Archives for October 2015

Bible Study: Proper 27, Year B November 8, 2015

(RCL) Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17; Psalm 127; Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44

Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17

Naomi’s and Ruth’s family is on the brink of extinction. Both are widows, both destitute, and Ruth is a Moabite, a non-Israelite, an outsider. Naomi, too old to remarry and have children, sends Ruth to see Boaz, an extended family member, in the hope that Boaz will marry her and take them into his household. He does, and becomes the kinsmen-redeemer, and Ruth becomes King David’s great-grandmother.

A significant theme in the book of Ruth is that of outsiders being let in. The loving-kindness of Boaz for those whom he could easily have dismissed (Ruth was more closely related to another man in the community who wouldn’t take her in) is in keeping with Yahweh’s constant refrain throughout the Old Testament on the care for foreigners and the impoverished.

  • Who in your life could use some purposeful loving-kindness?
  • Who knows what that person, perhaps on the fringes of your social circles or family, could do for the kingdom of God, if you would but invite them in…

Psalm 127

Holy Scripture has a pretty radical view of our world’s dependence on God: if master builder and watchmen don’t have God’s assistance, their labor is a waste of time. Like the reading from Ruth, the Psalm echoes the theme of the Lord’s care and provision for God’s people. This Psalm in particular focuses on children, as the “Lord’s heritage,” as gifts of God: the means to sustain our very species is itself totally dependent on the Lord’s making prosper the fruit of the womb.

Our society at large does not have this view of children. What the Psalmist calls “gifts,” “happiness,” and a “heritage,” our society often calls “inconveniences,” “unnecessary expenses,” or an “obstacle” to your career. Even the most devout Christians fall into this type of thinking from time to time. If we’re honest, those thoughts cross our minds more than we’d like to admit.

Eventually we must come to a conscious choice:

  • Where will we be taking our cues from when it comes to how we think about children?
  • From the script of that new sitcom, or from our holiest text?
  • From the pulpit of pop culture, or from the mouth of God himself?

Hebrews 9:24-28

We can’t pretend that these ancient ideas about how to cleanse a community of the guilt of their wrongdoings are natural for moderns like us to comprehend, but we must try, if Jesus’ sacrifice is going to make any sense to us. Pardon the analogy, but if sin is pollution, then blood is a successful “clean up our streets” initiative. If sin makes us dirty, blood makes us clean. But whose blood, and what kind? That from a pure victim, offered to God by a priest. Like the high priests of old, Jesus appears before God in the most holy place, presenting not the blood of an animal, but his own blood, that which was spilt on the strangest of altars, the altar of a Roman cross. Paradoxically, He is at once priest and sacrificial victim, making a “perfect offering and sacrifice unto God.”

Jesus’ blood is re-presented to us when we receive the Eucharist, our principal act of worship where we proclaim our Lord’s death until he comes again. This is not easy to grasp, in fact, it is “foolishness to those who are perishing,” but it is inestimably worthy of your meditation and devotion. Christian, behold the Lamb of God. Behold him who takes away the sins of the world.

  • How do you see this sacrificial act?
  • How does that inform your view of the Eucharist?

Mark 12:38-44

Aquinas’ Catena Aurea quotes Bede as saying that the allegorical meaning of the passage is that the “the poor widow is the simplicity of the Church: poor indeed, because she has cast away the spirit of pride and of the desires of worldly things; and a widow, because Jesus her husband has suffered death for her. She casts two mites into the treasury, because she brings the love of God and of her neighbor, or the gifts of faith and prayer; which are looked upon as mites in their own insignificance, but measured by the merit of a devout intention…she understands that even her very living is not of her own worthiness, but of Divine grace.”

More obviously, the literal sense contrasts the religious elite, who are corrupt and hypocritical and donate their money for the spectacle, with the humility of the widow who gave nearly nothing, and yet everything.

  • Since the Holy Scriptures are written for the Church, of which we are a part, what does Jesus’ praise of this woman inspire in us?
  • How can we imitate her humility?
  • What can we give to God, even out of our poverty?

Download the Proper 27, Year B Bible Study 

Written by Ryan Pollock

Ryan is a postulant for Holy Orders from the Diocese of Dallas, TX and a middler seminarian at Nashotah House, where he is a choral scholar and a refectorian. When not engaged in seminary business, these days he can be found alchemizing in the kitchen or attempting to play heavy metal guitar in the basement. He is married to Jessica, an artist and photographer who is studying astronomy at the University of Wisconsin.  

