The Carols of Christmas

In The Carols of Christmas, Alan Vermilye takes us through four well-known Christmas carols (one per week), providing us with a short history of the carol and a daily devotional about the respective carol. The carols being sung and discussed are O Holy NightI Heard the Bells on Christmas DayO Little Town of Bethlehem, and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. This Advent study covers four weeks.

Parables of Kingdom, Grace, Judgment – Robert F. Capon

In his book, Kingdom, Grace, Judgment – Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of JesusRev. Robert F. Capon takes us on a unique and adventurous look at Jesus’ parables in the larger light of their entire gospel and biblical context. Rev. Capon reminds us that when we begin to dig deeper into the actual parables themselves, we begin to realize that they are strange, bizarre, complex, and disturbing. They are not tidy moralistic stories, but try to upend tidy moralistic notions. Bad people get rewarded, good people are scolded, God is often compared to an irritable person, fairness is absent, and the idea of who should be first or be rewarded is turned upside down. The very purpose of the parables, it appears, is not to be nice but to disturb our religious understandings and that is a challenge.  As a companion to this study, I have used the blog posts of the Rev. Aiden Kimel at Eclectic Orthodoxy. This study covers approximately ten weeks.

The Revelation to St. John

The final book of our Bibles is by far the most misunderstood, misquoted, and generally abused or ignored book of the Scriptures. As we study the Revelation to St. John, we will place the book within its literary and historical context and envision how this extraordinary book speaks to us in the church today. Revelation is a liturgical book centered around worship and it tells us that evil is conquered, the saints are redeemed, and a new creation will be brought about not through the force of arms but through the blood of the Lamb and the testimony/martyrdom of Its followers. In preparation for the study I am primarily using Dr. Michael J. Gorman’s Reading Revelation Responsibly and Fr. Lawrence R. Farley’s The Apocalypse of St. John. I will also be using Reading Revelation in Prison, a blog post by Richard Beck in “Experimental Theology”, the chapter on “The Meaning and Mystery of Wrath” in The Prophets by Abraham Heschel, and the relevant portions of Her Gates Will Never Shut by Brad Jersak and The Writings of the New Testament by Luke Timothy Johnson and Commentary on the New Testament’s Use of the Old Testament by G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson. This study covers fifteen weeks.

Living His Story – A Lenten Study

In Living His Story (the Archbishop of Canterbury’s 2021 Lenten Study), the Rev. Dr. Hannah Steele explores evangelism as a way of sharing God’s love with our neighbors in a post-Christian world. Evangelism is an invitation to others to switch stories and therefore to a changed life. Lent is the ideal time for us to recover and relearn our story so that we are then prepared to share the Good News of Christ’s Resurrection on Easter Sunday. This Lenten study covers seven weeks.

Adam & the Fall

In this study, we read the story of Adam & the Fall as given to us in Genesis 2:4-3:24. The creation story of Genesis 1 that we studied in Epiphany 2020 is the story of God and his bringing about all that is seen and unseen. The story of Genesis 2-3 is the story of us. It is a story that seeks to tell us who we are and the very nature of our human condition. This story prepares us for Jesus who took upon himself our human nature and who perfected the same through his incarnation, obedience, and resurrection. Rom. 5:12-211 Cor. 15:42-50. As preparation for the study, I am using the JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis, the writings of Richard Beck, a lecture by Jordan Peterson, and St. Athanasius’s On the Incarnation. This Epiphany study covers seven weeks.

Matthew’s Infancy Narrative

In this three-week Advent study, we read through the Christmas story as found in Matthew 1-2. Our story begins with the genealogy of Jesus, continues with his birth as told through the eyes of Joseph, and ends with the visitation of the Magi. For the background of this study, I have used N.T. Wright’s Matthew for Everyone and Pope Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth – The Infancy Narratives.

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

In his book, The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis gives us an account of our human condition from the perspective of a demon named Screwtape. The demon’s accounts are found in a series of letters written to his younger nephew Wormwood on how best to tempt a British man, called “the Patient,” into sin and, eventually, into Hell. Wormwood is an inexperienced devil, and Screwtape shares with Wormwood his knowledge, experience, and skill derived from his many years of tempting humans to abandon God. In preparation for the weekly gatherings, I have used a Study Guide created by the C.S. Lewis Foundation, the Spark Notes on the book, and a Study Guide of discussion questions by Alan Vermilye. John Cleese’s reading of the book is brilliant. This study covers eight weeks.

Jonah – A Difficult Story of God’s Mercy

In this four-week study, we read through the story of Jonah. At its core, Jonah is a polemic against a nationalistic retributive understanding of God who destroys our enemies in favor of a universal understanding of God abounding in such great mercy as to require us to not only love our enemies but to intercede for their redemption. Jonah holds us to account for our selfishness which causes us to flee from the love of neighbor and delight in the downfall of others. For the background of this study, I am using Tyndale’s Old Testament Commentary on Jonah (academic approach), Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz’s Jonah – A Social Justice Commentary (modern application approach), and Dr. Robert Alter’s Strong as Death is Love (academic and application). This study covers four weeks.

