Bible Study, Proper 9 (C) – July 3, 2016

[RCL] 2 Kings 5:1-14; Psalm 30; Galatians 6:(1-6) 7-16 Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

2 Kings 5:1-14

How many times do we bring our own agenda’s to God’s work, like Naaman did? How often do we think we know better than the prophets? I can really relate to Naaman and his need to have all the pomp and circumstance; to have Elisha, the man of God, come out and call on the name of God and wave his hands over Naaman. How could it have been as simple as to go and wash in the river Jordan? He could have bathed in Aram, where the water was better. After paying ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments to the king of Israael, that was it? Didn’t Elisha realize who Naaman was? Didn’t he realize that Naaman was a powerful warrior and the commander of Aram’s army?

I can also relate to the King of Israel who tore his clothes in frustration over the perceived “trick”. He didn’t even think to send Naaman to Elisha for healing, but rather assumed the king of Aram was picking a fight with Israel. Often we fail to see God’s work in the world and in our own lives; we jump to conclusions and fail to give others the benefit of the doubt. This happens when our minds set on earthly things rather than on the things of God.

  • When have you stood in God’s way?
  • What can we learn from the story of Naaman, the King of Israel and the man of God?
Psalm 30

Like the Psalmist, we exalt God for all that God has done for us. God lifts us up and restores our health and life. God’s favor endures a lifetime! But what about the times when we don’t see God’s face; when it seems hidden? We’re filled with fear, as the Psalmist laments. And then, by God’s mercy, our wailing is turned into dancing. In this Psalm, I am reminded of God’s ever-present love and favor. It is only my own inability to see God that makes it seem like God has turned God’s face from me. But my health and my very life are precious gifts from God who is worthy of exaltation and praise. My Lord, my God, I will give you thanks for ever.

  • When have you been unable to see God working in your life?
  • How might we be more present to God’s presence in our lives?
Galatians 6:(1-6)7-16

When Paul says “For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything!” he reminds us that issues of the spirit do not depend on mere rules or external appearances. What God is calling us to in Christ Jesus is to become new creations. What might it look like if we were created anew? God calls us to stop persecuting or even hassling others because of their outward appearance or practices. God calls us to be more focused on our spiritual selves and less focused on our physical selves. God calls us to be more concerned with helping people rather than judging them. Paul calls us to be that new creation through Christ Jesus. He says that he will only ever boast in the cross of Christ. Can we say that, too?

  • What might it look like if we were created anew?
  • How do you concern yourself with helping people rather than judging them?
 Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

In this Gospel lesson, Jesus teaches his disciples how to carry out their ministry. He tells them to go in peace, to greet people, receive their hospitality, to heal, and proclaim the nearness of God’s kingdom. He also tells them how to respond when their peace is not reciprocated. Jesus explains that whoever listens to them listens to him, and whoever rejects them rejects him, and whoever rejects him rejects the One who sent him. Jesus grants his disciples authority over all the power of the enemy. In his name they are able to make spirits submit to them. Jesus also admonishes them to rejoice, not in the submission of the spirits, but rather that their names are written in heaven.

  • What does this lesson have to say about your own ministry?
  • How do you approach the work God has given me to do?
  • How do you respond when you encounter hardship in my ministry?

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Written by Robin Kassabian

Robin is a third year seminarian and a postulant for ordination to the presbyterate in the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles. Her areas of interest include multicultural ministry, peace and justice work and accessibility/inclusion. Robin is married to Paul Kassabian and has three children: Claire, David and Anna.

 

Bible Study, Proper 8 (C) – June 26, 2016

[RCL] 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14; Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20, Galatians 5:1, 13-25; Luke 9:51-62

2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-16

He picked up the mantle of Elijah… (2 Kings 2)

The 2 Kings reading provides us with the basis for the expression “picking up the mantle.” In the 2 Kings reading, Elijah is about to ascend into heaven and Elisha requests that he inherit Elijah’s Spirit. As Elijah ascends into heaven, he drops his mantle, and Elisha literally picks it up. With the mantle, Elisha has the same power as Elijah to part the waters. We see that the spirit of discipleship, leadership, and evangelism has passed to the next generation. During this time of year, there are many graduations. Frequently, in this context, we hear about passing the mantle to a new generation.

