Bible Study, Easter 7 (C) – May 8, 2016

 

[RCL] Acts 16:16-34; Psalm 97; Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21; John 17:20-26

Acts 16:16-34

The story may be a familiar one: Paul sets a slave girl free of the spirit that possesses her. He does so because of his own annoyance with her acting as a nonstop herald for him and Silas. This doesn’t sit well with the slave girl’s owners and even ends up landing Paul and Silas in jail. The earthquake comes and leaves them an avenue of escape, and indeed sets all of the prisoners free. What’s surprising, though, is that they don’t seem to leave. They’re still there when the jailer sees his own predicament, and are able to stop him from taking his own life in despair, and as a result of this, he and his entire household are baptized.

  • What might it mean that Paul and Silas and the other prisoners did not leave when a way out was provided?
  • Are there moments in your life when you’ve felt like the jailer?
  • When have you seen God at work and marveled?
  • When have you felt like your life had been saved?
Psalm 97

Psalm 97 exalts God as the one who brings justice to the world. God’s majesty is so great that the coastlines rejoice, God’s adversaries are consumed in fire, and even the mountains are so humbled that they are said to melt like wax. The earth trembles before God’s glory, yet Zion and Judah rejoice in God’s judgments. The righteous have nothing to fear, we’re told, their lives are protected and they are able to rejoice in God; for God loves those who hate evil. God’s majesty is described in terms terrifying and awe-inspiring, and this awe leads directly to praise and thanksgiving.

  • What are the ways in which God inspires awe in you?
  • What does it mean today to hate evil?
  • How do we discern God’s justice?
  • How might God’s justice differ from our own sense of justice? 
Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21

In this text from Revelation, the angel speaks to John the Divine the words of Jesus. This passage is full of rich imagery which we often make use of in our tradition, though sometimes without exploring fully. Jesus refers to himself as the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the root and descendant of David, the bright morning star. After hearing these descriptors of Jesus, all who are thirsty, all who desire the water of life are bid by the Spirit, the bride (an image often associated with the Church), and everyone who hears to come and drink. This, John is told, is a gift; this is the same way it’s described a chapter earlier when John is told that the one seated on the throne is making all things new. The passage ends with Christ’s promise that he will come again soon, and a fervent wish that it will be so.

  • What does thinking of Jesus as Alpha and Omega, as the root and descendant of David, or as the bright morning star tell us about Jesus?
  • How can these images enrich our understanding of who Jesus is and what he means?
  • What are the ways in which we thirst?
  • What are the ways in which the water of life can quench our thirst?
  • How can we wish for Jesus’ coming again without losing sight of the here and now?
John 17:20-26

In this famous prayer from John’s Gospel, Jesus prays that his followers, both the disciples and those who come to follow Jesus after them, may be one just as he and God are one. This unity is evidenced in the glory and in the love which God gave to Jesus, and which Jesus gave to his followers. This prayer takes place right before Jesus’ betrayal and arrest. He prays for unity at a time when even his inner circle is about to be divided, for glory as he is about to suffer condemnation and shame, and for love as he is about to be despised.

  • What must it have taken for Jesus to pray this prayer in light of what is to come?
  • What are the ways in which we as Jesus’ followers could be more unified?
  • How can we share the glory and love that Christ shares with us?

Download the Easter 7C Bible Study.

Written by Ian Lasch

Ian Lasch is a senior at Virginia Theological Seminary and a candidate for Holy Orders from the Diocese of Georgia. His wife Loren is an Episcopal priest and member of the VTS Class of 2008. Their joyful son, Elias, was born in December 2014. Ian previously worked as an Arabic translator, and has a deep love for Cleveland and Charlotte sports.

Bible Study, Easter 6 (C) – May 1, 2016

[RCL] Acts 16: 9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10, 22 – 22:5; John 14:23-29

Acts 16: 9-15

Hospitality in the first century Roman Empire was risky. It was not simply inviting someone over for dinner or even offering them a place to stay for the night. Instead, it carried with it an offering of protection and provisions for the journey ahead. It signaled a commitment to enter into permanent relationship with another. A family would offer hospitality to people like them, social equals who could be trusted to reciprocate when needed.

So it is significant that throughout Acts, the apostles receive hospitality from people who are not like them, including Gentiles and businesswomen like Lydia. The power of the Holy Spirit explodes the dividing walls between strangers and knits them into a community of friends and co-workers for the spread of the Gospel. After Lydia and her household are baptized, she urges the apostles to stay with her and provides for Paul and Silas after they are released from prison (Acts 16:40).