1 John

In this eight-week summer study, we read John’s letter to a community in turmoil where John reminds his people and us of the good news of God’s unmerited Love and our calling to demonstrate that love towards others. For background on this study, I have used Ben Witherington’s Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians, Lukie Timothy Johnson’s The Writings of the New Testament, and Oliver Clement’s On Human Being. This summer study covers six to eight weeks.

Everywhere Present – A Contemplative Study

In his book, Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey UniverseFr. Stephen Freeman (OCA) seeks to awaken us to the Reality of God’s living and active presence in our lives. God is not confined in a heaven distanced from our present existence or only found at the end of time but is truly transformingly present in the here and now. We simply must open our eyes. This Eastertide study covers six weeks.

Passion Predictions in the Gospel of John

In this Lenten study we read and reflect on the Passion predictions in the Gospel of John. These are the statements of Jesus where Jesus speaks about his death and resurrection. Through the study and meditation on these verses, we hope to gain a deeper understanding of Good Friday and Easter Sunday. For background in this study, I have used D.A. Carson’s Commentary on the New Testament’s Use of the Old Testament. This Lenten study covers six weeks

Saints in Lent

During Lent in 2021, I was asked to give a short meditation on a saint during our mid-week services. The assigned saint was based on the Calendar. The five meditations are Matthais, the Wesley Brothers, Gregory the Great, Patrick, and the Annunciation.

The Gospel According to Johnny Cash

In this study we read through Richard Beck’s book Trains, Jesus, and Murder – The Gospel According to Johnny Cash. The book grew out of a bible study Beck leads at a local maximum-security prison. In the book, Beck shows us how Cash, like Jesus, brings us into the presence of the marginalized and forgotten people of our society – the imprisoned, the heartbroken, the beaten down, Native Americans, common laborers, drug addicts and those who have never felt the love of Jesus. For the men that Cash sang to and about or the men that Beck leads in bible study, sin and its consequences and the promise of one-day being free are not theoretical ideas to be discussed, but an ever-present reality that is lived. In many ways, Cash’s songs are a psalmody for our time. This Epiphany study covers seven weeks.

Leo the Great at Christmas

Leo the Great was the bishop of Rome from 440 until his death in 461. In the annals of history, he is best known for convincing Attila the Hun to spare Rome and cease his Italian campaign. In Church History, Leo is best known for his arguments in carrying the day at the Council of Chalcedon that Christ is of two natures in one person. His Christmas sermons reflect his emphasis on the centrality of the Incarnation to our Faith. This Advent study covers three weeks and his sermons 21 and 26.

The Story of King David

In the Story of King David, we walk through the entire saga of King David from the anointing of a young shepherd boy by the prophet Samuel until his death in old age and his son Solomon’s securing the throne. David not only gives us a great story that rivals anything HBO has to offer, but allows us to dive deep into the Scriptures and find Jesus. For background in this study, I have used David Wolpe’s book David: The Divided Heart and David Payne’s commentary on I & II Samuel. This Fall study covers thirteen weeks and 1 Samuel 16 through 1 Kings 2.

The Resurrection Narratives

In this unit on the Resurrection we explore the various New Testament writers’ understanding of the nature of Jesus’ Resurrection and what it means for us on the other side of the Resurrection. We also look into the post-Easter feast days of Pentecost, Ascension, and Trinity. For background in this study, I have used N. T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God. The Eastertide study covers eight weeks.

Being Disciples – A Lenten Study with Abp. Rowan Williams

In his book, Being Disciples – Essential of the Christian Life, former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams gives us a series of short reflections calling us into the slow, deep simplicity of living into discipleship. It is a beautifully written contemplative book guiding us in the ways to become more like the One whom we worship. This Lenten study covers six weeks.

The Story of Creation

The Story of Creation takes a close reading of the first creation story in Genesis 1:1-2:3 within its historical, linguistic, and Scriptural context. Within the first chapter of Scripture we explore topics such as the nature of God, the work of the Trinity, the nature of time, how to read the Scriptures, the (non-)existence of evil, who we are, the nature of salvation, and our responsibilities to creation and to each other. For background in this study, I have used primarily Bereishit (Genesis) Rabbah, the JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis, and St. Augustine’s Confessions. This Epiphany study covers seven weeks.

Malachi – An Advent Lesson

In this brief advent study, we look at how the prophet Malachi reminds us that Advent is not a time of preparation for the arrival of a baby, but that Advent is the time of preparation of the Lord God of Hosts inserting himself into human history. This Advent study covers two (or four) weeks.

Sermon on the Mount

In this study, we read through the Sermon on the Mount (excluding the Beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer) as found in Matthew 5-7. For background in this study, I have primarily used Oswald Chamber’s Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, Emmet Fox’s Sermon on the Mount, and Soren Kierkegaard’s The Lily of the Field and the Bird of the Air. This Lesson covers six weeks.

