Who Is Jesus According to Contemporary Cultural Interpretations?

Carissa Herold, Presbyterian Women marketing associate, on Lesson Nine

According to a fascinating Pew Research Center report*, there are “2.18 billion Christians of all ages around the world, representing nearly a third of the estimated 2010 global population of 6.9 billion. Christians are also geographically widespread—so far-flung, in fact, that no single continent or region can indisputably claim to be the center of global Christianity.”

That same report highlights the demographic shift over time of where the largest populations of Christians reside. Consider “Nigeria now has more than twice as many Protestants as Germany, the birthplace of the Protestant Reformation.” And “Indonesia [the destination of the upcoming PW Global Exchange], a Muslim-majority country, is home to more Christians than all 20 countries in the Middle East and North Africa region [the birthplace of Jesus] combined.” And, if my math is correct, just shy of 1 billion Christians reside as the minority population in two countries: China (67,070,000) and India (31,850,000).

With the staggering number of Christians in the world, residing in “far-flung” places, answering the question, “Who is Jesus?” has necessarily broadened and deepened. Each of us has our own story, and it is through our story that we interpret scripture.

God is still speaking . . . through us!

Judy writes, “The Bible is a living text; God continues to speak to us through it, so the Bible continues to have meaning for us in our time and our place. If we are willing to accept that our own life experiences impact the biblical narrative, then we are more likely to be open to what others have to say, as well.” (page 91)

In the study, we encounter a (to some) radical interpretation of Matthew 15:21–28 through the Mexican-American (and I add, female) lens of Leticia Guardiola-Sáenz. Her interpretation of the text is informed by her understanding of being defined as “Other,” just as she believes that the Canaanite woman may have felt as well. And if you have access to a copy of the Companion DVD, take time to hear Judy read a portion of Botswanan Musa Dube’s interpretation of the hemorrhaging woman from Mark 5:25–34, as she weaves that story into the story of colonialism and AIDS (near the end of track 10 at 07:52).

As the brilliant campaign by a sister denomination declares, “God is still speaking.” God speaks through each of us through our living scripture. No wonder that the PW Purpose declares our commitment “to nurture our faith through prayer and Bible study”!

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My pastor recently recited words attributed to Teresa of Avila, and her words have stayed with me.

“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

As the hands, feet, eyes, and body of Christ in this world, we are entrusted with bringing the hope of a compassionate God to this world. Exploring the many lenses in which Jesus is understood is invaluable as we grow into this important role of faith and service. This study offers a glimpse of how Jesus was understood by the gospel writers, Paul, the author of Hebrews, and more. This last lesson brings us forward to new interpretations of how Jesus is understood. Judy writes, “I would like us to consider, however, that the approach of ‘meaning potential’ is a more honest reading of the sacred text. This way of approaching the Bible acknowledges the reality that every reader is an interpreter standing within his or her own community. Each interpretation is a conversation between the biblical writing and the biblical reader, most often mediated by centuries of tradition and the immediate experiences and situations of the reader.” (page 87) Judy stresses that there is not a final, ultimate answer as each of one of us must determine for ourselves: Who is Jesus and who, through Jesus, is God calling [me] to be? (page 91)

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Can you stand one more quote? I hope so because I feel compelled to share one more sentence:

“It is only at the end of all times that we shall be rooted and grounded in love and have the power to comprehend together with all the saints—from Asia, Africa, the Americas, and Europe—what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge (Eph. 3:18, 19).” Anton Wessels, Images of Jesus: How Jesus Is Perceived and Portrayed in Non-European Cultures (Grand Rapids: William Eerdmans, 1990, page 192).

*“Global Christianity—A Report on the Distribution of the World’s Christian Population,” Pew Research Center report, December 19, 2011, available online at http://www.pewforum.org/2011/12/19/global-christianity-exec/

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And so we have come to this final blog of Who Is Jesus? What a Difference a Lens Makes.

Thank you for accompanying me on this journey through the study. And thank you for your many kind comments along the way. Encouraging comments are, well, encouraging! The truth is, although I have stepped inside a seminary, I have no special theological training; I am not a teaching elder, Christian educator, or church musician. I do, however, take seriously this life of mine and the journey of faith that I am led to walk. I hope that my blog has encouraged or inspired you on your own walk of faith. (And I am forever grateful to Betsy Ensign-George, PW’s Bible study editor who, unlike me, has not only stepped inside a seminary but has a beautiful diploma (in Latin!) from Princeton to prove it. Betsy has good judgment about things theological (and otherwise!) and she has helped me stay on course through this series. Thank you, Betsy! (And Betsy is always quite kind about my overuse of exclamation points. I like them! A lot!)

And truly, thank you for your witness as Presbyterian women. As staff, we have a birds-eye view of PW at work (and play) in the world. Let’s just say that Presbyterian women, to a person, live out the PW Purpose. One of my recent favorite anecdotes is from a woman who attends my circle. Each week, our local newspaper includes a generous $10 off grocery coupon. And each week, she dutifully drives over to the store and searches for a shopper. On one of her recent weekly trips, she gave the coupon to a woman who, upon receiving the coupon, exclaimed, “Thank you! Now I will have enough money that I can buy a few gallons of gas for my car.”

Judy asks in the study, “Who is Jesus and who, through Jesus, is God calling you to be?” Your weekly (daily) acts of faith, service, and kindness are evidence of taking seriously your call as Jesus’ disciples in this world.

So what’s next?

The 2017–2018 Horizons Bible study is Cloud of Witnesses: The Community of Christ in Hebrews by Melissa Bane Sevier. I am so excited about this study and look forward to (this time) reading the blog each month.

