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THE SHIRWELL MISSION COMMUNITY

A Mission Community in the Diocese of Exeter

2020 Lent Course

Lent Course – Week Three – DO NOT FEAR!

 

This week is a different week. Physically distant from one another, but perhaps we can find alternative ways of ‘gathering’ and engaging with the Bible study here.

 

Firstly, pause. Reflect.

 

An apology – I said I would give you the answers to the quiz. If we can meet together on zoom or telephone we can talk these through.

 

A challenge (especially for those of us artistically challenged...)

 

Draw a sketch of what the word ‘environment’ means to you. No prizes for artistic ability! Share what you have drawn (if you can!) or tell us about it.

 

Read Matthew 14:22-33. Open the Book teams will already be familiar! This is it in the Contemporary English Version:

 

22 Right away, Jesus made his disciples get into a boat and start back across the lake.[d] But he stayed until he had sent the crowds away. 23 Then he went up on a mountain where he could be alone and pray. Later that evening, he was still there.

24 By this time the boat was a long way from the shore. It was going against the wind and was being tossed around by the waves. 25 A little while before morning, Jesus came walking on the water toward his disciples. 26 When they saw him, they thought he was a ghost. They were terrified and started screaming.

27 At once, Jesus said to them, “Don’t worry! I am Jesus. Don’t be afraid.”

28 Peter replied, “Lord, if it is really you, tell me to come to you on the water.”

29 “Come on!” Jesus said. Peter then got out of the boat and started walking on the water toward him.

30 But when Peter saw how strong the wind was, he was afraid and started sinking. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted.

31 Right away, Jesus reached out his hand. He helped Peter up and said, “You surely don’t have much faith. Why do you doubt?”

32 When Jesus and Peter got into the boat, the wind died down. 33 The men in the boat worshiped Jesus and said, “You really are the Son of God!”

 

 

(Watch the video – IF I can get it online!)

 

And now some more questions to mull over or discuss with others if you can. I’ve included the leaders notes – but have a go thinking about the answer before reading further.

 

QUESTION 1 – AT THIS POINT IN HIS MINISTRY, WHAT HAS JESUS BEEN TEACHING HIS DISCIPLES ABOUT FAITH?

In Matthew’s Gospel, the boat scene of chapter 14 takes place right after other key events in Jesus’ ministry. Shortly after the death of John the Baptist, Jesus mourns. His solitude is soon interrupted as a great crowd follows him into the wilderness. Yet rather than escaping the crowds, Jesus is moved with compassion for them, and heals their sick.

Faced with this intimidating crowd, Jesus now invites his disciples to act: ‘You give them something to eat’ (verse 16). That’s a tall order in the middle of the wilderness! But the disciples are obedient. Sharing what little food they find – five loaves of bread and two fishes – the disciples give thanks. And miraculously, thousands are fed (verse 21). 

Throughout these scenes, it seems the disciples are getting a crash course in trusting God, regardless of how hopeless their situation appears. It’s a lesson that will serve them well in future years of persecution. As they enter the boat, their faith is tested once again.


QUESTION 2 – AT WHAT OTHER TIMES HAVE THE DISCIPLES FACED A STORM? HOW DID JESUS RESPOND TO THEIR CONCERN?

Turn together to Matthew 8, verses 23-27. Here we see that the disciples have already faced a faith-stretching storm on Lake Galilee. Caught in this first storm, the disciples had panicked, while Jesus slept soundly in the boat. When his disciples woke him, Jesus challenged them for their disbelief, and brought the storm to a standstill (verse 26). 

The disciples are stunned: ‘What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!’ (verse 27). Jesus is not content for his disciples to look on in amazement. He wants them to learn to trust God, and depend on him. 


‘Many Jews expected the Messiah to appear in the spring at the Passover season, when he would repeat the miracle of feeding Israel by manna as had occurred through Moses. But the miracle also has a lesson for the disciples. They see the size of the need and the smallness of the human resources available. They must learn to see as Jesus sees, who “recognizes the size of the need and the greatness of God’s resources available”.’

