Archives for July 2016

Bible Study, Proper 15 (C) – August 14, 2016

[RCL] Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80:1-2, 8-18; Hebrews 11:29-12:2; Luke 12:49-56

Isaiah 5:1-7

Isaiah’s poetic lament is a masterful piece of irony that can be read on different levels. In its literal imagery, it speaks of the disappointment that must have been as well known to farmers in ancient Israel as it is in our own time: after days and weeks of tedious labor, one may find that the crop that appears is valueless. In metaphorical language that was common in the ancient world, though, planting and tending a vineyard could represent courtship. A man wooing a woman to be his wife did so, at least in part, in the hope that she would be a faithful and fruitful partner, bearing many strong children for his heritage. Verse 3 begins to reveal this bitter undertone, alluding to a relationship gone sour when it was founded on great hope.

If we read the “characters” in this story as the best man (the prophet, singing of his friend’s plight), the bridegroom (Yahweh) and the faithless woman (Israel), suddenly the prophetic intent of Isaiah’s poem becomes painfully clear. Speaking through the singer, Yahweh challenges the hearers to choose sides, to judge whether the relationship has been neglected. Tthe story is told in such a way that almost anyone would sympathize with the disappointed suitor – setting the faithless people up to pass judgment against themselves! In verse 7, the identities are made clear, and so it the indictment: the vineyard will be destroyed, abandoned, because “he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry.”

  • In our human relationships, do we sometimes “get what we have coming to us?”
  • Is that a reasonable model for the way in which God relates to God’s people, or not?

Psalm 80:1-2, 8-18

The collection of the Psalms is so ancient that we can never really identify the composers or the dates of their composition. Still, they often give internal hints that provide a historical context. It is important to the setting of this psalm that verse 2 calls for the Lord to act “in the presence of Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manesseh.” These were among the smaller tribes of the northern kingdom – that portion of the Hebrew people who became identified as Israel when the Davidic monarchy broke apart. They cry out for rescue of “the vine” brought out of Egypt; here is the metaphor of planter and vineyard again!  In the psalm, though, we hear the distressed cry of God’s people when they find themselves indeed being broken down (v. 12), ravaged (v. 13), and burned like rubbish (v. 15). These references can almost certainly be connected to the invasion of the Assyrians who conquered and largely destroyed Israel in the 7th and 6th centuries BCE.

Paired as they are in the Lectionary, the Psalm offers us “the other side” of the relationship described in Isaiah.  Now Israel really is suffering the punishment threatened in the prophecy, and they are raising – perhaps belatedly – a cry for mercy, restoration, and salvation.

  • Why do we so often find ourselves with “20/20 hindsight?”
  • How often is it really the result of naïvete?
  • Are there times when we persist in acting in self-interest, until we discover that we have brought pain on ourselves and others – and realize it too late?

Hebrews 11:29-12:2

The lessons from the Old Testament have been rather troubling, speaking of disappointment, estrangement, and retribution. The writer of Hebrews looks back through the checkered history of the Jewish people from a post-Resurrection perspective and calls his readers to recognize God’s work even in the bleakest of times. In relating the stories of Abraham, Moses, and all the lesser heroes of Israel, the author acknowledges their suffering. The author weaves the thread of heroic faith throughout, though, reminding his audience that faith always leans forward into the unknown because of an unshakeable trust in God’s goodness.

Jesus, by the example of his human life and by his divine transformation of shame and violence into victory over death’s finality, became “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” (12:2) Each believer is now called to run the race with renewed assurance and hope, but we are also surrounded and encouraged by the “great cloud of witnesses” who lived faithfully in their own times, by the signs and promises they had received.

  • What is the source of faith?
  • Is its origin in logic? Is it based on our own experience?
  • Does faith come from accepting the teaching or testimony of people we consider to have wisdom or authority?
  • If all those sources of validation were stripped away, on what would you base your faith?

Luke 12:49-56

Ouch! Jesus is not offering us much comfort and assurance in this passage. Within the book of Luke, chapter 12 falls within the long “journey narrative,” in which most of Jesus’s teaching and his confrontations with the religious establishment occur at various stages along the way from Galilee to Jerusalem. We are caught up in the growing intensity of his ministry and Luke’s dramatic foreshadowing of the crucifixion that awaits him.

Here we return pointedly to the prophetic theme introduced in Isaiah 5 and Psalm 80. Jesus challenges us very directly to see beyond our rosy expectations and recognize the conflict inherent in being his followers – a conflict between God’s reign and the world’s values, between human loyalties and the call to follow something greater.

