Home Study June 22, 2014

All readings for the Week
Genesis 21:8-21 with Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17 or
Jeremiah 20:7-13 with Psalm 69:7-10, (11-15), 16-18
Romans 6:1b-11
Matthew 10:24-39

Focus Questions

1. What is your greatest loyalty?

2. Did the martyrs and heroes of the early church have a different call from ours?

3. Does discipleship have to be costly? Why or why not?

4. What do we Christians mean by the phrase, “the cross,” today?

5. How do you experience God’s love as tenderly watchful, even in the face of hardship, deprivation, uncertainty and division?

 

This long passage from Matthew brings together a number of sayings of Jesus to create a set of instructions for “the twelve,” his apostles, before he sends them out on a mission that carries some risks. Matthew writes for a community that claims a kinship with these apostles, who gave up everything to follow Jesus. These early Christians listen for how God is also sending them, a generation or so later, and they’re undoubtedly wrestling with how much they may have to give up, and what risks they will run. Perhaps they’ve already paid a price for being disciples of this Jesus, especially if their family ties are strained or broken by their new faith commitment. Family ties were even more important in that time and culture than they are today, if we can imagine such a thing. And broken relationships meant more than hard feelings and spoiled family functions and fights over inheritances: they could be a matter of life and death in a culture where family identity and connections protect you from the many dangers in life.

And yet, then and now, that “costly thing,” discipleship, is just what is needed most by a world broken and desperately in need of good news. We accept the idea that there were early Christian martyrs who gave up their lives–literally–for the gospel. But there were also those lesser-known Christians, the everyday, ordinary ones like most of us, who suffered loss of family, place, security, “respectability,” because they embraced a faith that challenged social structures, including even the stability of the family itself. I’m reminded of the 1990 film, “The Long Walk Home,” about the 1955 Montgomery, Alabama, Bus Boycott and the struggles, even divisions, within families, churches, and communities when some people were willing to go all the way for the sake of what was right and just, and others were not. Not just unwilling, but unable to see the difference–and still able to think of themselves as “good Christians” in either case. Still, we know that God hears what we say, sees what we do, and knows what’s in our hearts–and God cares about it all. It all matters to God, this decision about what “sort” of Christians we’re going to be.  (Reflection by Kate Huey)

Read more at: http://www.ucc.org/feed-your-spirit/weekly-seeds/god-hears-god-cares.html

 

Home Study June 15, 2014

All readings for the Week

Genesis 1:1-2:4a
Psalm 8
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Matthew 28:16-20

Focus Questions

1. What are your thoughts about the story of creation and the views of science?

2. Do you think of yourself as a “consumer”? What difference does it make one way or the other?

3. What difference does it make that God pronounced creation “good”? Or do you believe creation is “neutral”?

4. Would God look upon our use of the earth today and pronounce it “very good”?

5. What story do we intend to tell our children, and what story will our great-grandchildren tell their descendants about us?

 

It’s only human to want to tell the stories of who we are and where we came from, of what came before us that shapes who we are today and who we are becoming. These stories, handed down from generation to generation in every culture, are voices in themselves, voices of protest and consolation, voices of clarity and courage. They are influenced, at least in part, by the situation in which the storytellers find themselves.
In The Luminous Web, Barbara Brown Taylor describes the shaping of the creation narrative of Genesis as a counter-cultural protest of the people of Israel against the creation story of their Babylonian captors. While their oppressors saw the origins of the universe as violent and bloody, the Israelites told their children a different story, a story rooted in goodness and blessing. Light came from the deepest night, they said, and order from chaos. The sun and the moon and the stars were set in the over-arching sky as signs of beauty and the changing of the seasons, providing light and direction and the keeping of time. God filled the earth with vegetation that was fruitful and nourishing, moved the waters back from the land and provided a home for the creatures that crawled across it, walked upon it, and flew over it. In the midst of this loveliness, humankind was tenderly placed and blessed and called to be caretakers and stewards. And God looked upon all this, and found it good.

In today’s psalm reading, the voice of the psalmist puts the praise and wonder of ancient Israel into the mouths of worshipers who are astounded by God’s amazing creative powers, God’s splendid works, even as they appreciate the place of humans, just “a little lower than the angels,” in the midst of God’s plan for all of these things. Creation is God’s love expressed and admired even by God Herself! If we had more of their same sense of wonder, perhaps our prayer-life would include more praise, along with the requests we so often make and the thanks we give when those prayers are answered.

Today our culture teems with a multitude of voices, coming at us from every side. Some voices tell very different stories of our origins, of who we are and who we are becoming. Voices of science and religion carry on a lively (and not always friendly) conversation about our origins, and the debate over evolution turns political for those whose anxiety misses the main point: we were created, by whatever process and whatever length it took, by a gracious Creator, in love and goodness, and we are called to care for this earth, this good creation, not to dominate or abuse it. (Perhaps, as long as we distract ourselves with arguing about HOW we were created, we can ignore HOW we are treating that creation!) (Reflection by Kate Huey) Read more at:  http://www.ucc.org/feed-your-spirit/weekly-seeds/this-is-goodexpressed-love.html

 

Home Study June 8, 2014 Pentecost

All readings for the Week
Acts 2:1-21 or Num 11:24-30
Ps 104:24-34, 35b
1 Cor 12:3b-13 or Acts 2:1-21
John 20:19-23 or John 7:34-39

Focus Questions

1. What are the different kinds of “languages” spoken in church today?

2. In what ways do you share Peter’s experience, of interpreting the present moment in your life through the lens of Scripture?

