Bible Study, 4 Lent (B) – March 18, 2012

Discussion Leader: Paula Toland, Episcopal Divinity School

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Numbers 21:4-9; Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22; Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:14-21
(Click on the link to jump down the page to each reading.)

___________________________

Numbers 21:4-9 (New Revised Standard Version)

4 From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way.
5 The people spoke against God and against Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.’
6 Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died.
7 The people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.’ So Moses prayed for the people.
8 And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.’
9 So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.

Comments from this week’s seminarian, Paula Toland:

For Moses and his community, serpents represented both a threat to physical life for those unfortunate enough to be bitten and, if we follow their thinking that God sent the poisonous snakes, divine retribution for their lapse in faith that God would provide as God had promised. Yet they also were the sign to the people that they needed to repent and amend their lives, so they asked Moses to pray for them; the Lord answered with very practical advice, and the bronze serpent became a source of healing.

The people were redeemed, transformed by their repentance and returned to faith in God and God’s divine promises. For us as we sit actively in this season of Lent, we may be lucky enough to avoid encounters with living serpents. However, we may encounter those figurative serpents that are the places we turn to avoid the hard work and discomfort that faith in God sometimes entails. Or perhaps we do not actively turn to those places but we let other things creep in and distract us from our faithful living. Whatever the case, Moses and his community can be the model for us of how to turn back to life in and with God.

Are there places in your life where you turn to avoid the hard work that faithful living can sometimes mean?

Are there things in your life that you are willing to give up or avoid in order to maintain your focus on your spiritual wellbeing and be healed?

Are you willing to humble yourself to ask for help to repent, to be redeemed and live a transformed life?

___________________________

Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22 (Book of Common Prayer, p. 746)

1 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
and his mercy endures for ever.

2 Let all those whom the LORD has redeemed proclaim
that he redeemed them from the hand of the foe.

3 He gathered them out of the lands;
from the east and from the west,
from the north and from the south.

17 Some were fools and took to rebellious ways;
they were afflicted because of their sins.

18 They abhorred all manner of food
and drew near to death’s door.

19 Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.

20 He sent forth his word and healed them
and saved them from the grave.

21 Let them give thanks to the LORD for his mercy
and the wonders he does for his children.

22 Let them offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving
and tell of his acts with shouts of joy.

Comments from this week’s seminarian, Paula Toland:

Psalm 107 almost seems like the logical next part in the narrative of Moses and his community, although we know that this is not actually the case. The psalm does, however, continue the theme of turning away from faith in God, who in this psalm is presented from the beginning as good and merciful, the God who creates community from the four corners of the earth. Unlike Moses’ community, these people don’t blame God for their troubles. And like Moses’ community, these people recognize their need to turn to God for deliverance from their distress, healing, and newness of life. They are then challenged to give thanks for God’s mercy and care, thanks which are to be given loudly and joyfully.

How do you feel about God in your times of trouble? Is God good and merciful or punishing?

Are you willing and able to give thanks to God with “shouts of joy”?

___________________________

Ephesians 2:1-10 (New Revised Standard Version)

1 You were dead through the trespasses and sins
2 in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient.
3 All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else.
4 But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us
5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—
6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
7 so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus.
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—
9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast.
10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

Comments from this week’s seminarian, Paula Toland:

St. Paul ratchets up the theme of sin and disobedience and its detrimental impact on our lives. He likens our sinful human nature to death. Living our humanness in this world in tantamount to death. This passage challenges my understanding of the inherent goodness in all of God’s creation, including our embodied selves. And yet I acknowledge and appreciate the wisdom in these words, because if we live only to and in this world as if this world were all that there is, we do lose the fullness of our lives. We are blessed to be created, nurtured and sustained through God’s unwavering love for us, manifest in our lives through God’s unfathomable grace. When we acknowledge that reality, when we chose to live faithful lives with an awareness that our physical lives are only a part of our story as God’s created, we are privileged to see the “immeasurable riches of [God's] grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus.” It is difficult sometimes to live into this knowledge because it means that we do not get to take the credit for being loved as faithful people because of our good works.

Are you able to live your fully embodied life in this world with the knowledge that this is only a part of your story as God’s created?

Are you able to acknowledge that the newness of life we experience through Jesus Christ is not because of what we’ve done but because of who God is?

___________________________

John 3:14-21 (New Revised Standard Version)

14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
17 Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.
20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.
21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.

Comments from this week’s seminarian, Paula Toland:

This passage from John brings us full circle from the passage from Numbers, and introduces the wonderful metaphors of darkness and light. Although v. 16 is one of the most well-known and oft-quoted verses in the New Testament, it has so much more depth and expansiveness when juxtaposed against the Moses’ narrative about the serpents and the Ephesians passage about grace, not works. The added dimensions of this passage: that in the world there is both darkness and light, the light embodied through God’s gift of the Son to save the world, and that doing what is true means doing what is in God, opens up so many possibilities to carry that famous verse into the world in a way that is radically welcoming and life-giving. It suggests that it is not quite enough only to say that one is a believer because true belief does have something to do with our deeds. It seems to challenge us to bring all of our selves and our deeds into the light, to be witnessed as having “been done in God.”

