Jesus talked much about power dynamics, money and violence, but yet those topics are not things we tend to discuss in church today. It’s interesting to look at 1st Century Palestine to see the similarities and difference of the time when Jesus walked the earth.
Scripture Reading: Mark 1:1-14 & John 1:1-14
As readers of the gospels, there is much we often overlook about the time in which these books were written. First century Palestine looked very little like the modern world, although we might stumble upon a few similarities. Bear in mind that both women and children were still considered property. Male children became “human” at a certain age when they passed into adulthood and were counted as citizens.
The entire New Testament must be understood as a Jewish writing. Jesus was born into a Jewish family and was, himself, Jewish. Even as the books of the New Testament were being written, after the life of Jesus, the authors were writing to the Jewish community to impress upon them the importance of Jesus. While there is plenty of talk about Jews and Gentiles, it would be quite some time (a couple hundred years) because Christianity would come to be understood as a religion separate from Judaism.
The temple in Jerusalem was the central (and “authentic”) place to worship. Jewish people were expected to travel to Jerusalem annually (or as often as possible) for Passover, and the Sadducees were the resident religious leaders at the temple in Jerusalem. However, since the Jewish people were scattered, there were also synagogues (sort of like local churches), led by Pharisees. Jesus appears in a number of synagogues but (at least in the synoptics) visits the temple in Jerusalem only at the end of his early ministry.
King Herod worked rather hard at ingratiating himself to the Jewish community. He married into a Jewish family. He restored and improved the second temple (can explain) in Jerusalem. However, he was a brutal leader who held none of the values that the Jewish people theoretically observed.
The Roman empire was in charge, and they had a comfortable collaboration with Jewish religious leaders. As long as Jewish people behaved themselves, so to speak, they were permitted to worship and carry on relatively unscathed. However, this was not the vision that Jewish people had for themselves. They desired to be, once again, a proud and independent nation, not a people subjugated and dominated by the Romans. At this time, there were many people who came along claiming to be “the Messiah.” They typically attempted a violent uprising against the Romans and this often resulted in considerable loss of life and a tightening of restrictions on the Jewish people. (See, for example, the Maccabean revolt.)
How was Jesus different from other so-called “Messiahs” who had come before? What were the people expecting? Does this help us understand anything about how they responded to him?
Talk about the notion of the Roman Empire and its values. What do we make of the fact that Jewish religious leaders had quite a good arrangement going with the Romans while everyday people found it to be oppressive and something from which they wished to be “freed.” Does this remind us of anything in our own time?
The US has often been called the new Roman Empire. What does we make of that?
We do not typically think about the issue of violence when we talk about Jesus and the gospels. But much of the difference between his ministry and the prevailing will of the Romans had to do with the exercise (or non-use) of violence. Where are we with the issue of violence today?
Our scripture readings today are from the beginning of the two gospels that do NOT have birth narratives. How do the authors of Mark and John introduce Jesus? What do they want us to understand about him?
Talking to young people about life and legends and leaving a legacy.
Yesterday the world lost a legend. Kobe Bryant was a legend on the basketball court as well as in his daily life. We are shocked. I was on the phone with my son when he said I think Kobe died in a helicopter accident. I said, “Are you sure? It’s probably a hoax.” But unfortunately, a quick Google search confirmed the tragedy. Shocked.
I’m sure we are all asking the questions. Why? Why would God take him when he was so young? Take his daughter? Take the other parents and children in the helicopter as well? Good people gone so quickly. It doesn’t seem fair. So what do you say?
The honest answer…I…don’t…know. There is just no answer. It’s a question we ask every time we lose someone. And, we are not God. However, we know that God is good, and that there is more to our lives than this world. We must find the positive in everything that happens. When we are focused on finding good, we begin to heal. Somehow we need to cling to the idea that our lives have a purpose. We must celebrate the lives of those around us, taking advantage of every moment and being present with the people we care about the most.
When talking about losing a legend, like Kobe, it’s helpful to talk about legacy with young people. What is the legacy that Kobe will leave behind? What are his accomplishments that the world will always remember? What kind of things can we do on a regular basis in our own lives that help us to leave our own legacy? When we experience loss, it is often a time for us to readjust our own priorities.
