Archives for September 2015

Bible Study: Proper 23(B), October 11, 2015

(RCL) Job 23:1-9, 16-17; Psalm 22:1-15; Hebrews 4:12-16; Mark 10:17-31

Job 23:1-9, 16-17

There are two kinds of good love songs. The happy ones that make me spin around with the joy of new love and the sad ones that take me down to the pit of despair. There are very few in between. The song that Job sings in his despair to us takes our breath away. And this is how it must be for Job has experienced the death of his children.

Job’s friends have pontificated to him their religious wisdom. His own beliefs about the universe and the God who made him have crumbled one by one. Who could do otherwise? Who are we to judge?

His poem of abandonment silences his well-meaning friends and all of us who seek to theologize over the graves of children. His words echo through time and space, reminding us that the tragedies of life do not make sense. Our losses call into question everything we believe about the goodness of God and the universe.

We have heard that God is love and that God loves us, but how does God love us when our children die and God is nowhere to be found? Job is crying for justice and he is weeping for his losses. Sometimes that is all we can do. The ancient people of God join him in this cry, “How long, O Lord, how long?”

God did not give a theological answer to Job’s suffering, or all the suffering in the world since time immemorial. He gave his only son and this beloved son suffered on this planet. “Jesus is the answer to which every human life is the question,” said John Paul II.

If we can sing this song with Job, here in the dust of death, perhaps we are able to enter more fully into the mysteries and joys of the incarnation and resurrection.

  • What have you said when someone you know loses a child? What can you say?
  • Why is there evil in the world?
  • Where is God when I’m hurting?
Psalm 22:1-15 Page 610, BCP

“Eli, Eli,” Jesus cried from the cross. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” We do not know why these final words from the cross were recorded in Aramaic. Why would the evangelists record the words of Jesus in his mother tongue? He was clearly quoting this Psalm, using the Psalm as countless humans have used it over the centuries, to put into words that experience which has no words.

To be forsaken by God is to be ultimately forsaken. Even the word, “forsaken” has a haunting quality about it that makes us shudder. In his anguish, in his suffering, he gasps these words as he hangs between earth and sky. Our own words are too feeble, so we turn to Psalms like this and mumble them into the sink or shout them to the silent heavens.

These words are powerful, for they go deeper into the depths of despair than any other words we find in all the poetry of the world. They go deep into the heart of darkness, the abyss, that yawns before us and beckons us to abandon all hope therein.

No one can say these words out-loud without feeling their intensity. If you heard them on that first Good Friday you would never forget them. Not ever, no matter how many years separated you from the first Good Friday.

And that is why they are preserved in the original Aramaic.

  • Have you ever found a poem that expressed your thoughts better than you could?
  • What do you feel when you read that first line?
  • Was there a time in your life when you thought God had forsaken you? What did you do about it?
Hebrews 4:12-16

I have only used a sword once in my life. I was a young Marine Corporal, the lowest Non-commissioned officer rank in the USMC. Being a corporal authorized me to wear the “Blood stripe” on my pants and carry a sword. The only day I carried a sword was one of my fellow Marine’s wedding day. I was part of the “Sword arch.”

On that day we stood at the back of the church, three on each side of the aisle. I stood facing another Marine from my Combat Engineer Company. We tried not to laugh as we stared into each other’s eyes for a very long time. When the bride and groom came down the aisle, we unsheathed our swords and pointed them straight ahead, forming an arch. The happy couple walked underneath the crossed swords.

A sword is a mark of rank in the military and no matter how ceremonial it is, it’s still a weapon. It’s blade is meant to cut into the flesh of the enemy and kill him. Swords are dangerous things. And so is the word of God.

The author of Hebrews says it will cut us to the bone. The word of God can determine what is happening in our hearts. It is little wonder that the Service of the Word in our Prayer Book opens with the Collect for Purity, a prayer that comes from this text of Scripture.

The word pierces and cuts us, reminding us of how far we have to go to be perfect, to be righteous. Thankfully, this text also tells us that we have a high priest who understands this about us. Reconciliation happens for us in two acts. First, when the God’s word pierces us and we stand honestly before God. Second, when our great high priest brings us right up to the throne of Grace.

  • Have you ever felt that God was speaking to you?
  • Was it a good feeling?
  • What do you think about during the collect for purity?
Mark 10:17-31

My wife and I recently took our boys to a small art gallery in Austin. My pre-teen boys were intrigued by the simplicity of the paintings on the wall. Since they were in jocular moods, they started to quote lines from the Bob’s Burgers episode, “Art Crawl.” It’s easy to make fun of contemporary art, especially if you are eleven or you don’t look at it closely.

Then one of them said it. “I could have done that.” “I could be an artist.” My classic response, of course, was “But you didn’t” and “Sure thing, have at it!”

As we were leaving, I showed the boys the Catalog. When they saw that one of the paintings was selling for $45,000 their eyes grew wide with wonder. They looked at me. “Could this be?” They said.

