Archives for November 2018

Bible Study, Advent 4 (C) – December 23, 2018

RCL: Micah 5:2-5a; Psalm 80:1-7; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45 (46-55)

Micah 5:2-5a

Despite the hopeful tone in this passage, Micah (like most prophets) is not generally thought of as a bearer of happy news. He accuses the people of his day of abandoning God to worship idols and exploiting the poor and vulnerable. He asks, almost mockingly, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Things are not looking up: the situation will get worse before it gets better, and enemies are already at the gate. But even though sin and its consequences seem to be winning the day, there will be redemption. In today’s lesson, Micah foretells the rise of a righteous ruler from the remnant who follow God’s way. This ruler will come from an unlikely place, a village of no account just like so many that had already been conquered in Micah’s day. Micah promises redemption to God’s people through one who will establish the kind of reign that God imagines, a reign where all live securely and where peace is the better way.

  • What might an unlikely leader look like today? Where are some “villages of no account” in your community?

Psalm 80:1-7 

In the darkness just before the dawn of Christmas, this psalm drives home the plaintive tone of Advent: “Show yourself, O God!” The psalmist can recall the way God has acted mightily in Israel’s past and hopes that it will be so again, but there is a raw honesty in these verses. God has not only been ignoring the suffering of the people: it seems like the suffering itself is coming from God. The psalmist is not shy in laying out how bad things are and what God should do about it – restore us! In a culture that emphasizes celebration and joy at this time of year, it can be hard to be honest about just how broken our lives and the world are and to acknowledge our total dependence on God to make things right. Today’s psalm gives us the permission and the space to do just that, even as light begins to break over the horizon.

  • When have you been this vulnerable with God? What was it like?
  • What would restoration look like in your own life? In the life of your community? In the life of the world?

Hebrews 10:5-10

As we make our final turn toward Christmas, the author of Hebrews is here to remind us why we need a Savior to come into the world. The sin and suffering named by Micah and the psalmist cannot be overcome by human efforts. We have run through all the sacrifices and offerings available to us, and our separation from God persists—but so does God’s yearning to close that gap. Using the words of the Psalms, Hebrews reminds us that all along, God has delighted more in one who does God’s will than in sacrifices that don’t address the root of the problem. By connecting Advent to Holy Week, the author of Hebrews shows us what the restoration we long for with the psalmist will look like.

  • What are some examples of human solutions we often rely on to mitigate the cause of sin? How are they limited?
  • How do you see the themes of Advent and Christmas connecting to other parts of the liturgical year?

Luke 1:39-45 (46-55) 

In today’s Gospel, we gather all the hopes and yearnings of Advent and tiptoe right to the edge of Christmas. We find two women whom no one expected to be pregnant sharing their astonishment and joy at what God is about to do – through them! Being connected to one another gives them the strength and perspective to begin to understand what God is working out in their lives; Elizabeth is the first person to name Mary’s baby as the Messiah, and Mary praises God in words freighted with revolutionary language. By going to visit Elizabeth, Mary gives them both the gift of sharing with each other the excitement and fear that comes from being on the cusp of a new thing that seemed impossible. The long-sought fulfillment of God’s promises is as close as a baby kicking in the womb. How can we keep from singing?

  • How has the presence and love of others helped you in a time of waiting for God’s movement in your life?
  • When have you given someone else the gift of noticing how God is at work in their lives?

Hailing from the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania, Noah Stansbury is a middler at the School of Theology at the University of the South. He is an Episcopal Service Corps alumnus and holds a bachelor’s degree in biblical studies. Two of his great loves are cats and collecting books he will never have time to read.

Download the Bible study for Advent 4 (C).

Bible Study, Advent 3 (C) – December 16, 2018

RCL: Zephaniah 3:14-20; Canticle 9; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18

Zephaniah 3:14-20

At the heart of this passage is Zephaniah’s exultation in God’s drawing near to his people. Zephaniah cannot help but proclaim God’s character with all his poetic skill as he calls for us to join him in rejoicing. Let us then join with him in extolling the God who loved us so fiercely that he drew nigh to us, and who took on human flesh—the God who took up a cross so that fallen human nature could have victory over its oppressors and spiritual foes, and the God whose grace-filled humanity overflowed to us for the forgiveness of our sins and strengthening of our weak hands against all temptation! Let us praise and delight in the God who rejoices over his redeemed people with gladness, who renews us in his love, who exults over us with loud singing as on a day of festival! And let us take up his heart for the lame and the outcast and the needy of the earth as we rejoice in our hope of finally seeing him face to face, “when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the Lord.” Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!

