Friday, March 26, 2010

Holy Week and Palm Sunday: Do you know him?

This week we'll be reading the Passion.  When you're reading for a story, I often like to read from the Message.  It's not a translation, but an attempt to write the same text in the way we might write it today.  The publisher calls it a reading bible as opposed to a study bible.  The writer, Eugene Peterson, is one of my favorite writers on spiritual topics.  The Message is available from for free online.

For our study, we'll take a look at Leslie Lombardo's model of Jerusalem/Stations of the Cross, read the text below, and then talk about what it tells us about Jesus.  This is why he came, and there is no understanding of him that doesn't start here.  Finally, we'll watch the clip That's My King, a video set to the rhythmic message of S. M. Lockridge.  (The video is embedded at the end of the post.)  How would you describe Jesus?

Luke 22:31-23:46 Abridged for time (The Message; NIV; RCL )

Get Ready for Trouble
31-34  "Simon, stay on your toes. Satan has tried his best to separate all of you from me, like chaff from wheat. Simon, I've prayed for you in particular that you not give in or give out. When you have come through the time of testing, turn to your companions and give them a fresh start."  Peter said, "Master, I'm ready for anything with you. I'd go to jail for you. I'd die for you!"  Jesus said, "I'm sorry to have to tell you this, Peter, but before the rooster crows you will have three times denied that you know me."

A Dark Night
39-44 Leaving there, he went, as he so often did, to Mount Olives. The disciples followed him. When they arrived at the place, he said, "Pray that you don't give in to temptation."  He pulled away from them about a stone's throw, knelt down, and prayed, "Father, remove this cup from me. But please, not what I want. What do you want?" At once an angel from heaven was at his side, strengthening him. He prayed on all the harder. Sweat, wrung from him like drops of blood, poured off his face.

45-46  He got up from prayer, went back to the disciples and found them asleep, drugged by grief. He said, "What business do you have sleeping? Get up. Pray so you won't give in to temptation."  No sooner were the words out of his mouth than a crowd showed up, Judas, the one from the Twelve, in the lead. He came right up to Jesus to kiss him. Jesus said, "Judas, you would betray the Son of Man with a kiss?"

49-53 When those with him saw what was happening, they said, "Master, shall we fight?" One of them took a swing at the Chief Priest's servant and cut off his right ear.  Jesus said, "Let them be. Even in this." Then, touching the servant's ear, he healed him.  Jesus spoke to those who had come—high priests, Temple police, religion leaders: "What is this, jumping me with swords and clubs as if I were a dangerous criminal? Day after day I've been with you in the Temple and you've not so much as lifted a hand against me. But do it your way—it's a dark night, a dark hour."

A Rooster Crowed

54-62 Arresting Jesus, they marched him off and took him into the house of the Chief Priest. Peter followed, but at a safe distance. In the middle of the courtyard some people had started a fire and were sitting around it, trying to keep warm. One of the serving maids sitting at the fire noticed him, then took a second look and said, "This man was with him!"  He denied it, "Woman, I don't even know him."  A short time later, someone else noticed him and said, "You're one of them."  But Peter denied it: "Man, I am not."  About an hour later, someone else spoke up, really adamant: "He's got to have been with him! He's got 'Galilean' written all over him."  Peter said, "Man, I don't know what you're talking about." At that very moment, the last word hardly off his lips, a rooster crowed. Just then, the Master turned and looked at Peter. Peter remembered what the Master had said to him: "Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times." He went out and cried and cried and cried.

Slapping Him Around
63-65The men in charge of Jesus began poking fun at him, slapping him around. They put a blindfold on him and taunted, "Who hit you that time?" They were having a grand time with him.  When it was morning, the religious leaders of the people and the high priests and scholars all got together and brought him before their High Council. They said, "Are you the Messiah?"  He answered, "If I said yes, you wouldn't believe me. If I asked what you meant by your question, you wouldn't answer me. So here's what I have to say: From here on the Son of Man takes his place at God's right hand, the place of power."  They all said, "So you admit your claim to be the Son of God?"   "You're the ones who keep saying it," he said.  But they had made up their minds, "Why do we need any more evidence? We've all heard him as good as say it himself."

