Fifth Sunday in Lent | Believe!  — Formation Group Notes

April 2, 2017 (Year A) | Living Our Baptismal Calling Series

Order of Worship Preaching Hymns Music  Planning Formation Groups Resources


The patterns for the one hour group meeting should continue as you have established them this week.

If you meet next week (during Holy Week), the focus will of the teaching/testimony time will be on the gospel reading for the day you meet  (Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday). Formation group notes for each day in our Holy Week resources will include guidance for a meeting on each day. We encourage the primary focus of the whole church on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Vigil, and Easter Sunday morning be the liturgies for those days or times.

Formation groups may continue with their current participants during Easter Season with a primary focus on formation for ministry. This section during the Easter Season helps will detail a process and focus for each of these group meetings.

Structure for this week:

  1. Brief, informal time of gathering (10 minutes) with snacks to share.
     
  2. Formal Gathering and Prayer-- seated in a circle in chairs or around a table-- with requests for prayer for the coming week (10 minutes) and prayer led by the group leader or unison in the group.
     
  3. Teaching and Testimony (30 minutes) — For this week, there is one verb (believe) and three main objects of our belief (Father, Son, Holy Spirit). Plan to take about 10 minutes for each. Spend no more than 2 minutes teaching about each one (see below), and the remaining time for sharing how each person “believes into” (entrusts their lives)  to each person of the Trinity, how each has actively entrusted their lives to each person in the recent past, what has happened because because each did, and how each seeks to grow in the capacity to trust and entrust their lives to our Triune God.
     
  4. Blessing and Sending: Gather in a circle or huddle, lay hands on each other, one by one, and pray over each in unison, “X, may you continue to grow in Christ in the days ahead.” (5 minutes). Thank all for coming, and send the group out to continue to grow.
     

TEACHING OVERVIEW

As we’ve noted several times throughout these weeks, the phrase that begins each article of the Apostles (and Nicene) creeds, usually translated “believe in” would be better translated, literally, as “believe into.” “Believing into” someone means entrusting one’s life to someone.

What each article of the creed is really asking then is not whether we give intellectual assent to the idea, for example, that there is a God who created everything. That’s assumed, but it’s not the main point. The real question behind each article of the creed is whether we are prepared to entrust our lives to a God who, in three persons united in one Being, does or is like what each article of the creed asserts.

TEACHING 1: “I Believe in God, the Father Almighty”

Translation from the Greek:

“I believe into God the Father,
the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth.”

(Note: There is a comma after Father in the Greek text. It is missing in many English translations which derive more from the Latin than the Greek).

This article identifies the person of God the Father with two additional attributes: “almighty,” and “maker of heaven and earth.”

To entrust oneself to God the Father, then, is to entrust oneself to one who is both “almighty” and “maker of heaven and earth.”

The first of these terms may require some further unpacking. The Greek typically translated as “almighty” (pantokrator) is the same word used to translate the Hebrew Shaddai in the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible that was most widely in use throughout the Roman world at the time of Jesus and the early church.

Pantokrator itself means, most literally, to rule or hold sway (krator) over all things (panto). Because it has that basic meaning, it has extended meanings of “be as mighty as can be” and even “be conqueror over all.” What it translates in the Hebrew, Shaddai, which derives from the word for “mountains” or, alternately, “breasts” points in the first case (mountain) to one who is at the pinnacle, on the top of the mountain, and thereby able to dominate the valley and surrounding region, and, in the second (breasts), to the compassion of a nursing mother toward her child. Shaddai, in Hebrew, thus carries this idea of one who is at once able to rule over others and who does so with great compassion. That vision of compassion is lost in the translation from Hebrew, where it would have been heard and understood to Greek, where “krator” does not have similar roots or cognates.

