Archbishop of York Youth Trust 40 Day Youth Led Action – 4th Week’s Challenge

Archbishop of York Youth Trust 40 Day Youth Led Action – 4th Week’s Challenge

Week 4 of the Archbishop of York’s Youth Trust 40 days of youth led action Lent campaign and the theme is…NEIGHBOURS!

Any young person can sign up here and each day during Lent (10th February to 26th March) there will be a challenge to encourage young people to ‘Be the change they want to see’

40 Acts: Do Lent Generously

40 Acts: Do Lent Generously

Lent is usually about ‘giving stuff up’, isn’t it? What if you could add something transformational to the traditional?

40acts is the multi award-winning challenge from Christian charity Stewardship that invites you to do Lent generously.

What if you could give up chocolate and give the money to your favourite charity? What if you could turn the TV off and spend more time helping your neighbour? What if Lent was a preparation for a lifetime of big-heartedness that reflected God’s amazing generosity?

40 Acts encourages you to do one act of generosity each day from February 10th to March 26th 2016. 75,000 people signed up last year to receive the challenges and reflections by email and this year’s sign up is now open. You can also download resources for churches, small groups, families and schools here.

Lent Course: Living the Mission of Jesus – 11-18 year olds

Winchester Lent

Here’s my adapted version of session 6 from the Winchester Lent course on Living the Mission of Jesus (Matthew 21:1-11) for 11-18 year olds:

Mission Outcome

We commit to living the mission of Jesus, working with him to reveal the kingdom.

Activity Ideas

Treasure hunt

Set up a treasure hunt for your group, but don’t tell them what the goal is. Make it as random and complicated as you like, inside and outside if it suits your group (remembering that you will need parental consent if you go off site). Have a copy of today’s reading (Matthew 21:1-11) at the end, either printed out on a sheet or marked in a Bible. You could also have some kind of treat: chocolates, cakes or something similar for your group to share.

Who drives what?

Car-mad boys should enjoy watching this clip of celebs and their cars (one of the celebs is Lady Gaga dancing in her underwear, just to warn you!).

[youtube id=”z9T3sXffIVY” width=”580″ height=”337″]

Spend some time chatting about why the celebs choose to drive these kinds of cars and what cars your group would like to own one day if money were no object.  You’ll later reflect on why Jesus chose to ride a humble donkey into Jerusalem.

Creative Worship Ideas

Palm crosses

With your group make palm crosses. They’re very simple and you can find video instructions here (the sound isn’t great):

[youtube id=”oT-0Z6YSJoU” width=”580″ height=”337″]

Or a pdf from the Diocese of Birmingham: www.birmingham.anglican.org/upload/pdf/HowTo_PalmCross.pdf

As you make your crosses (use paper if you can’t hold of palm fronds) reflect together on the difference between the celebration of Palm Sunday and the tragedy of Good Friday.

Cloaked in praise

Lay a large piece of material on the floor, reminiscent of the cloaks that people laid on the ground in front of Jesus’ donkey. Using fabric pens or permanent markers, decorate it with praises from the passage:

‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’

‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’

‘Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

‘This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.’

You may want to help your group think of contemporary phrases to replace these biblical texts. You may need to explain that ‘Hosanna’ means all sorts of things depending on where you look: in some places people say it is a word that expresses adoration, praise or joy; some say it means ‘Save us’ and in other translations it’s simply read as ‘Hooray!’

Bible Study Ideas/Questions

Video

You will still need to read the words from the Bible passage, but this clip would be good for setting the scene:

[youtube id=”qqI3dwDrB0M” width=”580″ height=”337″]

Sermon

What on earth was Jesus doing?

Illustration: Long Walk to Freedom is the autobiography of Nelson Mandela, who died at the end of 2013. It tells the story of how he gave his life to opposing racial oppression, and re-imagined a future where black and white could not just live in harmony, but play their part in changing the attitudes of the world towards this issue. From his leadership of the ANC, through his incarceration on Robben Island and his release on 11 February 1990, this account shows us how Nelson Mandela left a lasting legacy to our world. It wasn’t easy or straight forward – it was a long walk to freedom.

As Jesus approaches Jerusalem, he too is at the end of a long walk to freedom. Over three years he has taught, healed, loved, laughed, served and lived alongside the people of his time. But now his ‘long walk’ brings him to the last steps. Jesus enters Jerusalem, intentionally facing up to the cost of the eternal freedom of the sons and daughters of God. It doesn’t happen by chance: he knows what they are expecting and manages their expectations, and he knows what the Father has called him to do.

As God’s people today, what can we learn from this about living for Christ in this time and in this place as under God we seek to shape the future?

Jesus found his place in God’s story

Jesus lived out his calling among the people of his time.

Illustration: On Oscars’ night, stars of stage and screen are scrutinised, welcomed and photographed as they come to the awards dinner. Millions watch as they are feted and celebrated for their achievements and lives, both on and off the screen. And new fashions are born, as what they wear and do is copied in the public domain. In a first-century way, Jesus enters Jerusalem, with everything arranged, right down to the last detail. Instead of the limo we have the donkey colt, reminding everyone that, though he is a king, he is coming in peace. And rather than a red carpet, people put their (one and only) cloak on the dusty roadway to provide a royal welcome. And instead of cameras, we have people cutting down branches from the nearby trees, and cheering him along the way.

Jesus Christ became one of us, living among us, sharing our world for three short years. As the reading from Philippians reminds us, he was a celebrity even before he came to earth, and had to set aside his heavenly authority to become a human being. But he knew that what he had come to do could be done only from the inside out, by becoming fully human himself, by getting involved in what the Father was doing. And those round him recognised the symbolism of a king in their midst. No, he didn’t come parading slaves from the lands he had conquered. Instead he challenged their expectation of a glorious victory by harking back to Zechariah’s prophecy of a king riding a colt (Zechariah 9:9) and bringing judgement on the enemies of God’s people.

One of the real challenges for God’s people in the church today is how we find our place in God’s story. We can feel that the golden age of church-going is past. Christianity is now just one of a number of religions, and is often not even given the same credence given to others. How can we live the mission of Jesus today?

And the answer surely begins by getting involved in the issues of our day – we need to find our place in God’s story. No one will listen to us if we stand on the sidelines and yell, like armchair sports fans who want the best for their team. Our credibility comes from getting our hands dirty as we engage with the issues of our day, and do the Father’s work from the inside out. We all need to play our part as prophetic global citizens, living among people and

yet dancing to a different rhythm, the rhythm of the Spirit. Jesus himself said to his disciples: you are salt for a rotting and tasteless world; you are light for a world without streetlights that has been overtaken by darkness. You need to be out there among the structures and people of this world, working to see the kingdom come, preparing for the King to return. That’s what being prophetic global citizens is all about.

Jesus played his part to change God’s world

Jesus focused on his part in the great rescue plan of God.

I wonder how Jesus felt as the victory parade wound its way through the streets of Jerusalem? Perhaps he was re-imagining the temptations he faced at the start of his ministry, to do things his way rather than God’s. But here he showed he was focused on what he had come to do.

As he went by, the whole city began talking about him: he must be a great prophet. It was a real affirmation to be mentioned in the same sentence as Moses and Elijah; the great prophets of old. But the people could not see what he was doing. They could not hear what he wanted to say to them.

Matthew helpfully puts two different encounters before this happens in his Gospel account. First we have Jesus confronted by James and John, who want the best seats at the messianic banquet. ‘They’re not mine to give,’ says Jesus. And then Jesus’ encounter with the two blind men: ‘Have mercy on us, Lord, son of David,’ they cry out to him. Those who could physically see could not see Jesus for who he really was. Those who were physically blind had him taped! ‘What do you want from me?’ he asks the blind men. Their reply: ‘Lord, let our eyes be opened.’ And he gave them their sight and they followed him.

How can we see what God is calling us to do and to be? We need to be fully present to God, available to him. How do we do that? By focusing on our own walk with God – that’s what passionate personal spirituality is all about. What if we get things wrong? The bigger danger is not to try new things – we need pioneering faith communities to explore what God might be calling us to do and to be. And we need to take time to wrestle together with how we’re doing, through vision days, through retreats and quiet days, through robust PCC discussions. God expects us to use our minds to engage with the issues that surround us, and to listen to his still small voice.

Jesus had come to Jerusalem, the royal city, to finish the work he had been given – to die on the cross and to defeat evil once and for all. And nothing was going to dissuade him from that.

So what on earth do you think you’re doing?

Don’t make history – change the future. This is the provocative title of a book by Matt Summerfield, who works with young people and is passionate for them to live up to their calling. As he says in his book, ‘every single one of us will make history. The big question is what kind of history are we going to make?’ What legacy will we leave behind for the coming generations? What on earth are we doing with our lives?

And the key here is to keep on keeping on, to keep the main thing the main thing. We need to know what we are called to do and to be, and to continue to do and be that. There are some great challenges ahead, but God is with us in our long walk to freedom, just as he was with Adam and Eve in the garden, walking with them in the cool of the day. Just as Jesus was with the two disciples as they walked away from Jerusalem, disappointed after having seen him die. Just as the Holy Spirit walks alongside us now as another comforter. God is with us, and alongside us – and one day this world will be renewed, ready for the rule of King Jesus. What is our part in that?

Bible Study Ideas/Questions

Lectio Divina

This shorter passage is ideal for the Lectio Divina method described in Session 1. You could think about the emotions of the different people in the story as you read it through the three times: the disciples on the first read through, the crowd on the second read through and Jesus on the third read through. Reflect on the fact that only Jesus really knew what was coming next – nobody else would really have understood that he was riding to his death rather than to glory.

Questions

  • What might God be saying to us through these words?
  • What do we learn from the passage about what it means to be a follower of Jesus?
  • How is the kingdom of God revealed as Jesus enters the city?