  • How can we pass the mantle of faith and discipleship?
  • How can we inherit and embrace the mantle that has been passed to us?
  • How do we carry forward the mantle of Christ, like Elisha carrying forward the mantle of Elijah?
Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20

My hands were stretched out by night and did not tire. (Psalm 77:2)

This psalm celebrates God’s leadership and the psalmist’s persistence. When Elisha inherited Elijah’s mantle, he was taking on the responsibility of that mantle, which would require tireless work and challenges. Similarly, in Luke’s gospel, Jesus challenged his followers to have the courage to move forward and follow him.

  • When it gets challenging, how do we keep stretching ourselves?
  • How do we maintain our persistence in our faith and discipleship?
  • What are those things that reinforce our discipleship so that we can stretch out our hands tirelessly? 
Galatians 5:1, 13-25

For you are called to freedom, brothers and sisters… (Galatians 5:1)

In the Galatians reading, Paul introduces the fruits of the Spirit, and suggests that Christians find true freedom by living faithfully. This results in the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Who would not want those things? But, Paul also poses a challenge because he brings a very dualistic view to faith. He contrasts the “works of the flesh” with the “fruit of the Spirit.” We are challenged to hear what Paul is saying about faith setting us free, without letting the dualism capture us in a more limited view of faith. As Richard Rohr writes about, we are challenged to move away from an “either/or” view of our faith to and “and/also” view.

  • How do we live into our faith and embrace the fruits of the Spirit
  • How and when do we see the fruits of the Spirit in our lives?
  • How do the fruits of the Spirit set us free?
  • What do the fruits of the Spirit tell us about our discipleship?
  • How does Paul’s dualism influence our faith? What are the benefits and the challenges?
Luke 9:51-62

No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God. (Luke 9:62)

The Gospel seems to pull together all the other readings from this week. Jesus is looking to pass his mantle to his followers, but it is not a conventional mantle. He rebukes James and John for looking to command fire to come down upon the Samaritans who do not welcome them. Jesus will not be a fiery, vengeful ruler. Moreover, Jesus challenges his followers to drop everything and follow him. He compels a son to forego his father’s funeral and “Let the dead bury their own dead,” which was a very radical idea in heavily patriarchal 1st century Judaism. Jesus goes on to conclude with an even greater challenge for his followers. “Don’t look back.” Anyone who looks back to their life before Christ is not fit for the Kingdom of God. Upon landing in Veracruz, Hernan Cortes ordered his crew to burn his ships, so they would move forward confidently. Jesus seems to be calling us to do the same. Faithfully move forward; don’t look back.

  • How do we develop the courage to move forward without looking back?
  • How might the fruits of the Spirit give us the confidence to move ahead without looking back?
  • If we embrace the mantle of Christ, can we move forward without looking back?
  • As we proceed through “ordinary time” in the liturgical year, how can we embrace our faith and discipleship?

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Written by Brendan Barnicle

Brendan Barnicle is a Postulate for Holy Orders in the Diocese of Oregon and in his second year in the low residency Masters of Divinity program at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific. He is also a Managing Director for Capital Markets Research at an investment bank, where his research focuses on enterprise software and Software-as-a-Service.

Bible Study, Proper 7 (C) – June 19, 2016

[RCL] 1Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a; Psalm 42 and 43; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 8:26-39

1Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a

Fearing for his life and in the depths of despair, Elijah journeys, not by his own strength, to the mountain of God. Awesome forces of nature go before God, but Elijah knows the Lord well enough to know that these terrifying sounds fall short of declaring God’s glory. Instead, the sound of sheer silence is the most fitting for the presence of God. Elijah makes his case to the Lord, twice, how because of his faithfulness to God, his life is now in danger. And what is God’s response? Is it: “You’re right Elijah, I’ve asked too much of you, you should give up and hide.” No. God says, “Go, return.” Sending is in the very nature of God. Elijah is not sent by his own strength or his own zeal, but by the power of God, to face his fears, to realize his own limited nature and God’s unlimited grace, and to participate in God’s mission.

