Archives for June 2018

Bible Study, Pentecost 9 (B) – July 22, 2018

Proper 11

[RCL]: 2 Samuel 7:1-14a; Psalm 89:20-37; Ephesians 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

2 Samuel 7:1-14a

We Episcopalians are fond of building beautiful churches as our places of worship and spend considerable amounts of money maintaining them. Often we are criticized by both outsiders and fellow Episcopalians who are not in favor of spending funds on what some would consider extravagances. There is an argument to be made that this money would be better spent on charitable works for the poor which some believe would be more pleasing to God. However, the prophet Nathan confirms King David’s reflection that it is only right that God also have a permanent house of beauty, worthy of his greatness and faithfulness to his people.

While we should avoid using a disproportionate amount of our financial resources on our church buildings to the detriment of our charitable works (James 2:14-26 mentions that faith without works is dead), let us not consider our places of worship as unnecessary financial burdens or that God himself would disapprove of such places. Instead, let us confidently recall the prophet Nathan’s affirmation to faithful King David: “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.”

  • How do you feel about financial resources being spent on church buildings?
  • Do you feel your church community is appropriately allocating its funds between its church buildings and its charitable works?
  • How would you respond to a critic of spending large amounts of money on our places of worship?

Psalm 89:20-37

Sometimes when bad news stories—abuse scandals, bitter schisms, and decline—confront the church, we can become disheartened and start to question our loyalty to the institution and our faith. However, we are assured by this psalm that God himself will hold accountable those who stray from what is pleasing to him. We are also encouraged to remain faithful and not to lose heart because King David’s family lineage, including Jesus Christ himself and all Christians by faith, are assured of God’s enduring love and faithfulness until the end of time. Let us, therefore, carry on with confidence in the knowledge that God is always with his faithful people, and offer this encouragement to our fellow Christians.

  • How do you feel about bad news stories confronting the church?
  • Does this psalm encourage you?
  • How can you encourage your fellow Christians in their faith and commitment to the church?

Ephesians 2:11-22

During this era of hostility and even schism within our Anglican Communion, St. Paul’s message of unity to the divided Christians in Ephesus is a great source of reflection and encouragement to our own generation. He reminds us that even though we may be different from each other, we are all united by faith in Jesus Christ who destroys the divisions between us and brings peace. Although there are great diversities of belief and practice among us, whether we like it or not, there is only one Body of Christ of which we are all part. We must therefore never lose sight of our unity in Christ—that in him, we are brothers and sisters with none more superior nor inferior to the other. We must not allow this vision of peace and reconciliation with God and with one another to be overshadowed by the things that divide us. Let us truly become the dwelling places for God that we are intended to be.

  • How do you feel about diversity in the church?
  • What can we do in our daily lives to express our unity in Christ?
  • What can we do to encourage peace and reconciliation within our local church communities and within the wider Anglican Communion?

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

In this scene of overwhelming need from the people, Jesus clearly shows his humanity by understanding that his disciples have been so dedicated to their ministries that they have become exhausted and need some time for themselves. Although they may not want to leave as they know there is still much to do, Jesus is encouraging them to acknowledge their human limitations. He surely knows that if his disciples reach the point of burnout, they will no longer be able to continue their ministries and be of use to anyone. They must take a rest.

Although Jesus must also have been tired, recognizing the great spiritual hunger among the people and the need for guidance that is still unfulfilled, he pushes on and shares with them many things that bring healing and wholeness to their lives. Just as in Jesus’ time, there remains a hunger in society for the timeless values and spirituality that Jesus brought with him through his life and ministry. As Episcopalians within the Anglican Communion, this should remind us of the 2nd Mark of Mission: “To teach, baptize, and nurture new believers.” As followers of Jesus, we are called to continue his mission in our own time and place, bringing the same healing and wholeness that he brought to the people of his own generation.

  • How can we encourage a culture within our church that values the need for rest to promote greater productivity in our ministries?
  • How has the life and ministry of Jesus brought healing and wholeness to your own life and the lives of those around you?
  • How can we better prepare ourselves to fulfill the 2nd Mark of Mission? 

This Bible study was written by Daniel Woods of St. Andrew’s Theological Seminary in Quezon City, the Philippines.

