THURSDAY STUDY GROUP
AUG 6 2020
‘LIVING UNDER THE RAINBOW’ - SESSION SIX
‘Living more Hopefully - under the Rainbow’
Bible Readings - Genesis 9 v 12 -17; Revelation 4 v 1-3, 10-11; 5 v 6-10.
After the great flood waters had receded, God made a covenant with Noah and all living creatures, that there would never again be a flood like this. God promised and He gave the Rainbow as his covenant sign. Since then, the rainbow has generally been seen as a sign of hope for the future, the opportunity for a new creative beginning.
There are some ancient cultures that interpret rainbows negatively, but broadly, it is a highly positive image. It is seen as a sign of a new era, significant social change, and a symbol of peace. In the 1970s it was adopted by ‘gay pride’ and LGBT social movements. In the 1990s Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela made the rainbow a symbol of the new democratic South Africa. The rainbow alluded to the diversity and multiculturalism of the nation, and to its new beginning - all colours are part of the one light. In the first few months of 2020, the UK has been ‘covered’ with paintings and drawings of rainbows. (There were 26 in the windows of No.10 Downing Street.) The rainbows were an affirmation of NHS and key workers battling the coronavirus – a sign of victory and the beginning of a new era.
In the Bible, the rainbow reappears in Revelation chapters 4 & 5. A rainbow encircles the central throne of divine authority, and there standing on the throne is the Lamb ‘looking as if it had been slain’. The promises of God to all creation and the hope of a new beginning finds its heart in a Lamb once slain and now alive for ever more, encircled by a rainbow.
Question - ‘Do you have any ‘rainbow stories’, when this remarkable sign has given you hope?’
Other Life and Death Challenges - During the struggle to overcome the Covid 19 pandemic, other major issues like the climate emergency, have almost disappeared from the news headlines. The pandemic has been seen as a separate problem. Yet there is a connection. Scientists seem to think that the virus has transferred to humans from animals in the wild. This has been made possible by reducing the wild animals’ natural habitat, and transporting them to wet markets in places like Wuhan. The trade in bush meat involves keeping live animals confined together un-hygienically until they are slaughtered for their meat.
After the lockdown, we return to talking about Brexit and the environment; it is likely that there will be a significant rise in unemployment and there may be social unrest, not just about systemic racism but the increasing inequalities in our society. The country will be carrying huge debts due to expenditure to cope with the pandemic, adding to the large existing national debt. It is hard to see how young people will find employment after college, and how those with lower incomes will be able to cope. In such a context what does the rainbow of hope mean?
Hope through the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus and the gift of His Spirit.
The world of Jesus’ own day was full of tension because many nations were subjected to Roman rule. The Romans controlled their Empire through slave labour. Punishment for any who stepped out of line was severe. Into this situation came Jesus and through His death and resurrection and the gift of His Spirit, a new movement of faith, hope and love was born. A new and different story was being told and experienced. Those who believed realised that they had an eternal home with Jesus in Heaven and could bring the values and joy of that wonderful future into this world. Inspired and empowered by the Holy Spirit of Jesus, they began to live their future life here and now. Communities of people with confident hope who cared for others and sought to share both spiritually and materially with those around them were established in most parts of the Empire. Starting in 180 AD and then again in 251 AD major pandemics spread across the Roman world, lasting around 15 years each. Historians think they may have been of smallpox and measles. Each time there were massive mortality rates. Probably between a quarter and a third of the entire population died.
The Christians at the time of the epidemics had a diligent care of one another and committed themselves to care for the pagans around them. Pagans with sufficient resources, including the famous physician Galen, ran for their lives to find somewhere they could ‘isolate’ until the pandemic was over. The Christians stayed, and yet had a higher survival rate than the pagans. Through Christian nursing care and provision of food and water many pagans were helped to survive too. Needless to say this selfless and courageous ministry, along with the conviction of a Heavenly home, led on to many conversions.
Questions – 1. The practical loving service of the Early Christians is impressive. Do you think that we Christians today, need to seek for a more radical commitment to Jesus and His way of sacrificial service, so that we are better placed for effective ministry in the face of today’s major challenges? What sort of life-style should we have?
2. At the beginning of a new era John/Baptist, Jesus and the Apostles began their public preaching urging people to repent. (Mark 1 v 4, 14-15; Acts 2 v 38). Is this a message for today’s Church? If so for what should we be repenting?
3. As we consider what sort of Church does God want us to become, what might be the next steps?
4. Also, what sort of nation does God want us to become, and what might be the next steps we might take as a Church to influence a good outcome?
‘LIVING UNDER THE
RAINBOW’ - SESSION FIVE
‘Believing more truly - considering the ‘R’ Factor’.
