Bible Study, Epiphany 1(A) – January 8, 2017

[RCL] Isaiah 42:1-9; Psalm 29; Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 3:13-17

 Isaiah 42:1-9

In this passage we read one of the four servant songs of Isaiah. Israel is portrayed as the servant, whom God loves, and through whom God will bless all the nations. God is described as the powerful creator of the heaven and the earth, who is worthy of glory and praise. Yet this God is close enough to take the people by the hand and to hold them. How beautiful are the words from the opening line, “my chosen, in whom my soul delights.” These are words of belonging that many long to hear, whether from parents, spouses/partners, children, or friends. My soul delights in you says God, and nothing will get in the way of that love. In addition to covenantal language this passage is also a commissioning for the work set out for Israel. We are told that Israel will not cry out in the streets, grow faint, or be crushed as they do the work of bringing justice to all the world. Bring sight to the blind God says, bring prisoners out from the dungeons. Through your work I will make you a light to the nations. God does not take justice lightly, but as we hear in this passage, it is in fact work God has called us to. It might resonate with our post-communion prayer, “send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord…”

  • What images or feelings come to mind when you think about God’s soul delighting in you?
  • Can you think of a time that God blessed you through others or when others were blessed through you? Where was God in those moments?
  • When you think of brining justice to the world what work comes to mind?
  • What part of justice making might God be calling you to you?

Psalm 29

Psalm 29 contains vivid imagery of what God’s voice looks and sounds like: thunder, mighty waters, flames, writhing oak trees. These images speak of a God who cannot be contained nor controlled. This is a voice of power and might, and we are told to “Ascribe to the lord the honor due his name.” Yet in the last verse we hear a switch from a description of God’s being to God’s plans. What does God intend to do with all God’s strength? To give it to the people, that they may be strengthened and find peace. This psalm may bring to mind the story of Elijah, when God came to him not in the wind or fire, but as a still small voice. It may even bring to mind the story of the Good Shepherd when we hear of God calling each sheep by name. God’s voice is indeed one of unimaginable power, but through God’s love it is a voice that we can hear and respond to as well.

  • What does God’s voice sounds like to you?
  • Where do you you hear God’s voice?

Acts 10:34-43

This passage is a snippet from Peter’s visit to Cornelius and his household in Caesarea. We hear Peter give an account of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. Most importantly Peter speaks of God’s lack of partiality and that the good news of Christ is available to all who believe. It can be difficult at times to accept that it is God who calls disciples, and not we ourselves. It is important to remember that we must work alongside all the members of the body of Christ, even those we disagree with in order to do God’s work. Peter also speaks of those who ate and drank with Jesus after his resurrection and then of the apostles commissioning to preach. Even through death Jesus was still with his disciples, just as he is still with us as we gather to pray and eat together.

  • Where have you encountered the risen Christ?
  • Where might God be calling you to share your story of encountering Jesus?
  • Are there moments you wish God showed partiality? How can you come closer to those within your faith that you disagree with?

Matthew 3:13-17

This passage follows John’s preaching of Isaiah, “prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” When Jesus gets to the river Jordan John, recognizing who Jesus is, states that it should be Jesus who baptizes him, not the other way around. This is just the beginning of Jesus’ work and ministry and already he is turning everything upside down and inside out. We will be doing things differently Jesus seems to say. It is through this new way of thinking that the Holy Spirit comes down like a dove and we hear the words of heaven, “This is my son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Jesus’ baptism marks his time to begin his work in the world around him, just as our own baptism call us into the life, death, and resurrection of our own lives. It is time to remember Jesus’ baptism, and our own. You have been sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism, you are a beloved one of God. Just as Jesus turned the world upside down, how might you through your baptism join in the work of God?

  • Where were you baptized? Who was there? Do you remember it?
  • Read through the baptismal covenant in the Book of Common Prayer. What parts stand out to you and why?
  • Have you felt the Holy Spirit as closely as the dove was seen at Jesus’ baptism? What does God’s voice sound like when God calls you beloved?

Written by Reagan Gonzalez. Gonzalez is a second year MDiv student at Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, TX and a Candidate for Holy Orders in the Diocese of Montana. She enjoys running, reading, writing poetry, and Godly Play. She and her husband and enjoy hiking and other outdoor adventures with their Welsh Corgi, Maggie. 

Download the Bible Study for Epiphany 1(A).

Bible Study, Feast of the Holy Name (A) – January 1, 2017

[RCL] Number 6:22-27; Psalm 8; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:15-21

Numbers 6:22-27

There is something holy about the giving and receiving of names. The acts of naming and being named are sacred practices in the Judeo-Christian faith. When we are born, our parents or our guardians give us our first names and share with us their last name. We give affectionate nicknames to those we love and share our lives with. When we are joined together with another in marriage, a common practice is the sharing or joining together of last names between partners. Our names give us identity and reveal us as persons who are known and joined together with our families and community.

How remarkable then is this instance of the Lord sharing a name with the people of Israel? In this act, Israel is given an identity—one of being joined together with the Lord who is capable of blessing them, keeping them and granting them peace, even in the midst of their incompleteness and in their becoming.

Today, this same blessing is available to us. We too can share in this name with the one who desires to bless us, keep us and ultimately, grant us peace.

  • What names have you been given by those who love you?
  • What names have you given to others who you love?
  • How has being given a name by another changed or added to your relationship with them?
  • Are there any special names you associate with God?

Psalm 8

Names give distinction to our identity. In Psalm 8, we find the Lord described as “our Governor” and the one whose name is exalted “in all the world!” Further the Lord is described as one who is able to overcome our strongest of adversaries and who’s fingers shaped the moon and stars, setting them on their course. In comparison, the author of Psalm 8 names humanity as “man” and describes us as “a little lower than the angels” and wonders, “What is man that [God] should be mindful of [us]?”

