Bible Study, Pentecost 14 (B) – August 26, 2018

Proper 16

Pentecost 14 Episcopal Bible Study

[RCL]: 1 Kings 8:[1, 6, 10-11], 22-30, 41-43; Psalm 84; Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:56-69

1 Kings 8:[1, 6, 10-11], 22-30, 41-43

What a day it must have been to dedicate the Temple at Jerusalem. The dedication of the temple can stand in for many things and help us expand our imaginations: the dedication of our own churches, the dedication of our gifts, the dedication of our lives. Indeed, we need to dedicate ourselves daily to the work that God has given us to do. The pageantry of this event certainly helped to set the scene and reveal its importance. We must find ways to commit deeply to our own dedication to God, so that people may come to hear God’s great name because of the way we live our lives.

  • How can we more fully dedicate our lives to God, making an offering of ourselves, our souls and bodies? What do we need to do so that we may always deepen our commitment to God and grow into deeper dedication?

Psalm 84

The psalm clearly echoes the themes of the reading from the Hebrew Bible, and it is easy to imagine it has a hymn on that day. Can we live in God’s house? We cannot live in the Temple at Jerusalem – no one can. Likewise, we cannot dwell in our churches. This is probably a good thing for us and for the gospel. After all, all of creation is God’s house. As a result, we can live in God’s temple always and everywhere.

  • Do we live our lives like we live in God’s dwelling? How might our lives change if we remember that we do indeed live in God’s house?

Ephesians 6:10-20

The imagery of this passage is tricky. Most of us live far from military imagery, and even farther from military imagery of the Roman Empire. With youth groups, I have done an activity where we re-imagine this text using modern and personal metaphors. Cell phones, Facebook, cars, and any number of modern devices – even lucky shoes – have been suggested by these youth. How might you re-imagine this passage to convey Paul’s point?

This passage continues the themes that I have highlighted in the Kings reading and the psalm. We must put on the whole armor of God because our whole lives must be dedicated to God’s work. Christ never asks for a little bit. As a result, the closing thought of this passage is of vital importance. Paul’s prayer must become our own. We must pray to be alert and to persevere. We must also make a bold witness for the gospel.

  • What would our lives look like if we lived into Paul’s prayer?

John 6:56-69

The disciples found this teaching difficult. I think we are a lot like them. Jesus is teaching us the words of spirit and life, but there are those among us who do not believe, and often Jesus’ teaching is just plain difficult. Truly, much ink has been spilled trying to figure out what it means to eat his flesh and drink his blood! I’m not sure that it is helpful to become bogged down in those theological debates. Rather, what does it mean to nourish the spirit and live by it instead of the flesh?

Jesus asks the twelve if they wish to leave. Peter answers that there is nowhere to go; Jesus gives the word of eternal life. As we know, it is easy to turn to sources other than Jesus for sustenance. As Jesus says, those things – that is, the flesh – are useless.

  • Are we sustaining ourselves in spirit? Are we taking Jesus’ words, the words of eternal life, and feasting on them?

This Bible study, written by the Rev. JK Melton, originally ran August 26, 2012.

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Bible Study, Pentecost 13 (B) – August 19, 2018

Proper 15

[RCL]: 1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14; Psalm 111; Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58

1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14

“Ask what I should give you.” The Lord comes to Solomon in genie-like fashion soon after he has taken over David’s throne. I remember preparing myself for versions of this scenario as a kid: what if God (or someone else) came to me and told me I could have anything I wanted? What would I choose? There was a time when what I most wanted was a life-size talking family dollhouse; a few years later, I wanted a baby sister, then a dog. Solomon was more sophisticated than I was as a child; he asks God for an understanding mind. God is so pleased with Solomon’s request that God grants not only an understanding mind, but riches and honor to go with it. God is not likely to come to us in the middle of the night with an offer to grant wishes, but God’s invitation to Solomon is available to us, too: “Ask what I should give you.” We, like Solomon, can imagine our own hearts and minds transformed by the wisdom and grace of God.

  • What would our lives look like if we earnestly asked that our hearts and minds would be transformed by the wisdom and grace of God? What would change?

Psalm 111

The final verse of Psalm 111 has always struck me: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; those who act accordingly have a good understanding.” Until now, the psalmist has focused wholly on singing God’s praises and marveling at God’s amazing works. At the very end, the psalmist turns his attention to the reader, offering the directive to “fear the Lord” in order to gain wisdom and understanding. It can be hard to connect to instructions like this; what does it really mean to “fear” God anyway? When some read “fear,” they hear awe and wonder, but for many, this language is confusing and distracting.

  • What do you hear? How does your relationship with God bring wisdom and understanding into your life?

Ephesians 5:15-20

Jesus’ followers were familiar with accusations of drunkenness and debauchery. On Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit filled the hearts and mouths of the multitudes so that everyone speaking different languages and dialects could understand one another, skeptical onlookers accused the disciples of being “filled with new wine.” In this letter to the Ephesians, Saint Paul warns against excessive drinking, but he offers an exciting alternative: be filled with the Spirit, instead. Both passages suggest that to be filled with the Spirit of God can look as rowdy and slap-happy as being drunk. In our churches and faith lives today, it is hard to imagine an outsider confusing our worship with a lively bar scene, but we can seek ways to be filled with the joy of the Spirit that is invigorating and refreshing. Saint Paul identifies music and communal singing as a healthy way to express love and gratitude to God.

  • What other ways can we fill ourselves with the Spirit? How do we experience the joy of Christ in our communities?

