1. Seeing the Invisible

(John 1:18)

  • Give examples of occasions when words failed you. Words failed you because………… (You were stunned, surprised, over-awed, confused, emotionally over-wrought, etc)
  • Do you have a nickname? Did you have a nickname in the past? Would you be prepared to tell the others what it was?
  • Does your group have a name? Should it have a name? What name would you choose?
  • Got any good fishing stories to tell?

The picture that presents itself on viewing this verse is of a group of girls standing on a jetty poking fun at a lad fishing from a dinghy tied to one of the pylons. It sounds as though the outspoken girl is his older sister and she is teasing him about his pretence at being a big game fisherman. He has taken an old tilting, swivel office-chair on board and has set it up near the stern so that as he plies his rod he pretends to be a big game fisherman playing a black marlin on the end of his line. He reels the imaginary fish in and then lets some line out. He pulls back, tilting the chair so that he runs the risk of upsetting it and falling into the bottom of the boat. Then he leans forward; his eyes fixed on a spot some metres away as he works the imaginary fish. He is all concentration.

That boy has as much chance of actually catching a black marlin as people have of capturing the essence of God with the names they use. It wouldn’t matter what bait he used, he’s not going to be successful. It doesn’t matter what names are used for God – Father, King, Lord; Yahweh, Allah, Jehovah; The Almighty, The Creator, the Most High; The Merciful, Love, The Compassionate One – none is adequate. How can you explain a mystery? How can you describe the indescribable? How can you depict the invisible?

But supposing a big game fisherman came along and offered to take the boy out on his properly equipped vessel, out to where the marlin actually live, with the bait that has proven itself in the past. That would be different. It would still not be easy for a lad of his size and strength to land one of those big fish, but with help he might be able to bring one in for tagging and release.

So the human attempts to catch the divine mystery in names might have a little more chance if they are made out of the experience of meeting someone who could demonstrate God’s attitudes and nature, who could actually reveal something of the very heart of God. That, the followers of Jesus declare, is what happens in the person of Jesus. Jesus opens others up to the knowledge and experience of God. Mystery remains, but the curtain has been parted so that we can look out into the mist and make out some dull shapes there. Something more of God has been revealed in and through Jesus than through any other source.

Hebrews 1: 1-4                              Acts 9: 19-22                                  Luke 9:35

  • What names do you prefer to use of God?
  • In ancient times it was thought that the best representative a king could send on a mission was his son. What, then, is meant by calling Jesus the Son of God?
  • In the light of John 1:18, how would you help others understand what God is like?
  • What characteristics of God does Jesus disclose?
  • Pray for each person in the group and their relationship with God.

2. Bound and Gagged

(John 4: 1-9, 16-30)

  • Tell an encouraging, heart-warming, human-interest story.
  • What restrictions irritate you most?
  • What prejudices have you been released from during your lifetime?
  • What makes you feel free to engage in conversation with a stranger? What holds you back?

After a long night with his band at their Friday night gig and the half hour drive back to his parents’ place Michael is feeling tired as he brings his panel van to a halt in the front driveway, but he is jolted awake by the sight of a light in the lounge room window. The drapes have been drawn so he can’t see inside, but this is such an unusual occurrence that he can’t help wondering whether something has gone wrong. His parents go to bed early. They never wait up for him.

His sense of alarm is heightened when he finds the front door unlocked and hears a groan followed by what could have been a cough. But nothing could prepare him for the sight as he burst into the lounge room to the left of the entry vestibule. The safe which usually remained discretely hidden by the Sidney Nolan is gaping wide open and both of his parents lie on the carpeted floor wrists and ankles bound by packing tape, their mouths stuffed with rag held in place by wide elastic bands which have been slipped over their heads.

Rushing to the kitchen he finds scissors and then hacks away at the packing tape to free their arms and legs. On releasing the gag from their mouths he hears exclamations like, ‘Michael! How glad we are to see you!’ As he helps them up onto the settee he hears how his father, when he answered a ring of the front doorbell shortly before ten, had been confronted by three masked men demanding the keys to his safe

As he phones the police, pours them each a small brandy and listens to their stories he notices that their feelings of relief are fast turning into outrage. They are both in their night attire. Dishevelled and shocked, but not seriously injured. What they resent most, they say, is that they were held captive in their own home. They had heard of home invasions, but never thought it would happen to them. It had been a long night.

