Archives for April 2018

Bible Study, Pentecost (B) – May 20, 2018

[RCL]: Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:25-35, 37; Romans 8:22-27; John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Acts 2:1-21

We all know the story of Pentecost, of course. At 9 o’clock in the morning, the disciples gather, and the place where they meet is filled with a rush of wind and tongues of fire, and they speak in tongues that all can understand.

Many churches try to re-create this moment by asking parishioners to join aloud in a portion of the reading in whatever languages they can speak. The experience of listeners to such a cacophony of voices, however, is in many ways the opposite of the piercing clarity of understanding described on that first Pentecost.

Peter quotes the prophet Joel to explain what is happening: “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.”

  • What might Pentecost look like today? Do we dare to see visions and dream dreams?
  • Of what might those visions and dreams consist?

Psalm 104:25-35, 37

Psalm 104 is a song in praise of Creation and of God’s care for all that is. God creates all things—even the uncounted living beings in the depths of the sea, and Leviathan, “made for the sport of it.” God sustains all things, giving them “their food in due season,” and, at the appointed time, takes away their breath so that they die and return to dust.

The psalmist does not pretend to understand all the mysteries and oddities and terrors of Creation, but nonetheless praises God, rejoices in the Lord, and cries, “Hallelujah!”

  • In what ways do we trust in the goodness of God’s Creation? In what ways does it terrify and perplex us?
  • What do you make of the idea that God created Leviathan “for the sport of it?”

Romans 8:22-27

The passage from Romans portrays a quieter Holy Spirit than that of the Pentecost story of Acts. Here we see a Holy Spirit that helps us not in a violent wind or tongues of fire, but through an intercession “with sighs too deep for words.” The Holy Spirit of Romans is more a kindly support and intercessor on our behalf than it is a fiery force that descends upon us, unexpected.

The readers of Romans have only “the first fruits of the Spirit” and wait in hope its complete fulfillment.

  • What do you make of the different portrayals of the Holy Spirit in today’s readings?
  • What might it mean that “in hope we were saved”—but a hope that is not seen?

John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

In the Gospel, we find yet another lens through which we can see the Holy Spirit. Here we encounter the Holy Spirit as advocate and guide—an advocate that will testify on behalf of Jesus to the world and that will guide his disciples into truths they are not yet ready to bear.

Jesus tells his disciples that it is to their advantage that he leave them, because only then will the Advocate come to them.

  • What might be the sorts of truths that we ourselves are not yet ready to bear? And how might we listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit guiding us in the direction of those truths?
  • How might we understand the Holy Spirit as “the Spirit of truth”—as contrasted, perhaps, with the fiery flames of Acts or the sighing intercessor of Romans?

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 Pentecost (B).

Bible Study, Easter 7 (B) – May 13, 2018

[RCL]: Acts 1:15-17, 21-26; Psalm 1; 1 John 5:9-13; John 17:6-19

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

They prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart.”

An interesting and easily misleading aspect of this reading is found in Peter’s declaration that the Scriptures had to be fulfilled. At first glance, Peter’s analysis might seem like a strict application of a theology rooted in predestination. Throughout the ages, however, the Church has taught that Scripture reveals truths about how things will unfold, but that the actions of individuals are not directly caused by these revelations.  It may even be said that, in light of Christ’s death and resurrection, Peter and the other apostles were able to discern a way forward through a more enlightened understanding of the prophecy of the Hebrew Scriptures.

We, my friends, are not off the hook! After all, the whole body of the baptized is called to discernment throughout the Christian life of discipleship. Sometimes in our 21st century world, discernment can be framed as something esoteric, lofty, and excessively impractical. Today’s reading from Acts, however, shows us an example that is extremely practical in nature; there was work to be done, and someone needed to be appointed to do it. While casting lots may not be the most popular method of discernment nowadays, it certainly demonstrates that the 11 had a great deal of trust in God’s plan and care, even in the most uncertain of times. May it be so for us, too.

