Home Group Bible Studies

Introduction

At General Synod 2001 members experienced what was to some a new way of conducting Bible study, using one of the gifts that First Nations Anglicans have given our church, the Sharing Circle. For First Nations people the Circle is a sacred symbol. It is a gift that lifts up the possibility of all voices being heard, without cross-talk. It encourages listening, which can be the ground for healthy dialogue; it discourages argument and the subtle ways in which quieter voices can be silenced in some kinds of conversations. And it is a break from the usual patterns of communication that we experience on the floor of Synod.

SHARING Everyone in the circle shares, whether he or she chooses to speak or not. There should be no pressure placed upon anyone to speak.
GIFT Each person's participation in the circle is a gift of value and is to be appreciated and received as a gift.
RESPECT In the circle members receive each other’s gifts with respect, neither judging nor belittling the gift that each person makes. The person is listened to and allowed to speak without interruption.
EQUALITY The circle is not hierarchical. No person, and the gift they share, is more import­ant than another. Each person's gift is necessary to complete the circle.
SACREDNESS The circle is a sacred space, made up of sacred relationships. It is an altar upon which members of the circle offer themselves to each other and to the Creator. The language one uses, and the way that one relates to others in the circle reflects this sacredness.

Some Guides: In addition to these general principles, you will need as a group to pay attention to the following:

Saturday, May 29 th, 2004 The Name of God: “I Am”

  1. Read the Scripture passage aloud
  2. Reflect silently, briefly: How is God getting our/my attention?
  3. Read the Commentary and Questions
  4. Begin the Circle, inviting all to respond to what they have heard.
  5. Draw to a close with a brief prayer of thanksgiving.

Exodus 3:1-15

Commentary:

Perhaps other shepherds saw the bush that “was blazing, but not consumed.” We don’t know, but we do know that the story depends on two elements – the bush itself and Moses’ decision to “turn aside and look at this great sight”. Everything that follows hangs on that decision.

Sometimes we notice the presence of the holy, and sometimes we don’t. Often, it crosses our horizons without any apparent connection to whatever “business-as-usual” we are up to. When God addresses us, it is not as another useful bit for our agenda, but as someone and something “other”, an interruption of the way things are.

Moses’ work in Midian was good work, perhaps even holy work. But it was not his vocation. His vocation came out of the strange world of the holy, breaking into time and space in the burning bush. As Moses stood at that boundary, he met One whose name was not attached to this business or that, One who was free, not beholden in any way. It is out of that freedom that God hears the cry of those who are not free, and out of that freedom that God calls Moses to the service of freedom.

At one time or another, most of us have tried to give God a name that suits us, to tame the freedom of “I am” by defining it in terms of our desire. For those who value order, order is the holy. For those who serve wealth and property, wealth and property are the holy. For those who value security, security is the holy, and for those who value peace, peace is the holy.

In the encounter with Moses, the Holy One refuses the project hidden in Moses’ question: “How can I include you in my values, my projects, my desires? What value will you add, what cachet will you bring to the things that matter to me?” By the end of the story, Moses will be close to asking the right, and more dangerous question, “How can I be part of what matters to you?”

Questions:

  1. Can you remember a time when the holy has grabbed your attention in a way that interrupted your activity and called you away from “business as usual”?
  2. What are some of the names you have tried to stick on God? What names have you noticed others trying to stick on God?

Monday, May 31 st 2004 Called by name

  1. Read the Scripture passage aloud
  2. Reflect silently: How is God getting our/my attention?
  3. Read the Commentary and Questions.
  4. Begin the Circle, inviting all to respond to what they have heard.
  5. Draw to a close with a brief prayer of thanksgiving.

1 Samuel 3:1-11

Commentary:

As the youngest child, I remember taking the call of Samuel pretty seriously. With three older siblings, there was always someone around who was better at everything from holding the other end of the measuring tape to finding the needle-nose pliers. I could relate with a sense of wonder to the notion that a young boy could have a useful place in God’s economy, especially since my own usefulness in the household economy was uncertain at best. I don’t know if I thought it at the time, but I know I think now that God’s take on any human being, including me, is likely to be different from my own. God sees what I don’t see, and calls out to some part of us that is often beyond our own grasp.

Today, the General Synod will elect a Primate for our church. We are being asked to do two things in that responsibility. The first is to take account of what we see – the trajectory of skill and accomplishment, of relationship and leadership, of vision and care, that brings each nominee to where they are today. But the other thing we are being asked to do is to remember and trust what we cannot see, and to remember, in prayer and silence, that God sees something in the lives of each of these people that is hidden from us, and maybe from them as well. Something is in play today that is more than our preferences, insights and choices, though not less than them. That “something” is, in fact, some One, and that One calls out to more than we can see or know in the lives of each of us.