No matter if you live or work with young people, make sure you are having the conversation. It is through discourse that we are able to process our emotions. Give teens and young adults the opportunity to express what they are feeling. Allow them safe places to ask the hard questions. And be OK with not having all the answers. Sometimes we just don’t understand, and don’t have the words to make it better.
Praying for Bryant family and for the families of those who were with him.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Do not depend on your own understanding,” ~Proverbs 3:5
We sit down with “Anna” an 18 year old from Generation Z (born 1999-2015, according to Barna research and here) who is open and honest about safety, isolation, anxiety, depression, faith, church and religion for her and her peers.
It is fascinating to hear how teens struggle with feeling safe and the anxiety that comes about because of the lack of feeling secure. We talk about how this has developed over the years. Generation X (born 1965-1983 according to Barna) may have helped contribute to this through our exposure to things such as, the missing persons on our milk cartons as school. “America’s Most Wanted” was a TV show that came out in the late 1980’s hosted by John Walsh whose son was abducted while at a department store, so we became very aware of the safety concerns and the “bad guys” who were out there taking children. Neighborhood Watch groups started popping up, and I remember there were signs that we put in our windows so that children knew where the safe homes were in case we needed a place while walking home from school. We were not afraid of mass shootings, but we still were aware of safety issues at a young age. Could we have manifested this fear into our own children? Think about how we felt after 9/11/01. If you had children then, or even after that tragic event, we are raising our children differently. Couple all of this with Columbine, Sandy Hook and Parkland, and there is no denying why Gen Z is anxious.
This podcast also addresses the fact that Gen Z has been labeled the most isolated. They spend plenty of time alone and in their rooms. We could argue this is no different than any teen in any generation before them. The difference now is they are never alone. There is a phone, computer or video game that allows teens to be connected to anyone in any place in the world. “Anna” suggests that she doesn’t believe she is isolated. However, she does acknowledge the difficulties of having her phone and social media at her fingertips 24/7.
Finally, we ask “Anna” about faith, church and religion. It is very interesting to hear her take on these subjects. While her opinion may not represent all of her peers, she does make some valid points that probably resonates with many.
Hopefully, this podcast will inspire you to reach out to teens or young adults in Gen Z. Ask them the questions and see how they feel about these or even other topics. Remember how important it was for you when you were a teen to have an adult listen to you? Give that chance to another young person. Allow them the opportunity to speak, share and maybe give solutions. Let us know what you learn!
Scripture: Exodus 1-12, specifically Exodus 2:1-10 and 7-12
Intro: As we continue on through this Bible exploration, we will explore Moses and be reminded of the story of his extraordinary life and how his experiences are meaningful even for us today.
These chapters in Exodus very quickly transition from a scenario in which the tribes of Israel (all of Jacob’s progeny) are rich and powerful and possess huge territory and assets to a situation in which they are subjugated under the rules of Egypt and subjected to hard labor and slave-like conditions. Even so, we see that certain strengths are attributed to the Hebrew people: strength in childbirth, cleverness, and resourcefulness.
The exodus becomes one of the great liberation narratives of the Jewish tradition and remains powerful today. However, most scholars accept that it is not anchored in history, primarily because we have substantial historical records from Egypt at this time and there is no record that makes reference to these events or people. There is also a lack of archaeological evidence that such a huge group of people actually traveled this part of the world during this period. We might consider that the events of the exodus may have happened in some way but on a much smaller scale than is described.
Start the lesson time with this question: Have you ever been talked into something that at first you didn’t want to do, but in the end you were happy you were talked into it? (assuming it was a positive thing)
Before you begin to read the scripture, ask students what they remember about Moses’ life.
As a legendary story, what is cool (or beautiful) about the story of Moses’ birth and upbringing?
When the time comes for Moses to return to Egypt and free the people, it takes about three chapters (Exodus 4-6) for God to convince Moses that he possesses the gifts and speaking ability to be the agent of liberation. What might we make of the fact that Moses is an unwilling participant in the story?
