Sunday, January 29, 2012

Jonah's Work

Part 1. A men's study based on Eugene Peterson's Under the Unpredictable Plant adapted for youth.
by dnkemontoh @ Flickr

Besides his own book, Jonah comes up in a few other passages.  In 2 Kings 14: 23-25, he’s identified as the son of Amittai, as he also is in Jonah 1:1, and he had the message of the restoration of Israel’s borders during Jeroboam’s reign.  In the gospels, Jesus makes two references to Jonah, one in Matthew 12:38-42  and again in Matthew 16:4.  (In Luke 11:29-32, the author seems to refer to one or both of these stories from Matthew.)  Jesus describes his own death and resurrection as “the sign of Jonah” and says of the Jews of his time that they will be condemned by the Ninevites, who heard Jonah and repented, while they have one greater than Jonah, but have not repented.  But that’s not what this study is about.  This is about Jonah’s job.  It’s adapted from Under the Unpredictable Plant, by Eugene Peterson.

Tarshish or bust
Read Jonah 1:1-3
1The Lord spoke his word to Jonah, son of Amittai. He said, 2“Leave at once for the important city, Nineveh. Announce to the people that I can no longer overlook the wicked things they have done.” 3Jonah immediately tried to run away from the Lord by going to Tarshish. He went to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. He paid for the trip and went on board. He wanted to go to Tarshish to get away from the Lord.

Dream job: prophet? 
  • What would be cool about being a prophet?  
  • What is your dream job as of right now? Why?
  • What is your “job description” right now?

Why not Nineveh?  Nineveh had a long history of terrible occupants, misery built on misery.  Nobody in their right mind would want to go there, least of all a Jew, one of their traditional enemies.
  • What are the worst aspects of what you have to do?

Why Tarshish?  Tarshish was almost mythical.  An exotic Phoenician settlement, it was like the Wild West to Jews of that time.
  • What’s your Tarshish?  If you were to run away from responsibilities, where would you go or what would you do?  
  • Would you really go there if you got the chance?

It’s not like he was running to Tarshish to be a villain.  Jonah probably would have still been planning on doing God’s work.
  • So what was so wrong about going?

The Storm
Read Jonah 1:4-16
4The Lord sent a violent wind over the sea. The storm was so powerful that the ship was in danger of breaking up. 5The sailors were afraid, and they cried to their gods for help. They began to throw the cargo overboard to lighten the ship’s load.  Now, Jonah had gone below deck and was lying there sound asleep. 6The captain of the ship went to him and asked, “How can you sleep? Get up, and pray to your God. Maybe he will notice us, and we won’t die.”  7Then the sailors said to each other, “Let’s throw dice to find out who is responsible for bringing this disaster on us.” So they threw dice, and the dice indicated that Jonah was responsible. 8They asked him, “Tell us, why has this disaster happened to us? What do you do for a living? Where do you come from? What country are you from? What nationality are you?”

9Jonah answered them, “I’m a Hebrew. I worship the Lord, the God of heaven. He is the God who made the sea and the land.”  10Then the men were terrified. They knew that he was running away from the Lord, because he had told them. They asked Jonah, “Why have you done this?”  11The storm was getting worse. So they asked Jonah, “What should we do with you to calm the sea?”  12He told them, “Throw me overboard. Then the sea will become calm. I know that I’m responsible for this violent storm.”  13Instead, the men tried to row harder to get the ship back to shore, but they couldn’t do it. The storm was getting worse.

14So they cried to the Lord for help: “Please, Lord, don’t let us die for taking this man’s life. Don’t hold us responsible for the death of an innocent man, because you, Lord, do whatever you want.” 15Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the sea became calm. 16The men were terrified of the Lord. They offered sacrifices and made vows to the Lord.[a]
17The Lord sent a big fish to swallow Jonah. Jonah was inside the fish for three days and three nights.

