Bible Study Notes – Sunday November 18th, 2012 – Ordinary 32B

Bible Study notes for Sunday November 18th, 2012. Ordinary 33 Yr B

1 Samuel 4:1-10
For Psalm – 1 Samuel 2:1-10
Hebrews 10:11-25
Mark 13:1-8

Pride of man and earthly glory,
Sword and crown betray His trust;
What with care and toil He buildeth,
Tower and temple fall to dust.
But God’s power, hour by hour,
Is my temple and my tower.

Joachim Neander (1650-80)

These familiar words from the hymn ‘All my hope on God is founded’ speak not only to this week’s gospel, but also in several respects to our other readings. Certainly the hymn title encapsulates the Christian outlook on life.

Take time first to read through the readings. Do we see connections? [Note we use Hannah’s hymn as a commentary on the Old Testament lesson, rather than the Psalm this week.]

1. In this story of the birth of Samuel – yet another tale from Scripture of barrenness turning by God’s intervention to fruitfulness – there are two key threads being played out. Firstly the rivalry of Hannah and Peninnah, the two wives of Elkanah; and secondly the judgement against the house of Eli which is Samuel’f first prophetic act. This week we concentrate on the first.
a. Why is the house of the Lord at Shiloh? [See Joshua 18:1] What is present there?
b. ‘though the LORD had closed her womb’ The Scriptures are not shy of ascribing to God all sorts of difficulties.
i. What do we make of this?
ii. Do we see the world in the same way? If not why not?
iii. If not, have we actually lost a vital dynamic of our life before God?
c. The provocation of Peninnah goes on for some considerable time vs 6-7 What is going on here?
d. What do you make of Elkanah’s words to Hannah (vs8)
e. The prayer of Hannah (vs11) is utterly extraordinary – take time to meditate upon it
i. Discuss it together
ii. This is a form of sacrifice a form of giving over to God which is in some way or other a form of death. Famously this is revealed in Abraham’s preparedness to sacrifice Isaac, and of course ultimately in the Father giving the Son for the life of the world (something we miss when we avoid traditional trinitarian language) Here a mother ‘give(s) up’ her son. What kind of relationship does it suggest between Hannah and the LORD?
iii. Jesus said ‘the one who loses his life will find it’ – How do we give freely to the Lord that which we have entreated him for? What does it mean for us? How do we so lose our lives?
f. Eli sees the distress of Hannah but mistakes it for drunkenness – she has been ‘pouring out her soul’ before the LORD. ‘Our prayer is often lacking our presence – we do not enter fully into prayer’ Discuss
g. What does ‘remembered’ mean? (vs 19) At the Eucharist we ‘remember’ Christ’s self giving – what does it mean beyond a reminder of something??
2. Looking now at Hannah’s prayer of exultation (1Sam 2:1-10)
a. What do you make of her response regarding Peninnah? (2:1)
b. She responds by describing the LORD – her view of the World is dominated by God, He is the one who closed her womb, He is the one to whom she pours out her soul in prayer, and now she praises him recounting his attributes. ‘We know too little of God in our day and age to live so fully and truthfully before him as did Hannah’ – Discuss
3. Turning to the passage from Hebrews – here once more we are in ‘the house of the LORD vs 11 – again there is triumph over enemies vs13
a. vs 19-25 Meditate on these verses – there is the same boldness before God here that Hannah had. Is it a boldness you know in your own relationship to God?
b. What occasions the boldness of approach set out in vs 19-23?
i. What does it mean ‘to provoke one another to love and good deeds’?
ii. What does this suggest about the type of fellowship which the writer envisages?
iii. We are exhorted not to neglect meeting together – Why?
iv. What does it mean ‘to encourage one another’ in this context? How do we do this?
v. What does it mean ‘as you see the Day approaching’?
4. Finally to the gospel – ‘What with care and toil he buildeth, tower and temple fall to dust’
a. Note Jesus asks a very curious question of his disciple – clearly he does see these great buildings . . . what do you think is the point of Jesus question?
b. In Mark, above all the gospels, the disciples are portrayed as failing to understand, or to ‘See’. So blind Bartimaeus is the model disciple who Sees Jesus, without seeing him and who hears the call to discipleship without being called. ‘The Visual is immensely distracting’ – Discuss
c. The rest of this passage is precisely about how we see. How do we learn not to be ‘led astray’, or ‘alarmed’?

