Session 1

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, February 17. As this study is six weeks, plan your start date accordingly.

See Appendix B for recommended additional resources on this topic.

Core Preparation Introduction Opening Prayer Group Discussion Take Action Closing Prayer

Core Preparation:

Take at least 10 minutes to sit with the passage from Isaiah 58 to reflect and jot down notes. Read it at least twice - preferably once aloud. Listen to these words that have formed worshiping communities in the Jewish and Christian tradition for more than 2,500 years.

Lent is sometimes a season in which we fast from indulgences as a way to remember our call to sacrifice for the Gospel. It’s sometimes a season when we adopt healthy habits in the name of self-improvement that’s conveniently timed during Lent. But Christians often have vastly different experiences surrounding the practice of fasting. Have you ever practiced fasting? Why or why not? How has fasting strengthened your faith? 

For the Israelites, to whom God’s words come through the prophet Isaiah, fasting was an integral part of their worship. And yet, at least some people in the community were clearly missing the point. In fact, God is uninterested in their worship as long as their lives are not conforming to the standards God has set for the community. On a piece of paper, list all of the verb phrases in vv. 6-9a, beginning with “loose the bonds of injustice.” 

Consider the ways in which your faith practices reflect God’s calling to this kind of worship. 

Jot down notes or circle areas on your list that you have questions about. What ministries at your church engage the work of justice (and “undo the thongs of the yoke of oppression”), and the work of compassion (and “share bread with the hungry” or similar)? What growing areas do you see within existing ministries or for brand new ministries to better harness the energies and resources of your community to ensure that your worship and devotional life are aligned with the type of worship that God desires? As we prepare to specifically consider the ways that this Scripture and others speak to racial injustice, where do you see this text echoed in your memory, experiences, or community? If you have yet to set a Lenten practice, consider choosing a practice that relates to something on your list of Isaiah 58 actions that are faithful to the “worship that God chooses.”

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We begin with Scripture.

God’s concern for the just behavior of God’s people is preserved throughout our Scriptures, from Genesis to Revelation. You have read Isaiah 58:1-12 as part of the preparation for this discussion, which is but one of many expressions of God’s vision for how those who worship God should structure their lives and priorities. In this session, we will also hear teaching from Jesus (in Matthew 6), and throughout this study, we will read Scripture that is both at the heart of the Lenten journey and full of calls to reorient our lives towards God’s justice in community. We will specifically be reflecting on justice in light of race, and learning how to best employ an antiracist lens to the ministry work we do in our communities that seeks to confront and address the legacies of the particular injustice of racism. 

In light of God’s foundational and consistent call to justice found in Scripture, it is the tradition of The United Methodist Church to speak out, to organize within and across congregations and the full connection of United Methodism. As members of a church with congregations around the world, our call is to be both local and global in our awareness and in our work. This means learning from each other across our wide network and strengthening the bonds of community between us. In our time together, we will explore stories and glean wisdom and inspiration for the kind of ministry that is possible in our communities, from stories and faith leaders in the U.S. and around the world.

This week, we begin by encountering the United Methodist history around the Social Principles as an expression of the covenant that we believe God creates for and with us as we seek to live together in the beloved community. We also begin our exploration of race in the Social Principles and Resolutions, and in our own stories and community. We have provided a lot of material in the Introduction and the Appendix sections of this study that may also be useful for you as you prepare to consider the multifaceted dimensions of racism and how our Scripture and tradition inform our responses to it. As always, these are starting places.

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Opening Prayer 

(from Martin Luther King Jr.’s sermon “A time to break silence” from April 4, 1967)

Ever present God, you called us to be in relationship with one another and promised to dwell wherever two or three are gathered. In our community, we are many different people; we come from many different places; have many different cultures. Open our hearts that we may be bold in finding the riches of inclusion and the treasures of diversity among us. We pray in faith. Amen.

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Group Discussion

(Optional activities are provided in the sidebar to enable a customized experience.)

Foundations of the Social Principles: The UMC Social Creed

Social Creed video: (3 min)

The original Social Creed from 1908 focused on the needs and rights of workers and has been updated many times since first written. Read the current Social Creed from the 2016 Book of Discipline, preferably using a different voice from the group for each section. 

