Bible Study: 17 Pentecost, Proper 19 (C)

September 15, 2013

Dorian Del Priore, Virginia Theological Seminary

“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the 99 in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?” (Luke 15:4)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28 ; Psalm 14; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10

Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28

God is absolutely frustrated. His people are not just simply foolish or prone to making mistakes. No, his people are skillfully evil. They have become corrupt to the point that it may be time to wipe the slate clean. God desires to bring a hot wind to scorch and judge. It is almost as if God is going to roll back all the good that he created. He obviously is not happy about the state of his relationship with his people. You know it is bad news when the mountains and hills are quaking and the birds take flight to get out of Dodge.

God’s judgment seems final. Everything is laid to ruin. What could be left? What grace can be found in this? So much for a loving God.

“Yet I will not make a full end” (v. 27).

I am reminded of the song, “Beautiful Things,” by the group Gungor, in which they sing, “You make beautiful things. You make beautiful things out of the dust.”

Judgment is a declaration of opinion, but it is not condemnation or abandonment. God’s judgment here allows for engagement with his people, a shift in relationship in order to begin anew. God creates out of dust. God can make new things out of broken and ruined things, much like new growth that arises from the ashes of a forest fire. That new growth is hope birthed from the dirt of our brokenness before God.

How can we recognize when we become spiritually desolate, separated from God?

In what ways are we made into fertile soil by our brokenness?

Do you see hope in your brokenness? How so?

Psalm 14

In his Letter from Birmingham Jail on April 16, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Psalm 14 captures this reality perfectly. When corruption and evil have permeated society, all are affected, even those who are innocent, and often times, especially those who are innocent. But ultimately, this psalm is a prayer that points beyond the immediate suffering and offers comfort and assurance. It reminds those who are subject to corruption, those who are oppressed, that they will find refuge in God. Hope is found in the promises of God’s care for his people.

What other passages offer you the assurance of God’s comfort and refuge?

How can you be a prophetic witness (much like prayer in action) of God’s refuge for those who are oppressed?

1 Timothy 1:12-17

Paul had a personal encounter with the risen Lord, Jesus Christ. When people encounter Jesus, their lives become changed. This is true of many in the gospel stories, from disciples to blind beggars, and whatever happened on that road to Damascus left Paul a changed man. It broke him. It broke him open.

Paul was skilled at evil, and he acknowledged that he was a man of violence. He had become a land of desolation, laid out in ruin. But it was from these ashes that Jesus began a new work. When Paul was broken open at his encounter with Jesus, he became fertile soil in which grace could work and love could grow.

What is most telling about this passage in First Timothy is the relationship between Paul and Timothy. Paul is the aged mentor bestowing blessings and grace to his protégé and friend. Paul is sharing his experience of the risen Christ in his own life with Timothy. Paul is breaking himself open to Timothy, sharing how God has been at work within himself. This is a gift of grace flooded with vulnerability. The power of story, personal and intimate story, is unparalleled: It changes lives. The story of God at work in us is the heartbeat of Jesus inviting us to share that story with others. Break open yourself and share the story of God at work in you.

What is your story of encountering the risen Jesus?

How is God at work in you?

Who can you share that story with? Who can you be a mentor to?

Who would you like to have as a mentor?

Whose story would you like to hear?

Luke 15:1-10

It’s easy to be a fan of mercy when we are on the receiving end, but mercy can also challenge us. Our culture and inner desires like to decide or have sway over who is worthy of mercy. We want control in those types of relational dynamics. This leads to cynicism and grumbling, usually characterized by witty, snarky comments. Unfortunately, the church, at times, can become kind of like a country club that checks people at the door with dress requirements and moral qualifications.

However, Jesus models a mercy and welcome that is abundant, flowing freely for all people: male, female, rich, poor, tattooed, seer-suckered and bow-tied, sick, healthy, dirty, rough, wrinkly, all colors, all walks of life. Everyone. But also, mercy, freely given, should be a cause for joy: like the father when he sees his prodigal younger son, throwing decorum to the wind and lavishing his son with mercy and love upon his return. There is joy in the finding and being found, of course, but the joy is rooted in being drawn together into the arc of the eternal life of God. Further, just as the characters in the parables invited their neighbors and friends to celebrate, we are invited by Jesus to celebrate radical, abundant mercy joyfully with him.

There is a Eucharistic sense here that we are invited to come together at the table to celebrate our common bond in the mercy of Jesus broken open for our redemption! Maybe abundant and radical mercy should be like a huge party with an angelic choir as the house band. I am reminded of the gusto and joy on Easter with which we proclaim, “Christ is Risen!”

This passage also suggests, though, that abundant and freely given mercy changes lives. Repentance at its core is a change in direction or amendment of life, much like Paul turning away from his violent and evil life. Pursuing the other, the lost and desolate, with a grace and mercy that is abundant and free can change lives. This mercy cultivates hope and fertile soil in the hearts and souls of those with whom it is shared. And this is not a passive welcome; this is a welcome that pursues and loves deeply. And of course, this brings us back to joy. All of this is grounded in joy from the very mercy that we have received ourselves.

What does it feel like to give mercy freely?

What does it feel like to receive mercy freely?

What does it look like to welcome joyfully, passionately, freely, and abundantly?

What would that church look and feel like?

How have you experienced joy because of the work of God in your life?

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