What are the dark places in your life, places that you want to keep hidden from yourself and others? From God?

Are you willing to try to make the changes that will bring the words you profess about eternal life with God through Jesus consistent with your deeds in daily life?

Bible Study, 3 Lent (B) – March 11, 2012

Discussion Leader: Jane BurkettNashotah House Theological Seminary

“In the temple Jesus found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!’” (John 2:14-16)

Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22
(Click on the link to jump down the page to each reading.)

__________________

Exodus 20:1-17 (New Revised Standard Version)

1 Then God spoke all these words:
2 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery;
3 you shall have no other gods before me.
4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me,
6 but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
7 You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.
9 For six days you shall labour and do all your work.
10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns.
11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
12 Honour your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
13 You shall not murder.
14 You shall not commit adultery.
15 You shall not steal.
16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.
17 You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.

Comments from this week’s seminarian, Jane Burkett:

This is one of the two Old Testament passages containing the Ten Commandments, the other being Deuteronomy 5:6-21. The text itself does not make clear how the verses are to be divided into ten, and so they have been numbered slightly differently among different Christian denominations and Jews. But however they are divided, the first few commandments (vv. 1-11) concern relations to God, and the latter ones (vv. 12-17) concern relations with other people. Hence Jesus could summarize the law as loving God and loving neighbor (Matt 22:37-39). The order in which the commandments are presented is important. First of all, God has the right to set these rules for the Israelites because he is the one who rescued them from slavery in Egypt; he has redeemed them, and they are his. Second, the commandments about our obligation to God come before those to our neighbor, because how we treat our neighbor is based in God’s creation and ordering of the world. Human beings are made in the image of God, which means that how I treat my neighbor is intimately connected with my relationship to God.

As Christians, God has rescued us, not from Egypt, but from the slavery of sin and death. How should we respond to that today?

Does my behavior toward others recognize God’s image in them?

__________________

Psalm 19  (Book of Common Prayer, p. 606)

1 The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the firmament shows his handiwork.

2 One day tells its tale to another,
and one night imparts knowledge to another.

3 Although they have no words or language,
and their voices are not heard,

4 Their sound has gone out into all lands,
and their message to the ends of the world.

5 In the deep has he set a pavilion for the sun;
it comes forth like a bridegroom out of his chamber;
it rejoices like a champion to run its course.

6 It goes forth from the uttermost edge of the heavens
and runs about to the end of it again;
nothing is hidden from its burning heat.

7 The law of the LORD is perfect
and revives the soul;
the testimony of the LORD is sure
and gives wisdom to the innocent.

8 The statutes of the LORD are just
and rejoice the heart;
the commandment of the LORD is clear
and gives light to the eyes.

9 The fear of the LORD is clean
and endures for ever;
the judgments of the LORD are true
and righteous altogether.

10 More to be desired are they than gold,
more than much fine gold,
sweeter far than honey,
than honey in the comb.

11 By them also is your servant enlightened,
and in keeping them there is great reward.

12 Who can tell how often he offends?
cleanse me from my secret faults.

13 Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins;
let them not get dominion over me;
then shall I be whole and sound,
and innocent of a great offense.

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my
heart be acceptable in your sight,
O LORD, my strength and my redeemer.

Comments from this week’s seminarian, Jane Burkett:

Psalm 19 is a hymn glorifying God and the law that he has given. The first part of the psalm describes how the heavens silently declare the glory of God, and anyone who has ever looked up at the stars on a clear night can identify with the feeling of wonder and joy the psalm expresses.

The second part of the psalm discusses the law of the Lord. Although Christians frequently take a dim view of law and see it as only leading to dead legalism, this psalm expresses joy at the gift of the law, because it makes wise, enlightens, warns, and revives the soul. The law is intended to show us how to live in harmony with God, each other, and all of creation.

The last verse, a beautiful petition frequently used as a sermon opener, calls God “my strength and my redeemer.” The redeemer in ancient Israel was someone who bought back a family member from slavery. Thus, God is someone who deeply loves us and to whom we owe an enormous debt of gratitude for our rescue.

Do you see the Law as a blessing?

What might “secret faults” (v. 12) be?

__________________

1 Corinthians 1:18-25 (New Revised Standard Version)
18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
19 For it is written,
‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’
20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe.
22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom,
23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,
24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
25 For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

Comments from this week’s seminarian, Jane Burkett:

“It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” It goes without saying that no one wants to look like a fool, and yet here is St. Paul encouraging us to believe something that is foolishness to the wise of the world. And once you discard your familiarity with the gospel story, it does sound like foolishness. What kind of God, rather than coming in power to make everything the way it ought to be, instead allows himself to be publicly humiliated and tortured to death? Against all expectations, God came in humility and transformed the world through the cross, saving us from our broken state while respecting our free will. How fortunate we are that God is patient and merciful, and deals with us in love rather than power.

Why didn’t Jesus come as an earthly king to set things right?

If you were given infinite power for a day, what would you do?

