The Rainbow: Genesis 8:20-22; 9:8-17
Teaching Strategy: Discuss the biblical meaning of God’s commitment to humankind and all of creation as described in the covenant with Noah and symbolized by a rainbow. Then invite participants to reflect upon the contemporary meaning of the covenant with Noah – in light of natural disasters such as Hurricane Harvey.
The Scripture Matrix (adult) in the Guide for Lesson Development notes that “The Flood story concluded with three theological affirmations:
- Apart from relationship with God, humans are hopeless; their sinful inclination has not changed (8:20-22);
- God will continue to work with humankind; their rebelliousness will not be allowed to thwart God’s plans for creation (9:1-7); and
- The post-Flood situation is decisively different; God declares that “never again” will such a flood destroy the world (9:8-17).”
The Special Concerns Matrix (youth and adult) reminds leaders of the need to “be sensitive to how one applies natural disasters as a punishment from God.”
News for the last week – and the foreseeable future – has focused on the devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey on major areas of Texas, including Houston, the nation’s 4th largest city. Such natural disasters challenge our thinking: How are we to understand such destruction? What causes it? Why does it God allow it to happen? Is the occurrence of an event like this related to climate change(s) or the effects of human activity? What about God’s promise to Noah?
The massive destruction of land and property, and the loss of life and livelihoods, also compel us to act: What can we do to help those in need? How can we share faith and hope in the promises of God with those whose hearts are heavy with grief and despair? How can we assist in the repair and rebuilding of communities? What does the rainbow mean today?
- Hurricane Harvey: What Happened and What’s Next; Flooded Houston Braces for More Rain as Harvey Rescues Continue; Houston (video)
- Did Climate Change Intensify Hurricane Harvey?
- Hurricane Harvey Is Here. Time for Christians to Show What We’ve Learned Since Katrina.
- Response to Hurricane Harvey Storms: Don’t Send Shoes. Please.
Fall 2017 Theme: Covenants with God
Unifying Principle: After tragedy strikes, there are possibilities for people to seek renewed hope and strength to rebuild their lives. Is there a reliable source humans can turn to for rebuilding and protecting their lives? As an act of benevolence, God used the rainbow to assure Noah that neither humankind nor the earth would ever again be destroyed by water.
Called to Be Inclusive: Acts 10:19-33
Teaching Strategy: Use the story of Peter’s encounter with Cornelius – and God’s call to include Gentiles – to discuss what it would mean for today’s church to become more inclusive. Invite participants to consider as specifically as possible who is left out of their community, even unintentionally. Sing one of the many hymns that affirm the inclusive community God intends (see examples below).
This week’s lesson from Acts 10 is one of several passages in the New Testament which describe how God revealed to the early Christians that they were called to share the gospel with Gentiles as well as their fellow Jews. Just as Jesus had reached out to speak and heal those who were considered unclean, so too the disciples were called to extend the reach of the church community. In the key verse (v. 28b), Peter says, “God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.”
The events in Charlottesville and responses to them remind us of the timeliness of this message. All people are made in the image of God, loved by God, and neighbors whom we are called to love. The dehumanization of others evident in the racism, bigotry, and anti-Semitism that was publicly displayed in Charlottesville stands in stark contrast to the gospel message. Across the country the call has gone out to all Christians to denounce the “alt-right” groups that fight (with words and sometimes with weapons) for white supremacy. Time must not lessen the urgency of speaking out against racism and acting on behalf of all those against whom it is directed. Likewise, the fact that public expressions of hatred and bigotry may be reduced because of such criticism must not deter believers from acting to address the more subtle forms of racism experienced daily by far too many of God’s children.
- #Charlottesville, the Christian Response, and Your Church’s Call
- Religious Leaders React to the Violence in Charlottesville
- NAE Condemns White Supremacy
- How Will the Church Reckon with Charlottesville?
- A Statement from Christian Ethicists Without Borders On White Supremacy and Racism
Hymns, new and old:
- Many Gifts, One Spirit (lyrics)
- In Christ There is No East or West
- For the Healing of the Nations
- Jesus Loves the Little Children
Summer 2017 Theme: God’s Urgent Call
Unifying Principle: Traditions and cultural understandings often shape our view of the world and others in ways that limit our interactions. How do we overcome the limitations of such understandings? Through a vision and the Spirit, Peter learned how and why to witness to Cornelius and his household.
Called to Preach: Acts 9:10-20
Teaching Strategy: Invite participants to describe personal experiences when they sensed a call from God but felt it would be dangerous to accept. Compare and contrast the experience with that of Ananias.