M. J. WILKINS15


‘He takes the resources, pitifully inadequate, provided by his disciples. He multiplies them over and over again, and there is more left over at the end than there was at the beginning. Such is the power of the Messiah. And that is good news.’

MICHAEL GREEN16


‘It is a challenge for all of us to look clearly at Jesus as the divine-human Messiah, to allow him to amaze us ... to humble ourselves and call on him at our time of need, as self-sufficient as we might think we are.’

M. J. WILKINS17

 

QUESTION 3 – WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM PETER’S RESPONSE TO JESUS, AND THE STORM?

In Matthew 14, the disciples are again terrified when faced with a stormy sea. Once again, Jesus is calm where they are afraid, and walks on the water to meet them (verse 26). Seeing Jesus on the water, Peter hopes to respond with active faith, and asks to join Jesus on the water (verse 28). 

Among the disciples, Peter shows great courage. Yet for all this courage, Peter’s faith doesn’t keep him afloat for long. As he begins to walk on the water, Peter sees the waves. Fearing them again, he soon begins to sink (verse 30). 

Peter’s lesson can be both encouraging, and challenging. It reminds us that if we are easily discouraged by the outward appearance of things, we’re in good company! But just as Peter discovered, there is no telling what God might do when we look to him, and step out in faith. 


QUESTION 4 – WHY DOES JESUS CHALLENGE PETER? 

Jesus’ question to Peter is one he might ask of all his disciples: ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ (verse 31). It is Peter’s paralysing disbelief which Jesus seems to challenge here. Faced with a frightening storm, Peter has panicked, becoming more aware of the turbulent waters around him than of the God who controls them. 

In the same way, we may feel overwhelmed at times by an environment which appears ‘out of control’. Like Peter, we have every reason to trust in God, walking decisively with him at the very moments when we might feel most powerless. As the disciples had discovered in their first storm, ‘even the winds and the waves obey him’ (Matthew 8:27).


QUESTIONS 5 AND 6 – HOW CAN CHRISTIAN FAITH INFLUENCE OUR RESPONSE TO AN ENVIRONMENT IN CRISIS? HAVE YOU EVER FELT ‘LIKE A RABBIT CAUGHT IN THE HEADLIGHTS’ AMID TODAY’S ENVIRONMENTAL CRISIS? WHY DO YOU THINK THIS IS?

When studying populations of the twenty-first century, many sociologists have remarked that we are the most anxious generation in living memory! It’s not surprising. We are daily reminded of the unpredictable threats our society faces: poverty; terrorism; economic decline; and, of course, an unstable climate. 

The familiar analogy of a rabbit caught in a car’s headlights speaks of the paralysing helplessness that we can often feel today. We see a big problem like ‘climate change’, hurtling towards us. But it can feel too big, too far away, or too late to do anything in response. 


As Christians, we can be confident that God, not the storm around us, has the final say in our lives. Just as Peter and the disciples learned, trust in God can inspire us to take confident action. We can be his co-workers, helping God to restore the creation that he loves, in the name of Jesus! As we move boldly towards him, and the needs of our neighbours, we too may witness miracles in our midst.

 

Reflect and pray:

 

On your own, take a few minutes to write down some of the big fears you have for creation today. What small steps can you take to respond with faith to such ‘waves’ in your life?

 

Give thanks to God for the reality that ‘even the winds and waves obey him.’ Ask for courage, to take small steps of faith today.

 

Thank you, Father, that you rule over your creation. Even where we see the world in turmoil, help us to trust you and walk in ever-increasing faith, one step at a time. Help us, your church, to persevere in doing what is right. In a world so often afraid of change, let our lives and our words be beacons of hope and courage to others around us. Amen.

 

Over to you:

Learn about your footprint. Search online for a ‘carbon calculator’. These free tools help us to calculate the negative impact or footprint of everyday habits, while introducing specific ways in which we can make our footprint smaller.

Lent Course – Week Two – CREATION GROANS

 

This week is a different week. Physically distant from one another, but perhaps we can find alternative ways of ‘gathering’ and engaging with the Bible study here.

 

Firstly, pause. Reflect.