Sermon for All Saints – 2012

Sermon for Sunday November 4th, 2012

Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9
Psalm 24
Revelation 21:1-6
John 11:32-44

Day and night without ceasing [the living creatures] sing,
‘Holy, holy, holy,
the Lord God the Almighty,
who was and is and is to come.’
And whenever the living creatures give glory and honour and thanks to the one who is seated on the throne, who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall before the one who is seated on the throne and worship the one who lives for ever and ever;
they cast their crowns before the throne, singing,
‘You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honour and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created.’

Today is All Saints Sunday, the Sunday in the churches year when we remember those who have attained the beatific vision – who worship before the throne of God, those who See God. It is a Feast which to some degree or other sits rather uncomfortably with the Protestant tradition, but still lingers on. The sense of Saints as being special

I was approached by email this week by some people in China wanting to register the internet domain name stjohnsroslyn – not johnsroslyn. We still speak of our patron saint, St John the Evangelist. I thought it quite amusing that they had no sense of that with which they were dealing. But there is a fairly constant and as I see it growing tendency to try and cast aside the sense of Special Christians even amongst Christians. The sense that somehow there were some who lived far more fully and deeply into faith than most – and were thus worthy of special mention, and in the terms of the Roman Catholic Church ‘beatifying’, or giving the title Saints to. Those who are Examples for us, primarily examples of the Love of our Lord.
Perhaps it is in part because of our concerns about some of those practices that we shy away from ascribing due honour to some, but I suspect it may be more to do with a subtle even unconscious desire that we drag others down to our level. That such lives discomfort us, challenge us about the reality and depth of our own devotion to Christ – it is easier to find fault and thus feel comfortable, than to pay attention to their virtues and sense our own inadequacy, our own need for the mercy of God.
And there is undoubtedly an echo here also of what happens so frequently when we consider Christ – that the humanity of Jesus is expressed in such a way that it denies the purpose of the LIving one taking on flesh, that we might be raised to His Life, to the Life eternal, that we might share with Him in the life of God – drawn into the fellowship of Love that is the Triune God.

I have spoken of Saints as ‘examples of the love of our Lord’ – they are those who supremely amongst our brothers and sisters have entered into the Love of God in their Love for God. They are like Bartimaeus last week Hungry to see – they only have eyes for Him – as Jesus our brother and LORD only does what he sees the father doing.

I have used to define such Saints a strange phrase, one that may well be alien – those who have attained the Beatific Vision. What does this mean? Well it is quite simple, they Behold God and like the elders and the creatures in my opening words from Revelation, they perpetually worship God. The essence of being a Saint is one whose life is absorbed in the worship of the Living God – one for whom the transition from the life of this age to the life of the age to come is barely noticed, one who’s Life Is to worship God. One who has discovered the truth of one of the Protestant catechisms, that ‘The chief end of humanity is to Glorify God, and enjoy Him for ever’ – That the Worship of God is that which we were created for and that we most fully reveal our humanness in so doing.
As I said last week a dog is never more a dog than when it steals the Sunday roast from the table, We are never more human than when we take hold of the eternal life that is the Worship of the LIving God. Put another way, we are never more human than when we obey the life giving first commandment, when we worship God with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind and all our strength.