I confess that I have read the study and witnessed the making of the Companion DVD. Let me share with you a few random thoughts:

  • Before I read the study, if anyone had asked me about the book of Hebrews, I would have recalled two verses: the one about “great cloud of witnesses” (12:1) and the other about “angels unaware” (13:2). Both scriptures are so intriguing but at the heart are about community, which is the overarching theme of Hebrews as well as this study (and our lives as Presbyterian women). Our faith is lived out personally and communally.
  • Take special notice of the So Great a Cloud of Witnesses stories peppered throughout. One story that has offered particular food for thought for me is Emma Geu’s story on page 55. When a hailstorm brought ruin to her crop, Emma’s faith guided her to (no pun intended) weather that storm by choosing to make something good of it. And in this case, that good was ice cream frozen with the hailstones that pummeled her fields. Her lesson continues to inspire her family, and thanks to Pamela Lay who submitted this story, me. Lemons into lemonade is rivaled by hailstones into ice cream. Well done!
  • When you come to the 2018 Churchwide Gathering of Presbyterian Women, August 2–5, 2018, in Louisville, why not add an extra day and journey to Lexington, Kentucky, via Versailles Road, just off I-64? Lexington is about 75 miles east of Louisville and in this region one will see lots of horse farms as well as dry-stack fences. A dry-stack fence contains no mortar; each stone is in community, if you will, with other stones. Each stone is important to the integrity of the fence. Melissa Bane Sevier, who lives in this region, sees dry-stacks every day. Her photo of a dry-stack fence is on page 5. In the study, she writes, “It is odd to begin a study that has the word ‘cloud’ in the title with the image of a stone wall. A cloud is ethereal; a wall made of rocks is nothing if not solid. A cloud is intangible; rocks are quite tangible, especially if you drop one on your foot. A cloud changes shape; a stone wall is constant and stable. I have not been able to get either of these images out of my head since beginning the Bible study.” (page 6) This study is brimming with amazing images and imagery, including stunning three-dimensional paintings by Irene Kordalis Pedersen. As a side note, Irene’s art is fairly large in real life. That’s why the measurement of each piece featured in the study is included.

Thank you again! See you in Louisville in 2018!


Who Is Jesus? According to the Other Abrahamic Faiths

Carissa Herold, Presbyterian Women marketing associate, on Lesson Eight

Let me state something obvious: We live in a religiously diverse world. (Actually, we could say that we live in a diverse world period. According to the World Wildlife Fund, the world’s oceans are home to more than 400 species of sharks. And spiders? More than 35,000 species of spider are busy at work giving me the shivers this very minute. Yes, it is possible to type while shivering, a happy discovery.) W. Eugene March, in his book, The Wide Circle of Divine Love: A Biblical Case for Religious Diversity, puts this obvious fact into convincing perspective in a way that is particularly compelling for those of us who enjoy thinking about things through the lens of numbers:

It is currently estimated that there are more than fifteen hundred active religions in the world. To be sure, some can claim only a small number of adherents and some are clearly subsets of larger entities. In a world with an estimated population of some six and a quarter billion and still counting, over five billion are claimed as members of one religion or another. This multiplicity of religions is called “religious pluralism” or “religious diversity.” To acknowledge this great diversity of religions, each believed valid by its adherents, is not to endorse each and every one but to recognize current realities. Religions abound!

W. Eugene March, The Wide Circle of Divine Love: A Biblical Case for Religious Diversity (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005), page 13.

Religions abound! My own interfaith journey began in childhood with a family that is fairly diverse. One could find family members attending a church (Methodist, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Russian Orthodox), a meeting house (Society of Friends), even Kingdom Hall (Jehovah Witness). Some of my relatives professed no faith, which is becoming more common in the United States and Europe. But what has broadened my awareness of the range of traditions, beyond Christianity, is seeing with new eyes, if you will, new neighbors.

Although I do not reside in a particularly cosmopolitan city in the U.S., many people who call the same longitude and latitude (give or take a few degrees!) home come from many nations and religious traditions. Many may have fled warzones or hostile discrimination, but some left their country of birth to seek opportunity. I like what Judy writes: “In this ever-shrinking world of ours, we encounter many people whose faith traditions are not our own, so we have the opportunity, privilege, and responsibility to learn from one another. . . . We can each play a part in creating gracious space for all and in advancing the common good.” (p. 83)

Interfaith conversations. I was delighted to attend GA 221 in Detroit in 2014. As part of the experience, attendees were invited to worship in local churches. The church I attended was Littlefield Presbyterian Church in Dearborn. This big-in-heart church is situated in a neighborhood that is now predominately Muslim. GA visitors worshiped in a traditional Presbyterian way then we were served a lunch of falafel and salad and baklava, delicious culinary fare that fit nicely with the neighborhood and Littlefield’s heart for hospitality that, with a glance at their website and Facebook page, continues. Recently, church members planned to tour the Islamic Center of America, as “a great opportunity to see the mosque and learn more about our Muslim neighbors.” This spirit of “creating gracious space” (Judy’s words) can be found in the church’s mission statement as to why they exist (in part): “To love God, one another, and all people. To show God’s love in our work for peace and justice.”

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So why did God choose to create a world of so many different understandings of faith? As Christians, can we hold our beliefs in a triune God and still enter conversation with others who do not share this understanding? Tough question. That’s why I was happy to find a copy of the book, A Multitude of Blessings: A Christian Approach to Religious Diversity, by Cynthia Campbell (former president of McCormick Theological Seminary and current pastor of Highland Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Kentucky) on the PW office bookshelf. Allow me to share the following as a way to consider this question:

[A]s religious diversity increases in America, getting to know neighbors who come from other religious traditions is much more likely. For Christians, these encounters should be approached with both humility and confidence—with humility so as not to claim to know more about God than it is possible to know, and with confidence that we do in fact know God through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Such a stance allows both for honest and open engagement with the other and at the same time for continuing commitment to our Christian way of being related to God. The result may not only serve the common good through mutual understanding; it may deepen our own faith at the same time.

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God’s providence has brought us to this time and this place—as Christians in a multifaith world. Perhaps the continuing vitality of the many world religions is part of God’s way of relating to and caring for all of God’s human community. Perhaps this is our time as Christians to learn how to be Christians and (at the same time) to be neighbors and partners with those of other faiths. Perhaps what we call discipleship and what Jews call tikkun olan (the healing of the world) are deeply related and compatible. Perhaps truth about God and human life resides in us and at the same time in other traditions, because God is surely bigger than any one way of understanding and experiencing God. Perhaps we have been brought into such close relationship with people of other faiths so as to broaden our understanding and deepen our appreciation of the majesty and mystery of God. Perhaps this is our time as people of faith to respond to God’s call for community and peace.

Cynthia M. Campbell, A Multitude of Blessings: A Christian Approach to Religious Diversity, uncorrected manuscript (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007), pages 100 and 101.

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Did you know that Indonesia has the largest Muslim population of any country in the world? Other faiths are well represented too: Christianity (25 million) as well as Hindu, Buddhist, Confucianist, and indigenous religious populations. Interfaith understanding and tolerance is key to living peacefully in Indonesia. That’s why I am looking forward to hearing the reflections from participants of the Global Exchange to Indonesia, September 12–29, 2017. The theme of this exchange is “Building Bridges of Understanding” based on Romans 1:12: “. . . so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.” Participants are asked to build “bridges of understanding, as sisters in Christ . . . [to] learn to live respectfully in a multifaith culture and encourage and accompany one another as together we seek a more peaceful and just world.”

