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Bible Study: Epiphany 3 (B) – 2012

January 23, 2012

Jonah 3:1-5, 10

Jonah did his best to run from God’s command to proclaim repentance to the people of Nineveh. And we know that Jonah did not take the redemptive outcome well, actually. He goes off to sulk when Nineveh is spared. The portion left out of the lectionary this week, Jonah 3:6-9, is a decree of lament and penitence by the King. The King hears the protests of his people and calls all his subjects into a mighty fast. Even livestock were included. Regardless, Nineveh, in what is modern-day Iraq, was redeemed and spared. Transformation and repentance happened.

Now, extreme fast may be a bit much for everyone, but the core of this idea echoes throughout our readings this week. Abstain. Live simply. Turn your lives around. Live differently throughout the city.

  • How is your life now like a life lived in Nineveh? Describe your residential and work neighborhoods and communities, if you have any of these in urban areas. What community issues are unresolved? Are there empty lots, foreclosed homes, and unfinished developments? Urban life needs an active community life in order to be healthy and secure. How is yours?
  • If you live in a suburban, ex-urban, or rural area, how do you view “the city”? Have you ever been a resident of an urban area?
  • We do not know anything about the collective sins of Nineveh, but we do know that God was greatly displeased and sent his prophet Jonah. Does the city or our community life have prophets calling us to repentance? Who are the voices advocating for change?

Psalm 62:6-14

This psalm seems crafted for a meditative practice, and is poignant when chanted. The idea of God as our rock and refuge is a theme in many psalms. But there is another important idea in this psalm: let go of the scales, of the competition among God’s peoples. Do not seek wealth.

Try to listen to this psalm several times this week. You could chant it yourself or in a group, or you could use pre-recorded mp3 versions on your computer or mp3 player. If this Bible study happens once weekly, then pray the psalm together more than once, at least.

Simply say or listen to Psalm 62 more than once. You may note how you respond, although that is not necessary. It is enough to rest in these words of safety and comfort. The message of divesting from worldly matters is clear; turn toward God and toward support, refuge, and hope.

Here are some online resources:;

Of course, if you have someone in your life who enjoys reading aloud with you, that seems ideal! Perhaps you could record your own version of today’s psalm as well.

1 Corinthians 7:29-31

“For the present form of this world is passing away” (verse 31).

When I engage an epistle in depth, I like to examine Eugene Peterson’s “The Message” (NavPress, 2005). I can usually find something practical between my basic grasp of New Testament koine Greek and the idiomatic scriptural interpretation of this Bible. This helps me in applying the passage to my own Christian communities, if appropriate. We have a different eschatology, that is, a sense of the end times and the fulfillment of Creation, than did Paul. Paul fully expected the second coming of Christ to occur, literally, at any moment. But that this did not happen as expected does not negate the message: Live simply and do not weigh yourselves down the things of the world. This world does not hold ultimate truth, but rather will pass away. Here is the passage as found in “The Message”:

“I do want to point out, friends, that time is of the essence. There is no time to waste, so don’t complicate your lives unnecessarily. Keep it simple – in marriage, grief, joy, whatever. Even in ordinary things – your daily routines of shopping, and so on. Deal as sparingly as possible with the things the world thrusts on you. This world as you see it is on its way out” (1 Corinthians 7:29-31,“The Message”).

  • Paul’s letters to the church in Corinth address particular issues of that community and attempt to answer specific questions asked of him. A primary theme of this letter is how the new life in Christ changes the priorities of the new Christians. What are the things of this world that distract us?
  • How would your life change in relation to success and wealth if you had one week to live? What would you do or not do?

Mark 1:14-20

One theme stands out in this week’s readings: call and response. We hear of the surprising redemption of an entire people, an awakening to the transience of this world and the gathering of the first disciples of Jesus in these passages. This week, read and inwardly digest, discuss and contemplate these lectionary readings in your life. Is God calling you to engage? To be a part of what the Very Rev. Joy Rogers, dean of St James’ Cathedral, Chicago, calls “the divine hide and seek,” the sacred game of seeking God and being sought by God?

Rejoice, for Nineveh is spared, the old world passes away, and God calls us each to act, if we will but follow Him. How will we dance with the universe this week? How will we bear the light and the gifts of Epiphany in the world? How will we respond when we hear God’s call to turn towards God? Rejoice!

I am finishing up my time in seminary right now. I have just completed the General Ordination Exams, and I am engaging in a national job search. Of course, I feel as if I have dropped everything to follow Jesus on this path, but it is not really true. Not like these disciples did. Did I just walk away from job and family when called?  No! I planned and packed and said tearful good-byes to my communities after I had carefully vetted seminaries, and after having been vetted myself by my diocese and bishop. I brought my family across the country, and I have that support with me on this path. And so when I consider the trust and risk involved with the responses of Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John, I am humbled and inspired.

  • Jesus was preaching a message of change and transformation, and a pending time of fulfillment. When have you felt that the “time was ripe” for change in your life?
  • God calls us in the midst of our lives, using the tools of our everyday situations. How can the work you are doing be framed as ministry?

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Christopher Sikkema


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