Archives for May 2018

Bible Study, Pentecost 5 (B) – June 24, 2018

Proper 7

[RCL]: 1 Samuel 17: (1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49; Psalm 9:9-20; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41

1 Samuel 17: (1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49

Because this text includes one of the most famous stories of the Bible, it can be tricky to get to a deeper level when many of us are accustomed to encountering it in a simplified, Children’s Bible version. A couple pointers, however, might help us move beyond a cartoon concept and into, ideally, more theological territory:

  1. We must not fully dehumanize Goliath by thinking of him as some sort of gargantuan monster. In fact, the text is very clear; he is a large Philistine and a champion. Beyond his strength and size, however, his religious identity as a pagan is a key component of the story. It is fitting, then, that a huge warrior would represent the non-Jewish tribes and peoples of the world, while a small shepherd boy would be the symbol of God’s covenanted people. Curiously, the Masoretic text (from which we derive the New Revised Standard Version of the Old Testament) identifies Goliath as being “six cubits and a span” in height, which is nearly ten feet tall. The older Septuagint text, however, identifies him as being four cubits and a span, which is closer to seven feet tall – still very impressive.
  2. David’s unlikely triumph is about the victory of God over oppressors, and the triumph of those who put their full trust in God. David, after all, could have used the protection of a helmet and body armor, but he took off the armor that Saul gave him. By doing so, he placed his full trust in the God of Israel.
  • What kinds of invisible armor do we need to remove?

Psalm 9:9-20

What a fitting response to the first lesson! These verses from Psalm 9 communicate both confidence in God’s promises and strength and a sober confession of suffering. Like most goods psalms, there is a range of human emotion that can sometimes seem like our very own inner dialogue. This psalm is a terrific paradigm for personal, private prayer, whether silent or aloud, in that it doesn’t censor that inner dialogue. Although the psalmist speaks mostly in declarative sentences and in the imperative, there is a great deal of uncertainty found in these lines. After all, to say that the needy will not always be forgotten (v. 18) implies that they are, in fact, forgotten at the present time.

  • Do we censor our emotional content when speaking directly with God?

2 Corinthians 6:1-13

“We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you. There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours.”

St. Paul makes a passionate defense to the Corinthians about the trials endured by true servants of God. The list is exhaustive and extreme; few would wish to endure any of the items on it! The point he makes, however, is that joy and life can somehow be found in all of those terrible situations. Let us be honest here: secular society does not think in this seemingly naïve, reckless fashion. It is entirely countercultural and confounding to sign up for something that could lead to such treacherous outcomes.

The Way of Jesus Christ, however, makes no guarantees of physical safety and freedom from assault. In fact, the Christian life is one of endurance and perseverance in pursuit of holiness and in the midst of community. The Corinthians, like so many church communities, were experiencing struggles as they pursued discipleship together. The lack of openheartedness here is attributed to their affections, which seem to be improperly placed; monks in the Greek Athonite tradition might say that they were distracted by the passions of the world. As such, their hearts were not fully open to each other, to their spiritual shepherds, or to God. I cannot help but wonder how they received the encouragement and admonition from St. Paul that we read in today’s passage.

  • How might we be more open as disciples of Jesus Christ and members of broken communities?

Mark 4:35-41

Today’s Gospel lesson, found in all three Synoptic Gospels, can be understood as a Chalcedonian revelation. The Council of Chalcedon, also known as the Fourth Ecumenical Council, took place in 451. The main outcome of the council was the understanding that Christ has two natures, human and divine, and that they are inseparable, unique, and eternal. While all Christians did not fully adopt this understanding, the vast majority did, and it continues to be an article of faith today. With that lens, we may now jump into the story.

When the disciples went to alert Jesus about the impending storm and its dangers, they found him sleeping down below. While most humans aren’t capable of sleeping during wild windstorms, all humans need to rest – Jesus was no exception! The Incarnation did not skirt or shirk any element of physical human participation, especially not rest. Once he emerges from his nap, Jesus takes charge of the wind and calms the storm. Suddenly, our focus is shifted from the very human nap to the very divine ability to control the weather!

