(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)
Batman vs. Superman, or Both?
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.
Exodus 4:27-31, 17:8-13
God called Moses to lead Israel out of slavery in Egypt. Moses and the Israelites must have felt great excitement and hope for a better future, but also fear and uncertainty about when and how they would get there. Moses challenge was to lead a nation into the unknown, and God used him in powerful ways. He was a towering figure in Israel’s history—but not a solitary one. All through their journey, Moses drew on the strengths of others to help him.
1 Samuel 20:17-42, 1 Chronicles 11:15-19
King David was a heroic, historic leader. (Even today, Israel’s flag bears the “star of David.”) Yet without the steadfast friendship of Jonathan (who was King Saul’s son, and could have seen David as a rival for power), David might not even have survived to reach the throne. As king, he counted on the help of many mighty men, and like other great leaders, was wise enough to honor them for their help.
Acts 9:23-30, 13:1-3
Was the apostle Paul a heroic individual carrying the good news of Jesus to the Roman Empire all alone? No—the book of Acts said his ministry might not ever have started if Barnabas (the name meant “son of encouragement”—cf. Acts 4:36) hadn’t vouched for him to the wary believers in Jerusalem. Later the church in Antioch sent Paul and Barnabas out as partners, and Paul always had similar partners as he spread the message of Jesus far and wide.
Luke 6:12-16, 8:1-3
The gospel writer Luke recorded that even Jesus, with a mission unique in history, needed support from others. Most everyone has heard about the 12 disciples. In a male-dominated society, Luke also noted the more surprising fact that a group of loyal women (even one from King Herod’s household) helped Jesus in his ministry, even financially.
On Palm Sunday, Jesus rode on a donkey’s colt, a symbol of peaceful royalty (cf. Zechariah 9:9). Luke’s story made it clear that the donkey’s unnamed owners had the colt ready when the disciples came for it. It wasn’t a random encounter–the owners had agreed to let Jesus use their animal. Their generous help was one key element that made possible Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem five days before the crucifixion.
1 Corinthians 12:4-13
Through this series, we’ve looked at the promise that God “is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine by his power at work within us” (cf. Ephesians 3:20) In today’s reading, the apostle Paul explained to the Corinthian Christians that God indeed gives each of us power to join in the divine mission of changing the world for the better. But no one of us receives all the gifts and talents needed for the job. To live out the “superhero” potential God has planted in us, we need each other as well as God.
To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.
Heavenly Father, thank you for the ways (including this group) that you provide other people to help us along the way. Give us a willingness to share with you today whatever it is you need from us. We offer you back the gifts you’ve given us, asking that you will put them to use through your power, so that we may carry out your mission in the world. Amen.
CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)
What’s the best experience you’ve ever had of being part of a team that worked together for a common purpose? In what ways did your teammates’ strengths complement yours as you worked together (but not alike)?
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY
Read Exodus 4:27-31, 17:8-13. God gave Moses a huge challenge: to lead a nation who had been slaves for several generations into a great but unknown future. God used him in powerful ways, but often by sending him the helpers that he needed. What weaknesses do you perceive in yourself that make you feel that God probably can’t use you, at least not for much? In what ways can you depend more fully on God’s help (directly, or through the presence of others) to enhance your ability to live fully when you face fear and uncertainty?
Read 1 Samuel 20:17-42, 1 Chronicles 11:15-19. King Saul expected his son and heir Jonathan to view David as a rival, an enemy (1 Samuel 20:31). Despite David’s many abilities, think about how history might have been different if Jonathan had helped his father kill David (e.g. Jesus wouldn’t have been “the son of David”). In what ways does the story in 1 Chronicles 11 help you understand the qualities that made David such an effective leader? Who is the best leader you have ever personally worked with or for? Did that person honor those who helped to produce successes, or ignore them and focus on personal glory?
Read Acts 9:23-30, 13:1-3. The GPS quotes scholar William Barclay’s observation that Barnabas’ support for Paul when others doubted his conversion showed two deeply Christian traits. Barnabas “insisted on believing the best of others,” and he “never held anyone’s past against him.” How easy or difficult do you find it to show those two traits? When have you been blessed by someone else extending either or both of those two traits in their treatment of you?
