Archives for January 2016

Bible Study, Last Sunday after Epiphany (C), February 7, 2016

[RCL] Exodus 34:29-35; 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2; Luke 9:28-36, [37-43a]; Psalm 99

Exodus 34: 29–35

When we read the Bible, it’s easy to squint dutifully at the small print and wonder what exactly it is that God is trying to say through these ancient and holy words. We read hoping for an encounter with God that increases our understanding. But we can treat this passage from Exodus as a challenge to reframe what a successful encounter with God might look like: it is not, first and foremost, a matter of understanding, but rather one of transformation.

There is Moses, back at the base of Mount Sinai, and in his arms are the holiest of God’s laws, the Ten Commandments. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures (and, indeed, throughout Jewish and Christian history) there will be no shortage of effort to understand the content of those two tablets. But here, for a brief moment, the laws resting in Moses’ arms seem entirely secondary next to the astonishing realization that “the skin of his face was shining.” Moses’ shining face helped the Israelites know that God was indeed working through him.

  • How do lives of holiness help us see the ways God is at work in the world?
  • Have you known people who seem to glow with faith-fueled joy, peace, and compassion?
  • Is your faith outwardly visible to others? In what ways do you wish it were?
  • The image of the veil might be useful in thinking about our prayer practices. When we pray, how can we learn to remove the veil of busy-ness, distraction, selfishness and impatience – a veil that our split-screen culture so often encourages us to wear?
Psalm 99

Many psalms celebrate God by using the metaphor of a king. In Psalm 99, God is “enthroned,” and we hear that all people should “tremble” and “[p]roclaim the greatness of our God,” falling “down before his footstool.” Ancient kings would boast of their military power as being the evidence of their greatness – and, of course, some modern leaders still do. But note how the psalmist portrays God’s greatness as coming from a very different source: God’s justice.

It’s hard, likely impossible, to speak at length about God without using metaphors. The Psalms offer us an astonishingly rich library of images and understandings of God. In one moment God might be portrayed as a king perched on a throne (Ps. 99:1) and in another as a midwife delivering a child (Ps. 22:9-10). It is always important to remember that no single metaphor for God is sufficient on its own – for each obscures as much about God’s nature as it reveals.

  • Have you ever been a part of a community where there are leaders whose authority comes not by virtue of a title, but rather as a consequence of their goodness?
  • Pick two hymns and examine the metaphors that each of them uses to describe God. In what ways do the hymns present different understandings of God? How do the hymns complement each other? You might find it particularly fruitful to compare the militaristic imagery of a hymn like #473 “Lift high the cross” with the pastoral images of one like #664 “My Shepherd will supply my need”.
2 Corinthians 3:12–4:2

Too often, passages like this one from 2 Corinthians have been used by Christians to justify ugly, and frequently anti-Semitic, dismissals of Jewish interpretations of the Hebrew Scriptures – as though the value of these sacred texts is limited to how they can be viewed in light of Jesus’ life and death. Read in its context, amid Paul’s defense of his teaching authority, the passage seems less a treatise against the Jews and much more a polemic about Paul’s teaching authority in Corinth. When he assures his readers that: “we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word,” we hear the implication: unlike some other people I know.

One of the joys of the passage is that it allows us to peek over Paul’s shoulder as he reads the passage from Exodus 34 discussed above. He interprets Moses’ shining face as evidence that encounters with the glory of God leave their mark on believers, transforming them “from one degree of glory to another” till the divine image shines more clearly in and through them.

  • How do we hope our encounters with God will transform us?
  • How might these hopes shape our intentions when we study the bible or partake in Holy Communion?
  • When does God’s image shine most brightly through us?
Luke 9:28–36, (37–43a)

This passage contains Luke’s account of the Transfiguration, the mountaintop miracle when Jesus’ appearance so thoroughly reflects God’s glory that even his clothes seem to glow a “dazzling white.” It’s a well-told narrative, full of dramatic touches. The sleepy disciples who must have wondered whether they were dreaming; the mysterious appearance of Moses and Elijah; the voice of God speaking from a cloud, calling Jesus “my Son,” and telling the disciples, and us, to “listen to him!”

We know that Jesus’ life and teachings provide our clearest window into the nature of God. But we often forget that Jesus also provides our clearest illustration of what a human life looks like in its highest form. The account of the Transfiguration is a useful reminder to look to Jesus as a paragon for what our lives might be. There on the mountaintop the distance between God and man utterly collapses. The task for us, the journey of Christian discipleship, seems clear: start climbing towards God.

