Bible Study, Proper 20(C) – September 18, 2016

[RCL] Jeremiah 8:18-9:1; Psalm 79:1-9; 1 Timothy 2:1-7; Luke 16:1-13

 Jeremiah 8:18-9:1

There are times of great suffering in which we may feel that all hope is lost and that there may never be joy in our souls again.  This may be triggered by the loss of a loved one or from a tragedy in your local community or nation.  There are painful events in our lives that shake us to our core and may even bring questions to our faith, diminishing our sense of hope.  At other times, it may feel like our prayers in these times are not being answered.

Jeremiah asks:

Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there?
Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?

Laments such as this are important to place before the throne of God, as we complain to a compassionate God who deeply cares about us and that which troubles us. There are times in our lives that we need to reclaim the old tradition of lament, a significant tradition that is largely absent in our common life as the Church. Often, we need to air our grievances before we can begin to see hope again.  Sometimes, we even need to get angry at God.  God can take it.  God will also use our vulnerability that we have expressed as a means to bestow grace upon us.

Through this we remember that there is hope in the resurrection, that there is a balm in Gilead, and that God continues to restore all things through Jesus Christ.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Reflect one or two painful times in your life.  How did your relationship with God feel in those times?
  2. How comfortable to you feel complaining to God, or getting angry with God?  How well do you practice lament?
  3. How has God shown you through your pain that there is hope rather than hopelessness, light rather than darkness?  How have you been reassured of God’s goodness and mercy?

Psalm 79:1-9

This psalm is also another prayer of lament to God, likely written in the wake of some sort of national tragedy that had befallen God’s people.  This takes a different tone that the above lament from the Prophet Jeremiah.  In this lament, the author is calling out to God, asking for God to punish those who have unleashed evil upon the people and God’s temple.

One of the beautiful things about the Psalms is that they show us the whole range of human emotion in our spiritual relationship with God.  The fact is, sometimes we do have vengeful feelings and we do wish for God’s wrath to be unleashed on someone who has done a great evil.  This psalm serves as a reminder that these feelings of anger in response to a wrongdoing are nothing to be ashamed of, but rather are a natural part of our human experience and thus are appropriate to bring to God in prayer (regardless of what God chooses to do in response to that prayer).

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Have you ever been wronged in such a way that you feel vengeful toward another person?
  2. How do you address those feelings in prayer?
  3. How do you come to terms with the reality that vengeance belongs to God and not to us?
  4. Can you shift your focus, and begin to pray for the person who wronged you?

1 Timothy 2:1-7

Speaking of prayer.  In the first letter addressed to Timothy, Paul writes that we should include everyone in our prayers, naming supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings as different categories of prayer.  We are called as Christians to pray for our neighbors, to pray for our enemies, to pray for our leaders, to pray for our Church and our world, and…everyone.

He writes:

“This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  For there is one God;
there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all.”

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Look back at the questions about lamentation and praying to God about someone who has done evil toward you.  There is a significant shift in what happens when you get the anger out of your system and instead begin to pray FOR the person (or people).  What would it take for you to begin to pray for God’s mercy to be upon them?  Can you intercede for God’s saving grace to be with them?  What do you think changes in you when you do that?
  2. Who do you pray for on a daily basis?
  3. What kinds of prayer do you offer to God in your daily prayers?
  4. How might this passage inform your practice?

Luke 16:1-13

“You cannot serve God and wealth.”  It must be getting close to stewardship “season.”  Our use of money seems to be indicative of the nature of our relationship with God.  Perhaps it is not just money, but all that is ours.  “Ours” is the operative word here.  Wealth can become a false idol, a violation of the First Commandment, when we turn to the love of money over the love of God and money.  This happens when we willfully forget that God is the source of all good things and that all we have is but a gift from God.  They are not ours, rather we have been graced with the ability to become stewards over that which is God’s.

God calls us to be faithful stewards.  Jesus says, “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.”  This could be understood to mean faithful stewards may be entrusted with even more.  Another reading is that if we cannot be trusted with something small, why would we ever be trusted in something more significant?  Our faithfulness relies in remembering who God is as the creator and giver of all good gifts.  We are recipients, not entitled to what we possess.  This is important for us to remember, lest the things we believe are ours begin to possess us.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. How does this passage challenge you?
  2. Do you sometimes feel entitled to the things you have, or do you recognize that they are gifted to you?
  3. Have you ever thought about writing a gratitude list each day?  It is amazing how this practice can bring the issues of this passage into perspective in your life and how it can inform your payer practice.
  4. What are some of the pressures and stresses that make being a faithful steward difficult?  How can God help you through those struggles in order that you might maintain faithful stewardship?
  5. Do you feel that your use of time, talent, and treasure rightly reflect your relationship with God and the gifts that God has given you?  (Remember the biblical principal of the tithe: 10% of the “first fruits” given to God in gratitude.)

Written by Rev. Paul Castelli, AF.  Castelli is a priest in the Diocese of Michigan, serving as Priest-in-Charge at St. George’s Episcopal Church. He is a vowed member of Anamchara Fellowship, a dispersed Celtic monastic community in the Episcopal Church, serving on the community’s prayer book committee. He is also working on his thesis for an STM from Trinity Lutheran Seminary. Paul lives with his wife, Mechelle, and their three pets.