John 6:51-58

Some version of the term “eat my flesh” occurs half a dozen times in this short passage from the Gospel of John. This is one of those passages that makes me cringe, not because there is anything wrong with it—I believe whole-heartedly in the beauty and life-giving power of the Eucharist—but because it just doesn’t make sense to non-Christians, or even to many Christians, for that matter. In a world where what it means to be a Christian seems increasingly fragile and complex, I find myself looking for ways to make Christianity more accessible to those who may struggle with how it is portrayed in the news or pop culture.

Well, the warning “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” is not very accessible. In fact, this is the kind of passage that caused skeptics to accuse the early church of cannibalism. But if we can get beyond the living-dead-like tone of this passage, we encounter something unique and challenging about Christian faith: following Jesus is meant to be a visceral, embodied experience. There is something vitally important about taking on the person of Christ physically, in our bodies, through the most simple, everyday practices of eating and drinking. This may not be the best Gospel reading for a newcomer, but the invitation to experience new life through the power of Christ’s body and blood is something we can all chew on (with apologies for the pun!).

  • How would you explain this Gospel text to a newcomer? Is there anything about it you find challenging? 

Anne Marie Witchger is a candidate for ordination in the Episcopal Church. She received a B.A. in Religion from Earlham College, a Master of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary, and will complete a Master of Arts in Ministry from General Theological Seminary in 2018. Anne Marie currently works as the Outreach Coordinator and Chief of Staff at the Church of the Heavenly Rest in Manhattan. In her free time, Anne Marie loves to bake, write, ride her bike, and brew kombucha with her husband, Joshua.

Download the Bible Study for Pentecost 13 (B).

Bible Study, Pentecost 12 (B) – August 12, 2018

Proper 14

[RCL]: 2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33; Psalm 130; Ephesians 4:25-5:2; John 6:35, 41-51

2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33

In this passage, Absalom, one of David’s sons, has rebelled against his father for the kingship of Israel, but this act of rebellion doesn’t change the fact that David still loves his son and doesn’t want him to be a casualty of the ensuing war. That’s why he says to his commanders, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” This instruction, however, is in vain. Chillingly, it’s as if the Cushite (here, Ethiopian) who brings the “good tidings” of Absalom’s death has no idea either that Absalom is David’s son, or that David had given instructions that Absalom not be harmed. As everyone else celebrates, David grieves the death of his son all by himself, in his “chamber over the gate.”

  • In a world of constant war and violence, some people may rejoice over the death of people deemed to “deserve it,” whether they be terrorists, enemy combatants, murderers, or people otherwise considered dangerous to public order. How does our thinking change in light of:
    • the fact that all people, including our mortal enemies, have parents and loved ones who mourn just as we do?
    • the sanctity of all human life?

Psalm 130

This psalm of mourning, (proverbially) written by David himself, asks a central question of the human condition: “If you, Lord, were to note what is done amiss, O Lord, who could stand?” The answer, of course, is nobody. Nobody except God is sinless, and it’s this inescapable reality of human sin that the psalmist is mourning.

But the psalmist is not without some hope, when he says to God, “For there is forgiveness with you.” The psalmist knows that with God—and God alone—rests the authority to forgive sins. Since God’s judgment is ultimate and true, our ability to turn to God for forgiveness should elicit some apprehension on our part: “Therefore you shall be feared.”

And yet, notice that the psalmist doesn’t dwell on this fear, but rather on hope that “[God] shall redeem Israel from all their sins.” This is a sneak-peek of God’s plan to definitively redeem all of God’s people. As Christians, we believe this “plenteous redemption” is Jesus Christ, himself the very same God who has the authority to forgive sins.

  • What are the ways in which you and/or your congregation make the mercy of God known to your community?

Ephesians 4:25-5:2

This passage from Ephesians does a pretty great job of showing how the above themes apply to our daily lives. Here, Paul discusses the importance of minimizing harshness and maximizing forgiveness in Christian community. It follows naturally from the above psalm that, if God is the one who forgives sins, our own acts of forgiveness are a participation in and a reflection of God’s forgiveness: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” That’s how we become “imitators of God.”

In other words, it’s not enough simply to meditate on God’s forgiveness of our own sins; rather, our active forgiveness of one another is a necessary part of how we make God’s forgiveness known in the world. This also means that, even though Paul is talking about behavior in a specific Christian community (i.e., Ephesus), we must extend forgiveness to everyone, even if they’re not part of the Body of Christ, as far as we can tell.

  • Are the following verses paradoxical? Discuss in context Paul’s treatment of anger.
    • “Be angry but do not sin…” (4:26)
    • “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger…” (4:31)

John 6:35, 41-51

As Christians in a Eucharistic tradition, we know, believe, and experience the truth of what Jesus is saying in this passage, often on a weekly or even daily basis. In the Eucharist, we have the great benefit of seeing how these words of Jesus are pointing to himself not simply in a figurative (or, for that matter, literal) sense, but in a much more profound sense, transcending categories like “literal” and “figurative,” implicating the entire creation story and transforming all of reality: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

And yet, to many in Jesus’ immediate audience – described here (polemically) as “Jews” but which could also be skeptics of any background – this talk of “living bread” and “eternal life” makes zero sense. Even now, to many people in the modern world, both those who are secular and those who adhere to other faiths, Jesus’ claims are outlandish are unbelievable, perhaps nowhere more so than this passage.

  • How do we, as Christians, respond to skeptics who are unaccustomed to how Jesus is talking in this passage?

Zachary (Zak) Fletcher just received his Master of Divinity in May 2018 from Yale Divinity School, where he was affiliated jointly with Berkeley Divinity School and the Institute of Sacred Music. In 2015 Zak received his bachelor’s degree in Classics, with a minor in historical linguistics, from Harvard University. Currently Zak is a chaplain resident in The Mount Sinai Health System in New York.

