Archives for February 2017

Bible Study, Lent 4(A) – March 26, 2017

[RCL] 1 Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41 

1 Samuel 16:1-13

Those anointed and called to do God’s work don’t always look and act as we’d expect them to. In this passage from Samuel, Jesse brings forward several candidates for the next king of Israel, all of whom are rejected with the phrase, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Instead, God calls the youngest son, the least likely candidate; the one who is busy with other tasks. The one who no one thought was in the running. The passage demonstrates that God anoints and sends messengers not as mortals see, but as God sees.

  • When have you heard the Good News from a source you didn’t expect?
  • How does a glimpse of a person through God’s vision of the heart change our own assumptions about who is called to do God’s work? What does this tell us about God?

Psalm 23

Something as familiar as the 23rd Psalm can start to feel almost rote. But, there is so much richness in the theological depiction of a caring, nurturing and providential God contained in the poetic imagery of this psalm. God is our trust, our sustenance, our protector, our benefactor, our ever-present companion and shelter in life. A wonderful lyrical setting of the 23rd Psalm is Marty Haugen’s Shepherd Me, O God. Haugan’s translation turns this familiar psalm into a prayer for our committed lives of faith, “Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants, beyond my needs, from death into life.” Not only is the setting beautiful, but it moves the words from passive comfort to an aspirational commitment to living fully into the life into which we are called and shepherded by God.

  • When has God provided for you in your time of need? How did this change your understanding of God’s presence in your life?
  • Where do you experience the shepherding of God in your life…either away from harm, or towards a place where your soul can be revived?

Ephesians 5:8-14

If you’ve ever had the chance to watch a sunrise unobscured by city lights and buildings, one of the most amazing things happens. First, before one even sees the sun emerging over the horizon, the whole sky begins to glow with a pastel, luminescent presence. This pre-dawn beckoning tells us that the night is ending and day is about to dawn. The sun’s movement over the horizon is stunning, and often melts the light glow of the pre-dawn into sharp color where it seems that every hue is exposed to its fullness, available for us to use for whatever the new day brings.

This passage from Ephesians can be seen in the same way. The early Church in Ephesus was still emerging. This world had experienced the dawn of the risen Christ and yet wasn’t entirely sure how to blend the vibrancy of that light into a world that at times seemed unaware of its brilliance. Paul, writing to the church, encourages and exhorts them to rise from that pre-dawn uncertainty and into the brilliance of the resurrected Christ by seeking all that is good and right and true which the light has exposed. Once bathed in that light, the way becomes visible with God’s help.

  • What are your first thoughts when waking? What might happen if you focused your waking energy on that which is good and right and true?
  • In what ways does the Light of Christ expose work that needs to be done: in your church, in your community, in the world at large?

John 9:1-41

It seems like whenever something bad happens, our human reaction is to try to pin-point a quick, unilateral cause: Was the person with a cancer diagnosis a smoker? Was there a family history of depression? Who had someone crossed in order to be treated so badly? We can’t help jumping to conclusions, mostly because all of us harbor a fear of something tragic happening to us, or to those we love. Having someone or something to blame gives our rational brain something to hang onto so that our emotional heart doesn’t have to break a bit more standing in the raw empathy of another person’s pain. In short, “blame” can take the place of “love.” Today’s Gospel is a story of misplaced blame: blame of the person who is blind, blame of his parents, blame of people who seem different; blame of Jesus for extending healing on the Sabbath, rather than following the letter of the law. But, where in this story is love?

The first person to show love in this story is Jesus, who heals the person who was blind, “so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” Healing occurred so that love could be set free. Isn’t that really what healing really does? The second show of love is from that very person who was once blind and now sees: he gives his testimony, and gives glory to God simply and with conviction, “Lord, I believe.”

This week’s lectionary readings are filled with metaphors of light, love, and belief from unexpected places. As this Gospel shows us, we have to ask ourselves the same tough question that the learned Pharisees ask: “Surely we are not blind, are we?” When we allow Jesus Christ to open our eyes, we are healed by the love that is set free. Jesus becomes the light that shines in the darkness, illuminating the path on which we are shepherded, step by step, in God’s grace.

