The Good Book Club | Week of April 19
Friends: We have created these Good Book Club resources both for your use and to be shared. We moved the delivery date to Wednesday so that congregational leaders have the opportunity to link or share in their weekly email newsletters. We encourage folks to sign up directly but also want to help with dissemination. Emails for previous weeks are available here.

Want to hear the passage from Matthew? The Good Book Club Podcast features speakers from across the church reading each day’s lesson from Matthew and a reflection from A Journey with Matthew . You can also ask Alexa (or another virtual assistant) to play the podcast.

We begin this week in mid-stride with the second half of the Sermon on the Mount, and the words are particularly poignant. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth,” including (but not limited to) toilet paper, hand sanitizer, yeast, and hair dye. Jesus’ message about materialism is always hard to hear, especially for an American audience, but I wonder if we might be listening with different ears these days. So much of what we have treasured, collectively and individually, has been forcefully set aside, and we are left to consider: What is essential? What matters? What if Covid-19 is the thief, but one that by taking away much, lays bare the possibility for a new way forward?

The passage’s relevance continues with the petition to cast away our worries. I don’t know about you, but I have been beset and besieged by anxiety. Yet here is Jesus, begging us to consider, “Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” A few years ago, I wrote this verse on a Post-It note and placed it on my computer as a guide during Lent. I may need to do this again during Eastertide. Might you as well?

As we move into chapter seven, Jesus continues to speak directly into our socially distanced but quick-to-post-judgment hearts. How many times have we read on social media some scathing report of how this person or that group is “failing” quarantine? But here’s the thing: None of us have taken a how-to-pandemic class before. The grading scale is not apparent. Let us worry about the splinters and logs in our own eyes first—and quickly, because we don’t want any unnecessary trips to hospitals.

As with the first half of the discourse, Jesus finishes with a litany of moral guides, wisdom meant to be remembered, recited, and shared. With each of the Five Discourses of Matthew, we know that they have ended when we hear the words, “when Jesus had finished saying these things.”

The next few chapters of Matthew remind me of the outline for a script. The main events are bulleted, with a few key details and phrases, but there’s little interstitial material, no connective tissue or transition from one story to the next. Jesus heals the leper. Boom. Then the centurion’s servant. Check. Peter’s mother-in-law. Another scene. We don’t know how Jesus traveled from one place to another, and we don’t hear much dialogue or response. It’s as if the gospel writer presents us with a highlight reel, and we rely on imagination and prayer and study to fill in the rest.

Within these ten miracles, Jesus shows his divinity, not only showing power over human ailments by healing people from disease and demons but also his authority over the natural world. He rebukes the winds and the seas—and they obey him.

Each miracle story offers a wellspring for study, reflection, and sermons, but I want to note two important messages. Jesus continues to draw a distinction between the old and new covenants, between the laws of the Old Testament and the mercy of the new one. The Messiah is here. Things are different, and we cannot put new wine in old wineskin.

Jesus also offers important insight into the cost of discipleship. When one of the disciples asks first to bury his father, Jesus tells him to “let the dead bury their own dead.” Nothing comes before following the Son of Man. The cost of discipleship is very high. The reward, even higher.

As we conclude this week of readings, we finally learn all the names of the twelve apostles. Jesus gives them the power to heal and to cast out unclean spirits. He warns them of pending persecution but calls upon them to be bold, even in the face of such trials: “As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’” So shall it be with us, disciples in a modern-age facing, as did those twelve, perilous foes.

Read Week 1
Reflection

1. Do you feel an affinity to the readings this week? How does the idea of quarantine and sheltering-in-place change your understanding of these passages? What good do you think can come out of this experience? What can you do right now to help make this a lasting change?

2. These passages from Matthew share several miracles. Which miracle speaks to you? Have you ever witnessed a miracle—in your life or another’s? Is Jesus working a miracle right now in your own life? Are you ready to accept the healing? Will you name and proclaim it as a miracle?

3. Jesus talks about the cost of discipleship. What does the word “discipleship” mean to you? What spiritual practices might help you strengthen your core “discipleship muscles”?
Resource Spotlight

Learn more about the Gospel of Matthew with people from across the church from an expert! Vicki Garvey, former canon for lifelong education for the Diocese of Chicago, will lead a free class through ChurchNext , an online learning platform and ministry of Forward Movement. The class will explore the author, origin, setting, and message of the Gospel of Matthew. Classes will meet live on Thursday nights via zoom from April 23-May 28, 2020, and they will last an hour. Register now .

Special note: If you’re enjoying the podcast reflections from A Journey with Matthew —or would like to read them on your own, the book is on sale and available in print ($11.25) and as an ebook (only $7.99!)
 Participant Spotlight

Stacy Turner Krebs of the Church of the Nativity in Rosedale, Louisiana, writes, "In previous years we had a more in-depth study that was too complicated, and our study group wanted something. When I say the Good Book Club format is exactly what the group wanted, that would be an understatement! I can speak for the twenty-plus congregants that attend Bible study that they love the Good Book Club format more than any other previous formats!"
 
"Our congregation is less than fifty people, and our Bible study usually has about twenty participants. Due to the fact we cannot gather in person at this time, we still desire to do the study online…We are so blessed to be able to share the word of God and are eager to read Matthew during the Easter season."

How are you participating in the Good Book Club? Share your story with us (and send pictures too, if you have them, whether it’s a screenshot of a Zoom meeting or a picture of you with your Bible in a comfy chair!). We’ll highlight participants from across the church. Send the information to Richelle at rthompson@forwardmovement.org .

Let’s learn from and be inspired by each other!
Forward Movement and partners offer these resources as a ministry to the church. We are grateful for your support of this ministry.