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When they studied lesson eight, Betsy O’Daniel, Moderator Advisor of Palms Presbyterian Church, and her circle extended an invitation to a Jewish sister who had recently traveled to Israel, for discussion and insight into her tradition. If you or your circle extends an invitation to someone in your community who will help “build a bridge of understanding,” then please let us know (words and photos!)! We would enjoy sharing your experience widely! (Thank you, Betsy!)

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Louisville, Kentucky, is home to the headquarters of Presbyterian Women and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); as well as the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary; Churchill Downs; the Louisville Slugger baseball bat factory; and the Belle of Louisville, the nineteenth century steamboat that continues to paddle along the Ohio River. And for four days in 2018, Louisville will be home to many Presbyterian Women and our global sisters as Louisville’s own Galt House Hotel is the destination of the 2018 Churchwide Gathering of Presbyterian Women (August 2–5, 2018). One amazing event that Louisville’s Center for Interfaith Relations has hosted for twenty-one years is the acclaimed Festival of Faiths. The festival brings a range of speakers, guests, activities, and more to Louisville each year around a theme. This year’s theme is “Compassion: Shining Like the Sun.” If you plan to be in Louisville this spring (April 19–27, 2017), you may want to participate in one or more of the events. Although the schedule wasn’t posted at the time this blog was written, you’ll soon be able to find it at http://festivaloffaiths.org/.


Who Is Jesus According to the Non-canonical Gospels?

Carissa Herold, Presbyterian Women marketing associate, on Lesson Seven

Oh the Internet. So many wonderful opportunities to unearth treasures! One treasure that brought a smile I happened upon while visiting Pinterest. See if this brings a smile to you:

In a child’s handwriting:

Dear God,

Mommy says all babies cry. But I don’t think Jesus did. You must [k]now the answer, so please write back. We have a bet.

Angelina

I love this note! Any adult who has spent more than a few minutes with a young person (or can remember one’s own early days) often encounters stories and questions from children as they try to decipher the world and the world of faith. For example, when I was about five, I visited a Roman Catholic church with a friend’s family. I still vividly recall that the lofty ceiling of the church was painted the most amazing, celestial blue; golden vessels and amazing stained glass windows also graced this astonishing holy space. I was, at five, perfectly awestruck. By comparison, my church was plain—white walls, pastel-hued windows (no stained glass), a large wooden cross, and unadorned wooden pews. Having been told that the church was God’s house, I remember being very unsettled that God decorated God’s other house (that is, not the one we visited every week) with such beautiful things. I had never been in such a building. In my young mind I truly believed that church furnishings were carefully selected by God; indeed, that the signs and windows were supernaturally made and installed.

As I read this lesson about the non-canonical gospels, and later viewed the Companion DVD*, I found myself truly empathizing with Christians of and from every age who try to make sense of Christianity by pondering the gaps in the Christian story and the life of Christ. In our age of abundant and readily available information, we can easily unearth papers and tomes and sermons and studies about the Christian story and the life of Christ. But let’s face it. Libraries may brim with books and monographs and scholarly articles, but during sleepless nights and maddening commutes, who doesn’t ponder great truths on her or his own? Sometimes I drift from what I (think I) know in the canon and ponder the gaps. Did Jesus enjoy the craft of carpentry? Did he ever suffer from an illness? I am not alone in these imaginings. In the study, in the section about the infancy gospels of Jesus, Judy writes, “However unusual we find these stories, we recognize that the gist of this infancy gospel [the Infancy Gospel of Thomas] is to affirm the power, wisdom, and divine blessings of Jesus—even in his boyhood” (page 72).

I didn’t fully grasp until I read this lesson that the canon as we know it came together not over decades but centuries. Judy writes, “For the first two centuries, it seemed to matter little whether there were lines drawn around the material that was authoritative and the material that was not” (page 70). For humans, stories matter. That’s why, I think, the Christian community eventually had to codify, if you will, our common faith story as this would link us, one to another, over generations. In this new century, we, through a shared canon, grapple with and continue to be sustained by these same texts. Modern readers like me are indebted to all who undertook this massive undertaking. Vincent Branick wrote: “Carrying your Bible under your arm implies being inserted into a tradition and a network that ties us to the earliest Christian communities selecting the books of the Bible, the bleary-eyed copyists passing the books on, and the community of faith today reading and celebrating these texts.” (Vincent Branick, Understanding the New Testament and Its Message: An Introduction, Paulist Press, 1998, p. 33)

How do we know what we know about Jesus? As a child, I relied on sensations like sight and sound and kindly Sunday school teachers to help me make sense of faith. As an adult, I still use my senses to broaden my experience of faith, but with my years, I can now rely on scripture and community (and well as scholarly pursuits such as studying church architecture) to understand. But even with an authoritative canon, our experience of scripture and lives of faith are not static or monolithic. Church historian Elaine Pagels puts it like this at the conclusion of her book about the non-canonical gospel of Thomas: “What I have come to love in the wealth and diversity of our religious traditions—and the communities that sustain them—is that they offer the testimony of innumerable people to spiritual discovery. Thus they encourage those who endeavor, in Jesus’ words, to ‘seek, and you shall find.’” (Elaine Pagels, Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas, Random House, 2003, p. 185).

As I conclude this blog, I wish to lift up the opening prayer (found on page 68):

O God, enable us to marvel at all who have traveled before us, seeking your face, longing to understand. May we discover the joys of being in the company of those who wish to know you, and may we greet others with humility. We are all on a journey. Walk with us, we pray. Amen.

*The Who Is Jesus? Companion DVD is on sale until April 15th! Order your copy from PDS and save 25%! Order item #HZN16103 from PDS by calling toll free 800/524-2612 or online at store.pcusa.org.

Other editions on sale include the English edition (HZN16100, now $6), Spanish edition (HZN16110, now $6), ecumenical edition (HZN16102, now $6) and large-print edition (HZN16150, now $9).


Who Is Jesus According to Hebrews?

Carissa Herold, Presbyterian Women marketing associate, on Lesson Six

I am a walker. I walk places. And thanks to seriously amazing technology, my steps are automatically tallied. As my walking routine becomes a daily ritual, something astonishing has transpired for this self-avowed non-athlete: I am not just a walker but now an occasional jogger. And during those amazing days when my body and spirit are delighted to take on the challenge, I can almost fly. But let me be frank. Too many days my walking regimen is a chore. Sleet stings. A mosquito bites. My patience wanes. A knee cracks. My companion canine strains the lead. The sun blinds. Shoes pinch. All I want to do on these cranky outings is quit to the nearest sofa.