  • When have you experienced the presence of God in silence?
  • Have you ever felt called, or sent by God?
Psalm 42 and 43

The psalmist is consumed with longing and heaviness. Yet even from the depths of despair, the psalmist remembers who God is, God’s love and faithfulness, God’s marvelous deeds. Then something amazing happens, like nearly every other psalm of lament. Somehow in the remembering of who God is, despite the current terrible situation the psalmist is in, the heart of the psalmist is turned toward God. Trust in the Lord and gratitude is the fruit of this practice of remembering God. The pain does not go away, nor does the trouble, the anguish, the enemies, and yet everything is different. The change comes from within the heart, and in relationship with God.

  • How important is the psalmist’s first step of longing for God?
  • What are ways that you can remember who God is, when you are in a difficult time?
  • Is trusting in the Lord something a person can decide to do? Where does trust in God come from?
Galatians 3:23-29

Humans seem to be particularly adept at making categories, divisions, and delineations. Layers of social conditioning and choices we make, including bias, stereotyping, and racism compound the biological brain functioning that allows us to classify, for example, edible and inedible things. We experience the world, and even relationships, through these filters. Paul explains that Christ turns all of this upside down. The law encouraged holiness through separation, division, and apartness. But Christ encourages a different kind of holiness, holiness through Christ, in whom divisions do not exists. Christ who encourages us to break down these divisions, to see each other as siblings, to accept our mutual inheritance of the promise of God.

  • In what ways is your church community living into this division-less identity in Christ? Where is there room to grow?
  • What practices have helped you to overcome bias, stereotyping, or racism?
Luke 8:26-39

We hear very little from the man who is possessed by demons. The demons define him, who separate him completely from community, and who are the ones who speak to Jesus. After he is healed, it is the swine herders and townspeople who speak. Finally, as Jesus is leaving, we see the man begging to go with Jesus. Yet Jesus has a different vision for him. The man instead is sent out into his community in witness to the wonderful works of God in Christ. This man, an ultimate outsider, voiceless victim, unclean among the unclean, is chosen by Christ to bear his message. It is through no virtue or strength of the man, but through his brokenness that he is called.

  • In what ways has God set you free or worked through your brokenness?
  • Do you ever talk with non-Christians about faith, religion, Christ? Recall a conversation that was meaningful, and share.

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Written by Robin Denney

Robin is a student at Virginia Theological Seminary (M.Div 2017), from the diocese of El Camino Real. She is an agriculturalist, and has served as a missionary for the Episcopal Church in Liberia and South Sudan. Before attending seminary she served as a lay church-planter and youth leader.

Bible Study Proper 6 (C) June 12, 2016

[RCL] Psalm 5:1-8; 1 Kings 21:1-10, (11-14), 15-21a; Galatians 2:15-21; Luke 7:36-8:3  

1 Kings 21:1-10, (11-14)

The story of Naboth’s Vineyard is one of the more memorable stories we find in First and Second Kings. It is a troubling story of the lust for power, jealousy, and deceit. The story is also complex, full of characters, unfamiliar cities, and unexpected plot twists. We have four main characters: Ahab the king of Israel, Jezebel his wife, Naboth a vineyard owner, and Elijah. Ahab travels from his palace in Samaria to the town of Jezreel. He sees Naboth’s fertile vineyard and he wants it for his own. Consider this: This is Naboth’s family inheritance. He has waited for years to “till and keep” this plot of land, and now the King of Israel shows us and says, “I want this for a vegetable garden!” (1 Kgs. 21:2). It is a flagrant misuse of power and misunderstanding of family, place, and inheritance by Ahab.

