1. Teamwork

(John 4: 31-38)

  • Have you or do you play any team games or sports? Which one do you prefer?
  • What characteristics make a good team whether in sport, work, community or church activity?
  • How have you benefited from the efforts made by people in the past?
  • Is there a sense of teamwork in your group? How could it be improved?

The captain comes back into the dressing room and says to Vernon, “You better get those pads on in a hurry. We’ve lost Jack and Dodger and Brian in the last two overs. It’s up to you now. We’ve still got Gordon out there, and while he’s there we’ve got a chance. Don’t try anything fancy. Just keep your end up. What we need right now is a good, steady hand. Let Gordon score the runs. But if he gets out, go for it. It’ll be up to you to take the lead and give us something our bowlers can bowl to.”

Vernon, padded up and with bat in hand, comes out onto the verandah. He sees the dejected faces on three of his team’s leading batsmen. It’s a big ask for a wicket keeper, but he’s played this role before. He knows it’s not about getting one’s name in the record book. He’s a team player. Always has been. His captain can depend on him giving his best to what is asked of him.

Nothing significant is ever achieved without teamwork. Sometimes the team is assembled all together at one time, but frequently the team extends over time incorporating within it people who have never met each other. They can be viewed as a team because of the contribution that each one makes to the outcome.

The spectacular breakthrough in medical science does not come without a great amount of research and testing, discovery and refining that goes on for years and by many people. Each great new discovery is based on many, many discoveries that have been made by people in the past.

Planters and harvesters all belong to the one team although their involvement in the crop might come at different times. The harvest depends not on one or the other group alone, but on the two groups each making their appropriate contribution.

Jesus said to his disciples while they were visiting Samaria that there was a harvest ready to be brought in there and then. Others have planted the seed of God’s word. It is now time for a kingdom harvest.

It often happens that the Word and Spirit of God is working in a person’s life long before that person makes a conscious response to the Gospel. This sometimes shows itself in earnest enquiry, but sometimes in a rearguard action against God’s activity. Then there comes the right moment for a response. That is the harvest time, time for a person to identify with and consciously become part of God’s kingdom. But those who have laid the groundwork, those who have been used by God through their example or word and those who invited to conversion all form a team in the service of God.

1 Corinthians 3:5 – 9                      Hebrews 12:1 – 2                         Ephesians 2: 19 – 22

  • Name some of the people that God has used to bring you to your present position in Christian faith? Can you see them as a team being used by God on your behalf?
  • Do you agree that there is a right moment for a person to accept the Gospel? What do you think would lead up to such a moment?
  • What do you think Jesus meant by saying, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me’?
  • Pray for people who are at that stage of readiness for the Gospel that they would very likely accept it if presented to them right now.

2. Believing the Messenger

(John 4: 43-45)

  • Link hands and pray for God’s Spirit to be active in your midst.
  • Think of instances, either in your own experience or some that you have heard about, in which people did not believe a message because of the person who was bringing it to them.
  • Have you ever had to change your attitude toward people of another religion, denomination, race or class? What prompted that change of attitude?
  • Discuss the believability of the news that comes through radio, TV, newspapers and the internet.

A woman in nightdress shields her eyes with her hand as she switches the light on in her child’s bedroom and hurries over to sit beside her four-year old. With an arm around her daughter, she says in gentle tones, ‘Hey, my precious, what’s the matter?’

The child has awakened in fright. She is sitting up in bed staring at the dark windowpane framed between brightly coloured curtains, panic in her tear-filled eyes. She is pale and trembling and buries her face into her mother’s shoulder as her boxer-clad Dad appears at the doorway.

‘What’s the matter?’ he asks. ‘That was a big scream. Did you have a nasty dream?’

The child shakes her head.

‘Too much television,’ Dad suggests. But he surrounds both his wife and child with his arms as he plants a kiss on the back of her unruly hair.

‘Has he gone?’ she asks speaking into her mother’s shoulder.

‘Has who gone?’ her mother asks.

‘The monster.’

‘There’s no monster,’ her mother replies.

‘Yes, there is.’

‘Rubbish!’ her mother responds. ‘There are no monsters here. Who’s been talking to you about monsters?’

‘Richard,’ she says, naming her older brother.

‘Oh, he’ll have to stop telling you tales like that. It’s giving you nightmares.’

Dad gets up from the bed, walks over to the window and pushes it up, determined to show his daughter that there is nothing to be frightened of. But as he does so he gives out an exclamation and bends over to look more closely at the sill. He goes out of the room and comes back with a torch. Then whispers, with a horrified tone in his voice, that there are recently made chips in the paintwork. ‘Something sharp ‘s been pushed in here. It wasn’t just a dream. There really was someone at the window trying to get in.’