  • Where have you seen the Holy Spirit create surprising community?
  • What are the dividing walls separating people from each other in your neighborhood?
  • Lydia and the apostles were open to God’s Word and their lives were radically changed. What practices help you stay open to the Word?
Psalm 67

Psalm 67 is a communal song of petition and praise, calling on God to bless Israel so that the whole world will know the Holy One’s justice, power, and guidance. We see this in the symmetrical structure of the psalm. Verses 1 and 7 begin with a petition for God’s blessing, while verses 2 and 6 concern the earth. Verses 3 and 5 are identical, and our attention is drawn to verse 4, the only three line verse in the psalm: “Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide all the nations upon earth.” God’s blessing is not just for Israel, but for the whole earth. The petitions voiced in this song are universal rather than contextualized.

  • Given the world as you know it today, what might these blessings look like?
  • Where is God’s saving health needed?
  • Where is God’s justice and guidance needed?
  • Using Psalm 67 as a model, write your own song of petition and praise, being as specific as possible.
Revelation 21:10, 22 – 22:5

The book of the Revelation to John is addressed to “the seven churches that are in Asia” (Revelations 1:4) and was written in the second half of the first century C.E. The beginning chapters of the book describe the various challenges those churches are facing, from imprisonment and death to spiritual complacency. John exhorts these Christians to “be faithful until death” (2:10b) and to be persistent in seeking a transformed life (3:18-20). Life in the Roman Empire held out visions of many different objects of worship, including multiple gods and the emperor. In Revelation, John records larger visions, reminding the churches of God’s sovereignty.

This particular passage offers the promise of the new Jerusalem, where God’s glory is the only light needed and the nations will dwell together in safety and wholeness. When the lectionary leaves out many verses, I like to find out what is missing. In this case, the compilers omitted several verses describing the new Jerusalem’s opulent walls and gates. Take the time to read these verses. Imagine the vision John is describing— a glorious city more radiant than anything the Roman Empire could construct.

  • How does this city, the river, and the tree of life appear in your imagination?
  • Which aspect of John’s description offers you the most powerful sense of hope for your life, your community, or the world?
  • How might you live into that hope with faithful courage?
John 14:23-29

Jesus’s words to Judas (not Iscariot) are part of a larger conversation at the Last Supper. Jesus is preparing his disciples to live faithfully after he has gone from them physically. They are understandably disturbed by this talk, but Jesus repeats his words of peace and assurance. Jesus has brought them into an abiding love relationship with God that has implications for their lives whether they are in Jesus’s physical presence or not.

The Advocate, the paraclete, is the Holy Spirit, sent to abide with the disciples (14:17) and to remind them of Jesus’s words and teaching. He is not leaving the disciples orphaned (14:18), and yet we can imagine how upsetting this conversation would be.

  • Jesus’s promise of the Holy Spirit and his gift of peace are intertwined. How have you experienced the Holy Spirit’s abiding presence in your life?
  • Where do you sense a need for Christ’s peace today? Take a few moments to pray for peace now.

Download the Easter 6C Bible Study.

Written by Charlotte Wilson
Charlotte is a postulant for Holy Orders from the Diocese of California and a third year seminarian at Church Divinity School of the Pacific. As a spiritual director and minister, she delights in accompanying others as they encounter God in expected and unexpected places. Charlotte finds joy in reading, hiking, knitting, and hanging out with her family and friends.

Bible Study, Easter 5 (C) – April 24, 2016

[RCL] Acts 11:1-18; Revelation 21:1-6; John 13:31-35; Psalm 148

Acts 11:1-18

In this passage we here an account of the apostle crossing what were social and religious boundaries of the day. There were many social conventions regarding what sort of people could interact with others sorts of people. Jesus came to break down these barriers, and his apostles followed in these teachings. Peter challenges us in our scripture this week. Who are we to decide what is clean or unclean; good or bad; right or wrong. God makes all things clean. Through God we can know truth and have a just life. By stepping aside from what hinders, we can build a relationship with God that will lead us into life.

  • What has God made clean for you?
  • What in your life hinders the way God can act through you?
  • How can you learn to let go of these things that hinder you?
  • How can you let go of your conceptions of what is “clean”?
Psalm 148

Praise! God made all things that they might praise God’s goodness. All things belong to God and God is a mighty caretaker. God raises up strength in us that we have the courage to take on any challenge that we are faced with. Knowing that we are God’s beloved we can rest easy and find comfort through all times. And people are not the only beings who honor God through praise. In this psalm we hear of the multitude of creation, from sun to moon to tree to wind. If even the fire and fog offer praise unto God, then we are in great company.

  • What does praising God look like in your daily life?
  • How do you join the chorus of praise?
  • How has God raised up strength in you?
Revelation 21:1-6

In Revelation we are reminded that God makes all things new. In each completion we can find newness of life. It is through God that transformation happens. When we experience harm or hurt, if we take these things to God they can yield life. In this passage we hear that God is the Alpha and the Omega. God is with us in our beginning and in our ending. Each time we start down a new and unfamiliar path God is alongside us. Each time we come to an ending God is also there.

