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January 24, 2021

Salt & Light Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. Nothing Can Separate Us from God’s Love in Christ

Romans 8:31-39

Life is full of ups and downs—roads that allow us to circulate easily without major obstacles but also routes where we may find obstacles that require some creative ideas to overcome. Sometimes those impediments make us not only stop but go back or abandon our journey and the desire to move on in a different direction. For others, these obstacles are challenges to overcome and a reason to continue fighting to reach the goal.

Throughout 2020, several obstacles threatened our courage and the desire to move forward. Many people lost their jobs, homes, good friends, relatives, and neighbors. Others experienced frustration and powerlessness due to various racist events in the United States and Canada. Many lost their faith; others are confused. But some of us—while dealing with pain of grief, anguish, injustice, and uncertainty—are strengthening our faith and our relationship with our Creator.

On December 29, a friend in his mid-30s, a very athletic and friendly person who was deeply involved in the community, died from complications of COVID-19. Such sad news touched the hearts of the entire community. Those who knew him were shocked when they learned about his death. His parents and sibling were destroyed and still cannot believe the new reality with which they now must live. And what about his wife and young children? A dream of a beautiful life together became a nightmare.

A day after the funeral, my friend’s younger brother posted a Facebook note that touches me every time I read it:

Not everything goes our way in life. We cannot turn back time. But we must always be grateful to God for the good and the bad. We do not know God’s plans for us, but we must accept and respect them no matter how much it hurts!

I ask for the eternal rest of my brother’s soul. May God heal the earth, heal those who are sick, and heal the hearts of humankind.

Our eternal love for you, Lord.

Amen and amen.

God bless you.


My friend’s relatives hold the conviction that not even death and all the pain that life can bring will separate us from God.

When we go through difficult situations, we often feel abandoned, insecure, rejected, isolated, and forgotten by God. Most of us have gone through these moments at some point in life—situations that made us feel separated or far away from the love of God. But the apostle Paul’s goal is to help us develop and grow in our security, conviction, and deep confidence that we as God’s children are more than secure and protected by his love—the unconditional and eternal love that our Father has toward us, the reason he gave his only Son for our sake. Paul’s testimony invites us to lean into this love:

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39 NIV)


“Death is not the greatest loss in life.

The greatest loss is what dies

inside us while we live.”[1]


Tough times come; they always do. And when they come, let us not forget to rely on the Lord and be comforted by Jesus’ unconditional love.



Andrew Bodden



Resources for leading this session

URL for “Nothing Ever (Could Separate Us)”


Salt & Light Videos

These teaching videos are great for leader preparation or introducing each weekly session. Jose Luis Moraga of Springfield Heights Mennonite Church in Winnipeg, Manitoba, is the presenter for unit 2, Hope. The videos are free and available on MennoMedia’s YouTube channel.

Looking for participant guide page numbers in the leader guide? The page numbers in the leader guide work for both guides.


[1]. Norman Cousins Quotes., BrainyMedia Inc, 2021. Norman Cousins (June 24, 1915–November 30, 1990) was an American political journalist, author, professor, and world peace advocate.


January 17, 2021
Salt & Light Online

A current connection to each week’s session

  1. Hope Because of Christ
    1 Peter 1:1-12

One definition of an expatriate is someone who has been uprooted from their nation, suffering persecution, and seeking signs of hope. These human beings have been rejected, abused, and marginalized—often victims of racism, injustice, and violence. Like the exiles addressed in Peter’s letter (v. 1), they have no other hope but to trust God that one day their situation will change for the better. For many, hope helps them hold on, to keep knocking on different doors expecting that someday one will open and let them in. Hope also helps them not to deny their reality, but to look deep within to find strength and a reason to work hard to change their reality.

Imagine all the difficulties, struggles, and pain that people go through if suddenly they must leave behind their home, land, friends, family members, and country because of fear of violence and persecution. Imagine having to leave your home and not having time to collect any of your belongings! This is the reality of those who have been uprooted from their homelands. A friend of mine went through this horrible experience, as have many other people around the world.

My friend, a Bhutanese of Nepali origin, become a refugee for almost 18 years. The Bhutan government expelled the Nepali ethnic group. Nepal took them in as refugees, allowing them to stay along its eastern border, but in refugee camps under the conditions of controlled movement, restricted ability to work, and limited access to the local justice system. The Nepali government refused to settle the Bhutanese permanently. Returning home was very difficult for refugees due to war and ethnic, tribal, and religious violence.

My friend told me, “I grew up learning that I am a refugee boy, expelled from my homeland, abandoned and rejected by the country of my ancestors. I was weak and puny because I was stateless: a refugee. I belong to nowhere. I did not have even a small piece of land to claim as mine. I had once nearly lost my identity and had no hope for the future.”

One of the things that kept him going was his faith in God, faith that gave him hope. Because of that, he stayed connected to the church, developed a strong faith that somehow gave him a different view of life and new birth in Christ, believing that God had something better for him in life.

After many years in a refugee camp, he arrived in the United States, looking forward with confidence and expectation. He worked hard, got an education, and become a pastor, helping his people and the community where he is located. Life has changed for him.

For my friend, hope was not an illusion but a firm conviction. Hope is faith projected into the future. Faith allows us to believe in the resurrection of Christ and gives us certainty of the new birth—not only of hope for the future, but of an inheritance that is the substance of that hope and is everlasting (vv. 4-5). The inheritance that God gives us cannot be polluted or corrupted. This inheritance is reserved for each one who believes in Jesus’ name.

Today, the world is troubled. We have lost our way. People are confused and looking for alternatives, a model to follow that gives them hope, but they do not find it. If they do, it’s temporary. We have forgotten our Creator and everything God has done and continues to do for us. Jesus is our only hope, our strength. We must turn to him. He is the only one who can fuel our hope, faith, and the love we need to change our situation on earth and access that incorruptible inheritance that God has promised us.

My friend’s journey taught me how to live with that hope and keep it alive. Jesus Christ is our hope; therefore, we should seek him and be his witness in the community that we are part of and pass it along to others who are desperately looking for it.

  • Where do you find deep, abiding hope?


—Andrew Bodden


Resources for leading this session

URL for “Holy, Holy Is What the Angels Sing”


Salt & Light Videos

These teaching videos are great for leader preparation or introducing each weekly session. Jose Luis Moraga of Springfield Heights Mennonite Church in Winnipeg, Manitoba, is the presenter for unit 2, Hope. The videos are free and available on MennoMedia’s YouTube channel.

Looking for participant guide page numbers in the leader guide? The page numbers in the leader guide work for both guides.


January 10, 2021

Jesus Announces Good News
Luke 7:18-28

The year 2020 has been very difficult for many who are dealing with:

  • The COVID-19 pandemic
  • Events of police brutality
  • Racial disparities and injustices against African Americans, Asians, Hispanics, and other ethnicities
  • A stressful US election
  • Closed borders and expansion of the US-Mexico wall

Despite these challenges, many people from Central and South America and from other parts of the world continue massive immigration to the United States and Canada in pursuit of a new life—fleeing violence and organized crime, the closing of churches, job loss, etc.

With this heartbreaking and gloomy outlook, it is difficult to see good news happening around us. Jesus’ response to John’s question, “Are You the Coming One or do we look for another?” was “Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them” (Luke 7:20, 22 NKJV).

This response pushes us to look around and explore events that are displaying life and hope in our congregations, families, communities, and countries. There is no doubt that God has brought, brings, and will continue to bring good news into our lives, which we must learn to share and shout out loudly to the world. In the midst of a heartbreaking panorama, God brings good news to us.

So, this week, I want to announce more good news. A pastor from one of our Mennonite Central Committee constituent churches came to our office disconsolately asking for help for four church members. Over the weekend, he had hosted these Christian brothers for a day of fishing. It was an opportunity to talk with them about various issues and have some fun together. At the end of the day, they were intercepted by a police patrol. The pastor presented his identification and the corresponding permits for his boat, but the four men were undocumented. They were reported to immigration and escorted to an immigration patrol.

The tearful pastor begged the officers to release them, but the four men were taken to a detention center. The pastor returned home heartbroken and informed the young men’s relatives. One brother was immediately deported to his country of origin; the other three remained at a detention center.

After a week or so, our immigration office managed to get them out of the detention center by paying their bonds. They received orders to appear before a judge. The whole church got involved, raising money to pay bail and help their families—walking with the brothers during the whole process.

Then the good news really began. The brother who had been deported was allowed to return because he was the victim of an assault and the case had been reported to the authorities prior to this arrest. He applied for a U-Visa (temporary immigration benefits for victims of qualifying criminal activity). The other three were granted relief by the immigration court and were able to get annual, renewable work permits. Eventually, two of them became permanent residents; the other two continue to renew their work permits every year and were granted Social Security numbers.

So, God’s good news came to us even during a heartbreaking panorama. Sometimes things are different from what we expected. In this case, the unconditional love of a congregation, pastor, and God guided their immigration processes. In the end, the arrest of these four men was good news, creating a way for them to work on their immigration status and extend their time in the United States.

  • What have you seen in your community, church, family, and friends that brought hope to your life and to those less fortunate?

We must share the good news of these life experiences and testify that Jesus Christ is our Savior and Redeemer. May we Christians in 2021 be a symbol of hope and tell the good news of Jesus to all who suffer and are submerged in despair in our community of faith, neighborhoods, cities, workplaces, and nations.

—Andrew Bodden,



January 3, 2021

Salt & Light Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. John Calls for Repentance
    Luke 3:1-18; Isaiah 40:1-11

This story in Luke 3 can also be found in John 1:19-28. It draws my attention because the gospel of John begins by recognizing the sovereignty of God from the beginning of creation. In that context of recognizing the superiority of God over humankind, John the Baptist appears as one chosen to give testimonies about God. John went through different situations in his life and ministry, but he was always a living testimony and remained faithful to the word of God. He was a man of principle with a clear vision, especially regarding the purpose to which he was called.

As we start a new year, these words of John are very appropriate. We are literally living in a global desert where the vegetation of love cannot be seen, especially in the United States, where in recent months many events promoted hatred, lack of love, rejection, discrimination, the superiority of one race over another, disunity, corruption, and so forth.

John encourages us to turn from the wrong direction that the world has taken, repent, and “prepare the way of the Lord and make his paths straight” (v. 4). If we do this, we will provide hope that encourages the hearts of humanity and transforms this desert into a beautiful forest where the life of every human being is valued.

Recently, a woman came to our office with her eight-year-old son Carlos, who had crossed the border a few weeks earlier with his aunt Maritza.[1] During the interview, Carlos never made eye contact with us while his mother told us the story. It was obvious that he still had in mind the traumas of such a trip, especially for a child of Carlos’s age.

Carlos and Maritza left Honduras and passed through Guatemala and Mexico. In Mexico, they hired a coyote (smuggler) to help them pass into the United States. As they crossed the desert, they encountered difficult situations that they had never experienced. The lack of water and food made the journey more and more difficult. Carlos and Maritza slowed down and delayed the group. After walking under the sun without water and food for several days, Maritza fainted near the border. Because Carlos was not able to carry her, he and Maritza were left on their own in the desert.

When Carlos’s mother got to this part of the story, Carlos suddenly looked at us, interrupting her and the interview. With a strong voice and much enthusiasm, he said: “Then I saw an angel who came to rescue us.” “An angel!” we replied in surprise. “Yes, an angel,” Carlos answered. “The angel brought us water and took care of me and my aunt and flew us to the hospital.”

That angel was an immigration officer who found them lying in the desert, treated them, and had them airlifted by helicopter to a hospital where they were further treated before being taken to a detention center. They were released into the custody of relatives with an order to appear in court a few months later.

God is on the move, indeed!

What is important is not

that we say we are following Jesus

but how we live out our Christian lives

in all aspects of our lives.

This is what gives us hope,

and we can offer this hope to others.[2]


John the Baptist’s task required being courageous but at the same time being humble and recognizing that Christ was much greater than he. Our task as Christians is to announce his Word and let Christ reign in us. We can be a living testimony of his Word and bring hope to those in need and those who are hopeless.  In this new year, in this world convulsed with injustice, evil, and selfishness everywhere, we can, just like the immigration officer, and bring hope into the lives of children (like Carlos), aunts (like Maritza), their mothers and relatives.

Happy New Year to you! May God bless all of you.

Andrew Bodden


 Resources for leading this session

A dramatic reading of Luke 3:1-18 is available as a Salt & Light Reproducible at


Salt & Light Videos

These teaching videos are great for leader preparation or introducing each weekly session. Jose Luis Moraga of Springfield Heights Mennonite Church in Winnipeg, Manitoba, is the presenter for unit 2, Hope. The videos are free and available on MennoMedia’s YouTube channel.

Looking for participant guide page numbers in the leader guide? The page numbers in the leader guide work for both guides.


[1]. Names have been changed to protect their identities.

[2]. Susan Allison-Jones, In God’s Image, Salt & Light Leader: Bible Study for Anabaptist Christians (Winter 2020–21), 26.


December 27, 2020

Salt & Light Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. The Father Dwells in Jesus
    John 14:1-14

Jesus replied, “Have I been with you for so long, and you have not known me, Philip? The person who has seen me has seen the Father! How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” John 14:9 NET

Jesus’ conversation with Philip somehow reveals our skepticism as human beings when we daily experience the power of God in our lives; but even seeing it, our hearts remain doubtful at the various manifestations of God in humankind.

God, just as he lives in Jesus Christ, also lives in us. God’s presence prompts us to do good works for the benefit of others, especially those most in need. Sometimes we get distracted and disconnect from Jesus, losing the direction of where we are going. We leave Jesus aside, and we become the center of attraction, distorting the presence of Christ in our life and taking the lead away from God.

I travel a lot for my ministry with Mennonite Central Committee East Coast (although currently, travel has been canceled due to the pandemic). Those trips can be exhausting after a while, even though flying is relaxing for me. Five to ten minutes after fastening my seatbelt, I find it difficult to keep my eyes open, so it becomes a “me moment.”

One time, I met a woman on a delayed flight from Florida to Pennsylvania. She was eager to talk and did not let me sleep. I was furious, but God had other plans that I did not know. For over an hour, she took advantage of the opportunity to talk and release some frustrations. She told me many things, but the one that caught my attention was that she was sponsoring a girl in Guatemala. She had even traveled to meet the girl, but she remained skeptical (she thought it was a setup) and didn’t know if what she was doing really made sense or was worth it. She was thinking about discontinuing the sponsorship.

I looked at her and smiled. I finally understood God’s purpose for the flight delay and not letting me sleep. In one of the few moments that I actually spoke, I said: “You know, I believe that God has a purpose for our lives, and I think it was no accident that you and I are sitting next to each other. God has put us here today to confirm to you that what you are doing for the girl in Guatemala makes sense and is worthwhile. I was a sponsored child by the Vision program in Honduras, which allowed my siblings and me to get a good education in a private school in my hometown. Someone whom I never knew sponsored my education, which enabled me to have better opportunities in life. Now I can make a difference in the lives of others today.”

She looked at me. astonished, and tears came to her eyes! She said, “Thanks! Thank you very much! This is exactly what I was looking for and what I needed to hear—a real testimony of someone who had this experience, and God put you in my path. I got goosebumps. . . .”

God dwells in Christ, and Christ in us. We just need to believe so the eyes of our understanding can be opened and the cloudiness of doubt is removed from our darkened hearts. Isn’t it interesting how someone who has been touched by Christ, who has invited God to dwell in him/her could touch and transform my life, thousands of miles away, without our knowing each other? This only happens when we open the doors of our hearts for God to dwell in us, allowing us to be agents of change—as Christ did and continues to do in the world.

I hope that during this Christmas season, in which an atmosphere of love and joy is breathed, people are more sensitive to the needs of others, smile more, and are willing to talk to their neighbor even during the pandemic. I pray that the Christmas spirit, the incarnate God will touch our hearts and transform the lives of many to build a more just society for all.

