Connections Summary

September–December 2022

Unit 1: The Cost of Discipleship

Valerie Burton

Luke’s Gospel invites us to reorient ourselves on the road to discipleship. This unit leads us to consider the full cost of following Jesus as disciples, challenging us to hear Jesus’ call to commitment, compassion, faithfulness, and attention to those who are the “least” among us. In these chapters from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, where his mission will finally cost him everything. He bids us to come with him, to set tables where all are welcome, and to celebrate with the whole community when what was lost is found. Let us not be guilty of the same transgressions as the religious elite of Jesus’ day, who thought they knew all there was to know about Scripture, faithfulness, and devotion to God. We still have much to learn.

Unit 2: Words of Hope

Mark Hinds

The prophets remind us that God does not ignore sin, suffering, and injustice but walks with the people through their suffering and into renewed life. The intimate relationship between God and the people involves judgment and repentance but is rooted in mercy. In mercy, God abides with the people through their exile. In mercy, God brings them home and restores them and their homeland to life. In mercy, God’s Spirit dreams through the people and secures their salvation. We will begin this unit grieving with the emotional poetry of Lamentations, then Jeremiah will set us on the journey from grief into hope. Finally, Joel will bring us to rejoicing in the Spirit and a secure future in the name of the Lord, ending our study with words of hope.

Unit 3: The Future Is Now (And Then)

Bruce Gentry

The Scriptures for this unit come from four Old Testament prophets. The first lesson includes three texts selected from the book of Habakkuk that help us hear this powerful voice in its original and complex context. Lesson two, from the shorter book of the prophet Haggai, will address the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple as the Jewish exiles return from Babylon. Haggai motivated the people to reconstruct their center of religious life. Lesson three will explore a text from the latter part of Isaiah in which the prophet addresses the Jewish exiles’ return to their ruined homeland, offering them a reason to rejoice even as they face the horrors of war and destruction, before wrapping up in lesson 4 with a passage from Jeremiah. In our own communities and amid the challenges of modern life, the ancient prophets still offer us guidance, encouragement, and hope for the future God promises.

Unit 4: Living Expectantly

Camilla Hempstead

In this five-lesson unit, we will journey through Advent together, “Living Expectantly” and looking at the ways we prepare not just for December 25 but for the promised return of Christ. Our journey will take us through Paul’s writings to the church at Rome, as the apostle encourages the church in its faithfulness and calls them to unity and right living. We will examine James’s call for believers to practice faithful patience even through suffering. Finally, we will welcome Jesus with the holy family, amazing angels, and surprised shepherds in Luke’s Gospel on Christmas Day. Our practice of preparation will follow the model of the early apostles and churches who were learning to live in Christ’s way even as they anticipated his return.

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.