Pondering this very blog on this morning’s walk I thought of Hebrew’s focus on perseverance. I honestly didn’t recall until I began typing this paragraph that the actual biblical text includes language about hands and knees and feet! Judy Siker writes, “Hebrews . . . seeks to strengthen and encourage this discouraged community. Perhaps Hebrews 12:12–13 puts it best: ‘Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.’ In other words, be of good courage! God is on your side! We all need to hear this word of exhortation and encouragement at times, and Hebrews provides it throughout.” (page 59)

Perseverance and hope definitely make life run more smoothly because, let’s face it, some of the usual things we do on a daily basis can sometimes seem a bit overwhelming or not as fun-filled as snacking on a tray of brownies in front of the television. Whether attending class, showing up for work, laundering clothes, paying bills, chasing toddlers, dragging out the recycling, or participating in session meetings—all of these tasks, if left undone, would have disastrous consequences. Perseverance means we actually do things that need to be done. And hope? Hope says we do these things and will continue to do these things because our effort matters for that child, our church, our bodies, our household, our neighborhood, and our concerns. As Presbyterian women we just have to glance at the remarkable legacy left by our foremothers in faith who had an abundance of perseverance and hope but little political influence or money. These faithful women, in community, found ways to send missionaries, build clinics, and give voice to matters of great importance.

Perseverance and hope are more than good things to have for making do, but for those of us in difficult situations, they are of consequence. Can you imagine living in the deep darkness of a war zone without the glimmer of hope and the resolve to continue? Or dealing with a grave illness or an abusive relative? Or coping with extreme financial duress? Or being imprisoned by force or addiction?

On the Companion DVD, Judy Siker suggests that the book of Hebrews—like Revelation—may seem a bit foreign to modern readers but both books are books of hope. That’s right, Revelation too! Neither book promises the proverbial rose garden—life is difficult and often unfair—but with Jesus on the sidelines, having run this race before and because of us, ultimately, with our steady and faithful perseverance, all will be well at the finish line.

“Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!” (Hebrews 12:1–3, The Message, Eugene H. Peterson)

I really respond to this imagery of a race! Reading further we are reminded that all of us on this path, no matter our situation or level of fitness, are called to cheer others on while making their way as safe as possible: “Clear the path for long-distance runners so no one will trip and fall, so no one will step in a hole and sprain an ankle. Help each other out. And run for it.” (Hebrews 12:12–13, The Message, Eugene H. Peterson)

“And run for it.” Let’s do this. Together. See you at the finish line!

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I was honestly astonished how much I have enjoyed grappling with Hebrews. That’s why I’m truly looking forward to the 2017–2018 Horizons Bible study on the book of Hebrews, Cloud of Witnesses: The Community of Christ in Hebrews by Melissa Bane Sevier, with Suggestions for Leaders by Sung Hee Chang. Over nine lessons (with discussion questions, hymn suggestions, prayers, and “Cloud Witness” stories submitted by Presbyterian women) the author looks at nine major themes, relates these themes to our faith tradition, and ties them together with the overarching motif of community.

If you are a Horizons magazine subscriber, then you will receive your copy in March. If you are not a Horizons magazine subscriber, you may subscribe by April 1 to receive this study as part of your subscription. To subscribe, visit www.presbyterianwomen.org or call toll free 866/802-3635.


Who Is Jesus According to Paul?

Carissa Herold, Presbyterian Women marketing associate, on Lesson Five

“I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:18–19

Sometimes, when I reflect on how much we humans are making a mess of things now, I think back on the people of yesteryear and ponder how wonderful they must have been. A sepia-drenched musing of a woman of faith, tireless, kind, patient, and stalwart. She is all good things! No drama in her life! Or perhaps, thanks to gentle books and movies, my mind happily travels to a time and era where I can imagine an entire town populated with good folks—even the grumpy but ultimately warm-hearted mayor who eventually chooses to do the right thing—who more-or-less model “good” values: neighborliness, frugality, patriotism, civic engagement, commitment, groundedness, etc. The problems that they must solve within the pages of the book or the minutes of the broadcast, ultimately find tidy resolution because of their ultimately good-heartedness and fair-mindedness.

And yet.

And yet, leave it to scripture to show us that God’s people of all generations are and were ever in need of salvation. Our modern problems aren’t so modern after all. Judy Siker writes, “If ever there was a messed-up church, it was Paul’s church at Corinth. Just imagine—people in that congregation were fighting over all kinds of things. They sued each other in court (1 Cor. 6:1); they were divided over who baptized them (1 Cor. 3:3,4); they fought about which spiritual gift was better (1 Cor. 12); some of them got drunk at the Lord’s supper (1 Cor. 11:17–22); some thought that they had to abstain from all sexual activity, while others thought they could engage in incestuous activity and frequent prostitutes (1 Cor. 5:1–2; 7). Suffice it to say, it was a church with many problems.” (page 54)

A “church with many problems,” indeed.

I sometimes think that one of our greatest obstacles as human beings is our almost compulsive need to sort our neighbors, friends, celebrities, and strangers into neat categories (perhaps even our very selves). This, of course, often results in some serious ugliness—xenophobia and racism, wars and conflict. That being said, we aren’t always ugly in our “judgy-ness”—sometimes we think quite amazing thoughts about our friend’s stepdaughter (“she’s so gifted with numbers, she should pursue her Master’s degree!”) or the always pleasant barista at our favorite fair trade coffee shop (“always happy to listen!”). And social media, which I think is an extension of our best and least selves, is expert on flattening celebrities and the like into cardboard characters, villains or heroines. Let’s face it, what we choose to share about ourselves we carefully curate so that our lives, and by extension ourselves, are understood in particular (usually positive) ways. Only God knows us wholly, our unvarnished selves.

Despite knowing us through and through, God yearns for relationship with imperfect and (let’s face it) unworthy us, according to Paul. That’s why Paul understands Jesus through the lens of the crucified Christ, God’s atoning sacrifice for us. Judy writes, “For through the death and resurrection of Jesus, God’s self is made known to humanity. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, our eyes can be opened to the amazing depth of God’s mercy and to the radical inclusion of God’s grace.” (page 56)

As I think about Paul, and the lens of understanding Jesus through Paul, I cannot help but think about the truly extravagant gift of grace that God provided for humanity through Jesus. Humanity. That’s all of us. And that’s all of us in our complexity, which includes our better and not-so-faultless selves. Only God knows us wholly and yet still chooses to love us wholly. No sepia filter required.

And yet.

