Called to Witness: Acts 6:1-8
Teaching Strategy: Ask participants to brainstorm a list of crises and necessities of our society. Discuss how these issues can be opportunities for the church to evangelize and to serve those in need.
In this story of discord in the early church, we are told that there were complaints because some widows were left out of the food distribution. The disciples responded by dividing responsibilities: some (“the seven”) were chosen to serve those in need (similar to deacons in many traditions today) and others were appointed to serve the Word of God as witnesses. This “allocation of resources” was based upon the tasks that needed to be done, individuals’ spiritual gifts for such tasks, and the ongoing prayers of the community.
Invite participants to prayerfully consider: What are the most urgent tasks that the church needs to be doing today? Who are the people who are “left out” – whose needs the church is called to meet? What is the Word of God that needs to be spoken today? To whom? What are the spiritual gifts available within the church community to serve those in need and to bear witness to the Word of God? How can the community use its gifts to fulfill both of these roles most effectively?
- Service to people who are homeless? Why a Christian Approach to Fighting Homelessness Pays Off
- Service to people who are hungry? How a St. Charles Church’s Free Dinner Inspired Others
- Service to undocumented immigrant youth? Church World Service Applauds Introduction of the Dream Act
- Witness to people who are “unchurched” or “dechurched”? Church Attendance Trends Around The Country
- Witness for justice for people who are imprisoned? Commentary: Our State of Mass Incarceration
- Witness for racial equality? Significant Racial and Ethnic Disparities Still Exist, According to Stanford Report; White Economic Privilege is Alive and Well
Summer 2016-17 Theme: God’s Urgent Call
Unifying Principle: Recognizing priorities is a continuing challenge. How do we allocate resources in such a way that these priorities are appropriately addressed? The apostles realized that God calls us to make the best use of our specific gifts so that the witness of God can be accomplished.
Amos’s Call: Amos 7:10-17
Teaching Strategy: Create a template for a “God’s Messengers” chart that showcases the individuals studied during Unit II (“Calling of Prophets”): Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Amos. Include, for example, the circumstances of each call, each recipient’s initial response to the call, the message to be delivered, the intended audience for the message, and the assurances given that would make it possible for each messenger to persevere and obey God’s call. What can we learn about “God’s urgent call” by comparing and contrasting God’s call to each of these prophets?
Amos was called to speak out against King Jeroboam and his advisors, undermining their authority and revealing their sinful ways. Amaziah, the chief priest, rejected Amos’s message and accused him of treason.
Invite participants to reflect on questions such as these: To what extent are “messengers of God” today called to speak out against leaders and policies in the church and/or political realm? How can they discern whether or not they are called to be such messengers? If they (or others) are speaking God’s truth in negative contexts, are their messages rejected? Is their loyalty questioned? How they can remain determined despite the opposition of others? How can they encourage others to persevere in responding to God’s call?
- What is the message about prosperity? The Prosperity Gospel’s Shallow Preaching
- What is the message concerning the care of God’s creation? U.S. Evangelical Green Groups Pan Trump’s Climate Accord Exit; Issues Of The Environment: Ann Arbor Partners-Up To Get Houses Of Worship To ‘Go Solar’
- What is the message for Christians being returned to countries where they are not safe? Christians Seeking Refuge May Get Caught Up In Trump’s Deportations; Trump’s Move to Deport Iraqi Christians Stirs Outcry
- What is the message about the person and policies of the current U.S. administration? These Conservative Christians Are Opposed to Trump—and Suffering the Consequences
Summer 2017 Theme: God’s Urgent Call
Unifying Principle: At times we find obeying God’s direction to be in direct contrast to what others think we should do. Is it possible to remain determined despite the opposition? Amos committed to serving even in the face of negativity.
Ezekiel’s Call: Ezekiel 3: 1-11
Teaching Strategy: Share stories of Christians who stood firm – or who are now standing firm – for Christ in hostile environments. Discuss what their examples teach us about courage under fire.
Ezekiel was called to deliver the word of God in a hostile environment: to the house of Israel, described in this passage as rebellious. “But the house of Israel will not listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me; because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart” (v. 7). God promised to give Ezekiel a “hard forehead” (a tough skin) so that he would be able to persevere in speaking to the people, whether they were willing to hear or not.
Around the world there are Christians living in hostile environments for whom standing firm for Christ may be both difficult and dangerous. Christians in more hospitable environments are called to learn about their sisters and brothers in Christ, to pray for them, and to work through appropriate means to ensure their safety and religious liberty.
