1.  God Our Neighbour

(John 1:14a)

  • Show photos of your home – where you live now, or where you have lived in the past.
  • Talk about ‘moving’ experiences you have had – how you felt about moving to a new address and how you felt when you got there. What were some of the difficult things about moving? What were the benefits?
  • What does involvement in your group mean to you?
  • What does the theological word Incarnation mean? You might have to do some prior research on this.

I see a removalists’ van crawling up the street. Through the windscreen I can see the driver’s companion pointing across in front of the driver toward a house on the far side of the tree-lined street. The vehicle stops and both men get out. The driver walks across to examine the driveway. He looks intently at the sharp dip formed by the camber of the bitumen roadway and the upward slope of the graveled driveway. He appraises the dimension between gateposts and that between a pine tree growing in the front yard and the neighbour’s side fence. When he clambers back on board he takes the vehicle forward a little and then backs in between the redbrick gateposts while his mate holds a hand up to stop a Mazda 323 wanting to use the street just at that particular time. The tall vehicle brushes against branches on the trees at the side of the roadway, but they successfully negotiate a tight turn, and then the driver manoeuvres the pantechnicon backwards up the narrow

Life’s mysterious, creative Power has taken up residence in our street. That’s a way of talking about Jesus. It’s a way that sees Jesus as a very special person. This has been formalised in theological language as Divine Incarnation: ‘The Word became flesh and lived among us.’ In the person of Jesus, the Word of God took up residence among us, not as a foreigner or as some fictional character and certainly not as a hoax, but as a neighbour, as one of us.

Psalm 43:3                                Matthew 17:4                         Revelation 21:3

  • Does the knowledge that God has come to live among us make a difference to the way you view life? What difference does it make?
  • How can we better include the celebration of God’s incarnation among us at Christmas time?
  • God gets involved in this sinful world. To what extent should we?
  • In what ways are you personally involved in your community?
  • Pray for your church’s involvement in your community. List organizations through which the church gets involved and pray for them

2. Embodying the Unseen

(John 1:14b)

  • Had any interesting experiences since the group last met? Share.
  • Have a go at drawing someone who is angry, someone who is shifty and dishonest, someone who is happy. In this way try to give shape and form to anger, dishonesty and happiness.
  • Which parent do you resemble most in appearance? Talk about the way we embody characteristics of our parents.
  • What object, do you think, best embodies the spirit of your country?

Looks like a school graduation ceremony. A row of distinguished looking people sit up on the platform surrounded by indoor plants and two huge bowls of flowers arranged on pedestal stands. Down below I see row upon row of uniformed boys and behind them an assortment of parents, siblings, aunts and grandparents. The lad walking off stage has just been given a certificate that indicates that he has been voted by the staff as the exit student most likely to succeed in business. The bald-headed man in the academic gown standing at the rostrum announces that the next award is to go to the student who had, this year, most fully embodied the school motto, ‘With diligence and with patience.’ He pauses and then announces the name of the young man waiting at the bottom of the stairs, which lead up onto the platform. The audience breaks into applause as he mounts those stairs and walks over to receive his certificate from a tall, grey-haired man standing next to the Senior Master.

The guest makes a short speech about it being important to have noble and challenging ideals, but it being even more important that there be people who give flesh to those ideals, who make them live, who embody them in their daily lives.

As ideals like diligence and patience cannot be seen, God also is invisible. As ideals have to find embodiment in actual lives, in deeds, in behaviour and in conduct, if they are to mean anything, so God has to be embodied in visible, tangible life if the word is to mean anything. From the beginning, the Christian Church has recognized Jesus to be the unique embodiment of life’s unseen and mysterious, creative Power.

Mark 1:11                                        1 John 1:1-3                        1 John 4: 2-3

  • As a human being, Jesus was not like God. He did not know everything? He could not be everywhere. In what respects was he like God?
  • If the unseen God could be embodied in Jesus, the Spirit of Jesus can be embodied in his disciples. What does it mean for the Spirit of Jesus to be embodied in us?
  • How can we help to focus our lives more clearly on Jesus Christ?
  • It is dangerous to embody God and God’s kingdom in this world – it killed Jesus. Have you found it to be dangerous in your own experience?
  • Pray for each other and for each person’s walk with Christ.