Our 2014–2015 PW/Horizons Bible study was all about Paul! Entitled Reconciling Paul: A Contemporary Study of 2 Corinthians, author Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty delves deeply into the complexity that is Paul. I think it is worth sharing this reflection from Reconciling Paul before we consider (even for one moment!) resting in God’s love at the expense of not striving for a better world:

“. . . An awareness of God’s grace does not allow people of faith to remain content or to rest easily as long as the creation, God’s people and planet earth, groan from the burden of suffering, injustice, and exploitation caused by human hands.” (page 80)

And yet . . . we have work to do.

In thanks for God’s love through the lens of the cross,

Carissa


Who Is Jesus According to John?

Carissa Herold, Presbyterian Women marketing associate, on Lesson Four

Read the Gospel of John (especially John 9:1–7)


I know that years have dimmed my memory of preteen angst, but sitting here and now at this keyboard, I recall my preteen years as (mostly) happy times. I fondly remember giggling with friends, finding fun things to do and books to read, and enjoying the process of learning and exploring. My favorite pastimes were playing jacks, singing silly songs to my pug, pestering my brother, and practicing scales and arpeggios on my flute. I also recall spending many contented hours trying to perfect creations made from string, a sort of macramé never intended to be a belt or plant holder, but instead a fleeting miracle of achievement and delight. The only tools necessary to make these amazing creations were twine or yarn, flexible hands, and hours of patience creating or re-creating string figures. As a young person, I had all of these things in plenty! I handily (pun intended) perfected Cup and Saucer, but the achievement of transforming simple string into a delightfully complicated Jacob’s Ladder never was one I could claim. (If you are interested in string games, you may find information and ideas on Pinterest. And I just discovered thanks to a quick glance at Amazon that books are available, too, including Cat’s Cradle: A Book of String Figures by Anne Akers Johnson.) Jacob’s Ladder was the most complex string game I knew of. And I liked that the image of the string ladder reminded me of a Sunday school handout, a brightly colored ladder to heaven etched into my young memory.

IMG_7564All of these pleasing memories—even the frustration of never achieving a decent string version of Jacob’s Ladder—came flooding back to me when I read Judy Siker’s words, “And Jesus identifies himself as the Son of Man on whom the angels of God ascend and descend. (Jn. 1:51) In other words, Jesus is like Jacob’s ladder, the connecting point between the heavenly and earthly realms.” (page 43)

When Jacob’s ladder was described in the Old Testament, the ladder was an actual ladder where angels traveled back and forth between earth and heaven, gliding upward and downward, over and beyond. What an image! “And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it” (Gen. 28:12, KJV). Standing just above the top rungs of Jacob’s ladder was God, who proclaimed to Jacob, “And, behold, I am with thee….” (Gen. 28:15a). When Jacob eventually awakened, he exclaimed, “Surely the Lord is in this place and I knew it not.” (Gen. 28:16) That’s the rub. The ladder was no less real even though Jacob never realized its existence until the Divine revealed it to him during a fitful dream. This celestially traveled ladder, teeming with heavenly creatures, was ever in Jacob’s midst even though he never realized it.

Someone somewhere remarked on his work in emergency services that during times of great distress, the veil thins between this world and the next. Are we, like Jacob, rarely able to see that there is more to reality than just what we can prove with our five senses? I am reminded of the verse from 1 Corinthians: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I only know in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Cor. 13:12, NRSV)

I recently watched a video clip from a rabbi who suggested that we are freely given choice by the Divine whether to believe or not. The choice is ours. But choosing is of great importance because whatever our choice, how we experience and see the world will be as accordingly. Believing in a benevolent Creator allows our Creator space in our lives and our lenses through which we view the world will reflect this worldview. Alternatively, not believing in a merciful God but instead spending our finite hours and days pursuing [insert viewpoint here] will color our world accordingly. For example, if we see the world as a place that is rooted in the pursuit of material gain, then everything we see will be interpreted as a commodity or opportunity. Put another way, what we choose to see colors our world in a particular way. Belief as I interpret it through revisiting Jacob and his ladder and reading anew John and our Bible study, gives us the ability to see as God would prefer that we see.

But there is more to this story than just perception. Understanding Jesus through the lens of John is to understand that Jesus is both human and divine; furthermore, Jesus is the bridge, the path, to God for humanity. Seeing Jesus through John’s gospel through the image of Jacob’s ladder suggests that this world and the heavenly realm exist in the same place, separately by the thinnest of a veils. According to John, Christ is the ladder, the bridge. As Judy Siker writes in the study, “Jesus in John’s Gospel provides the sustenance of life (bread, light, drink) as well as the guidance that leads his followers into the fullness of life (the good shepherd, the gate, the way/truth/life, the resurrection and the life). God provides all these things through Jesus, not only at a surface level but at a very deep level.” (page 46)

During my seemingly (from a distance) carefree days of preadolescence when I had time to practice my string Jacob’s Ladder, I knew very little about the significance of this image. Decades later, I see. Like children who have no understanding of how their parents provide even the most basic of necessities, I was and am confident of a merciful God who created and cares about all of creation. Jesus, both human and divine, is the bridge to life eternal. Judy Siker writes, “The Gospel of John concludes with a blessing on those who have not seen and yet have come to believe. This idea of the blessing of spiritual sight and spiritual understanding runs throughout John’s Gospel, and we begin to understand who Jesus is—the Word of God made flesh, who dwells among us.” (page 47)


Who Is Jesus According to Luke?

Carissa Herold, Presbyterian Women marketing associate, on Lesson Three

Read the Gospel of Luke (especially Luke 1-4; 14:12-24; 16:19-31).

 

When I was perhaps eight or nine, my mother and I visited a nearby art museum. This excursion was a very big deal because my mother, a nurse, worked many hours and time away from duties, at work and home, was sadly infrequent. Etched into my memory of that day’s focus was a painting of a gentleman in costume standing or sitting near gleaming light filtering through a large heavy-framed window. As a child, I had no words for this painting, no way to discuss the artist or period or technique. My lens of interpreting this painting was limited to the particulars of the scene. The older me who is typing this today surmises that this painting (dimmed by memory, of course) was of or in the style of Johannes Vermeer, the Dutch artist of the seventeenth century, who, I now know, is heralded for painting domestic scenes that include startling splashes or beams of very realistic light.

