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A Dash through our 2013-2014 Bible Study: An Abiding Hope

posted Aug 22, 2013, 9:00 PM by Carolyn Hampton   [ updated Aug 22, 2013, 11:48 PM ]
by Teaching Elder Carolyn Hampton
Coordinator for Resources and Communication

Several people have asked me for the presentation that I made during our Spring Gathering as an introduction to our 2013-14 Horizons Bible Study.  Since I spoke from notes, what is below is what I can reconstruct from them.  Sorry it is not the 'real thing', but it is as close as I can come.  <smile!>

This is going to be a challenge for me.   It took 3 hours to summarize this study at the Spring Gathering of PW in the Synod.  I have 15 minutes.  So here we go!

Our 2013-14 Horizons Bible Study is called : An Abiding Hope: The Presence of God in Exodus and Deuteronomy.  Our author this year is Teaching Elder Janice Catron.  The study suggestions for leaders are by Teaching Elder Martha Sadongei, a Native American educator.  The gorgeous fabric art that graces this year's study is by Lee Porter.  So much for the 'statistics'.  The theme for this year's study is Migration, something very much on our national minds at the moment.  Please do not ask me how a group of women  planning a study 5 years ahead come up with such timely content!  God is at work and miracles happen.  That is all I can figure out!

If we want to sum this Bible study up in one sentence, I would use this:  It is a flying leap through the life of Moses, with some migration issues thrown in.

Ok, now that I've taught the study, let's look at the other helps in the Bible study magazine:
        On page 2, we find the criteria that the planning team set up for our author:  each lesson must focus on the biblical story and a migration story, connecting both with our story today.  I think I would have backed out at that point!
        Pages 4-7 are the introduction to our study, full of very important information regarding the biblical history involved, the authorship of  the biblical books of Exodus and Deuteronomy, the exodus story itself, and the themes that are found in this study.  Nothing light here!  I learned most of this in Seminary, so if you want an excellent education I commend these pages to you.  Read them, then refer back to them frequently as you work your way through the study.
        Page 8 speaks of how we Christians look at the Old Testament.  Certainly it is with a different "lens" than Jews and people of Jesus' day looked at what we call the Old Testament.  See if you can wrap your head around the difficulties we have understanding the stories that were written so long ago, without any knowledge of the Messiah.  I remember during our Hebrew-language intensive in seminary, we all wore buttons proclaiming "Think Hebrew!" ... not to keep us thinking of our language studies, but to remind us that we have to look at the Old Testament with serious filters on in order to understand it's depth and vibrancy: the writers simply didn't know what we know today about God's actions that happened long into their future, and in our past.
        Pages 9-10 have some wonderful links to what is happening in the church year IF you use this study once a month for nine months.  If your group doesn't follow that format, these links won't be relevant to your group.
        Pages 11-13 are a wonderful addition this year!  They allow artist Lee Porter to tell us directly about the fabric art that she created for this study.  This is a feature we have not had in years past, and I hope it is one that our planning team keeps in the future.  I think we loose something when we view art without any background from the artist.
        In the center of your study is a poster of this year's art images, plus a great map that gives us some perspective on the journey taken by the Hebrews as they fled Egypt and traveled to the promised land.
        Within each lesson there are helps as well: opening devotions for lighting the Christ Candle, a closing prayer, and some helpful notes in shaded side bars.  Also a part of each lesson is a personal migration story: some are of chosen migrations (emigrating to a new country, for example) and others are of forced migrations (being caught in a war and having to leave home, for example).  Be sure to read the one by Rouala Alkouri, who was a minister in our presbytery and the first Middle Eastern woman to be ordained as a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church in the United States.
        Following the text of each lesson, there are the suggestions for leaders.  I can't stress enough how fortunate we are to have one of our Native American sisters writing these.  She knows about migration, both chosen and forced, in ways that we do not.  Her people migrated throughout the year following the herds and other food sources.  They were forced to migrate from their traditional homes to desolate reservations that challenged their way of life.  She has provided wonderful ideas to help us really understand this issue and the biblical story.  
        At the back of your magazine is the bibliography on page 86, always something to look at as a way of seeing what our author has found helpful, especially if you want resources for yourself to engage the biblical texts in a deeper way.  One special resource that can be used with this study, and should be on hand during your study for you to consult, is the issue on immigration published as the January/February 2013 issue of Horizons.  