Luke 23
1-5 Then they all took Jesus to Pilate and began to bring up charges against him. They said, "We found this man undermining our law and order, forbidding taxes to be paid to Caesar, setting himself up as Messiah-King."  Pilate asked him, "Is this true that you're 'King of the Jews'?"  "Those are your words, not mine," Jesus replied.  Pilate told the high priests and the accompanying crowd, "I find nothing wrong here. He seems harmless enough to me."  But they were vehement. "He's stirring up unrest among the people with his teaching, disturbing the peace everywhere, starting in Galilee and now all through Judea. He's a dangerous man, endangering the peace."

6-12  When Pilate heard that, he asked, "So, he's a Galilean?" Realizing that he properly came under Herod's jurisdiction, he passed the buck to Herod, who just happened to be in Jerusalem for a few days.  Herod was delighted when Jesus showed up. He had wanted for a long time to see him, he'd heard so much about him. He hoped to see him do something spectacular. He peppered him with questions. Jesus didn't answer—not one word. But the high priests and religion scholars were right there, saying their piece, strident and shrill in their accusations.  Mightily offended, Herod turned on Jesus. His soldiers joined in, taunting and jeering. Then they dressed him up in an elaborate king costume and sent him back to Pilate. That day Herod and Pilate became thick as thieves. Always before they had kept their distance.

13-25  Then Pilate called in the high priests, rulers, and the others and said, "You brought this man to me as a disturber of the peace. I examined him in front of all of you and found there was nothing to your charge. And neither did Herod, for he has sent him back here with a clean bill of health. It's clear that he's done nothing wrong, let alone anything deserving death. I'm going to warn him to watch his step and let him go."  At that, the crowd went wild: "Kill him! Give us Barabbas!" (Barabbas had been thrown in prison for starting a riot in the city and for murder.) Pilate still wanted to let Jesus go, and so spoke out again.  But they kept shouting back, "Crucify! Crucify him!"  He tried a third time. "But for what crime? I've found nothing in him deserving death. I'm going to warn him to watch his step and let him go."  But they kept at it, a shouting mob, demanding that he be crucified. And finally they shouted him down. Pilate caved in and gave them what they wanted. He released the man thrown in prison for rioting and murder, and gave them Jesus to do whatever they wanted.

Skull Hill
32-38  Two others, both criminals, were taken along with him for execution.  When they got to the place called Skull Hill, they crucified him, along with the criminals, one on his right, the other on his left.  Jesus prayed, "Father, forgive them; they don't know what they're doing."  Dividing up his clothes, they threw dice for them. The people stood there staring at Jesus, and the ringleaders made faces, taunting, "He saved others. Let's see him save himself! The Messiah of God—ha! The Chosen—ha!"  The soldiers also came up and poked fun at him, making a game of it. They toasted him with sour wine: "So you're King of the Jews! Save yourself!"  Printed over him was a sign: this is the king of the jews.

39-43  One of the criminals hanging alongside cursed him: "Some Messiah you are! Save yourself! Save us!"  But the other one made him shut up: "Have you no fear of God? You're getting the same as him. We deserve this, but not him—he did nothing to deserve this."  Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you enter your kingdom."  He said, "Don't worry, I will. Today you will join me in paradise."

44-46  By now it was noon. The whole earth became dark, the darkness lasting three hours—a total blackout. The Temple curtain split right down the middle. Jesus called loudly, "Father, I place my life in your hands!" Then he breathed his last.  When the captain there saw what happened, he honored God: "This man was innocent! A good man, and innocent!"  All who had come around as spectators to watch the show, when they saw what actually happened, were overcome with grief and headed home. Those who knew Jesus well, along with the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a respectful distance and kept vigil.

Message from S M Lockridge.  S. M. = Shadrach Meshach!

Scripture taken from The Message. Copyright, 1993-2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

Resurrection Eggs

Last week we did the Resurrection Eggs for our group time.  These are a pretty cool way to review the events of Holy Week for a family, childen's ministry or youth group. People made neat connections, and it even helped the adults to know the story better as well as the order.