Jesus replied, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6 NET

Merry Christmas! Blessings!

Andrew Bodden



Resources for leading this session


Salt & Light Videos

These teaching videos are great for leader preparation or introducing each weekly session. Moses Falco is the presenter for unit 1, In God’s Image. The videos are free and available on MennoMedia’s YouTube channel.


Internet links for this session:


Looking for participant guide page numbers in the leader guide? The page numbers in the leader guide work for both guides.



December 20, 2020

Salt & Light Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. Becoming God’s Children
    John 1:10-18

Yet to all who did receive him,
to those who believed in his name,
he gave the right to become children of God.
John 1:12 NIV

In this Advent season when the whole world commemorates the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and Savior, what a propitious occasion to remember how privileged we are to be adopted by God, who gave us the right and privilege to be called God’s children.

To consider what it means to be children of God, it is not relevant to talk about skin color, origin, blood, race, or nationality. It is only necessary to believe, which leads to acceptance that generates a change of mentality that is reflected in our external behaviors and actions.

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son,
so that everyone who believes in Him
will not perish, but have eternal life.
John 3:16 NASB

I recently saw a video that caught my attention as a good story to share with you. It was about a young couple who dreamed of becoming foster parents when they got married and finally adopted when the time was right. Due to their young age, they were recommended to be surrogate parents of newborns or toddlers.

They became surrogate parents of a little boy for several months and fell in love with him. Then they realized that the little one had an older brother who was 10 years old. The couple immediately realized that they did not want to separate these two brothers and began the process of adopting them. The process would take some time, but they were determined to take the plunge. The day came when they had to appear in court for the adoption hearing. During the proceedings, the older boy spoke to the judge:

This couple really love us, and we love them. Our whole family is the best thing we ever had. I am glad to have these people in my life. I am glad to be their son. They are the best thing I ever had. If I could wish for anything in the world, I would wish I could just love these people for the rest of my life.[1]

Everyone in the courtroom was in tears at this moment.

The judge, after reviewing the documentation of the social workers and hearing the testimony of the older boy, approved the adoption and made the couple and the two children a legal family.

What powerful words from this child—practically a confession of faith that recognized and accepted this couple as his parents.

Confessing our love for Christ and receiving him as our Lord and Savior grants us the wonderful privilege of becoming children of God, as this boy did with his adoptive parents. The gratifications of being a child of God are endless. As God’s children, we become part of God’s family, assured a home in heaven and given the right to be called children of God.


For you have not received a spirit of slavery
leading to fear again, but you have received
a spirit of adoption as sons and daughters
by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!”

Romans 8:15 NASB


—Andrew Bodden



Resources for leading this session

Salt & Light Videos
These teaching videos are great for leader preparation or introducing each weekly session. Moses Falco is the presenter for unit 1, In God’s Image. The videos are free and available on MennoMedia’s YouTube channel

Kenneth Bailey, “A Clear View of the Birth of Jesus.

Ken E. Bailey, “The Manger and the Inn: A Middle Eastern View of the

Birth Story of Jesus,” December 21, 2006. For permission to reprint this article, email

Looking for participant guide page numbers in the leader guide? The page numbers in the leader guide work for both guides.

[1]. “She Was His Foster Mom for Years, Then He Told This to the Judge During the Adoption Hearing,” Facts Verse, August 11, 2019.



December 13, 2020

Salt & Light Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. Imitate Christ
    Philippians 2:1-11

In my adolescence, I had mentors who gave me a good foundation in the gospel. As a result of that training and mentorship in my teens, I assumed leadership responsibilities for working with other young people early in my life.

An experience I keep close to my heart happened when I was 18. I led a youth camp for five days. A group of about 50 young adults camped in the mountains in tents. The leadership team was about 10–12 young people, most in their senior year of high school and some in the first year of college.

At the end of each day, we evaluated what went well and what did not go so well. We prayed together. On the first night, a member of the leadership team came to us crying. She told us that the woman we hired to help us in the kitchen lived by the river. When it rained, her house, made of old zinc sheets and cardboard, got completely wet. Our colleague then said: “We must build a house for her.” “A house?” we all said. “You’re crazy! We’re young students, we do not have jobs, and we depend on our parents. That is not possible.”

Every night, this young woman came to the meeting saying we needed to build a house for our cook. And every day the answer was no, we can’t, and we won’t.

On the last night, she came back with the same idea, but something different happened. We said, “OK, we will build a home for this woman.” But we complicated the situation a little bit by saying, “If she can get a piece of land and shows us the deed in her name, we will build her a house.” The idea behind this qualification was really to get rid of her. We said among ourselves, “There is no way this woman will buy a piece of land.”

Six months later and to our great surprise, the woman appeared at one of our meetings with a piece of paper in her hand. She said to us, “You told me that if I could get the land deed, you would build me a house.” Boom. We felt like we just got a bucket of cold water poured on us.

And being found in appearance as a man,

he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—

even death on a cross! Philippians 2:8 NIV


That afternoon we had to humble ourselves before the Lord as Christ did for us. After a deathly silence, we honored our word and assumed our responsibility. We said to her, “We don’t know how or with what, but we promised you a house, and we will build you a house.” To make a long story short, it took us a year of fundraising, and our weekends were filled with related activities. That group of young people determined to accept the challenge of imitating Christ. We built the house. We all cried and praised God when we asked God to bless this woman’s new home and gave her the keys.

I must confess, this action took us out of our comfort zone, and that is exactly what was and is needed to imitate Christ. We must leave our comfort zones; humble ourselves; show love and commitment for those in need; ask forgiveness for our actions of avoiding responsibility, humility, and sacrifice; preach the kingdom values; ​​and show Christ’s love through our actions.

A dictionary definition of imitate is “to behave in a similar way to someone or something else.”[1] The apostle Paul tells us, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ”     (1 Corinthians 11:1 NRSV). Perhaps Paul expressed himself that way because the early Christians in Corinth did not know much about the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, and the Gospels may not have been written. In our case, we know the gospel of Christ and are instructed in the life and ministry of Jesus. We must still decide to follow Jesus’ way or ignore it for our comfort and convenience.

Thank God that in the end those young adults made the decision to imitate Christ. In so doing, we changed the life of a woman as Jesus would have us do. By becoming like Christ, we were able to do incredible and unthinkable things.

—Andrew Bodden


Resources for leading this session

Salt & Light Videos

These teaching videos are great for leader preparation or introducing each weekly session. Moses Falco is the presenter for unit 1, In God’s Image. The videos are free and available on MennoMedia’s YouTube channel.


Salt & Light Reproducibles

Two reproducible pages for this session are available here and here.


Looking for participant guide page numbers in the leader guide? The page numbers in the leader guide work for both guides.

[1]. Cambridge Free English Dictionary, s.v. “imitate,”



December 6, 2020

Salt & Light Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. God and Us
    Psalm 8:1-9

It is often difficult to find a representation that helps us understand in a clear and forceful way what the Bible refers to when it says that we were created in the image and likeness of God. People have the privilege of resembling God, carrying God’s genes, and doing glorious things in our homes, communities, schools, states, countries.

When do we resemble God?

Some images immediately come to mind. In my native country, Honduras, we learned a hymn at school that we sang full steam in May to celebrate Mother’s Day. The refrain says: “The highest expression of love is contained in the name of Mother because there cannot be a clearer image of God on earth” (En el nombre de Madre se encierra la más alta expresión del amor porque no puede haber en la tierra una imagen más clara de Dios”).[1]

This idea cannot be described in a better way; the image of a mother is the closest thing to the image of God that we know and the best example of a human being made in God’s image. We can recognize the unique and special characteristics of human nature that make God manifest through us, characteristics that are visible in the expressions of a mother toward her children. As children, we can be the kindest creatures on the planet or the most horrible beings, but neither one will change the essence of a mother’s love toward her children. She can give love without expecting anything in return and forgive the most serious fault without holding resentment toward her children. She is merciful, compassionate, and does not lose faith in them even if they fail over and over. She is capable of giving her life for her children.

I recently watched a coworker desperately waiting for a payday to help another coworker who was going through a difficult situation. Wow, what a wonderful gesture, what a heart. God was incarnated in this wonderful human being, allowing me to witness this precious moment of God’s glory: to see clearly the compassionate, merciful, and loving face of God.

Not long ago, I watched in amazement when a man experiencing homelessness received a piece of pizza and rushed to share it with another person in a similar homeless situation. This impressive scene brought tears to my eyes because his action was unexpected. I saw God in this man and was touched and blessed to witness this action.

With these three examples, we see the “imago Dei” (image of God) expressed in human beings. We resemble God when we tolerate, love, respect, defend life, give ourselves and are fair, conciliatory, kind, respectful, and so forth. We resemble God when we value each one for who they are. So, being the image of God means, in simple terms, that we were made to resemble God—mentally, because we were created with free will as rational beings, which is a reflection of the intelligence and freedom of God; socially, because every time we approach, respect, honor, love, and value our neighbor, we resemble God; and morally, because when we choose to do good above all else and practice mercy and justice, we reflect the holiness of God.

  • Where do you see expressions of God’s image in other people?
  • How might other people see God’s image in you?


—Andrew Bodden


Andrew Bodden, a Honduran native, serves as a program director for Mennonite Central Committee East Coast, providing leadership to the programs in New York, Philadelphia, Florida, Puerto Rico, and to the Young Adult, and Peace and Justice programs. He also connects with Anabaptist pastors and churches on the East Coast and in Puerto Rico. Andrew has worked in multicultural settings in Central and South America, Mexico, Dominican Republic, and the United States. He is an ordained minister in the Atlantic Coast Conference and serves as vice-chair of the Mennonite Mission Network board.


Salt & Light Videos

These teaching videos are great for leader preparation or introducing each weekly session. Moses Falco is the presenter for unit 1, In God’s Image. The videos are free and available on MennoMedia’s YouTube channel.


[1]. “Himno a la Madre Honduras”; letra: Augusto C. Coello; música: Rafael Coello Ramos (“Honduras Hymn to Mothers”; lyrics: Augusto C. Coello; music: Rafael Coello Ramos).



November 29, 2020

Salt & Light Online
A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. When Your Lip Starts to Quiver
    Revelation 4:1-11

This week’s study offers us a vision of ecstatic worship as the 24 elders cast down their crowns before the throne. singing “You are worthy . . .” (Revelation 4:10-11). Singing together. It is what I miss most these days now that our worship services are held online rather than in person. Often the part of a worship service that feels like worship is the singing.

It is likely to be quite some time before we go back to singing together. Many congregations that had hoped to safely resume in-person, indoor worship as the temperatures drop have found that gathering in large groups for worship now seems unwise. Those who do meet in person are encouraged not to sing together since singing has been identified as a huge driver of virus transmission.

According to The New York Times “Coronavirus Briefing,” case numbers are spiking, leading to predictions of full hospitals, exhausted health workers, and expanding lockdowns. As of November 20, more than 11,990,800 people in the United States have been infected and at least 254,200 have died. Dr. Anthony Fauci says that this current surge in cases is different from past waves because of the steepness of the curve. “It’s almost an exponential curve,” says Fauci. “I think that December, January, and early February are going to be terribly painful months.”[1]

On this first Sunday of Advent, when we anticipate worship services to celebrate the birth of Jesus, we understand that we cannot resume our traditional Christmas pageants, our Christmas caroling, our Longest Night and Christmas Eve services. But we can worship.

In the MennoMedia video for last week’s Salt and Light study, Jake Lee offered a beautiful, concise description of worship, “Worship is our opportunity to refocus our lives on the God who raised Jesus from the dead. . . . Worship is reorientation.”

We can take this opportunity to explore more contemplative styles of worship. The boisterous scene that John describes in Revelation 4 would not be safe in a pandemic. No social distancing is possible while gathering around God’s throne! And too many aerosols are released while singing. Wait—those problems do not exist in heaven. But notice that John is imagining this worship during his solitary silence. John is in exile on the island of Patmos. He is presumably alone in a trance or dream state as he experiences this vision. This too is worship.

  • Do you think this state of deep contemplation in God’s presence from which John experiences his prophetic vision is a style of worship that is appropriate for this Advent season? Is it possible?


—Gwen Groff


Many thanks to Gwen Groff for pointing us to real-time applications of this quarter’s Bible study!


Salt & Light Videos

These teaching videos are great for leader preparation or introducing each weekly session. Jake Lee is the presenter for unit 3, Focus of Our Worship. The videos are free and available on MennoMedia’s YouTube channel.


Resources for this session, mentioned in the leader guide:


Join us for the S&L Winter study, In God’s Image

Andrew Bodden is our Salt & Light Online writer. He is a program director with Mennonite Central Committee East Coast.


Moses Falco, José Luis Moraga, and Marnie Klassen are the presenters for Salt & Light Videos.


[1]. Jonathan Wolfe and Adam Pasick, “Coronavirus Briefing,” The New York Times, November 20, 2020.



November 22, 2020

Salt & Light Online
A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. How Can We Keep from Singing?
    Acts 17:16, 22-34

Late this summer, I helped someone move to Asheville, North Carolina, a city I had never before visited. The ideal time to explore a city is not during a pandemic, so I was happy to be an outdoor tourist and walk its streets and admire its landscape, buildings, and public art.

One of Asheville’s most prominent landmarks is the 75-foot-tall Vance Monument, which in July was wrapped in black material draped over scaffolding. Its base was covered in spray-painted plywood and hand-lettered signs.

The monument honors Zebulon Vance, a Civil War military officer, governor, senator, and enslaver. Written evidence reveals that Vance was also a grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan. A smaller Robert E. Lee marker was removed earlier in the summer after George Floyd’s murder reignited protests, but this huge obelisk remained, albeit shrouded.[1]

As an oblivious tourist I came upon this monument in the town square. I first noticed that I was standing on a huge, painted, red-letter V filled with black wings and a man holding scales. The V soon revealed itself to be part of a “Black Lives Matter” mural painted on the street encircling the green. Then I saw the black-draped obelisk.

Asheville, like many other cities, continues to struggle with whether to remove or repurpose its Confederate memorials. Removal of the monument would be expensive. Monthly scaffolding rental is costly. Removing Vance’s name would be cheaper but possibly illegal. Adding an additional marker to offset and interpret the existing monument might satisfy no one. Recently, the dark shroud material blew off the scaffolding in a windstorm. The scaffolding and plywood remain as a statement that the issue is not resolved.[2]

I wonder if the apostle Paul would have used his “Athenian approach” to comment on the “shrines made by human hands” (v. 24) in downtown Asheville. I can imagine Paul being “deeply distressed” (v. 16) as he sees a monument that he recognizes as an altar to the idol of white supremacy. But then, he might also find an inscription proclaiming something akin to “For we too are his offspring” (v. 28). Maybe he would connect with the Black Lives Matter mural. Or the “Racism: America’s Original Pandemic” sign or the “White Silence = Violence” banner. Would Paul find some inscription with which he could agree and on which to build a sermon?

This passage in Acts 17 shows Paul in one of his most inclusive and expansive moments. Paul proclaims that God made the world and everything in it (v. 24) and that all nations are made from one ancestor (v. 26). Paul’s most universal statement is a quote of one of Athens’s poets, “In him we live and move and have our being” (v. 28).

  • What does it mean that we all exist within the cosmos of God?


—Gwen Groff


Resources for this session:

Pew Research Center, “Canada’s Changing Religious Landscape,” June 27, 2013,

Salt & Light Videos

These teaching videos are great for leader preparation or introducing each weekly session. Jake Lee is the presenter for unit 3, Focus of Our Worship. The videos are free and available on MennoMedia’s YouTube channel.


