Archives for May 2002

Bible Study: Pentecost (B) – May 27, 2012

Discussion Leader: Diana Wilcox, Drew Theological School

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” (John 16:13).

Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Acts 2:1-21 or Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 104: 25-35,37; Romans 8:22-27 or Acts 2:1-21; John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

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Acts 2:1-21

This is a familiar story of the gift of the Holy Spirit given to the followers of Jesus, and ends just after these verses with the mass baptism of thousands into the Body of Christ. Notice that this gift of the Holy Spirit wasn’t meant solely for the disciples, but resulted in their ability to proclaim the good news to everyone. It was a gift that was given to individuals, for the benefit of a community, with the intention that it enable the spread of the gospel to all. So often today we hear people say that they are “spiritual but not religious,” engaging in individual faith practices. They are seeking a fuller relationship with God outside of the church. Perhaps it is because the church is often seen as something one does, rather than something one is. Church is not the destination. Church is where we are given strength for the journey, renewed with the body and blood of Christ to do the work we are called to do in our baptism. It isn’t something we do on our own, but as part of the Body of Christ, gathered to do his work in the world. It is a communal thing. We need one another, as each of us together make up the whole.

How do you see yourself as a part of the living Body of Christ in the world?

Do you feel renewed and refreshed to live into your baptismal covenant – to seek Christ in all persons, proclaim the good news, and serve all people – when you come gather as a community on Sundays? If not, how can you help to be a part of the renewal of your own faith community?

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Psalm 104: 25-35,37

The beauty of this psalm lies in the humility it should give to all humanity. Here the psalmist is exhorting the faithfulness of all of God’s creative work – “the great wide sea”, “the creatures both small and great.” All of them look to God. It ends with the psalmist doing likewise – praising God with their entire being.  This is a reminder that the entire world, not just humanity, is a loved and precious part of God’s creation. God called it all “good,” not just the creation of humankind. Unlike the animals of the land and sea, we do not always look to God, often turning away. We begin to think that we control our lives, the lives of others, and all of creation. We have long looked at the earth and its inhabitants as something we own, something we can control, and worse, something we can destroy. We think we are God. On Pentecost, we are reminded that all of it is an ongoing work of creation, not ours to control, but ours to care for as God cares for it and us.

How can we define and change our relationship with creation?

What lessons can we learn from thinking of the land, sea, air, plants and animals of all kinds as loved by God?

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Romans 8:22-27

St. Paul is reminding his readers in this epistle that God’s transformation of this world did not end with Jesus’ death on the cross, but is only just beginning. What is striking here is that he is making it clear that this transformation is not just about humanity, but all of God’s earth and its inhabitants. Like a parent waiting for the baby yet to be born, we are awaiting with hope something not yet seen, but no less real. The work of God in us and the world has begun through the grace of God’s incarnation in Jesus, and the workings of the Holy Spirit in the world. Our transformation is not yet complete, and like those who await a new birth, we are anxious for it to be completed. This is a desire that is based in our hope. Just as one does not anticipate a birth if there is no pregnancy, we are first filled with the knowledge of God’s working in the world when we are brought into the Body of Christ in baptism. We hope, because we know that God’s grace is at work in the world, as we have experienced it in Christ. Paul tells us that, because those who await something not yet seen can sometimes lose heart, we are supported in our faith by the Holy Spirit, as we learn how to be the church.

What does Paul’s vision of the fullness of transformation for all of creation mean to us as Christian’s living on a human damaged earth? Is the earth, and all the creatures on it, included in the salvation of Christ?

On this birthday of the church, what gifts can you recognize you were given by God; and, what are you and your community of faith doing with these gifts to be the “Church Alive” in the world?

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John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15 

This passage from the fourth gospel is part of what are called the “farewell discourses” of Jesus to his followers. Jesus knows that his arrest and death are close at hand, and is preparing his disciples for the time when he would not be physically among them. The Johannine Community that wrote this gospel is expressing their understanding that our relationship with the incarnate Word has no limits. Jesus is not physically present, but those who follow him are not abandoned. At Pentecost we celebrate the renewal and transformation of the church and all of God’s creation, because Jesus not only was, but is, and is to come. And we, as the Body of Christ in the world today, are by God’s grace part of that renewal. Jesus is present with us whenever we gather together in his name. As the disciples learned in the story from Acts, the Holy Spirit is with us, but not for us alone. We are reminded at Pentecost of the charge of the church to be that renewing and transforming agent in the world, knowing that we are guided by the Holy Spirit to do the work of Christ.