 

For those who were able to be there...what do you remember of last week’s study? Our focus was on appreciating what we have, and how God revels in his creation. 

We thought about some ‘homework’, suggesting a gratitude journal, or writing our own Psalm, or walking our parishes to pray and give thanks. 

 

Now have a go doing this quiz (by phone or email or facebook...)

 

QUESTION 1 – HOW MUCH HAS THE AVERAGE UK TEMPERATURE INCREASED OVER THE PAST CENTURY?

 

QUESTION 2 – WHAT VALUABLE RESOURCE IS QATAR RUNNING OUT OF?

 

QUESTION 3 – HOW MUCH CARBON DIOXIDE (CO2) DOES THE AVERAGE UK ADULT RELEASE INTO EARTH’S ATMOSPHERE EACH YEAR?

 

QUESTION 4 – WHICH FAMOUS CHRISTIAN REFORMER HELPED TO ESTABLISH THE ROYAL SOCIETY FOR THE PREVENTION OF CRUELTY TO ANIMALS (RSPCA)?

 

QUESTION 5 – BRITONS THROW AWAY AROUND 7 MILLION TONNES OF FOOD WASTE EACH YEAR. HOW MUCH OF THIS FOOD IS STILL EDIBLE?

 

QUESTION 6 – ‘SINCE 2008, 10 MILLION PEOPLE HAVE BEEN DISPLACED EACH YEAR BY NATURAL DISASTERS.’ TRUE OR FALSE?

 

QUESTION 7 – AS OF 2017, WHICH COUNTRY IS OFFICIALLY ENCOURAGING CITIZENS TO HALVE THEIR CONSUMPTION OF MEAT?

 

QUESTION 8 –WHAT IS THE LIFE EXPECTANCY OF A DISPOSABLE NAPPY?

 

I’ll give you the answers online on Saturday!

 

Read Romans 8:18-23. This is it in the Contemporary English Version:

 

18 I am sure that what we are suffering now cannot compare with the glory that will be shown to us. 19 In fact, all creation is eagerly waiting for God to show who his children are. 20 Meanwhile, creation is confused, but not because it wants to be confused. God made it this way in the hope 21 that creation would be set free from decay and would share in the glorious freedom of his children. 22 We know that all creation is still groaning and is in pain, like a woman about to give birth.

23 The Spirit makes us sure about what we will be in the future. But now we groan silently, while we wait for God to show that we are his children.[c] This means that our bodies will also be set free. 

 

(Watch the video – IF I can get it online!)

 

And now some more questions to mull over or discuss with others if you can. I’ve included the leaders notes – but have a go thinking about the answer before reading further.

 

QUESTION 1 – WHAT IS THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE GROANS OF CREATION AND OUR IDENTITY AS CHRISTIANS? (verse 22)

 

From its beginning, the Bible describes people as closely connected to all of God’s creation. In the book of Genesis, priestly words are used to describe the responsibility given to Adam: ‘tend the earth and preserve it’ (Genesis 2:15). Soon after, however, the earth shares in the terrible consequences of Adam’s wrongdoing, and a harmonious relationship with creation is ruined.

Thankfully, this is not where the story ends. Just as Adam’s sin brings a curse on creation, Christ’s kingdom and church promise a far-reaching restoration of it. 

In Romans 8, the apostle Paul reminds his readers of this great promise. As we await ‘adoption’ into God’s household, all of creation waits too, because its redemption is closely connected with ours. In the words of Bible scholar Douglas Moo, “the revelation of the sons of God” that creation keenly anticipates is the “unveiling” of the true nature of Christians’.7 As God works in us, creation itself finds release from its suffering.

 

QUESTION 2 – WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO SAY CREATION IS ‘FRUSTRATED’? 

 

In the book of Genesis, God declares all of his creation ‘very good’ (see Genesis 1:31). Yet like humanity, the former glory and purpose of creation have been ‘frustrated’. As Tim Keller reflects, ‘the word frustration here, mataiotés, is the same one translated as “vanity” in the book of Ecclesiastes … It means nature is alienated, both from us who were meant to live in harmony with nature … and from itself. It is not as beautiful or great as it was meant to be.’9

People will often speak of being ‘frustrated’ when a desired plan unravels. In the same way, creation is frustrated when it is prevented from properly reflecting God’s glory. 

