The patterns for the one-hour group meeting should continue as you have established them.
- Brief, informal time of gathering (10 minutes) with snacks to share.
- Formal gathering and prayer with people 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. However you chose to share requests and pray last week, do the same this week.
Again, one practice I’ve found useful in leading such groups, especially when prayer out loud may be unfamiliar or uncomfortable for some in the group, is immediately after a person shares, the whole group pauses, then says in unison: “Into your hands, O God, we commend our sister/brother/sibling(s) Name(s).” Proceed to the next person and repeat until all who wish to offer requests for prayer have had the opportunity to do so.
- Teaching and Testimony— (35 minutes)— For this week, there are five verbs to focus upon: confess, trust, serve, be united, and represent. This means you have about seven minutes for each verb. Plan to spend no more than two minutes teaching about each one (see below), and use the remaining time for sharing how each is working on each one, how each has exercised each one during the past week or recent past, what has happened because each did, and how each seeks to improve.
- Blessing and Sending— Gather in a circle or huddle, lay hands on one another, 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 1: Confess
Our verb confess in English comes from Greek roots that mean literally “to speak together.” This is part of why “confessions of faith” in worship are spoken in unison. We are all, literally, speaking our faith together.
The verb also means, by extension, to agree. To confess is to agree that what one is saying is true.
We are called to confess (to agree, to say together) that Jesus Christ is Savior. This is one of the earliest, and also one of the most dangerous, Christian confessions. During the period of the early church, until Christianity was recognized as one of the legal religions in the early fourth century, there was only one person to whom the title “Savior” (Soter in Greek, Salvator in Latin) applied in the Roman Empire: Caesar, the emperor. To proclaim anyone else by this title was literally an act of treason. Indeed, this, plus calling Jesus “Lord” (see Teaching 3) were often among the legal charges of treason brought against early Christians during times of persecution.
We confess— we agree, and we say together— that Jesus Christ is Savior, and there is no other. In so doing, we also agree and say together that his way of being Savior, by love and service and solidarity with the suffering rather than by conquest and suppression, is the only true way of being Savior that there is.
TEACHING 2: Trust
As we discussed last week, disciples of Jesus are those who “believe into” him. That is, we do more than merely assent to a set of beliefs about him. We stake our lives on him and on the way he shows and leads us to live.
Here we make a pledge to “put our whole trust in” or, we might say, “believe into” his grace. We will do more than confess him as Lord. We will also stake our lives on mercy, being merciful as he is merciful in every way we can. This is part of what the Wesleys were pointing to, explicitly, in the second General Rule, where they and early Methodists pledged to do good “by being in every kind merciful after their power.” We are able to show mercy more and more as we trust more deeply in the mercy that has been shown toward us in Jesus Christ.
TEACHING 3: Serve Jesus as Lord
The term Lord (Kyrios in Greek, Dominus in Latin) was, like Savior, a term reserved by the Roman Empire to refer exclusively to Caesar, the emperor. “Lord” as the Gentiles used that term meant “the one to whom all allegiance is ultimately due and who controls/dominates one’s life. Jesus was quite clear in his teaching about how his disciples were to offer leadership. It was not by “lording it over” others, as the empire did. It was by becoming servants of all, just as Jesus had given the example by taking the role of a servant to wash the disciples’ feet at his last meal with them (John 13:13-17).
So when we pledge to serve Jesus as Lord, we commit treason against all other powers, declaring sole allegiance to Jesus. And more than this, we pledge ourselves to his way of lordship in the world— the way of service, especially among the least, the marginalized, the displaced, and the most targeted people among us.
TEACHING 4: Be United
To confess Jesus as Savior, trust fully in his grace, and serve him as Lord is not a solo act. It is something we are called to do with and among people “from every tribe and tongue and people and ethnicity” (Revelation 4:9). We agree in today’s first question that we’ll be part of such a diverse and global community. We acknowledge (“By the grace given you, will you remain faithful members of Christ’s holy Church”) that this is not something we can keep doing ourselves, individually. We need God’s grace— God’s love and mercy in action in our lives and the lives of others— to keep us united in such a broad-flung diversity of people. So our pledge in the second question is more than “we’ll do our best to stay united.” Instead, it’s “we know we can’t do this in our own power, and we’ll trust God’s more than sufficient grace to make our unity real and lasting.”
TEACHING 5: Represent
The idea captured in this verb (“serve as Christ’s representative, or, more simply, represent Christ) comes from the domain of diplomacy (as in an official representative of state). The Urban Dictionary’s top definition may say it better: “Go and be a good example to the others of your group or in your position.” We might very well paraphrase this less as a question (”Will you… serve as Christ’s representatives in the world?”) and more as a charge (Disciple of Jesus, represent, yo!) Show up. Speak for Jesus. Act for Jesus. Be what Jesus has taught you to be with that multinational, multicultural, multilingual, multiethnic, multi-everything people he calls his church.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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...”