  • In what concrete ways can we strive to obey the voice of God as it spoke through the cloud, called Jesus “my Son” and told us to “listen to him”?
  • Surely we all are aware of a persistent gap that divides the life we live from the life we ought to live. What practices have been helpful in your efforts to “mind the gap” and grow closer to becoming the person God is calling you to be?

Download the Last Epiphany Bible Study.

Written by Robert Pennoyer

Robert Pennoyer is a third-year seminarian at Berkeley Divinity School at Yale, where he is also a member of the Institute of Sacred Music. He is a candidate for ordination to the priesthood in the Diocese of New York. He lives in New Haven with his wife and their one-year-old daughter.

 

Bible Study, Epiphany 4(C), January 31, 2016

[RCL] Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Luke 4:21-30

Jeremiah 1:4-10

Jeremiah lived in a time of widespread fear, confusion, dread, and denial. The people of Judea were caught in the middle of three encroaching foreign powers – Assyria, Egypt, and Babylon. Most of the northern kingdom of Israel had already been conquered, and the territory around Jerusalem was under occupation. Jeremiah saw his beloved Temple and city destroyed, and its people marched away in captivity. Who would welcome God’s call to be a prophet in a time and place like that? In the pattern we can read in the call of other prophets, Jeremiah first responds by protesting that he can’t do the job. And in the pattern we have learned to expect from God, the Lord replies, in effect, “Nonsense. I will give you everything you need. Here are your instructions.” God does indeed ask us to do difficult or frightening things sometimes. God appoints Jeremiah “to pluck up…pull down…destroy…overthrow” but also “to build and to plant.” We may be tempted to forget in anxious times that God never leaves us to cope with our disasters alone, but leads us eventually into comfort, restoration, and new growth.

  • What things are you feeling prophetic about?
  • Can you see the promise of new things as well as the dangers that threaten?
Psalm 71:1-6

This psalm continues the theme of a threatening danger, in the words of a fervent prayer for protection and deliverance. The wicked, the evildoer, and the oppressor named in verse 4 may be political overlords, but they may also be personal adversaries. In either case, we are hearing the plea of someone who feels cornered and outnumbered. The psalmist goes beyond crying out for help, though. Even in this short excerpt (the psalm in its entirety is twenty-four verses long), the speaker turns to professions of confidence and praise. We are reminded that the Israelites had a familial sense of intimacy with the Lord. They sought God’s comfort and protection, they sang and danced and shouted their praise and worship. And when they felt it necessary, they shouted angrily or wailed their laments to the God who led and sustained them. Psalm 71 expresses some of that intimacy – “from my mother’s womb you have been my strength” – and later, in verse 18, “And now that I am old and gray-headed, O God, do not forsake me.”

  • What are the deepest longings of your heart?
  • Can you pour them out to God?
  • What about your disappointments and resentments?
  • Can you trust God with those, too?
1 Corinthians 13:1-13

Many people may have heard this passage read at weddings and reached the understandable conclusion that Paul’s words apply to individuals in a committed relationship. “Love is patient; love is kind…It does not insist on its own way…” Yes, these statements could certainly apply to the ideal relationship between partners in marriage. We need to read Chapter 13 in its wider context, though, to understand Paul’s message fully. Leading up to this chapter, Paul has pointed out that the members of the church in Corinth are not acting very charitably toward one another, and are in fact continuing to live according to the social class system of their secular surroundings. Rather than approaching the Lord’s Supper in a spirit of unity and love, they have fallen into factions of “haves” and “have-nots.” (1 Cor 11:20-22) Rather than using their spiritual gifts for the growth and benefit of all, they appear to have created a hierarchy of “bragging rights” according to who can exercise which gift. (1 Cor 12) Paul’s purpose in Chapter 13 is to remind them that they are no longer to act as individuals, thinking of themselves first, but to recognize that they are now part of the body of Christ. In the unity of that body, all are to be treated with equal respect and the gifts of all are to be received in love and gratitude.