Read Luke 6:12-16, 8:1-3. Jesus prayed all night–and still, one of the twelve he chose was Judas. Does this suggest to you that praying for God’s wisdom in choosing friends is a waste of time, or that it is a really important activity that we too often don’t even think about? A common rabbinic morning prayer in Jesus’ day said, “Lord, I thank you that I was not born a Gentile, a slave, or a woman.” When you read that Jesus treated women very differently than that, do you feel irritated at having to deal with “political correctness,” or are you challenged to examine how you may be unconsciously buying into stereotypes (about gender, race, religion or whatever) that limit and ridicule other people?
Read Luke 19:29-36. Wow–Palm Sunday and the triumphal entry might not have happened if some of Jesus’ followers (the text is plural, but doesn’t say how many) hadn’t been willing to loan him their young donkey! In what ways have you put things that are valuable to you at God’s disposal, for use in God’s service? How has the willingness of other people to share time, talents or possessions enriched your worship of God, or your service to God and others?
Read 1 Corinthians 12:4-13. In what ways, either by intentional design or just through “doing what comes naturally,” does your group function in ways similar to what Paul described as “the body of Christ”? Quickly go around the circle, identifying which strengths and talents you believe each of the members of your group has. Are there ways that you as a group could more fully live into the vision of being “the body of Christ,” with each of you taking a role based on the gifts you have in your life? (If you’d like help exploring this, visit http://www.cor.org/spiritualgifts.)
From last week: Did you pray that you might be a messenger as Jonah was a messenger for God? Did you look for opportunities where you might, through the way you live your life, be a live demonstration of God’s grace to people you might not like, might not choose to be God’s children? Share with the group whatever you experienced in doing this.
FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT
From Pastor Scott Chrostek’s sermon, June 30, 2013:
There’s a whole host of superheroes. The question I want to wrestle with today is not a question of how many people are doing this, but I want to take a look at the question of who is the greatest? Which among these superheroes is the greatest?
I’ve found that this is a very common question among superhero or comic book fans. Everyone seems to think that their favorite superhero is the answer; they believe that their superhero is the greatest superhero. People have explained to me why they think Aquaman needs to be considered as level with the best superhero of all time, or why Batman is the best or Wonderwoman…you get the picture. People have opinions. They are invested. I am invested. For the record…my favorite is Superman….
There’s something not right about these images to me. I mean, Superman or any other superhero isn’t supposed to be fighting against the good guys. They are supposed to fight against evil. They are supposed to overcome their enemies so that life and peace and hope abound. They aren’t supposed to fight over who’s the greatest. In fact, it would seem like if we are trying to uncover what it takes to become a superhero, then competing, fighting or arguing with others over who is the greatest would be the opposite of what it takes to become the best version of the people we were created to be. And yet, we wrestle with this….
[At several points in the gospels,] Jesus hears this question about who is the greatest. He answers by saying, “Whoever wants to be first must be last and servant of all.” If you want to become like me, Jesus said, if you want to know what it takes to become a superhero…you mustn’t worry or argue about who is the greatest. Instead you must serve, you must humble yourself, you must welcome children, and in Matthew, Jesus just flat out says, those who want to be great must change and become like children.
So what does that look like? How can we welcome them or become like them? What can we learn from children?
I decided at the beginning of the year to spend time in our KiDS COR downtown every Sunday morning. I get to spend time with our littlest members at either the 9 or 10:45 service, so I can welcome them, get to know them, love them and learn from them. Often I find myself getting down on my hands and knees so that I can be at their level. When I get down there, my world changes.
Everything looks different, better and exciting. They have these great toys to play with, kitchen sets, hardware benches, puzzles and trains and cars, more than you could ever ask for or imagine and all of it is exciting. So, as I get with them, it would seem that regardless of what we do, what toys we pick up and play with, whatever the activity, children are almost always appreciative of the time other people spend with them. They treat it like a gift. And then I realized that kids have this ability to see everything they encounter as though it were a gift. Their whole world is understood as though they were unwrapping new adventures or new gifts. They pick up and play with new toys, new experiences, new people, new sights, new sounds, new encounters. It’s all a gift to them, and generally speaking when kids receive a gift, they get excited and so they run around and play with whatever it might be. They use what they encounter, they share it with others, they live into it and they employ it. Kids like to play and they like to invite friends and strangers to play with them in their own little world!
