March 7, 2021

Deuteronomy 18

We begin this week a thirteen-week series on “Prophets Faithful to God’s Covenant.”  Many today claim to speak with a “prophetic voice,” but how do we discern the voices that are faithful to God’s covenant, both personally and communally?  As we practiced this during the last series with the “call,” so we shall do so together with the theme of “prophecy.”  This week, we start with Deuteronomy, and the first detailed reference to this office in scripture.

God will raise up.  The culture round about Israel (and us!) was full of “soothsayers and diviners” ready to predict the future for a fee (we call them “futurists” today).  Note that God raises up prophets, not we ourselves.  How do we discern those whom God has “raised”?

I will put my words in her mouth.  What’s the difference between an “opinion” and a “prophetic word”?  Congregations don’t come to hear a preacher’s opinions.  We come to hear a “word from the Lord.”  Again, how do we discern when the words we hear are “inspired”?

Words that are true.  I don’t know about you, but I find Moses’ method of distinguishing the true prophet from the false prophet problematic:  if the words come true, they’re true; if not, they’re false.  Where does that leave us in the present

We ended our last series with a brief discussion regarding the interpretation of scripture.  How do we “apply” scripture faithfully in our context?  All through this series, we’ll be testing out a related question.  How do we distinguish the “true” from the “false” regarding prophetic utterances?  I can’t wait to hear whose voice/voices God “raises up” in our discussions.  See, and hear you Sunday. 

February 28, 2021

Acts 16 and 1 Corinthians 1

We finish out our five-week series on the “Call of Women” with the person of Lydia.  Lydia is identified as a “worshiper of God,” “a dealer in purple cloth,” and a person whose heart was “opened (verse 14)” by the Lord.  The lesson writer holds her up as an example of faithful hospitality.  We’ll round out our discussion under three headings.

A Precarious Position.  Rather than visiting in a synagogue (perhaps there was not one in Philippi), Paul meets Lydia outside the gate by a river at a place of prayer (verse 13).  Not a very propitious beginning, or is it?  How does God sometimes meet us “outside the gate”?

A Person of Prominence.  Judged by the standards of her time, Lydia has a lot going for her: a dealer in purple cloth, a homeowner, a woman identified independent of any male relative and/or spouse.  What does Lydia’s story teach us about the role of women in the early Church?

A Perplexing Pairing.  Given Lydia’s prominence, 1 Corinthians 1 seems a strange pairing.  How might Lydia be seen as less than wise and powerful “by human standards (verse 26)?  How does God continue to choose what is “low and despised in the world (verse 28)” in order to usher in God’s new kingdom?

Given our ongoing debate on the use of scripture both to inspire and discourage change in society, I may bring some selections from a Presbyterian paper on the authority of scripture to round out our conversation.  See you Sunday, “down by the river.” 

February 21, 2021

Acts 18 and Romans 16

With Prisca/Priscilla, we are introduced to a woman whose name often precedes her husband’s in the biblical record (a shift more noticeable because it’s so rare).  While we don’t have a great deal of biblical material concerning this co-worker of Paul’s, we have enough to seed our conversation.  Let’s follow her chronologically.

In Corinth.  How does Priscilla’s time in Corinth underscore the role of women in the founding, the nurture, and the growth of early Christian communities?

In Ephesus.  How does Priscilla’s time in Ephesus make clear the role of women in the early church, including instruction of others in “the Way of God (verse 26)?”  How do we square this portrait with 1 Timothy 2:12?

In Rome.  Paul thanks Prisca and Aquila for “risking their necks for his life (verse 3).”  To what do you think Paul is referring, or does the biblical record make this clear?

I joke at the end of my Outlook article regarding the fact that I’ve never encountered a Saint Prisca Presbyterian Church!  I wonder if any of the women in the class are laughing?  See you Sunday.  Let’s see who instructs whom.

February 14, 2021

Luke 8; Mark 15; John 20

We continue our study of “The Call of Women” with the person of Mary Magdalene.  This Mary from Magdala has been the topic of much speculation – some based in scripture, most in various traditions.  Like last week, let’s look at these selected verses with these questions in mind.

The Jesus Movement as Majority Female.  According to our passage from Luke, “some women (verse 2)” accompanied the twelve disciples as they journeyed with Jesus.  Indeed, “many others” traveled with the women who are named.  How does it change our perception of Jesus’ followers if they were “majority female,” and if these women actually bank-rolled the whole enterprise?

Negative Traditions of Mary Magdalene.  What negative stories and associations do you have with the figure of Mary Magdalene.  How are they supported or not supported by scripture?

Positive Traditions of Mary Magdalene.   What positive stories and associations do you have with the figure of Mary Magdalene.  How are they supported or not supported by scripture?

The title of our lesson is: “Mary Magdalene: A Faithful Disciple.”  Read the scripture, read your lesson, and reflect on how this person in scripture has informed your own discipleship.  Then let’s gather to talk – female and male, faithful and struggling disciples.  How might Mary Magdalene serve as a model for us all?  See you Sunday.

February 7, 2021

John 4

We now move to John’s gospel in our unit on “the call of women.”  Our passage is the second half of the longest dialogue in the fourth gospel (not counting Jesus’ dialogue with the Father in the Farewell Discourse).  Our lesson identifies this unnamed woman as the “first evangelist” in John (how about Andrew and Philip in John chapter 1?).  I might argue she is also the “first theologian” – defined as someone who thinks and talks about God, and ultimate concerns.  Let’s have a debate around three themes.

Ways this passage elevates the status of women.  How would you make a case for the ways this story lifts women up in our study of God’s call?  Be as specific as you can.

Ways this passage sidelines or marginalizes women.  How would you make a case for the ways this story limits or diminishes the role of women, both in their role as evangelists and the ways we’ve interpreted this passage down through the years?  Again, be as specific as you can.

