Archives for March 2016

Bible Study, Easter 3 (C) – April 10, 2016  

[RCL] Acts 9:1-6, (7-20); Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19; Psalm 30

Acts 9:1-6, (7-20)

Here we have Saul in deep shock from his experience on the road to Damascus. We know that he will become one of the greatest persons of profound faith in God. But isn’t Ananias’ faith in God as shown in this story extraordinary? The Lord tells Ananias in a vision that Saul is praying and that Saul too is having a vision. Saul sees “a man named Ananias” coming in, laying hands on him so that Saul may regain his sight. Ananias doesn’t say, “that must be another man named Ananias.” He doesn’t say, “Lord, I don’t know how to do that.” He knows that God wants him to do this and he has faith that it is possible. He does have fear though and he tells God about it. The Lord assures Ananias that Saul is a part of his plan. Saul will be a vessel of God’s message to all people. That is all it takes. Ananias goes to Saul and does what God has asked.

  • What fear do you have about a task you feel God may be calling you to?
  • Would sharing that fear with God free you to step out with confident faith to do that task?
Psalm 30

Psalm 30 starts out sounding like a typical praise psalm. It begins full of joy that God has stopped the writer from dying. But there is an abrupt change in tone at verse 8. We have a glimpse of the dark moments that came before. Perhaps the psalmist lost his sense of security when he became sick. This may have been the moment he felt that God hid his face. The writer appeals to God saying that once he is dead, he won’t be able to praise God and proclaim his faithfulness. How can I love you, God, when I’m dead? Then in verse 12 there is another turn. The psalmist pleas were heard, He is restored to health and promises to exalt God and give thanks forever.

  • How can we stay “as strong as the mountains” even at those moments that we feel God’s face is turned or our prayers aren’t answered?
  • Do you think we might stay “as strong as the mountains” when we feel God’s face is hid, by calling upon the Lord for help and asking for mercy?
Revelation 5:11-14

The book of Revelation is written in the apocalyptic style and is a literary genre that we modern readers find difficult. We are unfamiliar with so much of the symbolism. What is clear in this passage though is that both God, the one seated on the throne, and Jesus, the Lamb are equally worthy of Universal praise.

  • Can you picture this image in your mind and imagine yourself singing with full voice, joining with angels, the symbolic living creatures, elders, and every creature in heaven, earth, and sea, calling for blessing, honor, glory, and might to the Creator and Redeemer?
John 21:1-19

This Gospel passage is full of parallels with other Gospel passages. In Luke, Jesus told Peter to throw out the nets after a fruitless night of fishing. The nets were miraculously filled with fish then too. Peter has been in a boat before and tried to get to Jesus walking on the water. Here he jumps into the water and swims to Jesus. Peter has been near a fire of burning coals before while being asked a question three times. He denied that he knew Jesus three times. Here Jesus redeems Peter by asking three times “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Three times Peter says “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

  • Do you ever feel that Jesus is saying to you “If you love me, feed my sheep?”
  • What are some ways that you feel others have “fed” you?

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, Easter 2 (C) – April 3, 2016

[RCL] Acts 5:27-32; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31; Psalm 118:19-24 or Psalm 150

Psalm 118:14-18

The psalm is infectious with the clear truth telling that it conveys: “The Lord is my strength and my song!” It is an affirmation of the life that God imbues us with, and the realization that we never need be scared of death, for God secures our spiritual freedom. Lest we simply clap our hands with joy, the psalmist reminds us that we have a countervailing obligation. We will declare the works of the Lord. Our lives are called to declare the fact that, from the edge of the precipice, God has taken us by the hand and lead us to new life.

  • How does your life declare God’s works?
  • How do you see God’s saving grace in the world around you?
Acts 5:27-32

In its closer context, Acts 5:27-32 is part of the larger narrative of the initial missionary adventures of Peter and John in Jerusalem. After having been shown some leniency by the high priest, Peter and John are brought before them again for teaching the Good News to the people of Jerusalem. We see the punch/counter-punch of claimed authority that, in the true spirit of the risen Christ, upends the earthly authority (the high priests), in favor of Christ’s redeeming love. This redeeming love compels Peter and John to continue to spread the Good News in the face of strict orders to desist.

  • How often are we asked to choose between our wants and desires, and a life in Christ?
  • How do we proclaim the Good News in a society that may have a difficult time hearing it?
Revelation 1:4-8

“So it is to be.” We cannot stop Jesus’ ever-growing love once it is in our hearts. We have experienced the joy of resurrection and the Good News continues to ground us in the life of and for Christ. However, there is more to come, for God is that “who is and who was and who is to come.” This title for God appears nowhere else in the Bible. It speaks to the truth that God is eternal and has always been. Equally important is that God will come again to bring order to the world in ways that will make all its peoples wail.