Another fun component of this story is that it is a wonderful way to understand the Church; Jesus and his disciples are traveling together on a boat. At the beginning of the story, Jesus was not immediately visible, though he was entirely present. When the disciples’ fear set in during the storm, they called upon their Teacher, and he calmed the storm and their anxieties. Even though they knew Jesus and had been traveling around with him, they were amazed and surprised that the wind and sea obeyed his commands.

  • How does Jesus surprise you?

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 Pentecost 5 (B).

Bible Study, Pentecost 4 (B) – June 17, 2018

Proper 6

[RCL]: 1 Samuel 15:34 – 16:13; Psalm 20; 2 Corinthians 5:6 – 10, [11 – 13], 14 – 17; Mark 4:26 – 34

1 Samuel 15:34 – 16:13

“Samuel grieved over Saul. And the Lord was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel.”

Grief is something that we all experience throughout the course of life, although it is most typically associated with death and other forms of loss. In this case, Samuel’s grief was twofold; he mourned the loss of Saul as a leader, and he also mourned Saul’s sin that angered God. God, however, encourages Samuel not to be shackled by grief over Saul, whom he clearly no longer endorsed!

While we could meditate for days on what it means for God to regret the decision to raise up Saul, we must not get stuck there; there was more in store for God’s people, and Samuel’s work was not yet finished in helping that future unfold. By the end of this lesson, we know that a new king will emerge – and from an unlikely place. Samuel does what he is commanded to do, and we are introduced to David, the shepherd boy.

  • Do you trust in the forgiveness that has been given to you so that you may live into the unfolding of God’s mission in the world?

Psalm 20

“Now I know that the Lord gives victory to his anointed;
he will answer him out of his holy heaven,
with the victorious strength of his right hand.”

An interesting word study can occur in the sixth verse of the psalm, as the Hebrew used here for “gives victory,” יָשַׁע, yasha, can also be translated as “saves” or “liberates.” This is also the same root that is found in the names Joshua and Jesus. While “gives victory” focuses on triumph and winning, I find more comfort in reading this line as “the Lord liberates his anointed,” because it emphasizes God’s action and speaks to the very human feeling of being held captive to our own devices and disturbances.

Both translations lead to a happy ending, but rescue somehow seems more compelling than conquest. After all, God is the victorious one in all instances, and we are the beneficiaries. God is always on the side of the oppressed, and while we as Christians are called to stand up for those in any state of oppression, we must bear in mind that ultimately – even when our efforts succeed in lessening the suffering and mistreatment of others – we are not the victorious party in the process. God liberates, and God is victorious.

  • What does liberation mean to you, and how might this psalm subvert the power of oppressors?

2 Corinthians 5:6 – 10, [11 – 13], 14 – 17 

“And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.”

The first few verses of today’s lesson might make some folks squirm in their seats. Christianity has at times dabbled in dualism, with varying degrees of success or catastrophe throughout history. If we were to read v. 10 with a lens that heads toward literalism, it could provoke anxiety almost immediately; we will all be judged for things we’ve done with our bodies, whether good or evil.

Take heart, beloved of God! There is wonderful news later on in the lesson, for we do not – and must not – read a verse of Scripture in isolation without contemplating the totality of the Paschal mystery and the realities of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yes, he died for all and rose for all. He didn’t rise from the dead only as a spirit, but with his body. By conquering the boundaries of life and death in a holistic way, uniting divinity with humanity, there is great hope for us do great things with our souls and bodies. Judgment then is less about punishment and rewards, and more about taking stock.

  • In what way can neglecting the health of the body be understood as sin, in light of this passage?

Mark 4:26 – 34

“With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.”

Parables are truly wonderful teaching tools and can range in length from this very brief one about a mustard seed to much longer ones, like that of the Prodigal Son. The Hebrew word most often used for parable is מָשָׁל, mashal, which also means “riddle.” Jesus, of course, was not the first to teach with the use of parables or riddles. In fact, he stands in a long tradition of Jewish teaching. Mashalim are found throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, with examples in Ezekiel, 2 Samuel, Isaiah, and 1 Kings. The beauty of this style of teaching is that there is not an objective interpretation, nor is there one that is always immediately obvious; the meaning is veiled and takes some digging to uncover. I often wonder if Jesus gave his own, fuller take on all of his mashalim at the end of the day while lounging with the disciples.

