Housegroup Materials: Week 4 (God’s Parables)

The Bible uses stories to awaken us to what God wants for us in this world and the next. We can see how our story fits with his.

Note: http://archive.bigbible.uk/2011/01/the-weekly-menu/

NIBBLES

  • Discuss the stories you loved reading as a child, and think about why you loved them.
  • What questions did your housegroup have last week? What debates were on the forum (http://bit.ly/bbwek3), which have raised new questions from last week.  

MAIN COURSE

Tom Wright introduces ‘God’s Parables’:

(Machine readable transcript, needs fine-tuning)

In the small group, listen to the reading Matthew 18:21-35 as it is read to you. If you are joining online, an audioversion can be found here.

Discuss together your responses to the following questions. (Approx 20-30mins, depending on the size of the group)

  • What did you like best about the passage and why?
  • What did you not like about the passage and why?
  • Which part of the passage is the most important for you and why?
  • Which part of the passage would you leave out today and why?

 

In the printed material, and available on line, you have access to a story and a reflection based on a response to today’s reading.

BB WK 4 Anna Drew by bigbible

Listen to the story and the reflection: Can you embrace a Cetnik?

Miroslav Volf is a widely respected Croatian theologian, who has written extensively on spirituality, reconciliation and forgiveness. It was the winter of 1993, For months the notorious Serbian fighters known as ‘cetnik’ had been sowing desolation in Volf’s native country, herding people into concentration camps, raping women, burning down churches, and destroying cities.

Volf is lecturing on the Christian call to forgive one’s enemies. In his lecture, he argues that it is nothing less than hypocritical to refuse to forgive one’s enemies, while at the same time claiming God’s forgiveness for one’s own sins. Using biblical texts like today’s and the example of Jesus, he claims that, as God has embraced us in Christ, likewise we ought to embrace our enemies.

Volf finishes speaking and prepares to take some questions from the floor. In the crowd a hand is raised. It is Volf’s mentor and former professor, German theologian Jurgen Moltmann. Moltmann asks the million-dollar-question: “But can you embrace a cetnik?’.

Silence.

After some thought, Volf replies: ‘No I cannot – but as a follower of Christ I think I should be able to.’

(Story from Miroslav Volf: Exclusion & Embrace)

Reflection

Many Christians will find in Volf’s story, and in this week’s passage, echoes of their own struggles with the question of forgiveness. The desire to forgive. The feeling that this is something that you really should do if you’re a Christian – ‘forgive and forget’ is a much used and abused phrase in the Christian world. And yet Volf’s experience speaks of the frustration that occurs when the gap between belief and action seems so hard to bridge.

Jesus’ words in this passage seem harsh and threatening, especially the final two verses:

“And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

But is forgiveness really that simple? A sheer act of will? A decision just to say “it’s okay, it doesn’t matter, never mind…” Clearly not. If it didn’t matter in the first place then there’s nothing to forgive. As Jesus’ story indicates, forgiveness is necessary because someone has built up a debt they simply can’t repay – no way, no how. Sometimes this might be a literal debt – If I lend a thousand pounds to a friend who later confesses they can’t afford to pay me back, I may choose to forgive them by writing off the money. But in doing so I can’t pretend that forgiveness isn’t costly – it’s left a great big hole in my wallet.

How much harder it must be when the debt isn’t counted in money, but in tears or loss of trust. So is it too idealistic of Jesus to expect that this story will drive people on to forgive? Perhaps. But if we so desperately desire to be forgiven by God, to have the slate wiped clean time and time again, what right do we have to withhold our forgiveness from others?

For all his divine nature, Jesus is a human being, who understands human nature more than we ever will. He knows it’s not that simple, but this parable gives a clear message that we should aspire to live heavenly values in a broken and imperfect world. We can only demonstrate true forgiveness when we know what it’s like to be forgiven ourselves, so it is only with God’s help that we can begin to move towards a place of forgiveness for those in debt to us.

 

Anna Drew is Lead Media Officer for the British Methodist Church

PUDDING

Steamed Pudding:

  • See pp. 68-71 of Tom Wright’s book. Is it harder to forgive someone who hurts you, or someone who hurts someone you love? Do we have enemies?
  • Would Jesus or the Disciples have blogged or Tweeted? Would Jesus have been on Facebook and would his videos have been highly viewed? What kind of stories might he have told?
  • On p63, Tom Wright talks about the changing role of Venice. What places in the world would you regard as sacred sites? What places have been significant in your life, and why?

Access and join in the debates online: http://bit.ly/bigbweek4

Chilled Pudding:

  • Think of something you’d like to forgive someone else for. Without showing others, write it on a piece of paper. As a group, in silence, collect around a fireplace/candle, burn the piece of paper. In doing so, commit it to God, to work towards forgiveness.
  • Draw your journey to house group. Mark on it significant things that you noticed along the way. Discuss as a group what are significant places for people?
  • ‘Walk a mile’. Collect a series of (pictures of) shoes. Each member of the group take one and create a story around the shoe. Leaders may find this article helpful:http://bit.ly/shoesthe.

 

AFTER DINNER CHOCS

  • The Forgiveness Project encourages and empowers people to explore the nature of forgiveness and alternatives to revenge. Visit http://theforgivenessproject.com/ and read one of the stories.
  • Write a short story (enter it to the short story web site, e.g. http://www.theshortstory.org.uk/)
  • Find a coffee shop and take a few friends – discuss what makes a good story.
  • Tom Wright, p.80, says there’s no such thing as an ‘ordinary Christian’? What stories do you have to tell, and could you reach a wider audience by telling that story on a blog, recording a YouTube video, or contributing to https://www.faith-journeys.com/?

WEEK 4 (Word.doc) (12baskets have PDF version for download)

Go back to Week 3; Go Forward to Week 5

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