The reception of a message is dependent upon the believability of the messenger, and the believability of the messenger depends upon the prior experience of the hearer. It becomes a matter of perception. Parents expect their little ones to have difficulty distinguishing between the real and the imagined. So a child’s fright may be seen as having been caused by a nightmare. That is taken to be a sufficient explanation. But if further evidence indicates that a would-be intruder really was there, it changes the message and its implications.

If a person is well known from a particular perspective, for example from that of the family or neighbourhood, it is difficult for that person to be seen in a different light. The very familiarity blinds people to other, perhaps more important, aspects of that person’s life. This applies to the way Jesus is perceived as it does to the way anyone else is perceived.

Matthew 13: 54-58                                 Mark 3: 20-27                            2 Corinthians 5: 16

  • To this day the Jewish people generally do not see Jesus as the Messiah. Why do you think this is?
  • What prejudices have you had to overcome in life?
  • What one thing has most expanded your vision of Jesus Christ?
  • What implications are there for Christian witnessing if the perceived reliability of the message depends upon the reliability of the messenger?
  • Pray for people whose upbringing makes it hard for them to see Jesus as the Son of God and put their trust in him.

3. Crowd Control

(John 12:12-19)

  • What is the advantage in meeting together in a small group like this over large gatherings?
  • What will people do in a crowd that they would not do if on their own.
  • Share experiences of having been caught up in a crowd unexpectedly. Was it a happy or an angry crowd? What did it feel like?
  • Write the letters of the name of the person on your left in a column on the left side of a sheet of paper. Then write in words that describe that person choosing words that start with each of the letters on your sheet of paper.

The window opens on a football match where the stands are packed with excited, boisterous crowds. Most are wearing the colours of their favourite team. Scarves are waving in the air. Beenies in matching colour are thrown high as supporters join in a shout. Here and there a placard praises the exploits of a favourite player or announces doom to the opposing team. Some set up a chant, but when the ball is passed out to the wing and starts to make rapid progress toward the opposing goal the cheering and excitement reaches fever pitch. No one remains seated. Everyone seems to be standing and shouting loudly. Then follows a sigh of disappointment. The crowd is suddenly quiet. Some remain standing anxiously watching what will happen next, but many are resuming their seats. The magnificent forward movement has come to a sudden stop.

Crowd psychology is an interesting field of exploration. People do things in a crowd they would not do on their own. The level of excitement seems to climb higher and higher on the shoulders of each member.

Have you seen a top-rating evangelist in action? See how the crowd behaves. People reach an emotional level they would not if being spoken to on their own. Most vandalism occurs when a crowd spurs individuals on. Police officers know the immense difficulty of confronting an excited, angry crowd compared with facing individual members of the crowd on their own. Teachers know that children act differently when mob rule takes over. That is one reason it is important to be able to address the ringleaders by name, to extract them from the crowd and to speak with them alone.

Crowds are not given to detailed, careful thinking. They operate on a predominantly emotional level. And so the crowds on Palm Sunday seized hold of a messianic prediction that said that the Messiah would, one day, come to Jerusalem riding on the back of a donkey. This is enough to bring crowds out from the city expressing their adulation and excitement. They are in no mood to sit down and listen to a lecture about Israel’s messianic hope and the concept of a peaceful messiah.

There was another crowd there too, a crowd which recently had seen the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Their experience at the tomb had prepared them for a declaration that Jesus was the Messiah. So when the two crowds met, surrounding Jesus on his ride into the city, the Pharisees recognized the impossibility of doing anything about it. This was the time for the crowd to have its head. Later they would seek a private opportunity to attack him.

Mark 11:1-11                                Acts 19:23-41                                Revelation 19:1-2

  • Compare Mark 11:1-11 with John 12:12-19. What does Mark include that John leaves out and what does John put in that Mark leaves out?
  • What is the difference between the crowd in John 12:12-19 and that in Acts 19:23-41?
  • In what way does being with other people in church help you to worship? What’s the difference between worshipping on your own and worshipping as part of a congregation?
  • Does Palm Sunday have any special associations for you? Maybe you remember special services, peace marches, Christian gatherings, or decorations in the church.
  • Pray for evangelists and preachers.

4. Communication Problems

(John 16:25-33)

  • Which TV commercial appeals most to you?
  • List some of the advances that have been made in communication technology in your lifetime.
  • Many comedies get laughs from misunderstandings that occur between people who say something and those who misunderstand what is being said. Has this happened to you? Tell us about it.
  • How effective is communication within your congregation? How could it be improved?

A tall, grey-haired man opens the glass office door and addresses a question to the switchboard operator-cum-receptionist.

‘Have you got through to Barry yet?’

‘No,’ she replies with some disgust. ‘The telecommunications in some of these developing countries must be in an awful mess.’

