1: Creativity at Work (John 1:1-3)
It is said that eyes are the windows of the soul. List the names of all people in the group and opposite each entry write in the colour of that person’s eyes.
Make group housekeeping arrangements like day and time for the group to keep meeting, duration of each session, venue (fixed or changing), when the guide-line sheets are to be distributed (one week ahead or in batches), refreshments, how contact is to be maintained through absences and what other people might be invited to join the group.
This first session takes up the theme of creativity. Invite members of your group to talk about something they have made, engineered, crafted, written, sewn, painted, carved, acted, sung, played or imagined.
If members have Bibles which carry a short introduction to The Gospel of John invite them to see what is said there about date, time, place and authorship of its writing.
Read John 1:1-3 and the accompanying Window.
The first window reveals an artist at work. She is leaning forward in her wheelchair, useless arms crossed on her aproned lap as she deftly works the brush held between pursed lips. There is intensity in her expression as she brings her face close up to the canvas. The muscles at the side of her neck are taut as she guides the wet paint onto the painting. A work of art is in production. This is no hack piece, no copycat reproduction of what the superficial eye can see, but the release of artistic images clamouring on the inside of the brain’s door demanding to be let out. Creativity will find expression. It is slow work, but with patience and persistence, the quadriplegic artist creates an enduring work of art.
As the artist’s vision arises out of the scene in front of her, this vision of the artist arose out of the biblical text. It came while contemplating the first three verses of the text of John’s Gospel. What can it mean? Does it speak of life? Could it be saying something about God? Strange image for God, isn’t it? Creativity finds self-expression. Why, that’s what it’s all about! That’s where it all starts. What we see in nature is the expression of creative power, the creative power which we blithely and quite inadequately call God.
From the beginning of time, the great Creative Power has been giving expression to divine creativity. Whether we speak of Self-expression or Word, we are talking about the same thing. All things came into being by the expression of Creative Power and without that self-expression nothing has ever come into being. This window opens up for us a view of existence that is basic to the biblical presentation.
Genesis 1:1 Psalm 33: 8-9 Hebrews 11:3
- Read John 1:1 substituting “Creative Self-expression” for “Word”
- Invite discussion on nature as creative expression.
- Invite members of the group to share their personal experiences of God through nature.
- Discuss: in what ways do you find the image of God as an artist to be helpful?
- Pray for your group that God might use it effectively.
2. Life is Relationship (John 1:4)
Share photos or information about those who are (or who used to be) your closest relatives.
Draw up a list of members, their addresses and phone numbers, for each person.
Draw up a list of words that describe human relationships; e.g.: aunt, customer, chairperson.
Read John 1:4 and the accompanying Window.
Here’s another window. Throw open the shutters and I see a waterhole. A calm, clear freshwater pond formed by a dam wall that years ago was thrown up across the gully. Hardly a ripple disturbs its surface. It sparkles in the early morning air. The gentle sunlight seems to coax up from its depths an almost perfect picture of blue sky, of eucalypts and tea trees, of reeds and of the wooden platform from which the children like to dive into their favourite swimming hole. The picture seems to be alive. I have to force myself to acknowledge that it is the inverse depiction of a larger scene. I wish I had my camera with me. But then a cloud curtains off the sun so that the reflection disappears. All I now see is a cold, steely grey, unsmiling surface, and I long for the life-giving sunlight to return.
I ask myself what this vision means. Why should it have been evoked by this particular passage? Then I realize that life is like that reflection. It only exists in relation to God as the image on the surface of the pond only exists because of a relationship between it and the sun’s rays coming from overhead. Cut life off from God and it no longer exists. That is a basic biblical concept. To be cut off from God is death. To be alive is to be in a relationship with life’s great Creative Power.
This re-defines death for the species that has the power to decide whether it lives in active relationship with God or not. Death is not cessation of brain function. Death, for human beings, is being cut off from God. It is like being plunged into darkness when the light goes out. The light of God’s presence is often shuttered out or denied, but the darkness has never, and never will, stop the light from shining.
