Archives for September 2018

Bible Study, Pentecost 22 (B) – October 21, 2018

Proper 24


[RCL]: Job 38:1-7, (34-41); Psalm 104:1-9, 25, 37b; Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 10:35-45 

Job 38:1-7, 34-41

We’ve been following the story of Job, a man who once had it all, and now he grieves the loss not only of his wealth and status, but also his children. Job has been pushed to the ultimate breaking point. He is at a complete loss as to how he is supposed to keep his faith in the God he loves when he has lost absolutely everything else.

This passage has fascinated readers for centuries, probably because this is the moment that God finally shows up for Job, and God shows up in a way that is completely unexpected from a benevolent, loving God. God has a knack for doing the unexpected.

What is unfathomable to Job is also unfathomable to us. If God is good, then why do bad things happen? God’s answer to Job shows of God’s goodness. Look at all of these wonderful things I have created. I have created a world full of good things that all interact with one another. Sometimes in those interactions, creatures are hurt. Job finds himself the victim of hurtful interactions with creation.

  • What if you were at the point of despair, and all you wanted was an answer from God, and this was the answer you received? What would you think about God?
  • Can you think of other times in scripture when God gives unexpected answers?
  • Can you think of other victims in creation that suffer hurt from interacting with other creatures?
  • What is one way we, as a human family, can lessen our negative impact on the other creatures that God has made?

Psalm 104:1-9, 25, 37b

In this psalm, we have another beautiful description of the good things that God has made. When one stands back to consider all the manifold works of the creator, it can be overwhelming.

It is often easier to see the glory of God in the majestic ocean or a beautiful mountain range than it is to see it in ourselves. The truth that we see in this psalm, as well as in Job, is that the same God that created the sun, moon, and stars also knit us together with the same care and love.

  • Do you remember the first time you saw the ocean, or a beautiful mountain range? How did it make you feel about God?
  • Why can it difficult for us to see ourselves as beautiful creations of God, fearfully and wonderfully made?
  • Why is it hard sometimes for us to see one another the same way?
  • In what ways does this hold us back?

Hebrews 5:1-10

“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears…” God chose to enter the world as one of God’s very own creations, a human being. And in God’s human state, God suffered all of the hurt and pain that humans face each day. God suffered ultimate betrayal and utter desolation. Sometimes it is impossible to find good news when we, like Job, are lost in a sea of pain and confusion. The good news is not that God will take our pain away, but that God will walk with us in that pain, and that God knows our pain intimately, as if it were God’s own.

  • Take a moment to think about a time you have felt pain. Tell God what that pain was like for you, and ask where God was.
  • Think about what words of comfort God might offer you next time you are feeling pain. Share with a group if you’d like. 

Mark 10:35-45

Here we have another surprising answer from God. James and John ask Jesus how to become the greatest, and Jesus says that to become great you must be a servant to others, and to be the first, you have to be a slave to all.

  • How does this contradict what you might think about how to become great?
  • What does our society teach us about how to become great?
  • What would it look like for us to follow Jesus’ command to be a servant to others in today’s society?
  • How can we better serve not only one another, but also the other beautiful creatures God has made?

This Bible study, written by Maggie Foster, originally ran October 18, 2015.

Download the Bible study for Pentecost 22 (B).

Bible Study, Pentecost 21 (B) – October 14, 2018

Proper 23


[RCL]: Job 23:1-9, 16-17; Psalm 22:1-15; Hebrews 4:12-16; Mark 10:17-31              

Job 23:1-9, 16-17

In this reading, we find the ever-faithful Job trusting in his God but nonetheless turning bitter and confused as the realities of life begin to torment him. As his pitiful situation drags on with his friends and family adding to his problems instead of encouraging him, he wakes up heavily burdened with a new set of complaints for his God. He seems to say, “Where is this mighty God in whom I trust? Show yourself so that I may present my case of injustice that has been handed to me.” Is this situation familiar to us? Do our friends and family watch and ridicule the suffering of the faithful in their midst and even encourage us to give up? “What kind of God would allow you to suffer that way? Why even bother believing?” they may say. But in the end, we know that Job’s heart remains faithful, his life eventually becomes even better than before, and those who tried to discourage him are humiliated. Let us, therefore, learn the lesson of Job and remain steadfast in our faith, trusting that the worst will soon be over and that our lives may even be better once the storm has passed.

