Lenten Study

Here you will find some context, notes and discussion/reflection questions for the texts from which our sermons come throughout Lent. These tools are meant to connect small groups of people through the Gospel of Luke in the context of our sermon series, but can be used for personal devotion as well. You don’t need to have attended worship to follow along, but it will help you engage more deeply into the text. Our hope is that through this, you not only get connected to God’s word, but also to one another. You can hear sermons online by going to www.aldersgatemn.com and clicking on the “sermons” tab.

Note: Most notes come from “W. Hall Harris, ed., The NET Bible Notes (1st, Accordance electronic ed. Richardson: Biblical Studies Press, 2005), n.p.”. Scripture citations are from the NRSV. Greek definitions are from the lexicon BDAG. Many of the Discussion Questions come from the “Serendipity Bible” (Zondervan, 1998).


Week I: February 14-20 | Scripture: Luke 10:25-37

look at luke whiteContext: This is among the more famous passages and stories in the Bible. What we often miss are two things: One, the Parable of the Good Samaritan is a parable. It is merely a story that Jesus told. Two, it is a parable told as an answer to the question, “who is my neighbor?” It does not stand alone. When we read and talk about the Good Samaritan, we must do so in the context of what we call “The Greatest Commandment” in verses 25-27. It also important to note that only Luke tells this parable. The “Greatest Commandment” is in Matthew, Mark and Luke, but Luke’s is different for two reasons: Luke has this important parable attached to it, and in Luke’s telling it isn’t Jesus who speaks the Greatest Commandment, but the lawyer.

It is also important to know where “The Greatest Commandment” comes from. The words “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul,mind and strength” come from a prayer which Jewish people still recite daily today, and which comes from Deuteronomy 6:4-9. This prayer is called “The Shema”. Shema means “hear” in Hebrew, so the prayer is called this so as to say, “hear this, above all else”. Just as the Shema was (and is) essentially the summation of the Jewish way of being, so too is “The Greatest Commandment” the summation of the Christian way of being.

Notes: 

  • the Greek word “love” here is in the future/imperative tense, which is to say “you will love…” This is why we call it “The Greatest Commandment”. It is a command.
  • You may notice that in Deuteronomy “mind” is not mentioned. This is because in Hebrew, heart and mind are so connected that they are essentially one word. But in Greek (and English) they are different, so in the New Testament, a fourth element is added to get to the meaning, which is loving God with one’s whole self.
  • “Love your neighbor as yourself” is not from the Shema, but from Leviticus 19:18.
  • The Greek word translated “strength” speaks to one’s power, influence or energy.
  • The road from “Jerusalem to Jericho” was notorious for robbers and bandits
  • “Priest” and “Levite” were fully included, respected people. “Samaritans” were considered unclean “half-breeds” and Jewish people in those days would go out of their way to avoid them. That the hero is a Samaritan here is key to understanding what a “neighbor” may be.

 

Discussion Questions:

  • What captivated your imagination in your hearing of this story? What would you ask a Biblical Scholar about it?
  • Are there areas of town that you avoid going to? Where are they? Why do you avoid them? Would you ever consider not avoiding them?
  • Have you ever been helped by a stranger? What feelings and emotions came with that experience? Have you ever helped a stranger?
  • Who are the “Samaritans” in your world? In your community, workplace, school?
  • What is your reaction when you see someone on the street looking for money?
  • How do we act both in mercy and wisdom through the issues of helping strangers?
  • What does loving God with your heart mean/ look like? Mind? Soul? Strength?
  • What does it mean to “love your neighbor as yourself”?

 

Weekly Activity: The “Greatest Commandment” that Jesus gives has also been referred to as “The Jesus Creed”. It is meant to be recited multiple times daily as a way of getting this command deep in our hearts. Just as Jewish people in Jesus’ day recited a prayer called “The Shema” from Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (from which the greatest commandment comes), we can recite this command wherever it is we go (when we wake up, when go to school or work, in the car, at flute practice, etc.). The hope is that the more we recite these words, the more we will live them out. Try reciting it multiple times daily this week, including perhaps trying it together as a family prayer before a meal.

The Jesus Creed: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength; and love your neighbor as yourself.”


Week II: February 21-27 | Scripture: Luke 13:18-21

Context: This could be a tough passage because it is only three verses. But like its core metaphors, remember that big things can have small beginnings. Jesus spoke often in parables, and parables are not meant to be easily understood with nice neat, clean meanings and metaphors. They’re meant to confuse us to the degree that we wrestle with them. So don’t be afraid to let parables such as this leave you feeling unsettled, unsatisfied, and like there’s something missing. It’s meant to do that.

Notes:

  • What is a “parable”? There’s a lot of debate about this, but here’s one way to look at them: The Greek word for “parable” is a compound word consisting of “para” and “ballo”. “Para” means “against” or “along side”. “Ballo” means “to throw with great force”. In this sense, think of a parable as something Jesus throws with great force against something else, causing a collision. That collision causes a mess, and it is our job to piece it all back together. The point of a parable is not to be a nice, neat and tidy fable; it is leave us with a mess to clean up and piece back together. So when you read parables, especially ones without a lot of explanation like these, let them be unsettled. The point is to piece them together by wrestling with them.
  • The Mustard Seed: The seed was known for its tiny size (smaller than a pea), but could grow as large as 25 feet. Mustard bushes were also very weed like. They grew uncontrollably.
  • The cliche is, “Faith like a mustard seed”, but nowhere in this parable does Jesus mention “faith”. He’s talking about the Kingdom of God. It is not that faith starts small, but that the Kingdom of God starts small, quietly, and buried beneath the earth.

