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).

Bible Study, Pentecost 4 (B) – June 17, 2018

Proper 6

[RCL]: 1 Samuel 15:34 – 16:13; Psalm 20; 2 Corinthians 5:6 – 10, [11 – 13], 14 – 17; Mark 4:26 – 34

1 Samuel 15:34 – 16:13

“Samuel grieved over Saul. And the Lord was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel.”

Grief is something that we all experience throughout the course of life, although it is most typically associated with death and other forms of loss. In this case, Samuel’s grief was twofold; he mourned the loss of Saul as a leader, and he also mourned Saul’s sin that angered God. God, however, encourages Samuel not to be shackled by grief over Saul, whom he clearly no longer endorsed!

While we could meditate for days on what it means for God to regret the decision to raise up Saul, we must not get stuck there; there was more in store for God’s people, and Samuel’s work was not yet finished in helping that future unfold. By the end of this lesson, we know that a new king will emerge – and from an unlikely place. Samuel does what he is commanded to do, and we are introduced to David, the shepherd boy.

  • Do you trust in the forgiveness that has been given to you so that you may live into the unfolding of God’s mission in the world?

Psalm 20

“Now I know that the Lord gives victory to his anointed;
he will answer him out of his holy heaven,
with the victorious strength of his right hand.”

An interesting word study can occur in the sixth verse of the psalm, as the Hebrew used here for “gives victory,” יָשַׁע, yasha, can also be translated as “saves” or “liberates.” This is also the same root that is found in the names Joshua and Jesus. While “gives victory” focuses on triumph and winning, I find more comfort in reading this line as “the Lord liberates his anointed,” because it emphasizes God’s action and speaks to the very human feeling of being held captive to our own devices and disturbances.

Both translations lead to a happy ending, but rescue somehow seems more compelling than conquest. After all, God is the victorious one in all instances, and we are the beneficiaries. God is always on the side of the oppressed, and while we as Christians are called to stand up for those in any state of oppression, we must bear in mind that ultimately – even when our efforts succeed in lessening the suffering and mistreatment of others – we are not the victorious party in the process. God liberates, and God is victorious.

  • What does liberation mean to you, and how might this psalm subvert the power of oppressors?

2 Corinthians 5:6 – 10, [11 – 13], 14 – 17 

“And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.”

The first few verses of today’s lesson might make some folks squirm in their seats. Christianity has at times dabbled in dualism, with varying degrees of success or catastrophe throughout history. If we were to read v. 10 with a lens that heads toward literalism, it could provoke anxiety almost immediately; we will all be judged for things we’ve done with our bodies, whether good or evil.

Take heart, beloved of God! There is wonderful news later on in the lesson, for we do not – and must not – read a verse of Scripture in isolation without contemplating the totality of the Paschal mystery and the realities of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yes, he died for all and rose for all. He didn’t rise from the dead only as a spirit, but with his body. By conquering the boundaries of life and death in a holistic way, uniting divinity with humanity, there is great hope for us do great things with our souls and bodies. Judgment then is less about punishment and rewards, and more about taking stock.

  • In what way can neglecting the health of the body be understood as sin, in light of this passage?

Mark 4:26 – 34

“With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.”

Parables are truly wonderful teaching tools and can range in length from this very brief one about a mustard seed to much longer ones, like that of the Prodigal Son. The Hebrew word most often used for parable is מָשָׁל, mashal, which also means “riddle.” Jesus, of course, was not the first to teach with the use of parables or riddles. In fact, he stands in a long tradition of Jewish teaching. Mashalim are found throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, with examples in Ezekiel, 2 Samuel, Isaiah, and 1 Kings. The beauty of this style of teaching is that there is not an objective interpretation, nor is there one that is always immediately obvious; the meaning is veiled and takes some digging to uncover. I often wonder if Jesus gave his own, fuller take on all of his mashalim at the end of the day while lounging with the disciples.

The mustard seed in this parable is most often related to personal faith, and how a tiny bit of faith can grow into something more significant, even moving mountains. Another view, on a somewhat larger scale, would be to see the mustard seed as the Gospel itself. After all, Jesus and his followers were a tiny band of people, and they occupied a tiny speck of land on a vast planet in an infinite universe. And yet somehow, the Gospel spread against all odds and has survived and produced branches, leaves, and a habitat for the soul.

  • Why would Jesus prefer to teach the crowds by way of parable or riddle instead of through direct, unambiguous lessons?

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 4 (B).

