Archives for February 2016

Bible Study, Lent 5 (C), March 13, 2016  

[RCL] Isaiah 43:16-21; Philippians 3:4b-14; John 12:1-8; Psalm 126

Isaiah 43:16-21

The writer of this portion of Isaiah calls us to lift our vision far beyond our self-imposed limits to God’s care for us. Yes, there are the chariots and horses of military might. Yes, there have been hard times in our collective and individual journeys with God. But God is greater than all these things and there will be a time when everything will be made new and put right. We are invited to live into hope as we see the greatness of the God who is more powerful than all that we face.

  • How would your life look different if you trusted that the God, who created all things, was for you and with you no matter what your circumstances may be?
  • Can you think of a place in your life where God may be inviting you to restore your hope in God?
Psalm 126

There was a time when God’s people had been brought back from exile and Zion was being rebuilt. It was a time of rejoicing and laughter. The good news of how God had saved God’s people spread among the nations. The psalmist, recounting how God had acted in the past, has built up their faith to ask God to act in the present. We need our memories of God’s salvation in the journey of faith. Remembering how God has reached into our lives with living water in the past will enable us to persevere when we find ourselves in difficult and dry places in our journey with God and God’s people.

  • Can you recall a time in your journey with God when you felt like one of “those who dream,” when you were overjoyed with how God had brought healing and rescue in your life?
  • How might your faith be enriched if you were to periodically remember the moments in which you have rejoiced in God’s love for you? 
Philippians 3:4b-14

These words of Paul show a man consumed with a singular vision for his life. Here Paul sums up the impulse that shapes the contour of his life: to know Jesus Christ. For Paul, everything pales in comparison to the “surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus.” We hear this passage in the fifth week of our journey through Lent, a time where we seek to create more space in our lives to enter more deeply into our union with Christ. As we celebrate the love and life of God today, it is a gift to reflect on Paul’s passionate words.

  • Do you know Jesus Christ in such a way that everything else in my life becomes secondary to knowing him?
  • How might pressing on towards knowing Christ change your life?
John 12:1-8

Something that has always struck me about this story is not only the extravagance of Mary’s worship of Jesus, but the lingering effect of her extravagant and intimate worship. I wonder what it was like for Mary to walk through her village with her nard-soaked hair for the days after her anointing of Jesus. I’m sure that everyone who was near her smelled the sweet fragrance. I think of how our worship of Jesus changes and marks us in this world. We, too, are invited to be like Mary, whose worship of Jesus created an inviting fragrance for those around her. The more we see Christ, the more we want to offer our worship, and the more we are changed from having done so.

  • Can you identify anything in your life that may have caused you to lose sight of the worthiness of Christ to receive your worship?
  • What about Christ have you taken for granted?
  • How might intentional reflection invite your worship and change you in the process?

Download the Lent 5C Bible Study.

Written by Jamie Osborne

Jamie Osborne is a second-year seminarian from the diocese of Alabama attending the School of Theology, University of the South. Jamie and his wife, Lauren, live with their children in Sewanee, TN. In addition to nurturing those already in the Episcopal Church, Jamie has a desire to guide young adults and those who are unchurched/dechurched into a life of faith in the Episcopal tradition. He also spends quite a bit of time wondering what God might be calling the church to be and do in the midst of the cultural, technological, and religious shifts that are happening in the landscape of the United States and the world.

Bible Study, Lent 4(C), March 6, 2016

[RCL] Joshua 5:9-12; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32; Psalm 32

Joshua 5:9-12

The Lord tells Joshua in this passage that the disgrace of Egypt has been rolled away from the Israelites, meaning that they no longer carry the lowliness of having been enslaved by the Egyptians. They are free, and they have made it out of the wilderness where they faced scarcity and the fear of not having enough. Now the Isrealites are free to eat of the abundance of the fruits of Canaan. Replacing the manna which sustained them for many years with much more pleasing food.

