Archives for October 2018

Bible Study, Christ the King Sunday (B) – November 25, 2018


[RCL]: Samuel 23:1-7; Psalm 132:1-13 (14-19); Revelation 1:4b-8; John 18:33-37 

Samuel 23:1-7

King David—perhaps the greatest King of Israel—in his final words, did not take credit for himself, but instead declared that it was God who had anointed and exalted him to his place of leadership. David credited God not only for his rise to power, but also for his ability to rule the people justly. David proclaimed, “One who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, is like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.” Godly leadership was not simply the right thing to do for King David, but it was a thing of great beauty. David understood that to use our positions of authority and influence for good and just purposes is to make our houses, our tiny kingdoms, like the Kingdom of God.

  • In what positions of authority do you serve where you could invite the Kingdom of God to be made present?
  • What is something small you could do today to make your house more like the Kingdom of God?

Psalm 132:1-13 (14-19)

The Psalmist reminds us, the readers, of King David’s commitment to building a temple, a dwelling place for God. This commitment was not simply a line item which could sit on the back burner, nor was it a campaign promise that would stir the hearts of the people to support him, even if it were never fully realized. Instead, King David made the creation of a place for God to dwell a priority in both his life and leadership. David vowed, “I will not come under the roof of my house, nor climb up into my bed; I will not allow my eyes to sleep, nor let my eyelids slumber; Until I find a place for the Lord, a dwelling for the Mighty One of Jacob.” This prioritization and relentless pursuit of creating a space for God in the midst of the people of Israel became the desire of David’s heart. Imagine how we might harness our own authority to serve others if our desire were to ensure that God lived within our midst.

  • Where have you created space for God in your own life?
  • Where else in your life could you prioritize creating a space for God to dwell?

Revelation 1:4b-8

The scene that is described for us here in the first chapter of Revelation is one of a king arriving and there being no mistake regarding who he is or why he has come. The author declares, “Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.” In this foretelling of Christ’s second coming, the Messiah is returning to the earth in an unmistakable fashion, befitting a king. This is most unlike his first inbreaking, when he arrived without the expected pomp and circumstance and instead came into the world as an infant, totally dependent upon those who would raise him up. This Jesus, he is the Messiah King, the “ruler of the kings of the earth,” who breaks into the world in surprising ways, not only to change the course of history, but also to invite the whole world to participate and become his Kingdom on earth.

  • How did Jesus come into your life and in what way(s) did his arrival surprise you?
  • In what practical ways can you live in the Kingdom of God in your everyday life?

John 18:33-37

When questioned by Pontius Pilate, Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world.” This statement would be more surprising if it were the first time we encountered Jesus describing the Kingdom of God, but the more we hear about God’s Kingdom, the more we understand that it is very much upside-down or in reverse in comparison to the world as we know it. While our world so often operates on systems of scarcity and determining value based on supply and demand, in God’s Kingdom, there is not only enough for everyone, but there is abundance. In God’s Kingdom, all have enough and no one wants for anything. It is in this Kingdom that we can be loosed from the bondage of impulse and endless desire and finally be free to find eternal contentment in the One who had freed us. This is the good news that Christ our King came into the world to proclaim, and all who belong to the truth will listen to his voice.

  • In what ways do you imagine that the Kingdom of God is different from the world today?
  • In what small ways could we act to change our daily lives to allow the Kingdom of God to break in?

This Bible study was written by the Rev. Josh Woods.

Download the Bible study for Christ the King Sunday (B).

 

Bible Study, Pentecost 26 (B) – November 18, 2018

Proper 28


[RCL]: 1 Samuel 1:4-20; 1 Samuel 2:1-10; Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18) 19-25; Mark 13:1-8

1 Samuel 1:4-20

The books of Samuel deal with the period that marked the emergence of prophecy and monarchy in ancient Israel. The First Book of Samuel opens with a recurring theme in Israel’s history – God hears the cry of the marginalized and oppressed. In this case it is Hannah, the beloved wife of Elkanah, the man who will be the father of Samuel. She is unable to have children. Hannah is taunted for her lack of fecundity by Elkanah’s other wife, Penninah.

This story, like so many others from the scriptures, illustrates how God finds a way into our lives in times of desperation and sadness. In fact, the biblical record indicates that God longs to be with us in the moments of trial and hurt; the Lord has a preference for those who are suffering. While God certainly does not design or plan hardship for us, it is through our wounds, through the crack in the heart, that God’s light enters our lives.

