Archives for December 2016

Bible Study, Epiphany 4(A) – January 29, 2017

[RCL] Micah 6:1-8; Psalm 15; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; Matthew 5:1-12

Micah 6:1-8

God is clearly disappointed in Judah’s lack of faith in action in this passage from Micah who prophesied in late 8thC BCE to the elites of Jerusalem. It comes at a time when temple worship was at an all-time high, their coffers overflowing. And yet, there existed huge disparities in the social fabric of the kingdom. Micah’s voice is one that speaks out loudly against the injustice of land-grab schemes that exploited subsistence farmers, forcing them into survival loans with administrative elites, and leading to loss of land inheritances, creating a class of indentured peasants. “It’s just business”, the people say. “Aren’t we meeting our temple obligations and then some? God, what more do you want from us?”

It’s surprising how easy it can be to be lulled into believing we are meeting our end of the bargain with God, simply because that’s what we believe. Our pledge is paid on time; we come to worship without fail. Those actions are important as faithful members of our churches, but God shakes us free from our amnesia to remember we are also called to be faithful members of our communities and the world. Inaction in the face of injustice makes us complicit in those wrongs. Putting our faith into action, “walking the walk” in step with God and our neighbor is the “more” that is asked of us.

  • What are the things we offer up to God as evidence of our faith?
  • How can we transform our experience and participation in Sunday liturgy beyond the door of the church where it truly becomes the “work of the people”?
  • If we recognize practices in our society that prey on the most vulnerable among us, how might we as Christians respond?

Psalm 15

Who is worthy to enter into the temple? What are our credentials? What certifies our internal purity? This is the opportunity for reflection the psalmist offers to us as we seek an audience with the Holy One. The evidence we are asked to show is not focused on God directly, but rather through the lens of our interactions with others children of God.

Listed in the foundational qualities of those living a blameless life: truth telling, rejecting gossip and rumors, making it our business to put emphasis on the well-being of others, and reliance on God in all things – we can recognize our own Baptismal vows. This is not a badge we proudly display at the temple gates for proper ritualistic practice, but our evidence of living an ethical life. Engaging practices such as the Ignatian Examen or the 10th (daily review) and 11th (prayer and meditation) steps of the Twelve Steps of AA can be helpful tools for regular self-examination and for seeking God’s guidance as we seek to abide in the Holy dwelling.

  • How are we actively living out our Baptismal vows in ways that support our efforts to live “a blameless life”?
  • What practices of self-examination are present in your life today? How is God present for you in them?
  • We might also pause to ask ourselves where and how the psalmist points us toward examining where our own personal and societal actions may serve to include or to exclude others from full and joyous participation in the community. Is the price for their entrance different from what we ourselves expect to provide?

1 Corinthians 1:18-31

“For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” 1 Corinthians 1:25

It is intriguing to think about God as “The Fool”. The role of the fool in Shakespeare’s plays is much more than that of the man with the funny hat who plays the idiot, bumbling around, and amusing others at his own expense. The character of the fool is often employed to point to the absurdity of those in power and to introduce subversive themes to a plot. “That of course, is the great secret of the successful fool; that is, that he is no fool at all.” (Isaac Asimov)

Paul is spending all the equity he has garnered with the Corinthian community to unite them in the reality of God’s great foolishness enacted by Christ’s death on the Cross. Followers of the gospel Paul preached and taught are being confused and drawn away to follow dynamic preachers with a message more appealing than the embarrassment and shame of the crucifixion. Paul’s concern is not for himself but for the salvation of the beloved community who are diverted from their devotion in the God whose death on the cross and resurrection is the ultimate counterintuitive subversion.

  • What are some compelling messages preached by “experts” in our society that might draw us away from God’s central hopes and purposes for us?
  • Is Paul inferring we should disregard the gifts of wisdom and discernment we have been given by God?
  • In what ways are we called to be God’s countercultural fools?