  • What needs to be made new for you? How might you bring this to God?
  • When have you experienced an ending in which you found a wonderful new beginning?
  • What is a story of resurrection in your life?
John 13:31-35

This passage defines Christian life for us in a largely straightforward way. “Love one another.” And even though this commandment is simple at first, we know through human experience that this can be challenging. Jesus calls us to love without exception. When we see so much difference and diversity in the world this sort of love can be difficult to grasp in its complexity. It takes a great deal of effort to truly love those who cause harm, spread hate, or simply follow different belief systems from our own. Jesus teaches us that others will know that we are disciples of Christ by the way we speak, act, and move through the world. If we spread a narrative of love and if our actions align, God will be glorified.

  • Where have you experienced the complexity of truly loving all people?
  • When have you been loved by another regardless of your differences?
  • How do you engage in a posture of loving kindness in your life?

Download the Easter 5C Bible Study.

Written by Samantha Haycock

Samantha Haycock is the Director of Children and Youth Ministry at Christ Episcopal Church in Alameda. Her passion in ministry is spreading Jesus’ call for social justice and in helping people to make connections between their daily and spiritual lives so that they can bring their whole and authentic selves to the world. Samantha is a banana slug, holding a BA in Psychology from UC Santa Cruz and has a Certificate in Youth and Family Ministry from Bexley Seabury and Forma Faith Formation Academy. She is a participant in the Collaborative for Church Vitality, serves on the Forma Advocacy Working Group, and assists The Episcopal Church DFMS with the youth, young adult, and Sermons that Work online presences. When she is not working Samantha enjoys concocting strange things in her kitchen and hiking all over the place.

Bible Study, Easter 4 (C) – April 17, 2016

[RCL] Acts 9:36-43; Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:22-30; Psalm 23

Psalm 23

There is an odd practice of referring to psalms like this one as evidence of the obstinacy or sinfulness of humanity. “Humans are like sheep,” goes the argument, “stubborn, unintelligent, and in constant need for a shepherd (God) to prevent them from hurting themselves.” Psalm 23, however, doesn’t naturally lend itself to such a disparaging view of humankind. Instead, the metaphor of sheep and shepherd is meant to evoke the kind of contentment among its hearers that enables them to confess with the Psalmist, “I shall not want”; the providence of God for his flock puts them at ease, they are not lacking anything. The imagery shifts from God as shepherd to God as host, one who “prepares a table” and provides more than enough to drink. This God’s care for his people engenders the author’s hopes for the future, and encourages his commitment to continually worship in the Temple “all the days.”

  • Would you be able to characterize your relationship with God in these terms?
  • How does God’s providence empower you to live today, if you were to really begin to believe it?
Acts 9:36-43 

It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone when I say that we are living in an age that has thoroughly rejected miracle stories (unless, for some reason, they involve a child, a near-death experience, and a heavenly vision!). Perhaps in encountering Peter’s miracle as moderns, our belief might be aided by zooming out a bit and to see part of what the act might mean, instead of merely trying to grit our teeth and believe it’s resurrection claim (though this may be where some of us have to start). In Tabitha’s very real resurrection we see the revolutionary restructuring of the social order that the Church is called to perform and embody in the world. Tabitha has given her life to supporting a group of widows, those on the bottom rung of the strata. She dies, and the world carries on as it normally does. But that is not how things go in the kingdom of God. God cares for the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He exalts the lowly and meek. Like the prophets of old, Peter demonstrates that care for the “least of these” is among God’s chief concerns. Pope Francis recently hit the nail on the head, “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”

  • In what ways has your parish been called to show forth God’s power and care for the marginalized around you?
  • In what ways have you personally been called to show forth God’s power and care for the marginalized around you?
Revelation 7:9-17

Like Psalm 23, this apocalyptic picture features God in the role of shepherd, where God “shelters” God’s people, eternally assuaging their hunger and thirst, protecting them from the scorching heat of the sun, wiping away every tear from their eyes, and leading them to the springs of the waters of life.

Unlike Psalm 23, those whom God shepherds have “come out of the great affliction,” they have endured the sufferings common to those living under the reign of the beast in John’s vision. Christians reading this weeks lectionary texts together (Ps. 23, Rev. 7:9-17) are reminded that God’s provision for them (and God’s ultimate defeat of their oppressors) does not necessarily exempt them from suffering in this life. Most of us will not face the kind of societal ostracization or violence as John’s audience on account of our faith in Christ, but whatever our circumstances, it should come as a great comfort to us that God’s restoration of all things has already begun.

