Archives for October 2012

Bible Study: 24 Pentecost, Proper 27 (B) – Nov. 11, 2012

Discussion Leader: Erin Jean Warde, Seminary of the Southwest

“Then Jesus called his disciples and said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.’” (Mark 12: 43-44)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17 and Psalm 127 (or 1 Kings 17:8-16 and Psalm 146); Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44

1 Kings 17:8-16

In this text, Elijah has been sent to Zarephath, and in this place he encounters a widow. He finds her at the gate, making her both literally and figuratively in the margins of society. In 1 Kings a continual theme is that God overcomes drought and famine to assert power over the natural world, in such a way that questions the sensibilities of the people. This is no different. Elijah speaks to the widow and asks her to feed him, and she explains that she has such little food that after eating it with her son, they would still die. Elijah empowers her and sends her to feed the three of them, with the promise that she can, through the power of God, offer this meal. Not only does he ensure that they will be fed once, but he also ensures that the jar of meal will not empty until God’s power is shown to the earth in the form of the end of the drought. Elijah brings to the widow a prophecy of abundance in a scarce land. Where the world may offer death, Elijah promises that God offers the provisions that ensure life.

Psalm 146

This psalm sings praises to Yahweh, while also in the third verse juxtaposing the power of God to the power of earthly rulers. The psalm proclaims, “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.” The psalm continues by taking readers back to the first showing of God’s power, creation, in verse six. The exclamation of the power of God shown in creation gives way to praise of God’s power on earth, a power shown through the means of justice for the oppressed and food for the hungry. To show the far-reaching extent of God’s power over the world God has created, God is defined as a God who sets prisoners free, heals people of their earthly infirmities, welcomes the stranger, shows compassion toward the orphan and the widow and defends the faithful people of God.

Hebrews 9:24-28

In this reading from Hebrews, the reader is reminded of the power of the life, death and resurrection of Christ, which has offered grace to creation: past, present and future. Christ “did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands,” because the power of God is not from this world. Christ was present before God in God’s kingdom, and from that place intercedes for us, by offering us the power and presence of God-in-Christ. The work of God through Christ has transcended time and ended death. Death was ended not only for Christ, who was resurrected, but for the whole of humanity, because God has promised a savior who is sent “to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”

Mark 12:38-44

In this text, the writer of Mark juxtaposes a story about the hypocrisy and false witness of the scribes with a story of a widow who gives her most honest offering. In verses 38-41, Jesus teaches against those who serve God, yet reap earthly rewards for doing so. This seems to go along with Jesus’ teaching that the first in the kingdom of God shall be last, and the last shall be first. The “places of honor at the banquets” are not for the people of God; the people of God are last on earth, and ushered first into the kingdom of Heaven. Earthly authority has no bearing on whether or not a person will receive the glory of God on the last day. Continuing in verse 41, the gospel writer tells the story of a poor widow giving a penny, which is “everything she had, all she had to live on.” Again, like in the reading from 1 Kings, the power of God takes a place of scarcity and transforms it into an offering of abundance. The widow is faithful, and she doesn’t give out of scarcity, she gives out of the abundance that she believes will come to pass through the faithfulness and power of God.

Bible Study: 23 Pentecost, Proper 26 (B) – Nov. 4, 2012

Discussion Leader: Anne Thatcher, Berkeley Divinity School at Yale

“One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, ‘Which commandment is the first of all?’ Jesus answered, ‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’” (Mark 12:28-31)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Ruth 1:1-18 and Psalm 146 (or Deuteronomy 6:1-9 and Psalm 119:1-8); Hebrews 9:11-14; Mark 12:28-34

Deuteronomy 6: 1-9

In this passage we are commanded to love one another. This is not a recommendation or piece of wisdom. There is no disclaimer such as “if you feel like it” or a promise of reward such as “if you want others to love you.” This is not a helpful Tips for Living list. In fact, this entire passage is full of command words: hear, love, keep, talk, recite, bind, fix, write. This is about action. This is a call to live in ministry, not just chitchat about it or theorize. LOVE. Not “like,” not “spend time with.” LOVE.

What does that look like? We are so resistant to being commanded to do things, and yet, if this were not a command, would we take it as seriously? Would we truly understand what Jesus is telling us to do?

What would your life look like if you reminded yourself with every interaction that you are called to love the individual, regardless of who they are, where they come from? Love, regardless of the quality of your interaction, regardless of your expectations. Love, regardless of your feelings, opinions, and beliefs.

