1. Facing our Fears
(John 6: 16-21)
- If your group was marooned on an isolated par
A t of the coast, what role could each person play?
- How do you react when you are afraid?
- Can fear serve good purposes?
- Share experiences of calm and comfort when you have felt confused and upset.
He had been told, both at home and at school, to keep a watch out for a man in a blue Holden ute. To run away if he saw anyone answering the description of the person that the police wanted to interview over an attack that had taken place in the suburb during the previous week. It was widely known that the man with short blonde hair and tattoos on his forearms had enticed a boy from a neighbouring school to get into his vehicle.; had taken him to bushland down by the river and had badly beaten him for refusing his sexual advances. That boy had only been saved by the arrival of council workers cleaning up groundsel growth along the riverbank.
Justin’s face is drained of colour and his heart races as a blue car pulls up beside him while he is walking along the footpath. The man behind the wheel leans across to ask for directions to Wandsworthy Street. For a second he hesitates, he is about to tell the man that this is Wandsworthy Street when he remembers what he has been told and sets off as fast as his young legs will carry him. The vehicle follows him up the street. He is driven by sheer panic. He drops his school backpack as he pushes open the wire gate carrying the Safety House sign and runs up to the front porch.
The man has stopped his vehicle and is looking intently at the houses up and down the street. He seems to be peering in Justin’s direction. After punching hard on the doorbell the boy turns and backs up against the stained front door.
When the door opens a firm arm comes down around his shoulders. He throws himself at the woman as if her skirt could swallow him up and protect him from all harm. He bursts into tears, but they are tears of relief as he sees the stranger getting back into his car and driving slowly away. No one has to tell him that these are friendly arms that surround him now. This is a protective touch. This is a safe place, and he won’t have to go home until his mother is phoned and she comes from work to pick him up.
When one reads stories like the one about Jesus walking on the water one may wonder why the writer thought it important enough to include in his collection? There must have been many incidents to pick from. Why this one? It wasn’t simply to prove that Jesus had supernatural powers. It was probably written to a church that, through misunderstanding and suspicion, felt the weight of opposition and persecution. So was written as an encouragement to those Christians, that they might be reassured about the presence of Christ in their midst. Across the turbulence, into their fears, the risen Christ would come to allay fear and bring them through to their destination – that was the implication.
That’s the sort of reassurance people need in their times of fear and anxiety, the Personal Power of Christ coming on board. This is an important window for those caught up in the terrors of life, especially for those experiencing threat and pain because of their Christian discipleship. The sense of Christ’s presence speaks calm to our fears.
Mark 6:47-52 Psalm 27:1-4 John 14: 27
- How would you have felt if you had been on board the boat that night (John 6:16-21)?
- If you were to tell the story in John 6: 16-21 to a five year old, what would you emphasize?
- Talk about times when your fears have been calmed through knowing the powerful love of God.
- Where is your ‘Safety House’ when you feel threatened and afraid?
- Pray for members of the group who have fears.
2. Facing the Hurts
- Give a brief description of yourself as your best friend might give it and then a brief description of your self as your worst enemy might give.
- People sometimes talk about the experience of doors closing and other doors opening up to them. If you have had an experience like that, how about sharing it with the group?
- Talk about opportunities seized : bargains bought, people met, friendships renewed, words spoken, etc..
- Are you recruiting new members for your group? If not, why not?
As they walk through the gateway Larry lets out a deep sigh. ‘I feel like all the coal I’ve ever mined has been dropped on my head,’ he said.
With that he dropped his lunchbox on the ground and hastily had to stoop to pick it up.
‘What you goin’ to do, mate?’ The older man asked as they resumed their walk toward the car park.
‘I dunno. I’ve still got a house to pay off. A wife and three kids to feed. I can’t do anything else. The mine is all I know.’
‘Right now, I’m goin’ to soak myself in booze,’ said the other miner who also was walking away with them from the gates over which was displayed the name of the company that after several years of poor profitability had finally issued redundancy notices to its workforce and announced that it was closing operations from the last shift today. ‘Maybe when I wake I’ll find out it was a dream…. a bloody nightmare.’