Our identity is distinct from the identity of the Lord. The Lord’s name is representative of unbounded divine power that is capable of shaping the universe around us, and our name points toward our limitedness and our ultimate need for the Lord.

Yet in this passage, we are also reminded that the Lord, who is our governor, has trusted us, in our limitedness, with the works of the divine’s hand. How humbling and how wondrous it is to share in relationship with the Lord who holds all power, yet trusts us with the responsibility of overseeing and protecting the creation.

  • It has been said that difference makes relationship possible. What difference/distinction do you see between you and God?
  • What has the Lord trusted you with overseeing and protecting?
  • How would you describe the identity you have been given by God and in what ways is it unique?

Galatians 4:4-7

Titles, a kind of name, give nuance to our identities and reveal how we are related to one another. This passage from Galatians illuminates a change in title that drastically changes our relationship to God. The author states that we were once “slaves” but now have been “adopted” and are called God’s children and heirs.
The language of slave maybe it difficult for many of us to relate to, but perhaps we can use the word employee to gain insight to how this change has impacted us? Neither slaves nor employees of a manager are loved by their manager in the way that a parent loves their child. Further, it would be unusual for a slave or employee to be the beneficiary or heir of the wealth of a manager. A child of a parent, however, is loved and also heir to all the good things of their parent.

In this light, when we consider this change in title—from slave to child and heir—we can rejoice in this good news of who we have become in relationship to our divine parent.

  • What titles do you currently hold and what do they tell others about who you are?
  • Have you ever had a change in title that drastically effected the way that you were able to relate to others?
  • When you consider that God has called you child and heir to kingdom of God, does it change the way you think about how you relate to God on a daily basis?

Luke 2:15-21

In our gospel passage, we learn that Jesus was given his name even before being conceived in his mother’s womb. Likewise, the shepherds who had come to see him told Mary that even before Jesus had been born that they have been visited by angels who told them that he would be the messiah.

This story begs the question, when is it that we truly become who we have been created to be?

Frederick Buechner describes our divine calling as “the place where [our] deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Surely Jesus found this to be true of his calling in the world and perhaps as we mediate on this idea, we too might discover some new calling or possibly even revitalize one that we have known but have allowed to lay dormant for too long.

  • What do you believe your calling is in the world?
  • What deep needs of the world are clearly visible to you?
  • What talent or skills do you posses that bring you great joy and gladness?
  • Where do your answers to the first two questions intersect and how does it inform what you believe your calling to be?

Joshua Woods is currently a MDiv student in his middler year at the Seminary of the Southwest. He is a Chaplain Candidate for the United States Air Force Reserve, preparing for active duty chaplaincy after his ordination. He lives in Austin, TX with his wife Laura and their two dogs, Roxie and Ezra.  

Download the Bible Study for Feast of the Holy Name (A).

Bible Study, Advent 4(A) – December 18, 2016

[RCL] Isaiah 7:10-16; Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1:18-25

Isaiah 7:10–16

During this season of Advent, it is easy to read the prophet Isaiah and immediately jump to the birth of Jesus. Isaiah is directly quoted in Matthew’s gospel, which we also read today: Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. While it is not wrong for us to understand who Jesus is in light of this text, we must also recognize that the prophet Isaiah was not predicting a future when Mary would give birth to God incarnate. Isaiah’s project is one that is much more immediate and much more involved.

If you read the fullness of Isaiah’s text beginning at 7:1, you see that the prophet is arguing with King Ahaz who has allied himself with the Assyrian empire. At this time in history, the Jewish people were split between the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. As the Assyrian empire expanded, Isaiah was sent by the northern kingdom to call Judah into alliance with Israel against a common enemy. When King Ahaz refuses, Isaiah says that a child—an innocent—will come with a name that means “God with us,” but that child will see the destruction and ruin of Judah.

Isaiah’s prophecy is about how even in the face of atrocities, God is with us. Jesus, who came in love to reconcile humanity to God and one another, is one way we see that prophecy come about, but it was certainly not what Isaiah or Ahaz expected.

  • What ideas or issues split us as people of God today?
  • How does our story as told in scripture lead us to reconcile those differences?
  • Is there an Advent practice that could help foster reconciliation and love in our church/community/world?

Psalm 80:1–7, 16–18

Restore us, O God of hosts; *
show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

This refrain is repeated in Psalm 80 in verses 2, 7, and 18. It is the cry the psalmist makes on behalf of the people of Israel that shapes the arc of the psalm. The people in darkness and despair cry out for God to bring light into the world. Although our Prayer Book translation of the psalm is beautiful, it does not always capture the subtleties of the Hebrew. In Hebrew, each repetition of this prayer builds upon the last.

v.3 – Restore us O God (elohim)
v.7 – Restore us O God of Hosts (elohim tseva’oth)
v.18 – Restore us O Yahweh, God of Hosts (yahweh elohim tseva’oth)

Try not to get too bogged down in the Hebrew, but do notice that with each cry for help, the psalmist grows in knowledge of God and who God is. The cry moves from the generic word for god to a specific god, God of Hosts, to an actual naming of God, Yahweh, God of Hosts.

Also telling in this prayer is that the psalmist asks for the light of God’s countenance – light from the face of God. We know from Exodus 33:20 that no one can see God’s face and live. That is the gift of Jesus – a God whom we can name, know, and look in the face comes into the world to spread light and life.

  • Where in this world do you see the face of God?
  • What words or modifiers would you use to describe God as you have known God?
  • What prayer would you write for your church/community/self to pray every day this final week of Advent?

