1. The Day Derision Died

(John 1: 43-51)

  • Where did you go for your last holiday?
  • Apart from where you live now, where would you most like to live?
  • Share stories about ugly ducklings that turned into swans.
  • Draw up a list of the disciples of Jesus. (Reference: Mark 3: 16-19; Luke 6: 13-16)

Here’s a group gathered around a yellowed, creased photograph. Some hold half-filled glasses in their hands. One woman wears, at a rakish angle, an old school hat complete with band and badge. Two of the men awkwardly sport ties bearing the school crest. Beside them on a small table are assorted chips, dips and nuts.

Showing differing degrees of excitement, people point to faces in the black and white photograph. ‘There’s Bob Duthie. Whatever became of him?’ someone asks. ‘I heard he joined the diplomatic corps,’ said a female voice. ‘He did,’ a man interjects. ‘Last I heard of him he was in Paris.’

‘And there’s Joan What’s-her-name. What was her name? Barrow or something like that.’ ‘That’s it,’ someone agrees. ‘We used to call her pram. Remember? We said she was too prim and proper to be a barrow. She’s Nursing Superintendent in a Montreal hospital now.’

‘Look, there’s that dumb little kid who never seemed to know what was going on. What’s his name? Krause, wasn’t it?’ ‘Yes,’ someone chimes in. ‘We used to call him Krause the Mouse.’ They all laugh.

‘That’s not Compton Krause, the author?’ someone asks in a spirit of genuine enquiry only to be met with chuckles of derision and a suggestion that she shouldn’t be so silly.

‘Yes, that’s H. Compton Krause,’ the tall blonde woman assures them. ‘I did a piece on him when he was awarded that prize.’ ‘We do love your program, Helen, but we’re too busy to be sitting in front of the TV every night.’

They express surprise that the little misfit who in the old school photo could only be seen with one eye and one ear protruding from behind Jason Jorgensen, the professional golfer, could have outdistanced them all in the prestige and accomplishment stakes. Some say that they have read his imaginative fiction with delight. Others vow that they will read them.

‘Do you think we could get a set of autographed copies for the school library?’ someone asks. Everyone agrees that’s a good suggestion. Suddenly they are all proud and delighted to have been in the same school class as H. Compton Krause.

‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ But it certainly has. In every field of human endeavour there have been outstanding and seminal individuals, but out of Nazareth there came one who opened up a new life for all people.

Of all the millions who have ever lived, the spotlight falls on this one particular person. He came from an obscure, despised town in a small, occupied country out on the fringes of the Roman Empire. Even his own community said that he had not been through the proper processes of accreditation as a scholar or teacher, yet he drew students around him in his lifetime and continues to do so today.

His people had a folk story about an ancestor who, when far away from home and family, had a vision of angels ascending and descending a stairway that linked heaven with earth. The barren, god-forsaken place in which he lay down to sleep became, for him, the gateway to God’s presence. Jesus was like that gateway. Many, at the time, saw him, if they took notice at all, as a nobody, no one of significance, but he is deemed by New Testament faith to be the most important person to have ever lived because he was humanity’s gateway to the unseen reality of God.

1 Corinthians 1:26-30                            Isaiah 53:3                                 1 Peter 2:7

  • What do the above passages say about chasing after social standing, privilege and position?
  • What answer was given to Nathaniel’s question, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ (John 1:46). Does this give a guide in speaking to people who have given up on the church?
  • What’s so special about Jesus?
  • Pray for people you know that have been turned off from the church.

2. The Background

(John 6: 1 – 15)

  • Here is a little activity. You need a photograph and a number of picture frames cut out of coloured paper. As you view the photo in different frames discuss the difference a frame makes.
  • Have you had difficulty recognizing someone when you saw that person in a setting different from the one in which you usually see him or her?
  • An Old Testament quiz. Draw up ten questions based on the Old Testament and put them to the group. Example: Who came earlier in the history of Israel: Moses or David ?
  • Discuss the part that meals play in building relationships.

‘Seems a mighty lot o’ trouble to go to just to get the right background,’ the tall, straw-hatted youth comments to his city cousin as they watch a spotlessly clean four-wheel drive vehicle inch its way over an embankment and plunge down into a boulder-strewn, dry creek-bed.

‘The background is everything,’ the young advertising executive explains as they watch the camera crews at work.

‘But yer not sellin’ the farm,yer sellin’ cars,’ protests the country lad.