Psalm 146

This is a psalm of thanksgiving and the traditional format in a thanksgiving psalm is followed here: personal praises, followed by general praises, then a meditation on God’s justice. This meditation provides comfort for the individual because it rests on the historical evidence of God’s faithfulness to his people. It ends with the promise of God’s commitment to his people forever.

When times are difficult, when things are not going the way I hoped, when I feel that God is not answering my prayer, I unconsciously follow the pattern of this psalm. I start thinking about all that God has blessed me with up to this point in my life, the beauty, the surprises, the moving of mountains that I thought would never shift. And in that new perspective my frustration or disappointment seems less, for if God can move mountains, what is one small task in comparison? If God created the sea and all that is in it, what is my small request? Who am I to doubt God’s power? In these reflections I find great comfort in knowing that God’s promise is forever, there is no time limit, no condition upon which it will change. Never-ending love.

Hebrews 9:11-14

There is a criticism here of the traditional sacrificial offerings; they no longer qualify as a way to redemption. What are the sacrificial offerings in your own life that you keep going back to, that you offer to God as a way of making amends or asking for forgiveness?

Quitting smoking, losing weight, no more gambling,
ceasing use of alcohol or drugs, working less,
better money management, more exercise, marriage counseling,
stopping the practice of various vices

Are you living as if these changes will buy you God’s forgiveness?

Mark 12:28-34

We are called to love, but it is a love in and through Christ, not human love. In his book  “Life Together” (HarperOne, 1978), Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us that “human love makes an end in itself” while “spiritual love is bound solely to the Word of Jesus Christ … because spiritual love does not desire but rather serves, it loves an enemy as a brother.” Our love for others must come through God, for our own personal love will get in the way, it will be too full of humanly desire and agendas. And yet this does not begin with the loving of others through God, it begins with loving God fully – loving God with every essence of our being, with heart, soul, mind and strength.

Is there someone in your life whom you find disagreeable? What happens when you view them through God, as God’s creation, rather than through your own filter?

Bible Study: 22 Pentecost, Proper 25 (B) – Oct. 28, 2012

Discussion Leader: Colin Mathewson, Sewanee

“Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.” (Mark 10:52)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Job 42:1-6, 10-17 and Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22) (or Jeremiah 31:7-9 and Psalm 126); Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52

Jeremiah 31:7-9

Slowly the lectionary is making a turn toward the final days. The Season after Pentecost ends with the vision of Christ the King, who comes to render judgment and restore God’s kingdom in its ultimate fullness on earth. Appropriately, Advent begins with a similar sense, for we wait in joyful anticipation for Jesus’ first and second comings! Today’s text recounts a restoration for God’s people after the horrors of Jerusalem’s destruction and Babylon’s exile. Not only will a remnant be allowed to return, but even those we might otherwise leave behind are included: the blind, the lame, and the pregnant. What’s more, the Lord now claims a fatherly love for the scattered flock, hinting at a deeper intimacy that Christians would later come to experience in the Incarnation. The hope this passage evokes refreshes all those to whom it addresses.

Psalm 126

The psalmist who penned these verses perhaps read Jeremiah’s text minutes before. How do you experience God’s salvation in light of the pain, anxiety, and turmoil in your life and in the life of the world? As we weep, do we remember to bring along the seed for next season’s harvest? What joyous mystery to witness our teary water irrigating the fields of our healing redemption!

Hebrews 7:23-28

The term “sacrifice” seems to have faded from of our day-to-day vocabulary, reserved now for somber announcements of the human tolls of our overseas wars. Yet the concept is integral to our worship and theology. In the text above, we consider the difference between the daily temple sacrifices of Jewish high priests and the Paschal Lamb who is broken for the sins of the world.

The Jewish provenance of Christianity is unmistakable and inescapable. Instead of glossing over the tension within the New Testament between Jews and Christians, or the scribes and Jesus, we ought to engage these texts with a gracious and critical eye. Such was the approach Jesus took, as a faithful Jew, in confronting the theology and religious practices of his time. He cared so much for the traditions of his ancestors that he sought, through the Holy Spirit, to share his relationship with the Father and its implications with all those whom he met. Our embarking on a lifetime of study to avoid anti-Jewish preaching and teaching may be a sacrifice, but it is a worthwhile one.

