Bible Study: 3 Easter (A)

May 4, 2014

Susan Butterworth, Episcopal Divinity School

“When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.” (Luke 24:30-31)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Acts 2:14a,36-41; Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17; 1 Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-35

Acts 2:14a, 36-41

This passage, which appears in Acts 2 after the people in Jerusalem have witnessed the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in the speaking of many languages, is the beginning of Peter’s teaching on Pentecost. Peter has explained that scripture, properly understood, foretells that Jesus is the Messiah, whom God has raised from the dead. Repentance is one of the central themes of the Book of Acts. Peter teaches that repentance followed by baptism is the path to the gift of the Holy Spirit. Another essential theme of the Book of Acts is the expansion of the church from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria and eventually throughout the Roman Empire. The passage ends with the beginning of that expansion, as 3,000 persons in Jerusalem are baptized.

Repentance, baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit are linked in this passage. Repentance can be defined as turning away from what one has been and done, a renewal. Look at the renewal of baptismal vows found in the Book of Common Prayer. How can the intentional renewal of baptismal vows remind you of the gift of the Holy Spirit within you?

Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17

This psalm of thanksgiving speaks of God’s saving response to the psalmist’s call for help. The psalmist promises to give public witness to God’s salvation. In verse 13 – “precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his servants” – the word “precious” should be read in the sense of “costly.” The death of those who are devoted to God is a serious matter. For the Christian, the psalm’s celebration of deliverance from death takes on a new meaning. The images of death and supplication in verses 2 and 3 foretell the suffering of Christ. Salvation and freedom from the bonds of death can then be read as references to Christ’s resurrection.

Imagine that this psalm was a part of Peter’s “many other arguments” in Acts 2:40. How might Peter have used this psalm, familiar to the Jewish pilgrims present in Jerusalem at the Pentecost, to teach how traditional scriptures can be understood as foretelling who Jesus is and how people should respond to him?

1 Peter 1:17-23

These verses of 1 Peter, Chapter 1, are sometimes referred to as “the charge to the baptized.” Peter addresses a church in exile, a community whose status is shaky in the Roman Empire, and alludes to biblical Israel’s exile in Babylon. The community is to live in reverence and faith, knowledge and hope of salvation through Christ’s sacrifice, in obedience to the truth, and in love for one another. This behavior is the only possible response to understanding the gospel’s call to baptism and life in Christ, for “you have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.”

Consider Peter’s instructions for living a faithful life in exile. How do these instructions apply to living a spiritual life in a secular world? Which of these instructions do you find easiest to follow? Which most difficult?

Peter states that we have been born anew through the living and enduring word of God. Some of the meanings of the word of God might be: the spoken word of God that has the power to create, as in Genesis; the word made flesh through the incarnation of God as Jesus; the Bible itself as word of God.

What does the word of God mean to you? Is the word primarily one of the ideas above, or a combination of more than one, or something else?

Luke 24:13-35

This passage, the meeting on the road to Emmaus followed by the supper at Emmaus, is among the most beloved passages in the gospels. The passage describes one of the early resurrection appearances of Jesus after the discovery of the empty tomb. It is a passage of great joy and hope.

The followers of Jesus are deep in gloom and unaware of the salvation that is right around the corner. Jesus walks with them but does not reveal his identity right away; he teaches them the meaning of scripture and then breaks bread with them. Only then do they recognize him and proclaim, “The Lord has risen indeed!”

The meeting on the road is such a beautiful metaphor for what might happen when we meet a stranger on our own journey, a stranger who is able to open our eyes to the grace that we have not imagined or been able to see. The passage is also a beautiful metaphor for what happens during the Eucharist. The service of Holy Eucharist is a walk with Christ. We come from the dusty road of our weekday lives. We greet each other and walk together in community for a time. The scripture is opened to us in the ministry of the word. Then the mystical moment comes when we break the consecrated bread and realize that we are in the presence of the risen Christ. Finally we go out, strengthened and ready to be faithful witnesses.

The empty tomb might represent your own discouraged heart. When a moment of grace appears, you may be so lost in your despair that you may not recognize it right away. Can you think of a time when a stranger appeared who was able to walk with you and help open your eyes to grace?

“Be known to us, Lord Jesus, in the breaking of the bread.” What do the words of this antiphon mean to you in your personal devotions? What do they mean in the context of this passage from Luke? What do they mean in the context of worshiping in community?

Bible Study: 2 Easter (A)

April 27, 2014

Jordan Trumble, Berkeley Divinity School at Yale

“Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’” (John 20:27)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Acts 2:14a,22-32; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

Acts 2:14a, 22-32

This lesson from Acts is a portion of Peter’s speech to early followers of Jesus and echoes the words of Psalm 16, making use of a prophecy/fulfillment motif. Just as the psalmist David wrote of resurrection, Jesus is an example of that promise being fulfilled. But the words and story of David, used by Peter to preach to the Israelites, also remind us that there is a great cloud of faithful witnesses who have gone before us, embodying faithfulness and speaking to the power of God and God’s plans for us. As we journey along, discerning God’s plan for us and movement in our own lives, we can look not only to God but also to this cloud of witnesses for examples of faithfulness that can help shape our faith lives.

This passage reminds us that God has a plan for each of us, but how do you understand the idea of God having a plan for your life? Is this a passive event that will unfold before you, or does it require action from you? And what can you do in your daily life to actively participate in God’s plan for you?

Psalm 16

In Psalm 16, we hear the hopeful words and praise of the psalmist, “I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand I shall not fall” (v. 8), words that are echoed in today’s reading from Acts. And like the reading from 1 Peter that preaches resurrection in spite of trials, we are reminded that God is faithful, accompanying us on our journey, promising life and resurrection with these words: “For you will not abandon me to the grave, nor let your holy one see the Pit” (v. 10). The psalmist embodies a deeply attentive and abiding faith, providing a model for both his original audience and our modern communities.

The psalmist writes, “I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel; my heart teaches me, night after night” (v.7). What does it mean for you to listen to God and listen for God’s counsel? What practices in your life help you hear God’s voice? And if you do not have any of those practices, what ways could you incorporate them into your routine?