Bible Study, Pentecost 3 (B) – June 10, 2018

Proper 5

[RCL]: 1 Samuel 8:4-11, (12-15), 16-20, (11:14-15); Psalm 138; 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1; Mark 3:20-35

1 Samuel 8:4-11, (12-15), 16-20, (11:14-15)

One of the great problems of human life in community is what the sociologist Max Weber called the “routinization of charisma.” Is it possible to take what we have achieved under the leadership of a single, extraordinary individual and create rules and systems that will allow that success to continue, or does the creation of rules destroy the creative and flexible charisma that allowed this success in the first place?

This is exactly the problem the Israelites face in our reading today. After centuries of instability and war, they have finally found a strong and wise leader in the prophet Samuel. Yet they sense that Samuel’s time is coming to an end, and so they ask him to appoint a king to rule them, as the other nations have. Samuel warns that God alone should be their king and lists the many ways in which human kings tend to abuse their power. Nevertheless, the people are determined to be like the other nations. In their desire for security and power, they decide to conform to the model of leadership set out by the world around them.

  • Have you ever been involved in a ministry or project after its founder or leader has left? How did that transition work? What would you do differently?
  • People often try to apply their understandings of business or government to the way the Church operates. In what ways do you think this is helpful? In what ways is it unhelpful?

Psalm 138

This psalm is the first in a series of hymns of praise with which the Book of Psalms conclude. The psalmist gives thanks to God for God’s response to his prayers (v. 4), and for God’s accompaniment “in the midst of trouble” (v. 8). The psalm reiterates typical Biblical themes of God’s care for the lowly (v. 7) and of God’s love and faithfulness (v. 2).

  • Some English translations render “When I called, you answered me” (v. 4) in a more literal translation of the Hebrew text as “On the day I called, you answered me.” Yet sometimes our prayers feel as though they aren’t answered for a long time, if ever. What could it mean to say that God answers our prayers on the day that we call to God?

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

Evangelism is one of the hot topics in the Episcopal Church today. In this passage, Paul opens with a concise summary of the importance of the resurrection to his proclamation of the faith. “We also believe,” he writes, “and so we speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus” (v. 13-14). It is because we know that God raised Jesus from the dead, and because we know that in the resurrection of Jesus we find our own resurrection, that we trust in God. Evangelism at its core means sharing the good news—in Greek, the euangélion—of this resurrection and the hope that it brings us.

One of the topics Paul is dealing with in 2 Corinthians is the criticism he has received from some members of the church in Corinth, who claim that he is poorly-spoken, unimpressive, and weak. Against their criticisms, Paul presents his reliance on Christ and not his own skill or power. This passage presents a beautiful example of the way in which Paul’s faith has strengthened him to face this kind of criticism and allowed him to “not lose heart” (v. 16), by keeping his focus on the good news.

  • Is the news of Jesus’ resurrection good news for you? Why?
  • How do you speak about this good news? How do you share it with others?
  • Does the message of the resurrection provide you with strength and comfort in the face of difficulty? How?

Mark 3:20-35

This is the third Sunday in which we are reading through the Gospel of Mark. Last Sunday, Jesus’ disciples picked grain on the Sabbath and he cured a man’s hand on the Sabbath. In the text of the gospel that we skip over to get to this week’s reading, a large crowd gathers around Jesus because of his miraculous healings, and he appoints the twelve apostles. This week, Jesus’ teaching continues with a series of sayings.

These sayings might seem to be randomly thrown together at first, without much uniting them. But if you look carefully, you might see a pattern. The reading begins mid-sentence; if you started from Mark 3:19b, you would read, “Then [Jesus] went home [literally ‘to a house’]; and the crowd came together again…” The theme of house, home, and family run throughout this reading.

  • What is Jesus’ true home, and who are his true family? What is the demonic, divided house he has come to plunder?
  • When has the Church been your family, your “brother and sister and mother” (v. 35)? Is there a time when it has supported you and your family, or when it has supported you in a time of conflict in your family?

Greg Johnston is a third-year student at Berkeley Divinity School and a candidate for ordination to the priesthood in the Diocese of Massachusetts. He has served the Church in urban parishes, campus ministry, and community organizing, in Massachusetts and Connecticut. He currently lives in New Haven with his wife Alice Kenney, and he spends most of his free time running, cooking, or reading mystery novels.

Download the Bible study for Pentecost 3 (B).

Bible Study, Pentecost 2 (B) – June 3, 2018

Proper 4

[RCL]: 1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20); Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17; 2 Corinthians 4:5-12; Mark 2:23-3:6

1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20)

Samuel’s first prophecy was one of judgment. One could almost imagine the weight of God’s word to the young boy; his own teacher and master Eli will fall under God’s anger for condoning the sins of his sons. He felt so bothered by God’s words concerning Eli that he could not return to sleep, perhaps debating in his heart whether to echo what he had just heard. It was a challenging inauguration for Samuel the prophet, yet at an early age, he learned to listen and obey.

