“Bible Study Presents…” facilitated by Rev. Madelyn Campbell
August 23, 2015
Readings by Bible Study students and Rev. Madelyn Campbell
Favorite Bible Stories
Reading: In the Bible study class we always begin by reading the Twible – which is the entire Bible tweeted. Today’s passage is from one of the 12 minor prophets – they aren’t lesser prophets, their books are just shorter – one of the passages that we studied in class. Habakkuk 1:1-5 – Here is the Twible version: Overview of the book: A Q and A between a disgruntled customer and the God he doesn’t quite understand. Wow, I can totally relate to this book. Chapter 1: Hab lobs 20 question at G. “Why do the righteous suffer? Where is justice? Why do you go AWOL? And why hasn’t Godiva been invented yet?”
And the NRSV version – Chapter 1, verses 1-5
1 The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw.
2 O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not listen?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save?
3 Why do you make me see wrongdoing
and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
4 So the law becomes slack
and justice never prevails.
The wicked surround the righteous—
therefore judgment comes forth perverted.
5 Look at the nations, and see!
Be astonished! Be astounded!
For a work is being done in your days
that you would not believe if you were told.
The Bible Study class has been meeting weekly since November. We’ve looked at narratives including pre-history and history, psalms, prophets, wisdom literature, novels, and love poetry. We’ve read the Hebrew Bible, also known as the Tanakh or the Old Testament, the New Testament, and even some of the Apochrypha. Hear now what participants in the class have to say about what we’ve studied.
I chose to talk briefly about the prophets because I have at times thought the worst the humans can do to each other has happened and continues to happen in my lifetime. The OT contains 4 books of the “major prophets” and 12 of “Minor prophets” – based on length. They contain a vivid narrative from roughly 2700 years ago suggesting that this “worst” is always happening. The prophets were the spiritual and moral compass in hard times and I believe they transformed religion with their clear vision.
This is not job anyone sought – it was a calling from God. Isaiah had a vision of his lips touched with live coal and God asking “Whom shall I send?
Jeremiah protested “I do not know how to speak” and God said “I am putting my words into your mouth.” Their lives were frequently threatened because their warnings of coming disasters were definitely not welcome. The ancient near east was as troubled then as today and Israel was/is a very small nation. A secular interpretation today might say the prophets had clear insight into political realities.
I believe their vision was more profound. They challenged the ritualistic religion of their day. Isaiah has God saying about endless sacrifice in the temple: “I am sick of holocausts…, I hate with all my soul, … they lie heavy on me…”. The requirement was instead to “…search for justice, help the oppressed, be just to the orphan, and plead for the widow.” That compassionate view was always in the Hebrew religion, but it was becoming a more prominent, if not signature, requirement of their faith. The OT usually refers to Israel as the entire people, but I see hints they were asking for a more personal religious commitment.
The prophetic words always contained a message of hope for a better future. Isaiah’s words, as sung in the Messiah, are a beautiful example. He even sees his mission thus “to bring good news to the poor, to bind up hearts that are broken…” These words are often so profound and beautiful that it is not surprising that Rev King used Amos 5:24 “But let justice flow like water, and integrity like an unfailing stream.” Take Hosea 10:12 “Sow integrity for yourselves, reap a harvest of kindness.” This sounds good to me! Although the age of the OT prophets is over, I see our UU traditions continuing their prophetic mission of calling our nation and ourselves to the service of justice and compassion.
Judith and Holfernes
The story in brief is of a wealthy and beautiful Jewish widow who saves her city from attack by the Assyrian army, led by Holoferness. She puts aside the mourning clothing she had been wearing and dresses in finery and perhaps seductively. She approaches Holofernes saying that she knows the city will be destroyed, and she is not ready to die. Therefore, she will reveal to him the best plan of attack against the city. She accepts hospitality from Holoferness, and eventually agrees to keep closer company. While in his tent, she gets him so drunk that he falls asleep. She then beheads him. The troops disperse and the city is saved.
Why it interested me:
• This is a really good story with a woman as a hero.
• Different faiths incorporate different books in their canons. This story is part of the Catholic Bible, but not the Protestant or Jewish, where it is found in the Apocrypha.
• We have evidence that this story is not history because of anachronisms about the time of Assyrian attack and the time King Nebuchadnezzar, who is referred to in the story, lived. Wikipedia suggests this might be the first historical novel.
• One reason for our Bible study course is to make us aware of the broader cultural relevance of Bible stories. I’ve seen a number of paintings about this tale without having known the story.
• Another question is whether Judith broke the 10 commandments by lying. Judith deceived Holofernes, although for a valid reason. She therefore “bore false witness.” However, the dictate is to not bear false witness against your neighbor. This led to a discussion about the meaning of “neighbor” at the time the 10 commandments were written with the conclusion that neighbor had a different meaning than the one we have now.
• We didn’t discuss this, but we could have an interesting discussion about the ends justifying the means.
• In our study, we use many different Bibles, and differences in translation are interesting.
