Session 6

Fifth Sunday in Lent + Palm Sunday Scripture March 21

See Appendix B for recommended additional resources on this topic.

Core Preparation Introduction Opening Prayer Group Discussion Take Action Closing Prayer 

Core Preparation
  1. Proposed 2021 UM Social Principles: The Political Community, F. Indigenous, Native and Aboriginal People; G. Migrants, Immigrants and Refugees; J. Religious Minorities (starting at page 32)
  2. 2016 Book of Resolutions, #3422, “Speaking Out for Compassion: Transforming the Context of Hate in the United States.” 
  3. Mark 11:1-11

Set aside 10 minutes to read and jot down notes and reflections on this story. Read it at least twice, preferably once aloud.

As we approach the end of this Lenten journey and our time together, we are getting closer to Easter. Soon we will read the stories of Holy Week, beginning here, with the procession of Jesus into Jerusalem. Each Gospel tells this story a bit differently and we, who know the contours of the coming weeks, understand that the celebration of Jesus as King wanes quickly as many in positions of power hear about the disruptive nature of his Kingdom.

How often do we find ourselves in the shoes of these Palm Sunday shouters of “Hosanna?” How often do we want to welcome Jesus into our lives, seeking the grace and salvation he promises, only to hesitate when we become aware of the kind of transformation he calls us to? We welcome him as King, but do we really want to live by the laws of his Kingdom? It can be hard to tell. 

Each of our relationships with Jesus is different and full of its own twists and turns and spirals of meaning; we have sought to worship well, to be faithful followers, to believe rightly, and to love our neighbors. And yet, as our culture and society continue to shift, we are constantly presented with new challenges about what that love looks like. 

Over these past weeks, we have dug into the Scripture of the season and explored ways that our faith tradition expresses our responsibilities to each other. We have considered the wounds and legacies of racism and how the call to antiracism may be one of the ways love looks like for us right now. We have read and wrestled with guidance from leaders in our church about realities that may be challenging to us in their complexity, their politics, and their gravity. Perhaps we have felt the truth of what Frederick Douglas said, that “power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will." 

So, as we consider how we intend to welcome Jesus as King in the coming weeks, we invite you to take a few moments and take stock of your feelings. What questions, or concerns, or barriers regarding the work of antiracism can you identify in yourself or in your community? Where are your own horizons of growth and understanding? What stories about responding faithfully to racial injustice -- from this study or from other sources -- remain lodged in your heart? How do they inspire you to act? And, do you see these actions as one of the ways we welcome Jesus’ Kingdom? Why or why not?

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As we come to an end of our Lenten journey, we take stock of what transformations and challenges we have encountered during our time together. We continue to reflect on the webs of relationships that shape our lives -- with God, with those close to us, and with those we will never meet -- and how our faith draws us into covenant with all of God’s people. Though the evils of racism and all of the other “isms” that mock the creativity of God are pervasive in our world, we find energy and inspiration to embrace new ways of being. Though there are many stories to hear, many lessons to learn, and many prayers to pray, we focus this week on staying grounded in what motivates us and gives us the courage to continue to walk in the way that leads to abundant life for all.

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Opening Prayer 

Together, in a spirit of prayer, watch this video “Shed a Little Light,” originally by James Taylor. This version is a collaboration between two a cappella groups, the Maccabeats and Naturally 7. 

The calls to justice in Scripture claim our interconnectedness beyond our individual relationships. And yet, our individual relationships are one of the ways that God “sheds a little light” into our lives. They’re where we challenge our biases, learn what it means to have different experiences, and find common ground. We share the dream of “being bound together in ties of hope and love.” It is often our personal relationships that help us to more deeply understand our interconnectedness with all people. Of course, we should be thoughtful when reflecting on these relationships to not let stereotypes inform how they shape us. With these things in mind, pause and consider a cross-racial experience or relationship you have had that has been meaningful to you. Share with the group.

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Group Discussion

Read Jeremiah 31:31-34 as a group aloud twice, from different translations, if available.

  1. Again, we encounter the theme of God’s constant return to broken human communities to create covenant with us. Here, we have a promise of a new covenant, a covenant that is written on our hearts, and a promise of a time when the ethics and laws detailing our right relationship with God and with each other are no longer an external thing to be learned, but a set of internalized truths to simply be lived. Why do you think the promise of a new covenant is a source of hope for the Israelites, who received it through the prophet Jeremiah? What happened to the prior covenant? 
  2. Christians live under a different covenant with God, made through Jesus. On Maundy Thursday, we will remember the Last Supper, when Jesus gave his disciples the practice of Communion as a sign of this covenant. We reclaim the impact of this covenant on our faith and our lives every time we participate in Communion. What are your favorite parts of the Communion liturgy? Of the practice of Communion? (Find the traditional communion liturgy here, if desired.) 