The story of the call of Samuel is a powerful reminder of our prophetic ministry. Indeed, the work of a prophet is not for those who are unwilling to listen. In our context, God’s voice can be heard in the plight of the poor, in the silenced cry of the oppressed, of those robbed of justice and dignity. The prophet stands in the middle of the discourse between God and man, and in the midst of the human situation and theology. Instead of taking us to the lofty cathedrals of our minds, the prophets lead us to the gutters of society; they refuse to be detached from the grime of existence. Ultimately, the prophets teach us that the relevance of Christianity is neither dependent on elegant theological orations nor soaring declarations of faith but on how we meet people as they are – just as Christ did. And to the muffled voices beneath the glamor and glitz, we shall listen to God’s voice crying with them and reply, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

  • The prophet Samuel listened to a difficult message from God. How are you responding to similar messages from the pulpit?
  • How is the church exercising her prophetic ministry? Are there existing programs in your parish or diocese for justice and peace?

Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17

Among the psalms, the words “I,” “me,” and “my,” occur more frequently in this psalm. It is clear that the psalmist was reflecting on the “self,” but also transcended it. The psalmist ended in pure glorification of the God who knows us more than we know ourselves.

It is undeniable that reading this psalm gives us a sense of reconnection with the God beyond the scholarly representations of him; sometimes, what people need to hear is the fact that God knows them, that even the least of us stands with distinction and without apprehensions. In our quiet moments, it is refreshing to know that the God we serve remembers our frame and calls us by name.

  • How does personal intimacy with God contribute to the vibrant worship of the church?

2 Corinthians 4:5-12

In the ancient world, the custom was to hold one’s valuable possessions in earthenware pots for safekeeping. Alluding to this custom, Paul compares the paradox of God placing his Spirit on human hearts of clay. Paul marveled that we, the earthen vessels, have been enabled to bear so great a brightness and so rich a treasure. This evokes images of a flower blossoming from an ordinary and rough vessel, its roots sinking deep into the soil, tracing the contours of the pot while it grows into a thing of beauty, or an ordinary-looking trove filled with exquisite gems.

Paul’s words are revealing—we are our Lord’s vessels: bearers of his light in a world often engulfed in darkness. We carry the divine message of Jesus in such a way that our very lives, permeated by grace, become a backdrop of God’s glory. Our life stories become songs revealing who he is.

  • Think about your life story. In what ways has God revealed who he is in your life? How did you become a channel of his love and grace to others?

Mark 2:23-3:6

For the Pharisees, working during the Sabbath was a matter of life and death. Jesus’ priority was the people. To emphasize his convictions, Jesus asked the Pharisees, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save or to kill?” He then healed before them the man whose hand was withered. Jewish law was clear: to heal was to work, and medical attention could only be given to those whose lives were endangered. The man with the withered hand could have waited, but Jesus would not allow another day of suffering for the man.

Jesus’ act is a demonstration of the purpose of our liturgy; the integral reason behind the external acts at the altar every Sunday. We could be steeped in elaborate rituals and colorful expressions of our faith, but if we remain blind and deaf to the plight of those who clamor for love and to the tears of those who are afflicted, we are as good as an empty church—we are a hollow excuse.

Jesus’ life was centered on service, a spontaneous and sacrificial call to challenge the bounds of religious legalism, a mission to make people’s lives new and to respond to them in their need. To him, the next ministry opportunity would begin with the next person he met.

  • How would you define religious legalism? How could we prevent ourselves from falling into a church of “dos and don’ts”?
  • In this Season of Pentecost, how could you respond to human need in loving service as enshrined in the Anglican Five Marks of Mission?

Sunshine Dulnuan was given her name because of her father’s favorite singer, John Denver. She is a third-year seminarian of St. Andrew’s Theological Seminary in Quezon City, Philippines.

Download the Bible study for Pentecost 2 (B).

Bible Study, Trinity Sunday (B) – May 27, 2018

[RCL]: Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 29; Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17

Isaiah 6:1-8

The seraphs surrounding the throne in Isaiah’s heavenly vision continually sing praise to God. Yet, this is a rather peculiar choir. They are using their wings to cover their faces and feet. They do not feel at all worthy to look upon God, nor do they feel worthy to stand before him.

