Greater Gifts Worship Series, Week 1 - You Are Beloved
January 13, 2019
Introduction to the Series
This resource is meant to complement the worship resources for the Season after Epiphany 2019.
Small Groups: From Worship to Discipleship
This resource is meant to be used in connection with the worship resources for the Season After Epiphany. Each session uses the same Scriptures and themes as the previous Sunday’s worship service. The preferred pattern is for participants to experience the worship service first, followed by group study during the week that follows.
The subtitle, “From Worship to Discipleship,” is intentional. By deliberately connecting the themes and Scripture from corporate worship to the small-group experience, participants will be more fully formed into disciples of Jesus Christ. People learn best when they are in conversations with others.
The role of the group leader is not to be the “answer” person or the person with the most biblical knowledge. Instead of providing the “right answer,” a good facilitator helps the group members ask the right questions. Facilitators should familiarize themselves with the format, questions, possible answers, and background information ahead of time.
Group size should consist of six to eight people. If there are more than eight participants, consider adding more time for the group to meet and/or create more groups. Each person added to the group will create more relationship dynamics to be managed; each person might not have enough time to share. If the group is larger than eight participants, it is advised to split into even smaller groups within the group as needed so that all participants get a chance to talk. This will also keep one or two voices from dominating the discussion. It is highly advisable to use a group covenant to provide expectations of participants’ roles and manner of speech. Specific items to include should be confidentiality and speaking only for oneself. Participants must be willing to risk sharing their perspectives, no matter how popular or unpopular.
Another group dynamic to consider is space. If your group meets in a church building, be sure the chairs are soft and the group is set up in a circle. Use one table for food only. If participants meet in a home, make sure there are plenty of seating areas and be sure to limit distractions, such as pets. If your group is meeting in a coffee shop or restaurant, be sure the space will be comfortable and quiet enough for conversation.
Introduction to the Format
There is a pattern for each week. (Note that week two has a slight shift in the pattern.) The times are suggestions and are loosely based on an hour timeframe. The times should be modified, as needed. Each session will consist of the following elements:
Fellowship – Snacks or a meal (10 minutes with snacks; longer, obviously, if there is a meal)
Gathering Time (5-10 minutes) - Each session will begin with an opening question to foster dialogue and help the participants settle in to the theme for the week. These questions are meant to be done in micro-groups of two or three persons.
Group Dialogue (Approximately 30 minutes) - This guide does not include a lot of questions. The intent is for greater time to be spent on certain questions. Opening questions transition the gathering time into the dialogues, as the total group centers on the themes and Scripture for the week. During the dialogue sections, you will see guidance and possible answers to the given questions with brackets [ ]. These are only possible answers and are not meant to be exhaustive of other answers. Questions that begin with (R) are meant to be more reflective. This will mean more time should be spent on these questions relative to others and will often result in participants needing more time to process. It is a helpful practice to allow participants plenty of time to process these questions internally. Don’t be afraid of silence.
Practice - Each week includes practices for participants to live into the themes discussed in the session. While weeks one to three are exercises to be completed between sessions, the final week’s practice is an in-group exercise. Also note that week one includes an additional homework assignment.
Prayer (10 minutes) - Allow each participant who would like to do so to lift up a person or situation he or she would like the group to be in prayer over. Following each request, the leader will pray, “Lord, in your mercy…,” and the participants will respond, “Hear our prayers.” If the situation is warranted and if the participant is willing, surround the participant and lay hands on him/her and allow those who are willing to do so to pray for this person and/or situation.
Sending Forth (1 minute) - Ask for a volunteer to send the group out with the printed blessing; or read the prayer in unison.
Biblical and Theological Helps - These two sections are meant to give some background material. It can be used by the leaders and/or the participants.
Week 1 - Baptism of the Lord - You Are Beloved
Fellowship - Snacks or a Meal. (10 minutes with snacks; longer, obviously, if there is a meal)
Gathering Time (5-10 minutes)
In pairs, discuss: “What are you hoping to gain by being part of this group?”
Group Dialogue (Approximately 30 minutes)
Opening question: “We see in verse 15 that ‘the people were filled with expectation.’ When was the last time you had exciting news to share? With whom did you share the news?”
Read Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
- (R) What labels and/or titles have you been given (positive, negative, neutral)?
- A voice from heaven declared Jesus as Beloved. The Apostle Paul also declares us as “beloved” of God (see note below on “Beloved”). “When I think that being God’s beloved is the core of who I am, it makes me feel…”
- Henri Nouwen wrote, “Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the ‘Beloved.’ Being the Beloved expresses the core truth of our existence.” (See additional resources for more information.) Do you agree or disagree with Nouwen’s statement? Why or why not?
- How is John the Baptist a model disciple? [Points to Jesus. Acknowledges Jesus’ power.]
- How does John the Baptist characterize the ministry of the “one coming” after him? [More powerful than John. One of judgment (see note below on fire).]