‘That’s where you’re wrong, Joe. We’re selling adventure. We’re selling dreams. We’re selling the great outdoors. And that’s why we need to shoot our commercial on your property. It has the right ambience. The right feel. It suggests wild and rugged. It suggests, get away from it all. Be free and enjoy life. We need your sandblow. We need your dunes. We need your rocky outcrops and your stony creek crossings. And above all we need those mountains and trees.’

‘That’s why yer put up a tent down by the creek but nobody stays in it, and that’s why yer had that fella fly fishin’ where no trout’s ever been seen nor ever likely to be. Just to get the background right?’

 ‘Yes, that’s right. It’s the vehicle that the cameras focus on. Especially the name. We want people to remember the name of the vehicle. But all of the other stuff is important. It puts the vehicle in the right context. It makes a difference to the way people see the product.’

 Background is important for the way we see things, and it is important to this passage (John 6:1-15) as indeed it is for all of the gospels. We are told right at the beginning that this remarkable picnic took place on the eve of the Jewish festival of Passover so this gives us the background against which we are to see the events unfolding.

The Passover continues to this day to be a very significant ritual observance among Jewish people, reminding them of the Exodus from Egypt.

This suggests that the background against which the feeding of the five thousand takes place is the Exodus. God provided food for the Israelites when they thought they were going to die of starvation: God, through Jesus Christ, provides food for eternal life. God turned what was inadequate into an abundant sufficiency.

The whole story of Jesus is presented against his Jewish background. It is not for nothing that the Hebrew Scriptures continue to be included in the Christian Bible. They give the background against which to see Jesus. As the gospel is taken to people all around the world Christ becomes part of local culture and is written into the story of those people, but his original and determinative setting is that provided by the Scriptures of the Old Testament.

Exodus 12: 1 – 14                              Exodus 12: 21 – 28                     Luke 9: 10 – 17

  • Why is the Old Testament still important to Christians?
  • How helpful do you find it to view the story of the Feeding of the Five Thousand against the background of Exodus 12?
  • Do you have any personal experience to recount about when God turned something that was hopelessly inadequate into something that was quite sufficient?
  • As in the celebration of the Jewish Passover, children learn through ritual. Give examples of rituals that help children today learn about God.
  • Pray for people of the Jewish faith. Hold them in love before God.

3. Life’s Great Puzzle

(John 7:10 – 36)

  • Do you like doing puzzles. What sort: crosswords, jigsaws, maths, quizzes, other? .
  • Have you come across something in recent days that puzzled you? Discuss.
  • Try a biblical treasure hunt. One person asks the rest to explain the passage or to give chapter and verse. Search for: pearl, gold, silver, jewels, jasper, treasure, money, and wealth.
  • If you can get hold of the score for the Superstar song sung by Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar with the repeated line, ‘Who are you? What have you sacrificed?’ read it or play a recording if you have one. Lyrics are to be found at http://www.elte.hu/~pici/webber/jesusch.htm

Through the window I see a grey-haired, slender woman with her back toward us. She is bending over a table with the morning sunlight coming through a window, lighting up hundreds of tiny pieces scattered out on the tabletop in front of her. She pushes aside a chair so that she can more easily reach over to her right and take up a piece of the jigsaw and try it in a space left vacant by the sky and treetops around it.

A middle-aged woman I take to be her daughter bowls up to the table and says as she points to a piece on the left hand side of the table and then at a spot on the embryo picture, ‘That piece goes there.’

‘No, no,’ the older woman responds pushing the would-be helper aside. ‘I’ve tried that. It won’t fit.’

‘Are you sure? Let me have a go.’

She tries the piece. It wont fit.

‘I don’t have the patience,’ the daughter acknowledges.

‘It’ll come,’ the mother says. ‘Just give me time. Puzzles weren’t meant to be easy.’

 Life is full of puzzles. Some would say that life itself is a puzzle. Jesus was a puzzle to the people of his day. Some said that he was a good man, but others called him a deceiver. How did he come by such learning? Is not this the one that the authorities have vowed to kill? Do the authorities really know who he is but are keeping it quiet? What is he talking about? What does he mean? Where is he going? People were full of questions.

They will always be full of questions when it comes to Jesus. ‘Who are you? What have you sacrificed?’ sings Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar. He will not be captured by a definition. What we do sense as we live with this puzzling personality is that he himself is the solution to life’s great puzzle. Somehow he puts it all together. ‘He is the image of the invisible God….. in him all things in heaven and on earth were created…… in him all things hold together’ (Colossians 1:15-20). He shows us the way that God puts the pieces together.

