Archives for July 2018

Bible Study, Pentecost 14 (B) – August 26, 2018

Proper 16

Pentecost 14 Episcopal Bible Study

[RCL]: 1 Kings 8:[1, 6, 10-11], 22-30, 41-43; Psalm 84; Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:56-69

1 Kings 8:[1, 6, 10-11], 22-30, 41-43

What a day it must have been to dedicate the Temple at Jerusalem. The dedication of the temple can stand in for many things and help us expand our imaginations: the dedication of our own churches, the dedication of our gifts, the dedication of our lives. Indeed, we need to dedicate ourselves daily to the work that God has given us to do. The pageantry of this event certainly helped to set the scene and reveal its importance. We must find ways to commit deeply to our own dedication to God, so that people may come to hear God’s great name because of the way we live our lives.

  • How can we more fully dedicate our lives to God, making an offering of ourselves, our souls and bodies? What do we need to do so that we may always deepen our commitment to God and grow into deeper dedication?

Psalm 84

The psalm clearly echoes the themes of the reading from the Hebrew Bible, and it is easy to imagine it has a hymn on that day. Can we live in God’s house? We cannot live in the Temple at Jerusalem – no one can. Likewise, we cannot dwell in our churches. This is probably a good thing for us and for the gospel. After all, all of creation is God’s house. As a result, we can live in God’s temple always and everywhere.

  • Do we live our lives like we live in God’s dwelling? How might our lives change if we remember that we do indeed live in God’s house?

Ephesians 6:10-20

The imagery of this passage is tricky. Most of us live far from military imagery, and even farther from military imagery of the Roman Empire. With youth groups, I have done an activity where we re-imagine this text using modern and personal metaphors. Cell phones, Facebook, cars, and any number of modern devices – even lucky shoes – have been suggested by these youth. How might you re-imagine this passage to convey Paul’s point?

This passage continues the themes that I have highlighted in the Kings reading and the psalm. We must put on the whole armor of God because our whole lives must be dedicated to God’s work. Christ never asks for a little bit. As a result, the closing thought of this passage is of vital importance. Paul’s prayer must become our own. We must pray to be alert and to persevere. We must also make a bold witness for the gospel.

  • What would our lives look like if we lived into Paul’s prayer?

John 6:56-69

The disciples found this teaching difficult. I think we are a lot like them. Jesus is teaching us the words of spirit and life, but there are those among us who do not believe, and often Jesus’ teaching is just plain difficult. Truly, much ink has been spilled trying to figure out what it means to eat his flesh and drink his blood! I’m not sure that it is helpful to become bogged down in those theological debates. Rather, what does it mean to nourish the spirit and live by it instead of the flesh?

Jesus asks the twelve if they wish to leave. Peter answers that there is nowhere to go; Jesus gives the word of eternal life. As we know, it is easy to turn to sources other than Jesus for sustenance. As Jesus says, those things – that is, the flesh – are useless.

  • Are we sustaining ourselves in spirit? Are we taking Jesus’ words, the words of eternal life, and feasting on them?

This Bible study, written by the Rev. JK Melton, originally ran August 26, 2012.

Download the Bible Study for Pentecost 14 (B).

Bible Study, Pentecost 13 (B) – August 19, 2018

Proper 15

[RCL]: 1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14; Psalm 111; Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58

1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14

“Ask what I should give you.” The Lord comes to Solomon in genie-like fashion soon after he has taken over David’s throne. I remember preparing myself for versions of this scenario as a kid: what if God (or someone else) came to me and told me I could have anything I wanted? What would I choose? There was a time when what I most wanted was a life-size talking family dollhouse; a few years later, I wanted a baby sister, then a dog. Solomon was more sophisticated than I was as a child; he asks God for an understanding mind. God is so pleased with Solomon’s request that God grants not only an understanding mind, but riches and honor to go with it. God is not likely to come to us in the middle of the night with an offer to grant wishes, but God’s invitation to Solomon is available to us, too: “Ask what I should give you.” We, like Solomon, can imagine our own hearts and minds transformed by the wisdom and grace of God.

  • What would our lives look like if we earnestly asked that our hearts and minds would be transformed by the wisdom and grace of God? What would change?

Psalm 111

The final verse of Psalm 111 has always struck me: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; those who act accordingly have a good understanding.” Until now, the psalmist has focused wholly on singing God’s praises and marveling at God’s amazing works. At the very end, the psalmist turns his attention to the reader, offering the directive to “fear the Lord” in order to gain wisdom and understanding. It can be hard to connect to instructions like this; what does it really mean to “fear” God anyway? When some read “fear,” they hear awe and wonder, but for many, this language is confusing and distracting.

