I love to teach the scriptures to parishioners. For over two decades, I’ve seen the power of Disciple Bible Study – a curriculum developed by Bishop Richard Wilke and his wife, Julia, in the 1980’s to improve biblical literacy among United Methodists.
In 2015, I offered the beta version of a shortened curriculum (24 weeks instead of the original 34 weeks.) I’ve offered it every year since. In 24 weeks, we cover the meta story of scripture: God’s great covenant love expressed in creation, in the Ark, with a covenant given first to Abraham and extended through Moses, never being forgotten even in Exile, only to deepen in Jesus and be fully expressed on the cross, and sealed in the resurrection. We study the Old Testament (the Hebrew Scriptures) for 12 weeks and the New Testament (the Christian Scriptures) for 12 weeks.
The first 12 weeks (in the Hebrew scriptures) show us an endless cycle of covenant breaking, repentance and covenant renewal. The class always shakes our head at the obstinance of this chosen people. How could they be so dense? They never get it! Every year, the class is more than ready for the New Testament. They are ready for Jesus who will come and set it all right again.
What they discover is a deeper reconciliation with God, but the requirements are even more impossible than the Mosaic Law. Jesus keeps using the phrase, “You have heard it said…but I say unto you…” Whatever comes after that leads shoulders to slump and elicits sighs of frustration. The new covenant in Jesus asks followers to turn the other cheek, forgive those who have hurt us, even give away our wealth. That is a lot! In fact, for many in the class, it is too much. Sometimes, I fear they leave class feeling like the rich young ruler who walked away sad because he didn’t see a way to honor what Jesus had asked of him.
The third time through this curriculum, I sat down over Christmas break with a piece of newsprint. Anticipating long faces I knew were coming when we entered the New Testament, I wanted a different approach. I wrote out what I understood as necessary steps toward discovering the joy of salvation Jesus offers. This is a picture of that newsprint.
I looked at it for quite a while before I realized that while we teach these steps in the church, we teach them in the wrong order. We ask people to enter at the bottom of the page and work our way up to the top…climbing the ladder. Instead, the good news we discover through Jesus is that we must start at the top of the page. Each step lead us deeper into an authentic and real spiritual life. This approach turns “ladder climbing” on its head and invites us to “sink” into the marvelous grace of God.
And so, join with me as we enter at Step One, knowing God’s goodness and trusting it is true.