__________________

John 2:13-22 (New Revised Standard Version)

13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables.
15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.
16 He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!’
17 His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’
18 The Jews then said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’
19 Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’
20 The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’
21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body.
22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

Comments from this week’s seminarian, Jane Burkett:

The sellers and moneychangers were in the courtyard of the temple selling the items devout Jews, particularly those who had travelled far and could not bring along animals, needed to perform the necessary sacrifices. Unlike the other three gospels, however, the focus of this story in John is not about the impropriety of turning the temple into a marketplace or the extortionary or dishonest practices of the sellers and moneychangers (the other gospels refer to them as “robbers”).

John’s gospel contains a series of signs that show who Jesus is, and this is the second one, occurring immediately after the wedding at Cana. The Jewish observers of this event were correct in perceiving Jesus’ actions as a threat to the sacrificial system of the temple. John uses this event to indicate who Jesus is and what he has come to do. Jesus tells them that he himself is the replacement of the temple. The temple’s purpose was to be the place of God’s presence among his people; Jesus is now that place. The temple was the place where sacrifices were performed, especially at Passover. Jesus will be the final, perfect Passover sacrifice. Jesus fulfills the purpose of the temple, rendering it obsolete.

How would you have reacted if you had been at the temple that day?

Bible Study, 2 Lent (B) – March 4, 2012

Discussion Leader: Judy Landis, General Theological Seminary

“Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’” (Mark 8:31-33)

Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22:22-30; Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38
(Click on the link to jump down the page to each reading.)

__________________

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16  (New Revised Standard Version)

1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless.
2 And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.’
3Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him,
4 ‘As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations.
5 No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations.
6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you.
7 I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.

15 God said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name.
16 I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.’

Comments from this week’s seminarian, Judy Landis:

All of the readings for today have a common theme of faith: God’s faithfulness to us and our response.

__________________

Psalm 22:22-30  (Book of Common Prayer, p. 611)

22 Praise the LORD, you that fear him;
stand in awe of him, O offspring of Israel;
all you of Jacob’s line, give glory.

23 For he does not despise nor abhor the poor in their poverty;
neither does he hide his face from them;
but when they cry to him he hears them.

24 My praise is of him in the great assembly;
I will perform my vows in the presence of those who worship him.

25 The poor shall eat and be satisfied,
and those who seek the LORD shall praise him:
“May your heart live for ever!”

26 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD,
and all the families of the nations shall bow before him.

27 For kingship belongs to the LORD;
he rules over the nations.

28 To him alone all who sleep in the earth bow down in worship;
all who go down to the dust fall before him.

29 My soul shall live for him;
my descendants shall serve him;
they shall be known as the LORD’S for ever.

30 They shall come and make known to a people yet unborn
the saving deeds that he has done.

Comments from this week’s seminarian, Judy Landis:

This psalm actually begins in lament with the familiar: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Then, it moves to today’s portion, which includes praise, worship, and finally a proclamation of deliverance for all God has done. Although this psalm begins with a broken and suffering heart, it becomes clear that the psalmist turns toward the promises of God and gives his life over to the care of God. His experiences lead him to the very heart of a loving God who journeys with him and has heard the cries of the afflicted. During Lent, we reflect on the very nature of God; the self-emptying, self-giving, eternally faithful and merciful God.

Reflect on your personal faith journey. Can you think of a time in your life when you experienced a broken heart or a broken relationship; a low point? What happened? What was it like? Then ask yourself, did my despair turn to hope or did I stay “stuck”? How were you transformed by the experience?

__________________

Romans 4:13-25 (New Revised Standard Version)

13 For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.
14 If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void.
15 For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.

16 For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us,
17 as it is written, ‘I have made you the father of many nations’)—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.
18 Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become ‘the father of many nations’, according to what was said, ‘So numerous shall your descendants be.’
19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.
20 No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God,
21 being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.
22 Therefore his faith ‘was reckoned to him as righteousness.’
23 Now the words, ‘it was reckoned to him’, were written not for his sake alone,
24 but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead,
25 who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.

Comments from this week’s seminarian, Judy Landis:

When we go to the switch to turn a light on, we expect light. We expect the electric surge to be present. We cannot see electric surges. We only see the by-product, which is light or power. We just trust that the electric company fulfills the promise to provide us with electricity. Faith is similar. We cannot see faith, only its affects. Faith is trust that Jesus Christ fulfills God’s promises to us through grace; the gift of forgiveness and eternal life. It is about God’s faithfulness to us. Faith is trust in God’s grace. Trust always occurs first and then shapes our response. The Christian response to God’s faithfulness begins in worship and praise and goes out into the world to love and serve others.

How has God blessed someone through you this week?

__________________

Mark 8:31-38 (New Revised Standard Version)

31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.
32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’

34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.
36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?
37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?
38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’

Comments from this week’s seminarian, Judy Landis:

In this passage, Jesus predicts his suffering and Peter appears to want to take the path of denial. Peter loves his teacher. Possibly, Peter loves Jesus so much he does not want to let go of him. But then, Jesus rebukes Peter and the crowd and begins to teach about true discipleship: if any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.

