Pastor Bill’s Bible Study

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Come join us every week while we  explore God’s word.

March 26, 2020

Opening Prayer:

Dear God, open our hearts and minds as we prepare to ready and meditate upon your word as we journey through this Lenten season.  Amen.

Preparing for Joy Lent is an invitation to honesty and clarity. It is our preparation for joy because it is the concentrated and disciplined time when we together work to root out the blindness and deception that prevent us from receiving each other as gracious gifts from God.

Scripture Reading: Luke 15:11-32

Meditation:

Let us begin the [Lenten] Fast with joy.

Let us give ourselves to spiritual efforts.

Let us cleanse our souls.

Let us cleanse our flesh.

Let us fast from passions as we fast from foods, taking pleasure in the good works of the Spirit and accomplishing them in love that we all may be made worthy to see the passion of Christ our God and His Holy Pascha, rejoicing with spiritual joy.

Reflection:

If this emphasis on Lenten joy strikes us as surprising, or even perverse, it may be because we think of penitence as giving up things and activities we otherwise love.

How can we enjoy that?

To answer, Norman Wirzba says, let’s get “clear about our most basic commitments and attachments and then determine if they have their impulse in a clean heart. The time of Lent is not about saying ‘No’ to anything made or provided by God. It cannot be, because everything God has made is good and beautiful, a gift and blessing that God has provided as the expression of his love.

If there is a ‘No’ that has to be said, it will be a ‘No’ directed to the distorting and degrading ways we have developed in appropriating these gifts,” he observes. “We do not appreciate how in mishandling the gifts of God we bring ruin to ourselves and to the world while we are in the midst of having a good time.”

Think of the Christian life as wearing a new pair of glasses that help us see everything from Christ’s point of view (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:16 ff.).

But they keep getting “dirty or scratched and we gradually lose the ability to see things as the gifts of God that they really are.

Instead we see them in terms of what they can do for us,” Wirzba notes. It’s difficult to notice how distorted our vision is becoming, because (as you recall) we are looking at everything, including ourselves, through now-dirty glasses! “Simply by living in a consumerist culture like our own we are daily taught to see everything as a means to the satisfaction of whatever end we choose. We are not, for the most part, mean-spirited about this. We are simply performing a script that is written out for us in thousands of media and marketing messages.”

This is where the season of Lent comes in. By starting with self-examination and repentance, Lent helps us “appreciate how much our vision and handling of the world is a distortion and degradation” and “learn to see each other rightly as gifts of God’s love.”

We can even enjoy cleaning our glasses, for we anticipate seeing clearly once again. Corporate embodied practices like fasting train us to relate to the world properly. Because eating is “the daily means through which we relate to the created world, communities of humanity, and ultimately to God,” it is thus “a paradigmatic act that expresses…who we think we are and how we fit into the world,” Wirzba notes. Fasting helps us enjoy food properly.

Lenten practices teach us humility, which is not a form of self-loathing, but a true perspective on ourselves that rejects arrogance.

Since humility is “the honest admission of personal life as necessarily enfolded within and dependent on the lives of others and the gifts of God,” Wirzba explains, it “makes possible the true enjoyment of others because we now perceive and receive them properly: namely, as gifts and blessings meant to be cared for, celebrated, and shared.” 

These practices draw us into communion with others.

Lent is difficult for us because we are trying to “experience real togetherness simply by relating to others always on our terms.

But this cannot work…. Communion is built upon love, and love is always an hospitable act that welcomes, nurtures, and sets others free to be themselves.

To love another is to give oneself and one’s abilities and gifts to them. Only then can our presence in the world be a source of joy to those we meet.”

Study Questions

1.  Jesus’ story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) is often read during Lent. How does it frame our view of the season?

2.  Why, for Norman Wirzba, is fasting so important? What is the “improper eating” that it calls attention to and corrects?

3. “What are you adding in for Lent this year?”

4.  How does Robert Robinson’s famous hymn “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” express Lenten joy?   

Come Thou Font of Every Blessing

Closing Prayer:

Lord, help us to focus on what Lent means to us and how important to use Lent to prepare us for Easter.  Help us through these trying times to be faithful and in prayer for those most in need.  We know that you can solve these problems if we only believe and look to you.  Amen.

