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).

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, 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).

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

Proper 24


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

Job 38:1-7, 34-41

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

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

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

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

Psalm 104:1-9, 25, 37b

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

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

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

Hebrews 5:1-10

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

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

Mark 10:35-45

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

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

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

Download the Bible study for Pentecost 22 (B).

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

Proper 23


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

Job 23:1-9, 16-17

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

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

Psalm 22:1-15

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

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

Hebrews 4:12-16

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

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

Mark 10:17-31

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

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

This Bible study was written by Daniel Woods of St. Andrew’s Theological Seminary in Quezon City, the Philippines.

Download the Bible study for Pentecost 21 (B).

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

Proper 22


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

Job 1:1; 2:1-10

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

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

Psalm 26

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

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

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

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

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

Mark 10:2-16

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

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

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

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

Download the Bible study for Pentecost 20 (B).