Week 9: February 26 – March 4

The Exodus story follows the people from slavery in Egypt, across the Red Sea then to the holy mountain at Sinai. Moses meets YHWH on the mountain top in fire and cloud, with thunder and lightening. When he returns to the people after forty days and forty nights, he returns with the Law.

The story of Matthew in his Gospel, hundreds of years later, has Jesus on a mountain top delivering to God’s people a re-telling of the Law. As we read Matthew’s gospel, we can see how he understood Jesus as the new Moses, the pinnacle of God’s Word to God’s people.

If you have been reading along all this time, good for you! If you have missed some of the readings, feel free to pick up the schedule and begin again wherever we are. This is not a competition; it’s an opportunity to engage Scripture from a fresh perspective. Wherever you are, however you do Living in The Story – it will be good.

Exodus 16-24

Psalms 19

Psalm 91

Psalm 101

Matthew 1-7

1 Corinthians 1-9

Here is the As You Read resource for Week 9

https://livinginthestory.com/2016/02/as-you-read-week-nine-law/

Here is Charlotte’s blog: The Law of the Lord

https://livinginthestory.com/2015/02/the-law-of-the-lord/

 

Week 8: February 19 – February 25

We begin Exodus. As you read this week, recognize that the story of God’s deliverance from slavery is the primal story of Israel. My friend, Rabbi Jeffrey loved to recite the old Jewish adage:

They tried to kill us.

God saved us.

Let’s eat.

This tri-fold reality has been true of God’s people again and again throughout history. The Jewish community celebrates this in the annual Passover meal, instituted in the ancient Exodus story. The Christian community celebrates this in the weekly Eucharist instituted from within the Passover remembrance. Notice how this week’s Psalms and even the elegant letter to the Ephesians gives thanks and praise for God’s faithful redemption.

Exodus 1-15

Psalm 24

Psalm 90

Psalm 105

Mark 11-16

Ephesians

As You Read resource for Week 8

https://livinginthestory.com/2016/02/as-you-read-week-eight-exodus/

Charlotte’s Living in The Story blog: Passover – What Does This Mean?

https://livinginthestory.com/2015/02/passover-what-does-this-mean/

 

Week 7: February 12 – February 18

We finish up Genesis during this seventh week of Living in The Story. We continue to follow the story of Abraham’s family: Isaac, Jacob and his 12 sons, and now the famous story of Joseph, Jacob’s favorite son. As we’ve been reading, we have noticed the startling humanity and brokenness of our biblical heroes.

There are today and there always have been perverse “gospels” that claim being a Christian, being a follower of God will bring health, wealth and prosperity. Don’t believe it. If anyone ever tries to tell you that sorrows and troubles are your own fault because of your own lack of faith, question this. Of course, sometimes we create our own troubles, but the stories of Joseph and Jesus insist that the very act of faithfulness is often enough to trigger opposition from the world.

Living in God’s Story of wide open welcome, grace and mercy does not sit well with some people who prefer walls and fences and boundaries. God’s story is about breaking down barriers and building bridges. Watch for this theme as you read this week.

Genesis 37-50

Psalms 55

Psalm 75

Psalm 107

Mark 8-10

Galatians

As You Read resource for Week 7

Charlotte’s Living in The Story blog: Forgive and Forget? I Don’t Think So

 

 

Week 6: February 5 – February 11

The story of Jacob provides another important turning point in The Story. His role is so significant that the nation of his descendants derives its national name from Jacob’s new name, divinely given: Israel.

“You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.

God appeared to Jacob again when he came from Paddan-aram, and he blessed him. God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall you be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he was called Israel. God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall spring from you. The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.”

Jacob/Israel inherits the covenant God created with Father Abraham and receives the blessing of land and descendants.

This week also initiates readings in the Gospel of Mark, probably the first gospel written about 40 years after Jesus.

And this week wraps up Romans. Pay attention to Paul’s summary of his arguments offered in chapter 15. As dense as his long convoluted theological presentation is throughout this important work, his conclusion is clear and succinct: Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.

Genesis 27-36

Psalms 46

Psalms 47

Psalms 117

Mark 1-7

Romans 14-16

As You Read resource for Week 6

https://livinginthestory.com/2016/02/as-you-read-week-six-jacob/

Charlotte’s Living in The Story blog: Wrestling with God

https://livinginthestory.com/2015/01/wrestling-with-god/

Week 5: January 29 – February 4

Abraham and Isaac. Yahweh and Israel. God and Jesus. Father and Son.