  • Re-read verses 4-7, applying the words to a modern congregation rather than to an individual couple. What lessons for our mutual life do you find there?
  • How many ways could you apply Paul’s comparison between childish and adult understanding? It is bad or wrong to be “childish,” or simply a form of behavior that should be “put away” as we grow more mature as disciples?
Luke 4:21-30

Luke’s telling of this episode differs significantly from Mark’s (6:1-6) and Matthew’s (13:54-58) versions. And Luke has shifted the focus. In this longer narrative, Jesus elaborates on the theme of the prophet being without honor in his own country, or hometown. In this story, the people of Nazareth do not react angrily to Jesus’s saying “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Yes, they are astonished to hear the carpenter’s son sounding so authoritative and wise, but their first reaction is very favorable. They only become angry after Jesus reminds them of the times when Israel has rejected her prophets, prompting God to send them to Gentiles instead. What is Luke’s purpose in choosing this narrative? Overall, the Gospel of Luke has a distinct tone of justice for the oppressed and the outcast; perhaps this episode can teach us something from that angle. The people of Nazareth are feeling pretty smug over having such an impressive “hometown boy.” They don’t even seem to mind that he has just claimed to be the Messiah. But the outrage is that he suggests that he is not their exclusive property! That they might not even be given any special favors in the kingdom of heaven because they “knew him when!”

  • Are we inclined to think we have a special claim to Jesus?
  • Do we secretly resent or disdain the expressions of Christianity that come from other cultures?

Download the Epiphany 4C Bible Study.

Written by Jennifer Shadle

Jennifer Shadle is a transitional Deacon and a candidate for Holy Orders in the Diocese of Colorado. Before recognizing the call to ordained ministry, Jennifer taught vocal music and music history at the secondary and collegiate levels, most recently at Colorado State University-Pueblo. As a seminarian, she takes delight in the liturgy and worship of the Church, theology, and pastoral ministry. She is completing a Concentration in Hispanic Church Studies, and hopes to serve in a multicultural parish setting or to develop a missional ministry among immigrant populations.

Bible Study, Epiphany 3(C), January 24, 2016

[RCL] Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10; Psalm 19, 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a; Luke 4:14-21

Nehemiah 8: 1-3, 5-6, 8-10

All the people gathered together in the square before the Water Gate. (Nehemiah 8:1)

In the Nehemiah reading, we hear about a joyful and united community of Israel that has gathered together to hear the Torah. After years of separation during the Babylonian Exile, Israel is one community again. The Nehemiah reading is a celebratory passage, which fits well with the season of Epiphany. Israel has rebuilt the Temple and rebuilt its community. But, before we cheer on Israel too much, it is important to acknowledge the hard side of this new community. Generally, it was just the Israelite elite that had been exiled to Babylon. Many other Israelites stayed behind in Jerusalem. While separated, some of the men who stayed in Jerusalem married women who were not Israelites. Upon reunification, the women and children who were not Israelites were exiled from Jerusalem. In addition, Israel constructed a huge wall around Jerusalem to keep all “outsiders” out of their community. So, Nehemiah forces us to question the cost of community and our willingness to accept the “other” in our community. It is particularly relevant today as the United States questions its openness to refugees and to people of other faiths.

  • In a time when exiles and refugees are very much a part of our daily life, how can we be community and be truly inclusive?
  • How can we broaden our idea of the “other”? 
Psalm 19

Let the words of my mouth and the mediation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. (Psalm 19: 14)

This is the psalm that many people pray before delivering a sermon. Before standing before their community, they pray to God for guidance. It is another example of the way that this week’s readings call us to be community. This psalm also talks about being “acceptable in your sight.” In the Gospel, we hear about Jesus being seen by his congregation. As we come out of the darkest time of the year in the North Hemisphere, there is more light and a better ability to see others and for God to see us.

  • How are we living in God’s sight?
  • What does it mean for our word and mediation to be acceptable in God’s sight?
  • What obligation does this place on our discipleship?
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

In the Corinthians reading, Paul provides further support for Jesus’ message of radical inclusion. We all have a part to play in the body of God. Some of those parts are perceived to be more valuable than others but the whole body could not function without all of the parts. So, we need to be sure to embrace the embarrassing and weak parts, as well as the attractive and smart parts. In Nehemiah, we know that the community was not accepting of all the parts, and Paul saw exclusivity that was continuing in the early Christian community. Paul called all to gather as one community in Christ. In addition, Paul’s description of the Church as one body has some nice parallels with the season of Epiphany, when we come together as a community and celebrate that God has come to us in a human body in Jesus. The incarnation provides another reason to honor all parts of our bodies.