1 Peter 1:3-9

Few things in life follow a clear either/or dichotomy, and today’s epistle reminds us of just that. In this opening reading from 1 Peter, we encounter the good news of the risen Christ, but are also made aware that the community receiving this epistle is one that is enduring trials.

As we celebrate Christ’s resurrection today in 2014, we, too, are in the midst of trials or are witnessing trials, whether in our personal lives or in the world outside our doors. Yet despite trials, whether those trials are feuds with family and friends, career woes, natural disasters, or international conflict, we also are living with the resurrected Christ. We are not an either/or people; we are a both/and people. We are living not with either trials or the good news of resurrection, but we are living both with trials and this hope. Easter happened, but only after the pain of Good Friday; the tomb was discovered empty, but only because those mourning Jesus went to visit.

In the midst of trials, how can you be attentive to the resurrection and new life surrounding you?

For the rest of the season of Easter, the time when we celebrate the resurrection of Christ, challenge yourself to take a few moments each day to notice something hopeful, some form of new life or resurrection.

John 20:19-31

Theologian Paul Tillich once wrote that doubt is not the opposite of faith but is, rather, an element of faith. When we read today’s gospel lesson, though, it sounds like Jesus and Paul Tillich might disagree. Today we hear the story of Thomas, often called “Doubting Thomas,” the disciple who, when told of the resurrection of Christ, said he wouldn’t believe until his hands had touched the marks in Jesus’ hands and side, and we hear the admonishment from Jesus that those who believe without seeing will be blessed.

Yet, when we read this story and shake our heads at Doubting Thomas, we are quick to forget that Thomas isn’t the only disciple who needed to see to believe; rather, each of the other disciples had already had the opportunity to see! What is striking about this passage is the unwillingness to believe the witness of the other disciples who had first seen.

This passage reminds us that, although we may not be able to physically see Jesus, we are still able to witness to Christ and that it is this witness that enables us to both see Jesus and to show Jesus to others.

How do you understand the relationship of doubt with your own personal faith? Do you have space for doubt within your life of faith or are the two mutually exclusive?

How can you, in your daily life, show people Jesus?

Bible Study: Easter Day (A)

April 20, 2014

David W. Peters, Seminary of the Southwest

“But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.” (Matthew 28:5-6)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Jeremiah 31:1-6Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24Colossians 3:1-4John 20:1-18

Jeremiah 31:1-6

I often daydream of paradise. Sometimes paradise is a beach, sometimes it’s a cabin on top of a mountain, sometimes it’s an apartment overlooking Central Park in New York. My visions of paradise change constantly. In August, my imaginary paradise is cool. In the dead of winter, my imaginary paradise is balmy.

When the Jews who were exiled in Babylon daydreamed, they only dreamed of Jerusalem. Jerusalem, the City of Zion embodied all their hopes and dreams. It was the center of their emotional life and their worship of God. These verses in Jeremiah are a daydream, a vision, of unity with God, with others, and with Jerusalem. When God restores the people to Jerusalem, there will be a party unlike any other. There will be singing, dancing, music and a grand procession up to the holy city where they will be with God. The people who were as good as dead will be resurrected once and for all.

What is your vision of paradise? Where are you? Who is with you?

If you could plan the perfect party (and money was no object), what would it look like?

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

While I was in the Marine Corps, I participated in many road marches. A road march began around 4 a.m. and by the time the sun was up, we were still marching. Our rucksack grew heavier, and our feet began to blister and bleed. The longer the march, the more painful it became.

Psalm 118 also describes a road march, but the mood is completely different from the road marches I experienced in my youth. The march in Psalm 118 is a triumphant march of victory. A victory always comes after a struggle, never before it. A resurrection always comes after death. The singers of this psalm have looked into the abyss of death and are now entering the gate of the Lord. On Easter morning the stone that the builders rejected became the chief cornerstone. All we can do is sing Alleluia!

Have you ever experienced victory? What did it feel like?

How is Jesus’ resurrection a victory?

Colossians 3:1-4

You’ve probably heard the description, “so heavenly minded, he is of no earthly good.” I certainly hope I’m never described this way! I want to be of some earthly good, even if it’s just in a small way. C.S. Lewis picked this apart when he wrote in his “Mere Christianity”:

“If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. … It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.”

If we have been resurrected with Christ (and we were), then we ought to be focused on heaven, our real home. The Easter message of Resurrection is first preached by our lives. We are the ones who have been raised with Christ, and our lives should bear witness to that event.

If you were to set your mind on the “things above” for one hour, how might that effect the way you watch the news or surf the Internet?

What are the “things above”? Have you ever met someone who was so heavenly minded that he or she was of immense earthly good?

John 20:1-18

My favorite detail in John 20 is the folding of the linen wrappings, especially the folding of the cloth that “had been on Jesus’ head.” The face cloth was rolled up in a place by itself. On that glorious morning of resurrection, before Jesus revealed himself to his followers, even before he left the tomb, he rolled up his face cloth. John tells us that his burial party, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, used about a hundred pounds of spices to embalm his body after he was taken down from the cross. When he was fully prepared for burial, they covered Jesus’ face with the face cloth. Perhaps they lingered, to look at his face one last time.

Every time I carefully fold the cloths at the altar, I think of this strange detail. Every time I see the altar guild setting the table before the service, I think of this strange detail. I cannot fully explain this detail of the face cloth any more than I can explain all the mysteries of the Resurrection. All I can do is admire an expertly rolled up cloth, lying in an empty tomb.

Name a feeling you feel on Easter morning. Is there a symbol of Easter that creates this feeling in you?

Why was this detail included in John’s account of the Resurrection? What does this detail mean to you?

