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Bible Study: Pentecost 9 (B) – July 21, 2024

July 21, 2024

RCL: Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 23; Ephesians 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Note: During the 2024 Season after Pentecost, Sermons That Work will use Track 2 readings for sermons and Bible studies. Please consult our archives for many additional Track 1 resources from prior years.

Jeremiah 23:1-6

The book of Jeremiah, named after the prophet Jeremiah, was written for the people of Judah who had just survived three invasions by the Babylonians that resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple and exile from their homeland. They were a people trying to understand how this destruction, death, and separation could have occurred to the faithful children of God. The prophet Jeremiah places responsibility for this misfortune squarely in the hands of the kings of Judah: “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord” (v. 1). As explained in Chapter 22 of Jeremiah, just preceding the assigned reading for today, the kings of Judah, God’s shepherds of his people, have only been concerned with enriching themselves and have forsaken the needs of the people. They have not acted with justice and righteousness, they have not attended to the people, delivering all from the hands of the oppressor, and they have not avoided doing wrong or violence to the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shedding the blood of the innocent (Jer 22:3). Clearly, leadership matters, and the realization of the Kingdom requires leaders of the people and stewards of the land that exemplify the righteousness of God, our ultimate shepherd – a righteousness that brings about an equitable social order, where the most vulnerable are protected, justice and inclusion prevail, and all can flourish.

Jeremiah leaves the reader with the hope that God will “raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall no longer fear or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing” (v. 4). None shall be missing, all are included in the kingdom of justice, peace, and love that God wants for us. We must play a part in this work, by ensuring that we demand from any who seek to lead us that they never forget that they are but shepherds in service to the people that they lead. They should always put the flock before their own needs and always work for justice and peace where all are included, and the alien, the orphan, the widow, the poor, and the oppressed are raised up and allowed to flourish alongside the entire flock. Leadership matters.

  • In an election year where division and “othering” by each political side seems to be the norm, how do the words of the prophet Jeremiah speak to us?
  • What actions does Jeremiah call us to, and how should we play a role in the realization of the Kingdom?

Psalm 23

Psalm 23 is probably the most beloved and well-known of all the psalms. It is often used and recited to provide comfort at funerals and other times of great hardship. The psalmist reminds us of God’s steadfast and comforting love for us in the very first verses: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters” (v. 1-2). This introduction pulls us into a beautiful prayer of recognition and thankfulness for how God abides with us every day. God’s love and mercy “pursue” us every day of our lives; the psalmist ends the psalm with, “Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life” (v. 6). God wants to be in relationship with us. God wants us to flourish and have peace in our lives. We can respond to this deep, abiding love by not only loving God back but also by passing on this deep, abiding love to our family, friends, communities, the other, and the stranger. In this way, we ensure that all know that God is pursuing them, too.

  • Psalms are poetic prayers that are often sung or chanted in the liturgies of The Episcopal Church. Does singing or chanting Psalm 23 change your emotional response to the psalmist’s words? If so, how?
  • How do we express our relationship with God in our relationships within our own communities? What about in our relationships with the Other and those strangers we might interact with in our daily lives?

Ephesians 2:11-22

This portion of Ephesians appointed for Proper 11 strikes the heart of the theology of the book. Through Christ and through the cross, we are bonded together in love and unity. There is no longer “us” and “them,” we are called to be one Body, “for he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both into one and has broken down the dividing wall” (v. 14). Christ has created “in himself one new humanity in place of the two” (v. 15), and all “have access in one Spirit to the Father” (v. 18). The writer also calls us to remember our past and the separation from the Holy that we came from, and how we “have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (v. 13). In the time that this letter was written, this would have been a challenging theology, not only in rejection of the barriers that had led to much hostility and calling for full inclusion of the Gentiles into the Body of Christ but also by pointing out that it is Christ who came to proclaim and provide, “peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near” (v. 17) and not the peace enforced by the ruling empire of the time. This would have been a direct challenge to the Roman empire and Caesar himself, who was the one to be lauded for bringing and keeping the peace (albeit through militarist rule and repression). This letter could have been viewed by the empire as a threat to their authority. However, the peace that Christ brings is not the peace Rome would have been so proud to boast of. Not the peace resulting from zero tolerance for resistance, but the deeper peace of knowing that we are all one in Christ, fully included in divine love and belonging. No one is left out, and no one is alone, for we are all beloved and “brought near” through Christ and within the community of Christ.

  • What role should today’s church and the followers of Christ take in addressing the partisanship and divisions so prevalent in today’s world?
  • What does it mean to you to be part of the Body of Christ?

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

It would be understandable to wonder why the lectionary for today’s Gospel skips over two of the “big” miracles in the Gospel of Mark in jumping from verses 30-34 to verses 53-56. Namely, the feeding of the five thousand (Mark 6:35-44), and Jesus walking on water (Mark 6:45-52). It seems that, by skipping these verses, we are being reminded of the fact that although the “big” work is important to do, Jesus recognizes the need for rest and solitude in our busy lives. He wants this for us. In our human brokenness, we need to take a break, to take Sabbath time to recharge, to eat, to pray, to listen for the quiet voice of God and Spirit, so that we do not travel down a wrong path while distracted by our busyness and tiredness. The work of compassion takes a focus and energy that is fueled by times of rest, reflection, and prayer. Still, we see in verse 34 that Jesus does not always practice what he preaches if confronted by the needs of the people! This demonstrates compassion for others that passes all understanding and reminds us of how Christ’s divine nature always abides with us.

It could also be viewed that in skipping the two “big” miracles, the lectionary points us to the deep truth in verses 53-56 that the ministry of Christ was often focused on and occurred in the “small” moments – just healing the people, one by one, being present to each suffering person and bringing healing to all. Mark writes in verse 56 that Jesus healed “Wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms.” The “big” miracles are important, but let us not forget the daily “small” miracles that Christ conducted in his day-to-day ministry – “small” miracles that we can also perform by addressing the daily needs of our world and by being present to what Dr. Martin Luther King called the “fierce urgency of now.”

  • What “small” miracles have you recently witnessed? Were you involved in making any of them occur?
  • How does the thought of taking time for rest, reflection, and prayer make you feel? Why?

Jon Achée is a first-year seminarian at General Theological Seminary in New York, and a postulant to the priesthood canonically resident in the Diocese of Los Angeles. Jon’s sponsoring mission church is St. John Chrysostom Episcopal Church in Rancho Santa Margarita, Cal. Jon resides in Seattle, Wash., where he recently relocated with his wife, Kelly, to take a job as the director of finance and operations at a K-8 independent school for gifted students. He attends St. Mark’s Cathedral in the Diocese of Olympia. Jon continues to work in ministries that focus on feeding and serving the unhoused. Jon and Kelly have two grown adult children and enjoy hiking the many beautiful trails near Seattle.

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