The week in focus
From January 2021, we're offering three new resources, published each Thursday - helping you connect the Bible passages with what's happening in the world right now.
In touch: Carrot or stick?
‘You brood of vipers’ (Luke 3.7) said John. How does Jesus speak?
John addressed the crowds with threats – e.g. Luke 3.7-9. Jesus offers a changed life. Fishermen will ‘fish for people’ (Mark 1.17). A tax collector becomes a disciple (Mark 2.13-17). A woman who comes to draw water in the middle of the day, who appears to be an outcast from her Samaritan community, sees Jesus, and draws her people to believe him (John 4.39-42). A paralysed man brought to Jesus (Luke 5.17-26) is liberated both spiritually and physically; he can stand and is also forgiven. These new beginnings starts with the most unlikely people, but then Jesus says ‘I have come not to call the righteous but sinners’ (Mark 2.17).
The world is not what we thought. One thing, evident from this week’s ROOTS pages, is that the realities of worshipping today are far from what we would normally expect and we have had to adapt to a new way of being together, apart. Some suggestions can be modified; others may not work where gatherings are purely online.* The burning question of recent weeks – which has now been answered in the affirmative – is whether we needed an even stricter lockdown to avert the threat by a newer strain of the virus before everyone can receive a vaccine. The challenge becomes greater as we realise that the virus has mutated in Kent and in South Africa. With this we realise the global dimension, for if new strains are allowed to develop, they could swamp a world which has no immunity.
* See the general advice and tips on using ROOTS weekly resources for online worship and children's sessions, which includes specific advice and notes on each week's AAA resources.
- While ‘The whole world has changed’ as ROOTS has it, we see from the Gospels that the change isn’t visible everywhere at Jesus’ baptism, and the significance of the incarnation will not be fully revealed until the resurrection. Indeed, if we refer to today’s reading from Acts 19, the real illumination comes with the gift of the Spirit, as in John 20.22, or Acts 2.14-21. In some sense people still floundered in the dark, and we continue to make mistakes.
- We have had, over the past year, many false dawns, with extravagant claims about ‘world beating’ things and ‘moonshots’. Jesus warns against such behaviour, saying (Mark 13.21), ‘If anyone says to you at that time, “Look! Here is the Messiah”…Do not believe it. False messiahs and false prophets will appear…’. But then, the world is full of fake news, Trump’s attempts to change election results, and so on. We don’t even know where the Covid-19 began, and conflicting views are around.
- Looking at creation as it really is, we know that it was never made perfect as described in the story of the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3). Indeed, ‘going wrong’ has been essential to evolution since the beginning of life, for it is random changes in the development of successive generations which have allowed new species to appear. But recognising mistakes, and not putting out false stories to hide mistakes is the way to admit the light. Much of the light which Jesus brings is seen in the way he turns round seemingly hopeless situations and people: Peter, who denied him, Paul, who persecuted Jesus’ followers, a paralysed man, the woman at the well of Samaria, new gentile Christians throughout the Greek world converted by Paul…
- There is now a realisation that we have to change the world: ROOTS resources this week refer to climate change. But the big change is:
- We are now more aware than ever of the changes we have caused.
- We are beginning to find ways to address the challenges.
We have stopped using lead in petrol, banned some dangerous chemicals, realise that we are poisoning insects, recognise the dangers from oxides of nitrogen and carbon particles. We had a clean air act years’ ago, and now need another.
Notice Greta Thunberg’s attitude as she reaches her 18th birthday. Lots of light and not just condemnation. The final paragraph is wonderful, and asked about a birthday present, ‘she shifts in her chair uncomfortably, trying to think of something. “The headlights on my bike are broken, in Sweden it gets very dark in the winter”, she says, to keep me happy. I bet she’ll just borrow some.’ Yes, we need some light.
Questions for discussion
- Greta Thunberg asks, for her 18th birthday, a ‘promise from everyone that they will do everything they can’ for the planet. What new things can you do? Has the past year provided new lessons?
- What gives you light and hope in the present situation?
- How easy is it for false stories and attitudes to spread?
- While there is hope as vaccines are rolled out, how hard is it to wait?
The Revd Dr Tom Ambrose is a retired priest living in Cambridge.
And so we find ourselves in lockdown once again…There was already quite a lot of uncertainty around when and how the return to school would happen after the Christmas break, but now we know there’ll be online learning for weeks or months depending on where you live, and there’s every likelihood that this period may go on for longer than we think. With the majority of national exams now cancelled, there is pressure to perform consistently well in order for teachers to be able to estimate the highest grades. How do you feel about returning to a remote-learning environment? Are you worried about the differences in learning and exams/assessment this year? What should 2021 be transitioning you towards?
The Bible passage this week is an important transitioning point in Jesus’ life. This is the first time that we meet Jesus as an adult and it’s a moment when God spotlights him in front of the crowds and makes it known that he’s really delighted with all that Jesus is and all that he will become in the next stage of his life journey. Both Father and Son are aware of how difficult that journey may be in parts. How important is it for us to feel the affirmation of others? What kind of things do you need affirming in today? Do you think that God would look at you and declare that he is ‘well pleased’ with you? Have you got any idea of where your life is headed in the future?
If you could go back to last year’s you, what would you tell them?
What would you like next year’s you to be able to come back and tell you?
As we transition into a new season and the next stage on our (perhaps still lengthy) journey out of the pandemic, we can trust that God continues to speak words of love and affirmation over us, both in these moments and those yet to come.
Jenny Cheung is a church planter and missional pioneer (www.thevoiceprojectscotland.co.uk) and mum to three teenagers.
ROOTS publishes weekly lectionary-based worship and learning resources online and in two magazines. FIND OUT MORE.