Archives for October 2017

Bible Study, Christ the King Sunday (A) – November 26, 2017

[RCL]: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24; Psalm 100; Ephesians 1:15-23; Matthew 25:31-46

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

The term “shepherd” is a common motif in the ancient Near East, and is metaphorically used for the rulers, kings, and leaders of Israel. In this reading, the shepherds have fed themselves instead of the sheep, and the leaders have ruled with tyranny and cruelty (v. 4). Thus, the sheep lack a shepherd.

In verse 11, Yahweh will take personal responsibility to seek the lost, restore the strayed, bind up the injured, and strengthen the weak sheep who have suffered as a result of unjust shepherds, and gather them to himself on a safe pasture where they will be healed. The day of thick clouds refers to the destruction of Jerusalem, “the day of the Lord” (Joel 2:2), when the people were carried to Babylon (v. 12). Contrastingly, the new pasture is metaphorically linked to mountain ranges, watercourses, and uninhabited fields which are signs of life, suggesting a change of social, political, economic, and spiritual status for the sheep.

The binary use of sheep and goats, a ram and goats, lean sheep and fat sheep, the fat and the strong, and one group of sheep set apart from another reflects a cosmological setting: a rescue mission taking on a global dimension, in which God begins to reconcile the nations. God’s justice will intervene for the oppressed. In our contemporary understanding, the temptation to satisfy personal ego, materialism, and power at the expense of an ailing society are reminiscent of the fat and the strong sheep. The scattered and bruised sheep represent marginalized persons and communities, like the increasing numbers of refugees the world over, the homeless in our society, and those facing other insecurities.

We must reflect on questions such as “What is our role in protecting and restoring God’s creation?” (v. 18-19), with the understanding that God is determined to bring about a fairness where everyone will be held accountable (v. 20). God will achieve this through his servant David, a symbol of unity bringing together Israel and Judah, and upon whose leadership the Messianic reign will be announced.

  • What do you think of when you think of a new pasture for God’s sheep?

 Psalm 100

This psalm is Deuteronomic in rhythm, and therefore emphasizes the identity of Yahweh’s role as a God of action. The whole earth—all nations—are called by the psalmist to make a joyful noise to God. Our act of worship is equated to service to God. This in turn invites devotion, which brings humanity happiness at the end. Singing is a powerful mode of worship; it stays in one’s memory easier than reading and is often more entertaining. Because of this, it resonates well with offering thanksgiving in the court of the Lord.

Since humans are often tempted to play God by demonstrating ability in the first-person pronouns of “I,” “me,” and “we,” rather than in the humility of a servant or God’s instrument, the Psalmist emphasizes “Know this: that the Lord is God” (v 3). This phrase is intentionally inserted to remind us that all that we are and have is God’s. In fact, St. Paul echoes with the same tone, as when he writes, “We brought nothing into this world” (1 Tim 6:7).

Because Christians belong to God’s pasture, our confines are by nature within the shepherd- sheep paradigm. Listening to the shepherd’s voice is important. The sheep are safe entering by the gate, where the master takes stock and assesses the welfare of each animal, and they can appreciate the goodness of Yahweh for the permanent virtue of mercy by which he reconciles and draws people to his fold.

  • Have you ever needed a reminder like the one in verse 3? When?

Ephesians 1:15-21

Paul writes concerning the faith and love of the Ephesians, upon which he expresses his gratitude and prayers for the growing community of God.

Faith, which is the state of trust, in this context is reckoned to have yielded fruits of godly virtues like love and hope for this community of saints. A community where faith and works of love in Christ grow is formative for God’s saints. Like Paul, the Christians are drawn to uphold such a community with constant prayers. It is evident in both Paul’s era and our own that in order to achieve unity, we require faith in Christ, supported by the prayers of all the saints.

Since love is a central theme in Christian teaching, it is imperative that any community of Christians cultivate love for both God and neighbor (cf. Leviticus 19:18; Mark 12:31). In support of this, Paul invokes divine wisdom, a necessity for every good discernment that leads to truth.

  • How do you pray for the whole Church in your worship services? Do you know the people behind the names?
  • How will you pray for your faith community this week?

Matthew 25:31-46

Cataclysms like recent hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes, and more invite human responses to God’s mission in the community.

Matthew’s narrative presents Jesus’ account of eschatological teaching, which comes immediately before the Passion. The good shepherd is now too judge and king, seated on his throne and administering justice. The sheep and the goats represent the human creation, and as in Ezekiel, the shepherd alone can identify his or her rightful flock. The Son of Man, to whom Scripture refers as the beginning and the end (Revelation 22:13; 1 Peter 1: 20), will gather all nations and judge humanity.