 

Discussion Questions:

  • What captivated your imagination in your hearing of this story? What would you ask a Biblical Scholar about it?
  • What is your favorite story about someone who started out with humble beginnings, but had great success?
  • When you hear the phrase “Kingdom of God” what comes to mind?
  • What does the seed say about how the Kingdom of God begins and how it grows? What about the yeast?
  • What does the seed’s growth say about what the Kingdom of God becomes?
Salvadora_persica
“It is like a mustard seed that grew…”

 

Weekly Activity: In worship this week we handed out cups of soil with grass seed buried in them. Lent is a season of things coming to life. As we lay our lives into God’s hands, we are like a seed laid into soil. You don’t see it right away, but something is growing. Care for this little cup of grass seed and watch it grow throughout the season of Lent. As you do, let it remind you that God is growing in you.


Week III: February 28-March 5 | Scripture: Luke 15:11-32

Discussion Questions:

  • What captivated your imagination in your hearing of this story? What would you ask a Biblical Scholar about it?
  • This is long story with a lot going on. What initially stood out to you in it? But also, look it over again and perhaps even chart out the plot moment by moment. That can be a helpful step in connecting to some of these longer stories. Make sure you know the sequence of events.
  • What’s the biggest, best family party you’ve ever been to?
  • Do you have siblings? Where in the birth order do you fall? What was your experience in that position?
  • Who do you most naturally connect with in this story? The Father, the younger son, or the elder son? Which of the two brothers reminds you most of your story?
  • Do you have a rock bottom experience? What was/is it? What led to it? What led you out of it, if anything?
  • What do you think caused the younger son to want leave?
  • How does this story end? Where is everybody at the end of it? How do you feel about how this parable ends?

Prodigal-God-large


Note: For more about this amazing Parable, check out Timothy Keller’s
The Prodigal God. It’s a quick and easy, but great read. 

 

Weekly Activity: Last week we took home small cups of soil with grass seed planted in them to watch them grow throughout Lent. This week, get a preview of the kind of abundance God can grow in you by taking a trip to the Como Conservatory (or another one if you like). In this winter of cold, dry, darkness, and frozen earth, enjoy the warm the warmth, humidity, color, and life around you.

Check out the Como Zoo Conservatory at www.comozooconservatory.org


 

Week IV: March 6-12 | Scripture: Luke 16:19-31

Scripture: Luke 16:19-31

Context: This parable is a hard one. We’ve just heard the famous “Parable of the Prodigal Son”, then we had the “Parable of the Dishonest Manager”, and now this one. For the last few chapters Jesus has been telling parables challenging the religious, social, and economic establishments of his day and time. In this one, the message seems so clear, that we almost don’t get it, because it just can’t be saying what it seems to be saying. Again, a good parable leaves for us a mess to clean up. This one is particularly messy.

Notes: 

  • Verse 19: Purple is often associated with royalty, but it is so because purple was an expensive dye. Here purple is a sign of great wealth, not royalty.
  • Verse 20: Greek word for “lay” is “ballo” which means “to throw with force”. In this context it speaks to the idea that it was not this man’s choice be there, but that the circumstances of his life have thrown him there.
  • Verse 20: The name “Lazarus” here is not the same Lazarus that was resurrected in John 11. There may have been some loose connection, but we don’t really know. Because we don’t know, it’s better just to assume there’s not so as to avoid reading something into this text (or into John 11) that may not be there.
  • Verse 21: Dogs were not viewed then the way they are now. They were a nuisance, and considered unclean and crude. Their licking Lazarus’ wounds would make him even more unclean and of lower status than he already was.
  • Verse 22: Being “carried away to be with Abraham” is a 1st Century Jewish way of speaking of one going to heaven.
  • Verse 23: “Hades” is where the dead were gathered. It is the Greek equivalent of “Sheol” about which we often read in the Old Testament.
  • Verse 24: The rich man using Lazarus’ name speaks to him having known him, but yet never helped him.
  • Verse 25: This reversal is a callback to the “blesseds” and “woes” in 6:20-26

 

Discussion Questions:

  • What captivated your imagination in your hearing of this story? What would you ask a Biblical Scholar about it?
  • Look back to the notes from week 2 regarding the definition of a parable. Keep this in mind as you read, wonder about, and discuss this parable.
  • When you were a kid, what did you imagine heaven was like?
  • What are the implications of this parable on our lifestyle in the USA?
  • What does this parable say about the afterlife? What does it say about life here and now?
  • For what reason did the rich man end up in Hades in this parable?
  • What kind of emotions first arose in you during the reading of this parable?

Weekly Activity: The season of Lent is about life springing forth out of dead and dying things. It’s about beauty coming out of ashes. Every day this week, take at least one picture of life, growth or beauty and post it to Aldersgate’s Facebook page. If you are not on Facebook, just email it to Pastor Paul and he will post it for you. Let’s go find life and beauty this week!