This is a different way of thinking about life from that which is usually employed. In this sense a person can be dead, or almost dead, when physically healthy, and a person wasting away with a terminal illness can be most truly alive. Life is defined in relationship to the Creative Spiritual Power that is the source and origin of life.
But then think about life. What makes it worth living? Not the mere functioning of heart, lungs and brain. For most people, relationships rank highly in their answer to that question. Life, real life, lies in relationships with other people. Then why should it not lie in our relationship with God who is personal?
Romans 5:12-14 Romans 6:23 John 10:1
What, for you, makes life worth living
” Cut life off from God and it no longer exists.” What cuts life off from God?
Which of the following words best describes your present relationship with God: warm, cool, fervent, freezing, lukewarm, tepid?
How could the members of this group help you in your relationship with God?
Pray for your congregation that all might grow in their relationship with God.
3. Signifying a Presence : (John 1:5)
You might like to light a candle to signify the presence of God in your midst.
Then you could give each person a candle in a holder and invite them to light their candles from the Christ candle, drawing attention to the difference it makes having a cluster of candles rather than just one single candle. What does this say about the possibilities for your group?
Invite people to share stories about light and darkness in their experience; e.g.: fear of the dark, blackouts, primitive forms of lighting, the usefulness of a torch or flashlight, bonfires, sunlight deprivation.
Read John 1:5 and the accompanying Window.
The blazing sun dominates the windowed frame. There is no way anyone could look straight into it. I am reminded of the warnings one hears whenever a solar eclipse is anticipated. Eye specialists warn against trying to peer into the light of the sun even through dark sunglasses or smoked glass. They recommend using a piece of cardboard with a pinhole in it and observing the eclipse by the image thrown onto another surface on the shadow side. All I can do is shield my eyes from the glare as I try to take in the seascape before me. In front, down below the railing, toward the left side of the picture, I can see rocks jutting out into the sea. The brilliance of the morning sun is augmented by its reflection on the surface of the ocean. A seagull alights on the metal railing nearby but I have to squint to identify it because my eyes are overwhelmed by the brilliance of the sunlight.
God is present in all creation, but throughout history people have struggled to find images suitable for use in representing that presence. Some have used carvings or statues. Some have used living creatures like animals or birds. Some have used natural features like mountains or rivers: sun, moon or stars. Some have used fire. But the people of the Jewish Scriptures used light. Supernatural, brilliant light, called in their language the Shekinah.
This represents the glory, the wonder, the transcendence, the overwhelming power, the mystery of God’s presence. This light shines on all people. They can deny it, but then they condemn themselves to living in darkness. The denial cannot, however, stop God from being present. Sometimes people become aware of the presence, but God is present even when no one is aware of it, for without that creative presence nothing would exist.
Exodus 13:21 Acts 26:13 Revelation 22:5
- List images used for God in the Bible; e.g.: Father, Ancient of Days (Daniel 7:9), mother hen (Psalm 17:8).
- In the above Bible verses, God is depicted as light. Do you know any other biblical passages where God’s presence is represented by light?
- What makes light a particularly suitable image for representing the presence of God?
- Have you experienced a sense of the presence of God? What effect did it have on you?
- Pray for each person in your group by name asking for a strengthening in faith and a closer relationship with God.
4. Interpretation Called For : (John 1:6-8; 19-28)
- Get each person to bring along one photo of a significant event in his or her life and then take turns in showing the pictures and explaining its significance to the others.
- Have a chat about experiences with interpreters, explanations or film subtitles.
- Brainstorm a list of Old Testament prophets in one minute.
- Read John 1:6-8 and the accompanying Window.