Bible Study: Palm Sunday (A)

April 13, 2014

Lesley Mazzotta, General Theological Seminary

“And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Matthew 27:46)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:

Isaiah 50:4-9aPsalm 31:9-16Philippians 2:5-11Matthew 26:14- 27:66

Isaiah 50:4-9a 

Isaiah 50 is the third of four servant songs found in Second Isaiah (Chapters 40-55). In this mysterious text, we meet a nameless prophet, looking for the meaning of suffering in his life. He is persecuted by his enemies: They strike his face, pull his beard, insult him and spit on him; yet despite the dire conditions, he puts complete faith in God.

He praises all that God does for him:

“The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of a teacher” (verse 4).

“The Lord GOD has opened my ear” (verse 5).

“The Lord GOD helps me” (verse 7).

“The Lord God who helps me” (verse 9).

God is in the midst of his struggle, which allows our prophet to walk through his pain and transform it, providing “the weary with a word” (verse 4 ) and a listening ear to those in need.

This is the true meaning of our Christian journey. We believe that God is always with us and intimately knows our pain, through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Therefore, we, too, can transform our pain and serve others with faith and love, just as Jesus did until his final breath.

How do you see God in the midst of your life struggles?

How might our greatest challenge be transformed by God into an opportunity to care for others who are suffering in the world?

Psalm 31:9-16 

This psalm, like our Isaiah passage, is a prayer of one who suffers from rejection in the world, but chooses to fully trust in God. It reminds me of a homeless man I once met in New York City. He had a dirty face, ragged clothes, a bloodied arm and one missing leg. Despite these ailments, he was kneeling at the street corner, holding an open Bible and praying.

I imagine that this man prayed something similar to Psalm 31, crying out for God’s mercy. He was “consumed with sorrow” (verse 9), weak “because of affliction” (verse 10) and “useless as a broken pot” (verse 12). People rushed by him, “forgotten like a dead man, out of mind” (verse 13). I walked by, too, but before I did, I noticed his face. It was lifted toward the sky, glowing with God’s light.

This is the beginning of Holy week, when Jesus cries out to us in the deepest sorrow and pain imaginable. As Christians, we always find the courage to walk with him. How can we do the same for all people, even a forgotten child of God who, like Jesus, still finds the faith to pray?

Have you ever felt your “life is wasted with grief”(verse 10). How did your faith sustain you at this time?

Discuss people who cry out in our society. What do they need? How can we better serve them with God’s loving-kindness?

Philippians 2:5-11 

St. Paul begins this section of his letter to the Philippians with a clear command: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” At a time when the Roman Empire bred a culture concerned with wealth, power and status, Paul is inviting us to turn away from societal influence and focus on Jesus’ humble teachings and ways.

Serve others. Love your enemies. Do not store up treasures on Earth. Do not judge. Give to please God, not to be seen. Turn the other cheek. Do not exalt yourself. Feed the hungry. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Do not let the sun go down on your anger. Clothe the naked. Do not worry about your life. Be merciful. Have complete faith in God.

Paul goes on to remind us that the one who dies on Good Friday is not a false prophet who lost his life in vain. Jesus is the exalted son of God, and “every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (verses 10-11). The way to true wealth, power and status is to empty ourselves of our worldly ways and follow Jesus, forever worthy of honor, obedience and praise.

Discuss the influence of today’s society and how it affects your ability to follow Jesus.

How do you honor, obey and praise Jesus Christ, the Lord?

Matthew 26:14- 27:66

When we read through this lengthy section of Matthew’s gospel, we see many examples of the worst of humanity: betrayal, corruption, denial, fear, anger, distress, jealousy, abuse, cruelty, anguish, neglect, taunting, confusion, temptation, despair. In the midst of it all is Jesus, our suffering yet humble and obedient servant.

Jesus knows what is going to happen. He knows he will be betrayed. He knows he will endure great pain. Yet he does not do what seems natural to us. He does not run, hide or lie to save himself. Even as he begs God to “let this cup pass” by him, he still trusts enough to pray for God’s will and continue to fulfill his purpose on earth.

Astonishingly, in these unbearable circumstances, Jesus’ actions are full of grace and love. He shares a Passover meal with Judas, his betrayer. He teaches the lesson of the sword to his captors. He shows peace when condemned by authorities. He stays silent when taunted on the cross. Jesus goes through everything and anything to show God’s mercy and forgiveness, in the darkest day to the most misguided people. Could we ever do the same?

What do you say to God in your most anguished prayers?

How can Jesus’ actions be an inspiration for us as we walk through the dark days of our lives?

Bible Study: 5 Lent (A)

April 6, 2014

Eileen O’Brien, Virginia Theological Seminary

“When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus began to weep.” (John 11:33-35)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Ezekiel 37:1-14Psalm 130Romans 8:6-11John 11:1-45

Ezekiel 37:1-14

This is the third of four vision narratives in Ezekiel introduced by the phrase “the hand of the Lord came upon me” (37:1 NRSV). As in our psalm today, location matters. This vision takes place within the context of the exile, and we are offered the image of the prophet led by the spirit into the deepest part of a valley, which is full of desiccated bones. One might imagine walking around a battlefield full of fallen soldiers, as we hear of Ezekiel being led by the spirit to and fro and all around this valley. Is this what exile is like: chaos and hopelessness? Here, even struggle and crying out has ceased. One can imagine the deep silence of the valley.

Into this silence comes a voice that tells Ezekiel not to proclaim something convoluted like his first vision, but to call out to these dry bones to hear the word of the Lord and live. Ezekiel summons the dry bones, representative of the desolation of his people, to life, and they are reformed into living beings. In fact, we have here a new creation that reverses the process of decay and parallels the narrative in Genesis 2 about the creation of Adam.

It should come as no surprise that Christian interpretation of this passage has often associated it with bodily resurrection. However, we might also invite God’s spirit to lead us into the lifeless valleys of our own lives or the lives of our communities, trusting that God is at work recreating and renewing. How might God’s word be calling us to new life as we approach the end of this season of Lent?

Psalm 130

This psalm provides rich content for reflection on this Fifth Sunday in Lent, and its simple structure might serve as a helpful guide for a Bible study or as sermon. Designated as “a song of ascents,” by its superscription, this psalm takes us on an ascending journey. The psalm may be read in four movements, which lead us from the depths to a proclamation of hope and trust in the Lord. One might think of these four movements as stops for reflection along the way on a hike up to the top of a mountain, or indeed, on the pilgrimage from the valley up to the temple mount, the highest point in Jerusalem.

