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

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

Isaiah 5:1-7

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

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

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

Psalm 80:1-2, 8-18

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

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

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

Hebrews 11:29-12:2

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

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

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

Luke 12:49-56

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

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

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

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

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

Download the Proper 15 (C) Bible Study.

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

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

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

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20

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

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

Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24

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

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

Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

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

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

Luke 12:32-40

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

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

Download the Proper 14 (C) Bible Study.

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

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

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

Hosea 11:1-11

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colossians 3:1-11

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

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

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

Luke 12:13-21

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

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

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

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

Download the Proper 13 (C) Bible Study.

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

Bible Study, Proper 12 (C) – July 24, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Download the Proper 12(C) Bible Study.

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 52

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

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

 Colossians 1:15-28

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

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

Luke 10:38-42

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

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

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

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

Download the Proper 11(C) Bible Study.

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

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

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

Amos 7:7-17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Download the Proper 10 Bible Study.

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

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?

Download the Proper 9C Proper 9C BS

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.

Download the Proper 7C Bible Study.

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.