Friday, May 21, 2010

50 Days Later

Pentecost (A study using the year C readings.)

Some people consider Christmas to be the Birthday of the Christian church.  Some might say Easter.  But it’s really Pentecost.  Pentecost is from the Greek for “Fiftieth Day” as in the Acts of the Apostles it came 10 days after Jesus’ Ascension into heaven, which was 40 days after Easter.  It has strong connections with the Jewish Pentecost, called the Festival of Shavout, which was when God gave Moses the 10 Commandments 50 days after the Exodus.

1)    Jot down what you know about the Holy Spirit and what you think you know.

John 14:15-27
[Jesus said,] “If you love me, show it by doing what I’ve told you. I will talk to the Father, and he’ll provide you another Friend so that you will always have someone with you. This Friend is the Spirit of Truth. The godless world can’t take him in because it doesn’t have eyes to see him, doesn’t know what to look for. But you know him already because he has been staying with you, and will even be in you!  I will not leave you orphaned. I’m coming back. In just a little while the world will no longer see me, but you’re going to see me because I am alive and you’re about to come alive. At that moment you will know absolutely that I’m in my Father, and you’re in me, and I’m in you.  The person who knows my commandments and keeps them, that’s who loves me. And the person who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and make myself plain to him.”

Judas (not Iscariot) said, “Master, why is it that you are about to make yourself plain to us but not to the world?”
“Because a loveless world,” said Jesus, “is a sightless world. If anyone loves me, he will carefully keep my word and my Father will love him—we’ll move right into the neighborhood! Not loving me means not keeping my words. The message you are hearing isn’t mine. It’s the message of the Father who sent me.  I’m telling you these things while I’m still living with you. The Friend, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request, will make everything plain to you. He will remind you of all the things I have told you. I’m leaving you well and whole. That’s my parting gift to you. Peace. I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left—feeling abandoned, bereft.  So don’t be upset. Don’t be distraught.”

1)    What are the different names for the Holy Spirit being used here.  Underline them.

2)    What does or will the Holy Spirit do?

Acts 2:1-21;38-42

When the Feast of Pentecost [Shavout – the receiving of the 10 Commandments] came, they were all together in one place. Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force—no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them.

3)    What do you think really happened there?  Is this imagery or observation?  Why do you think?

There were many Jews staying in Jerusalem just then, devout pilgrims from all over the world. When they heard the sound, they came on the run. Then when they heard, one after another, their own mother tongues being spoken, they were thunderstruck. They couldn’t for the life of them figure out what was going on, and kept saying, “Aren’t these all Galileans? How come we’re hearing them talk in our various mother tongues?”

4)    How could that happen?  Why doesn’t that happen today?

Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; Visitors from Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia; Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene; Immigrants from Rome, both Jews and proselytes; Even Cretans and Arabs!  “They’re speaking our languages, describing God’s mighty works!”  Their heads were spinning; they couldn’t make head or tail of any of it. They talked back and forth, confused: “What’s going on here?”  Others joked, “They’re drunk on cheap wine.”

That’s when Peter stood up and, backed by the other eleven, spoke out with bold urgency: “Fellow Jews, all of you who are visiting Jerusalem, listen carefully and get this story straight. These people aren’t drunk as some of you suspect. They haven’t had time to get drunk—it’s only nine o’clock in the morning.  This is what the prophet Joel announced would happen:

“In the Last Days,” God says, “I will pour out my Spirit on every kind of people:
Your sons will prophesy, also your daughters;
Your young men will see visions, your old men dream dreams.
When the time comes, I’ll pour out my Spirit on those who serve me, men and women both, and they’ll prophesy.
I’ll set wonders in the sky above and signs on the earth below,
Blood and fire and billowing smoke, the sun turning black and the moon blood-red,
Before the Day of the Lord arrives, the Day tremendous and marvelous;
And whoever calls out for help to me, God, will be saved.”

5)    That’s from Joel 2:28-32 in the Bible.  How is what’s happening in Acts Chapter 2 like what was prophesied 800 years before?

…  Peter said, “Change your life. Turn to God and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, so your sins are forgiven. Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is targeted to you and your children, but also to all who are far away—whomever, in fact, our Master God invites.”  He went on in this vein for a long time, urging them over and over, “Get out while you can; get out of this sick and stupid culture!”  That day about three thousand took him at his word, were baptized and were signed up. They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers.

6)    What would a Pentecost moment look like now?  Can you imagine it in our church?

7)    What do you know about the Holy Spirit now?