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Bible Study, Proper 18(C) – September 4, 2016

[RCL] Jeremiah 18:1-11; Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17; Philemon 1-21; Luke 14:25-33

Jeremiah 18:1-11

The potter, the wheel, and the clay – one of the most beautiful and enduring metaphors for our creative and creating God in all of Scripture. The potter does not only mold and shape fresh clay at the wheel; the potter remakes his creations when they become spoiled and broken. The potter’s work of creation is continuous. The potter’s house is a locus of genesis and renewal, death and rebirth, beauty and adaptation. When we find ourselves in the presence of this creative continuity, we can hear God’s holy words.

The clay, and by extension the vessel being shaped, becomes what it is in each new moment only through the imagination of the potter. Thus its very being depends upon the potter’s will. And although human beings may not understand the potter God’s movements and intentions, we can remember that the potter does only that which “seem[s] good to him” (vs. 4).  The potter reworks his spoiled creations, but he never discards or destroys the clay.

  • What might it mean that Jeremiah can only hear God’s words in this place of re/creation?
  • Where do we encounter God’s creative energy, and what messages might we receive in its presence?
  • In verses 8 and 10, God speaks of the ability to “change [God’s own] mind.” How does the concept of changing one’s mind fit (or not fit) with our usual ideas of God’s character and existence?

Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17

These verses from Psalm 139 describe how intimately God knows each one of us. The juxtaposition of opposites in the first two verses illustrates the extent of God’s knowledge – God knows the fullness of our being, the extremes and the in-betweens, the highs and the lows.  Accepting this level of intimacy may be both breathtakingly beautiful and “too wonderful” for us. God knows our basest instincts and desires, but God also knows the amazing love, joy, and peace in our truest hearts. God knows our full potential even when we are unable to see it ourselves.

Verse 13 reminds us that, as God’s creations, we are glorious. Our essential and innate goodness reflects the quality of divine craftsmanship. There’s no escaping the truth: I am marvelously made, and so are you. You are wonderful, and so am I. There are no asterisks here, no “except for…,” no ifs, ands, or buts. The Psalmist helps us realize that we can never honor and glorify God while maligning or debasing ourselves and each other.

  • The language of creativity is prominent in these verses: “knit” in vs. 12, “woven” in vs. 14, “written” and “fashioned” in vs. 15. How can these metaphors deepen our understanding of and relationship with our Creator?
  • Consider the various references to bodies in verses 12 through 15. How might these references inform our attitudes toward human bodies generally and our own bodies specifically?

Philemon 1-21

The Letter to Philemon is one of the shortest epistles in the New Testament – there are only four verses not included here, comprised of Paul’s request for a guest room, closing greetings, and benediction. But within this comparatively brief letter we find a passionate illustration of historic evangelism which may challenge us to rethink our notions of faithful living. In verse 5, Paul says that he thanks God not because of how the church is growing in numbers or power but because he has heard of the members’ love. He goes on to say that this love is manifested through the sharing of faith and refreshing of hearts (vs. 6-7).

Paul indicates that love is the only worthy basis upon which he will appeal to his fellow Christ-followers, and he asks them to do something patently irrational and illogical – to welcome Onesimus, a former slave, as “a beloved brother” (vs. 16). He then goes a step further, declaring that he will accept Onesimus’s debts as his own and repay them. This kind of selfless sacrifice makes no sense to those whose ultimate measure is money, or honor, or status; but to those whose ultimate measure is love, it is both right and perfectly natural.

  • How can we live, what must we do, for others to hear of our love? Conversely, what has another person or group of people done that has led us to hear of their love?
  • Paul vouches for Onesimus, calls him “my own heart” (vs. 12), and pledges to take on his debts, whatever they may be. For whom (if anyone) might we be willing to give of ourselves similarly? And what does Paul’s selfless generosity tell us about the community of believers?

Luke 14:25-33

When Jesus speaks about the costs of discipleship, we may be tempted to make excuses for ourselves. His words are unsettling. All this talk of hating family, of bearing burdens and doing hard work, of giving up our stuff – it’s challenging to hear. Which probably means, of course, that we need to pay special attention. Here is a message with which we must wrestle, if we seek to follow the one we claim as Messiah and Savior.

Verse 26’s use of the word “hate” may be especially troubling. How can Jesus ask us to “hate” anyone, never mind our own parents and children? A comparative look at the Greek text, along with the conventions of Biblical language and the passage’s context, is useful here. In the preceding verses, Jesus shares the parable of the Great Dinner (when the invited guests make up excuses, and the host opens his home to “the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame”). Those whose attachments control them miss out on the glorious banquet. This is the context for the “hating” in verse 26.  Elsewhere in Scripture, we can find instances of the word “hate” being used for dramatic emphasis in comparison (i.e. Genesis 29, where Leah is “hated” because Jacob cares more for Rachel than for her). Jesus is not telling us to cease loving those around us or to harden our hearts; but we cannot put anyone or anything above his Gospel of selfless, unmitigated love if we are to be true disciples.

  • What does it mean to be a disciple? How is a disciple different from a friend, supporter, admirer, student, or fan?
  • Consider the language of “completion” and “finishing” in verses 28-30. What work might Jesus be calling us to complete, and when/why might we be tempted to back down prematurely?