‘Just have to go on the dole, I s’pose,’ Larry said. ‘Don’t want to. Don’t seem much else for it.’
A glance at the faces of the other men coming out through that gateway shows disappointment, anger, defeat. Some make a brave attempt at a joke. Others separate themselves off from the crowd and read through their dismissal notices again. There is an air of defeat and pessimism everywhere.
Almost everywhere. Alan, Larry’s older mate, confides in his young friend that he sees this as the opportunity he has been waiting for. He is going to go into business. He has been making distinctive pieces of ‘antique’ furniture as a hobby for years and he has a buyer who will take everything he can make. Being a miner all his working life and the son of a miner it had been hard to wrench himself away from the mine, but deep down he had, for years, been dreaming of breaking away from it all and turning his hobby into a business. Now he has the chance.
Different people can view the same event differently. For most the closure of the mine is a tragedy. But for one man it is the opening of new doors. It frees him to follow his dream. Many may see terminal illness as a terrible tragedy. Common reactions are anger, depression, numbness, fatalistic acceptance, but there are others who can look upon it as God’s opportunity. They go forward in faith, confident that God will not let them down.
But there are others who can go even further. They love God so much that they are happy provided they can see God being honoured and praised by other people. Confronted with tragedy, some will want to curse God and deny God any place in their lives, but others will want to praise God and feel happy if through the painful situation they are going through God is praised by other people as well.
Jesus heard about the terminal illness of his friend, but while others spoke about it with hoarse whispers and hollow voices he saw it as something through which greater honour and praise would be given to God. This was God’s opportunity, and he was confident God would seize that opportunity. And, after all, Jesus lived for the glory of God.
Psalm 29:1-2 Revelation 7:11-12 1 Corinthians 10:23-31
- The old catechism says that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. How much does this feature in your life’s objectives?
- What difference does it make to see events in one’s life as opportunities for God to do his work?
- Talk about difficult experiences that turned out to be opportunities for God.
- There is an old saying about man’s extremity being God’s opportunity. What does that mean? Give examples.
- Praise God for every difficult situation that has been transformed into God’s opportunity. Seek to glorify God in your prayer.
3. Without the Dark there is No Appreciation of the Light
- Tell us about a particularly happy or joyous time in your life.
- Tell us about those who helped you through a time of grief or loss.
- Have you found it difficult to give up something, but eventually found that it was worthwhile doing so? What was it?
- There is a saying, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Illustrate this from you own experience, if you can.
The window opens onto a garden. A wilting, tired and sun-drenched garden, if it can still properly be called a garden. Even the silky oaks look weary and dried up. The smaller plants look very sick. Many have died, leaving just a hard, brown stalk behind. The garden beds where annuals are usually planted are empty. Dug over, mulched, ready for planting when the drought breaks. Where grass remains it is like chaff littering the surface of the bare soil.
And the beautiful autumn weather continues. Day after day the sun shines out of a cloudless, or almost cloudless sky. The weather is most pleasant. Not too hot. Not too cold. It’s the sort of sky tourist posters advertise. Every day is bright and sunny, wearing a perpetual smile. But months without rain have forced the council to impose a complete ban on the watering of gardens. Even hand-held hoses are forbidden now. The talk is not about the wonderful, sunny days: it is about rain. When will it ever rain? Oh, to see the dark clouds roll up, to hear the thunder roll, to hear the hammering of heavy rain on the colorbond roof again!
Bright, sunny days without too much heat might be ideal for picnics, barbeques, camping, outdoor activities. They call forth a bright and happy disposition. Human nature, in harmony with all the rest of nature, feels like singing. But if the sun is never hidden by dark clouds, if the fair weather is not interrupted by foul, if the dry, gentle breezes never give way to the howl of storm winds, if the blue sky is never curtained off by grey clouds, the sunny days bring pain and hardship, not joy and contentment. It is only the bleak, grey, miserable days which make us appreciate the bright, sunny weather when it comes. It’s the storms that make the countryside green and lush under the bright and kindly sun.