Matthew 5: 1-12

Jesus’ teachings in this prelude to the Sermon on the Mount are specifically directed to his apostles. The phrases beginning with ”Blessed are” are very familiar to us as modern day Christians; so familiar we may have a representation of them hanging on a wall in our homes.  But we are far removed from the context in which they were delivered. At the time Matthew was writing the account of the Master’s words, his listeners would have understood the very real and present turmoil that Jesus’ followers were experiencing as a minority community of believers living under an oppressive regime. They would have embraced the consolation Jesus offered and understood being “Blessed” as their inclusion in the coming Kingdom when Christ will return to bring justice and peace.

A beatitude often misinterpreted in our own contemporary reading of the scripture refers to “those who mourn.” Rather than referring to the loss of a loved one in death, Matthew’s contemporaries would have been distressed, “poor in spirit”, by the injustice, inequality and violence of life in the Roman Empire, conditions far from the hopes of God for his people. Likewise, “the meek” are not those who simply allow themselves to be walked upon by the strong, but instead, because they are humble, they are open to and welcome their reliance on God, insuring their place in the new order.

  • Where in our common life might mourning and lament be helpful responses?
  • How might practicing humility before God and others be an empowering force in your life?
  • Is there a beatitude you find meaningful in your own life? Why?

Written by Sandi Albom. Albom is a seminarian in her final year at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA. She is currently serving as an intern at All Saint’s Episcopal Church in Peterborough, NH. Sandi is an RN and is called to ministry in the recovery community and with people whose lives have been affected by addiction. She and her husband Bob live in Manchester, NH with their two feline companions, Mandy and Quinn.

Download the Bible Study for Epiphany 4(A).

Bible Study, Epiphany 3(A) – January 22, 2017

[RCL] Isaiah 9:1-4; Psalm 27:1, 5-13; 1 Corinthians 1:10-18; Matthew 4:12-23

Isaiah 9:1-4

Transformation is at hand! One might look at this passage as a song of restoration because Isaiah is telling Israel to take heart, as they have lived through a conquest in which the tribal territories of Zebulun and Naphtali were captured (by the Assyrians). But Isaiah is clear that there is even more than restoration ahead: the gloom will vanish, and there will be joy and exultation.

Israel will be saved from the darkness of their oppression. Isaiah tells of their coming liberation from the “yoke of their burden,” which is the “rod of their oppressor,” using a story from their history. He reminds the people of the way Gideon delivered Israel “as on the day of Midian.” Now of course Isaiah is clear about the ultimate source of this generation’s deliverance. We know this because if we read a few lines beyond this passage, Isaiah credits the Lord of hosts with Israel’s delivery.

However, Isaiah also tells us that the people of Israel have a role. Not only will they “see a great light,” but also the light will shine on them! In dark times, we all look for hope to sustain us until we can see the great light again. Why might God shine the light on Israel? What if that light shines on the people because God is showing them that from their own selves can come a way out of desperate times? What if that light is a commissioning? 

  • In what way might you be bearing a yoke of oppression in your own life?
  • How might you be benefitting from or contributing to the oppression of others?
  • In what ways might the Light be shining on you to take responsibility for a way out of darkness? How might you be the fulfillment of God’s promise to someone else?

Psalm 27:1, 5-13

God is an inexhaustible source of strength and courage for the psalmist, the well that never runs dry. Oh, to be swept up in such joy that one’s fondest wish is to drink deeply of it until the end of time! This is a love song to God, and we can feel the frisson, our pulse picking up as we fall into ecstatic love with the Divine.

Anyone who has ever been in love will recognize not only the joy in one’s Beloved, but also the desire to express the depth of one’s devotion. But this is not a song to the human love of one’s life: this is a love song to the ultimate – to God! And this Beloved is, for each one of us, our light, our salvation. So, who can be afraid when swept up into love with the most powerful force in the universe? Okay, well maybe we are a little afraid that something will go wrong and we’ll lose it. The psalmist speaks for everyone who has ever been in a state of great love and then said either silently or aloud, ‘please don’t ever leave me.’