Bible Study, Proper 26(B), November 1, 2015

(RCL) Ruth 1:1-18; Psalm 146; Hebrews 9:11-14; Mark 12:28-34

Note: All Saints Day supersedes Proper 26. This bible study is provided for mid-week study or reflection. 

Ruth 1:1-18

Naomi finds herself in a foreign land without any means of support. Her husband and two sons have died. At that time in history this situation meant a future of abject poverty and humiliation. The only hope for her daughters-in-law is to find new husbands. Naomi’s only hope is to return to her home in Judah. In Judah the LORD was providing food for his people. The tradition then was that a childless widow should marry her deceased husband’s brother. Naomi has no more sons. This is why she blesses her daughters-in-law and tells them to stay in Moab to be with their people and gods, and to find new husbands.

Orpah agrees in tears. Ruth however will not go. The writer of the book of Ruth gives us a beautiful song that expresses Ruth’s devotion to Naomi. She will not only accompany Ruth, she will be one of Ruth’s people and Yahweh will become her god. She submits herself to the LORD’s will. Naomi takes on the hope in the LORD that Ruth clings to.

  • Has there been a time in your life that you found yourself in a “foreign land” with no support?
  • Do you find hope in the thought that God considers you and will provide?
  • Is there someone in your life who is in the “foreign land” of illness, unemployment, or some other insecurity? Can you be a Ruth for them and share in the hopeful journey back to God’s grace?

Psalm 146

This is certainly a praise filled Psalm. The writer’s joy is spilling over. Doesn’t the section about all that the LORD does setting prisoners free, opening the eyes of the blind, etc. sound like the instructions Jesus gives to the disciples when he sends them out to do the work he commands them to do? Jesus empowers them to do the same things he has been doing. We, too, are called to do this work as we live into our baptismal covenant.

  • You may not feel you have enough faith to literally give sight to the blind, but can you show someone how your eyes have been opened?
  • What are some ways we in our church communities can watch over strangers?

Hebrews 9:11-14

In this epistle, the writer lays out the atonement understanding of Christ’s death. It is one that many of us in our modern world find hard to understand or accept. It probably made much more sense for the early followers of Jesus who struggled to understand why he was executed.

The tradition of animal sacrifice was well understood by the Israelites. In fact animal and even human sacrifice have been a part of many religions and cultures. There seems to be a universal mystical view of what we call a creature’s “life’s blood”. Further there is a sense that to kill an animal not to be used for food and shed its blood is a meaningful sacrifice. Many people have felt that this kind of sacrifice can restore our relationship with the creator.

First Testament texts call for the sacrificial animal to be perfect and of the greatest value, not one that is defective or ill. So for the early Christians it makes sense to see Christ as the perfect unblemished sacrifice. He was innocent and his death was a sacrifice on our behalf. Through it our relationship with God the Creator is restored. It is a hard teaching for us in our modern time but it is a powerful one we must consider.

  • Do you find the atonement view a difficult one to accept?
  • Is it hard to recognize that our sins are severe enough to need this kind of sacrifice from Jesus the Christ?
  • If you have ever felt that what you have done is unforgivable can you find comfort in this understanding of Christ’s death?

Mark 12:28-34

This passage is quite remarkable in many ways. Two extraordinary things come to mind right away. The first is that usually in the Gospels the Scribes or Pharisees come to listen to Jesus in the hope of hearing him say something blasphemous. If they ask questions it is to try to trick him into saying something that can be held against him. In this case the Scribe is impressed with how Jesus has been answering the questions. Jesus is worth consulting. He assumes that among the long list of laws of what is permitted, what is prohibited, and how to carry out rituals, there is one that is most important.

The second extraordinary thing is how Jesus sums up the whole intent of all the laws, rituals, and traditions. He cuts to the heart of the matter and reveals the big picture at the same time. By sighting these two commandments, God is one and you shall love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself, Jesus points us directly to how God wants us to live. The scribe understands that this is the key. Jesus affirms the scribe’s understanding by telling him that he is not far from the kingdom of God. The profundity of this leaves everyone speechless.

  • Do you think that by affirming the scribe in this way, Jesus is showing us how to bring about the Kingdom of God on earth?
  • Have you ever had an impulse to act in a certain way and done differently when you remember these two commandments?
  • Can you imagine trying for one day to keep these commandments at the forefront of your mind? What would that be like for you?