When reflecting on this lesson, I recall a book I read several years ago concerning a young priest, Father Jim. Father Jim was diagnosed with cancer and he wanted to teach others how it is possible to have inner peace in suffering which brings us closer to the heart of Jesus. Inner peace is the truest form of which the manifestation of God dwells within us. He highlighted that the way in which all of us, at one time or another, suffer, often becomes the way in which we experience God’s blessing and new life. Father Jim recalls being filled with holy desire and human fear as he walked this journey and was reminded of the words of St. Ignatius: “Take, Lord, receive. All is yours now. Dispose of it wholly according to your will. Give me only your love and your grace – that’s enough for me. Your love and your grace are enough for me.”

Father Jim left us with a message of hope: “Because I had cancer, my life was truly the Lord’s to do with as he will. From that moment on, I knew only thing for certain: I do not know what my future holds, but I know who holds my future.”

Do you have any challenges confronting you today? What are they? Can you accept this challenge as an opportunity to learn and grow in your faith journey? What could you possibly learn from this experience that will help you grow closer to the heart of Jesus?

Gracious God,
Help us to trust that you never abandon us in our weakness.
Lead us more fully into your presence through our prayer
that we may know you and love you with
all our hearts, minds, and strength
and love our neighbors as ourselves.
We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

 

Bible Study, 1 Lent (B) – February 26, 2012

Discussion Leader: Brian Pinter, 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 9:8-17; Psalm 25:1-9; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-15
(Click on the link to jump down the page to each reading.)

__________________

Genesis 9:8-17 (New Revised Standard Version)

8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him,
9 ‘As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you,
10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark.
11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.’
12 God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations:
13 I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.
14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds,
15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.
16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.’
17 God said to Noah, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.’

Comments from this week’s seminarian, Brian Pinter:

This passage, in its historical context, most likely served more as a folkloristic explanation for the appearances of rainbows than as a covenant story. Other such texts that use the term “covenant” involve agreements between two parties to perform (or refrain) from certain actions (according to the Anchor Bible Dictionary.) This text does not seem to fit those parameters. Perhaps this “rainbow covenant” story was a late addition to the Genesis text, inserted at a point when covenant rhetoric and its significance was in decline.

Nonetheless, the text could be interpreted as speaking to God’s view of creation, specifically God’s desire not to see it violently destroyed. This echoes, to some extent, God’s command to humans and animals in Genesis 1:29-30 that their relationship is not to be marked by violence and bloodshed – they are told they may eat fruits, vegetables and plants. It is later that God alters this command to allow the consumption of animal flesh, but with restrictions. The rainbow covenant of Genesis 9 also serves as a counter-witness to a certain kind of Christianity which seems to always be looking forward to God’s punishing, wrathful destruction of the created world. This notion runs counter to the thrust of the biblical record, however. The Biblical authors affirmed that the earth is our home, it is indeed good (Genesis 1:31), and the Lord has vowed not to deal with creation through unadulterated violence again. Every time we see a rainbow we are reminded of this.

How might we, as those created in the image and likeness of God, imitate the Lord’s promise not to deal violently with creation?

__________________

Psalm 25:1-9 (Book of Common Prayer, p. 614)

1 To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul;
my God, I put my trust in you;
let me not be humiliated,
nor let my enemies triumph over me.

2 Let none who look to you be put to shame;
let the treacherous be disappointed in their schemes.

3 Show me your ways, O LORD,
and teach me your paths.

4 Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
in you have I trusted all the day long.

5 Remember, O LORD, your compassion and love,
for they are from everlasting.

6 Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions;
remember me according to your love
and for the sake of your goodness, O LORD.

7 Gracious and upright is the LORD;
therefore he teaches sinners in his way.

8 He guides the humble in doing right
and teaches his way to the lowly.

9 All the paths of the LORD are love and faithfulness
to those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.

Comments from this week’s seminarian, Brian Pinter:

This psalm is a beautiful alphabetic poem, i.e. the first word of each line begins with a consecutive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. While clearly a plea for guidance and forbearance, this Psalm also carries deep themes of the Wisdom tradition. The psalmist longs to be guided in truth, and taught the ways, the paths of the Lord. Proverbs teaches us that the beginning of Wisdom is the fear of the Lord (Pvbs. 1: 7). Psalm 25 serves as response to the Proverbial admonition by acknowledging a desire to be taught. It is often hard for us to admit that there is much we do not know, and that we need God’s guidance, especially those of us who have resources, wealth and privilege. This Psalm is a humble plea and act of submission to the majesty of God’s wisdom.

The psalm also asks the Lord for forgiveness and compassion. The sins of one’s youth are specifically mentioned. So often we are dogged in our hearts by mistakes of the past, especially regrets of things done or not done when we are young. Following the verse about the sins of youth, the psalmist speaks of the Lord guiding the humble. Allowing ourselves to be led in the “ways” of God is the path to transformation, and the death and resurrection of Jesus teaches us that even failings and wounds can be transformed by God into something new and good. Perhaps the psalmist was in tune with that truth as he/she composed these magnificent, heartfelt verses.

Are there parts of our lives where we resist submitting ourselves to God’s guidance and paths?

How do we interpret the psalmist’s prayer about enemies who might put us to shame? How are we sometimes our own enemies, dwelling on failings from long ago – our “youth” – when God is already willing to overlook these and accept with compassion?