We begin our journey at the base of the mountain, crying out to the Lord from the depths. By beginning in the depths, we have the opportunity to name our own pain and the pain of the world. Note, though, that the psalmist spends little time describing his or her situation and more time invoking the Lord in these first two verses. This invocation in itself is an expression of trust and relationship with the God who hears. What is the cry from the depth of your own heart?

What might be getting in the way of crying out to the God who hears? The second movement of the psalm addresses this question provoked by the first movement. The psalmist is clearly aware that there are things that get in the way of a fullness of relationship with God. Like Paul in Romans 1-3, he is aware that the answer to his question, “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord who could stand?” is nobody. We have all fallen short. And yet, the psalmist has confidence that forgiveness continues to hold God’s people in relationship with God.

The third movement involves something bound to make us uncomfortable: waiting. The image of “those who watch for the morning,” repeated by the psalmist, suggests the restless character of this waiting. But all of the language about restless waiting in verses 5-6 make the hope in verse 5b stand out all the more. God has already spoken, and “in his word” the psalmist hopes. As Christians, we believe that God has already spoken decisively in Christ, and part of our call is to wait in hope for God’s kingdom when all will be reconciled to God. Perhaps today, we should ask: What is the quality of our waiting? Are we restless for the coming kingdom? Or have we placed our hope in something other than God’s promise in Christ?

The final movement of the psalm reaches out of the psalmist self and proclaims to all of Israel the “steadfast love” of the Lord and God’s “great power to redeem.” There is something ecstatic about this proclamation; this is the cry from the heights. How difficult it is to get to the place from which we can openly proclaim God’s steadfast love and hope to all people!

How often are you able to make it to the part of the spiritual journey that calls you out from yourself to share God’s love and your hope in God’s word with others?

Romans 8:6-11

“But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you” (8:9).

Here, Paul proclaims good news to us and to the congregation at Rome. Those who have been joined to Christ are a new creation. Even though we live embodied lives, we are even now “in the Spirit,” and, therefore, free to love and serve God. But Paul also acknowledges that there is still a battle going on. He formulates it as an opposition between flesh and spirit and calls upon his listeners to choose the side of life – to set their minds upon the Spirit.

What does Paul’s call to set our minds upon the Spirit mean for us during this season of Lent? Have we taken time to really engage in the struggle to reshape our lives so that they might be more reflective of Christ’s self-giving love? How is your Lenten practice leading to fuller life for you and for others?

John 11:1-45

John’s dramatic “sign” story of Lazarus speaks volumes about the one who brings about the sign and the responses of those who witness these events. Within John’s narrative, this text occurs at a turning point. It is the last of seven narrated “signs” within John’s gospel, and it marks a shift from the narration of Jesus’ public ministry to the John’s lengthy Passion narrative with its long discourses. Thus, it is particularly appropriate that we hear it today, on the Fifth Sunday in Lent, as we prepare to enter into the events of the Passion of Our Lord.

So, what does this story say about the one who performs the sign? While it is easy to read John’s gospel and get a sense of a Jesus who seems to be in complete control, walking about five feet above the ground, and talking on a wholly different level than many of his interlocutors (Nicodemus, for example), this narrative offers a picture of Jesus in which his humanity is fully on display in his grief over his friend. In the midst of the grief, Jesus’ conversations with Martha and Mary reveal his identity more fully. In the midst of his vulnerability and grief, Jesus is revealed as the one who can say, “I am the resurrection and the life” (11:25). Similarly, it will be in the midst of human vulnerability and death on the cross, that Jesus’ glory will be revealed. This is classic John: Divine glory is revealed most fully in the fullness and perfection of Christ’s humanity and the vulnerability of the outpouring of self-sacrificial love.

What does this story say to you about the identity of Christ?

The bystanders invite us to “see how he loved him” (11:36). In this narrative, we have a remarkable picture of Jesus’ loving relationship with the family of Martha, Mary and Lazarus at Bethany. We see a sign of God’s desire that all humanity might be unbound from the shroud of death and have an abundance of life. We also get a glimpse of a love that will be fully revealed on the cross. In the Passion of Our Lord, we will be invited to see how he loves us (cf. John 3:16).

How is Christ’s love shown throughout this passage? As a bystander in this scene, how will you respond to this sign?

Bible Study: 4 Lent (A)

March 30, 2014

Dale T. Grandfield, General Theological Seminary

“Jesus said, ‘I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’” (John 9:39)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
1 Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41

1 Samuel 16:1-13

Le roi est mort. Vive le roi!” The king is dead. Long live the king!

Wait. The king isn’t dead. What just happened? Does anyone hear shouts of coup d’etat?

Luckily it all happened far outside the capitol in Bethlehem. Nevertheless, the prophet Samuel committed capital treason. He anointed a new king for Israel while the old king was still alive. It would not be outside the norm for the reigning monarch to have him executed. No wonder Samuel talked back to God when heard the commission: “If he finds out, Saul is going to kill me.”

This little narrative recounts one of the most important events in scripture. Seriously. This moment when God chose, and Samuel anointed, set in motion the Davidic monarchy in Israel. That may not mean a lot at first glance, but here are a few important points.

First, to be valid, the King of Israel had to be chosen by God and anointed by one of God’s prophets.

Second, if God was unhappy with the King, God could choose another without notice and without respect to heirs or dynasties.

Third, let’s not forget that it is David’s line which, through the prophet Nathan, God promises to uphold forever.

And finally, remember your Jesse Tree in Advent? The Israelites longed to see the reestablishment of that Davidic monarchy during hundreds of years in exile, and from that expectancy came the promos of the Messiah – the great, culminating King of reunited Israel. As the prophets foretold that ultimate king, the gospels respond, telling us that Jesus of Nazareth was born to be that guy: the Messiah.