[1]. Mackenzie Walker, “Vance Monument Group’s Mission Failed in 2017. Why Will This Time Be Different?” Ashville Citizen Times, July 14, 2020,

[2]. Joel Burgess, “Asheville’s Shrouded Confederate Monument, Unveiled by Wind, Won’t Be Recovered Because of Cost: City,” Asheville Citizen Times, September 9, 2020,




November 15, 2020

Salt & Light Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. No! To Get to Yes!
    Habakkuk 2:18-20

As I write this in early November in the United States, it is apparent that we have some uncertain days ahead. A winner in our presidential election has been declared, but in the coming weeks there may be recounts, protests, lawsuits. Anxiety may continue and even increase long after the election season is over.

Kate Bowler, a Canadian from Winnipeg who teaches the history of Christianity at Duke Divinity School, observed that we are living in “apocalyptic time.” Ordinary time is circular. Seasons come and go, rituals are performed and repeated in predictable cycles. But apocalyptic time has a broken horizon. We feel like we are approaching the edge of a cliff. Our structures are shattered.

Bowler knows about living in apocalyptic time. As someone who is experiencing this pandemic with a compromised immune system and stage four cancer, Bowler is grateful for the church’s language of apocalypse.  She uses the word apocalyptic in the literal sense of truth being revealed and reality being uncovered. This is a time of reckoning with what had been denied.

The prophet Habakkuk pronounces woes against the nation of Judah. He reveals injustices that sound very much like our national evils: greedy creditors and those who barricade themselves behind walls, profit from violence, exploit people sexually, destroy the environment, and promote idolatry. Habakkuk invites us to look outward at our nation’s failings. But that also leads to looking inward to ask what we can do in response.

Bowler offers a similar invitation. She says, stand still in this apocalyptic time and ask yourself whether, given your current resources, anything is calling you to action. If you can do that thing, commit yourself to doing it. If the answer is no, allow yourself to take a deep rest and tell your whole body to move back from its clenched fist feeling. Know that God is present whether you act or rest.

Bowler’s movement from national to personal, from anxiety to stillness, has a similar shape to Habakkuk’s movement in this week’s study. After his pronouncement of woes, he moves to the quiet reassurance: “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him!” (v. 20).

  • How does our awareness of God’s presence silence us? How does that awareness invite us to speak and act?
  • How is an individual responsible for the systemic injustices of one’s nation?


—Gwen Groff,


NEW! Salt & Light Videos

These teaching videos are great for leader preparation or introducing each weekly session. Jake Lee is the presenter for unit 3, Focus of Our Worship. The videos are free and available on MennoMedia’s YouTube channel.



November 8, 2020

Salt & Light Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. Not Such Happy Campers
    Exodus 32:1-8

This study of Exodus 32 shows God’s people growing impatient and confused. Moses goes up the mountain to meet God, and his return is “delayed.” The Israelites do not trust that Moses will ever return, so they ask Aaron to make some other gods to lead them. Aaron collects everyone’s earrings, melts the gold, and molds them into a calf. The people worship and sacrifice on the altar before the golden calf, saying these gods brought them out of Egypt.

We too are living through a time of impatience and confusion. We want this pandemic to be over and the way forward to be clear. On top of that anxiety, we in the United States have just experienced a polarizing election season. We are impatient for these tensions to end. We are eager for clarity about our leadership.

An election in a pandemic multiplies layers of uncertainty. I am writing this just days before the US elections, so I do not yet know the winner or even whether the winner will be known. But one thing we do know. This election season was not only emotionally and spiritually costly—it was financially costly. Nearly $14 billion was spent on influencing our presidential and congressional choices. No election in US history has come close to the cost of this one. It is nearly double the cost of the election four years ago.[1] Was it worth it? Can you imagine how else that money could have been spent?

No other country comes close to spending this amount on elections. In Canada, the parties have a spending limit on campaign costs. The cost of Canada’s general election in 2019 was under $509 million.[2]

Americans spend money on elections, hoping to influence the outcome for the good. But it could be argued that as a nation our relationship with money is idolatrous. What we spend money on reveals what we worship. We’ve spent a record-shattering amount of money to influence who will lead us.

The Exodus 32 account of who was the leader in Israel’s time of impatience and confusion seems deliberately ambiguous. I love the ambiguity about who led the Israelites out of Egypt. Moses says to the Lord, “You brought [them] out” (v. 11); the Lord says to Moses, “You brought [them] out” (v. 7); and the Israelites say at first, “Moses brought [us] out” (v. 1); but in front of their golden calf they say, “These gods brought [us] out” (v. 4).

  • What do our choices of how we spend money, time, and attention reveal about our gods?
  • How does our spending affect our impatience and confusion?


—Gwen Groff


NEW! Salt & Light Videos

These teaching videos are great for leader preparation or introducing each weekly session. Jake Lee is the presenter for unit 3, Focus of Our Worship. The videos are free and available on MennoMedia’s YouTube channel.

[1]. Fredreka Schouten, “The 2020 Election Battle for the White House and Congress Poised to Hit Record-Shattering $14 Billion, CNN, October 28, 2020,

[2]. “Estimated Cost of the 43rd General Election,” Elections Canada,




November 1, 2020

Salt & Light Online
A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. The Love of Your Life
    Deuteronomy 5:6-10; 6:4-9

“Recite Them to Your Children” 

In this study we see Moses concerned with remembering, creating mnemonics, so that future generations would be taught to love God and know God’s word.

In a search for metaphorical mezuzahs, I found a recent Zoom webinar, “Girls and Women Planting Peace Churches in Brooklyn.”[1] The title reveals the inclusion of young people, and the webinar format was even more boldly inclusive of young leaders. Sylvia Shirk moderated the webinar, but for the opening words, closing benediction, and several stories in between, she passed the mic to 12-year-old Brooklyn church leader, Chloe Storbakken. The webinar offers stories of women planting churches in New York City, starting in the 17th century. One of the Mennonite church buildings previously served as a synagogue, so perhaps a real mezuzah is still on the doorposts of the entrance. I was struck by the formative memory shared by Ruth Wenger, who has pastored North Bronx Mennonite Church for 20 years. Wenger recalled:

I grew up on a farm in rural southwestern Pennsylvania, in a conservative Mennonite church, a large church, with lots of family around. I have lived in New York City for almost (a few months short of) 50 years. So this is my home, this is my identity, but I carry my roots with me. My leadership roots actually began in church. I loved singing, and I loved reciting poems. Every Christmas and Easter, all the children would go to the front and recite a poem, starting at about age 4, and I loved that. I thought it was so cool. I started teaching Sunday school to my peers when I was about 15, so that was my first venture into that kind of leadership. I grew up with no role models among women for doing pastoral leadership, but they did a lot of pastoral ministry as women, and many of them were strong, articulate people. Many of them were my relatives whom I really admired. I never had an inkling that I would be a pastor, because women weren’t allowed to be pastors in my congregation, in my conference. That was the very beginning of where I am now, and I’m grateful for that.

  • How did the faith ancestors in your current geographical location write the words on the doorposts?
  • How did faith ancestors in your family of origin recite the words to you or encourage you to recite them as a child?


—Gwen Groff



NEW! Salt & Light Videos

These teaching videos are great for leader preparation or introducing each weekly session. Jake Lee is the presenter for unit 3, Focus of Our Worship. The videos are free and available on MennoMedia’s YouTube channel.


[1]. “Girls and Women Planting Peace Churches in Brooklyn,” Mennonite Mission Network, September 30, 2020.




October 25, 2020

Salt & Light Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. “I Have Yearningly Yearned”
    Luke 22:14-20

In our worship services, we tend to be more familiar with the “remembrance” aspect than the “covenant” aspect of communion. “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” is harder to grasp than “Do this in remembrance of me.” In these sessions, we have compared covenants with contracts, but another worthy comparison might be between covenants and treaties, especially Indigenous people’s understanding of treaty. Mennonite Central Committee Canada’s website describes this year’s virtual “We are All Treaty People Celebration,” sponsored in part by MCC Manitoba in late September.

Treaty Commissioner Loretta Ross gave a fascinating interview about what it means to be “treaty people.” Ross describes ways in which the understanding of what a treaty is differs for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. According to Ross,

[The word treaty], here in Manitoba, refers to that relationship that was brought together through treaties between First Nations people and non-First Nations people in a number of treaties from 1871. It was really an agreement of how we were going to share these lands. The First Nations perspective about those treaties is an oral history passed down through their songs, through their dances and through their languages, that embeds what actually happened at that time period. The Crown’s understanding of treaty was reduced to a piece of paper that was to record some of the understandings and agreements. Not everything made it into the written part of the treaty.

The First Nation perspective was how do we coexist? We hear our elders talk about it. There was no ‘surrender,’ there was no ‘conquering.’ There was none of that. It was an agreement to share the land so that people could coexist and continue to be who they were. Both sides.[1]

The term length of the treaty is “as long as the sun shines, grass grows, and the water flows.” According to Ross, “The challenge is for the parties to get back to that original understanding, what as agreed to beyond those written pieces of paper.”[2]

The website offers videos that demonstrate how treaty is best conveyed in song, dance, and ritual. The Walking Wolf Singers and Dancers perform traditional dances and Henry Neufeld sings “Ehane he’ama (Father God, You Are Holy).”

  • How is the new covenant that Jesus made with his people, as celebrated in communion, similar to the First Nation understanding of treaty? How is it different?

—Gwen Groff


NEW! Salt & Light Videos

These teaching videos are great for leader preparation or introducing each weekly session. Sarah Bixler is the presenter for unit 2, Defined by Covenant. The videos are free and available on MennoMedia’s YouTube channel.


[1]. Rebecca Janzen, “Being Treaty: Recording and Videos from This Year’s We Are All Treaty People Celebration,” October 2, 2020.

[2]. Janzen, “Being Treaty.”


October 18, 2020

Salt & Light Online
A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. Alive and Well
    Nehemiah 8:1-12

To understand the tears as well as the rejoicing in this study, it may be useful to pull back to see a larger context for Ezra’s reading of the Law. Ezra reads the Law, and the Levites interpret the Law for people who have been in exile in Babylon and are returning to live in Jerusalem. The returning exiles have rebuilt a diminished version of the temple. They have rebuilt the walls of the city, albeit while refusing the help offered by those who had not experienced exile. The wall-building has proceeded under heavily armed guards, with the builders themselves wearing weapons to defend themselves against those who did not want the walls to be built. Ezra’s insistence on a pure and undefiled people has prompted him to proclaim a divorce decree, dissolving the marriages of any Israelite who has married a foreign wife. Families are separated, and the foreign women and their children are sent away from Jerusalem. The initial response of tears when Ezra reads the Law comes in the context of many causes for grief.

Pulling back further still, I see Ezra’s actions, recorded in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, standing in the tradition of the Hebrew prophets who focused on religious and ethnic purity and separation from other nations. Throughout Scripture, that tradition was always in tension with another tradition of more inclusive prophets who insisted that Israel was blessed in order to be a blessing to all nations, that God’s love included the foreigner and welcomed the stranger. This inclusive tradition is most obvious in the story of Ruth, a Moabite who married an Israelite.

I have tended to see the dance between these two traditions as “two steps forward, one step back.” The inclusive tradition, moving forward toward Christ’s salvation for the whole world, is the two steps forward, and the exclusive tradition, demanding priestly purity and ethnic isolation, is the one step back.

But in the midst of this pandemic, I have a new appreciation for calls for purity and separation. Maybe a better metaphor is that these two prophetic traditions are two voices necessary in a faith conversation. Perhaps sometimes we need the voice for radical inclusion, and sometimes we need the call to purity and separation from the world.

  • When are fastidious practices of purity and cleanliness necessary, life-saving rituals?
  • When are they fear-inciting, exclusivity-producing barriers?
  • When are walls and defended borders a lifesaving gift?
  • How is strengthening the border between the United States and Canada during a pandemic different from building a wall between the United States and Mexico?


—Gwen Groff


NEW! Salt & Light Videos

These teaching videos are great for leader preparation or introducing each weekly session. Sarah Bixler is the presenter for unit 2, Defined by Covenant. The videos are free and available on MennoMedia’s YouTube channel.




October 11, 2020

Salt & Light Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. Practice What You Preach
    Joshua 24:14-28


I neglected to line up podcasts or audiobooks for a recent road trip between Pennsylvania and Vermont, so I listened to various local radio stations, hoping to hear a news story that might connect well with “practicing what you preach.” What idols do we give our devotion to today? What stones do we erect to show our commitment to the one true God?

My long drive occurred the day after the first debate between the two candidates for United States president. This country’s broad political spectrum is well represented on talk radio! Despite the deep divide between the two poles, pretty much every voice on the radio agreed that neither candidate behaved well in the first debate, and the real loser was the American people.

My route took me on interstate highways but also through small towns and broad fields. Because T junctions are now littered with local and national campaign signs sprouting like mushroom clusters, a stand-alone sign draws attention. At one stop, while radio voices shouted vitriol, I noticed a solitary red, white, and blue sign. I think its three stacked lines read:



Love your neighbor

It washed over me like a healing river. If we are wondering what our contemporary idols are, perhaps their names are on the signs littering the roadways. Perhaps our idol is absolute faith in the political process itself. Perhaps our idol is whatever we do to escape political engagement.

As I reflected on my response, I couldn’t recall exactly if it had read “Love thy neighbor” or “Love one another.” I thought I would search “Jesus 2020” images online when I got home. My search results were dismaying.

Instead of a renunciation of idols, I found a syncretism of gods: “Jesus is my savior/Trump is my president” and “JESUS/2020/Love Thy Neighbor” with the “E” in JESUS not-so-subtly echoing the same three-stacked red line font used on BIDEN signs.

It seems we can’t help ourselves. We have to muddle church and state. We’re compelled to signal which candidate we believe following Jesus will lead to.

  • How do we remain passionately committed to be as politically involved as Jesus was in his lifetime without turning our candidate choices into idols?


—Gwen Groff


NEW! Salt & Light Videos

These teaching videos are great for leader preparation or introducing each weekly session. Sarah Bixler is the presenter for unit 2, Defined by Covenant. The videos are free and available on MennoMedia’s YouTube channel.




October 4, 2020

Salt & Light Online
A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. God Shows Up
    Exodus 24:1-12

This week’s reading from Exodus 24 describes intimate encounters with God. Various people have access to God at different proximities. In verse 1, Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and 70 elders “worship at a distance.”  Verse 2 says Moses alone shall come near the Lord, but the others and the people “shall not come near.” But watch what happens in verses 9 and 10. Moses shares the law, builds an altar, and erects 12 pillars;  all the people say they will obey all the ordinances; the young men slaughter the oxen and dash their blood  on the altar and on the people. Then Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and 70 elders “see” the God of Israel. The ritual gives all the people access to “all the words” (Exodus 24:3, 8). Rituals effect change.

If we try to imagine this scene, we may sense how strange it would have been to be present, to be splattered with blood, and then eat a meal. Rituals are, by definition, out of the ordinary, disorienting, and reorienting.

Last week in the United States we saw the rituals surrounding the death of a Supreme Court justice. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg is the first woman and the first Jewish person to lie in state in the US Capitol. As a Mennonite, I am unfamiliar with mourning rituals performed by the joint services military honor guard and a Jewish rabbi. The slow salutes, the precise marching, the shouted commands, and the psalms sung in Hebrew made an awesome spectacle. Our ecumenical clergy group happened to be gathering as Justice Ginsberg’s body lay in state. I heard comments such as “It sort of makes me wish I were Jewish” and “Nobody does liturgy like the military.”

