Archives for November 2017

Bible Study, Advent 4 (B) – December 24, 2017

[RCL] 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16

While David has in mind what most people would conceive of in hearing the word “temple,” God appears to be thinking of something altogether different. This is especially clear whenever we read this passage through the lens of the New Testament. David desires to construct a building for the Lord. Yet, we see that God is resistant to the notion, not because he dislikes the idea in general, but because David is not the one he has chosen for this task, and there is more to the notion of temple than a physical building. New Testament authors and the Church Fathers and Mothers would later read this passage typologically, depicting human bodies as God’s temple. Mary certainly had a hand in this construction in bearing Jesus, the person in whom God’s fullness dwells. Jesus also constructs the temple of God out of the Church. The point in all of this is not that God doesn’t want a temple in which to dwell, but rather that David’s blueprints do not quite align with God’s. We will come to find out that God prefers human bodies over inanimate buildings.

  • How should we treat ourselves knowing that our bodies are temples for God, and how should this notion impact how we relate to others?

Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26

Whenever we hear the word “faithfulness,” we may be too quick to attribute it to a merely human attribute. We think a lot about fidelity within our relationships and within marriage. We reflect upon our own faithfulness to God and the Church. While there is nothing wrong with the consideration of such things, we tend to forget to think about God’s faithfulness to us. It is God’s faithfulness to us that serves as the precondition for our faithfulness to him. Before ever choosing God, God has chosen to be for us. Our expressions of faith to God are not the initiation of a relationship—they are the response to a God who has dedicated himself to us all along. He opted to be for us even before we came into existence. You and I are enfolded into the promise that God made to his people in ancient times. God’s dominion certainly has extended and, as if with one voice, we say to God, “You are my Father, my God, and the rock of my salvation.”

  • Compare how much you think about your faithfulness and how much you think about God’s. Which do you think you should spend more time thinking about?

Romans 16:25-27

In this doxology, Paul would have us lift our hearts to the God who can strengthen us “according” to three different things, and these three accordings form an interesting progression of thought. To paraphrase, God strengthens us according to the proclamation of the Gospel, according to the revealed mystery of Christ (which now incorporates the Gentiles), and according to the sanctifying command of God. The movement is from the mere reception of the Gospel, to the reinterpreting of the Old Testament Scriptures in light of the mystery revealed (and beholding the cosmic Christ in light of this revelation), then to the life of obedience that forms the response to these things. If we are to immerse ourselves in the wisdom of the “only wise God,” we must keep these dynamics together. God’s wisdom will not permit us to simply receive the Gospel and do nothing with it, nor will it let us be negligent towards the inclusion of all sorts of people in the Church as we seek to live lives of obedience. The wisdom of God keeps all of these dynamics intimately together. We should do likewise.

  • Which of these dynamics has strengthened you in your faith journey? To which might you need to be more attentive?

Luke 1:26-38

In Luke’s Gospel, the story of Jesus doesn’t begin where one might presume it should begin. It doesn’t begin with Jesus. Rather, the story of Jesus begins with his mother. While we may be tempted to read our own finely-tuned theological presumptions back into this story, we would be wise to read the text for what it is saying and not for what we have come to expect it to say. In other words, the Incarnation is not the central theme in this passage, nor is Luke trying to convince us that Mary is the Theotokos (“God-bearer”), although aspects of these ideas certainly can be inferred. Rather, Luke would have us turn our attention to the fact that God has used the meekest of human beings to accomplish his divine will. He would have us meditate upon Mary’s response to God (her willingness in saying, “Let it be…”), and perhaps it is this preexisting demeanor that has earned her the title “favored one,” even before the child is conceived in her womb.

  • How important is Mary’s “let it be,” and how does it enhance how we think about the Incarnation?
  • How significant is it that God does not bypass human participation in bringing about his divine will?

TJ Humphrey is a Middler at Nashotah House and is pursuing ordination through the Diocese of Milwaukee. Prior to his time at Nashotah House, he served as a Youth Director and Commissioned Pastor for the Christian Reformed Church in the St. Louis area. He is an avid reader, especially in works that deal with relational ontology, liturgical theology, and the ecclesial life of the Church. For fun, TJ loves to spend time with his family, travel, go backpacking in the mountains, watch a good hockey game, sip on a good bourbon, and geek out with a good theology book.