  • What do you hear? How does your relationship with God bring wisdom and understanding into your life?

Ephesians 5:15-20

Jesus’ followers were familiar with accusations of drunkenness and debauchery. On Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit filled the hearts and mouths of the multitudes so that everyone speaking different languages and dialects could understand one another, skeptical onlookers accused the disciples of being “filled with new wine.” In this letter to the Ephesians, Saint Paul warns against excessive drinking, but he offers an exciting alternative: be filled with the Spirit, instead. Both passages suggest that to be filled with the Spirit of God can look as rowdy and slap-happy as being drunk. In our churches and faith lives today, it is hard to imagine an outsider confusing our worship with a lively bar scene, but we can seek ways to be filled with the joy of the Spirit that is invigorating and refreshing. Saint Paul identifies music and communal singing as a healthy way to express love and gratitude to God.

  • What other ways can we fill ourselves with the Spirit? How do we experience the joy of Christ in our communities?

John 6:51-58

Some version of the term “eat my flesh” occurs half a dozen times in this short passage from the Gospel of John. This is one of those passages that makes me cringe, not because there is anything wrong with it—I believe whole-heartedly in the beauty and life-giving power of the Eucharist—but because it just doesn’t make sense to non-Christians, or even to many Christians, for that matter. In a world where what it means to be a Christian seems increasingly fragile and complex, I find myself looking for ways to make Christianity more accessible to those who may struggle with how it is portrayed in the news or pop culture.

Well, the warning “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” is not very accessible. In fact, this is the kind of passage that caused skeptics to accuse the early church of cannibalism. But if we can get beyond the living-dead-like tone of this passage, we encounter something unique and challenging about Christian faith: following Jesus is meant to be a visceral, embodied experience. There is something vitally important about taking on the person of Christ physically, in our bodies, through the most simple, everyday practices of eating and drinking. This may not be the best Gospel reading for a newcomer, but the invitation to experience new life through the power of Christ’s body and blood is something we can all chew on (with apologies for the pun!).

  • How would you explain this Gospel text to a newcomer? Is there anything about it you find challenging? 

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

Download the Bible Study for Pentecost 13 (B).

Bible Study, Pentecost 12 (B) – August 12, 2018

Proper 14

[RCL]: 2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33; Psalm 130; Ephesians 4:25-5:2; John 6:35, 41-51

2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33

In this passage, Absalom, one of David’s sons, has rebelled against his father for the kingship of Israel, but this act of rebellion doesn’t change the fact that David still loves his son and doesn’t want him to be a casualty of the ensuing war. That’s why he says to his commanders, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” This instruction, however, is in vain. Chillingly, it’s as if the Cushite (here, Ethiopian) who brings the “good tidings” of Absalom’s death has no idea either that Absalom is David’s son, or that David had given instructions that Absalom not be harmed. As everyone else celebrates, David grieves the death of his son all by himself, in his “chamber over the gate.”

  • In a world of constant war and violence, some people may rejoice over the death of people deemed to “deserve it,” whether they be terrorists, enemy combatants, murderers, or people otherwise considered dangerous to public order. How does our thinking change in light of:
    • the fact that all people, including our mortal enemies, have parents and loved ones who mourn just as we do?
    • the sanctity of all human life?

Psalm 130

This psalm of mourning, (proverbially) written by David himself, asks a central question of the human condition: “If you, Lord, were to note what is done amiss, O Lord, who could stand?” The answer, of course, is nobody. Nobody except God is sinless, and it’s this inescapable reality of human sin that the psalmist is mourning.

But the psalmist is not without some hope, when he says to God, “For there is forgiveness with you.” The psalmist knows that with God—and God alone—rests the authority to forgive sins. Since God’s judgment is ultimate and true, our ability to turn to God for forgiveness should elicit some apprehension on our part: “Therefore you shall be feared.”

And yet, notice that the psalmist doesn’t dwell on this fear, but rather on hope that “[God] shall redeem Israel from all their sins.” This is a sneak-peek of God’s plan to definitively redeem all of God’s people. As Christians, we believe this “plenteous redemption” is Jesus Christ, himself the very same God who has the authority to forgive sins.

  • What are the ways in which you and/or your congregation make the mercy of God known to your community?

Ephesians 4:25-5:2

This passage from Ephesians does a pretty great job of showing how the above themes apply to our daily lives. Here, Paul discusses the importance of minimizing harshness and maximizing forgiveness in Christian community. It follows naturally from the above psalm that, if God is the one who forgives sins, our own acts of forgiveness are a participation in and a reflection of God’s forgiveness: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” That’s how we become “imitators of God.”