Rest-of-the-week activities

As the last in the Lent course, this session is all about the rest of the week. It’s a time to review what you have discovered together over the previous six weeks and to explore how you think you will be changed as a group as you move forward. The hope is that, as we re-examine the strategic priorities together, we’ll be in a good place to plan what we can do together in the act of joining God’s mission.

Review

Have the four shortened versions of the strategic priorities printed out on pieces of paper and stuck in the middle of flipchart paper or similar large sheets. As a reminder these are:

  • We grow authentic disciples
  • We re-imagine church
  • We are agents of social transformation
  • We belong together in Christ

Allow the group some time to have a look at all the statements and to consider what they mean. Give each member of the group a glow stick, a pebble, a few post-it notes and a pen.

Encourage them to:

  • Put the glow stick on the statement with which they resonate the most
  • Put the pebble on the statement they find most difficult
  • Use the post-it notes to scribble thoughts and questions on any of the statements that bring up thoughts or questions

Plan

What if…? This is an exercise in dreaming. If at all possible, encourage your group to lie flat on their backs either with their eyes closed or looking up at the ceiling (if you can do this outside it would be even better – real blue-sky thinking!).

You may want to choose some chilled music to help them relax, or just silence if you prefer. Ask them to relax and be calm and to let the thoughts and considerations from the rest of the session wash over them.

Ask them to picture themselves as if they were looking in a mirror, and then to imagine that a clock ticking on the wall gets faster and faster, whizzing them into the future. As they look at themselves, bearing in mind what they’ve spent the last six weeks learning, how would they like to be in five years’ time? What difference might the Lent course have made to them? How will the kingdom of God be revealed through their actions?

Now ask them to picture their church, maybe a service on a Sunday morning with people in the congregation, or gathering at a social event, with all ages present. Again invite them to imagine the clock slowly picking up speed until it has whizzed them five years into the future. How does their congregation look now? Who is doing what in the services and in the gatherings? How has the community been changed by what the church has been doing?

Once a little time has passed, invite your group to sit up and talk about some of their hopes and dreams.

Act

Is there one dream that your group gets really excited about? Act on it, turn it into reality!

Lent Course: We belong together in Christ – 11-18 year olds

Winchester Lent

Here’s my adapted version of session 5 from the Winchester Lent course on how We belong together in Christ (John 11:1-45) for 11-18 year olds:

Mission Outcome

We belong together in Christ, practising sacrificial living and good stewardship of all that God has entrusted to us. We will combine radical generosity, care and capacity building with a clear focus on directing finance into the mission of Jesus. Sharing and multiplying local good practice, using people, buildings and other resources wisely we will seek to boldly prune, plant and invest in building for the kingdom.

Activity Ideas

What are you worth?

Ask your group to look at the clothes they are wearing, the tech they are carrying and the shoes they’ve got on, and to work out how much they are worth today, merely in terms of what they have on their person. You may want to use the internet to check prices. Once you have your figures, write them on luggage labels and wear them for the rest of the session like price tags.

Circle of trust

This is a classic youth group activity but well worth having another go at. Your group needs to stand in a circle all facing the same direction. They need to be really close to each other – close enough to be touching. On the count of three, everyone sits down together on the knees of the person behind them. Timed well, and trusting each other, this activity is a winner. Expect there to be lots of falling over and hysterics before you’re finished!

Creative Worship Ideas

Trust fail

If you did the circle of trust activity, you may want to follow it up with this YouTube clip of a trust exercise gone wrong:

[youtube id=”MiwI5snnq2Y” width=”580″ height=”337″]

  • God asks us to trust him – is that always possible?
  • How does it feel to have to put your trust in someone?
  • Have you ever put your trust in someone and been let down?

Psalm 130

Read Psalm 130 to your group or ask someone to read it for you.

Go back to verses 5 and 6. What must it feel like for your ‘whole being’ to wait? Ask your group to adopt the position of ‘waiting with your whole being’. How does it feel? What do their muscles feel like? What is going through their minds? Hold the positions for a short while.

If they want something more demanding, read the passage and then have a plank challenge. Planking is lying face down on the ground and then raising yourself up on your forearms and elbows. Hold it until everyone has collapsed and then read the words through a second time – allow a time of quiet. Reflect together on what it’s like to wait and trust, even if it causes you discomfort.

Bible Study Ideas/Questions

Lectio Divina

Lectio Divina is a wonderful way to read the Bible with young people. It’s an ancient practice that builds on the idea that when we hear the same words repeated we hear new and different things each time. Let’s read John 11:1-45.

Settle your group, and then ask three confident readers for their help. Explain that the passage is going to be read three times, slowly and carefully, and at the end of each reading there will be a pause for thought and reflection. Ask the group to listen to the readings carefully and to see which phrases, ideas and words catch their attention. When all three readers have finished and you’ve allowed a further period of silence, simply ask: What do you think God might be saying to us through these words?

As you read through each time, you could ask your group to reflect on how different characters in the story are feeling as the narrative progresses. On the first reading ask them to think how the disciples felt throughout the story, then Mary and Martha and, finally, Jesus. What caught their attention? Was there anything that surprised them?

Sermon

We belong together in Christ

Illustration: There’s a great YouTube clip that captures the spirit of the church for me.

[youtube id=”PgiPaanDnuk” width=”580″ height=”337″]

It is set in Vienna. There in the marketplace stands a violinist, still, with a hat in front of him. A little girl creeps forward and tosses a coin into his hat. At once the musician begins to play. After

a few more seconds he is joined by another musician and they continue the melody together. And then another joins, and more come, and after a while there is an orchestra assembled, playing together, with joy and gusto. As this happens a crowd gathers, drawn by the music and the joy with which the people are playing and singing, fascinated by what they are seeing. And so, by the time the choir arrives, to join in with ‘Ode to Joy’, by Beethoven, there is a great crowd caught up in the joy and hope of this great occasion.  All because one child dared to place a coin in the hat, asking one musician to play.

What does it look like when the church is working as it should? It’s attractive, working together as a body to bring light, life and hope to those round it. It values and recognises the skills and gifts of those who belong, but it is about living the dream so that others might be caught up in it too. And it draws people in by its very vitality.

How do we go about praying for the church to be effective in being the church for the world? How do we make decisions that take us forward into the new reality that God has for us? How do we show forth God’s glory together? What is most important as we seek to do this?

The challenge of discernment

How do we discover together what God wants for his church in this place?

Throughout this encounter in Bethany, people turn to Jesus for help. First the two sisters send news to Jesus that his friend is sick and, by implication, ask if he can come and deal with it (v. 3). Then, when Jesus finally arrives at Bethany, which is not far from where he was staying, Martha (now the head of the household as the older sister) comes to him: ‘even though you’re late, God will give you whatever you ask,’ she says (v. 22). Then Mary comes and says, ‘if you had been here he would not have died’. Each of them knows Jesus and trusts that he has it in hand – that he has all that is needed to change the situation for the better. They need his perspective and support to stand up under the pressure of their situation.

Jesus too turns to the Father in prayer (vv. 4-6). The implication is that he spent the two days not simply waiting but petitioning the Father in prayer for the situation, and especially for Lazarus and his sisters. When he does finally get to the grave, and the stone is removed, he spends some time thanking the Father for answering his prayer. Tom Wright suggests that’s because there is no smell of decaying flesh, that his prayer has been answered.

It would have been so easy for Jesus to step in and rescue the sisters from their loss. But Jesus’ priority is the will of the Father, as should ours be as we go forward.  In a time of change, a key question is, how do we discern what God is saying to us? As a diocese we face a similar question: how can we go on together to fulfil our calling as God’s people together in this place? And what does that mean for us now?

We need time to pray together, to be drawn around a common set of spiritual principles that will enable us to seek first the kingdom of God. We need a passionate personal and corporate spirituality. By the end of 2014 there will be a Diocesan Rule of Life available for us all to respond to. Our task will be to work out what it looks like for us as individuals to be part of the rule of life, what patterns will help us to stay close to the Father’s purposes and to know his will.

As the hymn-writer put it, ‘facing a task unfinished that drives us to our knees’. Prayer needs to be a number one priority for us as we go forward together as the people of God, for it is only once we have sought the Father, and wrestled in prayer together, that we can be confident of what we then need to do.

The challenge of letting go

How can we graciously bring to end what no longer serves our purposes?

As John writes in the prologue, ‘And the Word become flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory…’ (1:14). Here we see the compassion of Christ as he walks among the people. The sisters petition him to help, and say, ‘he whom you love is ill’ (v. 3). Jesus gave himself to living a fully human life, engaging with those he met, sharing their lives too. Later in the passage, Jesus shows his compassion by weeping with Mary and those who came out of the village to meet him.  It’s a genuine expression of his humanity – he is not just a professional mourner.

As we go forward together under God, a real issue is how we let go of what has served us well in the past, but which needs to make way for the future, in terms of programmes and buildings. We simply can’t continue to do what we’ve always done, or we’ll always get where we always did! Once we know what needs stopping or changing, we need to do it carefully and respectfully. And that may mean allowing people to let go, to sit with those who have lost something, and remembering with thanks what has been achieved.

We have a God who did not stay at a distance but came among us, and shared our life (1:14). And in this he models a radical generosity – of time, of emotion, of commitment, to those he served. After all, he only had three years of public ministry and yet still found time to weep at the grave of his friend. Whatever needs to be let go of to allow the new creation to take root needs to be done carefully, honouring the time, energy and success of the past. We need to do that well!

The challenge of the future

How can we go forward together, and provide for future generations?

As we go forward as God’s people together, we need to pray, but more than that we need to act and draw alongside people, in compassion and generosity. But more than that, we need to make decisions based on the needs of future generations, not just those who are present now. And that will require some radical thinking and costly choices.

John’s Gospel unveils a new creation, a new future, as Jesus the Christ goes about his work. Here in chapter 11 we reach the pinnacle of the signs that reveal his glory. Though it appears we are talking about the death and resurrection of Lazarus, everything that happens points forward to the way of the cross that Jesus must walk. For Jesus this meant going through the agony of separation from the Father and death by public humiliation. As he went about his life, and was obedient to death, the new creation was dawning, shown in all its fullness on Easter Day, the beginning of the new way of living.

