01 July 2018

July Newsletter Article - Riverside Lutheran Bible Camp

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Summer is here, and that means it’s camp season! Riverside Lutheran Bible Camp is yet another of the important ministries we support with our benevolences at St. Petri, both as a congregation and as individuals. July is a great time to talk about the wonderful ministry we support just up the road to the north of Story City.
Riverside has been a camping presence in the Story City community for 75 years. “Riverside was established in 1943 thanks to the extraordinary vision of Pastor A.J. Bringle. Ever since then, Riverside has been a place of worship, rest, community, experiencing the Holy Spirit, and growing in a relationship with Jesus Christ. Tens of thousands of people have been impacted by the ministry here, along the banks of the Skunk River…” In 2017, Riverside welcomed over 2,500 campers, including local kids at day camps throughout the state, and approximately 7,500 people participated in some sort of event, retreat, or camp program hosted by or connected to Riverside throughout the year.
Riverside offers a variety of opportunities for people of all ages and abilities. There will also be a large shift in leadership in 2018 as longtime executive and equestrian directors Dave & Jan McDermott have announced their retirement, effective in October 2018. Riverside has already found its next executive director - Chris Dahl, current program coordinator, will step into that role this fall. Many of you know the years of dedicated service the McDermotts have given to Riverside and the Story City area - I’m sure an extra gift to Riverside in their honor would be appreciated.
As a longtime camper & staff veteran myself, I know firsthand how important camping ministries can be to the life of faith. There is something special about places set apart, like Riverside, where we can be invited to step out of our “boats” and into a new way of thinking or living the faith God has given us. I’m grateful that St. Petri supports Riverside Lutheran Bible Camp, and I look forward to a vibrant future for both our congregation and the camp just outside of town.
Yours in Christ,
Pastor Scott

02 April 2018

April 2018 Newsletter Article


Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed! Alleluia! So goes the shout of the church in this Easter season. With Christ arisen, we, too, live again in the hope of resurrection and in life that extends far beyond the grave. The question before us, now that death no longer holds us captive, addresses a new hope for the future:  how shall we live? 
One of the marks of Christian life after Easter has always been generosity. In the days of the early church, believers often gathered together for communal meals, and some communities actually created a sort of communal society, where all goods were held in common and all shared freely from what God had entrusted to them. Two millennia later, we Christians of the 21st century still practice this generous sharing of what God has entrusted to us. Here at St. Petri, we share a beautiful, historic congregation with its own building and local ministries. We also share as a congregation to support ministries beyond our local community. Over the next few months, I’m going to share the stories of these ministries with you, so that you will be better informed about what happens to every dollar you return to God in thanksgiving for what God has given to you. 
The largest portion of our giving goes to the Northeastern Iowa Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. In a newsletter article a few years ago, Pastor Mark Anderson of the NEIA Synod Staff shared a brief glimpse of the many ways the Synod partners with our congregation in the ministry of our church:

This is too short a space to review all the synodical ministries or narrate the budget, but here is a summary of what I think readers will care about the most.
Sharing Jesus and Supporting Congregations
Evangelism
  • Use a strong social media presence to proclaim the Word, call the church to prayer, and lift up and encourage congregations’ witness.
  • Consult with congregations who request assistance in renewal, stewardship, and evangelism.
  • Accompany our new worshiping communities in Farley and Parkersburg.
Passing on the Faith from Our Generation to the Next
Youth, Family, & Young Adult Ministry
  • Provide help for parents to teach the faith to their children.
  • Support youth workers and youth ministry.
  • Offer Christian leadership training for high school students.
  • Support campus ministry.
Raising & Supporting Pastoral Leadership for Congregations
Leadership
  • Walk with candidates through the process of becoming pastors and other rostered leaders.
  • Secure funding to support Seminary Education.
  • Train and coach new pastors.
  • Guide congregations through the call process.
  • Provide continuing education opportunities for rostered leaders.
  • Help church leaders to prepare to retire.
Sharing Daily Bread & Working for Opportunity
Poverty & Justice
  • Domestic Hunger Grants fund community and church gardens to grow food for food shelves, food banks and community meals.
  • Barnabas Uplift provides job training for the unemployed.
  • Provide funding to Lutheran Services in Iowa for the care of children, families, the elderly, and people with special needs.
In addition to undesignated “mission support,” (offerings received from congregations) the members of the Northeastern Iowa Synod last year gave:
  • $177,000 to ELCA World Hunger
  • $55,000 to support Lutheran World Relief
  • $49,000 to support missionaries
  • $48,000 to the ELCA Malaria Campaign
  • $15,500 to Domestic Disaster Response
We give thanks for all those people and congregations who give to support the wider church and for all the ministries these gifts make possible.