Here’s another window! We seem to be standing on a hilltop somewhere. My! There’s a cold wind blowing. But there are people around. Some are down on the viewing platforms, others are hurrying back up to their cars. Oh, I see, it’s Canberra. There’s the distinctive flagpole! And there’s a tourist coach pulling in to the parking bay. I see a stream of Japanese tourists disembarking, but the tour guide doesn’t let them loose immediately. He keeps them together as he leads them to one of the viewing platforms. There he gathers them closely around as he explains the scene before them. He is talking rather loudly. I suppose because he has to compete with the howling of the wind. But, of course, since I do not speak or understand the Japanese language, I do not know what he is saying. I can see that he is pointing toward parliament house. If I follow the direction of his hand correctly, he is describing the parliamentary triangle with the base along Lake Burley Griffin and the sides running along Kings Avenue and Commonwealth Avenue to meet at the apex on Capital Hill. Now he’s pointing away to the distant Brindabellas. No snow there today, but it’s cold enough. The sky is overcast and bleak. He talks to them a little longer and then lets them go. They scatter to take their photographs. Soon they are taking turns at photographing each other against the Canberra backdrop.
People of every race and time seem to be able to sense divine Spirit in nature, but to see God working in the events of human history requires insight by individuals who then act as interpreters to others of their kind. It was the genius of the ancient Jews to see evidence of God’s involvement in the events of their history, particularly in their miraculous escape from Egyptian oppression, their epic journey through the wilderness and their settlement in Canaan. Their collective understanding of God was of One with whom they lived in a dynamic relationship. God was not for them locked away in some distant heaven unconcerned about what happened to them. The events in their history could be interpreted as the acts of God.
But the nation as a whole was dependent upon inspired individuals to interpret the events for them. These were the prophets. There were attempts to institutionalise the prophetic movements, but the long view presented by their Scriptures focuses attention on inspired individuals like Moses, Miriam, Deborah, Elijah, Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Habakkuk, Malachi – the list could go on. These were the people who helped the nation see God’s involvement in human affairs. Eventually there came a prophet ‘sent from God’ whose name was John. John was given the nickname, Baptiser. He told people that the kingdom of God was coming soon and that they should prepare for it by repentance. He invited them to be baptised as a sign of that repentance.
The prophets were not themselves divine. As the passage says of John, ‘He himself was not the light.’ They were human and had human faults and failings, but they had insight, and they shared their insight with others. They were the tour guides interpreting the scene for their contemporaries.
Without interpreters the jumble of events which form our personal or communal history remains confusing and bewildering, but there are many interpreters trying to explain what is going on from economic, political, cultural, religious, and philosophical perspectives. The multiplicity of interpretations then in itself becomes confusing.
2 Samuel 12: 7-10 Isaiah 6: 1-13 Amos 1:1
- If the prophetic task is to give a God-inspired interpretation of historical events, how and where is the prophetic task being carried out today?
- Where do you get your interpretation of current affairs? What relevance does the Bible have to that?
- Why were prophets so important in the story of Israel?
- John the Baptist called on people to repent. Is repentance still necessary today?Why?
- Pray for those who dare to make a prophetic stand against evil in the world today?
5. Insight is Necessary : (John 1:9-10
- Try an activity that tests people’s powers of observation. Show them a room in the house, or a large and intricate picture. Later ask them a series of questions that tests how much they have taken in. Compare what different people take note of. Does this say something about them?
- Invite members of the group to talk about people that they have known superficially but whom they have later come to know more intimately. What made them take notice?
- Read John 1:9-10 and the accompanying Window.
Two men are in a shop. It’s long and narrow and rather dingy although the sunlight streams in through a wide opening in the sidewall further back. It’s an old timber building, unlined, but ceiled with ageing ply. Bags of urea have been piled against the sidewall next to some bales of straw that have left signs of their presence on the floor all around them, and further back I see bags of Dynamic Lifter and various other fertilizers. Assorted spade and shovel handles protrude out of a galvanized iron bin positioned near the wooden counter. The man in the open-necked, blue shirt carefully places a Visa card on the machine and pulls the handle across to register details of the sale.