In the brief service at the Supreme Court, Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt suggested a few parallels between Moses, the lawgiver, and Justice Ginsberg, the law interpreter. The rabbi called Justice Ginsberg a prophet: “It is the rare prophet who not only imagines a new world but also makes that new world a reality in her lifetime. This was the brilliance and vision of Ruth Bader Ginsberg.”[1]

Rabbi Holtzblatt reminded us that Ginsberg spent her life not only working with constitutional law but also obeying the biblical law, the Torah. Rabbi Holtzblatt said, The Torah is relentless in reminding, in instructing, in commanding that we never forget those who live in the shadows. Those whose freedom and opportunity are not guaranteed. Thirty-six times we are taught that we must never forget the stranger. Twelve times we are told to care for the widow and the orphan. This is one of the most important commandments of the Torah. It is the Torah’s call to action.[2]

Finally, as Moses broadened access to “all the people” in Exodus 24, Justice Ginsberg helped reinterpret the US Constitution to include all the people. Rabbi Holtzblatt quoted Justice Ginsberg saying, “‘Think back to 1787. Who were ‘We the people’? They certainly weren’t women. They surely weren’t people held in human bondage. The genius of our Constitution is that now, over more than 200 sometimes turbulent years, that ‘we’ has expanded and expanded. This was Justice Ginsberg’s life’s work: to insist that the Constitution deliver on its promise. That ‘We the people’ would include all the people. She carried out that work in every chapter of her life.”[3]

  • What contemporary prophets do you know whose work opens access to God to “all the people”?


—Gwen Groff


NEW! Salt & Light Videos

These teaching videos are great for leader preparation or introducing each weekly session. Sarah Bixler is the presenter for unit 2, Defined by Covenant. The videos are free and available on MennoMedia’s YouTube channel.

[1]. “Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt Remarks Capitol Funeral for Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” YouTube, (full video), September 25, 2020,

[2]. “Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt Remarks.”

[3]. “Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt Remarks.”




September 27, 2020

Salt & Light Online
A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. Beautiful Feet
    Romans 10:5-15

Carol Duerksen says evangelism is a loaded word (S&L, p. 22). Another term laden with similar baggage is missions. These verses in Romans 10 are talking not only about proclaiming the good news at home but also taking the message of the gospel to a new place. People need to be sent, and their “beautiful feet” take them where they are sent.

The word missions may evoke a troubled history of crusade and conquest. Often the beautiful feet aren’t bare feet but arrive wearing the boots of colonialism encrusted with the mud of the sending culture. To unpack some of my baggage around the word missions, I visited the Mennonite Mission Network website. I learned of two new missionaries in Paris, Toni and Matthew Krabill. I encourage you to read the description of their work at the Paris Mennonite Center and watch video interviews with them. Check out their Facebook and Instagram pages.[1] I was drawn to the painting of the beautiful blue-back bare feet that is the banner image on Matthew’s FB page. It was painted by Cameroonian artist Jean David Nkot, who paints on maps, depicting the journeys of immigrants.

The Krabills embody a posture of mutual learning rather than seeing themselves as those who “have” sent to those who “have not.” Because the Krabills arrived in Paris in December 2019 just as COVID-19 was emerging in Europe, they have had even more disruption than first-term missionaries usually have. They had just begun language study when the president imposed a 90-day lockdown. Matthew says, “It’s been a strange and bizarre time.”

COVID-19 disproportionately affected black and brown communities on both sides of the Atlantic, Matthew says, and then George Floyd’s death ignited protest and outrage in Paris: “Communities of people that had been colonized in sub-Saharan Africa and now live in France and feel oppressed and marginalized here are particularly struggling. Those emotions are really raw. Frustration is at a boiling point.”[2]

Toni and Matthew have begun visiting churches of the African diaspora and building relationships with community leaders. They hope to offer biblical, theological, and leadership training, but for now they are learning. Toni says,

What we’ve learned is that there’s a wave of migrants that came to France in the early 1980s, many from Ivory Coast, many from the Congo. They came as students to attend universities, as diplomats, as workers, and for various reasons—crisis or war or issues in their home countries—many of them decided to stay in Paris. As Christians, they started planting churches here. This group has planted over 400 churches in the greater Paris area. They weren’t necessarily welcome here in France, but they were planted, and they continue to thrive. Through their ministries, there’s been an explosion of churches in urban areas and in the suburbs of Paris as well, gathering what people estimate to be over 10,000 people on Sunday mornings for church. We hear about how secular France is and the decline of the established churches, but we often don’t hear the stories about these 10,000 people worshiping on Sundays. We’ve been tremendously inspired by these churches. They offer multiple services, gathering over 500 for each service, filled with young people in their 20s and 30s. It’s incredible. We feel like we have a lot to learn.[3]


—Gwen Groff


NEW! Salt & Light Videos

These teaching videos are great for leader preparation or introducing each weekly session. Melody Pannell is the presenter for Unit 1. The videos are free and available on MennoMedia’s YouTube channel.

[1]. Facebook: Faith on the move. Instagram:

[2]. “A Conversation with Toni and Matthew Krabill: Part 1,” The Hope Series, Mennonite Mission Network, September 10, 2020.

[3]. “Conversation with Toni and Matthew Krabill: Part 2,” The Hope Series, Mennonite Mission Network, September 11, 2020.




September 20, 2020

Salt & Light Online
A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. The Difference of One
    Romans 5:12-21

As I write this, midday on Sept 11, 2020, the number of COVID-19 cases reported in the United States is 6,598,228, and the number of deaths is 196,479. These numbers will continue to rise throughout the day, and the death toll most likely will pass 200,000 by the time you read this. In Canada, the total number as of today is 134,924 cases and 9,163 deaths.[1] From the perspective of the 9/11 tragedy, it might be helpful to think that the number of deaths from COVID-19 in the United States is more than a 9/11/2001 attack every day for two months.

If we let these numbers become more than statistics and think of them as deaths of human beings, the grief can be overwhelming. It is no wonder we look for someone to blame, and we hope for someone to save us.

In a pandemic, we need contact tracing. But we also seem to have an unhealthy curiosity about the identity of patient zero, the Adam who fell and became responsible for death’s entry into our world. Who brought death to us here? A Reuters story in January identifies a male Chinese patient in his 50s who arrived in Toronto from Wuhan as the first “presumptive” confirmed case in Canada.[2] But in late April it was reported that US travelers had first brought COVID-19 to Canada.[3]

Finding a pandemic parallel to Christ’s work in overcoming death is tougher. We clearly want a savior who can offer hope. In this US election season when candidate signs sprinkle lawns like dandelions, I recently saw a handmade sign standing alone on a lawn: “Fauci 2020.” Maybe our director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is a symbol of hope for some.

  • Why do we want to name an individual for something that affects an entire community?
  • Do you agree with Carol Duerksen’s statement that we spend time with “both statues” in the square? (S&L, p. 18)


—Gwen Groff

NEW! Salt & Light Videos

These teaching videos are great for leader preparation or introducing each weekly session. Melody Pannell is the presenter for Unit 1. The videos are free and available on MennoMedia’s YouTube channel.

[1]. Worldometer,

[2]. Denny Thomas and Aishwarya Nair, “Canada Identifies First Case of Coronavirus,” Reuters, January 25, 2020,

[3]. Ryan Tumilty, “Canada’s Early COVID-19 Cases Came from the US not China, Provincial Data Shows,” National Post, April 30, 2020,



September 13, 2020

Salt & Light Online
A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept It
    Romans 5:1-11

I appreciate Carol Duerksen’s suggestion that perhaps Paul was reflecting on the day he watched the stoning of Stephen (see Acts 6:8–8:3) as he wrote this letter to the Romans (S&L, p. 11). Paul watched a man die a horrible death. Paul had approved of the killing, and he was sure he was right. But then the scales fell from his eyes, and he realized he was wrong.

One way of thinking about our being “justified by his blood” (v. 9) and “saved through him from the wrath” (v. 9) and “reconciled to God through the death of his Son” (v. 10) is to think of Jesus’ death as a transaction that happens between God and Jesus in a way that affects us as humans.

But another way of thinking about it is as something that happens in us as humans when we recognize the horrible potential of our own wrath. What if the death of Jesus was not necessary to satisfy God’s wrath but was the inevitable result of our human wrath?  (If that question troubles you, please continue reading.) People killed Jesus believing they were right about God. People stoned Stephen believing they were right about God. The stoning of Stephen was not a requirement of God’s wrath—it was a result of human wrath. It was committed by people who were sure they were right about God, killing someone they were sure was wrong about God. Perhaps the horror of it made Paul understand that he had been wrong about God.

If we believe Jesus’ life reveals the nonviolent nature of God, the phrase “the wrath of God” requires some unpacking. According to the New Revised Standard Version, Romans 5:9 says of Jesus that we have been justified by his blood, we will be saved through him from the wrath of God. But the words “of God” are not in the original Greek text in Romans 5. Paul simply says, “the wrath.” The translators added “of God.” Perhaps it is our own human wrath from which we need to be saved. Perhaps when we witness what we are capable of doing in the name of God, when we are certain that we are right, our wrath horrifies us, and that horror is the beginning of our salvation.

Paul says, “For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life” (v. 10).

  • How does Jesus’ life save us?

Paul became reconciled with the true God and the people he had believed were God’s enemies.

  • Who do we believe are God’s enemies? Our enemies?
  • How is our sense of rightness and enmity intensified in an election season? A pandemic?

—Gwen Groff

Gwen Groff is pastor of Bethany Mennonite Church in Bridgewater Corners, Vermont. She lives in Plymouth, Vermont, with her husband and intermittently with her adult children.



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September 6, 2020

Salt & Light Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. Saul’s Call
    Acts 9:1-20

The stoning of Stephen looks a lot like a lynching. If lynching is a public killing by three or more people claiming extrajudicial reasons to kill, Stephen was lynched.

The writer of Acts highlights parallels between Stephen’s lynching and that of Jesus. The crowd listening to Stephen’s speech to the Sanhedrin “became enraged and ground their teeth” (Acts 7:54). They dragged Stephen out of the city to kill him. He knew he was dying and prayed that God would receive his spirit. He cried in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60). Stephen, like Jesus, died asking God to forgive his killers.

Saul was a sectator in that lynch mob. He witnessed and approved of the killing. In Acts 9:1, Saul is “still breathing threats and murder” against Christians.

The crucifixion of Jesus also looks a lot like a lynching. It was a public execution, meant to intimidate those who witnessed the act, to control a group of people, to “keep them in their place.” James Cone in The Cross and The Lynching Tree, invites us to see the crucifixion of Jesus as comparable to the lynchings of thousands of Black people in the American South, particularly in the mid-19th to 20th centuries.

We are seeing 21st-century killings of Black people in America that look a lot like lynchings. On February 23, 2020, Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed 25-year-old Black man, was followed, confronted, and fatally shot while jogging in a neighborhood in Georgia. One of his three white pursuers recorded the killing. One of them asked a local attorney to provide a copy of the video of the shooting to a local radio station, which posted it to their website. No one was charged in Arbery’s killing until May.

When we see the current divisions among polarized groups today—the fear, the mistrust, the unequal power, the potential lethal force—it is very hard to imagine a scene of trust and reconciliation like the encounter between Saul and Ananias in Acts 9. Ananias names his fear of Saul to God: “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done” (Acts 9:13 NIV). Then with astonishing courage, Ananias enters the house where Saul blindly waits, places his hands on Saul, and says, “Brother Saul . . .” (Acts 9:17).

  • Could Saul, as someone of the more dangerous and powerful group, have taken the initiative in their encounter?
  • What do you think Saul was praying for?
  • What are you praying about in these troubled times


—Gwen Groff

Gwen Groff is pastor of Bethany Mennonite Church in Bridgewater Corners, Vermont. She lives in Plymouth, Vermont, with her husband and intermittently with her adult children.



Resources for this session  

  • NEW! Salt & Light Videos

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August 30, 2020

A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. Two Kinds of Wisdom
    James 3:13-18; 5:7-11

The wisdom story of this 13-week study has taken us through the sacred texts of Proverbs to the Gospels to the epistle of James. It has been varied and nuanced, but here in the last session I see clearly that it has also been steadfast. James 3 echoes the earliest words of Proverbs that we examined and discerned together. Woman Wisdom, who cried out atop the wall (Proverbs 1:21), still reaches out to others “full of mercy and good fruit” (James 3:17). As Gordon Matties emphasizes throughout the study, despite the many faces of wisdom, she is always defined by a reaching out to others, calling us “to build a wise community, not just be wise as individuals” (ABS, p. 79).

This notion of the “wise community,” a version of Dr. King’s “beloved community,” is counter to so much in the world that is individualist, egotistical, and self-oriented. The “wise, beloved community” is certainly a radical priority in the world, and it is assailed often—threatened and challenged by COVID-19, political partisanship, war, racism, hate. But it is a stunning reminder of God’s grace and the pull into that grace that surrounds us all. The wise community not only survives but thrives. For you, that community may be the friends you have found or fostered in this study. It may be those you worship with every Sunday, masks on or by a livestream. It may be the students who come to your class ready and eager to learn despite hunger or fear or distraction. It may be the coworkers who surprise you and support you both with their resilience and their vulnerability. It may be those virtual strangers with whom you’ve marched or shouted in a plea for justice.

For me, the body of the wise—those who long to be wise—allows the patient endurance Matties describes at the end of this study, the endurance that can “open us . . . to [see] things differently—from a divine point of view—when we receive the gift of wisdom” (ABS, p. 79).  May it be so.

  • As you review this quarter’s study, what encouraged you to continue seeking God’s wisdom, in your life and for your congregation’s ministries?


—Kerry Hasler-Brooks


We are grateful to Kerry for her timely and relevant examples of God’s wisdom that are available to us in many ways.


This study marks the end of an era! For approximately 70–90 years, The International Bible Lessons for Christian Teaching (Uniform Series) provided the outlines for Adult Bible Study. MennoMedia is introducing Salt & Light: Bible Study for Anabaptist Christians as our new Bible study curriculum. Our fall study is “Joining God: Relationship and Worship,” written by Carol Duerksen, David Morrow, and Gwen Groff. See for online articles and other resources.



August 23, 2020


A current connection to each week’s session

  1. Taming the Tongue
    James 3:1-12

I am holding this year’s United States presidential election at arm’s length (or taming my tongue, if you will). Most days, I am all but overwhelmed by what feels like more immediate challenges: the ever-changing plans for fall learning at our son’s public elementary school, the uncertainty of childcare for him and our two-year-old daughter come fall, my husband’s recent quarantine with a high fever followed by confusion after a negative COVID-19 test, my evolving syllabus for a timely young adult literature course that includes the disappointments of To Kill a Mockingbird and the bold call of The Hate U Give. But despite these challenges, Gordon Matties’s response to James 3 brings that looming presidential election closer.

In chapter 3 of his letter, James homes in unrelentingly on the hypocrisies of the tongue, voice, and word: “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness” (3:9). We send our voices up in humble praise to God, but we send it out in meanness and anger to those around us, those made in the image of God, those carrying the “divine spark”—to borrow one of John Lewis’s beloved phrases. Matties calls this James’s interest in the “integrity of speech” (ABS, p. 70). James, according to Matties, “makes a claim that foolish and damaging speech is inconsistent with our created character” and “an insult to the maker” (ABS, p. 71).

In a recent editorial in The New York Times, Jennifer Senior suggests that the two major party candidates for president of the United States both have an “unvarnished, corkscrew speaking style” that has and inevitably will continue to be a problem for both.[1] Senior does distinguish between Trump and Biden, arguing that Biden’s “klutziness” comes with a deep appeal “to our better angels and hopes” while Trump’s comes with a deep appeal to “our demons and fears.”

I’m not in the business of publicly endorsing candidates, and I am not a political pundit. Again, I am holding this election at arm’s length, and like many, I’m trembling a little even dipping my toe into the sea of the election right now. But I do think Matties, by way of James, is calling us to be brave and to ask honestly and humbly who of our political figures speaks with integrity, wisdom, and a commitment to the Creator and the creation.

