(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)
In the Ditch with Jesus
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.
1 Corinthians 1:17-25
This week, starting with Paul’s startlingly blunt words about the limited popular appeal of his message, we will focus on God’s unexpected ways of saving us. The Life Application Bible summed up Paul’s words well: “Many Jews considered the Good News of Jesus Christ to be foolish, because they thought the Messiah would be a conquering king accompanied by signs and miracles…Greeks, too, considered the Good News foolish: They did not believe in a bodily resurrection, they did not see in Jesus the powerful characteristics of their mythological gods, and…to them, death was defeat, not victory.”
Abraham set out with his son Isaac, at God’s command, to offer a sacrifice. Isaac asked, “Where is the lamb for the entirely burned offering?” Abraham, perhaps uneasily, replied, “God will see to it, my son.” When they arrived, however, he tied Isaac himself, the son he’d waited decades for, to the altar. It was a desperate situation. But God DID see to it—Abraham suddenly saw a ram caught in the underbrush, and sacrificed it in Isaac’s place.
2 Kings 5:1-14
With a feared, seemingly hopeless skin disease, the Syrian general Naaman was willing to take a suggestion from a captured Israelite slave girl. A nearly comic string of faulty notions followed. Naaman went to Israel’s king, not the prophet (verses 5-6). When he reached the prophet Elisha, he expected a formal religious ceremony (verse 11). His servants finally convinced him to bathe in the Jordan, and God healed him in that unexpected way.
Luke 10:1-2, 17-24
Just before the Good Samaritan story, Luke wrote that Jesus sent 72 people to extend his mission. These peasant disciples were common, ordinary people, probably “uneducated and inexperienced” (cf. Acts 4:13)—no one expected them to be messengers of salvation. Yet Jesus equipped them to accomplish great things for God’s kingdom. They did so well that Jesus, in Luke’s words, “overflowed with joy” and said he saw Satan fall like lightning!
The story Jesus told in answer to the lawyer’s question is familiar. When we read it, we tend to think of ourselves as one of the rescuers. We ask questions like, “Do we pass by people in need? Are we as caring as the Samaritan?” Good questions, but they can lead us to ignore the other person in the story. Spiritually, we’re all like the man injured beside the road. We all need a Savior. If you were bleeding by the road, how would you expect God to rescue you?
Bishop Will Willimon, who preached at Resurrection last weekend, wrote: “Like most of Scripture, the story of the man in the ditch is a story about God before it is a story about us, about the oddness of our salvation in Christ….[We] would rather be the anything-but-poor Samaritan who does something nice for the less fortunate among us. In other words, [we] don’t like to admit that just possibly [we] might need to be saved.”
To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.
Lord God, open our eyes, our ears and our hearts to all of the ways you are at work in our lives. Remind us that you don’t always come to us looking powerful and respectable, any more than you did during your earthly life. As you went to all lengths to reach us, fill us with your passion to reach out and touch others where they live with your message. Amen.
CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)
How do you deal with the possibility of roadside trouble (e.g. carry an auto club card, own multiple vehicles and depend on a family member to come to the rescue, trust your own mechanical knowledge)? Have you ever had to accept help from someone who initially made you a little uncomfortable?
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY
Read 1 Corinthians 1:17-25. Imagine that Paul was going to plant a new church (which he had done in Corinth—this letter was sent to that church), that you were considering being on the team of supporters in that venture, and that this was his “pitch” to your first meeting. Would you still want to be part of the new church? What was his point in describing his message in these terms? In what ways does his description of the gospel’s impact on people, negative and positive, still ring true today? How have you found the message of Jesus to be “the power of God” in your life?
Read Genesis 22:1-14. The writer(s) of Genesis said God created this test for Abraham and Isaac. In a world where some other religions practiced child sacrifice, do you find it plausible that God would test someone’s faith this way, or do you think it more likely that Abraham misunderstood what God wanted and God had to correct him on the mountain? Have you ever seen God open paths of deliverance from a difficult situation, material or spiritual, which seemed impossible to your limited vision? When have you found it necessary to trust God because there was no obvious, immediate solution to your struggles?
Read 2 Kings 5:1-14. This story began when an Israelite slave girl, captured in a cross-border raid, said she wished her owner, her captor, would seek healing from Israel’s prophet. If you were the Israelite girl, would you be likely to wish that God would heal this powerful man? If you were the general, would you be likely to listen to an idea from a slave girl? Have you, like Naaman, ever tried to dictate to God just how God must help you? Are there any parts of your life where you are resisting “bathing in the Jordan” because you’d like God to work in a different way?
