Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Bible Study Brief: Exodus 14-15

Wednesday, February 24

Exodus 14:10-31

This is the suspenseful part of the escape from slavery. The Israelites have been released by Pharaoh and have successfully made some forward progress into the wilderness. They are stopped at the edge of the sea, however, wondering how to cross, when they can see Pharaoh's army in the distance. Pharaoh has changed his mind and sent the army to retrieve his workforce, the Israelites. God once again provides a miracle: the sea is parted so they may cross over on dry land. The Egyptians aren't so fortunate, however, and are swept into the sea when they try to pursue.

Remember this has been a cosmic battle. It is not only God vs. human, but Pharaoh, and Egypt, believe him to be a god himself. The plagues were increasing power moves of one divine being against another! Finally Pharaoh admits defeat at the hands of the God of Abraham & Sarah, Isaac & Rebekah, and Jacob, Leah, & Rachel. In this last attempt, he is reminded that God is God and Pharaoh is no more than an idol, though a living one, at the cost of his army, lost in the sea. God's purposes will not be undone. The people see the mighty hand and outstretched arm of God saving them once again from Pharaoh, and they follow God further into the wilderness. Like Pharaoh, they too will forget about God's power, but God will remind them along the way to the Promised Land--there will be plenty of time!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Bible Study Brief: Genesis 22

Sunday, February 21

Genesis 22:1-18

The story of the binding of Isaac, or the (near) sacrifice of Isaac, is perhaps one of the most perplexing of all scripture, particularly to modern Western readers. Why would God, who we learned in the Genesis story created everything for sheer delight, test a most faithful follower in such a brutal way? Why would God destroy the one link that will keep this new covenant intact?

It is a difficult story, which a happy ending does not make easier along the way. There are, however, some glimmers of hope in the story.

1, God calls Abraham directly and by name. Abraham's name means "Father of Multitudes", so we have a clue that God still expects Abraham to hold this position of honor. He's already been told that Isaac will be the one to carry on the covenant, not Ishmael (born of the slave-wife Hagar) or anyone else in his household.

2, Abraham appeases young Isaac's curiosity by assuring him that "God will provide for the sacrifice". Even if Abraham thinks Isaac is the sacrificial lamb, we can hope with Isaac that God will provide something else.

3, We know (Abraham does not) from the beginning that this is a test. By the end we can see that it is not simple obedience that is being tested; Abraham has already proven that by leaving his homeland, waiting for Sarah's pregnancy, and heeding God's instruction. The test seems to be about Abraham's respect, fear, awe, and reverence for God; how much will he do to show his love for this God?

Remember, at this point in scripture YHWH is still a new idea. God is distinguishing Godself from other gods around at the time. Child sacrifice may have been a "common" or at least not surprising religious practice. YHWH shows that this God is a different god--not only not requiring but not wanting human sacrifice. (Animal sacrifice will be acceptable until the time of the prophets.)

So what we learn in this story is that God is a different kind of God, not wanting sacrifice, providing what is needed (both a son for the covenant and an animal for the sacrifice) and keeping and even expanding the covenant. It is difficult to get past the violence, but the violence isn't the only thing in the story. Ultimately God is still about life; it's almost a resurrection story, when death seemed sure and God provided for life.

Bible Study Brief: Genesis 7-9

Wednesday, February 17

Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18 

                Since the story of the ark takes up 3-1/2 chapters of Genesis, it is excerpted for the vigil. If you listen carefully you’ll notice that God instructs Noah to take seven pairs of all clean animals, and one pair of the unclean animals, into the ark, along with Noah, his wife, three sons, and three daughters-in-law. Everything not on the ark was blotted out from the face of the earth (7:23). When the water stops gushing, Noah sends out first a raven then a dove; after three attempts, Noah is satisfied that the earth is dry enough to exit the ark. The family and the animals are sent out with the same instruction given in Gen. 1: “Be fruitful and multiply”. And God establishes the first covenant with Noah and all flesh, that never again will all the earth be destroyed by flood. 

Bible Study Brief: Genesis 1

Sunday, February 14

First story: Genesis 1:1-2:4a

                The first text of the Easter vigil is the first creation story. It is a beautiful story of God creating everything out of nothing. Other creation stories involve death, violence, and subjugation, but this God creates out of nothing, bringing forth life for life, not out of death. God simply speaks and it is so; no one has to die or to lose an epic battle for creation. Right from the beginning of the beginning, then, we see that God is different from other gods. God desires relationship and creates out of love and for love. God provides food—plants and trees only, no meat yet!-- for what has been created, and God creates in God’s own image, so that all of creation is a reflection of the Divine Maker. And God likes what is made, declaring every bit of it “Good”! Finally, God even creates rest, building in a day off for creatures and Creator alike, and proclaims that day holy. 

Lent 2016 Bible Study: Intro

During Lent, we will be looking at the 12 texts for the great Vigil of Easter. The Easter Vigil begins at sundown on Holy Saturday and lasts longer than a normal worship service, bridging the gap between Good Friday and sunrise on Easter. We keep “vigil” as a spiritual practice, praying through the night, gathered in community, hearing the word of God. Ideally the vigil is timed so that at midnight the first “Alleluia” is sung as the church bells peal to announce the beginning of resurrection day. Many congregations don’t want to stay up all night in a true vigil, so they are often between 7-11 pm, especially if the congregation also has a sunrise service just a few hours later!
Easter Vigil is considered the grandest worship service of the entire year. It begins with the lighting of the new fire, a bonfire from which the new Paschal or Christ candle is lit, to be used during that year. There are chants and liturgies reserved only for the Vigil, including a song to thank the bees for making the wax for the candle. In the early church this was when the catechumenates, who had been preparing for baptism for all of Lent, were baptized and received as full members of the church. It is still a preferred day for baptism.

To help us pass the night, twelve readings are assigned from the Hebrew Testament, reminding us what God has done to save humanity since creation. These stories build up to God’s magnum opus, raising Jesus from death. Sometimes a selection of these are read, rather than all twelve. We will look at them during Bible study on Sundays (11:00 am) and Wednesdays (6:00 pm) during Lent.