 

QUESTION 3 – READ HOSEA 4:1-3. HOW DOES THE PASSAGE CONNECT HUMAN ACTIONS WITH CREATION?

 

In Hosea 4, and many other Old Testament passages, a close connection is made between the sin of God’s people and the ‘frustration’ of the earth. In Hosea, the prophet laments how the people have become faithless, loveless, violent and godless. Humans, animals and land alike suffer as a result (verse 3). The prophet Isaiah similarly describes a land which has become ‘polluted by its inhabitants’ (Isaiah 24:4).

Today, we continue to see a connection between human sin and a polluted earth. In everything from modern-day slavery to poisonous plastics in our oceans, the selfish and short-term behaviour of individuals and societies can still leave lasting scars on God’s creation.

‘The future glory is beyond our imagination. What we do know is that God’s material creation will be redeemed and glorified, because God’s children will be redeemed and glorified.’JOHN STOTT


QUESTION 4 – HOW DOES GOD LIBERATE CREATION FROM ‘BONDAGE TO DECAY’? 

 

The writer of Romans, Paul the apostle, knew very well what it was like to be in prison, in ‘bondage’. Yet he also knew what it was to be set free (Acts 16:26). Here, he points to a similar liberation as creation shares in the freedom of the children of God (verse 21). Like a mother in the pains of childbirth, the sufferings of creation will be replaced with great joy when God’s children are revealed (verse 18). 

While we await a future renewal of all things (Matthew 19:28), Christians can be confident that God is already at work in us today to bless his creation (verse 30).

 

QUESTION 5 – IS IT DIFFICULT TO BELIEVE GOD IS REDEEMING YOUR BODY?

 

Faced with the pains and frustrations of life today, we may be tempted at times to think God has given up on his creation, and on us. Yet the Bible insists that God is always at work in his church, transforming us into a ‘dwelling’ which will bless all nations, and in which he himself lives (Ephesians 2:21). 

Preachers often speak of the ‘now and not yet’ of Christian faith. Our lives already belong to God, but he isn’t done with us yet! We continue to be ‘transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory’ (2 Corinthians 3:18). 

Like Jesus himself, the church is described in the Bible as ‘a kind of firstfruits of all he created’ (James 1:18). This analogy pictures early ripe fruits from a farmer’s harvest, which hold within them the promise of future abundance and restoration. In the same way, little by little, the Holy Spirit’s work in us offers an exciting foretaste of God’s future promises.

 

QUESTIONS 6 AND 7 – WHERE DO YOU SEE CREATION GROANING TODAY? HAVE YOU EVER EXPERIENCED ENVIRONMENTAL INJUSTICE? 

 

Even in more prosperous societies, many of us will have experienced the realities of injustice which often go hand in hand with environmental degradation: a new incinerator polluting our air; a new road upsetting the quiet and safety of our neighbourhood; even a bag of rubbish dumped in our garden. 

In other parts of the world, abuses of the land can be even more violating, threatening the homes, food supplies, and lives of people and animals alike. It is right for us to feel angry at such injustices – they grieve God’s heart too. 

The Bible tells us there is a place for grief – it’s not something we need to run away from (Ecclesiastes 3:4). The same grief may even drive us to more dedicated prayer, renewed commitment to our neighbours, and a clearer perspective on our place in God’s world

 

 

And... I suppose we add another question. How does this connect with today’s news?

 


 

Reflect and pray:

 

Do this alone or with others. Pray over situations in this world where healing is sorely needed; often this combines healing of both people and their physical environment. 

 

Thank you, Father, that you are the God of all comfort. We lift up those we see suffering today in our hurting world. Forgive us, Lord, where we have not been attentive to their need. Help us, by your Spirit, to serve those who suffer most, whether they’re close to us, or far away. Thank you for your church. Please strengthen us today to be compassionate and courageous – a voice for the voiceless, and healing hands for those in need. Amen. 

 

Over to you:

Let’s have an open forum for suggestions on this week’s homework!