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Story Possibilities for "What Bible Story are You Living?"

by Rev. Beth Galbreath

Violence: Cain and Abel, Genesis 3:1-16

Why do we hurt people we love? Why did Cain feel abandoned or rejected? What separated him from God? What did he lose because of yielding to violence? Why did he attack Abel? What else could he have done instead?

What would have happened if he had resisted the temptation? How have you experienced violence in your neighborhood? Did it have a good result? Does God care only about violence in families, or all violence? Can words be violent?
          Possible response story: Jesus warns against verbal violence: Matthew 5:21-24
          or Matthew 5:38-48: “Love your enemies”; Jesus warns against vendetta


Abuse 1: Hagar and Ishmael: Genesis 21:1-21

How did Abraham feel? How did Hagar and Ishmael feel? Is it hard to think of God as loving when God told Abraham to do what Sarah said?

In your world, especially when families are blended, sometimes does a parent abuse or reject a child? How do we feel about that? In the story of Hagar and Ishmael, God was with them even when it seemed impossible for them to survive. In your world, do you know adults who suffered abuse or neglect as children? How did they come through it?

Today Islamic tradition traces its heritage back to Abraham and Ishmael. God’s care for Hagar and Ishmael will be an important aspect of our tellings when we are in multi-faith communities.

          Possible response story: Jesus’ warning about abusing children, Mark 9:42


Abuse 2: Saul and David: 1 Samuel 16:1-23, 18:1-12

Saul was not David’s father, but David was a loyal servant. He was so loyal, and talented, and Saul had lost his connection with God while David was closely in tune with God, that Saul was jealous and tried to kill David. It also appears that Saul suffered from mental illness of some kind, deep depression, or bipolar disorder.

Do you know anyone whose family struggles with a member suffering from any kind of handicap or disorder that puts great stress on the family? Can that kind of stress lead to abuse? Sometimes it’s grown persons, like David, who are targets of physical or emotional abuse. Do you know anyone who has suffered from emotional abuse? How can we support folks in that situation?


Favorites in families: Jacob and Esau, Genesis 25:29-27:45

Is it a surprise to you that Bible heroes don’t look very heroic, and their families have all sorts of problems? What do you think about Jacob? Esau? Isaac? Rebecca? Who was wrong and how? Who was right and how?

God chose Jacob to carry on the covenant – was that fair? Have you seen God use somebody who didn’t look like a good candidate to accomplish something?

Possible response story: The Forgiving Father and Two Lost Sons, Luke 15:11-32.

Bullying: Joseph and his brothers, Genesis 37:1-37:36

What do you think of Joseph? What about Jacob? How did the other brothers feel about Joseph and why? What did they want when they sold Joseph? Did they get it? How did Joseph react to what happened to him?

Possible response story: The Parable of the Two Debtors, Luke 7:36-50 (41-42)

          Or Matthew 18:23-35: Parable of the Unforgiving Servant

          OR Jesus warns against verbal violence: Matthew 5:21-24


Unwanted Sexual Advances: Joseph and Potiphar’s wife, Genesis 39:1-23

Why did Potiphar’s wife act the way she did? Why did she think she could do it? How did Joseph feel? In your school or job, have you seen people with power abuse people without power, sexually or otherwise? What kind of touch is “good touch” and what kind is bad? How did Joseph react to what happened to him?

Possible response story: Jesus’ teaching about respect, Matthew 5:27-28


Rape: Amnon and Tamar: 2 Samuel 13:1-32

Questions about the story: Explain why Tamar said what she said in verse 13.

Why did Amnon do what he did? Why didn’t David do anything? Have you experienced situations where a person in power should have helped or done something, and didn’t? What should David have done? What happened to Tamar? How did she feel?

When women experience rape today, how is their experience the same as Tamar’s, and how is it different? What happens when women, and men, can’t feel safe around one another? Why do men attack women? How can we change the culture that seems to say such attacks or harassment are OK?

Possible response story: The woman caught in adultery, John 8:3-11. The ambiguity of responsibility: Clearly this was a setup. How guilty was she? Who gets blamed in date rape situations?


Depression 1: Elijah at Carmel and Mt. Horeb: 1 Kings 18-19

This is a great story about depression and suicide, but it may be too long and violent.      Questions about the story: explain why God chose a three-year drought to combat Ba’al, the god of storm and rain, and why the people were being lured away from God to worship Ba’al.