  • Have you experienced this kind of situation before? How did you feel about God?
  • What were the effects on your life after weathering the storm?
  • How would you encourage others who are suffering in this kind of situation?

Psalm 22:1-15

In this psalm, we find the distressing scene of somebody who feels abandoned by God in his time of great need while being surrounded by his enemies. Even his own people have deserted him; it is a cry of defeat. He is conflicted by thoughts of his lifelong faithfulness to God and even the faithfulness of his ancestors. While he continues to pray in earnest, calling out to God to rescue him, there is no answer. Often this psalm is associated with the last moments of Jesus on the cross with, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” mentioned in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark. This should allow us to reflect on the character of Jesus and our understanding of him. His emotion shows that while Jesus is truly divine, he was also truly human. He understands our pain and suffering, and perhaps even a feeling of abandonment by God. Jesus also clearly knew well the Hebrew Scriptures—our Old Testament—valued the writings, and could relate them to his own life and ministry.

  • Why do think the feeling of abandonment by God is a regular theme throughout the Old Testament? Have you also experienced these feelings?
  • How do you feel knowing that Jesus understands our pain, suffering, and even doubt through his own human experiences?
  • How do you feel about the Old Testament, knowing that Jesus himself studied and applied it to his own life?

Hebrews 4:12-16

In this section of a letter written to those in danger of abandoning their Christian faith because of outside pressures, the writer tells us of the power of the Holy Scriptures, the Word of God, in awakening our consciousness to our true faithfulness to Jesus. The writer encourages us to be courageous in remaining faithful to him. As Episcopalians, it seems that sometimes we try to avoid engaging meaningfully with Scripture. It can intimidate us, and we are sometimes afraid to be challenged by it, preferring to be ignorant of its messages. It can be painful to imagine how far we really are from being true followers of Jesus. If we want to grow in faith and find a new confidence in being his followers in these days of merciless attacks against the Church from both inside and out, let us learn to enjoy actively engaging with the Word of God, and as the catechism of this church tells us, allow him to speak to us through it, so that we may be more faithful in knowing his will for us both as a Christian community and in our own daily lives.

  • Do you feel or know others who feel pressure to abandon their Christian faith?
  • Reflecting on the “Holy Scriptures” section of the catechism found in the Book of Common Prayer, how is your own understanding of the Bible confirmed or challenged?
  • What can we do to encourage more Episcopalians to engage with the Holy Scriptures?

Mark 10:17-31

In this story, we are confronted by the reality of our dependence on the mercy of God for our salvation. It is not intended to tell us that the rich cannot be saved. The story tells us of a good and faithful man who is loved by Jesus, but there is one problem: he is more attached to the cares of this world than he is to following Jesus. Instead of being willing to give up his possessions, the things that stood between him and the freedom to follow, it was easier to walk away. If we are honest, many of us are like the rich man, unwilling to pay the cost of truly following Jesus. If too much sacrifice is involved, we would often prefer to walk away. While we must always strive to be the most faithful followers of Jesus that we can, we are assured that we have a merciful God who does love us, just as Jesus still loved the rich man. This is also a humble reminder that even the richest of the rich cannot save themselves even with all the possessions in the world, but our faithful God through our faith in him has the power to save us.

  • How would you feel if Jesus asked you to sell all your possessions and follow him?
  • What have you sacrificed in your life to be a follower of Jesus?
  • How has this story been presented to you in the past? How has your understanding of it been confirmed or changed after reading it for yourself?

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 21 (B).

Bible Study, Pentecost 20 (B) – October 7, 2018

Proper 22


[RCL]: Job 1:1, 2:1-10; Psalm 26; Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12; Mark 10:2-16

Job 1:1; 2:1-10

We encounter in the Book of Job an incredible story in which a blameless and upright man experiences suffering for no reason. This book has been interpreted by many as responding to the question of divine justice – is God just? However, when we delve more deeply into the story, and as we see in the selection of verses today, there is a different question that is being explored. The Satan, or the adversary, asks of God the question regarding the possibility for selfless love. Can non-transactional love exist? Job is upright and blameless, but will he remain so if his circumstances are not so great? Satan thinks not, and therefore asks God to test Job. God allows Satan to cause Job to suffer, so long as Job is not killed. Missing from our section is the first test of Job’s integrity and uprightness; he loses his children, his livestock, and his possessions. Through all of this, Job remains sinless. This is important because it sheds some light on Job’s wife’s reaction to Job’s second test—that of receiving sores all over his body. Remember that she, too, has lost her children. “Curse God, and die” she almost begs. How can Job hold on to his integrity after all this suffering?