As Christians, the take-away in this narrative is connected with human existence, a journey that informs our life both in the here-and-now and at our final destiny. The passage forms reasoning for acts of charity (or diakonia). How often did we recognize the Messiah in the little brothers and sisters of the Son of Man? Who is my neighbor? The reign of God, as it draws nearer, presents fresh opportunity for us to ask these questions and offer our hearts and thanksgiving to God.

  • When you read this passage, do you immediately think of yourself in the role of the sheep or the goats—or neither—or both? Why?

Written by The Rev. Fredrick Okoth, a priest from the Anglican Province of Kenya – Diocese of Bondo. He is married to Lilian Oduor and is a father of four children, Okoth holds a World Meteorologist Class II Course Certificate and worked with Kenya’s government in meteorological services for seven years. He holds a diploma in Pastoral Theology from Bishop Okullu College of Theology and Development, a Bachelor’s in Past Pastoral Theology from the Great Lakes University of Kisumu, and is working toward a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies from the General Theological Seminary in New York. Okoth has been a priest for thirteen years, serving as priest-in-charge of four congregations in the Diocese of Bondo. He has also served as an area dean, secretary for clergy welfare, and clerical secretary in the diocesan synod.

Download the Bible study for Christ the King Sunday (A).

Bible Study, 24th Sunday after Pentecost (A) – November 19, 2017

Proper 28

[RCL]: Judges 4:1-7; Psalm 123 ; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30

Judges 4:1-7

The Israelites are seeking to take the land of Canaan and this chapter of Judges discusses the events that took place leading up to the capture of this land. Deborah is one of the major “Judges” or “charismatic leaders” of the Israelite people; she is also the only female prophet, or prophetess, in the book of Judges. In this passage, Deborah is summoning a general for the army, General Barak, who will lead the Israelite army against the Canaanite leader, Jabin, and his army. Jabin’s army is led by a general, a man named Sisera. Sisera, upon being defeated by Deborah’s army, flees and seeks refuge in the home of a woman named Jael. Jael, in the night, kills Sisera with a tent peg (Judges 4:17-22). Jael’s killing of Sisera completes Deborah’s prophecy that Sisera “will be given into your hand.”

In this passage from Judges, especially as it connects to the story of Sisera and Jael later in chapter 4, depicts two very strong and courageous women. These women in Judges are leading and conquering for Israel in surprising ways. We do not often see women in Scripture performing actions to honor God outside of their ability to bear children or be decent wives to men. But in Judges, we have both a female prophet who leads an Israelite army and an unsuspecting woman working undercover for the Israelite army, who is willing to kill the Canaanite general.

Outside of the violence of this chapter, it is important to uphold and name the impact of these female characters and what it says about women’s gifts for ministry. Women, like men, are capable of anything. Women, created in the image of God, have spiritual gifts that go far beyond biology and the societal definitions and expectations we have attached to that biology. Women have gifts to share in leadership within our congregations and within the larger tent of the Christian tradition.

  • How do you see the spiritual gifts of women being used and utilized in your parish? How are they honored for their gifts?
  • Where is God working within those around you in surprising and unprecedented ways, whether those people be male, female, trans, gay, straight, black, white?

Psalm 123

This psalm is a prayer for help or a psalm of lament. It begins as a personal lamentation, but then goes into a communal plea for help. This psalm describes God as being high above all of creation; you can almost imagine the speaker of this psalm looking up to the sky as he or she cries out to God. The psalmist conjures images of God, describing God as both Master and Mistress, male and female. The psalmist also talks to God directly, “To you I lift up my eyes.” This psalm is short but rich in imagery, displaying a personal relationship with a dynamic God. Most importantly, the psalmist is demonstrating how honest and transparent we can be with God, individually and in community. God hears all our cries and sorrows, all our fears and worries. There is nothing God will not hear, there is nothing we must hide from our God.

  • Do you cry out to God in prayer? How?
  • Do you feel like you must hide your feelings from God? How come?

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

While Paul believed that Jesus would be coming “any day now,” stressing at times that God might catch anyone, at any time, in the act of morally questionable behavior, this letter also suggests that Paul may have been advocating the living of faithful lives for the long haul.

Let’s give Paul the benefit of the doubt; Paul’s metaphor of a woman in labor, for example, articulates the work of transformation that lasts a lifetime. When a woman grows a child and then goes into labor, she and that new life are going through transformation: the woman is going into motherhood, the child is beginning his or her life. This transformation has its pains, but on the other side of the pain is a new life for all involved. This new life is not completely new; the woman is still the woman she was before. However, there’s a shift that has occurred and her life is now full of newness, a newness she is now responsible for nurturing and growing. The woman is now full of the new life that has begun and full of the new ways she now sees and interacts with the world around her, as a result of the transformation.