- Why is the phrase “and was praying” (in v. 21) important to what happens in the story? [Shows Jesus’ practice of being in prayer, demonstrates Jesus’ intimate relationship with the Father and that what happens next is the result of being faithful in baptism and in prayer.]
- (R) What does it mean to be a beloved child of God?
- (See note below on baptism.) Option A: If your worship service did not include a “Remembering of Your Baptism” time, share your stories of being baptized. Who was there? How old were you? How meaningful was it for you? For your family? For the church community?
- (See note below on baptism.) Option B: If your worship service included a “Remembering of Your Baptism” time, share your experience. How was this meaningful for you? Why is it important to remember our baptism?
Practice: Find a way to remind yourself that you are one of God’s beloved children. This might mean placing a sticky note with the word “beloved” on your bathroom mirror or a wallpaper on your computer or home screen of your cellphone that reminds you that you are beloved of God.
Homework: Have each participant complete one of the following online spiritual gifts assessments. Ask participants to bring the results to the next session.
Two additional resources regarding spiritual gifts are:
Discovering Your Spiritual Gifts booklet (free pdf or order a hard copy)
By virtue of the image of God within us, we are beloved of God (John 3:16). Jesus’ death on the cross is God’s demonstration of the extent of God’s committed, prodigal, compassionate, and tangible love for us. The Apostle Paul declares in Colossians 3:12 that we are beloved of God. This identity of being one of God’s beloved is neither a title we earn nor a status we can sin away. Being one of the beloved of God is foundational to who we are.
It is easy to overgeneralize Jesus’ ministry as being characterized solely as love. John pushes back on that overgeneralization. John foresees Jesus’ ministry coming with fire and judgment (verses 16-17). In context, the word fire has a harsher tone than mere refinement. It is the fire of judgment. This is seen in the illustration of Jesus having a winnowing fork (an instrument of division). Even more, having this instrument “in his hand” represents a readiness to use it. Also note the unusable (the chaff) will end up being burned “with unquenchable fire” (v. 17).
Baptism is the foundation for Christian discipleship. It is in baptism that we are claimed by God and that we make vows in response to God’s claim on our lives. The United Methodist Hymnal notes, “The Baptismal Covenant is God’s word to us, proclaiming our adoption by grace, and our word to God promising our response of faith and love” (UM Hymnal, p. 32). In our baptism, though we might not hear an audible voice as Jesus did at his baptism, God speaks words of acceptance over us as adopted children of God. For our participation in the baptismal covenant, we, or guardians on our behalf, vow or promise to faithfully serve God empowered by the Holy Spirit and the church. Similar to how Jesus’ ministry begins in earnest following his baptism, so, too, does baptism mark the beginning of our lives as beloved disciples.
For more information regarding United Methodist beliefs about baptism, see the free downloadable PDF resource for small-group study — The Meaning of Baptism.
For more information regarding infant baptism and preparing parents or guardians to bring the children for baptism, we recommend the affordable resource – Baptism: Understanding God’s Gift.
Prayer (10 minutes). Share prayer requests and respond appropriately.
Sending Forth (1 minute). Have each participant turn to a neighbor and speak over themhim/her, “Remember this week, YOU are one of the baptized!” Ask for a volunteer to lead the group or read the following prayer in unison:
“Gracious God, You call us what often seems unimaginable to us – one of your beloved. Help this fact sink deep within our being. May we live and move among all our encounters this week, living as one of the baptized, one of God’s beloved children. Amen.”
Week 1: Baptism of the Lord – January 13, 2019: You Are Beloved
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
“As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire . . .’
21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’”
Our verse for today is from the Gospel according to Luke, chapter 3, verse 22: “and the Holy Spirit descended upon [Jesus] in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’”
Let’s think about what this means.
- When Jesus was an adult, he was baptized with many people by John in the Jordan River.
- When a baby is baptized, the parents tell God and the church, “Our child belongs to the Lord.”
- When an adult is baptized, he or she tells God, “I belong to you. I trust you with my whole life.”
- Jesus showed by being baptized that he was dedicating his whole life to follow God’s will.
- As Jesus prayed, he talked to God in his heart. The Bible doesn’t tell us what Jesus prayed then.
- God answered Jesus in wonderful ways that the crowd could see and hear.
- God sent from heaven the Holy Spirit, who in that moment looked like a dove landing on Jesus.
- God’s voice said aloud that Jesus is God’s beloved Son. Jesus is God’s well-loved Child.
- It pleases God that Jesus trusts and obeys God. That makes God glad.
- God loves each one of us and welcomes us into God’s family through baptism.
- We trust God to be with us our whole life, even if we don’t see the Holy Spirit like a dove.
- Let’s remember in our hearts that God also calls us beloved.
- Let’s say to ourselves “I am God’s well-loved child!”
- Let’s tell our family and friends, “God loves you, too!”
Dear God, thank you for your great love. Jesus shows us how to follow you in faith. We are so glad that you welcome us into your family through baptism. Help us to live each day as your well-loved child and share your love with others. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.