Bible Study, Lent 2 (B) – February 25, 2018

[RCL] Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22:22-30; Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

Although Abraham and Sarah enacted their own solution in response to Sarah being unable to conceive a child (Abram had a child, Ishmael, with Hagar, Sarai’s slave-girl), thirteen years later, God appears and reveals that Sarah will conceive a son, through whom Abraham will “be the ancestor of a multitude of nations.” Sarah “will give rise to nations,” and “kings of people will come from her.” Abraham does not rationalize or make excuses for enacting his and Sarah’s solution; he prostrates himself in response to being in the presence of Almighty God.

Reviewing one’s life in the presence of God and identifying areas for correction need not cause shame and guilt; being in the presence of the Divine can evoke awe and humility, whatever one’s present state of being. While one may sense that he or she has lost the way in discerning and following the ways of God, there are repeated invitations to turn back to God. Every day we may come before God to renew our relationship and the course of our lives in response to God’s call.

  • Are there any areas of your life in which God might be inviting you to change course or start anew?

Psalm 22:23-30

The passage from this psalm reveals an invitation to praise God in thanksgiving for God’s acceptance of us. Our praise may take various forms, one of which is gathering for common worship. Gathering with our local communities, as communities of faith gather throughout the world, we are reminded of God’s loving, merciful presence to all peoples. Moreover, our worship of God transcends time and space; through God, we remain connected with those whom we love, but see no longer.

  • How might your praise and worship of God draw you into closer relationship with others?
  • As you consider the people whom you love, but see no longer, how might worshipping God be an experience of being connected with them?

Romans 4:13-25

The themes of God’s justice and righteousness are woven together throughout Paul’s letter to the Romans. Today’s reading explores the righteousness of Abraham, a righteousness bestowed through faith. Some of Paul’s Jewish contemporaries boasted in their covenantal relationship with God as a unique bond between themselves and God—a relationship to which the Gentiles did not have access. Paul, on the contrary, asserted that righteousness ultimately comes through faith. He presents Abraham as the ancestor of all the faithful, Jews and Gentiles alike. One’s righteousness through a covenantal relationship with God extends beyond ethnic identity; it is available to all people. Paul offers a message of unity in a context of division; that context of division is rooted in valuing ethnic identity above common humanity.

  • As we reflect on the relevance of this message today, what conversations are creating divisions in the Church and in the world, and how might we, like the apostle Paul, be messengers of unity?

Mark 8:31-38

This passage from Mark includes an announcement of Jesus’ passion and a statement of conditions of discipleship. The juxtaposition of these two ideas reveals the connection between self-sacrifice and being a follower of Jesus.

“For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” Jesus addresses these challenging words to the crowd and his disciples. We, his present-day disciples, can hear these words addressed to our lives– what we wish to save or preserve, and what we are willing to give up. Being inordinately attached to aspects of one’s “life,” in terms of external attributes and circumstances, can diminish the vitality of one’s interior life, one’s soul. Jesus invites us, as we consider his life and ours, to seek the perspective of God in discerning how to nurture our souls and devote ourselves to living the Gospel in faithful service to Jesus.

  • What areas of your life might God be inviting you to let go of in order to deepen and strengthen your interior life?
  • What might it mean for you to “deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus,” in the present circumstances of your 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 Lent 2 (B).

Bible Study, Lent 1 (B) – February 18, 2018

[RCL] Genesis 9:8-17; Psalm 25:1-9; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-15

Genesis 9:8-17

Since the time of humanity’s disobedience in the Garden, covenants have been the means by which we re-enter into relationship with God. It’s important to note that God’s covenant extends past Noah through his descendants, to all of creation. This shows a significant point about the grace of God: it extends beyond all sense of righteousness on our part. The life of creation is by God’s grace, Noah is the righteous one that God beholds, but the payment of this righteousness is not just salvation for Noah, but the promise of life for the world. God’s faithfulness to his covenantal promises is a theme that runs throughout Scripture and unites the likes of Noah and Jesus. Bound by God’s grace, we need not simply bear the burdens of our flesh, but rather we may rejoice in that flesh which God has promised to both keep and redeem.

  • In what ways can Noah be seen as a type of Christ?
  • How do we rectify our understanding of grace with our understanding of justice (e.g., is it fair that others will benefit by God’s acknowledgement of Noah’s righteousness)?