Our own expectations are not so different from those of Jesus’s original hearers, who were holding out hope for a Messiah in the form of a great conquering warrior who would at last restore the kingdom of Israel on earth and usher in an era of peace and prosperity. Our modern version is the tendency to see Jesus as a benign, peaceful, and loyal friend who comforts and defends us. While he is all that, he is representing himself very differently here!  His reference to bringing fire to the earth, and to bringing division rather than peace, tells us that a moment of crisis, of judgment, and of commitment awaits every believer who intends to take Jesus seriously.

Fire does not always imply destruction, but might also be an instrument of refinement – purifying, strengthening, and catalyzing us into a new being. Jesus’s baptism of fire and crisis of decision can mean his own impending trial and execution, or it can mean the turning point in our own lives when we are called to choose a path of discipleship that will bring with it some form of pain as well. Ultimately, like all of Jesus’ teachings, this lesson points us toward the full fruition of God’s kingdom – that redemption and salvation Jesus came to accomplish — and calls us to live in hope and preparation for that time.

  • How do these lectionary readings, taken together, bring a Gospel message that encompasses both judgment and hope, retribution and mercy?
  • How do they ask us to broaden our understanding of faith?
  • How do they show us a more vivid, more faithful way for living our own lives, within our own relationships?

Download the Proper 15 (C) Bible Study.

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, Proper 14 (C) – August 7, 2016

[RCL] Isaiah 1:1, 10-20; Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20

Like the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, we are inherently a people of sin. Sinful in what we do and sinful in how we worship no matter how hard we try. We can ask ourselves, “Is our worship acceptable to God?” When we experience God’s grace we can’t continue to mistreat each other or ignore injustices. Religion itself does not put us in His good grace. Grace isn’t cheap nor is it easy, and it’s not something we get for just sitting in a pew. It’s time for us to look deep into our hearts and know the truth.

  • How can you help the oppressed?
  • In what ways can you be more obedient to God?
  • What is your heart telling you?

Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24

This Psalm talks about the relationship we have with God as we struggle with the significance of our worship. We all struggle whether we realize it or not. We often just go through the motions of prayer and praise, sometimes just on Sundays. Read Psalm 50 as a way to give thanks to our Lord and find a way to move closer to God.

  • In what ways can you deepen your worship?
  • What is your relationship to God?
  • Why are personal sacrifices of importance? 

Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

We can be assured of the faith we have for the abilities God gives us. Faith is real and it moves us forward even in the uncertain times of today. Our faith is not simply hoping for something, faith is real. Although it cannot be seen, faith is there. All we need is faith. Hold fast, obey God’s commands, and believe that God is always there for you.

  • What are some examples of having faith in God?
  • Can we improve our commitment to God?
  • How has faith helped you in your life?

Luke 12:32-40

Faith frees us to give so don’t stock up on material possessions for yourself. We can forget ourselves through giving. We give money at church to make us more generous not poorer. God’s blessings are promised for those who are ready and judgment for those who aren’t. Being ready means living as we are taught and doing it daily without fear. Give and be generous. This will prepare us for God’s kingdom.

  • Where your treasure is your heart will be, what is your treasure?
  • Could you live without your possessions?
  • How could you be more generous?

Download the Proper 14 (C) Bible Study.

Written by The Rev. Dr. Malcolm Keleawe Hee. Malcolm Keleawe Hee is a Native Hawaiian Episcopalian who was recently ordained to the Priesthood in the Diocese of Hawaii. He has been an educator for 28 years.

Bible Study, Proper 13 (C) – July 31, 2016

[RCL] Hosea 11:1-11; Psalm 107:1-9, 43; Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21

Hosea 11:1-11

It is striking to see the emotional vulnerability and passion of God in this passage. Forget any notion of God as a distant, unaffected observer. God desires us with a powerful passion. Israel is the wayward son who continually breaks relationship with God, and God’s heartache is almost palpable in today’s passage from Hosea. It’s as if God is saying, “Israel, you are my son that I lead out of the wilderness, and you keep wandering off to worship other gods. You are breaking my heart. But I will not give up. How can I forget my beloved child?”

God’s words are just as true for us as they are for Israel. Are we not the children of God, who were brought of the wilderness through the waters of baptism? But sometimes we falter. We lose sight of whose we are and where we are headed as God’s beloved children. Our wandering is the same as Israel’s: being oblivious to the love of the God who pursues us with such abandon. But our hope is also the same as Israel’s: trusting in the God who graciously pursues us rather than ourselves or anything else in whom we might be tempted to put our trust.