  • How is God nudging us out of our comfort zones so that we may use our gifts in the service of the Gospel?

Psalm 1

Verse 3: They are like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither; everything they do shall prosper.

Only a moment ago, we were talking about the wicked and the seat of the scornful. Somehow, we have quickly moved—with a quick moment to ponder God’s law along the way—to this beautiful and poetic imagery of abundance that is rooted entirely in nature. It is fitting that this wonderful, short psalm is the very first one. It may be that the Psalmist wanted to give a foretaste of what was to come by briefly demonstrating the range of topics to be addressed in subsequent segments, which constituted the bulk of daily prayers for the Hebrew people. Psalms, like the human condition, are layered, challenging, and best understood when sung!

  • Do we really believe that God can handle the roller coaster of our lives?

1 John 5:9-13

At first glance, this brief reading can seem rather formulaic, almost like a mere logical pronouncement: if this, then that. Where is the heart in it? Faith is more than belief, right? If we focus on verses 11 and 12, we may begin to move beyond belief and into experience, and ultimately back into belief through experience. Christ, after all, has never left us:

All who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ like a garment (Galatians 3:27) and dwell in Him, and He in us.

Christ’s presence in the Eucharist is real, mystically uniting us in a divine supper that provides saving medicine to the soul.

  • How can we better prepare to receive Christ in the Eucharist each week so that we more fully imitate Christ in all our daily actions?

John 17:6-19

Today’s Gospel lesson comes from the 17th chapter of John’s Gospel, which is a series of prayers that our Lord offers. Traditionally, these prayers are divided into four categories:

  1. Christ prays for himself
  2. Christ prays for the Disciples
  3. Christ prays for the Church
  4. Christ prays for all.

Today’s portion forms the entirety of the second category, Christ prays for the Disciples. It goes without saying that God’s love has no limits, and that Christ loves every corner of creation. At the same time, however, we know that the Incarnation happened for very specific reasons, and with very specific means. As such, this prayer contains a clear divide, as Jesus juxtaposes himself and the disciples with the world. Does this, then, contradict the core message of John 3:16? Absolutely not! After all, in just a few short verses, Jesus expands the reach of his prayer. Here, the “world” refers to the portion of humanity that chooses darkness over light, directly opposing the will of God. This, therefore, allows Jesus to identify himself as one who does not belong to the world, in spite of his own humanity.

We, too, know that our true citizenship is not attached to our passports or identification numbers, but to our baptism. Nevertheless, we live and move about the world with great gusto; few of us are called to a life of ascetic solitude, after all. Our greatest honor—and perhaps our greatest challenge—is to bear the light of Christ when we are so often surrounded by darkness. We cannot do it alone, just as the disciples could not do it alone; Jesus prayed for them and entrusted them with the very risky and transformative ministry that has endured for nearly two thousand years.

  • As citizens of the Kingdom, how are we called to respond to darkness? 

Gus Chrysson is a seminarian of the Diocese of Costa Rica, presently studying at Virginia Theological Seminary. Originally from North Carolina, Gus comes from a large family with Greek and Costa Rican roots. Prior to seminary, he worked for many years as a full-time musician in New York City, specializing in vocal and choral music. Gus continues to be active in music ministry through singing, conducting, and overseeing a new partnership with the Diocese of Cuba. When he is not in church, he is most often in the kitchen.

Download the Bible Study for Easter 7 (B).

Bible Study, Easter 6 (B) – May 6, 2018

[RCL]: Acts 10:44-48; Psalm 98; 1 John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17

Acts 10:44-48

This passage records the momentous occasion of the Pentecost of the Gentiles, a major event in salvation history unveiling the total breadth of God’s saving intentions toward the whole human race. We witness here more than a mere giving of power from on high to a group of foreigners, but a breathtaking initiative—or should I say, breath-giving initiative?—of God choosing these Gentiles to be part of his covenant people. In this event, God literally takes them to be the place where His Spirit abides, His temple that He sanctifies for Himself, bringing to mind the event of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River where the Holy Spirit rested upon Jesus and the voice of the Father declared His divine approval: “This is my Son, the Beloved” (Matthew 3:17).