The Latin and English translations follow the Greek rather than the Hebrew. Omnipotens (all-powerful) only captures power without the compassion implied in the Hebrew. Almighty, in English, is ultimately a translation of omnipotens, and again seems to exult only in the power of God, or, perhaps more problematically, suggest God’s power is completely unlimited, an idea not present in the Hebrew term or early Hebrew theology, but quite compatible with some later Greek (pagan) theistic theologies.

So to entrust one’s life to God the Father, who is “almighty,” is, via the Hebrew, less a matter of entrusting one’s life to an “omnipotent” being who “can” do anything, and much more to entrust one’s life to One who is able to govern the created universe, and who does so with compassion. Governing or ruling does not mean having absolute control over everything that happens. Instead, it means taking responsibility for what happens, however it happens, and intervening where needed to put at least some things more right than they had been.

To entrust one’s life to God the Father, then, is to entrust one’s life to the One who is responsible for all and who uses that responsibility with compassion toward all.

"Maker of heaven and earth.” God the Father’s rule with compassion over all (pantokrator) is immediately set into further context with the act of having made all things.

Here the Apostles Creed speaks of the universe in a typically Hebraic way, “heaven and earth,” all that we can see above and around us, and all that is with us here at the level of this planet. It also describes God as maker, or creator. In Greek and Hebrew, both, there is no real difference between these two English works. The maker or author or creator has an intimate connection with what is made, written, or created. Generally, when we make something and consider it to be good, as God does in the act of creation (Genesis 1), we love it, are proud of it, and hope for it to prosper or bring prosperity. This description of God the Father as maker of heaven and earth thus adds a further dimension to love, feeling, and intimacy to the description of the Father.

When you think of God the Father, what images come to your mind immediately? How do they compare with what the Creed says about God the Father? How does this understanding of what the Creed says help you entrust your life more fully to God the Father?

TEACHING 2: I Believe in Jesus Christ, His Only Son, Our Lord  

Translation from the Greek:

“And into Jesus Christ, his only-begotten son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born from the Mary the Virgin,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried,
descended to the depths,
the third day was raised from the dead,
ascended into the heavens,
is seated at the right hand God the Father of all power,
coming from there to judge the living and the dead.”

To entrust ourselves to Jesus Christ in this article is to entrust our lives to the one who did all the verbs in the long list of verbs in this article: was conceived, born, suffered, crucified, died, buried, descended, raised, ascended, seated, and coming to judge.

It is also to commit ourselves to the same path from our own new birth in baptism to the closing of our days and beyond. As Paul writes in Romans 6:4, “So we have been co-buried with him in baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so also we ourselves may walk in newness of life.” We move as he did from baptism to suffering for the sake of the good news of God’s kingdom, suffering with those suffering because of the reign of the powers of this world, and suffering in our struggle to witness for God’s reign and for the freedom of all oppressed by the powers of this world. For as Paul also wrote (II Timothy 2:11-12), probably quoting a song or saying already in use by the church in Ephesus:

If we have died with him, we shall also live with him.
If we suffer with him, we shall also reign with him.
If we deny him, he will also deny us.
If we are unbelieving, still he remains faithful,
because he cannot deny himself. 

So, how do you entrust your life to Jesus in full awareness that doing so may well lead to suffering for the sake of his mission?

TEACHING 3: I Believer in the Holy Spirit

Translation from Greek:

“I believe into the Holy Spirit,
holy catholic church,
communion of the holy ones,
forgiveness of sins,
resurrection of flesh,
life of age to come. Amen.”

In this article of the creed, we entrust our lives to the Holy Spirit, yet seem to say nothing at all about the Holy Spirit beyond the name. That is, unless we see the rest of the items in this article reflecting the work of the Holy Spirit among us here and now.

From that angle, the Holy Spirit gives rise to the church, holy and worldwide. The Holy Spirit makes our communion with one another possible, and makes us holy. The Holy Spirit is the living breath and power for the forgiveness of sins. The Holy Spirit is the agency of the resurrection of our flesh. And the Holy Spirit at work in and through us is the guarantor, guide, and giver of life in the age to come.

