September 10, 2012 | Myrna

The Calvin community—both on and off campus—is studying Matthew 5, 6 and 7.

Calvin’s all-campus Bible study annually gathers students faculty and staff in many groups and many locations to study the same text. In 2010, Calvin studied Phillippians. In 2011: Psalms.

This year, from September 9 through November 30, the Calvin community will study Matthew 5, 6 and 7: the Sermon on the Mount

“The Sermon on the Mount is about living a certain way …,” said Calvin associate chaplain Aaron Winkle about the text selected for this year’s study. “I think as much as any passage in the New Testament, it offers a picture of what it means to live in the Kingdom of God.”

There are already 80 groups signed up to tackle Jesus’ famous sermon: residence hall groups, departmental groups, groups led by members of the Calvin faculty and staff. President Le Roy and his wife will host a study for students in De Wit Manor, and Calvin junior Rebekah Coggin will lead one for her colleagues studying abroad in Budapest, Hungary.

Something in common

Also, as in previous years, the Bible study will feature “affinity groups”—groups that meet around a commonality or shared interest. There are studies for engineering students, for members of the Calvin Theatre Company, for commuter students, for future counselors and for members of the women’s swimming and diving team. There is a group that emphasizes racial reconciliation and one whose members will create artworks from their responses to the scripture.

Affinity groups have always been a popular feature of the study: “Students who know less of the landscape say, ‘Maybe I fit here,’” Winkle explained.  And already established groups or teams can gain real benefits from studying the Bible together:

“We believe that it is important to build community and team unity outside of just the pool deck,” said junior Margaret Rechel, a co-leader of the women’s swimming and diving team. “Having a Bible study challenges us to know each other on a deeper level, making us closer as a team, as friends and as family.”

The majority of the Sermon on the Mount groups are open to anyone. “The students have really enjoyed having faculty and staff in them,” Winkle said. “Scripture teaches quite clearly about intergenerational community and a faith that’s passed down from one generation to another.”

To guide them through the three chapters of Matthew, the groups will use study guides created by the chaplain’s office and Dallas Willard's The Divine Conspiracy, a study of Christian discipleship. “It’s deep, penetrating, challenging,” Winkle said of the book. “Willard is a trusted guide as we walk through the Sermon on the Mount.  He knows it well, he’s studied it carefully and he’s able to communicate with those who want to take it as seriously as he does.” (Several churches partnered with Calvin are using these resources to offer their own Sermon on the Mount studies.)

Partnering with worship

The all-campus Bible study launched (as is traditional) at the September 9 Living Our Faith Together (LOFT) series, and Matthew 5, 6  and 7 will be the source of LOFT sermons for the series’ duration. And throughout January, the sermon will also be the theme of the worship services for the annual Symposium on Worship, hosted by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.

The group that chooses each year’s text for the campus study is composed of staff from the chaplain's office and the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Year by year, the group alternates between the Old and New Testaments, and (so far) they don’t repeat genres of scripture, said Winkle: “It’s easy when you’ve only chosen three,” he joked.

He’s looking forward to reading Matthew with his study group and to the transformation that could come from it: “The Sermon on the Mount is about living a certain way,” Winkle said. “If we study His word, we'll be shaped and changed individually and shaped and changed communally.”

Sign up for a Sermon on the Mount study group.

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