  • Since our lives will not always be as comfortable as Psalm 23 or as tumultuous as Revelation 7, how do we go about trusting in God’s provision for us in the in-between?
  • If you have faced one or both of these extremes, how was the Lord present to you in those seasons of life?
John 10:22-30

Like Psalm 23 and Revelation 7, John once again shows us a picture of the Divine Shepherd, but this time, that picture includes Jesus, who is one with the Father, from whom he received his “sheep.” Jesus’ opponents on Solomon’s Porch do not belong to his flock (they don’t believe in him), and thus cannot understand his words or deeds. Jesus’ flock hear his voice, know him, follow him, receive eternal life from him, will never perish, and cannot be snatched out of his hand. “Wolves” may come, but the Good Shepherd protects them; God fights off their enemies. This is not to say that Christians are immune from apostasy (leaving the flock of their own accord), but it does emphasize God’s protection for God’s sheep, be they persecuted for their faith in the first century, or “swayed by every wind of doctrine” in the twenty-first.

  • Where in your life do you struggle to believe that God protects you in these ways?
  • If you have ever been tempted to “leave the flock,” how did you overcome that temptation?

Download the Easter 4C.

Written by Ryan Pollock

Ryan is a postulant for Holy Orders from the Diocese of Dallas, TX and a middler seminarian at Nashotah House, where he is a choral scholar and a refectorian. When not engaged in seminary business, these days he can be found alchemizing in the kitchen or attempting to play heavy metal guitar in the basement. He is married to Jessica, an artist and photographer who is studying astronomy at the University of Wisconsin.

 

Bible Study, Easter 3 (C) – April 10, 2016  

[RCL] Acts 9:1-6, (7-20); Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19; Psalm 30

Acts 9:1-6, (7-20)

Here we have Saul in deep shock from his experience on the road to Damascus. We know that he will become one of the greatest persons of profound faith in God. But isn’t Ananias’ faith in God as shown in this story extraordinary? The Lord tells Ananias in a vision that Saul is praying and that Saul too is having a vision. Saul sees “a man named Ananias” coming in, laying hands on him so that Saul may regain his sight. Ananias doesn’t say, “that must be another man named Ananias.” He doesn’t say, “Lord, I don’t know how to do that.” He knows that God wants him to do this and he has faith that it is possible. He does have fear though and he tells God about it. The Lord assures Ananias that Saul is a part of his plan. Saul will be a vessel of God’s message to all people. That is all it takes. Ananias goes to Saul and does what God has asked.

  • What fear do you have about a task you feel God may be calling you to?
  • Would sharing that fear with God free you to step out with confident faith to do that task?
Psalm 30

Psalm 30 starts out sounding like a typical praise psalm. It begins full of joy that God has stopped the writer from dying. But there is an abrupt change in tone at verse 8. We have a glimpse of the dark moments that came before. Perhaps the psalmist lost his sense of security when he became sick. This may have been the moment he felt that God hid his face. The writer appeals to God saying that once he is dead, he won’t be able to praise God and proclaim his faithfulness. How can I love you, God, when I’m dead? Then in verse 12 there is another turn. The psalmist pleas were heard, He is restored to health and promises to exalt God and give thanks forever.

  • How can we stay “as strong as the mountains” even at those moments that we feel God’s face is turned or our prayers aren’t answered?
  • Do you think we might stay “as strong as the mountains” when we feel God’s face is hid, by calling upon the Lord for help and asking for mercy?
Revelation 5:11-14

The book of Revelation is written in the apocalyptic style and is a literary genre that we modern readers find difficult. We are unfamiliar with so much of the symbolism. What is clear in this passage though is that both God, the one seated on the throne, and Jesus, the Lamb are equally worthy of Universal praise.

  • Can you picture this image in your mind and imagine yourself singing with full voice, joining with angels, the symbolic living creatures, elders, and every creature in heaven, earth, and sea, calling for blessing, honor, glory, and might to the Creator and Redeemer?
John 21:1-19

This Gospel passage is full of parallels with other Gospel passages. In Luke, Jesus told Peter to throw out the nets after a fruitless night of fishing. The nets were miraculously filled with fish then too. Peter has been in a boat before and tried to get to Jesus walking on the water. Here he jumps into the water and swims to Jesus. Peter has been near a fire of burning coals before while being asked a question three times. He denied that he knew Jesus three times. Here Jesus redeems Peter by asking three times “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Three times Peter says “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

  • Do you ever feel that Jesus is saying to you “If you love me, feed my sheep?”
  • What are some ways that you feel others have “fed” you?

Written by Greg Hamlin

Greg is a lay leader seminarian at Bloy House in Southern California. He and his wife, Karen, are involved members of St. James’ Church in South Pasadena. They have two grown daughters. Anouska is a graduate of Brooklyn Law School, and Natasha is working on a Marriage and Family Therapy degree at Fuller Seminary.

