Archives for June 2017

Bible Study, 8th Sunday after Pentecost (A) – July 30, 2017

[RCL] Genesis 29:15-28; Psalm 105:1-11, 45b; Romans 8:26-39; Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

Genesis 29:15-28

Jacob was no stranger to deceit, having orchestrated enough of it against his twin brother Esau. Now, the father of his beloved Rachel turns the tables on him, switching out one daughter for the other on the night Jacob expects to consummate a marriage with Rachel. One especially interesting twist to the story is when Laban chides Jacob, saying, “This is not done in our country—giving the younger before the firstborn.” It’s as if God is reminding Jacob of his own scheme to displace his older brother’s birthright.

It’s difficult to sympathize with Jacob’s indignation at having been tricked, given his own history of similar behavior, however over the course of the Jacob story, it is illuminating to see that his mother and his uncle Laban manipulated Jacob just as deceitfully. He has come from a family of “players,” but God can still work with him, imperfect as he is. This is important because it affirms that even when we disappoint God, the promises that God has made will still be kept.

  • Can you think of an example in your own life where someone has done something to hurt you, and sometime later, you find yourself doing the same thing?
  • In what ways do you observe God blessing someone into greater holiness, just by being the God of faithfulness?
  • We read that Jacob’s seven years of toil “seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for [Rachel].” What does this teach us about the power of love?

Psalm 105:1-11, 45b

What a terrific testament to the steadfast love of God. Speaking of “the promise he made for a thousand generations.” The psalmist is singing to the descendants of Jacob/Israel, reminding them, that God’s judgments prevail in all the world.” In times when it seems like it is evil that actually prevails, it’s important to remember that the laws of nature that God has set in motion ultimately prevail, whether or not the human sense of time demands an immediate and particular response to prayer. In particular, when the psalm reminds us to “continually seek [God’s] face, I can imagine God at work, slowly building a great chain of mountains, unobservable over the lifespan of humans, yet profound and triumphant over geologic time scales.

I am reminded of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s poem Trust in the Slow Work of God. A scholar priest, his perspective as a paleontologist gave Teilhard de Chardin the skill to take the long view. I imagine that he understood the slow process of God fashioning Jacob and God’s other agents of change into the leaders he needed them to be at whatever pace their growth required.

  • It seems as though the Bible (both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament) is full of stories of imperfect heroes. What does their evolution into God’s agents of change teach us?
  • How do you respond when God seems to be slow to answer a prayer?

Romans 8:26-39

There is hardly anything that can be said that is more comforting than the assurance that “there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” Paul thought that the world would end soon, and wrote from that context. He was surrounded by Roman occupation and its associated violence and exploitation.  Even so, he understood that God’s purposes would still be achieved even in the face of significant challenge. It is a hauntingly familiar refrain that so many generations despair of the evil around them, as we do today. Yet Paul tells the believers in the early church at Rome that they are more, or better than the conquerors through Jesus. That message applies to believers now, assuring us that we must stay the course of following Jesus, because we can be more than those who conquer to impose their will with violence.

  • When Paul writes “all things work together for good for those who love God,” what does that mean? Do you believe this?
  • If nothing can separate us from the love of God, why do we sometimes feel estranged from God? Why might we perceive ourselves to be separated from God’s love? 

Matthew 13:31-33,44-52

Jesus describes the kingdom of heaven using parables. It’s important that he does not describe it directly, but rather by what it is like. This is somewhat reminiscent of the method we use to look at the sun—we cannot look directly at it, but we can view it through filters that protect the eye from its brightness. Perhaps the kingdom of heaven is so bright, we can only approach it obliquely until we put on the protection of our relationship with Jesus—God incarnate in human form that does not blind us?

In the parable of the net and fish of every kind, verse 50 is disturbing in its imagery of the “furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” It is important to consider that it is evil that will be refined in this fire—transformed. While the language is violent, the point is that no evil will follow us into the kingdom of heaven.

  • Why do you think Jesus speaks indirectly about the kingdom of heaven? In verses 34-35, omitted from Proper 12, Matthew explains that Jesus spoke only in parables to fulfill a prophecy. Does this affect your understanding of the kingdom of heaven?
  • How would you describe the kingdom of heaven in contemporary terms?

Pan Conrad, a resident of Annapolis, MD, received her M. Div. from Episcopal Divinity School’s final graduating class this past May. She is a transitional deacon in the Diocese of Maryland, where she serves as clergy-in-charge at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church is Glen Burnie, MD. Pan is also an astrobiologist and planetary scientist, and a scientific co-investigator to the NASA Mars Science Laboratory and Mars 2020 missions.

Download the Bible study for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost (A).