Download the Bible study for Advent 4(B).

Bible Study, Advent 3 (B) – December 17, 2017

[RCL] Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Psalm 126; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8,19-28

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

Suppose I were to ask you what it means to be saved. Would you explain salvation as a fixed reality, a progressive ontological shift, or perhaps something more dynamic and fluid? In my younger years, if I had been presented with this question—my answer might have been something like this: “Salvation means that God has forgiven my sins and now I can go to heaven once this life is over.” While this may be a good answer, is it a complete one? More specifically, is the good news of the salvation that God offers us through Christ simply about having our slates wiped clean so that we can go to heaven when we die? This view of the good news of salvation diminishes its more immediate power and seemingly reduces it to an entrance ticket one only needs to obtain at some point, before passing from this life to the next. What would happen if we took the words of the prophet from Isaiah 61 seriously and began to reframe our understanding of salvation as something that takes hold of our lives in the here and now—dynamically transforming us progressively into the image of God?

  • How has your view of salvation changed throughout your life?
  • In what ways might changing the way you think of salvation transform your life in the here-and-now?

Psalm 126

Through the technological advancements of our modern context, we possess the unparalleled potential to be connected to others, yet often—even with the plethora of social media platforms and hand-held internet devices available to us, we are more disconnected than ever. This is especially true in the United States, where the culture places a high value on self-sufficiency and rugged individualism. So, it is not surprising—when we read a passage of Scripture like this Psalm that speaks to a corporate experience of sorrow, redemption, and joy—that we might find ourselves struggling to relate experientially. The Psalmist, however, challenges us to see ourselves as connected to others in the midst of our time of struggle and to seek out the restoration of God together in unity. Sorrow somehow becomes more bearable when shared with others. Likewise, the joy and celebration of overcoming become that much sweeter when shared.

  • In your life, can you think of a time of great struggle that you finally overcame?
  • Did you go through this time alone or was it shared with others?
  • If it was shared with others, how did it change your experience?

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

“Love your enemy.” “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” Scripture is full of tall orders and this exhortation is no different. The preacher urges the audience to “rejoice always,” “pray without ceasing,” and to “give thanks in all circumstances.” Just one of these biddings would be difficult enough for any of us to accomplish, but to attempt to live out all three would be seemingly impossible! The early Christians, however, believed that the return of Jesus was imminent and because of this, they wanted to frame their daily tasks and responsibilities in a way that would ensure they would always be ready for his return. Perhaps our expectations are, understandably, tempered after two thousand years of waiting, yet I wonder how our lives would change if we framed our lives and daily practices with the expectation that Jesus might return today—whatever that might look like. In the meantime, let us, as the preacher reminds us, “hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.”

  • How would practicing a life of prayer “without ceasing” change the way we experienced and interacted with others?
  • If you knew Jesus would return tomorrow, how would it change your behaviors or your view of the world?

 John 1:6-8,19-28

One of my favorite parts of going to see a movie is getting to watch the previews of upcoming films that are not yet released. There’s something powerful about being given a partial glimpse of something that is coming but is not yet. Every now and then, a preview will really spark my interest, and as my anticipation builds, I’ll find myself doing online research about the film production and past works of the writer or director. Anticipation builds expectation, readying us to better receive the wholeness of the final product when it ultimately arrives. Likewise, John the Baptist was not the light, but he went down to the riverside daily to baptize those who were willing and to testify of the coming light that would change the world. At this time of year, we remember his testimony as we too await the coming of the light that has brought us the gift of salvation and changed our lives—forever.

  • Have you ever known something good was about to happen but weren’t sure of when it would finally occur?
  • How did living in anticipation and expectation of the coming good affect your daily life?

Josh Woods is currently an M.Div. student in his senior year at the Seminary of the Southwest. He is also a Chaplain Candidate for the United States Air Force Reserve, preparing for parish ministry and reserve chaplaincy after his ordination. He lives in Austin, Tex., with his wife Laura and their two dogs, Roxie and Ezra.

Download the Bible study for Advent 3 (B).