1 Corinthians 2:6-10                         2 Corinthians 4:3-6                        Revelation 5:1-5

  • Count the number of questions actually asked or implied about Jesus in John 7:10-36.
  • Every person is a puzzle. Do you agree? In what way?
  • What puzzles you most about Jesus?
  • How is Jesus the key to unlocking life’s great puzzles?
  • Pray for people who are confused, mentally or spiritually.

4. Dividing the People

(John 10:19-21)

  • Read any good books lately? What were they?
  • What are the most divisive issues in our community at the present time?
  • Who are some of the most controversial personalities given prominence in the media at present?
  • Discuss the kind of person that you like to be with and, by contrast, the kind of person that you try to avoid.

The motor launch is cutting its way through the waters of the bay making its own waves as it pierces the afternoon swell. In doing so it divides one area of water from the other. Some slips around to port while some slides by to starboard. And the division caused by the thrust of the prow has a ripple effect so that the generated waves move further and further out from the path that the craft has taken.

Wherever Jesus goes he has this effect. He divides people. The announcement of the Gospel to any community causes ripples. Some accept: some reject. His aim might have been to unify all people in God, but the actual effect of his presence is, and always has been, to divide. Some see God in him; others, peer as long as they might, cannot see God in him at all. Some see him as the Saviour of the world, others see him as a stultifying and distorting influence on the human race. They blame the Judaeo-Christian tradition for all of society’s ills. It seems that his movement through the world causes division as the movement of the launch causes a division of the surface water as it makes it way homeward across the bay.

Of course Jesus is not the only person who divides people by his presence. Political figures notably produce this effect. But anyone can do it. Some will be drawn toward this person while others are repulsed. Some will accept the ideas of a new guru, others will remain sceptical. One lot of people will like this artwork while others find it offensive. But it is certainly true of Jesus. It was during his earthly life. It has been ever since.

Luke 12:49-53                          Acts 17:32-34                     1 Corinthians 11:17-19

  • What holds people back from putting their faith in Jesus Christ?
  • Romans 12:18, ‘If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.’ When is it not possible?
  • How do you feel about Jesus being the cause of division rather than the occasion for unity?
  • Have you had personal experience of the division which Jesus causes? Pray for those who are currently experiencing this in their families or among their friends.
  • Pray for people that you know of who are opposed to Christ and to his Gospel.

5. Filing Confusion

(John 10:22-30)

  • Whenever people gather for a meeting of any kind they each bring with them the experiences of their recent and more distant past. What recent experiences do you bring to this gathering today?
  • Are you a neat and tidy person? In evidence what would you show: your bedroom, the kitchen sink, your work desk, your garden, your mind?
  • Play a game of animal, vegetable or mineral. Do you know it? One person is sent outside. The rest decide on something and tell the returning person whether what they are thinking of is animal, vegetable or mineral. That person asks questions that can only be answered yes or no to find out what it is.
  • Give each person three blank cards with pins and ask them to print on each a word which other people might use to describe them. Then give people the opportunity to explain their tags.

It’s very life-like, but it must be a dream. Dreams are like that, aren’t they? They can be very life-like. I see a miniskirted girl with long, honey-blonde hair standing in front of a grey, metal, filing cabinet. The top drawer is open and she is busily putting things into their relevant folders. But this is what makes me sure it is a dream: it’s not sheets of paper that she is filing, its people. This one she files under Friends. Another she put into a folder labelled Bosses. There is some cross-referencing; so that one which is placed in the Workmates file is also placed in the Romantic Interest file. There is a Political file, a Sporting file, a Celebrities file, a Much Admired file, a Criminal file, an I Hate You file. I’m surprised that there should be so many different categories under which she could classify people.

But then she picks up a document-cum-person and stands there for a long time holding it in her hand while she surveys the tags. Obviously she doesn’t know where to file it. She lifts up her head and turns toward the door marked Office Manager and asks in a puzzled voice, ‘What do I do with this one?’ The person behind the opaque glass screen seems to know what file she is referring to and tells her to read it. ‘Read that one carefully. Then make up your mind.’

 The office junior says, ‘But couldn’t you just tell me where to put it.’

 ‘No,’ the senior staffer replies. ‘You look at that one carefully. Make up your own mind. Take note of the words, the actions, the demeanour, the relationships.’

‘But it’d be much quicker if you just told me.’

‘You work it out for yourself.’