In other words, it’s not enough simply to meditate on God’s forgiveness of our own sins; rather, our active forgiveness of one another is a necessary part of how we make God’s forgiveness known in the world. This also means that, even though Paul is talking about behavior in a specific Christian community (i.e., Ephesus), we must extend forgiveness to everyone, even if they’re not part of the Body of Christ, as far as we can tell.

  • Are the following verses paradoxical? Discuss in context Paul’s treatment of anger.
    • “Be angry but do not sin…” (4:26)
    • “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger…” (4:31)

John 6:35, 41-51

As Christians in a Eucharistic tradition, we know, believe, and experience the truth of what Jesus is saying in this passage, often on a weekly or even daily basis. In the Eucharist, we have the great benefit of seeing how these words of Jesus are pointing to himself not simply in a figurative (or, for that matter, literal) sense, but in a much more profound sense, transcending categories like “literal” and “figurative,” implicating the entire creation story and transforming all of reality: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

And yet, to many in Jesus’ immediate audience – described here (polemically) as “Jews” but which could also be skeptics of any background – this talk of “living bread” and “eternal life” makes zero sense. Even now, to many people in the modern world, both those who are secular and those who adhere to other faiths, Jesus’ claims are outlandish are unbelievable, perhaps nowhere more so than this passage.

  • How do we, as Christians, respond to skeptics who are unaccustomed to how Jesus is talking in this passage?

Zachary (Zak) Fletcher just received his Master of Divinity in May 2018 from Yale Divinity School, where he was affiliated jointly with Berkeley Divinity School and the Institute of Sacred Music. In 2015 Zak received his bachelor’s degree in Classics, with a minor in historical linguistics, from Harvard University. Currently Zak is a chaplain resident in The Mount Sinai Health System in New York.

Download the Bible study for Pentecost 12 (B).

Bible Study, Pentecost 11 (B) – August 5, 2018

Proper 13

[RCL]: 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a; Psalm 51:1-13; Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:24-35 

2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a

In this passage, we see the prophet Nathan, being the voice of God, in confronting King David about his behavior. David had abused his authority as the king and had not treated Uriah the Hittite or his wife Bathsheba with justice. This greatly displeased God and God gave hard justice to David by taking from him the child conceived by Bathsheba.

But we discover later that after this first child died, David and Bathsheba conceived another son, named Solomon. Solomon later becomes the next king. So even in God’s justice there is mercy and second chances.

It seems that too often in life we forget to acknowledge that some of the suffering that we endure is caused by our own actions. And at other times we allow ourselves to be caught up in the difficult moments of life and forget to see the joy that can come at a latter time from our suffering.

Have there been times in your personal life or in the life of your faith community when suffering happened that was directly caused by either your decisions and actions or the decisions and actions of the larger community? Were you able to see God’s hand at work in those times of difficulty or was it only later that you were able to see God’s work in the midst of the strife?

Psalm 51:1-13

Our psalm reflects a tone of acknowledging one’s sinfulness and wishing to reestablish a relationship with God. There is no attempt to blame someone else or to pass the buck.

The psalmist clearly believes that (s)he is the one who has wronged God and that God has every right to do what God wills, not what the psalmist wants. The psalmist also freely admits that it is up to God to cleanse or not cleanse. The psalmist can only admit to the sins and desire to be restored to a right and loving relationship with God.

Have there been times in your life when you have wronged another person and have asked for forgiveness? How does it feel to be in the “helpless” position in a relationship? 

Ephesians 4:1-16

Paul’s image of the church as a body with different parts is an image that is used to describe how different people have different gifts. We like to think that we have unique gifts and that we can all work together in harmony. But this image depends upon the individual parts all acknowledging that God is in control. This image also insists that our desires are to be secondary to God’s call and God’s plan for us.

But as we have seen with the other readings listed above, we don’t always freely and happily accept God’s control. We also don’t always follow God’s call and plan for us. When these things happen, it is like the body is fighting with itself or even the body is getting sick.

How can we do better at accepting our own place in the body of the church, or in God’s plan for us, even if we aren’t comfortable with that plan or that role? Are there times when our own wrestling with God can throw other parts of the body into discomfort or confusion?

John 6:24-35

Jesus challenges the crowd that is following him to understand that God provides them with the things that they need. He also reminds them that God, not Moses, gave their ancestors manna when they were in the wilderness. At times, it seems that it is very easy to think that a person is doing God’s work, when in fact the person is doing the work with God’s direction and help.

