Prepare the Way Worship Series, week 2 —REFINE
December 9, 2018
Small Groups: From Worship To Discipleship
Fellowship—Snacks or a Meal (10 minutes with snacks; longer, obviously, if there is a meal)
Gathering time (5-10 minutes) — In pairs or groups of three, have each participant finish the sentence: “When I hear the word judgment, I envision…”
Read: Malachi 3:1-4 and Luke 3:1-6
Group Dialogue (Approximately 30 minutes)
- “Which word(s) come to mind when you think of judgment? Why?”
- What is your image of repentance?
- Person at the altar praying
- Person weeping tears of regret
- Person celebrating victory
- Person in AA or recovery group
- Person offering large donation to a charity
- Person spending time with his/her spouse
- Person bringing coffee and donuts to his or her coworkers
- Compare and contrast the words refine and judge. Which word seems more spiritual? Which seems more comforting? And why?
- Why does Luke locate John’s preaching “in the wilderness”? What echoes of Israel’s story does this conjure up and what might it mean for how they see themselves currently? [That they see themselves as those still in exile. Much like the Israelites had a generation to die off before they could enter the Promised Land, this, too, is a time of refinement with expectation of entering a new era of peace.]
- How does John’s ministry prepare the way for Jesus? [John calls them to repentance, which will put them in the posture of receptivity to follow Christ.]
- What does it look like to “prepare the way of the Lord”? How do we make the Lord’s path straight?
- How does John’s message of “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” invite refinement of our goals, dreams, and desires?
- (R) Why would the refining of the social, economic, and political order have been received as a message of hope to those who felt as though they were still in political and spiritual exile?
- (R) How might God be calling you to be refined by God’s grace and prepare the way for others this coming week?
Judgment and Salvation
The word judgment often conjures up images of courtrooms, scales of judgment, and feelings of condemnation. Envisioning the Last Judgment may include extreme visions of weeping and gnashing of teeth, unquenchable fires, and darkness. Judgment and salvation often seem like opposites. Salvation can be thought of as an escape from judgment. However, judgment and salvation connect through a desire for justice and hope for a different, better future. Biblically, salvation is often the result of judgment. Think of the salvation of the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt. Their freedom is won through God’s judgment of the pharaoh and the Egyptian gods. There is no true salvation without judgment.
John, the messenger of the coming Messiah, preaches judgment. But notice who is the recipient of God’s judgment, according to John (and the prophets before him). John’s ministry, like Israel’s prophets before him, is a message of warning – the Lord is coming, and those in high places will be brought low; those in the valley will be lifted. These are signs of radical social, economic, political, and spiritual reversals. Salvation, deliverance— freedom from captivity—is coming for God’s people, but as John announces it, it is coming through judgment.
John preaches “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Repentance can too often be thought of as a one-time experience. Rather, John Wesley (the founder of the Methodist movement) taught that ongoing repentance is typical and necessary for the growth of believers (see Sermon 14: Repentance of Believers). As we grow closer to Christ, we recognize more of our faults and limitations, how tight sin has its grip on us, and how much more we need the grace of God to become what God would have us to be. Rather than a sign of weakness or that our life is not going well, responding to God through repentance is a mark of growth and a willingness to more fully rely on God’s grace.
Especially in our individualistic culture, it is easy to miss the communal impact of repentance. Repentance certainly requires ownership on the part of the individual seeking forgiveness. Yet, sin is more than a barrier between us and God. Sin also erects a barrier between us and others. Thus, forgiveness is more than reconciliation with God; it is also a restoration within and to the community of believers. Repentance is necessary for individual and communal growth.
Prayer (10 minutes). Share prayer requests and respond appropriately.
Sending Forth (2 minutes). End by praying the following or similar prayer:
Compassionate God, as the calendar gets more crowded, help us to focus ever more on watching and waiting for what you seek to do in us and through us. Help us to be a blessing to our family and friends as we strive to be people who embody forgiveness and repentance. Amen.
(Preparation: Make or purchase an Advent wreath. An Advent wreath contains four—usually purple—candles representing the four Sundays leading to Christmas. Many people place a white candle in the center of the wreath.)
Gather together with no distractions to light the candles on the Advent wreath and to share this time of spiritual fellowship.
First Reader: Today, we light two purple candles for hope and love. God loves the world so much that God sent messengers—the prophets and John the Baptist—to help us cleanse our hearts and minds to get ready for Jesus.
Second Reader: Let’s listen closely to God’s word for us in our Bible passage.
Malachi, chapter 3, verses 1 through 4, says, “‘See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming,’ says the LORD of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.’”
Conversation: Take turns talking about the Bible passage. What stood out for you in this passage? Why did it draw your attention? What does it mean for your life today?
Pray aloud together this Family Litany.
One: Holy God, you sent prophets to help us clear the way for the Messiah.
All: Help us to listen closely to your message of warning and to respond with faith.
One: You have made each person a precious vessel of your Spirit, but we have become tarnished.
All: Thank you for washing away the sin from our hearts so that we will reflect your light.
One: You call us to clear away what is unworthy in our lives and to make room to welcome Christ.
All: May our whole life become an offering that is pleasing to you, Lord.