The disciples wanted to live in the light of Jesus. They wanted to bask in his glory. They wanted him to stay with them. But he told them that it was necessary for him to go. The pain they would experience he likened to the pain felt by a woman in childbirth – real and considerable at the time, but when she holds the newborn baby in her arms, forgotten.
Without his death there could be no resurrection. The disciples had to experience parting if they were to experience his presence in a more enduring and profound way. Much as they might have wanted to, it would not have been to their advantage to live under the bright, sunny skies of his physical presence uninterruptedly. Only with the clouds and the storms, the sleet and the wind, would they really be able to appreciate the brightness of his presence.
While the teacher is there, the student tends to rely on the teacher for information and know-how. While the expert is present, other members of the group will hold back and let the expert take charge. While Jesus was with them the disciples let him do the praying; only after his death would they discover prayer for themselves. While he was there, it was enough for him to teach and guide them; after his death they would have to live by the spirit of his teaching, the Spirit of his very personality.
The principle applies to all of life. Without shadow there can be no picture. Without silence there can be no music. Without rain there can be no enjoyment of the sunlight. Without discipline there can be no learning. Without absence there can be no true appreciation of the loved-one’s presence. Without removal of the crutches there will be no learning to walk.
Psalm 22:1-5 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 Mark 13:12-13
- What answer do you give to the person who asks, ‘Why do good people suffer?’
- Has your faith been strengthened by suffering, hardship or difficulty? Share with the group.
- What message does the death and resurrection of Jesus bring to people who are suffering grief?
- Before his death, Jesus spoke of the joy his disciples would experience. Have you experienced joy through Christ? How would you describe it?
- Pray for people who are grieving any sort of loss. Pray for them by name and with empathy.
4. Tantalisingly Close
(John 18: 1-11)
- Tell us about either your grandparents or your grandchildren.
- You might like to have a talk about insurance; the need for it, occasions when you made a claim, the cost of it.
- What has been your greatest disappointment in life?
- Run a check on your group. Give yourselves a rating out of ten on the following: punctuality, friendliness, openness, participation, mutual respect, attendance, contact with absent members, outreach. For the items with the lowest scores determine on what you will do to improve your group in that area.
The shutters fly open to reveal a beach scene. Two boys, brothers I’d say, are building sandcastles. I don’t know for sure but I think they would be about eight and ten years old. There is a friendly rivalry between them, and they put great effort into their activity. But just as the mounds start to take shape as castles with turrets and ramparts three teenage lads come running along the beach heedlessly trampling on the structures as they race each other to some distant objective. Both boys express their anger and outrage at what has happened, but one sets to immediately and starts to repair the damage, the other, still smarting from the injustice of it all, slowly smoothes his mound out and reluctantly starts again.
However just as they again reach a stage when they can sit back and admire their achievements with pride two playful dogs intrude on the area where they are working. Swirling and growling in the area between the sandcastles they trample the beach in such a way as to damage them both. The boys drive the dogs off, but are annoyed at having to again repair the damage to their creations.
When eventually they both finish their sculpturing and run off to ask their grandparents sitting at a picnic table up on the esplanade to come take photos of their work, two older boys who had been poking fun at them throughout their construction activity deliberately jump onto the castles reducing them to ruins.
I am reminded that whenever people think they have just about arrived at a perfect state of security, contentment and happiness, something goes wrong. Someone kicks the turrets off the sandcastle. Some then give up trying, but many persist, sure that they must create the perfect situation soon. However it never comes. They come tantalizing close, but they never reach and remain in that steady state of happiness and contentment.
On a beautiful moonlit night, Jesus and his friends went across the Kidron Gully to a pleasant, walled garden of which they were given the use. It had been a place of pleasant relaxation and intimacy for them on other occasions, an idyllic setting for rest and recuperation. It should have been a secure place with Jesus surrounded by friends, but if the castle of happiness and contentment looked as though it might be reaching the final stages of construction it was smashed to pieces by one who was supposed to be a friend. Jesus was betrayed.