With such a quiet, backwoods, subversive plot-twist like Samuel anointing David, is it surprising, then, that God does not see as mortals see, and God does not choose as mortals choose?

That should be of comfort to us on the most basic level, because we know, then, that God isn’t looking at us in the way we look at ourselves. At the same time, it should stir us up to see how unorthodox God’s work is in God’s creation. It’s as if God is saying to us through a conversation with Samuel thousands of years ago: “Get ready, I don’t do things the way you expect.”

From a political perspective, what do you make of Samuel going behind King Saul’s back to anoint David king? Do you find anything untoward or even unfortunate about that?

Have you ever discerned anything? How is it possible to listen closely enough for the movement of the Spirit so as to look beyond how mortals see and choose and get at what God really wants?

Psalm 23

The 23rd Psalm may be, along with the traditional Lord’s Prayer, the most ecumenical, even interfaith, prayer. Everyone knows a little of “The Lord is my shepherd.” Go to a hospital or funeral where people of many different backgrounds gather, and more often than not, they can recite at least part of this psalm.

Perhaps that’s because this is a psalm of deepest trust in and satisfaction with God’s guardianship. There’s that word “Lord,” which in Hebrew is actually God’s ineffable proper name, “YHWH.” YHWH is my shepherd … I will dwell in the house of YHWH forever.”  It’s like talking about and to a beloved caretaker.

Yet this shepherd metaphor for God also portrays a gradual maturation of our faith, as God not only sees to our needs and wards off danger, but also teaches and motivates us.

Look at how the language changes. The first three verses are in the third person where God is “he.” But after the Valley of the Shadow of Death, the language takes a turn to the intimate and relational “thou.” In the first verses, God makes, leads, revives, guides. Then it switches, and the first person becomes the agent. “I walk.” “I fear.” “I dwell.”

And let’s not forget the assumed actions in relationship to God’s in verse 5: I sit and eat, and I am coronated. Thus God becomes the servant-priest and the prophet. What a sweet friendship we find here with God!

Finally, let’s focus for a moment on one little word, a verb in verse 6: yirdd’funi. The 1979 Book of Common Prayer Psalter, following the Coverdale translation of previous prayer books, translates: “Shall follow me.” But the verb has the connotation of pursuing or chasing after. So the literal translation from Hebrew is: “No doubt good and kindness will chase after me.” Thus, even when we all gown up and have become too busy to notice, God’s goodness and kindness is chasing, pursuing, and searching for us. That is a powerful image that recalls Jesus the Good Shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep in order to search for the one that is lost. Even when we are not lost, even when we are simply unaware, God delights in us and gives God’s self to our care and betterment.

Have you ever found Psalm 23 to be a point of ecumenical or interfaith dialogue?

Are you most drawn to God in the third person (he) or in the second (thou)? Have you ever thought of God as your master? As your servant? Do you perceive God to be more kind, or more demanding?

As you examine your life and the lives of those around you, who have you seen God’s goodness and kindness chasing after you?

Ephesians 5:8-14

Going far back into pre-history, humans have been quite vulnerable to predation at night, partially because we are diurnal animals (that is, we sleep during the night and are active during the day) and partially because we lack sensory acumen and have hairless bodies, heavy heads and a slow two-legged gait. “Lions and tigers and bears! O, my!”

Imagine if we were in the woods with voracious wolves. In and of our own bodies, we would have precious little to ward off the beasts. That sounds like a nightmare! Yet, even if it’s tough for us in the 21st century, with portable electric light to illumine our darkest places and stark delineation between civilization and “the wild,” somewhere deep inside of us, mythically, day is good and night is bad.

And what characterizes the day? Light. What characterizes the night? Darkness. If we were owls, for example, we might feel completely differently. But we are not; and Christianity, from early times, used the imagery of light versus dark as a metaphor for the Christian life in the world.

That is precisely what this imagery is: metaphor. Christians aren’t really brighter than other people. While metaphor can certainly be useful and artistic, it can also, when taken too literally, make for many problems in interpretation. Then take a metaphor like “light in the dark” that plays on deep-seated evolutionary patterns, and the game is set for complete misunderstanding. Too easily this little passage in Ephesians could be taken as an us-vs.-them type of statement, or the promotion of some sort of dualism of good vs. evil. That is not what the writer of Ephesians is talking about.

Darkness is not over and against light. On the contrary, it is merely the absence of light. When light shines, darkness disappears because the light fills the void that was darkness. That is why it is important for the Ephesians to recognize in themselves the light of the Lord, to live as people filled with that light, and to expose all things to it. Once the light shines, it has an amazing way of reclaiming what was secret and dark. As it says, “Everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light.”

When are other times recently when you have encountered light vs. dark imagery in the church and church year?

Based on what you know about the City of Ephesus and the ancient world, what do you think the “darkness” might have been? What type of shameful, secret acts were the people committing?

How have you been a shining light for the world recently?

John 9:1-41

Which is worse, to be blind, physically, or to have a blind heart and inattentive ears? In the wake of today’s gospel lesson, it might seem like an easy answer. Of course we’d want to be open and receptive to God in Jesus Christ. But if this same question were posed within a different, less obviously spiritual arena, I imagine our choice might be less cut and dried.

As brilliant as she was, few of us would want to be disabled as Helen Keller was, even if it meant being as intelligent. Think of Ludwig von Beethoven. How many of us would be willing to gradually lose our hearing in order to get at the deeper meanings of human frailty and limitation in our art?

Couldn’t we have a great impact without too much sacrifice? Certainly! But don’t be surprised when God does things quite unpredictably.

Yet, even when we recognize God’s subversive way, disability is a very difficult topic for us. So much of our lives are about what we can do. To say “I can’t” is a concession. To make too many concessions is weakness.

The church is not outside of that notion. We like our clergy and leaders, for example, to be paragons of capability: intelligent, high functioning, morally upstanding, well spoken, caring, and it doesn’t hurt if they’re good looking and well dressed!