Why does our understanding of something change when we know something was bought for $45,000? For most things in life the retail cost is about the only way we know something is valuable.

Money isn’t going away anytime soon. However, Jesus offers us the possibility to see past it, especially when it comes to the things that matter most in life. He tells this young man there is freedom in leaving things behind. Being with Jesus and his disciples is how we ought to judge value in this cash-rich and love-poor world.

  • If you could put a price tag on every person and thing in your life, what would that look like?
  • Do you love anything that isn’t worth money?
  • What is the largest amount of money you have ever given away to a poor stranger that you’ll never see again?

 Download the Bible Study for Proper 23B Bible Study

Written by The Rev. Dr. David W. Peters from Seminary of the Southwest

The Rev. Dr. David Peters has served as an enlisted Marine and an Army Chaplain in Iraq. His experience in Iraq and homecoming is detailed in his memoir, Death Letter: God, Sex, and War (Tactical 16 Press). His essays on war and spirituality have been published by the Huffington Post and Oxford University Press. He lives in Austin, Texas at Seminary of the Southwest, where he is working on a Masters of Arts in Religion.  

Bible Study: Proper 22(B), October 4, 2015

(RCL) Job 1:1, 2:1-10; Psalm 26, Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12; Mark 10:2-16

People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

Job 1:1; 2:1-10

Poor Job! Alone in a garbage dump, he has lost all he owned, almost all he loved, and is reduced to scraping his sores with broken trash. Unaware of his starring role as the most blameless and upright person in this heavenly wager, Job’s faith is tested to the limits of his mortal life. Yet he refuses to question God for his misfortune…for now.

When tragedy and illness strike we often wonder how God can seem so absent. We ask why the “blameless” must suffer, and how bad things can happen to good people. Like Job’s friends later in this story, some of us blame divine retribution for our sorrows. What we do know is that no one in this life is spared the realities of pain and loss. Faith does not prevent our suffering, but it holds us in relationship with each other and the One who carries us tenderly through it.

  • How do you share God’s love and mercy with those who suffer?
  • Where do we find God when our hearts and lives have been shattered?
Psalm 26

This psalm is a personal plea to God for justice and mercy, and lays out a case in support of the petition. Like Job, the psalmist is said to have lived a life with “integrity.” A modern appeal could sound like this:

God, please rule in my favor because I am a good person. Get out your fine-toothed comb and see for yourself: I always trust you; I never fall down on the job; you can even check out my heart and thoughts; I love you; I am faithful to you; I don’t hang out with losers, liars, or gangsters; I am thankful to you; I worship you in the right way; and I tell everyone how awesome you are. I will continue to be a good person, so please, don’t throw me out with the bad guys. I promise to remain true to you.

Luckily, God’s love, mercy, and grace are not dependent upon our purity as seen through a divine microscope! The “come as you are” invitation to God’s forgiveness, acceptance, and divine embrace is waiting for each of us right now.

  • What might keep you from accepting this invitation?
  • When do you feel you could use God’s love, mercy, and grace the most?
Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12

This sermon-letter was written to an early Christian community living through an identity crisis fueled by public animosity and persecution. They are suffering for their faith and need encouragement. The author begins with a statement of faith about the full divinity and full humanity of Jesus to remind the listeners of their own confessions of faith. We continue to explore a theme of suffering in this reading, and see that through his own testing, suffering, and death, Jesus is “not ashamed” to call us all brothers and sisters who share one heavenly parent. As the drama of Jesus’ death ends in grace, honor, and glory, we too are welcomed as God’s children. We are reminded of this when we pray for our brothers and sisters to “Rest in peace and rise in glory!”

  • Has your own identity as a follower of Christ ever been “in crisis?”
  • Have you ever felt ostracized for your faith?
Mark 10:2-16

Jesus takes on toe-to-toe Torah with the Pharisees as they test him with a question about divorce and law. How does one argue against the authority of Moses? Jesus explains it is their “hardness of heart” that requires the law, which sits in opposition to God’s original design. This debate over the commandment is really a glimpse into the kingdom of God, where the restoration of God’s creation trumps our legislation.

We are given another peek into the kingdom when Jesus insists the disciples give the little children access to him. They still don’t understand that the kingdom belongs to the lowliest, the weakest, and the most vulnerable. In welcoming, holding, and blessing these children, Jesus demonstrates for us again that the greatest of all is the servant of all, including the least of all.

  • It can be tempting for church bodies to look to canon and law when faced with conflict. What would a kingdom response look like instead?
  • Who do we knowingly or unknowingly restrict access to in our own communities? To whom would you like to extend the gift of God’s kingdom?

Download the Bible Study for Proper 22B.

