Bible Study 8-21-11

  Light on the Lessons  

Isaiah 51:1-6; Romans 12:1-8; Matthew 16:13-20

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (Lectionary 21–Proper 16); Cycle A; August 21, 2011

Participant Guide

I Getting Started

1. For much of life, we pursue things and goals and dreams that have no eternal value, although our culture prizes them. What in life do you think has true and abiding “eternal value”? To what extent does the fact that you think something has eternal value give that something real priority in your life?

2. What do you consider the greatest or most important of the many gifts (talents, abilities, skills) that God has given you?

3. Many people have someone who has so cruelly hurt them that they cannot forgive. What are the consequences, for both the offender and the one offended, of withholding forgiveness?

II Check the Texts

1. Isaiah 51:1-6

This lesson is a word from Second Isaiah addressed to the exiles. Interestingly, this passage has the only mention of Sarah outside of Genesis.

A. We can imagine this lesson as being composed of three promises: 1-3, 4-5, 6. How would you describe each of these promises?

B. What does the prophet urge the people to do in verse 2? The issues of Abraham as ancestor played out in the New Testament as well. Read these passages: Luke 3:7-8, John 8:31-36, and Romans 4:1-5. Which of these passages expresses the idea of Abrahamic ancestry that comes closest to what the prophet urges in verse 2?

C. In verse 3, Zion is the image for the Temple in Jerusalem. Eden is the paradise of creation, Genesis 2:10. Read Genesis 3:8. What in that verse suggests the connection between Eden and the Temple on Zion?

D. In verses 4-5, to whom does the singular “people” refer? To whom does the plural “peoples” refer? What does this suggest about God’s outreach in the coming time of fulfillment?

E. Speculation about what God will do in the end times has become very popular, but it remains speculation. What does verse 6 say about the future?

2. Romans 12:1-8

A. “Therefore” in verse 1 tells us that Paul is basing his plea to present one’s body as a living sacrifice on points he had made earlier and we studied in previous weeks. What has Paul said that calls for this response: (Clue: Romans 6:5-11 and 8:9-l1 offer some key insights.)

B. When Paul addressed first-century Roman Christians, what do you think he meant by “do not be conformed to this world (or age or era)”?

C. What do you think “transformed by the renewing of your minds” meant for Paul? Today’s New Age movements stress transformation and mental renewal for personal gain. What does Paul say is the goal of that renewal?

D. What do you think is the meaning of the “one body, many members” image in verse 4?

E. In verses 6-7, Paul lists what we call skills or abilities or talents, but which he calls gifts. What different understanding does the term “gift” bring?

F. Which of the gifts Paul lists come closest to your gifts? How are you using those gifts?

3. Matthew 16:13-20

In Greek, Peter (Petros) and rock (petra) sound alike, so we have a play on words. In Aramaic which Jesus usually spoke, the words are the same: Kepha for Cephas (Peter) and kepha for rock. The words translated “church” (ekklesia) means “assembly” or “community.” This is the only appearance of that word in the Gospels. We should not imagine, in early New Testament times, a complex and hierarchical church organization like that which we know today.

A. In Jesus day, two traditions competed within Judaism: the prophetic, harkening to the prophets, and the priestly, focusing on the Temple and the cult. According to verse 14, in what tradition did the people seem to place Jesus? Read Jeremiah 31:31-34. How does that passage suggest why Jeremiah was included?

B. It is possible that “one of the prophets” in verse 14 could have meant “the prophet.” Read Deuteronomy 18:15-22 for a description of “the prophet,” who was expected to appear as another Moses. Read John 1:19-23. What did the Baptist say to those who thought he might be “the prophet”?

C. What in this lesson suggests that we cannot reason our way to faith in Jesus as our Savior?

D. What does verse 19 suggest about the relationship between the Christian community on earth and God in heaven?

E. Read the following verse, verse 21. Why did Jesus wait until he was identified as the Messiah before sharing this information with his disciples? How did the disciples react to this information (verses 22-23)?

III What Does It All Mean?

1. What does it mean for you to live as a “child of God’s promise”?

2. With conflicts spreading around the world, with global warming, with religions and cultures at odds, with individuals corrupting our capitalist system, how do you feel about the future? What gives you comfort?

3. How important is the idea of heaven in the cluster of things that reinforce your hope? In your mind, how do you picture heaven?

4. For a 21st-century Christian in our nation, what does Paul’s challenge “do not be conformed to this world (or age or era)” mean?

5. How much importance do you ascribe to forgiving others?

IV Into the Week

1. You go home and someone asks, “What did you learn today?” What do you reply?

2. Continue to claim at least 10 minutes each day exclusively for refreshing your spiritual life. Think only of that which brings God to your mind. After a few minutes, let your mind form the image of someone for whom you want to pray. Let yourself feel into their situation. Picture God’s Spirit flowing toward that person. Try to do this without verbalizing any specific requests to God.


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