Mark 10:46-52

As a bystander that dusty day, it’s easy to imagine the feel of cringing embarrassment as Bartimaeus makes a fool of himself in order to catch Jesus’ attention. Did Jesus hear him on the first or second shout and keep walking? Were others vying loudly for a healing moment as well? There is paradox here: Bartimaeus, newly sighted, follows Jesus’ growing company on its triumphal entry into Jerusalem. This looks, sounds, and feels a lot like Jeremiah’s vision of return and restoration. The people’s hopes are shattered, however, by the brutality of crucifixion. Only resurrection could possibly convince such despairing folk that God was still with them, and would be, until the end of the age.

Bible Study: 21 Pentecost, Proper 24 (B) – Oct. 21, 2012

Discussion Leader: Jeannie Babb, Sewanee

“Whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.” (Mark 10:44)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Job 38:1-7, (34-41) and Psalm 104:1-9, 25, 37b (or Isaiah 53:4-12 and Psalm 91:9-16); Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 10:35-45

Job 38:1-7, (34-41)

In today’s Old Testament reading, God responds to Job’s questions about suffering. The whirlwind (and other storms and natural phenomena) appear in scripture to signify theophany. The lectionary has only treated us to Job’s problem (Propers 22 and 23) and God’s response. We have been spared his friends’ lengthy attempts to justify why a righteous God would allow a good man like Job to suffer financial ruin, painful chronic illness and the deaths of all his children. The other men in the story have attempted to answer for God. The whirlwind sets the words of God apart from the previously uttered earthly arguments about Job’s situation.

From the outset, God is clear about what sort of conversation this will be. The phrase “Gird up your loins like a man” suggests preparing for battle – but this battle will be a rhetorical one. It will not be the longed-for dialogue where Job would question God (31:33). Rather, “I will question you, and you shall declare to me.”

God first challenges Job regarding creation. The depiction of God spreading a plumb line and laying a cornerstone may be poetic metaphor, or sarcastic ribbing as indicated by the phrase “Surely you know!” Try reading the verses in different tones: humorous, light-hearted, arrogant, angry and gentle. Which tone best fits the phrasing?

What kind of divine creator/sustainer is depicted in these verses?

Does the passage imply there are things Job should be able to tell about God, just from looking at the world around him?

Psalm 104:1-9, 25, 37b

This passage in Psalms almost sounds like a reply to the rhetorical questions asked in today’s passage from Job. The congregation recites a few of the wonders of God’s creative process in the second person. As in Job, God is envisioned physically constructing the world as though it were a building or a dynamic art installation. Again God is depicted directing and corralling the waters, which obey commands. Vivid imagery depicts the water fleeing at God’s rebuke – even running uphill – and closes with a reference to the flood:

You set the limits that they should not pass;
they shall not again cover the earth.

God the creator is also God the sustainer and protector, providing limits and boundaries.

Hebrews 5:1-10

The author of Hebrews uses the metaphor of the high priest to describe the nature and salvific acts of Jesus. The depiction is interesting, since Jesus was not a priest at all, much less high priest. Many Christians base their understanding of Judaism (rather than their understanding of Jesus) on this passage. The author’s intent is not to expound on Judaism, but to explore the nature of Christ.

The priest offers up gifts and sacrifices for sins. According to the passage, what did Jesus offer up?

The priest is able to be compassionate because he is weak. Does the passage present Jesus as weak or sinful? If not, what is the parallel to the priest’s weakness?

Mark 10:35-45

I always want to find some way to redeem the enormous blunder made by James and John in this passage. Surely, they couldn’t mean what they seem to mean, couldn’t be asking what they seem to be asking. According to Mark’s chronology, Jesus has made it abundantly clear that his mission includes torture and death. He has already rebuked Peter harshly for trying to thwart that calling, telling all the disciples quite plainly that following him requires a wiliness to suffer the same painful, ignoble fate that he himself would suffer.

Then in last week’s gospel reading, Jesus had to set the disciples straight about their thinking on authority and honor. They argued, as they walked, about who would be the greatest in the coming kingdom. “Greatest what?” one wonders. The greatest sufferer? The first martyr? Jesus pauses to flip their world upside down (“Whoever wants to be first must be last and the servant of all”) before going back to the main message: What’s coming is death.

In today’s reading, it happens again. This time we aren’t given anonymous disciples participating in covert talk. Rather, James and John openly ask to be honored with the best seats in the house. Again, Jesus takes the time to correct both misunderstandings: (1) This is about death, not glory; and (2) leadership in this movement requires serving, not ruling.

It is easy to focus on how obtuse the disciples are, but Christians today ought to focus on the second issue rather than the first. We already believe that Jesus is going to die near the end of this story. We get that. What are we going to do about the other?