Psalm 25:1-9

This portion of Psalm 25 expresses the contrasts between God’s way and the ways of humanity. The ways of humanity are enmity with others, scheming and treachery, shame, disappointment, and ultimately, sin. God’s ways are everlasting compassion and love, grace, faithfulness, and ultimately, salvation. The Psalmist recognizes not only the disparity between these two paths, but also the necessity that God should lead us on them – that we cannot walk in the ways of God without his grace. “Gracious and upright is the Lord; therefore he teaches sinners in his way. He guides the humble in doing right and teaches his way to the lowly.” Ultimately, our sins are overcome by his saving love.

  • In what ways may we ask God to lead us on our paths today?
  • What must we surrender to God in order to follow him?

1 Peter 3:18-22

1 Peter exposes the new covenant under which God calls the unrighteous to himself. As we saw in the reading from Genesis, God’s covenant with one righteous man, Noah, extends his grace to all; the new covenant, by which we are now being saved, extends that grace even further. The promised faithfulness of God is fully realized in the person of Jesus Christ, who now sits at the right hand of the Father. By baptism, we are initiated into Christ’s body and given a righteousness that human beings cannot attain in and of themselves. By baptism, we die to ourselves and are resurrected to a new covenant and a new relationship with God.

  • Which sins still keep you from living fully into your new spiritual life?
  • In what ways can we proclaim the good news to others who are also still imprisoned by their selfishness and sinfulness? 

Mark 1:9-15

Mark’s narratives of the baptism of Jesus, his temptation in the wilderness, and the commencement of his ministry are the sparsest of all the Synoptic Gospels. But his no-frills retelling of these three events, in short order, reveals their deepest truths. The baptism of our Lord stands as a significant transition from an early life that (according to Mark’s omissions) is essentially without note, to a life that is driven by ministry and marked by a growing intensity of purpose toward the cross. Jesus moves seamlessly from the beloved to the tempted. He is waited on by God’s messengers, so that he might be the messenger of the coming Kingdom to those who are in desperate need.

With a handful of verses, we can begin to discern what it truly means to be God’s beloved Son – to endure a baptism of repentance, which he does not need; to face the temptations that are part and parcel of human flesh, so that he may know our plight; to be waited on by those who are closest to God, in order to bring a message of good news to those who are furthest from him. To be a beloved son of God is to live a life for others, in order that they might live the life that God intended.

  • If Jesus’ baptism is the beginning of his ministry, what does that mean for our own baptisms and ministries?
  • If Jesus does not need a baptism of repentance, what might be his purpose for being baptized? 

The Reverend Andrew Cruz Lillegard is a transitional Deacon, canonically resident in the Diocese of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Currently in his senior year of the MDiv program, he lives with his wife (Theresa) and two sons (Christopher and Wyatt) on the beautiful campus of Nashotah House Theological Seminary in Nashotah, Wisconsin. He serves as a Sacristan and Chair of the Student Commons. Surrendering to a call from God in mid-life, Andrew and Theresa discerned a path that would require selling their home and settling into a life of intentional community at seminary. While Andrew is the only Wisconsin native currently attending Nashotah House, he and his family are preparing to leave their state after graduation (May 2018) to further answer God’s call. When not responding to the demands of school, Andrew is spending time with his family – particularly fishing and enjoying a wide variety of film genres.

Download the Bible study for Lent 1 (B).

Bible Study, Last Sunday after Epiphany (B) – February 11, 2018

[RCL] 2 Kings 2:1-12; Psalm 50:1-6; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6; Mark 9:2-9

2 Kings 2:1-12

“I will not leave you.”

Elisha repeats these words to his teacher three times before the Lord takes Elijah away in a whirlwind ascension to heaven. The scene is dramatic and majestic; Elijah parts a sea like Moses and becomes part of a tableau of fiery angelic figures, somewhat like Jesus in the Transfiguration centuries later. We might feel tempted to focus on the theater of this story, but the narrative itself illuminates some of the most grounded elements of human experience—life, death, companionship, loyalty, legacy.

“I will not leave you,” Elisha says to his master. When given the opportunity to stay behind or peel off, Elisha is resolute; he is making this journey toward death with his teacher, no matter what. In the final scene, Elijah expresses gratitude for Elisha’s loyalty by asking what can he do for Elisha before he dies. Elisha responds in a cryptic, but completely understandable way: “Leave me a double share of your spirit,” he asks. In other words, leave me part of yourself; allow me to carry on your legacy. Elijah agrees but warns him that it will not be easy.

  • Have you ever lost a loved one or been with someone toward the end of life?
  • What are some of the ways that you strive or struggle to carry on the legacies of those you admire and respect?

