Archives for November 2015

Bible Study, Advent 3(C), December 13, 2015

[RCL] Zephaniah 3:14-20; Canticle 9; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18

Zephaniah 3:14-20

In these final verses from his book, the Prophet Zephaniah gives us an exultant vision of the restoration of the People of God. The Lord has “taken away the judgments against [them];” that is, he has pardoned them and released them. And that is only the beginning. In a particularly striking verse, the prophet evocatively describes how, just as Israel should rejoice in the Lord, the Lord will rejoice over them. And yet, this restoration still remains, for the prophet, a promise to be fulfilled in the future. In a series of first-person declarations, the Lord promises that he “will” save his people, turn their situation around, and make them great among the nations, and all before their very eyes. Coming at the end of a book of woes and denouncements, this closing passage truly seems like a light at the end of a tunnel.

  • How do these promises and joys relate to us, the Church, now that the Gentiles have been grafted into the People of God?
  • Where do we, as the Church, see ourselves in the story of Israel?
Canticle 9 – Ecce Deus Isaiah 12:2-6

One of the unusual features of the Revised Common Lectionary is its occasional use of a canticle rather than a psalm in between the first two lessons. This canticle from the Prophet Isaiah builds on the themes of the first lesson. Like the passage from Zephaniah above, it comes at the conclusion of a series of judgments and woes, painting a picture of joy and restoration. Isaiah sings of healing waters for a thirsty people, giving us another, equally evocative, picture of the promised day we hear about in Zephaniah. Isaiah, too, emphasizes the abiding presence of God among God’s people, dwelling among them, “the Holy One of Israel” “in the midst of [them].”

  • Where else in the Scriptures do we hear of life-giving or healing waters?
  • What is significant for us about the words “save,” “Savior,” and “salvation” in this song?
Philippians 4:4-7

This passage from the conclusion of St. Paul’s letter to the Church in Philippi is, at the risk of being cliché, short but sweet. He exhorts those who hear him to rejoice, to be so gentle that it is obvious to everyone, to worry not, to be in prayer with God, supplicating, but, above all, giving thanks. Paul desires that the Philippians would let the peace of God, which is better than human intellection, wash over them, for it will stand watch over their hearts and minds in Jesus Christ. Why does Paul tell the Philippians to do all of this? The answer is simple: because “the Lord is near.”

  • What does it look like to “rejoice in the Lord” in the midst of congregational (or even denominational) strife?
  • How do the People of God experience peace and joy in this imperfect time before the Lord returns?
Luke 3:7-18

I am reminded that St. John the Baptist is not a “nice” man. He has no problem with calling those who are drawn to him a “brood of vipers” when he questions their level of sincerity. His message is also not a soft one. The eschatological ax, he says, is ready to chop down not only the barren trees but also those that do not bear good enough fruit, after which they will be thrown into the fire. Likewise, while the wheat will be gathered safely into the barns, the chaff will be burned with “unquenchable fire.” And, according to John, there is nothing special about being a child of Abraham, a child of the promise. Yet, at the end of this passage, St. Luke calls all of this “good news.” And it really is. After all, the One who will burn the chaff with fire will also baptize the penitent with the Holy Spirit and with fire. This One is none other than the Messiah, whom the people coming to John are awaiting so eagerly that they hope that the Baptist himself might fit the bill. Yes, the Messiah will bring a fire of destruction, but also a fire of purification and renewal. Furthermore, there is time, right now, to repent and bear good fruit. No, John is not a “nice” man. But he is good, and so is the One he proclaims.

  • John is preparing the way for the Messiah; why does that include exhorting people to repentance?

Download the Advent 3C Bible Study.

Written by Donald J. Griffin

Growing up a cradle Episcopalian in the Dallas area, Donald Griffin first discerned a call to the priesthood when he was fourteen. Since then, Donald has sought to answer that call and follow the path he believes God has set for him. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a degree in Religious Studies, minoring in Philosophy and History. It was there that he fell in love with the woman he will be marrying in a few months. Having entered the discernment process my senior year of college, Donald was granted postulancy shortly after graduation and entered Nashotah House for his seminary formation. He has worked as a counselor at diocesan camp, a chaplain at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas (while completing CPE), and a seminary intern at Trinity Episcopal Church in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. Donald has become very interested in theology, the practice of pastoral ministry, and how the two intersect, particularly in the liturgy. He is looking forward to seeing where the Lord will lead him next.  

