Bible Study, Easter 7 (A) – May 28, 2017

[RCL] Acts 1:6-14; Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36; 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11; John 17:1-11

Acts 1:6-14

At this point in Scripture, the disciples have devoted the last few years of their lives to following Jesus. During those years, they have witnessed amazing things: healings, the recovery of sight, abundance from nothing (five loaves and two fish), calming storms, and even raising people from the dead. And when all their hope was crushed as their Messiah was dragged off to his death, he soon came back, overturning and conquering death. They have seen all the wonders and signs, and they are ready for the final climactic event, for the promise to be fulfilled, the foretold happy ending- the ushering in of a new age and restoration of the Kingdom.

But instead, Jesus asserts that this is something God has set to happen when God deems fit, and until then, there is work to be done in spreading the Good News of Jesus to new places and bringing all people to know him in their hearts and lives.

  • How do you see the church/parish you attend bringing the Good News of Jesus to people?
  • Do you remember a time where the message or story of Jesus really ‘sank in’ and affected you?

Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36

 “Father of orphans, defender of widows.” Verse 5 of Psalm 68 holds these beautiful words. To me, they evoke a feeling of warmth and of a God who brings comfort to people whose situations and circumstances are anything but comfortable. The Psalmist here acknowledges God’s goodness.

  • Where do you find God’s presence strongest in your life?
  • Can you think of situations where things looked dismal but God provided in some way?
  • Has God put special people in your life who have been there in these times?

1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11

Much like today’s Psalm, this passage from 1 Peter speaks of God’s blessed assurance during times of trial. In the trying moments of our lives, it is good to remember our calling as Christians to always speak in truth, love, and understanding, just as Jesus did with all those with whom he came in contact. This does not mean we have to sugarcoat hard truths or hide our frustrations, but it does mean we must always keep in mind the well-being of our neighbor, even the neighbor with whom we have a tough time. The Devil wants us to forsake Christ, and give into insensitivity and disregard of others. Resisting this temptation takes a lot of strength, but fortunately, we have Jesus to help and hold us up.

  • Can you think of someone in your life who has shown patience, love, understanding, or endurance?
  • If so, in what ways do you find inspiration from his or her personal example?

John 17:1-11

In this passage, Jesus gives the promise of Eternal Life to those who give themselves over to him as Lord. He also petitions God to protect his disciples and keep them united.

  • As a disciple of Jesus, what is it that you think brings harmony and unity with fellow believers in your life and community of faith?
  • What are some areas of opportunity with your fellow believers to build trust, support, and mutual understanding for the glorification of God?

 

Andrew (Drew) Christiansen is a senior at Bexley Seabury Seminary. He is a postulant in the Episcopal Diocese of Eastern Michigan and ecclesiastically endorsed by the Episcopal Church Office of Armed Forces Ministry. Drew is currently finishing his seminarian-internship at Trinity Episcopal Church in Wauwatosa, Wisc., a faith community he is so blessed to have been a part of. Drew enjoys reading history, promoting ecumenism (especially with Lutherans!), and listening to a wide, eclectic range of music. He also likes a good game of skee ball.

 

Download the Bible Study for Easter 7 (A).

 

Bible Study, Easter 5 (A) – May 14, 2017

[RCL] Acts 7:55-60; Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16; 1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14

Acts 7:55-60

The ministry, arrest, and death of Jesus echo through the story of Stephen.  The apostles who knew Jesus prayed over and laid hands on Stephen to commission him in his ministry.  Stephen’s work following the way of Jesus threatened the established power structure and authorities; he was arrested, brought before the council and the high priest, and put to death.

These echoes continue as Stephen prays for the Lord to receive his spirit and for those who are perpetrating his gruesome murder to be forgiven.  Stephen’s story, however, is more than a recapitulation of Jesus’ own story, as though in the parallels Jesus may be dimly found.  Even unto death, Stephen perseveres—by the power of the Spirit—in proclaiming the glory of God and the presence of Jesus at God’s right hand.

Though the crowd may have “covered their ears,” Stephen’s words and actions in proclaiming Jesus will live beyond him, participating in the resurrection reality promised by Jesus.  New life will come forth as the Good News spreads; remember that a “young man named Saul” has been witness to all of these events.

  • When have you known someone to continue to proclaim Jesus even in the face of great adversity?
  • Name a time when you were acutely aware of the glory of God.
  • When have the words and/or actions of others in proclaiming Jesus brought forth new life in you? When have your words and/or actions in proclaiming Jesus brought forth new life in others?

Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16

Deliver me—rescue me—lead me—guide me—save me.

This selection from Psalm 31 is a prayer for relief, addressed to the one constant source of strength.  In the midst of chaos, uncertainty, and oppression, God is refuge, rock, and stronghold.  This is a prayer of trust and commendation to God, who is faithful and whose love is steadfast: “Into your hands I commend my spirit. . .”  These are the words spoken by Jesus on the cross (Luke 23:46) and likewise by Stephen at his death (Acts 7:59).

As Jesus and Stephen show us, trusting and commending ourselves to God often means letting go of the ways we may want to be delivered, rescued, led, guided, and saved.  This is, therefore, not an easy psalm to pray.  To commend our whole selves to God means to trust all to the refuge of God’s love.

  • Have you ever prayed these or some other similar words?
  • Have you ever experienced God’s deliverance in a way that you did not envision or expect?

1 Peter 2:2-10

This passage from First Peter speaks of what it is to be God’s people, “chosen and precious in God’s sight.”  We are reminded of the Baptismal Covenant we renewed together on Easter with a commitment to “continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers.”