Written by The Rev. Margaret (Maggie) Leidheiser-Stoddard. Rev. Leidheiser-Stoddard graduated from Bexley-Seabury Seminary Federation with her Diploma in Anglican Studies in May 2016. She earned her M.Div. from Pacific School of Religion (Berkeley, CA), and an M.A. in Religion & Modernity from Queen’s University (Kingston, ON). She was ordained to the transitional diaconate in June 2016, and will begin a residency at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Worthington, OH this fall. She lives in Bexley, OH with her husband, son, and guinea pig.  

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Bible Study, Proper 17(C) – August 28, 2016

[RCL] Jeremiah 2:4-13; Psalm 81:1, 10-16; Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16; Luke 14:1, 7-14 

Jeremiah 2:4-13

In this passage of contrasts, God’s people are confronted with the senselessness of turning away from their God. Prophets falsely prophesy for no profit. The people, whom God has blessed over and over, chase after gods who are not even gods. Pursuing worthless things made the people themselves worthless. And the one true God, who is described as the fountain of living water, is abandoned and the people try to collect life-water in containers with cracks.

It is our tendency as humans to try to satisfy our deepest desires with cheap substitutes. By looking at our sins we will have clues as to what we really need. The people dug cracked cisterns indicating they knew they needed water. How might our misguided attempts to fill our deepest longings be a way to find our true heart’s desire in God?

The prophet brings a strong indictment against the leaders. As leaders of God’s people we have a responsibility to ask, “Where is the Lord?” It is our job to interpret life’s situations in light of God’s reality and lead people to see how God is there for them. Only then will we be able to offer the water that truly satisfies.

  • Where do you see the Lord in your present situation?
  • What worthless things are you chasing after that diminish your own worth?
  • How might your sin be the very thing that can lead you to the fountain of living water?

Psalm 81:1, 10-16

In Psalm 81 a connection is made between hearing and obeying. The people do not obey because they don’t listen to God’s voice. Our English words obey and listen both share the same Latin root audire.

The psalmist suggests praise and remembering as ways to hear God. As we sing songs declaring who God is, and tell stories about all God has done, we will be open to hearing God’s voice. We will also desire to do God’s will, knowing God only wants the best for us.

God’s desire is to fill God’s people with good things. As we choose not to listen to God we are given over to the consequences of going it alone. As we turn back to God, our needs are met.

  • What are some ways you have seen God show up on your behalf in the past?
  • What practices help you listen to God’s voice?
  • What good things are you missing from God because you have forgotten God’s goodness?

Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

Hebrews 13 tells us how to give thanks for “a kingdom that cannot be shaken” (Hebrews 12:28). By showing care for those in our communities of faith, as well as those who are strangers, we live out our gratitude for our place in God’s kingdom.

We are invited to use our imaginations to place ourselves with prisoners and those who are tortured. Rather than locking them away and forgetting about them, we are urged to enter their pain as if our own bodies were suffering with them. In God’s kingdom no one is outside of God’s concern.

We are also called to show our gratitude in how we deal with sex and money. In our temptation to meet these needs outside of God’s provision, we are reminded that God sees us and that God is with us. As we seek to care more about others and less about money we are reminded that God is always caring for us. God invites us to trust as we participate in this kingdom work.

  • What would it look like for you to care for strangers and those suffering in prison?
  • In what ways is your care for money and sex inhibiting your participation in God’s kingdom? 

Luke 14:1, 7-14        

Luke uses a familiar wedding banquet metaphor to show us what honor looks like in God’s kingdom.

Jesus notices that the guests at the dinner assume their own privilege in choosing their place at the table.  He invites them to let go of whatever it is that they feel makes them better than the others. His message is for those of us who feel we have a choice as to where we belong in the world. As we release our need to play the comparison game, and then identify with the lowly, we will be honored by God.

Jesus perfectly displayed this path of letting go of privilege in becoming human so that God could lift him up to the highest place (Philippians 2). Through this parable Jesus is inviting us to join him in this same journey of going down and being lifted up.

In the second half of this parable Jesus teaches what it looks like to use privilege to lift up others. Like God we are invited to do the same work in lifting up the humble. So in this great cycle of humility and being lifted up we participate with God in the lifting up of others.

  • What privileged position are you being invited to let go of?
  • How can you use the place God has given you to lift up those whom life has brought low? 

Written by Louise Samuelson. Louise is a second-year seminarian at the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas. She is a candidate to the priesthood in the Diocese of Central Florida. Louise lives with her husband, Frank, who is also a candidate to the priesthood. 

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Bible Study, Proper 16(C) – August 21, 2016

[RCL] Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; Hebrews 12:18-29; Luke 13:10-17

Jeremiah 1:4–10

For readers interested in learning about biblical prophecy, the description of the call of the prophet Jeremiah rewards careful study. Consider reading this passage alongside three others:Deuteronomy 18 with its advice for recognizing authentic prophets; Exodus 4 with its description of Moses resisting a call to prophecy; and Isaiah 6 with its vision of seraphs and a burning coal touching the prophet’s mouth. Beside these passages, the call of Jeremiah seems striking for how carefully it casts the prophet in a Mosaic mold and for how intimately the Lord calls to Jeremiah. No seraphs and burning coals here—or burning bushes, for that matter; just the “word of the Lord” saying that Jeremiah was born for the task ahead of him.

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,

and before you were born I consecrated you;

I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

But readers don’t need to approach this passage with curiosity about prophecy or even with a desire to learn more about Jeremiah. For the account of Jeremiah’s call raises a more universal question: Is God calling me?

