Archives for June 2013

Bible Study: 8 Pentecost, Proper 10 (C)

July 14, 2013

Susan Butterworth, Episcopal Divinity School

Which of these three [priest, Levite and Samaritan], do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ The lawyer said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’” (Luke 10:36-37)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Amos 7:7-17; Psalm 82; Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37

Amos 7:7-17

At the time of the prophet Amos, the people of Israel were in a time of peace and prosperity. However, prosperity had led them to forget their covenant with God. God had delivered them from bondage in Israel, and in return, they were to show their faithfulness to God by living lives of compassion and righteous and sincere worship. Instead, their religious observance had become an empty form, and social justice had fallen by the wayside. The wealthy few neglected to share the fruits of prosperity with the poor.

The passage opens with the vision of the plumb line. God declares that he will no longer overlook the behavior of Israel. Because of their injustice and religious arrogance, King Jeroboam’s house will be punished by military disaster and sent into exile. When Jeroboam’s priest, Amaziah, confronts Amos and commands him to return to his home in Judah and prophesy there, Amos separates himself from the guild of professional prophets and affirms that his calling comes directly from God. Because Amaziah has opposed the word of God, Amos announces judgment on Amaziah’s family and on the house of Israel.

Amaziah attempts to silence Amos by sending him away. But the truth of the injustice Amos denounces cannot be denied. Can you think of any instances in our times when a self-interested power has tried to silence a modern-day prophet who calls for social justice?

God calls Amos away from his work as a herdsman and dresser of sycamore trees to remind his hearers of God’s presence in their lives. Is there a time when you have been called or reminded to examine how your life must reflect justice and compassion?

Psalm 82

Psalm 82 is an interesting text, from the same pre-Babylonian exile time as the text from Amos. In this psalm we see God sitting in judgment, not of the people of Israel, but of the other gods of ancient myth. The Israelites of this time worshipped one god, whom they acknowledged as the most powerful one true God and their deliverer, but acknowledged the existence of other gods of other ancient Near Eastern peoples. The psalmist depicts God chastising the other gods for allowing injustice to thrive among the peoples of the earth. Further, God says that if they don’t behave justly as gods should, they will die like mortals, thus forfeiting their god-like status. Injustice is not worthy of the word of God.

Contrast the gods of Psalm 82 – those who might die like mortals – with Christ, the One who has not died like other mortal human beings. What might be the causes for the death of these gods of early myth? How is Christ different from the gods of Psalm 82?

With your Bible Study or youth group, try writing some intercessory prayers based on the theme of justice found in Psalm 82. Perhaps some verses of the psalm might act as a refrain or an introduction to some intercessions that are related to current events or people in your community.

Colossians 1:1-14

The letter to the Colossians is concerned with a conflict among a congregation that had been founded by Epaphras. The dispute is between the position of Paul and Epaphras, that the believers in Christ have received through their baptism a new, full life in Christ and admission to the knowledge of the mystery of God. Their opponents, whom Paul scorns, urge special actions and observances to achieve access to God. The letter begins with a typical Pauline letter opening followed by a thanksgiving for the faithful believers who have evidenced the faith, love and hope that they have received from the gospel. The writer prays that the believers will be filled with wisdom and lead lives of steadfastness, patience, endurance and thanksgiving – lives worthy of Christ.

Paul emphasizes that wisdom and knowledge of God’s grace is attained only through what the believers have received by baptism in Christ. There is no other means to sharing in the inheritance of resurrection with Christ, and enthronement with God and Christ. Imagery of light and darkness is used in addition to wisdom language. A life worthy of Christ’s love is the only and sufficient way out of darkness and into redemption.

Paul commends the Colossians for the qualities of true spirituality that they have shown. What are these qualities? What concrete evidence reveals these qualities in a church community? Can you point to evidence of spiritual qualities in your community or another community?

Paul writes that leading a life worthy of the Lord will bear fruit. Think about the aspects of a worthy life and the fruit that will be borne. Are the attributes of the worthy life that Paul describes what you expected them to be? What are the fruits of a worthy life, according to Paul?

Luke 10:25-37

It’s a rare person who doesn’t know the parable of the Good Samaritan. Unlike some of the parables, the message seems quite clear: Love your neighbor. Anyone in need is your neighbor. It is understood that the Samaritan is an outsider. It is the outsider who shows compassion to the half-dead man by the roadside after the priest and the Levite, members of the community, have crossed to the other side. In the parable, it is the outsider who is the true neighbor because he shows mercy.

It is moral and Godly to show mercy and compassion to anyone in need, whether that person is one of your community or an outsider. In our lives, we probably know this. While the parable is about doing what is right – “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” and “Go and do likewise” – there is more to the story than righteous behavior.

In the passage immediately preceding the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus says, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see!” He is talking about faith. The priest and the Levite are in a hurry, on their way to work in the temple. They don’t really see the injured man except as an obstacle in their path. The Samaritan sees and is moved with pity. He sees in a different way, with blessed eyes, with the eyes of faith. Perhaps when Jesus says to the lawyer, “Go and do likewise,” he means see with the eyes of faith.