Download the Proper 26, Year B Bible Study.

Written by Greg Hamlin

Greg is a lay leader seminarian at Bloy House in Southern California. He and his wife, Karen, are involved members of St. James’ Church in South Pasadena. They have two grown daughters. Anouska is a graduate of Brooklyn Law School, and Natasha is working on a Marriage and Family Therapy degree at Fuller Seminary.  

Bible Study, All Saints Day(B), November 1, 2015

(RCL) Wisdom 3:1-9; Psalm 24; Revelation 21:1-6a; John 11:32–44

Wisdom 3:1-9

This passage from Wisdom is read on All Saints Day and at many funerals because it gives comfort to those who have experienced the death of a loved one. When we watch someone suffer and die it seems like disaster, destruction, or maybe even punishment. But the writer draws us up to a higher plain where we can see that their departure is a pathway to peace and great good.

The gift of All Saints Day is not simply to look back with nostalgia but to see a greater vision. Our loved ones who have died connect us to an eternal reality. By lifting our gaze to see them from God’s view we are given a “hope full of immortality.”

The great hope of this passage is God himself. It tells us that “the faithful will abide with him in love.” God is the ultimate reality. In God, instead of torment and death, there is grace, mercy, peace, and love.

  • How does this passage give you comfort as you think about those you have lost?
  • What is it like for you to imagine a place with no torment and only peace?

Psalm 24

Psalm 24 is a beautiful picture describing the two-way movement in our relationship with God. The psalmist first grounds our relationship to this earth, where we are part of all God’s creation.

From this vantage point we are called to make our way up to the Lord. If we want to see God, how we live matters. Clean hands and a pure heart are required. I often soil my hands and heart, so this is troubling. As we seek God we come to understand that we are made clean through God’s salvation and thus can continue to move toward God.

The end of the psalm reverses this movement. Now instead of us going up to God, God comes down to us. As God’s people we are summoned to look up and see that our strong and mighty God is coming down to be with us. Through this psalm we see a dance in which we move to God and God moves to us.

  • What steps do you need to take in your movement toward God?
  • How can we, God’s people, open up our gates to welcome God?

Revelation 21:1-6a

Stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. One of the great gifts of the incarnation is that the one who calls himself the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end, also understands the middle where we all live. For us mortals “the middle” includes mourning, crying, and pain. In the midst of the middle it takes great imagination to behold the possibility of a happy ending.

The people suffering under the cruel occupation of the Roman Empire were given an invitation through John’s Revelation to imagine a new world – a world where God lives with mortals and tenderly wipes every tear from their eyes.

  • If this is the end of your story, how can you write your present “middle chapters” in light of it?
  • What choices can you make to help you get there?

John 11:32–44

Jesus sees the big picture. He was able to live within the tension of the realities of death and a future resurrection. He knows Lazarus will live again. But when he sees his friends’ pain caused by their brother’s death, Jesus’ indignation drives him to both tears and action. Jesus shows how angry death makes him, how deeply he grieves for those who are hurt by it.

Isn’t this how we sometimes feel about death? Don’t our hearts break when death steals away those we love? We can proclaim “I believe in … the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting” (BCP, p 304) even while we are shattered with grief. This day on which we celebrate all the saints who have died can be a bitter reminder of all we have lost. Fortunately we have a God who will live with us in this place between death and life.

  • What is it like for you to have a God who is the resurrection and the life and who also truly empathizes with your sorrow?
  • How can being honest with God about your feelings help you walk through your grief?

Download the All Saints, Year B, Bible Study.

Written by Louise Samuelson

Louise Samuelson is a second-year seminarian at the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas. She is a candidate to the priesthood in the Diocese of Central Florida. Louise lives with her husband Frank who is also a candidate to the priesthood.

Bible Study, Proper 25(B) – October 25, 2015

(RCL) Job 42:1-6,10-17; Ps. 34:1-8 (19-22); Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52

Job 42:1-6, 10-17

If any biblical character endured suffering, it was undoubtedly Job. He lost crops, property, family members, and his health. Job must have had that uncertain feeling that any of us experience when we lose someone or something important to us. Why would God let this happen? Where is God in all of this? Why have my prayers gone unanswered? These kinds of questions are often the first to come to mind, and often to our lips. Through all of Job’s suffering and questioning, he refused to “curse God and die” (as his wife suggested). Even sickness and death did not cause Job to lose his faith. He did, however, begin to send up many questions to God. His desire was to make his appeal to God, to defend his own uprightness. In the end, God poetically expounds upon God’s own creative acts and sovereign rule over creation. God gives no direct explanation as to Job’s suffering, but explains to Job that the Creator does not need to be defensive and explain what God allows to happen. The whole story ends with Job responding in humility, admitting that even many of his questions were misguided, and misunderstood God’s mysterious works. Job becomes even more humble than before: “I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” Job is then rewarded with twice as much as he owned before as a sign of God’s blessing.

