Archives for 2017

Bible Study, Epiphany 5 (B) – February 4, 2018

[RCL] Isaiah 40:21-31; Psalm 147:1-11, 20c; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39

Isaiah 40:21-31

In Isaiah 39, the prophet gave Yahweh’s judgment to King Hezekiah: Judah would soon be overtaken by Babylon. After this ominous message, the second major section of Isaiah, known as the Book of Comfort, begins. This section of Isaiah includes chapters 40 through 66. Our reading occurs in the opening paragraphs of the Book of Comfort. Here, the image of God’s majesty is presented through poetry. For those who had heard Isaiah’s prophecy, this poetry would have offered a contrasting view of Yahweh: the consoling deliverer.

  • In this passage, Isaiah responds to the harsh judgment of Yahweh (Isa. 39) with contrasting imagery. Where do you see the contrast between sin and redemption at work in the world today?

Psalm 147:1-11, 20c

Psalms 146 – 150 form a collection known as The Endless Hallelujah. Psalm 147:1 invites the community of Israel to praise Yahweh. Verses 2 – 6 describe Yahweh’s good works. Verses 7 – 11 repeat the cycle: in verse 7, the invitation to praise, and in verses 8 – 11, the reasons to praise Yahweh. For thousands of years, this Psalm has reminded us to praise God, from whom all blessings flow.

  • In our busy lives, pausing to praise Yahweh may be difficult. How might our lives be affected by creating space and time for daily worship?

1 Corinthians 9:16-23

Paul proclaimed the gospel with no expectation of payment or other earthly reward. Corinth was a society in which success was known by wealth, power, and prestige. Paul sets himself apart from secular recognition: the gospel is God’s message of grace and Paul will do whatever is necessary to bring the message to all of God’s people. God’s abundant grace is available to the weak, the slave, the citizen, the Jew, and all others in Corinth. This must have been a peculiar message in a city that prized status.

  • Many of us live in societies like Corinth. As Christians, our daily walk in the world is an opportunity to proclaim the gospel. What is the gospel message we are communicating?

Mark 1:29-39

This passage continues to reveal the healing power of Jesus. For those in Galilee, rumors were traveling quickly about the healer. People were coming to see him. Jesus retreats from the village of Capernaum to pray alone. He is found by his disciples, who encourage him to return. But Jesus announces that it is time for him to travel throughout Galilee to proclaim the message, “Because that is why I came.” Throughout this gospel, making the good news accessible to the Gentiles is a consistent rhetorical message. In verse 38, Mark makes clear that proclaiming God’s message was Jesus’ reason for being in their midst.

  • Living conditions in Galilee were primitive. Suddenly, Jesus moves among them—and he is able to heal the un-healable. Surrounded by people needing his divine touch, Jesus retreats to pray alone. When the world presses upon us, the example of Jesus suggests that we should intentionally hit the “pause” button and spend time praying. What benefits do you see in choosing to follow Jesus’ example? What challenges do you see?

 

Paula Jefferson is currently completing a Master of Divinity degree at the Seminary of the Southwest (Austin, TX): MDiv ’18. Her Christian formation began with a village Baptist Church (Pennsylvania), continued with a corporate-size Church of Christ (Texas), and discovered a new gear with the Episcopal Church (Texas) in 1999. As an accountant, she maintains professional licensure through the Texas State Board of Public Accountancy.

Download the Bible study for Epiphany 5 (B).

Bible Study, Epiphany 4 (B) – January 28, 2017

[RCL] Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 111; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28

Deuteronomy 18:15-20

God assures Israel that he will continue to communicate through prophets, even after Moses’ death. Discerning who is—and who is not—speaking Yahweh’s words will be critical for Israel. Those who hear God’s prophet, but do not accept the prophecy, will be held accountable by God.

  • How is Yahweh speaking to us in 2018? How are we responding?

Psalm 111

Yahweh is known by his works and deeds. The psalmist praises Yahweh for his enduring covenant with Israel. The word “forever” is a repeating message in this anthem: Israel’s relationship with Yahweh exists in perpetuity. These were assuring words to a people who were, at times, conquered and displaced. While their land—and even the Temple—might be overrun, their relationship with Yahweh remains forever.

  • 21st-century socio-cultural influences are impacting the practice of Christianity. What might we bring from Psalm 111 into our interaction with modernity?