This is just a snapshot of the many ways we congregations of the Northeastern Iowa Synod provide support to one another through the offerings we pass on in mission support. Individual congregations could not do this on their own, but together we support and encourage one another, and the sum of what we can do together is much larger than the parts each individual church offers. I join Pastor Anderson in thanking you for your generous support of our ministries, and I encourage you to grow in that generosity in 2018!

Yours in Christ, 
Pastor Scott

26 March 2018

Pop Culture Monday: Living Biblically


Beloved is a fan of a lot of CBS shows: NCIS, Madam Secretary, and Hawaii Five-O being her big favorites. I've trended recently more toward the sci-fi/horror genre since there's been a ton of quality offerings over the past few years: The Walking Dead, The Expanse, Taboo, Into the Badlands, Game of Thrones, American Gods, etc. So we haven't been watching a lot of television together over the past few years. Recently this changed because of two shows: Star Trek: Discovery and Living Biblically. I'm not going to do a review of ST:D until the 2nd season drops, but given that Living Biblically is a recent addition, this seemed a good opportunity to critique something with which I'm familiar: a show about religion.

25 January 2018

February 2018 Newsletter Article

The new year has come and gone and most of us, for better or for worse, have discovered which resolutions we’ll keep and which ones were just wishful thinking (almost all of mine fall in the latter category every year). I’d like to invite you to add a resolution to your list that should be a lot easier to keep than a gym schedule. I invite you to reshape the way you think about the ministry of St. Petri Lutheran Church. Give me a minute to explain what I’m proposing.

As a congregation, we are really, really good at special offerings, and that’s something to celebrate. When our youth are raising funds to pay for their mission trips, they don’t have to beg and plead. When the Council decided it was time to finally replace that worn out carpet in the Fellowship Hall, the committee in charge of overseeing the project had what we needed in just a few weeks. Even when you determined it was time for a major renovation of the parsonage, a project which required a significant investment of time and resources by a lot of St. Petri members, it was done in plenty of time for us to move in and feel cherished by this congregation (which we do - we’ve told churches around the synod that St. Petri is a model congregation when it comes to maintaining and managing a parsonage). 

At the same time, our general operating budget at St. Petri has consistently been a source of concern for the Council over these past five years. In 2017, we’ve been in a deficit at the end of every month, even though our actual spending as a congregation has been below budget, finishing the year just over 96% of what we projected at the annual meeting last January. Financially, St. Petri runs a very tight ship which is well-managed and properly overseen by our Council and through an annual Audit Committee. For 2018, the Property and Trustees Committee is proposing a general budget which is actually lower than 2017, but includes salary raises for staff which are in line with the minimum guidelines established by the Northeastern Iowa Synod every year. 

