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Bible Study for the seventh 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

Bible Study for the seventh week of the Covid 19 church building closure

Section 1:  Acts 17: 22-31

Prayer:  Open our hearts, loving God, to the boundless possibilities of your presence in our world.  Open our souls to the teaching of your word.  Amen

Read the passage through twice:

Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious.  For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.  The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands.  And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.  From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.  God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.  ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’  “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill.  In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.  For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

Background

              Paul and Luke had been in Athens for a while.  Paul had been preaching in the synagogue and in the market place, engaging with the different philosophical groups that dominated Athenian thought – Epicureans, Stoics and Academics.  His message of one God and Christ risen from the dead brings him to the notice of the city authorities, and he is summoned to answer the charge of preaching  about “unknown deities”, which was the charge that was levelled against Socrates, for which he was executed.  So to go to the Areopagus was not simply a chance to argue philosophy and theology.  Paul was actually defending himself against a potential death sentence.

              Epicureans argued that the gods were distant and not interested in what human beings got up to, so enjoyment of this life was the greatest good.

              Stoics held that the gods lived amongst us, but invisibly, so it was in our interest to behave and control ourselves as individuals and as a society for the common good – Paul quotes a Stoic poet, which suggests that possibly these philosophers were in the majority in the audience.

              The Academics followed the teachings of Plato, and occupied a middle ground between the other two philosphies, where the gods were knowable, yet detached, involved with humanity yet above us.

              Paul has to bring the notion of one God to people who believed in a pantheon of gods, and on top of that, to argue that this God cares so much about his creation that he came and lived in it, died, and rose again.

              Greek and Roman history writers were expected to produce classic speeches for their readers.  From Herodotus to Livy, great leaders’ orations were recorded according to rules of rhetoric as much as knowable content.  Luke does the same for Paul here – he was certainly present with him, in the Areopagus, which is just down the hill from the Parthenon, but we can be fairly certain that this is a succinct summary of Paul’s speech, with plenty of rhetorical flourishes to embellish the finished product.

Some questions

  • Paul opens with a compliment on the levels of faith he has observed in Athens.  He demonstrates that he knows the layout of the city and their religious practices.  His example of the altar to “an unknown god” is his launching point for his introduction to the God of the universe.  Does it work?
  • Ignorance is a major theme of this sermon – ignorance because the people of Athens had never been told about the God of the universe before, ignorance because they could not reach this God by themselves.  Is ignorance an excuse?
  • Paul seeks to expand the notion of God into the all-encompassing God of the universe that is central to Jewish faith.  How does he do this? 
  • Is the creator God your starting point for faith, or is it God in the world, in the person of Christ?  Can it be both?
  • Paul says that this God is not restrained to temples or altars, yet the Temple in Jerusalem still exists at this point, with all its ceremonies.  What does Paul mean?
  • Who is the “one man” from whom all the nations spread out?  And why mention him?
  • Paul suggests that the God of the universe has a plan for all creation, that history is controlled by him.  Paul’s (very Jewish) God is forward-looking – does this still hold true?
  • Can we find this God of the universe, if we reach out for him as Paul suggests that God wants us to do?  Or do we need some help?
  • What help does Paul offer these people to find the living God?
  • Would you take the repentance line that Paul offers?  And ultimate judgement? 
  • The time of excusable ignorance is over for Paul’s audience.  Can we still argue a level of ignorance, that there are things that we don’t know, so God remains distant and unknown?
  • What do you think the reaction was to Pauls’s talk of “raising Christ from the dead”?  Read on in chapter 17 – it’s an exciting story!
  •  

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:  Loving God, you have shown your grace and mercy throughout history.  Enable us to walk with you in our current situation, and to cling on to your ultimate control of all things, despite our current problems. 

Section 2: 1 Peter 3: 13-end

Prayer:  AmenLoving God, sometimes your Word is difficult.  May your Holy Spirit enable us to read and understand what you are saying to us, and help us to accept the challenge of complexity.  Amen

Read the passage through twice:

Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?  But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.”But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.  For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.  For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.  After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits—  to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water,and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.

Background

               This general letter to churches in Northern Turkey continues with encouragement in the face of opposition and criticism.  Physical persecution may be occurring, but it seems more likely that the surrounding population is taking exception to the standards which the churches are adopting, and feeling threatened by goodness – a curious facet of human nature, but very real. 