Pastor Bill’s Bible Study, March 31

Keeping Vigil

White Dog, Golden Retriever, Animal, Puppy, White

Keeping Vigil Lent is a traditional time for keeping vigil—an attentive openness to the work of God in our lives and throughout the world. But what does it mean to keep vigil today, when most of us no longer adhere to the strict discipline of late night prayer?

O Lord and Master of my life, give me not a spirit of sloth, vain curiosity, lust for power, and idle talk. But give to me, thy servant, a spirit of soberness, humility, patience, and love. O Lord and King, grant me to see my own faults and not to condemn my brother; for blessed are thou to the ages of ages. Amen.

Scripture Reading: Luke 22:39-46

Reflection “Vigil” calls to mind diverse images—late-night prayer, soldiers on guard, families waiting for a birth. From the Latin vigilia, originally for a soldier’s night watch, this word was adopted by early Christians for their nighttime synaxis, or worship meeting. Today we often hear the word referring to the night office of the Liturgy of the Hours, evening worship the night before a religious celebration, or the wake after a loved one’s death.   Given this complicated etymology, the multifaceted nature of keeping vigil is not surprising.

Heather Hughes explores three features of this practice that make it important for our discipleship not only during Lent, but also through the Church year.  The enhanced awareness typical of late-night wakefulness. Think of waking up in the middle of the night when noises sound louder and you are hyper-sensitive to your surroundings. Intentional times of vigil employ this nighttime alertness to become more attentive to God’s presence in the world.

Thomas Merton notes the link between enhanced sensory awareness and the spiritual attentiveness characteristic of keeping vigil. In “Fire Watch,” he reports that guarding his monastery from fire through the night became “an examination of conscience in which your task of watchman suddenly appears in its true light: a pretext devised by God to isolate you, and to search your soul with lamps and questions, in the heart of darkness.”

Keeping vigil is never an end in itself; it facilitates this kind of encounter with the living God.  The responsibility of being fully present. Keeping vigil engages our natural bodily response to moments of intense love, fear, sorrow, compunction, or awe. At a loved one’s deathbed we cannot sleep or eat as the gravity of the situation overrides our basic physical needs. Our sense of what is truly important impels us to be fully present, without seeking distraction or escape. Likewise, keeping spiritual vigil cultivates our sensitivity to what is most significant in life—reminding us that we do not live by bread alone.

We are fully present before God, as we are with loved ones in times of suffering or joy.  Complete obedience to God’s will. Christ’s praying in Gethsemane is the pattern for our keeping vigil. As he is fully present to the Father, he discerns the Father’s will through prayer and maintains obedience to the point of death. Like the disciples in Gethsemane, we are called to pray with Christ—to stay spiritually awake and to keep watch in compunction for our own sin and sorrow for the world’s need. This is not an easy task, as even the disciples abandoned Christ, falling asleep from grief.

Hughes commends practices to help us to keep vigil—ancient disciplines like corporate prayer, fasting, almsgiving, examination of conscience, and lectio divina, and creative activities like fasting from artificial light or committing to draw or write. Lent is a special time to keep vigil. As with Christ in Gethsemane, we have the agony of apprehending, wrestling with, and accepting God’s saving will for the world and for our individual lives. We are given the chance to become fully awake to a world that requires Golgotha, but is also given the empty tomb.

Study Questions

1.  What are the spiritual purposes of keeping vigil?

2.  Discuss the practices, ancient and new, that Heather Hughes commends to help us keep vigil. How does each one foster our increased attentiveness to God?

3.  Which practices appeal to you most? How could you use them to keep vigil during Lent or through the Church year?

4.  Consider how Georges Rouault’s St. John the Baptist, Donatello’s The Penitent Magdalen, and Bernini’s St. Jerome portray individuals who were particularly perceptive of God’s work in their lives and in the world.

Closing Prayer:

Lord, Lead us through this journey of Holy Week as we prepare for joy of the resurrection.  Help us to understand the events that are taking place and to feel the struggle and the paint that Jesus experienced for our sake.  Amen.

Pastor Bill