‘That’s a week we’ve been trying.’

‘I know. I keep trying, but I can’t get through. One time we did get connected but the line was so bad we had to give up. We still have to depend on the local police officer there to relay messages to us.’

‘That’s not satisfactory! Are things likely to improve?’

‘The international telephone operator told me that things should be a lot better when the current upgrading program is completed. I asked when that was likely to be and he said, “Any day now”. When it’s done, we should be able to get through properly. Then we won’t have to rely on the local policeman sending us our orders.’

Communication is never easy. This might be because of technological difficulties, but it might also be caused by language difficulties, cultural or attitudinal differences. We all have experienced embarrassment or even pain at being misunderstood. But communication problems are not limited to those that occur between people. God has a communication problem: how to get through to somebody who is thinking about something entirely different. It seems that’s a problem God has to face just as human beings do. Jesus was up against preconceived ideas about what was meant by messiah, kingdom of God, etc. He had a communication problem that the gospel writers bring out quite clearly. It was his resurrection and their subsequent empowerment by the Holy Spirit, which gave the disciples the insight to understand who he really was and what he was really on about.

During his lifetime the disciples brought their requests to Jesus knowing that he could bring them in prayer to his heavenly Father, but he paved the way for a time when his followers would have direct access to the Father. When, in their self-confidence, they think that they have got it, he tells them that they will lose it, but not to worry they will not lose his presence and support.

Jeremiah 6:10                                   Luke 8:11-15                              John 1:1,10-13

  • What prevents us from hearing what God has to say to us?
  • The disciples asked questions of Jesus. If he stood physically in your midst right now what would you ask him?
  • Why, do you think, Jesus spoke in parables and metaphors? Is this the way for his followers to communicate his message today?
  • If ‘the medium is the message’, how should we attempt to communicate to Aboriginal people in Australia the gospel message?
  • Pray for Christian communicators – preachers, teachers, broadcasters, writers, film producers, etc.

5. The Enduring Power of Attorney

(John 20: 19-23)

  • What is the most interesting piece of news you have heard today?
  • Have you ever been asked to act on behalf of another as an agent or representative? What is required of a person called upon to act in such a way?
  • In two minutes write down as many commonly used phrases containing the word “mission” as you can.
  • Sporting teams adopt names like Magpies, Broncos, Firebirds, Wallabies, etc. Choose a name that would describe your group or its intentions.

Two men are seated on one side of the lawyer’s desk while the solicitor types away on a keyboard. The title at the top of the computer screen reads Enduring Power of Attorney. When the solicitor is satisfied that he has made all the appropriate additions or alterations to the form document he presses a button and sits back.

‘In just a minute Alicia will bring the document in.’ he says. ‘Read it through and then you can sign it.’

You don’t have to be told that Thomas and Timothy are brothers. The family likeness is unmistakable. Tim is taller and has more hair than Tom. There might be one or two grey hairs in his fine head of hair whereas his older brother displays a distinct bald patch surrounded by hair that has turned decidedly grey. Both are well dressed in dark suits suggesting that they have interrupted busy business or professional schedules to keep this appointment with their solicitor.

Their eyes turn toward the doorway as the neat, slim, young woman walks briskly into the room and places three copies of a document on Geoff’s desk.

After handing each of them a copy to read and giving them time to peruse the document, the solicitor says to Tom, ‘You understand what you are doing of course? You are empowering your brother here to act on your behalf, and that includes acting in all matters relating to your parents’ estate. You are the executor. This does not alter that, but it does give Timothy the power to act on your behalf. He can buy and sell, invest or withdraw investments, and make any other decisions which are your responsibility to make.’

Tom nods.

‘As I explained, I have to go overseas next week.’ He said, ‘Millions of dollars depend on this trip. I can’t delay it. Tim is prepared to take over these duties while I am away. We’ll be in phone and e-mail contact as much as we can, but I need someone here to sign documents on my behalf. For some of the time I’ll be away up in the jungle where it may not be possible to contact me, and I may need someone here to make quick decisions on my behalf. I can trust Tim to act on my behalf.’

‘If you’re both satisfied with what is in front of you, please sign.’ He indicated with his forefinger exactly where each one was to sign.

They do so, and Geoff, the solicitor, invites them to have coffee, but, pleading pressure of business they both ask to be excused, rise, shake hands, and make their way out through the reception area where the say goodbye to Alicia and hurry out from the office suite into the corridor.

Jesus entrusted to his disciples the responsibility of acting as his representatives or agents: ‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ This Power of Attorney is given to the community of faith, the Christian Church, and all members have a share in it. But he not only commissioned the faithful, he empowered them. The authority that he had, the authority of God’s Holy Spirit at work in his life, he handed on to them. And he continues to hand on this spiritual authority today so that those who, in any given situation, can be recognized as representing the Church, the Body of Christ, can even act on his behalf announcing God’s forgiveness of sins, or if, because of hardness of heart, declaring that a person still needs to come to that repentance which opens them up to the forgiveness that God is ready and waiting to give.

