Archives for June 2012

Bible Study: Proper 10 (B) – July 15, 2012

Discussion Leader: Jeannie Babb, Sewanee

“She rushed back to the king and requested, ‘I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.’ The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her.” (Mark 6:25-26)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings: 
2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19 and Psalm 24 (or Amos 7:7-15 and Psalm 85:8-13); Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19

These passages first describe David and his company taking the ark out of the home of Abinadab with great rejoicing, then state that God blessed the household of Obed-edom “because of the ark.” The change of household names alerts the careful reader (or listener) to a bit of lectionary sleight of hand; something is missing from the story. The lectionary artfully skips over verses 6-11, in which God is said to strike Abinadab’s son dead for touching the ark.

Both passages depict David and his entourage singing, celebrating and dancing with all their might. The second passage focuses on David and his wild abandon. If this were happening today, it would be all over YouTube. Our culture has a fascination with capturing moments when a person is so overwhelmed with joy, their reaction is completely unguarded and unscripted: military homecomings, surprise wedding proposals, and even little children finding out they’re going to Disney World.

When is the last time you experienced wild abandon?

How did you express your joy?

Psalm 85:8-13

What does it mean when righteousness and peace kiss each other?

This portion of the psalm explores the ideal interaction between humans and God. The psalmist explores this relationship by tumbling it around, turning it inside out, and playing with abstract descriptions of God and the people. When God’s love encounters human faithfulness, then mercy meets truth. Righteousness and peace kiss. There is a meeting in the middle, a coming together. Truth springs up from the people as righteousness looks down from heaven.

Does lightning strike from the ground up, or from the sky down? Yes, yes.

Can you feel the charge of that attraction?

Ephesians 1:3-14

The language of blessing and assurance practically bubble up from these verses. God’s grace is freely bestowed on us. We were chosen before the foundation of the world to be adopted by God. This language does not imply predestination in the sense that some people are hand picked by God before creation, while all other people have no chance of salvation. To see the error of that interpretation, the reader only has to ask, who is this “we”?

In context, the first person plural pronoun does not refer to all Christians, but to those “who were the first to set our hope on Christ” (1:12); that is, Jewish Christians. The letter then refers to “you.” This second group of people heard the gospel, believed on Christ, were marked by the Holy Spirit, and thus are promised the same inheritance of redemption. The distinction between “we” and “you” refers to the early Christian formula that Christ came for “the Jew first, and also the Greek” (Rom 2:10). “We” are Jewish, “you” are not, but both “we” and “you” are set to receive the wonderful inheritance of redemption through Jesus Christ.

Mark 6:14-29

He offered her anything – no, everything – a girl could want: jewels, rich robes, palaces, even power. “Up to half my kingdom,” he pledged.

Imagine his surprise when the girl said, “Give me … the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”

Taking on her mother’s grudge, young Herodias threw away a chance at riches and power for the momentary satisfaction of enacting her mother’s revenge. Her choice caused a good man’s death, and left the poor girl with nothing to show for it but a severed head. Talk about treasures that rot!

When have you traded golden opportunities for treasures that rot? Or failed to seek your own good because you thought you had to fulfill someone else’s vision?

How have you, like the elder Herodias, passed grudges, resentment, enmity or prejudice to your children?

Have you ever found yourself in Herod’s situation? His generosity was used to take what he did not want to give. He was the ruler, but his pride would not allow him to object, “I promised you up to half of what I have, but this man’s life is not mine to take or give.” He meant to give, but instead took.

Bible Study: Proper 9 (B) – July 8, 2012

Discussion Leader: Robert Solon, General Theological Seminary

“Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honor, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.’” (Mark 6:4)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10 and Psalm 48 (or Ezekiel 2:1-5 and Psalm 123); 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10

In last week’s reading from the Hebrew scriptures, we heard how David mourned over the death of Saul, his predecessor, friend, mentor and finally enemy. We then skip forward over most of four chapters until we hear how David had been king of the tribe of Judah (one of the twelve tribes of the Israelite people) for seven and a half years when the rest of Israel asked him to be king as well. It all sounds very civilized and genteel. However, those four chapters we don’t hear in church tell the story of a civil war, a false accusation, a betrayal, and two assassinations, plus a sneak attack on a walled city. Read all about it here.

What details were omitted between last Sunday’s reading and this week’s? Why do you suppose they were not included? What portions of 2 Samuel 1-5 would you have included over these two Sundays? Why those?

