Fall 2009 Edition

Use the links below to jump to the week you are interested in:
Week One – A Strange New World
Week Two – A Story We Can Recognize
Week Three – A God We Can Trust
Week Four – Lift High the Cross
Week Five – Meaty Matters
Week Six – What’s Love Got To Do With It
Week Seven – Hope For the Imperfect
Week Eight – Walking on the Way 
Week Nine – An Odd Epiphany

Week One – A Strange New World
Karl Barth, one of the most important theologians of the 20th century, referred to “the strange new world of the Bible” as an exotic but very relevant and impactful place to walk around.  Today we begin by asking basic questions:
•    How did this big book come to be the thing it is?
o    The History of Jewish and Christian Faith Communities
o    Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek Languages
o    The Decisions about What’s In and What’s Out
•    How can we learn our way around it?
o    Books, Chapters, Verses, etc.
o    Sections and Themes
•    What we can expect to bring back with us from our journeys inside.
This is “Open-the-Bible” day, and we will!

The sixth century BCE was a turbulent time for the Jewish people.  They saw centuries of life in the land of Canaan interrupted by a foreign king and they were exiled to a faraway land and a foreign culture in Babylon.  A whole lot of our present Hebrew Bible/Old Testament was either collected or composed during this time, when their identity as a people was threatened and they needed to hear a word from God.

Week One – Class Materials click 

Week Two – A Story We Can Recognize
In 597-587 BCE, Jerusalem was burned to the ground and its people were force-marched to Babylon (present-day Iraq).  Down went their temple, their monarchy, and the way they had always lived.  In Babylon, nothing seemed familiar.  So their religious leaders told old stories the exiles could recognize about the God they knew.  They also wrote new stories that spoke to the specific circumstances they faced.
This week we ask how the histories and stories that Judean priests and prophets produced in exile might help us live our own everyday lives of faith.
Reading:      Psalm 137
2 Kings 25.1-11
The Creation Epic of Enuma Elish
Genesis 1—2

Week Two – Class Materials click 

Week Three – A God We Can Trust
While in Babylon, the Jewish people tried to understand how their recent harsh experience fit their understanding of God.  Some thought God had broken promises and decided not to worship the God of Israel.  Others decided to remain faithful and interpreted exile as God’s punishment for idolatry.  Still others looked to God in hope of a better future.  Everyone wondered if they could still trust the God who had watched Nebuchadnezzar’s army batter Jerusalem’s walls and exile her people.
This week we ask what prompts us to trust or not trust the unpredictable God.
Reading:    2 Samuel 6
Deuteronomy 6 and 11 (Two Ways, Two Consequences)
2 Kings  (History as Judgment)
Isaiah 40.  ; 49 (A God Who Forgives and Doesn’t Forget.)
Jeremiah 33 (A New Covenant)

The Apostle Paul was a community organizer.  He told his faith story in cities around the Mediterranean, and when people felt compelled by his words, he gathered them as a group he called ekklesia (“assembly”) that met in living rooms.  After tending one of these little house churches for a while, Paul would put leaders in place and then move on to plant another.  The earliest Christian documents we have are the Apostle Paul’s letters to these fledgling churches in present day Turkey, Greece, and Italy.  The first-century Christian community we know best is the one in Corinth. Paul wrote several letters, two of which we have in our Bible.  They wrote letters back to Paul.  Not all of what we read in these letters flatters the Corinthians, but we will probably recognize some of our own struggles in theirs.

Week Three – Class Materials click here

Week Four – Lift High the Cross

There were factions among the Corinthian Christians. Who was their proper leader (1.11)?  Paul had started the church.  But other Christian leaders had come along later and helped the church, and new people joined the group because of their teaching.  Over time, the group divided over the matter of who should be their true apostle and guide.  Paul taught them that the humble image of the cross was the best guide in issues of power.
This week we will ask how Paul’s ethic of the cross can help us live our own lives.
Reading:    Acts 18.1-17
1 Corinthians 1—4 with a focus on chapter 1
Handout:  “Paul and Apollos in Corinth”

Week Four – Class Materials click here

Week Five – Meaty Matters

There may not be a more archaic-seeming question in all of scripture than, “Is it faithful to eat meat that has been sacrificed to an idol?”  But somehow when we read well Paul’s answer to that question, it ends up entirely relevant to our twenty-first century lives.  That is because it is a question of individualism versus community, a constant tension in our society and culture.
Today we will ask what Paul can teach us about how the individual best functions in a community.
Reading:    1 Corinthians 5—11 with a focus on chapters 8—10.
Gerd Theissen, “The Strong and the Weak in Corinth: A Sociological Analysis of a Theological Quarrel.”

Week Five – Class Materials click here

Week Six –  What’s Love Got To Do with It?

1 Corinthians 13 is one of the most famous parts of scripture.  We hear it read at most of the weddings we attend.  “Love is patient, love is kind…”  But romantic love and marriage are not the issue to which Paul addresses these poetic words.  Rather, they address another problem within the Christian community at Corinth – this one in their worship life.
This week we will look at what how the radical love Paul describes works in a Christian community and beyond.
Reading:    1 Corinthians 12—14 with the question “What’s love got to do with the use of spiritual gifts in a church?

The Gospel of Mark is the most urgent of our four biblical stories of Jesus’ life.  It features a Jesus of more actions than words, disciples who are slow to learn important lessons, opponents who will do anything to win, and a suspenseful ending.  It is gripping.  As good as the story is, though, it began its life as a faithful author’s attempt to help his struggling Christian group make it through hard times.  In these weeks, we’ll see how a Gospel is a little like a sermon.

Week Six – Class Materials click here

Week Seven – Hope for the Imperfect

Characterization is an important part of any story.  Jesus’ disciples are an important player in Mark’s Gospel.  They first join him in 1.16-20, they ride along in very heady and successful times, and then they are faced with difficult decisions during not-so-easy times.  The first-century audience for Mark’s Gospel would have watched the disciples very closely, hoping to find help in figuring out their own lives.
This week we will ask what we can learn about our own faith and faithlessness from Mark’s characterization of these disciples.
Reading:    The Gospel of Mark all through, with especial attention to the characterization of the disciples.

Week Seven – Class Materials click here

Week Eight – Walking on the Way

Tracking major themes is a great way to look for the heart of a Gospel.  Jesus doesn’t give long sermons in Mark.  His words are few.  That makes every topic he does take up very significant.  In the middle of the book, he makes very important comments about what it means to follow him – comments that shape the entire second half of the Gospel.
This week, we will look at Jesus’ parables and other teachings to discover the kind of life to which he calls his first- and twenty-first century followers.
Reading:    Mark chapters 1–10, with particular attention to the main themes of Jesus’ teaching.

Week Nine – An Odd Epiphany

The Gospel of Mark uses dramatic irony to make some of its most important points.  Strange things happen in this Gospel when people try to identify Jesus.  Demons call him the Son of God, while his family, neighbors, and best friends have trouble guessing who he is.  In a book that has been called “a Passion narrative a long introduction,” it is appropriate that the greatest irony of all comes at the crucifixion.
This week, we will finish our course by asking, not only who Jesus was to the people around him, but who Jesus is to us two millennia later.
Reading:    Mark chapters 1—16, looking especially for the ways Jesus is identified by the characters in the Gospel.

Week Nine – Class Materials click here

**Note:  While the text of Mark’s Gospel will be by far the most important preparation for these last three sessions, Allen will add other optional articles and sermons to supplement that primary reading.

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