  • Have you ever felt called by God?
  • Jeremiah hears the Lord’s call and protests: “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” What excuses do we make to keep us from living the lives God calls us to live? How can we learn to overcome them?

Psalm 71:1–6

The rich language of the psalms can sometimes be hard to parse, as piled-up metaphors grow slippery. In these six verses, God is described abstractly (as hope, confidence, strength); concretely (as a strong rock, a castle, a crag); as an object of a supplicant’s petitions (to be free from shame, delivered from oppressors, and simply to be heard) and as an object of praise.

As happens so often in Biblical poetry, the literary features of the text take on theological force and meaning. Whatever the threat we face – however strong the clutches of the evildoer and the oppressor or however weak we feel to oppose them – God can be our refuge. The range of metaphors suggests the breadth of God’s power and the wideness of God’s mercy – and that both, blessedly, are expansive enough in their reach for even you and for me.

  • How can steadfast faith be a bulwark against shame and a guard against the powers our enemies seek to exert over us? Can you think of an instance in which this has been true for you?
  • How might we turn to God to keep us in safety when our enemies are not other people but rather aspects of ourselves (e.g., our love of gossip, our bitter envy, our genius for selfishness)?

 Hebrews 12:18–29

After contrasting Mt. Sinai and Mt. Zion and the old and new covenants, the author of Hebrews addresses us: “See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking…”

It’s safe to presume that most mature Christians have known occasions when God’s voice seemed – for some time anyway – to have fallen silent.God’s apparent absences, whether real or imagined, can provoke spiritual crises that turn us from belief – or (if we are wise or lucky) they can lead to newer, deeper forms of faith.

This passage suggests a different sort of crisis, one triggered not by God’s silence but by God’s clarity. It’s safe to presume that most mature Christians have encountered this sort of dilemma, too:when scripture couldn’t be clearer; when our conscience awakens us to another’s suffering; when the wafer and the wine we receive at the communion rail become to us the body and blood of Christ. How can we then stubbornly refuse to reply to God’s voice? How can reverence and awe melt away till we are returned to our numb routines of carelessness and sin? The author of Hebrews urges us to respond to such instances of clarity with steadfastness and gratitude. May God help us to do so.

  • What spiritual practices have helped you through instances when God’s voice seemed silent to you?
  • What practices have helped nurture your gratitude for God?

Luke 13: 10–17

“But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, ‘There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.”

Why is the leader of the synagogue so indignant? Does he feel his own authority is threatened by Jesus’s display of love and power? Is he sincerely worried that the apparent (and public) violation of one of God’s laws might weaken his people’s will to adhere to others?

Perhaps he is worried about losing pledging members. If so, he has something in common with those of us today, who sometimes look around our pews on Sunday mornings with insecure thoughts buzzing about those who are not in church rather than being attentive to those who are.In an age of falling membership numbers, perhaps this passage ought to be read as a cautionary tale about how fear for an institution’s security can blind us to God’s activity in the world.

Or perhaps we ought not be so quick to dismiss the synagogue leader. “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured.” Sure, he got it wrong about the seventh day, but don’t we get it wrong about the other six? Jesus is the Great Physician, but don’t we too often behave as though his office is only open for an hour or so on Sunday mornings?

  • What practices help you grow spiritually during the week?What else might be worth trying?
  • How do you keep the Sabbath holy?

Written by Robert Pennoyer.
Robert Pennoyer is a third-year seminarian at Berkeley Divinity School at Yale, where he is also a member of the Institute of Sacred Music. He is a candidate for ordination to the priesthood in the Diocese of New York. He lives in New Haven with his wife and their one-year-old daughter.

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Bible Study, Proper 15 (C) – August 14, 2016

[RCL] Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80:1-2, 8-18; Hebrews 11:29-12:2; Luke 12:49-56

Isaiah 5:1-7

Isaiah’s poetic lament is a masterful piece of irony that can be read on different levels. In its literal imagery, it speaks of the disappointment that must have been as well known to farmers in ancient Israel as it is in our own time: after days and weeks of tedious labor, one may find that the crop that appears is valueless. In metaphorical language that was common in the ancient world, though, planting and tending a vineyard could represent courtship. A man wooing a woman to be his wife did so, at least in part, in the hope that she would be a faithful and fruitful partner, bearing many strong children for his heritage. Verse 3 begins to reveal this bitter undertone, alluding to a relationship gone sour when it was founded on great hope.

If we read the “characters” in this story as the best man (the prophet, singing of his friend’s plight), the bridegroom (Yahweh) and the faithless woman (Israel), suddenly the prophetic intent of Isaiah’s poem becomes painfully clear. Speaking through the singer, Yahweh challenges the hearers to choose sides, to judge whether the relationship has been neglected. Tthe story is told in such a way that almost anyone would sympathize with the disappointed suitor – setting the faithless people up to pass judgment against themselves! In verse 7, the identities are made clear, and so it the indictment: the vineyard will be destroyed, abandoned, because “he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry.”

  • In our human relationships, do we sometimes “get what we have coming to us?”
  • Is that a reasonable model for the way in which God relates to God’s people, or not?