Psalm 48

In the reading from the Hebrew scriptures (semi-continuous option, above) for this week, we heard how David “occupied the stronghold, and named it the City of David.” The text actually refers to Jerusalem, the capital of united Israel under the reigns of her two greatest Kings, David and his son Solomon. This psalm is one of several that speaks of Jerusalem, or its other name, Zion. Other of the 56 total references to Zion in the psalms can be found in Psalms 2, 84, 87, 122, 125 and 137.

Look up some of these other psalms. What do they say about the importance of place in the minds of the people? How important are places – physical, stable, brick-and-mortar – to you in your spiritual life? To your community of faith? How do the “songs of Zion” (Ps 137) inform your sense of sacred place?

2 Corinthians 12:2-12

In this passage, the apostle Paul continues a long argument what it’s OK to boast about, and what to be humble about. Although the text makes it appear that he is talking about someone else, in reality, Paul is talking about ecstatic visions he himself experienced in the course of his life. Remember that the Corinthians had asked about spiritual gifts such as these (1 Corinthians 14). Now Paul admits he has had them too, but then immediately goes on to talk about a “thorn in his flesh” to keep him from getting too proud. No one knows what it was specifically, but whatever it was, caused Paul in his reflections and prayers to say that “My grace is sufficient for you; power is made perfect in weakness.”

What do you think of this? Do you think God deliberately inflicts such challenges on people? Is it appropriate to call attention even to one’s sufferings, or better to be quiet about them? How might you use this passage to inform the challenges of your own life?

Mark 6:1-13

In this story, Jesus is back in his hometown, but no one takes him seriously. He apparently can’t even enact his usual ministries of teaching and healing. “And he was amazed at their unbelief.” The word here really is more like “un-faith” or “un-trust.”

Can you think of other times when people didn’t seem to believe Jesus and his ministry and teaching? How does this contrast, for example, with Jesus’ calming of the storm from two Sundays ago? Does Christ only wait to be asked before he acts? Is faith required first in order to experience the love of Christ? What does that mean for your own faith and practice?

Bible Study: Proper 8 (B) – July 1, 2012

Discussion Leader: Robert Berra, Berkeley Divinity School at Yale

“He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha cum,’ which means, ‘Little girl, get up!’ And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement.” (Mark 5: 38-40)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27 and Psalm 130 (or Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15; 2:23-24
and Lamentations 3:21-33 or Psalm 30); 2 Corinthians 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-43

 

Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15; 2:23-24

The five verses of the lection (out of a range of two chapters – forty verses!) are a distillation of the author’s answer as to why there is good and evil, and why we should choose the good. God created all there is; and because of God’s goodness, the essence of creation mirrors this goodness. It is this goodness for which we were created. The author constructs a dualism, considering evil to be a creation of the devil, who leads people to death. The author is putting a choice before us: support the creative good work of God, or choose to deal in the death of God’s creative work.

For the author, we are not dealing with an abstract choice that will affect us when the mortal body dies, but a choice that has concrete consequences in the here and now. The unrighteous, by not understanding the good ends of creation, see life as short and meaningless. A vision of scarcity and selfishness pervades as the unrighteous try to provide for their own happiness at the expense of others (see 2:6-11) in spite of the example of the righteous who take a long and nurturing view of human life and honor all God has made.

How does your view of death affect your way of life?

Psalm 30

Psalm 30 is a song of thanksgiving – one person’s testimony to God’s goodness after a nearly fatal (probably) physical illness. The psalm is an emotional rollercoaster with highs and lows: praise, thanks, arrogance, desertion, pain, desperation, bargaining, mourning, joy and gratitude. With such a wide range of emotions and the somewhat non-specific nature of the trouble the psalmist faced, it is easy to see that this psalm can speak to a wide range of people. It speaks to those of us who have had the time to reflect on hardships and can join in praising God. It also speaks to those of us who are still “weeping in the night,” and waiting for the joy that comes in the morning – and hoping that joy will come.

In reading this psalm, what emotions are you feeling? Why are you feeling those particular emotions?

Is there a story of a time in your life that led you to gratitude and thanksgiving for God’s work in your life?

2 Corinthians 8:7-15 

Stepping away from the particular circumstances of the letter, we can see Paul developing a theology of giving based on the desire to do good and in imitation of Christ. For Paul, there is no great separation between faith and good works; the two are linked. Paul expects that the Corinthians would be willing to give without Paul coercing them. He is asking them to show that the love they profess for others are not empty words, but are followed with the desire to give to the material benefit of the poor. Paul implies that a maturing faith will show that the desire to give will grow and flourish naturally, without his compulsion, and that the Corinthians who (he says) excel in faith, speech, knowledge, in eagerness and love, will show their mature faith in charity. In doing so, the Corinthians will imitate Christ who became poor the sake of others. Knowing that people get tied down by asking, “How much is enough?” or grumbling about “giving everything away,” Paul writes that we seek not that the poor simply become rich and the rich become poor, but for the alleviation of need and a fair balance of necessities. Instead of a begrudging charity, Paul envisions a church trying to enact the kingdom of God, which is not bound to rules of scarcity or the logic of determining winners and losers.