My proposal in relation to all this is quite simple: everything is special. It’s wonderful to be able to see our special gifts installing new carpet in the Fellowship Hall, but the Bible Study which meets in that Fellowship Hall is also special, right? How about the electricity which allows us to run the lights for social hour after worship every Sunday morning? The heat which keeps the building warm in the winter? The piano tuner who keeps our instruments sounding good all year round? The cleaning supplies our custodians use to keep the building looking nice every week? The copier which prints the weekly bulletin? The internet connection that helps us stay connected in a digital age? All these things are indeed a special part of the ministry of St. Petri Evangelical Lutheran Church, and without your support of the general operating fund, those special parts of who we are and what we do will be limited. Sure, fixing a toilet or making sure all the light fixtures have bulbs that work might not feel as special as sending a kid to Puerto Rico for a mission trip or building a new sign out front of the building, but if it’s part of what we do as a church, you know it’s special and it’s critical that we support it with our prayers and our offerings. 

So that’s my proposal for a new resolution for you, members of St. Petri Lutheran Church: everything is special. I’m asking you to support the special work our church is doing in the Story City area with the sort of generosity you’ve given the other special offerings in the past. I’m asking you to help us move forward as a congregation in 2018 and unleash a bit more of the special potential this congregation has to be a force for God’s kingdom this year. I hope to do more of it myself, and I invite you to join me on that journey. God bless you all in this new year. 

Yours in Christ,
Pastor Scott

15 November 2017

Text Study for November 19 - A Child is Born

Prayer of the Day
God of light, there can be overwhelming obscurity in this world. But you shine your light and increase joy, and for your brilliance we are grateful. Let the light of your grace, which shone through Isaiah's prophecy, shine through us also, that we might radiate your joy in a darkening world. This we pray in the name of Jesus, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever.  Amen.

Reading: Isaiah 9:1-7
The prophet Isaiah brought a message of hope to the people of Israel and Judah in a time of great suffering and sorrow. After the fall of Israel in 722 B.C., many of the people of the northern kingdom were taken into exile in the Assyrian Empire. Isaiah prophesied that the tribal territories conquered by Assyria would one day be rebuilt by the power of God.
A reading from Isaiah.
1 But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.
 
2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
 those who lived in a land of deep darkness — on them light has shined.
 
3You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy;
 they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder.
 
4For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor,
 you have broken as on the day of Midian.
 
5For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
 
6For a child has been born for us, a son given to us;
 authority rests upon his shoulders;
 and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
 
7His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore.
 The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

COMMENTARY & QUESTIONS

  1. What questions do you have about these readings?
  2. “…Zebulun and Naphtali” (9.1)
    1. Zebulun and Naphtali were two of the original 12 tribes of Israel, alloted lands north and east of the Sea of Galilee (see map). The territories roughly correspond to areas that were taken by Assyrian king Tilgath-pileser III in 732 B.C. Isaiah’s prophesy of redeemed hope and light for these lands would have been heard as the work of God, since they had already been lost to Assyria at the time of Isaiah’s writings here. 
  3. “…as on the day of Midian.” (9.4)
    1. A direct reference to the victory of Gideon over the gigantic Midianite and Amalekite armies recounted in Judges 7: “…all the people…lay along the valley as thick as locusts; and their camels were without number, countless as the sand on the seashore.” Despite these overwhelming odds, the Lord sent only 300 Israelites with Gideon against them, so that the Lord alone could claim the victory.
    2. “The comparison would have been evoked by the similarly long odds of Judah surviving the mighty Neo-Assyrian empire.”  (Christopher Hays. http://bit.ly/2ANBauZ)
  4. “Particularly in the light of the history of the interpretation of this text, it is important to clarify the tenses in the poem. Verses 2-5 clearly speak of past events…the verbs in v. 6 are perfects and consecutive imperfects, the normal narrative tense in Hebrew. They must be read as reporting past action or, in view of the passives, possibly as present: ‘A child has been born to us…authority rests upon his shoulders.’…The implications of this analysis are quite clear: the reasons for celebration - release from an oppressor, destruction of battle gear, and the birth of the ‘Prince of Peace’ - are not in the future but in the past. These events form the basis for confidence in the future.” (Gene M. Tucker, The New Interpreter’s Bible, v. 6: Isaiah 1-39. © 1996 Abingdon Press. p. 122. Emphasis mine.)
  5. The titles listed in v. 6 would have been a common element for the birth proclamation of a crown prince in the Ancient Near East. Egyptian Pharaohs were particularly well-known for the descriptive titles attached to the names of their children who would one day ascend to the throne. 
    1. Keeping in mind this is the past tense proclamation of the birth of a prince, these would not be earned descriptors but a kind of hortatory title - the sort of thing one wishes to be, not what one has already demonstrated. Think more along the lines of "Daenerys of the House Targaryen, the First of Her Name, The Unburnt, Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar and the First Men, Queen of Meereen, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Protector of the Realm, Lady Regnant of the Seven Kingdoms, Breaker of Chains and Mother of Dragons” (though some of these titles from the series A Song of Ice and Fire are earned honorifics) and less “Vlad the Impaler.”
  6. A few questions to ponder:
    1. “…he (God) brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and Naphtali…” Does it disturb you to think of God bringing down the fortunes of a kingdom or a people? Does it delight you? What do you imagine this word must do to the people who are presently suffering? 
    2. Most Christians see this passage as a prophetic announcement of the coming of Jesus over 700 years after the earliest time this passage could have been written. However, Biblical scholars are almost unanimous in stating this was not Isaiah’s intent at the time it was written - any messianic connections to Jesus are a later addition to the scriptural tradition. Does this sort of historic analysis of scripture challenge your understanding of the Old Testament? Are you comforted or disturbed by the idea that Isaiah was not talking about Jesus, that it is our interpretation and not his original intent? 
    3. Can you hear this text without thinking of the Michael W. Smith/Amy Grant Christmas recordings based on it? (Confession: your pastor cannot. đŸ˜€ )
    4. What brings you hope from this reading? What would you love to see fulfilled, even if it isn’t a direct prophetic utterance predicting a certain future?