Study, prayer and worship, and fellowship are the pattern of Christian life.  They are the marks of disciples—the footprints of those who follow Jesus.  And we follow Jesus together, as a community; we are not only God’s persons, but also God’s people. We must engage our individual lives of faith with the life of the community—seeking the “pure, spiritual milk” of God’s word in study, offering our praise and thanksgiving in worship, and then proclaiming “the mighty acts” of God to the world.  There is always room for growth among God’s people—we are “living stones,” not a people set in stone.

And we do all of this the only way we know how: with God’s help.

  • As a follower of Jesus, how are you engaged in study, prayer and worship, and fellowship?
  • How does your community support you in living this pattern of Christian – that is, disciple – life? How do your support your community in living this life?
  • Where do you sense room for growth in your community?

John 14:1-14

This passage shares a story—a conversation between Jesus and his disciples—which took place before the Great Three Days, and we now have the opportunity to listen to the conversation with Easter ears and Resurrection eyes.

Thomas and Philip address Jesus with a title of respect and deference: “Lord.”  They recognize who Jesus is—the Word made flesh, the light of the world, the bread of life, the Good Shepherd—but do they know Jesus—do they believe?

Jesus reminds them of the intimate relationship between himself and the Father: “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.”  To know Jesus is to know the Father.  To know the “works” of Jesus is also to know the Father, but even more than this, those who know and believe will participate in the work of the Son and the Father.  This is the work of Easter people—to know and believe God dwelling in each of us and then to participate in the work God is calling us to in the world.

  • What does it mean to believe and to know? Are these the same?  How might they be different?
  • To what work is God calling you in this place and at this time?

 

Elizabeth Farr is a Candidate for Holy Orders from the Diocese of East Tennessee and a current Middler Seminarian at the School of Theology at The University of the South.  A “cradle Episcopalian,” Elizabeth is a 2007 graduate of the University of the South College of Arts and Sciences.  In her vocational life before seminary, Elizabeth served as the Youth Director at Bruton Parish, Williamsburg, Virginia, and, most recently, Good Shepherd, Lookout Mountain, Tennessee.  Elizabeth is married to Matthew Farr, a Senior Seminarian at the School of Theology and recently ordained transitional deacon, and they have a two-year-old son, Rohen.

Download the Bible Study for Easter 5 (A).

 

Bible Study, Easter 6 (A) – May 21, 2017

[RCL] Acts 17:22-31; Psalm 66:7-18; 1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21

Acts 17:22-31

In this passage, we see Paul addressing an audience almost exclusively made up of Gentiles in a Greek setting where Christianity is foreign, the concept of a monotheistic God is laughable and the idea of resurrection downright ridiculous. Paul is speaking a foreign concept to an audience that is curious, yet skeptical.

Aren’t we all somewhat skeptical? This resurrection story we so joyously celebrate in Eastertide can be a hard one to fully accept without some critical thought and questions. What is it about this resurrection story that so captures us?

When I read this passage, I see Paul describing a miraculous and deeply mysterious deity, but what is perhaps most striking, for us and for the Gentiles of Paul’s audience, is how personal and intimate this God of ours truly is. This is a God “in whom we live and move and have our being”, a God that views us and loves us as God’s “offspring”, God’s children. This is a God with whom we have a deeply intimate relationship and connection; not an object cast in gold or an untouchable, unreachable deity off in a separate realm. We belong to and are a part of God. Paul is not just proclaiming resurrection of the body, Paul is proclaiming that we are children of God, in whom all things are possible.

  • Why might this notion of a personal God be so scandalous or hard to believe?
  • How do you understand the resurrection as it relates to your personal relationship with God?
  • How is God working on resurrection in your life this Easter season?

Psalm 66:7-18

Psalm 66 is considered a song of thanksgiving. In this passage, terrible things have happened to the speaker of the song, but they have survived and are praising God for having helped them through the trials. This Psalm recalls what God has done for the community (Ps 7-12) and what God has done specifically for the speaker of the Psalm (Ps 66:13-18). In other words, this Psalm tells a story about God’s action and the personal ways in which God has helped others and the individual speaking.

As I raise my children, this Psalm represents the kinds of stories I tell them in order to help them understand what it means to have faith. I explain how God has been revealed to me and how I have personally experienced God alive in my local church and in community. I share how God has been active in my life as I have dealt with hardship. This Psalm represents a parent’s story about their faith to their children and a grandparent’s story to their children and grandchildren. It represents the stories we tell about our faith journey with God in community; these stories are passed down from generation to generation.

  • How do you share your faith with younger generations?
  • How do you think your faith story could help those younger generations understand their own faith journey? How has an elder’s faith story shaped your faith journey?
  • Where in our liturgy and worship do you see us singing this song of thanksgiving and sharing how God is alive in our community?

1 Peter 3:13-22

Peter is speaking to a community of Christians who are terribly afraid because they live in a world where the threat of being murdered for their belief in Jesus as the Messiah constantly hangs over their heads. This passage can feel hard to relate to as many of us do not experience the constant threat of being attacked or killed by the governing authorities of this country for practicing our Christian faith.

In this passage, Peter seeks to assure the imperiled community and convince them that this faith is worth the threat of persecution and death. He appeals to the concept of baptism in order to make his point. Remember your faith, he seems to say, as he speaks on the meaning of the initiation into faith by the waters of baptism. This baptism “now saves you– not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience.”

Today, when we remember our Baptismal Covenant we are asked to remember that we have promised to serve that of Christ in all persons, and respect the human dignity of every human being. While we may not be persecuted as Christians in this country and context, there are many who are being persecuted for their faith (Christian or otherwise) around the world and even in our own communities. How can we “appeal to God for a good conscience” by practicing our Baptismal Covenant and helping those who are being persecuted today?