Psalm 50:1-6

The first part of Psalm 50 is a gathering call. God is preparing to judge the people and is calling all of heaven and earth to be witnesses. The word “judgment” always has an ominous tone, but these verses do not hint at how destructive (or glorious) God’s judgment will be; instead, the focus is on the power and reach of God’s voice. “The Lord…has spoken.” “Our God…will not keep silent.”He calls the heavens and the earth.” We often think of prophets and teachers doing the work of ingathering, or preparing the way for God’s glory to be revealed, but the psalmist here imagines God in that role. God’s voice resounds across creation, inviting those who will bear witness as well as those who will be judged to come together.

  • In what ways do you hear God speaking in your life?
  • How do you hear the voice of God in the world today?

2 Corinthians 4:3-6

The season of Epiphany invites us to celebrate the in-breaking of God’s light in a dark world. This passage in 2 Corinthians reminds us that seeking the light of Christ is a continual journey. While the powers-that-be of this world strive to “veil” or “blind” us from the good news, we are called to receive the light of Christ in our hearts and reflect that light back to creation. As Epiphany comes to a close and we prepare to enter the season of Lent, our focus shifts from a celebration of light to a reckoning with darkness. Still, the gift of God’s light in our heart does not go away with the change of liturgical seasons; even as we begin this season of reflection and repentance, we carry God’s light with us and rely upon it for hope and strength.

  • When has it been hard to receive the light of Christ? When has it been easy?

Mark 9:2-9

In what ways do you see the light of Christ stifled or dimmed by the “god of this world”? How do you help shine the light of Christ on those experiencing dark or troubled times?

This passage in Mark (and similar passages in Matthew and Luke) tell the story of Jesus’ transfiguration. As readers, we are drawn into a scene that is actually quite intimate—Jesus takes Peter, James, and John to a remote location where they alone witness a dazzling theophany and hear a definitive claim to Jesus’ authority and status as the Son of God. If any of us had been present in that moment, we might have reacted like Peter, “terrified” and fumbling for something to say or do. Whether or not we have ever had our own vision of God, the story of the Transfiguration invites us to imagine what it is like to be in the fullness of God’s presence. What would we do? What would we say? James and John are silent, but we can imagine that they are not indifferent; perhaps awe has left them speechless. The Transfiguration, while intimate, reveals a Jesus unlike the gentle, human teacher we have come to know in earlier passages. The Jesus of the Transfiguration may feel distant or fantastical to some, while others may be captured by the majesty, mystery, and beauty of God shown in this way.

  • How do you experience God most fully?
  • What images of Jesus draw you into the mystery and beauty of God? 

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 the Last Sunday after Epiphany (B).

Bible Study, Epiphany 5 (B) – February 4, 2018

[RCL] Isaiah 40:21-31; Psalm 147:1-11, 20c; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39

Isaiah 40:21-31

In Isaiah 39, the prophet gave Yahweh’s judgment to King Hezekiah: Judah would soon be overtaken by Babylon. After this ominous message, the second major section of Isaiah, known as the Book of Comfort, begins. This section of Isaiah includes chapters 40 through 66. Our reading occurs in the opening paragraphs of the Book of Comfort. Here, the image of God’s majesty is presented through poetry. For those who had heard Isaiah’s prophecy, this poetry would have offered a contrasting view of Yahweh: the consoling deliverer.

  • In this passage, Isaiah responds to the harsh judgment of Yahweh (Isa. 39) with contrasting imagery. Where do you see the contrast between sin and redemption at work in the world today?

Psalm 147:1-11, 20c

Psalms 146 – 150 form a collection known as The Endless Hallelujah. Psalm 147:1 invites the community of Israel to praise Yahweh. Verses 2 – 6 describe Yahweh’s good works. Verses 7 – 11 repeat the cycle: in verse 7, the invitation to praise, and in verses 8 – 11, the reasons to praise Yahweh. For thousands of years, this Psalm has reminded us to praise God, from whom all blessings flow.

  • In our busy lives, pausing to praise Yahweh may be difficult. How might our lives be affected by creating space and time for daily worship?

1 Corinthians 9:16-23

Paul proclaimed the gospel with no expectation of payment or other earthly reward. Corinth was a society in which success was known by wealth, power, and prestige. Paul sets himself apart from secular recognition: the gospel is God’s message of grace and Paul will do whatever is necessary to bring the message to all of God’s people. God’s abundant grace is available to the weak, the slave, the citizen, the Jew, and all others in Corinth. This must have been a peculiar message in a city that prized status.

  • Many of us live in societies like Corinth. As Christians, our daily walk in the world is an opportunity to proclaim the gospel. What is the gospel message we are communicating?