“Do not forsake me, O God of my salvation.” But no, not this God. This is the God who will always speak in our hearts and say “Seek my face.” And may we ever do so.

  • What does it mean to seek God’s face? What does God’s face look like to you?
  • The psalmist asks that he (or she!) may “dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of [my] life.” What does that mean to dwell in the house of the Lord?
  • Why are you afraid?

1 Corinthians 1:10-18

It’s hard not to read Paul’s letter to the Corinthians without thinking of how applicable this message is to any church in the 21st century. Christians are humans and we disagree on many things even within a single denomination. Paul’s organization in this letter to the young church in Corinth is so important, first reminding the people that they are brothers and sisters—a family now, and then reminding them in whose name they are united: Jesus.

For the church in Corinth to be strong and healthy, the basis of their unity is in the mind and purpose of Jesus. That’s different than urging people to agree with one another in an accord of their own. Paul continuously points to Jesus, telling the Good News, and reminding the people that it’s the Good News of Jesus Christ, not of his own ministry. He keeps pointing to the cross because if the people will only look to him, their unity will fall apart when he is not present.

Paul knows that he must pay attention to many places where gentiles will hear his message, because he believes that he must invite everyone into the Body of Christ. That is the mission that God has called him to, a mission of inclusivity! Paul powerfully reminds the church members: it’s not his (Paul’s) church. Nor is it Apollos’ nor Cephas’ church. The church is the Body of Christ.

  • What are some ways in which your church may have disagreements, and how might you come to a meeting of the minds?
  • What does Paul mean in V. 18 when he says “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”?
  • Paul urges the people to be united and in the same mind and in the same purpose. What is that purpose?

Matthew 4:12-23

Does this look familiar? Matthew shows us the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy (today’s Hebrew Bible reading) in this passage. Jesus receives the news that John has been arrested, and immediately picks up on John’s message of repentance and the nearness of the kingdom of heaven. But Jesus goes beyond John’s message, now taking up his ministry in earnest. He knows that he will need a team, and he calls his first four disciples—two sets of brothers. It is especially noteworthy that both sets of brothers are said to have immediately left and followed Jesus. They did not stop to think about it and discern what they should do—when Jesus called, they said “yes,” and immediately followed him.

So, Jesus and his disciples hit the road throughout Galilee. He did what Jewish men did in the first century when they wanted to worship, receive or give instruction and talk about God; he went to the synagogues. Jesus worked within the cultural structure of his time.

But he also went beyond proclaiming the Good News of God’s kingdom from the bema of a synagogue. Matthew’s passage records in Jesus’ travels throughout Galilee, he cured “every disease and every sickness among the people.” How extraordinary!

  • What are some ways in which Jesus has called you to follow him? How long did it take you to decide what to do?
  • What is the significance of Jesus’ healing ministry, and why do you suppose that a distinction is made between “disease” and “sickness”?
  • When Jesus, and previously John, say “the kingdom of heaven has come near,” what do they mean? Is it spatially near (close by) or temporally near (soon to arrive)?

Written by Pan Conrad. Conrad, a resident of Annapolis, MD, is in the final year of her M.Div. program at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA. She is a candidate for Holy Orders in the Diocese of Maryland, and by the time we reach Epiphany 3, God willing and the people consenting, she will have been ordained to the transitional diaconate. Conrad is also an astrobiologist and planetary scientist with NASA.

Download the pdf of the Bible Study for Epiphany 3(A).

Bible Study, Epiphany 2(A) – January 15, 2017

[RCL] Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-12; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42

Isaiah 49: 1-7

These verses from Isaiah broaden the writer’s message of hope out to those “from afar,” to the whole world. He is someone God has chosen since before birth and was equipped to restore the true Israel, “in whom I will be glorified.” He will be the One who will restore Israel. Although the Servant assumes his failure as he has not seen any results in his attempt to free captive Israel. “I have labored in vain,” I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity,” yet he does not turn from God and will continue on because God will be his reward.