  • Who are the parts of the body of Christ that we neglect or ignore?
  • How are we treating those parts that we call “refugee,” “exile,” or “Muslim”?
  • How do we learn to embrace those parts of the body that do not meet our expectations: our disabilities, our limitations, and our weaknesses?
Luke 4:14-21

The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. (Luke 4:20)

The Gospel brings together the themes from Nehemiah and Corinthians. As Jesus stood before his community, they finally saw him for who he was. He brought together his community in the same way that the Torah did in Nehemiah, symbolizing the new Covenant with God. This carpenter’s son, who was not a celebrated part of his community, is now the hope and Messiah for this community. As Jesus’ community sees Jesus, they are learning to see a member of their community in a new way and in a new role. They are recognizing a part of their body in a new way. In the season of Epiphany, we are called to see in a new way, to embrace the body in a new way.

  • How can we take the Christmas light to see anew?
  • Who can we view differently?
  • What can we view differently in ourselves or in others?
  • How can our new vision help us follow Jesus more fully?

Download the Epiphany 3C Bible Study.

Written by Brendan Barnicle

Brendan Barnicle is a Postulate for Holy Orders in the Diocese of Oregon and in his second year in the low residency Masters of Divinity program at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific. He is also a Managing Director for Capital Markets Research at an investment bank, where his research focuses on enterprise software and Software-as-a-Service.

 

Bible Study, Epiphany 2(C), January 17, 2016

[RCL] Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 36:5-10; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11

Isaiah 62:1-5

Like the Psalm appointed for this Sunday, this passage from the prophet Isaiah speaks of God’s love and faithfulness. The familiar metaphor of the bride and the bridegroom continues in this passage from the previous chapter. Yet, the full significance of this metaphor somehow gets lost in the context of our 21st century understanding of marriage. Whatever the metaphor, the message is one of God’s love and faithfulness is unmistakable.

  • Do you feel loved? Vindicated?
  • Do you feel that you are God’s delight?
  • What do “forsaken” and “desolate” mean for us?
  • How do we experience God’s vindication?
  • What might this look like in our own time and place?
Psalm 36:5-10

In this Psalm we hear praises of God’s love, faithfulness, righteousness and justice. It celebrates God’s protection and how God’s people take refuge under the shadow of God’s wings. It speaks of God as the source of abundance, light and life.

How often we forget that God is the source of all good things. How hard it is to remember that everything belongs to God, not us. Everything we have is a loving gift from God, for our blessing and enjoyment; the world around us, it’s natural resources, food, water, health, our families and our friends. Even our next breath is a gift from God.

In this Psalm, we are called to remember that it is God who is the giver of all of our blessings. The practice of praying the Psalms can help us remember that God is the giver of all abundance, light and life.

  • What do you do to remind yourself that God is the giver of your gifts?
  • How do you respond when you begin to think of God’s blessings as “our” own, the results of our own hard work, our intelligence, or luck?
1 Corinthians 12:1-11

This well-known and beloved passage from Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth speaks of the work of the Holy Spirit in the service of the Lord. Paul reminds us of the equal value of our varied spiritual gifts which are given by the Holy Spirit for the common good.

This passage calls us to recognize the gifts of the Spirit that God has provided for our mutual benefit and for the service of the Lord. It calls us to reconsider the roles of the laity, especially, in the works of the church. We often do fail to recognize the spiritual gifts present in our communities. I remember visiting a parish in San Diego a few years ago and being surprised to see a woman with Down Syndrome serving as the acolyte at the 10:15 service. Upon reflection I realized that she was so perfectly suited to this important ministry and blessed the entire congregation with her love and enthusiasm.

This passage from Corinthians speaks helps us recognize the wonderful variety of gifts that the Holy Spirit provides and call us to recognize and receive these abundant gifts with open minds and open hearts for the common good.

  • How do these words inform how we view our own spiritual gifts and those of others?
  • How do you address preconceived notions of who and what when it comes to spiritual gifts?
  • How do you recognize others spiritual gifts?
John 2:1-11

In this Gospel passage, we hear about Jesus’ first miracle, the turning of water into wine. As with the Psalm and the First Testament reading appointed for today, this passage also speaks of God’s grace and abundance. What does it say about Jesus that his first miracle is performed at a wedding? What does it mean that when the wine was all gone, Jesus provided more and that it was of the best quality?