We can readily understand Isaiah’s panic; he, unlike these seraphs, has looked upon the living God! How can he do this when these heavenly creatures perpetually cover their faces? It is easy to see why he felt as though he had doomed himself. It is both interesting and liberating to note the radical change that occurs between Isaiah’s heavenly vision and the one depicted in Revelation 4:6-8, though. The living creatures are transformed! They still sing of God’s holiness, but in this account, they no longer shield themselves from God’s glory. In fact, their bodies are covered in eyes. They are permitted to gaze at the Lord in all of his glory. This is the Beatific Vision that Christ has opened up to the whole of creation! Notice also how unlike John was from Isaiah. He was not afraid to gaze at the one seated on the throne!

  • Do you fear gazing upon God’s glory or are you eager to behold it? 

Psalm 29

While Isaiah focuses on the sight of God, Psalm 29 focuses on the hearing of God’s voice. The implication of this psalm is that when God speaks, something always happens. There is never a time when God opens his mouth and nothing happens. God’s Word creates. God’s Word shakes the whole creation. God’s Word reveals the glory of the Lord. God’s Word comforts and blesses the people of God with a deep sense of peace. In this psalm, we see an image of Jesus, the one through whom all things were made, and the one through whom all of creation continues to hold together. Jesus is God’s voice. Whenever we hear God speak, we are encountering Jesus.

  • We often think of prayer simply in terms of talking to God. Do you ever let God talk to you?
  • What are some ways you can open yourself up to hearing God’s voice?

Romans 8:12-17

Why is God the Father called “Father”? Have you ever thought about this? Certainly, he is a Father to us, but is that why he is called “Father”? The same goes for the Son. Why is he called the “Son”? Certainly, he is the “Son of Man,” but it is not his relationship with humanity that makes him the “Son.” Rather, the Son is the Son because he has always been the son of the Father, and the Father is the Father because he has always been father to the Son. We cannot think about one without immediately thinking about the other.

If someone becomes a father, what does this imply, but the existence of a child? This is how we are to think of the Father’s relationship with the Son. Furthermore, Paul says something rather profound in this Romans passage; he says that we have been brought into the relationship that is shared between the Father and the Son. It is the Spirit who has brought us into this loving relationship, and in Jesus’ sonship we become children of God who can also call upon the Father, crying, “Abba!”

  • What is the relationship between your understanding of the Trinity and your spirituality?

John 3:1-17

“Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit” (v. 5). Jesus’ baptismal imagery is reminiscent of the first few lines of the Bible: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind (Spirit) from God swept over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:1-2). In this Genesis account, we see the Spirit of the Lord hovering over the waters, eager to bring about and give shape to the creation. The earth, which once was a formless void, becomes animated and shaped by the Spirit of God. The same is true in baptism; we become a new creation! The Spirit stirs something new within us, and we begin the creative journey of being shaped and formed after the likeness of Christ.

  • How do you tend to think about baptism? Is it merely a ritual or is it an act of new creation? 

TJ Humphrey 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 Trinity Sunday (B).

Bible Study, Pentecost (B) – May 20, 2018

[RCL]: Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:25-35, 37; Romans 8:22-27; John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Acts 2:1-21

We all know the story of Pentecost, of course. At 9 o’clock in the morning, the disciples gather, and the place where they meet is filled with a rush of wind and tongues of fire, and they speak in tongues that all can understand.

Many churches try to re-create this moment by asking parishioners to join aloud in a portion of the reading in whatever languages they can speak. The experience of listeners to such a cacophony of voices, however, is in many ways the opposite of the piercing clarity of understanding described on that first Pentecost.

Peter quotes the prophet Joel to explain what is happening: “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.”

  • What might Pentecost look like today? Do we dare to see visions and dream dreams?
  • Of what might those visions and dreams consist?

Psalm 104:25-35, 37

Psalm 104 is a song in praise of Creation and of God’s care for all that is. God creates all things—even the uncounted living beings in the depths of the sea, and Leviathan, “made for the sport of it.” God sustains all things, giving them “their food in due season,” and, at the appointed time, takes away their breath so that they die and return to dust.

The psalmist does not pretend to understand all the mysteries and oddities and terrors of Creation, but nonetheless praises God, rejoices in the Lord, and cries, “Hallelujah!”

  • In what ways do we trust in the goodness of God’s Creation? In what ways does it terrify and perplex us?
  • What do you make of the idea that God created Leviathan “for the sport of it?”

Romans 8:22-27

The passage from Romans portrays a quieter Holy Spirit than that of the Pentecost story of Acts. Here we see a Holy Spirit that helps us not in a violent wind or tongues of fire, but through an intercession “with sighs too deep for words.” The Holy Spirit of Romans is more a kindly support and intercessor on our behalf than it is a fiery force that descends upon us, unexpected.