Every human situation of security, contentment and happiness, sooner or later, gets trampled under foot. There seems to be a spirit of betrayal abroad. What we experience for a while never lasts. Something always comes in to shatter the peace and happiness. But Jesus insisted on drinking the cup of bitterness that God was handing to him, and somehow we sense that through his utter obedience in this he was opening the way to a form of existence where security, contentment and joy are beyond betrayal or attack.
Job 1:6-12 Psalm 6:1-5 James 4:13-17
- Is this too gloomy a picture of life, to say that every human situation of security, contentment and happiness, sooner or later, gets trampled under foot?
- If perfect and continuing peace and contentment are bound to elude us in this life, why do we keep trying to reach the impossible goal?
- Jesus clearly was let down by Judas, but he was also let down by Simon Peter. Peter showed that he still had not learnt the core message of Jesus, that God’s way is the way of love and not of force. How do Christians today let Jesus down?
- Share with each other how you have come through times of insecurity and disappointment?
- Pray for people who are feeling disappointment or insecurity now, that this potentially destructive experience may be used by God to do a constructive work in and through them.
5. A Cry of Satisfaction
(John 19: 28 – 30)
- Bring along a short poem, verse, saying or quote to share with the group.
- Do some research and find out the reported last words of various famous people, like Julius Caesar, Lord Nelson, Ned Kelly.
- What sort of person are you: one who likes to see a job done, successfully finished and then move on to something else; or a person who is content to make your contribution to a larger task knowing that you personally may never see its completion?
- What has brought the greatest satisfaction to you in your life?
She flexes her stiff fingers, puts down the material and lets out a long, deep sigh. A smile slowly emerges on her lips and the tired eyes glow with satisfaction as she rises to hobble over to the doorway. She looks to see if the door to Eva’s unit is open and, observing that it is, turns to retrieve her completed work. Through the screen door she can see the figure of her neighbour moving around, so even as she traverses the few metres of lawn she calls out, ‘Eva! You there?’
Her friend and neighbour who lives in unit 146 responds to her call and comes to the doorway.
‘I’ve finished it!’ she announces with obvious sense of accomplishment, and she holds it out for her friend to examine.
Eva has seen this piece of embroidery many times during the course of its creation. She has watched the design develop. She has seen it in sections, each held tightly within a frame. She has admired the dexterity of her friend’s fingers, the patience that carried her through the months since she started the work, the unpicking and reworking, the slow realization of a dream. Now she joins in the sense of achievement that her neighbour in the retirement village obviously feels.
They hurry inside and spread the completed work out on Eva’s table. Eva switches the light on although the afternoon’s sunrays still shine outside with considerable intensity, but this enables her to examine the finished work more closely. At length, Eva puts her arm around her friend’s shoulders and gives them a squeeze.
‘It’s beautiful!’ she says. ‘It was a mammoth task. You have every reason to feel proud and satisfied.’
‘There were times when I thought I’d never finish it. I wondered which was going to give up first, my eyes or my knuckles, but I was able to keep going. And now it’s done.’
‘Have you phoned your daughter yet?’
‘No, not yet. I’ll do that right away. She’ll be glad to know it’s finally finished.’
There is great satisfaction in knowing that a difficult task has been accomplished. All that effort has paid off. The goal has been reached. The commission has been fulfilled.
Jesus felt that – a sense of satisfaction in having completed the task, a painful and difficult task. The commission was completed. The new way of life had been lived and is now available for all. The challenge he had taken up at his baptism had been met and human life was never to be the same again.
His faithfulness opened the door to God for other people. His faithfulness brought God to the rescue of humanity. His faithfulness becomes a model for all who place their faith in him. Faithful to the end – that is our calling. Seeing it through. Hearing, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!’ Weathering the storms and arriving home at last.