  • How do you respond to Job’s question: “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?”

Psalm 26

Continuing with the theme of integrity, the psalmist calls out a lament to God, wanting vindication for good behavior, for walking rightly. The structure of the psalm is almost chiastic, beginning and ending by mentioning walking in integrity, desiring vindication and redemption (vv. 1-3, 11-12). There is an active turning from those who are considered wicked (vv. 4-5) and the request not to be considered as one of them by God (vv. 9-10). The center of the psalm uses language that evokes imagery of liturgical action, suggesting that the psalmist is from the priestly order – washing hands, walking around the altar, singing a song of thanksgiving, telling the deeds of God (vv. 6-7), and claiming love for the house of God (v. 8). In the end, the psalmist trusts in God and continues to walk the path with integrity.

  • If you were writing a lament to God, how might yours be similar or different to this psalmist’s?

Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12

Hebrews paints a picture of Jesus Christ in the fullness of his divinity and humanity. In the first four verses, we are introduced to Jesus as the Son, heir, participating in creation, as sustainer, the “reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being” (v. 1:3), the one who made purification for sins, and one greater than the prophets and the angels. When we move to the second chapter, the author quotes Psalm 8, which discusses humanity as lower than angels and yet having all things subject to them. Noting that humanity has not yet fulfilled this psalmist’s claim, the author points to Jesus in his humanity as the model for this kind of movement from lower-than-angels to glory and honor. The achievement of this, however, is not through ascent in the human realm, but rather through a path of descent with suffering and death. It is in this experience of full humanity, unto death, that we are made siblings of Christ.

  • What does “subjecting all things under their feet” (v. 2:8) mean in light of Jesus’ example?
  • What does being a brother or sister of Christ mean to you?

Mark 10:2-16

This passage from Mark has three episodes – one with the Pharisees, one in the house with the disciples, and the final one with children. It begins with the Pharisees questioning Jesus about the legality of divorce. Jesus points them to the laws of Moses, asking them to answer their own question. Upon their affirmative answer, Jesus refers them back to Genesis, to our creation as male and female, and the ideal of marriage that makes two people become one. The disciples need clarification, however, and so when they are in the house, they ask Jesus to explain further. Here, Jesus expands the original question by introducing the possibility of the wife also divorcing the husband. This is significant, and more relevant for today, given that divorce is a common occurrence now. While the result is the same, Jesus points out to the disciples that societal expectations are too limited, focusing merely upon the rights of the man to divorce the woman. Creation shows us a more expansive ethic.

The disciples continue to participate in societal and earthly norms, attempting to keep the children – those without rights, the weakest of society – from coming to Jesus. But he tells them that the kingdom of God belongs to these innocent and weak children of God.

  • Jesus refers to Genesis, pointing out an egalitarian system between male and female. How might this change our understanding of other aspects of our creation stories?
  • What is your understanding of receiving the kingdom of God as a little child?
  • Who in our society are we keeping at a distance from Jesus’ feet? Why?

The Rev. Anna Shine was ordained a priest in the Diocese of Western North Carolina in June 2018, after receiving an M.Div. from Virginia Theological Seminary. She now serves as a curate at the Church of the Holy Cross in Valle Crucis, N.C., and is happy to be back at home in the mountains she loves.

Download the Bible study for Pentecost 20 (B).

Bible Study, Pentecost 19 (B) – September 30, 2018

Proper 21


[RCL]: Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22; Psalm 124; James 5:13-20; Mark 9:38-50

Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22

The book of Esther does not contain a direct mention of the name of God. Many have asked through the centuries why this is so, or where God is in the book. This is an important observation to make because any skeptic could make a clear case that God is absent in the modern age as well. We must be the interpreters that reveal God in Esther’s story, as well as in the world today.