Resurrection Eggs.  The Resurrection Eggs are basically a timeline activity that does a nice job of giving a visual connection with the major events of Holy Week.
  • How to play:  we take turns pulling eggs out of the carton until they are all taken.  (That way if there’s an uneven amount, the youngest get more.)  But do not open them yet. 
  • Starting again with the youngest, one person opens an egg and shows what’s inside.  What is it?  What is it’s connection with Jesus’ story?  On some of the objects it’s pretty clear and on others it could be several things.  Guesses are okay – there’s no single correct answer.
  • The first person puts their egg down.  The second person tries to guess if their item goes before or after.  Each person then tries to put their item in order, forming a kind of timeline.  Be sure to share how you remember the order, or what connections you see between the events, or especially what the events mean to you and why they’re important.  Of course, it’s not a quiz, and it’s okay for the person to get help – especially if the helper shares their thinking.  But it’s good for the opener to get a chance to guess or try first.  Try to put the items in order, and then take turns saying what comes next and how they know.  Circulate to answer questions and help with the procedure.
  • When it's time to clean up, you can either put things back in their original eggs, or mix it up.  I think mixing it up keeps it fresher, as you never know what you’re going to get.

The items and their original intent:
Donkey – Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey.  What we commemorate on Palm Sunday, jesus entering on a donkey reminded people of King David’s entry to Jerusalem also on a donkey.
Coins – Judas receives 30 pieces of silver.  The Scribes and Pharisees paid Judas 30 silver coins to betray Jesus.
Cup – Jesus at the Last Supper, where he celebrates communion for the first time.
Praying Hands – Garden of Gethsemane.  After the Passover meal, Jesus went to the gardens to pray with Peter, James and John.  But they couldn’t stay awake.
Leather strip – the whip.  After Jesus was arrested, and taken to Pilate, he was whipped.  Then when presented to the crowds, the crowds called for the release of a criminal instead of Jesus.
Crown of thorns – the crown of thorns.  Before the crucifixion, Jesus was mocked for being King of the Jews.
Nails – the nails that held Jesus to the cross.  While sometimes people were tied to crosses, they used nails for a quicker, more brutal death.  Perhaps because of wanting it done before the high holy day began at sundown.
Die – (one dice) the lots cast by the centurions.  The Roman guards didn’t want to divide Jesus seamless royal purple cloak, so the gambled to see who would receive it. (Pair of dice, but one is “a die.”)
Spear – the spear that pierced Jesus side.  To check to see if Jesus was dead, one centurion pierced Jesus’ side with a spear.  He did not move, and blood and water came out, proving that he was, in fact, dead.
Cloth – represents the linen wrapping.  When Jesus was taken down from the cross there wasn’t time for the full Jewish funeral ritual, so he was quickly wrapped in a linen sheet to be taken to the tomb.
Stone – the stone that sealed the tomb.  The Pharisees understood that Jesus had raised Lazarus, and were afraid that someone would make it seem like he had risen from the dead, so they insisted the tomb be sealed and guarded.  A large stone was rolled across it, sealed with the Roman governor’s mark, and centurions were posted.  Little did they know that they would be proving that Jesus did indeed rise from the dead!
Empty egg – the empty tomb.  Luke 24:5-6 “Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here; he has risen!”

You can make eggs of your own with these things or others like: scrap of palm, purple cloth, rope (arrest), soap (washing of the feet), soldiers, bible charm, cotton ball (ascension to clouds), key (locked upper room), cross, etc.  If you want to buy a set, they're available at Christian bookstores or online for $8-$15.  If you're at St. John's, ask Leslie, as she picked up several sets.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St Patrick's and the Prodigal Son

Prayer for the Faithful attributed to St. Padraig of Eire  (Hat tip: Christine Sine)

May the Strength of God guide us.
May the Power of God preserve us.
May the Wisdom of God instruct us.
May the Hand of God protect us.
May the Way of God direct us.
May the Shield of God defend us.
May the Angels of God guard us.
- Against the snares of the evil one.

May Christ be with us!
May Christ be before us!
May Christ be in us,
Christ be over all!

May Thy Grace, Lord,
Always be ours,
This day, O Lord, and forevermore. Amen.

Realized today I never put up the middle school study from this week.  The goal was to delve into one of the two greatest parables.  I thought it might be too well known, but the recent experience and meditating on Esther and the annual reader of the Megillat kept me from falling into that trap.

In my youth I spent a lot of time thinking about things with a focus on the lost son, and then as a parent having new appreciation for the father.  I've spent time thinking about the father to learn about the Father.  It took me a long time to get around to thinking of myself as the older brother. 

Text is from the Message.

Prodigal Son:  Who are you?