God proclaims that the servant will not only bring restoration to Israel, but will be “as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” The servant has been called for a much larger mission: salvation offered to all the world! Israel is to be the light, to bring this message of hope to all peoples.

  • When have you felt disappointed with your relationship with God? Have you ever felt that you, too, “labored in vain?”
  • What assurance does God give to us for those times?

Psalm 40: 1-12

In this Psalm, David reflects on how God has delivered him from the darkness of the despair his situation causes him into the light of freedom. David’s joy is so great he must sing praises to his God! David’s willingness to express God’s faithfulness and deliverance has not only changed David’s despair to joy, but has caused others to “see, and stand in awe, and put their trust in the Lord”.

David reminds us that “happy are they who trust in the Lord” who is willing and able to deliver us in our times of trial and tribulations. Turn to Him and trust that He is good, even in your times of despair, though the answer may cause us to have to wait patiently for it. Or perhaps you have prayed for God to deliver you from some dark and dreadful place, and you have suddenly found yourself back in the light. Share God’s faithfulness with others and bring God’s light into the world!

  • Can you think of a time in the past when God came to your rescue?
  • What are some works of God in which you can give praise now?

1 Corinthians 1:1-9

The Corinthians were a people who were “sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints.” They were set apart as God’s people and as such, Paul reminds them that they united with ALL those who were in Christ. Rather than simply living for their own accord, they were to use the gifts God lavished upon them in service to others. As they awaited “the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ”, their gifts of speech and knowledge which had been enriched by God “in every way”, were not to become a source of pride for them, but were to be used to show their gratitude to God for them by sharing them with others.

As the Church, we too are called and equipped by God. God is faithful and will strengthen us to live sanctified lives as we share our faith with a world living in darkness. We are to be God’s light, thankfully and faithfully sharing the gifts God has given to each of us.

  • Do you know the spiritual gifts God has given to you?
  • How might you use these gifts for the building up of the Church, the Body of Christ? How might you use them to share Christ with the world?

John 1: 29 – 42

“Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” John’s words describing Jesus can seem so familiar to us that we can forget the true impact of what this means. Jesus is the Lamb of God, the One sacrificed for us. Through His sacrifice, He takes away the sins of the world. His willing sacrifice is sufficient and available to pay the price for all those willing to place their trust in Him.

The glorious truth is that Jesus was, and is, the One come to lead and save God’s people! He is the One who is the light to the nations. He is the One through whom comes the grace of God and who will strengthen you to the end, until He comes again. He is the One we can turn to for deliverance from our troubles and our sins. He can still be found as we seek Him.  He is our Messiah, our Savior, our Christ, the Lamb of God!

  • John called Jesus the Lamb of God. Why do you think John choose this title for Jesus?
  • What name would you use to describe Jesus? How is this displayed in your life?

Written by Mary Ellen Doran. Doran is a Senior at Trinity School for Ministry, pursuing her Masters of Divinity and is in the Ordination process through the Diocese of South Carolina. She.and her husband Keith have two daughters, Amanda and Madalaine.

Download the Bible Study for Epiphany 2(A).

Bible Study, Epiphany 1(A) – January 8, 2017

[RCL] Isaiah 42:1-9; Psalm 29; Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 3:13-17

 Isaiah 42:1-9

In this passage we read one of the four servant songs of Isaiah. Israel is portrayed as the servant, whom God loves, and through whom God will bless all the nations. God is described as the powerful creator of the heaven and the earth, who is worthy of glory and praise. Yet this God is close enough to take the people by the hand and to hold them. How beautiful are the words from the opening line, “my chosen, in whom my soul delights.” These are words of belonging that many long to hear, whether from parents, spouses/partners, children, or friends. My soul delights in you says God, and nothing will get in the way of that love. In addition to covenantal language this passage is also a commissioning for the work set out for Israel. We are told that Israel will not cry out in the streets, grow faint, or be crushed as they do the work of bringing justice to all the world. Bring sight to the blind God says, bring prisoners out from the dungeons. Through your work I will make you a light to the nations. God does not take justice lightly, but as we hear in this passage, it is in fact work God has called us to. It might resonate with our post-communion prayer, “send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord…”

  • What images or feelings come to mind when you think about God’s soul delighting in you?
  • Can you think of a time that God blessed you through others or when others were blessed through you? Where was God in those moments?
  • When you think of brining justice to the world what work comes to mind?
  • What part of justice making might God be calling you to you?