Mark 1:29-39

This passage continues to reveal the healing power of Jesus. For those in Galilee, rumors were traveling quickly about the healer. People were coming to see him. Jesus retreats from the village of Capernaum to pray alone. He is found by his disciples, who encourage him to return. But Jesus announces that it is time for him to travel throughout Galilee to proclaim the message, “Because that is why I came.” Throughout this gospel, making the good news accessible to the Gentiles is a consistent rhetorical message. In verse 38, Mark makes clear that proclaiming God’s message was Jesus’ reason for being in their midst.

  • Living conditions in Galilee were primitive. Suddenly, Jesus moves among them—and he is able to heal the un-healable. Surrounded by people needing his divine touch, Jesus retreats to pray alone. When the world presses upon us, the example of Jesus suggests that we should intentionally hit the “pause” button and spend time praying. What benefits do you see in choosing to follow Jesus’ example? What challenges do you see?

 

Paula Jefferson is currently completing a Master of Divinity degree at the Seminary of the Southwest (Austin, TX): MDiv ’18. Her Christian formation began with a village Baptist Church (Pennsylvania), continued with a corporate-size Church of Christ (Texas), and discovered a new gear with the Episcopal Church (Texas) in 1999. As an accountant, she maintains professional licensure through the Texas State Board of Public Accountancy.

Download the Bible study for Epiphany 5 (B).

Bible Study, Epiphany 4 (B) – January 28, 2017

[RCL] Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 111; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28

Deuteronomy 18:15-20

God assures Israel that he will continue to communicate through prophets, even after Moses’ death. Discerning who is—and who is not—speaking Yahweh’s words will be critical for Israel. Those who hear God’s prophet, but do not accept the prophecy, will be held accountable by God.

  • How is Yahweh speaking to us in 2018? How are we responding?

Psalm 111

Yahweh is known by his works and deeds. The psalmist praises Yahweh for his enduring covenant with Israel. The word “forever” is a repeating message in this anthem: Israel’s relationship with Yahweh exists in perpetuity. These were assuring words to a people who were, at times, conquered and displaced. While their land—and even the Temple—might be overrun, their relationship with Yahweh remains forever.

  • 21st-century socio-cultural influences are impacting the practice of Christianity. What might we bring from Psalm 111 into our interaction with modernity?

1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Paul writes to 1st-century Christians in Corinth. In this setting, the practice of Christianity was emerging amid the worship of pagan gods. Early Christians struggled to leave behind worship practices that were prevalent in their society. Paul’s language recalls our Deuteronomy lesson: we will know—and God will know—those who love God by their loving ways. Paul calls Christians to leadership by empathetically addressing those who continue some of the old practices. He warns that such behaviors could mislead others to resume worshipping other gods.

  • Should “the Christian life” be at odds with its cultural environ? What examples can we identify in our own setting? 

Mark 1:21-28

Jesus begins his ministry in Capernaum. While teaching at a synagogue on the Sabbath, he expels an unclean spirit from a demoniac. Through the voice of the unclean spirit, Mark shares with his audience the divine nature of Jesus. Still, Jesus is not ready for others to know his identity. Healing on the Sabbath does not rile this audience; rather, they are receptive to his teaching. By casting this scene in a synagogue on the Sabbath, Mark connects his audience with the familiar places and rituals of Judaism and then unveils the in-breaking action of God through Jesus’ teaching and healing.

  • Jesus chose to let his actions tell the story of his identity. How can our parish model the choice of Jesus? How will we know if our neighbors know us to be Christians?

Paula Jefferson is currently completing a Master of Divinity degree at the Seminary of the Southwest (Austin, TX): MDiv ’18. Her Christian formation began with a village Baptist Church (Pennsylvania), continued with a corporate-size Church of Christ (Texas), and discovered a new gear with the Episcopal Church (Texas) in 1999. As an accountant, she maintains professional licensure through the Texas State Board of Public Accountancy.  

Download the Bible study for Epiphany 4 (B).

Bible Study, Epiphany 3 (B) – January 21, 2017

[RCL] Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 62:6-14; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20

Jonah 3:1-5, 10

In this passage, we hear the second half of Jonah’s story. Here, Jonah follows God’s call to travel to Nineveh and proclaim God’s judgment against the city. The people of Nineveh listen to Jonah, repent of their evil ways, fast, and dress themselves and even their animals in sackcloth and ashes. Seeing their repentance, God relents, sparing them from destruction.

