucifixion and Resurrection?

Bible Study for Holy Name of Jesus (B) – January 1, 2012

Discussion Leader: Jeremy Bergstrom, Nashotah House Theological Seminary

Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 8; Galatians 4:4-7 or Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 2:15-21
(Click on the link to jump down the page to each reading.)

Welcome to this week’s online Bible study. Please join in the conversation. If you find you don’t have time to go over all the readings, please simply consider the following verse from this week’s scripture:

“After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb” (Luke 2:21).

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Numbers 6:22-27  (New Revised Standard Version)

22 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying:
23 Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them,
24 The Lord bless you and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

27 So they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.

This week’s seminarian, Jeremy Bergstrom, said:

This famous blessing seems to stand alone in its context, coming right after a long set of instructions (on the consecration of Nazirites) and immediately before the narrative on the completion and consecration of the tabernacle. Sandwiched between these consecrations we have the priestly blessing of all Israel, petitioning God to turn his face to his people. The result of God’s ‘conversion’ to his people is nothing less than the application of his own name to the nation. It is this identification of Israel with himself which is the source of their preservation and peace.

What does this blessing reveal to us about the intentions of God for his people?

Why is identification with God a source of preservation and peace?

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Psalm 8 (Book of Common Prayer, p. 592)

1 O LORD our Governor,
how exalted is your Name in all the world!

2 Out of the mouths of infants and children
your majesty is praised above the heavens.

3 You have set up a stronghold against your adversaries,
to quell the enemy and the avenger.

4 When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars you have set in their courses,

5 What is man that you should be mindful of him?
the son of man that you should seek him out?

6 You have made him but little lower than the angels;
you adorn him with glory and honor;

7 You give him mastery over the works of your hands;
you put all things under his feet:

8 All sheep and oxen,
even the wild beasts of the field,

9 The birds of the air, the fish of the sea,
and whatsoever walks in the paths of the sea.

10 O LORD our Governor,
how exalted is your Name in all the world!

 

This week’s seminarian, Jeremy Bergstrom, said:

In the light of the glorious wonder of the reconciliation of God and humanity in Christ, we can marvel along with the psalmist that the Eternal One would have such benevolence and care for finite creatures like ourselves, that he would name us and claim us as his own.

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Galatians 4:4-7  (New Revised Standard Version)

4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,
5 in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.
6 And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’
7 So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

This week’s seminarian, Jeremy Bergstrom, said:

Commentators often suggest that the timing of Christ’s birth of Mary—in the ‘fullness of time’—ought to be read in the historical sense, referring to the remarkable benefits brought to Palestinian society, and indeed to the whole Western World, by Roman administration and the proliferation of the common languages of Greek and Latin. As important as these geopolitical developments were, we would do well to seek for a deeper meaning to what is meant by the ‘fullness of time’ by reflecting on the eternal purposes of God in his Word, the lamb which was “destined before the foundation of the world but was made manifest at the end of times for your sake” (1 Peter 1.20).

In this reading we see the same principles of God claiming a people as his own that we saw in the first reading, expressed here as adoption. Notice the personal intimacy of Paul’s proclamation of our being given the name of God first as a community and also as individuals, being made by adoption through Christ what Christ himself is by nature: a child of God. The phrase ‘fullness of time’ here, along with the testimony of the Old Testament, suggests this adoption, our becoming children of God, is the eternal creative purpose of the Almighty.

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Philippians 2:5-11  (New Revised Standard Version)

5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

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Luke 2:15-21  (New Revised Standard Version)

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’
16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.
17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child;
18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.
19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.
20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
21 After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

This week’s seminarian, Jeremy Bergstrom, said:

It was, of course, at circumcision on the eight day (a number of no little symbolic meaning) that Jewish boys were (and still are) named, just as in the church Christians have traditionally named their children at Baptism.

Here we see that our eternally intended adoption is effected in the mystery of the incarnation, in the wonderful paradox that the eternal One who gives names has instructed that he himself be given a name in return. And wonder of wonders, through that name he has graciously taken on our salvation as his very identity, for Jesus (Yeshua/Joshua) literally means “salvation,” “for he will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1.21).

How fruitful has this Christmas season been for your reflection on the mystery of God in Christ? Has faith in your adoption and his providential care for you been a source of joy and peace, or has it seemed less-than real or relevant?

How has the gift of adoption transformed your life? How have you seen it change the lives of others?

 

Meet Jeremy Bergstrom, seminarian for the week of December 25, 2011 – January 1, 2012.

Jeremy Bergstrom is currently in the one-year Anglican Studies Certificate program at Nashotah House seminary in Nashotah, Wisconsin, and an aspirant in the Diocese of Northern Indiana. He is also nearly finished with his Ph.D. in Historical Theology at the University of Durham in Durham, England, where he is writing on St Augustine of Hippo. Having just returned to the U.S. after three years in England, he and his wife live in Wisconsin with their two young sons. In his spare time, Jeremy enjoys building train tracks and wrestling on the floor with his boys, or shopping with his wife.