(The weekly GPS Small Group Guide can be downloaded in .PDF format from the individual sermon page, found at http://www.cor.org/worship in Sermon Archives)
“I Love to Tell the Story”
A Grow-Pray-Study guide for small groups
This guide uses the Scripture readings from the daily “GPS” study guide. Group members may read the daily readings before the group meeting, or read the verses aloud when the group meets. The group may subdivide into two or three smaller groups, each discussing a set of the daily readings and the matching questions on page 2, or the entire group may discuss those questions together. We pray that, whatever pattern of study you choose, the Holy Spirit will weave God’s Word into the life and heart of each group member.
The image of the “Great Banquet” the Messiah would host for God’s people at the end of the age went back 700 years before Jesus (cf. Isaiah 25:6-9). Most rabbis thought the Banquet would be for them, and for people a lot like them. Jesus’ saw the Banquet very differently. He knew many of the “invited” guests were refusing to attend—and that God wanted the invitation to reach everyone, even “the poor, crippled, blind, and lame” from the back alleys!
In Jesus’ day, the word “leper” meant a person with one of a whole variety of visible skin diseases. People thought lepers were highly contagious, so they feared and shunned them. Jews and Samaritans also shunned each other. So when Jesus healed a Samaritan leper, his healing and grace extended far beyond two of the biggest social boundaries imaginable.
Visitors packed Jerusalem for the big Jewish festivals like Pentecost. When the Holy Spirit moved Peter and the other apostles to speak on the historic Pentecost in today’s passage, they spoke to thousands of people. About 3,000 of them (from how many different places and backgrounds?) committed themselves to follow Jesus that day, Luke wrote. Peter and the others were still working out all that it meant, but they’d learned from Jesus. They knew God’s promise was even for “all who are far away—as many as the Lord our God invites.”
Acts is the story of how the Christian faith grew from a small Jewish sect to a movement that touched the whole Roman Empire. That wasn’t a human master plan, but the direction God kept leading the Christians. Eunuchs were generally not welcome in Hebrew circles, and Ethiopians were both Gentiles and people of color. But the Holy Spirit clearly showed Phillip that this Isaiah-reading eunuch was most welcome with God.
Even after what happened at Pentecost, Peter retained the reluctance he’d learned all his life when it came to mixing closely with Gentiles. God had to give him a dramatic experience, with a startling vision as one of its highlights, to break down some of those inner barriers. (This is a great story–if you have the time, read the whole thing in Acts 10:1–11:18.)
Paul the apostle had been Saul the persecutor, strict and fierce about who was and wasn’t a child of God, willing to kill even fellow Jews who believed in Jesus (cf. Acts 7:57-8:1). Then he met Jesus! He became a great leader in sharing the good news with the very outsiders he had once despised. When he wrote to his converts in the Roman province of Galatia (part of what today is the nation of Turkey), he gave them this dynamic, expansive view of God’s family. Everyone was welcome there—“you are all God’s children.”
To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from www.cor.org/guide
Lord, help us open the doors of our hearts so that we can be inclusive, not exclusive. Unlock the padlocks that can bind our human nature so that we may be loving extensions of your mercy and grace. Provide us with your holy key so that we will gladly unlock the gates of heaven to all who answer your call. In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.
Is America still a “melting pot”? Is it a “stew pot” (different ingredients keeping their individual identities, but mixing harmoniously in a flavorful dish)? What does either image mean to you? Are we more diverse than most other countries? Does that cultural mix make for a better and stronger America or a poorer and weaker one?
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY
- Read Luke 14:15-24. Who might be examples today of people originally invited to God’s banquet who offer excuses and don’t attend? Who might be examples of those who were invited later? What kinds of people would you be hesitant to invite, or might never invite to your own home for dinner? If we were more like Christ, who would we invite? Do we ever make excuses to God for not attending to his plan? When do we make excuses? What are some of our excuses?
- Read Luke 17:11-19. What purpose might have been served when Jesus healed a man who was both a leper and a Samaritan? What kinds of people do we tend to shun today? Only one man of the ten came back and thanked Jesus. What do we need to thank God for every day? How important do you think it is to thank God? When we are sick physically, emotionally, spiritually, financially or otherwise, why should we still give God our thanks? How can we thank God or otherwise show our gratitude for our blessings?