Romans 1:1–7

If we break up into parts this opening greeting from Paul’s letter to the Romans, Paul basically does three things: he identifies himself as a servant of Jesus, he identifies who Jesus is, and he offers greetings and blessings to Jesus’ people in Rome. It is a passage full of statements of identity—who Paul is, who Jesus is, and who we, the church, are.

Paul first talks about himself in relationship to Jesus. He is a servant of Jesus, he is called by Jesus to be an apostle, and he is set apart for the gospel, or good news, of Jesus. Paul’s identity is completely wrapped up in his relationship to Jesus. In verse 6, that identity is shared with the people in Rome who are also “called to belong to Jesus Christ.”

Sandwiched between these two statements of identity is a rich statement of who Jesus is. Jesus is described as “descended from David,” “flesh,” “Son of God,” “resurrected,” and “Lord.” Even Jesus’ interactions with us are laid out: Jesus gives us grace, establishes our faith, and brings in the Gentiles.

Paul, Jesus, the church in Rome, and even we who are followers of Jesus today are all enmeshed together in God’s creation. Paul is establishing in this salutation that all of us are connected to one another and to God in the person of Jesus.

  • What is your relationship to Jesus? How do you express that?
  • How do you talk to others about the good news of Jesus? Or do you?
  • How can we as a church and as individuals better live into our identity as followers of Jesus?

Matthew 1:18–25

In this passage from Matthew’s gospel, names and relationships are very important. Just prior to this passage, Matthew gives a detailed genealogy that links Jesus to David, the great king of Israel, by naming all of Joseph’s ancestors. Jesus’ mother Mary and father Joseph are named, and the love Joseph has for Mary is revealed when he is unwilling to publically disgrace her for being pregnant. When the angel of the Lord appears to Joseph, the angel calls Joseph by name and notes his lineage from David and his relationship with Mary. Furthermore, the angel tells Joseph to name the child Jesus which means “God saves.” Even in Matthew’s commentary after the story, he recalls the prophecy from Isaiah who speaks of a child who will be named Emmanuel which means “God with us.”

Names mean something here. When we love someone or know someone well, we call them by their name, and our relationship is strengthened. Names also sometimes carry their own meaning. According to Jewish practice, Yahweh, God’s name, is not spoken in order to give it a sense of holiness. When God became one of us, however, he receives a rather common name, Jesus, which is a shortened version of the Hebrew name Joshua. The fact that Jesus has such a normal name and yet it means something tremendous – “God saves” – tells us something about God and how God interacts with us in this world.

Note all the contradictions in this story. Joseph is a simple man, yet descended from King David. Mary is in a situation that could ruin her socially, yet Joseph loves her and she bears the son of God. Jesus is given a simple, common name, yet it lays out God’s plan of salvation for the world. Matthew points out the greatness of this name and this plan through recalling the prophecy of Isaiah where a child will be called Emmanuel – God with us. It is a reminder to look for God’s presence in one another because God is with us in the common and everyday.

  • What names or titles would you give God?
  • Have you ever found God in unexpected or common places?
  • What does your name tell about your story?

Reflections by Charles Lane Cowen, Postulant for Holy Orders in the Diocese of Rhode Island, M.Div. Candidate, Seminary of the Southwest.

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Bible Study Advent 3(A) – December 11, 2016

[RCL] Isaiah 35:1-10; Psalm 146:4-9; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11

Isaiah 35:1-10

Chapter 35 is Isaiah’s prophecy about the day of God’s glory wherein there will be rejoicing, gladness, blossoming, and shouts of joy. The people will experience a sense of renewal, as he assures them that their salvation includes being saved from their enemies and restoration. There is no place for fear in God’s kingdom. Restoration occurs for those who are in need: the blind, the deaf, the lame and the mute. The people who rejected God’s way and suffered the consequences, judgement, and alienation will again be the objects of his unmerited favour. And God provides a highway for them which has two qualities: holiness and joy. The people who walk in this way are described as the redeemed and being in right relationship with God. It is the place where God brings full deliverance to the people. Hence, those who walk upon this highway will be full of joy as they march towards God’s kingdom as symbolized by Zion.

  • What were the encouragement given to the sinners and needy? How can this be an encouragement to us today?
  • Do you consider yourself walking in this highway? Why or why not?

Psalm 146:4-9

We don’t know who wrote this particular psalm and we don’t know when it was written. With confidence, the psalmist proclaims that God Almighty is the one who keeps promises forever and who will always respond to the needy by giving justice to the oppressed, food to the hungry, freedom to the prisoners, eyesight to the blind, lifting up the humble, caring for the stranger, sustaining the orphan and widow, and loving the righteous. The psalmist may have experienced or witnessed all of these occurrences and therefore concludes by exclaiming that God will reign forever – from beginning to end. 

  • The psalmist expressed faith and great joy in praising God through writing this psalm, how do you express yours?
  • Do you agree with the testimony of the psalmist? Why?

James 5:7-10

James of Jerusalem was encouraging his oppressed members in this passage to have patience in their sufferings. These were the poor Christians oppressed by the rich. James was encouraging them to patiently wait for the coming of the Lord.  He gave two examples how they can do this: First was the story of the farmer who patiently waits for his harvest even though it takes time before having it, and second were the prophets like Job who have given them examples of patience and endurance in suffering. Despite the disasters he faced, and the relentless attack of his friends, Job kept his faith and did not abandon his trust in God. As a result, the Lord finally brought about the restoration of Job’s fortune. Therefore, James message to them is to strengthen their hearts, keep the faith, patiently waits for the coming of the Lord and not putting justice in their own hands and not grumbling to their fellow Christians for them not to be judged also.