  • What will this world look like?
  • Who will we be in such a world?
John 20:19-31

Alleluia. Christ is risen! Jesus appearing to the disciples in spite of the locked doors indicates to us that Jesus has transcended the earthly, physical reality, while at the same time confirming his bodily risen-ness. However, this is not simply a dead Jesus walking amongst the living. Jesus came and stood among them and said “Peace be with you.” The English translations of this phrase use the past tense “said”, whereas the Greek uses the present active “says”, cementing Jesus’ living presence through physicality and voice. Jesus, and the Good News he embodies, has gloriously conquered death! Moreover, present before us is a Jesus wounded, suffering for those who seek the fulfillment of his redeeming love. Thomas, often derided for his skepticism, is one such who needs confirmation of that love.

  • How is it that Thomas was not able to comprehend the news of the risen Christ from his fellow disciples who witnessed Jesus’ presence just a week before?
  • When we fail to see Christ in our lives and in others how is our ability to witness to his love is similarly obscured?
  • How can we open our hearts to Jesus so that we, along with Thomas, can fully proclaim him as “My Lord and my God!” to those who might doubt?

Download the Easter 2C Bible Study.

Written by Michael J. Horvath

Michael Horvath is a postulant in the Diocese of New York and currently a Middler (second year) Master of Divinity student at The General Theological Seminary in New York City.

Bible Study, Easter Sunday (C) – March 27, 2016

[RCL] Acts 10:34-43; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26; Luke 24:1-12; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

Acts 10:34-43

“God shows no partiality… preaching peace by Jesus Christ.” Experiencing Holy Week can be tumultuous. It can be painful, uncomfortable, fear inducing, or even scary. It naturally sets up a dichotomy of those who persecute Jesus and those who follow Jesus. But in this passage from Acts, Peter, the rock of the Church, proclaims God’s impartiality and peace, even through the death of God’s son. He calls us witnesses more than once.

  • How will we move through division, partiality, or any other kind of wounded state to join God in preaching peace through Christ?
  • What are the duties of a witness as given in this passage?
  • If we are called to be witnesses, what does that mean we have to let go of from Holy Week in order to truly proclaim the Resurrection?
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

This psalm is full of body. Literally, it is full of imagery and vocabulary that incites tangible qualities. There is voice; there is sound; there is vision; there is touch; there is movement and action; there is stillness and stability. In the midst of all of this action and vibrancy, the psalmist continues to tie the imagery to sentiments like exultation, triumph, rejoicing, enduring mercy, strength, and salvation. This is a psalm of life. This is a psalm of praise. It brings overwhelming and unimaginable concepts like God’s marvelous work and unending mercy into the realm of the real and conceivable. This psalm brings to mind other miraculous acts like the miracle of manna from heaven, or the turning of water to wine, or perhaps even like the miracle of Easter morning.

  • How can this psalm be used as a framework for considering other miraculous and unimaginable acts?
  • How would you use the structure of the world to give voice to that which we cannot articulate?
1 Corinthians 15:19-26

Christ as the first fruits can be a challenging image in today’s world. Not many of us tend the land for nourishment. Instead, we walk or drive or bike or commute in some way to a market or grocery store. Death and life are today’s lectionary focus. Here, in 1 Corinthians, we find another, more explicit explanation of the significance of Christ and his triumph over death. But still we are faced with this idea of first fruits. So, let’s try to put it in a more current contextual interface. “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” This is the inscription on Lily and James Potter’s tombstone in the popular young adult series, Harry Potter. They, as parents of Harry, sacrifice themselves so that Harry might live. And live he does. In fact, he saves the entire wizarding world. They are the first fruits, in that context. So, we find this imagery everywhere: scripture, pop-culture, music, and beyond.

  • How can we find more ways to understand what it means to be the first fruits?
  • What is the significance of this imagery and how can we bring it to mind in new ways now?
  • How does thinking about this in terms of popular culture help us understand Christ’s role in defeating all enemies of the world, including death?
Luke 24:1-12

It’s Easter! The Lord is risen! The Lord is risen, indeed! I think, sometimes though, that our astonishment at the Risen Lord is dulled by the waves of time and exposure. We celebrate Easter every year. The stories are always a little different according to the Gospel we are reading, but the truth remains the same – Jesus Christ rises from the dead.

Try this thought exercise. Take a moment. Imagine you are visiting the newly covered grave of a loved one to adorn it with flowers. You are in the midst of grief. The likelihood is that you haven’t eaten or slept much the last few days. As you approach the burial place, you notice the ground is dug up, the lid is off the coffin, and there is nothing inside. Now take it a step further and imagine what it would be like, after days of grieving, to know that your loved one had come back to life. How do you feel? What do you say? Are there words adequate to describe your joy and amazement?

This moment of discovery and acclamation is the Easter celebration. This is the feeling we should harness on this Easter Sunday. Look to Peter as another example. And then likewise, imagine yourselves in the role of the apostles hearing the news. Let your disbelief, unease, excitement, joy, uncertainty, and any other emotion you feel through these thought exercises inform and grow your faith. We follow the Risen Lord.

  • How will you encounter the Resurrection?

Download the Easter 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.