08 November 2017

Text Study for November 12 - Let Justice Roll Down


Prayer of the Day
God of all people, you are justice itself, and in you righteousness flows over all of creation. Create justice and righteousness in us, that all may rejoice in your blessings and live in your kingdom of peace and lovingkindness. Amen.

Reading: Amos 1:1-2; 5:14-15, 21-24
King Jereboam II of Israel and Uzziah of Judah ruled during a long period of relative peace and prosperity for both kingdoms during the 7th century B.C. It appears that the tribal systems of land ownership broke down in those days, and a new wealthy class emerged at the top of Israelite society, at the expense of many commoners and laborers. Into this environment, a shepherd named Amos was called from the southern kingdom of Judah to proclaim the word of God in Israel.  
A reading from Amos.
1The words of Amos, who was among the shepherds of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of King Uzziah of Judah and in the days of King Jeroboam son of Joash of Israel, two years before the earthquake. 2And he said:
The LORD roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem;
 the pastures of the shepherds wither, and the top of Carmel dries up.
 14Seek good and not evil, that you may live;
 and so the LORD, the God of hosts, will be with you, just as you have said.
 
15Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate;
 it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.
 
21I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
 
22Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. 23Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
 24But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

COMMENTARY & QUESTIONS
  1. What questions do you have about these readings?
  2. “…two years before the earthquake.” (v. 1:1)
    1. There is evidence of a large earthquake in Hazor, between the Sea of Galilee and Lake Huleh, dating to c. 760 B.C. This earthquake is also mentioned in Zechariah 14:5, which was written hundreds of years after Amos, so it seems likely it is a historic event by which we can reliably date most of Amos to roughly the years 760-750 B.C. This would match the time of the kings mentioned in the introduction (Amos 1:1).
  3. “…justice in the gate.” (v. 5:15)
    1. In Amos’ Israel, ‘the gate’ most likely meant the entrance to the courts or chambers of local magistrates. The judge’s seat would be put in the shade of the gate and people would bring their cases to him. There was no guarantee of counsel, good or bad, in the laws of the time, so as you can imagine, the lower classes often found the courts stacked against them by sheer ignorance of the law, to say nothing of bribes and other injustices the wealthy and well-connected might employ to their advantage. 
  4. It’s worth a minute to consider the setting and context of Amos’ words. 
    1. “Consider any of the small nations of the world today, and imagine being a citizen of a neighboring country and going to that small nation to inform its people that soon they would no longer exist as a nation. Worse yet, imagine trying to convince them that this was the will of their god. How could such destruction and death be the will of any god? That is the theological problem Amos and the other pre-exilic prophets created for their people, and the problem remains for us.”
  1. “All of the 8th century prophets (Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, and Micah) link social justice with proper worship of the one true God. Life and worship are a balance like a fair, properly-weighted scale. Worship of other gods and oppression of the poor and the weak are the immoral acts that are most criticized by Amos. Unfaithfulness to YHWH is all the same. It breaks the communion with covenantal partners both human and divine.”
    1. Looking back a few weeks, do you remember why the house of Eli lost its ancestral claim to the priesthood in the days of Samuel? 
    2. In what ways are worship and justice connected? Why, in your words, would missing the mark in one make for problems in the other?
  1. “Amos does not intend to replace ritual with social action. Rather, what goes on in society must correspond to what is said and done in worship. Amos tells us God does not accept the worship of those who show no interest in justice in their daily lives.”
    1. Is the problem in Amos’ world worship, or worshipers? 
    2. What about today? How would our worship be affected by injustice locally? Nationally? Globally?
Quotations pulled from The New Interpreters' Bible and the Lutheran Study Bible.

26 October 2017

Text Study for Reformation Sunday - Free, Indeed!

Prayer of the Day
God, renewer of life and only reformer, you surround us with a great cloud of witnesses throughout time and place whom you have called into your work, witnessing to your Gospel of liberation by grace alone. Continue now to raise up witnesses for your work of renewal and reform, that we may all grow more deeply into that mystery of communion that is your church. Come now, and sustain the on-going reformation of your church. We ask this all through your son Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Reading: Romans 3:19-28