The disciple in today’s gospel reading experiences a revelation of who Jesus is. This epiphany is facilitated by apt and clear theological argumentation on the part of this nameless disciple who was blind yet sees. Nevertheless, what may be even more important here is the means by which Jesus makes himself known.

In Jesus’ time, it was thought that the congenitally blind and otherwise disabled were disabled because they were born entirely in sin. That seems not so much a value judgment as a simple way of writing people off. In congregational life in the first century, being “congenitally sinful” meant spiritual as well as physical impoverishment.

That’s where God works. In a twist of plot, the story of the disciple who was born blind and healed shows us not only that Jesus is from God, but that God in Jesus does not necessarily choose the obvious people to demonstrate the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God. Quite to the contrary, sometimes it’s in the unlikely that God demonstrates exceptional holiness. That’s often how God can speak to those who have been blinded by ability and the way things have always been done, shedding new light on the world.

Have you ever thought about the holiness and importance of human diversity in gifts, abilities and disabilities in and among our people, including our leadership?

What does it mean to you that (1) we are still striving to understand God’s full self-revelation in Jesus Christ, and (2) that Christ’s call to us is to cast no one out?

Have you ever felt disabled by an overwhelming sense of sinfulness? Impending judgment? If so, how did Christ’s healing hands break through your pain?

How have you felt disabled, weak or a failure in your life?  If so, how has that been a means of God’s revelation? How can your own sense of limitation lend perspective and open you to radical compassion?

Bible Study: 3 Lent (A)

March 23, 2014

Steven KingVirginia Theological Seminary

“Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty.’” (John 4:13-14)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Exodus 17:1-7Psalm 95Romans 5:1-11John 4:5-42

Exodus 17:1-7

As I spend time with this portion of Exodus, I am struck by the Israelites last question: “Is the Lord among us or not?”

They have traveled long distances, led by a man claiming to be chosen by God to guide them, and now they are without water. They are becoming frustrated and angry and are turning their emotions toward God. Their question is a very human response and one that may be familiar to us, too. And yet, as faithful people, we know that the Lord is among us and it is our call to learn to tune our hearts to hear God’s voice in our lives.

Lent is a time to remove the distractions that make it difficult to hear and discern God’s movement in our lives. God is always present. Let us strive to come into God’s presence more fully.

Has there been a time in your life when you have wondered, “Is the Lord among us or not?” What was that time like? How did you come to trust in the Lord’s presence again?

Consider what distracts your or prevents you from hearing the Lord’s call in your life. How might you work through that?

Psalm 95

Verse 2 from Psalm 95 continues the call from Exodus to “come before his presence with thanksgiving” by describing all that the Lord has created. God made the caverns of the earth, the heights of the hills, the sea and the dry land, and in this we see the presence of the Lord. We know that the Lord is among us is because we see God’s creation all around us each day. We are called to take the time to slow ourselves down and notice all that is around us and, in this way, to come into the Lord’s presence. Lent is a time to slow down the busyness of life, to once again take notice of God’s creation all around us, and to be thankful.

Where do you see or feel the presence of God in the world around you?

What causes you to lose sight, even temporarily, of the presence of God in your life? What adds extra stress and busyness and how might you hear God in that time? Consider taking an extra 15 minutes of silence each day to be with God.

Romans 5:1-11

Throughout this passage from the letter of Paul to the Romans, Paul calls for the readers and hearers of his message to boast: “in our hope of sharing the glory of God,” “in our sufferings,” and “more than that … in God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The lines about suffering producing endurance and so on are one of my favorite pieces of scripture, and yet, as I read the passage this time, the call to “boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God” stuck out to me. Paul is calling his readers, and us, to be joyful and proud as we claim all that Christ as done for us and as we tell others about that. Because of Christ, we are justified and given peace and we will be saved. This is Good News. This is a message that the world needs to hear. Let us boast in it, joyfully and faithfully!

Consider all of the different possibilities for ways that you may “boast” in this Good News. How and with whom might you share this message with those in your community?

Throughout your faith journey, what are some ways that you have experienced God’s movement in your life? How might you share those with others to help them see how God is moving in their lives?

John 4:5-42

I have always loved this woman’s reaction to her encounter with Christ! Even after he not only breaks societal customs and speaks to her but also talks with her about her divorces, he still reveals himself as the Messiah. She is not afraid or ashamed, but instead runs to the nearest city and shouts, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!”

I love this reaction!

I find myself wondering if I could do that or whether or not I would be ashamed in front of Jesus of the mistakes I have made in my life. And yet, this woman gives us a faithful example of someone who has experienced the love of Christ that is not conditional upon any circumstances of her or our lives and goes to invite others to be a part of it.

This woman gives us a deeply faithful model for what we, too, can do when we encounter Christ even today. We are called not to get stuck in our sins or mistakes but instead to come to trust that even with all that may have happened, Christ still loves us and is present with us. After we have experienced this presence, let us follow this woman’s example to tell others about such a love as Christ’s!

Are there times in your life that you would rather others, including even God, didn’t know about? How have you experienced Christ’s love for you even in these times?

Is there someone you know who needs to hear this message of unconditional love? How might you share it with them?

Bible Study: 2 Lent (A)

March 16, 2014

Brian PinterGeneral Theological Seminary

“God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Genesis 12:1-4a; Psalm 121; Romans 4:1-5, 13-17; John 3:1-17

Genesis 12:1-4a

The story of Abram’s call is an archetypal narrative that is repeated again and again throughout the biblical record. Artistic in its presentation, this text also presents deep spiritual truths. Notice, for example, the author’s use in verse 1 of a literary device called hendiadys: “your country and your kindred.” A single idea is cleverly expressed through the use of two words. We also see that the number of blessings Abram will receive is the classical biblical number signifying perfection: seven.

Beyond its beautiful, artistic form, this passage invites us to follow in Abram’s footsteps – to abandon ourselves to the guidance of God; to prepare ourselves to commence the great journey; to leave what is familiar, comfortable, but ultimately small and limiting and go to “a land that I will show you.” Our spiritual life is this archetype – going from what we know to what we don’t know; from the secure to the insecure. God calls us to follow God into the unknown. Where this journey will take us we cannot know, but we can be confident that by surrendering ourselves (i.e., our ego and all its small needs), we will be a blessing to many.