So to entrust our lives to the Holy Spirit is to trust our lives also to and with one another in a way that builds community worldwide, a community made possible and sustainable because our chief currency is mercy, the forgiveness of sins.

How are you doing at entrusting your life to the Holy Spirit whose work is like this? How can we help you do this better, more and more?

  



Courageous Conversations Events

by Scott Hughes

Lent is a forty-day period of self-reflection, contemplation, and reconciliation. Lent is also traditionally a season connected with preparing for baptism or reaffirmation of the baptismal covenant. The following Lenten Courageous Conversations materials are is an attempt to relate the vows made in baptism with people who are or could be feeling estranged. 

The Courageous Conversations event each week should not be seen as displacing or replacing the work of other formation groups, but rather as supplementing and underscoring what it means for us to live “in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races.” Given the persistence of deep divisions in our nation, divisions that are replicated within our churches and communities as United Methodists, we believe these weekly Courageous Conversation events offer an opportunity for mutual listening, care, and healing that are critical for our future as a denomination, yes, but more importantly critical for the future of Christian witness wherever our churches are across this country.   

Homeless

This series of lessons will focus on homeless people who often suffer in isolation due to stigma, despite the various causes of their homelessness.

The Book of Resolutions of the United Methodist Church invites us to consider: “As people of faith and religious commitment, we are called to stand with and seek justice for people who are poor. Central to our religious traditions, sacred texts, and teachings is a divine mandate to side with and protect the poor...We share a conviction, therefore, that welfare reform must not focus on eliminating programs but on eliminating poverty and the damage it inflicts on children (who are two thirds of all welfare recipients), on their parents, and on the rest of society.”

DOWNLOAD Courageous Conversations — Homeless [PDF]

Immigrants

This series of lessons will focus on immigrants (documented and undocumented) who often suffer in isolation due to language, culture, and even fear.

The Book of Resolutions of the United Methodist Church invites us to consider: “Reflecting upon the Scriptures, we are reminded that United Methodists are a global church. In the United States, we may be descendants of economic immigrants or forced migrants, or we may have recently arrived in the US. We may have formal documents proving US citizenship, or we may be undocumented. Regardless of legal status or nationality, we are connected through Christ to one another.”

DOWNLOAD Courageous Conversations — Immigrants [PDF]

Prisoners

Prisoners live isolated from loved ones. Former prisoners carry stigmas that last long past their terms of incarceration. Without overlooking ministry to the victims, the church is also called to ministry with those in prison and those still carrying the baggage of being imprisoned.

The Book of Resolutions of the United Methodist Church invites us to consider: “While acknowledging that the biblical concept of justice focuses on the victim, the offender, and the community in the hope of restoring all to a sense of God’s wholeness, it is also important to understand that our Methodist heritage is rich with examples of ministries carried out in jails and prisons. John Wesley...had a passion for those in prison. As early as 1778, the Methodist Conference adopted action making it the duty of every Methodist preacher to minister to those who were incarcerated. United Methodists have reaffirmed and expanded the mandate for prison ministry and reform in many different chapters of our denominational history. This is a part of our identity and call.”

DOWNLOAD Courageous Conversations — Prisoners [PDF]

Soldiers

This series of lessons will focus on soldiers returning from war and/or from active duty who often struggle with physical and/or emotional injuries and have the difficult task of reentry into civilian life.

The Book of Resolutions of the United Methodist Church invites us to consider: “that the Church commits itself to extend its pastoral ministry to members of the armed forces and their families during their time of service and after their return; and...that we call upon our churches to extend a welcome home to persons who return from service in their armed forces, to respect their stories and interpretations of their experiences, and to value and encourage expression of their contributions to the ministry of our churches...”

DOWNLOAD Courageous Conversations — Soldiers [PDF]

 

Categories: Year A, Fifth Sunday in Lent - April 2, 2017

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