Download the Bible study for Pentecost 12 (B).

Bible Study, Pentecost 11 (B) – August 5, 2018

Proper 13

[RCL]: 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a; Psalm 51:1-13; Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:24-35 

2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a

In this passage, we see the prophet Nathan, being the voice of God, in confronting King David about his behavior. David had abused his authority as the king and had not treated Uriah the Hittite or his wife Bathsheba with justice. This greatly displeased God and God gave hard justice to David by taking from him the child conceived by Bathsheba.

But we discover later that after this first child died, David and Bathsheba conceived another son, named Solomon. Solomon later becomes the next king. So even in God’s justice there is mercy and second chances.

It seems that too often in life we forget to acknowledge that some of the suffering that we endure is caused by our own actions. And at other times we allow ourselves to be caught up in the difficult moments of life and forget to see the joy that can come at a latter time from our suffering.

Have there been times in your personal life or in the life of your faith community when suffering happened that was directly caused by either your decisions and actions or the decisions and actions of the larger community? Were you able to see God’s hand at work in those times of difficulty or was it only later that you were able to see God’s work in the midst of the strife?

Psalm 51:1-13

Our psalm reflects a tone of acknowledging one’s sinfulness and wishing to reestablish a relationship with God. There is no attempt to blame someone else or to pass the buck.

The psalmist clearly believes that (s)he is the one who has wronged God and that God has every right to do what God wills, not what the psalmist wants. The psalmist also freely admits that it is up to God to cleanse or not cleanse. The psalmist can only admit to the sins and desire to be restored to a right and loving relationship with God.

Have there been times in your life when you have wronged another person and have asked for forgiveness? How does it feel to be in the “helpless” position in a relationship? 

Ephesians 4:1-16

Paul’s image of the church as a body with different parts is an image that is used to describe how different people have different gifts. We like to think that we have unique gifts and that we can all work together in harmony. But this image depends upon the individual parts all acknowledging that God is in control. This image also insists that our desires are to be secondary to God’s call and God’s plan for us.

But as we have seen with the other readings listed above, we don’t always freely and happily accept God’s control. We also don’t always follow God’s call and plan for us. When these things happen, it is like the body is fighting with itself or even the body is getting sick.

How can we do better at accepting our own place in the body of the church, or in God’s plan for us, even if we aren’t comfortable with that plan or that role? Are there times when our own wrestling with God can throw other parts of the body into discomfort or confusion?

John 6:24-35

Jesus challenges the crowd that is following him to understand that God provides them with the things that they need. He also reminds them that God, not Moses, gave their ancestors manna when they were in the wilderness. At times, it seems that it is very easy to think that a person is doing God’s work, when in fact the person is doing the work with God’s direction and help.

God freely gives us what we need, whether we deserve these things or not. God also provides us these things when we take them for granted or aren’t paying attention to them.

When was the last time that you really saw and appreciated a sunrise or a sunset? How often do we take for granted the multitude of gifts that God gives to us each and every day?

This Bible Study was written by Patrick Collins and originally ran August 5, 2012.

Download the Bible study for Pentecost 11 (B).

Bible Study, Pentecost 10 (B) – July 29, 2018

Proper 12

[RCL]: 2 Samuel 11:1-15; Psalm 14; Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21 

2 Samuel 11:1-15 

I recently had a gentleman ask me, “Why do we believe that David is in Heaven? Look at what he did during his life!” Certainly, one could retort, “Well, look at all the good things he did, too.” David wrote so many psalms, for example, and was said to be a person “after [God’s] heart” (Acts 13:22).

You wouldn’t guess that David had so many shining attributes if you were limited to this passage, however. We don’t see any redemptive qualities to David, and this is precisely the point. From this story and its place in the wider Biblical narrative, we learn yet again that God works through even the worst of situations and the worst of intentions to somehow – mysteriously – bring about salvation. It is all too easy to focus on the sin and the brokenness in the present; it is easy to lose sight of the bigger picture of God’s unfolding kingdom. Likewise, it is easy in this story to just focus on David’s evil intentions. We should not forget, though, that the Savior came from the lineage which was established through David’s affair with Bathsheba. God used David’s lowest point to bring salvation to the whole world.

  • How has God worked through your brokenness?

Psalm 14

I am truly grateful that psalms like this exist, that they were placed in the Bible, and that we pray them frequently in our liturgies and in our devotional lives. Why? This one in particular, to me, touches on the heart of the human condition. To clarify, I am not talking about the view of human brokenness portrayed in the psalm, what some people would call total depravity. No, I am talking about the disheveled and paradoxical nature of the psalm itself.

The Psalmist seems very confused. He talks about how nobody “does any good” and how no one seeks after God, but he also talks about a people who are righteous. Later, he talks about how evil-doers “eat up” God’s people. Yet, these evil-doers “tremble with fear” because God is in the midst of the very people they are destroying. We are left with a question: What is the Psalmist actually praying for? We see hope comingled with despair, righteousness comingled with sin. We get the sense that the Psalmist both knows and doesn’t know what to pray for. Here we see a truly human prayer.

  • Is it comforting to you whenever it seems as though psalmists don’t seem like they know quite what they want to pray for?

Ephesians 3:14-21 

For the past several months I have been struck by how short-sighted I tend to be whenever it comes to my own spirituality, particularly when the minister comes to the Eucharistic prayer in the liturgy. If you are like me, you believe in the real presence of Jesus in the sacrament. I truly do believe that God is present in the bread and the wine. Yet all too often, I forget that God also dwells in me, and that I should not only contemplate God’s presence within the bread and wine, but that I should also contemplate God’s presence within me.

