Archives for January 2018

Bible Study, Lent 2 (B) – February 25, 2018

[RCL] Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22:22-30; Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

Although Abraham and Sarah enacted their own solution in response to Sarah being unable to conceive a child (Abram had a child, Ishmael, with Hagar, Sarai’s slave-girl), thirteen years later, God appears and reveals that Sarah will conceive a son, through whom Abraham will “be the ancestor of a multitude of nations.” Sarah “will give rise to nations,” and “kings of people will come from her.” Abraham does not rationalize or make excuses for enacting his and Sarah’s solution; he prostrates himself in response to being in the presence of Almighty God.

Reviewing one’s life in the presence of God and identifying areas for correction need not cause shame and guilt; being in the presence of the Divine can evoke awe and humility, whatever one’s present state of being. While one may sense that he or she has lost the way in discerning and following the ways of God, there are repeated invitations to turn back to God. Every day we may come before God to renew our relationship and the course of our lives in response to God’s call.

  • Are there any areas of your life in which God might be inviting you to change course or start anew?

Psalm 22:23-30

The passage from this psalm reveals an invitation to praise God in thanksgiving for God’s acceptance of us. Our praise may take various forms, one of which is gathering for common worship. Gathering with our local communities, as communities of faith gather throughout the world, we are reminded of God’s loving, merciful presence to all peoples. Moreover, our worship of God transcends time and space; through God, we remain connected with those whom we love, but see no longer.

  • How might your praise and worship of God draw you into closer relationship with others?
  • As you consider the people whom you love, but see no longer, how might worshipping God be an experience of being connected with them?

Romans 4:13-25

The themes of God’s justice and righteousness are woven together throughout Paul’s letter to the Romans. Today’s reading explores the righteousness of Abraham, a righteousness bestowed through faith. Some of Paul’s Jewish contemporaries boasted in their covenantal relationship with God as a unique bond between themselves and God—a relationship to which the Gentiles did not have access. Paul, on the contrary, asserted that righteousness ultimately comes through faith. He presents Abraham as the ancestor of all the faithful, Jews and Gentiles alike. One’s righteousness through a covenantal relationship with God extends beyond ethnic identity; it is available to all people. Paul offers a message of unity in a context of division; that context of division is rooted in valuing ethnic identity above common humanity.

  • As we reflect on the relevance of this message today, what conversations are creating divisions in the Church and in the world, and how might we, like the apostle Paul, be messengers of unity?

Mark 8:31-38

This passage from Mark includes an announcement of Jesus’ passion and a statement of conditions of discipleship. The juxtaposition of these two ideas reveals the connection between self-sacrifice and being a follower of Jesus.

“For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” Jesus addresses these challenging words to the crowd and his disciples. We, his present-day disciples, can hear these words addressed to our lives– what we wish to save or preserve, and what we are willing to give up. Being inordinately attached to aspects of one’s “life,” in terms of external attributes and circumstances, can diminish the vitality of one’s interior life, one’s soul. Jesus invites us, as we consider his life and ours, to seek the perspective of God in discerning how to nurture our souls and devote ourselves to living the Gospel in faithful service to Jesus.

  • What areas of your life might God be inviting you to let go of in order to deepen and strengthen your interior life?
  • What might it mean for you to “deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus,” in the present circumstances of your life?

The Reverend Denise Muller is a transitional deacon, canonically resident in the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona. She will complete a Diploma of Anglican Studies at the Seminary of the Southwest in May 2018. She received a Master of Arts in Theology and Biblical Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary and a Master of Public Health from Loma Linda University. She completed a Certificate of Spiritual Direction through Christian Formation and Direction Ministries and a Certificate of Supervision of Spiritual Directors through Mercy Center. She is a spiritual director and has served as the Arizona Field Director for a national prison ministry organization. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, reading, and visiting art museums.

Download the Bible study for Lent 2 (B).