Hannah represents all of us who have faced hopeless situations. Her story shows how God can transform even the most desperate situations into surprisingly wonderful futures. Above all, she teaches us the necessity of communicating our deepest longings to God, trusting in the Lord’s power to turn darkness into light, even when we see no way to that dawn.

  • Have you experienced the consoling presence of God in times of hardship? Does Hannah’s story stand in solidarity with your own?
  • Where/when in your life have you experienced God’s transforming power (i.e., God’s power to turn hopeless situations into a hope-filled future)?

1 Samuel 2:1-10

The author of Luke’s gospel based his Magnificat text (Luke 1:46-55) on this Song of Hannah. The themes of Mary and Hannah are similar – joy at the birth of a child and praise of God’s power. The Magnificat speaks of God’s mercy, whereas Hannah extols God’s justice. Both sing of God’s casting down the rich and uplifting the poor. Hannah’s words mention explicitly the defeat of God’s (and her) enemies. What are we to make of this rather strong language: “The bows of the mighty broken” and “the wicked shall be cut off in darkness”? While most mature adults do not plot or pray for the destruction of people they do not like, there are many negative forces we face in our lives; forces that perpetuate oppression; forces that only God can counter and transform. For example, we fall victim to self-loathing, depression, difficult family/marital issues, grudge-bearing and harbored hurt. These forces oppress us, keep us from being the people God calls us to be. And sometimes these powers can be so strong that it seems there is no way out. The song of Hannah, however, is a testimony to God’s ability to defeat even these seemingly insurmountable issues.

  • Are there any words, phrases or images in the Song of Hannah that speak to you?
  • How do Hannah’s words of the “great reversal” resonate with you (i.e., the hungry are fat with spoil, the barren has borne seven, etc.)?

Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18) 19-25

In times of desolation, we might feel that we are unworthy to approach God. Perhaps we are overwhelmed by an instance or pattern of personal failure, a bout of melancholia, or we become conscious of our own distance from God due to neglecting our relationship with God. We might find it difficult to turn to God because we lack confidence in our worthiness to resume the relationship. While such feelings are not predominant in the spiritual life, they are real enough.

This passage from Hebrews tells us that Jesus has provided us irrevocable access to God. Like any favored son, Jesus may go right to his Father, even when it appears that the doors are closed. And Jesus takes us with him. So when we desire to approach God, there is no sin, no failing, no time or distance away from God that will prevent us. This is the compassion of God; Jesus’ love for all humankind, and faith in the will and vision of the Creator, even though it required that he pass through a torturous death, has shown us just how much God desires to be in the life of every person. Our text today teaches us that there are no barriers between us and God, only the ones we set up ourselves in our own minds and hearts.

  • What are the barriers we erect that keep us from God? How does today’s passage from Hebrews speak to this concern for you?
  • How does the verse “let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” resonate with you?

Mark 13:1-8

The stones of the Western Wall of the Jerusalem Temple, which can still be seen standing today, were and are rather impressive. In fact, some are 30 feet long. These were surely the stones to which Jesus’ disciples were referring. Jesus uses their observation about the stones to springboard into a prophecy concerning the nation and people who were dear to him. This is appropriate in the context of his approaching execution. While modern Western people often speak of life “flashing before our eyes” before death, ancient Near Eastern people believed that in the days before death one gained powers of prognostication. Jesus exhibits that here. What follows from Jesus is an example of apocalyptic thought and discourse. “Apocalyptic” was a literary form common in the biblical period (see, for example, the Book of Daniel and Revelation), but alien to those of us in the modern world. Apocalyptic literature uses certain vocabulary and imagery, in this case earthquakes, wars, famines, etc., to convey a larger truth. Jesus is telling us to beware and persevere in times of hardship and trial, because no power can prevail against the power of Almighty God.

  • Where/how do you find spiritual comfort/nourishment in Jesus’ apocalyptic discourse in today’s gospel?
  • How do you relate, from your own experience, to what Jesus says in verse 8, “This is but the beginning of the birth pangs”?

This Bible study, written by Brian Pinter, originally ran November 18, 2012.

Download the Bible study for Pentecost 26 (B).

