Archives for 2017

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.

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.

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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.

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