The complex plot unfolds with Ahab returning home, nursing his wounded pride. He refused to eat and became resentful. Jezebel, King Ahab’s wife, could not tolerate this attitude. She taunts him by asking, “Do you now govern Israel?” (v. 7) Jezebel, in a series of deceitful acts in which she pretends to be Ahab, arranges for Naboth the vineyard owner to be stoned to death since he will not hand over his power. The story ends with the entrance of a fourth major character onto the scene: Elijah the prophet. Elijah hears of Naboth’s death, the greed of Ahab, and the deceit of Jezebel, and he comes to pronounce a judgment from God onto Ahab and Jezebel.

The story is known as one of prophetic social justice where, even though Jezebel and Ahab attempt to do their work in secret, God knows of the oppression done, and will bring eventually bring justice through God’s prophets.

  • There are many characters and many details in this story. It may be fruitful to write down each character and his/her stated or assumed motivation for taking action in this story.
  • It can be easy to judge and think we know the details, how might a closer look reveal more depth?
  • Think of a time in history or in your own life when you witnessed injustice like that done to Naboth. Did you pray to God for justice or were you afraid to do so?
  • What does the prophetic justice tradition of the Scriptures offer our contemporary conversations about justice?
Psalm 5:1-8

Psalm 5 is an individual’s prayer. The first eight verses begin by asking God to hear the words that are about to be spoken. There is trust that God has heard the psalmist’s voice before, in the morning, and so the psalmist watches and listens for God again in the morning. The next three verses explain how God is a God of justice and goodness, a God who will not tolerate evil. The selection of the Psalter ends with a confident recommitment of faith, similar to the familiar verse in Joshua 24:15: “But as for me, through the greatness of mercy I will go into your house; I will bow down toward your holy temple in awe of you”. Our portion of the Psalm ends with a plea for direction and guidance and an assurance that the Psalmist will go wherever they are called.

  • Consider your own individual prayers to God. Are they similar to this Psalm: Beginning with pleas to be heard, moving to assurances of God’s good qualities, and ending with a stronger faith that asks for clear direction from God? If not, how do your prayers differ?
  • The Psalmist talks of praying in the morning. Is there a time of day where you “watch” and “listen” for God more? 
Galatians 2:15-21

Centuries of argument and controversy can be heard reverberating through these verses. The central question of the passage is “How will we be saved? Through what we do or what we believe?” It is the question not only of these verses but also of so many theological arguments, especially around Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. Paul provides the building blocks of this argument when he adamantly states that we are justified to God through our faith in Jesus Christ and not our “works.” It is important to note the problematic aspects of Paul’s argument. His statement in 2:19 that he has died to the law so that he can live to God is radically different from the Jewish perspective on the law (the law here were things like circumcision, dietary mandates, and Sabbath observances). To the Jewish people, those acts of the law actually brought one closer in faith to God. Paul is suggesting the opposite. As Christians interpret this passage we need to be mindful of the importance of this message of grace and faith in Jesus Christ, but also of the possible damage down to our Jewish brothers and sisters through various interpretations.

  • How do you think the argument over faith and works continues to play out today? Is it still relevant?
  • Do you follow religious “laws” or “principles” in your lifestyle? If so, do they inhibit or help your faith?
Luke 7:36-8:3

The Gospel for today is a dramatic, sensual story of relationship with Christ. There are multiple sections to the story: The invitation to dinner, the bathing of Jesus’ feet, the parable, and then a few short verses at the end, marking a transition in Jesus’ ministry and naming the women who went with him. Each of these sections could merit time in study. What is perhaps most striking (and also most famous) is the action of the “sinful” woman when she comes to anoint Christ’s feet. The reader is not told how she learned that Jesus would be eating with the Pharisees, or what her thought process was for entering this occasion where she was surely not welcome. But she is there and does many ordinary acts of hospitality with an unexpected extraordinariness. Scholars have learned that bathing guests’ feet was a typical act of hospitality, but it was certainly not ordinary to anoint them, bathe them with tears, and dry them with hair. One can easily imagine the discomfort of the Pharisees as they watched this unfold. Then Jesus tells a parable of the two creditors to explain the situation to Simon. The parable demonstrates the importance themes of hospitality, forgiveness, and relationship. The selection for today ends with a significant transition statement naming the different women who Jesus did his ministry alongside. It can be easy to gloss over those women’s names, but consider how radical it was to have them named in Biblical times!