Earlier, of course, Jonah had refused the call to go to Nineveh, fleeing across the Mediterranean and finding himself swallowed by—and three days later spewed out by—a large fish.

The book of Jonah is funny. A man runs away from God and is swallowed by a fish—and then is spit back up on shore—which convinces him that perhaps he ought to carry out his God-given mission after all. Domestic animals are dressed in sackcloth. And when God relents, his prophet is angry, because he has been made to look like a fool.

The book is funny, but it is also a story about both the relentlessness of God’s call and the breadth of God’s mercy.

  • Have you ever tried to evade God’s call, only to find yourself back where you started?
  • What do you make of the humor of the story? Can we use humor to better understand God?

Psalm 62:6-14

The overarching theme of Psalm 62 is a call to trust in God, over and above the powers and riches of this world.

But the psalm is more than a call to trust. It is also a poem. “For God alone my soul in silence waits,” it begins, in the language of poetry.

The psalmist’s soul can wait in silence, untroubled and without anxiety, because it is God who is awaited: awaited in perfect trust.

In the language of the psalm, God is rock and salvation, a strong rock and a refuge, a stronghold, a source of power, and the fitting recipient of steadfast love, hope, and trust.

  • How might you cultivate the attitude of the psalmist, to wait for God with your soul in silence?
  • What does it mean to trust in God as a strong rock and refuge, and to place your love, hope, and trust in God?

1 Corinthians 7:29-31

Paul writes at great length to the church in Corinth about marriage and divorce and other social relationships. Much of his advice may seem anachronistic to us today, but underlying and informing everything he writes is the sense that time has grown short and the world is passing away. For Paul, this eschatological vision lends urgency to the call of all Christians to devote themselves to the Lord, above and beyond any earthly obligations. “Those who deal with the world” are to act “as though they had no dealings with it.”

  • Given the many hundreds of years that have passed since Paul wrote to the Corinthians, can we recover the urgency of Paul’s vision of a world that is even now passing away?
  • What might it mean for each of us to hold lightly the things of this world and to place our trust in God?

Mark 1:14-20

Today’s Gospel passage sounds themes of calling and of a world passing away that can also be found in the day’s other readings.

Jesus proclaims the coming of the kingdom of God and calls those who hear him to repent, to turn, at to believe in the good news.

Jesus calls Simon and Andrew, James and John, from their work as fishermen. The four men immediately follow him, leaving behind nets and family and hired workers and fishing boats still floating in the sea. This is a story of a response to God’s call that sounds very different from that of Jonah’s slow and reluctant obedience.

  • What might we need to leave behind in order to follow Jesus? And can we ever hope to do so with the swiftness of Simon, Andrew, James, and John?
  • What calls do we hear in our own lives? In what ways are we called to follow Jesus in our own time? 

Margaret McGhee Margaret 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 Epiphany 3 (B).

Bible Study, Epiphany 2 (B) – January 14, 2017

[RCL] 1 Samuel 3:1-10(11-20); Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1:43-51

An overarching theme of the readings for this Sunday is how we receive God and what we do as a result.

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

One line of thinking in modern learning theory is that it takes three or more exposures to a message for us to fully understand or learn it. For the prophet Samuel, those three exposures come at once, just before dawn, in the tabernacle holding the ark of the covenant. The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him—that is, he has not yet gained his prophetic powers—so he hears the calls three times, but does not yet understand them. He goes to the aged Eli and, using language that calls back to Moses and the burning bush, states simply, “Here I am,” each time. Eli quickly realizes the source of the call and gives specific instructions to the young Samuel to let God know that Samuel is listening. God’s response picks up on the listening theme and prophesies in a way that will “make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle” (NRSV).

  • Where are you hearing the voice of God calling you today? Are you able to listen, to hear it? How might you find space to better hear that call, and what could you do to respond?

Psalm 139: 1-6, 13-18

Notes in the New Oxford Annotated Bible suggest that this psalm is unique in that it is an “individual petition…recording an individual’s experience of God.” Being on your own in the ancient Near East would have been an equally frightening and awe-inspiring experience, without the security of artificial light and comfortable housing that we take for granted. The Psalmist depicts God as both an intimidating presence that is far beyond his or her ability to understand and, at the same time, a warm, nurturing deity who “knit me together in my mother’s womb.” The combination yields an overarching message of comfort: comfort that he or she is a part of all God’s creation and, as in Genesis, that creation is “good.”

  • Where do you find your personal experience of God? Is it in the awe of a thunderstorm or a majestic view, or in the innocence of a child’s laugh? How does that experience provide you comfort?