Bible Study, Advent 2 (B) – December 10, 2017

[RCL] Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13; 2 Peter 3:8-15a; Mark 1:1-8 

Isaiah 40:1-11

Many scholars identify this oracle as the beginning of “Second Isaiah” (Isaiah 40-55), in which a disciple of the earlier prophet Isaiah of Jerusalem takes up some of the themes of the oracles recorded in “First Isaiah” (Isaiah 1-39) and applies them to the later experience of the 6th-century BC exile in Babylon. The overwhelming theme of these chapters is consolation in the face of despair; the prophet speaks from a sense of joyous certainty that the people of Israel will be restored to their homeland.

This message of God’s tender, shepherding love has inspired generations of poets; many Episcopalians know it well from Catherine Winkworth’s hymn, Comfort, Comfort Ye My People.

  • Where do you see people in exile in your life? In our world? How can you proclaim a message of comfort and consolation, even as they remain in the midst of despair?
  • What does it mean to “make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (v. 3)? How can we make highways in our churches for God to pass through?

Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13

Psalm 85 connects with the themes of forgiveness and consolation in Isaiah 40. It carries an interesting balance between the past and the present, from “You have restored the good fortune of Jacob” (v. 1) to “The Lord will indeed grant prosperity” (v. 12). Has God restored the people already, or is God going to restore them in the future? The same past/future tension appears in 2 Peter 3 and in Isaiah 40. This psalm, like many others, reminds God—and the people singing or hearing it—of God’s saving work in the past, as part of a prayer for God to do the same thing in the present.

  • How has God acted in your life in the past? How does this give you hope for the future?

2 Peter 3:8-15

Even in the earliest years of the Church, when some parts of the New Testament were still being written, many people who had been taught to expect Jesus’ imminent return had become worried. While scholars debate whether this letter was written by the historical Peter (in the 60s AD) or by a later Christian writing in the voice of Peter (in the second century AD), the problem is the same. It’s been years—where is Jesus?

The author of 2 Peter attempts to comfort these Christians, telling them that God’s time is not like our time. Just before this passage, the author has encouraged his audience to ignore the scoffers who say, “Where is the promise of his coming?” Instead, the author exhorts them to remember that Jesus could return at any time and that they ought to live in patient “holiness and godliness” (v. 11).

  • The author says that God is patient because God “does not want any to perish, but all to come to repentance” (v. 9). How does this fit with what you believe about evangelism and the relationship of Christians to people of other faiths?
  • Think about a time when you have suffered. Would you find the message of God’s patience comforting? Why or why not?

Mark 1:1-8

The opening verses of the Gospel of Mark set the stage for the entire story of the life of Jesus. Mark is the earliest gospel, and scholars believe Matthew and Luke drew on it. It begins late in Jesus’ life, at the beginning of his ministry. The first verse announces the theme of the “good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” “Christ” and “the Son of God” both carry political connotations in their original context that may be obscure for modern congregations. “Christ” is well known as the Greek translation of the Hebrew term “Messiah,” or “Anointed One,” which refers to a king or priest. “Son of God” was not a “theological” term in our modern sense, but one of the political titles of the Roman emperors since Augustus.

  • Why is it “good news” that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the King, the Son of God? What does it mean to spread that news in our world today?
  • The gospel uses two of the verses of today’s reading from Isaiah to introduce John the Baptist, who is himself “one crying out in the wilderness.” If you heard about a modern-day John the Baptist, eating insects and preaching in the desert—how would you respond?

Greg Johnston is a third-year student at Berkeley Divinity School and a candidate for ordination to the priesthood in the Diocese of Massachusetts. He has served the Church in urban parishes, campus ministry, and community organizing, in Massachusetts and Connecticut. He currently lives in New Haven with his wife Alice Kenney, and he spends most of his free time running, cooking, or reading mystery novels.

Download the Bible study for Advent 2 (B).

Bible Study, Advent 1 (B) – December 3, 2017

[RCL] Isaiah 64:1-9; Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:24-37

Isaiah 64:1-9

On this first day of the liturgical year, we remember who we are as God’s children, in total need of God’s mercy. In Isaiah, this reality points to an underlying theme of Advent: our collective hope that God would address our separation from him, “would tear open the heavens and come down” (v. 1) and “consider” us (v. 9). The important word here in the first verse is “would,” which is not the same as “will”! We have no right to say to God, “We know you will come down and help us.” Because we’re not in any position to get what we want from God, since “all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth” (v. 6a). If God is going to help us this Advent, it’s because God does so completely voluntarily.