  • The story of Job doesn’t give us any direct answers to Job’s sufferings, other than that they were allowed. How do you wrestle with the mystery of suffering in the world?
  • God does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone (Lam. 3:33). Why do you suppose suffering is allowed in our world?
  • God calls God’s people to be agents of healing. How are you active in relieving the suffering of others in your community?
Psalm 34:1-8 (19-22)

Saint Augustine referred to the Holy Trinity as “the highest origin of all things, and the most perfect beauty, and the most blessed delight.” God is not only love and goodness, but in God’s very being, is also beauty. All of God’s attributes make God desirable and worthy of all praise. God’s glory shines down upon us when we turn our hearts toward our Creator in worship. David expresses the worship emanating from his own heart in this beautiful psalm. He says, “Look to him and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed.” I’ve always been fascinated by the imagery here. When a person looks toward God, they become radiant. What does this mean?

Recently, a friend told me about meeting a very holy and kind man, a man who lives his life steeped in prayer and contemplation. My friend described this man as “full of God.” There is something different about the presence of those who spend much of their time in God’s presence. Many who have met Mother Teresa report something similar. God seems to reflect God’s own beauty through those who are close to him. Jesus, the perfect image of God, reflected God’s glory in the Transfiguration to Peter, James, and John. The scene is (intentionally!) reminiscent of the Divine Glory revealed to Moses at Sinai.

  • Do you ever contemplate the beauty of God? How might imagination play a role in this form of prayer?
  • Of all people, Christians should be the most eager to embrace art, poetry, and music as expressions of the goodness and beauty of God. What form of art could you use to express your love for God?
  • Have you encountered times of “radiance” during prayer? How can time spent in God’s presence empower us to carry out the mission we are given in Matthew 28?
Hebrews 7:23-28

Hebrews gives us an abundance of rich sacrificial imagery. Our minds are directed toward the Jewish temple system of priesthood and sacrifice, and through that imagery we are shown a new reality. In contrast to the priests of Israel, Jesus’ priesthood is eternal in the heavens, where “he is able to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” Elsewhere, the author tells us that the blood of bulls and goats could not take away sin. Christ’s sacrifice, however, was a once-and-for-all event that did take away sin. Not only did Jesus die for our sins and reconcile us to God; he also prays for us always. His is a ministry of unceasing prayer, intercession for the “church militant” – those of us living the Christian life, awaiting the New Creation. We enter into this reality every time we approach the altar for Eucharist. The Book of Common Prayer catechism says the Eucharist is “the way by which the sacrifice of Christ is made present, and in which he unites us to his one offering of himself” (p. 859). There are many theological points that one could make about all of this, but one thing is clear: all aspects of Jesus’ ministry are intended to bring us close to God and to keep us in his presence!

  • How often do you draw to remembrance an image of Christ praying for you?
  • Have you ever thought about this idea of a God who desires nearness with his people as a truth to be shared in evangelism? How would you share that message with someone who is open to hearing about your faith?
  • How do you understand Christ to be present in the bread and wine of Eucharist?
Mark 10:46-52

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus hears the cry of desperate, humble Bartimaeus, and encourages him to articulate precisely his need for healing. Bartimaeus wants to see again. Something has made him blind, and only Jesus can open his eyes. Graciously, in response to his humility, the Lord grants him sight. In Mark’s Gospel, this physical healing of blindness immediately follows an episode in which Jesus’ disciples show their blindness to the nature of Christian leadership. Vying for the most prestigious place in heaven, James and John ask Jesus to grant a request. “What is it you want me to do for you?” (Sound familiar?) And they reveal their thirst for power and glory. Jesus sternly corrects them, and goes on to explain the counter-cultural approach to leadership required by his disciples – absolute servanthood. A position of leadership under Jesus means a position of humble, self-giving service. Bartimaeus’ humble request is juxtaposed to the presumptuous request of James and John, as Mark calls his readers into a “teaching moment.” Christ desires humility, and he desires to respond with healing and blessing to requests that are made in absolute humility and dependence.