1 Samuel 18:30 Luke 9:62 2 Timothy 4:6-8
- Discuss Matthew 25:14-30
- Have you experienced a sense of satisfaction on the successful completion of a painful or difficult task? Tell us about it.
- According to John’s Gospel, the last words of Jesus were, “It is finished.” What was finished?
- Try saying those three words, “It is finished”, in defeat and then try saying them in victory.
- Pray for people who are dying or terminally ill and for their carers.
6. I Feel Much Better Now
(John 21:1 – 14)
- Which of the following would you not like to be without: teeth, television, telephone, transport, theatre, or your teddy bear?
- Who among you like fishing? Got any good fishing stories to tell us?
- Tell us one thing you have learnt through your membership of this group.
- How do small groups like this contribute to the overall life and work of the congregation? young woman sits behind a steering wheel, her face dimly illuminated by the soft light coming from the dashboard. Raindrops on the exterior of the windscreen and frosting on the inside make it hard to see into the surrounding darkness. She has pulled over to the side of the bitumen roadway with the car’s parking lights still on.
This is a lonely stretch of road, but I can see by the mobile phone she still clutches in her left hand that she is not completely isolated. She is not currently talking into the phone, but she looks tense. And the anxiety in her eyes increases as she turns her head to look at headlights approaching from behind. She appears to be making ready to use the phone again, but pauses as the car pulls up on the verge behind her and a tall, athletic-looking young man with a torch in his hand jumps out and jogs to her door. Even then she hesitates before lowering the glass and exclaiming with obvious relief, ‘Darling, am I glad to see you!’
‘You said you were being hassled by a gang of hoodlums,’ he says.
‘The damn car stalled right in the middle of the road, and as I was trying to push it off to the side a carload of youths arrived. While they pushed it off the bitumen for me they then wanted me to go with them in their car.’
‘Did they touch you? Are you alright?’
‘I’m all right now. They grabbed me and tried to force me into their car, but I broke free and locked myself in.’
‘Just as well you did.’
‘I was scared. Really scared. They rocked the car and tapped the windows. Exposed themselves and made suggestive signs at me. They ran off while I was phoning you because headlights were coming from the other direction. They drove off, but I was scared they’d come back before you could get here.’
She scrambles out of the car into her husband’s arms. He waits for her sobs to subside before opening the bonnet and peering, with the aid of his torch, into the compartment beneath. Even as he bends over, trying this and that, she strokes his back with relief.
‘You’ve no idea what a difference it makes having you here,’ she says.
After a while he says, ‘I think I know what the problem is. It’s the fuel filter. I’ll have to take it off and clean it. Do you want me to take you home? I’ll come back then and get it going.’
‘No, don’t leave me on my own – not even at home, ‘ she says. ‘I want to stay with you.’
‘It’ll take a few minutes.’
‘I don’t care how long I stay so long as you’re here.’
‘I’ll have to get my tools out of the car. It would be helpful if you held the torch. We’ll get this done together.’
‘With hoods like that around I wouldn’t want it left here by the side of the road unattended. Goodness knows what it would look like when we got back.’
The presence of someone who loved her, who was strong and unafraid and who knew how to fix cars, made all the difference. She didn’t mind staying on provided he was there.
And it is like this with Christians. The presence of the living Christ makes the difference. On their own they can feel frightened, overwhelmed, threatened, vulnerable, but with the presence, in Spirit, of one who loves them, who instils confidence in them, who knows the way things really work, they can feel very different as the disciples did when the risen Christ joined them in their fishing activity.8:20
Deuteronomy 31:7-8 Psalm 23:4 Matthew 28:20
- What words describe the feelings of the disciples (a) before they see Jesus on the beach, (b) when they first recognize him, (c) when they sit around the fire eating breakfast?
- What significance do you see in the actions of Jesus written about in John 21:13?
- Share with the group any experience you have had of Christ’s presence bringing calm and peace to a troubled heart.
- How important for the Christian faith is it to have a story like this preserved for people of later generations to read?
- Pray for people who are feeling frightened or anxious.