Archives for May 2012

Bible Study: Proper 5 (B) – June 10, 2012

Discussion Leader: Colin Mathewson, Sewanee

“Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother”  (Mark 3:35).

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
1 Samuel 8:4-11, (12-15), 16-20, (11:14-15) and Psalm 138 (Track 2: Genesis 3:8-15 and Psalm 130); 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1; Mark 3:20-35.

Genesis 3:8-15

Imagine that Adam and Eve have kindly invited you to Eden and you arrive (clad in a loincloth, as they had asked) around suppertime. After the meal, you three hear the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden by the evening breeze. Could you find God in the garden by this sound alone? What does God sound like in your life today?

Imagine the voice of God calling out from among the trees, “Where are you?” Was the maker of heaven and earth angry? Disappointed? Somewhat amused? Wondering mightily how this whole human project was to pan out? Understanding?

Redirected blame and curses follow, of course. How can we approach the story of the “fall” afresh apart from the centuries-old Augustinian tradition of original sin?

Psalm 130

The psalmist offers a Jewish understanding of humanity’s relationship with God in light of God’s Edenic curses of serpent, woman and man. Pain, labor and conflict are our lot in life, but from such depths we can call to the Lord and trust that God hears us. What’s more, there is “plenteous redemption” to be shared, and thus we wait for the Lord and feed on God’s hopeful word.

If you haven’t waited on a sunrise lately, it’s time. As the rose-orange glow builds under the horizon, there is a similar pressure that builds within our souls. Each dawn arrives in warm consummation of this place we call home; with each day’s gift, we are called to bathe this world in God’s love.

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

Paul, a tent maker, easily employs tents as a metaphor in his letter to the Corinthian church. As he stitched covering and braided rope, he contemplated the seemingly sturdy, but ultimately fleeting nature of human existence. He crafted a straightforwardly functional ware, meant to be used and moved and used again. In his letters, Paul approaches his ministry in a similarly unsentimental, hardworking manner.

While it may sound romantic to camp in the woods, many who spend the night in a tent find the experience unsettling as well. Thin taut fabric serves as flimsy protection against the unknown dark. Indeed, daily living, even within walls, is an exercise in vulnerability, as much as we attempt to guard ourselves from life’s several perils. Thanks be to God who has constructed for us an everlasting abode!

Mark 3:20-35

Jesus speaks in parables, a story form that challenges his listeners’ assumptions in order to teach them something new in the mental spaces shaken free. He thus pushes uncomfortably on a pillar of first-century Jewish life: the central role of the family in society. However, Jesus’ aim here is not to reject his family of origin, but rather to redefine the notion of family to include all of humanity. This is about God’s loving and radical hospitality over against any and all socially constructed constraints; it is a vision of the kingdom that includes, not excludes.

In our Christian ministry, are those whom we help the “other,” or are they family, our sisters and brothers?

Bible Study: Trinity Sunday (B) – June 3, 2012

Discussion Leader: Catherine Amon, Berkeley Divinity School at Yale

“The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).

Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 29 or Canticle 2 or 13; Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17

Isaiah 6:1-8

We begin our readings this Trinity Sunday with Isaiah’s inaugural vision and prophetic commission. This passage opens with the unimaginable: Isaiah sees God. And his response – the all too familiar human cry “Woe is me! I am lost.”

In Exodus 33, Moses prays to the Lord to show him his glory. The Lord warns, “You cannot see my face; no one shall see me and live.” No wonder Isaiah recoils and seeks to protect himself in the awesome presence of the glory of God. As a man made unclean by sin, living in a world made unclean by sin, Isaiah is lost both in and to the presence of God. Yet he is not in peril, for this same God said to Moses, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” We see God’s grace and mercy sending an angel to relieve Isaiah of his guilt and sin, although not without the pain of a live coal from the altar searing his lips. As the burden of sin is lifted from him, Isaiah is freed to hear the voice of God calling to him, and is able to embrace his prophetic mission. In the claim of “Here I am; send me!” we hear Isaiah’s transition from his previously unclean life to a life embracing and being embraced by God.