Download the Bible study for Pentecost 9 (B).

Bible Study, Pentecost 8 (B) – July 15, 2018

Proper 10

[RCL]: 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19; Psalm 24; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19

The books attributed to the prophet Samuel tell the history of the Israelites and explain God’s law for Israel under the guidance of the prophets. In chapter 6 of 2 Samuel, King David, after uniting the tribes of Israel under his leadership, takes possession of the Ark of the Covenant, containing a jar of manna, the rod of the prophet Aaron, and stone tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments from the prophet Moses.

In our reading, we witness a scene of celebration for this new era of unity for the Israelites with Jerusalem as their capital, and King David himself is seen giving thanks to God in praise and worship. The worship described is joyous and heartfelt, with music and dancing. While worship was the first priority for King David, he did not forget his people, blessing them and offering them food. There is one figure, however, that stands out as resenting this joyous scene: the daughter of the former king, Saul.

Every act of worship to God should be joyous and heartfelt, regardless of our preferred style of churchmanship. Our Christian unity, expressed through our common prayer and worship, is worthy of celebration, and the central place of God in this unity is worthy of genuine thanksgiving. Sometimes there are those among us who place greater value upon the form of our worship than on the substance; sometimes a newcomer simply does not understand what all the fuss is about. Either might express resentment when the worship is not exactly how they would like it to be, or when the joyous scene of worship is something to which they cannot relate. It is therefore up to us to ensure that we focus on the substance of our worship rather than the form and to reach out to those who are struggling to relate to our worship in order to be truly pleasing to God. In this way, our common prayer and worship can fulfill their purpose of uniting us as a Christian community and reaching out in love to others who have yet to fully comprehend the joy of worship.

  • How do you feel during worship in your church?
  • How can we ensure that God is always at the center of our worship?
  • What should we do if we or somebody else is feeling resentment about an aspect of our worship?
  • How would you explain our worship to a newcomer?

Psalm 24

Psalm 24, The Earth is the Lord’s, is attributed to Jesus’ ancestor King David, and is recited in Jewish tradition during the return of the Torah scroll to the ark during worship. It has also been used by the musician Handel in his legendary Messiah, and in the Episcopal Church’s 1916 Hymnal for the moving occasion of the consecration of a church. Such is the depth and timelessness of Psalm 24 throughout the ages.

King David reflects that it is natural that all things belong to God, for it is he that created all things. He then wonders who is worthy to stand before such a glorious God and receive his blessings, deciding that it must be those who are pure-hearted and have done no wrong in God’s sight. These are the people who are searching for God, desiring to know him, and acknowledging his glory.

It is a great act of humility to accept that we are not the center of the universe. Rather, God is, and it is ultimately to him that we belong and are accountable. While nobody can claim to be perfect or without fault, we can be sure that we are heading in the right direction if we have already begun seeking to know God and his will for our lives. This in itself is pleasing to him. By humbling ourselves and acknowledging our need for God, we are opening ourselves up to him and allowing him to enter into our lives to be our strength and guide.

  • In your daily life, do you behave as though you are the center of the universe or as though God is?
  • How have you begun seeking to know God and his will for your life?
  • How do you acknowledge God’s glory in the world and in your life?

Ephesians 1:3-14

St. Paul’s letter to the Christian community in Ephesus, a Greek city in modern-day Turkey, incorporates themes of church unity, purity, and holiness.

In this section of his letter, St. Paul tells us of the blessings received from God the Father through Jesus Christ—blessings which we were destined to receive from the beginning of time. He explains that out of love for God, we should strive to be holy and blameless. Although unworthy, we are forgiven our sins through faith in Jesus, setting us free to do better.

We know God’s will for our lives through the example of Jesus’ own life. As the creator of all things, God desires all things to be united with him through Jesus Christ, a legacy which we who have faith in him have also inherited. We should live with a desire for God to be praised by all. Through our faith in Jesus Christ, we are assured that the Holy Spirit will always enable and empower us in this task.