  • Have you ever imagined God (or specifically Jesus) as a triumphant warrior rejoicing over you as spoils of battle? How comfortable are you with this image?
  • Are there any people or groups of people in your neighborhood, town, or city that you sense God longs to save and gather into his Church? How do you sense that God might want to use you and your church to show these people his powerful, redemptive love?

Canticle 9

The Prophet Isaiah has often been called “the fifth evangelist,” and this passage certainly gives us some sense of his evangelistic fervor. Our steadfast faith in the God who saves us is the victory that overcomes the world and all our fears. This is the faith that manifests itself by drawing water from the springs of salvation that Jesus has given us, the waters of baptism. Now Jesus has promised us that whenever we gather in his name, he will be in the midst of us—and this “great one in the midst of us is the Holy One of Israel.” Therefore let us make his deeds known among the peoples and sing his praises continually!

  • Do you find it easy or difficult to share your Christian faith with others? Are there any environments in which this is particularly difficult for you?
  • Are you confident in your ability to articulate the basic message of the Gospel and your own faith story? As you attempt to articulate it, does it cause you to surge with joy and confidence, or does the telling of it somehow fall flat?

Philippians 4:4-7

What is it that gives St. Paul the confidence to say something so bold as, “Rejoice in the Lord always” and “Do not worry about anything”? For the most part, we treat those who take such advice seriously to be hopelessly naïve optimists—unless we ourselves happen to be one! But if we look back a couple of sentences to Philippians 3:20-21, we see one reason for his boldness: “Our citizenship is in heaven and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.”

St. Paul sees the changed lives of those who have received the Gospel as evidence of the power of God reordering human hearts from the inside out; this causes the human heart to resemble the heart of God, demonstrating that their true homeland is indeed heavenly rather than earthly (unlike those for whose “god is the belly”). St. Paul knows that this same God will surely soon return to finish the renewing work he started, to make not only our hearts but also our bodies fully like the pure heart and glorified body of Jesus Christ our Savior! With such a God, such a defender and intercessor, and with such a hope, our fear, impatience, and anxiety gradually become swallowed up by the victorious life of Jesus coursing through us, who are his own “flesh and blood,” his Body. Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness and confidence, requesting of God (and thanking him ahead of time for) such things as accord with his will through Jesus Christ. Thus shall we come to know the peace of God which passes all understanding.

  • Have you ever felt so close to God that “the changes and chances of this mortal life” were unable to shake you as they otherwise might have? Do you often sense Jesus’ nearness in times of fear and anxiety, or is he harder for you to reach at those times?
  • Do you feel confident that your heavenly Father answers your prayers?
  • Did Paul’s model of prayer – Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God – challenge you in any way?

Luke 3:7-18

“So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.”

How bizarre to think that what John has just proclaimed is called good news by St. Luke! But this is exactly the good news that we have heard and anticipated in our readings from the prophets Zephaniah and Isaiah: the Lord is coming to be in our very midst and he is bringing judgment with him. That judgment will at once be salvation to those who humbly repent and bear good fruit, and doom to those who harden their hearts and continue to live selfish lives. Although the Messiah’s first coming surprisingly brought mercy, forgiveness, and grace to sinners, his second coming will be in glory to judge both the living and the dead.

Jesus, like John, understood the Son of Man’s mission to be to “bring fire upon the earth” (Luke 12:49), and it is for this reason that Jesus undergoes the “baptism” that he is to be baptized with on the cross. This giving of the fire of the Holy Spirit in tongues of fire will not bring peace, however, but division—division because the sins of our own flesh will resist it and because the corporate sin of our communities will resist it. May we be consumed with the fire of His loving Spirit now, that we may avoid the fire of judgment when he returns!

  • Did anything surprise you about John’s councils to those who came to him? What do you suppose John the Baptist would say if people from your workplace or school or community were to come asking him how to repent?
  • The fourth verse of the hymn How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord reads: “When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie, my grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply; the flame shall not hurt thee; I only design thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.” Have you ever experienced the Lord consuming your dross through fiery trials, or through a fiery experience with him in prayer?

