Bible study notes for Sunday 30th September, 2012

Bible Study notes for Sunday September 30th, 2012

Esther 7:1-10; 9:20-22

James 5:13-20

Mark 9:38-50

Take time to read through the three portions of Scripture. Share with one another first impressions. What strikes you from one or other of the texts? What puzzles you? How do they make you feel?

1. The Old Testament lesson is from the Book of Esther. A beautiful story of a courageous woman and how she is instrumental in the salvation of her people[1].

The story finds God’s people in tremendous peril through the treachery of Haman, someone who hates them. In response to their deliverance they celebrated with a great festival and it became an annual remembrance [The feast of Purim]. Each week we give thanks for a Great redemption in the Eucharist. Read the portion of Chapter 9 set. What are the elements of the Celebration? How much do we have a similar sense of celebration at the Eucharist?

2.  Turning to the Epistle to James – Read verses 13-14 again.

a.  People in three different conditions are mentioned: the suffering; the cheerful; and the sick. What links their responses to their different conditions?

b.  When we are sick, how do we respond? What are the prescribed elements of the response here (there are three)? How does this contrast with our response?

a.  In professionalising ministry to the sick, the medical profession, have we ruptured a good practise of faith, that we first turn to the Lord in the person of the elders of the church?

b.  What is the significance of calling for the elders (as opposed to ‘hoping they will somehow find out’; or not calling them at all)

c.  In what sense is calling for the elders actually the exercise of faith?

c.  Read vs 15, 16.

a.  Verse 15 – what strikes you when you read this verse? Do we see or understand sickness as in some sense connected to sin?

b.  Verse 16 suggests there might be some connection – perhaps not at the level of committing sins makes you ill, but more that as I have several times suggested, sin fractures the fabric of the world – sin ruptures things and often in ways we cannot see. Combining confession with prayer for healing understands the individual in a much richer context – that our lives and actions are all caught up together – Discuss

c.  This is further suggested in the command ‘confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another’. The repetition of ‘one another’ suggests a deeper social fabric is in play. When we think of faith and life – do we primarily inderstand them as individual [my faith]? If so are we impoverished, missing out on something which God would show us and so deepen our understanding of faith and Reality?

d.  We are told of the power of prayer in vs 17-18, but its context is very much communal. Most of the teaching on prayer in the Scriptures is that of communal prayer. Again, do we elevate our personal prayers over the prayers of the whole church?

e.  Speak to one another of your experiences of praying together. What have you found in such times?

f.    Vs 19-20 speak of a mutual accountability for our lives – of ‘watching over one another in love’ (see Matthew 18:15-18) What do we understand by ‘mutual accountability’ in terms of our faith. How significant does James think it? (vs 20) What might we do to grow in such accountability?

3.  Finally the gospel – the texts as you might have noticed in some respect are getting more challenging 🙂

a.  Note that these most ‘challenging’ words once more come from the lips of Jesus. Reading Verses 42-48 – do they throw any further light on the significance of mutual accountability?

b.  John says they tried to stop someone casting out demons in Jesus’ name. HOw does Jesus response to John lead into verse 42 and ‘putting stumbling blocks’ before little ones

c.  Who are ‘these little ones who believe in me?’ Q. How might we damage ‘simple faith’ in another?[2]

d.  Jesus seems to see faith as something that we enter into – not an understanding as such but a way of confronting reality – casting out demons in his name / giving a believer a glass of water because they bear the name of Jesus. Put another way, faith here is shown to be entering into a life of association with Jesus. In what ways might we also further enter into association with him? How might we encourage others to do so?

e.  Jesus then shows the terrible consequences for those who try in any sense to prevent this – and indeed the seriousness of ‘stumbling’. What is our response to this teaching?How well do our lives reflect the seriousness of matters of faith expressed in these verses?

f.    V49 is one of the most difficult in Scripture to understand ‘For everyone will be salted with fire’ The best suggestion is perhaps that it is a direct translation of a Hebrew figure of speech which had the meaning of things being destroyed by fire, which would of course follow on from the previous verse about hell, that all that ends up there is ‘salted’ (destroyed) by fire. [3]Jesus then changes the metaphor to one about having Salt in ourselves. What does this mean?? (cf Matthew 5:13)

[1] Interestingly it is the only book in Scripture in which God is not mentioned

[2] Romans Chapter 14 may be of some interest here – especially in the way it is declared wrong to cast doubt upon the action of another – if another is caused to doubt the rightness of a particular action (in this case eating food sacrificed to idols, and they eat with doubt in their mind, that is seen as sinful, not eating ‘believing – ‘All that does not come from faith is sin.’ This example is a good one which shows that believing is a stance of life towards things, as much if not more than a set of beliefs held. This is what lies behind the expression ‘putting stumbling blocks’ before little ones if we take the Mark passage as a whole

[3] [Hebrew does not have nearly as many words as Greek and far far less than English – so a word not only encompasses a spectrum of meaning but may indeed have two meanings. The word for salt is the same as a word for destroy in Hebrew]

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