  • When was a time or a season of your life that you experienced scarcity?
  • What was this experience like?
  • When was a time or a season of your life that you experienced abundance?
  • How does being in a season of abundance feel different from being in a season of scarcity?
Psalm 32

This Psalm is a song of thanksgiving for receiving God’s forgiveness. The psalmist tells of the joy of being forgiven, and then encourages others to seek God’s forgiveness.

  • Tell a story of forgiveness from your own life; a time you forgave or a time you were forgiven.
  • How were you changed by forgiveness?
  • Why would you encourage others to seek or offer forgiveness based on your own experience?
2 Corinthians 5:16-21

This passage from the second letter to the Corinthians offers us another image of reconciliation. Paul says we have been reconciled to God through Christ. Yet, Paul subverts the traditional image of reconciliation, in which the one at fault would seek forgiveness, and tells us that God seeks reconciliation with us. We are thus commissioned a ministry of reconciliation.

  • What image of reconciliation does Paul say God offers us as a model for our own ministry of reconciliation?
  • What does Paul’s subversion of reconciliation tell us about God and our relationship with God?
  • How can we, as Christians today, carry on this ministry of reconciliation in the world?
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

This well-known parable tells of two archetypal characters that are found in many stories across many cultures: the dutiful child and the irresponsible child. This story has frustrated real life dutiful children for generations, I’d imagine. But, when we look at this parable in relationship with the other readings appointed for today, we see a common theme: reconciliation. In this parable, the father lives in a constant posture of readiness to forgive his son if and or when he returns home. This is the same message we see in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians: God is always ready to forgive God’s children no matter their indiscretion. It is probably true that most of us act at different times in our lives as both the dutiful and the irresponsible child.

  • Tell about a time when you were more the like the “prodigal son.”
  • Who welcomed you back with open arms?
  • What does this parable teach us about how we relate to God? To others?
  • What image of forgiveness does this parable offer us for our “ministry of reconciliation”?

Download the Lent 4C Bible Study.

Written by Maggie Foote

Maggie Foote is a third year seminarian at CDSP. She is a postulant from the Diocese of Southern Ohio, and an Ohio State Buckeye. Maggie 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 my wife, Andrea and our dog, Jasper.

 

Bible Study, Lent 3(C), February 28, 2016  

[RCL] Exodus 3:1-15; 1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9; Psalm 63:1-8

Exodus 3:1-15

Most Christians live their lives with a willingness to provide service to others as a pathway of serving God’s mission in the world. At the same time we are often psychologically torn or confused by not knowing if we are the right person for God’s mission. This uncertainty of emotion exists despite our realization of God’s call. Instead of believing we are enough, we often question our qualifications to participate or whether we’ll make a noticeable difference. We begin to ask ourselves, “Who am I that I should_______?” It is safe to assume that each of us can feel in the blank. Doubt is part of life. Remember we all are children of God and thus should be able to see the face of God not only in others but also in ourselves.

While studying urban education my teachers reminded us that students “are experts in their own experience”. These words from Lisa Delpit, inform and shape how I teach each day. More importantly I accept them in every aspect of life. We are all experts in our own experience therefore we bring our humanity to God’s mission and service of others. So the next time you hear that inner voice prompting you to say or do something and another one saying you need a workshop or a support team behind you, remember you are an expert in your own experience. You bring a human experience to a human situation and if God is truly the inspiration behind the action it will be okay. God said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you.” Remember you are enough. And just as God states in the passage, “I am who I am.” You also are who you are and indeed you are enough.

  • Who are you in God’s sight?
  • How do you present yourself to others?
  • What are your spiritual gifts and are they enough?
  • How is God calling you to use your gifts?
Psalm 63:1-8

Where is God in our lives? Take a moment to think: when is God’s presence and absence felt in our lives? In this psalm, the psalmist is in LOVE with God. This is a love poem. The first verse talks about how the writer’s body physically pines for God, because they are parched and dying without God in their life. God sustains them with love and kindness and the writer believes this is better than life itself. The writer will praise God as long as they live, because God fills them and they are content. Even when the writer is scared, alone, confused and downtrodden God helps them and the writer clings to God for life. The writer is nothing without God and they know it, pondering on God’s goodness all night long, reflecting on the importance of God in their life. This is why the writer is seeking God.

