Teaching Strategy: Lead a creative writing exercise. If Jesus were to send you (us) a note of encouragement today based on this scripture, what would he say? Who or what threatens to separate you from the love of God in Christ? What hardships, or distress, or separation(s) put your relationship to God at risk? How might Jesus (or Paul) reassure and convince you that nothing can separate you from God’s love? In what ways are you called to live differently because of God’s love?
Paul’s words in the Letter to the Romans remind us that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Through his death we have been reconciled to God. God’s love is so great that God gave up his only Son for us – and so great that absolutely nothing will be able to separate us from that love.
All of us have experienced various forms of distress and hardship. We face challenges in our personal lives, in our communities, in our nation, and in the world. We may find ourselves in despair, angry, anxious, or afraid. We may ask “how could this be?” and “where is God”? The good news in this scripture is that God is present and nothing – no difficulty we face – can separate us from the love of God in Christ. When we are convinced of this truth, then we ask the question “where is God” in a different way. Assured of God’s unconditional love, we look with the eyes of faith to see where and how God is working even in the midst of our darkest times. We pray God will give us wisdom and strength to face every challenge.
The links below take you to stories of hardship that are personal, national, and/or global. What is it that is most distressing in your life, church, or community? How do the promise and power of God’s reconciling love help you to face these difficulties?
- This week a CBS MoneyWatch report, The United States of Insecurity, describes the stress of economic instability in a changing labor market.
- A recent New York Times article (January 6, 2017) describes the opioid epidemic through the painful stories of individuals “from cities on the West Coast to bedroom communities in the Northeast.”
- The status of people of faith – and the hardships they face – varies considerably around the world. This month the Pew Research Center released its latest annual study on Religious Restrictions in the 25 most populous countries, noting that “government restrictions on religion and social hostilities involving religion increased in 2015 for the first time in three years.”
- There are strong feelings – for and against – the U.S. bombing of a Syrian base in response to a chemical weapon attack against the Syrian people. Either way, the situation is distressing and increases worldwide anxiety about the Middle East. Listen to this NCC podcast, Holy Week, Syria, and Christian Ethics, for a thoughtful discussion and particularly Christian perspective.
Spring 2016-17 Theme: Love
Unifying Principle: Hardship, distress, and separations of all kinds abound in human life. How can we face these difficulties? Paul is convinced that nothing in all creation is able to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ.
God’s Love as Victory over Death: John 20:1-10; I Peter 1:3-5, 8-9
Teaching Strategy: Discuss…Do Christians today think of the resurrection of Jesus more as a doctrine requiring assent or as a life-changing reality with implications for daily life? Search I Peter 1:3-9 for ways Christ’s resurrection can and should make a difference in the lives of believers.
The miracle of the resurrection is a gift and a mystery. It is a powerful demonstration of God’s saving love and an affirmation that ultimately love overcomes hate, hope defeats despair, and life triumphs over death. Reflection on the resurrection and its meaning in the lives of believers today may take various forms and address a variety of questions. If, for example, the resurrection of Jesus has implications for daily life, what are they? In what ways have we experienced resurrection in our lives or seen it in the lives of others? How do we live differently as a result? What does it mean to experience and live with Easter joy? If we die with Christ, how are we then born to new life in Him? Where is Christ still being crucified today? Where in the world are the forces of hate, despair, and death most evident and/or most challenging? What can and should we do in response? How can we be instruments of God’s love, of hope, and of new life in Christ?
- Celebrate Easter joy with this short video which includes photos from around the world and a lively version of “Marching in the Light of God” performed by the Africa University Choir.
- United Methodist pastor Adam Hamilton discusses the meaning of The Triumph of the Resurrection for how believers live, face adversity, and understand death.
- In her article, Unglued Church: Resurrection or Resuscitation?, Presbyterian pastor Susan Rothenberg calls the church to change, arguing that “without change, there is no resurrection.”
- The news of the week includes horrific stories of death and destruction, among them the use of chemical warfare in Syria, a terror attack in Stockholm, and bombings in Coptic Christian churches in two different Egyptian cities – where people had gathered for Palm Sunday worship. The World News This Week in Prayer provides a model for praying for victims, perpetrators, responders and caregivers, political leaders – and ourselves – that we might be instruments of love and hope and new life. The National Council of Churches in Korea and the Korean Christian Federation worked together to prepare the 2017 Easter Joint North South Prayer.
Spring 2016-17 Theme: Love
Unifying Principle: Although we are forewarned, some life events are beyond the realm of our imagination. How do we respond at these times? Even though the disciples were confounded when they entered the empty tomb, they experienced a new birth into a living hope through the Resurrection.
God’s Saving Love in Christ: John 3:1-21
Teaching Strategy: Discuss: What difference does/should God’s Saving Love in Christ make in our lives and in our world? In what ways might we be called to sacrifice for the sake of others? To what extent are we willing to sacrifice ourselves for others?
Some say that the familiar words of John 3:16 capture the essence of the gospel message for Christians. God loved the world so much that God sent Jesus the Christ – God’s only son – to save the world rather than to condemn it. God sacrificed his Son so that all who believe in him might be saved and have eternal life through him. During Holy Week, we are reminded once again of the enormity of the sacrifice that has been made for us and challenged to consider what sacrifice might mean in our lives today. What might it mean in our families? Our churches? Our nations? Our world?
- Originally published in 2013, the essay Balancing Our Budget Through Humility, Shared Sacrifice, Hope is a discussion of these values in the political arena that is both timely and thought-provoking.
- In his essay, Remembering D Day: Sacrifice, Gratitude, and Lessons Learned, Sojourners founder and editor Jim Wallis shared appreciation for the sacrifices made by men and women during World War II, including his own father.
- The video, A Father’s Sacrifice, is one of a series of stories about families Facing Deportation: Families Impacted by North Carolina Immigration Policies. Although produced in 2008, the story is eerily similiar to stories in newspapers today.
- The well-known hymn, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, could be used at the beginning to generate discussion of what it means today to give “my soul, my life, my all,” or at the end as a closing devotion. Here’s a small sample of the many, varied renditions available on YouTube.com: Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Trinity Choir (Alfred St. Baptist Church, Alexandria, VA), Kings College Cambridge Choir, and Gaither Gospel Series.