I feel, then, that this story is a good example of the types of things we have learned in the class.
Song of Songs
I wasn’t with the Bible Study group very long, but each session was informative.
The study on Song of Solomon or Song of Songs, as it’s also known, was a good one.
It was good for me because it re-enforced a very UU concept about scripture:
There is no ONE way to “correctly” read a complex work of scripture.
Many interpret the Song of Solomon as an allegorical work concerning
the relationship between the Almighty and some particular group of us mere mortals.
My wife thinks it all about an aging King Solomon and a young concubine who made him feel young again. I don’t WHO it’s about but I am convinced of WHAT it’s about; And that is deep passionate love.
When we have felt a deep love for another person, then we can better express love. It’s somewhat like Maslow’s hierarchy, when our needs are meet, then we can move up to higher goals.
When we have experienced a deep transformative love,
Then we understand how love can move hearts, and maybe even the world.
That’s why I’m so pleased with the UUA’s “standing on the side of love” efforts.
We are a vital force that helped lead, the recent Supreme Court decision.
Now everyone can experience love’s crowning jewel, marriage.
The equation is simple: the more deep love that is felt, The more love will be expressed. The better the world will be, And that equation sounds to me like a paraphrase of something Jesus said.
Allow me a quick sidebar, about UU’s and social action,
Take a look at our track record, we are winners. When UU’s pick up and issue and stand on it, we win.
That’s a fact, you can read up on it. But we are the force that is moving the world toward a better future. Why would anyone want to be in another church?
What are the origins of the psalms?
The 150 separate poems were called “The Book of Praises” and were the hymnbook of ancient Israel. Much of the authorship of specific psalms is unknown, however the Bible attributes 73 of them to David. Generations have found spiritual renewal in their great beauty.
The psalms have been used by Jews and Christians for thousands of years for prayers. They have as their basic formula the balance conceived with the fundamental aspects of living and of the human condition. Individuals and communities are in turn frightened, sick, persecuted, or in joy and thanksgiving – happy, grateful, and trusting.
The most recognizable psalm is the 23rd psalm. David composed psalm 23 while hiding from King Saul and his army in a barren forest. God made this forsaken place safe for David and the response embodies the Grace and majesty of God as seen by David.
The Lord is my shepherd.
I lack nothing.
He lets me rest in grassy meadows;
he leads me to restful waters;
he keeps me alive.
He guides me in proper paths
for the sake of his good name.
Even when I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no danger because you are with me.
Your rod and your staff—
they protect me.
You set a table for me
right in front of my enemies.
You bathe my head in oil;
my cup is so full it spills over!
Yes, goodness and faithful love
will pursue me all the days of my life,
and I will live in the Lord’s house
as long as I live.
This year we dug in deep. We looked at texts from the context in which they were written – or we tried to – and then from our own contexts. We discovered that, even for those of us who aren’t theists, there is much to be culled.
We considered, in some of the narratives, whom we were most like at different times. We even wrote our own psalms, and you’ll hear them as our prayers and meditations today.
And so I ask you – what is speaking to you? Perhaps the Bible isn’t your primary sacred text. Even so, I wonder what gems you’ve discovered, and what you might discover if you look deeper. I encourage you to chat with the folks who’ve been coming to Bible study – about 25% of the folks who come to Sunday worship, generally – ask them to share some more. Find out what’s in it for you.
Prayers / Additional Readings
Rhythms of the Universe
By Sandra Rutiser
I am troubled by the needs of
those around me: my peers, my congregation, this world. I feel small
and powerless in the presence of forces
beyond my control
I desire to live a quiet life
with integrity and compassion! Really
I want to create a small circle around me where life makes sense.
May I accept my small place in
this creation and flow with these
The World is Changing
By Ginny Bridges
The world is changing all around me
and yet there are islands of peace
Joy of a grandson curling up in
bed beside me
Joy of creative expression and of
learning new skills
Joy of stories to read to children
pleasure in the growth of maturity in the child.
Change may be frightening but for good.
Gratefulness for modern technology
which enables the deaf to hear, the blind to see.
My own history tells me that there will be
good after turmoil and often peace. That
working through sorrowful or difficult times
will yield new strength and new joy
For this I give thanks.
By Esther Zinnerman
Lord of my forefathers and mothers who bought
us to this land, bounded in slavery.
We have toiled mightly and long to
serve and honor you and you released
us from bondage and set us upon a
mighty path to independence.
Have you forsaken us now? Have we
lost our way? You sent us many leaders
but we seem to be going in
Oh Lord of my forefathers and mothers
lead us out of our current morass
to another era of light. Do not
abandon us, oh Lord.
“God is in heaven and all is right with the world”
By Marilyn Gustafson
Let it be a continuing blessing for us all – good health, loving relationships, creative problem solving, and outreach to others.
Does life run in circles?
Yes – fortunes change and life may throw obstacles in our way – let faith, mutual help, good humor, and hard work give us relief and put us on a positive path.