The mustard seed in this parable is most often related to personal faith, and how a tiny bit of faith can grow into something more significant, even moving mountains. Another view, on a somewhat larger scale, would be to see the mustard seed as the Gospel itself. After all, Jesus and his followers were a tiny band of people, and they occupied a tiny speck of land on a vast planet in an infinite universe. And yet somehow, the Gospel spread against all odds and has survived and produced branches, leaves, and a habitat for the soul.

  • Why would Jesus prefer to teach the crowds by way of parable or riddle instead of through direct, unambiguous lessons?

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 Pentecost 4 (B).

Bible Study, Pentecost 3 (B) – June 10, 2018

Proper 5

[RCL]: 1 Samuel 8:4-11, (12-15), 16-20, (11:14-15); Psalm 138; 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1; Mark 3:20-35

1 Samuel 8:4-11, (12-15), 16-20, (11:14-15)

One of the great problems of human life in community is what the sociologist Max Weber called the “routinization of charisma.” Is it possible to take what we have achieved under the leadership of a single, extraordinary individual and create rules and systems that will allow that success to continue, or does the creation of rules destroy the creative and flexible charisma that allowed this success in the first place?

This is exactly the problem the Israelites face in our reading today. After centuries of instability and war, they have finally found a strong and wise leader in the prophet Samuel. Yet they sense that Samuel’s time is coming to an end, and so they ask him to appoint a king to rule them, as the other nations have. Samuel warns that God alone should be their king and lists the many ways in which human kings tend to abuse their power. Nevertheless, the people are determined to be like the other nations. In their desire for security and power, they decide to conform to the model of leadership set out by the world around them.

  • Have you ever been involved in a ministry or project after its founder or leader has left? How did that transition work? What would you do differently?
  • People often try to apply their understandings of business or government to the way the Church operates. In what ways do you think this is helpful? In what ways is it unhelpful?

Psalm 138

This psalm is the first in a series of hymns of praise with which the Book of Psalms conclude. The psalmist gives thanks to God for God’s response to his prayers (v. 4), and for God’s accompaniment “in the midst of trouble” (v. 8). The psalm reiterates typical Biblical themes of God’s care for the lowly (v. 7) and of God’s love and faithfulness (v. 2).

  • Some English translations render “When I called, you answered me” (v. 4) in a more literal translation of the Hebrew text as “On the day I called, you answered me.” Yet sometimes our prayers feel as though they aren’t answered for a long time, if ever. What could it mean to say that God answers our prayers on the day that we call to God?

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

Evangelism is one of the hot topics in the Episcopal Church today. In this passage, Paul opens with a concise summary of the importance of the resurrection to his proclamation of the faith. “We also believe,” he writes, “and so we speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus” (v. 13-14). It is because we know that God raised Jesus from the dead, and because we know that in the resurrection of Jesus we find our own resurrection, that we trust in God. Evangelism at its core means sharing the good news—in Greek, the euangélion—of this resurrection and the hope that it brings us.

One of the topics Paul is dealing with in 2 Corinthians is the criticism he has received from some members of the church in Corinth, who claim that he is poorly-spoken, unimpressive, and weak. Against their criticisms, Paul presents his reliance on Christ and not his own skill or power. This passage presents a beautiful example of the way in which Paul’s faith has strengthened him to face this kind of criticism and allowed him to “not lose heart” (v. 16), by keeping his focus on the good news.

  • Is the news of Jesus’ resurrection good news for you? Why?
  • How do you speak about this good news? How do you share it with others?
  • Does the message of the resurrection provide you with strength and comfort in the face of difficulty? How?

Mark 3:20-35

This is the third Sunday in which we are reading through the Gospel of Mark. Last Sunday, Jesus’ disciples picked grain on the Sabbath and he cured a man’s hand on the Sabbath. In the text of the gospel that we skip over to get to this week’s reading, a large crowd gathers around Jesus because of his miraculous healings, and he appoints the twelve apostles. This week, Jesus’ teaching continues with a series of sayings.