Let’s return to the opening illustration of the orchestra and choir. If the church is to succeed to face the challenges of the future, we need to not stay in the concert hall, no matter how warm and familiar it is. We need to be seen among the people, in the public places. And it may be the shape of that choir and orchestra will be different to serve the context in which we now work. We will need new ministries to equip us for the challenge of the future. We will need everyone to play their part to enable this to happen, both lay and ordained, recognising and valuing the different responsibilities each has to the whole. And as we do that, people will see the glory of God in the face of Christ in us, and through us and despite us.

Conclusion

This final sign is the last straw for the Jewish authorities. Caiaphas then pronounces that they should get rid of Jesus, for isn’t it better for one man to die for the people than for the whole nation to perish? (v. 50). There in Lazarus’ house at Bethany the last days of Jesus’ earthly life begin, as he is anointed by Mary.

For the church today, we are in the last days before Jesus’ return. We are caught up in the purposes of God. Together let’s see his kingdom come here on earth as it is in heaven, and face the challenge together.

Bible Study Ideas/Questions

Video Questions

Using the Visual Bible, watch together the section relating to John 11:1-45. It starts at 1:26:53, and the whole film is on YouTube:

[youtube id=”emlHESNWFGI?t=1h26m53s” width=”580″ height=”337″]

  • What might God be saying to us through this passage?
  • How did Mary and Martha trust Jesus?
  • What is holding us back from living the mission of Jesus?

Rest-of-the-week activities

How will our life together this week be different because of these words?

What am I going to think about?

Counting my blessings. Set your group the challenge of journaling all the good stuff that God has done for them: all the things that they own, the people they have whom they love and who love them, their homes, music, food … see how long a list each one can create. Invite them to finish each day of the week reviewing the list and giving thanks to God for all that he has done for them.

They could use the words adapted from Psalm 130: “I put my hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.”

What are we going to do?

Notice and act. As well as listing all their blessings each day, you can encourage your group to notice those people for whom life is much harder. Encourage them to commit each day to notice one person who is in need, either someone they know, someone in their community or someone somewhere else in the world. They can pray for these people using these words from Psalm 130:

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord; Lord, hear my voice.

Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.

What am I going to talk with God about?

One of the things that marks us out as Christians is our generosity – with our time, our belongings and with our money. Ask your group to spend some time this week asking God whether he might be calling them individually to give money each week to the church. How much might he be asking them to sacrifice? If they already give, ask them if they think they could give more, or if there are other charities that they might consider giving to.

Lent Course: Agents of Social Transformation – 5-11 year olds

Winchester Lent

Here’s my adapted version of session 4 from the Winchester Lent course on being Agents of Social Transformation (John 9:1-41) for 5-11 year olds:

Mission Outcome

We are agents of social transformation using our influence as a diocese to transform public and personal life. We will demonstrate loving faith at work, in local communities and across the globe bringing healing, restoration and reconciliation, e.g. through Education, Social Enterprise, Health Care, Spiritual Care Teams.

1. What might God be saying to us through John 9:1-41?

You will need a mirror big enough for the children to be able to see their reflection clearly, plus a selection of torches (some bright, some coloured, head torches, etc.).

Show the mirror to the children and point out that it has no light of its own. Give the torches to various people sitting near the front, asking them to direct the light on the mirror. Angle the mirror to reflect the light back on the children. See if you can dazzle them with the reflected lights. Maybe make the light dance around your meeting room. For a really active game, try using the mirror to reflect the light around the room on to the floor and see who can reach and jump on the light the fastest.

Explain that today we are going to reflect on the fact that, when Christ shines his light on us, we become/ reflect his light in all the places we go.

2. Jesus said ‘I am the light for this world.’ How many examples of darkness can you find in this passage?

Ask the children to think about dark places – what comes to mind? (They may suggest, for example, night-time, space, when you have your eyes closed, in a cupboard, under the covers.) Explain that sometimes when we say we are in the dark it means that there is no light and we can’t see, but sometimes being ‘in the dark’ means we don’t understand or we are confused. As we read the Bible together in a minute, we are going to think about how sometimes in the story people were ‘in the dark’. They didn’t understand what was going on, or they didn’t understand who Jesus was.

Explain that it’s a long reading, and that you want people to concentrate on different characters to help us listen. Ask for volunteers to play the following roles from the reading: Jesus, the blind man, his parents, his neighbours, Jesus’ followers and the Pharisees. Try to involve everyone in this – less enthusiastic actors can hide themselves within a group of neighbours or Pharisees!

Read the whole Bible account (John 9). You may want to find an accessible version such as the New Century or Contemporary English Version. Encourage the different characters to mime their parts as you tell the story, particularly thinking about when people did and didn’t understand who Jesus was and what his message was. The younger the children are, the more help they will need, but again it’s a different way at looking at this passage. Don’t worry if you have a small group of children – use other adults for this part of the programme as well as doubling up if needed.

Focus together on the different characters to help your children to explore the theme:

  • Jesus: What did you notice about him in this story? (He can heal people (v. 32); he’s unique (v. 32); he is from God (vv. 32,33); he’s worth worshipping (v. 38.)
  • The neighbours: What did you notice about them? (They had a lot of questions – but that’s OK. Maybe we’re a bit like that.)
  • The parents: What did you notice about them? (They were afraid of what others – the Pharisees – would say. Maybe we’re a bit like that. Being too worried about what others might say can stop us seeing what’s really important.)
  • The Pharisees: What did you notice about them? (They reacted angrily! They were too fixed in their own ways of thinking to see anything new, and so were blind in a different way. Maybe we’re a bit like that too.)
  • The blind man: What happens to him? (He not only gets to see with his eyes, but he also gets to see as in ‘OK, I get it – there’s something special about this Jesus guy’.) Highlight the idea that he sees something special in Jesus and goes with it – even though he might not understand it all! Maybe the children could be like this too.

The preparation you do beforehand for this part of the session will be helpful in being able to lead the discussion in a ‘light’ and creative/ chatty way, while keeping the focus of the question in mind.

3. What can we do to bring light into our world?

This might be a good point for a drink and snack!

For children in Key Stage 1

Here’s a really messy activity linked with the mud that Jesus used to heal the blind man, to help the children think about how they might be light in the world.

Assemble the ingredients to make chocolate crispy cakes: cornflakes (or other cereal), bun cases and melted chocolate. The simplest way to do this would be to bring a microwave into the space where you will be meeting and melting chocolate in it as you need it. If you really don’t think you can use melted chocolate, have some pre-made cupcakes ready (from a pound shop if you don’t fancy baking) and a bowl of brown, runny mud icing (icing sugar and cocoa powder mixed with a little water).

As the children mix together the chocolate and cereal and spoon it into the cases, ask them if they can remember how Jesus healed the man born blind. Ask them what we would do today if our eyesight wasn’t very good, or if we became ill in any other way. Ask them what they think they would like to do to help other people (encourage them to think of the miraculous as well as the practical).

4. How will these words change the things we think, do and pray this week?

If possible, darken the room and, if it’s safe to do so, light a candle. If not, you can use battery-powered tea lights that flicker like a real candle. Search online if you’re stuck! Encourage the children to sit round the candle in a circle with team members joining them as well.

Remind the children of all the activities in which you have just participated together, and ask them to think about them as the leader mentions them one by one, with a few seconds of silence in between them.

End your time together by praying that Jesus would help you and the children see more of him in your lives as you share Jesus – the Light of the World – with those you meet.

Lent Course: Agents of Social Transformation – 11-18 year olds

Winchester Lent

Here’s my adapted version of session 4 from the Winchester Lent course on being Agents of Social Transformation (John 9:1-41) for 11-18 year olds:

Mission Outcome

We are agents of social transformation using our influence as a diocese to transform public and personal life. We will demonstrate loving faith at work, in local communities and across the globe bringing healing, restoration and reconciliation, e.g. through Education, Social Enterprise, Health Care, Spiritual Care Teams.

Activity Ideas

There are many activities that will help your group try to understand how life must have been for the man in the story who was born blind. Here are a couple of options:

Blind assault course

Ask your group to divide into pairs, and invite one member of each pair to put on a blindfold. You can either arrange an assault course in the room where you meet or simply have a route that the ‘blind’ person must negotiate. The seeing member of each pair must guide the ‘blind’ partner round the room either by touch or by spoken commands. When the first person has had a go, switch roles (if you have time) and then at the end encourage them to discuss how they found the activity. Was it difficult to trust? Was it scary or frustrating? Did it change the way they perceived the room?

Blind drawing

You will need: copies of a simple line drawing on a piece of paper (one for each round); blank paper and pencils. If you have a large enough group, split into two teams. If not, just do one. The young people stand in a line. Give the person at the back a piece of paper with a simple picture drawn on. Using their finger, they draw the picture on the back of the person in front of them, who must then pass the picture on to the next person in the line. When the person at the front gets the picture, they must draw on paper what they have interpreted. Repeat as many times as you like with different pictures.

Creative Worship Ideas

Do you remember the first time?

It can be difficult to imagine how the man in the story felt to see for the first time. Watch this clip of a baby hearing his mum’s voice for the first time after having a cochlear implant fitted:

[youtube id=”HTzTt1VnHRM” width=”580″ height=”337″]

Ask the group how the clip made them feel. Ask them if they can remember times when they first felt God’s love for them, or first understood what it meant to be his child.

In your own words

Invite your group quietly to rewrite Psalm 23 in contemporary language. Ask them why they think that the image of a shepherd is such a powerful one. What image would they use in today’s culture? Ask if any of the images in the psalm make them think of their own neighbourhood or the world beyond. What do they think this psalm tells us about what God offers us and our world?

Bible Study Ideas/Questions

Dramatic reading

There are plenty of voices in this short passage, so you could ask different people to read the various characters: the disciples, Jesus, the blind man, the friends and neighbours.