That might call us to reflection, not only on the call of God to one in our midst to be the Primate of our church, but also to each of us, to listen to what God will disclose to us, something that will make our ears tingle, something about our purpose and our call. This is not just a day for reflection on the calling of someone to be the Primate, but also for reflection on our call to be the church together.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Reflect on an occasion in which you have been surprised by something in the life of another person, some element that appeared in response to a need, crisis, or opportunity that they were able to respond to in a way that you couldn’t have predicted.
  2. Reflect on an occasion like that in your own life.

Tuesday, June 1 st 2004 I have called you friends

  1. Read the Scripture passage aloud
  2. Reflect silently, briefly: How is God getting our/my attention?
  3. Read the Commentary and Questions
  4. Begin the Circle, inviting all to respond to what they have heard.
  5. Draw to a close with a brief prayer of thanksgiving.

John 15:12-17

Commentary

Not long before he died, I visited my father in the hospital. I don’t know if the visit itself was any different than any other, but as I was beginning to think about leaving, he asked me to shave him. There’s a kind of trust involved in letting someone – especially someone inexperienced – shave you, and I’m afraid I erred in the direction of caution and left whiskers in the places I usually cut myself, near the lower lip, across the pointy part of the chin. When I read this text, though, it brings that moment to mind, a moment in which I was asked to do something that echoed with intimacy and vulnerability.

Dad gave me my name at baptism, and I assumed a number of other names over the course of our life together, not all of them entirely positive. (“Moody adolescent” comes to mind!) Some of those names were hard to hear, the names that we give when another doesn’t “measure up”. Others were easier – names given as a result of accomplishment or success. But “friend” was not (at least in my mind) among those names until I picked up the shaving brush and razor and gave my father a shave.

When Jesus tells his disciples of his new name for them, “friends”, I would imagine that an intimation of intimacy and vulnerability passed among them. It would be as friends that they would face his death, and as friends that they would welcome his resurrection. That new dimension of his relationship with them would make his death harder to bear and his resurrection more joyful. “Friends” describes a relationship of shared conviction and a common effort, a covenant rather than a contract. Friends share a meal after a day’s work together, sip iced tea together in the shade while they take a break, are invited to the weddings of each other’s children, and stand with the grieving at funeral receptions. They don’t work “for” each other, but “with” each other for something they both believe in.

When Jesus calls his followers “friends”, he gathers them, and us, into a mission of healing, redemption, hospitality, compassion, generosity and hope that is no longer just his mission, but ours as well. It is in that moment that we receive both our dignity and our name, summed up in a word that goes to the heart of our human lives: “Friends.”

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Who are the people who call you “friend”? What privileges does their friendship offer? What responsibilities does it entail?
  2. What work are you called to do with Jesus in the life of the world? What work do you see others doing with Jesus? How might we encourage one another in this work?

Wednesday, June 2 nd, 2004 Naming the Unnamed

  1. Read the Scripture passage aloud
  2. Reflect silently, briefly: How is God getting our/my attention?
  3. Read the Commentary and Questions
  4. Begin the Circle, inviting all to respond to what they have heard.
  5. Draw to a close with a brief prayer of thanksgiving.

Luke 16:19-26

Commentary

There was a rich man (he has no name), and a poor man (his name is Lazarus). The rich man is identified by purple clothes and fine linen, and by his feasting. The poor man is identified by the sores that cover his body, and by a name.

Of course, for many of us, it is the poor person who has no name. We know our colleagues, neighbours and friends by name, but not the panhandler, not the hitchhiker, not the welfare mother or unemployed day labourer. Those people are… well, “those people.” Did the rich man know Lazarus by name, or was he just “that beggar”.

But in God’s telling, the story is upended. The poor man has a name, is known and somehow recognized as belonging in the story, while the rich man is just “that rich man”. Might this story not be inviting us to understand that even if we cannot or do not know the names of those who suffer, God does. People at the far edges of our lives, barely visible, blurry and indistinct, people on the fringe of our common life are the heart of the matter in God’s story.