Is there a word or phrase in this passage that speaks to you today?

How have you experienced God’s call in your life to leave home “for a land that I will show you”?

Psalm 121

This psalm takes the form of a dialogue between a worshipper and a Temple priest. We notice a shift from first to second person within verses 1-4. The psalmist expresses confidence in the protection of God, reminiscent of the blessing of Numbers 6:24-26: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.”

This text continues the theme begun in our first reading from Genesis – the great spiritual pilgrimage of life. The “hills” of verse 1 represent both the heavenly dwelling place of God as well the holy city. The journey to this spiritual place will require protection and sustenance, and will not be without challenges. (For example, the sun of verse 6 will be hot!) Above all, the God who calls us to this journey will not forget us; will not fall asleep on us, unlike Baal of 1 Kings 18:27, whom Elijah mocked, “Maybe he’s asleep!”

While we will face dark nights and times of doubt, this psalm invites us to trust that God is sustaining us, shading us, supporting us as our pilgrim road bends over the horizon.

Is there a word or phrase in this passage that speaks to you today?

Where do you find yourself now on the spiritual pilgrimage of life – waiting for the call? The first steps? Resting in the shade? In the hot sun? How have you experienced God’s action on your journey?

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17

We see the thematic links in today’s reading from Romans with the first reading from Genesis. To understand Paul’s thought here, some background might be helpful. First, Paul did not found the church at Rome and, when he dictated this letter, had not yet visited the city. “Romans” was his way of introducing himself to the Christian community there and making his travel arrangements.

Second, Paul strongly believed that because we are now living in the age of the Messiah, the Mosaic Law is no longer necessary. Paul, in fact, spent a great deal of time in conflict with some Christians who felt otherwise about the Law. It is this issue of the necessity and validity of the Mosaic Law that Paul speaks to in this passage.

Paul points back to Abraham as the example par excellence that obedience to the law does not earn one God’s favor. The Grace of God is a gift. The promise to Abraham of many descendants and blessings was not because Abraham followed any law, but because of Abraham’s trusting faith. If God rewarded people simply because they observe a law, faith would mean nothing.

Furthermore (and this is one of Paul’s favorite issues to hammer), the presence of the Law only makes things worse. As the great biblical scholar Joseph Fitzmyer, S.J., noted about Paul’s thought on this, “The prescriptions of the law are honored more in than in observance; in thus furthering transgressions, it promotes the reign of sin.” In other words, when there are more laws, there are more opportunities to break them. Paul saw this as a vicious circle that brought people nowhere.

Is there a word or phrase from this passage that speaks to you today?

Do you accept that there is nothing you can do to earn God’s blessing and grace? What are the obstacles you face to accepting this gift?

John 3:1-17

A key to understanding today’s text lies in the previous chapter, John 2:23: “When he was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing.”

Faith cannot be based on signs and wonders, just as God’s grace and blessing cannot be earned through obeying laws and performing works. In this passage, the author of this gospel uses one of his favorite literary devices – misunderstanding. Both those who believed in Jesus because of his miracles, and Nicodemus, misunderstand Jesus. Nicodemus thinks that Jesus’ performing of miraculous deeds is a sign of God’s approval. Jesus, however, explains to Nicodemus that Jesus has come from God’s presence.

Our gospel text is thematically linked with our previous readings through Jesus’ observation about the work of the spirit in verse 8. Entrance into God’s Kingdom cannot be earned by human beings; it requires the outpouring of the Spirit. The final verses of the reading provide the answer to Nicodemus’ question about being reborn of the Spirit – this occurs through the Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus. Once again, a grand biblical archetype is tapped here – the way of ascent is descent; the way to life is through wounding and death; God has the power to transform death. Our challenge is to let God’s Spirit into to our broken hearts in order that the transformation, the rebirth, might begin.

Is there a word or phrase from this passage that speaks to you today?

What are the challenges you face to allowing God’s Spirit to lead to the new birth of which Jesus speaks?

Bible Study: 1 Lent (A)

March 9, 2014

David W. PetersSeminary of the Southwest

“The tempter came and said to Jesus, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But he answered, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”’” (Matthew 4:3-4)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7Psalm 32Romans 5:12-19Matthew 4:1-11

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7

Rabbi Nachman of Breslov said, “God made man because he loves stories.” And what is the first story about humans? It is a story of temptation, disobedience and clothing manufacturing. Other than the talking snake, this story in Genesis always strikes me as so ordinary and mundane. When they eat the forbidden fruit, nothing happens. There is no lightning bolt from heaven. There is only the opening of their eyes to their nakedness.

My temptations are ordinary too. I am rarely tempted with high crimes. Most of my temptations are just like Eve’s and Adam’s, they are my desire for physical pleasure (“good for food”), beauty (“delight to the eyes”) or wisdom (“to make one wise”). Like them, I’m always looking for love in all the wrong places. From my reading of human history, and my own history, this seems to be the story of humanity. Perhaps that is why God loves us so much.

What stories in your life contain tragedy and hope?

What are some of the places you have searched for pleasure, beauty or wisdom, and been disappointed?

Psalm 32

Happiness, for the psalmist, comes after the withering of the bones, much groaning, and drying out like a raisin in the sun. By the time this psalm is written, the psalmist’s sin is old news, but the effect on the body is still felt. In the darkest watch of the night, he/she cries out to God.

Soren Kierkegaard wrote that repentance always comes at the 11th hour. It is after we have run out of back-up plans and exhausted our limited resources that we turn to God. We run to the only place where the great waters cannot reach us, the hiding place.

My experience as an Episcopalian leads me to conclude that pages 446-452 in the Book of Common Prayer, “The Reconciliation of a Penitent,” are seldom used by most of us. Perhaps they would have more use if we connected confession and reconciliation with a chance for happiness.

How is your physical health connected to my spiritual health?

If God is our hiding place, what is God hiding you from?