As you read this week, be sure to consider the intertwining of the stories and the multiple layers of theological reflection about sin and suffering. About sacrifice and redemption.

This week’s themes are complex and challenging. Keep your heart and your mind open to Spirit’s insights.

Genesis 21-26

Psalms 22

Psalms 34

John 18-21

Romans 9-13

As You Read resource for Week 5

https://livinginthestory.com/2016/02/as-you-read-week-five-isaac/

Charlotte’s blog for Week 5: The Offering

https://livinginthestory.com/2015/01/the-offering/

Week 4: January 22 – January 28

A significant turning point in The Story: Abraham.

The three main Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – are claimed and practiced by over half the world’s population. All honor Father Abraham and tell his story of faith and faithfulness.

This week we will read the original Genesis version of the Abraham story first related within the Hebrew Scriptures, then we will read some of Paul’s theological reflection of Abraham’s significance in light of the Christ event, then we will consider how John (maybe 40 years after Paul) described the relationship of Abraham, Abraham’s descendants and Jesus the Messiah.

Week 4 Scripture readings:

Genesis 12 – 20

Psalm 23

Psalm 25

John 13 – 17

Romans 4 – 8

Week 4 As You Read resource

https://livinginthestory.com/2016/01/as-you-read-week-four-abraham/

Charlotte’s blog: Where is all this going?

https://livinginthestory.com/2015/01/where-is-all-this-going/

 

Week 3: January 15 – January 21

Week 3 Living in The Story readings are uncomfortable. Talking about sin is unpleasant. Unless, of course, it’s someone else’s sin! And isn’t that some sort of default for us humans? Condemning the failings of others while we excuse our own transgressions?

There is a deep brokenness in this world. Even those who don’t like the religious terminology of “sin” must admit that there is a bentness about humanity that just won’t go away.

If God declared creation “good” then why are we humans so broken? Thoughtful people have been pondering this dilemma for all of human history.

Here are some biblical passages penned by people of faith across the ages; some passages that speak to the problem of sin from several different perspectives.

 

Genesis 3-11

Psalm 5

Psalm 10

Psalm 14

Psalm 51

John 9-12

Romans 1-3

 

Here is Week 3 “As You Read” blog:

https://livinginthestory.com/2016/01/as-you-read-week-3-sin/

Here is Charlotte’s blog for Week 3:

https://livinginthestory.com/2015/01/152/

Week 2: January 8 – January 14

Creation.

In the vocabulary of faith, we talk not so much about “nature” or “the environment;” rather we speak of “creation.” The very word reminds us: all that is is created by the creativity and will of the Creator.

The first two chapters of the first book of the Bible gives us two separate creation stories. The ancients purposely arranged these two quite different stories side by side. There is theological purpose in the ways they tell us stories of beginnings. Each story tells us something significant about both the Creator and creation.

But ancient Israel didn’t only tell the story of creation in these opening chapters of Genesis. Look at their hymnal: the Psalms. See how they sing the story again in yet other ways, in praise and poetry. See also how they speak of creation and Creator in powerful metaphor in the Wisdom literature, in the book of Proverbs.

Fast forward and leap across the centuries to the New Testament, especially the Gospel of John. Again it is no coincidence that John begins with the words: “In the beginning…” His pondering of the mystery of creation is profoundly theological and christological. John re-thinks the meaning of Creator and creation in light of the meaning of the Christ. Let John’s opening Prologue startle you as his original readers must have been startled: the Creator became for awhile a flesh and blood part of the creation.

The letter to the Colossians is soaring in its beautiful descriptions of the Cosmic Christ who is Source and Goal of all creation; the Christ who holds all things together.

This week’s readings are some of my favorites. I hope you enjoy them too.

Genesis 1 and 2

Psalm 33

Psalm 104

Proverbs 8

John 1-8

Colossians

Here is this week’s “As You Read” blog…

https://livinginthestory.com/2016/01/as-you-read-week-two-creation/

Here is Charlotte’s LiTS blog for week 2: The Creating Christ

https://livinginthestory.com/2015/01/158/

 

 

 

Week 1: January 1 – January 7

January 1, 2017

Another new year. A good time to begin a fresh cycle reading through the Bible. This year, let Living in The Story guide your reading. And as you read, you are invited to read Charlotte’s blogs and consider my reflections on the weekly passages.

We will spend the first week pondering what kind of book this Bible is. Think about that for a bit. How do you understand what kind of book it is? Is it a history book? A rule book? Is it fact or fiction? Literal or legend? Story or science? Is it true? And what does that even mean to say it’s “true”? (We’ll talk about that as we go along.)