Today as we read we’ll try to get deep into the meaning of this important and familiar parable by trying to create the images of what it was like.

Starting Connection:  what is a parable?  Have you heard the word before?  What does it mean?

Background:  Luke Chapter 15 starts out like this: 
Now the tax collectors and "sinners" were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them."

1)    What do the Pharisees and teachers mean?  Are they happy or mad about this?

Jesus responds by telling three stories.  The first is about finding a lost coin.  The second about finding a lost sheep.  The third is about a lost son.  It has also been called the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  Prodigal is an unusual word that means wasteful.  It is considered by many people to be one of the two most important parables.

The Story of the Lost Son  (Luke 15:11-32)
Then he said, "There was once a man who had two sons. The younger said to his father, 'Father, I want right now what's coming to me.' So the father divided the property between them.”

2)    In other words, the younger son asked for his inheritance.  That usually comes after someone dies, and they leave what money, property or valuable things they have to their family or to charities.  How does each son and the father feel here?

It wasn't long before the younger son packed his bags and left for a distant country. There, undisciplined and dissipated, he wasted everything he had. After he had gone through all his money, there was a bad famine all through that country and he began to hurt. He signed on with a citizen there who assigned him to his fields to slop the pigs. He was so hungry he would have eaten the corncobs in the pig slop, but no one would give him any.

3)    How does the younger son feel?  If the father and brother had no way to know what had happened, what would they be feeling?

That brought him to his senses. He said, 'All those farmhands working for my father sit down to three meals a day, and here I am starving to death. I'm going back to my father. I'll say to him, Father, I've sinned against God, I've sinned before you; I don't deserve to be called your son. Take me on as a hired hand.' He got right up and went home to his father.

4)    Would that be hard to go back?  Why does he say he doesn’t deserve to be called his father’s son anymore?  What would you imagine his father would say?  His brother?

When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: 'Father, I've sinned against God, I've sinned before you; I don't deserve to be called your son ever again.'  But the father wasn't listening. He was calling to the servants, 'Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We're going to feast! We're going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!' And they began to have a wonderful time.

5)    What is each of them feeling?  The younger son?  The father?  The brother?

All this time his older son was out in the field. When the day's work was done he came in. As he approached the house, he heard the music and dancing. Calling over one of the houseboys, he asked what was going on. He told him, 'Your brother came home. Your father has ordered a feast—barbecued beef!—because he has him home safe and sound.'

6)    Imagine a sumptuous meal with your favorite food.  Fixed for the person who has caused you the most trouble.  How would you feel?

The older brother stalked off in an angry sulk and refused to join in. His father came out and tried to talk to him, but he wouldn't listen. The son said, 'Look how many years I've stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on bad people shows up and you go all out with a feast!'

7)    Have you ever felt like the older brother?  What makes you feel like life isn’t fair?

His father said, 'Son, you don't understand. You're with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours—but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he's alive! He was lost, and he's found!'

8)    What is each of them feeling?  The younger son?  The father?  The brother?  Which person do you feel the most like in the story?

9)    Why did Jesus tell stories like this one to the Pharisees and teachers who are complaining at the start?

10)    What’s one thing you take away from studying this parable?

In general, the students made great connections, and definitely got what the point for the Pharisees was.  It was hard for them to imagine the lost son being so out of touch that the father didn't know what had become of him.  (Why would he imagine him as dead?)  The aspect of life feeling unfair was something to which all of them could relate.  One student made a connection new to me - asking for you half is like treating your parent as if they are already dead.  Whew!

Friday, March 12, 2010

March Men's Study

I'm doing something I've never done tomorrow - reuse a study for the same group!  I was looking through what I had on the prodigal son for the youth group, and stumbled across a 4 year old study from the men's group at Lakeshore Lutheran Fellowship.  It was exactly what I needed to be thinking about at this point in Lent.  Interesting to look back and revise a study, too.

We meet at 7 (breakfast), 7:30-8:30ish study if you're interested, 2nd Saturday of each month.  It's not so much me teaching, as bringing questions that I want to hear these brothers talk about.