As Episcopalians, this message from St. Paul should remind us of the Anglican Communion’s First Mark of Mission: “To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom,” which is regarded as Jesus’ own summary of his mission on earth and the key statement about everything we do in mission. This requires all of us to be committed to personal evangelism. Nobody is exempt. In fact, the legal name of the Episcopal Church is the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society! Of course, we can be creative in our evangelism, but we are all called to share our faith in Jesus Christ with others in some way. St. Paul reminds us that the Holy Spirit is always with us as we engage in this task and we should also be reminded that the fruit of the Holy Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). So it should be with these gifts that we fulfill our task of proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom.

  • How do you feel when you hear praise being given to God, especially from those new in faith?
  • How is your local church community fulfilling the First Mark of Mission?
  • How are you personally fulfilling the First Mark of Mission?

Mark 6:14-29

This gospel is attributed to St. Mark the Evangelist, regarded as the founder of the Christian community in Alexandria. It was written for Greek-speaking Christian converts with a need to explain unfamiliar Jewish traditions and Aramaic terms.

In this section of St. Mark’s gospel we are told how the life of St. John the Baptist, a man most well-known to us for baptizing Jesus in the River Jordan, came to an end. At this point in the Scriptures, there is still confusion over who Jesus really was, and many, including King Herod, had become convinced that Jesus was the resurrected St. John. The death of John was clearly troubling King Herod’s conscience. However, the king had felt obligated to order his execution because he had promised his step-daughter that he would grant her any wish. When, under the influence of her insecure mother, the step-daughter wished for the head of St. John, the king felt that he could not refuse.

Does this situation seem familiar to us? Have you ever done something that you really did not want to do, knowing it to be wrong and troubling your conscience? Perhaps we have been in positions of power over others, just like King Herod, and have used that power to command somebody else to do something in an attempt to avoid direct responsibility. Like Herod, are we more afraid of the consequences from those around us than from Jesus, who will hold us accountable for all our actions at the end of time? While Jesus offers forgiveness, we must be truly remorseful for the wrongs that we have done and sincerely attempt to change the attitudes that led to those wrongs. Let us, therefore, have the courage to always attempt to do what is right in the eyes of God.

  • Have you ever done something wrong out of the fear of disappointing someone?
  • Are you more worried about the approval of others than the approval of God?
  • If you could relive any of these situations again, what would you do differently?

This Bible study was written by Daniel Woods of St. Andrew’s Theological Seminary in Quezon City, the Philippines.

Download the Bible study for Pentecost 8 (B).

Bible Study, Pentecost 7 (B) – July 8, 2018

Proper 9

[RCL]: 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10; Psalm 48; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13 

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10

The breadth of David’s story throughout scripture is here condensed and blessed in the tenth verse of 2 Samuel 5: “And David became greater and greater, for the LORD, the God of hosts, was with him.” This emphatic illumination of God’s presence repeats a refrain that has been persistent throughout David’s rise to power: God is with him (1 Samuel 16:18, 17:37, 18:14), and it is here that this rather climactic anointing of David as king of a united Israel lays bare a master class in fidelity.

Amidst considerable political tumult, the tribes of Israel express fidelity to David as their true leader. It is not merely the tribe of Judah (by which David has already been anointed in 2:1-4) that exhibits this faithfulness, but rather “all the tribes of Israel” who come to profess their trust in David’s kinship, leadership, and divine blessing. David then solidifies his own fidelity to Israel in his making of a covenant, and the culmination of this mutual profession in David’s anointing gathers up the divinely wrought movements of prophecy in a revelation of the Lord’s own steadfastness.

Astute preachers would do well to note the lectionary’s neglect of verses 6-8. These detail some of the more violent dimensions of David’s conquering of Jerusalem. While their descriptions certainly challenge our preferred embrace of David as hero, they nevertheless do not diminish this passage’s overwhelming insistence upon the perfection of God’s abidance.

  • Where and when has the faithfulness of God’s presence seemed most abundant? When has your sense of God’s faithfulness perhaps been challenged?

Psalm 48

At times, psalms seem to pray within us, lending words to unutterable intimacy between the soul and God. At others, the psalms turn outward, calling out to the world to behold the works and wonder of the Almighty. Psalm 48 is a psalm so outwardly oriented – a passionate, exultant hymn of praise for the One who has preserved his own people and holy city. God has triumphed over all adversity in fidelity and strength, and thus the psalmist and all who hear are called to rejoicing. An eternal dimension emerges in the final connection of the Lord’s glory in the establishment of his city for the ages to come: “This God is our God for ever and ever; he shall be our guide for evermore.” Just as David’s anointing in our first reading heralded a new and blessed event in the story of Israel, the psalmist’s praise calls the heart into spirited recognition of the endurance, perfection, and sanctity of the Lord’s own work.