Within Christianity, the Bible is generally taken to be “Scripture.” But even the notion of Scripture can mean a variety of things to various Christian groups and denominations. During public worship in many churches, a reading from the Bible concludes with the reader proclaiming: “the Word of the Lord” and the congregation responding: “Thanks be to God.” What does it mean to call the Bible “the Word of God?” (We’ll talk about that too.)

But now, today, especially as we begin – think about what the Bible is for you. Name some of your assumptions and presuppositions before you begin reading. Has your understanding of the Bible changed over the years? Mine sure has! My own journey with the Bible is what prompted me to create Living in The Story and to share it with other fellow travelers. I am ever so grateful for this journey of change that has been happening within me for most of my adult life.

Change is good; it means we are alive, thinking, growing, becoming. I am grateful you are willing to read the Bible with me this year and I am hopeful we all will be changed by the experience.

Each week, the Scripture passages will be drawn from across the entire Bible. One from the Old Testament (the Hebrew Scriptures); one from the Psalms (the hymnal of ancient Israel); one from the New Testament (the Christian addition to the Hebrew Scriptures); and one from the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – the foundational narratives of the meaning of Jesus).

Each week, I will send you the weekly Bible readings and link them to Bible Gateway. I will send them in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible but you can easily choose a different version in the Bible Gateway settings.

Or – of course – you can read these passages from your own Bible, underlining passages of interest and marking the verses in whatever way is helpful.

Or you might want to listen to these weekly readings. Bible Gateway also has audio Bibles available online at no charge.

Each week, I will also send one or two of my blogs: one (my Living in The Story blog) will be a reflection on the passages we are reading. Another As You Read blog will give you some background on history or geography or how the Bible developed and evolved over these many centuries of its existence.

I really hope you will feel free to engage me in conversation over the course of the year. Ask questions, challenge my interpretations, share your own insights… There are countless ways all of us with all our various stories intersect The large, overarching Story of the Creator’s ongoing engagement with creation.

So here we go. The first week’s readings are short and pretty easy in order to get us started. Here are readings for Week 1: We Begin with Faith.

Deuteronomy 6-8

Psalm 119

John 5

2 Timothy 3

Here is the As You Read blog for Week 1

https://livinginthestory.com/2016/01/as-you-read-week-one/

Here is the Living in The Story blog for Week 1

https://livinginthestory.com/2015/01/we-begin-with-faith/

Thanks again for reading along with me. May our hearts be open and may Spirit be our teacher.

Grace and Peace,

Charlotte Coyle

Read more about Charlotte here.

One in Christ

Galatians 3:23-29   Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

img_2005Jerry and I recently returned from a week in New England. It was a nearly perfect vacation. The trees were just reaching their peak: the bright red of the maples, the golden yellow of the birches, the deep green of the firs. Every bend in the road revealed some new breathtaking beauty.

Our host told us about a book she had read called The Hidden Life of Trees. A career forester began to explore the way forests grow as a community and when he did, he discovered some amazing things.

For example, each individual tree interacts with every other tree so that a unified community lives together with an impressive interdependence. Trees need each other, they nurture and protect each other; they even communicate with each other, feel pain and carry memories, the author tells us.

Their roots function as a kind of elaborate nervous system, a kind of communal brain that supports the fabric of their remarkable shared life.img_1999

I couldn’t help but remember this life of trees when I was reading again Paul’s description of the church here in his letter to the Galatians.

Baptized into Christ.

 Clothed with Christ.

   One in Christ.

  • There is no more Jew or Gentile, Paul insisted to a congregation that had been immersed in this deeply held ethnic division for their entire lives.
  • There is no more slave or free, Paul reminded this church made up of people who owned other people and those who were the property of other people.
  • There is no more male and female, Paul countered the pervasive conventional wisdom of this impervious patriarchal society.

We are one, Paul insists.

One fabric of a new humanity.

One forest of interdependent, intersecting beings with our life-sustaining roots grounded all together in the Ground of all Being.

One family of God.

We are one in Christ Jesus our Lord.

But unfortunately this was not entirely good news to some of the Christians at Galatia.

Jerry and I have been teaching a Bible study at Holy Cross Episcopal Church and we’re unpacking the dynamics of the church at Galatia and Paul’s message to them. It’s a powerful, passionate letter.

Here was a congregation founded on the gospel that Paul had proclaimed from the first that – in the Christ – God had accomplished reconciliation, unity, wholeness, oneness for all creation.

God did this.