This passage in Ephesians reminds us that Paul prays for a reality that far too few people actually take the time to think about; that God really is present within human beings. Paul does not simply pray that God’s people would have a little bit of Jesus within their hearts. What does he pray for? That our inner beings would be strengthened, that Christ would live in our hearts, and that we would “comprehend” the breadth, length, height, and depth of this love of God that is within us. Paul would have us comprehend a love which is incomprehensible and, thus, be filled with the “fullness of God.”

  • Have you taken the time to pray (along with Paul) that you would be filled with the fullness of God?

John 6:1-21

Not too long ago, my wife and I were getting ready to go to the seminary chapel service. Just a few minutes before walking out the door, we received a phone call and learned that someone very dear to us had died during the night. After we got off the phone, we began to weep, and we wrestled with whether or not we should still go to chapel. Did we want to weep in front of all our friends? Did we want to mourn in such a public space?

We decided to go. It was one of the most blessed worship experiences we’ve ever had. Life has a tendency to pull us away from church, to pull us away from the grace that God bestows through the sacraments. Sometimes it feels as though the Eucharist – that simple little cracker and that tiny sip of wine – is not enough. Yet, if you are like me, you often walk away amazed by how powerful and redemptive the Eucharist has been in the moments we need it most. Our Gospel reading puts imagery to a feeling that we all feel. Sometimes we doubt, saying, “What can Jesus do with this little cracker and this sip of wine?” Then we walk away from the altar sensing just how much God has multiplied his grace, and how satiated we actually feel.

  • Can you remember a specific time when you didn’t want to go to church and receive the sacrament but walked away feeling transformed by the experience? 

TJ is a Middler at Nashotah House and is pursuing ordination through the Diocese of Milwaukee. Prior to his time at Nashotah House, he served as a Youth Director and Commissioned Pastor for the Christian Reformed Church in the St. Louis area. He is an avid reader, especially in works that deal with relational ontology, liturgical theology, and the ecclesial life of the Church. For fun, TJ loves to spend time with his family, travel, go backpacking in the mountains, watch a good hockey game, sip on a good bourbon, and geek out with a good theology book.

Download the Bible study for Pentecost 10 (B).

Bible Study, Pentecost 9 (B) – July 22, 2018

Proper 11

[RCL]: 2 Samuel 7:1-14a; Psalm 89:20-37; Ephesians 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

2 Samuel 7:1-14a

We Episcopalians are fond of building beautiful churches as our places of worship and spend considerable amounts of money maintaining them. Often we are criticized by both outsiders and fellow Episcopalians who are not in favor of spending funds on what some would consider extravagances. There is an argument to be made that this money would be better spent on charitable works for the poor which some believe would be more pleasing to God. However, the prophet Nathan confirms King David’s reflection that it is only right that God also have a permanent house of beauty, worthy of his greatness and faithfulness to his people.

While we should avoid using a disproportionate amount of our financial resources on our church buildings to the detriment of our charitable works (James 2:14-26 mentions that faith without works is dead), let us not consider our places of worship as unnecessary financial burdens or that God himself would disapprove of such places. Instead, let us confidently recall the prophet Nathan’s affirmation to faithful King David: “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.”

  • How do you feel about financial resources being spent on church buildings?
  • Do you feel your church community is appropriately allocating its funds between its church buildings and its charitable works?
  • How would you respond to a critic of spending large amounts of money on our places of worship?

Psalm 89:20-37

Sometimes when bad news stories—abuse scandals, bitter schisms, and decline—confront the church, we can become disheartened and start to question our loyalty to the institution and our faith. However, we are assured by this psalm that God himself will hold accountable those who stray from what is pleasing to him. We are also encouraged to remain faithful and not to lose heart because King David’s family lineage, including Jesus Christ himself and all Christians by faith, are assured of God’s enduring love and faithfulness until the end of time. Let us, therefore, carry on with confidence in the knowledge that God is always with his faithful people, and offer this encouragement to our fellow Christians.

  • How do you feel about bad news stories confronting the church?
  • Does this psalm encourage you?
  • How can you encourage your fellow Christians in their faith and commitment to the church?

Ephesians 2:11-22

During this era of hostility and even schism within our Anglican Communion, St. Paul’s message of unity to the divided Christians in Ephesus is a great source of reflection and encouragement to our own generation. He reminds us that even though we may be different from each other, we are all united by faith in Jesus Christ who destroys the divisions between us and brings peace. Although there are great diversities of belief and practice among us, whether we like it or not, there is only one Body of Christ of which we are all part. We must therefore never lose sight of our unity in Christ—that in him, we are brothers and sisters with none more superior nor inferior to the other. We must not allow this vision of peace and reconciliation with God and with one another to be overshadowed by the things that divide us. Let us truly become the dwelling places for God that we are intended to be.

  • How do you feel about diversity in the church?
  • What can we do in our daily lives to express our unity in Christ?
  • What can we do to encourage peace and reconciliation within our local church communities and within the wider Anglican Communion?

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

In this scene of overwhelming need from the people, Jesus clearly shows his humanity by understanding that his disciples have been so dedicated to their ministries that they have become exhausted and need some time for themselves. Although they may not want to leave as they know there is still much to do, Jesus is encouraging them to acknowledge their human limitations. He surely knows that if his disciples reach the point of burnout, they will no longer be able to continue their ministries and be of use to anyone. They must take a rest.