The Cross Is…
From In My Place, an article by Steve Brown.  Romans 5:6-11, verse by verse

Even radical bible scholars count this as an epistle definitely written by Paul.  His purposes in writing the letter include:  prayers for his coming journey to Jerusalem, Rome and then on to Spain, to outline his teaching, and to address the big conflict in the community.  The conflict between the Gentile and Jewish Christians developed because Emperor Claudius exiled Jews from Rome in AD 49, which resulted in Gentile Christians taking leadership positions.  The tension came when Jewish Christians returned in AD 54 after Claudius’ death and found the Gentiles not keeping Jewish food laws nor observing Jewish holy days.

Martin Luther described Romans as “the chief book of the New Testament… it deserves to be known by heart, word for word, by every Christian.”  His lectures on Romans in 1515-16 were probably what led to the 95 Theses of 1517.  In 1738, John Wesley’s reading of Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans began his conversion experience. In 1919, Karl Barth wrote a commentary on Romans which was a big influence on the German Christians who resisted the Third Reich.  Modern day evangelists use the “Romans Road” to present the case for salvation:  Romans 3:23, 6:23a, 6:23b, 5:8,10:9-10,10:13.  That’s a good epistle! 

Today we’ll look at just half of one chapter.  In the first four chapters, Paul uses a bunch of strong connections with the Old Testament to make the case that we are justified by faith.  Now he’s going to share the blessings of being justified.  First let’s look at Romans 5:1-5.
1-2 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3-4 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
1)    How would you sum up those first five verses to a fellow Christian?

2)    What are some of the blessings of justification?

3)    Can you think of any life examples of the benefits of suffering described in 3-4?

The CROSS is a…necessity
v6:  You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.
4)    If we are forgiven, why do we always pray to be forgiven?  In what ways were we powerless?  Are we no longer powerless?

The CROSS is a…surprise
v7:  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.
Brown notes: we deserve wrath, we expect anger, and yet  we find God offering love.
5)    What’s the difference between a righteous man and a good man?

6)    How would you feel if someone offered their life up for yours?  (Or, if you’ve experienced this in the military or elsewhere,  how did you feel when they did offer their life for yours?)  What if it was someone who was a better person than you?  Someone with more to lose?

The CROSS is a…demonstration
v8: But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
7)    Can we witness if we are miserable and bound?  God demonstrated his love to us that he might demonstrate his love through us.

The CROSS is a…promise
v9: Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!
This reminds me of the best teacher I ever knew.  She enforced complete discipline to make sure that her classroom was a safe place for her elementary students, but always, always any act of discipline was followed by an act of love.
8)    What does this verse mean to you?

The CROSS is a…reality
v10: For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!
9)    Do you live in guilt? That’s living in a lie.  The reality is you are forgiven.  More than acquitted of the crime, we’re reconciled.  What difference does that make in how we live day to day?

10)    Are you afraid of death?  That fear is a lie.  The reality is you are going to live forever.  What difference can that make in our decision making?

The CROSS is a…celebration
v11: Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
11)    Consider the parable of the Prodigal Son.  What keeps the older brother from celebrating?

12)    In our happiness-obsessed culture, how do you explain joy?  How can accepting Jesus’ salvation result in joy if it doesn’t change anything about your circumstances?

Web Resources
Steve Brown is a former pastor, radio host and seminary teacher who concentrates on grace.  His teaching is very freeing because of this great emphasis on it's free and freeing nature.  You can find his resources on  Writings, podcasts, etc.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Moses at the Turning Point

Moses had a lot of turning points in his amazing life.  But the big turn to me is the Burning Bush.  The first part of his life seems like it is about getting him to Mt. Horeb.  (Later called Mt. Sinai... for some reason.)

Moses – Life and Times
The Turning Point:  Exodus 3:1-15

1)    What do you know about Moses?

Introduction:  A couple of weeks ago the church reading was about Moses coming down from the mountain after meeting with God.  His face was glowing so much he had to wear a veil.  And what we read from Corinthians was Paul sharing how now all believers are like Moses, with a personal relationship with God.

That always makes me interested in Moses, because I feel like by studying him I can learn better how to spend my time with God.  This is the story of the Burning Bush, where Moses first met God. 

Moses’ Life:  Sort the big events in Moses’ life into order.  (Cards attached, click for full size.)

The Reading:
Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.

2)    What was Moses’ job?  What’s Midian?  Where’s Horeb?  Any other questions?

There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the LORD saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

3)    What’s so amazing about a burning bush?  Why not just appear in glory?  Why remove sandals?  Why does he describe himself as “God of…” all those people?  Who are they?  Any other questions?