  • How has becoming a Christian or claiming your faith transformed you?
  • What labor pains have you been through in your faith journey? What does your faith look like on the other side of those labor pains? And where is God in the midst of the pains, the journey, the transformation?

Matthew 25:14-30

If we try to understand this passage as one where the “talents” are the actual talents, or spiritual gifts and skills we each possess, then we may begin to understand this passage differently. Let’s frame it this way: God is the master, and God has written into our individual lives our specific talents and spiritual gifts. God has given us these gifts and talents to be used, to be shared, in order to help make this world a better place. God is asking us to use our gifts, to follow Jesus and help make God’s kingdom manifest on this Earth. But if we are the last servant, the one who goes and hides his gifts and talents for fear of using them, then we are ignoring the gifts we have been given by God and are therefore not helping in the work of making God’s Kingdom manifest.

In this frame, the parable articulates how the relationship between master and servant, God and us, can be broken or at least put “on the rocks”. When we are not in right relationship with God, we are in our own version of despair. When we are not able to live out our individual calls, using our talents and skills for the betterment of God’s creation, then we are suffering. Surely in this place of brokenness, fear, and solitude, there is much “weeping and gnashing of teeth”. If we cannot live fully into our relationship with God by living out those gifts, callings, and skills we have been given, it can surely lead to a state of darkness and confusion.

  • What are the skills, gifts, and talents you have been hiding or have been afraid to share?
  • Heaven and Hell can be states of existence we pass in and out of in this life. Have you ever experienced moments of Heaven and Hell? Where was God in those moments?

 

The Rev. Erin Hougland is currently a transitional Deacon in the Diocese of Indianapolis, working as the Diocesan Pathways to Vitality Minister. As the Pathways to Vitality Minister, Erin is currently working at Good Samaritan Episcopal Church, a thriving church plant in the diocese. Erin earned her B.A. in Theological Studies at Hanover College in 2008, her M.Div. from Earlham School of Religion in 2014, and is currently finishing her Anglican Studies Diploma at Bexley Seabury Seminary Federation, expected to finish in December 2017. Erin writes for GrowChristians.org and keeps her own blog at www.ehougland.com. She lives in Indianapolis with her husband and two sons, who keep her on her toes.

Download the Bible study for the 24th Sunday after Pentecost (A).

Bible Study, 23rd Sunday after Pentecost (A) – November 12, 2017

Proper 27

[RCL]: Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25; Psalm 78:1-7; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13

Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25

The people of Israel return to holy ground to renew the holy covenant in this, the final chapter of the Book of Joshua. Joshua has led the twelve tribes into the land of Canaan as promised by God, and this renewal of the covenant is the culmination of that period in the life of the people.

The people rehearse the story of God’s saving acts toward them: deliverance from slavery in Egypt, protection on the journey, and arrival in the land promised by God. God is consistently loyal and steadfast; the people often struggle with a similar response.

At this renewal of the covenant, Joshua presents the people with a decision to make: whom will you serve—the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt or other gods? This is not a choice to be made lightly or with verbal assent only. This choice requires the movement of the heart: “Incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.”

We daily have to answer the question: whom will you serve? The other gods in the lands where we reside work to distract our attention and acquire our service. We daily must say with Joshua, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

  • What are the other gods that reside in the land where you live? (“Isms” are usually a good place to begin.)
  • How do you daily choose to serve the Lord with mind and heart?

Psalm 78:1-7

The speaker in this psalm is a teaching voice from among the people: “Hear my teaching, O my people…” And what is it that the teacher wishes to communicate? The teacher intends to share the story and instruction of God so that it may pass from generation to generation.

As the psalmist notes, God requires this teaching from generation to generation. It is how the community shows a commitment to the covenant given by God. When later generations rely on the commandments as a way to order personal and communal life, God and the covenant are honored.

In the reading from the Book of Joshua, we heard of the need to “Incline your hearts to the Lord.” This psalm begins with the imperative to “Incline your ears to the words of [the teacher’s] mouth.” As people of faith, we incline our hearts to God and also listen and learn within our communities for the teachings that point us to God. We learn the stories of God and of ourselves in community—in the traditions of sacred word and symbol passed from generation to generation.

  • Who were your first “teachers” within the faith community?
  • How can we best equip future generations in the teachings and traditions of our faith?