Psalm 80:1-2, 8-18

The collection of the Psalms is so ancient that we can never really identify the composers or the dates of their composition. Still, they often give internal hints that provide a historical context. It is important to the setting of this psalm that verse 2 calls for the Lord to act “in the presence of Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manesseh.” These were among the smaller tribes of the northern kingdom – that portion of the Hebrew people who became identified as Israel when the Davidic monarchy broke apart. They cry out for rescue of “the vine” brought out of Egypt; here is the metaphor of planter and vineyard again!  In the psalm, though, we hear the distressed cry of God’s people when they find themselves indeed being broken down (v. 12), ravaged (v. 13), and burned like rubbish (v. 15). These references can almost certainly be connected to the invasion of the Assyrians who conquered and largely destroyed Israel in the 7th and 6th centuries BCE.

Paired as they are in the Lectionary, the Psalm offers us “the other side” of the relationship described in Isaiah.  Now Israel really is suffering the punishment threatened in the prophecy, and they are raising – perhaps belatedly – a cry for mercy, restoration, and salvation.

  • Why do we so often find ourselves with “20/20 hindsight?”
  • How often is it really the result of naïvete?
  • Are there times when we persist in acting in self-interest, until we discover that we have brought pain on ourselves and others – and realize it too late?

Hebrews 11:29-12:2

The lessons from the Old Testament have been rather troubling, speaking of disappointment, estrangement, and retribution. The writer of Hebrews looks back through the checkered history of the Jewish people from a post-Resurrection perspective and calls his readers to recognize God’s work even in the bleakest of times. In relating the stories of Abraham, Moses, and all the lesser heroes of Israel, the author acknowledges their suffering. The author weaves the thread of heroic faith throughout, though, reminding his audience that faith always leans forward into the unknown because of an unshakeable trust in God’s goodness.

Jesus, by the example of his human life and by his divine transformation of shame and violence into victory over death’s finality, became “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” (12:2) Each believer is now called to run the race with renewed assurance and hope, but we are also surrounded and encouraged by the “great cloud of witnesses” who lived faithfully in their own times, by the signs and promises they had received.

  • What is the source of faith?
  • Is its origin in logic? Is it based on our own experience?
  • Does faith come from accepting the teaching or testimony of people we consider to have wisdom or authority?
  • If all those sources of validation were stripped away, on what would you base your faith?

Luke 12:49-56

Ouch! Jesus is not offering us much comfort and assurance in this passage. Within the book of Luke, chapter 12 falls within the long “journey narrative,” in which most of Jesus’s teaching and his confrontations with the religious establishment occur at various stages along the way from Galilee to Jerusalem. We are caught up in the growing intensity of his ministry and Luke’s dramatic foreshadowing of the crucifixion that awaits him.

Here we return pointedly to the prophetic theme introduced in Isaiah 5 and Psalm 80. Jesus challenges us very directly to see beyond our rosy expectations and recognize the conflict inherent in being his followers – a conflict between God’s reign and the world’s values, between human loyalties and the call to follow something greater.

Our own expectations are not so different from those of Jesus’s original hearers, who were holding out hope for a Messiah in the form of a great conquering warrior who would at last restore the kingdom of Israel on earth and usher in an era of peace and prosperity. Our modern version is the tendency to see Jesus as a benign, peaceful, and loyal friend who comforts and defends us. While he is all that, he is representing himself very differently here!  His reference to bringing fire to the earth, and to bringing division rather than peace, tells us that a moment of crisis, of judgment, and of commitment awaits every believer who intends to take Jesus seriously.

Fire does not always imply destruction, but might also be an instrument of refinement – purifying, strengthening, and catalyzing us into a new being. Jesus’s baptism of fire and crisis of decision can mean his own impending trial and execution, or it can mean the turning point in our own lives when we are called to choose a path of discipleship that will bring with it some form of pain as well. Ultimately, like all of Jesus’ teachings, this lesson points us toward the full fruition of God’s kingdom – that redemption and salvation Jesus came to accomplish — and calls us to live in hope and preparation for that time.

  • How do these lectionary readings, taken together, bring a Gospel message that encompasses both judgment and hope, retribution and mercy?
  • How do they ask us to broaden our understanding of faith?
  • How do they show us a more vivid, more faithful way for living our own lives, within our own relationships?

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Jennifer Shadle is a transitional Deacon and a candidate for Holy Orders in the Diocese of Colorado. Before recognizing the call to ordained ministry, Jennifer taught vocal music and music history at the secondary and collegiate levels, most recently at Colorado State University-Pueblo. As a seminarian, she takes delight in the liturgy and worship of the Church, theology, and pastoral ministry. She is completing a Concentration in Hispanic Church Studies, and hopes to serve in a multicultural parish setting or to develop a missional ministry among immigrant populations.

Bible Study, Proper 14 (C) – August 7, 2016

[RCL] Isaiah 1:1, 10-20; Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20

Like the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, we are inherently a people of sin. Sinful in what we do and sinful in how we worship no matter how hard we try. We can ask ourselves, “Is our worship acceptable to God?” When we experience God’s grace we can’t continue to mistreat each other or ignore injustices. Religion itself does not put us in His good grace. Grace isn’t cheap nor is it easy, and it’s not something we get for just sitting in a pew. It’s time for us to look deep into our hearts and know the truth.

  • How can you help the oppressed?
  • In what ways can you be more obedient to God?
  • What is your heart telling you?

Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24

This Psalm talks about the relationship we have with God as we struggle with the significance of our worship. We all struggle whether we realize it or not. We often just go through the motions of prayer and praise, sometimes just on Sundays. Read Psalm 50 as a way to give thanks to our Lord and find a way to move closer to God.

  • In what ways can you deepen your worship?
  • What is your relationship to God?
  • Why are personal sacrifices of importance? 

Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

We can be assured of the faith we have for the abilities God gives us. Faith is real and it moves us forward even in the uncertain times of today. Our faith is not simply hoping for something, faith is real. Although it cannot be seen, faith is there. All we need is faith. Hold fast, obey God’s commands, and believe that God is always there for you.

  • What are some examples of having faith in God?
  • Can we improve our commitment to God?
  • How has faith helped you in your life?

Luke 12:32-40

Faith frees us to give so don’t stock up on material possessions for yourself. We can forget ourselves through giving. We give money at church to make us more generous not poorer. God’s blessings are promised for those who are ready and judgment for those who aren’t. Being ready means living as we are taught and doing it daily without fear. Give and be generous. This will prepare us for God’s kingdom.

  • Where your treasure is your heart will be, what is your treasure?
  • Could you live without your possessions?
  • How could you be more generous?

Download the Proper 14 (C) Bible Study.

Written by The Rev. Dr. Malcolm Keleawe Hee. Malcolm Keleawe Hee is a Native Hawaiian Episcopalian who was recently ordained to the Priesthood in the Diocese of Hawaii. He has been an educator for 28 years.

Bible Study, Proper 13 (C) – July 31, 2016

[RCL] Hosea 11:1-11; Psalm 107:1-9, 43; Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21

Hosea 11:1-11

It is striking to see the emotional vulnerability and passion of God in this passage. Forget any notion of God as a distant, unaffected observer. God desires us with a powerful passion. Israel is the wayward son who continually breaks relationship with God, and God’s heartache is almost palpable in today’s passage from Hosea. It’s as if God is saying, “Israel, you are my son that I lead out of the wilderness, and you keep wandering off to worship other gods. You are breaking my heart. But I will not give up. How can I forget my beloved child?”

God’s words are just as true for us as they are for Israel. Are we not the children of God, who were brought of the wilderness through the waters of baptism? But sometimes we falter. We lose sight of whose we are and where we are headed as God’s beloved children. Our wandering is the same as Israel’s: being oblivious to the love of the God who pursues us with such abandon. But our hope is also the same as Israel’s: trusting in the God who graciously pursues us rather than ourselves or anything else in whom we might be tempted to put our trust.

  • How have you felt God pursuing relationship with you this week?
  • How can you practice placing your trust in God?

Psalm 107:1-9, 43
I recently worked at a summer day camp where I helped small children get acquainted with the swimming pool. They ranged from five to eight years old, and many of these children had never been swimming before. Each child sat on the edge of the pool and waited for their turn to be carried through the water of the pool. What amazed me was the rapid progress some of these children were able to make in their comfort level in the water. Some of the children trusted me enough that they would allow themselves to be turned onto their backs to float. They believed I was trustworthy which enabled them to trust that they would be carried through the water.

The waters of our lives can be deep and downright frightening. But if we trust that God is good, we can allow ourselves to be carried, even in the roughest of waters.

  • Do you believe that God is fundamentally good as the psalmist says?

Colossians 3:1-11

This section of Colossians is concerned with a radical reorientation of personal identity. Imagine you meet someone for the first time. You begin to introduce yourself, but instead of starting off with where you were born or what you do for a living, you tell them that you are a part of Christ. Your identity as a part of Christ is so fundamental that it becomes the primary factor in how you think of yourself. That’s what the author of Colossians is describing when they write “you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”

It is this identification with Christ that frames our lives. It is the basis for our ethical lives: we are in Christ and, as a part of him who is true and good, the only thing that makes sense is to shed all of the parts of our lives that do not reflect who he is.

  • What does it mean to shed the parts of your lives that do not reflect Christ in us? 

Luke 12:13-21

“Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Jesus’s warning could not be more timely.

I recently heard a bishop say that the largest religion in America is consumerism. He asked us to pause and reflect on the fact that all of our national holidays: Christmas, Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, etc. are dedicated to shopping. Our national holidays are occasions to buy more things that we most likely do not need. And then we work more to get more money to buy more things we don’t really need. The cycle continues until we find ourselves robbed from actually living our lives, reduced to anticipating the next purchase.

But this isn’t life. Jesus’s warning is good news that invites us to actually live the life that God intends: a life of self-giving love in relationship with God, our neighbors, and creation.

  • In what ways do you give into the need for an “abundance of possessions?”
  • What is one way you can become “rich toward God?”

Download the Proper 13 (C) Bible Study.

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, Proper 12 (C) – July 24, 2016

[RCL] Hosea 1:2-10; Psalm 85; Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19); Luke 11:1-13

Hosea 1:2-10
These verses from the first chapter of Hosea present an affronted YHWH who seems at once both vindictive and indecisive. Israel has betrayed God, the people of the divided kingdoms have broken their covenant promise to worship YHWH alone. Consequences will follow: God’s punishment is coming, God’s pity and forgiveness are ending, and God’s people are disowned. YHWH alone speaks in these verses, and in YHWH’s words we hear hurt, anger, and perhaps most dramatically, the pain of estrangement. Despite the betrayals, despite Israel’s unfaithfulness, God cannot help but to do what God does – peace-making, saving, and reconciling.