3. Seniority

(John 1:15; 30-31)

  • Have you had a brush with fame? Tell the others about it.
  • How does a person become a VIP (very important person) in our society?
  • Have you ever received VIP treatment? Would you like to?
  • How good are you at keeping contact with absent members of the group? Make sure that you do maintain contact.

Here is a young man standing in a large office shaking hands with the general manager. The older man comes around from behind his large mahogany desk to take him by the hand. Behind them one catches a glimpse of harbour views, in the distance the opera house and the harbour bridge.

‘I am greatly honoured by your trust in me,’ the young man is saying. ‘It is a great honour to be given such a senior position at my age.’

‘Seniority in this company,’ the grey haired man says, ‘is not based on length of years, but on ability. I am convinced you have the ability to handle this job.’

Seniority is sometimes thought of as having to do with years of service, but many organizations think of seniority as belonging to the position rather than to the person, hence a person young in years may be called upon to fill a very senior position. It was a bit like this with Jesus.  John the Baptist was a little older than Jesus and emerged on the public stage before Jesus did, but John acknowledged that Jesus held seniority over him.  As Son of God, embodiment of the eternal, divine principle of self-expression, Jesus held seniority over all other people.  While he was not, of course, the first human being to exist, he holds seniority over all other human beings. To say that Jesus holds seniority over all other people is to say that he is the most important person ever to have lived.  It identifies him as a real human being, but the chief among all human beings.  Clearly this judgment is not based on political, judicial or military might.  He is by no means the wealthiest man to have ever lived.  The claim that he is the most important person in all history is based on a realization of the position  which he holds, that of the unique embodiment of the unseen God.

  Colossians 1:15-20                         Philippians 2: 9-11                   Revelation 1:17

  • What’s so special about Jesus for you?
  • Compare the greatness of John the Baptist with the greatness of Jesus.
  • How can the influence of Jesus be brought to bear on business, political, school, community life today?
  • Write prayers giving honour to Jesus, the most important person to have ever lived.

4. The Spiritual in the Material

(John 6: 48-59)

  • How do our physical features and actions show what is going on in our spirits?

The window opens on two children, a boy and a girl, sitting at a small, low-level plastic table on small, plastic chairs out on the side verandah. Their mother has handed each of them an ice cream in a cone, but, while the little boy puts the ice cream eagerly to his mouth so that very soon he has it down to the top of the cone, his sister sits there picking out the chocolate chips, placing them neatly in a row on the table in front of her. This is slow and laborious work. At first she uses her fingers, but then she takes up a small plastic spoon to help lever out the little pieces of chocolate that came embedded in the ice cream.

When he finishes his ice cream, the boy’s mother comes with a damp washer to wipe his face, but looks at her daughter on the other side of the table with a wry smile and asks what she is doing. She has created quite a mess with melted ice cream smeared over her side of the table and all over her hands. The girl says that she wants to keep the chocolate for later. She asks for a cup to place the pieces in.

‘Aren’t you going to eat your ice cream?’ the mother asks.

“Mmmm.’ The girl nods, but it is obvious that she is not going to have much of it left by the time she has picked it over to remove the little brown specks.

What has that picture to do with Jesus likening himself to the manna of the Exodus? Well some approaches to religion are like that. They pick over life trying to separate out the spiritual from the material. The spiritual is what they are really after. Matter is not important. But the biblical approach is different. The biblical approach sees that the spiritual only comes embedded in the material. Bite into the ice cream and you have the chocolate chips as well as the white, dairy product. For people in this life, the spiritual only comes along with our experience of sights and sound, taste, touch and smell. We are not disembodied spirits: we are people with physical, social, psychological, political, economic as well as spiritual dimensions.