  • Jesus highlights the extravagance of the sinful woman’s actions towards him. Have you ever acted so extravagantly and lovingly towards Christ? What would this look like today?
  • In what ways is hospitality a part of your ministry or your community’s ministry?
  • How might this reading change and inform your attitude toward hospitality?

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Written by The Reverend Jessie Gutgsell

The Rev. Jessie Gutgsell is a recent graduate of the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale and soon to be Assistant Rector of St. Clare of Assisi Episcopal Church in Ann Arbor, MI. In her free time, Jessie enjoys playing the harp, biking and being with her husband Joe and their dog Sloan.

Bible Study – Proper 5(C) June 5, 2016

[RCL] 1 Kings 17:17-24; Psalm 30; Galatians 1:11-24; Luke 7:11-17

1 Kings 17:17-24

Fleeing from the wrath of the wicked Ahab and Jezebel, the Prophet Elijah finds himself driven by the Lord to the home of a poor widow and her son. Elijah has already proven to the widow that God can provide food enough for her and her son, even though they only have a tiny amount of meal and oil. By God’s own power, the Lord makes the meager provisions last far longer than they should and proves God’s word spoken by the prophet. When the poor woman’s son later dies, she expresses her grief and frustration by blaming her misfortune on Elijah’s presence. Elijah offers no defense for himself or for God. Instead, he takes the child to the upper room and expresses his own frustration with the God who brought this upon them all. God proves faithful and answers Elijah’s prayer. In doing so, God shows, in ways that seem impossible, that God does indeed care for the “widow and orphan,” and confirms the faith the widow of Zarephath. Therefore, she responds, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”

  • Can we dare to be honest with God about how we feel?
  • Might we be surprised at the way God responds?
  • How will we respond in turn?
Psalm 30

The psalmist expresses joy in and gratitude to the Lord in response to some restoration that the Lord has wrought in the psalmist’s life. The writer proclaims, Lord has “turned my morning into dancing” and “put off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.” Interestingly, the Psalmist seems to say that their sense of desolation was brought about by their own complacency: “While I felt secure, I said, ‘I shall never be disturbed. You, Lord, with your favor, made me as strong as the mountains.’ Then you hid your face, and I was filled with fear.” In calling out to the Lord and appealing to God’s mercy to restore them to spiritual life, the Psalmist is heard, and in relief is able to say, “His wrath endures but the twinkling of an eye, his favor for a lifetime.”

  • Does God “hide his face,” or do we sometimes shut our eyes?
  • What does this psalm say about God’s presence even when God seems most absent?
Galatians 1:11-24

Whenever Paul gives his testimony, it is quite beautiful. But he never tells his story for its own sake; it always serves a purpose. Here, Paul uses the narrative of his spiritual journey to make two points. First, he is at pains to show the Galatians that adopting Jewish ways is not only unnecessary to follow Jesus, but also detrimental. Paul is urging the Galatians not to “regress” (so to speak, since this is a primarily Gentile audience). If Paul, who was as Jewish as they came, put away Jewish identity markers after his conversion, how much more should Gentiles not seek to become artificially Jewish? As Paul will later declare, there is no longer Jew or Gentile, but both are now one in Christ (3:28). The distinction is no longer relevant. The terms and conditions have been updated, and now Gentiles are eligible to receive the promise of Abraham. Second, Paul is defending his apostolicity and the validity of his preaching against the charges of those who are misleading the Galatians. This is not about protecting his reputation; this is about the very nature of the Gospel itself. Ultimately, Paul, like a good pastor, is looking out for the well being of his flock, his spiritual children whom he loves.