Can you think of a moment in your life when you were guided by the presence of the Holy Spirit? How did that feel, and where did it lead you?

On New Year’s Day and our birthday we often make resolutions to transform our lives. On Pentecost, the birthday of the church, what resolutions will you make to help the church be the agent of transformation in the world?

Bible Study 7 Easter (B) – May 20, 2012

Discussion Leader: Sarah Ginolfi, Berkeley Divinity School at Yale

“I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one” (John 17:15).

Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Acts 1:15-17, 21-26; Psalm 1; 1 John 5:9-13; John 17:6-19

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Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

Who or what is “missing” from your community?

Jesus leaves the apostles with an extensive charge: to be his witnesses “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

Similar to what we see in the Acts of the Apostles, today’s church also needs a body of leaders who can carry out uncertain, unpredictable responsibilities. Sometimes, the church needs leaders like Peter who initiate conversation; other times the church needs leaders like Matthias who accept duties revealed by God through community. Every time, however, the church needs leaders who can unite through prayer upon realizing that someone or something is missing.

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Psalm 1

Where has God “planted” you?

What keeps you “rooted”?

In this wisdom psalm, we learn that the righteous are like trees, a simile that—even in contemporary culture—symbolizes strength, resilience, and productivity. Illustrations of “the tree of life” generally depict this life-giving force in nature as having roots that are exposed and visible to the eye. In reality, however, a tree with exposed roots could not survive for long.

Like real trees, we too have roots: in our family, in our tradition, and in the various places we have lived. Also like real trees, these roots are buried deep beneath layers and layers of earthly “dirt.” Thus, we must first sift through layers and layers of dirt if we want to understand our rooted beginnings better. For some, this process is painful and humiliating. During certain seasons of our life, the ground is muddy and the process of making our way through it leaves us messy full of goop. In other seasons, the ground is rock hard and the task of working our way through this life dirt seems impossible. In yet other seasons, however, the ground is perfect for digging. These seasons provide the right conditions for us to rediscover our hidden roots.

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1 John 5:9-13

 

Where is your personal testimony most welcome? Most Unwelcome?

How do you partner with God’s mission in the world?

Sharing one’s personal testimony can be challenging. The specifics seem clear enough, right? According to First John, the testimony is this: “God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” However, what if those listening do not want to hear what we have to say? What if these people tell us that we are wrong?

First John delivers his letter to a community that believes Jesus is the Messiah. Thus, the letter is not meant to be argumentative. Instead, the author seeks to encourage those who have already secured eternal life because they believe.

Studies in church history, however, reveal that truth claims often were a source for argumentation. New methods of biblical interpretation cast a suspect light on former methods and their authors fought to the death sometimes in order to defend their claim. Even today, the increasing awareness of other faith traditions complicates the call to share our own truth. Fortunately, the true faith relies on God’s testimony as well as ours and God’s testimony has not yet been fully revealed.

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John 17:6-19 

How does God sanctify us?

Wait a minute! We do not belong to the world, yet we still have to live here? These verses sound paradoxical since a sense of belonging usually makes us feels more “complete” than a sense of exclusion. School playgrounds across the globe, for one, are filled with children who scream, “I want to play too!”

As we age, the desire to be a part of something continues to echo throughout the various stages of our lives: “Please pick me to join your company’s team,” one might say. Another: “This relationship does not make me feel as ‘whole’ as I thought it would.” On days like this, we may only find a sense of belonging through Jesus’ prayer that we become sanctified—set apart, made holy, and bound to something greater than our human inclinations.

Bible Study 6 Easter (B) – May 13, 2012

Discussion Leader: Matthew Kemp, Nashotah House Seminary

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12).

Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Acts 10:44-48; Psalm 98; 1 John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17

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Acts 10:44-48 (New Revised Standard Version)

44 While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word.
45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles,
46 for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said,
47 ‘Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’
48 So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

Comments from this week’s seminarian, Matthew Kemp:

During the earlier part of the 20th century, there was much debate over when the Holy Spirit was given to the Christian believer, whether at baptism or at confirmation. The former option won the day, as can be seen in our current Book of Common Prayer. However, this story in Acts flies in the face of the entire question. Here we see the Holy Spirit falling upon Cornelius and his household before they have received any sacramental action. This is not to devalue the sacraments as “sure and certain means” of grace, but rather serves to remind us that the Spirit “blows where it chooses” (John 3:8) and cannot be limited by our rigid theological categories. In particular this movement of the Spirit shows to Peter and his companions that God is calling the uncircumcised gentiles into his kingdom as well – something that they could not have fit into their working theological framework!

Where have you seen God at work in ways that defy your theological expectations?

How does this challenge us in our spiritual lives? In our ministry to others? As individual Christians? As church communities?

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Psalm 98 (Book of Common Prayer, p. 727)

1   Sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done marvelous things.

2   With his right hand and his holy arm
has he won for himself the victory.

3   The LORD has made known his victory;
his righteousness has he openly shown in the sight of the nations.

4   He remembers his mercy and faithfulness to
the house of Israel,
and all the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.

5   Shout with joy to the LORD, all you lands;
lift up your voice, rejoice, and sing.

6   Sing to the LORD with the harp,
with the harp and the voice of song.

7   With trumpets and the sound of the horn
shout with joy before the King, the LORD.

8   Let the sea make a noise and all that is in it,
the lands and those who dwell therein.

9   Let the rivers clap their hands,
and let the hills ring out with joy before the LORD,
when he comes to judge the earth.

10  In righteousness shall he judge the world
and the peoples with equity.

Comments from this week’s seminarian, Matthew Kemp:

Strange as it may seem, the term “victory” has almost come to have a negative connotation in our culture, evoking images of arrogant triumphalism. But this is not the sort of victory being described in this psalm. Rather it is the victory of good over evil, of a righteous judge over injustice, of a God who “remembers his mercy and faithfulness” to his people (v. 3). Ultimately it is the victory of the risen Christ over sin, death and the powers of darkness. As the psalm expresses, joy is the only proper response to this, a joy not limited to the people of God, but a joy that must go forth among all people, extending even into the created order.

In what ways can we show forth “the victory of our God” in our lives?

Do you find it difficult to experience the joy of this victory in a world where sin, evil and injustice are still present?

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1 John 5:1-6 (New Revised Standard Version)

1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child.
2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.
3 For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome,
4 for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith.
5 Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
6 This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth.

Comments from this week’s seminarian, Matthew Kemp:

“If you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment.” “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:22, 44, 48). These commandments of Jesus seem difficult, even impossible to follow. How then can John tells us that “his commandments are not burdensome” (v.3)? The answer comes in the closing verses of this passage. We have been “born of God” (v.4) in baptism, “by water and blood” (v. 6), and so united to Christ by faith. As Christ has “conquered the world” (John 16:33), so we have victory through Christ – victory even over our own sinfulness and weaknesses that keep us from living in accordance with the kingdom of God. It is only through God’s grace, which we receive through faith and the sacraments, that we are able to become the people God has called us to be, and to show his love to the world.

Which of Jesus’ commandments do you find most “burdensome”? How might you respond to God’s grace to overcome this difficulty?

What role does the community of faith have in allowing us to live into God’s grace?

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John 15:9-17 (New Revised Standard Version)

9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.
10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.
11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
12 ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
14 You are my friends if you do what I command you.
15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.
16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.
17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

Comments from this week’s seminarian, Matthew Kemp:

In this portion of Jesus’ last discourse with his disciples before his death, he presents both a rich blessing and a weighty responsibility. By calling his disciples “friends,” he brings them into a deeper relationship with himself, a relationship marked by great acceptance and intimacy. But he also commands them to love one another, and illustrates this love by his own willingness to lay down his life for those he has called his friends. If we, like the first disciples, are to be friends of Jesus, it means not only enjoying the comfort of his presence and love, but also loving one another to the point that we are willing to sacrifice ourselves for the good of the other friends of Jesus. It is in this way that we abide in the love of Christ, and in this way that we bear lasting fruit for the kingdom of God.

What would our lives (individually and collectively) look like if we followed Jesus’ example of love?

What holds us back from loving one another the way Christ loves us?