  • The word for suffering probably refers to a broad category which includes all different kinds of suffering. In our society today, what do people currently suffer from? How about you as an individual? What is your own suffering?
  • Reflecting from this passage, how do you deal with your own suffering?

Matthew 11:2-11

In today’s Gospel, Matthew highlights Jesus’ identity as an unexpected Messiah and Jesus as the fulfiller of Isaiah’s vision of restoration and Jesus as God’s wisdom. He was frequently rejected by the Jews, especially the Jewish leaders, because they have their own qualifications of a Messiah that Jesus failed to pass. Even John the Baptist who prepared his coming and who baptized him has his own expectation of him as a Messiah. John was in prison and sent his disciples to Jesus asking him “Are you the one who is to come or are we to wait for another?” He asked this not to question his Messianic identity but to further explain to him what’s going on because he expected the Messiah to come with fire, brimstone, with winnowing fork in hand to exercise judgement as what Isaiah prophesied.  Jesus answered it by sending also John’s disciple to inform him about his works as a healer, preacher and teacher. Jesus’ answer indicates that his messianic identity is characterized by signs that include healing the sick and preaching good news. He was not the kind of Messiah who came to judge them but to have compassion and mercy for them.

  • What are your expectations of Jesus? Were your expectations fulfilled?
  • Do you agree that Jesus is our Messiah/saviour?
  • Who is Jesus Christ to you? State in your own words and in accordance of your own experience. 

Written by Naliza S. Balaki, a third year seminarian of St. Andrew’s Theogical Seminary in Quezon, City, Philippines. Balaki is a graduate of Bachelor of Secondary Education majoring in math. She is Indigenous, from Mountain Province. 

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Bible Study, Advent 2(A) – December 4, 2016

[RCL] Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19; Romans 15:4-13; Matthew 3:1-12

Isaiah 11:1-10

In the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, Chapter 11, Verses 1-10, Isaiah shares his prophetic vision, most likely revealed to him in a dream, of the coming of the long awaited messiah, who we as Christians now know to be Jesus, and life in the messianic age when the wait was finally over. We are told of his nature with the Spirit of God resting upon him, that he would be wise, just, righteous, and faithful. In this age there would be peace, an absence of evil, and all would know about God. We are even offered a utopian vision of an upside down inside out world where even different animals are at peace in each other’s company, a world of dreams in this age of the messiah.

We could easily be critical of what the followers of Jesus have offered to the world in this age of religious conflict and ideological divisions within churches, making it hard to imagine the utopia that the prophet Isaiah offers us in his imagined age of the messiah. In our own reality it may be easy to overlook the many unimaginable acts inspired by Jesus happening all around us, but they are there if only we are willing to see them.

  • Are you convinced that this vision of the coming messiah offered by the prophet Isaiah is Jesus? What would you say to somebody who is doubting that Jesus is really the expected messiah?
  • Can you imagine a world without Jesus? How different would the world be now without his coming and is there any evidence of this imagined utopia in reality?

Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19

In Psalm 72 the psalmist tells us of King Solomon’s desire to be a good and respected leader, and so he asks God to grant him justice and righteousness, the qualities of God that the king most admires and which he hopes to imitate. The king succeeds in his desire and is loved by his people, however instead of being proud of himself for this achievement he acknowledges God as the source of his greatness and that God is much greater than he.

  • What are the qualities you most admire about God? Have you ever asked God to help you be a great leader by imitating those qualities? What was the outcome?
  • Do you know any great leaders that have acknowledged the role of God in their lives? What qualities do they demonstrate in their leadership?
  • In what ways has God helped you in your achievements? In what practical ways do you or can you acknowledge him?

Romans 15:4-13

In the Letter of Paul to the Romans, Chapter 15, Verses 4-13, the great missionary Paul writes to the Christians in Rome in his longest letter yet and perhaps the most influential of them all. In this part of his letter he is encouraging the Christians there to maintain hope in God and not to give up. He’s also reminding them of the importance of living in harmony with other Christians and to be welcoming of each other just as Christ first to welcomed them, and in so doing reflect positively on the God they all represent, especially to outsiders. Just as in the vision of the prophet Isaiah, all people should praise God and have hope in him, but this can only be possible by how outsiders see Christians behaving especially towards one another.

  • As a Christian community and as individual Christians do we actively strive to live in harmony with other Christians and welcoming of them, even if we sometimes disagree with each other or struggle to relate to each other? Do our actions bring harmony or disharmony to the Church?
  • In this age of divisions within the Church, in what practical ways can we attempt to bring harmony to the Church as Paul suggests we must do in order to allow outsiders to have hope in our God and praise him?

Matthew 3:1-12

In the Gospel According to Matthew, Chapter 3, Verses 1-12, we are presented with a somewhat eccentric image of a fearless man living rough in both his appearance and in his daily sustenance for what he knew was his life’s mission, considered to be the fulfilment of a great prophesy from the visions of the prophet Isaiah. This fearless man was of course John the Baptist, and the prophesy, preparing for the coming of God in to the world, the hope and prayer of generations of his stubbornly rebellious and long suffering people, the Israelites. The primary act of preparation for John we are told was the humbling act of the confessing of sins, those thoughts and actions below the expectations God has set for us and with the best intention of no longer doing those things, followed by the cleansing waters of baptism.

Perhaps surprisingly, we are told that John was not impressed when even Pharisees and Sadducees turned up in the crowd seeking baptism, even comparing them to venomous snakes and implying that no good could come of it.

If we read further to the Gospel of John in Chapter 15, Verses 1-11, we find references again to bearing fruit in the parable of the vine and the branches and a more detailed indication of what this could mean. Further in to this chapter we are told by Jesus in very clear and simple terms that the fruit he expects of us is to follow his teachings, just as he himself has done for his Father.