__________________

1 Peter 3:18-22 (New Revised Standard Version)

18 For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit,
19 in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison,
20 who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight people, were saved through water.
21 And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you — not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

Comments from this week’s seminarian, Brian Pinter:

The author of the first letter of Peter is using the symbolism of water in this text teach the significance baptism. Just as the flood waters saved Noah from destructive powers, so baptism allows us to participate in Jesus’ definitive defeat of the powers of evil and death through the cross and resurrection. There are several contexts at work in this passage: the Genesis flood story, the sacrificial interpretation of the cross, as well as the context of persecution and alienation which Peter’s audience was experiencing in the middle of the first century. Peter knew that those who originally read this letter were facing social ostracism and persecution because of their Christian faith. Through baptism however, they share in Jesus’ new life in the spirit. The waters rescue them, just as it did those who took refuge in Noah’s ark.

Interpreters have struggled for centuries to make sense of verse 19, especially the “spirits in prison”. At the time the New Testament documents were written, there was a great deal of speculation about the angels of Genesis 6:2 who took human wives. This transgression was related to God’s decision to bring about the great flood. The literature of the time imagined that those angels were imprisoned by God in what was known as the second heaven. Jesus, upon his ascension, passed by them, and not without saying a few words!

The author of the letter, above all, is encouraging steadfastness in the face of difficulties that the Christian way of living can bring. We are strengthened for this task through the power conveyed to us in the waters of baptism. Through this sacrament we can maintain our ability to “make sound decisions” (a better sense word often rendered “conscience” in this text) in the face of hostility.

How might we draw on the power of our baptism as we face adversity? How does our baptism strengthen our integrity? How is this manifested in our everyday lives?

__________________

Mark 1:9-15 (New Revised Standard Version)

9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.
10 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.
11 And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.
13 He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God,
15 and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’

Comments from this week’s seminarian, Brian Pinter:

Today’s gospel captures three distinct scenes: the baptism of the Lord, his time in the wilderness, and his return to Galilee to begin his ministry.

Why Jesus chose to be baptized by John is unknown, but the scripture scholar Jerome Murphy O’Connor offers an intriguing hypothesis – Jesus was in the process of discovering his identity as God’s Messiah. The baptism scene might then be linked to Luke’s story of the 12- year- old Jesus remaining in the Temple to converse with the rabbis. As Jesus struggled to discover his vocation, he first went to the teachers of the law, and now, in John the Baptist, Jesus has come to the prophet. The law and the prophets were the two sources of authority for the people of Israel.

The opening of the heavens and descent of the Spirit of God would have evoked, in the minds of the Israelites, Isaiah chapters 63,64 . Much of the vocabulary utilized by Isaiah is also used by Mark, and chapter 64 ends with the question “Can you remain silent…?” The evangelist answers this question by telling us that, through Jesus, God is again communicating with us.

Interestingly, Mark does not offer a detailed account of Jesus’ temptation by Satan. Matthew and Luke fill this out, probably in response to the curiosity of later generations of Christians. Mark mentions that Jesus was with wild beasts in the wilderness. This point carries great meaning and significance, which is unfortunately often lost on western people who have been heavily influenced by the Enlightenment worldview. Soulful, deeply spiritual people often go into the wilderness to fast, commune with and communicate with nature and other non-human creatures (think Francis of Assisi). This spiritual practice is common across cultures, religions and civilizations, and is still commonly practiced by native and aboriginal peoples, as well as many Christians. It appears that Jesus had this experience as well. Perhaps this “retreat” served as a time of renewal before he undertook his ministry.

Finally, Mark tells us that Jesus returned to Galilee. Apparently he was picking up where John had left off. The Greek word metanoia, often translated “repent”, carries the sense that one must “change one’s mind”. Jesus addressed his preaching to people who already thought that they were very religious and pious, yet he told them that they needed to change their minds if they are to be prepared for the coming kingdom. The message of metanoia still challenges us today, especially we who consider ourselves to be pious believers.

How might we relate to Jesus’ quest for self-discovery?

What does Jesus teach us through his example of spending solitary time in the wilderness?

Are we able to receive Jesus’ call for metanoia with humility and an open heart? How does this call serve as a challenge to us?

Bible Study for the Last Sunday After the Epiphany (B) – February 19, 2012

Discussion Leader: Joy Arroyo, General Theological Seminary

“Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’” (Mark 9:2-5)

Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
2 Kings 2:1-12; Psalm 50:1-6; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6; Mark 9:2-9
(Click on the link to jump down the page to each reading.)

__________________

2 Kings 2:1-12 (New Revised Standard Version)

1 Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal.
2 Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.’ But Elisha said, ‘As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.’ So they went down to Bethel.
3 The company of prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, ‘Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?’ And he said, ‘Yes, I know; keep silent.’

4 Elijah said to him, ‘Elisha, stay here; for the Lord has sent me to Jericho.’ But he said, ‘As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.’ So they came to Jericho.
5 The company of prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha, and said to him, ‘Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?’ And he answered, ‘Yes, I know; be silent.’

6 Then Elijah said to him, ‘Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.’ But he said, ‘As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.’ So the two of them went on.
7 Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan.
8 Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.