The readers of Romans have only “the first fruits of the Spirit” and wait in hope its complete fulfillment.

  • What do you make of the different portrayals of the Holy Spirit in today’s readings?
  • What might it mean that “in hope we were saved”—but a hope that is not seen?

John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

In the Gospel, we find yet another lens through which we can see the Holy Spirit. Here we encounter the Holy Spirit as advocate and guide—an advocate that will testify on behalf of Jesus to the world and that will guide his disciples into truths they are not yet ready to bear.

Jesus tells his disciples that it is to their advantage that he leave them, because only then will the Advocate come to them.

  • What might be the sorts of truths that we ourselves are not yet ready to bear? And how might we listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit guiding us in the direction of those truths?
  • How might we understand the Holy Spirit as “the Spirit of truth”—as contrasted, perhaps, with the fiery flames of Acts or the sighing intercessor of Romans?

Margaret McGhee is a third-year student at Berkeley Divinity School at Yale and is a candidate for the priesthood in the Diocese of New York. Prior to seminary, she worked as a lawyer and as a technology consultant.

Download the Bible study for Pentecost (B).

Bible Study, Easter 7 (B) – May 13, 2018

[RCL]: Acts 1:15-17, 21-26; Psalm 1; 1 John 5:9-13; John 17:6-19

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

They prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart.”

An interesting and easily misleading aspect of this reading is found in Peter’s declaration that the Scriptures had to be fulfilled. At first glance, Peter’s analysis might seem like a strict application of a theology rooted in predestination. Throughout the ages, however, the Church has taught that Scripture reveals truths about how things will unfold, but that the actions of individuals are not directly caused by these revelations.  It may even be said that, in light of Christ’s death and resurrection, Peter and the other apostles were able to discern a way forward through a more enlightened understanding of the prophecy of the Hebrew Scriptures.

We, my friends, are not off the hook! After all, the whole body of the baptized is called to discernment throughout the Christian life of discipleship. Sometimes in our 21st century world, discernment can be framed as something esoteric, lofty, and excessively impractical. Today’s reading from Acts, however, shows us an example that is extremely practical in nature; there was work to be done, and someone needed to be appointed to do it. While casting lots may not be the most popular method of discernment nowadays, it certainly demonstrates that the 11 had a great deal of trust in God’s plan and care, even in the most uncertain of times. May it be so for us, too.

  • How is God nudging us out of our comfort zones so that we may use our gifts in the service of the Gospel?

Psalm 1

Verse 3: They are like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither; everything they do shall prosper.

Only a moment ago, we were talking about the wicked and the seat of the scornful. Somehow, we have quickly moved—with a quick moment to ponder God’s law along the way—to this beautiful and poetic imagery of abundance that is rooted entirely in nature. It is fitting that this wonderful, short psalm is the very first one. It may be that the Psalmist wanted to give a foretaste of what was to come by briefly demonstrating the range of topics to be addressed in subsequent segments, which constituted the bulk of daily prayers for the Hebrew people. Psalms, like the human condition, are layered, challenging, and best understood when sung!

  • Do we really believe that God can handle the roller coaster of our lives?

1 John 5:9-13

At first glance, this brief reading can seem rather formulaic, almost like a mere logical pronouncement: if this, then that. Where is the heart in it? Faith is more than belief, right? If we focus on verses 11 and 12, we may begin to move beyond belief and into experience, and ultimately back into belief through experience. Christ, after all, has never left us:

All who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ like a garment (Galatians 3:27) and dwell in Him, and He in us.

Christ’s presence in the Eucharist is real, mystically uniting us in a divine supper that provides saving medicine to the soul.

  • How can we better prepare to receive Christ in the Eucharist each week so that we more fully imitate Christ in all our daily actions?

John 17:6-19

Today’s Gospel lesson comes from the 17th chapter of John’s Gospel, which is a series of prayers that our Lord offers. Traditionally, these prayers are divided into four categories:

  1. Christ prays for himself
  2. Christ prays for the Disciples
  3. Christ prays for the Church
  4. Christ prays for all.

Today’s portion forms the entirety of the second category, Christ prays for the Disciples. It goes without saying that God’s love has no limits, and that Christ loves every corner of creation. At the same time, however, we know that the Incarnation happened for very specific reasons, and with very specific means. As such, this prayer contains a clear divide, as Jesus juxtaposes himself and the disciples with the world. Does this, then, contradict the core message of John 3:16? Absolutely not! After all, in just a few short verses, Jesus expands the reach of his prayer. Here, the “world” refers to the portion of humanity that chooses darkness over light, directly opposing the will of God. This, therefore, allows Jesus to identify himself as one who does not belong to the world, in spite of his own humanity.