Today’s lesson from Acts 9 recounts God’s call to Ananias to go and lay hands on Saul of Tarsus. Ananias responded with fear because he had heard about all of the evil that Saul had inflicted on Christians. God reassured him that Saul was an instrument chosen by God to preach to the Gentiles, kings, and people of Israel. When Ananias laid his hands on Saul, “immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored” (v. 18a). Saul was baptized, and after spending time with the disciples, “he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God’” (v. 20).
In Real Time seeks to be a bridge between the timeless truth of the Bible as presented in the CUS Guide to Lesson Development and the timely issues of today’s world, in the spirit of Karl Barth’s reading of scripture “with the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.”
The horrific events of last weekend (August 11-13) demand a response. In Charlottesville, VA, “several hundred white nationalists marched on Friday night, chanting racist and anti-Semitic slogans and carrying torches” (see summary of events below). On Saturday, white nationalists gathered again for a “Unite the Right” march to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. Extremist views were evident in white nationalist and Nazi insignia, Confederate flags, and heavily armed militia members. Rally goers were met by counter protestors, among them many Christian clergy who held hands and sang “This Little Light of Mine.” Following the rally, one of the white nationalists drove his car into a crowd, killing one woman and injuring others. Many but not all leaders – political and religious – have denounced the violence as racism and domestic terrorism. Many have been stunned by the resurgence and public expression of such hateful, racist views.
Consideration of these events in relationship to the story of Ananias raises at least two important questions: The first is metaphorical. In what ways are we – like Saul – blind? What truths about the hatred and violence simmering within our nation have we failed to see? How might tragedies like the events in Charlottesville serve to remove the scales from our eyes and restore our sight – so that we can see as God sees?
The second question relates to the title of this week’s lesson, “Called to Preach.” What exactly are Christians called to preach in the aftermath of these events? What does it mean to preach that Jesus is the Son of God to white nationalists who disavow God’s love for people of color? How does the message that Jesus is the Son of God give courage to believers who feel called to preach, but fear the danger they could face?
These are just a few of the articles describing the events and responses to them.
- For a summary of events: A Guide to the Violence in Charlottesville (as of Sunday, August 13, 2017)
- Reflections from Charlottesville (National Council of Churches, August 14, 2017)
- A Christian Pastor Just Called Out Every White American In Epic Response To Virginia Rally
- A Charlottesville faith leader to Unite the Right: “love has already won here”
- The Faith-Led Counter-Protest to White Nationalism in Charlottesville
- Clergy marching in silent protest through Charlottesville (video, public Facebook post)
- The Clergy Letter Project, More Than 14,000 Clergy Members Strong, Condemns White Supremacism
Summer 2017 Theme: God’s Urgent Call
Unifying Principle: We often feel urges to act in certain ways. Is it OK to question those urges? Acts 9 describes God’s call to Ananias and Saul, Ananias’s questioning reaction, and God’s firm response.
Called to Break Down Barriers: Acts 8:26-39
Teaching Strategy: Discuss what the church is doing or can do to break down cross-cultural barriers. What other barriers keep people from enjoying fellowship in our congregation?
The story of Philip preaching to the Ethiopian eunuch reminds believers that the gospel is for all people. Christians are called to share the good news beyond their “comfort zones.” This means finding ways to break down the barriers that so easily divide people. Under the broad umbrella of “cultural differences” are differences in race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, religion, immigrant status, sexual orientation, political views, and national background. Sometimes these differences are experienced within a local congregation as demographics change and new people bring new perspectives. Sometimes these differences occur when believers travel across the country or around the world to share the love of Jesus with others. Whatever the circumstance, breaking down cross-cultural barriers can be a challenge; it always requires humility, wisdom, prayer, and love. Love flows from the conviction that all people are created in God’s image and gratitude that God first loved us.
Food for thought:
- Inspiring story of a teenager in Mississippi who is working to overcome segregation in the churches of his community: Teen Leads Revival for Racial Reconciliation
- Interesting report on challenges some churches face: Houses of Worship Do Some Soul Searching As Their Neighborhoods Change
- Disturbing story of violence against Muslims in Minnesota: Explosion Starts Fire Inside Minnesota Mosque Just Before Prayer
- Insightful essay about how churches can most effectively engage in cross-cultural partnerships: Effective Partnering: The Church and Cross-Cultural Worker On-Task Together
- Signs of hope for cross-cultural (inter-religious) engagement: NCC Announces Two New Dialogues