It’s funny that Isaiah says to God, “because you hid yourself we transgressed” (v. 5b). How human of Isaiah! It’s almost like he’s attributing fault to God for our sinfulness – “we sin because you’re not here, God!” But in the person of Jesus, God gently corrects us, saying “Yes, I am here; now go and sin no more.”

  • Isaiah imagines “that the nations might tremble at [God’s] presence” when God comes (v. 2). What does that look like to you? What about God’s impending reign should the powers of the world be afraid of?
  • Have you ever found yourself blaming God for your own wrongdoing?

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19

When we sing psalms in worship, there’s often an “antiphon,” a particularly resonant verse which bears repeating. If a choir or cantor is singing the psalm, the congregation might chime in every few verses with the antiphon. Or maybe everyone will sing the antiphon at the beginning and end of the psalm. The antiphon is usually inserted by an editor, in order to enhance congregational participation.

But in today’s psalm excerpt, we have an antiphon that’s built into the psalm itself, not inserted by a modern editor: “Restore us, O God of hosts; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved” (vv. 3, 7, 19). We repeat this because our desire to be saved and restored in the image of God is not a one-time thing; it’s constant. Our life consists of seeking God, losing God, and finding God, over and over again.

The liturgical year is by definition repetitive. Advent is celebrated every year. Moreover, we’ll read these exact lessons again in three years, once the lectionary circles back on itself. In repeating these holy days and seasons, we’re reminded to think of our lives, as best we can, in line with God’s time.

  • How would you characterize “God’s time”? Are there times when you’ve felt that God’s sense of time matched well, or poorly, with your own sense of time?
  • Do you like repetition (habit, routine), or do you find it annoying? Maybe this has an impact on what kind of worship you or your parish gravitate toward. In terms of worship life, what about repetition can be fun, or challenging, to a faith community?

1 Corinthians 1:3-9

Paul congratulates the Christians at Corinth for being open to the testimony of Christ, such that “you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 7). But now that we’re in the New Testament, can’t we say that “the revealing” of Jesus already happened? Why is Paul talking about it now, as if it’s something that has yet to happen?

This is another curiosity of Christian time – in a sense, it’s trans-time. Yes, Jesus has come, but we also believe that he existed before the foundation of the world as the Supreme Word. Plus, we believe that he will come again to be our judge. Paul and his compatriots believed something like this: that Jesus would return very soon, to put an end to the corrupt Roman world order.

In Advent, we look forward not only to Jesus being born in Bethlehem, but also to that “day of our Lord Jesus Christ” at the end of time (v. 8).

  • Does it bother you that Paul talked so much about Christ coming again, but that Christ didn’t end up doing that in Paul’s time? How do we, as modern Christians, wrestle with our belief in Christ’s return?
  • Paul says, “God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (v. 9). How were you called, in particular? What is the story of your arrival to Christian faith and fellowship?

Mark 13:24-37

Speaking of Jesus coming again…

In this reading, Jesus speaks cryptically about the end times, in which God “will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven” (v. 27). Not only is this described in a visually scary way, with eclipses and falling stars, but in fact, there’s something even more terrifying about it: “Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come” (vv. 33).

So, Jesus tells us to “keep awake” (v. 37). This is exactly what we’re doing during Advent: trying to stay focused on Christ’s entering into the world. Because when it happens, it’ll happen in a way we never expected: not in the form of a king or warrior (as traditionally understood!), but with Jesus of Nazareth, the Prince of Peace.

  • Living in a world that faces so many existential threats, we truly don’t know when the end of the world will come. Does this modern reality make you read this passage differently?
  • What does “keep[ing] awake” look like in your faith community? In your personal faith life?


Zachary (Zak) Fletcher is a third-year Master of Divinity candidate at Yale Divinity School, where he is affiliated jointly with Berkeley Divinity School and the Institute of Sacred Music. Zak is a seminary intern at Christ Church, New Haven, and is discerning a call to ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church in Connecticut (ECCT). Zak received his Bachelor’s degree in 2015 from Harvard University, where he studied classics (Latin & Greek) with a minor in historical linguistics. His life in the church began with music, both at Trinity on the Green, New Haven (2001-2002), and Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, New York (2002-2007), where he spent time as a chorister. When not involved in seminarian duties, Zak continues to sing in choirs, including Yale Schola Cantorum, a group dedicated to the performance of sacred music.

Download the Bible study for Advent 1.