Take a look at the various characters in the parable, particularly the lawyer, the priest, the Levite and the innkeeper. Think about their lives and their reaction to the events of the story. Put yourself in each character’s place. In what ways are you like each character? How does each one feel and react to the injured man? Would you react the same way?

Think of this parable as a story of ministry and healing. What does ministry mean? How does the Samaritan minister to the injured man? How does he help to heal him? What are the implications of this kind of healing ministry in our daily lives?

Bible Study: 7 Pentecost, Proper 9 (C)

July 7, 2013

Broderick Greer, Virginia Theological Seminary

“Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road.” (Luke 10:3-4)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
2 Kings 5:1-14; Psalm 30; Galatians 6:(1-6), 7-16; Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

2 Kings 5:1-14

From Abram’s initial call from Ur to the death and resurrection of King Jesus, Israel’s vocation was clear: Embody the light, goodness and justice of your God to every nation. Much of scripture, though, is spent explaining how Israel excelled in doing the opposite.

In this short vignette from 2 Kings, an unnamed slave girl takes this vocation seriously. Despite having been unjustly removed from the land that nourished and undoubtedly gave her a narrative of identity and belonging, she sought out good for Naaman, a man whose health she could have callously watched deteriorate. Instead of walking down a path of contempt, this girl walked down a path of compassion, pointing her pagan master toward the God of Israel, the God of life and wholeness. Despite Naaman’s mocking hesitation, the healing power of Israel’s God met him in the murky waters of the Jordan.

The slave girl’s humble witness to the living God brought restoration to her oppressor. In every generation, there has been a remnant of wise, faithful people who have actively blessed their oppressors. What do you think their motivation was?

What are ways we can bless those who oppress us?

What does God’s healing of a gentile say about God’s nature?

Psalm 30

The idea that the “God of the Old Testament” is different from the “God of the New Testament” is, at its very least, unhelpful. “Before Jesus,” the adage goes, “God was always angry. If you got on his bad side, he would smite you. If you messed up just a little bit, he was done with you.” Though that impression can be gained from various Old Testament stories, I’m not convinced the sentiment is accurate.

In this psalm attribute to King David, the psalmist acknowledges the presence of a dynamic, molten God. “I cried out to you for help, and you healed me,” the psalmist announced. In the psalmist’s theological universe, God was actively involved in the helplessness (v. 2), sorrow (v. 5), terror (v. 7), and celebration (v. 11) of life. This psalmist holds nothing back when it comes to honestly declaring his or her feelings before God. And I think it’s safe to suggest that God holds nothing back when engaging this person, or any of us, in every season of life.

The Book of Psalms is a collection of songs that encompasses every facet of Israel’s devotional and liturgical life. If you were commissioned to write a psalm in this moment, what would it say? How honest would you be in its composition?

Do you think God can handle your honesty?

Galatians 6:7-16

One of the downsides of our modern, urbanized society is that much of scripture’s agrarian vocabulary is lost on us. As urban gardening becomes more common, hopefully we’ll be able to reclaim one of humanity’s most primal relationships: our relationship with the earth.

St. Paul, a man formed and rooted in an agrarian world had no issue using “planting” and “harvest” language. He saw the Christian life, and maybe the whole of creation, as an uncultivated plot of land, open to human interaction, longing for human care. In his letter to the Galatians, he contends that everyone is planting something. Those who sow out of selfishness will reap devastation, but those who plant for the benefit of the Spirit, the wise apostle said, will harvest eternal life from the Spirit (v. 8).

St. Paul challenges the Galatian Christians to evaluate what they are sowing into the world. He calls on the community of Christ to lay aside every form of selfishness and pride, embracing goodness and humility. This humility is rooted in the cross of Jesus, Israel’s long-awaited king. Paul even goes as far as to bind himself to boast in nothing “except the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 14). This boasting, this sowing, this work of love, is completely consumed in God’s loving act in Christ on the cross for the sake of the world. In Jesus’ crucifixion, the body of Christ is crucified to the whole world and is delivered into a new creation. And this new creation is all that matters (v. 15).

St. Paul compares the Christian life to sowing and harvesting. If he were writing today, what sort of metaphors do you think he’d use?

What is “God’s Israel,” spoken of in verse 16?

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Every day, followers of Christ pray that God’s kingdom will come “on earth as it is in heaven.” But just how does this happen? Is it through legislative victories or sales at discount stores? Does it come when the people we like “win,” and people we dislike “lose”? Does it come only on 70-degree days in April, or is it possible that God’s reign can break through in the dark, cold evenings of December?

In this gospel reading, Jesus sends out 72 of his disciples in pairs to announce to Israel’s villages that “God’s kingdom has come to you” (v. 11). In their almost baggage-less traveling, Jesus’ disciples were given orders to simply eat food wherever they were offered it.