Sermon

Illustration: During the winter months as a cyclist I go to work in the dark, and cycle home in the dark.  Over the years I’ve been blinded many a time by the new halogen bulbs that cars have.  There you are cycling your way home, and then suddenly an eye-searingly bright light comes at you out of the darkness. Night vision gone, the only thing you can do is try to shield your eyes.  And once the light is gone, the darkness is deeper, as the contrast between what remains on your retina and the gloom around you is that much more stark.

Jesus continues his ministry in John’s Gospel, and brings proceedings around him to a halt just as he did in chapter 7. Jesus the light of the world (see 8:12) once again reveals his glory, and blinds those around him. And one who was blind is then able to see the world as it really is for the first time and becomes a follower of Jesus the light.

The third strategic priority for our diocese is that of being agents of social transformation, allowing the light of Christ to permeate even the darkest parts of our life together as global citizens. With his help we can see the world as Christ sees it, and work with his Holy Spirit to bring lasting change to a broken world.

As Paul puts it in his letter to the church at Ephesus: ‘You were once darkness, now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light’ (5:8). How can we do that today?

Blind: individuals matter

We need to come alongside the unlovely and needy in our society.

Illustration: Who did it?  Come on, who did it?  I know it was someone’s fault, so I’m going to wait until whoever did it owns up.  So who did it?  I can wait here all day….  Does that remind you of school?  It certainly resonates with mine.  We live in a society that likes to apportion blame. If something bad happens, it must be someone’s fault. And once we know that, we can work through what compensation looks like. The man in the encounter with Jesus had been blind all his life, so to say he had done something wrong to deserve it wasn’t going to wash, unless he had sinned in the womb of course. And if not him, then who? Must be his parents!

Of course, we live in a world that is broken and, as a result, brokenness is part of our experience.  As one speaker I heard recently said, ‘I know there are bad times still to come, but I trust God to see me through.’

The challenge is to see those in need around us, and to serve them. It’s not always clear who they are – sometimes they are dressed in smart suits, and carry briefcases; sometimes they are still in education; people who look okay on the outside but are dying on the inside. We need the blinding clarity of the light of Christ to help us ‘see’ those in need. And once we have seen them, to serve them.

Jesus is concerned not to apportion the blame, but to demonstrate the glory of God. As we serve him today that should be at the top of our aspirations.

Blinded: changing structures matters

We need to continue the mission of Jesus by working for a just present and future.

You know what a blind spot is. If you’re driving in a car and are relying on your rear view mirrors to check the lanes, there are some spots that you still won’t be able to see. The back right corner. The back left corner. Those are blind spots. Oh you can turn your head and take a gaze a those spots so that you will know what if anything is there, but for the moment that you check your blind spots, you are unaware of what is happening in front of the car. Blind spots. Blind spots are created by virtue that we don’t have eyes in the back of our heads, and that it is physically impossible to see everything at once. Blind spots

These people, these Pharisees here in the text of John 9 were said by Jesus to be blind. The irony is that Jesus had just healed a blind man. And in the aftermath of the story, when the Pharisees tried to find a legal technicality to undo the miracle that Jesus had performed, they reveal themselves to have a blind spot where Jesus is concerned. Jesus said that he came so that those who do not see may see, and that those who think they see will realise that they are blind. And revealing their arrogance and pride, the Pharisees responded to Jesus by saying, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” The man had just cured blind eyes, and the Pharisees were trying to say that he wasn’t of God. Blind spots.

Because, when we have spiritual blind spots, like these Pharisees in the story, we can’t see what God is doing. God had just performed a miracle through his only son, and still these religious leaders couldn’t see it. When you’ve got a spiritual blind spot, God can be doing something fantastic right in your midst and you still won’t see it. You can see how you want things. You can see how you think things should be. You can see what you want to see. But when you’ve got spiritual blind spots, you might just miss out on what God is doing right next to you, right in your midst.

I love this little joke:

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson went on a camping trip. After a good meal and a bottle of wine, they lay down for the night and wen tot sleep. Some hours later, Holmes awoke and nudged his faithful friend. “Watson, look up and tell me what you see.” Watson replied, “I see millions and millions of stars.” “What does that tell you?” Watson pondered for a minute.

“Astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo. Horologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three. Theologically, I can see that God is all-powerful and that we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. Why, what does it tell you?” Holmes said, “Watson you idiot, someone has stolen our tent.”

Sometimes we are blind to what is going on right in our midst, and in a spiritual sense, we can be blind to what God is doing so well for us.

How many times have you and I seen people who are unhappy with their lives because not everything is going the way they want. Especially here in the United Kingdom, where the poorest of us lives so much better than so many people around the world.  And too often we allow things to pile up on us and we miss out on what joy God has provided for us right here in front of us. Picking on ourselves because we got an A- instead of an A like your mate.  Blind spots. We can’t see what great things God is doing right in our midst.

And if we did, we would jump for joy at just how good God has been to us. Food to eat. Water to drink. People to love. A place to worship. Air to breathe. Strength to live. Oh praise the lord. The Pharisees should have been jumping for joy that a blind man could now see. But they had a spiritual blind spot where it came to Jesus.

These Pharisees were religious leaders, well trained, educated, and respected in the community. They could speak doctrine with the best of them. They were known for their spirituality, for their religious observance. Good church member material were these Pharisees. We often have a go at them for their hypocrisy, for their outward displays of piety when God was looking at their inward feelings of haughtiness and arrogance. But that outward stuff, praying all the time, reading the bible on a daily basis, strictly adhering to religious law. But what Jesus says here is that even if you are spiritually gifted, there are still going to be some blind spots.

Follow me to I Corinthians chapter 13, and let us see what Paul had to say about this same kind of subject. I Corinthians 13 verse 1, “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong, or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” No matter who you are, no matter your theological training, no matter your years of experience at being a religious person, everyone has a blind spot. And when you have a blind spot that you are unwilling to check on, and maybe you’re unwilling to admit you have a spiritual blind spot, then you just might miss out on what God is doing right there in your midst.

Not only will a blind spot keep you from seeing what God is doing, but another thing about spiritual blind spots as exemplified by these Pharisees is that a blind spot will keep you from seeing what you’re really doing. When you are driving a car and don’t check your blind spot, and you decide to make a lane change, you might not know it, but you might well be running into a car that is sitting right there in your blind spot. And even in a spiritual sense, these Pharisees in this text were unaware that with all their theological probing, with their debates about Sabbath laws and whether it was lawful to make a bit of mud and smooth it over a blind man’s eyes for the purpose of making him see, with all those legal ramblings, they couldn’t see that they were making this newly healed man wonder about the nature of his healing. They were trying to make him feel like some ungodly force, some unholy entity had brought about his healing. They were discrediting his sight as though he had no reason to be so jubilant about his miracle. They were so hung up on their doctrines that they were blind to what their doctrines were doing to real people. They were blind to the guilt they were heaping on a man that Jesus had just made whole. They were hurting the man. Where he had just been physically healed, they were emotionally and spiritually wounding the brother. And they couldn’t see it. They had a blind spot.

Oh how many times we have allowed our blind spots to cause injury to brothers and sisters in Christ. I know because I have been injured by those who had blind spots concerning ministers. Some folks think that ministers don’t have feelings, and it doesn’t bother us when they complain about us or that it doesn’t hurt us when they don’t turn up after we’ve spent hours preparing for a Sunday session.  Some folks, now, nobody here, but some folks have blind spots. I know that our blind spots can injure our brothers and sisters in Christ not only because I have been hurt, but because I have injured some with my own blind spots. Oh yes. Sometimes I have changed lanes too quickly, without checking properly, and without knowing that I was causing injury to some one. I stand here as a witness to the power of blind spots today, that if we don’t check them out, if we don’t watch out, we might be injuring someone and not realise it because we are blind to that spot.

This happens so often not only in the Christian world, but in the social order as well. Some folks who are professing Christians have had some social blind spots where it comes to people of different ethnicity and different economic backgrounds, and different educational levels. White America for so long was blind to the humanity and contributions of Black America.  We need to examine our blind spots and see if there is something from God that we might be missing. We need to check our blind spots to see if we might not be hurting someone.

Now, most of us who are drivers know that we have blind spots. We know that we better check our blind spots before we change lanes, or make any kind of move. And the thing about spiritual blind spots is that there is all the difference in the world between those who know they have blind spots and those who don’t know they have them. To Jesus in this text, there were essentially two kinds of people: those who were blind which he came to make see, and those who thought they were seeing when they were actually blind. Both of these were blind. But there is all the difference in the world to Jesus if you know you’re blind and if you don’t know you’re blind. If you have a blind spot and you know you have a blind spot, it will affect the way you proceed. You will act with more caution, you won’t be surprised and unsettled to learn that there was something happening that you didn’t know about. You won’t be amazed to learn that God was doing something with or without your permission. When you know you have a blind spot and find that you have been hurting someone as a result of that blind spot, you will feel remorse and try to change your behaviour so that you check your blind spot and prevent the hurt from happening again.

But when you have a blind spot and don’t admit it, when you think you can see, like these Pharisees, and you really are as human as the next guy, you won’t take caution to where you’re going and who you’re hurting. If someone gets hurt and you don’t realise that it was a result of your blind spot, you’ll probably blame the victim for the trouble. How many times have folks complained about civil rights leaders, who agitate and stir up trouble and make things uncomfortable for the oppressive classes? How many times have folks put into law their blind spots, keeping people from living free on the basis of their ethnic background and so forth. How many times have people, well-intentioned people, people who think they are doing right, actually wind up doing wrong and blaming you for bearing the brunt of it. These Pharisees had good intentions but they were blind and didn’t know it.