Bible Study Advent 2(C), December 6, 2015

(RCL) Baruch 5:1-9; Canticle 16; Philippians 1:3-11; Luke 3:1-6

Baruch 5:1-9

Baruch paints quite a picture of what can be for Jerusalem. She can put aside her sorrow and affliction and see her children gathered from the ends of the earth, remembered before God. With the days of sorrow and affliction far behind, God’s chosen people reap all sorts of benefits. The ground is made level so that they can walk safely with God; trees have sheltered them from the sun. It’s not clear whether this is expected to happen now for Jerusalem and Israel or if this is simply a promise of distant things to come. What is clear, however, is the source of all this goodness. Baruch says time and again that this is all from God and in God’s glory.

  • During the season of Advent, what is it that we anticipate from God?
  • What are the ways we respond to blessings from God which make our lives easier?
Canticle 16

With his tongue newly loosened at his agreement to name his son John, Zechariah is filled with the Holy Spirit and breaks into prophetic song. In it he foretells the coming of the Messiah and the fulfillment of God’s promises. The people will be saved from their enemies and set free to serve God. Zechariah recognizes that his son, John the Baptist, will pass on this knowledge to the people of God. He will let them know that their sins are forgiven and that their lives, once dark, will show forth with God’s light. Zechariah speaks aloud the prophecy of God, but he does so by observing the ways in which God is working miraculously in his own life: with the birth of his son and the coming of the Messiah.

  • What are the ways in which God is working in your life today?
  • What promises do you think God is working to bring to fullness?
Philippians 1:3-11

Paul gives thanks for the community of faith and for their fellowship in the Gospel. He prays joyfully, because of their communion, their participation, in the Good News. He goes on to say that his prayer is that their love will overflow or abound. But he doesn’t stop with love. As admirable as love may be, his prayer is that their love will lead to “knowledge and full insight.” Their love will help them discern what is right, so that they can produce “the harvest of righteousness” which comes through Christ.

  • What are the actions that come as a result of love for God or love for neighbor?
  • What knowledge, insight, or discernment have you found or might you be able to find as a result of abundant love?
Luke 3:1-6

In Luke’s introduction of John the Baptist he connects pieces of prophecy to the actions of John in “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” The prophecy is fulfilled only because of John’s actions in baptism and preaching repentance. For Luke, preparing the way of the Lord begins first and foremost with an acknowledgment of the ways in which the people have fallen short of the glory of God. All flesh being able to see the salvation of God starts with the recognition that they hadn’t been looking to God in the first place.

  • What are the sins for which we need to repent in order to make the path back to God straight?
  • How can repentance and the knowledge that we are forgiven through Christ help us to see God more clearly?

Download the Advent 2C Bible Study.

Written by Ian Lasch
Ian Lasch is a senior at Virginia Theological Seminary and a candidate for Holy Orders from the Diocese of Georgia. His wife Loren is an Episcopal priest and member of the VTS Class of 2008. Their joyful son, Elias, was born in December 2014. Ian previously worked as an Arabic translator, and has a deep love for Cleveland and Charlotte sports.

 

Bible Study, Advent 1 (C), November 29, 2015

(RCL) Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:1-9; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36

Jeremiah 33:14-16

“The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.”

Two things strike me about this sentence. I am assured that God is good, and will fulfill the promises made. Simultaneously, I am struck by the frustration of the Israelites, and indeed of us today, with having to wait upon the Lord.

  • What are the promises God has made to you?
  • For what are you waiting for God to fulfill?
  • How can we rest in the assurance that God will fulfill and bring to fruition the promises God has made?

Let us rest in the faith and reassurance of those promises.

Psalm 25:1-9

In the first lines of this psalm, we get a great prayer of trust – “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; my God, I put my trust in you.” What a great way to begin a prayer! The psalmist also shows their own humanity and doubt in the very next line, “let me not be humiliated, nor let my enemies triumph over me.” The story of our walk with God in faith is often one of trusting even in the face of doubt.

  • When we come to the end of our day, can we too say, “In you have I trusted all the day long”?
  • How would it feel to continually put our trust in God?
  • What would this challenge in us?
  • How might our lives be transformed?

Perhaps we would find that “all the paths of the Lord are love and faithfulness” – what a gift that could be.

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

This letter is written by Paul to one of the early church communities. I wonder, in our position as members of the Anglican Communion, how often we think this way of our fellow churches. I suspect the practice of writing encouragement to one another has ceased, partly because we are in a world where written letters are not the fastest forms of communication – and partly because we simply forget to encourage and thank God for one another. Following God’s call is difficult. We need to lift one another up, to encourage one another in our callings, even when we don’t immediately see eye to eye.

  • How might we lift up one another?
  • In what ways can we encourage one another in our callings and ministry?

May we abound in love for one another and have our hearts strengthened in holiness. 

