Session 1 — Introduction to Study (February 13)

Welcome to this Lenten study. Please remember and remind participants that as we make room in our lives for God, God always meets us. Christ joins us in all of our conversations about our faith, opening our eyes to new truths as, together, we examine scripture and our experiences. (See Luke 24:13-35.)
Since participants may not have read the daily meditations leading up to this first meeting, this session will be slightly different than the sessions in later weeks, basing content on the meditation for Ash Wednesday.

SUPPLIES LIST:

Every Session:

Christ candle and lighter/matches
Litany for opening response
Bibles
3 x 5 Cards with the coming session’s focus word and question for “daily examen”
Extra copies of The Upper Room magazine for newcomers

This Session:

Newsprint or whiteboard and markers
A copy of The Upper Room January-February 2013 issue for each person
Handout on Keeping a Spiritual Journal

Gathering (10 minutes):

As you begin, light a white Christ candle, telling the group that you will light this candle each week as a reminder that Christ is a participant in the group’s conversations. Invite the group to say responsively this litany, which will begin each session: (Make it into a handout, write it on newsprint or a board, or display it using a projection system with a computer.)

One:    In Jesus Christ, God offers light to help us see the way to life.
All:      Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life in all its fullness.”*
One:    Let us come into God’s presence with expectant hearts.
All:       Jesus said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”
One:    Let us commit ourselves to walking in the light as God gives it.
All:      Thank you, God, for the word that gives light and life. Amen.

*Unless noted to the contrary, all references in this study are taken from the NRSV translation of the Bible.

Theme Discussion:

Introduce the theme of the Lenten study, saying:

Spirituality is learning to pay attention to God, and Lent is an invitation to be more deliberate about doing so. Your presence here is a witness to the fact that you want to do that. As we pay attention to God in deeper ways, we deepen our responsiveness to God’s Spirit. During the six weeks of Lent, we will focus on deliberately paying attention to God’s work around us and on choosing to cooperate more fully in what God is doing.

If your group likes to sing, invite participants to join you in singing a hymn of promise and preparation, such as one of these:

“Prepare the Way of the Lord”
“This Is the Day of New Beginnings”
“Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”
“Arise, Shine Out, Your Light Has Come”
“O Day of God, Draw Nigh”
“Here I Am, Lord”

Welcome and Group Covenant (10 minutes)

Welcome group members to the study.  Invite each person to introduce her/himself  in one minute by describing a favorite Easter memory or image.  {If your group has eight persons or more, have people do this in groups of two or three in order to stay within the allotted time.}

Remind the group that effective small groups operate on a covenant characterized by standards such as these:

Prayer:  Pray for one another regularly, by name, and for the group.
Preparation: Do the daily readings as faithfully as life allows.
Presence: Be present unless pressing circumstances intervene.
Participation: Take part in discussions and activities.
Consideration: Allow each one opportunity to talk without being interrupted, and allow persons to choose not to respond to questions if they prefer.
Confidentiality: Personal information discussed in the group will not be repeated outside the group.

Ask if group members want to add other agreements to the list. Confidentiality is especially important since people will be discussing their spiritual journey. In order to be comfortable speaking honestly, people need reassurance that their privacy will be protected and that what they talk about will not be repeated. Each week you may want to post the words prayer, preparation, presence, participation, consideration, and confidentiality and any others the group adds as a reminder of how the group members intend to treat one another.

Ask how many in the group grew up in a faith community that celebrated Lent as a part of the Christian year. Ask for volunteers to explain why we celebrate Lent. Then invite group members to mention questions they have about Lent. If no one mentions the practice of giving up something for Lent, explain that Lenten disciplines of self-denial are meant to help us identify with Christ’s self-denial and suffering for us. If no one mentions Lenten disciplines such as special reading or participating in a small group, explain that another way of observing Lent is to add a discipline such as daily acts of service or study. Your group members will commit to the discipline of reading The Upper Room each day and meeting weekly to discuss their Lenten journey.

INTRODUCING THE UPPER ROOM MAGAZINE (10 minutes)

Distribute copies of the magazine. Direct participants to open their copy of the January-February issue to the article on page 3 titled “How to Use This Magazine Each Day.”  Ask them to review the steps outlined and compare them with their process of using the magazine if they are regular readers or to respond to the steps if they are not already readers. Point out the “Read” line at the top of each meditation and encourage group members to make a special effort to include the longer scripture reading as part of their time with God each day.