It’s simply not enough for us as the people of God to care for the victims of injustice. Of course it’s right that we should help restock food banks, and give money for wells to be built in needy countries, to offer our clothes to charity shops, to train as prison visitors, to pray and offer help to those on the streets of our cities, and to work with the homeless. But there is a bigger issue here – we need society to be changed; we need the structures to be flooded through with the values of the risen Lord Jesus. And for that to happen, we need people who will get stuck in and make a difference.

Illustration: A man watches a girl as she walks along a beach covered in stranded starfish. As he watches, he sees her pick one up and throw it back. She then goes along a little further and does the same. The man approaches the girl and says to her, ‘You can’t think that’s really going to make much of a difference can you?’ The girl looks at him, then turns away and carries on throwing the starfish back into the water one at a time. And the man watching noticed she was now muttering to herself. As he listened he realised she was saying, ‘Made a difference to that one; made a difference to that one’.

If we all play our part, we can see not just the needy cared for, but society itself changed from the inside out. We are part of the society; we are global citizens and part of our calling as disciples of Christ is to live his mission. He has entrusted it to us, and is with us in our endeavours by his Holy Spirit. His kingdom is still coming through people like you and me – what will you do today?

One way to explore what part we have to play in creating a just society is to consider what makes us sick! What gets your goat? What really irritates you about the way we are people together in this nation, in this world? Then, once you know what that is, start to make a difference to that ‘sickness’, prayerfully but with actions too. And don’t wait for a blinding light experience – there’s too much to do to just sit back and watch!

John Newton’s hymn ‘Amazing grace’ reminds us of his change of life as the light of Christ shone into his heart and transformed his life’s work.

Lectio Divina

Lectio Divina is a wonderful way to read the Bible with young people. It’s an ancient practice that builds on the idea that when we hear the same words repeated we hear new and different things each time.

Settle your group, and then ask three confident readers for their help. Explain that the passage John 9:1-41 is going to be read three times, slowly and carefully, and at the end of each reading there will be a pause for thought and reflection. Ask the group to listen to the readings carefully and to see which phrases, ideas and words catch their attention. When all three readers have finished and you’ve allowed a further period of silence, simply ask: What do you think God might be saying to us through these words?

If you have limited time, you could read just John 9:1-12.

Questions

  • What might God be saying to us through these words?
  • Jesus said ‘I am the light for this world.’ How many examples of darkness can you find in this passage?
  • What can we do to bring light into our world?

Rest-of-the-week activities

How will our life together this week be different because of these words?

What am I going to think about?

One of the questions the disciples asked Jesus at the start of the story was what had caused the man’s blindness – his sin or his parents’ sin.

There is darkness in our world, and sometimes we need to spend time just wondering ‘why?’ Who caused it? Why doesn’t God just eradicate it?

Cut out some newspaper stories from the last few days about things going wrong, and spread them around. Ask the young people how these stories make them feel. Ask them if they know why there is darkness in the world. Ask them if they can think how God might be glorified in each of the situations.

What am I going to do?

Loving the world is something we • can do on lots of levels, and we’re actually called to do it at many levels. On sheets of paper, encourage your group to draw three boxes where they can write how they will endeavour to show God’s love to the • world on three different levels: with a person they know personally, in their local community and something global. You may want to prepare one

in advance to give the group an idea of what you’re getting at, e.g.:

  • Transforming the life of someone I know – I will commit to having a cup of tea with Elsie, the elderly person who lives across the road, at least once a month, and to pray for her needs.
  • Transforming my local community – I will commit to joining the leadership team of our Messy Church, and look for ways to invite a family that doesn’t come to church to join.
  • Transforming the world – I will find out about a charity that is caring for people affected by Typhoon Haiyan and sell cakes after church to raise money for its work.

What am I going to talk with God about?

It’s likely that many of the young people in your groups have spent time thinking about what they want do with their futures. Some will already have settled on a future career, whether they want to go to university and what they might study if they do go. You could introduce this topic by having a discussion about what their hopes and dreams are now, maybe using this research from Mothercare, which asked 1,000 children in the UK what they wanted to be when they grew up:

 Top 10 for all children:

Doctor (9%), Footballer (8%), Teacher (8%), Dancer (6%), Police Officer (5%), Firefighter (4%), Scientist (4%), Musician (4%), Actor (2%), Nurse (2%)

Top 5 for boys:

Doctor (11%) Footballer (10%) Dancer (8%) Teacher (6%) Police officer (6%)

Top 5 for girls:

Doctor (8%) Teacher (8%) Footballer (7%) Dancer (5%) Police officer (5%)

Once you’ve had a good chat, and compared your group to the average child in the UK, ask whether they’ve ever prayed and asked God what he might be calling them to do. Encourage them to spend some time this week talking with God about his plans for them and what the future might hold.

Lent Course: We re-imagine the church – 11-18 year olds

Winchester Lent

Here’s my adapted version of session 3 from the Winchester Lent course on re-imagining the church (John 4:5-42) for 11-18 year olds:

Mission Outcome

We re-imagine the Church intentionally connecting and engaging with our local communities in culturally relevant ways. We will rejoice in the richness of the “mixed economy” of all ministry and proactively promote vibrant parochial and breath-taking pioneering ministries amongst “missing” generations, e.g. children, young people, under 35s.

 Activity Ideas

Serve your group

As group members arrive for today’s session, go overboard on making them feel welcome and served. Have trays with drinks on that you carry round to them, take their coats and hang them up, offer plates of canapés or nibbles – make them feel really served and cared for (and maybe just a little uncomfortable).

Grand designs

 

Using paper, pens and so forth, ask your group to re-imagine what church might need to be like for their friends to want to come. Once you have some ideas, ask the group what church would be like if there was no building.

Creative Worship Ideas

Serving walk

You will need: a map of your local area; or a few local newspapers. Go for a walk as part of your session and look for all the things that you might be able to do in your community to serve. If possible, walk past an old people’s home, some ground that needs tidying, and point out litter and graffiti if you can. If you walk past the church, invite them to think about how they might be able to serve there too.

If going for a walk isn’t possible, look at the map with the same thoughts, or read the newspapers and ask similar questions.

Bible Study Ideas/Questions

Video

While it isn’t a Bible reading, this slam poem about the Woman at the Well is incredibly powerful:

[youtube id=”Q49BbfgJbto” width=”580″ height=”337″]

If you prefer a more faithful retelling of the Scriptures, then try this clip:

[youtube id=”z7INnvnHrlg” width=”580″ height=”337″]

Sermon

Illustration: It won’t go in! That’s the cry often heard when the family tries to pack the car for holiday. If you’re going somewhere hot you won’t need three jumpers! Do you really need to take that with you? And if you’re flying abroad then it’s a challenge to make sure you don’t overload your case, especially if you are an avid reader! Buy an e-reader, that’s my advice!

The church today is at a watershed. We need to move on in our understanding of the church, and that means thinking about what we’re taking with us. What of all the good things we have done or been in the past do we need to ‘take with us’, and what do we need to ‘leave behind’ and depend on God for to provide for us in the new future? Just like the 72 who were sent out by Jesus, we need to travel light. The key discussion is what we need to take with us, and what we need to let go of, to be relevant and engaged with society today.

In today’s reading, Jesus meets a woman at a well. Through his encounter with her we are challenged to consider what re-imagining the church might look like.

A question of context: Jesus met the woman where she was

Why did the woman come to the well in the midday sun? For a start she came on her own, when women of her day would have gone together as a group, either before the sun was too hot, or just before the sun went down, in the cool of the day (remember, there were no streetlights!). Perhaps she was a woman who wanted to meet travellers for a rather different agenda?

Jesus sat on the well (according to Bailey), literally sat on the cover of Jacob’s Well. The well cover is still there today, 18 to 20 inches thick and 5 feet across, with a hole in the middle to lower a bucket. But Jesus has no bucket, and he is tired and thirsty. So he sits on the well cover, provoking the woman to choose – either to go away, or to come close, breaking the cultural norms of the day (he should have withdrawn 20 feet to allow her to come and use the well).

It wasn’t that long ago that people came to our church buildings for worship and community. The problem was dealing with those who came, not trying to connect with those who saw the church as irrelevant. Today people meet at superstores, around football and rugby fields, in coffee shops, with others who share the same interests such as cyclists, walkers and so on. Ever wondered what people do on a Sunday morning? Take a Sunday off worship and see!

The challenge for the church is to realise times have moved on and many simply have no reason to come to our church buildings. We need to find ways to go to them, to connect with them. Remember the plague churches of yesteryear? Once the disease had gone, the buildings were left stranded as a new community formed away from where it had been.

Jesus said, ‘You are the light for the world, you are the salt for the earth’ (Matthew 5:13-16). We too need to go where people are, to be among them, so that they can see Christ shine through us and meet him for themselves. And that may mean doing less on Sundays, in church buildings, leaving us with more resources to go to them in different places and at different times of the week too.

A question of culture: Jesus overcame the cultural barriers

Another challenge for us today as we re-imagine the church is to live in such a way that we do not conform to how the world does things – as J B Phillips says in Romans 12, ‘do not let the world push you into its mould’. Without thinking, we can easily simply adopt the norms and behaviours of the society in which we live.

The group of followers that went with Jesus comprised more than just the men we read so much about in the Gospels. We know, for example, that rich women funded his public ministry. Here Jesus demonstrates that the kingdom of God is not just for Jews but for all, cutting across cultural barriers. He asks the woman for a drink, and then draws her on to discuss spiritual things that challenge her thinking. But notice how he affirms what she can offer (she has a bucket – Jesus has not), and is open to being served by her.

As we consider the cultural changes that are happening here in Britain, we need to find ways and language to engage with our fellow men, women and children. There are many people of other faith communities around us. The challenge is how to work with them, alongside them, to change our society for the better. Though we may want to speak life-giving words to them, they will hear more clearly by what we do and how we treat them. We need to be the good news as well as speak the good news.

We often talk about the seven signs of John, the ‘I am’ sayings. But here is the first one, tucked away in a conversation with a woman (v. 26): ‘I, the one speaking to you—I am he.’ Just as the woman did not expect to meet God, do we as church expect him to meet with us as we go about his work?