Read Luke 10:1-2, 17-24. Jesus told the 72 people he was sending out, “The harvest is bigger than you can imagine, but there are few workers. Therefore, plead with the Lord of the harvest to send out workers for his harvest” (verse 2). What did Jesus mean by “the harvest”? Think about your life: who, what, and where is your “harvest”? Family? Friends? Neighborhood? Workplace? What “harvest” possibilities exist for you working together as a group? Do you believe God can work powerfully through your combined gifts and passions to truly change the world for the better?
Read Luke 10:25-32. The GPS says, “Spiritually, we’re all like the man injured beside the road. We all need a Savior.” Do you agree, or have there been (or are there) any points in your life when you’ve felt like saying, “Talk to someone else about grace and forgiveness—I’m good”? Think of people who don’t fit into the mold of “priest” or “Levite” today–who serve God in ways different from what you expect or prefer (e.g. music too loud or too boring, clothes too formal or too casual, etc.). When have you seen God change lives today through any of those ways you’d rather no one used?
Read Luke 10:33-37. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1, Jesus was a strange type of Savior. He was born in a stable to peasant parents, poor, politically powerless, and crucified to satisfy the demands of the religious leaders of his day. A song by Todd Agnew says, “My Jesus would not be welcome in my church, because the blood and the dirt on his feet might stain the carpet.” Does thinking about who Jesus was, and what kind of life he led, ever make you a bit uneasy? Are you willing to accept salvation from a Lord who was as unexpected as a “good” Samaritan was in Israel? How will accepting God’s rescue through Jesus free you to serve God more fully, with less need to worry about “how it will make you look”?
From last week: Did you think about who the “Samaritans” are in your life? Did you ask the Holy Spirit to give you strength, courage and love to approach them just as Christ approached the woman at the well? If you had any such encounters, share your experience with the group.
FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT
A Blog entry about Bishop Will Willimon’s message on the Good Samaritan:
Continuing in Bishop Willimon‘s recent book, Who Will Be Saved?…
In chapter 1, Willimon retells the parable of the Good Samaritan from Luke 10, considering the response of the Jewish man who has been beaten and robbed and who is lying in need. The persons he would have accepted salvation from–the priest, the Levite–pass by, but the last person on earth he would desire or even think of receiving salvation from–the Samaritan–is the one who indeed saves him. Willimon writes, “So this is not a story about a person who stops and gives the man in the ditch the use of his cell phone in order to call the highway patrol–we would have done that. It’s a story about the odd, threatening, humiliating, and extravagant form by which God draws near to us for our rescue” (p. 11).
What need have we educated, successful, wealthy, resourceful, clever, resilient North Americans for salvation at the hands of a homeless, jobless, wandering rabbi put to death by an foreign government in military and political occupation of his ethnic homeland? This is a juxtaposition in profiles if ever there was one.
Willimon continues: “Like most of Scripture, the story of the man in the ditch is a story about God before it is a story about us, about the oddness of our salvation in Christ. … [We] would rather be the anything-but-poor Samaritan who does something nice for the less fortunate among us. In other words, [we] don’t like to admit that just possibly [we] might need to be saved.”
If indeed a way to hear that story is as Willimon puts it here, one of the things we notice is that the Samaritan would have found himself finally in a position of strength vis-a-vis this Jew. The one who considered himself a full member of the people of God, at the mercy, literally, of one whom he despised and considered unworthy. If the man had been half-conscious, he would have certainly cringed upon the approach of the Samaritan. The tables are turned, the Samaritan now able to return some of the abuse that he and his kin suffered socioculturally. But to the surprise of the man in the ditch, the Samaritan does not respond with violence to this opportunity to shame one of those who looked upon him and his race as shameful. Instead, he responds with mercy, care, love, compassion.
A new friend in a covenant group pointed out recently that Moses did not look fully upon God’s glory because it would have killed Moses for him to do so (Exodus 33:20). Yet when we did finally look upon God’s glory in Jesus (John 1:14), we killed him. But in Jesus, we see the one whom we beat and executed when given the opportunity respond not with violence but with love. Odd and great is the salvation that comes through Jesus.
–From http://guymwilliams.net/tag/william-willimon/, posted Feb. 9, 2009
In Matthew 8:19-20 we read, “A legal expert came and said to him, ‘Teacher, I’ll follow you wherever you go.’ Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have dens, and the birds in the sky have nests, but the Human One [or, Son of Man] has no place to lay his head.’” This week, reflect on how well someone like Jesus would fit into your group or your congregation. Would he be welcome? Reflect on how well your group or congregation would fit into a kingdom led by a Lord like Jesus. Share any insights you gain with the group next week.