  • The Orthodox Fathers adapted Bartimaeus’ prayer into the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Have you ever considered making this short, humble prayer your own?
  • Jesus constantly reminds us that God desires our requests be made known to him. How do you ensure your requests are made in humility?
  • Humility is hard. Especially in a culture fixated on self-actualization and “climbing to the top.” What would a Christian model of leadership look like in the average workplace? How do you live out this model in your own life?

Download the Proper 25, Year B Bible Study.

Written by Cameron MacMillan

Cameron MacMillan is a senior year seminarian at Nashotah House, working on his MDiv degree, and is a candidate for Holy Orders in the Diocese of Central Florida. Cameron and his wife, Hannah, are expecting their first child. He enjoys outdoor adventures with their border collie, Charleigh. good coffee, and writing creative non-fiction. Cameron’s passions are cross-cultural ministry, evangelism, and liturgical theology.

Bible Study, Proper 24(B) – October 18, 2015

(RCL) Job 38:1-7, 34-41; Psalm 104:1-9, 25, 37b; Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 10:35-45

Job 38:1-7, 34-41

We’ve been following the story of Job, a man who once had it all, and now he grieves the loss not only of his wealth and status, but also his children. Job has been pushed to the ultimate breaking point. He is at a complete loss as to how he is supposed to keep his faith in the God he loves when he has lost absolutely everything else.

This passage has fascinated readers for centuries, probably because this is the moment that God finally shows up for Job, and God shows up in a way that is completely unexpected from a benevolent, loving God. God has a knack for doing the unexpected.

What is unfathomable to Job is also unfathomable to us. If God is good, then why do bad things happen? God’s answer to Job shows of God’s goodness. Look at all of these wonderful things I have created. I have created a world full of good things that all interact with one another. Sometimes in those interactions, creatures are hurt. Job finds himself the victim of hurtful interactions with creation.

  • What if you were at the point of despair, and all you wanted was an answer from God, and this was the answer you received? What would you think about God?
  • Can you think of other times in scripture when God gives unexpected answers?
  • Can you think of other victims in creation that suffer hurt from interacting with other creatures?
  • What is one way we, as a human family, can lessen our negative impact on the other creatures that God has made?
Psalm 104:1-9, 25, 37b

In this psalm, we have another beautiful description of the good things that God has made. When one stands back to consider all the manifold works of the creator, it can be overwhelming.

It is often easier to see the glory of God in the majestic ocean or a beautiful mountain range than it is to see it in ourselves. The truth that we see in this psalm, as well as in Job, is that the same God that created the sun, moon, and stars also knit us together with the same care and love.

  • Do you remember the first time you saw the ocean, or a beautiful mountain range? How did it make you feel about God?
  • Why can it difficult for us to see ourselves as beautiful creations of God, fearfully and wonderfully made?
  • Why is it hard sometimes for us to see one another the same way?
  • In what ways does this hold us back?
Hebrews 5:1-10

“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears…” God chose to enter the world as one of God’s very own creations, a human being. And in God’s human state, God suffered all of the hurt and pain that humans face each day. God suffered ultimate betrayal and utter desolation. Sometimes it is impossible to find good news when we, like Job, are lost in a sea of pain and confusion. The good news is not that God will take our pain away, but that God will walk with us in that pain, and that God knows our pain intimately, as if it were God’s own.

  • Take a moment to think about a time you have felt pain. Tell God what that pain was like for you, and ask God where he/she was.
  • Think about what words of comfort God might offer you next time you are feeling pain. Share with a group if you’d like.
Mark 10:35-45

Here we have another surprising answer from God. James and John ask Jesus how to become the greatest, and Jesus says that to become great you must be a servant to others, and to be the first, you have to be a slave to all.

  • How does this contradict what you might think about how to become great?
  • What does our society teach us about how to become great?
  • What would it look like for us to follow Jesus’ command to be a servant to others in today’s society?
  • How can we better serve not only one another, but also the other beautiful creatures God has made? 

Download the Proper 24B Bible Study.

Written by Maggie Foster, Church Divinity School of the Pacific (CDSP)

Maggie is a third year seminarian at CDSP, a postulant from the Diocese of Southern Ohio, and an Ohio State Buckeye. She is interested in ministry that finds a way to meet both the physical and spiritual needs of people living in poverty. She lives in Berkeley with her fiancée, Andrea and their dog, Jasper