Romans 5:12-19

If metaphors become too complicated, they cease to be metaphors. St. Paul’s metaphor of Jesus as the second Adam is simple. Just as Adam’s sin brought death to all people, so Jesus’ act of righteousness brings life to every person. The savvy reader will notice in the Old Testament lesson a small problem. Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden. Furthermore, how did sin get passed on from generation to generation, especially when my newborn baby is so cute? Perhaps it is better to keep Paul’s words simple. Perhaps it is better to put them into a Christmas carol as Charles Wesley did in 1739:

Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface,
Stamp Thine image in its place:
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in Thy love.

How does Jesus’ life, death and Resurrection help us get back to how we were in the Garden of Eden?

Where did you first hear about the free gift of grace in Jesus Christ?

Matthew 4:1-11

Every time I go near the railing on a high balcony a thought pops into my head: What would it feel like to jump? Then I get a nauseating feeling in my stomach and back away from the edge. Every time I skip breakfast because I’m late for work, I long for an egg and bean breakfast taco and hope that it might magically appear on my dashboard. Every time I hear that a former high school classmate of mine won an award, I wonder what it would be like to get it instead of her.

The devil mocks me to force God to accept my timeline for my life, rather than wait for God to show up in God’s time. The devil mocks Jesus to do something spectacular to prove he is the Son of God. He tempts Jesus to force God’s hand to declare him to be the Son of God – or just fall onto the hard stones of the Temple. Jesus needs no more proof of his sonship than that which is written.

Martin Luther wrote about the devil in his words to the hymn, “A mighty fortress”: “One little word shall fell him.”

Jesus quotes the word, thus proving that he is the Word, and the devil disappears.

Both the devil and Jesus quote scripture in this story. How has scripture been used in your life for encouragement or temptation?

Jesus’ temptations take place in the wilderness, far from other people and creature comforts. How is temptation greater when we are alone and uncomfortable?

Bible Study: Last Sunday After Epiphany (A)

March 2, 2014

Charlotte LaForest, Berkeley Divinity School at Yale

“Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.” (Matthew 17:1-2)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Exodus 24:12-18Psalm 22 Peter 1:16-21Matthew 17:1-9

Exodus 24:12-18

Theophany: the technical term for a visible manifestation of God. The clouds and fire in this passage from Exodus are congruent with my imagination of what this kind of encounter might be like. Perhaps my imagination was shaped by previous readings of this passage. Perhaps it was shaped by numerous childhood viewings of the movie “Ghostbusters,” in which the mountain is replaced by a New York City apartment building, and a deity named Gozer appears, surrounded by cloud and flame. In any case, this kind of direct encounter with God seems as though it might be a bit terrifying.

But Moses kept going. He kept climbing further up the mountain, waiting six days in the cloud, climbing higher, and then remaining there, high on the mountain. Moses encountered something on the mountain that made him want to stay for 70 days, over two months’ time! What do you think he was thinking and feeling during that time?

Moses had to keep climbing higher to get closer to God. Are there times in your life that the ways in which God is calling you may seem terrifying but are actually drawing you closer to Him?

Psalm 2

Drama unfolds in this brief psalm, shifting rapidly between perspectives in only a handful of verses. The psalm opens with the psalmist’s questions about the persecution of the faithful. We then shift to the wicked rulers and eavesdrop as they conspire to cast off the people of God. Just as soon as we’ve heard them plot and plan, the psalmist races heavenward and we hear God laugh at the plans of the wicked. God warns the wicked rulers, reminding them that God alone is sovereign.

The psalmist then communicates the message to God’s people, reassurance of God’s faithfulness and the appeal to trust in God to serve justice and defeat the enemies. The kings are reminded again to rule with fairness and wisdom, and called to submit with fear and trembling to the God capable of powerful execution of divine justice. Then the psalm ends on a cheerful note, rejoicing for those who take refuge in God!

This psalm emphasizes trust in God to enact justice and retribution. Do you ever find yourself struggling to trust God for this, wishing to take revenge for yourself?

The psalm concludes with a call for God’s people to rejoice because they have taken refuge in God. Are you able to trust God enough to rejoice, even during times of persecution?

2 Peter 1:16-21

Just like the readers of this letter, we have not been blessed with direct experience of God’s voice, coming audibly from the heavens, identifying Jesus as Son, Beloved. We also have to trust the witness of those who were present with Jesus, passed down through scripture and the traditions of the church. They serve for us as lamps, light for what would otherwise be dark and murky understanding of the person of Christ. Peter gives us hope, however, that at some point the day will dawn, the morning star will rise in our hearts, and we will be able to encounter the light for ourselves.

For now, though, we rely on witnesses. Peter reminds us in the closing lines of this passage that true witnesses, prophets who reveal God’s truth, are not speaking because of their own motivations or desires, but because they have been moved by the Holy Spirit to do so.

Though we may not have encountered God in the same way the Peter did, we can still serve as witnesses for each other. Are there people in your life who have shown you the light of Christ? How have you been a light to others?

Matthew 17:1-9

You may recognize some elements of this story from our Old Testament lesson for today: mountain, clouds, a voice from heaven. Just like the encounter that Moses had upon Mount Sinai, Peter, James and John experience many of the classic elements of an encounter with God.

Yet something is different about this theophany, this encounter. There is more than just the voice and the clouds upon the mountain that day. Peter, James and John see in the dazzling, transfigured Jesus that God is in their midst, has been among them all this time. They see Moses and Elijah, their forefathers, the bearers of their Jewish tradition. It’s no surprise that they want to build tents and say for a while! Moses spent almost two months in God’s presence, but Jesus calls the disciples to get up, to let go of their fear, and to head down the mountain.

The disciples return to the world with a new knowledge of who Jesus is, even though they are instructed not to tell anyone until after Jesus is raised. They may not yet be able to tell the story, but it will shape how they act, how they go about daily life. How could it not?

How have you encountered God? Have you ever wished you could just linger in those holy moments?

Jesus calls us back down the mountain and into the world. How will your encounters with God shape the way you live your life?