We, too, know that our true citizenship is not attached to our passports or identification numbers, but to our baptism. Nevertheless, we live and move about the world with great gusto; few of us are called to a life of ascetic solitude, after all. Our greatest honor—and perhaps our greatest challenge—is to bear the light of Christ when we are so often surrounded by darkness. We cannot do it alone, just as the disciples could not do it alone; Jesus prayed for them and entrusted them with the very risky and transformative ministry that has endured for nearly two thousand years.

  • As citizens of the Kingdom, how are we called to respond to darkness? 

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 Easter 7 (B).

Bible Study, Easter 6 (B) – May 6, 2018

[RCL]: Acts 10:44-48; Psalm 98; 1 John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17

Acts 10:44-48

This passage records the momentous occasion of the Pentecost of the Gentiles, a major event in salvation history unveiling the total breadth of God’s saving intentions toward the whole human race. We witness here more than a mere giving of power from on high to a group of foreigners, but a breathtaking initiative—or should I say, breath-giving initiative?—of God choosing these Gentiles to be part of his covenant people. In this event, God literally takes them to be the place where His Spirit abides, His temple that He sanctifies for Himself, bringing to mind the event of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River where the Holy Spirit rested upon Jesus and the voice of the Father declared His divine approval: “This is my Son, the Beloved” (Matthew 3:17).

Only in hindsight could the apostles see that this was God’s plan all along, as attested throughout Holy Scripture and especially among the prophets. So is the prophecy of Simeon fulfilled at the beginning of Luke’s Gospel as Jesus becomes “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:32). With God’s assurance of approval, Peter rightly sees that God desires them to receive what comes to be known to the Church Fathers as the sacrament of enlightenment, or Holy Baptism, that they might come to participate in the death and resurrected life of Jesus Christ.

  • The circumcised believers who accompanied Peter were said to be “astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles” (v. 45). Is there any person or group of people to whom we wish the Lord were not quite so generous?
  • The excitement of Holy Spirit’s dynamic activity in the early Church simply saturates the Book of Acts and the whole New Testament. Does our own church or fellowship invite the Holy Spirit to manifest manifold gifts in us and move us to extol God?

Psalm 98

This psalm of praise beautifully captures the response of the Church to God’s victory of radical faithfulness to His people Israel (v.4) that radiates outward not only to the nations (v.3) but to the whole creation.

The psalm teaches us that the proper response to God taking the initiative for our salvation is to break out in rejoicing and song. Indeed, if we did not, the very rocks would cry out!

We as Christians need to be reminded that God’s redemption through the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ is cosmic in scope, as the 8th chapter of Romans reminds us. It’s not limited to Israel. It’s not even limited to human beings. It’s for the whole created order together! By the victorious sacrifice of Jesus, God has purchased reconciliation between Himself and us, and even between humankind and the environment—so that just as Adam and Eve enjoyed a free, just, and peaceful relationship with God and all the creatures in the Garden of Eden before the Fall, so might we—as a foretaste now and in full in the age to come.

This is the new song of the redeemed to our Creator, bringing our creativity to bear and calling forth the whole creation to join in a song of praise to our God who has done marvelous things!

  • How might we add our creative gifts to the praise of our Creator God?
  • In what ways can we help extend God’s redemptive and reconciling purposes (His righteousness, v.10) for the world as well as “the peoples” in our own lives and localities?

1 John 5:1-6

In this passage, we see John weaving together faith, love, and obedience to God’s commandments in an inseparable bond.

John insists that Jesus’ commandments aren’t burdensome, unlike the teachings of the Jewish lawyers and Pharisees that Jesus critiqued. They’re not burdensome, even though we are challenged to an even deeper level of obedience that the Pharisees demanded of their disciples! This is possible because of our new and direct connection to the life of God that transforms us and cleanses us by water and blood from all inner inclination to sin and allows us to overcome the world and its twisted desires (cf. 1 John 2:15-17). I invite you to read and reflect upon Ezekiel 36:23-27: “The nations shall know that I am the Lord, says the Lord God, when through you I display my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.”

  • How might Ezekiel’s prophecy help us to understand that Jesus’ commandments might not be burdensome?
  • Have you experienced times when keeping Jesus’s commandments was not burdensome, but a joy? Why was this?
  • In what ways can our victory in Jesus Christ be hijacked by “the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches” (1 John 2:16)?