Now that you know what is between the covers, let's take a look at the 9 lessons of this study.  If you are like me, you've only had this Bible Study in your hands for a matter of days, perhaps a couple of weeks, and you've not had a great deal of time to peruse it thoroughly.  Or, perhaps you'd rather not read ahead of your study group.  The stories in Exodus and Deuteronomy are, in any case, not new to us.  Most of us can tell at least part of the Moses stories without prompts.  To look at them again, with new eyes, might be a problem we have to contend with throughout this study.  Try reading a passage out loud, try reading it in a different translation, try reading it as if you are one of the characters in the story, do anything you have to in order to hear these stories again as if they are new to you.  You will discover in them elements of your own story as well as God's story.  So, here is an overview of the nine lessons of An Abiding Hope:
        Lesson 1.  (p.15)  Moses' birth, plus the plight of the Hebrew slaves in Egypt.   In Sunday school we learned the sweet story of how Moses' mother tried to save her son by putting him in a basket in the reeds.  We also learned that the slaves of Egypt were used badly.   This year, try to discern how radical the actions of both the Hebrew and Egyptian women were as they disobeyed Pharoah's orders to kill the young boys.  This year, try to discern the plight of slaves ... often far from home and culture, misused, abused, torn from their families, forced to obey demeaning orders, and much more.  Try to realize how far this is from God's desire for good for all people, how far this is from 'love one another'.

        Lesson 2.  (p.23)  Moses' call at the burning bush, plus the giving of God's name.    This, too, is a familiar passage: the bush that burns but is not consumed, Moses' conversation with God (or, as I would call it, his argument with God), Moses' demand that he be able to tell those he would go to which God sent him.  This year, try to discern God's crazy action in calling a murderer on the lam to be God's spokesperson to the Pharaoh, the man who has set a price on his head.   Try to see the fear Moses felt as he realized that some God wanted him to be a messenger, a liberator: knowing that he was slow of speech and a lawbreaker to boot.  This year, look closely at God's name:  it is not "lord" ... even LORD ... those words are derived from the Hebrew, which writes the consonants of God's name and then the vowels of the word "lord" so that it becomes unpronounceable in Hebrew: a way to keep the devout from speaking God's name in vain or inappropriately.  Learn what God's real name is.

        Lesson 3.  (p.31)   The plagues and Passover.  These again are favorite Sunday School stories that we mostly know.  Step back this year and look at why the plagues are what they are.  Think about how they relate to what 'plagues' us when we stray from God's will.  What does God 'pass over'?  and Why?  Jews today, as well as many Christian churches remember Passover because it is a turning point in the life of God's people, as well as being the religious holiday during which Jesus is crucified.  What is important about that connection?

        Lesson 4.  (p. 39)  The Exodus from Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea.  Many of us not only learned these stories in Sunday School, but we have vibrant images from movies of the people fleeing from the Egyptians who are pursuing them.  Moses raising his staff to part the sea so the people can cross on dry land is an image burned in most of our minds.  But what is God's action in all of this?  Why is the escape after Passover such a narrow escape?  Think about Pharaoh, who keeps changing his mind.

        Lesson 5.  (p.47)  The wilderness wanderings, lacking water and food, and the people's exhaustion.  Try to put yourself in this story: when have you felt lost in the wilderness, without resources, or totally exhausted ... or all three?   Following God is not any easy road!

        Lesson 6.  (p.55)  Covenant.  God making promises.  Try to learn how this whole covenant is very much like the treaties that nations made with one another in the ancient Middle East.  Try to come away with an understanding of what it means to be a covenant people: to live in a relationship at all times.  God keeps covenant -- do we?  Are we always a Holy People, God's people?

        Lesson 7.  (p.63)  The Laws for living as Covenant People and the Shema.  OK, the last word is Hebrew.  It is the beginning of the very famous passage "Hear O Israel, the Lord your God the LORD is one."  Shema means 'Listen Up!!'   That passage is on the thresh hold of every Jewish home in a little box, which they touch as they enter.  Think about covenant loyalty as constantly listening for God.  This lesson is about God's law, God's 'easy yoke' that keeps us in covenant relationship.  10 rules for living, just one God to relate to (not a pantheon).  How hard can this be?

        Lesson 8.  (p.71)  Temptations along the way, and the Golden Calf.   We have trouble keeping covenants.  The ancient Hebrews had the same problems.  Idols are a problem, and, like the Hebrews, we keep making them.  How do fear and anxiety keep leading us away from God?  Think about how easy it is to stray, to let something else take God's place in our lives and thinking.  

        Lesson 9.  (p.79)  The Tabernacle, "Choose God".   The Tabernacle is the visible sign of God dwelling amongst the people of the covenant.  Try to learn how we can live knowing that God is present with us, always.   As Moses nears the end of his life, he makes several speeches to the Hebrew people.  In one, he exhorts the  people to 'choose life'.   How is that always a choice for us: every day, every minute?  Try to figure out how we can show what choice we've made.

Well, there you have it.