The marriage metaphor employed here may be both illuminating and confusing – the extreme power difference between the husband (Hosea, representing God) and the wife (Gomer, representing God’s people) is disturbing for those who understand marriage as an equal partnership. Yet in the Ancient Near Eastern context, Israel’s lack of faithfulness impacted YHWH’s status and reputation relative to other deities, just as a wife’s behavior would have been perceived to impact her husband’s prominence and honor.

  • Is there anything we can do to separate ourselves fully and permanently from God’s love?  And what does that answer say about the nature of God?
  • What meaning(s) might we draw from the marriage metaphor by focusing alternately on the characters of Hosea and Gomer?

Psalm 85
Phrases from Psalm 85 are among the most well-known of all Psalmody; the language of restoration, peace, and righteousness comforts and reassures today’s audience just as it did in its Ancient Near Eastern context. The different verb tenses employed by the Psalmist throughout these 13 verses speak to a profound eschatological vision. God’s people rejoice at having been restored and forgiven, even as they anticipate fulfillment of prophecy and promised salvation. The Psalmist’s duty, as declared in vs. 8, is to listen to God – not only through the stories and prophecies of the past, but through the movements and miracles of the present day.

  • How might we understand ourselves to be living in an eschatological “in between” time, and what is our role/responsibility as God’s people in such a time?
  • The entreaties of vs. 5 and 6 are spoken with confidence.  Do we have this kind of faithful trust in God’s promises?  If not, how might we cultivate it?

Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19)
These verses from the second chapter of Paul’s letter to the Colossians might sound to our ears like an artfully-worded early Christian version of that popular 1970s slogan “Keep on keepin’ on.”  Paul describes the path of discipleship as a flourishing plant, with its roots in the reality of the Gospel Truth that Jesus Christ is Lord and messiah.  Thanksgiving is the fruit Christ’s disciples bear as they continually grow in faith.

Paul’s concern here is that some church members may be lured away from the path of discipleship by false teachings – promises that someone or something other than Jesus of Nazareth represents a complete manifestation of God among humanity. Paul reminds his readers of the singular uniqueness of Jesus as the Christ, the only one who saves humanity from its own evils and liberates his followers from the accusations and oppressions of all earthly systems.

  • What are the false teachings and traditions that deceive American Christians generally and the people in our faith communities today?
  • Does Paul’s language of being ‘taken captive,’ and of earthly captors being ‘disarmed’ by Jesus, erase or minimize our human agency? What is our responsibility and our duty regarding our own faithful conduct?

Luke 11:1-13
The unnamed disciple comes to Jesus with a simple yet profound request – “Lord, teach us to pray.”  This request implies deep trust and a recognition that this teacher’s instruction is uniquely precious and imbued with holiness.  Jesus responds by offering to his disciples (and to us) that perfect prayer that is so familiar, having been recorded in the Gospels and included in our historic liturgies.  He also articulates a link between prayer and persistence, a link which may challenge us to think differently about the practice and purpose of prayer. God will not give us snakes or scorpions, but neither do we always receive that thing for which we have asked. Jesus uses a parent/child metaphor to help the disciples understand his message about asking, searching, and knocking. The greatest gift we can hope to receive, the gift God provides to those who pray with persistence and faithfulness, is the Holy Spirit.

  • Do we actually understand the words of the Lord’s Prayer, words that we know by heart?  What is “our daily bread?”  Do we really “forgive everyone indebted to us?”  And what is “the time of trial?”
  • Verses 9 and 10 are often cited as reassurance that God will give us whatever we desire, as long as we pray hard enough.  But how does the rest of the parent/child gift-giving metaphor inform our understanding of this prayerful asking and receiving?

Download the Proper 12(C) Bible Study.

Written by the Rev. Margaret (Maggie) Leidheiser-Stoddard. Rev. Leidheiser-Stoddard graduated from Bexley-Seabury Seminary Federation with her Diploma in Anglican Studies in May 2016. She earned her M.Div. from Pacific School of Religion (Berkeley, CA), and an M.A. in Religion & Modernity from Queen’s University (Kingston, ON). She was ordained to the transitional diaconate in June 2016, and will begin a residency at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Worthington, OH this fall. She lives in Bexley, OH with her husband, son, and guinea pig.  

Bible Study, Proper 11 (C) – July 17, 2016

[RCL] Amos 8:1-12; Psalm 52; Colossians 1:15-28; Luke 10:38-42

In this section of Amos we hear an account of judgement as well as human nature. We are reminded there will be times when being held accountable for our choices may feel like punishment or disapproval from God. We are also asked to recall God is ever present and observant of our actions, even though the presence of God may not be felt. We are broken in our humanness and therefore will make decisions which are displeasing to God however being judged does not necessarily equal losing God’s grace and mercy. As Christians we are asked to participate in a broken world with a willingness to share God’s message of love and grace despite judgment, conflict and despair. This is part of our journey in the Jesus Movement.

  • Why do we judge?
  • Who has the right to judge?
  • Where does God’s mercy reside in existence?
  • Where does God’s mercy reside in judgement?
  • Do you feel your love of God will cause you to be judged by non-believers?