People are bound by custom and by systems, by jealousy and prejudice, but in this John 4 story we see Jesus breaking through the bonds which kept Jews away from Samaritans, women away from religious teaching, an immoral woman away from the other women in the village, Samaritan worshippers away from Jewish worshippers. We are all bound in one way or another by religious, ideological, political, and economic forces. We are not free, but Christ seeks to hack through the packing tape – to set us free, free to be ourselves before God.

People find it disconcerting to know that God cannot be bound. They want to control, manipulate, imprison God. But it would be easier for a child to capture the wind than for a person, or for the whole of humanity acting in unison, to hold God down. No mountain, no place of worship, no sacred site can confine God.

Galatians 3:28                               Galatians 5:1                               Luke 4: 16-21

  • In what ways are people kept away from one another by attitudes, customs, or prejudices?
  • In what ways are people kept away from God by attitudes, customs and prejudices?
  •  From what has Christ freed you?
  •  How free do you feel about worshipping in a church other than your own?
  •  Pray for your own worship that it might be in spirit and in truth

3. Not Against Our Wishes

(John 5: 1-9)

  • What was the high point and what was the low point in your life since the group last met?
  • You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink: have you found that to be true?
  • In our society people value freedom highly. What freedom do you value most highly? (e.g.: freedom from fear, freedom of expression, freedom to worship, etc)
  • Do you know anything about the work of Lifeline or other telephone counseling organization? Find out if you don’t. What telephone counseling is available to people in your area?

We’re in a darkened room. On one side there are two phone booths, one is lit by a fluorescent reading lamp, the other is dark. They are a metre or so wide, fitted with acoustic tiles along their three walls. They are also adorned with notices, cards and referral numbers. There are two telephones and a few books and papers on the desk in the illuminated cubicle with an office-style chair close by.

From a bed on the other side of the darkened room a man clad in dark green tracksuit pants and grey sloppy-joe springs up to sit himself in front of the illuminated desk. He answers the phone with, ‘Good morning. Lifeline here. Can I help you?’

Being able to hear only one side of the conversation, I have to guess at what the problem is that has summoned the counsellor from his slumber at 1.30 a.m. All I hear are affirmative signals, attempts to recap and reflect what the caller is saying, but eventually I hear the night-shift volunteer say, ‘Do you think you can get your friend Melda to phone us herself. If she’s ready to seek help, we can help her, but if she doesn’t want our assistance or anyone else’s, I’m afraid there is little we can do. You’ll understand, the request for help has to come from her. We can’t phone her up and tell her how to put her life right. There are people that can help her, but it’s no use anyone trying to force that help on her. She would resent it, and may not be ready to accept responsibility for the changes which have to occur.’

 There is a pause, and he goes on, ‘No, I can understand that. The police can no more intervene than we can. The way you can best help her is to tell her that there is help available and where she can find it. It’s up to her to make the approach. But please encourage her to do that. She can phone 131114 at any time of the day or night and there ‘ll be someone to help.’

The counsellor cannot help unless the client is willing to be helped. Help imposed becomes paternalism, manipulation, even tyranny. And God is not a tyrant; therefore even God invites cooperation rather than forces healing or salvation upon people against their will. What’s the use of healing a sick person if the person enjoys being sick – likes the attention ? What’s the use of intervening to help someone if when helped that person is not prepared to accept responsibility for his or her own life? What’s the use of pouring medicine into a patient’s mouth if he only spits it out as soon as the nurse’s back is turned?

Jesus shows us a God who respects people’s wishes, who invites rather than coerces, and who promises to help us if we are cooperative. This window gives insight into the very heart of God and into the way community works best.

Deuteronomy 30:19-20                            Romans 1:16-17              2 Corinthians 9:7

  • Why do you think Jesus asked the question, ‘Do you want to be made well?’
  • If God is a God of love and can do anything, why does he not heal all sick people and stop all wars?
  • Salvation is by the grace of God. What part then does faith play?
  • Healing brings responsibility. Do you agree? What is your experience?
  • Pray for other home fellowship groups that you know of.

4. Timing is Everything

(John 7: 1 – 9)

  • Was there a particularly special time in your life? Share.
  • What, for you, is the best time of the day?
  • Catching a train, removing a cake from the oven: these are occasions when timing is important. Can you think of others?
  • What’s the difference in meaning between ‘time’ and ‘timing’?