  • How can we practice the call of our Baptismal Covenant in our current contexts and communities?
  • How is God calling you specifically to live into your Baptismal Covenant in this season of your life; in this year, month, week, day?
  • What prayers, practices or disciplines help to anchor you in your Baptismal Covenant? 

John 14:15-21

This passage in John begins and ends with love. In between these bookends is an explanation of the relationships of the Holy Trinity. Jesus expresses that the commandment of love he has asked believers to keep is not something that will have to be done alone. In fact, we are intertwined and intimately connected to God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit as believers and are, ultimately, never alone. Our being, our essence, is part of God, which is part of Jesus, which is part of the Holy Spirit. Jesus emphasizes that these three persons of the Trinity are connected and interwoven. He expresses that we as believers do not only have access to these persons of God, we are also part of them, intertwined and deeply connected with them.

This passage articulates how living in faith means to live in Holy Community. Our model for God is a community of interwoven and interconnected parts which are bound up in and made from love. This focus emphasizes how our faith should be lived out and understood in relationship with one another. If our model for God is expressed in three persons, representing what it means to be in communion with others, then we ought to work out and express our faith in communion as well. Love should also be the foundation on which all communion and faith is built.

  • How do you live out your faith in communion/community?
  • Are there ways in which you have not been able to live out your faith in community? How so?
  • What do you like about this idea of faith lived out in community? What about this makes you feel uncomfortable or presents difficulty for you?

 

Erin received her M.Div. from Earlham School of Religion and is receiving her Diploma of Anglican Studies at Bexley Seabury Seminary Federation. She is a candidate or ordination to the priesthood in the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis and currently serves as the Director of Discipleship at Good Samaritan Episcopal Church, an Episcopal Church plant in Brownsburg, Indiana. Erin will begin her first call in ordained ministry as the Pathways Priest for the Diocese of Indianapolis in June 2017, working on stewardship vitality and sustainability practices with four congregations in the diocese. She lives at home in downtown Indy with her husband and two boys.

 

Download the Bible Study for Easter 6 (A).

Bible Study, Easter 4 (A) – May 7, 2017

[RCL] Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10

Acts 2:42-47

During the Easter season, lections from the book of Acts are used in place of the Old Testament because they record the early response of the church to Christ’s resurrection.  In its larger context, the assigned text for Easter 4A serves as a transition from Peter’s first sermon (2:14-36, 38-40, cf. Easter 3A) to his second sermon (3:12-26, cf. Thursday in Easter Week).  This passage describes what happened in response to Peter’s first sermon.  In verse 42, we see four characteristics of the community life of the church, i.e. devotion to (1) the apostles’ teaching, (2) fellowship, (3) the breaking of bread, and (4) the prayers.

The word in Greek for “fellowship” is koinonia, which means a shared and common life.  We see characteristics of this common life by “all who believed” in the rest of the passage, in that they were together, had all things in common, spent much time together, and so forth (vv.44-46).  It is possible that “the breaking of bread” is a double entendre, that is, it could refer to both the Eucharist and to common meals.  Regarding the former, we are reminded of what happened in Luke 24, where the eyes of the followers were not opened until Jesus had “broken the bread” (vv.31, 35).  Regarding the latter, we see them “[breaking] bread at home” and eating their food with “glad and generous hearts…” (v.46).

  • What do you think contributed to the growth of the early church (v.47b)? Was it simply because of the “signs and wonders” (v.43)?  Do you think it had anything to do with the four characteristics of this early community?  Yes or No?  Why or why not?
  • Look at each of the four characteristics in verse 42 and how they were manifested in the life of the believers. Compare this with your own faith community. What is similar? What is different? Are these applicable to life today?  Why or why not?  If something does not seem applicable, then consider how the principle behind it may be implemented.  Is there anything that you think is missing?

Psalm 23

What more can be said about this Song of Trust, which is read each Easter 4 and on other days of the church year?  The simple yet profound metaphor of “the shepherd,” and his relationship to his sheep is often viewed as unifying the entire psalm.  According to this perspective, the whole psalm is an exposition of the first verse, where we see a typical near-eastern shepherd fulfilling his duties: ensuring that the sheep have water, food, rest, and safe paths to walk on, protecting them from dangers, particularly predators that would attack and kill them, using his staff and rod to not only protect the sheep, but to herd them, and putting oil on their heads and noses to drive away the annoying insects that cause infection. The themes of guidance, provision, and refuge are predominant. When Christians read this psalm, they see Jesus as the Good Shepherd (cf. John 10) who restores our souls, leads us in right paths, accompanies and comforts us through danger and darkness, provides the Eucharistic meal in the presence of our enemies of sin and death, and actively pursues us every day we live.

  • An interesting observation is the shift in pronouns referring to the LORD (the 3rd person “he” in vv.1-3, but 2nd person “you” vv.4-6). What is happening in the text when the author shifts from 3rd person to this direct address?
  • In verse 6, the word “follow” does not imply “bringing up the rear,” but rather the sense is that of “pursuing.” The covenantal steadfast goodness and mercy, or love and support, of the Lord are not simply things upon which we depend each and every day, but rather these are things that vigorously pursue   What difference does this make to you?
  • There are four sets of contrasts in this psalm: (1) want and provision, (2) rest and activity, (3) fear and comfort, and (4) danger and security. Go back through the psalm and look at each of these.  What do they reveal about the Lord and humanity?  How do these apply to your life?  What effect does this have on your perspective about your present and future?

