Connections Summary

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.

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.