  • How did your walk with Jesus begin?
  • What unnecessary burdens are we placing on ourselves in our walk with Jesus? On others?
Luke 7:11-17

It is evident that Luke sees, in this resuscitation by Jesus of a widow’s son, an echo of Elijah’s raising of a widow’s son. Like the widow in 1 Kings, the people in the Gospel, when they see the wonder worked, affirm the legitimacy of Jesus’ office: “A great prophet has risen among us!” Interestingly, Jesus does not pray to God to raise the boy, but instead merely commands the young man, “Rise!” In a way, Elijah himself is almost incidental to his miracle; it is really only the power of God doing the work. But Jesus speaks as if he himself has the power and authority to reverse death. Jesus is not incidental. He is not the instrument. He is no mere prophet. He is himself, to use his later words, “the God the living” (20:38).

  • What else might this miracle say about who Jesus is what his Kingdom is like?
  • Are there any areas of your life that you wish Jesus would revive?

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Written by The Rev. Donald J. Griffin

The Rev. Donald J. Griffin grew up a cradle Episcopalian in the Dallas area; he first discerned a call to the priesthood when he was fourteen. Since then, Donald has sought to answer that call and follow the path he believes God has set for him. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a degree in Religious Studies, minoring in Philosophy and History. It was there that he fell in love with his wife. Having entered the discernment process his senior year of college, Donald was granted postulancy shortly after graduation and entered Nashotah House for his seminary formation. Donald have worked as a counselor at our diocesan camp, a chaplain at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas (while completing CPE), and a seminary intern at Trinity Episcopal Church in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. Donald has become very interested in theology, the practice of pastoral ministry, and how the two intersect, particularly in the liturgy. Donald is looking forward to seeing where the Lord will lead him next.

 

Bible Study, Proper 4 (C) – May 29, 2016

[RCL] 1 Kings 18:20-21, (22-29), 30-39, Psalm 96, Galatians 1:1-12, Luke 7:1-10

1 Kings 18:20-21, (22-29), 30-39

“When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord indeed is God; the Lord indeed is God.” 1 Kings 18:39

Elijah’s challenge to the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel is one of the most vivid and memorable stories in the Hebrew Scriptures. Two weeks after Pentecost, this story reminds us of the associations of fire with God throughout the Bible. Like the tongues of flame that descended on the disciples in Jerusalem, this miracle takes place in front of a gathering of all the people.

After the prophets of Baal are unable to get a response, Elijah calls the people close to him and repairs the altar. He reminds the people who they are by using twelve stones to represent the tribes of Israel. Next, he prepares the bonfire and asks for it to be doused with water three times, an ostentatious act during a major draught. Then Elijah calls on the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. Fire descends from the Lord and burns the offering, the people witness this mighty act, believe, and proclaim: “the Lord indeed is God”!

  • When has God roused you from a spiritual stupor through a wild prophet or colorful character?
  • Have you ever been part of a large gathering where God’s love burned in your collective hearts?
  • In this story, the Israelites are called back to their God, whom we believe is one God. How do you read this story, living today in an interconnected world where our neighbors belong to many faiths and religions?
Psalm 96

This psalm of celebration calls us to “sing a new song” and “tell it out among the nations.” All the peoples rejoice with “all the whole earth,” including the sea, field, trees, and heavens. Verse eight is a familiar Offertory Sentence from the Book of Common Prayer, “Ascribe to the Lord the honor due his Name; bring offerings and come into his courts.” We bless God in thanksgiving for being part of this beautiful, holy, and new creation!

  • How has your life been blessed by God so that you want to “proclaim the good news of his salvation” and declare his wonders?
  • How is coming into God’s courts and worshiping in the beauty of holiness related to the joy of the natural, created world?
  • How do you understand God’s providence that “sets in order all things both in heaven and earth,” in the words of today’s Collect? 
Galatians 1:1-12

Some letters attributed to Paul are contested, but the letter to Galatians is undisputedly written by the real Paul. In the opening of this letter, he is angry that others have come to this community and told them that Christians must still follow the Mosaic laws, calling anyone who perverts the gospel of Christ accursed (or anathema). Paul is ultimately concerned with spreading the Gospel of our “Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age.” The revelation that Paul received and his beautiful and brilliant letter to the Galatians proclaim a radical vision of Christian freedom and a Gospel of grace and peace for all people.

