Faithful God, Unfaithful People: Numbers 25:10-13; 1 Samuel 2:30-36
Teaching Strategy: Compare and contrast people keeping their commitments and failing to keep them, including the reasons they give and the outcomes that result from their faithfulness or lack of it. Discuss the ways in which God’s faithfulness enables us to be faithful in our service to others in God’s name.
The Bible is full of stories about how people have failed to keep God’s covenant and yet God has remained faithful to God’s promises. In this week’s scripture passages, God punished Eli’s children for their misbehavior, but rewarded Phinehas for his faithfulness.
What does it mean to be faithful to commitments in a time of broken promises, public lies, political polarization, and revelations of widespread sexual harassment?” To what values and behaviors are believers – people of the new covenant in Christ – called to be faithful? To whom are they called to be faithful – to God in Jesus Christ or to their country? What happens when faithfulness to Jesus conflicts with loyalty to one’s nation? These are hard, but essential and timely questions.
- Eric Holder: Harvey Weinstein Revelations Must Prompt Culture Shift On Sexual Harassment
- Count the Broken Promises in the GOP Tax Plan
- President Trump has Made 1,318 False or Misleading Claims Over 263 Days
- Polarization Deepens in American Politics; Polarize and Conquer
- The Religious Right Will Rise and Fall with Donald Trump
Fall 2017 Theme: Covenant
Unifying Principle: Some people are more faithful to their commitments than others. How do we respond to those who are faithful to their commitments and to those who are not? God rewarded faithful Phinehas and punished Eli’s unfaithful children, thus proving that God is faithful to the everlasting covenant with God’s people.
God’s Covenant with the Returned Exiles: Nehemiah 9:32-38; 10:28-29
Teaching Strategy: Brainstorm the form and content of a national prayer of repentance for today, with a view toward using the same for class participation on the next National Day of Prayer (U.S., May 3, 2018).
This week’s scripture lesson includes a description of the Israelites’ continued wrongdoing – and their recommitment to following God’s ways because of God’s faithfulness and repeated forgiveness. Noteworthy is the corporate confession of the people and the people’s leaders, the description of how we have sinned, rather than confessions by individuals of their personal sins. “You have been just in all that has come upon us, for you have dealt faithfully and we have acted wickedly; our kings, our officials, our priests, and our ancestors have not kept your law or heeded the commandments and the warnings that you gave them” (vv. 33-34).
Invite participants to think about wrongdoing at the level of society – whether in a community, state, nation, or global context. How do the ways that we live together fall short of God’s justice and righteousness? In what ways have we failed to treat the “least of these,” our brothers and sisters, as children of God?
A few examples to stimulate your thinking….
- Racism? How Will the Church Reckon with Charlottesville; Air Force Academy Head: Show Respect or Get Out; Hate Rising: White Supremacy’s Rise in the U.S.
- Inequality? Record Inequality: The Top 1% Controls 38.6% of America’s Wealth ; Median Wealth of Black Americans ‘Will Fall to Zero by 2053’, Warns New Report
- Sexual Harassment? Millions of Women Say ‘Me too’ About Sexual Harassment
- Recovery from Disaster? What Every American Needs to Know About Puerto Rico’s Hurricane Disaster
- Rohingya Refugees? Discussing the Rohingya Refugee Crisis; There’s Only One Conclusion on the Rohingya in Myanmar: It’s Genocide
- Hunger? World Hunger Again on the Rise, Driven by Conflict and Climate Change
Fall 2017-2018 Theme: Covenant
Unifying Principle: People find themselves in painful consequences of their own wrongdoing. In the embarrassing angst of suffering for their own wrongs, how can they dare ask for help from others? The people of Israel, hurting from painful losses of the exile for their sins, followed Nehemiah in confessing their wrongs and making a covenant with God to obey the law given through Moses.
God’s Covenant with David: 2 Samuel 7:1-6, 8-10, 12-16
Teaching Strategy: What plans does your congregation have to honor God that might differ from what God wants to do with you and through you? How can we be sure that our plans align with God’s will?
David was a shepherd who became a King. God’s covenant with David included the promise that God would establish a kingdom through David’s offspring. This week’s lesson describes how David wanted to build to build a “house” for God, but it was revealed to the prophet Nathan that David would not allowed to build this house. It would be David’s descendants rather than David himself who would build a house where God would dwell.
The Unifying Principle that ties the developmental lessons together highlights the tension that is always present between what we are called to do – and can do – in our lifetimes and what God will do through others in the future. Our timing may not be the same as God’s timing. We may be called to begin work that will be completed only beyond our lifetimes. The scripture also reminds us that no matter how good our intentions, what we think God wants us to do may not in fact be what God desires of us. God’s will may not be the same as our will – even when we think we are trying to do what God wants. We are challenged to let go, to give control to God. But how do we do that? How do we discern God’s will? Who are the modern prophets helping us to know what God desires NOW?