This is not just any love, but a sacrificial love. A love that may be difficult, a love that may seem impossible, a love that we may not even be able to comprehend. It is not the love often shown to us in this world, but the love shown to us by Jesus and ultimately our heavenly Father who sent him to us. As Christians already baptised or those eagerly awaiting to be baptised, this is our final test if we are truly to consider ourselves as followers of Jesus, as branches of the true vine producing the fruit expected of the one who planted it and continues to nurture it with great hope.

  • If we as a community of Christians turned up for baptism by John, do you think he would welcome as warmly or also consider us venomous snakes like the Pharisees and Sadducees for not bearing the intended fruit of our baptisms?
  • Can we with confidence consider ourselves true followers of Jesus in showing sacrificial love to those around us? In what ways are we doing this or could be doing this?

———————–

References:

  • New Revised Standard Version Bible (2007). San Francisco, CA: HarperOne
  • Burge, Gary M., Hill, Andrew E., eds (2012). The Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books

Written by Daniel Woods. Woods, a New Zealander, is a second year seminarian from the Episcopal Diocese of Davao in the southern Philippines and Master of Divinity candidate at St Andrew’s Theological Seminary in Quezon City, Metro Manila. He has spent his entire adult life involved in various lay ministries in Anglican parishes from choir member to verger to vestry member and everything in between, and in several Anglican provinces: New Zealand, Japan, Korea, and now the Philippines. Daniel has a particular interest in Church History and a love for church music. During his two years as a seminarian he has most appreciated semester-long field education opportunities in a variety of church institutions including St Luke’s Medical Center, Episcopal Care Foundation (Relief & Development), and now Jigsaw Kids Ministry Philippines. Daniel has spent most of his working life in the education sector, including 7 years teaching English in Korean and Japanese public schools. He is a graduate of Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand with a Bachelor of Commerce & Administration in International Business, a Bachelor of Arts with First Class Honours in International Relations, and a Graduate Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages.

Download the Bible Study for Advent 2(A).

Bible Study, Advent 1(A) – November 27, 2016

[RCL] Isaiah 2:1-5; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44; Psalm 122

Isaiah 2:1-5

The great vision of Isaiah paints a vivid imagery of what Jerusalem would be: a place of refuge where nations flock and learn the truth. Undoubtedly, the passage is an articulation of Isaiah’s hope for peace in the midst of tumultuous times. One day, people would know the sovereignty of God and as a response they would go to Zion the sanctuary of the faith where the absolute trust in God will heal all relationships marred by mutual distrust and fear. According to Isaiah, God will be at the center of the movement towards lasting peace. The instruments of destruction will be the very means of construction, and there the unconquerable conviction of people towards a world free of war and suffering will finally find its fruition.

It is admittedly an idealistic vision, and some who take pride in their realism will surely question it. Yet one of the indisputable responsibilities of Christians is to work for peace. Christians should be part of the solution in resolving conflicts, and the first ones to pursue peace in strained personal or corporate situations. By doing so, we take part in the good work of building the kingdom of God in our present circumstances.

  • Is it possible to have peace among nations and individuals without God?
  • What current issues in the world today challenge the fragile peace among peoples?
  • How have you been an agent for peace in your own community?

Psalm 122

The psalmist begins with the words, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘let us go to the house of the Lord.’” The happy tone of the psalm is understandable for the Israelites embark on an annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The moment that their “feet are standing within the gates” of the holy land, they feel exuberant and joyful. Such is the love they have for the city that they pronounce peace, unity, solace, and prosperity within its blessed walls.

In our context, the church symbolizes the new Jerusalem; a city acting as light in darkness, inviting all to feel the presence of God in the midst where truth is found and all are assembled for the sole purpose of praising God.

  • When hearing an invitation to go to church, do you feel the same anticipation expressed in the psalm?
  • Do you always pray the same things as the psalmist did for the church?
  • How have you been empowered by your involvement in the church?

Romans 13:11-14

St. Augustine was walking in a garden oblivious of the beauty around him for his heart was in turmoil. He felt miserable for he consistently fails to live the good and moral life he desperately longs for. Then a still child-like voice ushered him to “Take and read.” He grabbed a copy of one of Paul’s writings and his eyes rested upon the words: “Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” He did not need to read further. A calm assurance unlike anything he ever felt before unraveled his heart and caused him to believe.

The conversion story of St. Augustine is a good starting point to understand how even a difficult passage which sets a standard of morality can settle in a person. Though there are some people who insist on the verbal acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior as the basis and finality of conversion, several passages in the bible like this one beg to disagree.

Discipleship is a process of becoming. It is an act of conforming ourselves to be Christ-like through the Holy Spirit. The willful response to the call to be holy is the natural consequence of faith, an expression of love, and the evidence of it. A personal transformation should be seen. So to carry the cross in our daily lives means striving to “lay aside” every deed that is contrary to the character of Christ, and to put on the “armor of light”, that is to put our utmost effort to protect ourselves from being drawn into the false cloak of darkness, thriving in excessive indulgence and all forms of depravity.

  • Just as Augustine was inspired to follow Christ after reading this passage in Paul’s letter to the Romans, have you had a similar experience when reading the Scriptures?
  • Since being a Christian bids you to gradually become Christ-like everyday, what personal challenges or inner conflicts have you encountered in the process?

Matthew 24:37-44

The act of vigilant waiting for the unexpected manner of Christ’s coming has been re-echoed throughout the New Testament writings. However, this particular passage in Matthew’s gospel is unique in its comparison of the Day of the Lord as similar to the narrative of Noah and the flood.