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

Paul opens this part of his letter to the Corinthians with a re-statement of their “anything goes” slogan: “All things are lawful for me.” It reminds me of a popular saying from my teenage years: “If it feels good, do it.” I even remember a song with that as a refrain: “If it feels good do it, do it if it’s what you feel.” And, while that hedonistic call may sound appealing to an immature teenage brain, I quickly realized it would be an unsustainable way of living.

Paul is suggesting something similar, and he amends the Corinthian slogan with: “but not all things are beneficial” – beneficial to the individual and, more importantly, to the church community in Corinth. As bodies of Christ, he is calling them to treat their physical and spiritual communities with care, to not defile them, because they are no longer their own, but God’s. And that calls them—and us—to a much higher standard.

  • Are there parts of your life where you are being ‘dominated’ (verse 6:12) and not able to be fully open to God? How might you open up that space, either alone or in your church community?

John 1: 43-51

Events are happening quickly in this part of John’s Gospel. Jesus heads toward Galilee, taking Philip with him. Philip, convinced of Jesus’ messiahship, urges Nathanael to join. “Not so quick,” one imagines Nathanael thinking, as he questions Jesus’ birthright. He’s not sure Jesus is from the right place—of the right tribe—and this gets in his way. But instead of shutting down, he stays open and, as a result, is amazed. Jesus knows things about Nathanael that any regular human could not. And this simple sign is all Nathanael needs to proclaim Jesus Son of God and King of Israel. By staying open, Nathanael is set to see the most amazing signs imaginable.

  • How do we let superficial things—like birthplace or alma mater or accent—prevent us from truly seeing another? Where are we missing Christ’s presence in our lives today because we don’t stay open, let ourselves see, and be amazed? 

This Bible study was written by Gregory Warren of the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas.

Download the Bible study for Epiphany 2 (B).

Bible Study, Epiphany 1 (B) – January 7, 2017

[RCL] Genesis 1:1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11

Genesis 1:1-5

In the beginning of God’s creation, Scripture records that “darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” The word translated wind here is the Hebrew word ruach, which can ambiguously refer to wind, breath, or Spirit. Swept is from the Hebrew rahaf, meaning “to hover,” like a bird brooding or hovering over her young. God’s breath hovers, and God’s word speaks light and matter into being. In the beginning, the Father, the Spirit, and the Word cooperate to create the world in wisdom, and it was good! The Church would later come to recognize an epiphany—a revelation—of God the Holy Trinity in this passage. As God speaks light and matter into being from formlessness and void, we catch a glimpse both of who God is in himself and what his plan is.

  • The first verse of Genesis could also be translated, “In the beginning, when God began to create the heavens and the earth…” How might this affect your understanding of this passage?

Psalm 29

In the beginning of Psalm 29, God’s people are called to acknowledge God’s glory and strength—the weighty significance of his presence and the all-encompassing domain of his power. This God is powerful, beautiful, creative, and frankly, dangerous! “The voice of the Lord breaks the cedar trees; the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon,” and “the Lord makes the oak trees writhe.” The Lord “sits enthroned above the flood,” that is, he is the eternal King who reigns from heaven, enthroned above the “upper waters” over the dome of the sky. This same God has given to his people his own personal Name (which the Psalmist here uses liberally), and has placed his personal address in their geographical midst. The God who has done all this will surely also give his people strength and peace. These are amazing privileges! The only proper response to this unasked-for favor from the Almighty Creator God is to rush to his temple, confess him for who he truly is in the presence of his people, and “worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.” In so doing, we as the Church become the sign of his beautiful and sanctifying presence to the world.

  • How could your reflection upon the Lord’s glory and strength affect your worship?
  • What does it mean to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness? How is holiness beautiful?

Acts 19:1-7

John’s vocation was to prepare the people for Christ, and in so doing, he summarizes and fulfills the whole old covenant, a purpose of which was to point forward to Jesus. John’s preaching and baptizing “prepare the way of the Lord” and “gives knowledge of salvation to [God’s] people by the forgiveness of their sins.” John was not that light of which he preached, but he was testifying to that light, the “dawn from on high [that] shall break upon us.” Still, John’s baptism prepared the people by calling them to repentance—a full change of life in light of the coming one, “whose sandal strap [John was] not worthy to untie,” who would come to judge the whole world and deliver his people from the hands of their enemies. But it is baptism in the name of Jesus that delivers what John only anticipated: God’s promises (Jeremiah 31:30-34, Ezekiel 36:25-27, Joel 2:28) to make a new covenant where the people will be given a new heart with which to love and obey him, and where he would pour out his prophetic Spirit upon all flesh.