  • When did you “see the light” about a situation in your own life, or in the world around you? What differed between your first assumptions, and the eventual recognition of truth? Where is God in your own story?
  • Jesus sees the potential for God to be revealed in the person who was blind. Drawing on the reading from 1st Samuel from this week, how might God be revealed in those whom we least expect? Through what actions of love might this be revealed?
  • Placing ourselves in the position of the person whose sight has been restored, how might the world look through newly opened eyes? Where might God be revealed in this new vision?

Written by Sarah Kye Price, a postulant for the priesthood in the Diocese of Virginia, seminarian in her second year of the low residency program at Church Divinity School of the Pacific, and Professor of Social Work at Virginia Commonwealth University. Her scholarship, teaching, and formation for ministry are firmly rooted at the intersection of faith and social and economic justice.

Download the Bible Study for Lent 4(A).

Bible Study, Lent 3(A) – March 19, 2017

[RCL] Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5:1-11; John 4:5-42

Exodus 17:1-7

The Israelites are weary and thirsty in the wilderness, and in their desperation, they demand divine providence in the form of water. Moses is, perhaps, a bit frustrated by their rancorousness, but God rushes forth to nourish the people with a stream from the rock at Horeb. What do we make of these cranky Israelites and their successful demand? Should they have kept their heads down and trusted their leaders, or were they right to cry out for God’s quenching mercy?

Our faith has a long tradition of humans quarreling with God: Jacob wrestled with an angel of the Lord; the Syrophoenician woman challenged Jesus to honor her plea for healing. Ours is a God of great mystery, but also one of relationality. “I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb,” God promises, and so it was. Where else might streams of mercy flow forth, if we but have the audacity to demand it?

  • Recall a time when God responded to your petitions. Was the result what you anticipated?
  • As people of God, how do we balance patient, trusting faith with the urgency of human need?

Psalm 95

Psalm 95 is a play in two acts, first celebratory and then admonishing. God is honored as the creator of the caverns, the seas, and the hills; it is a power of inconceivable majesty. All are invited to “kneel before the Lord our Maker,” offering up a grateful submission to divine authority. 

But hold on! We are then reminded of those naughty “forebears…at Meribah, and…Massah”—those same Israelites who demanded water from the rock at Horeb. God seems offended that they were unwilling to trust in His ways, and their generation was “detested.” So much for pleading your case to the Almighty. We can take away a simple moral lesson from this, if we choose: putting God to the test is not going to win any celestial bonus points. But don’t forget: God still showed up at Horeb, the water flowed, and the Israelites continued their journey. We may fight with God, we may ask too much of God, but the covenant remains. We are still on the road home.

  • Where do you see God in the created order and in nature?
  • Was there a time when you were offended by a request from someone you loved? How did you maintain the relationship?

Romans 5:1-11

Paul’s reflections on suffering, endurance, and hope are a timely reflection during the Lenten season, when many of us take a hard look at the brokenness of ourselves and our world. In this passage he makes a bold statement: we are able to boast of a hope in “sharing in the glory of God.” When we consider our flaws and foibles, both large and small, such hope seems almost ludicrous. How could we ever approach God’s glory in our human weakness and fallibility?

The key, of course, is in Christ. His love unites us to the glory of God, and just as Christ’s suffering justified us on the cross, so too does our own suffering draw us ever deeper into Christ’s reconciliation. This is not a call to gratuitous penitence or a suggestion that we can save ourselves by loudly proclaiming our sins. God already knew what we needed, and it has been done, through Christ. We acknowledge our sin as the precondition of acknowledging grace, wherein “we will be saved by his life.”

  • What is your relationship with the concept of sin?
  • How has God called you to reconciliation in your own life?

John 4:5-42

You never know who you might encounter while going about your daily business. When the woman at the well encountered a man asking for a drink, she could have ignored him, or even complied silently, but something compelled her to engage. In doing so, she took part in a conversation that would alter her life and the lives of those in her community. How many times do we unwittingly pass by the face of God in the street because we are preoccupied with our own trivial concerns? What might we learn if we would be so bold as to ask “where do you get that living water?”