Only in hindsight could the apostles see that this was God’s plan all along, as attested throughout Holy Scripture and especially among the prophets. So is the prophecy of Simeon fulfilled at the beginning of Luke’s Gospel as Jesus becomes “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:32). With God’s assurance of approval, Peter rightly sees that God desires them to receive what comes to be known to the Church Fathers as the sacrament of enlightenment, or Holy Baptism, that they might come to participate in the death and resurrected life of Jesus Christ.

  • The circumcised believers who accompanied Peter were said to be “astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles” (v. 45). Is there any person or group of people to whom we wish the Lord were not quite so generous?
  • The excitement of Holy Spirit’s dynamic activity in the early Church simply saturates the Book of Acts and the whole New Testament. Does our own church or fellowship invite the Holy Spirit to manifest manifold gifts in us and move us to extol God?

Psalm 98

This psalm of praise beautifully captures the response of the Church to God’s victory of radical faithfulness to His people Israel (v.4) that radiates outward not only to the nations (v.3) but to the whole creation.

The psalm teaches us that the proper response to God taking the initiative for our salvation is to break out in rejoicing and song. Indeed, if we did not, the very rocks would cry out!

We as Christians need to be reminded that God’s redemption through the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ is cosmic in scope, as the 8th chapter of Romans reminds us. It’s not limited to Israel. It’s not even limited to human beings. It’s for the whole created order together! By the victorious sacrifice of Jesus, God has purchased reconciliation between Himself and us, and even between humankind and the environment—so that just as Adam and Eve enjoyed a free, just, and peaceful relationship with God and all the creatures in the Garden of Eden before the Fall, so might we—as a foretaste now and in full in the age to come.

This is the new song of the redeemed to our Creator, bringing our creativity to bear and calling forth the whole creation to join in a song of praise to our God who has done marvelous things!

  • How might we add our creative gifts to the praise of our Creator God?
  • In what ways can we help extend God’s redemptive and reconciling purposes (His righteousness, v.10) for the world as well as “the peoples” in our own lives and localities?

1 John 5:1-6

In this passage, we see John weaving together faith, love, and obedience to God’s commandments in an inseparable bond.

John insists that Jesus’ commandments aren’t burdensome, unlike the teachings of the Jewish lawyers and Pharisees that Jesus critiqued. They’re not burdensome, even though we are challenged to an even deeper level of obedience that the Pharisees demanded of their disciples! This is possible because of our new and direct connection to the life of God that transforms us and cleanses us by water and blood from all inner inclination to sin and allows us to overcome the world and its twisted desires (cf. 1 John 2:15-17). I invite you to read and reflect upon Ezekiel 36:23-27: “The nations shall know that I am the Lord, says the Lord God, when through you I display my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.”

  • How might Ezekiel’s prophecy help us to understand that Jesus’ commandments might not be burdensome?
  • Have you experienced times when keeping Jesus’s commandments was not burdensome, but a joy? Why was this?
  • In what ways can our victory in Jesus Christ be hijacked by “the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches” (1 John 2:16)?

John 15:9-17

In this passage, Jesus is calling us into a deeper relationship with Him—really deep! His desire is that we should live always in that heavenly love and complete joy which characterizes the relationship between Jesus and His Father, and so, therefore, He gives us His commandments. If we want to have joy like Jesus’, we have to learn to love one another just as Jesus has loved us—in humility and self-sacrifice.

Jesus is challenging us to leave behind a mere servile approach of extrinsic motivations for obedience to His commands (such as fear of punishment or even hope of reward) and to enter into a relationship of friendship with Him, where our motivations become internalized and we take ownership of our path as a way of love.