John 15:9-17

In this passage, Jesus is calling us into a deeper relationship with Him—really deep! His desire is that we should live always in that heavenly love and complete joy which characterizes the relationship between Jesus and His Father, and so, therefore, He gives us His commandments. If we want to have joy like Jesus’, we have to learn to love one another just as Jesus has loved us—in humility and self-sacrifice.

Jesus is challenging us to leave behind a mere servile approach of extrinsic motivations for obedience to His commands (such as fear of punishment or even hope of reward) and to enter into a relationship of friendship with Him, where our motivations become internalized and we take ownership of our path as a way of love.

The amazing thing about this passage is that God is not interested in having slaves—He wants friends! Suppose your parents forced you to take music lessons as a child. When you first began, the practicing probably felt like a burden, but at some point, perhaps you began to take delight in the new freedom that this new skill brought you through your hours of practice, and you find yourself suddenly desiring to pour yourself out into it with ever-increasing depths of creativity and passion. So it is with our relationship with Christ. We need to make the step at some point in our journeys where we take full ownership of our discipleship to Jesus, but the more we sacrifice of our own will to His lordship and bear fruit by abiding in Him, the more our capacity for joy increases, and the more we become true friends of God.

  • Which of His commandments is Jesus inviting you to learn to obey for the sake of your joy?
  • What conditions does Jesus give for receiving whatever we ask of the Father in prayer?
  • Jesus is also calling us to friendship with one another modeled after His own friendship with us. How might we foster true bonds of friendship within the Church?

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 Easter 6 (B).

Bible Study, Easter 5 (B) – April 29, 2018

[RCL]: Acts 8:26-40; Psalm 22:24-30; 1 John 4:7-21; John 15:1-8

Acts 8:26-40 

In this passage from Acts, we hear of a eunuch from Ethiopia making a pilgrimage from his homeland to Jerusalem. The audience of the book of Acts would have been curious about this figure. A person from a distant land whose appearance was different from theirs would have intrigued the audience. As a court official in charge of the Ethiopian queen’s treasury, the eunuch is a powerful individual. We observe that he does not display his power in this conversation, but instead humbles himself before Philip, inviting him to sit with him and explain the text from Isaiah. While we do not know his religious background, we do know he came to Jerusalem to worship and was curious about the Hebrew scriptures. The eunuch’s desire for baptism unfolds through his illumination by scripture and Philip’s proclamation. The passage reveals the inclusive nature of baptism; regardless of one’s national origin or position, all are invited into the baptism of Christ. Furthermore, we see the power of the Good News in Christ evoke joy within him.

  • How might God be inviting us to illuminate scriptures for people in our lives?
  • How do we see Christ unfolding in the lives of people whom we encounter who are from cultures, backgrounds, or countries different from our own?

Psalm 22:24-30

This section of Psalm 22 reveals a people who are devoted to loving and praising God. They recognize God’s faithfulness, which evokes a desire to live for God. This devotion is not lived in isolation, but rather expressed in community. In fact, the Psalm describes, “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall bow before him” (v. 26).

  • How does praising God in your faith community shape the culture and experience of the community?
  • How does praising God in your faith community shape its relationship with God?

1 John 4:7-21

This reading from John is a beautiful and moving description of God’s love. The love revealed in and through us is one of many ways God’s love is manifested in the world. As followers of Jesus, we are exhorted to express God’s love not simply in emotions or attitudes, but also through concrete and visible deeds and actions.

There is no question as to whether or not God loves us – God does. A question we are invited to ponder is: To what extent do we reveal God’s love by loving one another? When we love each other, God’s love is being perfected within and among us. This is true not only of our individual interactions, but also of our corporate actions in our parish, in our diocese, in the Episcopal Church, in the Anglican Communion, and in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church we profess in the Nicene Creed.

  • What actions might God be inviting us to undertake, individually and corporately, to more fully reveal God’s love to one another, in our communities, and throughout the world?

John 15:1-8

Today’s Gospel reading centers around a conversation between Jesus and the disciples. Jesus describes for them how to be sustained in life – by abiding in him. Just as the life of a branch is sustained by being connected with the vine, our lives are sustained through our relationship with Christ. We are already in union with Christ; we are encouraged to draw our attention to abiding within that union.

The passage also describes how the vinegrower periodically prunes the branches so that they can bear more fruit. Like a branch being pruned, there may be times in one’s life when one’s circumstances cause a person to let go of a commitment, habit, or some other aspect of life in order to eventually live more fully and fruitfully. By drawing one’s attention to abiding in Christ, a person can be brought to a greater sense of peace and be better prepared to discern, navigate, and embrace seasons of pruning and flourishing.