Although Jesus must also have been tired, recognizing the great spiritual hunger among the people and the need for guidance that is still unfulfilled, he pushes on and shares with them many things that bring healing and wholeness to their lives. Just as in Jesus’ time, there remains a hunger in society for the timeless values and spirituality that Jesus brought with him through his life and ministry. As Episcopalians within the Anglican Communion, this should remind us of the 2nd Mark of Mission: “To teach, baptize, and nurture new believers.” As followers of Jesus, we are called to continue his mission in our own time and place, bringing the same healing and wholeness that he brought to the people of his own generation.

  • How can we encourage a culture within our church that values the need for rest to promote greater productivity in our ministries?
  • How has the life and ministry of Jesus brought healing and wholeness to your own life and the lives of those around you?
  • How can we better prepare ourselves to fulfill the 2nd Mark of Mission? 

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 9 (B).

Bible Study, Pentecost 8 (B) – July 15, 2018

Proper 10

[RCL]: 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19; Psalm 24; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19

The books attributed to the prophet Samuel tell the history of the Israelites and explain God’s law for Israel under the guidance of the prophets. In chapter 6 of 2 Samuel, King David, after uniting the tribes of Israel under his leadership, takes possession of the Ark of the Covenant, containing a jar of manna, the rod of the prophet Aaron, and stone tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments from the prophet Moses.

In our reading, we witness a scene of celebration for this new era of unity for the Israelites with Jerusalem as their capital, and King David himself is seen giving thanks to God in praise and worship. The worship described is joyous and heartfelt, with music and dancing. While worship was the first priority for King David, he did not forget his people, blessing them and offering them food. There is one figure, however, that stands out as resenting this joyous scene: the daughter of the former king, Saul.

Every act of worship to God should be joyous and heartfelt, regardless of our preferred style of churchmanship. Our Christian unity, expressed through our common prayer and worship, is worthy of celebration, and the central place of God in this unity is worthy of genuine thanksgiving. Sometimes there are those among us who place greater value upon the form of our worship than on the substance; sometimes a newcomer simply does not understand what all the fuss is about. Either might express resentment when the worship is not exactly how they would like it to be, or when the joyous scene of worship is something to which they cannot relate. It is therefore up to us to ensure that we focus on the substance of our worship rather than the form and to reach out to those who are struggling to relate to our worship in order to be truly pleasing to God. In this way, our common prayer and worship can fulfill their purpose of uniting us as a Christian community and reaching out in love to others who have yet to fully comprehend the joy of worship.

  • How do you feel during worship in your church?
  • How can we ensure that God is always at the center of our worship?
  • What should we do if we or somebody else is feeling resentment about an aspect of our worship?
  • How would you explain our worship to a newcomer?

Psalm 24

Psalm 24, The Earth is the Lord’s, is attributed to Jesus’ ancestor King David, and is recited in Jewish tradition during the return of the Torah scroll to the ark during worship. It has also been used by the musician Handel in his legendary Messiah, and in the Episcopal Church’s 1916 Hymnal for the moving occasion of the consecration of a church. Such is the depth and timelessness of Psalm 24 throughout the ages.

King David reflects that it is natural that all things belong to God, for it is he that created all things. He then wonders who is worthy to stand before such a glorious God and receive his blessings, deciding that it must be those who are pure-hearted and have done no wrong in God’s sight. These are the people who are searching for God, desiring to know him, and acknowledging his glory.

It is a great act of humility to accept that we are not the center of the universe. Rather, God is, and it is ultimately to him that we belong and are accountable. While nobody can claim to be perfect or without fault, we can be sure that we are heading in the right direction if we have already begun seeking to know God and his will for our lives. This in itself is pleasing to him. By humbling ourselves and acknowledging our need for God, we are opening ourselves up to him and allowing him to enter into our lives to be our strength and guide.

  • In your daily life, do you behave as though you are the center of the universe or as though God is?
  • How have you begun seeking to know God and his will for your life?
  • How do you acknowledge God’s glory in the world and in your life?

Ephesians 1:3-14

St. Paul’s letter to the Christian community in Ephesus, a Greek city in modern-day Turkey, incorporates themes of church unity, purity, and holiness.

In this section of his letter, St. Paul tells us of the blessings received from God the Father through Jesus Christ—blessings which we were destined to receive from the beginning of time. He explains that out of love for God, we should strive to be holy and blameless. Although unworthy, we are forgiven our sins through faith in Jesus, setting us free to do better.

We know God’s will for our lives through the example of Jesus’ own life. As the creator of all things, God desires all things to be united with him through Jesus Christ, a legacy which we who have faith in him have also inherited. We should live with a desire for God to be praised by all. Through our faith in Jesus Christ, we are assured that the Holy Spirit will always enable and empower us in this task.

As Episcopalians, this message from St. Paul should remind us of the Anglican Communion’s First Mark of Mission: “To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom,” which is regarded as Jesus’ own summary of his mission on earth and the key statement about everything we do in mission. This requires all of us to be committed to personal evangelism. Nobody is exempt. In fact, the legal name of the Episcopal Church is the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society! Of course, we can be creative in our evangelism, but we are all called to share our faith in Jesus Christ with others in some way. St. Paul reminds us that the Holy Spirit is always with us as we engage in this task and we should also be reminded that the fruit of the Holy Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). So it should be with these gifts that we fulfill our task of proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom.

  • How do you feel when you hear praise being given to God, especially from those new in faith?
  • How is your local church community fulfilling the First Mark of Mission?
  • How are you personally fulfilling the First Mark of Mission?