Of all of the glorious works of art that we viewed that day, I remember only this painting. I responded to both bright and soft light, the solitary figure dressed in brown. But what etched this painting into my memory was my mother’s humane interpretation of it. As a nurse, a healer, her focus was on the man, not the room or sunbeam, the ruffled collar or the item (fruit? a bowl?) situated on the table. She noted that the man was afflicted in some way. Perhaps by malnutrition or an unhealed broken bone? My memory no longer recalls her specific diagnosis but I often think of that day and the lens that she wore as a nurse. This small moment was actually quite momentous as the subtle lessons learned were momentous—about the possibility of interpreting the world through more than one lens and that we each choose (to an extent) the lens through which we view the world. Possibility, choice, free will . . .

Jesus as healer. Judy Siker writes, “In addition to being a historian, Luke is considered the most learned of the Gospel writers. He is a Gentile, and by profession, a physician” (page 33). As I visit the Gospel of Luke, I can plainly see that Luke’s Jesus is concerned with the health of humanity. Luke’s Jesus heals. Luke’s Jesus heals body and soul.

“Once, when Jesus was in one of the cities, there was a man covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground and begged him, ‘Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.’ Immediately the leprosy left him” (Lk. 5:12–13).

“As he went, the crowds pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years; and though she had spent all she had on physicians, no one could cure her. She came behind him and touched the fringe of his clothes, and immediately her hemorrhages stopped” (Lk. 8:43–44).

[A footnote about this passage: In the ancient world, before people understood the nature of germs, had access to clean water, soaps, and antibiotics, being perceived as unclean was a major concern. At the top of the list of the unclean were women with gynecological hemorrhaging and the dead. In the gospel of Luke, Jesus the healer did not turn from either—as he walked toward the home of Jarius’s 12-year-old daughter whom he would bring back to life minutes later (see Luke 8:40–42 and 8:49–55), he cured the woman who hemorrhaged for 12 years whose faith gave her the courage to emerge momentarily from the shadows to touch Jesus’ garment. None of us, no matter how society views our suffering, are excluded from Christ’s healing mercy.

Fellow Hoosier AmyLu Riley recently published a book of devotions about this very subject as she journeyed through illness. Her book is entitled, Jesus as Healer: Miracles and Meditations in Luke (AmyLu Riley, publisher; 2016; visit amylu-riley.com or her Facebook page for more information). Let me share a bit of her reflection and meditation about the healing of the bleeding woman:

“Something real happened when this woman touched Jesus—there was a transfer of power. Jesus, as God, knew who had touched him. He knew exactly where his power had gone. And he wanted this woman to acknowledge it publicly. The Scripture says she saw that she ‘could not go unnoticed.’ She likely feared more shame and embarrassment as she told the truth about her healing. Instead, Jesus elevated her with compassion. Rather than letting her slip away unnoticed, he spoke tenderly to her as a daughter of God. He publicly commended her for her spiritual faith, confirmed her physical healing, and gave her peace.

God, never let me give up reaching for the edge of your cloak. When nothing else has healed me, the account reassures me that your power and my faith in you are always enough.

“When I am reluctant to speak about the healing you provide, remind me of this woman and of the blessings you mercifully added to her because she was willing to take a risk and tell a crowd about what you had done for her. Make me bold about talking about what you have done in my life.

As Christians, we are not just bystanders in our healing. We gratefully and courageously wear the lens of people who proclaim the good news and all that that encompasses. For some of us, like my mother, that means caring for those who are ill. For others, that means advocating for the outcast, the poor, the stranger. Luke’s Jesus asks us to choose to adorn ourselves with the lenses of compassion and care. Healing requires us to act boldly in gratitude, paying forward all good things bestowed upon us as an act of praise for the one who cares for us all.


Who Is Jesus According to Matthew?

Carissa Herold, Presbyterian Women marketing associate, on Lesson Two.

Read the Gospel of Matthew (especially Matthew 5–7; 13)

 

I am a peaceable person by nature but say the words “Marvin Gardens” and I feel the heat of a longstanding (decades-long!) feud deep in my bones. Let’s say that it’s a good thing that I wasn’t called to real estate development based on some very (justified! Ha!) hurt feelings when a brother-in-law took zero pity on this poor Thimble, making her way around the Monopoly board. So close to “Go!” and a desperately needed payday, but the landlord/brother-in-law wouldn’t let me advance further. A tipped board later and the feud galloped freely for a very long time. Yes, yes, all in fun.

Family feud. It’s not just a game show; a family feud is real. And sometimes the consequences of a feud can reverberate for years. That twist of a phrase, mistimed raised eyebrow, or the seemingly greedy snatching of the last of the snickerdoodles in March can, with a bit of creative reinterpreting during the intervening months, result in a very uncomfortable Thanksgiving meal in November—or can, perhaps in extreme cases of hurt and misunderstanding mixed with a very bad day and a big dose of embellishment, mean unoccupied chairs at the table.

Even so, a family feud is about family. Who knows your hot buttons better than a sibling? Sometimes family feuds grow up to be the stuff of legend but the everyday “feuds” are often the result of family members who interpret things differently from one another, choose to go a different way than is per usual, or have to grapple with what life throws at them and all the messiness that entails. I think that family feuds are worth thinking about as we take a look through the lens of the Gospel of Matthew.

In Who Is Jesus?, Judy Siker writes, “From Matthew’s opening lines to his closing lines, we can see that this is a Jewish Gospel for a Jewish audience. In many ways, this Gospel is our most Jewish one” (page 22, page 36 in the large print). But the writer of this Gospel shares difficult words about others in the Jewish community who are at odds with Matthew’s community over key issues. Siker writes, “Matthew’s Jewish-Christian audience was in the throes of separating from the Jewish synagogue over rival interpretations of scripture and the identity of Jesus” (page 23, page 38 in the large print). Key issues, indeed! No wonder this Gospel includes angry language about family members who were tugging in another direction.

The Gospels were written during a time of great upheaval and difficulty and smashed understandings of the nature of the world. Consider our own time with our own difficulties—see how much we struggle and spar with one another. Struggling and sparring are natural responses to discernment, particularly when everything one knows or understands is at stake.