How does faith play into your providing for the necessities of others?

Mark 5:21-43

The story of the healing of the hemorrhaging woman is nestled in the story of Jesus raising Jairus’ daughter. The differences in situation in these two healings are stark. Jairus is wealthy, well-connected and a religious leader. He comes to Jesus to request help for his daughter, and Jesus follows. The woman is ill, impoverished, ritually unclean and therefore separated from society. Both Jairus and the woman show faith in Jesus; but the woman shows a well-placed audaciousness that Jairus does not. This may be the difference in the social status of Jairus and the woman. Jairus’ position comes with respect and openness in how he moves in society. The woman seems to act in desperation, a clandestine attempt to be healed before she is found out and removed from the scene.

In these connected stories, we learn something of Jesus and his reordering of societal priorities. Jesus stopped a crowd to establish a relationship to a long-time ritually unclean woman (nowhere near a high social standing) who had touched him. He calls her “daughter” in the presence of established religious authorities of the day. He restores her to health and to community in spite of an interaction that would be considered scandalous. In the case of Jairus’ daughter, he again heals a ritually unclean woman with a touch. In these stories, we are shown that the priorities of Jesus are not the same as the world’s, and that he is willing to transgress worldly boundaries to bring about the good of those who seek him.

Healing may mean something different from being cured of an ailment. How have you experienced healing in your life?

What societal boundaries are you willing to cross when you can aid others in healing?

Bible Study: Proper 7 (B) – June 24, 2012

Discussion Leader: Erin Jean Warde, Seminary of the Southwest

“But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’” (Mark 4: 38-40)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
1 Samuel 17: (1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49 and Psalm 9:9-20 (Track 2: 1 Samuel 17:57-18:5, 10-16 and Psalm 133) (Track 3: Job 38:1-11; Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32); 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41

1 Samuel 17:57-18:5

What could it mean that “the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David”? Note that the Hebrew word used for “soul” here is transliterated as nephesh. While nephesh is translated in this passage as “soul,” it can also refer to other aspects of life, and people and animals are considered to have a nephesh. David and Jonathan enter into a covenant together. Given the role of covenants in the Old Testament, what could this mean? Compare and contrast this covenant with others.

What is the significance of Jonathan stripping himself of his armor and giving it to David?

Consider the importance of role in Jewish society.

Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32

This is a psalm of thanksgiving, to the Lord, whose goodness never fails. The psalm begins with a gathering: a proclamation that the Lord has gathered God’s people from the east, west, north, and south.

What implications does this “gathering” have on how Second Temple Jews understood their identity? What could this “gathering” have meant to them? Verses 23-32 are reminiscent of Mark 4:35-41.

What does this tell you about the nature of God?

What does this tell you about the relationship between the psalms and the gospels?

2 Corinthians 6:1-13

In this pericope from 2 Corinthians, Paul offers his defense, and thus urges readers to recognize a world that is a new creation, because of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Paul catalogues the hardships of the time, and offers the virtues that make such hardships dissolve in the light of the cross. Paul places his own pain in the light of the cross, to bring about the day of salvation, and a world newly created and ordered toward God. Paul pleads that readers may recognize that he and his fellow servants of Christ come only to offer compassion and new life, which they have been offered through a life dedicated to worshipping Christ.

Mark 4:35-41

In this gospel reading, Jesus shows the disciples his human and earthly power. Jesus has built relationships with the disciples, such that they accept his invitation to go to the other side. The disciples even took him “just as he was.” Though Jesus literally takes them to the other side of the waters, it would seem that he spiritually takes them into the deep waters of understanding his own identity. They took him just as he was, but only after this experience, do they know the blessings and risks of who he is. The disciples knew Jesus to be a teacher and to be a friend, but in this crossing they know that Jesus can bring order out of chaos, and that he is truly divine.

Bible Study: Proper 6 (B) – June 17, 2012

Discussion Leader: Shane Patrick Gormley, Nashotah House Theological Seminary

“Jesus also said, ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade’” (Mark 4:30-32).

