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Bible Study for the fifth week of the Covid 19 church building closure | Barn Church Kew

Parishes of St Philips and All Saints Kew with St Luke’s Kew

Where all God’s Children are Welcome

Section 1:  Isaiah 30.15-21

Prayer:  Loving God, thank you that we can read your word.  By your Holy Spirit, help us to understand it, to meditate on it and to hear you speaking to us directly.  Amen

Read the passage through twice:


For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel:
In returning and rest you shall be saved;
   in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.
But you refused and said,
‘No! We will flee upon horses’—
   therefore you shall flee!
and, ‘We will ride upon swift steeds’—
   therefore your pursuers shall be swift!
A thousand shall flee at the threat of one,
   at the threat of five you shall flee,
until you are left
   like a flagstaff on the top of a mountain,
   like a signal on a hill.


Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you;
   therefore he will rise up to show mercy to you.
For the Lord is a God of justice;
   blessed are all those who wait for him.

Truly, O people in Zion, inhabitants of Jerusalem, you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry; when he hears it, he will answer you. Though the Lord may give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself any more, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’

Background

              This passage comes three quarters of the way through the first section of the book of Isaiah.  This is in the voice of the first prophet by that name, a priest in Jerusalem who had seen God in the Temple and been called to serve him (Chapter 6).  Israel is threatened from the North by the Babylonians and from the south by the Egyptians.  They have already seen the 10 tribes of the northern kingdom defeated and taken away into captivity.  Now they fear that the enemy is coming for them.  However, Isaiah speaks to them words of comfort and encouragement from God, that if they rely on Him, they will find peace.

Some questions

  • The first section of this prophecy is in a poetic form – note the balanced lines and carefully constructed contrasts (returning & rest, quietness & trust vs the deadly swiftness of the attackers and their cavalry).  Why?  How does the form add to the ideas expressed?
  • God’s position is stated first – returning to him (ie. worship & leading a holy life), resting in him (ie. living a life of faith and trust in the God who loves the nation).  Why?
  • Is God’s offer particulary onerous?  Does it involve new challenges? 
  • God’s offer is rejected – why?
  • God appears to turn the tables on those of his people who turn away from his ways – if they try to escape on horseback, the horses of their attackers will be faster – why?
  • Fear multiplies fear – what is the idea behind the image of the flagpole on the mountain? 
  • Poetry changes to prose.  The people cry out to God, and his mercy covers them and brings relief.  However, is the danger eradicated?
  • If the threat is still present, how are the people to cope with that threat?  What does God offer to them to help them through difficult times?
  • One of the cries of the people of Israel is that God is hidden – yet here God promises to be visible, and to be audible in their everyday life.  If God promises this to his people back in the 6th century BC, does that promise still hold true for us, today?
  • There is a serious challenge in this passage.  It would be possible to read it as one long piece of re-assurance, but it is not.  Suffering and pain will come upon his people, but if they rest in him, then they will find a way through these circumstances. 
  • Where are we finding rest and quietness in these days of lockdown? 
  • Is it easier to lead a holy life in the current circumstances?
  • Are you experiencing the “bread of tears” and the “water of affliction”?  If so, do these words offer solace?  A solution?  A sticking plaster over a profound problem?
  • Is God visible to you in your everyday life?  Can you hear him whispering in your ear, “This is the way; walk in it”?

Read the passage through again, out loud if possible

Review

  • What has this passage taught you about
  • God?
  • Jesus Christ?
  • The Church?
  • Our current situation?

Prayer:  Still ourfears, loving God, and restore to us rest and quietness, we pray.  Help us, by your Holy Spirit, so to see you in our lives and to hear you in our hearts, that we may walk in the way you have prepared for us, through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Section 2: Ephesians 1.3-10

Prayer

Read the passage through twice:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

Background

              The account of the Apostle Paul’s time in Ephesus can be found in Acts 19 & 20.  Ephesus was a wealthy trading city, in the north west of modern Turkey.  As a result, it had attracted tradespeople and merchants from across the ancient world, and was a very multicultural city.  However, the worship of Diana dominated the spiritual life of the city, and it also had a hold on much of its commercial life too.  Paul’s preaching in the city caused a riot, as silversmiths felt that they would lose business.  This brought Paul up before the magistrates, where he was able to proclaim himself a Roman citizen, and therefore had to be treated fairly.  His address to the faithful at Ephesus just before he left for Jerusalem went on all night.  Paul was deeply involved in the spiritual life of this church, and his letter is one of encouragement and challenge.