  • Some Christians are sometimes accused of living as though they “have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit,” or that there is little evidence of the Spirit’s renewing, creative and sanctifying presence in their lives, even though they were baptized into the name of the Trinity. How might we draw nearer as a Church and as individuals to the fullness of life in the Spirit given to us in our baptism?

Mark 1:4-11

This scene of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan by John draws our attention back to the very beginning of Holy Scripture, where God, his Spirit, and his Word were present upon the face of the primordial deep, and creation began. As Jesus arises from the waters, the heavens are “torn open” so that we might see for a moment what lies beyond the veil.  We see the Spirit descending like a dove upon him, and the voice of the Father approving Jesus as his beloved son. Here again is an epiphany, mysteriously suggesting the divine identity of Jesus the man.

Even as Jesus humbly and fully identified with the people of Israel who were baptized (so to speak) in the Red Sea, who were once captive in Egypt and presently captive to sin, he is revealed as Israel’s mighty God. When we are baptized into the name of the Trinity, we fully identify with Jesus, even as he fully identified with us and our human condition, and everything the voice of the Father declared about Jesus becomes true of us as his adopted sons and daughters.  We receive his holy and life-giving Spirit and become part of Jesus’ glorified Body and are freed from our former captivity to sin and death. In this scene is revealed the fulfillment of the purpose of God’s work of creation.

  • What do we most need to hear the voice of the Lord saying to us to live into the fullness of God’s purposes for us?
  • Read Genesis 22:1-2. How might this passage help us understand today’s Gospel lesson?

Ryan Jordan is currently a middler at Nashotah House Theological Seminary, hailing 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 Epiphany 1 (B).

Bible Study, Christmas 1 (B) – December 31, 2017

[RCL] Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Psalm 147 or 147:13-21; Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7; John 1:1-18

Isaiah 61:10-62:3 

It is clear in the prophecy given to Isaiah that God intends for his people Israel to be a beacon to other nations. The strong imagery of “garland,” “jewels,” “crown,” and “diadem” bespeak a richness that God bestows upon those who are faithful to him. But these riches adorn his people for a single purpose: they are meant to be a sign to those who do not yet know the God of Israel. The gifts which God graciously gives his people are meant to draw others into relationship with him. The salvation we receive from the Father is meant not as a vindication of ourselves in the face of those who are perishing, but as a means to bring salvation to them. God intends Israel to be a torch to light the path for others.

  • What gifts has God bestowed upon you? How might you use those gifts to draw others to God?

Psalm 147 or 147:13-21

Psalm 147 is song of praise and thanksgiving which speaks directly about how God is faithful in keeping his promises to his people. Those to whom he is faithful are called to worship him. Our worship of God is all that we may offer in thanks for the renewal of life and bountiful provision we receive from him.

  • “Word” is used in verses 16, 19, and 20. How mighty the meaning of “word” vary between these three verses?
  • How does the coming of God’s Word in the person of Jesus Christ, who has been revealed to all nations, affect our understanding of the “chosen” quality of God’s people?

Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7

Paul’s epistle to the Galatian Church recognizes both the merit and limitations of “the law” – before the coming of Christ, the law stood as the means of covenant and relationship between Israel and God. The law was the previous means of claiming God as Father, but through his son, we may now claim in a truer sense to be sons and daughters of God the Father. Because the Word of God has taken our human flesh, our humanity is free to be united to the Father in a new way.

  • Does our claim on God the Father free us from our responsibility to his law?
  • To what are we heirs? What responsibilities does that heirship lay upon us?

John 1:1-18

John’s Gospel account varies greatly from the accounts of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). Far more concerned with theological notions than the narratives that drive the other three accounts, his prologue jumps feet-first into some deep waters. Much of our understanding of the relationship between the Father and the Son, as expressed in the creeds of the Church, is drawn directly from this prologue. Recalling the creation story of Genesis, John assures us of the nature and authority of the Word who takes upon himself our human flesh, in order that he might live among us—and that we might truly live. The Word made flesh in the person of Jesus Christ calls us to grow into the lives he wills for us and to accept God as our Father. As in the letter to the Galatians, we see that the Son has come to fulfill what could not be realized by the law alone: true relationship with God the Father.

  • What does John mean when he writes, “He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him”? How might this be related to the statements about “the law” in both John and Galatians?
  • In what ways do our lives in Christ witness to his power? What is one concrete way that you might testify to the light of Christ? 