One can imagine that Jesus’ return would bring shock and desperation among the people like the inhabitants of the earth during the time of Noah, since he built the ark in clear and cloudless days enduring the mockery of his neighbors. Thus, the emphasis of the dominant theme in this particular passage: being vigilant in the faith; to hold fast to the end without wavering.

  • Christians live in the present without losing our sense of eternity, how do you stay vigilant in the faith?
  • Is vigilance more difficult in our society, which is focused more on individualism and consumerism?

Written by Sunshine Dulnuan. Dulnuan is a second year seminarian at St. Andrew’s Theological Seminary in Quezon City, Philippines. She believes that studying theology is a great privilege, especially spending time with the intricate nuances and seeming contradictions in the comprehensive study of God. She plans to further her studies in Systematic Theology after graduating Seminary. She was named Sunshine because of her father’s favorite singer, John Denver.

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Bible Study, Christ the King – November 20, 2016

[RCL] Jeremiah 23:1-6; Canticle 16; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43

Jeremiah 23:1-6

In this passage, Jeremiah was writing during a time of conflict and fear. Nations were at war and invading each other, and Judah as a nation was right in the middle of it all. Jeremiah’s message, however, was directed not at other nations but at the monarchy of Judah, the southern kingdom of what once was a united Israel. The kings of Judah, according to Jeremiah, were harming the people with their policies and with their lack of reverence for God.

Jeremiah and God tell the kings that this harmful behavior will not be allowed to go on forever and that God will intervene to set things right. The people scattered by war will be brought home. The people confused will find guidance. Jeremiah writes that God “will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing” (23:4). In other words, God will raise up leaders who are real leaders, God will raise up shepherds who are true shepherds, and God will raise up kings who are good kings.

Jeremiah turned his attention not on the nations threatening Judah but rather on the monarchy of Judah. In the midst of conflict, what makes it hard for us to look at ourselves and see our own role and mistakes in the conflict?

  • What are the qualities of a good leader? A good member of Congress? A good governor? A good priest? A good bishop?
  • Most importantly, what are the qualities of a disciple of Christ?

Canticle 16 (Luke 1:68-79), Song of Zechariah

The Song of Zechariah has traditionally been said or sung at Morning Prayer for hundreds of years. It has a very hopeful feeling at the beginning that sets a wonderful tone for the day ahead.

God has come to the people and set them free! God has promised to show mercy to us and set us free from the hands of enemies, and finally the mighty savior has been raised up for us. We are free to worship God without fear, and we are free to be holy and righteous all the days of our life. Sweet freedom!

The second part of this canticle suddenly shifts to “you.” Who is being addressed? The canticle is addressing John the Baptist, who has just been born.

John the Baptist’s father is praising God and telling his infant son of the joys and dangers of the road ahead. John will go before the Lord and give people the knowledge of salvation and the forgiveness of their sins. John will be a prophet. Being called a prophet is a bittersweet thing, however. The life of a prophet is hard, for it means speaking the truth as a humble servant of God and often being rejected. John the Baptist leads people to repentance, but he lives in the wilderness and is imprisoned and executed by Herod.

  • When we sing or say this canticle together, we remind ourselves that God has raised up salvation for us in Christ, but we are also remind ourselves that this is not an easy road. God saves us and sets us free, but we must walk in God’s way.
  • How can you live like John the Baptist and live his message today?
  • How do you experience the freedom given by God, a freedom that frees you to worship God and to be holy and righteous?

Colossians 1:11-20

In this letter there is an explanation of what Christ has done for us, and it explains how we should act in the world to live out Christ’s salvation. This passage contains a hymn to Christ starting at verse 15, “He is the image of the invisible God,” and going until verse 20, “by making peace through the blood of his cross” (The People’s New Testament Commentary, p. 627).

Can you imagine singing it? Try setting the text to a tune you know: a traditional hymn, chanting, or a contemporary song. The text seems less like a “lecture” on who Christ is, as if it were just listing a bunch of facts about Christ that we need to memorize.

Now the text rejoices: Christ is the image of the invisible God! All things were created through him and for him, and through Christ all things in heaven and on earth may be reconciled to God through the peacemaking of the cross!

That is definitely a hymn of praise. It conveys a strong message, and it helps us to be more joyful in how we give thanks. All these facts about Christ lead us to be joyful and to be strengthened for the journey.

  • What are some of your favorite hymns? How do you feel when singing them? Do you sing them when you are stressed, angry, sad, hurt? Try writing out the text of a hymn to see what it teaches you and what gospel truth it proclaims.
  • Try writing a hymn like this one. What do you love most about Christ? How do you know Christ in your own experience? What images or stories from Scripture come to mind when contemplating Christ?

Luke 23:33-43

On this last Sunday after Pentecost we are reading the story of Christ’s crucifixion, and we are calling today “Christ the King Sunday.” What are we saying about Christ as a king by reading about the crucifixion today? What is being said about kingship?

First, there is the sign that was nailed to the cross: “This is the King of the Jews.” Rome did not do this as a confession of faith. They were showing through a brutal act what happens to the leaders of nations who stand in their way, and they were showing what would happen to anyone who stood up against them. Ironically, Rome is only partly right. This is the King of the Jews, but this is also the King of the Gentiles (and thus King of the Romans, and the Greeks, and the Persians – and everyone else).

Second, this is a king whose characteristics are not agreed upon. One of the criminals mocks him, and the other defends him. Some mock him as a Messiah while others confess him as the Messiah. Compare the image of Christ in the Book of Revelation, as the conquering hero coming in glory, to the image of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, as the suffering Messiah. These different images of Jesus show that his kingship is not like earthly kingship in its pomp and extravagance but is still kingship in its power.