This going where Jesus directed and doing as he commanded took an immense amount of trust. He didn’t give much more instruction other than to leave the communities that did not welcome the announcement of God’s reign. When the 72 disciples returned from their excursion, they were ecstatic. “Demons are submitting to us!” they said. Jesus, unimpressed, encourages them to rejoice that their names are “written in heaven” (v. 20).

This “written in heaven” phrase troubled me at first glance. My Protestant mind cannot fathom a Jesus who rewards his followers with heaven when they do what he tells them to do. But after further thought, I am inclined to think that this experiment in evangelism is actually heaven itself. In their receiving of bread in strange homes and exchanging of stories and giving of good news, the 72 experienced heaven. That’s all that heaven is, right? Sharing, learning, and delighting in others and in God?

In what ways have you possibly missed out on heaven in the last week?

Bible Study: 6 Pentecost, Proper 8 (C)

June 30, 2013

Christine Hord, Virginia Theological Seminary

“Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’” (Luke 9:58)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14; Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20; Galatians 5:1,13-25; Luke 9:51-62

2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14

Second Kings continues the history of Israel from 1 Kings. Elijah will soon be leaving Elisha and ascend or be “taken up” to heaven. Elijah and Elisha have set out from Gilgal. As Robert Wilson points out in the footnotes on 2 Kings in “The Harper Collins Study Bible” (Harper Collins, 2006), at the Jordan River, Elijah uses his mantle, a symbol of his power, to separate the river so that he and Elisha may cross. This act, separating the waters of the Jordan River, echo similar acts by Joshua as he led the Israelites into Canaan, and Moses and his parting of the Red Sea. Connecting Elijah with those ancestors who came before him and led the Israelites to freedom is a testimony to the importance of heredity and inheritance in the history of the people of Israel.

Wilson also points out that in traditional Mosaic Law it was believed the firstborn received a double portion of the inheritance. The inheritance for this family is the gift of the Spirit. Elisha asks that some of the gift be shared with him. When Elijah ascends to heaven, Elisha receives the gift of Spirit from his brother, and using the mantle parts the water. This act of power over the waters is a sign Elisha will now carry on the history and inheritance for the people.

What can your family history tell you about the gifts you may have inherited from your ancestors?

What patterns do you see emerging from your own family history that may not be of the Spirit?

Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20

The psalm begins with a cry for help. The psalmist finds no comfort and cries out, “Help me God.” “Where are you God?” “Why won’t you help me God?”

This hymn of lamentation, however, quickly turns into a hymn of thanksgiving and praise. The psalmist begins to recall all the wonderful gifts and blessings that have been given and chooses to praise God for this abundance. We are reminded again of the way in which God led the people of Israel to freedom and the promises that God has made and kept.

There can be times when it is very difficult to see God here, now, with us, through our struggles and moments of despondency. Feelings of abandonment and despair are real and heartbreaking. Practicing gratitude can keep us mindful of those things that are good, encouraging us and giving us hope. Some people keep a gratitude journal, writing each day three to five things they are thankful for or when they felt a strong sense of God’s presence. This practice can be particularly helpful during times when God can feel so far away.

What three things are you grateful for today?

Where have you found God during the most challenging times of your life?

Galatians 5:1,11-20

Christ has set us free. Just as Elisha asked for a share of Elijah’s Spirit, we, too, are all given the opportunity to share in the gifts of the Spirit. In Christ, who has set us free, we all may choose to live in the Spirit and not succumb to earthily and human desires. Paul’s argument against circumcision is in opposition to teachers who have been encouraging members of the early church to continue the traditional Jewish laws. While circumcision may have been the traditional practice to show ones allegiance to God, under this new law, one will show forth the fruits of the Spirit as a sign of their commitment to God in Christ.

What fruits of the spirit are you proficient in?

Which fruits do you think could use some work, and how might you begin that work today?

Luke 9:51-62

Jesus has just foretold his death and resurrection, and we are told it is now near the time of his ascension. Much like Elijah on his journey from Gilgal (2 Kings 2:1), Jesus has “set his face” toward Jerusalem (v. 51) and begins a journey from Galilee. Jesus has also “sent messengers ahead” (v. 52), an echo of Exodus 23:20 and a literary tie to a prophets history.

Jesus encounters resistance to his ministry in Samaria, and as they travel along the road to Jerusalem many wish to follow him. Jesus explains to the would-be followers, that to follow the Son of Man is not an easy life. This life of discipleship requires one to leave what they know and even whom they love. Just as Jesus did not allow his disciples to turn back and punish the Samaritans, he similarly explains to those eager to follow, that once one has committed to this life of discipleship there is no turning back.

When in your life have you had to make a difficult decision to move, to leave a job or maybe even a partner to do what you believed to be the best thing?

The scripture doesn’t tell us whether those wanting to follow Jesus ended up doing so. What might you have thought if you were one of the would-be followers and Jesus told you not to look back to those you were leaving behind?