In the midst of very challenging times, we may ask ourselves, what is God’s vision for the future of the church?
- Why I’m Not Worried About The Future Of The Church – Or The Church Of The Future
- Church Revival? More Liberals are Filling Protestant Pews
- How Will the Church Reckon With Charlottesville?
- Joint Action and Advocacy for Justice and Peace (National Council of Churches)
- Responding to the World’s Challenges: Forum Shapes Strategy on Diakonia (World Council of Churches)
Fall 2017 Theme: Covenant
Unifying Principle: When entering into relationships with others, people struggle to retain control of their plans and dreams. How can people sacrifice control in order to maintain vital relationships? God’s covenant with David is a compromise between the eternal, omnipresent God and the time- and space-bound David by allowing a temple to be built, but beyond David’s lifetime.
Obeying God’s Law: Exodus 20:18-26
Teaching Strategy: Name different covenants we make today. What is required for each party to do his or her part? What is God’s part?
The first 17 verses of Exodus 20 contain the Ten Commandments given by God to the people of Israel. These are the rules for living as God’s covenant people; they describe life in right relationship to God and one another. Verses 18-21 describe how the people “were afraid and trembled” in response to the visual manifestation of God in “thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking” (v. 18). Moses calmed them by saying that God was present to test them so that they would not sin. Verses 22-26 describe the kind of worship and altar that God required of them.
The concept of covenant offers a useful way of thinking about citizenship within a country or within the global community. What are the agreements that citizens make with one another regarding how they will live together in right relationships – in mutual respect and harmony? How do Christians understand and live out the relationship between their covenant with God and their civic covenant(s) with other people? Recent events raise questions about such agreements. To cite two examples:
In the U.S., 58 people were killed and more than 500 people injured in a mass shooting. People of many faiths are struggling to know how to respond. Many strongly protest the view that virtually unlimited gun ownership is part of the Constitution (which can be thought of as the covenant governing American society). They advocate for changes to gun laws in order to reduce gun-related violence and deaths – which occur much more frequently in the U.S. than in most of the rest of the world.
- We Mourn This Terrible Act: A Joint Statement by the NCC and the World Council of Churches
- After Las Vegas Mass Shooting, Calls for Prayer, Action on Gun Control
In international relationships, President Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un have exchanged increasingly heated threats against each other, leaving many observers both anxious and confused. Christian leaders have called upon the President to stop his name-calling and threats, to pursue diplomacy, and to recognize that nuclear war must never take place.
- An Open Letter from Americans of Faith to President Donald Trump (NCC, September 2017)
- North Korean Leader Hails Nuclear Arsenal as ‘Powerful Deterrent’; Trump’s New North Korea Tweets May Confuse Kim Jong Un — And His Own Administration as Well
Fall 2017-2108 Theme: Covenant
Unifying Principle: Without obedience to law, people live in chaos, hurting themselves, others, and their environment. Where can people get a law that they will obey? God delivered the commandments to the Israelites while showing divine and holy power that tested them to convince them to obey the laws of the covenant.
God’s Covenant with Israel: Exodus 19:16-25
Teaching Strategy: Discuss the questions “How does God ‘meet’ with God’s people today?” and “What do we need to do to prepare ourselves?”
Today’s lesson begins with the Israelites’ arrival at Mount Sinai. God told Moses what to say to the people, including the renewed promise of God’s covenant: “Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, 6 but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation (vs. 5-6a).” God then directed Moses to tell the people how to consecrate themselves in preparation for meeting God at the foot of the mountain in a great cloud of smoke. Within these directions were strict limits: “Moses said to the Lord, ‘The people are not permitted to come up to Mount Sinai; for you yourself warned us, saying, “Set limits around the mountain and keep it holy”’” (v. 23).
Reflecting upon biblical stories of people’s encounters with God raises many timely questions. How does God “meet” with God’s people today? Where are the holy places of our time – space(s) in our churches but also outside them – where we are invited to encounter the divine? What are the spiritual practices, including prayer, meditation, and more, through which we may experience the presence of the holy?
In keeping with Exodus 19, what must we do to prepare ourselves? How do God’s people consecrate themselves in order to meet their God?
Finally, how do such encounters make it possible for us to obey God’s voice? How does the experience of God’s presence empower us to live as faithful followers in a broken world?
Resources to explore:
- Ancient & New: Presbyterians and Spiritual Practices
- A Ministry Set Among the Parks Provides a Spiritual Awakening for Some Christians
- The Fight for Social Justice Starts Within: Only a Vibrant Inner Life Can Sustain the Activist’s Soul
- Consider subscribing to receive devotional guides such as The Upper Room, Still Speaking Daily Devotional; Henri Nouwen’s Daily Meditations; World in Prayer (weekly)
- Consider the power of music to open hearts to experience God’s presence: Breathe on Me, Breath of God; Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart; Holy, Holy, Holy