Third, what does Jesus say from the cross? “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,” and “Truly, I tell you, you will be with me in Paradise.” This is a king who does not seek vengeance but reconciliation. (See Colossians 1:11-20, the epistle reading for today.) This king does not tell Rome, “What you’ve done to me, I will do to you,” but rather asks that they be forgiven. Instead of condemning the thief who mocks him, Jesus turns to the thief who recognizes Jesus’ innocence and gives him a promise of hope and peace.

  • What qualities from your list of leadership qualities for today’s Jeremiah reading are shown here in Jesus?
  • What images of Christ in the New Testament or church tradition speak most to you? What images do not speak to you? What can you learn from both sets of images?
  • How does one forgive such injustice and brutality? How can reconciliation and hope be brought to a world in need?

Written by Joseph Farnes. This Bible Study originally ran on November 24, 2013.

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Bible Study, Proper 28(C) – November 13, 2016

[RCL] Isaiah 65:17-25; Canticle 9; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; Luke 21:5-19

Isaiah 65:17-25

In this passage, we encounter the prophet Isaiah speaking to the Jewish people who have returned from their exile in Babylon. Despite the fact that they were no longer exiled, Isaiah’s audience was not particularly well off. Instead of returning to the sparkling city that was prophesied throughout the Hebrew scriptures, the Jewish people in the generations following the exile had not recovered and still lived in a dilapidated, crumbling Jerusalem, a Jerusalem that was far from what they have been expecting.

Yet the prophet Isaiah has a message of hope for the post-exilic Jews, a message that can offer us hope, too. We hear the message that the Lord God will “create new heavens and a new earth” (v. 17) and “the wolf and the lamb shall feed together” (v. 25). This message is one of restoration, of newness, and of peaceful coexistence, but it is also a radical promise of an entirely new creation. The same God who created the world and brought abundant life out of a formless void will once again create order and beauty out of disarray, confusion and trials.

  • What sort of practices do you have in your spiritual life that help you feel refreshed, restored and renewed?

Canticle 9 (Isaiah 12)

In this song of praise, we once again hear the perspective of the post-exilic Jews who have been through trying times but who have also heard the promise of restoration and are still awaiting this future day of transformation. This text is a vision of what the people will say to God on the day when God’s promises are fulfilled.

The line “Therefore you shall draw water with rejoicing from the springs of salvation” (v. 3) presents a particularly striking image. Although drawing water may be a foreign chore to us in the present day, it would have been a task all too familiar to Isaiah’s original audience. This task of drawing water, one pot or bucket at a time, would have been tedious and labor-intensive but was utterly necessary for living; water must be drawn for drinking, cooking and agriculture. This task was absolutely essential and, although perhaps difficult, had a life-giving result. Like the chore of drawing water, our relationships with God can be this way, too. Despite toil and struggles, we have the hope and promise of eternal life and salvation through relationship because, as the prophet promises, it is God who saves us.

  • What are challenges in your daily life that give you the opportunity to “draw water with rejoicing”? That is, where in your life can your struggles and frustrations lead to a deeper, life-giving relationship with God?

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

It is quite easy to moralize this passage and use it to pass judgments on others, especially since it contains phrases like “Anyone unwilling to works should not eat” (v. 10). Yet, this passage also offers us an opportunity to reflect on what it means to be in community, particularly to consider the difficulties and frustrations of life in a Christian community.

How, then, should Christians treat each other? We are called by God to love our neighbors as ourselves, but what does that mean? For Paul, in communication with the Thessalonians, this means to not be idle. When we are idle, we place a burden on other people. If I don’t clean up after myself, someone else will have to. In choosing idleness, I am making a choice for myself but also a choice to burden those affected by my actions.

But idleness can also affect our relationships with God. When we are idle, we are not giving our best to God, which does a disservice both to God and to ourselves. We are shirking our calling as children of God, called into loving relationship. Instead of idleness, we must choose to be active in our relationships, with God and those around us, giving the very best of ourselves to those with whom God calls us into relationship.

  • Are you idle or active in your relationship with God?
  • If you are idle, what can you do to be more active? If you are active in your relationship with God, how do you sustain that relationship?

Luke 21:5-19

Throughout the gospels, we witness Jesus critiquing the temple and its authorities: This is the same temple that was cleansed by Jesus and the same temple where Jesus denounced the scribes. The corruption of the temple authorities, those who are supposed to be religious and societal leaders, is leading people away from right worship of God and must be destroyed in order to bring people into right relationship.

As this passage continues, Jesus warns his followers of the difficulties that are in store for them: arrest, persecution and betrayal. It certainly doesn’t make the path of discipleship sound appealing. Yet as difficult as this passage can be, it ends with a promise: “But not a hair on your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls” (v. 18-19). By the time this gospel was written, the temple in Jerusalem had, in fact, been destroyed and Jesus’ words had been fulfilled. And if Jesus was right about the temple, can’t we also believe his promise that, if we follow him, not a hair on our heads will perish? In the face of corruption, Jesus is a trusted name, and by following him, we can rest in the promise of new life.

Like the temple scribes in Jesus’ time, we all have people or influences in our lives that can get in the way of our relationship with God.

  • Who or what stands in the way of your relationship with God?
  • In the face of trials and difficulties, how do you find God’s promise in your life?

Written by Jordan TrumbleThis Bible Study originally ran on November 17, 2013.

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Bible Study, Proper 27(C) – November 6, 2016

[RCL] Haggai 1:15b-2:9; Psalm 145:1-5, 18-22 or Psalm 98; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17; Luke 20:27-38

Haggai 1:15b-2:9

Lately there have been disastrous shakings of earth and sky as hurricane season is upon us. Many have lost their homes, and hundreds upon hundreds have lost their lives. The prophecy of Haggai is directed towards the “remnant of the people,” those that are left in the midst of ruin and turmoil. Their temple is in ruin, and the glory of their city lies in rubble. Haggai prophecies into destruction, calling the people three times in this passage to “take courage.” God promises to be with the remnant on the liminal edges of potentiality and possibility, just as God was with them as they fled Egypt and walked into the unknown. “My spirit abides among you; do not fear.”