 

Bible Study, 7th Sunday after Pentecost (A) – July 23, 2017

[RCL:] Genesis 28:10-19a; Psalm 139: 1-11, 22-23; Romans 8:12-25. Matthew 13:24-30,36-43

Genesis 28:10-19a

Jacob is on the run. He and Rebekah, his mother, have connived to deceive his father, Isaac, into giving Jacob his older brother Esau’s birthright. Jacob’s deception, which led Isaac to grant him the blessing due the first-born son, fuels hatred in Esau. When Rebekah is told that Esau plans to kill Jacob, she sends Jacob away to her brother in Haran.

Our story begins when Jacob stops on his first night on the road. He lays down with a stone under his head for a pillow and falls asleep. Little does he know that he is on sacred ground. Jacob dreams of a ladder or ziggurat to heaven with angels climbing up and down. However, it is not the angels who speak to Jacob, but God. God stands beside Jacob and introduces himself: “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac” (verse 13).

God makes the same promises to Jacob that he made to Jacob’s ancestors: land and offspring. In a sense, God includes a caveat with his blessings. In essence, God tells Jacob, “You will be blessed when I fulfill my promises to you. But these blessings are not for you to hoard. It is through you and your family that all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” God then makes a personal promise to Jacob: “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (verse 15). God’s promises of presence and protection – of belonging to God – are central to the covenant relationship between God and his chosen people.

Jacob awakes a transformed man. He recognizes the awesomeness and sacredness of his encounter with God and commemorates it with a shrine made with the stone on which he slept, calling the place Beth-el, “House of God.”

  • Are you hoarding the blessings God has given you? How can you channel your blessings so that you will become a blessing to others?
  • How has your experience of God’s grace transformed you?

 Psalm 139:1-11, 22-23

The psalmist, resting assured in God’s promised presence and protection, turns to God for deliverance from his enemies. His blessing is his relationship with God. The psalmist addresses God by his personal divine name, YHWH (“LORD”) (verses 1, 3), and speaks to God directly: “you know” (verses 1, 3), “you discern” (verse 1), “you trace” (verse 2), “you press” (verse 4), “[you] lay your hand” (verse 4). The psalmist is awed by the completeness of God’s all-encompassing knowledge of him; God knows his actions, thoughts, and words (verses 1-3).

The psalmist affirms that God is always present with him. No matter where the psalmist goes, whether to the extremes of heaven or the grave, “Even there your hand will lead me and your right hand hold me fast” (verse 9). The psalmist trusts his future to God, assured that he belongs to God. He welcomes God’s testing, which will reveal the psalmist’s righteousness and commitment to following the ways of God (verses 23-24).

  • Does God knowing you fully make you uncomfortable? Are you able to say with the psalmist with no reservations: “LORD, you have searched me out and known me”?
  • Have you ever wanted to escape from the presence of God? When and why?

Romans 8:12-25

To Paul, every human being is subject to some power, and lives either in the domain of the flesh, under the power of sin, death and law; or in the domain of the Spirit, under the power of grace. Paul has assured believers in an earlier verse that they no longer live in the domain of the flesh, but now live in the domain of the Spirit, because the Spirit of God dwells in them (Romans 8:9).In today’s passage, Paul describes life in the Spirit in terms of relationships. “All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God” (verse 14). The indwelling Spirit is God’s presence with believers. Believers are blessed; we belong to God’s family – children of God by adoption (verses 14-15). We are God’s heirs and, therefore, joint heirs with Christ, sharing in his suffering, death,

In today’s passage, Paul describes life in the Spirit in terms of relationships. “All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God” (verse 14). The indwelling Spirit is God’s presence with believers. Believers are blessed; we belong to God’s family – children of God by adoption (verses 14-15). We are God’s heirs and, therefore, joint heirs with Christ, sharing in his suffering, death, resurrection and glory (verse 17). We are to live unafraid, knowing that we belong to God.Just as God fulfilled his promises to Jacob, Paul admonishes believers to wait with patience because God will fulfill his promise of future glory. God will free all of

Just as God fulfilled his promises to Jacob, Paul admonishes believers to wait with patience because God will fulfill his promise of future glory. God will free all of creation “from its bondage to decay” (verse 21). Believers and all creation must endure the birth pangs of the completion of salvation – of the promised restoration of creation to what God intended it to be, begun when God chose a people to be his instruments of blessing.

  • In what ways do you sense that you are living in the “in-between” time?
  • Discuss your experience of life in the Spirit.

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

In the parable of the weeds among the wheat, Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a field sowed by two sowers.

The master sows good wheat seeds in his field. At night, an enemy comes and sows weeds among the wheat seeds. When the wheat comes up and bears grain, the weeds come up as well. The master refuses to let his slaves gather the weeds. He tells them to let both of them grow together until the harvest, when the reapers will collect the weeds to be burned and gather the wheat into the barn.

Jesus privately interprets the parable to his disciples as an allegory. He is the master, and the good seeds are the children of Kingdom of God. The enemy is the devil, and the weeds are the children of the evil one. At the final judgment, the Son of Man will send his angels to root out sin and evildoers, and the righteous will inherit the Kingdom. God’s promise in the parable is that evil will not overcome the good.