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Paul offers these words to the Thessalonians as words of encouragement. People have died, and Jesus has not yet returned as expected. What does it all mean?

Paul reminds the community that what it all means hinges on belief in Jesus. In his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus destroyed death. Period. No question mark. As Paul paints the picture of Jesus’ second coming, he assures the Thessalonians that all—both those who have died in Christ and those still alive—will be with the Lord.

The questions come when, after accepting belief in Jesus, there is a delay before Jesus’ triumphant return. The questions come as loved ones die and grieving and suffering continue. Those questions voiced by the Thessalonians continue today. What does it all mean?

Just like the Thessalonians, we too can be encouraged because of our belief in Jesus and Jesus’ destruction of death. Just like the Thessalonians (and Paul), we do not know when Jesus will return. We do know, however, that there is Jesus and that Jesus is resurrection. We are not a people without hope.

  • Have you ever had questions or concerns like those of the Thessalonians?
  • How do we focus on the hope of Jesus in this time while we wait for Jesus’ return?

Matthew 25:1-13

“The kingdom of heaven will be like this.” We know this construction; we know that we are about to hear one of Jesus’ parables. In this week following All Saints’ Sunday where we contemplated the whole company of heaven, we should expect a parable attentive to the second coming.

This theme will command our attention in the season of Advent. As the liturgical year draws to a close, we meditate on the second coming of Christ. We sensed this focus in the reading from 1 Thessalonians, and it is continued in the parable Jesus shares: “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

The ten bridesmaids wait anxiously—even if falling asleep—for the arrival of the bridegroom. The wise prepare with extra oil for their lamps and the foolish do not. Heralds of the Advent message seem to reverberate: “Prepare the way of the Lord” (Isaiah 40:3).

With what we know of parables, however, we know better than to try and encapsulate the full meaning of the parable in one, quick reflection (if ever). The parables demand a bit more of us.

We can allow our imaginations to be captivated by the coming bridegroom and the need to prepare while also being open to questions that prompt our further exploration of the parable.

I wonder where the foolish bridesmaids were to go and buy oil at the midnight hour…

  • What further questions (as the “wondering” offered above) do you have when you consider this parable?
  • How do you get ready to get ready? In what ways can we prepare for the season of Advent?

 

Elizabeth Farr is a Candidate for Holy Orders from the Diocese of East Tennessee and a current Senior Seminarian at the School of Theology at The University of the South. A “cradle Episcopalian,” Elizabeth is a 2007 graduate of the University of the South College of Arts and Sciences. In her vocational life before seminary, Elizabeth served as the Youth Director at Bruton Parish, Williamsburg, Virginia, and, most recently, Good Shepherd, Lookout Mountain, Tennessee. Elizabeth is married to Matthew Farr, a recently ordained priest serving in the Diocese of Tennessee, and they are parents to an active, three-year-old boy.

Download the Bible Study for the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost (A).

Bible Study, 22nd Sunday after Pentecost (A) – November 5, 2017

Proper 26

[RCL]: Joshua 3:7-17; Psalm 107:1-7, 33-37; 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13; Matthew 23:1-12

Joshua 3:7-17

As Joshua and the Israelites ready to fight against Jericho, they spiritually prepare for battle at the Jordan River. God powerfully reveals his presence with them by stopping the Jordan River and allowing the people of God to cross over on dry ground. This not only reminds them of their redemption and liberation from Egypt at the Red Sea, but it also affirms and validates the leadership of Joshua—who has stepped into the massive leadership footsteps of the great Moses. God’s people are powerfully reminded that God is with them as they head into battle.

  • As you face various “battles” in life, how can our Exodus—our redemption from sin and death in Jesus—be of encouragement to you?
  • Jesus, who is our Moses and our Joshua, now leads us forward in life. Where is he leading you? How can you more closely align yourself with his leadership?

Psalm 107:1-7, 33-37

As a response to the Joshua reading above, this is a psalm of thanksgiving, reminding the readers of all that God has done to redeem them—to gather them and set them on the road to abundance and life. As God calls us to new adventures of faith, we can remember the many ways God has worked in our own lives, bringing us out of meaninglessness and despair onto the pathway toward life and peace. As God has worked in the past, we can be confident that he will continue to work in our future as we seek first his kingdom and look ahead to our full redemption on the Last Day.

  • Consider now how God has worked in your past. How has he shown himself to be a God of redemption and liberation?
  • As you consider the challenges in life before you this day, how can the remembrance of the past help give you proper perspective on your future?