  • What in your life, region, or community currently lies in ruin?
  • How is God empowering you to “work, for I am with you” for the restoration of what is damaged?
  • In the midst of instability and chaos, what does courage mean to you?

Psalm 98

Saint Augustine famously said, those who sing pray twice. This Psalm of exaltation and praise calls the people to join with creation in the celebration of what God has done for them. Why are we to sing to God? Because God “has done marvelous things.” God “remembers his mercy and faithfulness” to the people, thus we are called to remember what God has done for us and join in creation’s hymn. Psalm 98 calls the people to “shout with joy,” and “lift up your voice, rejoice, and sing.” This Canticle highlights the goodness of embodiment, reminding us of the importance of utilizing our voices, talents, musical abilities, and creation in communally celebrating God.

  • Have you ever “shouted with joy” towards God?
  • Has singing out loud in prayer ever been a challenge for you?
  • If you were to compose a “new song” directed towards God right now, what might it say or sound like?

2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17

Where we perceive we are headed often shapes how we live in the present moment and understand ourselves. Many of us carry scars on our psyches that leave us feeling fractured from the God of our present and future. Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians speaks to the people in the midst of their anxiety over “the day of the Lord.” Paul calls the people not to live in anxiety or be “quickly shaken.” Paul’s letter ends with a call to comfort and rest in the God “who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope.”

  • What images of “end times” were prevalent in your childhood?
  • What shaped and formed your ideas about “the end”?
  • What gives you comfort and hope?

Luke 20:27-38

The Sadducees approach Jesus in this story in an attempt to trip him up. They project the current customs of human life onto the life of the resurrection. Jesus reverses their logic, stating that the “children of the resurrection” do not die, marry, or are bound by the laws of mortality. Throughout Christian history there has been a tendency to divorce spirit from the body, and to consider marriage or sexual relationships contaminating or desacralizing: this passage has been used in this manner. This passage attests to the life present in the resurrection; Isaac, Jacob, and Abraham are all listed as distinct living persons. Christian doctrine has been committed to the embodied and personal nature of the resurrection; yet Jesus is clear in this passage, the resurrected life will be quite different from the present life.

  • What elements of embodied human life speak to or foreshadow the “life to come”?
  • What does your relational life (be it friendship, family, a spouse, or an intimate partner) speak to you about the meaning of human life? How does that meaning relate to life in the resurrection?

Written by Leigh M Kern. Kern is a transitional deacon working at Saint James Cathedral in the diocese of Toronto and Anglican Church of Canada. She is on the Primate’s Commission on Justice and Healing. She is a graduate of Yale Divinity School, where she also served in New Haven as a chaplain working with people living with addictions and poverty. In her free time Leigh enjoys print making and writing music.  

Download the Bible Study for Proper 27(C).

Bible Study, All Saints (C) – November 1, 2016

[RCL] Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18; Psalm 149; Ephesians 1:11-23; Luke 6:20-31

Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18

Visions and dreams in the Bible are fascinating, perhaps because they are often considered sacred. At the time that Daniel was living, these visions were interpreted to be about politics, foretelling a possible future. Daniel decided to write down his dream and also to seek out someone else to help him make sense of what he had seen.

  • Do you interpret your dreams?
  • What might God be telling you in your dreams?
  • Who do you trust to help you interpret things in your life? 

Psalm 149

The beginning of this psalm is all about joy and rejoicing. Praise God with song, and dance, and noise. So often we get used to the quiet in our liturgy, and we forget that it is okay to bring our shouts to God as well. God asks for us to love with all that we have, and that includes dancing with our bodies and shouting with our lungs. We are told that ‘the Lord takes pleasure in His people,’ and we should take pleasure in God too!

  • How can the praises of God be in our throat?
  • What are you afraid to bring to God, and how might you think of it as worship?

Ephesians 1:11-23

This letter to the Ephesians suggests that we “might live for the praise of Christ’s glory.” I am always struck in reading through this set of letters how important it is to encourage one another in faith. Christianity is not undertaken alone, but rather is the work of community – it takes all of us speaking words of encouragement to one another so that we might not forget Christ and what He has done for us.

  • Who is someone you can pray for, to encourage them in the faith?
  • What do you think is ‘the hope to which we are called?’ 

Luke 6:20-31

On this All Saints celebration, the words of the beatitudes are particularly striking, specifically in the places where Jesus mentions “for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.” We are connected to those who came before us, and it can be powerful to remember our place. I am reminded that each of us walks on the shoulders of our ancestors, and brings to life a legacy much larger than us. We walk in the footsteps of giants – not just in the ones who came before us in our family, but also in the ones who came before us in our story of faith. A beautiful song by Sweet Honey in the Rock, is called We Are.

“We are our Grandmother’s prayers. We are our grandfather’s dreamings. We are the breath of the ancestors. We are the spirit of God”.

We are in a moment of time now to think not only of the ones whose footsteps we walk in, or whose shoulders we are carried on – but also to think about the legacy that we are leaving for the next generation.

  • What are we doing to the prophets of this age?
  • How will we carry our future generations on our shoulders?

Written by Jazzy Bostock. Bostock is a self-described sun-loving, big-dreaming, laugh-adoring, God-praising, Native Hawaiian woman attending seminary. She believes deeply in the power of kindness, compassion, gentleness, and most of all love. She is “grateful for the opportunity God has given me to be here, and for all that God is. Mahalo piha.”

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