Man bedecked in orange raises his hands in the air

Week Six - The People of God

This year's Lent Challenge is accompanied by a six-week online Lent course. The material draws on the key themes of the new diocesan vision, Transforming Church, Transforming Lives - prayer and growth; transformation and the mission of God; the people of God, Church and Kingdom.

Each of the six week sessions begins with a time of prayer and a conversation starter to introduce the theme. This is followed by a Bible reading - and a reflection on that passage drawing on the tradition of lectio divina. This is a way of reading Scripture together, listening to it as God’s word to us, and prayerfully reflecting on it. Lectio divina might look something like this:

  • Read the passage through once
  • Keep a few moments silence
  • Read the passage a second time with different voices
  • invite everyone to say aloud a word or phrase that strikes them
  • Read the passage a third time
  • Share together what this word or phrase might mean, and what questions it raises

After reflecting on Scripture, a short reflection is offered to lead into further exploration of our response to the week's theme.

The discussion questions engage with the vision of Transforming Church, Transforming Lives. The ‘footprints' section is an opportunity to consider practical actions which we can take in the week ahead; actions which enable us to be alert to the activity of God in the world. These suggestions stand alongside those related to projects supported by the Bishop of Guildford's Foundation and the Diocese of Kebbi in Nigeria. Each weekly session ends with prayer.

Lent Course 2017 - Week Six - The People of God

Word document version of Lent Course 2017 - Week Six (as shown on this page of the website) - for simple download and print.
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Opening Worship

Lent crosses imageGod the Father, Lord of creation,
have mercy upon us.

God the Son, through whom all things were made,
have mercy upon us.

God the Holy Spirit, who renews the face of the earth,
have mercy upon us.

Holy,blessed and glorious Trinity, creating and saving God,
have mercy upon us.

O come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us heartily rejoice in the rock of our salvation.

Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving
and be glad in him with psalms.

For the Lord is a great God
and a great king above all gods.

In his hands are the depths of the earth
and the heights of the mountains are his also.

The sea is his for he made it,
and his hands have moulded the dry land.

Come, let us worship and bow down
and kneel before the Lord our Maker.

For he is our God;
we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand.

God of our days and years,
we set this time apart for you.
Form us in the likeness of Christ
so that our lives may glorify you.  Amen.

Conversation
  • Share your stories of how you joined your Church and what it means to you to belong.
Reflecting on Scripture

Jesus said, ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

(John 15:1-17)

Reflection

Friendship is something we cherish. The social media network Facebook, often derided for somehow devaluing the meaning of being ‘a friend’, recognises that the range on longevity of friendships is something special, something worth celebrating.  Every so often, it prompts users to celebrate by sharing a notification: ‘Happy Friendversary!’ you became friends on Facebook with (name) x years ago. In many cases, the relationship existed prior to Facebook - or indeed the internet - but it’s something worth pondering. How often do we pause to give thanks for our friends?

Friendships are formed in different seasons in our life - some will last a lifetime; others are precious at a particular point of our journey. From childhood onwards we make connections with others who share interests or live in the same neighbourhood. Some friendships are forged in adversity with others we just ‘hit it off’.  Sociologists, anthropologists, philosophers and theologians have studied the nature of friendship - theories of social exchange and attachment; characteristics of honesty, empathy, trust and joy.

In John’s Gospel, we hear that Jesus says to his disciples ‘you are my friends’.  He chooses this recognisably human way of relating to mark a transition in their relationship. In the midst of what’s known as the ‘farewell discourse’ he reveals to them the character of their (and our) way of relating to him as people of God. His words express the depth of love in anticipation of his laying down of his life. Flowing from that, we are to obey his commands so that we may love one another. We often think that somehow we ‘chose’ our friends - perhaps trying to fit into a social network. At a human level, friendship is both intimate and complex; a source of joy and heartache. And yet, here, Jesus is quite clear: he chose us.  He loved us first. He appoints us. He sends us to bear fruit; he invites us to place our trust in the Father; he says to us ‘love one another’.

This opens up a way of thinking about what it means to be ‘the people of God’ which is about abiding in God and being sent out.  This language resonates with the dynamic of our celebration of the Eucharist: we draw near in faith, we are nourished in word and sacrament, we are sent out into the world in love and peace. Jesus’ parable of the vine gives us a powerful visual image for our dependence on God, our relationships to each other and the shared call to bear fruit.

To reflect on what Jesus says about being the vine, shapes our understanding of what it is to be the people of God. If he is the vine and we are the branches, we are untied in a profound way. It’s an organic image - not a purely organisational one - which includes pruning for health and vitality.  The life that Jesus brings to us is the life we are called to give to others. The life of the Spirit is flowing through us - we become mediators of God’s love. This calling is expressed in our lives - at home, at work, within the communities and network we are part of. We are the people of God - the body of Christ - living and moving and walking in the world. Where does that ‘walking’ taking us? What does it mean to be fruitful in those places?

For Discussion
  • Jesus said: 'I am the vine'. We abide in him - as we nurture habits of prayer, in word and sacrament, in our fellowship and as we keep his commandments. What helps abide in love?
  • Friendship is an intimate and human way of expressing relationship with Jesus: how might that shape the life of the church?
  • We are called to be fruitful: what might that look like in our homes, workplaces and communities? Galatians 5:22-23 offers us a vision of spiritual fruitfulness.
Fingerprints
  • This week, look for opportunities to recognise and give thanks for the gifts of others; notice signs of encouragement in your life too.
Closing Worship

Let us pray

Holy Spirit, sent by the Father,
ignite in us your holy fire;
strengthen your children with the gift of faith,
revive your Church with the breath of love,
and renew the face of the earth,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

A short period of silence is kept

Let us hear our Lord's blessing on those who follow him.

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called children of God.

Blessed are those who suffer persecution for righteousness' sake,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Let us bless the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

  

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:2

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