 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13

In this epistle, Paul reminds the Thessalonians of his tireless work to bring them the Word of God, the gospel. Paul’s ministry was marked by integrity, hard work, and love for those to whom he ministered. He expresses gratitude for the ways in which the Thessalonians recognized and accepted Paul’s message as having a divine origin and not one of Paul’s own making. It should be noted that there was a powerful partnership of both word and deed in Paul’s ministry; he not only spoke the gospel, he lived it out among them.

  • Take stock of the key relationships in your life right now. Think of people that you see regularly and with whom you are highly invested in relationally. How can you more fully live out a holistic expression of the gospel with them – one where you are honest about your faith in Jesus and where you seek to live it with love, integrity, and devotion?

Matthew 23:1-12

In this gospel reading, Jesus discounts the ministry of the Scribes and Pharisees for their hypocritical ways. They love to teach others how to live according to the will of God, yet fail to live what they preach. “Do as I say, not as I do!” Most parents know how little this works. Kids pick up more what you do than what you say – and sometimes to embarrassing results! We want children to use proper etiquette and manners, and yet often we face the embarrassment of kids taking on the bad habits of their parents. We are all called to live out the gospel of Jesus and emulate his life of love and devotion. We have been sent out into the world as agents of peace and reconciliation.

  • In your mind’s eye, walk through the various situations and challenges you are facing today. How can you more faithfully live out the gospel of Jesus in those situations?

Allen Wakabayashi is currently serving as Curate at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Gladstone, N.J. He attended Nashotah House seminary. He is currently a deacon and anticipates, God willing, to be ordained to the priesthood early in 2018. He is happily married to his wife, Diane, who is also on the ordination path to the priesthood. Allen’s passion is to see college students fall in love with Jesus and become lifelong agents of the gospel.

Download the Bible Study for the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost (A).

 

Bible Study, 21st Sunday after Pentecost (A) – October 29, 2017

Proper 25

[RCL]: Deuteronomy 34:1-12; Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8; Matthew 22:34-46

Deuteronomy 34:1-12

Functionally, this passage tells of the geographical conquest that the Israelites have achieved, and the passing of power from Moses to Joshua. However, I think the most intriguing part is just at the end – “Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.” This idea of God knowing us face to face is so appealing to me. There is an intimacy—a closeness—of looking into someone’s eyes, and I can’t help but wonder what that kind of intimacy with God was like for Moses.

Who knows us face to face in our lives? How might God know us this way, too? When someone looks at us face to face, what do we turn away from?

Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17

This psalm is all about time. It speaks of the time before the mountains were called forth, and the time that we will return to the earth and become dust. God, though, is timeless through it all – “from age to age, you are God.”

It reminds me of something Audre Lorde said – that time is not linear, but rather like an ocean. The past, present, and future all touch each other in our consciousness and our experiences. In this way, Moses is close to us – because he is held by God, just as we are. All of the Christians who have passed, all who came before, and all who will come after us, and all of us now, are held together by God, who is unchanging and constant.

What are the ways we remember God daily? How do we strive to be faithful to God as God is faithful to us?

1 Thessalonians 2:1-8

There is something about many of the epistles that appeals to me. I think it is because I love to receive mail so much. I am enamored, in some ways, with the idea of churches writing to one another in encouragement in the faith – I do not always like what Paul has to say, but the idea behind it, that together we are made stronger as the body of Christ, is so appealing to me. Here, in one of the more pastoral letters, Paul talks to the community about his love for them. He talks about how dear the Thessalonians are, and how much he wants to share the gospel with them.

With whom do you want to share the gospel? Who is near to your heart?

Matthew 22:34-46

In this gospel, we see love as the greatest commandment. Those who are trying to trick Jesus are answered with love – that the greatest commandment is to love God and then one another. In this gospel, loving God and loving one another are so intricately tied to each other. I like that we love and serve God, in part, by loving and serving one another. It makes me think, too, of the way we define church. Surely, we should be loving and serving others all day long. Perhaps it is by smiling and saying thank you to the coffee barista in the morning, or maybe we can treat someone to lunch today, or maybe we can give our time and our hearts to be present with a co-worker or friend going through a rough patch, or maybe we can cook dinner for someone else—the opportunities are endless. We are in a world in need, giving us the opportunity to meet and love God wherever we go.

How did you serve God today? How did you love another?

 

Jazzy Bostock is a sun-loving, big-dreaming, laugh-adoring, God-praising, Native Hawaiian woman, in her third year at seminary. She believes deeply in the power of kindness, compassion, gentleness, and most of all, love. She is grateful for the opportunity God has given her to be here, and for all that God is. Mahalo piha.

 

Download the Bible Study for the 21st Sunday after Pentecost (A).