Bible Study: 7 Pentecost, Proper 12 (A)

July 27, 2014

Jessie Gutgsell, Berkeley Divinity School at Yale

“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31-32)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Genesis 29:15-28; Psalm 105:1-11, 45bRomans 8:26-39Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

Genesis 29:15-28

The stories of Jacob, along with the stories of Abraham, Isaac and Joseph, are part of the ancestral stories of the second part of Genesis. This particular story of Jacob and Laban’s convoluted relationship follows the first cycle of Jacob stories where his relationship to Isaac is also one filled with trickery. Jacob’s mischievous and conniving relationships could certainly lead a person to wonder about the quality of people with whom God makes promises. Along with people’s imperfections, there is also a theme of promise and fulfillment in Jacob’s stories. Both of these major themes can be seen in the passage for this week. This time Jacob has met his match and finds himself tricked by his uncle Laban. Their competitive relationship continues with tales of trickery for the next few chapters in Genesis. Jacob does get what he’s promised eventually (Rachel as a wife), but not until after some complications when Laban gives his older daughter Leah instead.

Often the experiences of Rachel and Leah are overlooked in this story. Consider their unique roles in this story. What would it feel like to be them and to be part of this conspiracy with their father?

What do you make of the imperfections of the characters in the Jacob story? Does it give you hope? Fear? Disappointment? Does it make you consider the imperfections of your peers differently to see whom God loves and chooses to make promises with?

When have you loved something so much that years felt like only a few days?

Psalm 105:1-11, 45b

The fidelity and strength of God is a theme running through this week’s readings, and it’s especially present in this psalm. Verses 1 and 5 urge us to remember all that God has done for us. Verses 8-11 use the example of God’s covenant with Israel and how God has never forgotten those promises. But another message of this psalm is that it’s not just enough to remember what God has done in the past. One must search for the Lord and continually seek God’s face. This is a reminder and an invitation to look for God in everything that you do. Look for Christ in each person you meet, no matter how secular or unexpected the setting. What you will find there is God’s strength, God’s loyalty, and an awe-inspiring, forgiving love. Even when you lapse and forget to seek God’s face, remember that God has always been mindful of you.

Ponder what God’s loyalty means to you in your life. Are you aware that God has always been mindful of you and all God’s creatures?

How do you seek God’s face? Through your relationships? Through a spiritual practice? Consider this question and see if you can think of a new way to seek God’s face this week.

What does it mean to always be mindful of something? Is there something in your life that you are constantly mindful of (e.g., your cellphone, how you look, what other people are thinking of you)? What would it feel like to practice a day of mindfulness where you tried to be mindful Christ’s presence in every moment?

Romans 8:26-39

Paul affirms the incredible power of the love of Christ in this moving passage from Romans. Earlier in the same chapter, Paul contrasts the hope of future glory with the present suffering of our human condition. The reading for today begins with one of my favorite images in Romans: the Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. How achingly true these words are. Sometimes we do feel that inner, soul-searing ache that not even the deepest sigh can convey. But here we see that God know our innermost pain. Paul urges us to recognize the depth of our human despair, but simultaneously recognize that we are not alone in our struggle. The Spirit will teach us to pray, God will make everything work together for good, and nothing will separate us from the love of God. The rest of the passage solidifies the depth of Christ’s love for us after we have fully committed to our faith. Nothing we do – not missing church too many times a week, having periods of doubt, gossiping with a friends – can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Think of a time when you felt the Spirit interceding for you with sighs too deep for words. When do you sense the Holy Spirit the most? Do you associate the Spirit with comfort, change and/or pain?

What do you do that makes you feel separated from the love of God in Jesus? Do the words from this passage bring you comfort?

Consider memorizing a portion of this passage – perhaps Romans 8:28 or 8:38-39. Carry these words with you throughout your day and notice the presence of God in your everyday actions.

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

This time of year many people are beginning to harvest vegetables from their summer gardens. I am one of those people, tending my community garden plot on the seminary campus. This spring I was struck by what it felt like to be a novice gardener, digging my hands into the soil, planting my seeds and hoping for the best. I found myself wondering, “Is this how far I should put the seed down? Are the seeds too close together? Will they grow? Will I know what it’s even supposed to look like when it grows?” These and so many other questions flooded me as I excitedly planted my plot.

It strikes me that this is often how faith feels and what it looks like, and Jesus captures that image when he speaks of the mustard seed. Am I praying for the right things? Am I looking for God? Will I even know how to recognize the divine when I see it? Will I lose my faith just as I could easily drop and lose a small mustard seed? Will I tend my faith enough, just like you weed a garden, so that it can flourish and grow?

Having faith is risky; it’s scary, and it can feel uncharted. But it can also reap an incredible harvest – one that is richer than we could imagine.

These same questions of faith apply with the other images in the passage from Matthew – yeast and nets in the sea. We take a chance with faith, and we trust that our belief will not go unnoticed or forgotten.

Consider the different risks you take in your own faith life – can you relate with my story about gardening?

Try finishing the sentence “The kingdom of heaven is like …” for yourself. What other images can you think of to complete that sentence?

Comments

  1. Rev. Connie Peppler says:

    I appreciated the use of garden imagery, Jessie, since I do a great deal of gardening. I like your notion of taking a chance with faith and that is why we need, as Paul says, the Spirit to intercede for us. We can never really know for sure what to pray for but the fact that we act on our faith and believe that God is listening to our prayers is pretty much an act of faith.

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