That’s a tremendous responsibility that Christ lays upon his Church, a responsibility that has not always been exercised properly. However that is what he calls his Church to – to faithfully represent him. When we fail, he calls us to acknowledge our failure, but he does not remove from us the responsibility of acting on his behalf in continuing his mission in the world.

Matthew 10:40-42                             Matthew 28:16-20                        2 Corinthians 5:18-21

  • Which of the following best describes your understanding of the church: (a) one of the organizations in our society, (b) the visible body of the unseen Christ, (c) agents of God’s kingdom, (d) partners with Christ in his on-going ministry, (e) a religious club? Or is it none of the above?
  • What would it mean for you personally to see yourself as one of Christ’s representatives in the world?
  • One only has the right to act on behalf of Christ if one does so in the Spirit of Christ. Give examples of occasions when the Church or its members claimed to act in the name of Christ but did so without the Spirit of Christ.
  • As God sent the Son into the world, so Christ sends his Church into the world. What does it mean for you to be one of those whom he sends into the world?

6. The Metal Detector

(John 20:30-31; 21: 24-25)

  • If you were to write a report for your church council on the most recent meeting of your group, what would you put in and what would you leave out?
  • If that report were to be written for an absent member of the group, how would it differ from the one for the church council?
  • What is your main source for news: newspapers, magazines, radio, television, internet or word of mouth?
  • What is you preferred version of the Bible; e.g.: Authorised, New Revised Standard, New International, Jerusalem, Good News, etc?

The beach is almost deserted. Who’d want to be sandblasted on this wind-swept beach anyway? There are two or three hardy souls battling the waves near the shore and further out I can see a wet suited surfboard rider doing his thing along the outer line of breakers. The sun, although clear of the horizon, is screened by an overcast sky. Its rays are so weak by the time they reach the dunes they have lost most of their warming ability. But one man, wearing a floppy, blue hat and a heavy pullover above swimming trunks but with his feet bare is systematically working his way along through the dry sand above the high-water line of debris. He is combing the beach with a metal detector, pausing every now and again to stoop over and pick up some object or other that he tosses into a calico bag slung over his shoulder.

On asking him what he is looking for he mumbles something like, “Anything I can find.” I ask him to be more specific and he tells me he is mainly interested in coins. Without looking up or pausing in his task he tells me that people who come to the beach often lose money. It falls out of their pockets as they sit on the beach or carry their clothes or beach-bags up from where they have been sitting. He finds sunglasses, badges, pens, and jewelry, even watches. He tells me that he once found a full set of upper dentures.

He is intent on doing his task. Doesn’t want to be distracted. So I let him move on. But he leaves behind scraps of paper, a plastic bag, a crushed paper cup, and some cigarette butts. Shouting out to him I point out the rubbish he has left behind, but he’s not interested. He tells me to mind my own business – or words to that effect. Then to counterbalance his rudeness explains that the council will have their beach sweeper along soon. They’ll look after that sort of stuff, he says. I think he wants to cover this stretch of beach before they arrive with their mechanical sweeper.

What you find depends upon what you are looking for. If you scan a beach for metal objects, you won’t find plastic or paper. If you look for misery you won’t find happiness. We all have our metal detectors which pick up certain experiences allowing us to pocket them so that while we keep some we leave others. Any reporter knows the importance of selectivity – some things are to be mentioned, others necessarily have to be left out.

Those who wrote the gospels also had to be selective as to what they put in and what they left out, but they had the metal detector of faith, faith in Jesus as the Messiah, the life-giving Son of God. This gave their writings a particular slant. They had a purpose and it was that purpose which guided their reporting. It was that those who read their writing might have eternal life through believing in Jesus the Christ. Others might try writing biographies or historical novels, research papers or doctoral theses, but John and his fellow gospel writers selected their material with a clear evangelistic purpose in mind.

Luke 1:1-4                              2 Peter 1:16-21                                    Galatians 1:1-9

  • John tells us why he wrote his gospel. From your reading of Galatians 1:1-9 make your suggestions as to why Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians.
  • Share stories, if you can, of people coming to faith in Jesus Christ through their reading of the Bible.
  • Why is the Bible so important for the life of the Church?
  • Most of us are selective in our reading of the Bible. We concentrate on some parts while we neglect others. What parts of the Bible do you refer to often and what parts do you neglect?
  • Pray for all who study, translate, distribute, preach from or read the Scriptures. Pray for yourself and your own reading of the Bible.