The miracle of the changing of water into wine is the first of the seven signs in the Gospel of John that serve to identify Jesus as the Son of God.

  • What can we learn about God through the actions of Jesus at the wedding in Cana?
  • Are we able to recognize the signs/miracles of God at work in our own lives and in the world around us?
  • Do we experience miracles in our own lives?
  • Are we able to see the glory of God in our own experiences of the miraculous?
  • What water does God change into wine for us?
  • What are is the sign we see that causes us to believe? 

Download the Epiphany 2C Bible Study.

Written by Robin L. Kassabian

Robin is a third year seminarian and a postulant for ordination to the presbyterate in the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles. Her areas of interest include multicultural ministry, peace and justice work and accessibility/inclusion. Robin is married to Paul Kassabian and has three children: Claire, David and Anna.  

 

Bible Study, Epiphany 1(C), January 10, 2016

 [RCL] Isaiah 43:1-7; Psalm 29; Acts 8:14-17; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Isaiah 42:1-7

This passage speaks particularly strongly to the themes of creation and being chosen by God. The Hebrew people knew the stories of creation by heart. They knew the stories of their ancestors. So when the prophet Isaiah says, “Thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear…you are mine,” it is a call to remember those narratives. It is a call to remember who we are and where we come from. In the Christian story, that means acknowledging our baptisms. Interestingly enough, as displayed in this passage, water is also an integral party of the story of God’s people. The Red Sea, Jacob’s Well, the River Jordan, the Sea of Galilee. Water is a necessary part of all of our lives.

  • In what ways has water played a significant role in your own life?
  • Can you find any links between those moments and the reminder that Isaiah gives us of who we are and where we come from? What are they?
Psalm 29

The world is busy. The world is noisy. The world demands our attention with its screens and data and clamor. In today’s Psalm, we are directed to what is truly worthy of our attention and devotion. The Lord, Creator and Sustainer of all, reigns over all of creation and cries out in splendor for peace.

  • How do we start to ascribe glory and strength, worship and beauty, to the Lord instead of to worldly things?
  • How can we listen for the voice of the Lord above the din of the world?
Acts 8:14-17

This story of Acts holds considerable weight for the work of the Holy Spirit in the world. We as humans are made to be in community. God made us in community. So it is important to meditate on the ways the church, even from its earliest beginnings, necessitated a gathering of people. This is especially important in baptism. The Holy Spirit is present within the church as we are baptized and baptize others.

  • In what ways is the Holy Spirit present in your life and in your church, especially in relation to your baptismal vows?
  • Could you live into your baptism without being in a community? Why or why not?
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Two pieces of this passage really stand out. First, on this occasion of the Baptism of our Lord (as the lectionary calls it), we are confronted with a very abrupt and honest answer from John to the people all around. John is not the Messiah. The Messiah is coming, and he will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. He will gather the wheat into his granary. But here’s the rough edge: this passage also says he will burn the chaff with unquenchable fire. If this were the only message in the bible about the ministry of Jesus, we would be hard pressed to find Good News in that. But the rest of the Gospels tell us of a Messiah who cares for the poor, feeds the hungry, and clothes the naked. He talks and eats with the outcasts, the lame, and the rejected. Here, John may be changing our understanding of what ‘chaff’ actually means so that it is not a negative or derogatory term. Instead it is the place where Jesus is needed most and spends the most time. If we look at it that way, he is saying that baptism by the Holy Spirit and by fire is for all people, especially the chaff. The second thing that stands out is the voice of God that comes from the heavens. The Gospel is very explicit in stating that not just Jesus was baptized there, but that ALL the people were baptized. God is well pleased, not just with Jesus, but with you. You are beloved. You are a child of God. As you meditate on that, try to think of all the ways that you can recognize the pleasing embrace of God in your life.

  • What is your understanding of chaff?
  • How might this understanding be changed by the message of the Gospel?
  • How can you recognize the pleasing embrace of God in your life?

Download the Epiphany 1C Bible Study.

Written by Samantha Gottlich

Sam is a postulant for Holy Orders in the Diocese of Texas pursuing an M. Div. at Virginia Theological Seminary. She has a background in higher education, college ministry, and Episcopal summer camp programs. She loves exploring the ways faith, theology, and culture intersect, and she is one of the authors of Faith Rules: An Episcopal Manual.