Bible Study, Palm Sunday (C) – March 20, 2016

[RCL] Psalm 31:9-16, Isaiah 50:4-9a, Philippians 2:5-11, Luke 22:14-23:56 or 23:1-49

Isaiah 50:4-9a

Isaiah is the most-quoted Old Testament book in the New Testament. Its stirring speeches about judgment, exile, and restoration captured the imagination of people during Jesus’ day. Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue, declaring he was fulfilling it. Gospel writers noted that he set his face “like a flint” toward Jerusalem, which is a quotation from our text today. Like the prophet in Isaiah 50, Jesus experienced a confrontation with “adversaries.” He was given over to these adversaries. The cruel soldiers struck him, taunting him, and questioning his prophetic powers. The reference to pulling out his beard led many Christians to believe that the soldiers pulled out Jesus’ beard during the abuse, even though the Gospel writers never mention this detail.

As I read Isaiah 50 I notice the innocent person’s face. On this face is the tongue of a teacher that spoke words of encouragement to the weary. The ears on this face listen for good words in the morning. But suddenly, cruel hands strike this face. Bones crunch, welts begin to appear. This face’s sacred beard, symbolizing the dignity of manhood, is pulled out like a weed. This face is insulted and spit upon. In spite of this abuse, this face does not turn away in shame or fear. It is set hard like a flint, bearing witness to innocence in the face of condemnation. The face is alone as no one but God stands with him. This face is black and white, male and female, young and old, and it has borne this abuse since the dawn of time. The physical abuse goes hand in hand with unjust accusations of wrongdoing. The courts of the world declare the innocent guilty and the prophets are led away to be killed. No one comes to their aid.

  • Say the name of a modern day prophet whose face you know because they were killed unjustly.
  • Are Jesus’ followers expected to be prophetic? Are they expected to suffer?
Psalm 31:9-16

A late night phone call wakes him up. With a voice groggy from sleep he says, “Hello?” 
“Dad? I’m in trouble.” Parents never want to get this call. We dread it, worry about it, and hope it never happens. But sometimes it does. Our child, alone, desperate, and in pain, stirs the strongest feelings in us and we drop everything and help. The Psalmist is calling out to God, like a child in trouble. Sorrow, pain, grief, and a mountain of shame engulf him. He laments his current condition. He pleads for rescue. The Psalmists problems are both internal and external. He suffers from inward affliction as his “bones are consumed.” He also suffers from rejection by the community. His own people shame him and seek to eliminate him. God is the only one he trusts.

Jesus’ final week is full of passion, full of feeling. The feelings of a lifetime are crystalized in this timeless text. Jesus laments in his final week, blessing this ancient practice. Lament is simply turning suffering into art. In our veteran’s groups we often have a time of Lament. Veterans will bring poems, songs, or other objects (one brought a crocheted rug he made!) that crystalize their experiences in war.

  • What particular moments of Jesus final week echo in this psalm?
  • What do you need to lament in your life? What medium or art form will you use?
Philippians 2:5-11

Scholars often identify these words by St. Paul as an early Christian hymn. Sadly, he did not include the tune. The hymn captures the cosmic dimension of the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection. The hymn points to the Christ’s exalted origin and his exalted conclusion. The narrative arc of Jesus’ storyline takes an infinite dip in the middle. This is a riches to rags to riches story. This hymn is a beautiful song, and no doubt many early Christians sang it joyfully. It is a fine work of art, but that is not it’s whole purpose. The hymn was written so that the mind of Jesus would be in you, the singer/reader. So, is it?

  • What areas of our lives are we resisting the riches to rags to riches storyline? In what areas are we accepting this storyline?
  • How could you empty yourself today?
 Luke 22:14-23:56

Luke’s account of the passion contains just a few tiny details not found in Matthew or Mark. One of these moments happens in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus is praying. Luke alone tells us that “his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.” The Greek text for these verses is “bracketed”. Some ancient witnesses include it, some exclude it. The Greek is also somewhat ambiguous. Did Jesus truly sweat drops of blood or did his sweat appear to be as if he had bleeding wound? Medical journals document the rare condition of hematohidrosis, where blood will ooze through the skin, often for no reason other than stress. Leonardo Da Vinci cited an example of the condition in a soldier before a battle. The Greek text tells us that Jesus was in agonia, agony. Truly, the body cannot lie. Jesus’ agony starts long before the first lash of the whip or the first piercing of the nail. His agony starts in the darkness of the Garden. His agony starts inside his heart and mind. His agony starts in his sweat glands and the small capillaries on the surface of his skin. Our Great Litany says, “By thine Agony and Bloody Sweat; by thy Cross and Passion;
by thy precious Death and Burial; by thy glorious Resurrection
and Ascension; and by the Coming of the Holy Ghost,
Good Lord, deliver us.”

  • What does stress do to you? How is it made known in your body?
  • What do we learn about Jesus’ humanity from his agony in the Garden?

Download the Palm Sunday Bible Study.

Written by The Reverend Dr. David Peters

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