Theme Discussion (5 minutes):

Introduce the theme for the study, saying (or re-phrasing in your own words):

God is continually at work in us and in those around us, drawing us toward fuller life in Christ. Sometimes we are aware of God’s work, but more often we coast through our days without seeing that God is working with us and within us. When we decide to try to deliberately pay attention to God’s presence, as we are by being part of this study, we open the door to deepening our life in Christ.

Lent is a time to prepare to re-live the stories of the self-giving love of Christ, in order to more fully experience the joy of resurrection and the new life that God promises. Lent is a time to keep our eyes open for God’s grace, alive in our world and our hearts as God changes us and makes us new.

This first session focuses on hope.

God’s offer of wholeness and fullness of life invites us into a process. But sometimes that process seems to go very, very slowly, and we may become discouraged. In many ways, God invites us to open our eyes to signs of hope that can sustain us as the work of being transformed into Christ’s likeness continues in us. A primary way we open ourselves to God’s work in us is Bible reading and prayer. During the weeks of Lent, we will use The Upper Room magazine to help us listen to God each day.

THE UPPER ROOM MEDITATION – February 13, 2013 (20 minutes)

This week’s session will be different than that in later weeks because it will focus on only one meditation, the one for Ash Wednesday. In later weeks we will look back at the meditations you have read during the preceding week and look forward by giving you one word to focus on in the coming week.

The group will follow the pattern for daily reading outlined on page 3.

  • Read or ask a volunteer to read the scripture verse printed at the top of the meditation; then pause for 30 seconds of silence. (Time this to insure that you allow the full time.)
  • Read the longer scripture reading aloud twice, more slowly the second time. Ask the participants to reflect in silence on a word, phrase, or idea from the passage that seemed to stop them or have special meaning for them.
  • Read (or invite a volunteer to read) the body of the meditation. Ask group members. “How do Eric’s words and experience connect with your life?”
  • Ask group members, “What is the connection between remembering and living in hope?”
  • Ask group members, “What is the connection between remembering and being faithful?”
  • Read the “Thought for the Day” aloud and ask group members how they plan to hold in mind that day’s reading and Thought for the Day.

Word for the Week (10 minutes)HOPE.

Distribute the 3 x 5 cards with the word Hope on them.  Direct participants’ attention to the question that appears on the card.  Ask group members to keep the card in a place where they will see it often during the week and to use the question as a sort of “daily examen.” Perhaps they can use it as a bookmark in the magazine or in their Bible. Have them number 1 – 7 (or put days of the week) on the reverse of the card. Once each day, they are to record on the back of the card a few words to remind them of just one sight or experience that speaks to them about hope. Ask them to bring the card back with them next week.

Invitation to keeping a journal:

Remind the group of the Bible verse quoted in the Ash Wednesday meditation, where God commands the prophet to write down what he hears from God.  Over the centuries Christians have found that writing in journals helps them to see God at work and to remember what God is teaching them. Invite group members to write in a spiritual journal during Lent, spending just 5-10 minutes a day during the next six weeks writing about their response to reading The Upper Room.

Distribute the handout on Keeping a Spiritual Journal, to help those who want to spend a few more minutes writing in a journal during Lent. Ask who has kept a spiritual journal. Invite those who have done so to talk about why they do/did it. Invite those who have tried and failed to talk about what held them back. They may want to keep their journal on a computer or in a spiral notebook. The form is not important. Emphasize that no one will ever be asked to reveal what they write in their journal. As a leader, you can model this discipline by writing in a journal in the coming weeks and mentioning this to the group members.

Closing Prayer

Invite group members to name concerns they want others in the group to pray about during the coming week. It is helpful to list these on a board or newsprint, or you may offer additional 3 x 5 cards for making notes of prayer concerns.

Pray this closing prayer or one of your own:

God of the prophets, walk with us through this Lenten season. Help us to listen for your voice and to remember what you say to us day by day. Amen.

Extinguish the Christ candle and say, “Go in peace, listening for God’s voice in all you do.”