Have you ever been hesitant to follow God’s call on your life? (This may simply be someone asking you to serve in some way.)
In what ways do we experience God’s “persistence in inviting us (repeatedly) to answer our call?
Exodus 7-12 is one of the great showdowns of the biblical narrative. What do you think about the repeated times that God “hardens Pharaoh’s heart”?
You may have learned about the 10 plagues as children. Is there anything that troubles you now about this story? If you had the opportunity to teach this story to children or new/non-believers, how would you do it?
There is enduring internationalist theology anchored in this story. Who needs liberating today? What does it (or would it) look like to be Moses in our own time? Who have been Moses figures in the liberation movements of our more recent history? How were their stories similar (or different) to this legendary story?
Introduction: This is the 6th blog/podcast in this series where we dive into the Bible to open up conversation around the idea of Fact vs. Truth. I want to remind everyone that we started by discussing that the truth of the message of the Bible continues to be alive today. It is important to always ask, how does this relate to our world today.
Also, it would be a good idea to start a list, if you are doing this on your own or as a group, of characteristics we are learning about God and humans. This helps us keep our focus on the message and not the minute details.
Students will discuss the factors that play out when there is favoritism.
Students will understand the story of Isaac, Rebekah and their sons
Students will discuss the meaning of covenant and how we may all be called
Scripture: Genesis 25:19-34 & Genesis 27:1-40
In order to make sense of these stories, we must first understand that they were written well after the events they purport to describe. By the time these stories were committed to writing, Israel had already experienced several significant events that shaped their desire to tell a coherent narrative about their origins.
1050 BCE to 930 BCE – dates during which Israel is believed to have been a united monarchy, although many scholars question whether this ever actually occurred
Around 930 BCE – Israel splits into the Northern Kingdom (capital: Samaria) and the Southern Kingdom (capital: Jerusalem) with different kings and different social structures.
Around 740 BCE – The Northern Kingdom falls to Assyria. This profoundly shapes the way that they are viewed by their counterparts in the Southern Kingdom and, over time, changes their culture.
Around 587/586 BCE – the Southern Kingdom falls to the Babylonians, the temple in Jerusalem is destroyed, and many of the people are exiled from the land
Around 539 BCE – the Persian emperor, Cyrus the Great, allows many Israelites to return to their homeland and return to some measure of their own cultural and religious practice
The stories we find in the book Genesis were most likely edited and compiled in the 6th and 5th century BCE (that’s the 500’s and 400’s) which means that the people were telling retrospective stories about their tribes, unification, later division, exile and return
While leading a high school SS class on this, I found it helpful to talk about our own country’s history as it has been passed down in just a few hundred years. How is the facts that are learned about Christopher Columbus and the early pilgrims taught? While students learn some facts, it is filtered. This will help them understand how these stories, too were passed down filtered by human experiences.
Opening Question: Do you ever think that your parent(s) have a favorite? Why? How does it make you feel?
Understanding when these stories were written and all that had transpired, what sense can we make of the narrative in which two twin boys are battling in the womb of their mother, Rebekah?
Throughout the story, Rebekah and Isaac have clear favorites and deal rather unfairly with their children. Is this to be taken literally? What might the authors be telling us about their understanding of these two men (representing the “chosen” people and the “others”)? Who did they see as superior or more enduring?
As Christians, what do we make of this notion of a “chosen” people? How does that affect our present-day relationship with our Jewish siblings?
Do we still feel we are a “chosen” people? How might the way we interact with other people are the measures we are willing to take to ensure our own advantage and success?
Is it possible that this ethos pops up for us in our sense of being American and the way we relate to other nations? Where can we see that in politics, social media and public rhetoric?
How is the promise God made to Abraham still playing out in this story?
Students will understand that the flood narrative can be found in many faith/secular traditions.
Students will better understand the attributes of God (mercy, grace, justice, etc.)
Students will be able to see how the Flood Narrative could be used today to justify violence.
Always begin a lesson with a broad question to help students become engaged with your lesson.
For this lesson you could ask, “Have you ever been made fun of for something? Have you ever been made fun of for your faith?” “Has anything(an injustice) ever made you so angry you wanted to do something about it?”