I Peter 2:19-25

The idea of suffering for doing good is a theme in 1 Peter.  We see this illustrated in the proverbial quality of the first two verses in this lection, where a contrast is highlighted between enduring pain and suffering for doing wrong, versus for doing right.  For the former, there is no credit due.  For the latter, however, there is not only “credit to you” for suffering unjustly, but moreover, “God’s approval” of you.  Lest the reader be surprised by this, the writer points to Christ’s suffering on our behalf, drawing from the image of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53, where we see Jesus, the one without sin, choose to suffer without protest, because he trusted God for his vindication (vv. 22-23). The author suggests Christ’s suffering is not only an example for us to follow (vv. 21), but it is also redemptive (v. 24).  Christ’s passion, his atoning sacrifice for our sins, restores our relationship with “the shepherd and guardian of [our] souls” (v. 25).  Jesus is not only the Good Shepherd who gives his life for his sheep, but he is also the one who protects, provides for, and leads his sheep (cf. John 10, Psalm 23).

  • What are some examples of suffering unjustly? Recall a time when you, or someone you know, has experienced unjust suffering.  How did you feel?  How did you respond?  What have you learned about Jesus’ understanding of this experience?  Are there situations where we should not follow Christ’s examples of non-retaliation?
  • Why was Jesus willing to submit to death? To whom did he trust for his ultimate vindication?  In what ways might this encourage you, when you face the pain and suffering of misunderstanding, marginalization, persecution, etc. for “doing the right thing” for His name’s sake? 

John 10:1-10

This lection contains two instances of reported direct speech (vv.1-5 and vv.7-10), both of which contain two images to describe Jesus’ relationship to his followers:  a shepherd and a gate.

In the first section (vv.1-5), we hear Jesus use a shepherding metaphor to describe legitimate and rightful leadership.   We note a contrast between how the sheepfold is accessed, and how the sheep respond to the voice they hear.   Those who seek to access the sheepfold in a stealthy manner are deemed to be thieves and bandits.  In contrast, the rightful shepherd uses the gate, which is opened by the gatekeeper (1-3a).   When the sheep hear the voice of a stranger, they will run away because they do not recognize the voice.  In contrast, when the sheep hear the voice of the rightful shepherd, they follow because they know his voice (3b-5).

  • What does it mean to “know his voice?” What kinds of things can we do to cultivate an ability to hear and recognize his voice?

Before leaving this section, the two observations are worth noting about the nature of his leadership:   the shepherd not only “calls his own sheep by name,” but he also “goes ahead of them” once he has led them out.

  • What difference does it make that Jesus intimately knows each of us by name, and that he does not abandon us, but rather goes ahead of us?

At the close of this section, we get a comment from the narrator in verse 6.  Since Jesus’ audience did not understand his “figure of speech” (vv.1-5), it becomes necessary for him to offer a different way to describe his relationship to his followers.  In this second section (vv.7-10), Jesus uses the “gate” image again, thereby connecting it with the first section, where its function was to identify who the rightful and legitimate shepherd was, that is, the gate was the only point of authorized entry into the sheepfold.

While there are many interesting observations to make here, it’s important to note the use of this image in connection with the declaration “I am,” which harkens back to Ex 3:14, Isa.45:5a; 48.12b, and used in the Gospel of John six other times (I am “the bread of life,” “the light of the world,” “the good shepherd,” “the resurrection and the life,” “the way, and the truth, and the life,” and, “the true vine”).

  • Why do you think Jesus uses the “I am” declaration here? He could have said, “I am like a gate…” or “I am like a shepherd…” (cf. John 10:11)?  What is the significance of this?  What do these various images and metaphors teach us about Jesus’ salvific relationship to the world?

Diane C. Mumma-Wakabayashi is a Candidate for Holy Orders.  She and her husband Allen (also a Candidate) are currently at Nashotah House Theological Seminary.  They are finishing up a year of Anglican Studies coursework in preparation for ordination this year.  They have three lovely Pembroke Welsh Corgis – Josephus, Buckaroo, and Cooper.

 

Download the Bible Study for Easter 4 (A).

Bible Study, Easter 3 (A) – April 30, 2017

[RCL] Ezekiel 37:1-14; Romans 8:6-11; John 11:1-45; Psalm 130

Ezekiel 37:1-14

When I read this passage, I hear under the words, “them bones, them bones, them dry bones,” that refrain I think I learned in Sunday School. As I dig into this prophecy from Ezekiel, I feel the strength of the four winds blowing with the breath of life into the valley. God here is speaking life into something that has been dismembered. God shows that nothing, not even death, is beyond the realm of God’s mighty power.

  • What dry bones in your life can you ask God to breathe new life into?
  • What or who needs your prophecy – who is God reaching through you?

Psalm 130

I am not a very patient person. This psalmist, who speaks so poetically on waiting for the Lord, more than watchmen for the morning, captivates me. I need to be reminded to wait, but perhaps there is also a place for my impatience in waiting. Watchmen waiting for the morning might be calm, but my soul waits for God more than that – perhaps there is excitement in my impatience. In God’s word lies my hope.

  • What are the ways, in prayer, that you wait for God?
  • What do you feel in your waiting?

Romans 8:6-11

As we learned in the lesson earlier, God’s power is not stopped by flesh and bodies. The body is made and created in God’s image, and part of our body is also our Spirit. I read the distinction here between setting your mind on flesh versus setting your mind on Spirit as being a religious distinction – Spirit, capitalized, reads to me about setting your mind on God rather than on yourself.

  • What do you need to give up to focus on God?
  • How can you celebrate the Spirit that is part of your body?

John 11:1-45

This gospel is rich. I often think about how the roles between Mary and Martha are reversed – that Martha, this time, is the one to meet Jesus. I also hear so stingingly her words, that, “If you had been here this wouldn’t have happened.” I am also struck, after all of these lessons about God overcoming death, by the power of God to breathe new life into that which we thought was gone forever. But today, what I am struck most by is the gratitude that Jesus gives. Before he asks God for anything, he gives thanks. In a world that so often seems to breed selfishness, I think gratitude is one of the purest antidotes.