God gave Elijah a great victory at Mt. Carmel, and then Elijah did to the prophets of Ba’al what Jezebel had done to the prophets of Yahweh – killed them.

Why did Elijah run ahead to the gates of the palace? What did he expect would happen, that didn’t? Why did he run away? When he sits down under the tree, how is he feeling? When he gets to Horeb, how is he feeling about God? How does God answer him – or not?

In your experience, how and why do people become depressed and self-harm, even those who seem to “be on top” or “have it all”? What can you do to help?

Possible response: Song of Jonah, Jonah 2. Or Jesus and Peter, John 21.

Depression 2: Jesus was also depressed.
Jesus in Gethsemane, Matthew 26:36-46; 28:1-10

Jesus’ disciples were also depressed. Resurrection Luke 24

Jesus not only was depressed – “agitated to the point of death” – but had real reasons to be depressed and fearful. What were they? Why didn’t Jesus just leave Jerusalem?

How did the disciples feel after he was crucified? Where are signs of depression in Luke 24? Where is that story funny? Jesus did not kill himself, but some of his friends must have called him “suicidal.” Do these stories connect with folks who may not be thinking of actually harming themselves?

The Resurrection stories are their own response stories, but Jesus and Peter, John 21, also offers the word of hope.


Depression 3: Healing the paralyzed man, Mark 2:1-12     

Depression as paralysis, and the importance of friends.

How might this story connect with us today? In your school, are there people who are too afraid of ridicule, or too depressed, to try anything new, or to excel in anything? How did the man’s friends help him? How can you be a “carrier” to bring friends to healing? What did the friends in this story risk? Do you risk when you try to bring friends to healing?


Suicide: Judas: Matthew 26: 14-50, 27:1-8        

Questions about the story: Explain the probable seating arrangement at the Last Supper, and Jesus’ love of Judas even though he knows what is in his heart. Judas went out with the bread of life and wine of salvation within him.

Judas handed Jesus over, but all the disciples abandoned Jesus and Peter denied him. Why do you think Judas killed himself and the others recovered? Jesus and Peter reconciled. If Judas had hung around for Easter day, do you think he and Jesus would have been reconciled?

What causes folks you know to consider ending their lives? How can we help our friends decide to hang around for a better day?

Response text: Romans 8:38-39

Cutting: The Gerasene Demoniac, Mark 5:1-20.

Mark tells us that this man was bruising, or in other translations, gashing, himself with stones. The place where this had to have happened, on the eastern, Gentile, side of Lake Galilee, is a cliff full of niches used as tombs, near both the ancient town of Hippus and a steep hill falling away toward the lake. The rock is flint, and the ground is littered with flint shards. He wasn’t bruising himself, but gashing himself with the sharp flints.

Self-injury can also involve burning or other kinds of injury. There’s an excellent article on cutting at  

Why did this man cut himself? Do you know anyone who self-injures? How did Jesus respond to his need? This story happened on the other side of the lake from the Galilee where Jesus generally taught. It seems he went there specifically to meet this man. “Professional help” sought him out. How can we help our friends find help if their feelings are so strong they are hurting themselves? 

Resources and Poverty: Feeding of the Multitudes: John 6:1-35

In Jesus’ Temptation, he told the Devil, “One does not live by bread alone.” What do you think happened here? There are two possible answers: One, a nature miracle like Jesus changing the water to wine at the wedding in Cana. Two, a human miracle of creating community where people shared resources.

Which do you think happened – or was it both? The teenager who offered his lunch – five flatbreads and two dried fish – why did he do what he did?

The folks who were fed want more, and chase Jesus to Capernaum. They want him to do it again – “give us this bread always, like Moses gave our ancestors manna in the wilderness.” Why does Jesus refuse? What does Jesus offer instead? How is Jesus “bread from heaven for eternal life” – remember that eternal life starts now. What’s included in “eternal life”?


How would you identify yourself? What do you want that you don’t have? What do you have that you no longer want? As our families, communities and nations face the results of climate change, how does that affect what we choose to consume?

Of course, the creation stories (Genesis 1-3) also call us to care for the earth and warns of what happens when we don't. The prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Amos thunder about greed, luxurious consumption, and injustice, including driving people into slavery because of debt. 


Response stories: Any of Jesus' calls for justice and against greed! Also, John 14:12 (You will do greater things…) or Philippians 4:10-20, Paul’s learning to be content with whatever he has, much or little, and thanks for the Philippians’ support.