This is one of several places in the Bible where reference is made to supernatural, non-human beings that sound more to our ears like Greek mythology than Christian Theology. In Genesis 6, we read about Nephilim, beings born out of the union of male deities and female humans. It is interesting to note that discussion of the flood narrative usually glosses over this strange point. Remember that at this point in history, the Hebrew people were not yet monotheistic (believers in a single god).
As with the create narratives, we see two flood narratives interwoven into these chapters. As such, there are several conflicting details as to the duration of the rain, how long the floodwaters lasted, and how long Noah and his family must wait for dry land to appear.
The flood narrative is a known piece of mythology that exists in other religious traditions and secular writings. For example, Tablet Evleven of the Epic of Gilgamesh: https://www.ancienttexts.org/library/mesopotamian/gilgamesh/tab11.htm There may well have been a historical flood in the Babylonian region that led to the writing of several tales to explain its cause and purpose; however, it most certainly did not actually cover the surface of the entire earth and did not wipe out every living creature/human being.
What do you make of the suggestion that God could no longer tolerate the being God had created?
What is God’s primary complaint against the people of the earth? Do you have any objection to the idea that God would decide to wipe out every living creature?
What can you learn about the way the people of the time viewed/understood their God/gods? Assuming a tragic event had occurred in this part of the world, why do you think people told the story this way?
What are some traditional interpretations of the flood narrative? How do those/or do they? fit into this new information/perspective?
Imagine if you did not grow up in the church or hearing Bible stories, what objections do you think you would have with the story?
How does it change your understanding to realize that this same flood narrative exists in other religious traditions and secular writings?
What does this narrative tell us about God?
What do we learn about human nature through Noah and those around him?
What do you think is the point of the story?
Take a look at Matthew 5:43-48. Compare Jesus’ words to what we just read.
Have you ever heard of people using God’s name today to justify violence? Are they justified?
This discussion is on Chapter 3 of Genesis. Students sometimes have a hard time with this scripture, trying to understand if the serpent is actually speaking or if the serpent is the devil, etc. Once again, remind students about Fact vs Truth. And the over-arcing themes we can take away from this story. When I lead this lesson, I will begin with having students do a “readers theater” because you can almost act it out. Point out the import aspects: it NEVER says the serpent is the devil, notice the serpent goes to Eve, not Adam, God comes looking for them, Adam almost blames God by saying look at what this person you gave to me did, etc.
Student Learning Outcomes:
Understand Fact vs Truth as it pertains to this story
Knowing that even when we feel separated from God, He is right beside us
No matter what we do, or what we think, God love us, and we were created in His image
You can not be defined by your sins or mistakes
Having knowledge isn’t always a positive thing
Begin by asking each student to share a vice. (Give them a personal example: Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, a T.V. show, etc.) It is helpful to start each lesson with a simple/personal question to “break the ice” for shy students.
This story can easily be read through “readers theater”. Ask volunteers to play the parts of Eve, Adam, the serpent, and God. Then have someone read and narrate the rest of the story.
Challenging elements of this story:
The text doesn’t say the serpent is the devil
It is clear that God created the serpent with all the other creatures on earth which also suggests that he created humans, rules and the pitfall that will trip them up
It appears that what God said wasn’t entirely true. The serpent tells the unvarnished truth since humans DO NOT actually die upon eating the fruit.
God doesn’t seem entirely omnipotent at every moment in this story. God seems not to know exactly what is going on and has to ask questions to better ascertain what has happened.
One of the punishments of woman is for man to rule over her. So, God’s original design was for man and woman to be EQUAL.
IF we take this story from a non-literal perspective, we avoid some of the obvious pitfalls of a literal interpretation and have the opportunity to, instead, think about some of the deeper truths about our own humanity that run through the narrative.
In what ways has this story been used to cause or justify harm to others? Or to ourselves?
What, really, is the “sin” that trips up humanity? Is it insecurity? A failure to recognize that we have already been made in God’s image and have everything we need?
How is knowledge and understanding different? When is knowledge bad?
Is there anything surprising or encouraging about this story?