Jesus engaged the woman in a dialogue that brought her to engage with the life-giving water of the Holy Spirit.

A question of change: Jesus invited the woman to join in with his work

One of the fascinating aspects of this encounter is the way Jesus engages the woman in kingdom work. As she begins to understand what he is saying (‘come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done’, vv. 29, 39), he challenges her to go, call and come back (v. 16).

Being authentic disciples will mean people being for Christ wherever they are. So we will need Christian teachers, social workers, police officers, counsellors, local councillors, people for Christ in every part of life. And when we are living out our faith among those with whom we work, play and live, there the kingdom of God will come.

Many new projects to reach out into our communities are engaging at people’s point of need. But these ventures are often small, and edgy, as they work out what they are about and what they can do to connect with the many who won’t come near our church buildings. But these communities are church as much as Sunday Eucharist at 11am. Some will come and go, others will take root and bear fruit over a number of years. But we all need to be ready to be church in the different places we live, work and play. And rather than wait for people to declare their faith in Christ, we need to engage them in changing the world – remember Christianity is caught not taught!

Jesus engaged the woman in his work immediately, where she was.

Illustration: I just can’t see it. Are you sure you can do this? Back in the days when there were sufficient resources to do some significant metalwork at school, that was the challenge: to see the boat even though we were holding a sheet of tin. Days later, with the help of solder, paint and a copper coil with a meths burner beneath it, the boat had come into being, and was ready to make its maiden voyage across the classroom tank. As we go forward under the direction of the Holy Spirit, he will guide us into forming a pattern of church that is fit for now. But at the moment we are still working with the sheet of tin!

Reflection

The woman at the well is one of the Bible stories that comes alive when we understand some of the background. It’s a great story on first read but, when you start to understand some of the culture and so forth, it becomes even more powerful. Chat with your group about the following thoughts:

Jews and Samaritans. The Jews and the Samaritans hated each other. They had a bitter history and would have done anything to avoid contact with each other. Think Montagues and Capulets from Romeo and Juliet or Portsmouth and Southampton football supporters. Jesus was a Jew, the woman a Samaritan.

Men and women. In Jesus’ day men did not really associate with women and in particular with women whom they did not know. Men viewed women very much as second-class citizens – think about the news story of Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by the Taliban because she thought girls should be allowed to be educated (there’s a good article about her at www.bbc.co.uk/news/ magazine-24379018). It’s one of the reasons that the woman is so surprised that Jesus asks her for a drink.

It’s midday. It was hot, really hot. Midday in Palestine is not a good time to be collecting water, and yet that’s when the woman comes. Lots of people reflect that this might be because she wanted to avoid the other women who would have judged her or mistreated her because of her lifestyle.

She has been married five times and the man she has is not her husband. This woman’s life has clearly been troubled. In a culture that frowns on divorce and adultery, this woman has clearly experienced both. It would have caused gossip and outrage in her community. Maybe that is why she travelled to the well alone at noon.

Bible Study Ideas/Questions

Lectio Divina

Lectio Divina is a wonderful way to read the Bible with young people. It’s an ancient practice that builds on the idea that when we hear the same words repeated we hear new and different things each time. Let’s read John 4:5-42 or for a smaller passage use John 4:7-30.

Settle your group, and then ask three confident readers for their help. Explain that the passage is going to be read three times, slowly and carefully, and at the end of each reading there will be a pause for thought and reflection. Ask the group to listen to the readings carefully and to see which phrases, ideas and words catch their attention. When all three readers have finished and you’ve allowed a further period of silence, simply ask: What do you think God might be saying to us through these words?

Questions

 

  • What might God be saying to us through this passage?
  • In what ways did Jesus serve the woman?
  • How was the community changed by Jesus’ visit?

Rest-of-the-week activities

How will our life together this week be different because of these words?

  • What am I going to think about?
  • What am I going to do?
  • What am I going to talk with God about?

What am I going to think about?

Re-imagining the church is difficult – we’ve got this thing that we’ve been handed that hasn’t changed much for hundreds of years – so how do we go about reinventing it? In the movie Pay it Forward the main character, Trevor, argues that it’s by doing little things that we change the world, by helping out people around us. Watch the clip at youtu.be/gw0Lvr4eK-k (or watch the whole movie if you have time – check the rating etc.). Ask your group:

  • Is Trevor’s idea realistic?
  • Can you change the world a little at a time or are the problems just too big?
  • Does Trevor describe what the church should be like or is God calling us to something different?

What am I going to do?

Invite one of the senior leaders from your church (maybe the vicar or one of the church wardens) to attend your group. Spend some time with them brainstorming how your young people could get involved in the church in order to help it rethink itself. Try to get beyond collecting coffee cups or pressing the buttons on the projector and talk about worship, preaching, prayers, governance, synod, and so on.

Put your thoughts into action!

What am I going to talk with God about?

Physical prayers. Often in our church traditions we lose any kind of movement from our prayers. In some churches we might still kneel for parts of the service, but mostly prayer means sitting quietly with our eyes closed. In Psalm 95:6-7, the writer encourages us to try different postures in our prayer and worship: bowing and kneeling before God. Why not encourage your group to reflect on the words from verse 7, while adopting the postures from verse 6.

Encourage your group to bow, and to hold the posture. Read verse 7 and say ‘How does God show his care for you?’ Spend some time talking with God about what he does for you. Now encourage your group to kneel, and reread verse 7. Say ‘How does God want me to care for others? Spend some time asking God to show you the people he wants you to look out for.’

When you’ve finished, invite your group to sit down again, and ask them how they found the prayer time. How did it feel adopting the different postures? What did they hear God saying?

Suggest that they might try different postures when they pray at home.  It may make it easier to pray. They could try lying down, standing up, walking around, holding their arms out like the priest at the communion table … the possibilities are endless!

Come, let us bow down in worship,

let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;

for he is our God

and we are the people of his pasture,

the flock under his care. Psalm 95:6-7 (NIV)

Lent Course: Growing Authentic Disciples – 11-18 year olds

Winchester Lent

Here’s my adapted version of session 2 from the Winchester Lent course on Growing Authentic Disciples (John 3:1-17) for 11-18 year olds, and my PowerPoint from the session:

Introduction

Secret meetings

If possible, try to set the meeting up to feel a little like the secret encounter between Nicodemus and Jesus. Make the room as dark as possible, lit only with a candle, or a dim light in the corner. Maybe have a cryptic clue on the door that leads to a secret knock so that the young people can’t enter the room until they’ve cracked the code. You could find some mysterious music to play in the room, and even start the session speaking in whispers or hushed tones to emphasise the idea of it being secret and clandestine. It’s all about setting the scene so that the young people can really enter into the reading.

Creative Worship Ideas

A reflection

Help your group to reflect on three of the key words from this first strategic priority with these activities:

Grow: You will need: some compost, seeds and small pots. Allow the young people to feel the compost and seeds. You may want to put the compost in pots and then sow the seeds. Make sure it’s a really hands-on activity resulting in grubby fingers.  Ask – what does it mean to grow as a Christian?

Authentic: You will need printouts of logos from some really well known brands – Coca Cola, McDonald’s, Apple, Levi’s … things that they will easily recognise. Explain that they are authentic logos.  Ask – what is so important about authenticity?

Disciples: Print out a copy of the icon ‘Christ taking leave of the disciples’.  Explain that one of the meanings of the word disciple is ‘pupil’ or ‘apprentice to a master craftsman’.  Ask – what would it mean to be an apprentice to Jesus?

Watch the clip from Karate Kid and reflect on what does it mean to be a disciple.

Bible Reading Video

If your group would prefer a video retelling of the reading, then this clip is a faithful retelling of the words from John’s Gospel:

[youtube id=”tbBmpaDBizA” width=”580″ height=”337″]

Sermon

1. Time to welcome him.

We live in a time when the King has come and dwelt among us.

Illustration: Have you ever tried to get hold of someone and found they are distracted? You want to speak to them and they are on the ’phone, texting or using Facebook or Twitter? Perhaps they are watching television or a DVD or Blu-Ray, or maybe they are in the middle of something else and they are simply lost in a different world. They are tuned out, and perhaps not even interested in what you are saying because they think they already know what you’re going to say.

Jesus said, ‘Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.’ For those who were listening, and who saw what was happening when Jesus began his public ministry, recognised the promised King come to assert his authority and to call people to follow him.

Nicodemus is confused about who Jesus is and what he is doing. So when he visits him at night he calls him Rabbi – teacher, though Jesus had not formally been trained, so this was a generous title. But he also lets slip that ‘we know’, that is, he and his friends in the Jewish ruling council have been keeping tabs on what Jesus is saying and doing.

Nicodemus was expecting the King to come at the end of the age, when human history came to its fulfilment. Though the Jews were waiting for the King to come, he was early and surprised them, so they could not ‘receive’ him – is it that time already? They were tuned out and not ready for him. They were distracted by their plans for the people of God. We live in a time when the King has come – it’s time to welcome him. Remember to thank him and worship him today.

2. Time to know him

We live in a time when everyone is invited to know God for themselves, not just the wise, the spiritual, the intellectuals – all who are ready to welcome him.

Illustration: We live in a time of experts: if you want the carpets cleaned you get an expert cleaner; if we want to cook great food we turn to the latest TV chefs, or the experts of yesteryear, like Delia. Nicodemus was used to people coming to him to answer questions, and offer his expert advice. But now he is at a loss to understand what Jesus is saying.

At that time, Nicodemus was highly regarded as a teacher in Israel (or maybe even the teacher in Israel i.e. the generally accepted top theologian of his day?) He had been born into the right family, and was confident that he would enjoy being with Abraham and all other Jews at the great feast in heaven at the end of the age.