1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Paul writes to 1st-century Christians in Corinth. In this setting, the practice of Christianity was emerging amid the worship of pagan gods. Early Christians struggled to leave behind worship practices that were prevalent in their society. Paul’s language recalls our Deuteronomy lesson: we will know—and God will know—those who love God by their loving ways. Paul calls Christians to leadership by empathetically addressing those who continue some of the old practices. He warns that such behaviors could mislead others to resume worshipping other gods.

  • Should “the Christian life” be at odds with its cultural environ? What examples can we identify in our own setting? 

Mark 1:21-28

Jesus begins his ministry in Capernaum. While teaching at a synagogue on the Sabbath, he expels an unclean spirit from a demoniac. Through the voice of the unclean spirit, Mark shares with his audience the divine nature of Jesus. Still, Jesus is not ready for others to know his identity. Healing on the Sabbath does not rile this audience; rather, they are receptive to his teaching. By casting this scene in a synagogue on the Sabbath, Mark connects his audience with the familiar places and rituals of Judaism and then unveils the in-breaking action of God through Jesus’ teaching and healing.

  • Jesus chose to let his actions tell the story of his identity. How can our parish model the choice of Jesus? How will we know if our neighbors know us to be Christians?

Paula Jefferson is currently completing a Master of Divinity degree at the Seminary of the Southwest (Austin, TX): MDiv ’18. Her Christian formation began with a village Baptist Church (Pennsylvania), continued with a corporate-size Church of Christ (Texas), and discovered a new gear with the Episcopal Church (Texas) in 1999. As an accountant, she maintains professional licensure through the Texas State Board of Public Accountancy.  

Download the Bible study for Epiphany 4 (B).

Bible Study, Epiphany 3 (B) – January 21, 2017

[RCL] Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 62:6-14; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20

Jonah 3:1-5, 10

In this passage, we hear the second half of Jonah’s story. Here, Jonah follows God’s call to travel to Nineveh and proclaim God’s judgment against the city. The people of Nineveh listen to Jonah, repent of their evil ways, fast, and dress themselves and even their animals in sackcloth and ashes. Seeing their repentance, God relents, sparing them from destruction.

Earlier, of course, Jonah had refused the call to go to Nineveh, fleeing across the Mediterranean and finding himself swallowed by—and three days later spewed out by—a large fish.

The book of Jonah is funny. A man runs away from God and is swallowed by a fish—and then is spit back up on shore—which convinces him that perhaps he ought to carry out his God-given mission after all. Domestic animals are dressed in sackcloth. And when God relents, his prophet is angry, because he has been made to look like a fool.

The book is funny, but it is also a story about both the relentlessness of God’s call and the breadth of God’s mercy.

  • Have you ever tried to evade God’s call, only to find yourself back where you started?
  • What do you make of the humor of the story? Can we use humor to better understand God?

Psalm 62:6-14

The overarching theme of Psalm 62 is a call to trust in God, over and above the powers and riches of this world.

But the psalm is more than a call to trust. It is also a poem. “For God alone my soul in silence waits,” it begins, in the language of poetry.

The psalmist’s soul can wait in silence, untroubled and without anxiety, because it is God who is awaited: awaited in perfect trust.

In the language of the psalm, God is rock and salvation, a strong rock and a refuge, a stronghold, a source of power, and the fitting recipient of steadfast love, hope, and trust.

  • How might you cultivate the attitude of the psalmist, to wait for God with your soul in silence?
  • What does it mean to trust in God as a strong rock and refuge, and to place your love, hope, and trust in God?

1 Corinthians 7:29-31

Paul writes at great length to the church in Corinth about marriage and divorce and other social relationships. Much of his advice may seem anachronistic to us today, but underlying and informing everything he writes is the sense that time has grown short and the world is passing away. For Paul, this eschatological vision lends urgency to the call of all Christians to devote themselves to the Lord, above and beyond any earthly obligations. “Those who deal with the world” are to act “as though they had no dealings with it.”

  • Given the many hundreds of years that have passed since Paul wrote to the Corinthians, can we recover the urgency of Paul’s vision of a world that is even now passing away?
  • What might it mean for each of us to hold lightly the things of this world and to place our trust in God?