God became flesh in Jesus. God does not draw near through an a-historical, speculative, abstract, timeless view of reality, but rather through real people, real events, real experiences. And this is brought out in that act whereby the Christian Church repeatedly unites itself to Christ its Lord: the Mass, the Eucharist, the Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper, the Liturgy, the Breaking of Bread. By whatever name it is called, it is a repeated reminder that the spiritual realities come together with and carried by objects as material and this worldly as bread and wine.

Exodus 10:1-4, 13-18                       1 John 4: 2-3                  Mark 14: 12-25

  • What does participation in Holy Communion mean to you?
  • Does it matter to you what is used in the communion service: alcoholic wine, non-alcoholic wine, grape juice, cordial, coconut juice, water ?
  • It has been said that the doctrine of incarnation (God became flesh in Jesus Christ) makes a difference to the way Christians view the world around them. What do you think?
  • What is the advantage in having spiritual realities linked with material existence over against that view which sees spiritual reality unconnected with material or bodily existence?
  • In your prayer time try linking forms of prayer like adoration, thanksgiving, repentance and forgiveness, petition and supplication, to gestures and actions of the body.

5. Playing the Part

(John 13:21-30)

  • Tell us about a special meal you have had lately. Maybe you were dining out or had friends over. Maybe it was the food that made it special, or maybe it was the company.
  • Tell us about your stage experiences. Have you ever taken a part in a dramatic presentation? Been involved in the performing arts? Tell us about it.
  • Get hold of a short script, make copies of it and share them among those who are prepared to sight-read a skit or short drama.
  • How many men by the name of Judas are mentioned in the Bible? Find out.

It’s a stark, cold building with a group of people sitting in a circle on chairs placed in the middle of the large, flat, stained timber floor. There are stacked chairs against the sidewall. The gothic shape to the windows suggests an old church hall. Each person in the circle has a book in his or her hand. A tall, gaunt, straight-haired woman with a long, narrow, but expressive face stands where there is a break in the circle and says, ‘Right, are you ready? Let’s give it a try!’

‘When shall we three meet again

in thunder, lightning, or in rain?’

‘When the hurlyburly’s done.

When the battle’s lost and won.’

‘That will be ere the set of sun.’

‘Where the place?’

‘Upon the heath.’

‘There to meet with Macbeth.’

So the witches read their parts for the first time. They’re tied to their scripts, but the director is content with their initial efforts. Next time she expects that they will have memorized the words.

John 13:21 to 30 suggests a dramatic play, a tragedy. With deep emotion Jesus plays his part: ‘Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.’ Here is conflict. Here is mystery. How will the plot unfold? The spotlight is on three people reclining heads in towarda low table, although momentarily it falls on another character who asks John to enquire of Jesus who the betrayer might be. Then the conversation takes place between John, Jesus and Judas. With dramatic symbolism Jesus hands Judas a piece of wet bread. He speaks words that the rest of the people on stage find puzzling, but we in the audience know what they mean. The scene concludes with a piece of pathetic fallacy where the darkness of the night parallels the darkness in the heart of the betrayer.

Why did Jesus not do something to head off the coming disaster? Betrayal works through secrecy, but once the plot is revealed it is time for revenge, or at least evasive action. He took neither. It is as though he were following a script. He had a part to play, a part which would be significant for the entire human race. Another wrote the part for him. He was the actor. It was not for him to alter the part. It was for him to interpret it accurately and convincingly. And so he went on knowing who his betrayer was but ignoring the political, defensive, power-exploiting direction that many, in like situation, would have adopted. He bowed to the inevitability of the script. He played his part to the end.

Mark 14: 17-21                     Matthew 8:17                                Luke 7:31-35

  • How do you like the description of Jesus as an actor following the script that had been provided for him? Does it say something fresh or distinctive about him?
  • Have you ever felt as though you were an actor playing out a part that God had written for you?
  • Read John 13: 21-30 again and discuss the emotions that Jesus must have felt at that time.
  • Do his disciples betray Jesus today? Give examples.
  • Pray for people who feel betrayed, sold out by those who were supposed to be helping them.

6. Life’s Demonstration Lessons

(John 17: 1-5)

  • They say that travel broadens the mind. What is your experience in this?
  • How important is parental love in the upbringing of children and how should it be expressed?
  • What are some of the most prevalent prejudices in your community?
  • Which of the following is most important for your group life: patience, trust, confidentiality, acceptance, respect, affection, insight, truth, commitment?