God freely gives us what we need, whether we deserve these things or not. God also provides us these things when we take them for granted or aren’t paying attention to them.

When was the last time that you really saw and appreciated a sunrise or a sunset? How often do we take for granted the multitude of gifts that God gives to us each and every day?

This Bible Study was written by Patrick Collins and originally ran August 5, 2012.

Download the Bible study for Pentecost 11 (B).

Bible Study, Pentecost 10 (B) – July 29, 2018

Proper 12

[RCL]: 2 Samuel 11:1-15; Psalm 14; Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21 

2 Samuel 11:1-15 

I recently had a gentleman ask me, “Why do we believe that David is in Heaven? Look at what he did during his life!” Certainly, one could retort, “Well, look at all the good things he did, too.” David wrote so many psalms, for example, and was said to be a person “after [God’s] heart” (Acts 13:22).

You wouldn’t guess that David had so many shining attributes if you were limited to this passage, however. We don’t see any redemptive qualities to David, and this is precisely the point. From this story and its place in the wider Biblical narrative, we learn yet again that God works through even the worst of situations and the worst of intentions to somehow – mysteriously – bring about salvation. It is all too easy to focus on the sin and the brokenness in the present; it is easy to lose sight of the bigger picture of God’s unfolding kingdom. Likewise, it is easy in this story to just focus on David’s evil intentions. We should not forget, though, that the Savior came from the lineage which was established through David’s affair with Bathsheba. God used David’s lowest point to bring salvation to the whole world.

  • How has God worked through your brokenness?

Psalm 14

I am truly grateful that psalms like this exist, that they were placed in the Bible, and that we pray them frequently in our liturgies and in our devotional lives. Why? This one in particular, to me, touches on the heart of the human condition. To clarify, I am not talking about the view of human brokenness portrayed in the psalm, what some people would call total depravity. No, I am talking about the disheveled and paradoxical nature of the psalm itself.

The Psalmist seems very confused. He talks about how nobody “does any good” and how no one seeks after God, but he also talks about a people who are righteous. Later, he talks about how evil-doers “eat up” God’s people. Yet, these evil-doers “tremble with fear” because God is in the midst of the very people they are destroying. We are left with a question: What is the Psalmist actually praying for? We see hope comingled with despair, righteousness comingled with sin. We get the sense that the Psalmist both knows and doesn’t know what to pray for. Here we see a truly human prayer.

  • Is it comforting to you whenever it seems as though psalmists don’t seem like they know quite what they want to pray for?

Ephesians 3:14-21 

For the past several months I have been struck by how short-sighted I tend to be whenever it comes to my own spirituality, particularly when the minister comes to the Eucharistic prayer in the liturgy. If you are like me, you believe in the real presence of Jesus in the sacrament. I truly do believe that God is present in the bread and the wine. Yet all too often, I forget that God also dwells in me, and that I should not only contemplate God’s presence within the bread and wine, but that I should also contemplate God’s presence within me.

This passage in Ephesians reminds us that Paul prays for a reality that far too few people actually take the time to think about; that God really is present within human beings. Paul does not simply pray that God’s people would have a little bit of Jesus within their hearts. What does he pray for? That our inner beings would be strengthened, that Christ would live in our hearts, and that we would “comprehend” the breadth, length, height, and depth of this love of God that is within us. Paul would have us comprehend a love which is incomprehensible and, thus, be filled with the “fullness of God.”

  • Have you taken the time to pray (along with Paul) that you would be filled with the fullness of God?

John 6:1-21

Not too long ago, my wife and I were getting ready to go to the seminary chapel service. Just a few minutes before walking out the door, we received a phone call and learned that someone very dear to us had died during the night. After we got off the phone, we began to weep, and we wrestled with whether or not we should still go to chapel. Did we want to weep in front of all our friends? Did we want to mourn in such a public space?

We decided to go. It was one of the most blessed worship experiences we’ve ever had. Life has a tendency to pull us away from church, to pull us away from the grace that God bestows through the sacraments. Sometimes it feels as though the Eucharist – that simple little cracker and that tiny sip of wine – is not enough. Yet, if you are like me, you often walk away amazed by how powerful and redemptive the Eucharist has been in the moments we need it most. Our Gospel reading puts imagery to a feeling that we all feel. Sometimes we doubt, saying, “What can Jesus do with this little cracker and this sip of wine?” Then we walk away from the altar sensing just how much God has multiplied his grace, and how satiated we actually feel.

  • Can you remember a specific time when you didn’t want to go to church and receive the sacrament but walked away feeling transformed by the experience? 

TJ 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 Pentecost 10 (B).