  • What can you thank God for?
  • What might God want to resurrect for you, and breathe new life into? 

 

Jazzy Bostock is a sun-loving, big-dreaming, laugh-adoring, God-praising, Native Hawaiian woman, in my first year at seminary. I believe deeply in the power of kindness, compassion, gentleness, and most of all love. I am grateful for the opportunity God has given me to be here, and for all that God is. Mahalo piha.

Download the Bible Study for Easter 3 (A).

Bible Study, Palm Sunday (A) – April 9, 2017

[RCL] Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew 26:14-27:66

Isaiah 50:4-9a

This part of Isaiah is interesting. If we look closely, it has a careful balance of human responses to God and each other. First, we find the value of listening and speaking. As God gives the prophet the gift of words, it is to use them to sustain the weary. And as God gives the prophet the power to listen, it is so that the prophet hears, and more importantly, understands God. This understanding is a pivotal part of the prophet’s obedience to God.

Then the passage shifts to a more physical sense of response to God and each other. Mentions of being struck, pulling out a beard, and spitting give a very negative sense of responding to God and each other through physical means. This is particularly interesting because the passage closes with a question of declaring guilt, which is the standard our communities still use in determining who is a free citizen and who is not. But those declarations are only words.

  • How do we use our bodies (in all senses, by speaking, by listening, by acting) as centers of spiritual renewal and connection to God and each other?
  • If this passage is telling us anything, it is that words and how we hear them are significant. How do you use your own words? How do you listen? Would that change based on today’s scripture?

Psalm 31:9-16

When all feels lost, when we find ourselves at the bottom of the well of life, when everything seems to be working against us, it can be easy to just give up. It can be easy to throw in the towel, stop trying to climb out, and just exist in a state of perpetual sadness and fear. But the psalmist today gives us another alternative. When we feel as though we have nothing left, no one to turn to and nothing we can do to change that, God is still present. We can still cry out to God for mercy and love.

  • What is your standard mode of operation when things are tough? Do you lash out? Hide away? How can you bring God into those moments with you?

Philippians 2:5-11

This passage is an incredible and wild statement for its time. Particularly in a time of Roman rule, the typical leader came to conquer by strength and might. When Jesus arrives on the scene, that is largely the expectation of the people. He is supposed to overthrow the Roman empire and lead the people of God into a new and peaceful kingdom. But that is not what Christ does. Instead, Christ models the life of a servant, emptying himself even to the point of death. This was a radical notion at the time.

  • How do we respond to radical ideas?
  • Think of those things which have never been done, things that go against our cultural expectations of how things should be done, and imagine how you might embrace or push back against that sort of thing which goes against it all.

Matthew 26:14-27:66

The reading from Matthew for Palm Sunday is full of the images we associate with the Passion: the betrayal by Judas, the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, the three denials of Peter, and the angry mom of a crowd crying out for the crucifixion of Jesus. What we focus on today is the constant tension we find between humanity and divinity. It is highlighted again and again.

Christ knows who will betray and deny him. Christ can stay awake and alert in the garden. Christ can look his betrayer in the eyes and call him ‘friend.’ The humanity in the narrative comes in the form of Judas falling prey to monetary bribes, the disciples constantly falling asleep, Peter being so filled with fear that he denies knowing Christ, and the crowds being so worked up that they allow the chief priests and scribes to convince them that Barabas is the one they should pardon.

But the tension is also housed within Christ, himself. Although he knows his path, he pleads for release. And although he knows the consequence of his betrayal, he still calls Judas friend. And even though Peter falls victim to fear and shame, he is still the one chosen to build the church on. These are all ways that humanity and divinity are playing tug-o-war with each other throughout this passage.

  • In what ways do our own wills match or mismatch with God’s will for us?
  • How do we respond when we are in opposition? Do we repent like Judas? Do we get angry like the crowd? Do we weep like Peter?
  • What can we learn from these responses?

Written by Samantha Gottlich, a senior M.Div. student at Virginia Theological Seminary and a candidate for holy orders in the Episcopal Diocese of Texas. She is author of Faith Rules: An Episcopal Manual, and soon-to-be published Lectionary Levity, a lectionary-based preaching resource focused on humor in the pulpit. She is an avid reader, dreamer, and seeker of God’s love in the world.

Download the Bible Study for Palm Sunday (A).

Bible Study, Lent 5(A) – April 2, 2017

[RCL] Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:6-11; John 11:1-45

Ezekiel 37:1-14

In this passage from Ezekiel the use of imagery of bodily resurrection explains the genesis of God’s reconciliatory process for the restoration of the exiled community. The prophet echoes the creation imagery in the narrative, the re-ordering of life as evident in the wordplay – Hebrew “ruah” for breath or wind – which in this context designates both physical and spiritual revival, thus offers hope and healing to the people of God.

The allusion to the four winds (God’s spirit) is a demonstration of God’s cosmic intervention in the history of Israel’s salvation process. The Prophet’s frequent reference to “Yahweh” “I AM the Lord”(vs 13), portrays an assurance of God’s imminent salvation. God will surely restore his people to their land and bring them hope in the place of despair.

As the community of God, our spiritual life and hope may have been thwarted by the negative daily life encounters and personal and corporate sins – indicators of spiritual exile. These may include: social-economic, political, and religious reforms of our time which may have dashed hope from many. God’s love promises hope in his son Jesus Christ, through whom by faith all humanity is reconciled to God and to one another, thereby achieving holistic restoration.