Bible Study, Easter 2 (C) – April 3, 2016

[RCL] Acts 5:27-32; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31; Psalm 118:19-24 or Psalm 150

Psalm 118:14-18

The psalm is infectious with the clear truth telling that it conveys: “The Lord is my strength and my song!” It is an affirmation of the life that God imbues us with, and the realization that we never need be scared of death, for God secures our spiritual freedom. Lest we simply clap our hands with joy, the psalmist reminds us that we have a countervailing obligation. We will declare the works of the Lord. Our lives are called to declare the fact that, from the edge of the precipice, God has taken us by the hand and lead us to new life.

  • How does your life declare God’s works?
  • How do you see God’s saving grace in the world around you?
Acts 5:27-32

In its closer context, Acts 5:27-32 is part of the larger narrative of the initial missionary adventures of Peter and John in Jerusalem. After having been shown some leniency by the high priest, Peter and John are brought before them again for teaching the Good News to the people of Jerusalem. We see the punch/counter-punch of claimed authority that, in the true spirit of the risen Christ, upends the earthly authority (the high priests), in favor of Christ’s redeeming love. This redeeming love compels Peter and John to continue to spread the Good News in the face of strict orders to desist.

  • How often are we asked to choose between our wants and desires, and a life in Christ?
  • How do we proclaim the Good News in a society that may have a difficult time hearing it?
Revelation 1:4-8

“So it is to be.” We cannot stop Jesus’ ever-growing love once it is in our hearts. We have experienced the joy of resurrection and the Good News continues to ground us in the life of and for Christ. However, there is more to come, for God is that “who is and who was and who is to come.” This title for God appears nowhere else in the Bible. It speaks to the truth that God is eternal and has always been. Equally important is that God will come again to bring order to the world in ways that will make all its peoples wail.

  • What will this world look like?
  • Who will we be in such a world?
John 20:19-31

Alleluia. Christ is risen! Jesus appearing to the disciples in spite of the locked doors indicates to us that Jesus has transcended the earthly, physical reality, while at the same time confirming his bodily risen-ness. However, this is not simply a dead Jesus walking amongst the living. Jesus came and stood among them and said “Peace be with you.” The English translations of this phrase use the past tense “said”, whereas the Greek uses the present active “says”, cementing Jesus’ living presence through physicality and voice. Jesus, and the Good News he embodies, has gloriously conquered death! Moreover, present before us is a Jesus wounded, suffering for those who seek the fulfillment of his redeeming love. Thomas, often derided for his skepticism, is one such who needs confirmation of that love.

  • How is it that Thomas was not able to comprehend the news of the risen Christ from his fellow disciples who witnessed Jesus’ presence just a week before?
  • When we fail to see Christ in our lives and in others how is our ability to witness to his love is similarly obscured?
  • How can we open our hearts to Jesus so that we, along with Thomas, can fully proclaim him as “My Lord and my God!” to those who might doubt?

Download the Easter 2C Bible Study.

Written by Michael J. Horvath

Michael Horvath is a postulant in the Diocese of New York and currently a Middler (second year) Master of Divinity student at The General Theological Seminary in New York City.

Bible Study, Easter Sunday (C) – March 27, 2016

[RCL] Acts 10:34-43; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26; Luke 24:1-12; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

Acts 10:34-43

“God shows no partiality… preaching peace by Jesus Christ.” Experiencing Holy Week can be tumultuous. It can be painful, uncomfortable, fear inducing, or even scary. It naturally sets up a dichotomy of those who persecute Jesus and those who follow Jesus. But in this passage from Acts, Peter, the rock of the Church, proclaims God’s impartiality and peace, even through the death of God’s son. He calls us witnesses more than once.

  • How will we move through division, partiality, or any other kind of wounded state to join God in preaching peace through Christ?
  • What are the duties of a witness as given in this passage?
  • If we are called to be witnesses, what does that mean we have to let go of from Holy Week in order to truly proclaim the Resurrection?
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

This psalm is full of body. Literally, it is full of imagery and vocabulary that incites tangible qualities. There is voice; there is sound; there is vision; there is touch; there is movement and action; there is stillness and stability. In the midst of all of this action and vibrancy, the psalmist continues to tie the imagery to sentiments like exultation, triumph, rejoicing, enduring mercy, strength, and salvation. This is a psalm of life. This is a psalm of praise. It brings overwhelming and unimaginable concepts like God’s marvelous work and unending mercy into the realm of the real and conceivable. This psalm brings to mind other miraculous acts like the miracle of manna from heaven, or the turning of water to wine, or perhaps even like the miracle of Easter morning.