Have you read the Social Creed before? Have you used it in worship? What, if anything, surprises you about the text of the creed and the brief history you learned in the video? What images of God come across to you in the Social Creed? What do you wish was included that is not in there now? 

Watch together: Excerpts from Living our Principles videos

In the following two video segments, you’ll see different reflections on the Social Principles, which grow out of the legacy of pursuing social holiness that predates the Social Creed. After you watch both videos, share your thoughts with the group.

Rev. Paul Njugana is a United Methodist district superintendent in The United Methodist Church in Kenya. In this video segment, he shares his perspective on the value of the Social Principles in his community. Watch Njugana's video segment (4 min) from “Living our Principles” Episode 1.

Rev. Emanuel Cleaver is an ordained United Methodist Elder also serving in the United States House of Representatives. Watch Cleaver’s video segment about the role of the Social Principles in public life (7 min) from “Living our Principles” Episode 5.

  1. What are your responses to these pastors and how they use the Social Principles in their work and lives?
  2. Rev. Cleaver references Matthew 6 in his video. Together, read Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21, which is also one of the lectionary readings for this week. Here, Jesus reflects on themes you will recognize from Isaiah 58:1-12, cautioning against people prioritizing the performance of worship over the substance of worship.
  3. While Jesus suggests that “we should give to the needy in secret” so that we do not claim recognition for our generosity, when is it important to be public about how we invest our resources of time, attention, and money? When can “giving in secret” actually undermine the work we are doing or the cause we’re supporting?
  4. What does it mean to “store up treasures in heaven?” Does investing our hearts and resources in the well-being of others on earth reflect this idea of storing up treasures in heaven? Why is investing our hearts and resources in “loosing the bonds of injustice” an important part of our faith? How are we investing our hearts and resources in using the influence we have to bring our communities more closely into alignment with the ethic of God’s Kingdom?  

In your preparation for this week, you reflected on Isaiah 58:1-12, read the Preface and Preamble of the 2021 United Methodist Social Principles and Resolution #3371 “A Charter for Racial Justice in an Interdependent Global Community” from the 2016 Book of Resolutions. With these in mind, discuss:

  1. The Preamble to the 2021 Social Principles affirms that “differences are a precious gift and a daunting challenge.” In what ways have you experienced the diversity of people within the church as a gift and a challenge? In your study groups and worship, does your church tend to rely on books, small group studies, music, and liturgies written from the perspective of one racial, ethnic, or gender identity? How can you work together with your church leadership to ensure that your community continually stretches itself to experience the gifts offered to the church by persons across all types of diversity? (See Appendix C for a list of multicultural worship resources)
  2. What barriers to doing antiracist work do you see within your church, community, and/or the United Methodist denomination?
  3. Looking at the list of actions you compiled when reading Isaiah 58:1-12 and the eight action steps in the resolution together, how do they inform each other? Can you apply an antiracist lens to your brainstorming? Discuss ideas within the group.

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Take Action 

(Choose which action you will take this week)

  1. Commit to noticing images this week that reflect the ideas in the Isaiah 58:1-12 passage. Look for images in nature, your home, your neighborhood, and in media that reflect the loosening of the yoke that the Scripture talks about. Notice when you see images where things, people, and places are still tied up, hamstrung, and restrained from the life of liberation that God encourages us to seek.
  2. If antiracism language is new for you, commit this week to exploring the resources in this study to become familiar with some of the terms and references that we will be exploring in the remainder of the study.

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Closing Prayer 
A Prayer for Racial Justice 

When our eyes do not see the gravity of racial injustice,
Shake us from our slumber and open our eyes, O Lord.
When out of fear we are frozen into inaction,
Give us a spirit of bravery, O Lord.
When we try our best but say the wrong things,
Give us a spirit of humility, O Lord.
When the chaos of this dies down,
Give us a lasting spirit of solidarity, O Lord.
When it becomes easier to point fingers outward,
Help us to examine our own hearts, O Lord.

God of truth, in your wisdom, Enlighten Us.
God of love, in your mercy, Forgive Us.
God of hope in your kindness, Heal Us.
Creator of All People, in your generosity, Guide Us.
Racism breaks your heart,
Break our hearts for what breaks yours, O Lord.

Accessed from the Social Justice Resource Center

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