  • How is the contemporary church called to renew the life of its members?
  • What is God’s plan in the restoration of the lost relation with humanity?
  • The metaphorical use of dry bones in the passage refers to a state of loss of hope. In what areas, do Christians find their spirituality drained and needs rejuvenation?

Psalm 130

As the Psalmist makes his plea to God for his iniquities, he portrays God as too distant to redeem mankind, and yet his long-suffering and patience with humanity says so much about his immanent and forgiving nature. Humanity is vulnerable to sin, a situation which seeks a sincere and repentant spirit/soul. God is inherently loving and forgiving, hence Israel must depend entirely on this redeeming grace and not lose hope.

The Psalmist is calling the Christian church to a genuine vertical and horizontal reconciliation in which sincere wholeness is found. Sin breaches relationships in families, communities, races, religion, and nations. Human nature may lead to vices like hate, mistrust and revenge, whereas a person with a repentant heart forgives as he/she is forgiven. Christians are called to hope only in God as the origin of our life.

  • What benefits are in store for the church and its members from practicing a penitential life?
  • In what ways, can we harness God’s attributes of love and forgiveness in building the Christian families and our nation?

Romans 8:6-11

Throughout the narrative, Paul endeavors to elucidate the dualistic nature of the development and application of God’s law. The law of the flesh is mechanical and imprisoning and is associated with the old human nature. Hence it leads to death. The new law of the Spirit, which is achieved by faith in Jesus Christ, leads to human freedom and grants life.

According to Paul, an ambivalence created by the contrasting dominion of the law of the flesh and that of the Spirit is broken by the act of adoption by the life-giving spirit, which sets the new order of creation in Christ. The Spirit therefore legitimizes our inheritance as God’s children, who have access to all the benefits of God’s children, including eternal life.

Men and women are here awakened to the acknowledgment of God’s work of salvation which has been perfected by the death and resurrection of Christ. By the spirit of God, our faith in Christ becomes the means of immortality.

Through God’s Spirit, everyone’s aspirations find freedom from the constant intra-personal and inter-personal struggles. For God’s children, the Spirit replaces sin as the indwelling power which determines a person’s life and behavior.

  • Paul tries to explain how the law of the Spirit works to ultimately free us from the struggles of human nature (the law of the flesh). How does this help your understanding of role of the Holy Spirit in the New Covenant?
  • In your view, how would the law of the flesh lead to death?
  • When Paul says “for all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God” (v.14), how does this statement inform our choice for freedom from the bondage of sin?

John 11:1-45

The narrative of John gives an explicit illustration of the climax of Christ’s reign on earth, being the giver of life and the light of the world. The resurrection of Lazarus from the dead forms the central part in the narrative and is an affirmation of Christ’s divine role of his life-giving ministry on earth. His impending death and resurrection suggested by the plot to arrest him points to the unveiling of God’s glory. According to Jesus, our choice to believe in his name supersedes other choices in this earthly life.

The human Lord here makes a perfect companion, whose love breaks all bonds, reaching deep into our sufferings, groaning, loneliness and ultimately forgives our sins. Just as many people made the choice to believe in Christ upon witnessing his great works, it is possible today that men and women by the power of the Holy Spirit have equal opportunities of experiencing Christ’s love. Christ, as the friend of sinners, is concerned with our outpouring response in faith, upon which he meets us in our diversity and weakness.

  • Lent is a time of self-reflection and repentance through prayers, fasting, and self-denial. As the church focuses on Christ’s Passion and the revealed glory in Resurrection. In what ways does the above narrative prepare us for the same?
  • How is the contemporary church equipped to demonstrate God’s love and compassion in our ailing families, community, and nation?

Written by The Rev. Fredrick Okoth, a priest from the Anglican province of Kenya – Diocese of Bondo. Married to Lilian Oduor and a father of four children, Okoth is a holder of world meteorologist class II course certificate and worked with Kenya Government in meteorological services for seven years. He holds a diploma in Pastoral Theology from Bishop Okullu College of Theology and Development, a Bachelors in Past Pastoral Theology from the Great Lakes University of Kisumu, and is working toward a Masters of Arts in Biblical Studies from General Theological Seminary in New York. Okoth has been a priest for thirteen years, serving as priest-in-charge of four congregations in the Diocese of Bondo. He has also served as an area Dean, secretary clergy welfare and clerical secretary in the Diocesan synod.  

Download the Bible Study for Lent 5(A).

Bible Study, Lent 4(A) – March 26, 2017

[RCL] 1 Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41 

1 Samuel 16:1-13

Those anointed and called to do God’s work don’t always look and act as we’d expect them to. In this passage from Samuel, Jesse brings forward several candidates for the next king of Israel, all of whom are rejected with the phrase, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Instead, God calls the youngest son, the least likely candidate; the one who is busy with other tasks. The one who no one thought was in the running. The passage demonstrates that God anoints and sends messengers not as mortals see, but as God sees.

  • When have you heard the Good News from a source you didn’t expect?
  • How does a glimpse of a person through God’s vision of the heart change our own assumptions about who is called to do God’s work? What does this tell us about God?

Psalm 23

Something as familiar as the 23rd Psalm can start to feel almost rote. But, there is so much richness in the theological depiction of a caring, nurturing and providential God contained in the poetic imagery of this psalm. God is our trust, our sustenance, our protector, our benefactor, our ever-present companion and shelter in life. A wonderful lyrical setting of the 23rd Psalm is Marty Haugen’s Shepherd Me, O God. Haugan’s translation turns this familiar psalm into a prayer for our committed lives of faith, “Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants, beyond my needs, from death into life.” Not only is the setting beautiful, but it moves the words from passive comfort to an aspirational commitment to living fully into the life into which we are called and shepherded by God.