These sayings might seem to be randomly thrown together at first, without much uniting them. But if you look carefully, you might see a pattern. The reading begins mid-sentence; if you started from Mark 3:19b, you would read, “Then [Jesus] went home [literally ‘to a house’]; and the crowd came together again…” The theme of house, home, and family run throughout this reading.

  • What is Jesus’ true home, and who are his true family? What is the demonic, divided house he has come to plunder?
  • When has the Church been your family, your “brother and sister and mother” (v. 35)? Is there a time when it has supported you and your family, or when it has supported you in a time of conflict in your family?

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 Pentecost 3 (B).

Bible Study, Pentecost 2 (B) – June 3, 2018

Proper 4

[RCL]: 1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20); Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17; 2 Corinthians 4:5-12; Mark 2:23-3:6

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

Samuel’s first prophecy was one of judgment. One could almost imagine the weight of God’s word to the young boy; his own teacher and master Eli will fall under God’s anger for condoning the sins of his sons. He felt so bothered by God’s words concerning Eli that he could not return to sleep, perhaps debating in his heart whether to echo what he had just heard. It was a challenging inauguration for Samuel the prophet, yet at an early age, he learned to listen and obey.

The story of the call of Samuel is a powerful reminder of our prophetic ministry. Indeed, the work of a prophet is not for those who are unwilling to listen. In our context, God’s voice can be heard in the plight of the poor, in the silenced cry of the oppressed, of those robbed of justice and dignity. The prophet stands in the middle of the discourse between God and man, and in the midst of the human situation and theology. Instead of taking us to the lofty cathedrals of our minds, the prophets lead us to the gutters of society; they refuse to be detached from the grime of existence. Ultimately, the prophets teach us that the relevance of Christianity is neither dependent on elegant theological orations nor soaring declarations of faith but on how we meet people as they are – just as Christ did. And to the muffled voices beneath the glamor and glitz, we shall listen to God’s voice crying with them and reply, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

  • The prophet Samuel listened to a difficult message from God. How are you responding to similar messages from the pulpit?
  • How is the church exercising her prophetic ministry? Are there existing programs in your parish or diocese for justice and peace?

Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17

Among the psalms, the words “I,” “me,” and “my,” occur more frequently in this psalm. It is clear that the psalmist was reflecting on the “self,” but also transcended it. The psalmist ended in pure glorification of the God who knows us more than we know ourselves.

It is undeniable that reading this psalm gives us a sense of reconnection with the God beyond the scholarly representations of him; sometimes, what people need to hear is the fact that God knows them, that even the least of us stands with distinction and without apprehensions. In our quiet moments, it is refreshing to know that the God we serve remembers our frame and calls us by name.

  • How does personal intimacy with God contribute to the vibrant worship of the church?

2 Corinthians 4:5-12

In the ancient world, the custom was to hold one’s valuable possessions in earthenware pots for safekeeping. Alluding to this custom, Paul compares the paradox of God placing his Spirit on human hearts of clay. Paul marveled that we, the earthen vessels, have been enabled to bear so great a brightness and so rich a treasure. This evokes images of a flower blossoming from an ordinary and rough vessel, its roots sinking deep into the soil, tracing the contours of the pot while it grows into a thing of beauty, or an ordinary-looking trove filled with exquisite gems.

Paul’s words are revealing—we are our Lord’s vessels: bearers of his light in a world often engulfed in darkness. We carry the divine message of Jesus in such a way that our very lives, permeated by grace, become a backdrop of God’s glory. Our life stories become songs revealing who he is.

  • Think about your life story. In what ways has God revealed who he is in your life? How did you become a channel of his love and grace to others?

Mark 2:23-3:6

For the Pharisees, working during the Sabbath was a matter of life and death. Jesus’ priority was the people. To emphasize his convictions, Jesus asked the Pharisees, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save or to kill?” He then healed before them the man whose hand was withered. Jewish law was clear: to heal was to work, and medical attention could only be given to those whose lives were endangered. The man with the withered hand could have waited, but Jesus would not allow another day of suffering for the man.

Jesus’ act is a demonstration of the purpose of our liturgy; the integral reason behind the external acts at the altar every Sunday. We could be steeped in elaborate rituals and colorful expressions of our faith, but if we remain blind and deaf to the plight of those who clamor for love and to the tears of those who are afflicted, we are as good as an empty church—we are a hollow excuse.