Paul’s words stand at the heart of the preaching of Martin Luther and other Reformation leaders. No human beings make themselves right with God through works of the law. We are brought into a right relationship with God through the divine activity centered in Christ’s death. This act is a gift of grace that liberates us from sin and empowers our faith in Jesus Christ.
A reading from Romans.
19Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20For “no human being will be justified in his sight” by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.
21But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, 22the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 24they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; 26it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.
27Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.

Reading: John 8:31-36
Jesus speaks of truth and freedom as spiritual realities known through his word. He reveals the truth that sets people free from sin.
31Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 33They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?”
34Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”

COMMENTARY & QUESTIONS
  1. What questions do you have about these readings? 
  2. In case somebody hasn’t heard, this is the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation! Anyone throwing a party? No? Just me? Okay, then. 
  3. One breakout sitcom from 2016 was NBC’s “The Good Place.” In an episode I just watched with Kristin, a character named Tahani is frustrated because she can never get higher than second to last place on the “rankings” in heaven, no matter how hard she works. At the end of the episode, this heaven’s architect, Michael, sits her down and explains that the rankings had to do with Tahani’s life before death - in heaven, they mean nothing. Once you’re in “The Good Place” you’re free to be what you are without proving anything to anyone.
    1. In essence, Luther’s theological breakthroughs in the early 1500s brought this sense of belonging to the Christian faith, and the reading from John 8 for today emphasizes the gift of it all. “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” As Luther understood it, a Christian was perfectly free from any requirement for righteousness or justification once Jesus had declared the Christian ‘free.’ 
    2. Romans 3:28 is incredibly important to the faith of the reformers: “we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.” It’s important to note that one of the easiest ways to sabotage this is to turn faith into something we do: “All you have to do is believe.”  NO - even belief is a work of God on our behalf, according to Luther.
      1. “I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or com to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with [its] gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith.” This is from Luther’s Small Catechism, and for my money it’s the most important part of the whole thing. God’s Holy Spirit is already at work in me long before I can turn the gift of faith into a work I must undertake to make myself righteous in the eyes of God. In Baptism and Holy Communion God sets us free from such things, and in that freedom we are truly free from requirements, fears, and anxieties about whether we measure up to some hypothetical standard or stand out from those around us. 
    3. Why do you think letting go of requirements and rankings is so hard for Christians? What is it about rules and standards that we find so seductive, and what is it about freedom that can be so incredibly difficult?
  4. “To make the way smoother for the unlearned - for only them do I serve - I shall set down the following two propositions concerning the freedom and the bondage of the spirit: 
A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.
A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.”
    1. This quote is taken from Luther’s treatise On the Freedom of a Christian, written in 1520 with an open letter to Pope Leo VIII in hopes that he might understand Luther was trying to help the church become more faithful, not attempting to rebel against the church or break away. The treatise is one of Luther’s most important in what Timothy Lull calls “his most productive year.” In it Luther lays out the central paradox which has defined true Lutheran faith for almost 500 years, even if the Lutherans themselves continue to struggle to understand, incorporate, and embody it.
    2. What might it mean for a Christian to be at the same time a free lord and a dutiful servant? How does this particular understanding of Christian faith evolve from the freedom Jesus promises in John 8?