Bible Study, Pentecost 25 (B) – November 11, 2018

Proper 27


[RCL]: Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17; Psalm 127; Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44

Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17

Naomi’s and Ruth’s family is on the brink of extinction. Both are widows, both destitute, and Ruth is a Moabite, a non-Israelite, an outsider. Naomi, too old to remarry and have children, sends Ruth to see Boaz, an extended family member, in the hope that Boaz will marry her and take them into his household. He does, and becomes the kinsmen-redeemer, and Ruth becomes King David’s great-grandmother.

A significant theme in the book of Ruth is that of outsiders being let in. The loving-kindness of Boaz for those whom he could easily have dismissed (Ruth was more closely related to another man in the community who wouldn’t take her in) is in keeping with Yahweh’s constant refrain throughout the Old Testament on the care for foreigners and the impoverished.

  • Who in your life could use some purposeful loving-kindness?
  • Who knows what that person, perhaps on the fringes of your social circles or family, could do for the kingdom of God, if you would but invite them in…

Psalm 127

Holy Scripture has a pretty radical view of our world’s dependence on God: if master builder and watchmen don’t have God’s assistance, their labor is a waste of time. Like the reading from Ruth, the Psalm echoes the theme of the Lord’s care and provision for God’s people. This Psalm in particular focuses on children, as the “Lord’s heritage,” as gifts of God: the means to sustain our very species is itself totally dependent on the Lord’s making prosper the fruit of the womb.

Our society at large does not have this view of children. What the Psalmist calls “gifts,” “happiness,” and a “heritage,” our society often calls “inconveniences,” “unnecessary expenses,” or an “obstacle” to your career. Even the most devout Christians fall into this type of thinking from time to time. If we’re honest, those thoughts cross our minds more than we’d like to admit.

Eventually we must come to a conscious choice:

  • Where will we be taking our cues from when it comes to how we think about children?
  • From the script of that new sitcom, or from our holiest text?
  • From the pulpit of pop culture, or from the mouth of God himself?

Hebrews 9:24-28

We can’t pretend that these ancient ideas about how to cleanse a community of the guilt of their wrongdoings are natural for moderns like us to comprehend, but we must try, if Jesus’ sacrifice is going to make any sense to us. Pardon the analogy, but if sin is pollution, then blood is a successful “clean up our streets” initiative. If sin makes us dirty, blood makes us clean. But whose blood, and what kind? That from a pure victim, offered to God by a priest. Like the high priests of old, Jesus appears before God in the most holy place, presenting not the blood of an animal, but his own blood, that which was spilt on the strangest of altars, the altar of a Roman cross. Paradoxically, He is at once priest and sacrificial victim, making a “perfect offering and sacrifice unto God.”

Jesus’ blood is re-presented to us when we receive the Eucharist, our principal act of worship where we proclaim our Lord’s death until he comes again. This is not easy to grasp, in fact, it is “foolishness to those who are perishing,” but it is inestimably worthy of your meditation and devotion. Christian, behold the Lamb of God. Behold him who takes away the sins of the world.

  • How do you see this sacrificial act?
  • How does that inform your view of the Eucharist?

Mark 12:38-44

Aquinas’ Catena Aurea quotes Bede as saying that the allegorical meaning of the passage is that the “the poor widow is the simplicity of the Church: poor indeed, because she has cast away the spirit of pride and of the desires of worldly things; and a widow, because Jesus her husband has suffered death for her. She casts two mites into the treasury, because she brings the love of God and of her neighbor, or the gifts of faith and prayer; which are looked upon as mites in their own insignificance, but measured by the merit of a devout intention…she understands that even her very living is not of her own worthiness, but of Divine grace.”

More obviously, the literal sense contrasts the religious elite, who are corrupt and hypocritical and donate their money for the spectacle, with the humility of the widow who gave nearly nothing, and yet everything.

  • Since the Holy Scriptures are written for the Church, of which we are a part, what does Jesus’ praise of this woman inspire in us?
  • How can we imitate her humility?
  • What can we give to God, even out of our poverty?

This Bible study, written by the Rev. Ryan Pollock, originally ran November 8, 2015.

Download the Bible Study for Pentecost 25 (B).

Bible Study, All Saints’ Day (B) – November 4, 2018


[RCL]: Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9 or Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 24; Revelation 21:1-6a; John 11:32-44

Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9

When the Church comes together to celebrate the Feast of All Saints, I often imagine us as a family gathered at the cemetery to honor a cherished relative. Just as on Memorial Day we visit grandpa’s final resting place, on this day we celebrate those whom the Church recognizes as particularly notable examples of life in Christ. If on this holy day we gather at the grave of the saints at rest, then this reading from the wisdom literature is the epitaph on the headstone that lies before us. Contained within it is our Christian hope. The hope of eternal life stretches back even to the forebears of our Christian tradition, and for centuries that promise has been inscribed in our most sacred texts. It is such a promise that beckons us to this holy occasion.