I am reminded of another editorial responding to the announcement that Senator Kamala Harris is now running with Joe Biden for vice president of the United States. While many, including many women of color, are cheering not only for Harris’s experience and her record but also her monumental nomination as the first Black  woman and first Indian American woman on the presidential ticket of a major U.S. party, the writer, Frank Bruni, is obsessed and depressed by her voice:

She frequently zoom[s] past the poetry to the prose, more a steely lawyer rattling off lists than a soulful leader serving up inspiration. Harris the prosecutor can find the holes in your argument and make you tremble. But can Harris the history-making, vice-presidential candidate find the cracks in your heart and make you cry?[2]

While Bruni wants emotion and a political poet, Harris gives direct, straightforward prose and argument—and he is disappointed. As an English professor, I am ever committed to the moral and social importance of the public poet, but as a careful reader of James along with Matties these last few weeks, I am also committed to the integrity of the straightforward voice, the integrity of Harris’s voice.

I am not interested in arguing that Harris or Biden or Trump is the embodiment of James’s wisdom-filled voice, but I do find myself asking again—and hoping you will ask with me—who of our political figures speaks with integrity, wisdom, and a commitment to the Creator and the creation? May we be bold enough to let faith and politics mix on this one.


—Kerry Hasler-Brooks


[1]. “Meet Young Joe Biden, the ‘Wild Stallion,’” The New York Times, August 15, 2020,

  1. 2. Frank Bruni, “The Undertold, Undersold Story of Kamala Harris, The New York Times, August 14, 2020,




August 9, 2020

A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. Hearing and Doing the Word
    James 1:19-27

The book of James, according to Gordon Matties, teaches “embodied faithfulness” or the wisdom of “word-doers” who listen and live a God-seeking “love of neighbor.” James is a book of practical wisdom; it is teaching the right way to live rather than the right way to belief or profess. Closing the study this week, Matties emphasizes James’s call to a lifetime of God-seeking right action: “With deliberate attention over the long haul, believers become word-doers by humble immersion into God’s larger vision. . . . James’s advice is not simply something to ‘apply,’ but something to grow into” (ABS, p. 61).

Thinking about this “long haul” of right action, I cannot help but think again of Representative John Lewis, whose life we have been remembering these last weeks. Though no longer with us, Lewis spoke to us one last time on July 30 in a brief, quiet, and humble letter, wise in the way of James and echoing James’s language to the “brothers and sisters” (1:19). Citing the devastation of Emmett Till’s murder and the transformation taught by Dr. King’s preaching, Lewis remembered and affirmed the early call on his life:

[W]e are all complicit when we tolerate injustice. . . . [I]t is not enough to say it will get better by and by. . . . [E]ach of us has a moral obligation to stand up, speak up and speak out. When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something. Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community.[1]

Lewis was a James of our time, tying together the necessary methods of justice work: holy listening, holy learning, holy speaking, and holy doing. He was a “word-doer” for more than 60 years, and he calls us to be “word-doers” as well—today, tomorrow, for our lifetimes.

Lewis was indeed a “long haul” practitioner of good and faithful action, but there are among us many who, though incredibly young, also practice James’s “embodied faithfulness.” I count it a gift to see the wisdom of James in the college and high school students I get to work with on a regular basis. Just this month, the youth of my Mennonite church in eastern Pennsylvania spent a week in service in our local community. Like so many other things, the COVID-19 pandemic changed their annual summer plans from the excitement of a bold trip to serve far away. Theirs was quiet and humble service right at home instead: staining cabins at a local camp, fixing rotting fenceposts in a local park, doing landscaping maintenance at a local retirement facility. Though less dramatic than the service they had planned, these were the actions of “word-doers” who saw need and took humble action.

There are models of these “long-haul word-doers” all around us. Some are the lions of our society and our faith like Representative John Lewis, and some are the young people of our communities and congregations who practice ordinary love around us each and every day.

  • Who are the long-haul word-doers in your community?
  • What inspires and motivates you to be a long-haul word-doer, even when it’s hard to keep going?


—Kerry Hasler-Brooks


[1]. John Lewis, “Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation,” New York Times, July 30, 2020,



August 2, 2020

A current connection to each week’s session

  1. Faith and Wisdom
    James 1:1-12

As I’ve spent time with the book of James this week and with Gordon Matties’s reflections on chapter 1, I’ve thought a lot about time. As Matties writes, James orients biblical readers to the hopeful future of God’s promises: “James invites believers to live joyfully in the already and the not-yet of God’s new world order” (ABS, p. 50). This eschatological hope—a hope in the last things—has been foundational to my faith. Like James, I have lived and believed with a faith that I “will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him” (v. 12).

As I’ve learned over time, however, this same eschatological hope has been taken captive, distorted, and wielded abusively by some who profess belief in Jesus. Enslaved Black people in the Americas were told to accept their enslavement by taking heart in the promise of salvation. During the civil rights movement, Christian and Jewish leaders in Birmingham, Alabama, condemned what they saw as the “untimely” protests of Dr. King and others.[1] In response to this call to wait, to be patient, to look to the hope of the future, Dr. King wrote in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”: “For years now I have heard the word ‘Wait!’ It rings in the ear of every Negro with a piercing familiarity. This ‘wait’ has almost always meant ‘never.’ . . . We must come to see . . . that ‘justice too long delayed is justice denied.’”[2]

My faith in Jesus Christ faces the future, the “crown of life” promise of James, but to borrow from Dominican-American author Junot Díaz, “radical hope” also comes from looking back into the deep past of where we have been. Reflecting on the long history of Black people, Díaz claims, “I’m a child of blackness. Blackness was not meant to survive, and we have survived. And we have thrived. And we’ve given this world more genius than we have ever received.”[3]

As Matties reminds us again and again in this study, wisdom takes time. It is a lifetime call—and even a multigenerational call—to listen, to learn, to follow Christ more fully into the good. As we, a people of Christian justice, continue to mourn our loss of John Lewis, I turn to the wise call from this great civil rights leader, U.S. representative, and follower of Christ. In an interview reflecting on a long legacy of Black deaths, more recently experienced in the 60+ years between the murders of Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin, Lewis concluded, “But you have to have hope. You have to be optimistic in order to continue to move forward.”[4]

  • How has time been a factor in your ability to grow in the wisdom of Christ?


—Kerry Hasler-Brooks


[1]. “Letter to Martin Luther King” (April 12, 1963),

[2]. Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” abridged, (1963),

[3]. Junot Díaz, “Radical Hope Is Our Best Weapon,” On Being with Krista Tippett (September 14, 2017),

[4]. John Lewis, “’I Felt that We Had to Be Tough’: John Lewis Remembers the March on Washington,” PBS News Hour (August 27, 2013),



July 26, 2020

A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. Wisdom: The Way, Truth, and Life
    John 14:1-14

I saw my mom this week. It had been six months since we were last together. This was the longest time I had been apart from her in my life—a too familiar separation for many of us today. Seeing her made me realize how desperate I had been for her; to touch her, to hear the tones in her voice, to see the texture of her skin, all those untranslatable things lost in our FaceTime calls these last months.

Over our weeklong visit, we played badminton and croquet, hiked in the small hills around our home, mastered a thousand-piece puzzle, reclaimed flowerbeds from the weeds. We joked that we were having a visit that might have been set in 1950, a visit from another era. We were making up for lost time, so we played and talked as if the world outside didn’t exist, as if it were just us.

We pretended until the hour before she began the eight-hour drive from our Pennsylvania farm back home to New Hampshire, and then we remembered the world of COVID-19, presidential tweets, refugee camps, and Black Lives Matter. My mother taught me to be a follower of Jesus, but we live  different political and theological lives. But she told me she had almost finished the copy of Invisible Man I had given her when I was in college, and because we now shared that remarkable novel by Ralph Ellison, we began to talk about one of those most divisive topics—racism. We talked about George Floyd alongside the long legacy of enslavement, Jim Crow, the Great Migration of six million black people to the urban North, the structural racism of redlining, and the reality of mass incarceration. And because we live such different political and theological lives, we asked different questions of the world and of each other.

My mother asked, “Do you think racism really is structural?” and “Why was I taught that Dr. King was a dangerous man when I was a kid?”

I asked, “How am I supposed to think about my life knowing it is the result of generations of unearned and undeserved privilege?”

These were hard questions, and we didn’t come to any easy conclusions. The joy was that we talked and we listened, trusting each other.

Gordon Mattias reminds us this week that to “believe in God” (John 14:1) is an act of trust not intellectual assent, that the path is found in the person of Jesus, not in particular doctrines or beliefs. Holding close that hour of sacred conversation with my mother, I find myself asking not only “What does it mean to live trusting in Jesus?” but also “What does it mean to live as a follower of Jesus who wants to trust others, especially those we disagree with politically or theologically?”

I pray for you and for myself that we may seek out sacred encounters with God within the sacred lives and words of God’s people, of all people regardless of race, gender, politics, or belief as those who are made in the image of God.


—Kerry Hasler-Brooks,




July 19, 2020

A current connection to each week’s session

7.The Wisdom of Jesus
Mark 6:1-6

In college, I discovered Donald Kraybill’s book The Upside-Down Kingdom and learned, for the first time in my faith life, to ask what it meant to follow Jesus into a life of radical, world-shaking love for the poor and oppressed. As a “law-and-order Christian” taught to respect and obey my local and national leaders—essentially to maintain the status quo—I had always understood Jesus as a personal Savior. My faith was a personal commitment, a project for heaven, not for the world. But now, for the first time, I saw Jesus as a Savior invested in the social and political realities. I saw my faith as a call to build justice and peace in the world. And that changed everything.

This is the Jesus Gordon Matties describes in his response to Mark 6. The wisdom of Jesus, according to Matties, is “about letting go, service, being last, taking up the cross, and losing one’s life” (ABS, p. 41). It is a call to “suffering and radical service to the least” (ABS, p. 43).

Recent news has been dominated by COVID-19 maps, press conferences, ad tweets, Supreme Court rulings on financial records, Roger Stone’s commuted sentence, Facebook, the Russian rewards scandal, and sexual harassment in South Korea. The news cycle reserves very little room for mention—let alone deep investigation of the “radical service” to which Jesus calls us. But if we pay attention, we can find it in acts big and small, global and local, even in our backyards.

Recently I found those too-often silenced stories of radical service in a Pulitzer Prize-winning episode of This America Life that tells of humanitarian efforts in unclaimed and unmonitored camps for refugees along the US–Mexico border,[1] a surprising New York Times article spotlighting the last local reporter in my small city of Pottstown, Pennsylvania,[2] and my weekly church newsletter urging me to call my representatives to advocate for a family living locally in sanctuary and to make a donation—toilet paper and laundry soap this month—to our local social services center.

I join Matties in asking you and myself, “How might Jesus be calling [us]”—today, right now—“to a new season of radical service?” (ABS, p. 43).


—Kerry Hasler-Brooks

Internet resource for this session listed in the ABS Teacher guide: “Our Church Work,” Criterion Institute,

[1]. Ira Glass, Molly O’Toole, and Emily Green, “The Out Crowd,” This American Life, May 15, 2020,

[2]. Dan Berry, “The Last Reporter in Town Had One Big Question for His Rich Boss,” New York Times, updated July 11, 2020,



July 12, 2020

A current connection to each week’s session

  1. The Boy Jesus
    Ecclesiastes 3:1; Luke 2:39-52

Gordon Matties’s reflections on the first chapters of Luke point to the child Jesus as Wisdom incarnate. In this “theological prologue” to the gospel of Luke, the child Jesus, like Samuel before him, “amazed” those around him with a wisdom embodied in an ability to listen, capacity to understand, and courage to speak (Luke 2:47). Importantly, as Matties points out, though “filled with wisdom” already (Luke 2:40), the child Jesus “continued to grow in wisdom,” filled more and more and more with understanding throughout his life as he listened and then spoke the sacred promise of truth, peace, and justice into the world. As Ecclesiastes 3:7b states, and as Jesus seems to have lived, “[there is] a time to be silent and a time to speak.”

I think often about the dance—and the distance—between silence and voice, listening and speech, in my life. As a woman I have experienced dismissive and cruel silencing in my professional, personal, and faith life. I have been told directly and indirectly that my voice does not matter. I hate silence. And yet, I have also known restorative and creative quiet in my professional, personal, and faith life. Rebecca Solnit distinguishes between silence as a condition “imposed” and quiet as a condition “sought”:

Silence is what allows people to suffer without recourse, what allows hypocrisies and lies to grow and flourish, crimes to go unpunished. . . . The quiet of the listener makes room for the speech of others, like the quiet of the reader taking in words on the page, like the white of the paper taking ink. 1

The child Jesus seeks quiet right there in the temple—and later in the desert and on the boat and in the garden. The child Jesus chooses quiet, chooses to listen, and shapes his voice, which will be radical and critical and bold, out of that quiet first.

How should we, as followers of Christ, traverse the distance between silence and speech? How can we choose quiet, choose to listen for truth, so that we might go on to speak truth as Christ did before us?

I listened this week to a rebroadcast of a 2011 conversation between On Being host Krista Tippett and Vincent Harding, civil rights leader and Mennonite pastor, and I heard the wisdom of a true listener. Harding, like Jesus, committed to the wisdom of listening, speaking, and acting at a very young age, as another sacred child, and still at almost 80, he paused again and again in the conversation to ask and to listen:

[H]ow, after all the pain that we have caused each other, how [do we] carry on democratic conversation that, in a sense, invites us to hear each other’s best arguments and best contributions so that we can then figure out, How do we put these things together to create a more perfect union? 2

How shall we live, committed to listening to the “best arguments and best contributions” of everyone around us and also to the idea that we are—all of us—made in the image of God and capable, as Matties writes, of “accessing the wisdom of Jesus” ( ABS, p. 36)?


—Kerry Hasler-Brooks

  1. Rebecca Solnit, The Mother of All Questions (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2017).
  2. Vincent Harding, “Is America Possible?” On Being, interview, updated November 10, 2016.



July 5, 2019 

A current connection to each week’s session

  1. Wisdom’s Vindication
    Matthew 11:7-19

I think about Frederick Douglass every Fourth of July, Independence Day in the United States. (Canada Day is July 1.)

On July 5, 1852, the man born into slavery who claimed his freedom and became an esteemed orator, writer of great literature, and one of the most important reformers in American history delivered what biographer David W. Blight calls a “rhetorical masterpiece,” “political sermon,” and “one of the greatest speeches in American history.”[1] Addressing a crowd of more than six hundred white Northerners in the Corinthian Hall in Rochester, New York, Douglass invoked the words and the people of Scripture to demonstrate profound love for the nation—by way of profound condemnation. A modern prophet, he spoke with sacred courage and the wisdom of learning, experience, and faith:

The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. . . . Above the national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions![2]

Douglass, an iconic, angry, Black man, fought every day to expose a great paradox—the great sins of the United States versus faith and hope for the nation. He spoke from the only patriotic posture he could: judgment. In an 1846 letter, Douglass put it clearly: “The best friend of a nation is he who most faithfully rebukes her for her sins—and he her worst enemy who, under the specious . . . garb of patriotism seeks to excuse, palliate or defend them.”[3] Douglass casts deserved rebuke as friendship, deserved judgment as loyalty, deserved condemnation as love.

I hear Frederick Douglass in Gordon Matties’s closing allusion in response to the Wisdom incarnate of Matthew 11. Matties alludes to Colin Kaepernick, the former NFL quarterback who knelt in a peaceful protest of American racism to ask if we as “Jesus’ apprentices” might wisely interpret this alleged “antipatriotic act” as “a commitment to the weightier matters of justice, mercy, and faith” (ABS, p. 31). We might ask the same about those who, in living out the wise “deeds” of verse 19, are today filling the streets, toppling monuments, changing policies, asking for forgiveness, and making amends or the beginning of amends, for the generational, structural, and living racism that is a cornerstone of this nation, Canada, and many others.[4]

In an appendix to his famous 1845 autobiography, Narrative of the Life, Frederick Douglass made a bold distinction between the “Christianity of Christ” and the “Christianity of this land,” the faith wrapped up in the long legacy of racism.[5] Just as he condemned the racism of the nation, he condemned the racism of the church, a church undeserving according to Douglass of the name of Christ: “I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land.”