At the moment when Esther is asked what she requests of her King, we can see God’s will prevail. It is rare that anyone is offered half of a kingdom by the king himself, and even more so when that person would not ask for riches, but only for a life of peace for their religious family. Then, the one who worships only his own power turns out to die upon the very device that he planned to use in his domination of others. In this passage, as in the book as a whole, human instinct to dominate is proven to backfire. The uncommon notion to protect the weak prevails. This prevailing intuition—which is at the same time life-giving, selfless, and sacrificial—is the fingerprint of God on our lives, as it was for Esther and Mordecai, directly named or not. Its fruits prevail too, much longer than any personal gain could have; the Feast of Purim that began in this story continues today through generous giving and the celebration of life.

  • Risking oneself against governing forces on behalf of others seems foolish. Why does God urge us to put the needs of the poor above our own? In other words, what are the rewards that outweigh the immediate risks?

Psalm 124

This psalm ends by repeating the answer to the great question of Psalm 121: “From where is my help to come?” Again, we are reminded that our help is from the LORD, who created all that is (earth) as well as all that we can only hold in faith (the heavens). This psalm uses vivid imagery to acknowledge the painful feeling of helplessness. In the face of angry attackers and engulfing waters, the experience of helplessness is almost overwhelming. But here, we are given a promise of escaping our trap like a fleeing bird, perhaps a dove that appears after we emerge from those waters, and that guides us to safety. And the reminder: our savior is the one who created the waters in the first place and can make drowning seem like new life.

  • What are some of the more common, but faulty, answers to that great question, “From where is my help to come?”
  • Which are the usual suspects that we mistakenly turn to as our help, but eventually find empty?

James 5:13-20

James encourages all believers to take our faith into our own hands, and here in the final verses, into each other’s hands. A parishioner once said that one of the most difficult mission trips to embark upon is the “3-foot mission trip” – where you see someone looking troubled just down the pew from you in church. He said that this missionary work turns out to be his favorite type, reaching out to friends and strangers alike, face to face, to offer comfort and friendship. Is this what we mean by the phrase “priesthood of the laity?”

James also asks us to call upon the elders for anointing and healing, which I’m sure is to strengthen us for these 3-foot missions. We receive these very actionable requests: “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another,” and “bring back a sinner from wandering.” These missionary opportunities are abundant and among the most uncomfortable. That may be a sign that they are also the most urgent and productive as we usher in God’s reign. It is our very own hands, feet, faces and voices that have the power to make Jesus known to those in need.

  • Perhaps Elijah is mentioned here to bring our awareness to tangible results of prayer. Do you have stories of tangible impact from prayer and/or from the “priesthood of the laity?”

Mark 9:38-50

My grandfather is known to have said, “My purpose in life is to get to heaven and take as many people with me as I can.” Here, Jesus gives us a piece of that roadmap. First, the well-known, “Whoever is not against us is for us,” warning us to avoid looking for reasons to make enemies. Then, a dramatic and thorough drama about the more perilous parts of the journey. There may be temptation on the way, but stay the course and sacrifice anything to persist in the journey. Winding up in heaven without an eye, hand, or foot is still better than wandering around for eternity. In fact, wandering so far off course so as to cause sinfulness in a child is worse than a painful death itself.

After all that, it’s the third piece that is the hardest to interpret. Taking salt to represent a purification, preservative, or maybe a binding contract, Jesus says that we will all be purified and preserved eventually. We will soon be bound by an everlasting contract. So, it’s best to start here and now, to purify ourselves to prepare for this journey. “Be at peace with each other” – this must be the way to properly train for an expedient trip, no detours. Perhaps Jesus is hinting that the best way to get to heaven is to start living now like we are already there.

  • The phrases used here are about entering into life and the kingdom of God, not heaven. How would our choices and behaviors change if we believed that heaven could actually begin in this life?

The Rev. Darren Steadman was ordained as a deacon in June of 2018 after graduating from Virginia Theological Seminary. He is a native of the Shenandoah Valley and serves at Christ Church Episcopal near Richmond, VA. Before accepting a call to the priesthood, Darren was a classroom teacher and spent most summers working and playing at summer camp.

Download the Bible study for Pentecost 19 (B).