- Facing Global Persecution, Christian Leaders Urge U.S. for More Protection
- You Can Debate Franklin Graham on Martyrs, But Not the World’s Persecution Problem
- Relatives of Coptic ‘Martyrs’ Join Summit on Persecuted Christians in US Capital
In the story of Ezekiel’s call the people who needed to hear God’s word of judgment and God’s call to repentance were not foreigners or outsiders, but rather God’s own covenant people. Reflecting on the story invites the questions: What word of judgment or call to repentance does God want delivered today – not to outsiders – but to believers within the church? Whom is God calling to speak?
- White Supremacy is Anti-Gospel; I’m Glad the Southern Baptist Convention Agrees; Why I’m Leaving the Southern Baptist Convention
- When the Evangelical Establishment Comes After You
Summer 2017 Theme: God’s Urgent Call
Unifying Principle: Discouragement and doubt can be hindrances to what we hope to achieve. What concrete action can help us get beyond our fears? Ezekiel’s call involved eating a scroll that sweetened the bitter taste of his mission and receiving from God extra strength and protection for the challenges that lay ahead.
Jeremiah’s Call and Commission: Jeremiah 1: 4-10
Teaching Strategy: List things that we tend to think disqualify us or make us unlikely candidates to fulfill God’s purposes. Respond to each of these with promises from God in Scripture.
God appointed Jeremiah to be “a prophet to the nations,” (v.5b), but Jeremiah doubted his ability to fulfill this role, saying “Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy” (v.6a). God assured Jeremiah that God would be with him, and thus Jeremiah would be able to go to all to whom God sent him and to speak whatever God commanded him to speak. As the story of Jeremiah unfolds, it becomes clear that he was called to share a difficult message during difficult times to a people who did not want to hear or heed it.
There are at least two ways of connecting Jeremiah’s call to our contemporary context. First, what are the personal characteristics or situations that keep us from believing we are capable of fulfilling the purposes to which God calls us? What in our shared experiences of faith and in the promises of Scripture can help us overcome our reluctance?
Second, who are the prophets today – people called by God to speak God’s truth even when it is a difficult message in difficult times? Who is speaking to the church? What are the ways that the church is being challenged to be more faithful in its ministry and witness to Jesus the Christ? Who is speaking to the nation and the world? What are the ways that the church must challenge “principalities and powers” in order to care for all those whom God loves?
Consider these viewpoints…
- The Vacuum Christian Indifference Creates and The Curse of Indifference in the American Church
- Religious Leaders Fiercely Criticize Senate Health Care Bill
- Trump’s Budget Legislates Evil and Mistreats the Poor; Protecting Programs that Serve the Most Vulnerable Transcends Political Party
- World Council of Churches Declares Prayer Against Famine in Nigeria, Others
Summer 2017 Theme: God’s Urgent Call
Unifying Principle: Each of us has some aspect of our lives that might convince us that we have nothing to give others. How do we overcome these perceived shortcomings? Jeremiah’s response was based on God’s promise to be with Jeremiah as he carried out his calling.
Isaiah in the Temple: Isaiah 6: 1-8
Teaching Strategy: Invite volunteers to share stories of times they have felt called by God to do something, perhaps something they – like Isaiah – felt unworthy or unqualified to do, and how they responded. Then invite participants to create a list of ministries in their congregation or community that are currently not being done, including opportunities to serve others and/or work for justice. Ask them to consider how God’s call to such ministries, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” might be experienced today, and what would motivate or enable them to answer God’s call with a yes, “Here am I, send me.”
Isaiah responded to the appearance of the Lord saying “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (v. 5). One of the seraphs then touched Isaiah’s mouth with a live coal taken from the altar and said to Isaiah, “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out” (v. 7). When the Lord asked, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Isaiah was able to respond, “Here am I; send me!” (v. 8).
- In what ways is God calling Christians to serve those in need locally, nationally, and globally? Feeding the hungry? Bread for the World Housing the homeless? Habitat for Humanity Welcoming refugees? Church World Service
- In what ways is God calling Christians to be advocates working for justice for the oppressed and downtrodden? National Council of Churches: Joint Action and Advocacy for Justice and Peace Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty: Take Action To Protect Religious Liberty for All: Welcome Your Neighbors
- In what settings and situations are Christians being called to end the silence, to speak truth, to proclaim God’s righteousness? The High Cost Of White Evangelical Silence On Hate Crimes; Most Of America’s Terrorists Are White, And Not Muslim; Christian Militias Kill Up to 30 Muslim Civilians in Central African Republic
- Consider ending with one of the many hymns of discipleship and commitment, e.g., Here I Am, Lord or We Are Called, Come Live in the Light
Summer 2017 Theme: God’s Urgent Call
Unifying Principle: Unexpected circumstances can lead us into paths we don’t anticipate. Where do we gain confidence to undertake these unexpected tasks? Isaiah’s confidence came from the unusual and compelling events of his call.