Bible Study, Lent 1 (B) – February 18, 2018

[RCL] Genesis 9:8-17; Psalm 25:1-9; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-15

Genesis 9:8-17

Since the time of humanity’s disobedience in the Garden, covenants have been the means by which we re-enter into relationship with God. It’s important to note that God’s covenant extends past Noah through his descendants, to all of creation. This shows a significant point about the grace of God: it extends beyond all sense of righteousness on our part. The life of creation is by God’s grace, Noah is the righteous one that God beholds, but the payment of this righteousness is not just salvation for Noah, but the promise of life for the world. God’s faithfulness to his covenantal promises is a theme that runs throughout Scripture and unites the likes of Noah and Jesus. Bound by God’s grace, we need not simply bear the burdens of our flesh, but rather we may rejoice in that flesh which God has promised to both keep and redeem.

  • In what ways can Noah be seen as a type of Christ?
  • How do we rectify our understanding of grace with our understanding of justice (e.g., is it fair that others will benefit by God’s acknowledgement of Noah’s righteousness)?

Psalm 25:1-9

This portion of Psalm 25 expresses the contrasts between God’s way and the ways of humanity. The ways of humanity are enmity with others, scheming and treachery, shame, disappointment, and ultimately, sin. God’s ways are everlasting compassion and love, grace, faithfulness, and ultimately, salvation. The Psalmist recognizes not only the disparity between these two paths, but also the necessity that God should lead us on them – that we cannot walk in the ways of God without his grace. “Gracious and upright is the Lord; therefore he teaches sinners in his way. He guides the humble in doing right and teaches his way to the lowly.” Ultimately, our sins are overcome by his saving love.

  • In what ways may we ask God to lead us on our paths today?
  • What must we surrender to God in order to follow him?

1 Peter 3:18-22

1 Peter exposes the new covenant under which God calls the unrighteous to himself. As we saw in the reading from Genesis, God’s covenant with one righteous man, Noah, extends his grace to all; the new covenant, by which we are now being saved, extends that grace even further. The promised faithfulness of God is fully realized in the person of Jesus Christ, who now sits at the right hand of the Father. By baptism, we are initiated into Christ’s body and given a righteousness that human beings cannot attain in and of themselves. By baptism, we die to ourselves and are resurrected to a new covenant and a new relationship with God.

  • Which sins still keep you from living fully into your new spiritual life?
  • In what ways can we proclaim the good news to others who are also still imprisoned by their selfishness and sinfulness? 

Mark 1:9-15

Mark’s narratives of the baptism of Jesus, his temptation in the wilderness, and the commencement of his ministry are the sparsest of all the Synoptic Gospels. But his no-frills retelling of these three events, in short order, reveals their deepest truths. The baptism of our Lord stands as a significant transition from an early life that (according to Mark’s omissions) is essentially without note, to a life that is driven by ministry and marked by a growing intensity of purpose toward the cross. Jesus moves seamlessly from the beloved to the tempted. He is waited on by God’s messengers, so that he might be the messenger of the coming Kingdom to those who are in desperate need.

With a handful of verses, we can begin to discern what it truly means to be God’s beloved Son – to endure a baptism of repentance, which he does not need; to face the temptations that are part and parcel of human flesh, so that he may know our plight; to be waited on by those who are closest to God, in order to bring a message of good news to those who are furthest from him. To be a beloved son of God is to live a life for others, in order that they might live the life that God intended.

  • If Jesus’ baptism is the beginning of his ministry, what does that mean for our own baptisms and ministries?
  • If Jesus does not need a baptism of repentance, what might be his purpose for being baptized? 

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 MDiv 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. 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 fishing and enjoying a wide variety of film genres.

Download the Bible study for Lent 1 (B).

Bible Study, Last Sunday after Epiphany (B) – February 11, 2018

[RCL] 2 Kings 2:1-12; Psalm 50:1-6; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6; Mark 9:2-9

2 Kings 2:1-12

“I will not leave you.”