Ways this passage is about something more than the call of women.  How would you make a case for broadening the implications of this passage beyond the role of women, the relationship between Jews and Samaritans, or even issues of where we can and can’t worship God?  Again, for a third time, be as specific as you can.

I may not break us out into small groups this Sunday, but I do hope we will have some dialogue on these issues.  Just as I think we’re all theologians, evangelists, and ministers, I think we’re all called to be teachers – even in the RJB class!  Hope to see, and hear from you Sunday.

January 31, 2021

Luke and Acts

For our final five lessons, we will think about “the call of women” in scripture.  Scripture, read critically, offers both good and bad news regarding issues of inclusion.  We lead off with selections from Luke and Acts, all linked by the use of either nouns or verbs dealing with “prophecy.”

The Good News.  Clearly, in both testaments, “prophecy” is a gift identified with the female gender.  Why do you think women might be especially gifted at discerning where God is at work in our lives?

The Bad News.  While the scriptures celebrate the gifts of women regarding prophetic powers, they are less forceful in their affirmation of women regarding leadership positions.  In the past history of many denominations, women were allowed to “testify” in church, but not “preach.”  Is the association of women with “prophecy” good news, or bad?

Women Today.  Our constitution guarantees “full participation and representation in its [the church’s] worship, governance, and emerging life to all persons and groups within its membership (F-1.0403),” at least in theory.  How do you think we’re doing with recognizing God’s call and claim on the lives of women today?

There was a day when the RJB Class was “men only.”  Where would we be every Sunday without the voices of women?  Even so, the people behind our acronym are all males.  How can we work to ensure that God’s call toward all people is embodied in our lives as a class?  See you Sunday, women and men! 

January 24, 2021

John 17

This is the last in a series on “Jesus and Calls in his Ministry.”  This one’s entitled: “Called as the Intercessor.”  We listen in as Jesus prays for his disciples, and “those who will believe in me [Jesus] through their [the disciples’] word (verse 20).”  What does Jesus pray for, and how should it affect our calling?

Protect Them.  We are sent into the world, but we do not “belong” to the world.  According to Jesus, this is what causes the world to “hate” us.  What does all this mean to you, and your sense of God’s call?

Sanctify Them.  Jesus cites his primary gift to the disciples as God’s “word (verse 14).”  This is what “sanctifies” them, or sets them apart.  How do you understand yourself to be a bearer of the “word/truth” to the world?

That They May Be One.  “Unity” is a word that we’ve heard repeatedly this week.  As we have learned in scripture, so we learn here: you don’t need to talk about unity unless disunity is all around.  How can the Church make its unity visible to a world that is divided?  Or is such “glory” even possible for human beings?

This prayer is often called “The High Priestly Prayer.”  It does indeed reach up to the very heights of heaven.  How then can we make such a prayer our own?  How can we carry such love out into a broken, and sometimes hostile world?  Let’s keep praying for each other, and learning from each other.  Hope to see you Sunday, for Christ’s sake.

January 17, 2021

Mark 2

We shift this week to the gospel according to Mark, where Jesus continues to draw crowds on the basis of his words (verse 2).  But in this scene, a group shows up with a paralyzed friend (verse 3).  In this story, Jesus calls us through his words and acts of healing, and thus invites us to participate in similar words and actions today.  Some guiding questions.

Faith by Proxy.  Unlike most miracle stories, the recipient in this encounter is completely passive (until he gets up and walks).  “When Jesus saw their faith (verse 5),” the gospel writer recounts.  How is faith both an individual and a communal gift?

Which Is Easier?  Jesus first pronounces the forgiveness of sins (verse 5).  Only after he senses the grumbling of the scribes does he heal the paralytic (verse 11).  Which do you think is more difficult: physical or spiritual healing?  What’s the relationship between the two?

They Were Amazed.  Like Simon in last week’s lesson, the crowd responds with amazement (verse 12).  How should our amazement inspire us to help others gain access to both renewal and reconciliation?

Like many, I’m anxious about the state of our body politic.  How might we participate in God’s desire to get us moving, and living out our reconciliation once again?  See you Sunday.  No tearing up of roofs required!

January 10, 2021

Luke 5

Jesus continues to issue his call through teaching – this time, from a boat on the lake of Gennesaret (also called the Sea of Galilee).  But after he finishes talking, he gives a seminar on fishing – with miraculous results.  By the end of the story, not only is no one trying to kill him, but these fishermen have left everything to follow him.  This may be the greatest miracle of them all!  Some questions to guide our discussion.

The Teaching Continues.  At first this passage continues the theme of ordinary means.  Jesus calls us through teaching us with his words.  This is apparently well-received by both the crowds and by Simon.  But it seems to end there.  Is teaching enough when it comes to call?

Signs and Wonders.  Jesus, though trained as a carpenter, now gives Simon some instructions on how to fish – with spectacular results.  Rather than recruiting Jesus to be their fishing guide,however, Simon responds with worship (verse 8).  The lesson writer speculates that this is because Simon recognizes Jesus as Lord over the waves, and the fish in it (page 34)!  Why do you think Jesus provides “signs and wonders” to Simon, in contrast to his sermon in Nazareth?

A Call to a New Vocation?  Simon and his friends leave their fishing in order to fish for people.  Many of us stay in our current jobs, but see them as opportunities to serve God, as well as our families.  How and where does God appear to you in the midst of your work, helping you to experience your work as worship/service?

Many of you know the old hymn that starts like this: “Jesus calls us o’er the tumult, of our life’s wild restless sea; Day by day, His sweet voice soundeth, saying ‘Christian, follow Me.”  How is Jesus calling us today – even in the midst of a pandemic?  See you Sunday.  Bring your full nets!