Bonus Scripture: Romans 8:9-17
But if God himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of him. Anyone, of course, who has not welcomed this invisible but clearly present God, the Spirit of Christ, won't know what we're talking about. But for you who welcome him, in whom he dwells—even though you still experience all the limitations of sin—you yourself experience life on God's terms. It stands to reason, doesn't it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he'll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself? When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ's!
So don't you see that we don't owe this old do-it-yourself life one red cent. There's nothing in it for us, nothing at all. The best thing to do is give it a decent burial and get on with your new life. God's Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go!
This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It's adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike "What's next, Papa?" God's Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what's coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we're certainly going to go through the good times with him!

8)  How have you experienced this paradox Paul shares?  "Even though you still experience all the limitations of sin—you yourself experience life on God's terms."

Resources:  while preparing this study, I cam across a couple neat sites.
Insight - an English youth group leader's blog with activities and lessons.  Not currently active, but had posted a lot before that.
Rethinking Youth Ministry - a blog with some good resources, lessons and ideas for youth ministry.  Current and topical.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Hi, Dad. I'm in jail.

In the lectionary this week is the story of Paul and SIlas in jail.  As we ave been studying Acts for the apostles' stories, I thought it would be nice to do a thematic study.  This will also serve as a good introduction to Paul, whom I think we'll do next week as a good way to end the year.  Or we'll be studying Pentecost.  Tough choice!

The scriptures under consideration:
Acts 5:17-39
Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail.  But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people the full message of this new life.”

At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people.  When the high priest and his associates arrived, they called together the Sanhedrin—the full assembly of the elders of Israel—and sent to the jail for the apostles. But on arriving at the jail, the officers did not find them there. So they went back and reported, “We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside.”  On hearing this report, the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were puzzled, wondering what would come of this.

Then someone came and said, “Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people.”  At that, the captain went with his officers and brought the apostles. They did not use force, because they feared that the people would stone them.  Having brought the apostles, they made them appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”  Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than men!  The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead—whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree.  God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.  We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death.  But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while.  Then he addressed them: “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men.  Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing.  After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered.  Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail.  But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”
Acts 12:5-17:
So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.  The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance.  Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.

Then the angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and sandals.” And Peter did so. “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,” the angel told him.  Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision.  They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him.  Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I know without a doubt that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were anticipating.”
Acts 16:16-39:
The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten.  After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully.  Upon receiving such orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.  Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped.  But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”  The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”  Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house.  At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized.  The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole family.

When it was daylight, the magistrates sent their officers to the jailer with the order: “Release those men.”  The jailer told Paul, “The magistrates have ordered that you and Silas be released. Now you can leave. Go in peace.”  But Paul said to the officers: “They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out.”  The officers reported this to the magistrates, and when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they were alarmed.  They came to appease them and escorted them from the prison, requesting them to leave the city.
Acts 24:22-27:
Then Felix, who was well acquainted with the Way, adjourned the proceedings. “When Lysias the commander comes,” he said, “I will decide your case.”  He ordered the centurion to keep Paul under guard but to give him some freedom and permit his friends to take care of his needs.

Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was a Jewess. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus.  As Paul discoursed on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, “That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.”  At the same time he was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe, so he sent for him frequently and talked with him.  When two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, but because Felix wanted to grant a favor to the Jews, he left Paul in prison.

2 Timothy 1:6-12.
For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.  For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.

So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.  And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher.  That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.
The study from these scriptures I want to bring out both what the apostles were willing to suffer, as that is a great testament to the truth of their message, but the power of knowing the Lord is with you.  I plan on sharing the story of my friend Liz Walters, an IHM nun who was sent to federal prison repeatedly for nonviolent protests against nuclear arms.  She was shunted around, kept from friends and family and put in with the most violent offenders.  Often converting them and never coming to harm.  She really practiced the Jesus Way.

Scientists estimation of what
Paul of Tarsus might have looked like.
Doesn't capture his passion!
 Hi, Dad.  I’m in Jail

Early on the authorities tried a traditional way to stop the apostles – put ‘em in jail!  But from the first time it didn’t work.  In Acts 4, the Sadducees jailed Peter and John.  And then threatened them when that had no effect.  Then were just amazed when the threats had no effect.  Sometimes the authorities just couldn’t hold them.  The apostles, of course, were preaching life after death, and the Sadducees didn’t even believe in that.  Let alone Jesus.  Read Acts 5:17-39

1)    Why are Peter and the others willing to go to jail?  Why aren’t they afraid?

Peter also got sent to jail on his own.  Shortly after Herod had James, the brother of John, put to death, we can read about Peter's next imprisonment in Acts 12:5-17.