  • What might this psalm have to say to us in the Church today? Does the imagery of a triumphant God in Jerusalem resonate with how we know, pray to, and worship God in our own context? 

2 Corinthians 12:2-10

Paul addresses the Corinthians in an excerpt that follows his “fool’s speech,” a passage where he has taken upon the persona of a “fool” to challenge those among them who have made false and self-aggrandizing claims to authority. Much of the speech is ripe with irony, and Paul criticizes those who have held up personal triumphs and private revelations as evidence for their own divinely-sanctioned supremacy. He here continues to counter these false claims with a reorientation toward Christ. Even were his own experiences so powerful as to justify boasting, the boast could not be of his own might or holiness, but rather only in the Lord whose power is made “perfect in weakness.” The Greek word for perfected in this passage is teleitai, and it suggests not so much an immediate bestowal of a perfected state as it intimates a ripening to fullest maturity. Weakness invites us into recognition of and surrender to our dependence upon God. In what the world perceives as weakness, our spirits deepen to be filled by the true power found only in the revelation of Jesus.

  • How does false authority differ from the authority of Jesus Christ? What might the authority of Christ inspire from us in terms of our own behavior, prayer, and treatment of others?

Mark 6:1-13

This passage from the Gospel of St. Mark offers revelatory insight into a life of discipleship. As Jesus and his disciples continue their ministry in Jesus’ own hometown of Nazareth, they are met with the breadth of human response to that which is unexpected: astonishment, incredulity, and even antagonism. One might expect a homecoming to be joyful and rich in blessing, but how often have we returned home, changed after a time away, to find ourselves somewhat distant from those who knew us best? Even for Jesus, a life in God’s service (into which he is knit intimately as the second Person of the Trinity) is rife with complexity. Notably, Mark stands alone among the gospels in mentioning that despite rejection, Jesus “laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.” His work continues even amidst unbelief, and the following description of the commissioning of the disciples is thus imbued with particular power. Though the world may refuse them honor, hospitality, or even dignity, they are to go forth, to travel light in companionship with one another, to seek sustenance among this fledgling community of believers, and to persist in the holy work of their beloved Lord.

There is a delicate irony in Jesus’ instruction to the disciples to “shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against” those who do not receive them. Rabbinic literature features the image of shaking the dust from one’s feet as a ritual act of the faithful Jew upon return to Israel after a journey through unclean lands. Jesus has just been rejected in Nazareth. What might this statement mean regarding his own community? Ultimately it is revealed to be true that hardship, uncertainty, and rejection are just as much a part of discipleship as joy, fruitfulness, and peace. In fair weather and foul, the work of the Word continues to heal and to redeem.

  • How do we change how we live out our faith based on the circumstances that surround us? Do we remain authentic to who God has called us to be?
  • Where do we find hope amidst the hardships of discipleship?

Brit Bjurstrom Frazier is a senior at Virginia Theological Seminary from the Diocese of Los Angeles.

Download the Bible study for Pentecost 7 (B).

Bible Study, Pentecost 6 (B) – July 1, 2018

Proper 8

[RCL]: 2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27; Psalm 130; 2 Corinthians 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-43

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27

Characters in the biblical narrative of the Old Testament tend to be complex, a mixed bag of vice and virtue, and they are good as moral exemplars only in a selective way. In this portrait, two of David’s greatest – though perhaps least understood – virtues shine forth unmixed for our own imitation: reverence and friendship. David’s reverence for God causes him to have a supernatural respect for, and even love of, his king—the Lord’s Anointed—despite Saul’s repeated and unjust hostility, even despite Saul’s illegitimate possession of the crown at that point in time. Likewise, the more we come to love God, the more we come to love those people and things that are associated with him and to voluntarily avoid those actions that could displease him. And so it is with the virtue of friendship, which produces the true miracle of community, the miracle of selflessly desiring the good of another, sharing one’s life and highest values with them. The ancients saw friendship as truly essential to a person’s happiness, such that the philosopher Aristotle once said, “Without friends, no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods.”