Jesus suggests that to be a member of the household of God requires everyone, of whatever human family or race, to be born again or born from above (either of these is possible, one emphasising that he needs to be born into the new kingdom that Jesus has brought into being, and the other that he needs something only God can perform, i.e. to be supernaturally reborn). And Nicodemus does not understand! The new rules for God’s family are that we need to be born of water and the spirit: we need to let go of the past through the outward act of baptism, and then to be made alive by the inward work of the Holy Spirit.

It’s time for you to know him.

Illustration: Think of the central heating system in your home. Throughout the day the pilot light continues to burn quietly, out of sight and out of mind. Then at the right time, the pilot light lights the rest of the burners, which come alight together, heating the water and being driven around the system to create a warm and welcoming home. Many of us can look back to a time when our lives were simply ticking over, before the Holy Spirit lit the main burners and our lives were changed forever, for us and for those around us.

3. Time to follow him.

If we have welcomed him, and got to know him, we need to follow him and live as his people at home, at school, at work and wherever we are, whatever we are doing. The people of the King need to show they belong to him.

Illustration: The problem with mobile phones is that they run out of power at the wrong moment. Just when you need to make that call, the battery is dead or dying. So every so often you need to plug it in.

Jesus goes on to challenge Nicodemus, first from his specialist subject, the Old Testament Scriptures, and then from nature. So Jesus effectively says, if you knew your Old Testament you would remember that there is more to following Yahweh than being born into the right family. Remember Ezekiel? He spoke of a time to come, when you would be baptized by water (outwardly) and the spirit (inwardly) (Ezekiel 36:25-27). The King has come and the new day of cleansing and renewal has begun.

Then, he says, we know about the wind: we can see what it does but we can’t control it. It’s the same with the new birth – its mysterious, we can’t control, it but can experience it for ourselves.

Once we have come to realise who Jesus is, and allowed him to change our hearts, we commit ourselves to walking with him and becoming like him, that is, to being a disciple. Discipleship is for people of any age, any walk of life. It is something we each need to choose to do. And once we have done so, we need to walk with others in the way of Christ, ready to do anything that the King demands of us.

That means living for him at work, at home, among our friends, in the way we handle our neighbours, in what we do with our money, in how we simply live for the King. As we do this, the world will see Christ in us, and be drawn to him for themselves so that they too can be used in the service of the King of Kings.

But the good news is that God is always there, with all the power and resources we need. The Holy Spirit is one like Jesus who walks with us, alongside us. We are always plugged into the mains with him! He will strengthen us to follow Jesus every day, come what may!  He will shape us into authentic disciples.

St Augustine:

‘The Gospel of John is deep enough for an elephant to swim and shallow enough for a child not to drown.’

To understand the Gospel of John we need to focus on the prologue: John 1:1-18. The writer’s aim is also repeated towards the end of Gospel, where we read of the intent to present Jesus as the King and to call forth a response of faith and obedience:

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.  John 20:30-31 (NRSV)

So John’s theme is ‘Here is your king’, whom he outlines as the pre-incarnate king (1:1-18), the incarnate king (1.19-19:42) and the Risen King (20:1-21:25).  The prologue takes us from before the creation of the world to the arrival of the person of Christ among the people, and gives clues as to what we are looking for as we read the rest of the Gospel.

Bible Study Ideas/Questions

Lectio Divina

Lectio Divina (Spiritual Reading) is a great way of helping young people to engage with a Bible passage in a way that they may not have experienced before. The idea is that, when we hear the same passage through several times, certain words and phrases stand out and catch our attention in a way that we might have missed if we’d read the words through only once.  Ask three confident readers from your group if they are happy to read the passage through.

Explain that you are going to hear the same words three times and that there will be a pause between each reading. During the pauses, invite the young people to think about what they have heard and ask themselves if any words or phrases caught their attention. At the end there will be questions to help them reflect further.

You may need to make it clear for your group that there are no set answers – you’re all listening together, to hear what God might be revealing.  Depending on time and the concentration span of your group, decide whether to read the whole passage, or just a section of it. If you’re using just a couple of verses, we recommend John 3:16-17.

Questions

  • What might God be saying to us through this passage?
  • Where is Nicodemus on his faith journey?
  • Looking at verses 16-17, what was the good news for Nicodemus from Jesus?

Discussion

How will our life together this week be different because of these words?

  • What am I going to think about?
  • What am I going to do?
  • What am I going to talk with God about?

Photos

Assuming that all the members of your group have mobile phones with cameras, invite them to spend the week looking for things that are good news to take pictures of and share with the group. You could text them during the week to remind them and, if you wanted, set up a webpage to post the pictures to, so that all your group can see the good news that each individual has found. Discuss together the kinds of things that they expect to see – newspaper headlines, flower buds, gospel posters outside churches, amazing landscapes … see what ideas they can come up with.

Daily reading

Decide together to read the Nicodemus passage each day and to record what catches their attention each day as they become more familiar with the text.

Be the Good News

Plan a bit of guerrilla blessing. Work out together a list of ten random acts of kindness (picking up litter that they didn’t drop, holding a door open for someone, complimenting a friend, doing a chore without being asked…). Give each group member a copy of the list and then set the challenge of who can tick off the most activities from the list.

Lent Course: The Kingdom of God – 11-18 year olds

Winchester Lent

Here’s my adapted version of session 1 from the Winchester Lent course on The Kingdom of God (Matthew 4:1-11) for 11-18 year olds:

Mission Outcome: We commit to living the mission of Jesus, working with him to reveal the kingdom.

Introduction

We are going to spend the next few weeks discovering and learning more about what it means to love and follow Jesus with lots of different churches near and far will be!

Do not touch

Before the young people arrive, set out plates of cakes, sweets, chocolate, etc. on the table, and then put up a big sign that reads ‘Do Not Touch’. It’s up to you how long you leave the temptation there.

Bum Spelling

Description:

Ensure each team has a chair. One person is picked from the team. A person from one team stands on a chair, facing away from the other team. They then bend over, put their hands on their knees and move their legs and hips to ‘spell’ a word with their bottom. The other team has to guess what the word is and gets a point if they guess it correctly. Vary the length of the words to make it interesting.  Give a prize to the team with the most points.

Lost and found

Buy or make a Find It jar. You will need a large plastic jar (the kind that sweet shop sweets come in would be ideal), enough rice to fill the jar and a load of small objects that you can mix in with the rice: a die, a feather, a toy soldier, a paper clip, a pin, a sim card, etc. Put the items in the jar, and then fill it up with the rice, mix it up well and seal the lid. While your group arrives and has a drink or whatever you do to start your session, set them the challenge of finding the number of objects you’ve hidden, without removing the lid. (The original Find It game website is here: www.finditgames.com.)

The idea is to show that the kingdom of God is something we have to work to find and see. Sometimes it’s hidden and sometimes it’s in plain sight – theologians talk about the ‘imminent’ and the ‘immediate’.

Sermon

Illustration: The highest rollercoaster in the UK is located at Blackpool Pleasure Beach. It is 213 feet high, and is classified as one of the longest out- and-back roller coasters in the world. First opened in May 1994, it still thrills people today.

We join Jesus at the start of his public ministry, and we know as we look forward that he will have to face many highs and lows in those three years. From the top of the Mount of Transfiguration to the failure of the disciples to heal the boy, from the peak of the calling of his disciples and their success as they are sent out in his name, to his betrayal by Judas Iscariot, from the power teaching on the Sermon on the Mount to the failure of his closest friends to stay awake as he prays on the Mount of Olives, how did Jesus stay focused and balanced through the ups and downs of his life? What can we learn about what it means to reveal the kingdom today? How can we use this Lent to help us grow closer to God?

One of the key issues we need to face is that Jesus did not fulfil his calling and vocation as the Messiah of God by simply wishing it to be true. There was a pattern and a rhythm to his life that sustained him and kept him focused on what he had come to do. As we look at how he faced up to the temptations in the wilderness, we can see clues to how he managed them that help us to fulfil our own calling today.

A pattern of withdrawal

Those few words at the start of chapter 4 belie a deeper significance. ‘Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the desert.’ And the implication is that Jesus went!

The Father needed some time with Jesus, time away from the others, from his family, for him to be formed and shaped for his future ministry. And Jesus went. Whatever ministry we have, wherever God calls us, we are called first and foremost to be a disciple. And if we are to grow in our calling, we need a pattern of withdrawal.

When couples today choose to get married, one of the key issues is what they are going to do to invest in their marriage in the future. Yes, they love each other now, and they are excited by what the future will bring, but what investment are they making on a regular basis to keep that relationship fresh and vibrant?

The same is true of our life in Christ. We need time away from our regular rhythm to focus on our love of God, away from the distractions of daily work and life.

So how can you do that? John and Charles Wesley’s mum, Susanna, found a way to withdraw in the middle of the rhythm of daily life: she put an apron over her head as a signal to the rest of the household that she was taking time with God. Yes, it’s not easy to do – but if we plan it in, and work out a practical way to withdraw, we can make it happen. And for those of us in leadership roles, this becomes even more vital. There is a danger that we relate our busyness to a presumption that we have our focus and priorities right. It’s actually in our busyness that we need to be more attentive to our need for God’s wisdom; our need to be recreated grows larger. Our service for God comes out of our encounter with Christ.

A pattern of prayer and fasting

Jesus alone in the high mountains, withdrawn from the world of family and friends, practises fasting.

There’s something about keeping the desires of our body under control that helps us to keep our basic drives in check where they belong. For 40 days Jesus fasted, just as the people of God had wandered in the desert for 40 years. Jesus is fulfilling the role of the perfect Israelite, following the path of obedience where they failed. And he does so by keeping close to the Father and his purposes.

  • ‘Use your power to serve yourself, Jesus,’ the evil one taunts, ‘as you are the Son of God.’ ‘No,’ Jesus responds, ‘what’s more important is being fed from the mouth of God himself.’
  • ‘Do something spectacular – make a big entrance. Get the angels to come and save you.’ ‘No,’ says Jesus, ‘I won’t manipulate the Father. I won’t make him intervene.’
  • ‘You could be great, Jesus, if you would only let me help you – worship me and you will have the whole world as your kingdom.’ ‘No,’ Jesus replies, ‘my power will be shown in great weakness and sacrifice through the cross, not as a triumphant King.’