11 October 2017

Text Study - 1 Samuel 3:1-4:1 - The Call of Samuel

Prayer of the Day
Beckoning God, in the stillness of the night you called Samuel into your service. Call us into service with a voice we are able to hear, and give us hearts to come when we are called. We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

Reading: I Samuel 3:1-4:1
After the Exodus and the establishment of Israel in the land of Canaan, a period of about 250 years followed in which Israel was a loose association of tribes with no central ruler. The books of Samuel tell the story of Israel’s transition to a monarchy, beginning with the calling of Samuel as God’s prophet.
1Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the LORD under Eli. The word of the LORD was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.
2At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; 3the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was. 4Then the LORD called, "Samuel! Samuel!" and he said, "Here I am!" 5and ran to Eli, and said, "Here I am, for you called me." But he said, "I did not call; lie down again." So he went and lay down. 6The LORD called again, "Samuel!" Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, "Here I am, for you called me." But he said, "I did not call, my son; lie down again." 7Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him. 8The LORD called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, "Here I am, for you called me." Then Eli perceived that the LORD was calling the boy. 9Therefore Eli said to Samuel, "Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, 'Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.'" So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
10Now the LORD came and stood there, calling as before, "Samuel! Samuel!" And Samuel said, "Speak, for your servant is listening." 11Then the LORD said to Samuel, "See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. 12On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 13For I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. 14Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever."
15Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the LORD. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. 16But Eli called Samuel and said, "Samuel, my son." He said, "Here I am." 17Eli said, "What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you." 18So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, "It is the LORD; let him do what seems good to him."
19As Samuel grew up, the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. 20And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the LORD. 21The LORD continued to appear at Shiloh, for the LORD revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the LORD. 4:1And the word of Samuel came to all Israel.

