Bible Study

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Bible Study: Proper 27 (A) – 2023

November 12, 2023

RCL: Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25; Psalm 78:1-7; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13

Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25

“If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.” While Joshua’s intensity in our reading might make us uncomfortable, I wonder if there might be merit to what he’s saying. Joshua is warning the Israelites to not make a loose commitment. Following the Lord, he explains, is not a commitment lightly made or easily broken; if they are to make the commitment, they must be fully invested. The Israelites respond by ensuring that they are willing to enter into and obey God’s covenant. Joshua immediately called them to act upon their words, showing their commitment and dedication by no longer worshiping foreign gods and focusing their devotion on God. Serving God is not just an intellectual exercise but also an intention coupled with action.

Choosing to serve God should not be taken lightly. We are our own witnesses to our faith and practice. We choose our own level of accountability, but Joshua warns us, as he warns the Israelites, that following God requires our whole selves.

  • We are our own witnesses to our spiritual commitments, and yet our tradition encourages us to live our faith in community. Do you have accountability partners, official and otherwise, for your spiritual and religious practice(s)?
  • How do you “incline your heart” to God? What does that practice look like for you?

Psalm 78:1-7

The first verses of Psalm 78 focus not only on the need to remember the stories of God’s people but also on the necessity of teaching future generations. The psalmist will “declare the mysteries of ancient times” that the community knows, since these stories, both good and bad, were shared with them by their ancestors. Their cultural identity is defined by these ancient, shared stories that create communal interests and common cultural and religious practices. The psalmist does not just emphasize teaching the commandments but also teaching the interactions of God with God’s people – the praiseworthy deeds and the wonderful works God has done. Just as parents pass down familial stories, the psalmist insists that the current generation must share their communal stories with future generations. We have a responsibility to continue the knowledge of our collective history, learn from our mistakes, and put our trust in God.

  • What are the shared stories of your community or communities?
  • What do you hope future generations will learn from us? What stories are we passing on?

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Grief is a powerful emotion. It has the ability to rip us apart at the seams, connect us to the forgotten parts of ourselves, and anything in between. It can be a messy and overwhelming emotion, affecting all aspects of our lives. In his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul attempts to comfort the community on the loss of their fellow believers. He assures them that their friends and loved ones haven’t missed out on Jesus’ return, the great event they are all anticipating. Paul enjoins them not to grieve without hope. Just as Jesus rose from the grave, we too hope for our own resurrection. We are confident that this world is not the end, and that we will be without pain and reunited with our creator in the afterlife. We can’t escape grief, but we can know that God will be with us in our sorrow. Grief will not have the final word. As Christ-followers, we hope for a life to come – a life after death, and a life through grief.

  • Do you imagine there to be a life after grief? Is grief something you can move through to the other side? How does grief change over time?
  • When have you felt God’s presence in your grief? When have you felt alone?

Matthew 25:1-13

What a strange parable Jesus offers us. Ten bridesmaids are waiting to accompany the bridegroom to the wedding banquet. Five have come prepared with extra oil, knowing the possibility that they might have to wait. The other five do not. They ask the wise bridesmaids to share their oil, but they say no. Now what happened to “girls supporting girls”?! At first glance, there seems to be no solidarity among the young women – but it’s a bit more complicated than that. The wise bridesmaids didn’t have enough to share, knowing it was better for five lamps to guide the whole way than for all ten to run out of oil partway through the journey. Only five had the preparation and wisdom to get the task done.

The parable shows the importance of individual preparedness and personal investment in our communal creation of the Kingdom of God. Your friend can have a sustaining prayer life and pray for you, but she can’t pray for you. Your church participating in antiracist racial reconciliation work doesn’t mean you’re off scot-free on your own internal work. Our relationships with the divine are our own, and our contributions to bringing the Kingdom of God are our own. Our faith is to be lived out in community, but we cannot rely on others to prepare us for the Kingdom. There is a delicate balance between communal responsibility and being a critical and active member of that community. We can be ready, or we can be untrusting, unaware, and unprepared to do our part.

  • When have you been a wise bridesmaid? When have you been a foolish one?
  • What areas of your life need extra attention and preparation?

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Christopher Sikkema


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