I recently purchased a copy of the Jewish Annotated New Testament (The Jewish Annotated New Testament: New Revised Standard Version Bible Translation, Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, editors, Oxford University Press, 2011). On page 41, in Matthew’s Gospel, the following sidebar essay, entitled “Pharisees and Judas,” speaks to this family disagreement:

“Jesus’ enemies are more persistent in Matthew’s Gospel than in Mark’s, as the expanded role of Judas indicates (27.3–5). Judas’s acceptance of the thirty pieces of silver in exchange for his betrayal of Jesus (a Matthean addition) contributes to the stereotype of the venal and disloyal Jew. Jesus’ other opponents, such as the Pharisees, appear more devious than in Mark’s Gospel. Matthew alone contains the famous ‘woe to you scribes and Pharisees’ in ch 23. The Pharisees (sometimes accompanied by other adversaries) constantly question and harass Jesus, especially regarding observance of Torah (9.10–13; 12.1–8, 24–28; 15.1–9; 16:1–4; 19.3–9; 15–22; 34–40) Even the word ‘rabbi’ has a negative connotation in Matthew: Judas refers to Jesus by that title while betraying him (26.49). Matthew’s Pharisees may represent rival Jewish scribes competing for community loyalty following the Roman war, and thus Matthew’s Gospel may provide a look into the tensions existing between Jesus’ followers and other Jews in the late first century. . . . Adherents of a particular group or set of beliefs often polemicize most strongly against those who share similar, but not identical, beliefs; this may be responsible for some of the strong anti-Pharisaic rhetoric in Matthew.”

I especially want to lift up the first part of the last sentence: “Adherents of a particular group or set of beliefs often polemicize most strongly against those who share similar, but not identical, beliefs . . .”

That, to me, describes a family disagreement. Judy Siker writes, “It is important to keep this context in mind as we read this Gospel. Matthew’s Gospel is the story of Jesus told through the lens of Jews seeking to understand how to survive as Jews in this post-70 CE destruction. . . . This was a time of self-discovery and grappling with Jewish identity, and this ‘sibling rivalry’ at its most heated is reflected in the Gospel of Matthew” (page 22, page 34 in the large print).

The way I see it from centuries beyond, the tensions between the groups were very real and very understandable. Siblings, indeed! But there was no way for the parties involved to ever have fathomed that their dispute would continue to be of interest centuries later to outsiders. Or, more darkly, would have ever resulted in evil rationalization for oppressing or even murdering generations in the future.

A few years ago, I visited the Great Synagogue in Dohány Street in Budapest. The Jewish community who worshipped in this synagogue was mostly decimated in the Holocaust (and even before these darkest days, experienced discrimination and violence). Our volunteer tour guide, now, an older woman, was a young girl during those terrible days; she chooses to show up to tell the story, day after day, group after group. I can only imagine that she tells what she knows and experienced so what happened there is not forgotten.

As I continue to think about the Gospel of Matthew, I am heartened by the last sentence, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28-20b). I believe that God is with us, Emmanuel, with all of us, even as we disagree and struggle to discern our way toward what God asks of us.


Who Is Jesus According to Mark?

Carissa Herold, Presbyterian Women marketing associate, on Lesson One.
Read the Gospel of Mark (especially Mark 1--8)

Have you ever considered just how deeply the church year guides your life? Advent and Lent, of course, World Communion Sunday, yes, but what about those special seasons of your local church that cannot be found on the Presbyterian Planning Calendar? These special days still carry us through the seasons of our lives, as people and as a community. Consider, for example, such days in my home church, rummage sale Saturday (always in May), the blessing of the animals (October), Thank Offering breakfast (September), and book club Thursday (which always falls on the second week of each month). One of the special seasons in my church occurs each year as summer begins to fade. On a Sunday morning in August, instead of congregating in our church building, we convene in a nearby park. We arrive in capris and flip flops, t-shirts and golf shorts, jeans and sneakers. Despite our relaxed attire, this is holy time. We are outdoors of and with God’s creation, we are in community, we are worshipful, and we are together again in this time and place as we are every year, rain or shine. A few of the musically gifted among us sing or strum a guitar (or both). Potluck goodies are packed in coolers and baskets. But the focus of our time is when our pastor steps forward for his yearly recitation of the Sermon on the Mount. Reading the Sermon on the Mount is moving; hearing the Sermon on the Mount adds yet another level of immediacy and consideration. We, as a community, based on body language and yearly attendance, find much to ponder in these spoken words.

The human voice draws attention (who could ignore even a whisper?) and the act of listening is forcibly linear: no skimming pages to quickly move through a story, no easy check of the last pages to find tidy resolution for a whodunit. The human voice also connects us one to another and affirms our shared humanity. Lynn Miller, the Suggestions for Leaders author, illustrated just how potent listening to a history of people can be when she presented the lead up to the first lesson on Mark, during the 2016 Alabama/Mississippi Women’s Conference.

***

Let me set the stage. We gather just before dusk in the glorious sanctuary of the historic South Highland Presbyterian Church in Birmingham. The rays from the setting sun softly bathe the sanctuary, filtering through the lenses (I couldn’t resist the lens metaphor!) of tall stained glass windows. Candles gently flicker. Lynn Miller comes before us and begins to speak gently about . . . atrocities and migrations, fears and tumult, war crimes and deep defeats, cruelty and darkness. No skimming these pages! Her words are unhurried as she gives testimony to the destruction of Jerusalem, genocidal campaigns and public humiliations. Her words hang in the air with a rightful solemnity and continue for many, many, many minutes. We are stunned, we are silent. Finally, a pause. We will hear no more stories tonight and yet heaviness permeates this sacred space. That’s when we see Greek words appear on the large screen. We sit with these written words as we remain in silent reflection from the spoken words and all the heartache they conveyed. Our hearts break for first-century humanity. After a few moments of heavy silence, Lynn clicks the button so that the slide advances for the English words:

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  Mark 1:1

What a balm. Good news, indeed. The sun has just set and the candles warmly illuminate the sanctuary. The large wooden cross reminds us of the terrors of this world as well as the good news of Jesus, who chooses to be with us through the valley of sorrow, peril, and death.

***

In the study, Judy Siker writes, “So, who is Jesus according to Mark? He is the suffering Son of God, and he will meet you in your suffering. For an audience undergoing persecution, for a group of Jesus’ followers in the late first century, this must have been good news indeed.” (page 17, page 27--large print)

When Lynn gave voice to those who suffered in the decades leading up to Mark’s gospel, none of us in the assembled community would have dreamed that a madman would willfully drive a multi-ton truck through a crowd just a day or two later with the intention of killing and maiming as many people as he could, sparing not even children. Injustice and atrocities and heart-break are not just the stuff of the ancient near east. The truth is, none of us live a life free of suffering, even those of us who are blessed to enjoy conveniences and opportunities and freedoms that our modern, wi-fi-enabled, high-tech world enables. A quick glance at my local newspaper this morning confirms that suffering is just around the corner:

  • City’s shooting spike a ‘public health crisis’
  • Indiana could have avoided HIV outbreak, study shows

And suffering is just an airplane trip away as a glance at CNN yields these headlines:

  • People scared and hungry as troops circle Aleppo
  • At least 12 killed in twin suicide bombings near Mogadishu airport

And one need not bother clicking through newspaper headlines because suffering is right here, in our lives and in the lives of family members, friends, circle members, coworkers, neighbors: broken promises, cancer, job loss, depression, unrealized dreams, financial strife, dangerous work, addictions.