Then the LORD said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”

4)    How did they get to Egypt?  What’s so bad about it?  What other questions can you think of?

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.” But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?”

5)    Does Moses want to go?  What other questions can you think of?

God said to Moses, “I AM Who I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ” God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’:  This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.”

6)    What does that mean “I am who I am”?  How will that help the Israelites know who sent Moses?  Why is he worried about what they think? What other questions can you think of?

7)    What’s one thing you take away from studying this?

The Name: God refers to himself here as I AM WHO I AM.  The word for this in Hebrew is below (in ancient and modern form, read right to left) and is sometimes called the Tetragrammaton (four letter written word).  For the last 2500 years it is never spoken by Jews.  Instead they say Adonai (which means Lord).  That’s why in some translations of the bible you see LORD in all caps instead of the actual word.  The letters for this in English are (usual left to right) YHWH.  When Christians first started reading the Old Testament they had never heard the word (since it is never spoken) and mispronounced it JeHoVaH, but correctly it is YaHWeH (Yahweh).  It’s rude to use it out loud in front of religious Jews since they do not.

Game:  Then as time allows we'll try out Apples to Apples - Bible Edition.  It seems really fun, and might give me the chance for sneaky assessment.  Apples to Apples is perhaps the best social game ever, and this is a good variant.

Jewish Encyclopedia - combines Old Testament scriptural references with archaeology and history.  Great Info.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


Last Sunday we celebrated Purim.  Each year my family tries to celebrate a Jewish feast (Seder, Hannukah, Sukkoth coming soon, ...)  and this year was Purim.  That involves the reading of the whole Megillah (source of that expression, the scroll of Esther), and a celebratory feast.  My students had had some questions about Jews the week before, and one of them said Esther was her favorite book, so the timing was fortuitous.

I adapted a study I had piloted for the Men's group, and used in family as we prepared for Esther.  The scripture quotes are from the Message transliteration.

Esther and Purim
There are several interesting things about the book of Esther.  The most famous is that it is the only book in the Bible which does not mention God.  Another is that it is the first use of the word Jew.  The book of Esther records the start of its own holiday, celebrated to this day by Jews the world over as Purim.  Depending on your translation, the Persian king may have the name Ahasuerus (in Hebrew) or be translated to Xerxes (his Persian name).  Cush is Ethiopia.  Persia is where the modern-day country of Iran is.  The story starts at the end of a half year celebration by the king.  A week long drunken party is capped by a demand for the appearance of Queen Vashti, whose name means beautiful, to display herself for the guests.  She refuses.

Esther 1:15-20. But Queen Vashti refused to come, refused the summons delivered by the eunuchs. The king lost his temper and called in his counselors, all experts in legal matters. It was the king's practice to consult his expert advisors. … He asked them for their advice.  Memucan spoke up in the council of the king and princes: “It's not only the king Queen Vashti has insulted, it's all of us, leaders and people alike in every last one of King Xerxes' provinces. The word's going to get out: 'Did you hear the latest about Queen Vashti? King Xerxes ordered her to be brought before him and she wouldn't do it!' When the women hear it, they'll start treating their husbands with contempt. The day the wives of the Persian and Mede officials get wind of the queen's insolence, they'll be out of control. Is that what we want, a country of angry women who don't know their place?  So, if the king agrees, let him pronounce a royal ruling and have it recorded in the laws of the Persians and Medes so that it cannot be revoked, that Vashti is permanently banned from King Xerxes' presence. And then let the king give her royal position to a woman who knows her place.” The king did what Memucan proposed. He sent bulletins to every part of the kingdom in their own language: “Every man is master of his own house; whatever he says, goes.”

1)    What would you have advised the king?  What effect will this advice have on other families?

So the King started a search for the most beautiful young women to find a replacement for Vashti.  There was a Jew named Mordecai living in Susa, the capital city, whose family had been taken from Israel.  His brother died, and he adopted his niece, named Esther.  She was beautiful in face and figure, and was selected for the palace.  Out of all the women selected, one would be picked to replace Vashti.  Esther becomes a part of the harem, receives a year of beauty treatments, and is sent finally to the king.  A wife only appears when summoned, so if the first appearance to the king doesn’t go well, that might be the last time you see him.