  • How can this psalm be used as a framework for considering other miraculous and unimaginable acts?
  • How would you use the structure of the world to give voice to that which we cannot articulate?
1 Corinthians 15:19-26

Christ as the first fruits can be a challenging image in today’s world. Not many of us tend the land for nourishment. Instead, we walk or drive or bike or commute in some way to a market or grocery store. Death and life are today’s lectionary focus. Here, in 1 Corinthians, we find another, more explicit explanation of the significance of Christ and his triumph over death. But still we are faced with this idea of first fruits. So, let’s try to put it in a more current contextual interface. “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” This is the inscription on Lily and James Potter’s tombstone in the popular young adult series, Harry Potter. They, as parents of Harry, sacrifice themselves so that Harry might live. And live he does. In fact, he saves the entire wizarding world. They are the first fruits, in that context. So, we find this imagery everywhere: scripture, pop-culture, music, and beyond.

  • How can we find more ways to understand what it means to be the first fruits?
  • What is the significance of this imagery and how can we bring it to mind in new ways now?
  • How does thinking about this in terms of popular culture help us understand Christ’s role in defeating all enemies of the world, including death?
Luke 24:1-12

It’s Easter! The Lord is risen! The Lord is risen, indeed! I think, sometimes though, that our astonishment at the Risen Lord is dulled by the waves of time and exposure. We celebrate Easter every year. The stories are always a little different according to the Gospel we are reading, but the truth remains the same – Jesus Christ rises from the dead.

Try this thought exercise. Take a moment. Imagine you are visiting the newly covered grave of a loved one to adorn it with flowers. You are in the midst of grief. The likelihood is that you haven’t eaten or slept much the last few days. As you approach the burial place, you notice the ground is dug up, the lid is off the coffin, and there is nothing inside. Now take it a step further and imagine what it would be like, after days of grieving, to know that your loved one had come back to life. How do you feel? What do you say? Are there words adequate to describe your joy and amazement?

This moment of discovery and acclamation is the Easter celebration. This is the feeling we should harness on this Easter Sunday. Look to Peter as another example. And then likewise, imagine yourselves in the role of the apostles hearing the news. Let your disbelief, unease, excitement, joy, uncertainty, and any other emotion you feel through these thought exercises inform and grow your faith. We follow the Risen Lord.

  • How will you encounter the Resurrection?

Download the Easter Bible Study.

Written by Samantha Gottlich

Sam is a postulant for Holy Orders in the Diocese of Texas pursuing an M. Div. at Virginia Theological Seminary. She has a background in higher education, college ministry, and Episcopal summer camp programs. She loves exploring the ways faith, theology, and culture intersect, and she is one of the authors of Faith Rules: An Episcopal Manual.

Bible Study, Palm Sunday (C) – March 20, 2016

[RCL] Psalm 31:9-16, Isaiah 50:4-9a, Philippians 2:5-11, Luke 22:14-23:56 or 23:1-49

Isaiah 50:4-9a

Isaiah is the most-quoted Old Testament book in the New Testament. Its stirring speeches about judgment, exile, and restoration captured the imagination of people during Jesus’ day. Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue, declaring he was fulfilling it. Gospel writers noted that he set his face “like a flint” toward Jerusalem, which is a quotation from our text today. Like the prophet in Isaiah 50, Jesus experienced a confrontation with “adversaries.” He was given over to these adversaries. The cruel soldiers struck him, taunting him, and questioning his prophetic powers. The reference to pulling out his beard led many Christians to believe that the soldiers pulled out Jesus’ beard during the abuse, even though the Gospel writers never mention this detail.

As I read Isaiah 50 I notice the innocent person’s face. On this face is the tongue of a teacher that spoke words of encouragement to the weary. The ears on this face listen for good words in the morning. But suddenly, cruel hands strike this face. Bones crunch, welts begin to appear. This face’s sacred beard, symbolizing the dignity of manhood, is pulled out like a weed. This face is insulted and spit upon. In spite of this abuse, this face does not turn away in shame or fear. It is set hard like a flint, bearing witness to innocence in the face of condemnation. The face is alone as no one but God stands with him. This face is black and white, male and female, young and old, and it has borne this abuse since the dawn of time. The physical abuse goes hand in hand with unjust accusations of wrongdoing. The courts of the world declare the innocent guilty and the prophets are led away to be killed. No one comes to their aid.

  • Say the name of a modern day prophet whose face you know because they were killed unjustly.
  • Are Jesus’ followers expected to be prophetic? Are they expected to suffer?
Psalm 31:9-16

A late night phone call wakes him up. With a voice groggy from sleep he says, “Hello?” 
“Dad? I’m in trouble.” Parents never want to get this call. We dread it, worry about it, and hope it never happens. But sometimes it does. Our child, alone, desperate, and in pain, stirs the strongest feelings in us and we drop everything and help. The Psalmist is calling out to God, like a child in trouble. Sorrow, pain, grief, and a mountain of shame engulf him. He laments his current condition. He pleads for rescue. The Psalmists problems are both internal and external. He suffers from inward affliction as his “bones are consumed.” He also suffers from rejection by the community. His own people shame him and seek to eliminate him. God is the only one he trusts.