Judy Siker’s third question under questions for further thought and discussion asks us to consider our need for Mark’s Jesus, even centuries after Rome’s persecutions ended. “What good news does Mark’s portrait of Jesus bring to you today?”

For me, Jesus choosing to live the fully human life is a gift of unbelievable grace for humanity—and his gift of being with each of us through these valleys is beyond fathomable. Mark’s Jesus has trod this path of suffering and is beside each of us as we make our way in this world. I see Mark’s Jesus as a light, a beacon. I am reminded of an Anne Lamott quote I once read, “Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.” Mark's Jesus is a guiding light, a beacon, providing each of us with a point to which to navigate through tranquil seas and perfect storms. All that is required is for us to decide to look up and chart our course toward this Light.


Introduction to the 2016–2017 PW/Horizons Bible Study Who Is Jesus? What a Difference a Lens Makes

Carissa Herold, Presbyterian Women marketing associate, offers her introductory thoughts on Who Is Jesus? What a Difference a Lens Makes.

One of the many, many, many blessings of working for you is that we, your staff, are happily immersed in all things Presbyterian Women, during most of our waking hours! Okay, so we do take time out for the occasional donut (or two) and brief water-cooler conversation around our new book club pick or weather complaints (e.g., I forgot my umbrella again!), but mostly, we spend our weekdays (and many weekends) thinking of Presbyterian Women. So here’s a bit of inside scoop that may help you and your circle make the most of your journey through Who Is Jesus? What a Difference a Lens Makes:

  1. It’s worth noting again and again that PW/Horizons Bible study themes and authors are selected by a Bible study committee of the Churchwide Coordinating Team. In other words, Horizons Bible studies are PW studies. It’s also worth nothing (again and again) that manuscripts are thoroughly field-tested by PW groups from across the country. See page 109 of the English and Spanish studies (p. 183 in the large print) for a list of the “dedicated women and men who served as field testers for” this study. And make no mistake, the comments and suggestions that arise from the field testers’ good work are shared with the author and editor, who in turn, rethink and rework the manuscript. Of course, just like the subtitle of this study suggests, each of us responds to studies in our own unique way: what a difference a lens makes, indeed! Since this study (and all Horizons studies) is the result of a democratic, Holy Spirit-led process, please freely share your thoughts (even if you aren’t a field tester) at any time! But please continue your PW journey with Horizons Bible studies. These are your studies.
  2. I’m PW’s marketing associate, right? So I just have to be me! Here is a list of Bible study versions and helps (some free, some for purchase) that are available to you:
    • The Bible study is available in regular print (item HZN16100, $8.00); large print (HZN16150, $12.00; with a nifty spiral binding); Spanish (HZN16110, $8.00); audio (slightly abridged, no suggestions for leaders, item HZN16172, $15.00, purchase online at http://store.pcusa.org); and even an ecumenical edition (HZN16102, $8.00).
    • Judy Siker is an amazing presenter and you can bring Judy to your study via the Who Is Jesus? Companion DVD (item HZN16103, $20.00). In each video presentation, she introduces each lesson of the study—about 8 to 12 minutes per lesson. What an amazing way to bring the study to your circle in Harrisonburg, Hot Springs, Hattiesburg, and Honolulu! (The DVD also includes downloadable printable material as an extra bonus!)
    • Tucked inside each study is a promotional poster; on the front of the poster is the cover of the study, in this case the photomosaic art by Robert Silvers entitled The Living Jesus. See pages 8–10 of the study to learn about the art. (I am a self-avowed crazy animal lady, so I really appreciate seeing up close the many images of God’s creation in Mr. Silver’s art. Now that’s an amazing lens, indeed!) The second side of the poster includes much of the information I am sharing here. Order an additional poster or two (item HZN16410, free) to display on a bulletin board or in a creative way!
    • Other free downloads include a bulletin cover and the Workshop for Leaders (also available as a printed piece, item HZN16101, free).
    • Additional Bible study resources are available in Horizons magazine and are only available to Horizons magazine subscribers or individual magazine purchasers. This is a very clever way to encourage subscriptions. For just $24.95, you can receive a one-year subscription to Horizons, receive next year’s Bible study as part of your subscription (mailed in March 2017), digital access to the magazine and magazine archives, and Bible study helps for Who Is Jesus?, which begin with the July/August 2016 issue! Call toll free 866/802-3635 or visit www.presbyterianwomen.org to subscribe.
    • Each year art from the study is chosen to feature on a charm/pendant. This year’s pendant (item HZN16300, $10.00) features the art of Cree artist Ovide Joseph Bighetty, entitled Because He Lives, We Can Face Tomorrow, found in Lesson Six. Beautiful.

The Workshop for Leaders

This year’s Workshop for Leaders was written by Mertie Woolcock, an experienced Bible study leader from the presbytery of West Virginia. In her workshop, Mertie suggests exploring the theme, what a difference a lens makes, through two exercises that are eye-opening! Download or order the Workshop for Leaders (see above for ordering information) and give them a try!

Exploring the study

You will find a wealth of information packed within the 112 pages of the study (plus covers). I suggest taking a few minutes to acquaint yourself and your Bible study participants with the many features of this study. The table of contents and introduction to the study provide a handy map for exploration. But like all good tour directors, I want to share a few favorite destinations:

  • Page one: Information about the author (Judy Yates Siker) and the Suggestions for Leaders author (Patricia Lynn Miller). The handy postcard that is stitched into this page can be mailed to receive a trial issue of Horizons magazine; the second half of the card (you can find it by turning to the last page/inside back cover) offers a special subscription rate of $19.95 for Horizons magazine.
  • Page 11: Things to Look for in the Study is concise and helpful. Since Judy suggests keeping a journal, space is allotted at the conclusion of each lesson for just this exercise.
  • Pages 96 through 105: Worksheets! Need I say more? And yes, there’s an answer key, too!
  • Suggestions for Leaders section at the conclusion of each lesson: Lynn Miller’s Suggestions for Leaders are truly inspired. (Did you know that Lynn designed the Honorary Life Membership pin? She is a very creative, faithful woman!) She arranges her suggestions in a similar format for each lesson so you can comfortably think through how to present the material.
  • Inside back cover: It’s back by popular demand: the two-year calendar! This is a handy tool for making note of circle meetings and other church-related doings.

Join your PW sisters as we study together this year to discover:

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