Bible Readings - Luke 4 v 16 – 19. ‘Proclaiming the Good News to the poor’ was the first priority of Jesus’ own manifesto for ministry. Luke’s Gospel concludes by Jesus commissioning the disciples to become active witnesses of what Jesus had done – Luke 24 v 45 – 48
Matthew 28 v 16 – 20 is another clear commissioning by Jesus, sending his friends to make disciples of all nations. Jesus’ intention was that the Church, empowered by the Holy Spirit – Acts 1 v 8, was entrusted with the mission to take the good news to the whole world.
Archbishop Justin Welby has said –‘The Church has two primary tasks – to worship God and to evangelise – all else is decoration’. On this assessment, how much time and resource do we spend on decoration?
Evangelism is the ‘R’ factor for the Church. (‘R’ = ‘reproduction’) Jesus expected that the Holy Spirit would cooperate with the witness of the Church to make new disciples from all nations. There are references to ‘new birth’ in the Bible – (John 3 v 1-8; Titus 3 v 5; 1 Peter 1 v 3.)
Question – ‘How might our Churches better live up to Jesus’ expectations to evangelise?
During Covid 19 the ‘R’ factor has been a critical indicator as to whether the virus is growing in influence or in decline. Rules about ‘social distancing’, ‘stay at home/alert’, avoid unnecessary travel, have been recommended to try to retard the spread of the virus and keep the ‘R’ below no.1. (where No.1 is this is the process of one infected person passing the virus to one other non-infected individual. No.3 would be an individual infecting 3 other people)
Church Growth – It has often been said that Christian faith is like a virus, in that ‘it is caught rather than taught’. This indicates that as non-church people are invited and welcomed into Christian Fellowships and work alongside believing Christians, a profound spiritual change might take place from non-faith to faith. In such a context the non-church person sees an alternative way of life and is given the chance to hear about the good news of Jesus.
Questions - 1. ‘Why do you think that the overall ‘R’ factor for the Church has been less than zero for the last 60 years?
2. ‘Is there a ‘reverse lesson’ for the Church’s positive evangelism in the recommendations on how to restrict the spread of Covid 19? – (i) ‘Keep your distance from other people unless they are members of your own household.’ (ii) When you meet others, not only keep your distance, but don’t spend long with them, and ensure your meetings are infrequent.
‘BELIEVING MORE TRULY’. As Church we may all be at a significant turning-point in our mission and ministry. There may be some changes in our patterns of worship. For example we have found that online services have drawn more people to be involved than the numbers who might physically be in church on a regular Sunday. The enquirer has the advantage of visiting anonymously. So, online services are likely to be included in our regular schedules.
But what if there is a new spiritual search initiated by the pandemic, how is that to be discovered and followed up? Before Covid 19, statisticians told us that there is a lamentable mission inertia in our churches. 80% of regular worshippers have never invited a non-church person to come to a church event. Then when one of the 20% brings along someone unfamiliar with what we do in worship, how deep is our welcome? We may hand out strange books and give a warm smile, but do we make the effort to get to know them, offer friendship and find ways to nurture them in faith? How many of our church groups are open to non-church folk, in the sense that our intention is to help them to discover Jesus for themselves? Is part of our ineffectiveness due to our own lack of faith? Do we truly believe that Jesus died and rose again for sinners so that all might have their true humanity restored in union with God?
Of course, we would like to see our churches full, but what is our motivation? Do we really care about the non-church folk in our parishes that eyes might be opened and relationships remade? Do we truly believe that Jesus has entrusted us with this life- transforming mission?
Improving the spiritual ‘R’ factor.
1. Faithful caring prayer – maybe choose 5 non church folk you see regularly. Hold them in God’s love and ask God for the opportunity to share Jesus with them.
2. We have two stories to tell – our own story about how we have come to faith and what Jesus means to us – and the Jesus story:- what God has done for all of us through Him and his invitation to follow Him.
3. We do what we can to serve and to enter their world by our listening and asking questions and being there where they are.
4. We invite them to share with us. This may be in the context of an act of mission/service to others or a church event.
5. At the appropriate moment, we ask them if they want to become followers of Jesus themselves. If the answer is ‘Yes’, then invite them to pray, preferably out-loud in their own words, saying what they want to say to God. Then pray for them out-loud too. Arrange to meet again soon and encourage them to tell someone what they have done.
It might be helpful for them to have a booklet such as ‘Journey into Life’ by Norman Warren or ‘Why Jesus?’ by Nicky Gumbel or ‘Try Praying’ along with a copy of one of the Gospels (The Good News Version of St Luke is a good place to start reading about Jesus).
6. Go on praying!
Question - ‘What do you find is the most difficult aspect of personal evangelism? Would more training be helpful? How might the Church do more evangelism?
- CHURCH ROAD
- E17 6AR