Connections Summary

September–December 2023

Unit 1: Turning and Returning

Jake Raabe

The prophetic books of the Hebrew Bible sometimes feel like spiritual GPS instructions. This unit examines four of these prophetic texts about turning, returning, and turning around. In lesson one, we will learn from the prophet Jeremiah that sometimes God’s chosen direction-givers need directions themselves. Lesson two looks at a passage from the book of Ezekiel about why both the prophets and the people need spiritual directions in the first place. Next is a worship hymn from the book of Psalms describing where God’s directions are taking us and why we should follow them. Finally, lesson 4 tells the end of the story of Jonah, a prophet struggling to accept both God’s directions and God’s mercy. No matter where we are, we can turn and return to God.

Unit 2: Invitation to the Kingdom

Jennifer Judd

In this unit, we will explore our invitation to join in the party of God’s kingdom through parables and commandments. Stories of sons and fathers, rebellious tenant farmers, and a wedding banquet symbolize ways God invites us into God’s work. Jesus tells these parables as allego¬ries—stories with deeper meaning for his listeners. Jesus also teaches with psalms and commandments that address an inquiry about paying taxes, questions about the law, and the Messiah’s family tree. Finally, Leviticus calls all God’s people to practice holiness after the example of God’s own self. Together, these teachings address the foundation of God’s kingdom, what we owe to God’s kingdom, and the character of the king who has issued the invitation.

Unit 3: For All the Saints

Diana Bridges

In November, many congregations remember both the saints of church history and the saints who have lived among us. Whatever our under¬standing of the qualifications of a saint, we instinctively understand the importance of role models in our faith formation. The letter of 1 Thessalonians, written early in the Apostle Paul’s missionary career, gives instructions on living faithfully for a lifetime, and is the basis for the first three lessons in this unit. The final Sunday of this unit is Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the liturgical year, when many churches celebrate the reign of Christ. The lesson for this special Sunday is from Ephesians and stresses the identity of the church as the body of Christ.

Unit 4: What Are We Waiting For?

Jessica McDougald

During Advent—the four-week period before Christmas Day—we read Scripture passages that declare the coming of God’s hope and redemption. In this unit, we will experience the yearning of Advent and the celebra¬tion of fulfillment. We will begin in the book of Isaiah, exploring Old Testament prophecies from an exiled community. We will join in a psalm of praise for God’s love, and we will magnify God’s name with Mary as she awaits her son’s birth. Finally, with the psalmist, Simeon, and Anna we will celebrate the fulfillment of God’s promises, enduring love, and faithfulness. Through Advent and beyond, these ancient Hebrew voices will help us to express the anticipation we still feel as we look forward to the fulfillment of God’s promises.

January–April 2024

Unit 1: Body and Spirit

Michael Chittum, Susan Pigott, and C. Drew Smith

Each session in this unit includes two Scripture texts: a New Testament selection from Acts or 1 Corinthians and a psalm. Between the Old and New Testament texts, the Scriptures address how God’s people live faithfully in both internal and external ways, speaking about both physical and spiritual life. First, Paul instructs early Christians on the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and both the material and immaterial expressions of God. Second, Paul teaches the believers to understand how our physical lives reflect our relationship of oneness with God. Third, Paul helps us recognize the fleeting nature of earthly things, including relationships and possessions, and advises us on how to live in a world where things will pass away. Finally, Paul guides the church to recognize how their physical practices—even their “rights”—can be a hindrance to the spiritual well-being of others in their community.

Unit 2: Seeking Jesus

Katy Stenta

In this unit, we will begin to turn our attention toward Easter, following Jesus in his earthly ministry and reflecting on his spiritual work on our behalf. The first two sessions explore who Jesus is in Mark’s Gospel narrative. He gathers a group of disciples, heals the sick, and casts out demons, but instructs those he heals to keep quiet about him and regularly seeks solitude away from the crowds and even his own disciples. During this time, Jesus’s disciples witness his transformation from an authoritative preacher to a hidden healer to the transfigured, beloved Son of God. The last two sessions take us into the season of Lent as we explore theological understandings of Jesus Christ and his relationship to those who believe his resurrection. The teachings of Peter and Paul provide a foundation for the early churches—and for us—to recognize how Jesus Christ is still at work to save us and to bring us into alignment with God.

Unit 3: Learning Humility

James Hill Jr.

Old Testament texts form the core of this unit, beginning with one of the foundational moments in Hebrew history, when God gave the Ten Commandments to the people at Mount Sinai. In week one, we will explore how these commandments continue to help us form and maintain community, including faithful relationships with God and with each other. In our second week, we will walk with the Hebrew people in the wilderness as they moved toward the promised land, learning the wisdom of trusting God even in difficult circumstances. The final two sessions explore songs in Scripture. With the familiar words of Psalm 51, in week three we will reflect on what it means to receive restoration from God, even in our most broken moments. The final session examines one of the “servant songs” from the book of Isaiah as well as the great Christ hymn from Philippians 2. In these ancient songs we will hear that sometimes humility is thrust upon us, and other times humility is a choice we are called to make. Either way, we can respond faithfully.

Unit 4: New Life in Christ

Stephanie Schneider, Carl Malm, Elizabeth Rickert Dowdy, Alan Brehm, Monty Stallins, and David T. Shannon

The season of Easter begins on the Sunday we celebrate Christ’s resurrection and continues for seven more Sundays until Pentecost. This unit includes the first five Sundays of the season, as we join the first disciples and the earliest believers to observe how Christ appears. Lesson 1 offers a view of the cross and empty tomb that is not often part of our Easter celebrations. In lessons 2 and 3, Jesus miraculously joins his friends behind locked doors, offering them peace in a time of chaos and blessing them to go out and continue his ministry. The resurrected Jesus shares a meal with his disciples and gives them work to do. In the last two lessons, we return to the time before Jesus’s crucifixion, as he proclaims that he is the “good shepherd” who cares for and guides God’s flock and later the “true vine” through whom his followers are able to abide in God. In his earthly life and in his resurrected life, and throughout the centuries of believers who recognize him, Jesus brings new life. There is no better time than Easter to learn this truth.