The amazing thing about this passage is that God is not interested in having slaves—He wants friends! Suppose your parents forced you to take music lessons as a child. When you first began, the practicing probably felt like a burden, but at some point, perhaps you began to take delight in the new freedom that this new skill brought you through your hours of practice, and you find yourself suddenly desiring to pour yourself out into it with ever-increasing depths of creativity and passion. So it is with our relationship with Christ. We need to make the step at some point in our journeys where we take full ownership of our discipleship to Jesus, but the more we sacrifice of our own will to His lordship and bear fruit by abiding in Him, the more our capacity for joy increases, and the more we become true friends of God.

  • Which of His commandments is Jesus inviting you to learn to obey for the sake of your joy?
  • What conditions does Jesus give for receiving whatever we ask of the Father in prayer?
  • Jesus is also calling us to friendship with one another modeled after His own friendship with us. How might we foster true bonds of friendship within the Church?

Ryan Jordan is currently a middler at Nashotah House Theological Seminary 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 Easter 6 (B).

Bible Study, Easter 5 (B) – April 29, 2018

[RCL]: Acts 8:26-40; Psalm 22:24-30; 1 John 4:7-21; John 15:1-8

Acts 8:26-40 

In this passage from Acts, we hear of a eunuch from Ethiopia making a pilgrimage from his homeland to Jerusalem. The audience of the book of Acts would have been curious about this figure. A person from a distant land whose appearance was different from theirs would have intrigued the audience. As a court official in charge of the Ethiopian queen’s treasury, the eunuch is a powerful individual. We observe that he does not display his power in this conversation, but instead humbles himself before Philip, inviting him to sit with him and explain the text from Isaiah. While we do not know his religious background, we do know he came to Jerusalem to worship and was curious about the Hebrew scriptures. The eunuch’s desire for baptism unfolds through his illumination by scripture and Philip’s proclamation. The passage reveals the inclusive nature of baptism; regardless of one’s national origin or position, all are invited into the baptism of Christ. Furthermore, we see the power of the Good News in Christ evoke joy within him.

  • How might God be inviting us to illuminate scriptures for people in our lives?
  • How do we see Christ unfolding in the lives of people whom we encounter who are from cultures, backgrounds, or countries different from our own?

Psalm 22:24-30

This section of Psalm 22 reveals a people who are devoted to loving and praising God. They recognize God’s faithfulness, which evokes a desire to live for God. This devotion is not lived in isolation, but rather expressed in community. In fact, the Psalm describes, “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall bow before him” (v. 26).

  • How does praising God in your faith community shape the culture and experience of the community?
  • How does praising God in your faith community shape its relationship with God?

1 John 4:7-21

This reading from John is a beautiful and moving description of God’s love. The love revealed in and through us is one of many ways God’s love is manifested in the world. As followers of Jesus, we are exhorted to express God’s love not simply in emotions or attitudes, but also through concrete and visible deeds and actions.

There is no question as to whether or not God loves us – God does. A question we are invited to ponder is: To what extent do we reveal God’s love by loving one another? When we love each other, God’s love is being perfected within and among us. This is true not only of our individual interactions, but also of our corporate actions in our parish, in our diocese, in the Episcopal Church, in the Anglican Communion, and in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church we profess in the Nicene Creed.

  • What actions might God be inviting us to undertake, individually and corporately, to more fully reveal God’s love to one another, in our communities, and throughout the world?

John 15:1-8

Today’s Gospel reading centers around a conversation between Jesus and the disciples. Jesus describes for them how to be sustained in life – by abiding in him. Just as the life of a branch is sustained by being connected with the vine, our lives are sustained through our relationship with Christ. We are already in union with Christ; we are encouraged to draw our attention to abiding within that union.

The passage also describes how the vinegrower periodically prunes the branches so that they can bear more fruit. Like a branch being pruned, there may be times in one’s life when one’s circumstances cause a person to let go of a commitment, habit, or some other aspect of life in order to eventually live more fully and fruitfully. By drawing one’s attention to abiding in Christ, a person can be brought to a greater sense of peace and be better prepared to discern, navigate, and embrace seasons of pruning and flourishing.