Mark 1:14-20

Today’s Gospel passage sounds themes of calling and of a world passing away that can also be found in the day’s other readings.

Jesus proclaims the coming of the kingdom of God and calls those who hear him to repent, to turn, at to believe in the good news.

Jesus calls Simon and Andrew, James and John, from their work as fishermen. The four men immediately follow him, leaving behind nets and family and hired workers and fishing boats still floating in the sea. This is a story of a response to God’s call that sounds very different from that of Jonah’s slow and reluctant obedience.

  • What might we need to leave behind in order to follow Jesus? And can we ever hope to do so with the swiftness of Simon, Andrew, James, and John?
  • What calls do we hear in our own lives? In what ways are we called to follow Jesus in our own time? 

Margaret McGhee Margaret is a third-year student at Berkeley Divinity School at Yale and is a candidate for the priesthood in the Diocese of New York. Prior to seminary, she worked as a lawyer and as a technology consultant.

Download the Bible study for Epiphany 3 (B).

Bible Study, Epiphany 2 (B) – January 14, 2017

[RCL] 1 Samuel 3:1-10(11-20); Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1:43-51

An overarching theme of the readings for this Sunday is how we receive God and what we do as a result.

1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20)

One line of thinking in modern learning theory is that it takes three or more exposures to a message for us to fully understand or learn it. For the prophet Samuel, those three exposures come at once, just before dawn, in the tabernacle holding the ark of the covenant. The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him—that is, he has not yet gained his prophetic powers—so he hears the calls three times, but does not yet understand them. He goes to the aged Eli and, using language that calls back to Moses and the burning bush, states simply, “Here I am,” each time. Eli quickly realizes the source of the call and gives specific instructions to the young Samuel to let God know that Samuel is listening. God’s response picks up on the listening theme and prophesies in a way that will “make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle” (NRSV).

  • Where are you hearing the voice of God calling you today? Are you able to listen, to hear it? How might you find space to better hear that call, and what could you do to respond?

Psalm 139: 1-6, 13-18

Notes in the New Oxford Annotated Bible suggest that this psalm is unique in that it is an “individual petition…recording an individual’s experience of God.” Being on your own in the ancient Near East would have been an equally frightening and awe-inspiring experience, without the security of artificial light and comfortable housing that we take for granted. The Psalmist depicts God as both an intimidating presence that is far beyond his or her ability to understand and, at the same time, a warm, nurturing deity who “knit me together in my mother’s womb.” The combination yields an overarching message of comfort: comfort that he or she is a part of all God’s creation and, as in Genesis, that creation is “good.”

  • Where do you find your personal experience of God? Is it in the awe of a thunderstorm or a majestic view, or in the innocence of a child’s laugh? How does that experience provide you comfort?

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

Paul opens this part of his letter to the Corinthians with a re-statement of their “anything goes” slogan: “All things are lawful for me.” It reminds me of a popular saying from my teenage years: “If it feels good, do it.” I even remember a song with that as a refrain: “If it feels good do it, do it if it’s what you feel.” And, while that hedonistic call may sound appealing to an immature teenage brain, I quickly realized it would be an unsustainable way of living.

Paul is suggesting something similar, and he amends the Corinthian slogan with: “but not all things are beneficial” – beneficial to the individual and, more importantly, to the church community in Corinth. As bodies of Christ, he is calling them to treat their physical and spiritual communities with care, to not defile them, because they are no longer their own, but God’s. And that calls them—and us—to a much higher standard.

  • Are there parts of your life where you are being ‘dominated’ (verse 6:12) and not able to be fully open to God? How might you open up that space, either alone or in your church community?

John 1: 43-51

Events are happening quickly in this part of John’s Gospel. Jesus heads toward Galilee, taking Philip with him. Philip, convinced of Jesus’ messiahship, urges Nathanael to join. “Not so quick,” one imagines Nathanael thinking, as he questions Jesus’ birthright. He’s not sure Jesus is from the right place—of the right tribe—and this gets in his way. But instead of shutting down, he stays open and, as a result, is amazed. Jesus knows things about Nathanael that any regular human could not. And this simple sign is all Nathanael needs to proclaim Jesus Son of God and King of Israel. By staying open, Nathanael is set to see the most amazing signs imaginable.

