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:
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.
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
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?
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 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?
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.
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
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?
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.