Jonah was contentedly asleep in the hold while the storm built and raged.  As far as he knew, things were all right.
  • Was there ever a time in your life when things weren’t going well, despite all signs being to the contrary?  How did you wake up?

The amazing thing about being thrown into the sea is that it saved the sailors and Jonah.
  • Is there a time in your life when you saved the ship by throwing someone/something overboard?  Is there something in your life today that needs to be thrown overboard?
  • Has there been a situation in your life when you were thrown overboard and it worked to your good? 

Jonah’s act, and, more so, God’s response has an amazing effect on the sailors.  They go from each worshipping their own god to worshipping the true God.
  • Why do you think?
  • Do you think God has a calling for you?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Call Answering

John 1:43-51
The next day Jesus wanted to go to Galilee. He found Philip and told him, “Follow me!” (Philip was from Bethsaida, the hometown of Andrew and Peter.) Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the man whom Moses wrote about in his teachings and whom the prophets wrote about. He is Jesus, son of Joseph, from the city of Nazareth.”  
Nathanael said to Philip, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip told him, “Come and see!”  
Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and remarked, “Here is a true Israelite who is sincere.” Nathanael asked Jesus, “How do you know anything about me?” 
Jesus answered him, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael said to Jesus, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the king of Israel!” Jesus replied, “You believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.”  Jesus said to Nathanael, “I can guarantee this truth: You will see the sky open and God’s angels going up and coming down to the Son of Man.”
HEFU @ Flickr

1)    It’s a little hard to make sense of this. What parts don’t really seem to follow what comes before?

Let’s read a bit from the book ‘The Robe.’ (Chapter 16). The author tells the story of a Roman travelling through Israel meeting the people that Jesus knew and who are described in the gospels.

2)    How did the author make sense of the Nathanael story?  Did he deal with all the ‘huh?’ stuff in the story.

The readings have another story of a calling this week.
1 Samuel 3:1-20 The Lord Calls Samuel
The boy Samuel was serving the Lord under Eli. In those days a prophecy from the Lord was rare; visions were infrequent. One night Eli was lying down in his room. His eyesight had begun to fail so that he couldn’t see well. The lamp in God’s temple hadn’t gone out yet, and Samuel was asleep in the temple of the Lord where the ark of God was kept. Then the Lord called Samuel. “Here I am,” Samuel responded. He ran to Eli and said, “Here I am. You called me.”  
“I didn’t call you,” Eli replied. “Go back to bed.” So Samuel went back and lay down. The Lord called Samuel again. Samuel got up, went to Eli, and said, “Here I am. You called me.” 
“I didn’t call you, son,” he responded. “Go back to bed.” Samuel had no experience with the Lord, because the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel a third time. Samuel got up, went to Eli, and said, “Here I am. You called me.” Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. “Go, lie down,” Eli told Samuel. “When he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord. I’m listening.’ ” So Samuel went and lay down in his room.  
The Lord came and stood there. He called as he had called the other times: “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel replied, “Speak. I’m listening.”  
Then the Lord said to Samuel, “I am going to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears it ring. On that day I am going to do to Eli and his family everything I said from beginning to end. I told him that I would hand down a permanent judgment against his household because he knew about his sons’ sin - that they were cursing God - but he didn’t try to stop them. That is why I have taken an oath concerning Eli’s family line: No offering or sacrifice will ever be able to make peace for the sins that Eli’s family committed.” Samuel remained in bed until morning. Then he opened the doors of the Lord’s house. But Samuel was afraid to tell Eli about the vision.  
Then Eli called Samuel. “Samuel, my son!” he said. “Here I am,” he responded. “What did the Lord tell you?” he asked. “Please don’t hide anything from me. May God strike you dead if you hide anything he told you from me.” So Samuel told Eli everything. Eli replied, “He is the Lord. May he do what he thinks is right.”  
Samuel grew up. The Lord was with him and didn’t let any of his words go unfulfilled. All Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew Samuel was the Lord’s appointed prophet.

3)    Does the story make sense?