Without our help.

Without our advice.

Without our permission.

Oneness is a done deal, Paul proclaims.

That is the unadulterated gospel.

But some Jewish teachers, some faithful passionate Christians from Jerusalem interpreted the gospel differently than Paul.

Now you have to remember that at this stage of church history, most all the Christians were Jews who had claimed Jesus as the Christ; Jews who named Jesus as their promised Messiah. At this stage, Christianity was still a sect of Judaism.

And so the “oneness” these teachers described, the gospel these evangelists proclaimed relied upon non-Jews coming to identify themselves as Jews in order to be properly Christian. For them, it was the bloodline of Abraham that made up the children of God.

But Paul had a different vision. Paul was given a vision by the Risen Lord himself that this new people of God had been radically expanded.

Paul believed that – in the Christ – the community of God’s people now included not just the orthodox Jews but also the pagan Gentiles – any and all who had been baptized into Christ were made equal partners in the community of Christ.

And so Paul’s missionary work incorporated non-Jews into the church of Jesus Christ without any prerequisites of circumcision or Sabbath keeping or kosher eating. Paul believed that faith – like the faith of Abraham – was the only prerequisite to inclusion in the family of God.

We are brothers and sisters.

We are each and every one of us part of the fabric, part of the forest, part of the family of God.

Now this whole discussion in Galatians may sound strange to us because since Paul’s time, the church has become thoroughly Gentile. As a matter of fact, you and I as Gentiles can now be Christians because Paul won this argument. As 21st century Christians so far removed from the life and times of 1st century Christians, we don’t always remember how radical it was for Paul to preach a fundamental unity and equality between Jews and Gentiles, slave and free, male and female.

But then, on the other hand, the discussion is not at all strange to our ears, is it?.

Because this same argument continues in the church,

in ever new manifestations,

in our own day.

Listen again to the words of Paul updated for the American church in 2016.

As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Black or White or Brown or Liberal or Conservative or Republican or Democrat or rich or poor or gay or straight or old or young or citizen or alien; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

Does that make any of us uncomfortable?

If so, now you know how the first century Galatians felt.

Besides my Living in The Story blog, I also blog into a fairly wide secular cyberspace audience as I ponder some of the intersections of faith and culture in our current society. And what I continue to discover in these interactions with people of no faith or people of damaged faith is that the church as a whole has a very poor reputation out there.

Jesus Christ is still honored across a wide spectrum of religious and non-religious people, but the church of Jesus Christ is generally seen as a group that doesn’t live up to the life and teachings of Jesus.

I confess I have lived most of my life in a church bubble and I had no idea how people “out there” picture those of us “in here.” Now I know. And it breaks my heart.

In all my years as a church pastor, I have thought deeply about what it means to BE church.

Is it what we do? Our good deeds?

Is it what we believe? Our creeds?

Or is it who we are?

Number 3 is where I have landed.

I stand with Paul on this. In the church of Jesus Christ, it is who-we-are that defines us, that is core and unique about us. Our identity as the church of Jesus Christ IS that we are one in Christ.

In the Christ – God has accomplished reconciliation, unity, wholeness, oneness for all creation.

Oneness is a done deal.

That is the unadulterated gospel.

But of course – one of the problems we humans have is that we all too often do not live up to who we are. Too often, in the church, we are willing to live with divisions instead of living into the unity God has created among us in the death and resurrected life of Jesus Christ.

Our vision becomes blurred to the radical gospel of equality.

Our ears become deaf to the call of true community.

Our hearts become hardened to our Christian brothers and sisters who think differently or vote differently or look different than we do.

And the world keeps watching us.

And keeps waiting for us to practice what we preach.

To become who we are.

To finally figure out how to clothe ourselves with Christ and to truly be one in Christ.

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The trees in the forests of New England are both brilliantly and beautifully individual and at the same time they are one, rooted and grounded in the Ground of all Being. As Jerry and I drove from one gorgeous vista to another, we kept repeating this word over and over again: Glorious.

God created our diversity and God created our unity.

And this Unity in Diversity IS glorious.

It is this gracious, grateful, grace-filled unity that brings glory to God in the highest and peace to God’s people on earth.

This is my dream, my hope, my challenge for the church: May we become who God has created us to be – One in Christ.

Amen.

 

Preached October 16, 2016 at Central Presbyterian Church in Paris TX.

“Ground of Being” is a famous phrase of Paul Tillich as he sought to describe God.

The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries from a Secret World
By: Peter Wohlleben, Tim Flannery

Photos by Charlotte

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