The Catholic writer GK Chesterton, a man of some considerable wit and wisdom said, ‘a man is never more ready for heaven than at the moment he dies’. Tied up in this short phrase is a simple apprehension, that as Christians we have already by virtue of our baptism been granted the gift of the life that is eternal and that there is no barrier now to our entering fully into it and so live the heavenly life, here and now. That when we die actually the truth will be made clear, that it was actually in our baptism that we died and our live was hidden with Christ in God. As I said at the Cathedral a week or so ago, Christians are those who get their dying over and done with, so that they might truly Live.

In a very real sense this is precisely what the raising of LAzarus is all about, he was dead in sin, he was ill and he died. Jesus waits – he does not rush to heal Lazarus. He wants to allow the human tragedy to be fully revealed, that we who were created for the Glory of God are in slavery to sin and death. The relationship between sin and sickness is at once mysterious and not clear to us, and Also Real. Thus when we pray for healing in a sacramental context we also confess our sins – for we recognise our need of a wholeness. Sin and disease and death are inextricably linked – Jesus heals to reveal his authority to forgive sins. So Lazarus Reveals the human tragedy, and Jesus comes to the tomb ‘greatly disturbed’ – The God of Love is Wrenched within himself at human sin and its consequences – but in Love will not allow them to have the last word and so Lazarus is given New Life, eternal Life.

In Baptism we are also included in that New Life – we die to sin and rise to new life. So the old ways are no longer appropriate – they need to be discarded. Down through the ages it has been customary for those baptised to be given White robes in exchange for their old clothes as they put off the old life and receive the New LIfe that is in Christ –

And at the heart of it this new life is Worship. For some reason or other a question which has been rattling around in my heart and mind these past weeks has been, ‘what does the life turned towards God look like?’ What does the life turned toward God look like? and the only answer I can come up with is that it looks like one who is worshipping god night and day, it is the life of a Saint.

St Paul at the beginning of his explanation of the gospel, his letter to the Romans speaks to those whom he has addressed the letter as ‘those called to be Saints’ 1Elsewhere he often refers to the Christians to whom he writes as ‘the Saints’ – so as Christians we are at once already Saints, but also called to be Saints.
This sounds a little odd until perhaps we think about our birth – when we are born we are indisputably human, totally so – but we would think that it was something very very Wrong if after 3 score years and ten we were still In and through Baptism we were still clad in nappies, 40 cm tall, not speaking etc etc – Yes when we are born we are fully human, and also we need to grow into that humanness. So also when we are baptised, born again we are fully Saints, but we need also to grow fully into that Sainthood.

Those whom the church calls Saints are those who have known this and have devoted themselves to growing fully into who in Christ they are, and this is a path that is set before us all. We all are Saints, we are all called to be Saints.

One final thing, this is something we do together. In a few minutes in the Apostles Creed we shall declare that we believe in the communion of Saints – it is a phrase we all too readily skip over but we shouldn’t. First it reminds us that we are part of the heavenly community with those who have gone before us in faith – that we are as we gather here today surrounded by a great crowd of witnesses, and that it is only the dimness of our sight that prevents us from seeing them. Here as we gather in worship we participate in the feats of heaven, the Eucharist.
I remember vividly once going to a Requiem Mass for a dear friend – at the Eucharist all I can say was that heaven and earth met – we were all together, reunited around the table at the Marriage supper of the Lamb.
In the last rites at the time of our physical death, we administer the eucharist, the heavenly food as our brother or sister enters the Joy of the Lord in the fullest sense. So in the Eucharist we are always sharing in the life of heaven, in a most vivid way

But that phrase the communion of the saints also reminds us that we need each other to grow fully into our Sainthood, as much if not more than we need each other to grow fully into our human lives.

If I can take you back to that gospel from last week, Bartimaeus, called by Jesus Leaps up! he makes a bee-line for Jesus. In so doing we can imagine the crowd  – looking – where is he going, they are being reoriented themselves towards Jesus as Bartimaeus rushes to Christ. So we need the Saints, living and departed, who are HUNGRY for Christ, to See him, to Know Him and to Love Him as examples that stop us also just milling around aimlessly in the crowd and once more to put all our heart soul mind and strength into this Life Giving business of devotion to God in Christ.