Luke 21:25-36

It is hard for me to read this gospel lesson of the signs of the coming of man and not connect it to some of the doom and gloom teachers and preachers who love to talk about the end of time and draw lines in the sand over who will be saved. After reading it through a few times, though, I find this passage not to be about living in fear but rather about standing in our truth as Christians. Jesus’ instructions are not to spend time worrying and preparing for this coming, but rather to “stand up and raise your heads” when these things come to pass.

  • Are we ready to stand strong in our faith? Why or why not?
  • “Heaven and Earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” How can we hold more firmly to the everlasting words of Jesus and let go of the things that will pass away?

 Download the Advent 1, Year C Bible Study. 

Written by Jazzy Bostock

Jazzy is a sun-loving, big-dreaming, laugh-adoring, God-praising Native Hawaiian woman, in her first year at seminary. She believes deeply in the power of kindness, compassion, gentleness, and most of all love. She is grateful for the opportunity God has given her and for all that God is. Mahalo piha.

Bible Study, Proper 29, November 22, 2015

(RCL) 2 Samuel 23:1-7; Psalm 132: 1-13, (14-19); Revelation 1:4b-8; John 18:33-37

2 Samuel 23:1-7

“These are the last words of David,” the writer tells us. Whether they were composed by King David himself or (more likely) a group of compilers later, these verses tell a very different story of David’s life than the chapters of 1 and 2 Samuel that precede them. King David was an adulterer and a murderer, yet he is called “the man whom God exalted, the anointed of the God of Jacob, and the favorite of the Strong One of Israel.” The oracle invokes God’s covenant with David, and indeed, David’s utter dependence on the Strong One of Israel. The language of verse 4 and verses 6 and 7 is particularly rich in vivid imagery. Comparing the king to the sun (vs. 4) was common, especially in Egypt.

We read these verses on the final Sunday of the church year in anticipation of the coming of David’s descendent Jesus Christ, the One who truly rules over people with justice.

  • Given what you know of David’s reign, how do you make sense of this oracle’s optimism?
  • In light of what you believe and hope for in Christ’s reign, how do you make sense of the destruction of the godless in verses 6 and 7?
  • How might this reading help us prepare our hearts for Advent?
Psalm 132: 1-13, (14-19)

‘Let us go to his dwelling-place; let us worship at his footstool.’ Rise up, O LORD, and go to your resting-place, you and the ark of your might. Let your priests be clothed with righteousness, and let your faithful shout for joy. For your servant David’s sake do not turn away the face of your anointed one.” (Psalm 132:7-10)

The Revised Common Lectionary allows ending the psalm after verse 13, but do read the whole song through for this study. Notice that the first several verses describe King David’s determination to carry out his oath, and that the final eight verses detail God’s oath to David and his descendants. Verses 7 to 10 form a hinge between the two oaths, calling on the victorious God to arrive in Zion and calling on the faithful to worship God there.

We hear echoes of the First Reading in this passage: God’s covenant with David and his descendants, God as the Strong and Mighty One, and security in God’s care for some, but destruction for David’s enemies.

  • What has God promised you?
  • How have you seen those promises fulfilled, even if only in part?
  • What promises have you made to God?
  • Are there any you would like to reaffirm now?
Revelation 1:4b-8

“Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.”

As grand as these verses are, they are not just abstract poetry. They were written by an historical person to first-century communities of Christ-followers. Scholars disagree about whether the book of Revelation was composed before the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE near the end of Nero’s reign or in the final decade of the century. Regardless, John’s audience was living with conflict and the real threat of oppression, if not martyrdom. Faithfulness to Jesus was costly!

John speaks as a messenger from God the Almighty and from Jesus Christ.

  • In verse 5, John uses three titles for Christ: the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. What do those titles say about Jesus Christ?
  • How might this understanding of Christ have impacted John’s audience, given their contexts?
  • There are many today who are persecuted for their faith and for their identities. Call to mind any recent news stories you know, or read World in Prayer (http://www.worldinprayer.org) for specific parts of the world in turmoil today.
  • How might your relationship with God deepen through encountering their stories?
  • How might you be called to participate with them in God’s work of renewing the world?
John 18:33-37

Jesus’s accusers want to destroy him, so they have politicized the charge in order to draw Pilate, a mid-level bureaucrate, into their religious dispute. The scene before us appears to be one man standing helpless against a batch of influential religious leaders who happen to have the ear of the politician in charge. But is it?

Pilate wonders if Jesus is a threat to Rome or indeed, to his own power. Jesus stands firm in his refusal to engage the specific political charge, saying only, “My kingdom is not from this world. If it were, I would not be in this situation.” Jesus’s resolute calm in the face of Pilate’s questioning must have frustrated the Roman governor.