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
1 Samuel 15:34-16:13 and Psalm 20 (Track 2: Ezekiel 17:22-24 and Psalm 92:1-4, 11-14);2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17; Mark 4:26-34

Ezekiel 17:22-24

The depth of Ezekiel 17:22-24 is better explored by the light of the preceding context. This passage serves as the conclusion to an allegorical story of Israel’s recent history (17:1-21). God had sent Israel into exile as a punishment for their transgressions. They forsook the covenant that God had established with them. The exile was a time ordained by God for Israel’s purification. He had allowed them to prosper even under the dominion of Babylon. The Babylonian king established his own covenant and appointed one of the Israelite rulers as his viceroy. This viceroy, and the Israelites with him, forsook this blessing and reached out to Egypt for aid against the Babylonians.

Israel neglected the discipline of the exile and the blessing of the favor that they found in the eyes of the Babylonians. God saw it as an offense not only against Babylon but against him as well. “As I live, I will surely return upon his head my oath that he despised, and my covenant that he broke” (17:19). He will punish and discipline Israel. But here, in 17:22-24, God announces that no one else is able to plant Israel and cause it to prosper – not Babylon, not Egypt, and not Israel itself. “I myself will take sprig. … I myself will plant it” (22). God’s sovereignty will be proclaimed in this act. All of creation will know what God has done and that he alone has done it (24).

Do we recognize the different ways that God is acting in the world today?

How might we open ourselves more fully to what God is doing, and how he might use us to do it?

Psalm 92:1-4, 11-14

It is a good thing, and a privilege, to give thanks to God. Whether it be morning or night, brightness or darkness, we proclaim God’s goodness and faithfulness in all that we do. We sing, we praise, we work, we worship, we pray, we laugh, we cry, we serve. In all that we do, we give thanks to God, and we are to recognize God is doing a work in his people, and we are blessed by that work. This work is not always the easiest thing to recognize, but we are assured by the scriptures that it is taking place. Sometimes this work is beautiful and heroic, like the Exodus and David’s anointing. At other times the work is hard and difficult, like the discipline of the Exile and the heartache we feel at a close friend’s death. But in all things God works in us that which is good and that which gives growth.

As we are conformed further to God’s image, as we become righteous, we are made to flourish like the palm trees and grow like the cedars of Lebanon (11). We are more firmly grounded in the house of God (12). All the challenges and blessings of our lives move us to testify, even in our increasing years (13) that God does what is right, and that in him we cannot be moved. We are firmly planted and will grow to be fruitful (14). Our praise and thanksgiving are to testify to this very fact.

What do you thank God for each day?

How do you communicate to others what God is doing in your life?

2 Corinthians 5:6-10 (11-13) 14-17

In what are we confident? We are confident that God has prepared something better for us. Previous to this, Paul has said, “We know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (5:1). No matter what happens to us in this life, God is preparing something greater for us. This we may not always see; only our faith beholds the beauty that awaits us and will be revealed to us in the proper time. The confidence that Paul teaches us to have is to be enacted in the here and now. We live by faith – faith in what is being prepared for us, guaranteed by the Holy Spirit. “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.”

The work required by God has already been accomplished. “We are convinced that one has died for all” (14). Jesus Christ offered himself to be the propitiation for our sins, and so we enter into this work by joining in his death. We die to ourselves and live to God. “He died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them” (15). We are remade into a new creation. “Everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (17). And we can never forget that it is God who works this in us (18).

What struggles do you encounter that you know are not a part of what is to come? Do you accept the grace to overcome those things now?

How can you live as a new creation? How can your life continually be made new?

Mark4:26-34

These two parables look at the kingdom of God, the reality that has broken upon the kingdom of this world declaring God as the true and righteous king of creation, and compare it to seeds. In the first, the kingdom is compared to the growth of a seed. Going to sleep, whether you’re a farmer or not, allows you to rest and let the world worry about itself for a little while. A seed doesn’t need us to stay awake for it to grow. We plant it and we water it, giving it what it needs for sustenance. But making it grow is up to God. Whether we think of the seed that we plant or the seed that is planted in us, we must remember that it is God who gives the growth.

When the harvest has come, we can also be assured that God will be there to reap it. God tends his garden and keeps it alive. God sustains his own kingdom and gives it the growth it needs at the proper time. He can work with anything we give him. Even the “smallest of all the seeds on earth” will become “the greatest of all shrubs.” Its large branches are the branches of the kingdom of God, which will stretch to the corners of the earth. God placed humans on earth to tend to it, and provide for its growth (Gen 1:26-28; 2:15). We are to take part in furthering the kingdom on earth, being its very branches and stretching farther and farther.

What is the soil of your life like? Do you prepare yourself to allow the kingdom of God to grow in your life?

How do you tend to the garden of your neighbor’s life? Do you make it easier for him or her to let the kingdom grow in his or her own life?

How do you spread the kingdom around yourself?