  • Do we love God as much as this psalmist?
  • Are we as dependent on God?
  • If so, how are we seeking God in our daily lives?
  • What does it feel like to search for God and how would you describe it to others?
1 Corinthians 10:1-13

Whether we like it or not, we humans are more alike than we will ever be different. Yet, there will always be differences. Our ability to address difference requires us to reflect God’s love and grace. Not only with others but also with ourselves. Accepting difference isn’t analogous with agreement. Accepting difference isn’t always comfortable. Accepting difference isn’t always easy. But we must accept that we are all from God and must call on God amidst these challenges and life’s difficulties. Knowing that, “God is faithful, and [God] will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing [God] will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.” Sometimes the most difficult acceptance we will have to make is with ourselves.

  • What differences do you most readily see between yourself and others?
  • What differences in others are easy for you to accept and still maintain a relationship?
  • What differences between you and others do you find difficult to work with?
  • Do you see God in the differences you see in others?
  • Do you see God in yourself?
Luke 13:1-9

We have a tendency to qualify our sins, when in actuality we are all sinners. The magnitude of sins does not require measurement in the eyes of God. We are all broken in our humanness and therefore we all need to repent and ask for forgiveness.

The parable of the fig tree symbolizes how quickly we are to prone to giving up on people, situations and circumstances without tending to the root of the problem. If we can move past the surface of what is or is not bearing fruit and address the foundation of a given issue then we are able to nurture the depths of diversity needed for healing and growth.

  • Is there a time when you gave up on something or someone and later wished you hadn’t?
  • Describe a time you needed care?
  • How are you nurtured?
  • What is at the root of who you are?
  • What are your support networks?

Download the Lent 3C Bible Study.

Written by Alexizendria Link

Alexizendria Link, a lay leader in the Episcopal Church has volunteered and worked with a wide variety of education, religious and non-profit organizations. She is a graduate of the Episcopal Divinity School and Harvard Divinity School. She also served as a 2014 Black Theology and Leadership Fellow at Princeton Theological Seminary. Currently she serves as an Executive Council member for The Episcopal Church, on the Social Justice Commission in the Diocese of Western Massachusetts and the National Youth Advisor for the Union of Black Episcopalians. In addition, she is a full-time classroom teacher working with urban youth.

Bible Study, Second Sunday in Lent (C), February 21, 2016

 [RCL] Genesis 15:1-12,17-18; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 13:31-35; Psalm 27

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18

Abraham is suffering from tunnel vision. Although he is a spirit filled man who is devoted to God, Abraham’s vision is only focused on what is immediately in front of him. Abraham hasn’t yet submitted to God’s will and allowed God to open his eyes to see the effects of God unending love and possibility. Abraham’s myopia leads him to focus on the fact that he is childless and what he currently owns. Thus, God’s promise of offspring that would number the stars of the sky and ownership of vast amounts of land is beyond his human understanding. But this is the crux of the passage; Abraham is still walking by sight and not by faith. Submitting to God’s will necessarily means that we must also place full trust and faith in the Lord. The perfect and complete cure to human spiritual myopia is faith in the abundance grace of the Holy Trinity.

  • What are the material and earthly things that must be abandoned in order to walk by faith and not by sight?
  • What sources or people do you rely on for spiritual clarity of thought and guidance?
Psalm 27

Glorious is the Lord who is the rock of our salvation and our stronghold in times of distress. The psalmist seems to be deeply troubled in his reflection and plea for God’s mercy in Psalm 27. Troubled by the threat of armies, enemies and false witnesses God is the common denominator who can provide an escape route in the face of suffering, harm and persecution. In a cry for help and protection, the writer seeks the paternal attributes of God for protection and reassurance. If there is one psalm that accentuates what it means to the beneficiary of God’s grace on earth, Psalm 27 is it.