Mark 6:14-29

This gospel is attributed to St. Mark the Evangelist, regarded as the founder of the Christian community in Alexandria. It was written for Greek-speaking Christian converts with a need to explain unfamiliar Jewish traditions and Aramaic terms.

In this section of St. Mark’s gospel we are told how the life of St. John the Baptist, a man most well-known to us for baptizing Jesus in the River Jordan, came to an end. At this point in the Scriptures, there is still confusion over who Jesus really was, and many, including King Herod, had become convinced that Jesus was the resurrected St. John. The death of John was clearly troubling King Herod’s conscience. However, the king had felt obligated to order his execution because he had promised his step-daughter that he would grant her any wish. When, under the influence of her insecure mother, the step-daughter wished for the head of St. John, the king felt that he could not refuse.

Does this situation seem familiar to us? Have you ever done something that you really did not want to do, knowing it to be wrong and troubling your conscience? Perhaps we have been in positions of power over others, just like King Herod, and have used that power to command somebody else to do something in an attempt to avoid direct responsibility. Like Herod, are we more afraid of the consequences from those around us than from Jesus, who will hold us accountable for all our actions at the end of time? While Jesus offers forgiveness, we must be truly remorseful for the wrongs that we have done and sincerely attempt to change the attitudes that led to those wrongs. Let us, therefore, have the courage to always attempt to do what is right in the eyes of God.

  • Have you ever done something wrong out of the fear of disappointing someone?
  • Are you more worried about the approval of others than the approval of God?
  • If you could relive any of these situations again, what would you do differently?

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 8 (B).

Bible Study, Pentecost 7 (B) – July 8, 2018

Proper 9

[RCL]: 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10; Psalm 48; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13 

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10

The breadth of David’s story throughout scripture is here condensed and blessed in the tenth verse of 2 Samuel 5: “And David became greater and greater, for the LORD, the God of hosts, was with him.” This emphatic illumination of God’s presence repeats a refrain that has been persistent throughout David’s rise to power: God is with him (1 Samuel 16:18, 17:37, 18:14), and it is here that this rather climactic anointing of David as king of a united Israel lays bare a master class in fidelity.

Amidst considerable political tumult, the tribes of Israel express fidelity to David as their true leader. It is not merely the tribe of Judah (by which David has already been anointed in 2:1-4) that exhibits this faithfulness, but rather “all the tribes of Israel” who come to profess their trust in David’s kinship, leadership, and divine blessing. David then solidifies his own fidelity to Israel in his making of a covenant, and the culmination of this mutual profession in David’s anointing gathers up the divinely wrought movements of prophecy in a revelation of the Lord’s own steadfastness.

Astute preachers would do well to note the lectionary’s neglect of verses 6-8. These detail some of the more violent dimensions of David’s conquering of Jerusalem. While their descriptions certainly challenge our preferred embrace of David as hero, they nevertheless do not diminish this passage’s overwhelming insistence upon the perfection of God’s abidance.

  • Where and when has the faithfulness of God’s presence seemed most abundant? When has your sense of God’s faithfulness perhaps been challenged?

Psalm 48

At times, psalms seem to pray within us, lending words to unutterable intimacy between the soul and God. At others, the psalms turn outward, calling out to the world to behold the works and wonder of the Almighty. Psalm 48 is a psalm so outwardly oriented – a passionate, exultant hymn of praise for the One who has preserved his own people and holy city. God has triumphed over all adversity in fidelity and strength, and thus the psalmist and all who hear are called to rejoicing. An eternal dimension emerges in the final connection of the Lord’s glory in the establishment of his city for the ages to come: “This God is our God for ever and ever; he shall be our guide for evermore.” Just as David’s anointing in our first reading heralded a new and blessed event in the story of Israel, the psalmist’s praise calls the heart into spirited recognition of the endurance, perfection, and sanctity of the Lord’s own work.

  • What might this psalm have to say to us in the Church today? Does the imagery of a triumphant God in Jerusalem resonate with how we know, pray to, and worship God in our own context? 

2 Corinthians 12:2-10

Paul addresses the Corinthians in an excerpt that follows his “fool’s speech,” a passage where he has taken upon the persona of a “fool” to challenge those among them who have made false and self-aggrandizing claims to authority. Much of the speech is ripe with irony, and Paul criticizes those who have held up personal triumphs and private revelations as evidence for their own divinely-sanctioned supremacy. He here continues to counter these false claims with a reorientation toward Christ. Even were his own experiences so powerful as to justify boasting, the boast could not be of his own might or holiness, but rather only in the Lord whose power is made “perfect in weakness.” The Greek word for perfected in this passage is teleitai, and it suggests not so much an immediate bestowal of a perfected state as it intimates a ripening to fullest maturity. Weakness invites us into recognition of and surrender to our dependence upon God. In what the world perceives as weakness, our spirits deepen to be filled by the true power found only in the revelation of Jesus.

  • How does false authority differ from the authority of Jesus Christ? What might the authority of Christ inspire from us in terms of our own behavior, prayer, and treatment of others?

Mark 6:1-13

This passage from the Gospel of St. Mark offers revelatory insight into a life of discipleship. As Jesus and his disciples continue their ministry in Jesus’ own hometown of Nazareth, they are met with the breadth of human response to that which is unexpected: astonishment, incredulity, and even antagonism. One might expect a homecoming to be joyful and rich in blessing, but how often have we returned home, changed after a time away, to find ourselves somewhat distant from those who knew us best? Even for Jesus, a life in God’s service (into which he is knit intimately as the second Person of the Trinity) is rife with complexity. Notably, Mark stands alone among the gospels in mentioning that despite rejection, Jesus “laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.” His work continues even amidst unbelief, and the following description of the commissioning of the disciples is thus imbued with particular power. Though the world may refuse them honor, hospitality, or even dignity, they are to go forth, to travel light in companionship with one another, to seek sustenance among this fledgling community of believers, and to persist in the holy work of their beloved Lord.

