Archives for March 2018

Bible Study, Easter 3 (B) – April 15, 2018

[RCL]: Acts 3:12-19; Psalm 4; 1 John 3:1-7; Luke 24:36b-48

Acts 3:12-19

My first thought in this problematic passage is, “Oh dear, Peter goes from calling attention to the healed man to blaming this Jewish audience for Jesus’ death.” Living in a post-Holocaust era, we know where the evil of anti-Semitism can lead. We ask, why does Peter make that inappropriate—even offensive—leap when he says, “You killed the Author of life”?

To help take the edge off, we should remember that Peter himself is a Jew, testifying to other Jews about “the God of [their] ancestors,” the Jewish God. He is pointing out that it is not “by our own power or piety” that the lame man is healed, but by the man’s “faith that is through Jesus.” When Peter says, “Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out,” this applies to anyone who doesn’t see God’s sovereign power in the person of Jesus Christ. That could be us, depending on the day or the hour! We have the opportunity to see this as Peter’s invitation, even if shrouded in accusatory language, to continually recognize the power of Jesus.

  • How often do you need reminding of the power of Jesus? What scripture, music, liturgies, and stories most bring you back, helping you to repent as Peter invites?

Psalm 4

I can’t think of anything more relevant to these latter days than verse 6: “Many are saying, ‘Oh, that we might see better times!’ Lift up the light of your countenance upon us, O Lord.” As the above reading from Acts suggests, so often we’re not thinking about God’s power, but rather about our own power. This psalm refocuses us, helping us start to process the reality that, were it not for divine protection, we would surely be lost. In today’s world of constant danger and instability, we hear the words of the psalmist with a special poignancy: “[F]or only you, Lord, make me dwell in safety.”

  • What are the “dumb idols” and “false gods” you notice in modern life? Which are the most tempting for you?
  • Can you think of a time when the Lord answered you? Was it the answer you expected?

1 John 3:1-7

This epistle elaborates on what happens when we reaffirm our adoption into God’s family as “children of God.” Of course, Jesus is the key to that adoption. When we recognize Jesus as the one “revealed to take away sins,” we are counted among those who can “purify themselves.” Without Jesus, our sins lay unredeemed – as the epistle-writer suggests, they’re a kind of “lawlessness” that has self-evident consequences. Hinduism and Buddhism have a well-known name for the cause-and-effect nature of these consequences: karma. But Jesus allows us to transcend that since by turning to him, we are putting our faith in God made flesh, who has the authority to take away sins.

In the Christian life, sin leads to a temporary blindness, which makes it possible to say that “no one who sins has either seen him or known him,” severe as it sounds. But when we turn away from sin and do what is right, we ourselves become “righteous, just as he is righteous.” It’s all about repentance.

  • What is your understanding of salvation? Does it help you to think about other religions, like Hinduism or Buddhism, in order to make sense of the uniqueness of Christ’s identity?
  • Do you see a danger inherent in the idea that “no one who abides in [Christ] sins”?

Luke 24:36b-48

How funny that we end our Bible study with this passage, since we’ve been talking so much about having faith in Jesus—and here, the disciples are caught off guard, “disbelieving and still wondering” whether this resurrection appearance is really happening. Even in their joy, they are having trouble coming to faith at that moment, since Jesus’ physical presence among them is so unbelievable. And in his love for them, Jesus decides to prove it to them by eating a piece of fish. He didn’t have to do that!

This final appearance of Jesus comes nearly at the end of Luke’s Gospel, right before Jesus’ ascension into heaven. Here, an early understanding of Jesus’ identity is being summarized and rehearsed, almost as if it’s just been crystallized by the community for which this gospel was made: “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” We are heirs to this very same teaching.

  • Is there a moment you remember when everything about the Christian faith came together and made sense, almost as if Jesus were instructing you, like in this passage? Or was your journey in faith more gradual?

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 Easter 3 (B).

Bible Study, Easter 2 (B) – April 8, 2018

[RCL]: Acts 4:32-35; Psalm 133; 1 John 1:1-2:2; John 20:19-31

Acts 4:32-35

In my front yard, I have a plaque that states simply, “You are standing on Sacred Ground.” I put it there as a reminder to myself that, by virtue of God’s speaking into creation, all ground is sacred. But this week’s reading in Acts demonstrates what truly sacred ground might look like. It’s at the feet of the apostles who are giving their testimony of the Resurrection. This speech creates a space for outrageous acts of giving and receiving. It’s also a great show of unity and togetherness—they are “of one heart and soul”—that gives hope to the nascent church and, across the centuries, to us as we step together into our Easter journey.

  • Where do you find sacred spaces in your life? In your church?
  • What might complete unity and togetherness look like in your life? In your congregation? In society as a whole?

Psalm 133

This week’s short psalm keeps with the message of unity and togetherness from the very start. After proclaiming how good and pleasant unity is, the psalmist then describes it in some ways that may seem puzzling or uncomfortable, especially to the modern reader. First, we have the image of great quantities of oil pouring down Aaron’s beard and onto his robe (and we can imagine that, as high priest, Aaron maintained a pretty significant beard). This may have some thinking of skincare routines or robe cleaning, but it’s meant as an overwhelming image of great well-being and welcome. Aaron reaches across the centuries to welcome us into this show of unity. The second image—of dew in Mount Hermon falling on Zion—presents a geographical puzzle: Hermon is in south Lebanon, a country away from Zion. It’s an image that shows that, when we are in unity and peace, things of great unpredictability can happen.

  • Where have you seen unity and togetherness create unpredictable, even unimaginable outcomes?
  • What other images of great well-being and welcome, like Aaron and the oil, might we create in our lives?

