...let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

Bethel UMC

August 4–10, 2014 – The Gift of Faith by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove
Matthew 14:22–33; Psalm 105:1–6, 16–22, 45b; Romans 10:5–15; Genesis 37:1–4, 12–28
Scripture Overview: The Genesis text begins the story of Joseph. Things would have turned out very differently for Joseph (and for Israel) had it not been for the watchful care of the One who called Israel into being. Psalm 105 briefly recites the saving events in Israel’s life, and this week’s portion remembers the story of Joseph, stressing both the hiddenness and the crucial significance of God’s mercy. In Romans 10 note the manner in which Paul brings the past to bear on the present in terms of God’s saving activity. Notice also Paul’s insistence on the universal availability of salvation. The Gospel lesson of Jesus stilling the storm points to the inexplicable wonder of God’s redeeming love, which can be appropriated and answered only in doxology.
Selected Questions and Thoughts for Reflection:
Read Matthew 14:22–33. What signs of God’s power have you witnessed? How do those signs point you toward a specific act of trust in your life today?
Read Romans 10:5–15. How have you experienced Christ’s love? What news do you have to report, and who needs to hear it?

Week of August 11–17, 2014 – The Unity of God’s Family by Bo Prosser
Genesis 45:1–15; Psalm 133; Romans 11:1–2a, 29–32; Matthew 15:10–28
Scripture Overview: Genesis 45 portrays Joseph in a moment of triumph. The trials of the past are over, and his trembling brothers are now in his power. Joseph acknowledges God’s hand in the events of his life and is reconciled to those who attempted to do him harm. Psalm 133 is a brief but exuberant song to the spirit of unity and fellowship that can exist among the members of the family of God. Paul delivers a resounding “no” to the idea that God has rejected Israel. God’s election is irrevocable. The story of Jesus and the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15 illustrates the wide umbrella of God’s mercy. The woman’s faith and persistence serve in a curious way to minister to Jesus. As she becomes a means of God’s grace to Jesus, he extends God’s mercy to her.
Selected Questions and Thoughts for Reflection:
Read Psalm 133. What words might you use to describe the blessings of unity that God has bestowed upon you?
Read Matthew 15:10–28. What aspects of your faith need further explication? What rituals do you think define “clean”? What healing are you asking Jesus for?

Week of August 18–24, 2014 – I Choose You by Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Exodus 1:8–2:10; Psalm 124; Romans 12:1–8; Matthew 16:13–20
Scripture Overview: All the texts bear witness to the rich and powerful sovereignty of God, who generously gives life. In the Exodus text, both the future of Israel and the future of God’s plans for all humanity are imperiled. At one level, the infant is saved only by the cunning of his mother and sister and by the compassion of the Egyptian princess; but, truthfully, Moses is saved only by God’s grace. Psalm 124 looks beyond the birth of Moses to the moment of the Exodus and celebrates with great joy God’s redemption of the people. Only by God’s help can humans find life and freedom. In Romans 12 Paul calls for the transformation of the person through the power of God. We are to “be transformed,” thus placing primary emphasis on the activity of God in the life of the Christian. The Gospel reading is a confession of Jesus’ identity as the Messiah. Matthew emphasizes the rootedness of the church in the disciples’ recognition of Jesus’ messianic nature.
Selected Questions and Thoughts for Reflection:
Read Psalm 124. When have you experienced God’s coming to your rescue and setting you free?
Read Romans 12:1–8. What practices do you employ to renew your mind? What are your spiritual gifts?

Week of August 25–31, 2014 – Setting Our Minds by Michelle M. Hargrave
Matthew 16:21–28; Exodus 3:1–15; Romans 12:9–21; Psalm 105:1–6, 23–26, 45c
Scripture Overview: In Exodus 3, Moses is drawn to inspect the bush because it is an oddity, but the real miracle he encounters is the presence of the living God. Not even Moses could be prepared for the challenge that ensues. Psalm 105 recites God’s great acts of mercy in Israel’s life; in this instance, focusing on Moses and Aaron. The key verb here is “sent,” and its subject is God. In Romans 12, Paul takes the notion of covenant demand and expounds on it. Christians do not simply keep rules; they are transformed and readied for new life in the world. Paul provides an inventory of new life for those who are changed and renewed by the gospel. The Gospel reading is one of Jesus’ most acute reflections on the obedience expected of the faithful. He announces his own destiny of suffering obedience and invites his disciples to share in that radical destiny. For the faithful, there is no “business as usual.”
Selected Questions and Thoughts for Reflection:
Read Matthew 16:21–28. When does your concern for security or your vision of the future get in the way of Jesus’ work?
Read Romans 12:9–21. Who helps you grow in your ability to practice the qualities of Christian life that Paul describes?

Week of September 1–7, 2014 – The Sacred Struggle by Diane Luton Blum
Exodus 12:1–14; Psalm 149; Matthew 18:15–20; Romans 13:8–14
Scripture Overview: Exodus 12 provides instructions for keeping the Passover. Yahweh defends those who seek Yahweh’s shelter. In the end, the people stand liberated from all false loyalties and allegiances and vow an allegiance to Yahweh alone. Psalm 149 sounds a strong note of realism. The rule of Yahweh binds Israel to an understanding that the social order must reflect the moral integrity of the world’s ultimate King. The reading from Romans 13 marks a point of transition within Paul’s letter. Paul here urges his readers to trust the fact that faith in Christ makes a difference. Matthew 18 speaks to the importance of trustworthiness in the life of the believing community and provides measures for the restoration of confidence and for reconciliation.
Selected Questions and Thoughts for Reflection:
Read Psalm 149. How do you respond when you are compelled to “sing a new song”?
Read Matthew 18:15–20. Recall a past or present relationship in your life that has been broken by sin. How might you practice the process described by the Gospel for restoring community with this brother or sister in Christ’s body?

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

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