 We are constantly classifying people. We don’t know how to relate to them until we have dropped them into their appropriate hanging file. Once we have classified them we can push the drawer shut and leave them there. Maybe after a while we might want to change them from one folder to another, or to make duplicate copies for filing under several different categories. But we like to have all people that come within our sphere of consciousness neatly tagged.

As people become aware of Jesus they have to face up to the question how he should be classified. It has been thus from the beginning. People wanted to know whether he should be dropped into the Messiah folder and be placed somewhere else. Not able to make up their minds they wanted a quick and clear answer to their problem. ‘If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly,’ they say. But the reply they get tells them to examine the words, actions, demeanour, relationships, of this one and make up their own minds.

For some, he remains forever a file on top of the cabinet, undesignated. For others, he is filed as Religious Leader, Ethical Teacher, Wonder Worker, Terrible Judge, Kindly Friend….. the possibilities are endless. But for some he is the unique and persuasive one with whom they have a special feeling of belonging. The classification is not so important as therelationship. It is not so much a matter of deciding how to classify him as realizing that they are re-classified by him. He gives them a new status, a new name, a new way of approaching life.

Matthew 11:1-6                            Acts 4:8-12                  Luke 20:1-8

  • Read John 10:24-26 again. Why did Jesus not give a straight answer to their question?
  • How do we know whether we belong to Christ’s sheep or not?
  • What is your favourite way of speaking about Jesus: Friend, Saviour, Lord, Redeemer, Teacher, Example, Judge, Messiah, Religious Leader, Brother, Wisdom, Revolutionary?
  • Find out what you can about the Jewish Festival of Dedication (Hanukkah).
  • Pray for people who are puzzled about who Jesus is and how they should relate to him.

 6. The Death which Illuminates

(John 12:20-36)

  • What was the most spectacular or memorable fireworks display you have seen?
  • What have you had to give up to gain what you wanted? What did you gain?
  • Much of the news we hear is depressing. In the face of this, where do you find hope?
  • What do you find most enjoyable about your participation in this group?

The 727 makes a forced landing on a dark beach at low tide. The fuselage is torn open and the passengers are jolted violently around, but they had been given the alert to prepare for a crash landing, and no one appears to have been seriously hurt. Guided by crew the passengers make use of emergency chutes to get out as quickly as possible. They are a long way from anywhere and a storm is brewing in the hills. Its almost pitch black except for the occasional flashes of lightening.

On the beach the crew make a quick check of passengers. But there is the problem of finding shelter as the storm gets closer. Suddenly there is a blinding flash and a mighty crack of thunder. Exclamations of fear are made in several languages, and then all eyes turn toward the sloping ground up above the beach where a giant tree bursts into flame. The occasional spots of rain do nothing to retard the fire, but as it flares up into the night sky it throws light onto a large corrugated iron roof.

Shocked, dazed, but relieved to have found emergency shelter in this lonely, isolated place, the people scramble up the hillside, an assortment of Asian, Melanesian, African and European faces illuminated by the burning eucalyptus trunk. An old implement shed on an abandoned property will provide shelter for the night. And they reach it none too soon, for within minutes of scrambling within its embrace the skies open and the roof is pounded by teeming rain and hail.

The crew will be able to go back and radio for help provided they get back before the tide turns. There is great praise and admiration for the crew. The passengers are shaken, but safe. All agree that the tree was a saviour. The death of the tree drew this cosmopolitan crowd to safety and shelter. Its light showed them where to walk. It became a sign of hope.

It sometimes happens that a death becomes the gateway to life. One person’s death may prompt action regarding a dangerous stretch of road, or accelerate research into some disease, or stir people up to generosity, sacrifice or heroism.

In his death, Jesus opened the way for people of all races to be part of God’s kingdom, and as he draws them to himself he brings glory and honour to God. As the tree in its death lit up the hillside and drew people of many races to find hope and security, so Jesus in his death lights up the world and draws people of all races to God.

1 Corinthians 15:35-38                     Mark 8:34-38                         Philippians 2:5-11

  • Why did Jesus have to die?
  • John 12:25 says that those who love their lives lose them while those who hate their lives in this world keep them for eternity. What did Jesus mean by loving life and hating it?
  • Jesus calls his followers to a way of sacrifice. What have you sacrificed for him?
  • What significance might there be in John’s inclusion of this story about some Greeks wanting to see Jesus? Do you think it had something to do with the inclusiveness of the Gospel?
  • Pray that each member of the group may bear much fruit (John 12:24).