I think about these words not only every Fourth of July but every day, truly, as I pursue the “Christianity of Christ” against the temptations of the “Christianity of this land.” May we together, as “Jesus’ apprentices” claim the rich inheritance of wisdom that filled Douglass’s faith, words, and deeds. May it be so.

—Kerry Hasler-Brooks


[1]. David W. Blight, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom (New York: Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, 2018).

[2]. Frederick Douglass, “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” Teaching American History.

[3]. Frederick Douglass, Frederick Douglass: Selected Speeches and Writings (Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2000), 29.

[4]. For an introduction to the Canadian experience with systemic racism, see Matthew McRae, “The Story of Slavery in Canadian History: It Happened Here, Too,” Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

[5]. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself (Boston: Published at the Anti-Slavery Office, 1845).



June 28, 2019

A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. Wisdom’s Feast
    Proverbs 9

Gordon Matties describes Proverbs 9 as a simple rhetorical narrative. A young man has a choice to make between two diametrically opposed women: Wisdom and Folly.  The “choice is stark,” writes Matties (ABS, p. 22), with profound consequences. This is truly a choice between life and death.

While the primary characters of this narrative are gendered—a young man, Woman Wisdom, and Woman Folly—Matties deemphasizes gender throughout much of his response to the proverb, reading the female characters as symbols and even recasting the young man as a “young person” on several occasions. He does this, of course, to be inclusive. He does this because the question at the center of the proverb, to choose “goodness, truth, and beauty” (ABS, p. 23) or not, is a universal human question we all face.

And yet, reading the proverb as a woman, the only way I can read it, I find myself unable to dismiss or deemphasize the way gender is called upon and leveraged by the proverb to make the rhetorical and moral case for goodness.  I am stuck, if I am honest, on these women who represent the best and the worst, the wise way of Jesus and the path of destruction, standing before a young man who is called to choose between them. I am stuck on the way we all read this proverb from the perspective of the young man. We are the young man. We live every day with the same choice between life and death, Wisdom and Folly. I am stuck on the way the women, even strong, radiant Woman Wisdom, go quiet before this young man’s choice.

I am so grateful for the way Matties encourages us to think about the choice and the call of this proverb echoing in our world today, specifically the “#MeToo era” as he describes it (ABS, p. 20). It is an era in which women, more boldly than ever before, are answering the call of Wisdom, refusing silence, raising their voices in the public square of Proverbs 1, and condemning all forms of violence against women. This work, I think, requires that we all look closely at the ways we’ve told the story of women’s lives.

Recently, the New York Times published a major story titled “The Rape Kit’s Secret History[1] on the life, work, and death in 2015 of Marty Goddard, the inventor of the rape kit and lifelong advocate for the idea that we can and should prosecute sexual violence against women. This idea today seems obvious—a given, an easy example of pursuing goodness and truth—but as the article describes, when Goddard began her work in the early 1970s, this work was certainly not happening, and the possibility of it happening in any sort of large-scale way had not even been imagined. This is Goddard’s legacy. Though she died without fanfare, almost completely forgotten in the history of the rape kit and forensic science, replaced by a cast of men with longer credentials behind their names, she was responsible in a major way for making us all see and honor the value of women’s lives.

Matties asks us to “rewrite” this proverb to “reflect the #MeToo environment in which we live” (ABS, p. 24). I don’t know how to do that fully, how to do that well yet, but for me I think it has to begin with seeing women’s lives and stories in this proverb, not symbolic women but real women who like Marty Goddard and all the women she advocated for deserve to be known and honored by us.

—Kerry Hasler-Brooks

[1]. Pagan Kennedy, June 17, 2020.



June 21, 2019

A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. The Gifts of Wisdom
    Proverbs 8

In his reflections on Proverbs 8, Gordon Matties silences the temptations of prosperity— what he calls a “health and wealth gospel”—so we might hear the true call of Woman Wisdom. “A closer look” at this proverb, according to Matties, “reveals a more demanding path to flourishing” than our own prosperity—“a path that serves the good of others, that lives by a vision of righteousness and justice, and that lives for the sake of the other” (ABS, p. 14).

This reminds me of Glen Guyton’s recent charge to Mennonite Church USA in the wake of George Floyd’s murder: “We need to engage in more costly peacemaking, rooted in radical discipleship, which seeks to dismantle systems of oppression.”[1] The key word for me is costly. It is the word I keep thinking about. This is a call to sacrifice, to relinquish power, to surrender privilege, to walk away from security, to stand with the suffering Christ.

God calls us, in the voice of Woman Wisdom, to flourish, but this is not a discreet category defined by our personal investment portfolio, square footage, or happiness. To live in the “rich inheritance” of verse 21, we are called to intertwine our lives with the lives of others, to see prosperity not as an individual, familial, or even congregational category but a shared experience that reaches out, in Matties’s words, to “the entire human community and all of creation” (ABS, p. 19).

In this moment, I am profoundly aware of the ways my flourishing is intertwined with so many others. It is evident in the public good of social distancing amid COVID-19, in the chant “All lives can’t matter until black lives matter,” and in the complex interdependencies so apparent in the natural world that surrounds and supports us.

How can I, how must I, follow Woman Wisdom into a life of shared flourishing? What is required of me to live wisely today, in this moment, in ways both “ordinary” as Matties emphasizes and “radical” as Guyton encourages?

—Kerry Hasler-Brooks

[1]. Glen Guyton, “We Need to Engage in More Costly Peacemaking,” Mennonite Church USA, June 1, 2020.



June 14, 2019

A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. The Value of Wisdom
    Proverbs 2

As I tried to reread the second chapter of Proverbs this week, I stopped again and again at the command of the third verse to “cry aloud for understanding.” I stop because I hear them, the cries of the proverbs. Can you hear them? Can you hear the wisdom that fills them?

In the past week, thousands of people have filled the streets of cities and towns all around the world to cry out together for George Floyd, a black man who was killed by officers of the Minneapolis police department. It is a long cry, stretching back through the lives and deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, Eric Garner, and the millions of black and brown victims of American racism, stretching from 1619 to today.

As I listen to the cries, I hear justified grief, fear, and anger. I hear longing and the most radical hope—that the nation and the world would understand. I hear a cry for understanding.

It’s tempting to silence these cries with accusations of criminality, violence, looting, public endangerment, the spread of the virus. But what if, instead, we would make a commitment to listen, to hear, to understand? What if our quest for wisdom leads not only to the practice of Bible study, church community, and the ordinances, but also to active listening to the cries of those in the streets right now who have something important, something true to say?

I understand the privileges of socioeconomics, health, security, and voice that I have as a white American. I am learning the lessons of generational privilege from teachers like Phillis Wheatley, Frederick Douglass, Nella Larsen, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, and Ta-Nehisi Coates; I am honored to read and share their teachings with others regularly. I am eager to raise my voice, to cry aloud for justice. But I also know that in this time and place, the wise posture for me is one of listening first and understanding the cries of my black brothers and sisters.

May we, the people of God, “cry aloud for understanding.” May we listen to the cries of those who know well what is “right and just and fair” (v. 9). May we know, in the brave and wise words of black womanist theologian Kelly Brown Douglas that “even in the height of human evil, God’s love and justice prevail”[1] over the sin of racism—structural and individual, exceptional and everyday.

—Kerry Hasler-Brooks

[1]. “Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God” (teleconference), Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual, Wednesday, November 11, 2015.


Summer Quarter

The Call of Wisdom
Proverbs 1

Two reproducible resources for this summer study are available:
“Who Is Woman Wisdom?” by Gordon Matties, writer of the ABS student guide
An unabridged bibliography.

As Gordon Matties writes, the first chapter in Proverbs, that most well-known book of biblical wisdom, calls us into a “community of the wise.” In this sense, wisdom is not a trait of an individual but rather a practice of lifelong discernment shaped by and with others, those who help us imagine and practice what Matties describes later as “a healthy common life” (ABS, p. 4, emphasis added).

I am struck by Matties’s words, written well before social distancing, isolation, and quarantine became our new norm, back when “community” and “common” were easier words to write, read, and practice as a people following Jesus together. But now I wonder. What does it mean to be a “community of the wise” (ABS, p. 2) here in this moment?

Rereading Proverbs 1 now, divided from my family, friends, colleagues, students, and community, I am drawn to its two distinct yet complementary images of biblical wisdom. The wisdom of the proverb is loud, bold, and public: “Out in the open wisdom calls aloud, she raises her voice in the public square” (v. 20). And yet, she is quiet, restrained, and receptive: she “listens” (v. 33). Together, these radically different images of wisdom—the vehement prophetess speaking sacred truth to power and the quiet disciple listening for the voice of God—embody the robust and diverse “community of the wise.”

These past few weeks, I’ve been overwhelmed by the numbers and the speculation that fill the headlines, but I have found hope in the daily obituaries that stand witness to those taken in this pandemic and the wisdom that survives beyond their deaths. Wisdom shaped the call of Georgianna Glose, a Catholic nun, academic, and community organizer who lived and served the poor in New York City. She was 73 at the time of her death. Wisdom marked the life of José María Galante, a survivor of the Franco dictatorship who for more than 50 years cried out patiently and passionately for meaningful reconciliation in Spain. He was 71 when he died. Wisdom shaped the dreams of Valentina Blackhorse, a mother, public servant, and member of the Navajo Nation who had just started to imagine becoming a delegate to the Navajo Nation Council, one of the most influential governing bodies of a tribal nation in the United States. She died in April. She was 28. I read these obituaries, and I cradle these strangers, grateful for their lives, their dreams, their wisdom gifted in these small blocks of words. And I am renewed to live into the “community of the wise” that, by the grace of God, surrounds us all.

—Kerry Hasler-Brooks,






May 31, 2020

A current connection to each week’s session

  1. Return to Love and Justice
    Hosea 11–12

In the story, “Mid-Life Crisis: A Story of Redemption,” a couple was experiencing marital issues, and the wife found out the husband had an affair. After the husband spent a few days alone in a local hotel, the wife decided they should seek counseling and repair their marriage. It was hard for them, but in time the husband’s heart softened, and he could see what he feared the most.

Your sins and my sins may not be the same as the ones this couple struggled with, but our fears can get in the way of having a healthy, growing relationship with God.

We can still get caught up in life and fail to realize that our relationship with God has drifted. Sin has the power to hold us prisoner if we choose. When accepting Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, our mind and heart must be transformed. We are all born into sin, and some of our sins can keep us from building the relationship we want with Jesus.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. —Romans 12:2 NKJV

In this verse, Paul is talking about renewing our minds. It tells us we need to do away with our worldly ways and change in a way to prove that we are good and acceptable to God’s will.

  • In what ways can we keep from being conformed to this world?

Jesus’ parable about a prodigal son tells of a father who greets his son with open arms when the son wants to come home after spending his inheritance (Luke 15:11-32). The father represents our heavenly Father, who gives us unconditional love and shows us grace and mercy when we repent and ask for forgiveness. Just as the prodigal son returned home, it is never too late for us to return to God after we have turned away. Our return to love for our faith will open our hearts to be a just servant for God.

  • Are we greeting sinners with open arms when they are ready to repent and live for Jesus?

—Kim Ferris


Three reproducible resources for teaching this session are available at

We are grateful to Kim Ferris for sharing her insights and reflections on our Christian walk through the lens of this quarter’s Scriptures on God’s justice.

Kerry Hasler-Brooks, Pottstown, Pennsylvania, is our ABS Online writer for our summer study, The Many Faces of Wisdom. She teaches American literature at Messiah College and is a member of Salford Mennonite Church, Harleysville, Pennsylvania.



May 24, 2020

A current connection to each week’s session

  1. Repent of Injustice
    Jeremiah 22:1-10

Without repentance we cannot have forgiveness. How easy is it to tell someone to repent for their injustice?

Michael Nnadi, an 18-year-old Nigerian seminarian, was killed when he repeatedly asked his kidnappers to repent from their evil ways. He wanted his perpetrators to repent and turn their lives around. In another incident, 100 girls from Dapchi, a Nigerian town, were kidnapped in early 2018. One teen, Leah Sharibu, refused to renounce her Christian faith and was not released when the others were.[1]

Taking responsibility when we do others wrong is a step of repenting for the injustice we have committed. When we pray like David prayed, “For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me” (Psalm 51:3 NKJV), we admit what we have done. Admitting and apologizing for the hurt and pain we have caused can begin the healing process for the other person. On the other hand, choosing to be stubborn, proud, and continuing to justify our actions in our hearts causes our apology to not be sincere.

When others have wronged us, we must learn to forgive. However, the reality of forgiving can be hard, even as a Christian. We may attempt to forgive but do not live it. As believers of Christ, we are taught that we are to turn the other cheek when we have been wronged (Matthew 5:39). Turning the other cheek is easier said than done, due to our first instinct to retaliate. But Paul, understanding how God’s love can infuse a different outcome into our relationships, wrote to the Roman church: “Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:17-19 NKJV emphasis added). God wants us to forgive.

Just as we seek to forgive, we must call others who have caused hurt and pain to repent so they too can find new life. The love of Jesus in our lives and extended to others makes this possible.

—Kim Ferris

[1]Nigerian Bishop: Murdered Seminarian Had Courage of a Martyr,” Catholic San Francisco, May, 14, 2020.


May 17, 2020

A current connection to each week’s session

  1. Practice Justice
    Jeremiah 21:8-14

Last year I watched a movie called Wind River. It tells the story of trying to solve a murder on a Native American Indian reservation. Although it was a sad movie, it made me aware of actual incidents of women and girls being killed or missing in the areas where worker camps are established. This film was made to bring awareness to the issue of indigenous women being raped and murdered. In the January–March 2020 issue of Christian Peacemaker Teams, I read “From the Frontlines of the Wet’suwet’en Struggle” about how GasLink, a natural-gas pipeline company worker camp brings violence to Indigenous women and girls. What can we do to show what justice should look like with this type of treatment to our Indigenous friends?

As a Christian woman, I find it hard to understand why God allows such things to happen. We question God as to why we must go through the sorrows of this world when we have given complete control to him. “Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12 NKJV). This verse tells us that when we endure these trials, we can demonstrate our love for God. The nature of God’s character means we should love our neighbor just as we love ourselves.

How do we demonstrate our love for God? The Bible says, “He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you, but to do justly, to love, mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8 NKJV).  Our love for God means that we must be in relationship with him, and God wants our actions to show that we practice justice by being merciful, compassionate, and doing what is right, just as it is written in the Bible. It is not always an easy task to walk humbly with God, but the reward we will receive will make it worthwhile.

—Kim Ferris

Recommended URLs for this session from the teacher guide

(You may need to hold Ctrl key as you click on the link.)

ABS Reproducible—Jeremiah 21 Scripture dialogue for two readers




May 10, 2020

A current connection to each week’s session

  1. Peace and Justice Reign
    Zechariah 8:1-8, 11-17

I enjoy reading articles about restorative justice and the exoneration of those wrongfully accused. This week I read a story about a woman who had been abused. She wanted an apology from her abuser because she did not want to carry around what he had done to her anymore. Her abuser did not understand why she would want to forgive him and how his words of apology would help her to move on with her life. (Learn about the restorative justice ministries of the Centre for Justice and Reconciliation and Mennonite Central Committee.)

The words justice and revenge can be confusing for someone who is going through an ordeal. Revenge is an action driven by emotion. Justice isn’t about getting even but could be about finding closure. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s chant, “There can be no justice without peace, and there can be no peace without justice,”[1] says much about how peace and justice go hand in hand. An apology given to you by a person who has betrayed you can be a way of beginning the healing process and finding closure. It can have a positive effect, opening the way for you to heal, learn to forgive, and move on. Can forgiveness give us peace?