3. How do our differences enrich our experience of unity?

4. What is the greatest obstacle to good communication?

5. How much does the Pentecost story relate to the life of your church today?

 

Our psalm reading for this Pentecost Sunday speaks of God sending forth God’s Spirit in a creative burst that is both productive and renewing. In our story from the Acts of the Apostles, it must have felt like creation all over again, with wind and fire, and something new bursting forth. Then there was the amazing linguistic experience of speaking in other languages yet being understood by people of many different languages and lands, the names of which represented the known world at that time and have caused no small anxiety to worship leaders in every time. No matter: in that moment, all the people were one in their hearing, if not their understanding of the deeper meaning of what they heard. Despite their differences, they could all hear what the disciples were saying, each in their own language.

Fire, wind, and humble Galileans speaking persuasively in many tongues were dramatic signs that God was doing a new thing that would transform the lives of all those present, and far beyond, in time and place. Maybe it was a little frightening, something people would want to explain away, or to contain with cynical comments that blamed it all on drunkenness.

There have been manifestations, remarkable displays of God’s Spirit in the Bible before, of course, with sound and light and amazing “special effects,” as we call them today. But those events, like Moses on the mountaintop and Jesus transfigured, were reserved for only a few witnesses, the most inside of insiders. Here, at the dawn of a new era, on the birthday of a church called to spread to the ends of the earth, the display is for everyone. Not just the disciples, gathered in a room, getting themselves together after Jesus is once again departed. Not just the holiest or the most faithful or the most learned, not just the believers, not just those who were with Jesus on the road or witnesses to his Resurrection. No, in this case, at this moment, “all flesh,” male and female, old and young, slave and free, are invited and included–and not just invited but expected to prophesy and dream, too!

And just to make sure that they know they’re included, the formidable obstacle of a multitude of languages is overcome by a sweeping wind, an uplifting Spirit that drives those disciples out, out into the world beyond their walls, beyond the theoretical but fragile safety those walls provide. Out into the world, and compelled to spread the Good News of what God is doing in a new day. On Pentecost, a Jewish feast that celebrated new life and new crops by offering a gift of first fruits in gratitude and praise, Matthew L. Skinner tells us, these Jewish “ignorant, backwater folks” (a stereotype conveyed by the term “Galileans,” but lost to us today as we read the text) become impassioned, eloquent spokespersons for the gift of new life, the beginning of a brand new era in which God is fulfilling promises and salvation is drawing near.

(Reflection by Kate Huey:  http://www.ucc.org/feed-your-spirit/weekly-seeds/pentecost-sunday.html)

Home Study June 1, 2014

All readings for the Week
Acts 1:6-14
Ps 68:1-10, 32-35
1 Pet 4:12-14; 5:6-11
John 17:1-11

Focus Questions

1. Would it change the way you see yourself, and others, if you thought of us as belonging to God?

2. What do your prayers reveal about your beliefs?

3. How would you describe “the already but not-yet” of your own life?

4. How does Jesus’ prayer illustrate the need for a community of faith?

5. How would you describe “eternal life”?

There are subtle shifts here at the beginning of the 17th chapter of John’s Gospel: Jesus’ farewell speech, now more than four chapters long, becomes a closing prayer, a move that would have been familiar to the first-century Christian hearers of the story. That’s what farewell speeches did in those days: it was as familiar to them as, for example, the prayer before the sermon is to many in the church today. It would have sounded “right” to John’s audience, and they listened in on the prayer just as the disciples did that night, and just as we listen in today. It’s true that the gospel is good news that we “overhear.”

Another change is the very different picture Jesus’ words paint of his disciples, not as their usual clueless selves, as they had seemed, earlier in the evening. Charles Cousar writes that Jesus describes them instead “as God’s possession,” the ones who “understood that Jesus has come from God.” This hushed little group gathered at table are precious in Jesus’ eyes, and he entrusts them to God, Cousar says, asking God to take care of them, but not out of “condescension or pity. He describes them as they are seen by God.”

There is much to be said for seeing Christ in each other, but there is also something to be said for seeing ourselves as God sees us, with steadfast love and compassion, and with hope, too, for the future and what is yet to be. The disciples that night are a band with great promise, and Jesus sees that promise within them, but he also knows that they will carry the gospel, and embody its message, in a hostile and curiously unwelcoming world, a world that doesn’t seem to know what it needs most, then or now. In such a world full of challenges to people of faith, Gail O’Day wonders how the church’s “self-definition would be changed if it took as its beginning point, ‘We are a community for whom Jesus prays.’” How would such an understanding affect the way your church sees itself, its strength, its possibilities, and its mission in the world?

This reflection is by Kate Huey.  Read more at: http://www.ucc.org/feed-your-spirit/weekly-seeds/spirit-of-witnesscontinuing.html.