Connections Summary

January–April 2023

Unit 1: Jesus and People

Chad Hartsock

January is a time of transition. The first week of the year is part of the Christmas season, and the following Sunday usually focuses on the story of Jesus’ baptism. In each lesson for this unit, we will focus on a scene from Jesus’ early life and ministry. These scenes reveal something crucial about Jesus’ character, helping us learn what kind of Messiah he will be and what is most important to him. In many ways, these texts also reveal how Jesus relates to each of us.

Unit 2: God’s Gifts

Shannon Karafanda

In this unit we will explore the gifts God gives not to bless us as individuals but to shape us as God’s faithful people. The first three sessions explore Paul’s teachings to the church he founded in the city of Corinth and consider the ways God’s gifts continue to undergird the church today. The final session uses 1 Peter to communicate “God’s Confirmation” to a new generation of apostles. God’s gifts may not look like what we expect and may be contrary to the world’s offerings, but God’s gifts of wisdom, Spirit, growth, and confir¬mation are still available to faithful disciples and churches today.

Unit 3: Lenten Potential

Ralph William Hawkins

For the journey of Lent, five vivid stories of God’s saving and sending show what is and what could be for God’s faithful people. First, we will explore how man and woman in the garden choose doubt instead of gratitude. Then, Abram and Sarai will respond to God’s surprising summons to venture outward as a new people. Third, Israelite pilgrims will struggle to trust that the exodus was real and that a promised place awaits. Forth, the priest Samuel will be reminded that character matters to God more than charisma. Finally, we will visit in a terrible valley, strewn with the bones of the past, as the prophet Ezekiel is given a vision of deliverance. The season of Lent need not only be kept with guilty remorse and sacrificial fasting. It can also be a time for prayers of potential.

Unit 4: Easter Opportunities

Wayne Ballard

Many wonderful traditions are associated with Easter, but Easter must be about more than simply watching The Ten Commandments, visiting the Easter Bunny, or collecting candy at the big Easter egg hunt at church. In this unit, we will pay careful attention to five texts that tell the story of the early church at the time of the first Easter. First we will Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem through Matthew 21. Second, we will join Mary Magdalene at the tomb in John 20 on the morning of Jesus’ resurrection. Then, we hear Peter explain the meaning of these miraculous events in his first sermon in Acts 2. Finally, we will return to the book of John to examine a proverb with the images of a shepherd, sheep, a gate, and a gatekeeper that Jesus uses to describe himself. In this way, we will better understand how Jesus cares for his people and provides safety for all who listen to his voice and follow him.

May–August 2023

Unit 1: Jesus’s Parting Words

Steven M. Sheeley

Jesus’s “farewell discourse” in John’s Gospel gives Jesus’s final teachings to his followers. After a last Passover meal with them, Jesus prepares to return to his place of glory at the right hand of God. Before these events are set in motion, Jesus offers his disciples parting words to encourage and challenge them for their ministry to come. First in this unit, Jesus commands his disciples to resist debilitating anxiety and calls them to steadfast faith. Then Jesus calls on the disciples to keep his commandments and words. Next, Jesus offers a final prayer for the disciples he is leaving behind, asking God to protect them and keep them unified. Finally, Jesus presents his crucified and resurrected body to the disciples, blessing them with peace and sending them out to love and serve.

Unit 2: Aspects of Discipleship

Lori Walke

In this unit, we will explore the hows and whys of following Jesus as disciples, as explored in the Gospel of Matthew. Mary Magdalene is the first to encounter the risen Christ and to receive his instruction to go and tell. Next, we will learn from Jesus’s interactions with unexpected people and from his own healing work that our ministry should converge with people’s needs. In lesson 3, we’ll study how Jesus calls his disciples by name and instructs them to take up the ministry of healing, making them active workers in Jesus’s ministry. In the last lesson, Jesus gives his followers a pep talk, preparing them for times of struggle that are sure to come. Like them, we can learn the hows and whys of our own callings as Jesus’s disciples today.

Unit 3: Tests, Trials, and Opportunities

Elaine Sveet

In this unit we will follow some ancestral stories of Abraham and his descendants. We will read of tests, trials, and opportunities that shaped this family and their faith. We will begin with “Abraham and Isaac,” reflecting on Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac. In “Isaac and Rebekah,” we join Abraham’s faithful servant on the hunt for a wife for Isaac. “Jacob and Esau” follows the family through the birth of twins who are at odds even before they are born. “Jacob and the Lord” describes a vulner¬able time in Jacob’s life when he is on the run, unworthy of God’s attention . Finally, the drama between “Jacob and Laban” involves more unexpected scheming, but this time Jacob will be the victim. Through this unit, we will not only learn about this one family but also learn about God and the ways God is involved in human life.

Unit 4: Provision

Nathaniel Hill

For the people of Israel in the Old Testament, God proves to be present, able, and reli¬able time after time, problem after problem. It is not an easy relationship because God’s endless faithfulness to Israel is often met with Israel’s unfaithfulness in return. The problem continues to worsen as Israel turns to idolatry and eventually falls at the hands of invading armies. The book of Isaiah is full of promises that show God’s care for God’s people and God’s continuing willingness to bring them through the exile and back into the promised land. This unit explores the ways God provides for God’s people through sustenance, presence, salvation, and deliverance. In these ways, God will provide what the faithful need to make it through.