9 When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.’ Elisha said, ‘Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.’
10 He responded, ‘You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.’
11 As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven.
12 Elisha kept watching and crying out, ‘Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!’ But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.

Comments from this week’s seminarian, Joy Arroyo:

In 1 Kings 19, Elisha leaves his home and his fields to become the servant of Elijah. This story in 2 Kings describes Elijah being taken up to heaven and Elisha’s reaction to his master’s departure. The emotional tone of this passage is heightened through repetition: three times Elijah tries to keep Elisha from continuing with him (vs. 2, 4, 6), and three times Elisha responds that he will not leave him while he is still alive. Twice, a group of prophets tells Elisha that his master will leave him that day (vs. 3, 5), and twice Elisha tells them to be quiet. In verse 12, we see that Elisha views Elijah like a father, which explains why he feels such profound grief at his parting.

Why do you think the author highlights the emotional tone of the relationship between Elisha and Elijah? Why is this relationship important?

Why do you think that Elijah grants Elisha’s request in vs. 10 only on the condition that he sees him taken away?

Did you find anything curious or intriguing that jumped out to you in this passage? What is it, and why did it stand out to you?

__________________

Psalm 50:1-6 (Book of Common Prayer, p. 654)

1 The LORD, the God of gods, has spoken;
he has called the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting.

2 Out of Zion, perfect in its beauty,
God reveals himself in glory.

3 Our God will come and will not keep silence;
before him there is a consuming flame,
and round about him a raging storm.

4 He calls the heavens and the earth from above
to witness the judgment of his people.

5 ”Gather before me my loyal followers,
those who have made a covenant with me
and sealed it with sacrifice.”

6 Let the heavens declare the rightness of his cause;
for God himself is judge.

Comments from this week’s seminarian, Joy Arroyo:

As poetry, psalms are often best read aloud. Take a moment to read through these verses aloud. Verses 1, 3, and 4-5 allude to the fact of God speaking. How does the psalmist highlight the power of God’s voice?

Read the psalm aloud a second time. What words or images stand out to you? Pick one phrase, word, or image, and take a few moments to meditate on it.

Read it aloud a third time. Is there a prayer arising in you from this psalm? Take a moment to offer this prayer to God.

Read it aloud a fourth time. Spend some time in silence listening for God’s voice. Is God calling you to do or be something?

__________________

2 Corinthians 4:3-6 (New Revised Standard Version)

3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.
4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
5 For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.
6 For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Comments from this week’s seminarian, Joy Arroyo:

Paul uses light and darkness as metaphors for understanding and ignorance of the gospel of Christ. The image of a veil is also used, which Paul uses in the previous chapter, verses 12-18. A veil keeps someone both from seeing clearly and from being seen clearly. But when the veil is removed, the face is revealed. In the same way, when God turns on the lights of knowledge in the heart, God’s glory is revealed “in the face of Jesus Christ” (vs. 6).

What explanation does Paul give for why some people do not accept the gospel? What reactions do you have to his explanation?

In this passage, Paul connects light with knowledge (vs. 6). This is similar to the cartoon image of the light bulb turning on when someone has an idea. What do you think of this image? Is it helpful? Have you ever had a “light bulb” moment regarding Jesus?

__________________

Mark 9:2-9 (New Revised Standard Version)

2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them,
3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.
4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.
5 Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’
6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.
7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’
8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

Comments from this week’s seminarian, Joy Arroyo:

Peter, James, and John witness Jesus transformed: his clothing becomes “dazzling white” (vs. 3) and he talks with two famous figures from Israelite history, Moses and Elijah. The Transfiguration is a well-known gospel story, one that Christians sometimes hear so often, it is easy to read through quickly with no new insights. Yet, after you read Mark 9:2-9, look back over the other Bible readings for today.

The 2 Kings passage describes Elijah’s ascension to heaven. What reasons can you think of for Elijah reappearing here?

Compare Mark 9:7 with Psalm 50:1-3. How is God’s glory revealed and described in the Psalm? What images are used? Are there any similar images and descriptions in Mark?

Paul compares the knowledge of God’s glory in Christ to light. How are the concepts of light and glory used in this Mark passage?

Take a moment to be silent in God’s presence. I invite you to offer to God your thoughts and feelings, and then spend a few moments listening to God or simply being in God’s presence.

Bible Study, 6 Epiphany (B) – February 12, 2012

Discussion Leader: Jordan Haynie, Berkeley Divinity School at Yale

“A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’ Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.” (Mark 1:40-42)

Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
2 Kings 5:1-14; Psalm 30 ; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Mark 1:40-45
(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:

__________________

2 Kings 5:1-14  (New Revised Standard Version)

1 Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favour with his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy.
2 Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife.
3 She said to her mistress, ‘If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.’
4 So Naaman went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said.
5 And the king of Aram said, ‘Go then, and I will send along a letter to the king of Israel.’
He went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments.
6 He brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, ‘When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy.’
7 When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, ‘Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.’

8 But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, ‘Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.’
9 So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house.
10 Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, ‘Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.’
11 But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, ‘I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy!
12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?’ He turned and went away in a rage.
13 But his servants approached and said to him, ‘Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, “Wash, and be clean”?’
14 So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.