  • How do we let superficial things—like birthplace or alma mater or accent—prevent us from truly seeing another? Where are we missing Christ’s presence in our lives today because we don’t stay open, let ourselves see, and be amazed? 

This Bible study was written by Gregory Warren of the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas.

Download the Bible study for Epiphany 2 (B).

Bible Study, Epiphany 1 (B) – January 7, 2017

[RCL] Genesis 1:1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11

Genesis 1:1-5

In the beginning of God’s creation, Scripture records that “darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” The word translated wind here is the Hebrew word ruach, which can ambiguously refer to wind, breath, or Spirit. Swept is from the Hebrew rahaf, meaning “to hover,” like a bird brooding or hovering over her young. God’s breath hovers, and God’s word speaks light and matter into being. In the beginning, the Father, the Spirit, and the Word cooperate to create the world in wisdom, and it was good! The Church would later come to recognize an epiphany—a revelation—of God the Holy Trinity in this passage. As God speaks light and matter into being from formlessness and void, we catch a glimpse both of who God is in himself and what his plan is.

  • The first verse of Genesis could also be translated, “In the beginning, when God began to create the heavens and the earth…” How might this affect your understanding of this passage?

Psalm 29

In the beginning of Psalm 29, God’s people are called to acknowledge God’s glory and strength—the weighty significance of his presence and the all-encompassing domain of his power. This God is powerful, beautiful, creative, and frankly, dangerous! “The voice of the Lord breaks the cedar trees; the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon,” and “the Lord makes the oak trees writhe.” The Lord “sits enthroned above the flood,” that is, he is the eternal King who reigns from heaven, enthroned above the “upper waters” over the dome of the sky. This same God has given to his people his own personal Name (which the Psalmist here uses liberally), and has placed his personal address in their geographical midst. The God who has done all this will surely also give his people strength and peace. These are amazing privileges! The only proper response to this unasked-for favor from the Almighty Creator God is to rush to his temple, confess him for who he truly is in the presence of his people, and “worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.” In so doing, we as the Church become the sign of his beautiful and sanctifying presence to the world.

  • How could your reflection upon the Lord’s glory and strength affect your worship?
  • What does it mean to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness? How is holiness beautiful?

Acts 19:1-7

John’s vocation was to prepare the people for Christ, and in so doing, he summarizes and fulfills the whole old covenant, a purpose of which was to point forward to Jesus. John’s preaching and baptizing “prepare the way of the Lord” and “gives knowledge of salvation to [God’s] people by the forgiveness of their sins.” John was not that light of which he preached, but he was testifying to that light, the “dawn from on high [that] shall break upon us.” Still, John’s baptism prepared the people by calling them to repentance—a full change of life in light of the coming one, “whose sandal strap [John was] not worthy to untie,” who would come to judge the whole world and deliver his people from the hands of their enemies. But it is baptism in the name of Jesus that delivers what John only anticipated: God’s promises (Jeremiah 31:30-34, Ezekiel 36:25-27, Joel 2:28) to make a new covenant where the people will be given a new heart with which to love and obey him, and where he would pour out his prophetic Spirit upon all flesh.

  • Some Christians are sometimes accused of living as though they “have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit,” or that there is little evidence of the Spirit’s renewing, creative and sanctifying presence in their lives, even though they were baptized into the name of the Trinity. How might we draw nearer as a Church and as individuals to the fullness of life in the Spirit given to us in our baptism?

Mark 1:4-11

This scene of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan by John draws our attention back to the very beginning of Holy Scripture, where God, his Spirit, and his Word were present upon the face of the primordial deep, and creation began. As Jesus arises from the waters, the heavens are “torn open” so that we might see for a moment what lies beyond the veil.  We see the Spirit descending like a dove upon him, and the voice of the Father approving Jesus as his beloved son. Here again is an epiphany, mysteriously suggesting the divine identity of Jesus the man.

Even as Jesus humbly and fully identified with the people of Israel who were baptized (so to speak) in the Red Sea, who were once captive in Egypt and presently captive to sin, he is revealed as Israel’s mighty God. When we are baptized into the name of the Trinity, we fully identify with Jesus, even as he fully identified with us and our human condition, and everything the voice of the Father declared about Jesus becomes true of us as his adopted sons and daughters.  We receive his holy and life-giving Spirit and become part of Jesus’ glorified Body and are freed from our former captivity to sin and death. In this scene is revealed the fulfillment of the purpose of God’s work of creation.