  • When has God provided for you in your time of need? How did this change your understanding of God’s presence in your life?
  • Where do you experience the shepherding of God in your life…either away from harm, or towards a place where your soul can be revived?

Ephesians 5:8-14

If you’ve ever had the chance to watch a sunrise unobscured by city lights and buildings, one of the most amazing things happens. First, before one even sees the sun emerging over the horizon, the whole sky begins to glow with a pastel, luminescent presence. This pre-dawn beckoning tells us that the night is ending and day is about to dawn. The sun’s movement over the horizon is stunning, and often melts the light glow of the pre-dawn into sharp color where it seems that every hue is exposed to its fullness, available for us to use for whatever the new day brings.

This passage from Ephesians can be seen in the same way. The early Church in Ephesus was still emerging. This world had experienced the dawn of the risen Christ and yet wasn’t entirely sure how to blend the vibrancy of that light into a world that at times seemed unaware of its brilliance. Paul, writing to the church, encourages and exhorts them to rise from that pre-dawn uncertainty and into the brilliance of the resurrected Christ by seeking all that is good and right and true which the light has exposed. Once bathed in that light, the way becomes visible with God’s help.

  • What are your first thoughts when waking? What might happen if you focused your waking energy on that which is good and right and true?
  • In what ways does the Light of Christ expose work that needs to be done: in your church, in your community, in the world at large?

John 9:1-41

It seems like whenever something bad happens, our human reaction is to try to pin-point a quick, unilateral cause: Was the person with a cancer diagnosis a smoker? Was there a family history of depression? Who had someone crossed in order to be treated so badly? We can’t help jumping to conclusions, mostly because all of us harbor a fear of something tragic happening to us, or to those we love. Having someone or something to blame gives our rational brain something to hang onto so that our emotional heart doesn’t have to break a bit more standing in the raw empathy of another person’s pain. In short, “blame” can take the place of “love.” Today’s Gospel is a story of misplaced blame: blame of the person who is blind, blame of his parents, blame of people who seem different; blame of Jesus for extending healing on the Sabbath, rather than following the letter of the law. But, where in this story is love?

The first person to show love in this story is Jesus, who heals the person who was blind, “so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” Healing occurred so that love could be set free. Isn’t that really what healing really does? The second show of love is from that very person who was once blind and now sees: he gives his testimony, and gives glory to God simply and with conviction, “Lord, I believe.”

This week’s lectionary readings are filled with metaphors of light, love, and belief from unexpected places. As this Gospel shows us, we have to ask ourselves the same tough question that the learned Pharisees ask: “Surely we are not blind, are we?” When we allow Jesus Christ to open our eyes, we are healed by the love that is set free. Jesus becomes the light that shines in the darkness, illuminating the path on which we are shepherded, step by step, in God’s grace.

  • When did you “see the light” about a situation in your own life, or in the world around you? What differed between your first assumptions, and the eventual recognition of truth? Where is God in your own story?
  • Jesus sees the potential for God to be revealed in the person who was blind. Drawing on the reading from 1st Samuel from this week, how might God be revealed in those whom we least expect? Through what actions of love might this be revealed?
  • Placing ourselves in the position of the person whose sight has been restored, how might the world look through newly opened eyes? Where might God be revealed in this new vision?

Written by Sarah Kye Price, a postulant for the priesthood in the Diocese of Virginia, seminarian in her second year of the low residency program at Church Divinity School of the Pacific, and Professor of Social Work at Virginia Commonwealth University. Her scholarship, teaching, and formation for ministry are firmly rooted at the intersection of faith and social and economic justice.

Download the Bible Study for Lent 4(A).

Bible Study, Lent 3(A) – March 19, 2017

[RCL] Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5:1-11; John 4:5-42

Exodus 17:1-7

The Israelites are weary and thirsty in the wilderness, and in their desperation, they demand divine providence in the form of water. Moses is, perhaps, a bit frustrated by their rancorousness, but God rushes forth to nourish the people with a stream from the rock at Horeb. What do we make of these cranky Israelites and their successful demand? Should they have kept their heads down and trusted their leaders, or were they right to cry out for God’s quenching mercy?

Our faith has a long tradition of humans quarreling with God: Jacob wrestled with an angel of the Lord; the Syrophoenician woman challenged Jesus to honor her plea for healing. Ours is a God of great mystery, but also one of relationality. “I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb,” God promises, and so it was. Where else might streams of mercy flow forth, if we but have the audacity to demand it?

  • Recall a time when God responded to your petitions. Was the result what you anticipated?
  • As people of God, how do we balance patient, trusting faith with the urgency of human need?

Psalm 95

Psalm 95 is a play in two acts, first celebratory and then admonishing. God is honored as the creator of the caverns, the seas, and the hills; it is a power of inconceivable majesty. All are invited to “kneel before the Lord our Maker,” offering up a grateful submission to divine authority. 

But hold on! We are then reminded of those naughty “forebears…at Meribah, and…Massah”—those same Israelites who demanded water from the rock at Horeb. God seems offended that they were unwilling to trust in His ways, and their generation was “detested.” So much for pleading your case to the Almighty. We can take away a simple moral lesson from this, if we choose: putting God to the test is not going to win any celestial bonus points. But don’t forget: God still showed up at Horeb, the water flowed, and the Israelites continued their journey. We may fight with God, we may ask too much of God, but the covenant remains. We are still on the road home.

  • Where do you see God in the created order and in nature?
  • Was there a time when you were offended by a request from someone you loved? How did you maintain the relationship?