1 John 1:1-2:2

Coming only a week after the celebration of Easter and the Resurrection, this week’s epistle and its apparent emphasis on sin and darkness might seem misplaced, like it would be more suitable for a penitential Lenten Sunday, than in the light of Easter. But its emphatic opening declaration is a message of hope that reads like a transcript of the apostles’ testimony of the Resurrection mentioned in Acts.

John is writing near the end of the first century C.E., and the opening kicks off a message of perseverance and focus to an embattled group of believers who might be starting to have some questions. They may also find themselves failing in their day-to-day lives to lead a life without sin. These doubts and shortcomings probably feel very familiar to our readers today. John sets the boundaries of a life without sin—one in right relationship with God—and then acknowledges the inevitability of our failures. It’s only in our advocate Jesus Christ and his atoning sacrifice of Good Friday that we can hope to get back to—and stay in—right relationship with God.

  • Where do we find ourselves “out of synch” with God’s desire for us?
  • How might our church community be a model of fellowship with each other and God?

John 20:19-31

The term “belief” appears frequently in John’s Gospel. To us, it can read like a statement of affirmation, like when we say, “We believe in one God,” in the Nicene Creed. But belief, to John, is an action verb. It is an ongoing act of doing something—of being obedient to Jesus Christ. Jesus’ invitation to Thomas to touch his wounds is the physical act that Thomas needs to kick off his ongoing act of believing—of obedience. And that invitation extends to all those who believe without needing to touch that have come thereafter.

It is emphasized in the reading that the risen Christ enters twice through doors that are either locked or closed. It is both a testament to his ability to be with the disciples despite physical impediments and as a reminder, a metaphor, of Christ’s ability to reach us no matter what barriers we may put up—like when we, too, yearn for a physical sign or think we don’t need Christ’s help. This gospel reminds us that he is always there, and always speaking, “Peace be with you.”

  • How might the idea of an ongoing act of believing and obeying change our life outside of the church? Within the church?
  • When has Christ broken through your barriers to reach you? How might his invitation to touch his wounds help during a difficult time?

Gregory Warren came to the Seminary of the Southwest following a long career in advertising. He is grateful and blessed to be on this path. He hails from the Diocese of Arkansas and is looking forward to returning soon. 

Download the Bible study for Easter 2 (B).

Bible Study, Easter Day (B) – April 1, 2018

[RCL] Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; John 20:1-18 

Acts 10:34-43

Peter visits Cornelius’ home in response to a vision that convinces him of the expansiveness of God’s message, a message that he now understands to be intended for Jew and Gentile alike. Cornelius is a centurion and a Gentile, and thus not someone with whom a pious Jew would ordinarily interact. But Peter visits anyway. Upon arrival, Peter proclaims the good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection with the authority of one who witnessed all that occurred.

In the passage immediately following today’s reading, the Holy Spirit falls upon the people to whom Peter is speaking, and they are baptized. Peter asks, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” There is an echo here of the story of the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 who asks, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” In both passages, the outsider is welcomed in.

Peter’s testimony of the Easter story to outsiders underscores the universality of the Gospel message. It is to be proclaimed to all.

  • Are there ways in which we limit the message of the Gospel in our own time? Are there people to whom we fail to preach?
  • What might we learn if we were to see ourselves not as Peter but as Cornelius, not as the confident witness to Jesus’s life and resurrection, but as the outsider seeking to understand God’s ways?

Psalm 118:1-2, 14:24

Psalm 118 is a song of rejoicing and a proclamation of victory—a victory that is God’s doing. “The right hand of the Lord has triumphed!” “This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”

The psalm is a song of victory—but notice that it is a surprising and unexpected victory. “The same stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” God’s victory turns on that which is rejected and cast aside.

  • Where do you see God acting in unexpected ways, making use of the stone which the builders have rejected?
  • What would it take for us to pray with the simple joy of the psalmist, “On this day the Lord has acted; we will rejoice and be glad in it”?

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

In what is perhaps Paul’s clearest statement of the Easter story, he reminds the Corinthians of what they already know—that Christ died, was buried, and was raised. On Easter Sunday, we remind ourselves of the same thing yet again.

Pride mingles with humility as Paul describes himself as “the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle.” But apostle he is. And through the grace of God, he has worked harder than any of the other witnesses to the Resurrection to share the good news. Nonetheless, it is more important that the Gospel story be shared than that he be the one to share it.

  • What do we need to remind ourselves of on this Easter Sunday? What old story do we need to hear again?
  • How might we join with Paul in reminding ourselves and others of the truth of the Resurrection?

John 20:1-18

It is a familiar story. Indeed, it is the central story of the Christian faith. And yet it is a story that still has the power to shock. Christ is risen. And all is changed.

In John’s telling of Easter morning, Mary Magdalene arrives to discover the empty tomb and immediately imagines that Jesus’s body has been stolen away. She runs to find Peter and the other disciple “whom Jesus loved.” They come to investigate, but do not fully understand, and they return to their homes. It is Mary who remains at the tomb long enough to speak to the man she supposes to be the gardener.

It is only when Jesus says Mary’s name that she recognizes him for who he is.

A name is a powerful thing. We are told elsewhere in the scriptures that the God who created us and formed us also calls us by name (cf. Isaiah 43:1). When Jesus calls Mary’s name, she knows him as her teacher, and seeks to hold on to him. And he sends her out to proclaim the news of his resurrection.

  • Have you ever experienced Christ’s presence in an unexpected face?
  • Jesus calls Mary’s name and she recognizes him in that instant. How can we recognize the moments when God calls our own names?

Margaret McGhee 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 Easter (B).