  • What do we most need to hear the voice of the Lord saying to us to live into the fullness of God’s purposes for us?
  • Read Genesis 22:1-2. How might this passage help us understand today’s Gospel lesson?

Ryan Jordan is currently a middler at Nashotah House Theological Seminary, hailing from the Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande. He previously graduated from North Central College in Naperville, Illinois, with a Bachelor’s degree in East Asian Studies and Japanese, and from St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with a Master’s Degree in the Liberal Arts. He is married to his wonderful wife of four years, Mallory, and has two cats at home.

Download the Bible study for Epiphany 1 (B).

Bible Study, Christmas 1 (B) – December 31, 2017

[RCL] Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Psalm 147 or 147:13-21; Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7; John 1:1-18

Isaiah 61:10-62:3 

It is clear in the prophecy given to Isaiah that God intends for his people Israel to be a beacon to other nations. The strong imagery of “garland,” “jewels,” “crown,” and “diadem” bespeak a richness that God bestows upon those who are faithful to him. But these riches adorn his people for a single purpose: they are meant to be a sign to those who do not yet know the God of Israel. The gifts which God graciously gives his people are meant to draw others into relationship with him. The salvation we receive from the Father is meant not as a vindication of ourselves in the face of those who are perishing, but as a means to bring salvation to them. God intends Israel to be a torch to light the path for others.

  • What gifts has God bestowed upon you? How might you use those gifts to draw others to God?

Psalm 147 or 147:13-21

Psalm 147 is song of praise and thanksgiving which speaks directly about how God is faithful in keeping his promises to his people. Those to whom he is faithful are called to worship him. Our worship of God is all that we may offer in thanks for the renewal of life and bountiful provision we receive from him.

  • “Word” is used in verses 16, 19, and 20. How mighty the meaning of “word” vary between these three verses?
  • How does the coming of God’s Word in the person of Jesus Christ, who has been revealed to all nations, affect our understanding of the “chosen” quality of God’s people?

Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7

Paul’s epistle to the Galatian Church recognizes both the merit and limitations of “the law” – before the coming of Christ, the law stood as the means of covenant and relationship between Israel and God. The law was the previous means of claiming God as Father, but through his son, we may now claim in a truer sense to be sons and daughters of God the Father. Because the Word of God has taken our human flesh, our humanity is free to be united to the Father in a new way.

  • Does our claim on God the Father free us from our responsibility to his law?
  • To what are we heirs? What responsibilities does that heirship lay upon us?

John 1:1-18

John’s Gospel account varies greatly from the accounts of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). Far more concerned with theological notions than the narratives that drive the other three accounts, his prologue jumps feet-first into some deep waters. Much of our understanding of the relationship between the Father and the Son, as expressed in the creeds of the Church, is drawn directly from this prologue. Recalling the creation story of Genesis, John assures us of the nature and authority of the Word who takes upon himself our human flesh, in order that he might live among us—and that we might truly live. The Word made flesh in the person of Jesus Christ calls us to grow into the lives he wills for us and to accept God as our Father. As in the letter to the Galatians, we see that the Son has come to fulfill what could not be realized by the law alone: true relationship with God the Father.

  • What does John mean when he writes, “He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him”? How might this be related to the statements about “the law” in both John and Galatians?
  • In what ways do our lives in Christ witness to his power? What is one concrete way that you might testify to the light of Christ? 

 

The Reverend Andrew Cruz Lillegard is a transitional Deacon canonically resident in the Diocese of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Currently in his senior year of the M.Div. program, he lives with his wife (Theresa) and two sons (Christopher and Wyatt) on the beautiful campus of Nashotah House Theological Seminary in Nashotah, Wisconsin, where he serves as a sacristan and Chair of the Student Commons. Surrendering to a call from God in mid-life, Andrew and Theresa discerned a path that would require selling their home and settling into a life of intentional community at seminary. While Andrew is the only Wisconsin native currently attending Nashotah House, he and his family are preparing to leave their state after graduation (May 2018) to further answer God’s call. When not responding to the demands of school, Andrew is spending time with his family – particularly through fishing and enjoying a wide variety of film genres.

Download the Bible study for Christmas 1 (B).

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.