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Related Bible reading(s): John 3.14-21

Explore and respond

Ways to engage different ages, spiritual styles and learning preferences

Ideas for a sermon or interactive talk

See also Thought for the week to read out in place of a sermon; and 'The week in focus', linking the readings to the news. 

 

  • In her book You’re Not Listening Kate Murphy laments our not listening to one another, suggesting we ask curious questions such as, ‘What was the best part?’ Nicodemus asks honest questions: ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old?’ ‘How can these things be?’ Glimpsing God’s presence in Jesus, he distances himself from other Jewish leaders, later asking why Jesus should be judged without ‘a hearing’ (7.51). Nicodemus joined Joseph of Arimathea, the secret disciple, in giving Jesus a burial. We are not told about his allegiance, but Nicodemus’ story reminds us of the importance of those who ask curious questions. It may be a route to understanding eternal life.

  • Paul Rowley says, ‘I have always been fascinated by the fact that despite having no arms or legs snakes can kill you!’  He works at the Centre for Snakebite Research and Intervention in Liverpool, handling poisonous snakes and milking their venom for use in research and development of antidotes. In 40 years of this work he has been hospitalised three times after snakebites. On a visit to a research project in Nigeria he met a girl of ten, agonised and frightened after a deadly bite. Telling her she would be all right, he showed her the marks of the fangs on his arms. She smiled, looking up at the man whose experience and empathy would make her well.

  • Kirk Douglas hired Dalton Trumbo to rewrite the script for his film Spartacus. Trumbo had been a member of the Communist Party, and he and nine other writers and directors, the Hollywood Ten, were jailed for contempt of Congress in 1950 after refusing to cooperate with its Un-American Activities Committee. A gossip column in March 1959 revealed the blacklisted Trumbo as the screenwriter of Spartacus, and Douglas made a courageous choice: ‘We’re putting your name on it.’ In 1960, the writer was given full screen credit and the blacklist was effectively broken. ‘Those who do what is true come to the light’ (John 3.21).

  • In this week’s Old Testament passage, the people of Israel looked inwards at their own challenges and discomforts, failing to see the goodness of God and all that God had done for them. In short, they embraced darkness rather than light. Are we inclined to do the same – whether by choice, accident or habit? But Jesus wants us to look up to him, the ‘Light of the World’ – to come out of the darkness and embrace the light. What things might get in the way of us doing that, and make us ashamed of looking up and embracing the eternal light of Jesus?

 

Thought for the week

Read out in place of a sermon if you wish.

In this week’s Old Testament passage, the people of Israel looked inwards at their own challenges and discomforts, failing to see the goodness of God and all that God had done for them. They allowed themselves to wallow in their discomforts, taking their cue from each other rather than trusting God. In short, they embraced darkness rather than light. 

Sometimes it is apparent that to do this – embrace darkness rather than light – is a deliberate choice. But might it not also be because we drift aimlessly, without giving things much, if any, thought – and so we end up in that place without any particular intention? Or maybe it is the result of a habit or a preference – do we sometimes prefer to stay ‘in the dark’, and therefore hiding from the light, because we rather like the patterns of behaviour and so cling on to them, even when they are, even when we know that they are, unhelpful? 

But – and presumably we are here because we know – Jesus wants us to look up to him, the ‘Light of the World’. To come out of the darkness and embrace the eternal light. We do well to ponder what things might get in the way of us doing that. To ask ourselves: what things make us ashamed of looking up and embracing the eternal light of Jesus? 

Lent always spans that time of year when the days stop getting shorter and start to increase once again (this year the change – the equinox – occurs next weekend). The lengthening days bring an increase of light that can, perhaps, remind us that the Light of the World is always present to guide us, if we ask to see the way ahead. When we bring ourselves and our failings into the light of Jesus and own up to them, we have made a start – or maybe a new start – to living in his light.

 

All age act of worship Session

Active worship

An obstacle course

Demonstrate the importance of looking up.

  • Set up two identical mini-obstacle courses using chairs, bags, etc. Get two volunteers to negotiate the course: one of them is allowed to look up and around; the other must only look and always down at their feet. They start at the same time. (You could repeat this a few times with different volunteers.) Who is most successful? Why is this?
  • This activity illustrates the importance of looking up and seeing a wider picture. And this ‘rule’ applies in many aspects of our lives – e.g. in order to see/understand how our actions affect others around the world, or the climate.
  • Sometimes we look to other people for an example. Who do we look up to? Are all our role models good ones, or might some of them set us poor examples? If we look up to the wrong person, we may get things wrong!
    E

A simple worship activity

Coming to the light to say sorry

  • Set up a bright light somewhere in the worship space. 
If possible, turn down the lights elsewhere.
  • Give everyone a small piece of paper and a pen. Ask people to write, or draw an image to represent, something that they are sorry about in their lives (no names, and nothing that would break confidentiality – if this may be an issue, assure people that all the slips of paper will be destroyed immediately after today’s worship).
  • Ask people to fold their paper and, when they are ready, to bring it to the light. Simply place it beside the bright light. When everyone has had the opportunity to do this, continue with A prayer of confession.
    W A

 

A discussion about eternal life

Explore the connection between light and eternal life.

  • Talk of eternal life runs throughout John’s Gospel. But on 
a couple of occasions there is a clear statement about what eternal life ‘is’. Invite people, working in small groups, to search John’s Gospel to find what eternal life ‘is’. If they don’t find them in the available time, point them towards John 12.50 and 17.3. Give each group one of these verses to discuss in more detail, as follows:

    - What Jesus speaks, is eternal life (12.50). So, what (in summary) does Jesus speak? And how does this affect the everyday choices we make between light and dark?

    - Eternal life is to know God and Jesus whom God sent (17.3). So what does it mean in practice to ‘know God’ and to know Jesus?

  • Invite feedback and make a list of practical steps that we can take to show – to choose – to follow something eternal.
    W A

Give thanks

Looking for reasons to give thanks rather than complaining.

  • During the Second World War, a Dutch woman, Corrie Ten Boom, was a prisoner in a concentration camp. One day, she was surprised to hear a fellow inmate giving thanks to God for the fleas that plagued them day and night. Corrie asked how this was possible: how could anyone be thankful for something as horrible as fleas? Her friend replied that the fleas meant that the cruel guards avoided the hut and paid the prisoners less unwanted attention. Corrie realised that even in the darkest situation it was possible to find something to be thankful for.
  • Invite people to share with one or two neighbours something positive that they have been thankful for this week. And, thinking about some of the darker stories from the week, can they identify at least some small crumb of hope, something to be thankful for, in those stories?
    W E S A

 

A litany of thanksgiving

For our world and all its beauty:
we give God thanks today.

For creating us to be his work of art:
we give God thanks today.

For this place and for the life we share here:
we give God thanks today.

For our homes and families, for friends and fun:
we give God thanks today.

For food and warmth, for comfort and safety:
we give God thanks today.
Amen.

 

Activity sheet

 Drama: Psst, Jesus … Yes, Nicodemus?

 

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