God wants peace for you. “The mountains will bring peace to the people, and the little hills by righteousness” (Psalm 72:3 NKJV). How can we create peace when there is so much violence in the world? God’s peace is not the same as the world’s peace. “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27 NKJV). God gives us peace that is everlasting. The world’s peace tries to fix what is wrong by giving the world what it thinks it needs. We need to understand the way to God’s peace is revealed in the Word, Jesus Christ.

In the book of Zechariah, hope and encouragement are being ministered to those returning to Jerusalem. The Lord has great passion for his people. We can be assured that peace and justice will prevail when we turn our fears and troubles to the Lord.

—Kim Ferris


Recommended URLs for this session from the teacher guide

(You may need to hold Ctrl key as you click on the link.)

Syria: Before Civil War

How Seven Years of War Turned Syria’s Cities into ‘Hell on Earth’

War Child, How We Provide Vital Psychosocial Support to Children and Youth, Why Is Play Important

Catalytic Action

Chain Reaction

[1]. The Good Men Project. “Dr. King chanted this statement outside a California prison, which was holding Vietnam War protesters on December 14, 1967.”



May 3, 2020

A current connection to each week’s session

  1. A Vision of Restoration
    Zephaniah 3:14-20

For the past few weeks, many people around the world have faced the uncertainties of unemployment, stock market loss, and shelter-in-place orders. Unemployment in the United States is estimated to be higher than during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Executive orders have been issued for everyone to stay home as much as possible. During this time, it is hard for many of us to see a vision of better times and when this difficult situation will pass.

Even when we cannot see it, God still has a vision. God promised Abram he would rule a nation. God promised Abram the blessing of ruling all the nations through Abram’s descendants. The call to Abram and Sarah to become parents of a new nation begins with the exchange for Abram’s obedience. “Now the Lord had said to Abram: ‘Get out of the country, from your family and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed’” (Genesis 12:1-3 NKJV). What kind of idea do you think Abram had when he learned of this vision? After many years, Abram still did not see it, but he trusted God’s promise (Romans 4:3).

Our disobedience of God’s covenant does not come without judgment and consequences. Our sins separate us from the blessings God has in store for us. Despite the consequences of disobeying God, we also have the promise that no matter what we have done, we can be restored if we turn to him. Consider Job. “And the Lord restored Job’s losses when he prayed for his friends. Indeed, the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before” (Job 42:10 NJKV). We can have faith that God keeps his promises and blesses us when we give God our sacrifice—living in right relationship with the Lord (Romans 12:1-2).

If God had not called on the prophets of the Bible as well as preachers, leaders, and teachers today to share the vision of God with us, where would we be?

—Kim Ferris

Recommended URLs for this session from the teacher guide

(you may need to hold Ctrl key as you click on the link)

John Amodeo, “The Power of Healthy Shame

Stephen Morrison’s summary of seven atonement theories

Nicholas Batzig, “Why Is the Substitutionary Atonement Essential?”



April 26, 2020

A current connection to each week’s session

  1. The Lord Loves Justic
    Isaiah 61:8-11; 62:2-4a

Can you imagine being wrongfully imprisoned? I recently read an article about Sheila Denton, who had been sentenced to life in prison for murder. She had been wrongfully convicted and had spent 15 years before being released earlier this month.[1]

Although, the judicial system failed and wrongfully convicted Sheila, we know that God will never fail us. God will decide between right and wrong and judge us accordingly. Justice is important to God. God hates our mistreatment of others.

I wonder, how might we be mistreating people without realizing it?

Justice is also important to us. We feel the need for justice to be served. Just as the Lord will punish those who are not fair, God blesses those who are just and fair. “It is a joy for the just to do justice, But destruction will come to the workers of iniquity” (Proverbs 21:15 NKJV). This verse tells us that we must treat people with fairness and equality, and if we do not, we will answer for our mistreatment, lies, or cheating.

Isaiah 30:18 (NKJV) says, “Therefore the Lord will wait, that He may be gracious to you; And therefore, He will be exalted that He may have mercy on you. For the Lord is a God of justice; Blessed are all those who wait for him.” Later in Isaiah 30, God reports that the Assyrian oppressors will be punished. This God of justice allows this to happen.

When we commit injustices and sins, which are not pleasing to God, God calls us to repentance. As soon as we repent, God forgives. As soon as we accept Jesus as our Savior, God shows his commitment to us—through unlimited grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

Although we are held accountable for our actions, God sent Jesus to die on the cross to pay for our sins, to break our drive and desire to think and act unjustly. We know that God loves and cares about us because of God’s will to forgive and forget the sins we have committed. We also know that God will punish those who turn away from God’s ways.

Are you thankful for a God of love and forgiveness when we are undeserving? How does your relationship with God affect your hunger and thirst for justice?

—Kim Ferris


Recommended URLs for this session

(you may need to hold Ctrl key as you click on the link)

Behind the Name (teaching resource)

Richard Reeves, “How the Middle Class Hoards Wealth and Opportunity for Itself,” The Guardian, July 15, 2017.

[1]. Innocence Staff, “Sheila Denton Is Freed After 15 Years of Wrongful Imprisonment,” Innocence Project, April 9, 2020.




April 19, 2020

A current connection to each week’s session

  1. Injustice Will Be Punished
    Esther 7:1-10

In countries where we are free to worship, it is disheartening to read about other Christians who are not able to worship as freely. The annual World Watch List, released by Open Doors, reported on 50 countries in which Christians are facing severe levels of persecution.[1] Not much hope is given for an end to the violence or for justice. Many of these Christians are being threatened, attacked, and killed for their faith. Will God punish these leaders who allow or order this to happen?

What does this have to do with us? Perhaps our biggest challenge is to not take this freedom for granted. Or become lackadaisical about it. Corporate worship is one important way we participate in our relationship with God. Without it, we open ourselves to commit injustices that are not pleasing to God and separate us from God. Just as a parent disciplines and punishes for the good of one’s child, God does the same.

Hebrews 12:11 says, “Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have trained by it” (NJKV). God disciplines because we are living in sin and sends us trials to help “open our eyes” so that we may repent and come back to him, so we “may be partakers of His holiness” (v. 10 NKJV). God’s discipline gives us the opportunity to spend eternal life with him.

God gives us another kind of freedom—the freedom to choose. But our choices have consequences and possibly punishment. Colossians 3:25 clearly states, “But he who does wrong will be repaid for what he has done, and there is no partiality” (NKJV). When we sin and act unjustly, God can punish us now, but there will be greater punishment at the time of our death. How are we certain God will punish those who cause injustice?

When our time on earth comes to an end, God wants us to join him for eternity. To do this, we must turn away from our sins and unjust attitudes and actions. We must fully accept God’s love and salvation as God applies it to us and to others. Spending eternity in everlasting punishment is not where God wants us to be. “These will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:46 NJKV). How will you spend eternity.

—Kim Ferris


Recommended URLs for this session

(you may need to hold Ctrl key as you click on the link)

The Story of Esther

The Role of Humor and Social Protest” (scroll down the page to find the article)

Brer Rabbit Fools Sis Cow

[1]. Ewelina Ochab, “Persecuted Christians Are Not Given Much Hope in 2020,” Forbes, February 18, 2020.



April 12, 2020

A current connection to each week’s session

  1. Resurrection Hope
    1 Corinthians 15:3-8, 12-14,19-23, 42-45

This study was written for Easter Sunday. Normally, our churches would have special services and activities this week, leading up to a wonderful worship celebration recalling the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection. Is your congregation celebrating online or in cars on the church’s parking lot? What a great time to share the Easter story—our story of hope.

I remember the story of a small church that was determined to remain open, even when others wanted to shut the doors (not related to our current situation). It was not the members who wanted to close but leaders of the congregation who had seen a decline in membership. Without a pastor for several years, the leaders thought it would be better to close the doors. But one member decided this would not happen. After years of hope, faith, and prayer, members stepped up and took on leadership roles, and when the time was right, a pastoral search began. As always, God delivered. Today, the church has regular services and is alive, just as Jesus was on what we know as Resurrection Sunday.

When you hear the words hope and faith, what do they mean to you? Do you understand it as wishful thinking? Hope is not always easy, but hope reveals that God is in control. Faith is having complete trust and confidence in God; faith is a process. Faith is not something you can just have. As Christians, we should have both faith and hope. When we don’t have faith, it is hard to have hope; and without hope, how true is our faith? When we have faith and hope, we can be assured that God will be by our side even in our darkest hour.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is the Lord” (Jeremiah 17:7 NKJV). What if Jesus didn’t die for our sins? Would we have the hope we need to know that God is in control? Surrendering our need to be in control to God is a struggle. This week pray that we can give God complete control over our lives. May our hope and faith in all that Jesus offers us increase.

—Kim Ferris


Recommended URLs for this session

(you may need to hold Ctrl key as you click on the link)

  1. T. Wright, “Resurrection and the Renewal of Creation.”

The online article, “The Gifts of the Martyrs,” listed in the teacher guide, is no longer available.


April 5, 2020

A current connection to each week’s session

  1. God’s Just Servant
    Isaiah 42:1-9

The servant song in Isaiah 42:1-9 reminds me in some ways of Job, a servant of the Lord. Job had been given wealth and was considered blameless and upright. He feared God and shunned evil (Job 1:1, 8), and because of this, he was tested to his limits by Satan.

We are sometimes tested to our limits too. The day may start off as “not going our way.” Our choice is to determine how we will let our “tests” affect the rest of our day. Giving up and throwing in the towel is easy. So is blaming others. As Job dealt with the deaths of his children and sores on his skin, he continued to praise God in his prayers. How can we continue to praise the Lord when we are dealing with situations and catastrophes we can’t control?

When you are tested, are your attitude and perspective pleasing to God? God does not promise us an easy life, but he does promise to give us strength when we are going through difficulties. As this coronavirus pandemic covers the map of North America, we are being given many directions to follow. As I write this, the United States has the most cases worldwide. Panicked people are buying more food and supplies than they could possibly need. Some shelves are empty, and stores struggle to keep up with restocking.

  • What is your attitude during this pandemic? How do you choose to respond?

Just as Job was given a test, this could also be a test for us.

  • If we are panicking during a time such as this, how will we react at the second coming of Jesus Christ?

God calls us to be servants. Our attitudes of complaining and unhappiness will limit our ability to serve God. Our mission should be to warn those who don’t know God and point them to Jesus, whose whole message and life echoes Isaiah 42.  Life won’t always be easy, and for some people it never is. Our choices come with consequences. Let us lean on God for strength. Our reward in heaven will be so much greater if we do.

This week, pray about the uncertainty we are experiencing and those who are infected with this virus. And pray that God will connect you with someone with whom you can share the good news of Jesus’ love and salvation.

—Kim Ferris 

Recommended URLs for this session
(you may need to hold Ctrl key as you click on the link)

Christian Clergy and Religious Life at Auschwitz

Óscar Romero’s final homily



March 29, 2020

A current connection to each week’s session

  1. Leading Justly
    Malachi 2:1-9; 3:5-6

Are leaders born or made? This question is often asked when speaking of leadership. Sometimes people don’t know they are able to lead until given the responsibility. However, most people acquire the needed skill sets by self-development and experience.

As I was thinking about these texts from Malachi, I couldn’t help but think of the last several days of uncertainty with the spread of COVID-19. Most of us are adjusting our daily lives while work, classes, and church services are canceled. Last evening, we received word from our pastor that we will not have services the next two Sundays. The decision to close the doors is not out of fear or anxiety; it shows our pastor is respecting the decision of our officials. The decisions our leaders are making are not easy, and we must pray and trust that these actions are in the best interest of all.

In the book of Malachi, God is disappointed. The priests were defiling their relationship with God and not obeying the laws they were expected to uphold, and people were questioning the reality of their sin and their faith in God. God sent Malachi to remind people to turn away from sin and remember their responsibilities to God. Malachi’s task is the same for us. Serving in a leadership position gives us opportunities to bring others to Christ and to model the actions of Jesus in the way we treat and care for others.

A person in leadership is not always going to make the right decisions or live without sin. We see this with King David. Although his sins consisted of adultery, murder, and deceit, the key to his successful reign was his relationship with God. God always loves us even though we sin. It is important to show mercy and walk humbly because of the Lord’s forgiveness and mercy to us. By doing this, we are showing that we want to be fair and just—as God is.

Let us continue to pray for our church leaders, political leaders, and business and community leaders to lead justly and lead as God has instructed.

—Kim Ferris


Recommended URLs for this session:
Concern for Holiness in the Mennonite Tradition” by Myron S. Augsburger
The Doctrine of Holiness” by Paul Tripp



March 15, 2020

A current connection to each week’s session

  1. Consequences for Injustice
    Habakkuk 2:6-14

When I think of injustice, I think of personal injustices that have been committed toward my family or friends. When my husband and I bought our home 20 years ago, we did not lock our doors. My sisters could come and go as they wanted. Our home was in a central location and close to work for our family, so they would stop by to eat lunch. In the last few years, we are no longer able to do this. We have had several break-ins in our neighborhood, and although the attacks were not on my family, I still feel the need for justice to be done. These incidents leave us feeling uncomfortable. We want to feel safe in our home and neighborhood.

The topic of injustice is mentioned many times in the Bible, and God has always been in favor of justice. The declaration, “A God of truth and without injustice; Righteous and upright is He” (Deuteronomy 32:4 NKJV), lets us know that our God is always just and righteous. However, because we are human and not perfect, the injustices that have been committed toward us can leave us wanting to have the person pay for their actions. We know that God is perfect and we humans are less than perfect. When we come to understand our imperfections, then we can truly understand and accept God’s righteousness.

The prophet Habakkuk was human, and he separated himself from sinners. He saw that the nation of Judah was committing sin, and he wanted answers as to why God was letting them continue to live in sin. The message to Habakkuk and to us is the same—injustice does have its consequences. But we must not take actions into our hands. We must trust that God’s justice is coming.

The injustices we commit against each other because of our selfishness can affect those around us, and throughout the Bible we can see God does not favor injustice. “For I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery and wrongdoing. In my faithfulness I will reward my people and make an everlasting covenant with them” (Isaiah 61:8). With these words we know God wants justice in the world, and we should continue to be patient for God’s will to be done.

  • What has been your experience with injustice perpetrated against you or others close to you?
  • When have you been a perpetrator or accomplice to injustice?
  • Where to you draw a line between seeking justice and trusting God to enact justice?
  • What should we do when God’s justice doesn’t match what we expect?

—Kim Ferris

Note: The web article listed for this session is no longer available.


March 8, 2020

A current connection to each week’s session

  1. A Prayer for Justice
    Habakkuk 1:1-4, 12-14

All of us, at one time or another, may have felt the pain of discrimination due to our race, gender, or even our age. Do you remember how that made you feel?

Earlier this month, ancient Native American burial sites were destroyed to make way for President Trump’s border wall. The Native American community continues to question the effects of its destruction. The government’s insensitivity to the effects of destroying human remains and burial sites is an injustice to many Native American communities across the United States. Native American reservations are especially affected. Although the intention of building this wall is to keep Americans safe, persons who hold Native American traditions to heart feel discriminated against; their voices are not being heard.

Habakkuk felt that God was not hearing his voice. Many times, we also feel as if God doesn’t hear us. We wonder how long we will call for help and ask if anything will be done. “How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?” (v. 2) could be some of the same words we use to cry out to the Lord. Yet we need to continue to trust and pray. Just like Habakkuk, we see the injustice in the world and wonder if things will ever get better. We must not give up and look away when injustice happens. Instead, we need to pray harder and lift the problems of the world to God.

God always knows when we are troubled and hurt, but God also knows when we are troublesome and hurtful to others. “For those who are evil will be destroyed, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land” (Psalm 37:9). Just remember, there is always hope when we release our troubles to the Lord, and I hope we will not only glorify God during the good times but also in the bad times. Giving praise when everything is going as planned is always easier. As you pray, remember those who are underserved and experience discrimination. The Lord will answer our prayers accordingly.