- Read Acts 2:36-41. If you get to heaven and find yourself standing in a crowd that includes some who were murderers, drug addicts, rapists, adulterers and thieves, will you think you are in the wrong place? Did Christ come for such as these? Why would you be in such a crowd? At what point is a person “righteous enough” to have earned a place in heaven? Does the breadth of Jesus’ grace and forgiveness mean that we should sin all we want? What did Peter mean when he said, “Repent”? If “repent” meant, literally, to turn around and move in a different direction than you had been going, where should each of us be headed? Put another way, what direction should we not be going? How important is it that we seriously evaluate our values, priorities and actions…our direction?
- Read Acts 8:26-39. What are some of the things this story tells us? What is the significance of the man being Ethiopian? What is the significance of the man being a eunuch? What about the man saying that he couldn’t understand without someone to guide him? Who has guided you in your understanding of the Bible? How important has the Bible been in building your faith? Do you use a good study Bible? Did God choose the eunuch? Did God choose you? What made the eunuch special to God? What makes you special?
- Read Acts 10:9-29. Did this story nullify, for Christians, all the Old Testament food laws? What was the main point of Peter’s vision? Why did Peter have his vision three times? How does God make people “clean”? Have all faithful Christians been made clean, regardless of the seriousness of their sins? How do these verses speak to any barriers of prejudice? Do you have any relatives or friends whose life would be better if they were to become believing Christians?
- Read Galatians 3:26-29. Being honest for a moment, are there some people that you would not want to be saved? Are there some whose sins seem so unforgivable that you might resent them being saved? Remember the story of Jonah? He didn’t want God to save the people of Nineveh, so he resisted going there and preaching to them. But God prevailed. How do you feel about God saving those who have wronged you? How do you feel about the salvation of people you might still despise? If God loves them and chooses to save them, how should you feel toward them?
From last week: Did you think of anything you might be able to do that would multiply your gifts, talents and skills by extending them into others? Did you plan how to teach others and lead them to service? Share with the group any ideas you came up with.
FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT
From Pastor Chrostek’s sermon, October 6, 2012:
A few weeks ago, members of Resurrection Downtown returned from their very first mission trip to the Appalachian mountains. Hearing their stories reminded me of my most recent mission trip, and a woman named Brenda. We were sent to work on her roof and chimney. We knew Brenda was there, but for the first three days we hadn’t heard from her or seen her. She kept to herself, listening as we worked and joked and served the best way we knew how. On the fourth day, our work took us inside. As we went into her dark, damp house Brenda quickly realized that we were going to be with her for awhile, and she began to open up a bit.
At one point, she heard one of the other adults in the group refer to me as Pastor Scott, and we heard her chuckle under her breath. We looked at her, this was the first sign of emotion or interaction. A bit confused, I asked her what was so funny. She said, “Well, he just called you Pastor Scott.” You see, she thought the other adult was being funny. She thought he was saying “Ok, Pastor Scott,” in a sarcastic, joking manner. She didn’t think I was really a pastor—that hadn’t even crossed her mind. Who was this kid thinking he was a pastor? Clearly, I was unlike any pastor she had ever seen before. It took awhile, but eventually our group convinced her that I was indeed a pastor. Her demeanor changed again. She got really quiet. She went away and hid.
So we went back to work. Four hours later, Brenda had gathered her thoughts and mustered up a little strength…
“What kind of pastor are you?” she asked. “United Methodist,” I said.
“How is that different than a ____________ pastor?” “Well, there are some differences, I suppose…but why do you ask?”
Then it happened. Brenda said, “8 years ago today I lost my 11 year old son in a car accident. He was hit by a drunk driver. The driver was 15 years old. He received 30 days detention in juvenile hall. I see him whenever I’m out and about in town, but that’s not it…You see, when I went to my son’s funeral, two of my preachers told me that my son didn’t make it to heaven. They said he hadn’t claimed Jesus Christ as his own personal savior. Then they told me, at his funeral, that I needed to stop worrying about him and begin worrying about my own salvation…because once I make it to heaven, I won’t ever worry about anything ever again.”
I had to fight back tears. All these questions were going through my head. I thought, “Who on earth would have told her that?” What could we say, what could we do, how could we free her from the shackles of the story she had been told by those two pastors? We were paralyzed, so we just listened. We sat next to her on her lonely bench of mourning, beside the memories of her son, next to the finality of her loss, his death, and the debilitating pain that followed her for 8 years.
We were with her for quite awhile. It was quiet at times. Then we couldn’t help but begin to share our stories and the nature of God’s perfect love. We shared the gospel—the story of Jesus’ birth, his life, his words, his death, his resurrection, and the persistent love that will not let us go. We told our own stories—how God’s forgiveness, mercy and grace had transformed us, made us better versions of the people we were created to be, better husbands, better friends, better servants. We shared how our belief in God allows us always to have hope, knowing that there is nothing we could ever do that would separate us from the love of God. Those two pastors who told you to forget about your son, that he is lost and will never be found…let me tell you, that’s not our story, Brenda…we have hope, we always have hope.