Jesus’ final week is full of passion, full of feeling. The feelings of a lifetime are crystalized in this timeless text. Jesus laments in his final week, blessing this ancient practice. Lament is simply turning suffering into art. In our veteran’s groups we often have a time of Lament. Veterans will bring poems, songs, or other objects (one brought a crocheted rug he made!) that crystalize their experiences in war.

  • What particular moments of Jesus final week echo in this psalm?
  • What do you need to lament in your life? What medium or art form will you use?
Philippians 2:5-11

Scholars often identify these words by St. Paul as an early Christian hymn. Sadly, he did not include the tune. The hymn captures the cosmic dimension of the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection. The hymn points to the Christ’s exalted origin and his exalted conclusion. The narrative arc of Jesus’ storyline takes an infinite dip in the middle. This is a riches to rags to riches story. This hymn is a beautiful song, and no doubt many early Christians sang it joyfully. It is a fine work of art, but that is not it’s whole purpose. The hymn was written so that the mind of Jesus would be in you, the singer/reader. So, is it?

  • What areas of our lives are we resisting the riches to rags to riches storyline? In what areas are we accepting this storyline?
  • How could you empty yourself today?
 Luke 22:14-23:56

Luke’s account of the passion contains just a few tiny details not found in Matthew or Mark. One of these moments happens in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus is praying. Luke alone tells us that “his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.” The Greek text for these verses is “bracketed”. Some ancient witnesses include it, some exclude it. The Greek is also somewhat ambiguous. Did Jesus truly sweat drops of blood or did his sweat appear to be as if he had bleeding wound? Medical journals document the rare condition of hematohidrosis, where blood will ooze through the skin, often for no reason other than stress. Leonardo Da Vinci cited an example of the condition in a soldier before a battle. The Greek text tells us that Jesus was in agonia, agony. Truly, the body cannot lie. Jesus’ agony starts long before the first lash of the whip or the first piercing of the nail. His agony starts in the darkness of the Garden. His agony starts inside his heart and mind. His agony starts in his sweat glands and the small capillaries on the surface of his skin. Our Great Litany says, “By thine Agony and Bloody Sweat; by thy Cross and Passion;
by thy precious Death and Burial; by thy glorious Resurrection
and Ascension; and by the Coming of the Holy Ghost,
Good Lord, deliver us.”

  • What does stress do to you? How is it made known in your body?
  • What do we learn about Jesus’ humanity from his agony in the Garden?

Download the Palm Sunday Bible Study.

Written by The Reverend Dr. David Peters

The Rev. Dr. David W. Peters served as an enlisted Marine and an Army Chaplain in Iraq. His experience in Iraq and homecoming is detailed in his memoir, Death Letter: God, Sex, and War (Tactical 16 Press). His essays on war and spirituality have been published by the Huffington Post and Oxford University Press. He lives in Austin, Texas at Seminary of the Southwest, where he is working on a Masters of Arts in Religion.  

 

Bible Study, Lent 5 (C), March 13, 2016  

[RCL] Isaiah 43:16-21; Philippians 3:4b-14; John 12:1-8; Psalm 126

Isaiah 43:16-21

The writer of this portion of Isaiah calls us to lift our vision far beyond our self-imposed limits to God’s care for us. Yes, there are the chariots and horses of military might. Yes, there have been hard times in our collective and individual journeys with God. But God is greater than all these things and there will be a time when everything will be made new and put right. We are invited to live into hope as we see the greatness of the God who is more powerful than all that we face.

  • How would your life look different if you trusted that the God, who created all things, was for you and with you no matter what your circumstances may be?
  • Can you think of a place in your life where God may be inviting you to restore your hope in God?
Psalm 126

There was a time when God’s people had been brought back from exile and Zion was being rebuilt. It was a time of rejoicing and laughter. The good news of how God had saved God’s people spread among the nations. The psalmist, recounting how God had acted in the past, has built up their faith to ask God to act in the present. We need our memories of God’s salvation in the journey of faith. Remembering how God has reached into our lives with living water in the past will enable us to persevere when we find ourselves in difficult and dry places in our journey with God and God’s people.