Stress, Pressure, and Worry: The Lilies of the Field: Matthew 6:24-34


Questions about the story: Whose work is mentioned in the section about the birds? Whose work is mentioned in the section about the flowers? (Spinning with a drop spindle was endless women’s work; women in his audience were surely spinning as they listened.)

Do you worry about anything? Was there less to worry about in Jesus’ day, or not? What do you worry about; do your worries connect with Jesus’ story at all? How do we try to “serve two masters”? Does Paul’s comment in Philippians 4:10-20 have any bearing on this story?


Sexism: Esther

Before Esther arrives on the scene, some pretty fierce sexism has been played out in the palace. What did the king command his wife to do? Why did she refuse? What did his advisors fear? Why did the king let himself get maneuvered into doing what he did? In trying to appear strong and manly, did he behave in a weak way?

The next thing that happens is a beauty pageant. What do you think about that way of choosing a wife? Is that similar or different from what folks do today to attract one another?

In spite of the inauspicious beginning, Esther finds her power and uses her position to rescue her people from destruction. How can women and men discover their true identity as God’s beloved children, empowered by the Holy Spirit for great things?


Homelessness: Hagar and Ishmael, Genesis 21:1-21

Being expelled from the tribe was nearly a death sentence. It wasn’t so much the lack of a tent that was the threat. Rather, the lack of other people, the lack of belonging, meant that Hagar and Ishmael could not make a place for themselves in any town or fertile area. If they had approached a well or other water source they would have been attacked and sent away.

We don’t know how Hagar found a new place to belong, or whether she and Ishmael just founded a tribe all by themselves, with God’s help and guidance. We do know that God was caring for them even in their despair. How can we help God “make a spring of water in the desert” for homeless folks?

Response story: Matthew 8:20. Most of Jesus’ ministry, his HQ was at Peter’s house in Capernaum, but when he sets his face toward Jerusalem, he is homeless.


Drugs and alcohol: Noah, Genesis 8:18-27

Scripture doesn’t say anything about drugs, obviously, although there’s plenty of warning against drunkenness. In Biblical times wine was a way of both making water safe to drink and providing vitamins in winter. It was almost always drunk mixed with water, two or three parts of water to one part of wine, so it was not very strong. But the Bible condemns “unmixed wine” and “strong drink.”

This story of Noah, though, who started out with God’s favor, is honest about what can happen in families when drug addiction or alcoholism becomes a feature of family life. Noah’s own drunkenness is what causes the problem.

He’s embarrassed that his son Ham has seen him drunk and naked, so he tries to cover himself by blaming him and, still probably not thinking straight, curses him. The result is a fatal break in the family.

Are there any families that you know of where alcohol or drugs have caused serious problems, as in Noah’s?

Response story: Acts 2:15 – Pentecost; the followers of Jesus are mistaken for drunkards. Ephesians 5:18, Do not get drunk with wine…but be filled with the Spirit. A Spirit-filled life leaves no room, time, or desire for drugs or alcohol.


Sexual Orientation: Philip and the Ethiopian, Acts 8:26-40.

There are only seven Biblical passages that are cited as evidence of divine prohibition of same-gender sexual intercourse. All of them are specific to the culture of the time, and all deal with homosexual activity, religious and otherwise, by heterosexual people.

More can be said about these passages, but it is the story of the Ethiopian eunuch that comes closest to the concept of “sexual orientation,” since he had probably been castrated as a child without having any “choice” of lifestyle.

Questions about the story: Check out a map. Where had he come from? Why had he come so far to the Temple in Jerusalem to worship? (The ancient tradition of Ethiopian Jews that they are descended from Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.) When he got there, had he been able to worship? (Deuteronomy 23:1 – note: castration was radical; eunuchs could not be circumcised.)

 Philip begins by listening to the Ethiopian’s pain. He is reading the Servant Song from Isaiah 53, with which he can identify, having just been rejected at the Temple, and that is where the discussion begins. Just a bit farther, in Isaiah 56:3-8, Philip surely read the promise that eunuchs and foreigners would someday be included in the people of God, and recognized this as God’s notice that the day had come.

Philip was one of the seven Hellenistic (Greek-culture) Jews appointed as “deacons” to administer the Jerusalem church’s charity work (Acts 6:1-7). 

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