4)    Dramatic reading time! Divvy up parts

5)   Have you been called?

Sunday, January 8, 2012

String of Pearls

Happy New Year! Good time for beginnings, and the Feast of Jesus' Baptism kicks off the church year.

Rabbis had a name for teaching scripture from different parts of the bible by connecting word: making a string of pearls. The gospel this week for celebrating Jesus’ Baptism is a great example of this. Rabbis think it’s especially nice when they can connect the three different parts of the Hebrew bible: the Torah, the Prophets and the Psalms.

Mark 1:4-11
John the Baptizer was in the desert telling people about a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. All Judea and all the people of Jerusalem went to him. As they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River.  John was dressed in clothes made from camel’s hair. He wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey.  He announced, “The one who comes after me is more powerful than I. I am not worthy to bend down and untie his sandal straps.  I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”  
At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan River. As Jesus came out of the water, he saw heaven split open and the Spirit coming down to him as a dove. A voice from heaven said, “You are my Son, whom I love. I am pleased with you.”

So what are the connections? One book suggests these three:
Psalm2:7 I will announce the Lord’s decree. He said to me: “You are my Son. Today I have become your Father.”

Genesis 22:1-2 Later God tested Abraham and called to him, “Abraham!”
“Yes, here I am!” he answered.  God said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I will show you.”

Isaiah 42:1 Here is my servant, whom I support. Here is my chosen one, with whom I am pleased. I have put my Spirit on him. He will bring justice to the nations.

1)    What are the connections?
2)    What do the connections lead to? I mean, what else connects with Jesus or his baptism in those other scriptures?
3)    Do you see any other connections?

Another preacher points out two other connections with that place: Joshua led the people of Israel across the Jordan, and the great prophet Elisha receives a “double portion of spirit” of Elijah, and parts the waters of the Jordan as Elijah did.
4)    What might make those important connections?

More connections: There are two other places in Mark’s gospel when Jesus is proclaimed the Son of God:

Mark 9:2-7
After six days Jesus took only Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain where they could be alone. Jesus’ appearance changed in front of them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone on earth could bleach them. Then Elijah and Moses appeared to them and were talking with Jesus.  
Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it’s good that we’re here. Let’s put up three tents—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” (Peter didn’t know how to respond. He and the others were terrified.)  Then a cloud overshadowed them. A voice came out of the cloud and said, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

Mark 15:37-39
Then Jesus cried out in a loud voice and died. The curtain in the temple was split in two from top to bottom.  When the officer who stood facing Jesus saw how he gave up his spirit, he said, “Certainly, this man was the Son of God!”

5)    What connections might Mark hoped you would see among Jesus’ baptism, transfiguration and death, connected by this phrase?

Your Baptism
How did we go from Jesus getting baptized to us getting baptized? Because of New Testament stories like this:
Acts 19:1-7
While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. He said to them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?" They replied, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit." Then he said, "Into what then were you baptized?" They answered, "Into John's baptism." Paul said, "John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus." On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied-- altogether there were about twelve of them.

The official scoop: A sacrament is an outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual grace. Baptism is the initiation into Christian faith. Water and sometimes oil mark you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. There’s three parts that you or your godparents commit to: renounce and reject sin, a statement of belief in God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and a commitment to follow Christ as Lord and Savior. The effect of baptism isyou receive the Holy Spirit to live in you.

6)    Any questions about your baptism or baptism in general?

7)    Jot down one connection you want to remember from today.

For the men's study on this topic I made small changes to the questions and added a section before the Acts reading.

Nadia Bolz-Weber wrote a sermon where she contrasted the warm, fuzzy moment of the Holy Spirit hovering like a dove, to the following verses 12 and 13: “And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.” She comments that we often treat our spiritual life or church practice as a “wilderness avoidance program.”

6) What other scripture connects to the idea that the Spirit may send us out into the Wilderness?

7) Have you had any experiences where close contact with God or a filling with the Spirit drove you into a spiritually or faith-challenging place?