The questions in this small group guide relate to the sermon from April 11, 2021. If your group has not had a chance to listen to the full sermon related to this discussion guide, they can find it in our sermon library. Rev. Adam Hamilton preached this week’s sermon.
Lord God, many times we have wished you’d just wave a magic wand and make the virus go away. We’ve seen that you don’t quite work that way—yet you work. Help us to learn the lessons you want to teach us as we emerge from this pandemic. Amen.
- Pastor Adam said, “After Easter last year I shared a sermon series focused on what Scripture teaches about how to find hope in a season of disorientation. I drew on the work of OT scholar Walter Brueggemann describing the pattern of the Israelites’ life experience repeated throughout the Hebrew Bible. It looks like this: Orientation, Disorientation, Reorientation….Much of the Old Testament story involves God’s people living through adversity and disorientation. But disorientation never lasts. We think it will last forever when we’re in the midst of it, and it might last a long time. But we either find we move out of it into seasons of reorientation, or we find reorientation amid the disorientation.” What things (if any) during the last year gave you a sense of disorientation? On a scale from 0 to 100, how close to reorientation are you?
- Read Psalm 18:1-3, 46-50. David praised God for showing him “faithful love” (Hebrew hesed). But Galatians 3:26 said we are “all God’s children through faith in Christ Jesus,” and God shows that same unfailing love to everyone who chooses to be his child. What does it mean to your faith to know God values you as much as a Biblical “hero” like David? In what ways has God “rescued” his much-loved children during this pandemic, and not just now as its grip seems to be receding?
- Read Psalm 66:5-12. Scholar John Goldingay wrote that this psalm “issues from a time when [Israel] has come out the other side and is flourishing. It can now look back and see that it was being tested or refined. Such a crisis shows whom you can really trust, where your security lies, and whom you recognize to be in control of the world. Crises reveal character.” * In what ways is a crisis caused by an unthinking virus (which may feel malicious or intentional) different from Israel’s crisis when intentionally enslaved by an Egyptian king (cf. Exodus 1:8-14)? In what ways has the pandemic crisis had similar effects on your life as if it had resulted from human malice and evil? What lessons do you believe you’ve learned (if any) during the last year about “whom you can really trust, where your security lies, and whom you recognize to be in control of the world”? Do any of your former answers to those questions seem inadequate now? In the wake of this testing, refining time, how would you define where your security lies?
- Read Psalm 126:1-6. Israel’s history included terrible misery at the hands of tyrants (e.g. slavery in Egypt—cf. Exodus 1:8-11, and exile in Babylon—cf. 2 Kings 24:13-14, 25:11). But it also held God’s action to deliver them in the Exodus and the return from exile. Psalm 126 poetically recalled the joy when God lifted them up from lowly status, and prayed that God would again allow them to live in the joy of deliverance. The first half of the psalm was about memory. The Israelites never forgot the Exodus—their “defining story”—nor the elation of being freed from exile. “Yes, the LORD has done great things for us,” the psalmist wrote—God setting them free was a lasting part of their history. What do you remember as a time when God did “great things” in your life? How do you keep that memory alive? The second half of the psalm was a prayer, asking the God who did great things in the past to do them again. Are there parts of your life where you pray, “Let those who plant with tears reap the harvest with joyful shouts”?
- Read 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. We just celebrated Easter—but that was not the end of a story, but the beginning. Pastor Hamilton wrote, “God’s work was only begun in Jesus' resurrection….This is why, when the risen Christ finally appeared to his disciples, he breathed on them and said, ‘As the father sent me, so I am sending you’ (John 20:21). What Jesus began, we’re meant to complete.” ** The risen Jesus changed the angry Pharisee Saul into the tireless apostle Paul who won people in many places, including the Macedonian city of Thessalonica, to faith in Jesus. How did Paul tell new Christians in Thessalonica to handle pressure? “The implication of Paul’s words is that real joy depends on one’s relation to God, which is permanent and unchanging.” *** How have you found God’s love and promises cause for gratitude in the past year?
- Pastor Adam said, “God doesn’t promise to remove the disorientation. He promises to walk with us through it, to redeem it, forcing good from it, and, ultimately, usually in this life, and always in the next, he forces disorientation to bend to reorientation…. Disorientation doesn’t last forever. Reorientation will come. But in disorientation or reorientation, we find that our lives have more meaning, our hearts have more joy and we are rightly oriented when we give thanks. I’d invite you to write your own Psalm of Reorientation. I’d like you to write a prayer that starts with, “Lord, thank you for…” and list where you’ve seen blessings and unexpected gifts this COVID year.” Share those Psalms of Reorientation with one another, now or next week.
Lord God, thank you for the times when you did great things for your people. Thank for the times when your presence has been with me. Help me to live in the confidence that, sooner or later, you always act to uplift and bring joy to the hurting and disoriented. Amen.
* John Goldingay, Psalms for Everyone, Part 1: Psalms 1–72. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013, p. 202.
** Adam Hamilton, John: The Gospel of Light and Life. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015, p. 157.
*** Paul Ellingworth and Eugene A. Nida, A Handbook on Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians. New York: United Bible Societies, 1976, p. 121.