  • How have you felt God pursuing relationship with you this week?
  • How can you practice placing your trust in God?

Psalm 107:1-9, 43
I recently worked at a summer day camp where I helped small children get acquainted with the swimming pool. They ranged from five to eight years old, and many of these children had never been swimming before. Each child sat on the edge of the pool and waited for their turn to be carried through the water of the pool. What amazed me was the rapid progress some of these children were able to make in their comfort level in the water. Some of the children trusted me enough that they would allow themselves to be turned onto their backs to float. They believed I was trustworthy which enabled them to trust that they would be carried through the water.

The waters of our lives can be deep and downright frightening. But if we trust that God is good, we can allow ourselves to be carried, even in the roughest of waters.

  • Do you believe that God is fundamentally good as the psalmist says?

Colossians 3:1-11

This section of Colossians is concerned with a radical reorientation of personal identity. Imagine you meet someone for the first time. You begin to introduce yourself, but instead of starting off with where you were born or what you do for a living, you tell them that you are a part of Christ. Your identity as a part of Christ is so fundamental that it becomes the primary factor in how you think of yourself. That’s what the author of Colossians is describing when they write “you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”

It is this identification with Christ that frames our lives. It is the basis for our ethical lives: we are in Christ and, as a part of him who is true and good, the only thing that makes sense is to shed all of the parts of our lives that do not reflect who he is.

  • What does it mean to shed the parts of your lives that do not reflect Christ in us? 

Luke 12:13-21

“Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Jesus’s warning could not be more timely.

I recently heard a bishop say that the largest religion in America is consumerism. He asked us to pause and reflect on the fact that all of our national holidays: Christmas, Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, etc. are dedicated to shopping. Our national holidays are occasions to buy more things that we most likely do not need. And then we work more to get more money to buy more things we don’t really need. The cycle continues until we find ourselves robbed from actually living our lives, reduced to anticipating the next purchase.

But this isn’t life. Jesus’s warning is good news that invites us to actually live the life that God intends: a life of self-giving love in relationship with God, our neighbors, and creation.

  • In what ways do you give into the need for an “abundance of possessions?”
  • What is one way you can become “rich toward God?”

Download the Proper 13 (C) Bible Study.

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, Proper 12 (C) – July 24, 2016

[RCL] Hosea 1:2-10; Psalm 85; Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19); Luke 11:1-13

Hosea 1:2-10
These verses from the first chapter of Hosea present an affronted YHWH who seems at once both vindictive and indecisive. Israel has betrayed God, the people of the divided kingdoms have broken their covenant promise to worship YHWH alone. Consequences will follow: God’s punishment is coming, God’s pity and forgiveness are ending, and God’s people are disowned. YHWH alone speaks in these verses, and in YHWH’s words we hear hurt, anger, and perhaps most dramatically, the pain of estrangement. Despite the betrayals, despite Israel’s unfaithfulness, God cannot help but to do what God does – peace-making, saving, and reconciling.

The marriage metaphor employed here may be both illuminating and confusing – the extreme power difference between the husband (Hosea, representing God) and the wife (Gomer, representing God’s people) is disturbing for those who understand marriage as an equal partnership. Yet in the Ancient Near Eastern context, Israel’s lack of faithfulness impacted YHWH’s status and reputation relative to other deities, just as a wife’s behavior would have been perceived to impact her husband’s prominence and honor.

  • Is there anything we can do to separate ourselves fully and permanently from God’s love?  And what does that answer say about the nature of God?
  • What meaning(s) might we draw from the marriage metaphor by focusing alternately on the characters of Hosea and Gomer?

Psalm 85
Phrases from Psalm 85 are among the most well-known of all Psalmody; the language of restoration, peace, and righteousness comforts and reassures today’s audience just as it did in its Ancient Near Eastern context. The different verb tenses employed by the Psalmist throughout these 13 verses speak to a profound eschatological vision. God’s people rejoice at having been restored and forgiven, even as they anticipate fulfillment of prophecy and promised salvation. The Psalmist’s duty, as declared in vs. 8, is to listen to God – not only through the stories and prophecies of the past, but through the movements and miracles of the present day.

  • How might we understand ourselves to be living in an eschatological “in between” time, and what is our role/responsibility as God’s people in such a time?
  • The entreaties of vs. 5 and 6 are spoken with confidence.  Do we have this kind of faithful trust in God’s promises?  If not, how might we cultivate it?

Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19)
These verses from the second chapter of Paul’s letter to the Colossians might sound to our ears like an artfully-worded early Christian version of that popular 1970s slogan “Keep on keepin’ on.”  Paul describes the path of discipleship as a flourishing plant, with its roots in the reality of the Gospel Truth that Jesus Christ is Lord and messiah.  Thanksgiving is the fruit Christ’s disciples bear as they continually grow in faith.

Paul’s concern here is that some church members may be lured away from the path of discipleship by false teachings – promises that someone or something other than Jesus of Nazareth represents a complete manifestation of God among humanity. Paul reminds his readers of the singular uniqueness of Jesus as the Christ, the only one who saves humanity from its own evils and liberates his followers from the accusations and oppressions of all earthly systems.

  • What are the false teachings and traditions that deceive American Christians generally and the people in our faith communities today?
  • Does Paul’s language of being ‘taken captive,’ and of earthly captors being ‘disarmed’ by Jesus, erase or minimize our human agency? What is our responsibility and our duty regarding our own faithful conduct?

Luke 11:1-13
The unnamed disciple comes to Jesus with a simple yet profound request – “Lord, teach us to pray.”  This request implies deep trust and a recognition that this teacher’s instruction is uniquely precious and imbued with holiness.  Jesus responds by offering to his disciples (and to us) that perfect prayer that is so familiar, having been recorded in the Gospels and included in our historic liturgies.  He also articulates a link between prayer and persistence, a link which may challenge us to think differently about the practice and purpose of prayer. God will not give us snakes or scorpions, but neither do we always receive that thing for which we have asked. Jesus uses a parent/child metaphor to help the disciples understand his message about asking, searching, and knocking. The greatest gift we can hope to receive, the gift God provides to those who pray with persistence and faithfulness, is the Holy Spirit.

  • Do we actually understand the words of the Lord’s Prayer, words that we know by heart?  What is “our daily bread?”  Do we really “forgive everyone indebted to us?”  And what is “the time of trial?”
  • Verses 9 and 10 are often cited as reassurance that God will give us whatever we desire, as long as we pray hard enough.  But how does the rest of the parent/child gift-giving metaphor inform our understanding of this prayerful asking and receiving?

Download the Proper 12(C) Bible Study.

Written by the Rev. Margaret (Maggie) Leidheiser-Stoddard. Rev. Leidheiser-Stoddard graduated from Bexley-Seabury Seminary Federation with her Diploma in Anglican Studies in May 2016. She earned her M.Div. from Pacific School of Religion (Berkeley, CA), and an M.A. in Religion & Modernity from Queen’s University (Kingston, ON). She was ordained to the transitional diaconate in June 2016, and will begin a residency at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Worthington, OH this fall. She lives in Bexley, OH with her husband, son, and guinea pig.  

Bible Study, Proper 11 (C) – July 17, 2016

[RCL] Amos 8:1-12; Psalm 52; Colossians 1:15-28; Luke 10:38-42

In this section of Amos we hear an account of judgement as well as human nature. We are reminded there will be times when being held accountable for our choices may feel like punishment or disapproval from God. We are also asked to recall God is ever present and observant of our actions, even though the presence of God may not be felt. We are broken in our humanness and therefore will make decisions which are displeasing to God however being judged does not necessarily equal losing God’s grace and mercy. As Christians we are asked to participate in a broken world with a willingness to share God’s message of love and grace despite judgment, conflict and despair. This is part of our journey in the Jesus Movement.

  • Why do we judge?
  • Who has the right to judge?
  • Where does God’s mercy reside in existence?
  • Where does God’s mercy reside in judgement?
  • Do you feel your love of God will cause you to be judged by non-believers?

Psalm 52

How strong is your faith in God? Take a moment to think how much trust and faith you have in God. In this psalm, we are encouraged not to boast of what we do whether it is negative or positive. We are asked to build up others and ourselves without asking for recognition. We are reminded to seek and see the good in all, not merely a few. The olive tree represents the growth and strength of God in our lives. We are reminded when we nurture God’s presence in our lives God’s mercy will be everlasting and rooted in good not destruction.

  • Do you have a strong faith in God?
  • How might you place your profession or accomplishments ahead of God?
  • What role does God have in our success?
  • Where is God in your relationship with yourself and others?