Jesus’ life was centered on service, a spontaneous and sacrificial call to challenge the bounds of religious legalism, a mission to make people’s lives new and to respond to them in their need. To him, the next ministry opportunity would begin with the next person he met.

  • How would you define religious legalism? How could we prevent ourselves from falling into a church of “dos and don’ts”?
  • In this Season of Pentecost, how could you respond to human need in loving service as enshrined in the Anglican Five Marks of Mission?

Sunshine Dulnuan was given her name because of her father’s favorite singer, John Denver. She is a third-year seminarian of St. Andrew’s Theological Seminary in Quezon City, Philippines.

Download the Bible study for Pentecost 2 (B).

Bible Study, Trinity Sunday (B) – May 27, 2018

[RCL]: Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 29; Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17

Isaiah 6:1-8

The seraphs surrounding the throne in Isaiah’s heavenly vision continually sing praise to God. Yet, this is a rather peculiar choir. They are using their wings to cover their faces and feet. They do not feel at all worthy to look upon God, nor do they feel worthy to stand before him.

We can readily understand Isaiah’s panic; he, unlike these seraphs, has looked upon the living God! How can he do this when these heavenly creatures perpetually cover their faces? It is easy to see why he felt as though he had doomed himself. It is both interesting and liberating to note the radical change that occurs between Isaiah’s heavenly vision and the one depicted in Revelation 4:6-8, though. The living creatures are transformed! They still sing of God’s holiness, but in this account, they no longer shield themselves from God’s glory. In fact, their bodies are covered in eyes. They are permitted to gaze at the Lord in all of his glory. This is the Beatific Vision that Christ has opened up to the whole of creation! Notice also how unlike John was from Isaiah. He was not afraid to gaze at the one seated on the throne!

  • Do you fear gazing upon God’s glory or are you eager to behold it? 

Psalm 29

While Isaiah focuses on the sight of God, Psalm 29 focuses on the hearing of God’s voice. The implication of this psalm is that when God speaks, something always happens. There is never a time when God opens his mouth and nothing happens. God’s Word creates. God’s Word shakes the whole creation. God’s Word reveals the glory of the Lord. God’s Word comforts and blesses the people of God with a deep sense of peace. In this psalm, we see an image of Jesus, the one through whom all things were made, and the one through whom all of creation continues to hold together. Jesus is God’s voice. Whenever we hear God speak, we are encountering Jesus.

  • We often think of prayer simply in terms of talking to God. Do you ever let God talk to you?
  • What are some ways you can open yourself up to hearing God’s voice?

Romans 8:12-17

Why is God the Father called “Father”? Have you ever thought about this? Certainly, he is a Father to us, but is that why he is called “Father”? The same goes for the Son. Why is he called the “Son”? Certainly, he is the “Son of Man,” but it is not his relationship with humanity that makes him the “Son.” Rather, the Son is the Son because he has always been the son of the Father, and the Father is the Father because he has always been father to the Son. We cannot think about one without immediately thinking about the other.

If someone becomes a father, what does this imply, but the existence of a child? This is how we are to think of the Father’s relationship with the Son. Furthermore, Paul says something rather profound in this Romans passage; he says that we have been brought into the relationship that is shared between the Father and the Son. It is the Spirit who has brought us into this loving relationship, and in Jesus’ sonship we become children of God who can also call upon the Father, crying, “Abba!”

  • What is the relationship between your understanding of the Trinity and your spirituality?

John 3:1-17

“Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit” (v. 5). Jesus’ baptismal imagery is reminiscent of the first few lines of the Bible: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind (Spirit) from God swept over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:1-2). In this Genesis account, we see the Spirit of the Lord hovering over the waters, eager to bring about and give shape to the creation. The earth, which once was a formless void, becomes animated and shaped by the Spirit of God. The same is true in baptism; we become a new creation! The Spirit stirs something new within us, and we begin the creative journey of being shaped and formed after the likeness of Christ.

  • How do you tend to think about baptism? Is it merely a ritual or is it an act of new creation? 

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 Trinity Sunday (B).