Read Esther 2:15-23. When it was Esther's turn to go to the king, she asked for nothing other than what Hegai, the king's eunuch in charge of the harem, had recommended. Esther, just as she was, won the admiration of everyone who saw her.  The king fell in love with Esther far more than with any of his other women. He placed a royal crown on her head and made her queen in place of Vashti. Then the king gave a great banquet for all his nobles and officials – “Esther's Banquet.” He proclaimed a holiday for all the provinces and handed out gifts with royal generosity.

2)    Sounds like a fairy tale.  But what would it be like in real life?

All this time Mordecai had been hanging out by the gates of the palace.  One day he overheard two bodyguards plotting to kill Xerxes.  He reported them, saved the king’s life, and they were executed.  It was recorded in the official history, but he didn’t receive any reward for it.

3)    Have you ever done a good deed that seemed to go unnoticed?

Enter the villain.  Read Esther 3:1-10. Some time later, King Xerxes promoted Haman son of Hammedatha the Agagite, making him the highest-ranking official in the government. All the king's servants at the King's Gate used to honor him by bowing down and kneeling before Haman—that's what the king had commanded.  Except Mordecai. Mordecai wouldn't do it, wouldn't bow down and kneel. The king's servants at the King's Gate asked Mordecai about it: “Why do you cross the king's command?” When Haman saw for himself that Mordecai didn't bow down and kneel before him, he was outraged. Meanwhile, having learned that Mordecai was a Jew, Haman hated to waste his fury on just one Jew; he looked for a way to eliminate not just Mordecai but all Jews throughout the whole kingdom of Xerxes.  In the first month Haman cast the pur (like rolling dice) to determine the day and month. The pur turned up the thirteenth day of the twelfth month.  Haman then spoke with King Xerxes: “There is an odd set of people scattered through the provinces of your kingdom who don't fit in. Their customs and ways are different from those of everybody else. Worse, they disregard the king's laws. They're an affront; the king shouldn't put up with them. If it please the king, let orders be given that they be destroyed. I'll pay for it myself. I'll deposit 375 tons of silver in the royal bank to finance the operation.”

So for offending his pride, Haman successfully manipulates the king into making an irrevocable decree to kill all the Jews.

4)    What is that like from modern times?  Why do some people seem to hate the Jews?

Mordecai and entire Jewish communities go into mourning, wearing sack cloth and ashes.  But Moredecai has faith they will be delivered.  He asks Esther to ask the king to save them.  But Esther tells him it is a crime punished with death to go see the king when you are not summoned.  You are only spared if the kind lowers his scepter.  Mordecai sends her this message.

Read Esther 4:12-16. “Don't think that just because you live in the king's house you're the one Jew who will get out of this alive. If you persist in staying silent at a time like this, help and deliverance will arrive for the Jews from someplace else; but you and your family will be wiped out. Who knows? Maybe you were made queen for just such a time as this.” Esther sent back her answer to Mordecai: “Go and get all the Jews living in Susa together. Fast for me. Don't eat or drink for three days, either day or night. I and my maids will fast with you. If you will do this, I'll go to the king, even though it's forbidden. If I die, I die.”

5)    Have you ever been called like Mordecai called Esther to speak out for justice?  Can you think of anyone you know who has answered the call?

Esther responds to the call.  Read Esther 5:1-8. Three days later Esther dressed in her royal robes and took up a position in the inner court. The king was on his throne facing the entrance. When he noticed Queen Esther standing in the court, he was pleased to see her; the king extended the gold scepter in his hand. Esther approached and touched the tip of the scepter. The king asked, “And what's your desire, Queen Esther? What do you want? Ask and it's yours—even if it's half my kingdom!”  “If it please the king,” said Esther, “let the king come with Haman to a dinner I've prepared for him.” “Get Haman at once,” said the king, “so we can go to dinner with Esther.”  So the king and Haman joined Esther at the dinner she had arranged. As they were drinking the wine, the king said, “Now, what is it you want? Half of my kingdom isn't too much to ask! Just ask.” Esther answered, “Here's what I want. If the king favors me and is pleased to do what I desire and ask, let the king and Haman come again tomorrow to the dinner that I will fix for them. Then I'll give a straight answer to the king's question.”

6)    Why does Esther pass up two opportunities to ask the king for what she wants?