Comments from this week’s seminarian, Jordan Haynie:

So often, when faced with the poverty and oppression in the world, we are tempted to throw up our hands. It’s too difficult – where would we even begin? This story reminds us that often God calls us to find simple solutions to immediate problems. We can’t all be Mother Theresa and dedicate our lives to the care of lepers, but we can all donate blood, for example, or serve at a local soup kitchen, or advocate for better healthcare for the poor. Rather than be overwhelmed with all the problems in this world, let us wash in the Jordan seven times, and seek a simple solution to an immediate problem to become clean.

__________________

Psalm 30 (Book of Common Prayer, p 621)

1   I will exalt you, O LORD,
because you have lifted me up
and have not let my enemies triumph over me.

2   O LORD my God, I cried out to you,
and you restored me to health.

3   You brought me up, O LORD, from the dead;
you restored my life as I was going down to the grave.

4   Sing to the LORD, you servants of his;
give thanks for the remembrance of his holiness.

5   For his wrath endures but the twinkling of an eye,
his favor for a lifetime.

6   Weeping may spend the night,
but joy comes in the morning.

7   While I felt secure, I said,
“I shall never be disturbed.
You, LORD, with your favor, made me as strong as the mountains.”

8   Then you hid your face,
and I was filled with fear.

9   I cried to you, O LORD;
I pleaded with the Lord, saying,

10  “What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the Pit?
will the dust praise you or declare your faithfulness?

11  Hear, O LORD, and have mercy upon me;
O LORD, be my helper.”

12  You have turned my wailing into dancing;
you have put off my sack-cloth and clothed me with joy.

13  Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing;
O LORD my God, I will give you thanks for ever.

Comments from this week’s seminarian, Jordan Haynie:

What makes you exalt in the Lord? For what deliverances in this life are you most thankful?

How will you express your thanks to God? With dancing and song? With service to others? With joy in the morning?

__________________

1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (New Revised Standard Version)

24 Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it.
25 Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable garland, but we an imperishable one.
26 So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air;
27 but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.

Comments from this week’s seminarian, Jordan Haynie:

How do you prepare for an important task such as a race? What practices are important to get ready? Do you think that punishing your body is helpful training or needless effort?

What is our imperishable crown? How do we know when we have obtained it? Can we ever stop running the race in this lifetime?

__________________

Mark 1:40-45 (New Revised Standard Version)

40 A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’
41 Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’
42 Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.
43 After sternly warning him he sent him away at once,
44 saying to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’
45 But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.

Comments from this week’s seminarian, Jordan Haynie:

Unlike Elisha, Jesus does not prescribe a ritual, easy or difficult, for the leper. He just heals him, immediately. I admit that I struggle with this story, because I know so many who suffer who are not immediately healed. Why does Jesus choose to make this man clean, but not so many others who feel unclean or are shunned by society? And why does He tell the leper to keep it a secret? Wasn’t He sent to proclaim good news to the poor? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I am comforted by the fact that our God walked among us and knew real suffering. He healed real sufferers. He hears the cries of the needy. And even though I can’t explain why some people are healed and others are not, it helps to know that Jesus has been down this road before, and is here with us too.

Bible Study, 5 Epiphany (B) – February 5, 2012

Discussion Leader: Jodi Baron, Seminary of the Southwest
Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Isaiah 40:21-31; Psalm 147:1-12, 21c; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39
(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:

“Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them” (Mark 1:30-31).

___________________________

Isaiah 40:21-31 (New Revised Standard Version)

21 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
22 It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
and spreads them like a tent to live in;
23 who brings princes to naught,
and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.

24 Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when he blows upon them, and they wither,
and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

25 To whom then will you compare me,
or who is my equal? says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes on high and see:
Who created these?
He who brings out their host and numbers them,
calling them all by name;
because he is great in strength,
mighty in power,
not one is missing.

27 Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
‘My way is hidden from the Lord,
and my right is disregarded by my God’?
28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
30 Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
31 but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.

Comments from this week’s seminarian, Jodi Baron:

In seminary I write reflection papers as a part of the formation, to learn how to live a more attentive, intentional, and reflective life. I notice much of this chapter in Isaiah reflecting on the three “acts” of the Old Covenant scriptures: a reflective take on the threat, exile, and restoration of Israel. For me, the part that sticks out the most in this reading is the last verse, “but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” I don’t know about anyone else, but I have experienced some times when I needed supernatural strength, so tired I felt as though I couldn’t take one more step. And then I find it, the seed of hope that comes from patience in waiting for God to bust through.

What part of the text (word or phrase) stood out to you reading it through the first time?

Who or what has served as a renewable energy for you?

What is this text inviting you to do, be, or change?

___________________________

Psalm 147:1-12, 21c (Book of Common Prayer, p. 804)

1 Hallelujah!
How good it is to sing praises to our God!
how pleasant it is to honor him with praise!

2 The LORD rebuilds Jerusalem;
he gathers the exiles of Israel.

3 He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds.

4 He counts the number of the stars
and calls them all by their names.

5 Great is our LORD and mighty in power;
there is no limit to his wisdom.

6 The LORD lifts up the lowly,
but casts the wicked to the ground.

7 Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving;
make music to our God upon the harp.