Psalm 29

Psalm 29 contains vivid imagery of what God’s voice looks and sounds like: thunder, mighty waters, flames, writhing oak trees. These images speak of a God who cannot be contained nor controlled. This is a voice of power and might, and we are told to “Ascribe to the lord the honor due his name.” Yet in the last verse we hear a switch from a description of God’s being to God’s plans. What does God intend to do with all God’s strength? To give it to the people, that they may be strengthened and find peace. This psalm may bring to mind the story of Elijah, when God came to him not in the wind or fire, but as a still small voice. It may even bring to mind the story of the Good Shepherd when we hear of God calling each sheep by name. God’s voice is indeed one of unimaginable power, but through God’s love it is a voice that we can hear and respond to as well.

  • What does God’s voice sounds like to you?
  • Where do you you hear God’s voice?

Acts 10:34-43

This passage is a snippet from Peter’s visit to Cornelius and his household in Caesarea. We hear Peter give an account of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. Most importantly Peter speaks of God’s lack of partiality and that the good news of Christ is available to all who believe. It can be difficult at times to accept that it is God who calls disciples, and not we ourselves. It is important to remember that we must work alongside all the members of the body of Christ, even those we disagree with in order to do God’s work. Peter also speaks of those who ate and drank with Jesus after his resurrection and then of the apostles commissioning to preach. Even through death Jesus was still with his disciples, just as he is still with us as we gather to pray and eat together.

  • Where have you encountered the risen Christ?
  • Where might God be calling you to share your story of encountering Jesus?
  • Are there moments you wish God showed partiality? How can you come closer to those within your faith that you disagree with?

Matthew 3:13-17

This passage follows John’s preaching of Isaiah, “prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” When Jesus gets to the river Jordan John, recognizing who Jesus is, states that it should be Jesus who baptizes him, not the other way around. This is just the beginning of Jesus’ work and ministry and already he is turning everything upside down and inside out. We will be doing things differently Jesus seems to say. It is through this new way of thinking that the Holy Spirit comes down like a dove and we hear the words of heaven, “This is my son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Jesus’ baptism marks his time to begin his work in the world around him, just as our own baptism call us into the life, death, and resurrection of our own lives. It is time to remember Jesus’ baptism, and our own. You have been sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism, you are a beloved one of God. Just as Jesus turned the world upside down, how might you through your baptism join in the work of God?

  • Where were you baptized? Who was there? Do you remember it?
  • Read through the baptismal covenant in the Book of Common Prayer. What parts stand out to you and why?
  • Have you felt the Holy Spirit as closely as the dove was seen at Jesus’ baptism? What does God’s voice sound like when God calls you beloved?

Written by Reagan Gonzalez. Gonzalez is a second year MDiv student at Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, TX and a Candidate for Holy Orders in the Diocese of Montana. She enjoys running, reading, writing poetry, and Godly Play. She and her husband and enjoy hiking and other outdoor adventures with their Welsh Corgi, Maggie. 

Download the Bible Study for Epiphany 1(A).

Bible Study, Feast of the Holy Name (A) – January 1, 2017

[RCL] Number 6:22-27; Psalm 8; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:15-21

Numbers 6:22-27

There is something holy about the giving and receiving of names. The acts of naming and being named are sacred practices in the Judeo-Christian faith. When we are born, our parents or our guardians give us our first names and share with us their last name. We give affectionate nicknames to those we love and share our lives with. When we are joined together with another in marriage, a common practice is the sharing or joining together of last names between partners. Our names give us identity and reveal us as persons who are known and joined together with our families and community.