Written by Jennifer Pavia of Bloy House, The Episcopal Theological School at Claremont

Jennifer is a third-year seminarian at Bloy House, The Episcopal Theological School at Claremont, a Chaplaincy Intern at Good Samaritan Hospital, Los Angeles, and a postulant to the priesthood in the Diocese of Los Angeles. She serves as Director of Children’s Education at St. Augustine by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in downtown Santa Monica, and lives with her spouse of 19 years and two daughters, ages 10 and 18.

Bible Study: Proper 21(B), September 27, 2015

(RCL) Esther 7: 1-6, 9-10, 9:20-22; Psalm 124, James 5:13-20; Mark 9:38-50

 “Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.” (Mark 9: 40-41)

Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22

One of the most joyous occasions in the Jewish calendar is the festival of Purim, when the Jewish people remember the story of Esther. Esther is one of many stories where the Jewish people faced a mortal threat, yet were delivered by God through a chosen emissary who would thwart the powers that threatened their lives. In this story, Queen Esther is that emissary.

Out of resentment toward Mordacai (Esther’s cousin and adopted father), Haman (the chief minister of the Persian king) convinces King Ahasuerus to order the genocide of the Jewish people. The origin of Haman’s evil desire is pride, as he resents Mordacai for not bowing before him outside of the palace gate.

Mordacai tasks Esther (Ahasuerus’s new queen) to convince the king to delay this order and to spare the Jewish people. Although Esther is anxious about this task she sets out to complete it, and this is where our reading begins. In the end Haman is hung from his own gallows and the Jewish people are spared from attempted genocide.

To this day, Jewish people around the world celebrate God’s deliverance as told through this story with costumed festivity, food and wine, the giving of alms, exchanging gifts, reading the story of Esther, and offering prayers of thanksgiving to God. I once heard this and many other Jewish holidays that commemorate their history in biblical tradition this way: “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat!”

  • In what ways do we commemorate the saving works of God?
  • How can we, beyond celebration of the Holy Eucharist, joyously celebrate some of the beloved stories from scripture that have become important to our tradition?
  • How does the story of Esther speak to you?
  • What tasks have you been anxious about and how has God strengthened you to perform them?
Psalm 124

This psalm is appropriate for following a reading from Esther. With beautiful poetry that likely was used liturgically as a call and response prayer, perhaps with some liturgical drama, this psalm praises God for always standing with God’s chosen people through hardship. This psalm acknowledges that we can do little without God’s grace; that without God, the people of Israel would have been defeated by their enemies. But because God is good and remains with the chosen people, they have been delivered from destruction. While it is possible that this psalm is post-exilic, this language suggests that the psalm may have been written prior to the exile, as psalms written during the Babylonian captivity are often psalms of lament and post-exilic psalms, while giving thanks to God for deliverance, do not share the same triumphalism that is expressed in Psalm 124.

  • What hardships has God gotten you through?
  • How have you noticed God’s presence with you in the midst of challenges or conflicts?
  • How do you give thanks to God for remaining with you through the good times and the bad?
James 5:13-20

In this portion of his letter, James writes about the goodness of God experienced through the power of prayer. Those who suffer should pray, those who are cheerful should praise God, those who are sick should have the community of the faithful pray for them while anointing them and laying hands of healing upon them. Through all this God will hear and answer their prayers in God’s own way with holy wisdom. James says that the prayers of the righteous are both powerful and effective; they work. God hears us and responds. But sometimes it might not be the response that we expect.

  • How do we deal with unexpected answers to our prayers?
  • Does that challenge our faith or make us more aware of the mystery of God?
  • We know that God’s ways are not our ways. How do we bring that knowledge into our prayer life?
  • How can these experiences develop wisdom?
Mark 9:38-50

“Whoever is not against us is for us.” The Gospel admonishes us not to set up stumbling blocks in another’s path to God. This is the well-known, macabre-sounding reading about amputating our hands and plucking out our eyes when they cause us to sin. Of course one way to interpret this is as a metaphor for eliminating behaviors and practices from our lives that lead us toward sin. When a novice brother or sister in Anacmhara Fellowship, one of the Episcopal Church’s new dispersed monastic communities, is being clothed in his or her Habit, the aspiring novice as asked to prepare a list of distractions, habits, and behaviors from their past life that he or she wishes to leave behind when entering the new life as a religious. These are behaviors or practices that inhibit us from living most fully in relationship with God, others, and ourselves.

  • What behaviors or practices do you wish to leave behind today?
  • What are some stumbling blocks you have run into – either those that have been set up by others or those that you have set up in the way of others?
  • How do you live into Jesus’ statement that whoever is not against us is for us?

Download the Proper 21(B) Bible Study

 

Written by Brother Paul Castelli from Bexley-Seabury Seminary.

Paul is from the Diocese of Michigan, is a senior M.Div student at Bexley-Seabury, and is working on an STM at Trinity Lutheran Seminary. As a vowed brother of Anamchara Fellowship, one of the Episcopal Church’s dispersed monastic communities, Paul serves as the prior of the Columba Priory in Ohio.