COMMENTARY & QUESTIONS
  1. What questions do you have about this reading? 
  2. The setting has jumped again this week. As the introduction to the text notes, approximately 250 years has passed between the time of the Exodus and the end of the period of the Judges in Israel’s history. After settling in the land of Canaan, the Israelites established tribal lands and the city of Shiloh became the religious center where the Ark of the Covenant was kept.
    1. The “temple” to which this reading refers is likely the tent sanctuary held over from the Exodus and not a permanent structure. Scholars believe there was no permanent Temple until the reign of Solomon.
  3. “We are told that the ‘lamp of God had not yet gone out’ (v. 3). At its most literal level, this expression may indicate the time prior to dawn. Priestly protocol called for the burning of lamps in the sanctuary from evening to morning. But this phrase may convey multiple levels of meaning…this story opens with the vocabulary of sight and insight. Visions are infrequent. Eli’s eyesight is growing dim; he cannot see. The lamp has not yet gone out. This visual vocabulary prepares us for an ironic contrast. The boy Samuel sleeps near the ark, which is a source of divine presence and illumination, but he cannot perceive what is really happening, whereas the priest Eli, nearly blind and sleeping apart from the divine presence of the ark, finally perceives that the Lord is speaking to Samuel…the expression may refer both to the near extinguishing of divine vision in Israel and to the waning of Eli’s literal vision as well as his role as a priestly source of spiritual vision.” (Bruce Birch, The New Interpreter's Bible, v. 2: I & II Samuel. (c) 1996 by Abingdon Press. p. 992.)
    1. Have there been times in your life when you’ve found it difficult to “see” what God is doing? 
    2. What about times when you’ve confused the voice of God for that of something else?
    3. Thinking in the opposite direction, have there been times when you were absolutely certain you could see what God was doing, and why?
    4. Again, the opposite direction: have you been certain you heard God’s voice clearly and completely? 
    5. Looking back on all of these times, were you correct? Incorrect? In what ways? 
  4. Have you ever given or received harsh news like Samuel must give to Eli? What was that like? 
    1. How would the world operate if we all heard and spoke God’s word with the gentleness of Eli and the humility of Samuel?

04 October 2017

Bible Study for Exodus 16


Prayer of the Day
Holy provider, despite your people’s hardened hearts you gave them manna when they were hungry. Soften our hearts, and make us grateful for your marvelous gifts. We pray this in the name of Jesus, your Son, our Lord and Savior. Amen.

Reading: Exodus 16:1-18
After being freed from slavery in Egypt, the people of Israel went into the wilderness of the Sinai Peninsula on their journey home. They were free, but they were also on uncertain ground: the food and housing provided by Egypt was much more certain than food in the desert.   
A reading from Exodus.
1The whole congregation of the Israelites set out from Elim; and Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. 2The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3The Israelites said to them, "If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger."
4Then the LORD said to Moses, "I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. 5On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days." 6So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, "In the evening you shall know that it was the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt, 7and in the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your complaining against the LORD. For what are we, that you complain against us?" 8And Moses said, "When the LORD gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the LORD has heard the complaining that you utter against him — what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the LORD."
9Then Moses said to Aaron, "Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, 'Draw near to the LORD, for he has heard your complaining.'" 10And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud. 11The LORD spoke to Moses and said, 12"I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, 'At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the LORD your God.'"
13In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. 15When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, "What is it?" For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, "It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat. 16This is what the LORD has commanded: 'Gather as much of it as each of you needs, an omer to a person according to the number of persons, all providing for those in their own tents.'" 17The Israelites did so, some gathering more, some less. 18But when they measured it with an omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed. 

COMMENTARY & QUESTIONS
  1. What questions do you have about this reading? 
  2. A timeline point mentioned by Prof. Kathryn Schifferdecker: at the time of this reading, the Israelites have been traveling out of Egypt for one month, including the crossing of the Red Sea, and they’ve complained three times and have said they want to go back to Egypt three times.
    1. Think back to long car trips as a child or with your own children - what was the response when someone had complained about the same thing three times? How does God respond?
  3. Dr. Craig Koester of Luther Seminary says this story marks a critical juncture in the lives of the people of Israel, particularly in light of their desire to go back to the slavery they at least understood. “[The people of Israel] can’t have the past as they wanted it to be: will they step into a future that can only be lived by faith?” 
    1. Dr. Walter Brueggeman also notes this looking back to Egypt and remarks, “Present anxiety distorts the memory of the recent past.” 
  4. If God can make bread come from heaven, why wouldn’t God provide bread from heaven that doesn’t spoil every day?
  5. As you encounter this scripture reading, can you think of a time in your life when you were wandering in the wilderness, sustained by manna? If this was some time in the past, do you see things the same way today as you did when you were actually in the “wilderness”? If you’re currently in the wilderness, what gives you hope?

01 October 2017

October Newsletter Article

Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. - (Colossians 3:14-15)