There’s a kind of delicious paradox here. The man who looks like he holds all the power is exposed as one who can’t even get a straight answer out of the prisoner. The Judean leaders who presented Jesus to Pilate are left standing outside while Pilate shuffles between them and Jesus. The one who was dragged in and is on trial for his life is, in truth, Ruler of Everything.

  • What kind of king is Jesus Christ?
  • What signs of Christ’s rule do you see today?
  • How are we called to live in light of Christ’s rule?

Download the Proper 29B Bible Study.

Written by Charlotte Wilson

Charlotte is a postulant for Holy Orders from the Diocese of California and a third year seminarian at Church Divinity School of the Pacific. As a spiritual director and minister, she delights in accompanying others as they encounter God in expected and unexpected places. Charlotte finds joy in reading, hiking, knitting, and hanging out with her family and friends.

 

Bible Study, Proper 28(B), November 15, 2015

(RCL) 1 Samuel 2:1-10; 1 Samuel 1:4-20 (as canticle); Hebrews 10:11-14; Mark 13:1-8

1 Samuel 2:1-10

In this ecstatic, prophetic and powerful song we witness a woman’s joy from experiencing a miracle. Her words are familiar, we hear similar ones erupt from the mouth of Mary when she too conceives a special child. In a world colored with grey areas, it can be difficult to say with certainty – This is from God! This is from the touch of the Spirit!

  • When have you been able to say “the Almighty has done great things for me?
  • When have you, or someone you know experienced a miracle?
  • In our world we may have heard others tell us what is or is not from God. How do you discern when the Spirit has touched you or your community in a special way?
1 Samuel 1:4-20 (read as a canticle)

Hannah can hardly pray without getting harassed! For her infertility she is mocked; for her prayers she is called a drunkard. “I am a woman deeply troubled,” she asserts, as she pours out her “great anxiety and vexation” (1 Sam. 1:15-16).

  • What prayers and anxieties of today are too stigmatized to bring to the temple?
  • What are we too ashamed of to pray for beyond a whisper?
  • Women’s health has often been mythologized, ill-funded and provoked to cast to shame. Many of us have been touched by miscarriage, unwanted pregnancy and infertility. The God of Hannah calls us to cry out when our communities, partners or Church shame, stigmatize and mock the anxieties of our hearts. In this passage we see a testimony that God is a God of hope, transformation and solidarity – who is with us in whatever trial we find ourselves in?
Hebrews 10:11-14

This section of Hebrews has a clear message for us: Jesus’ sacrifice was unique a “single offering” (Heb. 10:14). We are confronted with an analogy of Jesus’ singular and special sacrifice made for sinners.

  • How have you experienced the sacrificial and healing love of Jesus?
  • Perhaps in the Eucharist or perhaps in your own experience of sin and forgiveness?
  • How often do we think we can ‘save’ others or ourselves by our own sacrifice, sweat and blood?
  • Or reform others through punishment?

We often have a destructive understanding of sin and sacrifice. Many think their own salvation comes from how much they take care of others, forsaking their own wellness. Our understanding of punishment can also carry violent notions of sacrifice. A friend of mine who was incarcerated for years for a minor crime stated that his experience imprisoned was so dehumanizing he felt as though “my very life blood was being squeezed out of me.”

  • Where do we personally and socially see dehumanizing sacrifice; where do we need more grace?
Mark 13:1-8

This apocalyptic prophecy from Mark’s Gospel calls forth the question: how tied are we to our institutions and the present order? My experience as a human being tells me that I am addicted to comfort. I worship my own sense of safety and control over my life, image and wealth.

  • How much does vulnerability scare us?
  • How hard do we work to keep the walls of our lives up?

Our passage from Mark though tells us that “all will be thrown down.” As a culture we invest so much in keeping things the same. How many truth-tellers, from Malcolm X to our Lord Jesus Christ, have been executed in a vain attempt to maintain the present order? Our selfishness, addiction to comfort and desire for control guard us from entering into vulnerable spaces of change.

  • What if instead of acting on our instinct to protect the walls that we construct, we acted first out of love?
  • How would we be willing to change to accommodate refugees fleeing terror and violence?
  • Instead of worshiping the idols of our institutional walls and status quo, let be transformed by the God of change and love, for indeed, “all things will be thrown down.”

Download the Proper 28B Bible Study

Written by Leigh Kern

Leigh M Kern is a postulant for the priesthood in the diocese of Toronto and Anglican Church of Canada. She is also a chaplain working with people living with addictions and poverty in New Haven, where she is a senior at Yale Divinity School. Leigh is passionate about God, creativity and healing. In her free time Leigh enjoys painting and writing music.