Romans 5:1-11

Paul’s reflections on suffering, endurance, and hope are a timely reflection during the Lenten season, when many of us take a hard look at the brokenness of ourselves and our world. In this passage he makes a bold statement: we are able to boast of a hope in “sharing in the glory of God.” When we consider our flaws and foibles, both large and small, such hope seems almost ludicrous. How could we ever approach God’s glory in our human weakness and fallibility?

The key, of course, is in Christ. His love unites us to the glory of God, and just as Christ’s suffering justified us on the cross, so too does our own suffering draw us ever deeper into Christ’s reconciliation. This is not a call to gratuitous penitence or a suggestion that we can save ourselves by loudly proclaiming our sins. God already knew what we needed, and it has been done, through Christ. We acknowledge our sin as the precondition of acknowledging grace, wherein “we will be saved by his life.”

  • What is your relationship with the concept of sin?
  • How has God called you to reconciliation in your own life?

John 4:5-42

You never know who you might encounter while going about your daily business. When the woman at the well encountered a man asking for a drink, she could have ignored him, or even complied silently, but something compelled her to engage. In doing so, she took part in a conversation that would alter her life and the lives of those in her community. How many times do we unwittingly pass by the face of God in the street because we are preoccupied with our own trivial concerns? What might we learn if we would be so bold as to ask “where do you get that living water?”

Again, we are drawn back to the Israelites in the wilderness. They asked for water, too, and were sated, at least for the needs of the moment. In Christ, we are asking for something far more enduring—a new fount, that of life itself, which will never run dry. But ask we must.

  • What thirst would you ask God to quench right now?
  • Where might you find Christ in the ordinary routines of your life?

Written by Phil Hooper, a first year M.Div student at CDSP and a postulant from the Diocese of Nevada. A lifelong spiritual seeker who found the Episcopal Church as an adult, he is drawn to ministries of hospitality, public witness, and contemplative spirituality. A nonprofit fundraiser and administrator in his former career, Hooper is dedicated to building faith communities of radical love, engaged discourse, and deep solidarity.

Download the Bible Study for Lent 3(A).

Bible Study, Lent 2(A) – March 12, 2017

[RCL] Genesis 12:1-4a; Psalm 121; Romans 4:1-5, 13-17; John 3:1-17

“For God so loved the world…”

The etymology of “Lent” comes from the old German word for “long,” and it is believed to refer to the lengthening days of the spring season. So, Lent can properly be interpreted as a time of lengthening, or stretching. It is a time to stretch our faith, and in this week’s readings, we see multiple examples of ways in which God is calling us to stretch ourselves and our faith. But in asking us to stretching ourselves, God also demonstrates God’s massive outpouring of love for all of us. God is ready to help us along our Lenten journey. God’s love is waiting for us to stretch ourselves enough that we can truly see how big God’s love can be.

Genesis 12:1-4a

The Lord is pushing Abram. “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house.” He is challenging Abram to leave everything that he knows behind, and to form a new nation. It is a tremendous promise from God, but it is also meant to stretch Abram. Now, Abram really has to show God if he really believes God. Abram is about to put his faith into action.

  • How might God be calling us to stretch ourselves during this Lenten season?
  • How might we put our faith into action?

Psalm 121

After reading Genesis, Abram most likely had a lot of questions for God. The Psalm seems to be answering Abram’s questions. Abram probably worried about where he was going and how he would survive in this new land. The answer to all Abram’s questions is the Lord. The Lord will watch over Abram as Abram embarks on God’s new plan for Abram. The Psalm is showing the breadth and depth of God’s love for us. “The Lord shall watch over your going out and coming in.” God’s love for us is bigger than we can humanly imagine.

  • What questions do you have for God?
  • Where is God calling you to trust in God’s love?

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17

Even as we stretch ourselves, this week’s reading from Romans points out that we are not saved by our own works, but purely by God’s righteousness. Therefore, as we think about the sacrifices that we are making for Lent, we need to understand our rationale for those sacrifices. Are we doing them to win God’s favor? That would be unnecessary. We have already won God’s love. God loves us because God has made us lovable. Rather, we might consider our Lenten practices as ways to draw us closer to God, to lengthen our faith and to more fully appreciate God’s love for us.

  • Are you giving something up for Lent? Why?
  • Is your Lenten practice likely to lengthen your faith and draw you closer to God?

John 3:1-17

Nicodemus is understandably confused. He was a Jewish leader, and yet Jesus is offering a theology that is entirely new to him. Jesus is stretching Nicodemus, and Nicodemus is willing to be stretched. He is trying to keep up with Jesus. But, then, Jesus offers the most hopeful message of his ministry. “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” Jesus is offering God’s salvation. As in the Romans reading for this week, Jesus is providing another explanation of the breadth and depth of God’s love for humanity. God created this world and all the living things in this world. Therefore, God has no interest in condemning it, but in loving it. There is nothing that any of us have done to warrant such an unconditional love, but God provides it, nonetheless. It requires us to stretch our minds and hearts to contemplate a love as broad as the love of God. In this Lenten season, we are stretched to start to appreciate God’s love for us.

  • What does God’s “unconditional love” mean to you?
  • Like Nicodemus, how do you with integrate God’s unconditional love into your life?
  • How might we focus on the breadth of God’s love as part of our Lenten practices?

Written by Brendan Barnicle, a Candidate for Ordination in the Diocese of Oregon, and Senior in the Masters of Divinity program at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific. Prior to the seminary, Brendan spent over 20 years working on Wall Street as a corporate finance lawyer, investment banker, and research analyst. He worked primarily with software companies, particularly Software-as-a-Service companies. He has a strong interest in economic justice, stewardship and organizational development.

Download the Bible Study for Lent 2(A).