  • What particular saints have influenced your Christian experience?
  • How does this feast connect you with those saints and with the entire communion of saints?

Isaiah 25:6-9

What a blessing and comfort it is to read this passage! “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines.” That sounds like a meal all of us would enjoy. Along with it comes the alleviation of our suffering and the removal of the obstacles that separate us from God. “And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever.” This is a passage of sweet celebration. We have waited on the Lord, says the prophet, now let us rejoice. Today we read this passage to celebrate the saints who waited patiently on the Lord as we continue to wait. As we dwell in the rich imagery of those who are already feasting on the mountaintop, we remember their examples of steadfast service in Jesus’ name while they walked the earth.

  • How can we follow the examples of the saints while we ourselves wait on the Lord?
  • How might we pray for guidance from the saints at rest?

Psalm 24

Today the psalmist’s prayer involves a holy wondering: “Who can ascend the hill of the Lord? And who can stand in his holy place?” One answer is immediately given: “Those who have clean hands and a pure heart, who have not pledged themselves to falsehood, nor sworn by what is a fraud.” It’s easy to see why we read this on All Saints’. These with clean hands and pure hearts are the very saints of our tradition. These are they who have been blessed by the Lord and received their reward at the saving hands of God. The saints remain our blessed models for life on earth, but they are also our advocates in heaven. The opening lines of this psalm remind us that God created the earth, but remember that Genesis tells us that God created the heavens as well. The saints remain examples for us on earth as they dwell in heaven with the God who is the source of both our existence and our final reward, our present reality and our salvation.

  • How do the saints connect us not only to an earthy model of life in Christ, but also to a heavenly one?
  • Do you know anyone who in thought, word, and deed points you toward a heavenly reality? How do they do that?

Revelation 21:1-6a 

This passage encourages us, as the book of Revelation so often does, to use our imaginations in ways that might be foreign to us. After all, imagination is not just kids’ stuff! Amidst what can be the dullness of our daily lives, we often let practicalities rule our hearts, but for the writer of this text, imagination is a blessed escape. Belief in the New Jerusalem was widespread in biblical times. As one who was experiencing the atrocities of Roman rule, the writer likely had no another outlet to process the pains of an oppressed life. By entering the world of the writer’s imagination, we not only catch a glimpse of the writer’s imaginative escape—a heavenly city descending from above—but we are reminded of the importance of our own images for a better future. These images might consist of a renewed commitment to civil discourse in our country, a world without homelessness, or a society with affordable health care for all people. But our imaginations are not just limited to the things of this world; they can also explore the world to come. So linger in your imagination with this passage and with the communion of saints wondering about a promise that is, at least to us, yet to be revealed.

  • Do you ever use your imagination? How does it increase your faith?
  • Although we may not be oppressed in the same ways as our ancient counterparts, how can faithful imagination be a healthy escape for our daily struggles?

John 11:32-44 

Jesus is moved to tears. In a display of his full humanity, Jesus grieves the loss of his friend, Lazarus. To make matters worse, in the middle of his grief, Jesus is flooded with questions, perhaps accusations, that he could have saved him. That has to hurt. Jesus proceeds, still deeply grieved, to resurrect Lazarus and in so doing renews the faith of Mary, Martha, and the other members of the crowd. The passage is especially pertinent at the celebration of All Saints’ not because it deals with death, but because it is a passage that epitomizes eternal life, the promise that God has made through Christ to each of us. Jesus says, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” The faith of Jesus’ followers was rewarded in this miraculous event. We may never have seen anyone raised from the dead, but there are other ways that we experience the glory of God: a child’s birth and baptism, the unconditional love of our families, friends, and neighbors, and most of all, through participation in the Eucharist.

  • When has God’s glory been revealed to you? Was it a large “aha” moment or a still, small whisper in the night?
  • How is God’s glory manifested in the remembrance of the lives of the saints? How do you know?

The Rev. Warren Swenson is a priest of the Diocese of West Missouri and is a student in the Master of Sacred Theology degree program at the School of Theology at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn. Warren received his Master of Divinity degree from Sewanee in 2018 and currently serves as curate of Southeastern Tennessee Episcopal Ministry (STEM). Warren and his husband Walker enjoy lingering back-porch conversations and both love to travel.