There is a delicate irony in Jesus’ instruction to the disciples to “shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against” those who do not receive them. Rabbinic literature features the image of shaking the dust from one’s feet as a ritual act of the faithful Jew upon return to Israel after a journey through unclean lands. Jesus has just been rejected in Nazareth. What might this statement mean regarding his own community? Ultimately it is revealed to be true that hardship, uncertainty, and rejection are just as much a part of discipleship as joy, fruitfulness, and peace. In fair weather and foul, the work of the Word continues to heal and to redeem.

  • How do we change how we live out our faith based on the circumstances that surround us? Do we remain authentic to who God has called us to be?
  • Where do we find hope amidst the hardships of discipleship?

Brit Bjurstrom Frazier is a senior at Virginia Theological Seminary from the Diocese of Los Angeles.

Download the Bible study for Pentecost 7 (B).

Bible Study, Pentecost 6 (B) – July 1, 2018

Proper 8

[RCL]: 2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27; Psalm 130; 2 Corinthians 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-43

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27

Characters in the biblical narrative of the Old Testament tend to be complex, a mixed bag of vice and virtue, and they are good as moral exemplars only in a selective way. In this portrait, two of David’s greatest – though perhaps least understood – virtues shine forth unmixed for our own imitation: reverence and friendship. David’s reverence for God causes him to have a supernatural respect for, and even love of, his king—the Lord’s Anointed—despite Saul’s repeated and unjust hostility, even despite Saul’s illegitimate possession of the crown at that point in time. Likewise, the more we come to love God, the more we come to love those people and things that are associated with him and to voluntarily avoid those actions that could displease him. And so it is with the virtue of friendship, which produces the true miracle of community, the miracle of selflessly desiring the good of another, sharing one’s life and highest values with them. The ancients saw friendship as truly essential to a person’s happiness, such that the philosopher Aristotle once said, “Without friends, no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods.”

David possessed such a bond of friendship with Jonathan, that he considered Jonathan a brother, and his loss provokes a profound sense of grief. It is for such a context as this, I suspect, that Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn” (Matthew 5:4), for their love was genuine.

  • Does our culture practice reverence toward those in positions of great responsibility, such as government officials or priests and other ministers, or even the elderly? Have cultural norms or scientific advances made reverence obsolete, or does our reverence have some connection to our relationship to God?
  • Has our present culture allowed a space for true friendship between two men or two women that is a non-sexual relationship? How might we go about regaining friendship in the church?

Psalm 130

This is a psalm that should be in the emergency toolkit of every Christian. Here we are taught that, even in the depths of anguish, shame, and guilt, we can wait with earnest expectation upon the Lord’s forgiveness. The psalmist neither presumes upon that forgiveness, as though sin did not matter to God, nor does he shrink back before God, even at that moment when I imagine his soul is most tempted to flee in fear and self-condemnation. In great humility, he cries out to be restored to communion with God. He knows from experience that his relief and redemption come only from the Lord, even though it is the Lord whom he has offended.

As the psalm comes to a close, the psalmist encourages God’s people to follow his example, keeping confidence in a God “whose property it is always to have mercy,” as we say in the Prayer of Humble Access. And Israel’s hope is not disappointed, for God sends into the world his son, whose name shall be called “Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

  • How have your past experiences of God’s character and his promises in his Word affected the way you handled some difficult circumstance or emotion in your life? 

2 Corinthians 8:7-15

I remember there was a time when I would cringe a little every time I heard one of these passages about financial giving in church. So often, we see in the news another megachurch pastor or televangelist who has been lining his pockets with a six-figure paycheck, pleading with congregants to hand over their hard-earned money for “God’s Kingdom”.

But the circumstances for St. Paul’s appeal to the Corinthians to undertake a collection is radically different from such so-called “super-apostles,” who exalt themselves and make a personal fortune from the Gospel. St. Paul calls us to remember the example of Christ’s own self-emptying in our giving: “For your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (v. 9). The collection is an opportunity to test the genuineness of their love, how much the generous love that is in Christ Jesus is abiding in them. This generosity of Christ, when it is living in you, moves as naturally and instinctively to take care of the poor as you would move to take care of the wounds on your own body. Martin Luther King, Jr., once said, “All life is inter-related. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, it affects all indirectly. As long as there is extreme poverty in the world, no man can be totally rich, even if he has a billion dollars.” Only in generously enriching the lives of those in need are we ourselves made truly rich.

  • Have you ever felt enriched by sharing generously with others?
  • John Wesley famously wrote, “The last part of a man to be converted is his wallet.” What can our spending habits tell us and others about our relationship with God?
  • How does St. Paul understand economic justice in this passage? Is it merely equality of wages, or is it somehow more complex?

Mark 5:21-43

According to ancient Jewish purity laws, any Jew who had come into contact with one who has misplaced bodily substances, or with a cadaver, was ritually defiled and thereby unworthy to approach the Divine Presence – the essence of wholeness and life – until he or she could be ritually purified. Ritual impurity was transferred like an infection from the impure to the pure. Shockingly, in this passage, we see two stories where Jesus comes into direct contact with perceived impurity, and rather than infecting him, the purity and power which are within Jesus transferred wholeness and life to the two subjects! St. Mark is showing us in this narrative that Jesus himself is the Holy of Holies, the Temple of God upon whom the Spirit dwells, walking among us and “counter-infecting” the world with holiness, purity, righteousness, and life.