              The section about the risen Jesus preaching to the “imprisoned spirits” has been difficult from the moment it was penned, and has divided opinion down through the centuries.  However, it does lead the writer on to a reflection on baptism, which must have provided real hope to his readers.

Some questions

  • We can all still remember occasions at school when we were singled out for punishment when we hadn’t been the offenders.  We can still remember burning at the injustice of it all.   What sort of circumstances might the writer be addressing for these Christians, in his day?
  • Does this sort of persecution for doing the right thing still go on today?  Have we experienced it in our own lives recently?  Or heard about it in the news?  What is the answer given by the world today?  What is the writer’s answer here? 
  • Is a clear conscience sufficient for us to endure wrongful accusation?
  • The quotation is from Isaiah 8, during the early days of Isaiah’s prophetic ministry.  He was telling the people of Israel hard truths from God, and suffering for speaking the truth.  Isaiah prevailed – can we?
  • Do you know examples of unjust accusation being exposed, and the accusers feeling shame?  How do we deal with these people after they have been proved wrong?  What is Christ’s response to such treatment? 
  • Can we really be expected to emulate Christ’s response to his accusers and those who crucified him?
  • We read this passag this week because it talks about the risen Christ – but not in a situation that we can remotely recognise.  Time bats backwards and forwards in these sentences – back to the Ark, forward to the resurrection of Christ, forward again to our baptism.  This is an insight into God’s timescale, which is clearly not our own.  For God, time is not linear, as it is for us.  Eternity works on every level, righting wrongs, bringing grace and healing, repentance and restoration, even to those who mocked God’s plans.
  • We finish the passage on a high note – Christ in glory.  Is that a helpful image for you?  Or would a more earthy Jesus be of more value?  We will celebrate Ascension Day next week – we need to decide!

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:  Loving God, you have shown your grace and mercy throughout history.  Enable us to walk with you in our current situation, and to cling on to your ultimate control of all things, despite our current problems.  Amen

Section 3: John 14: 15-21

Prayer:  As you spoke to your disciples in the upper room, speak to us today, as we read your word, loving God.  Amen

Read the passage through twice:

“If you love me, keep my commands.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—  the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.  I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.  Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.  On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.  Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

Background

              This is a continuation of the conversation that Jesus has with his disciples in the upper room.  We have moved on from the simple statement of God with us in response to Philip’s appeal, “show us the Father”, to practical ways in which Christ’s followers can live out his life in the world.  Comfort is the watchword for this section, and hope provisioned by God’s love.

Some questions

  • Is the gift of the Holy Spirit contingent on our keeping Christ’s commands?  What are those commands?
  • To love is to obey – is that true?
  • “another advocate” was originally translated “another comforter” – is the change a simple correction of language, or is something else going on?  And what exactly did the 17th century translaters mean by “comforter” (hint, it is not what we use the word for today)
  • Do you want a divine advocate?  And if so, what do you expect them to do?
  • Do you understand the Holy Spirit in terms of interceding for us/acting on our behalf , to use the legal metaphore?  If so, how?
  • Jesus states that the Holy Spirit is a mystery to those outside the Church – is that still the case?  Which is harder to talk about – God as Father, Jesus as one of us yet divine, or the Holy Spirit?  Why?
  • Do we really know the Holy Spirit?  Do we really believe that the Holy Spirit is with us and in us?
  • Why does Jesus use the word “orphans” of the disciples, even if they won’t be?  Christ is much more than a parent figure to them, and to us.  What is his purpose here?
  • How and when will Jesus come to us, seeing as he has promised not to leave us as orphans?
  • Jesus makes clear that he won’t be in this world in the same way for much longer, but promises that he will be visible to the disciples – how?  And will he be the same as he was before?
  • At the end of the passage, the link between love and obedience is reiterated, so it cannot be ignored.  Also, our love for Christ draws us into the love of the Father, and into the love of Christ, who through love will make himself plain to us.  Does that still work today? 
  • In what ways does Christ make himself visible to us today?
  • How are you coping without communion?  Is shared bread and wine part of your “seeing”  Christ?
  • Has working on this passage brought you any comfort? 
  • Could you share that comfort with others, now that you have studied these words of Jesus?
  •  

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:  Fill us, good Lord, with your Holy Spirit, that we may live as you would direct us, and obey your loving, gracious commands