We will not know the names of all the panhandlers we see, of all the poor, of all the broken, of all the millions upon millions who suffer from disease, poverty, violence and our stolid inhumanity to one another. Perhaps it is enough to know that God has a name for them, as God has a name for us, that they, like we, are welcome guests at the hospitable table where God is host, and where each guest is welcomed, beloved, and called by name. As we prepare to listen, reflect on, and respond to the tragedy of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in southern and eastern Africa, we remember that Lazarus, covered in sores, still had his name, while the rich man, heedless of the suffering of another, had traded his true name for “rich man”.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Can you remember a time when someone has gone past the surface of your life in order to pay attention to what was really going on, who you really were? What effect did that have on you?
  2. What happens when we ignore someone’s name, or forget that, like us, they are named “beloved” by God?

Thursday, June 3rd, 2004 Named by Love

  1. Read the Scripture passage aloud
  2. Reflect silently, briefly: How is God getting our/my attention?
  3. Read the Commentary and Questions
  4. Begin the Circle, inviting all to respond to what they have heard.
  5. Draw to a close with a brief prayer of thanksgiving.

John 20:11-16

Commentary: One of the most popular films of 2001 was “my Big Fat Greek Wedding.” It is a story about a young woman, Tula, a first generation Greek-American, and a young, and very white-American male, Ian. When Ian first meets Tula she is working as a seating hostess in her parent’s Greek restaurant. She is portrayed as dowdy, both in spirit and demeanor, trapped by the traditions and expectations of her parents, and bowed under the weight of being expected to marry someone Greek, feed the Greek population, and produce more Greek babies who can do the same. She servers Ian’s table and is obviously effected by this young man, who, in turn, appears to share only a passing glance and a few kind words, before he walks out of the restaurant and, we are prompted to expect, out of her life.

A few frames later we find Tula asking her father if she can go back to school. Tula has realized that she needs to do something with her life. She goes to school, and at the same time her academic life is having a makeover, her physical appearance is also changing – she begins to dress more brightly, walk with a confident, more joyful, step, look up and out instead of down and in. Her computer classes land her a job in her Aunt’s travel agency, where she once again meets Ian. She is so different in her own eyes that she believes that Ian does not recognize her. When she finally tells him that she once worked in the restaurant, and that she was “frump girl” till now, Ian says, “I don’t remember any frump girl, but I remember you.” Even beneath the veil of tradition, greasy hair, and despair, Tula had been known.

Question:

  1. What experience(s) of truly being known can you recall?
  2. How does our church bear witness to the God who names, knows, and loves each person uniquely?

Friday, June 4 th, 2004 Growing Into a Name

  1. Read the Scripture passage aloud
  2. Reflect silently, briefly: How is God getting our/my attention?
  3. Read the Commentary and Questions
  4. Begin the Circle, inviting all to respond to what they have heard.
  5. Invite from the group prayers of thanksgiving for the gifts that have been shared during the Home Group gatherings.

Matthew 16:13-23

John 18:25-27

Commentary: I can understand that deep down,”omigod, what have I done” feeling that must have clawed at the guts of Peter. There is a moment when we finally claim the hurt that we have done which makes us feel like a zoom lense has just targeted and aimed in on our souls, and the picture we see is just plain ugly: me, it is me, what have I done? How can I repair this, what can I do now? And finally, often when all else has been exhausted, “how can I say I am sorry?”

What are we really asking for when we fall down on our knees and beg God to forgive us? Do we want to be remade as we were before we committed one sin or another? Are we wanting simply to be rid of the pain of transgression, and enter into the peace we had before we ourselves inflicted pain – was there even peace to begin with? What does a forgiven future look like? How can it be a future that will change the way we decide the next time we must act.

In his book, Ressurrection: Interpreting the Easter Gospel, Rowan Williams addresses this very issue; what he writes has changed my life. Of Peter, and the other disgruntled, frightened, disciples, he states, “If the apostles are to be sent now, it is as men who have encountered afresh the Lord who sends them; and he comes now to men whose history is one of initial hope and promise, followed by betrayal and emptiness. They are called now and sent now as forgiven men: their apostasy does not alter God’s purpose. And so too their apostasy does not take away the identity that God’s purpose gives them. Simon is still, in the eyes of God, Peter. What he has to learn is that his betrayal does not make God betray, so that his calling as Peter, as rock of the apostolic faith, is still there, waiting to be lived out.”p.35.

For many years I was Simon, yearning to be cleansed and restored to Simon again. But now I yearn and seek the Peter that God holds out for me: Peter the courageous, Peter the faithful, Peter the apostle. I cannot be any of these if I am simply restored to who I was; I must go forward and become who I will become in God.

Questions:

  1. What hard (challenging, risky, anxiety-laden) name have you had to grow into?
  2. What hard name is our church called to grow into?