What are the ways you find yourself wrapped in the cloak of “Woe is me,” bemoaning yourself and your life?

What is the impact this has on your relationship with God, and your ability to hear God’s call to you?

How might you move forward with an eye to understanding God’s mission for you?

Psalm 29

This psalm is a hymn of praise to the glory and sovereignty of God in the midst of a thunderstorm. In the power and chaos of storm and flood, we hear the voice of God upon the waters, a voice louder than thunder, a power stronger than the most turbulent of waves. This is the power that brought forth all creation when the earth was a formless void, covered in darkness, called into being as a wind from God swept over the waters.

Our world today can feel like a thunderstorm, full of chaos and powerful forces that seek to destroy us. Chaos and destruction can seem to surround us, just as we feel the destructive powers of a thunderstorm. This psalm, calling us to be mindful of the power and strength of God, invites us to reflect on the sovereignty of God. Just as God was powerful enough to give form and structure to the formless void and bring the world into creation, God has the power to triumph over all the destructive forces in our world. The psalm shows God as almighty king, enthroned above the chaos of the flood, King forever more. While God has power to do anything, God’s choice is to relate to us in love, giving us strength, granting us the blessing of security and peace.

What forces in your life today feel like the chaos of a whirling thunderstorm?  How might you let go and turn to the strength of God in the midst of your chaos? How might this offer you peace?

Romans 8:12-17

Paul writes powerfully in this passage about our inheritance as the children of God. No matter what our experience of parenting has been on this earth, whether our experience of family has been good or bad, we are God’s children and heirs to the kingdom. Much stands between us and this inheritance, and we are easily seduced and distracted by the powers of this world. We live in finite bodies in a finite world and are constantly coerced by sin into believing that we have ultimate power over our lives, and that these lives and the worldly things of the flesh that surround us are what is important. Paul reminds us that to live by the flesh is to die. To live by the flesh is to live in fear in a place of spiritual enslavement. This is a strong call to live counterculturally, to live into our lives as God’s children. In our inheritance lies the power to embrace God as the ruler of our lives, to surrender and cry out “Abba! Father!” just as Jesus did, knowing that in this cry for help we surrender the will of our flesh in order that we might know God’s will for our lives and live in and through the power of the Holy Spirit as God’s word within us. An inheritance as rich and full as this can never come cheap – to live by the Spirit is to live into eschatological truth, transcending the desires of the flesh and making our own contribution towards the healing of God’s creation.

What “deeds of the body,” those all-too-human places to which we are attached, do you need to let go of in your life?

Where do you live in tension between your will and desire to be in control and God’s will for you?

John 3:1-17

This passage about Nicodemus is unique to John’s gospel. The gospel of John emphasizes the divinity of Jesus (8:23 “You are of this world; I am not of this world”) as God taking on flesh, entering into our history to save us from sin.

This reading brings together our first lesson, psalm, and epistle for Trinity Sunday. First Isaiah was overwhelmed by his vision of God, unworthy to see God by virtue of his sin. He is burned to cleanse him of his sin in order that hear God call and answer. Our psalm guides us to trust in God’s power over evil and chaos and be rewarded with strength and peace. Paul commands us to let go of the life we know and allow God to lead us to new life in Spirit. Our sin separates us from God and keeps us from seeing him. God is all powerful over the chaos of sin, and comes to us in Christ, inviting us to be glorified with Christ by dying to our old life and receiving new life in the Spirit of God.

Most central to our lives with God is the paschal mystery – the cycle of suffering, death and transformation by the Spirit into new life. This is what Nicodemus struggles to understand, but cannot understand, as he is trapped in the earthly perspective of the life of the flesh. In 1 Corinthians 2, Paul writes “So no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God (11); for who has known the mind of the Lord … we have the mind of Christ (16).” Just as Jesus let go of his earthly body, we too have to die to our earthly attachments to be transformed and receive our inheritance as children of God.

One of my favorite quotes is from St John of the Cross “The language of God is the experience that God writes into our lives.” As you look at your life today in the context of transformation, consider our final questions.

What would it mean for you to be born to new life in Spirit? What would need to change in your life? How can you look to “the mind of Christ” to help?