Download the Bible study for All Saints’ Day (B).

Bible Study, Pentecost 23 (B) – October 28, 2018

Proper 25


[RCL]: Job 42:1-6, 10-17; Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22); Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52 

Job 42:1-6, 10-17

The Book of Job is a classic story, told with many classic elements: a squeaky-clean protagonist who still falls on hard times, three antagonists, and here, finally a resolution beyond the reader’s wildest dreams. The restoration of Job’s riches comes not only in an unbelievable amount, but through an unbelievable series of events. Job, the hero, does not conquer God to restore his former wealth. Job does not pull off a last-second feat of strength against all odds. No, the story here stands out because Job receives God’s bounty after humbling himself even more before God. Job had been humbled to the point of collapse, and still Job never lashes out to curse the all-powerful God. Instead, Job relies on God’s power of redemption and exercises humble faith beyond the reader’s wildest dreams.

This departure from the classic hero story is not a typical showcase of the human spirit, but of God’s power to restore. This is the story of God, told through the life of Job. Our faith in God alone can yield riches beyond imagination. Faith in God, not in ourselves, is the ultimate source of restoration. Job’s final act before his restoration proves that our faith and humility are powerful: “And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends,” the very same friends that tried to convince Job that his sinfulness caused his downfall. Job found faith that God would even restore them, too, and then Job became the most blessed man in all the land.

  • In the face of extremely hard times, what do you focus on to keep your faith in God’s power strong?
  • What silver linings have you found during an extremely hard time in your life?

Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22)

The American theologian Jonathan Edwards famously illustrated that experiencing God is not like having the sweetness of honey described to you, but rather like experiencing the taste of honey yourself. Psalm 34 must have been the catalyst that set off that illustration in Edwards’ mind. This psalm is packed with action verbs, from what we are to do: bless, glory, proclaim, exalt, seek; to what God does: answer, deliver, save, encompass. Then, in verse 8, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”

Tasting can be a risky action, and there really is no substitute. We can look and sniff all we want, but our taste buds will be the only real measure of sweetness, saltiness, and other informants as to whether a food is acceptable or not. And because what goes into our mouths must be life-giving and not dangerous, the stakes are high. In this psalm, we are encouraged to take the risky leap of faith, to let God in as life-giving sustenance. The Lord is good, bursting with energy and delight, like sweet honey!

  • Would you say that you are an evangelical person? What makes it difficult, or risky, to proclaim God’s goodness in our everyday language; then, what makes it easy?
  • When you fully experience God’s presence today, like tasting honey, what are the real rewards that you experience?

Hebrews 7:23-28

This must have been a great task of the first hundred years of Christianity: convince the faithful Jews, of which Jesus of Nazareth was one, that the Messiah had actually already come and gone. So many faithful adherents to the Hebrew Law lived during Jesus’ years, unaware that the Messiah walked the earth somewhere far away, or even nearby (or even right in front of them.) Jesus’ earliest apostles had a lot of convincing to do.

In this passage, the case is made that Jesus serves as a new priest, and furthermore, eternally. The power of Jesus’ death and resurrection to change so much of their faithful practice must have been so difficult to hear, much less to adopt. And for hundreds of years, that remains the Christian task: spread the word that there was a man, born of God, fully divine while fully human, who will forever be your priest, as well as much, much more. The prophecy of Isaiah 53 has been fulfilled, as real as you and I now speak. Jesus came to be the Messiah, anointed as the greatest High Priest, and still is.

  • What do you go to your priest for? What is the primary role that he or she serves?
  • In what ways does Jesus serve as your priest as well?

Mark 10:46-52

In this short glance at Jesus’ healing ministry, a blind beggar begins by sitting on the side of the road, then ends up on his feet, following Jesus. Is this the transformation that Jesus offers us too? Maybe so, but the middle part is critical. We have to call upon Jesus’ holy name more than we call upon everyone else that passes by where we sit, because Jesus is the one with the healing power. The blind beggar knew this, and said, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” He would only do this if he had faith that Jesus could provide what he needed the most. And his own faith turned out to be the cure.

  • What healing miracle would you call out to Jesus for, if he walked by where you sat today?
  • What first inspired you to follow Jesus? What has continued to inspire you to follow Jesus?

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 23 (B).