    Though the full liturgy is beautiful, consider the line that comes towards the end of the prayer, asking God to make “us be the body of Christ for the world, redeemed by his blood.” Each time we celebrate Communion, we ask God to transform us and send us out into the world to continue the ministry of Jesus. This ministry includes the work of using the influence and the power we have to heal relationships and to heal systems that dehumanize other children of God.
  3. As you consider ways your life and church’s ministry will be impacted by this study, take a moment to reflect on what you hope a new covenant that covers all people could look like. You may choose to refer back to the resolutions and the Social Principles you have read so far. Go around the group and invite each participant to share one “term” of a new covenant that is part of their dream for the world. 
Watch Together: Excerpts from Living Our Principles

Episode 3: Together in CommunityChapter 4--Nigeria: focusing on tolerance and common security across Islam and Christianity (play for 7 min).

  1. Discuss the video clip in light of the resolution on “speaking out for compassion” and the Social Principles you read for the week, and share your observations and reactions.  
  2. Note that the work described by this video is grounded in the leaders not believing that a particular arrangement of power and relationships is inevitable. They dare to dream dreams, and to imagine new ways of being that will lead to peace. In your own contexts, what systems feel like they are inevitable, that is, that they cannot be changed?
  3. Sometimes, one of the most significant reasons Christians feel paralyzed in the face of big social problems is because they seem too big, too complex, too ingrained. It’s hard to know where to start. Charles Wesley, author of hundreds of poems and hymns, once wrote this verse (it’s been set to different tunes over time, but the meter fits with “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing” as well):

    Faith, mighty faith, the promise sees
    And looks to God alone;
    Laughs at impossibilities
    And cries: It shall be done!

    The promise of God’s Kingdom shows us that the work of antiracism is not impossible. The new life we will claim in Jesus’ resurrection very soon shows us that we dare not place limits on the bounds of God’s vision for our world. God is always doing new things.

    This work requires all of us. We invite you to share stories about times when someone did something “impossible.” Note any commonalities shared by these stories. Perhaps they feature qualities like discipline, tenacity, resilience, community support, and receiving a little grace from others. What inspiration do you take from them today, in light of the dreaming exercise we did earlier?

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Take Action

To do a difficult thing, you have to start. Having come through this study, you have encountered many resources from the church that can be starting points for you: the Social Principles, the Book of Resolutions, the stories of bold and dynamic ministries around the world, and the rich tradition of your theological home. In addition to building on the actions you’ve taken as a result of the prior sessions, review the actions in the following list. After a brief period of quiet reflection, discuss how each group member plans to put their learning into action this week, and possible areas of focus for the future: 

  1. Commit to one facet of antiracist policy work at a time. It is not faithful to try to do everything all at once. Discern how God is calling you to contribute, through prayer and the accountability of your church community, and act accordingly. 
  2. Be mindful of the ways that awareness of racism can bring a level of awkwardness to your relationships and claim that as part of the process of transformation. Own your learning. Ask questions. Interrupt jokes. Listen. 
  3. Join in the good work that’s already happening. Join groups on social media highlighting antiracism work in your community or state. Find local churches and organizations you can partner with. Honor the leadership of those with expertise. 
  4. Visit the websites of your local representatives at the city, county, state, and/or national level and learn how they are supporting antiracist work. Send them a letter of gratitude if you like what you see. Send them a letter urging them to prioritize this if that’s needed. 

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Closing Prayer

Companion Litany to the Social Creed (scroll down a bit once the page opens)

God in the Spirit revealed in Jesus Christ,
calls us by grace
   to be renewed in the image of our Creator,
   that we may be one
   in divine love for the world.

Today is the day
God cares for the integrity of creation,
   wills the healing and wholeness of all life,
   weeps at the plunder of earth’s goodness.
And so shall we.

Today is the day
God embraces all hues of humanity,
   delights in diversity and difference,
   favors solidarity transforming strangers into friends.
And so shall we.

Today is the day
God cries with the masses of starving people,
   despises growing disparity between rich and poor,
   demands justice for workers in the marketplace.
And so shall we.

Today is the day
God deplores violence in our homes and streets,
   rebukes the world’s warring madness,
   humbles the powerful and lifts up the lowly.
And so shall we.

Today is the day
God calls for nations and peoples to live in peace,
   celebrates where justice and mercy embrace,
   exults when the wolf grazes with the lamb.
And so shall we.

Today is the day
God brings good news to the poor,
   proclaims release to the captives,
   gives sight to the blind, and
   sets the oppressed free.
And so shall we. 

From The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church - 2016. Copyright 2016 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.

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