‘No, no, no no! That wont do,’ exclaims the director brushing his hands through his hair. ‘You have to come in right on that word “cats”. Not a moment before, and not a millisecond later.’

With a sigh the actress retreats behind the wings again while the play’s director continues to drive home his point. He has mounted the stairs and is standing at the proscenium now. ‘You know your lines. You’ve got the accent. But you have to get that timing right,’ he goes on. ‘It’s crucial. Lose that and we’ve lost everything. Let’s do it again. Now, Joshua, take it from the beginning of that speech you direct to the milk carton, and when he comes to the word “cats” Mirabelle you leap onto the stage as if you were a cat pouncing on a poor hapless mouse. O.K., let’s do it again!’

 On stage and off stage timing is important. There is a right time and a wrong time for everything as we are told in Ecclesiastes chapter 3. Jesus knew this. He would not allow other people to dictate his timing. He got his timing from God. All things in God’s timing.

When his brothers gave him some advice on how and when to promote himself, he refused to join in their public relations exercise because he had his own God-given timetable.

These are evil times, that is, they are times when evil infiltrates everything, and Jesus identified the urgings of his brothers as belonging to these evil times. However a time will come, he says, when the will of God will be done without demur and there will be no opposition to it. He belongs to that time, and that is why he does not fit in with the expectations of the people around him.

God’s timing is perfect. The timing of this present age is not perfect. We get our timing wrong so that we jump into bed together just because we feel sexually aroused. We don’t wait for that bonding of the spirit that comes with self-giving love and deep commitment. We explode at the behaviour of our partners without waiting to find out what causes the objectionable behaviour and seeking to do something about it together. We throw our children into the torments of adult society before they have had time to live out their childhood. Over and over again we get our timing wrong. One of the great gifts we can ask God to give us is a sense of timing. It will help us relax and will help us withstand the pressures that come from other people who want us to act immediately in just the way that suits them.

Matthew 26:18                                 Romans 13:11                       2 Corinthians 6:2

  • Have you ever had an occasion when the timing for something or other seemed to be just right? Do you think of it as God’s timing?
  • What’s the difference between God’s timing and coincidence?
  • Have you ever had the experience of being pushed into something before its proper time? How can we defend ourselves against this?
  • What do you think Jesus was referring to when he said, “My time has not yet fully come”? (John 7:8)
  • Give thanks for God’s timing in your own life and in the life of others in the group.

5. It Pays To Know What You are Looking For

(John 9:13-41)

  • Tell us about a surprise you have had.
  • Try this. Send one person out of the room and then get the rest to write a missing person ad. describing the one who is absent.
  • If you were tracking a lost child through the bush what signs would you look out for to indicate whether the child had passed that way?
  • When shopping, have you even been looking for something but did not know what it was that you were looking for? Tell us about it.

The window opens on an office. The wall to the right is adorned with various motor trade association membership certificates and plaques representing business achievement awards. Straight in front I see a chart attached to the wall. At first glance it looks like someone’s family tree, but closer inspection reveals it to be a photographic presentation of the firm’s executive officers. At the top in the centre there is a large photo of Kenneth Edwards, the General Manager and Founder of The Edwards Motor Company. Immediately below Kenneth, Lionel Rush, the Assistant General Manager, takes his place. Then come the departmental managers: Accounting, Sales, Service, Parts, Used Cars and Marine. Below them are listed, without pictorial representation, foremen and other senior staff.

To the left there is a counter and it is to this counter that a tall man in a dark suit directs his steps. A receptionist gets up from her computer and says, ‘Good morning, Sir. May I help you?’

The visitor asks for Mr Edwards. The receptionist says that Mr James Edwards is in. He is the Manager of the Service Division. No, the tall man in the dark suit says, he wants to speak to Kenneth Edwards.

‘I’m afraid he’s not in, Sir,’ she says. ‘Could Mr Rush help you?’

No. He wants to speak to Ken Edwards.

‘That’s his office over there, isn’t it?’ he says pointing to a door, which clearly announces that it leads into the office of the General Manager.

‘But he’s not in,’ he is told again.

‘What! Playing golf at this hour of the day?’

‘No, Sir. If you must know, he’s out fixing bicycles.’

‘He’s what!’

‘He does that,’ she says. ‘He sometimes goes off in his van and fixes bicycles for kids from the housing estate. All they have to pay for is the parts, and even then he lets them book it up. Some of them never pay.’

‘You mean the General Manager of a company like this leaves his office during working hours to fix kids’ bikes!’