There is a more contemporary dimension to the parable. In a previous chapter from Matthew, Jesus called us to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” or “is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). Could it be that the final judgment isn’t a distant event in linear time but is now? Could it be that the Kingdom isn’t someplace that will be established in the future but is here now? Were both inaugurated with the coming of God in Jesus?

Jesus issues a warning: Those who reject Jesus’ message are refusing to participate in the Kingdom. They are refusing to be the blessing to all the families of the earth that God calls believers to be. Those who accept Jesus’ message and follow the praxis of the Beatitudes belong to God, are his children and have inherited the promised Kingdom.

  • What is the relationship between the church and the Kingdom of God?
  • How does your faith that God’s Kingdom will triumph over evil and death influence the way you live?

Download the Bible study for the 7th Sunday after Pentecost (A).

Bible Study, 6th Sunday after Pentecost (A) – July 16, 2017

[RCL:] Genesis 25:19-34; Psalm 119:105-112; Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 13:1-9,18-23

Genesis 25:19-34

The narrator of this passage describes Jacob’s success over his brother Esau, and in doing so we learn something about God. We learn that Jacob, the younger brother, even from the womb will be served by his older brother. We hear of Esau’s displays of masculinity and skills from birth in a variety of trades, while we are only told that Jacob is a quiet man. As the older brother and a successful man, Esau should be the favored choice for God’s future people, and yet it is Jacob whom God chooses. Jacob receives his brother’s birthright, setting him on the path that will lead to his new name, Israel, and his heritage as the father of the twelve tribes. In this passage, we see a God who favors the weaker brother, an individual of lower stature, who is not supposed to be destined to accomplish great deeds. This story presents us with a God who “casts down the mighty and lifts the lowly,” who stands up for the weak and leads them to acts beyond imagination.

  • I wonder who the weak and lowly are in your community. How are you and your community meeting their needs?
  • I wonder who you are in this story today. Do you relate more to Jacob or Esau in the present moment? Why?

Psalm 119:105-112

Psalm 119, written after the Exile, emphasizes the importance of God’s word in living a faithful life, especially in times of need and strife. From verse 112, we hear that the word of God is not simply something to be heard or read, but something to be applied to the heart, inwardly digested and lived. The beauty of the Psalms is their ability to meet us where we are. This psalmist prays in full confidence of God’s support, all the while acknowledging the difficulty in doing so. As 21st-century readers of the Psalms, we can be comforted by the timelessness of God’s guidance. This psalm, prayed thousands of years ago to bring comfort to this people still brings comfort and hope to those who can still feel troubled and trapped.

  • I wonder in what ways has Scripture been a comfort to you in times of trouble.
  • Do you have any portion of Scripture memorized and “applied to your heart”? If so, how did you choose it?

Romans 8:1-11

The juxtaposition of flesh and spirit is repeated over and over again in this passage. It can be easy in our world to attend services on a Sunday morning and switch gears back into our secular lives as we drive out of the parking lot. However, we are called to live into the spirit of God that dwells in us. As humans we are fleshy creatures; our bodies crave food, we grieve over the loss of loved ones, and we don’t have to watch news channels very long to see the weaknesses of governments and societies to protect the weak. These human parts of our lives are not to be turned off or altogether rejected, but as followers of Christ, we are called to live with a spirit of hope as well. It is this spirit, working through us, that will help us create a better world for all those who inhabit it.

  • I wonder how you get ready to listen to the spirit of God.
  • I wonder what distracts you from living in the spirit. What might keep you focused?

Matthew 13:1-9,18-23

It is easy to be distracted from living a deep spiritual life. It can be easy to forget how to get ready to come close to the holy, how to open ourselves to the voice of the Good Shepherd. This parable gives imagery to the importance of hearing and understanding God. When this happens our minds can be like good soil, ready for growth and maturity. But often, we find ourselves among thorns, scorched by the sun, or a bird’s snack. While the goal is to be good soil, to always understand and respond to God, it is nearly impossible to accomplish this all the time. We are not just one of these seeds, but we are all of these seeds at one time or another. Growing in faith requires practice; sometimes we find ourselves in the good soil and sometimes we find difficulty and questions, but the key is to keep practicing. God is always present and waiting to greet us, we must continually practice being good soil, knowing that even when we fall among the thorns God will be there to help us try again.

  • I wonder which seed you are today.
  • I wonder if you have found the good soil.
  • I wonder what you hope to grow into.

Reagan Gonzalez is a rising senior MDiv student at the Seminary of the Southwest. She is from the Diocese of Montana where she served as Christian Formation Director at St. James Episcopal Church in Bozeman. She is a Godly Play storyteller and is looking forward to parish ministry after ordination. She lives in Austin, Tex., with her husband, Bryan, and their Welsh Corgi, Maggie.

 

Download the Bible study for the 6th Sunday after Pentecost (A).