A fluorescent light shines over a table in a well-lived-in kitchen-cum-family room. Two people are seated eating a meal of chicken and vegetables when the ringing of the front doorbell brings a surprised look to their faces. The man places his knife and fork down on his plate and rises, stiffly pushing the chair out from behind him. As he straightens up one sees that he is tall and strongly built. The grey haired woman says, ‘Who could that be?’

Walking stiffly, the man makes his way to the door whence comes a cautious greeting, a pause and then loud exclamations of delight. As soon as she hears, ‘David. This is a surprise!’ the woman jumps to her feet and hurries to meet her husband returning with his arm around the shoulders of a thin, dark-complexioned man whom she embraces fervently and kisses with unfeigned affection. He is round shouldered and weathered. A young man who has been knocked about by life, but that does not seem to matter for he receives an enthusiastic welcome.

Without asking whether he needs a meal or not, she quickly produces a clean plate and proceeds to take food off the other two dinner plates to make a serving for the newcomer. The tall man brings a chair through from another room and invites David to sit down at the table with them. He resumes his place, and David slowly sits himself down at the table. He clears his throat as he prepares to deliver a mentally prepared speech.

‘I’ve come to say I’m sorry. You deserved better. I knew nothing about love when you took me in. All I knew were parents, who fought, screamed and attacked each other – and me. All I got was abuse until I ran away. Life on the streets wasn’t much better. But you fostered me through those early teenage years. You put up with a lot, but you didn’t beat me. You didn’t put me down. You did everything you could for me. And you showed me what family life could be like. You showed me what love is. I’m just sorry that I hurt you. I hurt you badly. I wish I could undo all that.’

The woman holds David’s hand close to her body as she says how wonderful it is to see him again and comments on how he has changed.

‘I have changed,’ he admits. Turning to address her he says, ‘I even go to church!’ Then after a pause he continues, ‘I’ve met a girl. A real, fine girl, and I want to do the right thing by her. She’s too good for me, but she loves me. I don’t deserve it, but I’ve got the very best woman in all the world.’

His foster mother says that this is wonderful news. Her prayers have been answered.

The man says that he appreciates David’s coming to tell them about it, but David goes on, ‘I need your help.’

‘Anything! Anything!’ his foster mother exclaims.

His foster father warns that it’s no use asking for money.

‘I’m not looking for money,’ David says. ‘I want to learn. I want our marriage to be like yours. You showed me what married love could be like. Teach me more about love. Not sex. I’ve had plenty of that. What I want is to come back here to soak in the atmosphere. Give me a crash course in love.’

Just as some people, irrespective of what they say, have only a vague idea about love, so many people have only vague ideas about God. They make assertions about their belief or their disbelief in God without having any real experience of God. Love, the unseen, has to be experienced in a living, interacting human relationship. Children learn love from the significant adults in their lives. People learn of God as they spend time with others who worship and trust God and as the presence of the unseen God is seen in the lives of other people.

In the Scriptures it is realized that no one can have a genuine experience of God without responding with praise, adoration and worship, so the human experience of God is called the experience of glory. When Jesus prays that the Father might be glorified in the Son he is asking that people might recognize God in him and praise God because of it. Through his thoroughgoing obedience to God, Jesus revealed God to humanity, with the consequence that God is praised and glorified by those who receive this revelation.

Many people are quite ignorant about God. They pick up scraps here and there. They may study various religions. They may give some allegiance to Christianity. They may declare themselves theists or atheists. But until they see God in Jesus Christ they really don’t know what God is like. At the heart of the New Testament witness is this that we really only get to know God as we experience God in Jesus the Christ.

Daniel 7:13-14                                     Hebrews 1: 1-4                            Galatians 4:8-9

  • Who has taught you most about God?
  • What are some of the inadequate ideas of God that you have discarded?
  • How would you describe your personal experience of God?
  • How can we best help people to know God?
  • Pray prayers of adoration and praise.