 

The Reverend Andrew Cruz Lillegard is a transitional Deacon canonically resident in the Diocese of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Currently in his senior year of the M.Div. program, he lives with his wife (Theresa) and two sons (Christopher and Wyatt) on the beautiful campus of Nashotah House Theological Seminary in Nashotah, Wisconsin, where he serves as a sacristan and Chair of the Student Commons. Surrendering to a call from God in mid-life, Andrew and Theresa discerned a path that would require selling their home and settling into a life of intentional community at seminary. While Andrew is the only Wisconsin native currently attending Nashotah House, he and his family are preparing to leave their state after graduation (May 2018) to further answer God’s call. When not responding to the demands of school, Andrew is spending time with his family – particularly through fishing and enjoying a wide variety of film genres.

Download the Bible study for Christmas 1 (B).

Bible Study, Advent 4 (B) – December 24, 2017

[RCL] 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16

While David has in mind what most people would conceive of in hearing the word “temple,” God appears to be thinking of something altogether different. This is especially clear whenever we read this passage through the lens of the New Testament. David desires to construct a building for the Lord. Yet, we see that God is resistant to the notion, not because he dislikes the idea in general, but because David is not the one he has chosen for this task, and there is more to the notion of temple than a physical building. New Testament authors and the Church Fathers and Mothers would later read this passage typologically, depicting human bodies as God’s temple. Mary certainly had a hand in this construction in bearing Jesus, the person in whom God’s fullness dwells. Jesus also constructs the temple of God out of the Church. The point in all of this is not that God doesn’t want a temple in which to dwell, but rather that David’s blueprints do not quite align with God’s. We will come to find out that God prefers human bodies over inanimate buildings.

  • How should we treat ourselves knowing that our bodies are temples for God, and how should this notion impact how we relate to others?

Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26

Whenever we hear the word “faithfulness,” we may be too quick to attribute it to a merely human attribute. We think a lot about fidelity within our relationships and within marriage. We reflect upon our own faithfulness to God and the Church. While there is nothing wrong with the consideration of such things, we tend to forget to think about God’s faithfulness to us. It is God’s faithfulness to us that serves as the precondition for our faithfulness to him. Before ever choosing God, God has chosen to be for us. Our expressions of faith to God are not the initiation of a relationship—they are the response to a God who has dedicated himself to us all along. He opted to be for us even before we came into existence. You and I are enfolded into the promise that God made to his people in ancient times. God’s dominion certainly has extended and, as if with one voice, we say to God, “You are my Father, my God, and the rock of my salvation.”

  • Compare how much you think about your faithfulness and how much you think about God’s. Which do you think you should spend more time thinking about?

Romans 16:25-27

In this doxology, Paul would have us lift our hearts to the God who can strengthen us “according” to three different things, and these three accordings form an interesting progression of thought. To paraphrase, God strengthens us according to the proclamation of the Gospel, according to the revealed mystery of Christ (which now incorporates the Gentiles), and according to the sanctifying command of God. The movement is from the mere reception of the Gospel, to the reinterpreting of the Old Testament Scriptures in light of the mystery revealed (and beholding the cosmic Christ in light of this revelation), then to the life of obedience that forms the response to these things. If we are to immerse ourselves in the wisdom of the “only wise God,” we must keep these dynamics together. God’s wisdom will not permit us to simply receive the Gospel and do nothing with it, nor will it let us be negligent towards the inclusion of all sorts of people in the Church as we seek to live lives of obedience. The wisdom of God keeps all of these dynamics intimately together. We should do likewise.

  • Which of these dynamics has strengthened you in your faith journey? To which might you need to be more attentive?

Luke 1:26-38

In Luke’s Gospel, the story of Jesus doesn’t begin where one might presume it should begin. It doesn’t begin with Jesus. Rather, the story of Jesus begins with his mother. While we may be tempted to read our own finely-tuned theological presumptions back into this story, we would be wise to read the text for what it is saying and not for what we have come to expect it to say. In other words, the Incarnation is not the central theme in this passage, nor is Luke trying to convince us that Mary is the Theotokos (“God-bearer”), although aspects of these ideas certainly can be inferred. Rather, Luke would have us turn our attention to the fact that God has used the meekest of human beings to accomplish his divine will. He would have us meditate upon Mary’s response to God (her willingness in saying, “Let it be…”), and perhaps it is this preexisting demeanor that has earned her the title “favored one,” even before the child is conceived in her womb.

  • How important is Mary’s “let it be,” and how does it enhance how we think about the Incarnation?
  • How significant is it that God does not bypass human participation in bringing about his divine will?

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 Advent 4(B).