  • As we celebrate the joy of being members of the kingdom of God, how do we describe the common denominator in our spiritual life (God)?
  • Conversely, reflecting on our lives, how do you think God would describe us?
Philippians 3:17-4:1

Saint Paul, formerly chief persecutor now converted chief advocate for Christians offers a warning to “enemies of the cross of Christ”. That is, if you place your minds on earthly things, your glory will be shame and destruction. Saint Paul, to the members of the church in Philippi draws a divisive line between earthly gains and heavenly reward. The citizenship of value is not on earth but in heaven with our Lord of Savior Jesus Christ. The busyness of this world dictates that we are wrapped in trying to assert, redefine or identify the role in the communities in which we live. We assert our identity through citizenship, community, social groups, religion, family and friends. Our membership in these various groups drives our earthly existence daily.

  • How often do we consider what it takes to acquire and maintain membership in heaven?
  • What are the specific requirements that Jesus Christ demands from us to obtain the eternal citizenship in heaven?
Luke 13:31-35

George Webb in his hymn Stand up Stand up for Jesus was persuasive when he wrote, “from victory unto victory his army shall he lead, till every foe is vanquished and Christ is Lord indeed”. In our reading today, Jesus Christ faces familiar foes in the Pharisees. Even though Jesus is performing miracles to the benefit of the community, the religious elite wants no part of it or him. In response Christ is resilient, defiant and brave as he insists that God’s work is paramount to any request or law from the Herod or the Pharisees. Jesus’ stance is a reminder that in following him we are called to stand up for justice, love and the welfare of our surrounding communities. This may mean forsaking loved ones/friends, defying societal norms or doing the unpopular. It also means spirit-filled joy, countless blessings and an abundancy of grace.

  • In what ways do you see yourself following Jesus and standing up for Jesus?
  • How do you stand up for justice and love?
  • When is it difficult to do that? When might it be easy?

Download the Lent 2C Bible Study.

Written by Winston Arthur

Richard Winston Arthur is currently a candidate from the Diocese of the Virgin Islands. He is a senior at Virginia Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Laura, have two kids, Symone and Richie. Before attending seminary Winston’s primary vocation was practicing law as in the areas of civil and commercial litigation. His call to ordained ministry is fashioned by my desire to serve Jesus Christ in all things. 

Bible Study, Lent 1(C), February 14, 2016

 [RCL] Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Romans 10:8b-13; Luke 4:1-13; Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16

Deuteronomy 26:1-11

Who knew that we could talk about stewardship in some time of the calendar year other than September, October, or November? This passage from Deuteronomy helps us to recall that everything that we have is a gift. All that is, is God’s, not ours – we have only received a portion. We return a portion of what we have received from God in gratitude. In the laws of Deuteronomy, this came in many forms, including the first fruits offering that we read about in this text. Much of stewardship, much of a life of faith, is about gratitude. While people often ask each other what they are giving up for Lent, this penitential season is about far more than sacrificing chocolate, ice cream, or even meat on Fridays. Lent is a season of introspection and intentional self-reflection. As you begin your Lenten journey, consider the ways in which you are grateful for all that God has given you. Also consider the ways that you have forgotten this spirit of gratitude, taking the gifts you have received for granted or as the rewards of meritocracy.

  • How can your prayer and reflection this Lenten season return you to a humble posture of gratitude before our good and gracious God?
  • Consider the theme of first fruits in the Deuteronomy passage: What is the first fruit that you need to give up, or return to God?
  • What makes that sacrifice difficult?
  • How would you pray through that difficulty?
  • How might you act in faith and let this difficulty go?
Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16

What is it like to rest in God? The founding abbess of my religious community tells the story of walking in on one of the senior nuns in her old convent praying. She recalls being struck by the image of serenity before her, as her older sister seemed to simply glow with holiness and be at true peace. Wanting to share that same experience in her own prayer life, the young and precocious nun asked the more experienced religious woman how she prays. Her sister responded saying something both simple and profound: “I just sit here and let God love me.” Sometimes God’s love is a hard thing for us to recognize. We may cognitively know that God loves us because our Scriptures and our tradition tell us so. But do you know it more deeply?