Ryan Jordan is currently a senior 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 a master’s degree in the Liberal Arts from St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He is married to his wonderful wife of four years, Mallory, and has two cats at home.

Download the Bible study for Advent 3 (C).

Bible Study, Advent 2 (C) – December 9, 2018

[RCL]: Baruch 5:1-9; Canticle 16; Philippians 1:3-11; Luke 3:1-6

Baruch 5:1-9

In the previous chapter of Baruch, the city of Jerusalem speaks as a mourning mother to her children who are in exile, encouraging them:

“Go, my children, go; for I have been left desolate. I have taken off the robe of peace and put on sackcloth for my supplication… Take courage, my children, cry to God, and he will deliver you from the power and hand of the enemy. For I have put my hope in the Everlasting to save you, and joy has come to me from the Holy One, because of the mercy that will soon come to you from your everlasting savior. For I sent you out with sorrow and weeping, but God will give you back to me with joy and gladness forever.” – Baruch 4:19-23

In this passage, the prophet addresses to Jerusalem a message of great hope: he tells her to remove the garment of her mourning and replace it with a robe of righteousness, beauty, and glory that comes from God, for God has commanded that her children should be brought back to her. He has “ordered that every high mountain and the everlasting hills be made low,” by the preaching of John the Baptist; Christians proclaim that the “fragrant tree” God would command to shade Israel was fulfilled in the Cross of Christ.

Advent is a season for Christians both to remember God’s saving visitation of his people in the past and to anticipate the fulfillment of his promise to “come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead” and usher in life everlasting. In like fashion, this passage at once captures Israel’s immediate hope of being restored to the land God gave to their ancestors and their hope, which merges with ours, as it looks forward to the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises in Jesus Christ.

  • Can you identify any language in this passage that anticipates or prefigures baptismal imagery?
  • Galatians 4:26 states that the Jerusalem above “is free, and she is our mother.” How might this affect our reading of Baruch 4:19-23?

Canticle 16

The song of Zechariah wonderfully captures what God’s salvation is all about. Zechariah begins by declaring God “blessed,” just as we do every day in the Mass: “Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” We are not merely calling God supremely happy, like the archangel Gabriel calls Mary; rather we are calling God the very source of beatitude and perfection of all creation. Zechariah then carries on, describing why God is blessed. He has visited his people with the purpose of freeing them by means of the anticipated Savior. But freed for what? Just as when God delivered his people who were enslaved in Egypt, they are being freed in order to worship God: “Free to worship him without fear, holy and righteous in his sight all the days of our life.” It is the effects of sin in our lives that God is saving us from, that our lives might be fully given to God without fear or hindrance, and so that he might fully share his blessedness with us. This has always been the purpose of God’s covenants: to restore humanity to communion with himself, ever since Adam turned away in the Garden. It is for this reason that John the Baptist comes onto the scene, preparing the way for Jesus by preaching God’s overwhelming generosity in declaring amnesty for repentant sinners. “Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” “And blessed be his Kingdom, now and for ever. Amen.”

  • What would it look like to be “free to worship him without fear, holy and righteous in his sight” in your everyday life?
  • Have you experienced worshipful and joyful freedom at some point in your life?

Philippians 1:3-11

“I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” This is precisely our Advent hope as we wait for the day of Jesus Christ’s return. The good work begun in us was our baptism, where we were joined to Jesus Christ as members of his mystical Body, forgiven our sins, and given a new source of life in God by the giving of the Holy Spirit. Paul prays that the life of God given to the Philippians as a seed in baptism would come to maturity in an overflowing of love and prudence, virtues that produce the likeness of God in us because God is love (cf. 1 John 4:7-9). These virtues enable us to discern what is good in every circumstance and to will to do it wholeheartedly, producing the “harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.” God is glorified above all by his likeness being reproduced in his people, and so he is at work in us, pouring his life and love into us, transforming us into transparencies of himself—holy, blameless, pure, and righteous. This is a wonderful gospel: let us join with Paul in proclaiming it, no matter the cost!

  • Who is one person God is stirring you to share the Gospel with? Who can you ask to help you pray for that person, so that God might lay the foundations of faith in him or her?
  • How is God calling you to mature in the life of Christ?