What’s your pattern of prayer? Later in chapter 6 of Matthew’s Gospel, the writer collects together Jesus’ teaching on giving, praying and fasting. So what about fasting and giving too? These disciplines help us to keep our basic drives in check.

A pattern of remembering

Jesus’ knowledge and understanding of the story of Scripture enabled him to stand firm.

Alone in the desert, with only the wild animals as company, Jesus wrestles with his future work. As he does so, the evil one comes near, to tempt him to fulfil his calling in a different way. And without all the scrolls of the Old Testament at his fingertips, he was able to fend these off through his knowledge and memory of God’s work with his people in the past.

In 1987, Terry Waite travelled to Lebanon on a mission to free hostages. Through a contact’s betrayal, Terry himself was taken hostage and held in solitary confinement for nearly five years. While his family agonised, Terry received what news he could through fellow hostages tapping in code through his cell wall. He survived that awful experience by drawing on his time as a choir boy, when he had unconsciously memorized the Book of Common Prayer. He said he especially remembered the words of the evening collect: ‘Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night…’ How apposite that was for a man held in captivity.

One of the key rhythms for Jesus too was regularly to read and study the Scriptures, and to hear them read and explained.  So how do you study and memorize Scripture? As we play our part, God the Holy Spirit brings what we have learnt to mind as we face challenging and difficult situations. And through this knowledge we are able to stay close to God. And how regularly do you come together to remember with other disciples the greatest sacrifice of all made through the cross? How important is it to you to worship together at the Eucharist and reflect on the sacrifice that Christ made for us all?

An intentional life

Mo Farah, Britain’s’ Olympic long distance runner, did not achieve greatness by wishing to be great and successful. Everything he did was planned so that he could maintain a rhythm and pattern of life that would deliver what he wanted – double Olympic gold. If we have responded to the call of King Jesus and accepted him as our Rabbi, we need then to live his mission. And that comes only by choosing to follow him day by day, by ruthlessly shaping a rhythm and pattern of life to serve our goal – to be more like Christ and to serve him.

Jesus the Messiah spent just three years preaching, teaching, healing and serving others before fulfilling his vocation to be the Suffering Servant King through his passion and death. His life has had, and continues to have, a huge impact on people today. But it did not just happen. Luke’s account of his life expresses that through the phrase ‘he set his face towards Jerusalem’. He knew what the cost was going to be, but he went anyway, confident that the Father had called him, and would provide all he needed to walk the way of the cross. He lived out his calling through an intentional pattern and rhythm of life. And we are so grateful that he did, as we benefit from his obedience.

As you go through Lent this year, consider what patterns and rhythms will sustain you as you go forward in your calling and vocation, as you play your part in bringing in the kingdom of God.

Questions

40 Images

Illustrator Si Smith has produced an amazing set of drawings of Jesus in the wilderness – 40 in total, one for each day of Lent:

[youtube id=”P-6a25Yo2wE” width=”580″ height=”337″]

You might want to read the passage through once (or ask a strong reader to read it) and then watch the images together, before moving into the questions. Feel free to watch the video again at the end if your group wants to.

Images of the kingdom

Lectio Divina is a wonderful way to read the Bible with young people. It’s an ancient practice that builds on the idea that when we hear the same words repeated we hear new and different things each time. While Matthew 13:24-34 isn’t a lectionary reading for this week, the images it contains about the kingdom are quite breathtaking. You may want to use this passage as an additional time of Bible study if your group is up for it.

Settle your group, and then ask three confident readers for their help. Explain that the passage is going to be read three times, slowly and carefully, and at the end of each reading there will be a pause for thought and reflection. Ask the group to listen to the readings carefully and to see which phrases, ideas and words catch their attention. When all three readers have finished and you’ve allowed a further period of silence, simply ask: What do you think God might be saying to us through these words?

Small Group Questions:

  • What do you think might God be saying to us through these words?
  • What do Jesus’ choices reveal about the kingdom of God?
  • How can we use Lent to help us live the mission of Jesus?

4.How will these words change the things we think, do and pray this week?

What am I going to think about?

It just doesn’t seem quite right. When we think about the world we live in and the world that Jesus described, there’s a massive disconnect. Trouble is, we are so used to the world that we live in that much of the injustice and so on just passes us by. This would be a good opportunity to give your young people a journal to use throughout your Lent course to record what they’re discovering. School exercise books make good (cheap) retro journals! Ask them to record all the things that just don’t sit quite right – they may find it uncomfortable.

What are we going to do?

A question that is going to come up time and again throughout the Lent course is ‘what difference can we make?’ Your group is going to be challenged to do something, to join God’s mission, to get involved in kingdom building.

At this early stage, why not make plans for how you will work as a group to make sure that this Lent has real impact? Rather than giving up sweets or chocolate, are there habits or practices that members of your group are involved in that they know are unhealthy? Can they help each other to face some of those down and commit to living closer to God’s plan this Lent?

Or are there things that you can all commit to take up this Lent? Maybe commit to reading the Sunday Gospel passage every day? Or commit to praying for one minute on day one, two minutes on day two … all the way up to 40 minutes by Easter. Maybe you could all just commit that, if at all possible, you will all stop at a set time each day and be quiet for five minutes.

Whatever you choose, make it achievable but challenging. Expect Lent to be life changing.

What am I going to talk with God about?

Signs of spring. One of the things that is great fun with little children is going on a signs of spring walk – ask your group if they ever went on a walk like this when they were in infant or junior school. What kinds of things did they look for?

Encourage them to look out for signs of spring over the coming week – buds on trees, new leaves, mown grass, rabbits. Encourage them to use these spots as triggers to spend time talking to God – it might be a really simple prayer like ‘help me notice signs of your kingdom’. Ask them to think of a prayer they could all share.

Lent Course: The Kingdom of God – 6-11 year olds

Winchester Lent

Here’s my adapted version of session 1 from the Winchester Lent course on The Kingdom of God (Matthew 4:1-11) for 6-11 year olds:

Mission Outcome: We commit to living the mission of Jesus, working with him to reveal the kingdom.

Introduction

We are going to spend the next few weeks discovering and learning more about what it means to love and follow Jesus with lots of different churches near and far will be!

Games

Bum Spelling

Description:

Ensure each team has a chair. One person is picked from the team. A person from one team stands on a chair, facing away from the other team. They then bend over, put their hands on their knees and move their legs and hips to ‘spell’ a word with their bottom. The other team has to guess what the word is and gets a point if they guess it correctly. Vary the length of the words to make it interesting.  Give a prize to the team with the most points.

Polo Pass

Equipment required: Drinking straws for everyone, a packet of Polo mints for each team and some bowls.

Description: Split the group into equal teams. Each team needs to stand in a line. Give each person a straw, which they need to put in their mouth. At one end, give someone a Polo to thread onto their straw. To make the game longer you could give each team a packet of Polo mints with the winning team being the team who successfully pass all polos down the line.

When the leader gives the go ahead, the teams can start passing the polo on to next person in their team, threading the polo using the straws. Once the Polo has reached the end of the line, the last player needs to place the mint in a bowl.

Questions

1. What do you think God might be saying to us through this passage?

Read ‘Jesus in the desert’ from The Big Bible Storybook.  Talk with the children about the idea that making choices is something God has allowed us to do.  God wants us to choose to follow him, and to know his love in a special way.

2. What do Jesus’ choices reveal about the kingdom of God?

Ask the children to make a note of the temptations Jesus was given and how he responded each time.  Ask if they have noticed one thing that was the same each time Jesus spoke to the devil. (If necessary, explain that Satan and the devil are the same person.) Draw out the observation that he quoted the Scriptures, which would have been the Old Testament section of our Bibles. Ask them why they think Jesus quoted the Bible each time. What does this tell us about the Bible and about Jesus’ attitude and the importance Jesus put on God’s Word?

Ask the children: ‘Why do you think the devil choose those three temptations in particular? What do you think he was trying to get Jesus to do?’ Explain that the devil wanted Jesus to rely less on God, saying: ‘Make your own food!’

Also, that his temptations offered Jesus short cuts to becoming ‘famous’. At this time, Jesus was not well known. He had not started telling people about God and no one had heard of him. If he did a publicity stunt, such as being saved from death during a fall from the Temple, he would be instantly famous, without the hassle of teaching and healing or building up a reputation.  If he bowed down to Satan and received all the kingdoms of the world, then he would have everything straightaway! However, that would not be God’s way of doing things (as we have found out). God’s way are better and his kingdom is something God wants to build with his followers.

3. How can we use Lent to help us live the mission of Jesus?

Use this animation from the WordLive website to help your group think about the impact that a sacrifice can have.

You will need: a tray of dry sand. Talk together about what Jesus did when he was in the desert – what can everyone remember from all that you’ve looked at so far? As you talk, bring out the tray of sand.

Invite the children to put their hands in the sand. Encourage them to think about what they may like to change/give up over Lent to help them develop a greater love for and understanding of Jesus. Possibly share what you are going to do yourself. Maybe build in some time each week to update each other on how you are all getting on. Help them to see this is something they can make a real difference about in their own lives … it’s proactive.

After a time of chatting, pray for the children, yourself and the team helping you, for God to be at work in your lives over the coming weeks of Lent.

4.How will these words change the things we think, do and pray this week?

Finish your session with this reflective video clip as a response to the Bible passage. It may be important for the children to have their own space to watch and listen to it. You will find that your children will understand what it is about, even if they can’t articulate it in words. It’s a great way to draw together all that you have talked about, and discovered throughout the rest of the session:

[youtube id=”O5bfxGNMY9c” width=”580″ height=”337″]

Conclude your time together with a prayer, thanking God for what you have just watched and for your time together in this session.