We believe Jesus died, not so that his people would be shackled in fear and trembling, but that all people could be set free to live fully into the future unafraid and filled with joyful anticipation and hope of all that is to come and the life everlasting. Don’t listen to their story any more. There is a bigger and better story prepared for you, and Brenda, that’s your story…
We didn’t have all the right words to say, but the fact that we were sharing our story, a different story than the one she had heard before, caused her to break into tears. She opened up more, and of course so did we…our hearts were breaking with hers. And then we embraced…sweaty, stinky strangers hugged, and we became friends. She told the directors the next week that she had encountered a word of hope from what had to be angels for the first time since she lost her son. She said, “Ever since they left, I have been able to experience life again, and I’ve actually started to smile.”
We didn’t know it, but Brenda had been dying inside for 8 years, and we just happened to stumble across her path. We were fortunate enough to notice her opening up, we cared enough to ask the right questions and then we just listened. We allowed her the space to share her story, to empty herself of all that had been plaguing her, and then we filled her with the gospel of Jesus Christ, the best story of all. She left with hope, filled with the promises of God.
This is the power of sharing stories. This is the power of the gospel.
Christianity in Ethiopia
Christianity in Ethiopia dates to the 1st century AD. This long tradition makes Ethiopia unique among sub-Saharan African countries. Christianity in Ethiopia is divided into several groups. The largest and oldest is the EthiopianOrthodoxTewahedoChurch. This church has a membership of slightly more than 32 million people in Ethiopia, and is thus the largest of all Oriental Orthodox churches. The various Protestant congregations include 13.7 million Ethiopians. The largest Protestant group is the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus, with about 5 million members. Roman Catholicism has been in Ethiopia since the 16th century, and numbers 536,827 believers. In total, Christians make up about 60% of the total population of the country.
The exact date when Christianity emerged in Ethiopia is uncertain. The earliest, best known reference to the introduction of Christianity is in Acts 8:26-38 when Philip the Evangelist converted an Ethiopian court official in the 1st century AD. Some scholars, however, argue “Ethiopian” (which in Greek means “having a dark skin color”) was a common term used for black Africans, and that the Queen Candace this official served actually ruled nearby Nubia (modern Sudan). According to church historian Nicephorus, St. Matthew later preached the Christian Gospel to modern-day Ethiopia (then called Colchis) after having preached in Judea. Rufinus of Tyre, a noted church historian, recorded a personal account as did other church historians such as Socrates and Sozemius. The Garima Gospels are thought to be the world’s oldest illuminated Christian manuscripts.
Shipwrecked and captured at an early age, Frumentius was carried to Axum where he and his companion Edesius were treated well. A small population of Christians lived there finding refuge from Roman persecution. Once of age, Frumentius and Edesius were allowed to return to their homelands, but chose to stay at the queen’s request. They began to secretly promote Christianity through the land. On a trip to meet with church elders, Frumentius met with Athanasius, Archbishop of Alexandria who was second in line to the pope. After recommending that a bishop be sent to evangelize, a council appointed Frumentius as bishop to Ethiopia. By 331 AD, Frumentius returned to Ethiopia. The rulers, who were not Christian, welcomed him with open arms. Ten years later, through the support of the kings, the majority of the kingdom was converted and Christianity was declared the official state religion.
Isolation as a Christian Nation
When Islam emerged in the 7th century, Ethiopia’s Christians were isolated from the rest of the Christian world. The patriarch of the Coptic church in Egypt appointed the head of the Ethiopian church, and Ethiopian monks had certain rights in the church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Ethiopia was the only part of Africa to survive as a Christian state when Islam expanded.
Ark of the Covenant
The Ethiopian Orthodox Church claims to possess the Ark of the Covenant, or Tabot, in Axum, not far from the border with Eritrea. The object is currently kept under guard in a treasury near the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion and is used occasionally in ritual processions. Replicas of the Axum tabot are kept in every Ethiopian church, each with its own dedication to a particular saint. The most popular of these include Mary, George and Michael.
This week consider the richness and diversity of American cultures. Focus on the wonderful country that diversity makes us. Make this a week of prayer, thanking God for a richness that makes America so special in the entire world. Next week, share with the group how this affected your thinking and attitudes..