  • Can you recall a time in your journey with God when you felt like one of “those who dream,” when you were overjoyed with how God had brought healing and rescue in your life?
  • How might your faith be enriched if you were to periodically remember the moments in which you have rejoiced in God’s love for you? 
Philippians 3:4b-14

These words of Paul show a man consumed with a singular vision for his life. Here Paul sums up the impulse that shapes the contour of his life: to know Jesus Christ. For Paul, everything pales in comparison to the “surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus.” We hear this passage in the fifth week of our journey through Lent, a time where we seek to create more space in our lives to enter more deeply into our union with Christ. As we celebrate the love and life of God today, it is a gift to reflect on Paul’s passionate words.

  • Do you know Jesus Christ in such a way that everything else in my life becomes secondary to knowing him?
  • How might pressing on towards knowing Christ change your life?
John 12:1-8

Something that has always struck me about this story is not only the extravagance of Mary’s worship of Jesus, but the lingering effect of her extravagant and intimate worship. I wonder what it was like for Mary to walk through her village with her nard-soaked hair for the days after her anointing of Jesus. I’m sure that everyone who was near her smelled the sweet fragrance. I think of how our worship of Jesus changes and marks us in this world. We, too, are invited to be like Mary, whose worship of Jesus created an inviting fragrance for those around her. The more we see Christ, the more we want to offer our worship, and the more we are changed from having done so.

  • Can you identify anything in your life that may have caused you to lose sight of the worthiness of Christ to receive your worship?
  • What about Christ have you taken for granted?
  • How might intentional reflection invite your worship and change you in the process?

Download the Lent 5C Bible Study.

Written by Jamie Osborne

Jamie Osborne is a second-year seminarian from the diocese of Alabama attending the School of Theology, University of the South. Jamie and his wife, Lauren, live with their children in Sewanee, TN. In addition to nurturing those already in the Episcopal Church, Jamie has a desire to guide young adults and those who are unchurched/dechurched into a life of faith in the Episcopal tradition. He also spends quite a bit of time wondering what God might be calling the church to be and do in the midst of the cultural, technological, and religious shifts that are happening in the landscape of the United States and the world.

Bible Study, Lent 4(C), March 6, 2016

[RCL] Joshua 5:9-12; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32; Psalm 32

Joshua 5:9-12

The Lord tells Joshua in this passage that the disgrace of Egypt has been rolled away from the Israelites, meaning that they no longer carry the lowliness of having been enslaved by the Egyptians. They are free, and they have made it out of the wilderness where they faced scarcity and the fear of not having enough. Now the Isrealites are free to eat of the abundance of the fruits of Canaan. Replacing the manna which sustained them for many years with much more pleasing food.

  • When was a time or a season of your life that you experienced scarcity?
  • What was this experience like?
  • When was a time or a season of your life that you experienced abundance?
  • How does being in a season of abundance feel different from being in a season of scarcity?
Psalm 32

This Psalm is a song of thanksgiving for receiving God’s forgiveness. The psalmist tells of the joy of being forgiven, and then encourages others to seek God’s forgiveness.

  • Tell a story of forgiveness from your own life; a time you forgave or a time you were forgiven.
  • How were you changed by forgiveness?
  • Why would you encourage others to seek or offer forgiveness based on your own experience?
2 Corinthians 5:16-21

This passage from the second letter to the Corinthians offers us another image of reconciliation. Paul says we have been reconciled to God through Christ. Yet, Paul subverts the traditional image of reconciliation, in which the one at fault would seek forgiveness, and tells us that God seeks reconciliation with us. We are thus commissioned a ministry of reconciliation.

  • What image of reconciliation does Paul say God offers us as a model for our own ministry of reconciliation?
  • What does Paul’s subversion of reconciliation tell us about God and our relationship with God?
  • How can we, as Christians today, carry on this ministry of reconciliation in the world?
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

This well-known parable tells of two archetypal characters that are found in many stories across many cultures: the dutiful child and the irresponsible child. This story has frustrated real life dutiful children for generations, I’d imagine. But, when we look at this parable in relationship with the other readings appointed for today, we see a common theme: reconciliation. In this parable, the father lives in a constant posture of readiness to forgive his son if and or when he returns home. This is the same message we see in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians: God is always ready to forgive God’s children no matter their indiscretion. It is probably true that most of us act at different times in our lives as both the dutiful and the irresponsible child.

  • Tell about a time when you were more the like the “prodigal son.”
  • Who welcomed you back with open arms?
  • What does this parable teach us about how we relate to God? To others?
  • What image of forgiveness does this parable offer us for our “ministry of reconciliation”?

Download the Lent 4C Bible Study.

Written by Maggie Foote

Maggie Foote is a third year seminarian at CDSP. She is a postulant from the Diocese of Southern Ohio, and an Ohio State Buckeye. Maggie is interested in ministry that finds a way to meet both the physical and spiritual needs of people living in poverty. She lives in Berkeley with my wife, Andrea and our dog, Jasper.