How remarkable then is this instance of the Lord sharing a name with the people of Israel? In this act, Israel is given an identity—one of being joined together with the Lord who is capable of blessing them, keeping them and granting them peace, even in the midst of their incompleteness and in their becoming.

Today, this same blessing is available to us. We too can share in this name with the one who desires to bless us, keep us and ultimately, grant us peace.

  • What names have you been given by those who love you?
  • What names have you given to others who you love?
  • How has being given a name by another changed or added to your relationship with them?
  • Are there any special names you associate with God?

Psalm 8

Names give distinction to our identity. In Psalm 8, we find the Lord described as “our Governor” and the one whose name is exalted “in all the world!” Further the Lord is described as one who is able to overcome our strongest of adversaries and who’s fingers shaped the moon and stars, setting them on their course. In comparison, the author of Psalm 8 names humanity as “man” and describes us as “a little lower than the angels” and wonders, “What is man that [God] should be mindful of [us]?”

Our identity is distinct from the identity of the Lord. The Lord’s name is representative of unbounded divine power that is capable of shaping the universe around us, and our name points toward our limitedness and our ultimate need for the Lord.

Yet in this passage, we are also reminded that the Lord, who is our governor, has trusted us, in our limitedness, with the works of the divine’s hand. How humbling and how wondrous it is to share in relationship with the Lord who holds all power, yet trusts us with the responsibility of overseeing and protecting the creation.

  • It has been said that difference makes relationship possible. What difference/distinction do you see between you and God?
  • What has the Lord trusted you with overseeing and protecting?
  • How would you describe the identity you have been given by God and in what ways is it unique?

Galatians 4:4-7

Titles, a kind of name, give nuance to our identities and reveal how we are related to one another. This passage from Galatians illuminates a change in title that drastically changes our relationship to God. The author states that we were once “slaves” but now have been “adopted” and are called God’s children and heirs.
The language of slave maybe it difficult for many of us to relate to, but perhaps we can use the word employee to gain insight to how this change has impacted us? Neither slaves nor employees of a manager are loved by their manager in the way that a parent loves their child. Further, it would be unusual for a slave or employee to be the beneficiary or heir of the wealth of a manager. A child of a parent, however, is loved and also heir to all the good things of their parent.

In this light, when we consider this change in title—from slave to child and heir—we can rejoice in this good news of who we have become in relationship to our divine parent.

  • What titles do you currently hold and what do they tell others about who you are?
  • Have you ever had a change in title that drastically effected the way that you were able to relate to others?
  • When you consider that God has called you child and heir to kingdom of God, does it change the way you think about how you relate to God on a daily basis?

Luke 2:15-21

In our gospel passage, we learn that Jesus was given his name even before being conceived in his mother’s womb. Likewise, the shepherds who had come to see him told Mary that even before Jesus had been born that they have been visited by angels who told them that he would be the messiah.

This story begs the question, when is it that we truly become who we have been created to be?

Frederick Buechner describes our divine calling as “the place where [our] deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Surely Jesus found this to be true of his calling in the world and perhaps as we mediate on this idea, we too might discover some new calling or possibly even revitalize one that we have known but have allowed to lay dormant for too long.

  • What do you believe your calling is in the world?
  • What deep needs of the world are clearly visible to you?
  • What talent or skills do you posses that bring you great joy and gladness?
  • Where do your answers to the first two questions intersect and how does it inform what you believe your calling to be?

Joshua Woods is currently a MDiv student in his middler year at the Seminary of the Southwest. He is a Chaplain Candidate for the United States Air Force Reserve, preparing for active duty chaplaincy after his ordination. He lives in Austin, TX with his wife Laura and their two dogs, Roxie and Ezra.  

Download the Bible Study for Feast of the Holy Name (A).