Haman is ecstatic at being invited with the king.  But when he sees Mordecai afterward he is enraged.  He plans to have Mordecai hung the next day from a specially constructed 75 feet tall gallows.  Meanwhile the king is reminded of Mordecai’s prevention of the assassination attempt, and that he was never honored for it.  He calls in Haman. 

Read Esther 6:6-14. When Haman entered, the king said, “What would be appropriate for the man the king especially wants to honor?”  Haman thought to himself, “He must be talking about honoring me— who else?” So he answered the king, “For the man the king delights to honor, do this: Bring a royal robe that the king has worn and a horse the king has ridden, one with a royal crown on its head. Then give the robe and the horse to one of the king's most noble princes. Have him robe the man whom the king especially wants to honor; have the prince lead him on horseback through the city square, proclaiming before him, 'This is what is done for the man whom the king especially wants to honor!'“  “Go and do it,” the king said to Haman. “Don't waste another minute. Take the robe and horse and do what you have proposed to Mordecai the Jew who sits at the King's Gate. Don't leave out a single detail of your plan.”

7)    So Haman has to do that for Mordecai.  How do you think he felt?

Finally it’s time for the second dinner.  Haman is frustrated and angry, but at least he’s still in favor with the queen.  Read Esther 7. So the king and Haman went to dinner with Queen Esther. At this second dinner, while they were drinking wine the king again asked, “Queen Esther, what would you like? Half of my kingdom! Just ask and it's yours.” Queen Esther answered, “If I have found favor in your eyes, O King, and if it please the king, give me my life, and give my people their lives.  We've been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed—sold to be massacred, eliminated. If we had just been sold off into slavery, I wouldn't even have brought it up; our troubles wouldn't have been worth bothering the king over.”  King Xerxes exploded, “Who? Where is he? This is monstrous!”  “An enemy. An adversary. This evil Haman,” said Esther. Haman was terror-stricken before the king and queen.  The king, raging, left his wine and stalked out into the palace garden.  Haman stood there pleading with Queen Esther for his life—he could see that the king was finished with him and that he was doomed. As the king came back from the palace garden into the banquet hall, Haman was groveling at the couch on which Esther reclined. The king roared out, “Will he even attack the queen while I'm just around the corner?” When that word left the king's mouth, all the blood drained from Haman's face.  Harbona, one of the eunuchs attending the king, spoke up: “Look over there! There's the gallows that Haman had built for Mordecai, who saved the king's life. It's right next to Haman's house—seventy-five feet high!” The king said, “Hang him on it!”  So Haman was hanged on the very gallows that he had built for Mordecai. And the king's hot anger cooled.

So Esther and Mordecai were spared.  Esther was given Haman’s estate and she put Mordecai in charge of it.  She pleaded for the fate of all the Jews, and the king gave them his seal and permission to write any edict they wanted.  The decree is in Esther 8:11-12. “The king's order authorized the Jews in every city to arm and defend themselves to the death, killing anyone who threatened them or their women and children, and confiscating for themselves anything owned by their enemies.”

The Jews did defend themselves and killed 75,000 enemies on the day they were supposed to be killed.  But they didn’t take any of their enemies possessions.  Even Haman’s 10 sons were killed in the capital.

8)    Is that a just response to Haman’s edict?  Why or why not?

Thus, when the appointed day came about, the Jews’ enemies were surprised and thoroughly defeated.  The king’s nobles supported the Jews out of fear of them and Mordecai’s new position.  Mordecai’s 10 sons were also hanged after the battles in the capital Susa.  People began celebrating these events immediately, and Mordecai confirmed this idea.

Read Esther 9:20-23. Mordecai wrote all this down and sent copies to all the Jews in all King Xerxes' provinces, regardless of distance, calling for an annual celebration on the fourteenth and fifteenth days of Adar as the occasion when Jews got relief from their enemies, the month in which their sorrow turned to joy, mourning somersaulted into a holiday for parties and fun and laughter, the sending and receiving of presents and of giving gifts to the poor.  And they did it. What started then became a tradition, continuing the practice of what Mordecai had written to them.

9)    The Talmud recommends truly celebrating Purim with great verve.  Even to the point of drinking until you can’t tell Mordecai from Haman.  Every Purim Jews read the entire story of Esther (called the Megillah) twice.  What can you get out of hearing the same story over and over?

10)    What’s one thing you got out of this reading of Esther?