  • What practices draw your awareness to abiding in Christ?
  • How has a period of pruning in your life eventually brought you to a place of living a more flourishing, fruitful life?

The Reverend Denise Muller is a transitional deacon, canonically resident in the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona. She will complete a Diploma of Anglican Studies at the Seminary of the Southwest in May 2018. She received a Master of Arts in Theology and Biblical Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary and a Master of Public Health from Loma Linda University. She completed a Certificate of Spiritual Direction through Christian Formation and Direction Ministries and a Certificate of Supervision of Spiritual Directors through Mercy Center. She is a spiritual director and has served as the Arizona Field Director for a national prison ministry organization. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, reading, and visiting art museums.

Download the Bible study for Easter 5 (B).

Bible Study, Easter 4 (B) – April 22, 2018

[RCL:] Acts 4:5-12; Psalm 23; 1 John 3:16-24; John 10:11-18

Acts 4:5-12

“The stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone” (verse 11).

As is often the case, the context of this passage is set in the portion of the text that is not included in the reading. Here, the situation is that Peter and John were preaching and rejoicing in the glory of the resurrected Christ. They had been healing the sick and doing “good deeds.” This really annoyed the priest of the temple (and, as we are told, the Sadducees). So, they were arrested. The next day all the good ol’ boys got together and asked, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” The question belies the fact that they already know the power and the name. What they wanted to know is if Peter and John made the same messianic claim. Peter and John replied that the deeds had been done in the name of Jesus Christ – the stone the Jews had rejected. A sort of “in your face!” to the Jewish establishment.

Often we read this passage focusing on the passage about the rejected stone cited above. But I would like for us to focus for a moment on our sources of power.

  • How often in our own lives do we appeal to an outside authority for an excuse to explain what we are not capable of doing ourselves?
  • While Peter and John had the name of the resurrected Christ to support them, how much do we delight in invoking the name of someone else in order to fill our own needs to be appreciated?
  • When do we call on the power of the resurrected Lord to fill us with the joy and glee of the Holy Spirit?

Psalm 23

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want” (verse 1).

I cannot think of a better-known psalm, one that is recounted by heart. In the Book of Common Prayer, we have the opportunity to recite this psalm in the Daily Devotion (p. 143), at Maundy Thursday (p. 274), on Good Friday (p. 276), at Holy Baptism (p. 313), at the Thanksgiving for a Child (p. 443), in our Ministration to the Sick (p. 454), and perhaps the best known occassion, at Burial (pp. 476, 490).

This psalm calms the spirit and revives the soul with the assurance that the Lord our God walks with us in all our daily life, through joy and travails.

  • With all of the quiet confidence afforded by this psalm, are we comfortable reciting it not thinking about our eventual walk with God?
  • Is there greater meaning to be found in this psalm beyond considering the end of our lives?

1 John 3:16-24

“We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another” (verse 16).

First John was written to a community apparently besieged by antichrists; but the overall message of this epistle is one of love and that God is love. In the first part of this chapter, we are reminded that we are children of God and that even though we sin, we are loved and redeemed. The passage for today is directly linked to the gospel reading. It declares that Jesus laid down his life for us, and we should be willing to do the same for each other.

  • Love, belief, and sacrifice are the themes. How prepared are we to believe without seeing; to love without knowing; and to sacrifice without losing?

John 10:11-18

Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (verse 11).

The passage leading into this text speaks of the difference between the shepherd who enters by the gate and the thief who enters the sheepfold by another route. Here he reiterates that the shepherd knows his sheep and the sheep know their shepherd. In the text for today, Jesus juxtaposes the “good shepherd” against the “hired hand.” The difference is not in their capacity to take care of sheep – although that may be an important issue. The difference is in ownership. The good shepherd owns the sheep; they are his and he is theirs. The hired hand is self-interested. As long as the interests of the sheep are aligned with the interests of the hired hand, everything is great. When interests diverge, however, it is clear: The hired hand looks out for his own wellbeing while the good shepherd takes care of his sheep. Jesus reminds us that he came to lay down his life for us, that we are his and he is ours. Again, a central theme running through this text is the love of God expressed through the gift of the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

  • When are we able to feel the comfort of knowing the one who enters by the gate to the sheepfold?
  • How do we know we are loved? By our friends and family? By our God?
  • Are you able to accept that God knows you and loves you – that we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand?

This Bible study, written by David Marker of the Bishop Kemper School for Ministry, originally ran for Easter 4 (B) on April 26, 2015.

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