David possessed such a bond of friendship with Jonathan, that he considered Jonathan a brother, and his loss provokes a profound sense of grief. It is for such a context as this, I suspect, that Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn” (Matthew 5:4), for their love was genuine.

  • Does our culture practice reverence toward those in positions of great responsibility, such as government officials or priests and other ministers, or even the elderly? Have cultural norms or scientific advances made reverence obsolete, or does our reverence have some connection to our relationship to God?
  • Has our present culture allowed a space for true friendship between two men or two women that is a non-sexual relationship? How might we go about regaining friendship in the church?

Psalm 130

This is a psalm that should be in the emergency toolkit of every Christian. Here we are taught that, even in the depths of anguish, shame, and guilt, we can wait with earnest expectation upon the Lord’s forgiveness. The psalmist neither presumes upon that forgiveness, as though sin did not matter to God, nor does he shrink back before God, even at that moment when I imagine his soul is most tempted to flee in fear and self-condemnation. In great humility, he cries out to be restored to communion with God. He knows from experience that his relief and redemption come only from the Lord, even though it is the Lord whom he has offended.

As the psalm comes to a close, the psalmist encourages God’s people to follow his example, keeping confidence in a God “whose property it is always to have mercy,” as we say in the Prayer of Humble Access. And Israel’s hope is not disappointed, for God sends into the world his son, whose name shall be called “Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

  • How have your past experiences of God’s character and his promises in his Word affected the way you handled some difficult circumstance or emotion in your life? 

2 Corinthians 8:7-15

I remember there was a time when I would cringe a little every time I heard one of these passages about financial giving in church. So often, we see in the news another megachurch pastor or televangelist who has been lining his pockets with a six-figure paycheck, pleading with congregants to hand over their hard-earned money for “God’s Kingdom”.

But the circumstances for St. Paul’s appeal to the Corinthians to undertake a collection is radically different from such so-called “super-apostles,” who exalt themselves and make a personal fortune from the Gospel. St. Paul calls us to remember the example of Christ’s own self-emptying in our giving: “For your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (v. 9). The collection is an opportunity to test the genuineness of their love, how much the generous love that is in Christ Jesus is abiding in them. This generosity of Christ, when it is living in you, moves as naturally and instinctively to take care of the poor as you would move to take care of the wounds on your own body. Martin Luther King, Jr., once said, “All life is inter-related. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, it affects all indirectly. As long as there is extreme poverty in the world, no man can be totally rich, even if he has a billion dollars.” Only in generously enriching the lives of those in need are we ourselves made truly rich.

  • Have you ever felt enriched by sharing generously with others?
  • John Wesley famously wrote, “The last part of a man to be converted is his wallet.” What can our spending habits tell us and others about our relationship with God?
  • How does St. Paul understand economic justice in this passage? Is it merely equality of wages, or is it somehow more complex?

Mark 5:21-43

According to ancient Jewish purity laws, any Jew who had come into contact with one who has misplaced bodily substances, or with a cadaver, was ritually defiled and thereby unworthy to approach the Divine Presence – the essence of wholeness and life – until he or she could be ritually purified. Ritual impurity was transferred like an infection from the impure to the pure. Shockingly, in this passage, we see two stories where Jesus comes into direct contact with perceived impurity, and rather than infecting him, the purity and power which are within Jesus transferred wholeness and life to the two subjects! St. Mark is showing us in this narrative that Jesus himself is the Holy of Holies, the Temple of God upon whom the Spirit dwells, walking among us and “counter-infecting” the world with holiness, purity, righteousness, and life.

In reality, like the crowds in this story, we often brush shoulders with Jesus without any awareness of the fact. But when we touch him with faith and eager expectation, the power and life that are in his glorified body are made available for the healing and transformation of our humanity and world. We as Christians become conduits for Jesus’ power and grace to a world alienated from God’s presence.

  • What sorts of things do you suppose might hinder a free flow of the life-giving Holy Spirit into our lives and circumstances?
  • Why do you suppose Jesus put the scoffers outside the room before he raised Jairus’ daughter?

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 Pentecost 6 (B).