“I can’t believe you’ve been here all that time,’ comments the other, taking the yellow slip of paper and the plastic card that is being handed to him. ‘I’ve driven past here every working day for the past six years – twice, on my way to work and on my way home – and I didn’t know you were here.’
‘How did you find us?’ the produce merchant enquires.
‘The Yellow Pages,’ the man in the tie and white shirt replies. ‘When I was going to buy my daughter a pony I didn’t know where to buy feed. All I knew was I had to find somewhere handy that I could get hold if it, so I looked it up in the Yellow Pages. This is great. It’s so handy. I can call in here any time. The thing that gets me is that I have driven past so many times and yet didn’t see you. I didn’t know you were here.’
‘There’s a sign outside’
‘Yes, I know. I can’t imagine why I missed it. If someone had asked me about the pool supplies shop next door I would have said, “Yes, I’ve seen that along the main road somewhere,” but this place, it didn’t register at all.’
It often happens. Until our eyes are opened, we do not see what was there all the time. And this is the way it is with God. ‘In him we live and move and have our being,’ but we are not always aware of God. Until we get the insight that allows us to sense God in life around us, we live as though we are in the dark.
But no one is left in utter darkness. Something of the light of God penetrates human ignorance and self-centredness. As plant life is dependent upon sunlight, so human life is dependent upon God’s creative presence. Something of God’s light shines into the lives of all people otherwise they would not exist, but the purest expression of that light is to be found in Jesus.
Acts 17:28 Luke 24:31 Hebrews 4:13
- What is the difference between knowing God and knowing about God?
- What prevents the world from knowing its Creator?
- Share an experience of God being in your life but you being unaware of it at the time?
- If all things have their being in God, how is it that so many people do not know God?
- Pray for people who have not yet become aware of God’s love.
Reflect on the life of your group. What is good about it? How could it be improved?
Ask two or three members of the group to act out a role-play which shows somebody being snubbed and the way that person reacts. Then invite those people to talk about how they felt while taking their parts.
- Have you ever been let down by people whom you thought were your friends? Describe your feelings when this happened.
- Read John 1:11 and the accompanying window.
John 1:11 flings open another window. This reveals a domestic scene. But it is not a happy one. Dad, who is a naval officer, has returned home after a period of one hundred days away from home. His job as a submariner requires frequent absences of that duration, and re-establishing relationships with his children always takes a day or two. After the initial excitement of receiving presents, they retreat and keep their distance until gradually their confidence is won over again. But this time they remain aloof longer than usual. Byron feels this estrangement deeply and accuses his wife of poisoning the children’s minds against him. He accuses her of being cold and indifferent and wants to know what has been going on this time during his absence. She vows that there has been nothing untoward. It is just that they are getting used to living without him and resent his intrusion into their lives when he comes home now.
The biblical view is that, from ancient times, a special relationship existed between God the Creator and the nation of Israel. It was likened to that between a husband and wife. God is the God for all people, but it is with the people of Israel that God established an especially close relationship. They have even been called God’s own people or the People of God.
Yet the relationship did not always remain warm and responsive. For long periods it seemed to them that God was absent although in reality it was probably their attitude that created the distance. Then when God drew near the people did not respond positively. It was rather like a father returning home to find himself rejected and ignored by his family.
God is no dictator trampling over the rights and responsibilities of people. They have freedom to choose, but they then have to live with the consequences of their choices. All people, even the People of God, have habitually turned away from God with the result that they now have difficulty even recognizing God’s presence among them. Even the People of God, on the whole, were blind to God’s presence in Jesus.
Hosea 4: 1-3 Matthew 23:37 Luke 20: 9-19
What part do the Jewish people play in God’s plan of salvation?
Why do you think Jewish people generally have failed to see Jesus as God’s Son?
Could it happen that the people of the church similarly fail to accept what God is doing in their midst? How could they do that?
When have you snubbed God? How did it feel?
Pray for people whose relationship with God has grown stale or cold.