Luke 3:1-6

The Evangelist Luke takes great pains to provide historical context for John the Baptist’s preaching of repentance in the wilderness. First, Luke places us in the timeline of emperors, governors, tetrarchs and high priests—the “this world” history defined by the plans of powerful men and their governments. Then Luke places us in the timeline of salvation history with the quote from the prophet Isaiah (vv. 4-6). Here the eternal plans of God intersect with a particular place and time, and at that intersection is a particular person making a unique summons to repent and be forgiven. This call to re-think the direction of our lives in preparation for the Lord’s visitation is, however, remarkably universal—repentance is the great equalizer. Jews as well as Gentiles, strong as well as weak, rich as well as poor, people of the 1st century and people of the 21st century alike must turn humbly to God to ask his forgiveness and start living a life that bears good fruit. But it is an equality that paradoxically favors the Gentile, the weak, the poor, the humble, and even the one without modern prejudices against a notion of divine revelation.

We too, therefore, must examine ourselves in light of Jesus’ imminent return, and ask that God would give us grace with joy to make good on our baptismal repentance and renunciations, that he would help us make every crooked way straight, every prideful barrier low to receive his grace, every deficiency filled, and our roughness smoothed, so that we might greet Jesus with joy at his return.

  • Do you find yourself wishing you had more time before Jesus returns, or can you say “Maranatha, come Lord Jesus” without hesitation?
  • What crooked ways might our Lord want to make straight in you? What obstacles have you placed in front of him that he needs to remove so that you can more joyfully anticipate his return?

Ryan Jordan is currently a senior 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 a master’s degree in the Liberal Arts from St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He is married to his wonderful wife of four years, Mallory, and has two cats at home.

Download the Bible study for Advent 2 (C).

Bible Study, Advent 1 (C) – December 2, 2018

[RCL]: Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:1-9; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36

Jeremiah 33:14-16

“The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.”

Two things strike me about this sentence. I am assured that God is good, and will fulfill the promises made. Simultaneously, I am struck by the frustration of the Israelites, and indeed of us today, with having to wait upon the Lord.

  • What are the promises God has made to you?
  • For what are you waiting for God to fulfill?
  • How can we rest in the assurance that God will fulfill and bring to fruition the promises God has made?

Let us rest in the faith and reassurance of those promises.

Psalm 25:1-9

In the first lines of this psalm, we get a great prayer of trust – “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; my God, I put my trust in you.” What a great way to begin a prayer! The psalmist also shows their own humanity and doubt in the very next line, “let me not be humiliated, nor let my enemies triumph over me.” The story of our walk with God in faith is often one of trusting even in the face of doubt.

  • When we come to the end of our days, can we too say, “In you have I trusted all the day long”?
  • How would it feel to continually put our trust in God?
  • What would this challenge in us?
  • How might our lives be transformed?

Perhaps we would find that “all the paths of the Lord are love and faithfulness” – what a gift that could be.

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

This letter is written by Paul to one of the early church communities. I wonder, in our position as members of the Anglican Communion, how often we think this way of our fellow churches. I suspect the practice of writing encouragement to one another has ceased, partly because we are in a world where written letters are not the fastest forms of communication – and partly because we simply forget to encourage and thank God for one another. Following God’s call is difficult. We need to lift one another up, to encourage one another in our callings, even when we don’t immediately see eye to eye.

  • How might we lift up one another?
  • In what ways can we encourage one another in our callings and ministry?

May we abound in love for one another and have our hearts strengthened in holiness.  

Luke 21:25-36

It is hard for me to read this gospel lesson of the signs of the coming of man and not connect it to some of the doom and gloom teachers and preachers who love to talk about the end of time and draw lines in the sand over who will be saved. After reading it through a few times, though, I find this passage not to be about living in fear but rather about standing in our truth as Christians. Jesus’ instructions are not to spend time worrying and preparing for this coming, but rather to “stand up and raise your heads” when these things come to pass.

  • Are we ready to stand strong in our faith? Why or why not?
  • “Heaven and Earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” How can we hold more firmly to the everlasting words of Jesus and let go of the things that will pass away?

This Bible study, written by Jazzy Bostock, originally ran November 29, 2015.

Download the Bible study for Advent 1 (C).