  • Is there a time you have spoken out with righteous indignation for a greater good?
  • Paul the apostle received the Gospel through a revelation of Jesus Christ and we in turn have received it from him. How do you understand the Bible, written by human authors, as the inspired Word of God that still speaks to us today?
Luke 7:1-10

Is he worthy? The first part of this story goes back and forth on this question. The centurion who has heard about Jesus’s ability to heal is a gentile, but the Jewish elders earnestly appeal on his behalf, praising his generosity. The centurion himself sends friends to tell Jesus that he is not worthy to have Jesus enter his home, but requests that Jesus “only speak the word, and let my servant be healed.” Jesus is not concerned with whether he is worthy but praises his faith in God’s power over illness and death. Even without being physically present, the crowd witnesses Jesus’ authority and power to heal.

  • When have you experienced healing through prayer and Jesus’ love?
  • This story is about the slave of a centurion, “whom he valued highly.” Share your thoughts about the differences and similarities between slavery in the ancient world, in America, and the modern-day slavery.

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Written by Bowie Snodgrass
Bowie Snodgrass is completing a Wisdom Year Residency at Calvary-St. George’s in New York City as part of a Master of Sacred Theology from General Theological Seminary. Bowie has been active in young adult ministries, including at St. James’ Episcopal Church and through emerging church projects, and has been involved with the ecumenical movement as Executive Director of Faith House Manhattan and an intern in the Episcopal Office of Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations. A writer and editor, she oversaw a redesign of EpiscopalChurch.org and helped craft the Episcopal Same-Sex Blessing. Bowie is excited to begin a Curacy at Christ Church in Short Hills, NJ, where she will move this summer with her husband, George Mathew, and their son. 

 

Bible Study, Trinity Sunday (C) – May 22, 2016

[RCL] Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15; Psalm 8

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31

In this section of proverbs we hear an account of wisdom. In the opening lines it is made clear that the message of this proverb is one of great import, something that needs to be heard. Wisdom raises her voice to remind us all of her presence with the works of God. Wisdom has been with God from the beginning of creation. Wisdom was present before the existence of the many works of God and wisdom was witness to the creation of all things. Wisdom is intertwined with the delight of God. Wisdom delights in the inhabited world and therefor delights in us.

  • For what purpose do you take a stand, letting wisdom speak through you?
  • How might we delight in wisdom?
  • What makes known to you the delight that wisdom takes in your being?
Psalm 8

In the Psalm this week God is referred to as “Lord our Governor.” This title calls to mind certain characteristics, inviting us to consider God in a particular way. This God, the governor, is one who reigns over creation. This God holds authority. The psalmist reminds us that God, from this place of authority, has given to human kind responsibility over all creation. For this we are to offer exaltations. God has set humans apart from the rest of creation and of this we must be mindful. Being made in the image of God we reflect the nature of God. God governs us, we govern creation.

  • In what ways have you experience God as governor?
  • What is your role in taking care of God’s creation?
  • How do you offer exaltation for the responsibility that God has bestowed upon you?
Romans 5:1-5

This letter to the Romans provides for us an account of human experience. It lends consideration to faith, hope, suffering, endurance, and character. These parts of life are all interconnected and dependent on one another. By these experiences, we are transformed. In our relationship with Jesus and by the grace of God, we can live fully into both our suffering and our glory. When we are open to experience we can be filled with the love of God.

