On arches

In this morning’s Fruit of the Vine, Karen Swenson reflects on the Stari Most (Old Bridge) in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina. “Built in the sixteenth century by the Ottomans, the Old Bridge stood for 427 years until it was destroyed in 1993 during the Croat-Bosniak War. Now rebuilt, it is one of the country’s most recognizable landmarks.”

Arch bridges like Stari Most have a “semicircular structure [that] distributes the compression through its entire length and diverts the weight onto its two abutments (supports at the ends that rest on the banks) and into the ground.” Karen points out that the physics of this shape change “the downward force of gravity into a sideways push” giving the arch bridge “more strength than a simple beam bridge.”

What if Christian community is a bridge? Do we stand alone, like a beam bridge, using our strength to hold up under the pressures of life? Or do we lean against one another, helping to change the downward forces on our neighbor into a sideways push?

In Scripture, we find all kinds of ways to lean into each other: encouragement (Hebrews 10:25), service (Galatians 5:13), mutual submission (Ephesians 5:21), hospitality (1 Peter 4:9), harmony (Romans 12:16), love (John 13:34-35).

Karen offers this prayer: “Father, may each of us see practical ways we can be an ‘arch’ that helps support” 

Eric Muhr

Changes to Illuminate

Almost six years ago, we launched Illuminate, a six-year collection of twenty-four studies on the Old and New Testament. That cycle is coming to a close this summer, and in the fall, we’ll be starting a series of fifty-two lessons in four studies, all from the life of Jesus. These lessons – intended for adult Sunday school classes, small group gatherings, and in-home Bible studies – are designed to provide a solid biblical basis for the uniquely Quaker perspective of how Christ’s presence with us informs our reading of Scripture and our vision for the purpose to which Christ calls us today.

Each lesson includes three scripture passages. The first reference gives context for a saying or teaching of Jesus from the gospel of Matthew and will serve as the central Scripture focus. The second reference is for an Old Testament passage that serves as a foundation for Jesus’ words. The third reference is a New Testament passage that illustrates a way in which Jesus’ words were lived out in the early church, demonstrating for us a trajectory or direction in which the Spirit has worked and continues working in us and through us.

With this new series, we wanted to give group members better tools for engaging Scripture together, so the participant guides now have a brief introduction and three sets of questions for each Scripture passage: questions for comprehension, questions for reflection, and questions for application. At the same time, we know that commentary on the passages can be an invaluable tool for group facilitators, so the facilitator guide will continue to include “Illuminate the Passage” essays for each scripture section as well as learning objectives, a suggested opening activity, and a “Living It Out Together” section at the end of each lesson.

Over this next year, we’ll be working on the next six-year cycle of studies, designed to guide participants through major portions of the entire Bible. Watch for that new collection in fall 2018! 

Eric Muhr

The Ten Bridesmaids

In this morning’s Fruit of the Vine, Jim Teeters reflects on the parable of the Ten Bridesmaids from Matthew 25. Teeters refers to The Message in which we find that of the ten, “Five were silly and five were smart.” The NRSV says, “Five of them were foolish, and five were wise.” The NASB uses the word “prudent.” 

I’ve pondered this parable over the years, and I’ve wondered if I’ve been smart or prudent or wise. But this morning, reading the story again, I notice that no English version I can find ever uses the word “loving.” 

Don’t get me wrong. I know that five of the bridesmaids are, indeed, silly (because if the bridegroom is Jesus, then there’s more than enough oil for everyone). Not only do the silly bridesmaids not come prepared, they also doubt that God is enough. Then in their doubt, impatience, and fear, they run away at the darkest moment.

How exactly do you find more oil in the middle of the night when you have no oil by which to see?

A question for the ages.

Here’s what I know: I want to be one of the wise, prudent enough to be prepared. But I also wonder how the story might go if I were not just wise, but loving, willing to share from the little I’d brought so that others might also enter in.

Eric Muhr