Some questions

  • “in Christ”, “through Christ”, “in the beloved” – every sentence of this passage contains one of those phrases, but they include much more.  There is a primary movement from God the Father to us, his creation, but it is all achieved in or through Christ.  Chart how each sentence progresses and what is given/lavished upon us from God, in Christ
  • “blessed”, “chose”, “destined”: three extraordinary things that God the Father has done for us in Christ.  Do you feel blessed, and chosen?  How does the idea that God destined all this from before all eternity make you feel about your choice of faith?  How free actually are we to believe?
  • “redemption”, “forgiveness”, “trespasses”, “grace” – each word has a specific meaning for Paul. 
  • If we are “bought back” (redeemed), then we must have belonged to someone or soemthing else – who or what?
  • What is the difference between redemption and forgiveness?
  • Is “trespass” synonymous with “sin”?  If not, what is the difference?
  • “Grace” is one of the hardest concepts of the New Testament, yet also one of the best.  Grace means undeserved favour, or it can be defined by the acronym God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.  It means that our holy God didn’t need to do any of what he has done for us, we who have turned our backs on him, gone beyond the bounds of his law or failed to achieve its standards.  No wonder Isaac Watts could put the adjective “amazing” in front of the word “grace” in his hymn.  Grace is a constant reminder that God forgave and restored us when we didn’t deserve it.  Grace is the foundation of our Gospel, and the primary source of our worship and the main motivation behind our prayer.
  • That grace is “lavished” upon us, says Paul.  How can we properly appreciate that?  What holds us back?  How can we fully express our gratitude to God for such lavish grace?
  • God in Christ has made known to us his plan – what exactly is that?  Is it the plan of redemption, or is it more?
  • If God’s plan is more than the redemption of the human race, what else might his plan contain for his creation?  And what might our part be in that plan, given our redemption?
  • Have we been “gathered up in him” yet?  And what might that look like?
  • Throughout this passage there is a separation between the things of God and the human situation.  That is not what God intended in creation – we are made for each other, God and humanity, and Christ bridges that gap, an expression of God’s grace.  Paul will develop these ideas through the rest of the letter to the Church at Ephesus.  It is worth reading on …. !

Read the passage through again, out loud if possible

Review

  • What has this passage taught you about
  • God?
  • Jesus Christ?
  • The Church?
  • Our current situation?

Prayer:  God of love, by whose amazing grace we are redeemed, forgiven, chosen and destined to be your children.  Give us grateful hearts and souls that praise you every day, and keep us ever faithful.  Amen.

Section 3: John 14:1-14 

Prayer

Read the passage through twice:

Jesus said to his disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe

also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you

that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I

will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the

way to the place where I am going.”  Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you

are going, so how can we know the way?”  Jesus answered, “I am the way and the

truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me,

you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long

time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the

Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words

I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is

doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at

least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. 12 Very truly I tell you, whoever

believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than

these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so

that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I

will do it.

Background

              This passage is part of the Upper Room experience for the disciples.  They have gathered with Jesus to celebrate Passover together.   This will turn out to be Jesus’s last opportunity to teach his disciples some fundamentals about himself and about humanity’s future relationship with God.  He will institute the Eucharist and wash the disciples’ feet.  And yet in the middle of that, Judas will slope out to betray him. 

Some questions

  • This is a very well known passage.  It is frequently used at funerals to provide comfort and re-assurance that we have a place with God in eternity.  But it is about much more than that.
  • A very clear relationship between God the Father and Jesus his son is expressed in these lines.  The Father has the house with many rooms, but Jesus prepares a place for us in it.  Jesus will come back to take us to be with the Father, it is not the Father who comes for us. 
  • Why don’t the disciples understand what he is talking about?  Why does Thomas say, “we don’t know where you are going…”?  He is speaking on behalf of all the disciples – have none of them understood what Jesus has been saying to them for the past 3 years?
  • “I am the way, the truth and the life” is possibly one of the best known sayings of Jesus, but what does it really mean?  The “way” to what or to whom?  The “truth” about what or whom?  The “life” – as distinct from which life – human life? 
  • “No one comes to the Father except through me”.   Does this exclude all non-Christians from the presence of God?  How do we deal with this in our multifaith society?
  • Jesus states that from that moment the disciples not only know the Father but have seen him as well – why is this so difficult for the disciples? 
  • What does the Father look like?
  • From this point on, Jesus gets into deep theology – the theology of the incarnation.  He is speaking quite clearly yet profoundly – the Father is in him and he is in the Father – God in human form, humanity fused with the divine in one person.  It is possible to get tied up in all sorts of knots with this statement, yet it is very simple and central to our faith, so Jesus gives his disciples (and us, the readers) a second way in – his actions. 
  • If the concept of the incarnation is a difficult one, purely as an abstract idea, if that notion is embodied in God-like actions, then the theology and the practice ought to coincide.  Do they? 
  • Which actions display the divine side of Christ and which his humanity?  Is there any conflict between the two?
  • And then Jesus proceeds to say that if we, the reader, believe in what he, Jesus, is saying, then we will do even greater things than Jesus did – is this possible?  Do you know any examples of Christians doing greater things than Jesus?
  • To top it all, Jesus adds answered prayer to this list of outcomes.  If we pray “in Christ’s name” then Christ will answer that prayer, so that God, the author of all good things, will be glorified in Christ.  Can we therefore pray for anything? 
  • What precisely does it mean to pray “in Christ’s name”?  It must mean more than adding that as a tag at the end of a prayer.
  • When Jesus says, “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” does he really mean it?  Anything? 
  • This is clearly teaching for after Christ’s death and resurrection.  It even foresees the Ascension and the gift of the Holy Spirit.  How much of this sinks in to the disciples’s consciousness?  This is Thursday evening, and the risen Jesus will appear to them just three evenings later – and the disciples struggle with what has happened.  Thomas, who was asking searching, pleading questions in the upper room, won’t believe until he has seen Jesus for himself.  Why are words not enough for faith?  Why must grace be experienced before we can truly trust what Jesus is saying to us?
  • Does this passage build up your faith?  Does it encourage you to pray?  Does it give you comfort and direction for the future? 
  • As a way of celebrating our Patron Saint, how can this text be made central to our church life?

Read the passage through again, out loud if possible

Review

  • What has this passage taught you about
  • God?
  • Jesus Christ?
  • The Church?
  • Our current situation?

Prayer:  Creator God, who came to us in human form to demonstrate your extraordinary love, open our hearts to your generosity, and enable us to respond by your Spirit with deeds of grace and prayers of trust, through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.  Amen.