Again, we are drawn back to the Israelites in the wilderness. They asked for water, too, and were sated, at least for the needs of the moment. In Christ, we are asking for something far more enduring—a new fount, that of life itself, which will never run dry. But ask we must.

  • What thirst would you ask God to quench right now?
  • Where might you find Christ in the ordinary routines of your life?

Written by Phil Hooper, a first year M.Div student at CDSP and a postulant from the Diocese of Nevada. A lifelong spiritual seeker who found the Episcopal Church as an adult, he is drawn to ministries of hospitality, public witness, and contemplative spirituality. A nonprofit fundraiser and administrator in his former career, Hooper is dedicated to building faith communities of radical love, engaged discourse, and deep solidarity.

Download the Bible Study for Lent 3(A).

Bible Study, Lent 2(A) – March 12, 2017

[RCL] Genesis 12:1-4a; Psalm 121; Romans 4:1-5, 13-17; John 3:1-17

“For God so loved the world…”

The etymology of “Lent” comes from the old German word for “long,” and it is believed to refer to the lengthening days of the spring season. So, Lent can properly be interpreted as a time of lengthening, or stretching. It is a time to stretch our faith, and in this week’s readings, we see multiple examples of ways in which God is calling us to stretch ourselves and our faith. But in asking us to stretching ourselves, God also demonstrates God’s massive outpouring of love for all of us. God is ready to help us along our Lenten journey. God’s love is waiting for us to stretch ourselves enough that we can truly see how big God’s love can be.

Genesis 12:1-4a

The Lord is pushing Abram. “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house.” He is challenging Abram to leave everything that he knows behind, and to form a new nation. It is a tremendous promise from God, but it is also meant to stretch Abram. Now, Abram really has to show God if he really believes God. Abram is about to put his faith into action.

  • How might God be calling us to stretch ourselves during this Lenten season?
  • How might we put our faith into action?

Psalm 121

After reading Genesis, Abram most likely had a lot of questions for God. The Psalm seems to be answering Abram’s questions. Abram probably worried about where he was going and how he would survive in this new land. The answer to all Abram’s questions is the Lord. The Lord will watch over Abram as Abram embarks on God’s new plan for Abram. The Psalm is showing the breadth and depth of God’s love for us. “The Lord shall watch over your going out and coming in.” God’s love for us is bigger than we can humanly imagine.

  • What questions do you have for God?
  • Where is God calling you to trust in God’s love?

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17

Even as we stretch ourselves, this week’s reading from Romans points out that we are not saved by our own works, but purely by God’s righteousness. Therefore, as we think about the sacrifices that we are making for Lent, we need to understand our rationale for those sacrifices. Are we doing them to win God’s favor? That would be unnecessary. We have already won God’s love. God loves us because God has made us lovable. Rather, we might consider our Lenten practices as ways to draw us closer to God, to lengthen our faith and to more fully appreciate God’s love for us.

  • Are you giving something up for Lent? Why?
  • Is your Lenten practice likely to lengthen your faith and draw you closer to God?

John 3:1-17

Nicodemus is understandably confused. He was a Jewish leader, and yet Jesus is offering a theology that is entirely new to him. Jesus is stretching Nicodemus, and Nicodemus is willing to be stretched. He is trying to keep up with Jesus. But, then, Jesus offers the most hopeful message of his ministry. “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” Jesus is offering God’s salvation. As in the Romans reading for this week, Jesus is providing another explanation of the breadth and depth of God’s love for humanity. God created this world and all the living things in this world. Therefore, God has no interest in condemning it, but in loving it. There is nothing that any of us have done to warrant such an unconditional love, but God provides it, nonetheless. It requires us to stretch our minds and hearts to contemplate a love as broad as the love of God. In this Lenten season, we are stretched to start to appreciate God’s love for us.

  • What does God’s “unconditional love” mean to you?
  • Like Nicodemus, how do you with integrate God’s unconditional love into your life?
  • How might we focus on the breadth of God’s love as part of our Lenten practices?