  • How have times of suffering led you to experiencing the love of God?
  • What gives you strength to endure through difficulty?
  • Where do you see the grace of God working in your life?
John 16:12-15

God is not finished with us. Jesus was not able to say all that needed to be said during his time on earth. Our Gospel text this week reminds us that the truth is continually being revealed to us. The spirit is ever alongside us, leading us into the way of truth and calling us to claim that which is of God. Jesus states “you cannot bear them now.” He knows that sometimes we are not ready for the next challenge. Often we need to catch up with ourselves. We can rest assured that God will be along side us through it all and will reveal all things to us in due time.

  • What do you think that Jesus still has to say to you?
  • How has the spirit guided you in truth throughout your life?
  • How might you be open to what the spirit has to declare to you?

Download the Trinity C Bible Study.

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

Bible Study, Day of Pentecost (C) – May 15, 2016

[RCL] Genesis 11:1-9; Acts 2:1-21; John 14:8-17, (25-27); Psalm 104:25-35, 37

Genesis 11:1-9

In the story of Babel we hear that at one time the whole earth shared one language. As the story deepens we learn that God chooses to separate humankind giving them different languages. This story itself seems antithetical to our conception of a God who strives for unity of all people. Some may read this account as a vengeful God keeping people (who maybe thought they could reach heaven, who maybe thought they could outsmart God) in place by complicating their ability to communicate with each other. Thinking about the lesson in this way can be confusing and is probably not all that helpful given that the story if Babel is likely an etiology. The story of the tower of Babel and scattering of people can be read as a creation myth. This narrative explains the creation of human or cultural diversity on earth. It explains to us the origin of our being and helps us to think about why the world is the way it is. Given all of this, we might reframe this story in a way that is helpful for personal reflection. We certainly have had the experience of thinking we can get by on our own. At one time or another we have thought that we do not need to rely on God. Themes found in the story of Babel might teach us something about this part of our human nature.

  • Where have you experienced the feeling of having been scattered?
  • When have you thought you could get by without relying on or acknowledging God?
Psalm 104:25-35, 37

Psalm 104 does a wonderful job of describing the kind of relationship we have with God. We are the creations of a God who has created many works. Not only has God created us, God cares for us. We belong to a God who looks after us. This God is there for us from the beginning and to the very end. Even when we turn to dust, we are created anew. As one of God’s beautiful creations and as our duty in our relationship with God, the psalmist reminds us that we are to offer God praise.

  • How does God continue to care for and look after you?
  • How do you return this favor by offering praise?
Acts 2:1-21

As we’ve heard over the past several weeks the disciples are once again keeping each other company in the days after Jesus’ death. The Holy Spirit descends upon the disciples and suddenly they are speaking in many tongues. Because of this transformation the disciples are able to spread the Good News of Jesus to people of many different cultural identities. Regardless of our mother tongue, in hearing and being transformed by the message Jesus gave to us we are all one in Christ. On Pentecost we celebrate the unity of the church. We celebrate that we can hear God in our own mother tongue and know God in relation to our own identities. We celebrate that god is with us in our visions and alongside us in our dreams.

  • What sort of unity are you celebrating this Pentecost?
  • When have you felt the spirit move you towards transformation?
  • What are your visions? Dreams?
John 14:8-17 (25-27)

This passage is filled with back and forth about the relationship between Jesus and God. The conversation revolves around the idea that if we have known Jesus we have thereby known God. That if something has to do with God it also has to do with Jesus and vice versa. As is in character, the disciples question Jesus here and seek to find proof of this assurance. In response to doubt Jesus gives them a profound gift, if the disciples ask for anything Jesus will make it so. Though as he does so, he assures them that they will go on to do greater things. That they can do just as much to make the things they ask for come to fruition as Jesus can. This is all true because God abides in them. As long as we keep the commandments we can rest in the assurance that God will be in us too.

  • When in your life have you known Jesus?
  • When in your life have you known God?
  • What is it that you are asking for?

Download the Day of Pentecost C Bible Study.

Written by Samantha Haycock

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

 

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

 

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

Acts 16:16-34

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Download the Easter 7C Bible Study.

Written by Ian Lasch

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

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

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

Acts 16: 9-15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Download the Easter 6C Bible Study.

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