8 He covers the heavens with clouds
and prepares rain for the earth;

9 He makes grass to grow upon the mountains
and green plants to serve mankind.

10 He provides food for flocks and herds
and for the young ravens when they cry.

11 He is not impressed by the might of a horse;
he has no pleasure in the strength of a man;

12 But the LORD has pleasure in those who fear him,
in those who await his gracious favor.

21c Hallelujah!

Comments from this week’s seminarian, Jodi Baron:

Not a detail left out in God’s creative and redemptive process revealed in this psalm: God is the one who did it all, fixes it all, and is worthy of all the praise. That is a given to most believers, right? So, when I read these psalms, sometimes I wonder, “Why do I need to say it if God already knows it?” I don’t know about anyone else, but the need to just use “God words,” words of praise, and just focus in on God with myself or my community re-centers me, gives me energy to go on doing the work God has me doing. That’s what these words do for me.

What part of the text (word or phrase) stood out to you reading it through the first time?

What words of hope have you gleaned from the psalms in downtrodden or outcast times in your life?

What is this psalm inviting you to do, be, or change?

___________________________

1 Corinthians 9:16-23 (New Revised Standard Version)

16 If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe betide me if I do not proclaim the gospel!
17 For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission.
18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel.

19 For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them.
20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law.
22 To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I might by any means save some.
23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.

Comments from this week’s seminarian, Jodi Baron:

Whether you like Paul or not, the man had passion. When I think about what he is saying – he crossed every social and religious barrier to bring the gospel to all – I am simply in awe. We have people in our midst who don’t even want to look at one of our neighbors holding a cardboard sign by the highway, and Paul is telling us that he would become that to share Jesus with them? I recall going downtown a few months ago with some friends from seminary to provide chaplaincy for the Occupy Movement in our area, for one day. I recall the trepidation I felt leading up to the first interaction. I also recall the great peace I received when folks started coming down to our table to tell their stories. All because we asked them, “How can we pray for you today?” Jesus wanted his message of love and reconciliation to reach all the corners of the earth, including the smelly pockets of downtown habitation. And part of these “blessings” Paul speaks about have to include those ways in which our hearts and minds and eyes are transformed to see the world and all God’s children as God sees them.

What word or phrase stood out to you in the reading?

How has the gospel blessed you personally?

What is the text inviting you to do, be, or change?

___________________________

Mark 1:29-39 (New Revised Standard Version)

29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.
30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once.
31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

32 That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons.
33 And the whole city was gathered around the door.
34 And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36And Simon and his companions hunted for him.
37 When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’
38 He answered, ‘Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’
39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

Comments from this week’s seminarian, Jodi Baron:

I have heard the gospel of Mark referred to as “insurrectionary” and that it portrays the inseparability of religion from social, political, economic, and physiological aspects of life. And that’s important to us why? It seems important to me because much of my life has been spent compartmentalizing the different areas of my life. If they started to melt together then I was labeled unbalanced. But something about dividing up my life and “keeping it separated” never felt right. Thankfully, for me, I find consolation in scripture like this, compelling me to be subversive and speak truth to the powers at work. I find consolation in scripture like this, where Jesus shows us how, when you follow that which God has ordained you to do, you can do it with authority and “keep on keepin’ on.”

What word or phrase stood out to you in this reading?

What social diseases, political demons, or economic sicknesses has Jesus healed you from?

What is the text inviting you to do, be, or change?

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).

___________________________

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?

___________________________

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?

___________________________

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”?

___________________________

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

Discussion Leader: Jessica Abell, Church Divinity School of the Pacific

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

“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).

___________________________

Jonah 3:1-5, 10 (New Revised Standard Version)

1 The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying,
2 ‘Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.’
3 So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across.
4 Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, ‘Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’
5 And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.

10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

Comments from this week’s seminarian, Jessica Abell:

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 (Book of Common Prayer,  p. 669)

6 For God alone my soul in silence waits;
truly, my hope is in him.

7 He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my stronghold, so that I shall not be shaken.

8 In God is my safety and my honor;
God is my strong rock and my refuge.

9 Put your trust in him always, O people,
pour out your hearts before him, for God is our refuge.

10 Those of high degree are but a fleeting breath,
even those of low estate cannot be trusted.

11 On the scales they are lighter than a breath,
all of them together.

12 Put no trust in extortion;
in robbery take no empty pride;
though wealth increase, set not your heart upon it.

13 God has spoken once, twice have I heard it,
that power belongs to God.

14 Steadfast love is yours, O Lord,
for you repay everyone according to his deeds.

Comments from this week’s seminarian, Jessica Abell:

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 (New Revised Standard Version)

29 I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none,
30 and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions,
31 and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.

Comments from this week’s seminarian, Jessica Abell:

“For the present form of this world is passing away” (v. 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 (New Revised Standard Version)

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God,
15 and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’

16 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.
17 And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’
18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him.
19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets.
20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

Comments from this week’s seminarian, Jessica Abell:

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).

___________________________

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?

___________________________

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?

___________________________

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?

___________________________

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?