In a few minutes we will baptise Hannah – she will become a saint, cleansed form her sins she will begin to grow into her saintliness – she needs to be surrounded by Saints – she is surrounded by those who worship now around the throne of God, but she also needs you and I – Hannah needs Us to be living ever more and more deeply into the LIfe of God, that she also might see how to orient her life.

All the Saints are examples to the others called to be saints – and that means that each one of us is an example for the sake of the other and for the eternal glory of God


Wither man

*‘Can you draw out Leviathan* with a fish-hook,
or press down its tongue with a cord?
2 Can you put a rope in its nose,
or pierce its jaw with a hook?
3 Will it make many supplications to you?
Will it speak soft words to you?
4 Will it make a covenant with you
to be taken as your servant for ever?
5 Will you play with it as with a bird,
or will you put it on a leash for your girls?
6 Will traders bargain over it?
Will they divide it up among the merchants?

Job 41:1-6 (NRSV)
Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Life Together counsels that in our daily reading of scripture if a word or verse capture us, we stay there, stay with it, allow it to do its work. It is good counsel. For how infrequently in our reading of scripture does the Word rise up at us and call to us.
So this morning in our service of morning prayer, the appointed reading comes from Job. In the chapters where God gives Job what he has asked for and answers him, with questions (perhaps outside the gospels one of the most authentic encounters with the Living God). And I was captured by these verses, so much so that I had to be spoken to in order to bring me round.

For my purposes here, I will take it that Leviathan is a great whale. How does Job Now respond to God? For indeed what is the Great Leviathan now. Indeed traders Do bargain over it and divide is up amongst the merchants and no longer does ‘Moby Dick’ spell a Herculean struggle and Doom. No, for now a rocket  harpoon with an explosive head, launched from a safe distance does the business of Ishmael. Technological man now speaks back to God, Behold! Now what do You say? Answer Me!!

(Is it any wonder that in an age when We have conquered we have reduced the significant important theological questions from ‘What is man that you are mindful of him?’ to ‘What is God that he allows us to suffer?’)
Technology has as others have noted expanded the dominion of the human. So now, almost as a sporting event, a man leaps from the edge of space with a parachute on his back and we think nothing of drilling deep beneath the disappearing sea ice for oil (whatever the dangers, both to life and limb and to our survival). As I meditated on the passage I couldn’t help but feel that we had in our grasping the Domination of Creation – it’s kingship, that which was never ours, we have become utterly lost, we have lost all sense of our scale and who we are.
And as we have expanded externally we have become less and less internally. Who are you? is a question we might ask of the modern human and they might answer (after Descartes), ‘my thoughts’, or more so today,’my emotions’. What we are Not, it seems, is our body. Indeed our body has become our enemy. Whilst St Paul counsels that the flesh must be brought into subjugation, it was so that it might truly serve God’s purposes, not because we were at war with our bodies. But as we cry out in perplexity or anger to, or at, God, ‘Why must I suffer?’, the I that is at once inflated beyond the imagining of even our recent ancestors, is similarly so deflated and shrunk that it cannot comprehend that it is not actually the Lord of the Universe after all.
At root this, as with all human troubles, is an issue of the heart. It is only the shrunken heart that revels so in illusory expansiveness. Christ gave us Life giving commands, the most crucial of which in terms of the repair of the heart seems to me to be ‘Love your enemies – pray for them – ask God to bless them richly’. It is only in this outward focus on the concrete reality of those we do not love that we can begin to come to ourselves. Here is no illusory Mastery of Creation, here is no delightful concept or conceit with which we can comfort ourselves that we have a right, like Jonah, to be angry. Here is our Enemy, the source of our healing, the one who is given to us to bring us to ourselves, the one who ruthlessly exposes the toxicity of our heart and causes us to cry our ‘Lord, have mercy on Me, a sinner’ – the one who if we will give ourselves to this command will once more re-orient us  towards the worship of the living God, before whom we are nothing, before whom we need to repent in dust and ashes of our folly, our words without knowledge and our lives without LIFE,  Thus leaving us with better questions and far richer lives.