Works of Love – Søren Kierkegaard

In this study, we read through abridged excerpts of Søren Kierkegaard’s book Works of Love as found in Provocation – The Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard. Here Kierkegaard explores the outworkings of the duty to love your neighbor as yourself. I have personally found these excerpts to be the most profound discussion on this greatest commandment. This lesson covers four weeks.

The Pastoral Epistles

In this summer study, we read through Paul’s Pastoral Epistles – 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus. These letters contain Paul’s advice and encouragement to a younger apostle. For background on this study, I have used N.T. Wright’s Paul for Everyone, 1 &2 Timothy and Titus, Luke Timothy Johnson’s The Writings of the New Testament, and Abraham Malherbe’s Paul and the Popular Philosophers. This lesson covers thirteen weeks.

Immortal Diamond by Richard Rohr

In his book, Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self, Fr. Richard Rohr writes about personal transformation and how the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is not simply a historical event but is a present reality in which we are all called to participate. As Paul writes, we are crucified with Christ and Christ was raised from the dead so that we too might walk in a new and transformed life. Rom 6:4-11. Particularly during the Easter season, we are called to die to our old ego-centric “False Self,” and be resurrected and transformed into a new Christ-centric “True Self.”  It is this Christ-centric True Self that is Rohr’s Immortal Diamond. This Eastertide study covers six weeks.

Ecclesiastes – A Lenten Study

In this Lenten Study, we will be discussing the first half of Ecclesiastes. The theme of Ecclesiastes is that the things of this world are no more substantive than a vapor that soon disappears and is forgotten. The writer reminds us that regardless of how wise or righteous we are, death comes for us all. During Lent, as we walk with Jesus towards Jerusalem and ultimately Golgotha, we are faced with the question of whether death also comes for God’s Wisdom incarnate who exhibits the perfect Righteousness of God. For if death comes for Him, then all that we do is in vain. Therefore, Ecclesiastes compels us, like the male disciples on Easter morning, to run to see if the rumor of the empty grave and the defeat of death itself is true. For background of this study, I have used the JPS Bible Commentary: Ecclesiastes by Michael Fox, The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus, and The Resurrection of the Son of God (Ch. 3) by N.T. Wright. This Lenten study covers five to six weeks.

Bad Girls of the Bible – Liz Curtis Higgs

In her book, Bad Girls of the Bible – And What We Can Learn from Them, Liz Curtis Higgs takes us on a wonderful adventure looking at the ten best-known femmes fatales found in Scripture. Mrs. Higgs has a wonderful insight into these women and their struggles and personalities, and what they can teach us today. Her blog on this book is HERE. This Epiphany study covers eight to ten weeks.

Ponder These Things: Praying With Icons of the Virgin – An Advent Study with Abp. Rowan Willams

In his book Ponder These Things: Praying with Icons of the Virgin, former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams invites us to explore and reflect on the depths of meaning in three classic icons of the Virgin and her child from the Eastern Christian tradition. Advent is the ideal time to engage with the Holy Mother of God for it is through her that the Incarnation occurs. This Advent study covers one to two weeks.

The Epistle of Jude

In this study, we are reading through the Epistle of Jude. Jude is more of a sermon in letter form written as an exhortation to a community of believers. The overall purpose of Jude is to appeal to the faith once delivered against certain false teachers. For background on this study, I have used Luke Timothy Johnson’s The Writings of the New Testament, David Bentley Hart’s translation and notations in his translation of the New Testament, and the Book of Enoch from which Jude quotes and references extensively. This study is for one to two weeks.

The Epistle of James

In this study, we are reading through the Epistle of James. James is one of the “catholic” epistles (like John and Jude) because, unlike Paul’s letters, James is not writing to a particular congregation with particular issues but to the universal church at large. James’s concern is with the horizontal interpersonal relationships – how members of a Christian community relate to one another – and not with the vertical relationship between his audience and God specifically. James is a work of moral exhortation teaching us what “faith working through love” looks like in practice.  For background on this study, I have used Luke Timothy Johnson’s The Writings of the New Testament and the Anchor-Yale Bible Commentary on James and Ben Witherington’s Letters for Jewish Christians – A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. This study covers five to six weeks.

Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians

In this summer study, we are reading through Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians. The occasion of this letter is to answer the question of whether a Gentile must become obedient to the Biblical Law in order to be a Christian. Within this letter, we encounter the pure distillation of Paul’s Gospel and its message of radical inclusiveness. For background on this study, I have used N.T. Wright’s Paul for Everyone: Galatians and Thessalonians and Justification, Martin Luther’s Commentary on Galatians, Luke Timothy Johnson’s The Writings of the New Testament, Troels Engberg-Pedersen’s Paul and the Stoics, and notes from David Bently Hart’s The New Testament. This summer study covers eleven weeks.