 Colossians 1:15-28

So often we give thanks and praise to God without acknowledging God’s gift of Christ and our ability to share and exhibit his teachings. Like Paul we are commissioned to share the fullness of God’s word as part of the Jesus Movement. We are called to acknowledge Christ existence in ourselves and others. Yet we often fall short of reaching outside of ourselves and immediate circumstance to see and be Christ like with ourselves and others.

  • How is the fullness of God experienced in the world?
  • What qualities of Christ do you also witness in yourself and others?
  • How often do you take the opportunity to spread God’s teachings and word?
  • Can God’s word be experienced through action and not words? If so, how?

Luke 10:38-42

We live in a time where most people succumb to multiple distractions. There is always a need to complete work and tasks, even to the point of multi-tasking one’s way from fully experiencing anything were doing.  Being busy doesn’t necessarily make an individual more successful however our accomplishments and self -worth are often perceived by how busy we are.

The gospel reading invites us to stop being busy long enough to be present with ourselves and with God. The passage also invites us to recall or notice where we seek and find God in our lives.

Notice how we define themselves by what they do (profession, tasks, etc.) or by who they are (presence, caring, insight) and which one allows them to experience God’s presence more.

  • Do you define yourself by what your profession is or tasks you complete? If so, why or why not?
  • Where do you experience God’s presence?
  • When do you experience God’s absence?
  • When do you find yourself closest to God?

Download the Proper 11(C) Bible Study.

Alexizendria Link (Zena), 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. Zena currently 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 educator working with urban youth.

Bible Study, Proper 10 (C) – July 10, 2016

[RCL] Amos 7:7-17; Psalm 82; Colossians 6:1-14; Luke 10:25-37

Amos 7:7-17

According to Webster’s Dictionary, a plumb line is “a tool used to see if something is perfectly vertical.” In the beginning of this reading, Amos has a vision that God is setting a plumb line in the midst of the people of Israel and that the “sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste” as a result of the ways in which the Israelites are falling away from God. Amos is delivering a strong message to the people that they must realign themselves with God’s purposes. Seeing an opportunity to challenge Amos’s authority, Amaziah sends a message to the King of Israel that Amos, acting as a prophet, is conspiring against the king and threatening death to the king and the kingdom. Amos denies any self-interest at work, responding that he is no prophet, just a regular person called by God to carry this message. He clearly rests his authority in God, not in his birthright or biography.

  • Through Amos, God is calling upon the people of Israel to address the injustices around them. How do you believe God is calling us now to stand against injustice?
  • Amos is an ordinary person set on an extraordinary path. Have you felt this way or been in ministry with someone who was clearly called by God to work to repair injustices? Do you see any prophets like Amos at work in the world right now?
Psalm 82

Psalm 82’s brevity belies its power. In just a few short verses the writer of this profound text establishes God’s complete authority, calls out the injustices being perpetrated on the weak and poor, and names God’s wrath: that the wicked will “die like mortals and fall like any prince” and God will continue to rule the earth. In the rhythm of this psalm, we see God’s power and authority named, exercised, and established.

  • Do you see this kind of rhythm in injustices you have witnessed?
  • Do you believe this rhythm and outcome is possible in the face of injustices perpetrated in the world today?
Colossians 1:1-14

In this beginning of Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he prays that the community “may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God.” Of course, Paul is not talking about book-knowledge. He is speaking to a deeper, transformative knowing of God, rooted in the story of Jesus, and communicated through the stories of Israel. He is using language, references, and allusions that this community would understand to help them stay firmly rooted in their faith.

  • Paul wants to support the Colossians in leading lives worthy of God. What does ‘leading a life worthy of the Lord’ mean to you?
  • What stories, from Scripture or otherwise, help you stay rooted in your faith?
Luke 10:25-37

You may be surprised to find out that the parable of the Good Samaritan is prompted by a dialogue between Jesus and a lawyer. But this contrast is key to understanding the parable at its deepest level. We are all familiar with this story about the priest and Levite who passed by the beaten man and the Samaritan, generally despised by the Israelites, who stopped to help. But imagine the heresy for the listeners at the time when Jesus tells this pious lawyer to go and act like the Samaritan. Over and over in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus takes risks like this, challenging the status quo and flipping the narrative in unexpected ways.

  • How have you been fortunate to witness individuals speaking and demonstrating truth to the powerful?
  • When might you have opportunities to speak this kind of radical truth? 

Download the Proper 10 Bible Study.

Written by Wendy Johnson. Wendy is the Digital Missioner for Formation for The Episcopal Church.