‘Just look for a yellow van with a snowy haired dynamo of a man. There may be three or four bicycles leaning up against the van.’

The visitor turns to leave muttering, ‘Surely if I want to find the General Manager of The Edwards Motor Company I don’t have to wander the streets looking for a bicycle repair man! I don’t believe it.’

‘That’s our Ken!’ the receptionist says with an affectionate twinkle in her eye. ‘You know, he started off in business selling and repairing cycles, and he feels that he keeps in touch with his roots when he’s out helping people from the poor end of town.’

‘Well, I need to find him. It’s urgent,’ the man says.

‘I can phone him on his mobile,’ she says. ‘Who shall I say is calling?’

‘Oh, never mind! Just tell me where he is and I’ll go speak to him. You say in the housing estate.’

He leaves shaking his head.

Where is God to be seen in human affairs? Cooped up in his office, or out on the streets? Chained to organized religion or out fixing things? God is not one to be confined by any system, religious or secular. There are people whose life’s work it is to help others be aware of God. So the Church, as Judaism, or any other organized religion, has systems designed to help people know God and to do God’s will. But is that the only place where God is active? Of course not. God is constantly doing a healing, repairing, renewing work in a world where people are in desperate need of healing, repairing and renewal. God is to be seen in healing whether that healing is of the eyes or any other part of the anatomy, or in the healing of wounded relationships, the healing of hurting memories, the healing of mental illness, the healing of sick communities, the healing of the human soul. The Creator is constantly healing a sick creation. God then may or may not be present in organized religion, but God is present whenever human beings are being healed.

Psalm 103: 1-14                      Revelation 22:1-2                       Acts 17: 22-28

  • It is very hard to find something if you do not know what it looks like. This applies to God too. How then would you describe God to someone who is seeking after God?
  • What’s the point of having the church if God is to be found outside of organized religion?
  • What’s most important to you about religion: the set of rules and values that it gives or the sense of release and healing that it brings ?
  • Pray for the healing of the church.

6. Fatal Protection

(John 10:31-39)

  • If you have the facilities for playing them, invite members of the group to bring along a recording of some music or a song that could be played to the group. Obviously these excerpts need to be short.
  • Some people can be described as defensive. Describe the characteristics of such a person.
  • What are the benefits in adopting a defensive attitude toward other people, and what are the dangers ?
  • Invite the members of the group to move around and as they place a hand on the shoulder of each other person to say a benediction like, “The Lord bless you and keep you.”

The crowd in front of the gutted cottage is hushed as ambulance bearers carry a body out on a stretcher. Firefighters are still moving through the charred remains of the brick veneer building. The flames that had been belching out from the front windows when the folk across the street phoned triple-0 have gone. The building looks remarkably normal from the outside. One would say that prompt action by the fire brigade had saved the building from extensive damage. The fire seems to have been confined to the kitchen area. But a woman has died.

Neighbours know her well. She has lived here for many years. She moved into the area before real estate values dropped and the rougher element moved in. It was this change in character of the suburb that had prompted her sons to install wrought iron security grilles on all windows, triple deadlocks on the doors shielded by welded security screens. And from what the policeman is saying I discover that it was this excessive preoccupation with security that led to her death. Her body was found near the front door, but she did not have the key in her hand, nor was it found on the floor of the vestibule where her body lay. She had tried to get out, but was a prisoner in her own home.

The folk from across the street said that they had heard her cries, but they could not get into the house because of the tight security arrangements. They had tried the doors and the barred windows, but even attempts with a hacksaw proved fruitless. She died just metres from willing helpers, but so securely protected from intruders that no one could come to her aid.

Human attempts to protect God end up killing what they try to preserve. They disclose a proprietary attitude, as though human beings could own God. As though God needed someone’s protection! The charge brought against Jesus was blasphemy, and on this charge he eventually was condemned to death. The attempts to protect God led to the death of God’s Son, and throughout history many terrible things have been done to people under the guise of defending God.

Mark 14:57-64                       2 Timothy 2:8-9                              Acts 5:34-39

  • Is it wrong then to defend God? Does God need our protection?
  • What is your personal attitude toward blasphemy? What, for you, constitutes blasphemy?
  • How does the church stifle God today?
  • How can we help the church be less possessive of God and more open to God’s Word?
  • Pray for your church that it might be God’s humble and faithful servant devoid of any desire to own, control or manipulate God.