Recently, my rector asked me to conduct a 10-week Bible study at our parish. I’d never done anything like this before; in fact, I’d only attended one, actual Bible study– years ago in my former parish in Florida. So, this was both intriguing and daunting for me. I started thinking about how to structure it…the only “study” I’d done on the Bible (other than the one in Florida) was in seminary. This idea of structure was quickly dissolved when my rector then said, “You are not going to teach it; you are to facilitate their and your journey through the study.”
In the true, traditional, mentor-style, he then told me to pick what book(s) to study, set up a schedule, and let him know so he could get it in the bulletin. When I asked if he wanted to see an outline of each week, topics covered, etc. he shook his head and said, “No, I’m sure you will do a good job.”
A few days later, I decided on a study of 4 minor prophets. I think I was drawn to them because of the class I took at SFM on the prophets a few semesters ago. It was in that class when I was immersed in the study of those Scriptures,the major and minor prophets (those quirky, crazy, on-fire- for- God- guys) that I discovered God’s breaking heart. These same weird, unconventional, thorn-in-the-side-to-all-in-authority people (Hosea, Amos, Jonah and Zephaniah) were charged with communicating some very hard truths to those in Israel and Judah. (We all think of God’s harsh, violent words when we think of prophets… “Repent, the end is near! Change your ways, I am a jealous God, I will destroy you and your people…!”) However, as the Lectionary goes, out of 21 Prophetic books in the Hebrew Bible, other than Isaiah and Jeremiah, we don’t hear very often over the course of 3 years from the prophets.
Most of us, if the truth be told, haven’t really looked into what those guys were up to (or why). I also think this is why a lot of people get their impression of God as a judgmental, punishing, violent, distant, tyrant and can’t understand how Christians today could possibly follow or believe in anything like that. Hosea mentioned something about that, when he wrote that God said, “My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge” (4:6) He didn’t mean factual knowledge, he meant relational knowledge. Above all, in the Bible, as in life, it’s about relationship. What it boils down to in all the prophets, what they are ranting and raving about, is- we have forgotten who we are in relationship to God; (and with each other) we have forgotten who God is– and how much God loves us-every last one of us, no matter what.
So, now, in the time of the prophets, God is sending word through them to bring their memories back, their promises back, their hearts back into relationship with God. Over and over and over again. 21 prophets, over hundreds of years, actually. So, in the words of my professor, “God then tells the prophets (yes all of them) to warn the people, that God is preparing to open a gigantic can of whoop-ass upon them.”
Unfortunately, we all focus on the can God is preparing to open, not the calls to return to God, not the grace, compassion, love, abundance and healing offered or provided. Not the open arms of the father welcoming the Prodigal Son home…not the 1 lost sheep found and protected around the shoulders of the loving God…we seem to forget that part.
Maybe this Bible-study-thing will be a way to help us remember…