2)    Why would God set Peter free?  If you were Peter what would you do next?

Paul was in jail a lot, and it didn’t seem to bother him a bit.  After they freed a slave girl from an evil spirit, the owners had them beaten and locked up.   Read Acts 16:16-39.

3)    How are Paul and Silas able to praise God while jailed?  For what do they have to be thankful?

4)   How hard would it be to do something nice for your jailer?  Why would this event bring the jailer to believe?

But the apostles did not have a ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card.  Many disciples were jailed long term or executed.  In Acts 24:22-27 it describes Paul spending two years in jail.  When he has a chance to be freed by convincing a king of his innocence, he insists on being sent to Rome for a trial.  Finally the new governor Festus sends him to Rome to be judged by the Romans.  On the way there’s a shipwreck and a viper… but that’s another story.

5)    How can it make a difference during tough times – even in jail – to know that God is with you?

6)    Why does sometimes God seem to help those in trouble and sometimes not?

These are not just old stories.  People today are jailed for proclaiming Jesus publically in places like China, where the government wants to control religion, India, where Hindus are offended by the idea of one God, and countries where Islam is a state religion and it is illegal to try to get anyone to change religions.  More often, Christians can be the victim of violence for being public or telling others about their faith.  Not everyone is called to suffer for their faith, or to be open to persecution.  That kind of testifying should only be the answer to prayer, when you know that God is calling you to do it.  It should also not be decided on alone, but prayed and discussed with other serious believers.  God’s direction will be clear.

But we are going to have hard times, and times when you could feel abandoned by God.  Like Joseph in the old testament when he was down the well or in jail in Egypt.  But the truth is that God is with us, as much as he was with Peter walking out of jail or Paul in prison for two years.

Paul wrote several of his epistles from prison or house arrest.  Here he writes to Timothy, his protégé, in 2 Timothy 1:6-12.  I’m sure Paul worried for Timothy’s faith since his teacher was in jail.  Take a minute to read the passage.

7)    If you could share with Paul your worst problem, what do you think he might tell you?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Whom Would You Tell?

On Philip and Batholomew.  (Or is it Nathanael?)

In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the 12 apostles include someone named Batholomew, of whom we know nothing else.  In John, the 12 includes Nathanael, we think.  (John never writes a list like the other gospels.)  But it does have this story.  The day after calling Simon (Peter) and Andrew… John 1:43-51
The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee.  Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”  Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida.  Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”  “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.  “Come and see,” said Philip.

When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.”  “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.  Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”  Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”  Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that.”  He then added, “I tell [all of] you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

1)    What do you think that phrase “finding Philip” might mean?

2)    If Jesus found you, whom would you run to tell?  Why them?

3)    Why did Nathanael believe?  What did Jesus say to him and why was it amazing?

The two best stories about Philip are both in Acts Chapter 8.  History and legend seem to recall Philip as a great evangelist, who travels anywhere and everywhere to share the news of Jesus.  This takes place just after the killing of the first martyr, Stephen.
On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.

Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.  Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there.  When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said.  With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed.  So there was great joy in that city.

Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, “This man is the divine power known as the Great Power.”  They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his magic.  But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.  Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.

4)    Why would Philip welcome this fraud into his group, his church?  He had been misleading people for years; was he worthy of the truth?  Even if you forgive him, do you have to accept him?

But even though Simon the Magician was following Philip, he didn’t really get it yet.
When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them.  When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus.  Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.  When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”

Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money!  You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God.  Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart.  For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”  Then Simon answered, “Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.”  When they had testified and proclaimed the word of the Lord, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages.

5)    Does Simon get it now?  What do you think?  How can you tell?

6)    What is that part about the Holy Spirit here?  What was going on with that?

Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.”  So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”  Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.  “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?”  So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

7)    This person is as different from Philip as possible: different race, different country, rich.  Knowing Philip, he’ll go talk to him.  What would the person most different from you be like?

The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture:
“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.  Who can speak of his descendants?  For his life was taken from the earth.”
The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?”  Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.  As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?”  And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.  When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.  Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.

8)    Eunuchs were barred from the temple.  (Because of a rule in Deuteronomy 23)  Even though the eunuch went to Jerusalem to worship, he was probably not allowed in.  Why would Philip baptize him?

9)    What’s the one thing you would want people to know about Jesus?

There's an interesting post by the Sarcastic Lutheran (Nadia Bolz-Weber, ultra cool pastor of the House for All Sinners and Saints) with her sermon on this passage with the Ethiopian Eunuch, relating it to inclusion in the church.