Psalm 52

How strong is your faith in God? Take a moment to think how much trust and faith you have in God. In this psalm, we are encouraged not to boast of what we do whether it is negative or positive. We are asked to build up others and ourselves without asking for recognition. We are reminded to seek and see the good in all, not merely a few. The olive tree represents the growth and strength of God in our lives. We are reminded when we nurture God’s presence in our lives God’s mercy will be everlasting and rooted in good not destruction.

  • Do you have a strong faith in God?
  • How might you place your profession or accomplishments ahead of God?
  • What role does God have in our success?
  • Where is God in your relationship with yourself and others?

 Colossians 1:15-28

So often we give thanks and praise to God without acknowledging God’s gift of Christ and our ability to share and exhibit his teachings. Like Paul we are commissioned to share the fullness of God’s word as part of the Jesus Movement. We are called to acknowledge Christ existence in ourselves and others. Yet we often fall short of reaching outside of ourselves and immediate circumstance to see and be Christ like with ourselves and others.

  • How is the fullness of God experienced in the world?
  • What qualities of Christ do you also witness in yourself and others?
  • How often do you take the opportunity to spread God’s teachings and word?
  • Can God’s word be experienced through action and not words? If so, how?

Luke 10:38-42

We live in a time where most people succumb to multiple distractions. There is always a need to complete work and tasks, even to the point of multi-tasking one’s way from fully experiencing anything were doing.  Being busy doesn’t necessarily make an individual more successful however our accomplishments and self -worth are often perceived by how busy we are.

The gospel reading invites us to stop being busy long enough to be present with ourselves and with God. The passage also invites us to recall or notice where we seek and find God in our lives.

Notice how we define themselves by what they do (profession, tasks, etc.) or by who they are (presence, caring, insight) and which one allows them to experience God’s presence more.

  • Do you define yourself by what your profession is or tasks you complete? If so, why or why not?
  • Where do you experience God’s presence?
  • When do you experience God’s absence?
  • When do you find yourself closest to God?

Download the Proper 11(C) Bible Study.

Alexizendria Link (Zena), a lay leader in the Episcopal Church has volunteered and worked with a wide variety of education, religious and non-profit organizations. She is a graduate of the Episcopal Divinity School and Harvard Divinity School. Zena currently serves as an Executive Council member for The Episcopal Church, on the Social Justice Commission in the Diocese of Western Massachusetts and the National Youth Advisor for the Union of Black Episcopalians. In addition, she is a full-time classroom educator working with urban youth.

Bible Study, Proper 10 (C) – July 10, 2016

[RCL] Amos 7:7-17; Psalm 82; Colossians 6:1-14; Luke 10:25-37

Amos 7:7-17

According to Webster’s Dictionary, a plumb line is “a tool used to see if something is perfectly vertical.” In the beginning of this reading, Amos has a vision that God is setting a plumb line in the midst of the people of Israel and that the “sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste” as a result of the ways in which the Israelites are falling away from God. Amos is delivering a strong message to the people that they must realign themselves with God’s purposes. Seeing an opportunity to challenge Amos’s authority, Amaziah sends a message to the King of Israel that Amos, acting as a prophet, is conspiring against the king and threatening death to the king and the kingdom. Amos denies any self-interest at work, responding that he is no prophet, just a regular person called by God to carry this message. He clearly rests his authority in God, not in his birthright or biography.

  • Through Amos, God is calling upon the people of Israel to address the injustices around them. How do you believe God is calling us now to stand against injustice?
  • Amos is an ordinary person set on an extraordinary path. Have you felt this way or been in ministry with someone who was clearly called by God to work to repair injustices? Do you see any prophets like Amos at work in the world right now?
Psalm 82

Psalm 82’s brevity belies its power. In just a few short verses the writer of this profound text establishes God’s complete authority, calls out the injustices being perpetrated on the weak and poor, and names God’s wrath: that the wicked will “die like mortals and fall like any prince” and God will continue to rule the earth. In the rhythm of this psalm, we see God’s power and authority named, exercised, and established.

  • Do you see this kind of rhythm in injustices you have witnessed?
  • Do you believe this rhythm and outcome is possible in the face of injustices perpetrated in the world today?
Colossians 1:1-14

In this beginning of Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he prays that the community “may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God.” Of course, Paul is not talking about book-knowledge. He is speaking to a deeper, transformative knowing of God, rooted in the story of Jesus, and communicated through the stories of Israel. He is using language, references, and allusions that this community would understand to help them stay firmly rooted in their faith.

  • Paul wants to support the Colossians in leading lives worthy of God. What does ‘leading a life worthy of the Lord’ mean to you?
  • What stories, from Scripture or otherwise, help you stay rooted in your faith?
Luke 10:25-37

You may be surprised to find out that the parable of the Good Samaritan is prompted by a dialogue between Jesus and a lawyer. But this contrast is key to understanding the parable at its deepest level. We are all familiar with this story about the priest and Levite who passed by the beaten man and the Samaritan, generally despised by the Israelites, who stopped to help. But imagine the heresy for the listeners at the time when Jesus tells this pious lawyer to go and act like the Samaritan. Over and over in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus takes risks like this, challenging the status quo and flipping the narrative in unexpected ways.

  • How have you been fortunate to witness individuals speaking and demonstrating truth to the powerful?
  • When might you have opportunities to speak this kind of radical truth? 

Download the Proper 10 Bible Study.

Written by Wendy Johnson. Wendy is the Digital Missioner for Formation for The Episcopal Church.