And this is what you see when a child receives a cape. If a child gets a cape…they immediately get this big smile on their face and they put it on. They wear it, and then they go about flying or at least trying to fly, because that is what gifts are for. They are for using, for sharing, and for employing so that we might change the world or at least to live fully into it. I love it, when a child gets a cape. There’s no comparing, there’s no worry, they aren’t worried about determining who is the greatest, they are simply worried with how great using those gifts makes them feel. They are worried simply about flying, rescuing, saving, and beating back the enemy. This is how we should all feel. This is what makes us great too.
And this is exactly what Paul was trying to communicate with his church at Corinth. Corinth was a wealthy community, rooted in spirited athletic competition on a variety of levels, and so people were accustomed to ask questions about greatness, similar to the disciples’ quarrels. So Paul writes them a letter to restore order and to remind them of the gifts they’ve each been given. Paul writes to his community, saying, stop arguing, stop wondering who’s the greatest. “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (and not for selfish ambition). (1 Corinthians 12:4-7)
There are a ton of gifts and one spirit, there are a variety of services, but one Lord. Jesus calls us to humble ourselves, to serve one another, to welcome children or more importantly to become like children…so stop arguing about these gifts and whose is the greatest, and instead go to work using all that you’ve been given, employ whatever you have and help and encourage others to do the same thing, because you need them. In the same way that a body requires a variety of parts in order to live, move, breathe and have being, so too will you need each other’s diversity in order to live fully as the body of Christ.
This is a compelling picture for the church. Richard Hays writes that the overall picture of the church implied in these verses is, to put it mildly, remarkable. It’s a picture where “each one of us” is empowered by the Spirit or gifted with extraordinary gifts. The church as a whole is envisioned as a charismatic or “gifted” community in which the power of the Holy Spirit is palpably present, operating through the complementary, not competitive, gifts of its members. It takes everyone, pulling together, weaving together and playing together in love and humility in mercy and grace in order to become the living body of Christ.
“The Body of Christ:” Diversity and Solidarity
“Paul’s communal plan for believers in the risen Christ involved the proper use of power, diversity, and mutuality. In the midst of a society in which governing power would have normally been bestowed on some members and not on others, Paul argued for a transformed perspective, a renewed mind (Rom 12:2).
First emphasizing the fact that those with power over others needed to make an adjustment in their conduct, Paul argued that members of the body of Christ were to receive honor and respect based not on their social rank but on their status as partakers of the one sacramental loaf (1 Cor 10:17; 11:27). Those members who were weaker should be compensated so that they, too, shared power and were free to be virtuous body members responding to their Lord and other community members with integrity.
Secondly, Paul stressed the crucial importance of diversity and solidarity in order for unity to exist. Diversity was possible because the Spirit of Christ permeated the entire body, and bestowed the various spiritual gifts needed by the body to each individual member. Uniformity among members was not possible, since the body needed diversity in order to function, and thereby sustain each member’s freedom in Christ. Solidarity was necessary because, due to diverse distribution of gifts, members needed each other for the community to be functional. The need for each member’s participation called for the practice of mutual care, one for the other. After all, the Corinthians were ‘individually members one of another.'”
–Excerpt from an article by Judith A. Stevens found at http://gbgm-umc.org/umw/corinthians/newcreation.stm#community
This week, if you have already been in a setting in which you studied about which spiritual gifts you have most strongly, and got input from others, review what you learned. If you’ve never really given that much thought, spend time reading 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12:1-8 and Ephesians 4:1-16. Pray and think about which gifts you see most present in you. (A great resource, available in The Well bookstore, is Serving from the Heart, by Carol Cartmill and Yvonne Gentile.) Next week, tell the group which gifts you believe you may have, and ask the other members if their perceptions of you line up with that.