Elisha repeats these words to his teacher three times before the Lord takes Elijah away in a whirlwind ascension to heaven. The scene is dramatic and majestic; Elijah parts a sea like Moses and becomes part of a tableau of fiery angelic figures, somewhat like Jesus in the Transfiguration centuries later. We might feel tempted to focus on the theater of this story, but the narrative itself illuminates some of the most grounded elements of human experience—life, death, companionship, loyalty, legacy.

“I will not leave you,” Elisha says to his master. When given the opportunity to stay behind or peel off, Elisha is resolute; he is making this journey toward death with his teacher, no matter what. In the final scene, Elijah expresses gratitude for Elisha’s loyalty by asking what can he do for Elisha before he dies. Elisha responds in a cryptic, but completely understandable way: “Leave me a double share of your spirit,” he asks. In other words, leave me part of yourself; allow me to carry on your legacy. Elijah agrees but warns him that it will not be easy.

  • Have you ever lost a loved one or been with someone toward the end of life?
  • What are some of the ways that you strive or struggle to carry on the legacies of those you admire and respect?

Psalm 50:1-6

The first part of Psalm 50 is a gathering call. God is preparing to judge the people and is calling all of heaven and earth to be witnesses. The word “judgment” always has an ominous tone, but these verses do not hint at how destructive (or glorious) God’s judgment will be; instead, the focus is on the power and reach of God’s voice. “The Lord…has spoken.” “Our God…will not keep silent.”He calls the heavens and the earth.” We often think of prophets and teachers doing the work of ingathering, or preparing the way for God’s glory to be revealed, but the psalmist here imagines God in that role. God’s voice resounds across creation, inviting those who will bear witness as well as those who will be judged to come together.

  • In what ways do you hear God speaking in your life?
  • How do you hear the voice of God in the world today?

2 Corinthians 4:3-6

The season of Epiphany invites us to celebrate the in-breaking of God’s light in a dark world. This passage in 2 Corinthians reminds us that seeking the light of Christ is a continual journey. While the powers-that-be of this world strive to “veil” or “blind” us from the good news, we are called to receive the light of Christ in our hearts and reflect that light back to creation. As Epiphany comes to a close and we prepare to enter the season of Lent, our focus shifts from a celebration of light to a reckoning with darkness. Still, the gift of God’s light in our heart does not go away with the change of liturgical seasons; even as we begin this season of reflection and repentance, we carry God’s light with us and rely upon it for hope and strength.

  • When has it been hard to receive the light of Christ? When has it been easy?

Mark 9:2-9

In what ways do you see the light of Christ stifled or dimmed by the “god of this world”? How do you help shine the light of Christ on those experiencing dark or troubled times?

This passage in Mark (and similar passages in Matthew and Luke) tell the story of Jesus’ transfiguration. As readers, we are drawn into a scene that is actually quite intimate—Jesus takes Peter, James, and John to a remote location where they alone witness a dazzling theophany and hear a definitive claim to Jesus’ authority and status as the Son of God. If any of us had been present in that moment, we might have reacted like Peter, “terrified” and fumbling for something to say or do. Whether or not we have ever had our own vision of God, the story of the Transfiguration invites us to imagine what it is like to be in the fullness of God’s presence. What would we do? What would we say? James and John are silent, but we can imagine that they are not indifferent; perhaps awe has left them speechless. The Transfiguration, while intimate, reveals a Jesus unlike the gentle, human teacher we have come to know in earlier passages. The Jesus of the Transfiguration may feel distant or fantastical to some, while others may be captured by the majesty, mystery, and beauty of God shown in this way.

  • How do you experience God most fully?
  • What images of Jesus draw you into the mystery and beauty of God? 

Anne Marie Witchger is a candidate for ordination in the Episcopal Church. She received a B.A. in Religion from Earlham College, a Master of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary, and will complete a Master of Arts in Ministry from General Theological Seminary in 2018. Anne Marie currently works as the Outreach Coordinator and Chief of Staff at the Church of the Heavenly Rest in Manhattan. In her free time, Anne Marie loves to bake, write, ride her bike, and brew kombucha with her husband, Joshua.

Download the Bible study for the Last Sunday after Epiphany (B).