In reality, like the crowds in this story, we often brush shoulders with Jesus without any awareness of the fact. But when we touch him with faith and eager expectation, the power and life that are in his glorified body are made available for the healing and transformation of our humanity and world. We as Christians become conduits for Jesus’ power and grace to a world alienated from God’s presence.

  • What sorts of things do you suppose might hinder a free flow of the life-giving Holy Spirit into our lives and circumstances?
  • Why do you suppose Jesus put the scoffers outside the room before he raised Jairus’ daughter?

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

Download the Bible study for Pentecost 6 (B).

Bible Study, Pentecost 5 (B) – June 24, 2018

Proper 7

[RCL]: 1 Samuel 17: (1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49; Psalm 9:9-20; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41

1 Samuel 17: (1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49

Because this text includes one of the most famous stories of the Bible, it can be tricky to get to a deeper level when many of us are accustomed to encountering it in a simplified, Children’s Bible version. A couple pointers, however, might help us move beyond a cartoon concept and into, ideally, more theological territory:

  1. We must not fully dehumanize Goliath by thinking of him as some sort of gargantuan monster. In fact, the text is very clear; he is a large Philistine and a champion. Beyond his strength and size, however, his religious identity as a pagan is a key component of the story. It is fitting, then, that a huge warrior would represent the non-Jewish tribes and peoples of the world, while a small shepherd boy would be the symbol of God’s covenanted people. Curiously, the Masoretic text (from which we derive the New Revised Standard Version of the Old Testament) identifies Goliath as being “six cubits and a span” in height, which is nearly ten feet tall. The older Septuagint text, however, identifies him as being four cubits and a span, which is closer to seven feet tall – still very impressive.
  2. David’s unlikely triumph is about the victory of God over oppressors, and the triumph of those who put their full trust in God. David, after all, could have used the protection of a helmet and body armor, but he took off the armor that Saul gave him. By doing so, he placed his full trust in the God of Israel.
  • What kinds of invisible armor do we need to remove?

Psalm 9:9-20

What a fitting response to the first lesson! These verses from Psalm 9 communicate both confidence in God’s promises and strength and a sober confession of suffering. Like most goods psalms, there is a range of human emotion that can sometimes seem like our very own inner dialogue. This psalm is a terrific paradigm for personal, private prayer, whether silent or aloud, in that it doesn’t censor that inner dialogue. Although the psalmist speaks mostly in declarative sentences and in the imperative, there is a great deal of uncertainty found in these lines. After all, to say that the needy will not always be forgotten (v. 18) implies that they are, in fact, forgotten at the present time.

  • Do we censor our emotional content when speaking directly with God?

2 Corinthians 6:1-13

“We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you. There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours.”

St. Paul makes a passionate defense to the Corinthians about the trials endured by true servants of God. The list is exhaustive and extreme; few would wish to endure any of the items on it! The point he makes, however, is that joy and life can somehow be found in all of those terrible situations. Let us be honest here: secular society does not think in this seemingly naïve, reckless fashion. It is entirely countercultural and confounding to sign up for something that could lead to such treacherous outcomes.

The Way of Jesus Christ, however, makes no guarantees of physical safety and freedom from assault. In fact, the Christian life is one of endurance and perseverance in pursuit of holiness and in the midst of community. The Corinthians, like so many church communities, were experiencing struggles as they pursued discipleship together. The lack of openheartedness here is attributed to their affections, which seem to be improperly placed; monks in the Greek Athonite tradition might say that they were distracted by the passions of the world. As such, their hearts were not fully open to each other, to their spiritual shepherds, or to God. I cannot help but wonder how they received the encouragement and admonition from St. Paul that we read in today’s passage.

  • How might we be more open as disciples of Jesus Christ and members of broken communities?

Mark 4:35-41

Today’s Gospel lesson, found in all three Synoptic Gospels, can be understood as a Chalcedonian revelation. The Council of Chalcedon, also known as the Fourth Ecumenical Council, took place in 451. The main outcome of the council was the understanding that Christ has two natures, human and divine, and that they are inseparable, unique, and eternal. While all Christians did not fully adopt this understanding, the vast majority did, and it continues to be an article of faith today. With that lens, we may now jump into the story.

When the disciples went to alert Jesus about the impending storm and its dangers, they found him sleeping down below. While most humans aren’t capable of sleeping during wild windstorms, all humans need to rest – Jesus was no exception! The Incarnation did not skirt or shirk any element of physical human participation, especially not rest. Once he emerges from his nap, Jesus takes charge of the wind and calms the storm. Suddenly, our focus is shifted from the very human nap to the very divine ability to control the weather!

Another fun component of this story is that it is a wonderful way to understand the Church; Jesus and his disciples are traveling together on a boat. At the beginning of the story, Jesus was not immediately visible, though he was entirely present. When the disciples’ fear set in during the storm, they called upon their Teacher, and he calmed the storm and their anxieties. Even though they knew Jesus and had been traveling around with him, they were amazed and surprised that the wind and sea obeyed his commands.

  • How does Jesus surprise you?

Gus Chrysson is a seminarian of the Diocese of Costa Rica presently studying at Virginia Theological Seminary. Originally from North Carolina, Gus comes from a large family with Greek and Costa Rican roots. Prior to seminary, he worked for many years as a full-time musician in New York City, specializing in vocal and choral music. Gus continues to be active in music ministry through singing, conducting, and overseeing a new partnership with the Diocese of Cuba. When he is not in church, he is most often in the kitchen.

Download the Bible study for Pentecost 5 (B).