—Kim Ferris

Kim Ferris is a Native American from Mississippi. She is a tribal member of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and resides on the Choctaw Reservation. She hopes to reach her readers through these writings to let them know that though we are not perfect, we can still serve God in our daily life.

An unabridged bibliography of Recommended Resources for this quarter’s study is available as an ABS reproducible at

URLS for this session:

Life magazine, “100 Photographs that Changed the World

Susan Sontag, “On Photography

Walter Brueggemann, “Psalms of Vengeance

Diana Butler Bass, “Giving Up Lent for Lent



February 23, 2020

Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session                                                                                                                   

  1. Perseverance in Prayer
    Luke 11:1-13

One phrase in the Lord’s Prayer could change the world: “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us” (Luke 11:4). In a more familiar diction, we sharpen the requirements of forgiveness: “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Preaching a series on the Lord’s Prayer some years ago, I detected that in order to receive forgiveness, one must also proffer it.

Forgiveness can be hard! Consider the U.S. prison population (the highest in the world: 700 per 100,000). Many of those incarcerated have been charged or sentenced unfairly. Most cannot afford competent legal counsel and are assigned attorneys who have neither the time nor interest to adequately represent impoverished clients. Then there is the lesser population who are innocent of the charges against them.

Imagine being warehoused in this brutal context, where one is routinely stripped of personal humanity, where emotional vehemence is the norm, and basic justice is carrying a bigger “stick.” Imagine trying to forgive: this intolerable system, those who have been instrumental—maybe unfairly—in placing you in this inane existence, and family who have deserted you. Imagine electing to follow Jesus, discerning that receiving forgiveness is predicated on extending it.

“Frank” is a former parishioner. He was incarcerated, charged with child abuse by a vindictive wife and moneyed father who hired unprincipled attorneys to manipulate the allegations. (Frank’s wife boasted about her false charges while Frank served time.)  I visited Frank in jail. Tasted his tears. Experienced his rage. Witnessed his emotional struggle with pardon.

Forgiveness was excruciating for Frank. Finally, after innumerable attempts, he began to comprehend the depths of grace. He repeatedly forgave his wife and her father until he was free from seething malice.

Unforgiveness is like ingesting rat poison and expecting the rat to die. If I were teaching this study, I might begin by taking Matthew 19:26b, “With God all things are possible” slightly out of context, setting it alongside the above aphorism.

This is my concluding article for this winter study. Thank you for the opportunity to share personal thoughts and ideas. I have appreciated email exchanges with some of you.


God’s best,

Ruben Chupp,

“Justice and the Prophets” is our upcoming spring study. Kimberly Ferris will be our ABS Online writer. She is a member of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and attends Choctaw Christian Church in Louisville, Mississippi.



February 16, 2020

Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. The Prayer of Jesus
    Matthew 6:9-18

Ninety-seven percent of environmental scientists agree that the earth is warming, and it is caused by humankind. When I encounter such information, I worry about the climate my grandchildren and their generation will inherit.

Tension in the Middle East, notably between the United States and Iran, keeps leaders and citizens on a razor’s edge, moving the war clock closer to midnight.

U.S. impeachment proceedings felt like a long grind, in all their biased, partisan verbosity—dividing citizenry along the same lines as their national representatives.

A niece seems addicted to deplorable choices that will negatively impact her children and their children.

Close friends are trying to find their bearings after being deeply injured by other Christians who have trafficked in false, spiteful gossip.

Last week, I wondered about the redundancy and profusion of words used in prayers. This week, I wonder about which words to use in prayer. Personal petitions in the name of Jesus feel runty and anemic in the face of significant, disquieting circumstances. How does one pray when the issues are so complicated and distressing?

Rebecca Slough recalls a Mennonite pastor who worries that the Lord’s Prayer, too often used, could turn it into a ritual: “an act or series of acts regularly repeated in a set precise manner” (Merriam-Webster; ABS, p. 68). My reaction: So what’s wrong with ritual? Especially one that regularly utilizes Jesus’ prayer?

Frankly, I don’t know how I would pray without the Lord’s Prayer at my disposal. I pray it last thing at night, between darkness and sleep. I pray it at first light. I pray it throughout the day. (I prayed the Lord’s Prayer when I approached my keyboard to write this piece.) I pray it when I don’t know how else to pray (especially then). I pray it as an outline for concerns I carry.

And I especially pray the Lord’s Prayer in the face of outsized developments, like those noted in the first paragraphs. Someone wrote (Dallas Willard?) that talking to God may not always be prayer, but prayer is always talking to God. Most of my conversations with God include the Lord’s Prayer.

—Ruben Chupp



February 9, 2020

Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. Piety That Honors God
    Matthew 6:1-8

She was sitting by herself at Olive Garden, sipping a drink. An elderly man sat down in her booth. She began to talk and talk and talk, and didn’t stop for 15 minutes, seemingly able to orate while inhaling. Her drink sat untended. The man was silent, a glazed expression rumpling his countenance. But she was absorbed with her homily.

Driving home, I switched on the radio to National Public Radio. Impeachment language assaulted my senses. I tried to follow the harangues of one spouter, then another, each blathering on about the correctness of personal opinions. I felt like I was drinking out of a fire hose. Too much rhetoric to process. My thinker took the scenic route.

Later, I turned on the evening news. All I wanted was the weather forecast but got everything else first, all the news that’s fit to elaborate on. (Do media’s talking heads get paid by the word?)

Name any televised sporting event, especially NASCAR, and silence becomes criminal. Every instant must be chocked full, brim to brim. Not to mention all those asinine commercials. Viewers must never be given time to think, to have an original thought.

Then I considered last Sunday’s worship service: so much, well, of everything. But little silence. God “attends” Sunday worship. I wonder if God sometimes wears the same expression as the man at Olive Garden.

Then I considered the text for this study: “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites” (v. 5). “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans” (v. 7). I considered Rebecca Slough’s initial words: “Words scatter everywhere” (ABS, p. 62).

Then I considered these questions: When I pray, does my piety honor God? Do my words honor God? Am I so busy talking to God that I don’t consider that God might actually want to talk to me (which requires my silence)? What expression creases God’s face when confronted with all my words?

Another text from Matthew comes to mind: “Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one” (5:37 NRSV). In this land of endless gibberish, what does that even mean? I might begin there, if I were leading this study.

Full disclosure: I am slightly addicted to silence.

—Ruben Chupp



February 2, 2020

Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. Single-Minded Obedience
    Matthew 4:1-11

The Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers are playing in the Super Bowl this Sunday. I paid particular attention to the aftermath of the NFC game on January 19. Team and individual trophies were handed to the champions. Slavering luminaries (usually former sports stars) pitched dilapidated, leading questions at the winners and received predictable clichés in return. (Have you noticed how, in the sports world, all novel replies have been used up?) Confetti rained down on the victors. The winning locker room was swamped with champagne—some of it guzzled, most of it poured over the heads of large, sweaty men who needed showers.

The losers? Well, they are largely ignored, except for obligatory mawkish (hoping for tears?) stumpers directed at the losing coach: “What did you tell our players?” “How is your team and how are you handling this loss?” “How are they feeling?” Again, nothing original here. For the near-misses and has-beens, trophies and muted accolades will be named later, minus the bright lights, cameras, and renowned celebrities; because in the US, second place is no place, a malformed consolation. Average is unacceptable.

Let’s compare the playoff games to Matthew 4:1-11. Every temptation Satan lobs at Jesus is defined by power, status, and dominion. Jesus’ rejoinder is to briskly, promptly, without applause dismiss Satan’s invitation, naming God, naming the source of his strength, naming his primary loyalty, three times: (1) One “does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God,” (2) “Do not put the Lord your God to the test,” and (3) “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.”

No staged arm-wrestling contest before cheering thousands. No chariots in the arena. No trophies. No arrogant strutting and taunting by Jesus, the “winner.” Just the devil, Jesus, and an ordeal of will. Then, “The Test was over. The Devil left. And in his place, angels! Angels came and took care of Jesus’ needs” (v. 11 The Message). Jesus’ demeanor in this text depicts this study’s title: “Single-Minded Obedience” (ABS, p. 56).

  • How do you experience victories and losses as a Christian? As a congregation?
  • What is the element of competition?
  • How might single-minded obedience to follow Jesus’ example be a victory when the outcome looks like a loss?


—Ruben Chupp



January 26, 2020

Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. Solomon’s Blessing
    1 Kings 8:54-61

I avoid televised news, not trusting talking heads striving for higher ratings, utilizing overly dramatic photos to manipulate my feelings and thinking. I prefer reading my news. These issues were covered by the Port Charlotte Sun (in Florida) on January 12.

  • Military spending: The Pentagon receives a $20 billion boost in 2020, despite being unable to explain how it disbursed its 2019 budget. The U.S. expends more on its military than the next seven top-spending nations combined. Yet the world is less safe.
  • Rising seas: This column reminds readers that Florida residents, with a 1,200-mile coastline, cannot maintain their current way of life without a sustained effort from state government that focuses on resilience rather than consumption and depletion.
  • Population growth: nearly 900 (net) new residents move to Florida daily, which stresses infrastructure, creates environmental concerns and apprehension about employment growth.
  • Ukrainian jetliner crash: The Iranian military acknowledged that it accidentally shot down the Ukrainian plane. Fifty-three Canadians were killed. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau demands Canadian involvement in subsequent investigations. President Trump complicates the situation with tweets.
  • Additional coverage included storms in the U.S. that killed 11; 12 immigrants dead at sea in Greece; two major earthquakes in Puerto Rico.

In 1 King 8:22-53, Solomon offers a lengthy prayer for the nation of Israel, following with a blessing (vv. 54-61). Compared to the eloquence of Solomon and current ubiquitous global trauma, my petitions and blessings for humankind seem puny and stunted. I am tempted to limit my prayers to my sphere of relationships and influence—tempted by fatalism (“Nothing matters and what if it did”[1]), tempted to not pray at all.

But I am a convinced Anabaptist, reading Scripture through the lens of Jesus’ teachings and lifestyle. Jesus prayed. Jesus called others to pray. Jesus taught others how to pray. As a follower of Jesus, I am called to pray. So I do. A litany I offer at every meal: “God, bless the whole world. No exceptions.” But do my prayers make a difference? Do they matter? If I were leading this study, I might begin with those two questions.

—Ruben Chupp,

[1]. Album cover title by John Mellencamp, 1980.



January 19, 2020

Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session 

  1. Solomon’s Dedication Prayer
    1 Kings 8:22-30, 52-53

“Yet give attention to your servant’s prayer and his plea for mercy, Lord my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence this day” (1 Kings 8:28). Do you hear the plaintive tenor in Solomon’s request? God, be attentive to me.

Solomon’s words resonate in me. My experience with prayer can be described with adjectives like mixed, eclectic, confusing. In 1987, I began to hear the initial whispers of a call to pastoral ministry. I prayed—perpetually, desperately, pursuing direction. One day, I heard two words: “Trust me.” By the fall of 1988, I was a resident at Hesston College, enrolled in the pastoral ministries program.

Eighteen months later, pastoral placement began. My prayers were of the kind uttered in 1987, but God was mute, ostensibly disregarding my entreaties. Eventually, however, I found a sense of direction in the words of others whom I trusted to speak for God. In September 1990, I was installed as a pastor at Sugar Creek Mennonite Church, Wayland, Iowa.

Nine years on, I became restless. Was it time to move on? My prayers again became centered, compact. As in 1987, I heard a precise message: “I trust you.” (I liked “trust me” better.) Again, I consulted friends about internal stirrings. In September 2000, I occupied the pastoral office at North Main Street Mennonite Church.

On May 23, 2002, “Dave” drove into the path of my motorcycle. I crashed: physically, mentally, emotionally. By July, I could no longer live in my own skin. Depression and the dark night assailed me. The days were long and menacing, the nights longer, foreboding. I prayed for the desolation to lift. I prayed for the cessation of pain. I prayed to be normal again. But heaven was closed. God was silent. I remain unable to make sense of that delusory incident.

Today, prayer is my default mode. I pray because I have to. I pray because I can’t help myself. Tomorrow night, I will lead a weekly prayer group. Like Solomon, we will plead for God’s attention and mercy.

Frequently God seems silent . . . but sometimes I hear that far-off refrain again: “Trust me.”

—Ruben Chupp



January 12, 2020

Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s sessio

  1. Solomon’s Speech
    1 Kings 8:14-21

In a rural town, one congregation has “bought” another; that is, one congregation has purchased the campus and building of another. One church “going out of business,” making a conscious, thoughtful decision, is an opportunity for another congregation “busting at the seams” to go into business in a larger, more suitable location.

But this remains the same: “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel” (1 Kings 8:15).

The name on the sign (and names matter) has changed. The building has changed with the worship space turned east to west, from south to north. The faith and practice of the new people in the pews have changed some. The theological compass, at intervals, spins other directions, though “True North” remains the same. The style of worship has changed—more measured, no instruments. Preachers are bivocational, rather than drawing a congregational salary.

But this remains the same: “You did well to have it in your heart to build a temple for my Name” (1 Kings 8:18).

Vehicles in the parking lot are of a more homogenous shade, darker, mostly black. Previous worshipers drove manifold colored vehicles, combinations of every hue in a rainbow.

But this remains: “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel.”

In this town, the local ministerial association calculates that 39 percent of the population is involved in a congregation. Of those residents, 6 percent participate in worship less than once a month, 8 percent once a month, 18 percent two to three times a month, and 67 percent weekly. These statistics, compared to a decade ago, reveal declining attendance. National totals are projected to continue trending downward.

But this remains: “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel.” “You did well to have it in your heart to build a temple for my Name.”

What does the name on your church sign reveal about your congregation? And then there is worship. First Kings 8 calls the Israelites to worship. It calls contemporary congregations to worship. How does your congregational worship inform the future of your congregation? These hard questions, I think, must be asked and honestly answered.

—Ruben Chupp,


January 5, 2020

Adult Bible Study Online
A current connection to each week’s session

  1. A Place for the Ark

1 Kings 8:1-13

Since resigning from pastoral leadership, I have been working part-time at funeral homes. Sometimes I conduct the service, greet people and direct them to the restrooms, park cars, drive the hearse, and/or assist at gravesides as full military honors are given.

Twice this week, at the National Cemetery in Sarasota, Florida, soldiers were interred, replete with a 21-gun salute, taps, and the folding and presentation of the flag. Scripture was read, mostly from the Psalms. Jesus was mentioned, but only in the context of resurrection as metaphor for the deceased, the hope and belief that “Bill” too will be raised on that last, awful day when Jesus returns, stands at this grave, and calls out his name. It was emotional and meaningful, clearly so for members of the deceased’s family and the veterans present. This was ritual with stately color and drama.

Ritual. That’s what’s occurring in 1 Kings 8. Solomon summoned “the elders of Israel, all the heads of the tribes and the chief priests of Israelite families, to bring up the ark of the Lord’s covenant from Zion, the City of David” (v. 1).

Ritual. The elders and priests transport the ark and sacred furnishings into the “inner sanctuary of the temple,” placing it “beneath the wings of the cherubim” (v. 6).

Ritual. Countless sheep and cattle are sacrificed.

Observing the above military funerals, I thought, This is a worship service. But of what? Whom? The armed services? The nation? High honors garnered by a soldier? The noble service and life of the deceased, repeatedly noted? And what of the principalities and powers, a whole other can of worms Paul writes about? (See Ephesians 6:12 and Colossians 2:15.)

Noting this session’s biblical readings, the Israelites were clearly worshiping God, but were they also worshiping their election as God’s chosen? Were they worshiping nationalism? Their conventions of worship?

What of your congregational rituals?

  • Do your Sunday rotes and routines serve worshipers or the other way around?
  • Whom do you worship? Really?

I raise a lot of questions this week. I will leave my wonderments for teachers and participants to consider.


—Ruben Chupp,

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