Written by Brendan Barnicle, a Candidate for Ordination in the Diocese of Oregon, and Senior in the Masters of Divinity program at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific. Prior to the seminary, Brendan spent over 20 years working on Wall Street as a corporate finance lawyer, investment banker, and research analyst. He worked primarily with software companies, particularly Software-as-a-Service companies. He has a strong interest in economic justice, stewardship and organizational development.

Download the Bible Study for Lent 2(A).

Bible Study, Lent 1(A) – March 5, 2017

[RCL] Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7; Psalm 32; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11

Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7

On Ash Wednesday, God’s people were exhorted to begin the observance of a Holy Lent. The discipline of Lent is to be more than merely giving up a favorite dessert or trying to exercise more. Rather, the church is called to a self-reflective season of contrition and confession, of turning again to God, and submitting wholly to God. The first lesson from Genesis gives a name to the enemy we are likely to encounter as we attempt to meet the demands of Lent: temptation.

In the character of the serpent, this lesson paints a portrait of temptation. The lesson not only teaches us that temptation is crafty, but also in what ways it is crafty. Two stand out. Perhaps the most pernicious aspect of temptation is highlighted when the serpent says to Eve, “You will not die, but your eyes will be opened.” Temptation can be recognized because in its craftiness, it will mix a truth into its lie to make the lie more palatable.

The lesson also teaches us that it is the quality of temptation to spread. No sooner has Eve eaten of the forbidden tree than does she tempt Adam to sin as well. The sin of temptation is not content to sit still, but, like a plague, thrives when it spreads from one person to another until it has infected everyone. To resist temptation, we should be able to recognize when we have been tempted, and resist when we feel the pull to tempt others.

  • Where have you faced temptation in your life? How have you helped to spread temptation?
  • Where do you recognize truths and lies being mixed together in your spiritual life? How will you resist?

Psalm 32

Psalm 32 is about one of the central disciplines of Lent: confession. For those of us who are used to confessing our sins in the generic words of the general confession we say each Sunday, the concept of naming our sins out loud before God may seem somewhat foreign. But as the psalmist says: “While I held my tongue, my bones withered away.” The weight of unconfessed sin becomes unbearable until finally we have no choice but to shout it out before God. Only then, according to the psalmist, is the guilt of sin forgiven.

  • Reflect on the particular sins you might need to confess.
  • Why do you think the psalmist claims that confessing sins leads to their forgiveness?

Romans 5:12-19

In this passage from Romans, Paul makes the claim that “Adam was the type of the one to come,” meaning Christ. However, in Christ, the type is turned on its head. Just as many have died through the sin of Adam, in Christ, many have been afforded the free gift of grace. Just as through one man’s trespass, death gained dominion over the world, one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. If Lent is to be a season of turning again to God, of reorienting ourselves, then this epistle passage provides a sort of road-map to that reorientation. Through the demanding spiritual disciplines of Lent, we look away from our old life in the world of Adam’s sin, to the new life that is afforded in Christ. We travel through the dark season of Lent, in the hope and expectation that new life in Christ waits on the other side.

  • How might it be possible to observe the demands of the Lenten season without losing sight of the hopefulness that waits on the other side of it?

Matthew 4:1-11

This passage from Matthew provides the rationale for the Lenten season. As Christ went into the wilderness for forty days and forty nights, we are exhorted to spend forty days and forty nights in earnest prayer, contrition, and confession. We are reminded that even in the midst of our own struggles and temptations, we are in Jesus’ company, and that is a very heartening thing indeed. We cannot escape the darkness of the Lenten season, or the agony that will come on Good Friday, but we can move forward in the confidence that Jesus is with us in all of it. Just as angels came and waited on Jesus in the wilderness, Jesus waits on us as we undergo the forty days of Lent that are the preparation for the Easter celebration.

  • In what ways do you sense Jesus ministering to you throughout the trials not only of the Lenten season, but of your life?

Written by Richard Culbertson who is from Episcopal Church in South Carolina and currently a ‘middler’ at the University of the South.

Download the Bible Study for Lent 1(A).