Bible Study Notes – Sunday November 11th, 2012 – Ordinary 32B

Bible Study notes for Sunday 11th November, 2012

The 32nd Sunday in Ordinary time, Year B


Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17

Psalm 127

Hebrews 9:24-8

Mark 12:38-44



This Sunday presents us with some short passages, but each full of detail and opportunities for reflection


Take time to listen to each carefully. As Christians, we are learning to live from our ‘heart’. This is not as we might perhaps think, a reference to live out of our emotional life, rather from the depth of our new Life in Christ, out of the Spirit that God has put within us at our Baptism. To live from the heart is to live in newness of life in response to God our Father. [1]

So we do everything from our heart and art of our growth in Christ is learning to listen not only with our ears but with our heart, as we also learn to see with our heart.


So listen to each of the readings, perhaps a couple of times – what is God saying to you in and through His words to us


  1. We have a short reading from Ruth – remind one another of the story of Ruth.
  2. Part of its interest is the way in which this foreign woman becomes part of the story of Israel, specifically the story of David. Thus she is included in the genealogy of Jesus – Matthew 1:5. What does it suggest to you that this story is included in the Scriptures?[2]
  3. Read the Psalm. What do vs 1-2 say to you? How does this prayer alter our perspective on human activity? What do you make of vs 3-5? Is this short Psalm a Psalm of two halves or does it form a whole in some way?
  4. Reading the passage from Hebrews – we note that verses 24-26 express the gospel. we note that it is expressed in terms of worship and the sacrifice for sin. ‘Nowadays, the significance of Christ’s sacrifice for sin has become less significant in our understanding of Christian faith’ Discuss
  5. We are told that Christ ‘will appear a second time, not to deal with sin’ – Why not to deal to deal with sin? – ‘but to save those eagerly waiting for him.’ – Are we eagerly waiting for him? How do we eagerly wait for Christ?
  6. Before reading the gospel, read Isaiah 53 – compare and contrast with Jesus’ description of the Scribes
  7. ‘As Christians we should not expect or indeed desire to be treated with greater respect than Christ’  – Discuss
  8. What does ‘Devour widow’s houses’ mean?
  9. Read vs 35-37 – ‘Jesus is here apparently deliberately whipping up th animosity of his opposition’ – Discuss
  10. ‘Rich people put in large sums’ – ‘out of their abundance’ The poor widow put in ‘two small copper coins’ – ‘everything she had’.
    1. Discuss the practise of putting plaques up in churches remembering wealthy benefactors
    2. ‘Even the Church still fails to grasp the breathtaking message of Christ in this respect’ – Discuss
    3. It is possible that here Jesus is critiquing the Temple’s financial foundations ‘devouring widow’s houses’ – taking the last penny from the widow. When we think of how we support the church, many churches suggest a tithe of income to the church. The writer Ronald Sider noted back in the 1970’s that tithing was far far harder for the poor than for the rich who might readily give a tenth of their income and hardly notice. What issues does Jesus observation raise for you?
    4. Refer back to Hebrews 9:26. What light if any does humiliation and sacrifice of Christ throw upon all of this and the things we value?
  11. We bagan by reflecting that we are called to live form our hearts and to respond to the Lord from there. Take time once more to ‘listen’ to all we have considered – respond from your heart towards God who is rich in mercy.

[1] In response to the prayer of Psalm 51:10 – Ezekiel 36:26-28. (2 Cor 5:17)

[2] It is also instructive to consider the other women mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus. Tamar – Genesis 38 – ‘the wife of Uriah (Bathsheba) – Mary