  • Take some time now to dwell in the shelter of the Most High. Breathe deeply. As you inhale, mentally speak the words, “You are my refuge and my stronghold.” As you exhale, mentally speak the words, “my God in whom I put my trust.” Sit in silence, really feeling your breath, and just let God’s love wash over you. Perhaps, you will find, that is how you will grow more deeply in your trust in God.
  • Do you believe that God truly loves you unconditionally? Do you feel it in your bones that you are loved by God?
  • How does this time of meditation meet with your reflection on the passage from Deuteronomy above?
Romans 10:8b-13

In many Episcopal churches, when the deacon or priest announces the Gospel, the people in the congregation trace the sign of the cross on their foreheads, lips, and chests. This is to signify the Word of God, the good news of Jesus Christ, to be always on our minds, on our lips, and in our hearts. This excerpt from Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome begins: “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart.”

  • How do you live your life with the Gospel written in your heart, always on your mind, and proclaimed not only through your lips, but also in your actions?
  • Do you publicly confess, with confidence, that Jesus Christ is Lord? If not, why not?
  • What keeps you from being able to, or being comfortable with, making such a public confession of your faith?
  • What would it take for you to be able to proclaim, confessing with your lips, that Jesus Christ is the Lord of your life?
Luke 4:1-13

Prior to seminary, and prior to taking a staff job as the youth minister at two other congregations, I was heavily involved with the youth ministry at my sponsoring congregation. I taught the high school Sunday school class and led the youth group. Each week when I prepared the lesson, I would draw a theme out of the readings and find a song, typically non-religious, that connected. The class would open with prayer and a check-in. We would then play the song to introduce the lesson and read the text. Next we would discuss the lesson, offering questions for reflection, playing the song again while they respond to the questions for reflection, sharing reflections, and closing in prayer. When I prepared the lesson on this passage, I decided to use the song “Burden in My Hand,” by Soundgarden.1 As they listened to the song, they were given a simple instruction: imagine you are being spoken to by the Devil in the same way Satan spoke to Jesus in order to tempt him in the Gospel reading.

One of the great gifts of the ministry of the priesthood is the ministry of penance and absolution. While confession is good for the soul at all times of the year, it is especially appropriate in the Season of Lent. If you are so inclined, and I hope you are, use these reflections to guide you in preparation for confession with your priest. Sin begins when we turn away from God in unfaith, when we do not trust in God’s goodness.

  • What does temptation look and feel like in your life?
  • How is it most often made manifest?
  • Perhaps another way to ask yourself these questions is to ask: What keeps me from being in the best possible relationship with God, others, and myself?
  • What gets in the way of your relationship with God?
  • What keeps you from seeing the image of God in others or in yourself?
  • Think back one more time to your reflection on Deuteronomy, is that thing which you find difficult to let go of something that is seductive to you, that tempts you?
  • Having reflected on these readings, what sins are brought to your mind?
  • How can you grow past them through the aid of your pastor, beginning with the Rite of Reconciliation of a Penitent? Let this become a part of your regular spiritual discipline and you will find a new freedom in Christ that you may never have experienced before.
  • How does Jesus, in his example in the Gospel narrative and, more importantly, in your relationship with the Risen Christ, strengthen you to resist temptation?
  • How does Jesus’ faith and trust and absolute devotion to God, inspire you to more fully devote yourself to that which is holy?

Download the Lent 1C Bible Study.

Written by Brother Paul Castelli

Brother Paul Castelli is a candidate for Holy Orders from the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan and a senior M.Div student at Bexley-Seabury. He is also working on an STM with a concentration in systematic theology 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. Paul lives with his wife, Mechelle, and their beloved pets.

1https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XmIqIVxUuKs