  • What practices draw your awareness to abiding in Christ?
  • How has a period of pruning in your life eventually brought you to a place of living a more flourishing, fruitful 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 Easter 5 (B).

Bible Study, Easter 4 (B) – April 22, 2018

[RCL:] Acts 4:5-12; Psalm 23; 1 John 3:16-24; John 10:11-18

Acts 4:5-12

“The stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone” (verse 11).

As is often the case, the context of this passage is set in the portion of the text that is not included in the reading. Here, the situation is that Peter and John were preaching and rejoicing in the glory of the resurrected Christ. They had been healing the sick and doing “good deeds.” This really annoyed the priest of the temple (and, as we are told, the Sadducees). So, they were arrested. The next day all the good ol’ boys got together and asked, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” The question belies the fact that they already know the power and the name. What they wanted to know is if Peter and John made the same messianic claim. Peter and John replied that the deeds had been done in the name of Jesus Christ – the stone the Jews had rejected. A sort of “in your face!” to the Jewish establishment.

Often we read this passage focusing on the passage about the rejected stone cited above. But I would like for us to focus for a moment on our sources of power.

  • How often in our own lives do we appeal to an outside authority for an excuse to explain what we are not capable of doing ourselves?
  • While Peter and John had the name of the resurrected Christ to support them, how much do we delight in invoking the name of someone else in order to fill our own needs to be appreciated?
  • When do we call on the power of the resurrected Lord to fill us with the joy and glee of the Holy Spirit?

Psalm 23

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want” (verse 1).

I cannot think of a better-known psalm, one that is recounted by heart. In the Book of Common Prayer, we have the opportunity to recite this psalm in the Daily Devotion (p. 143), at Maundy Thursday (p. 274), on Good Friday (p. 276), at Holy Baptism (p. 313), at the Thanksgiving for a Child (p. 443), in our Ministration to the Sick (p. 454), and perhaps the best known occassion, at Burial (pp. 476, 490).

This psalm calms the spirit and revives the soul with the assurance that the Lord our God walks with us in all our daily life, through joy and travails.

  • With all of the quiet confidence afforded by this psalm, are we comfortable reciting it not thinking about our eventual walk with God?
  • Is there greater meaning to be found in this psalm beyond considering the end of our lives?

1 John 3:16-24

“We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another” (verse 16).

First John was written to a community apparently besieged by antichrists; but the overall message of this epistle is one of love and that God is love. In the first part of this chapter, we are reminded that we are children of God and that even though we sin, we are loved and redeemed. The passage for today is directly linked to the gospel reading. It declares that Jesus laid down his life for us, and we should be willing to do the same for each other.

  • Love, belief, and sacrifice are the themes. How prepared are we to believe without seeing; to love without knowing; and to sacrifice without losing?

John 10:11-18

Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (verse 11).

The passage leading into this text speaks of the difference between the shepherd who enters by the gate and the thief who enters the sheepfold by another route. Here he reiterates that the shepherd knows his sheep and the sheep know their shepherd. In the text for today, Jesus juxtaposes the “good shepherd” against the “hired hand.” The difference is not in their capacity to take care of sheep – although that may be an important issue. The difference is in ownership. The good shepherd owns the sheep; they are his and he is theirs. The hired hand is self-interested. As long as the interests of the sheep are aligned with the interests of the hired hand, everything is great. When interests diverge, however, it is clear: The hired hand looks out for his own wellbeing while the good shepherd takes care of his sheep. Jesus reminds us that he came to lay down his life for us, that we are his and he is ours. Again, a central theme running through this text is the love of God expressed through the gift of the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

  • When are we able to feel the comfort of knowing the one who enters by the gate to the sheepfold?
  • How do we know we are loved? By our friends and family? By our God?
  • Are you able to accept that God knows you and loves you – that we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand?

This Bible study, written by David Marker of the Bishop Kemper School for Ministry, originally ran for Easter 4 (B) on April 26, 2015.

Download the Bible study for Easter 4 (B).