Pathways Week 12: Revealing God’s Beauty

Journey Forward is Mennonite Church USA’s churchwide renewal process of engaging in Scripture, storytelling and sharing how God is at work in the lives of people and congregations across MC USA. Its purpose is for us to renew our local and denominationwide identity and affirm our core beliefs as we live out the mission to which God calls us as the church. It is a process, not a conclusion. The process invites you to connect how you’re living God’s call to broader church mission and draws our attention to how the Living Word is moving in our midst.

The Renewed Commitments concisely name core values orienting MC USA toward a faithful future.

God invites us to experience and bear witness to the belovedness of all creation. We yearn to know and share in the mystery of God’s unending love. But we live in a broken world. The Holy Spirit beckons us toward the restoration of all things in Christ, and on this journey together, we commit to:

 

  • Follow Jesus

  • Witness to God’s peace

  • Experience transformation

The Pathways study guide is a resource for individuals and groups across MC USA to use in exploring how they might live out these values in their particular contexts. In preparation for MennoCon19, we invite you to use this study guide and consider how these commitments are at work in your life and community.

Session Summary

In this session, participants will discuss “Revealing God’s Beauty” by comparing and contrasting three biblical passages:

The Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9),

The Blessing of Unity (Psalm 133)

The Diversity of Spiritual Gifts (1 Corinthians 12).

Positive and negative implications of unity and diversity in each passage will be explored to reveal God’s beauty as expressed in the creation of all nations, tribes, people and languages. Participants will be challenged to acknowledge behavioral biases and/or prejudices that exist in their context and commit to specific practices to embrace the diversity of all God’s children and their gifts as many members of Christ’s body.

Gather

Read the “Renewed Commitments” theme description:

“The Holy Spirit dwells in and among us, transforming us to reflect God’s love. Through worship the Spirit gathers the body of Christ, where our diversity reveals God’s beauty. The Spirit empowers our communities to embody the grace, joy and peace of the gospel.”

Share that the subtheme to be explored for this session of the study guide is “Revealing God’s Beauty.”

Begin with an opening prayer:

God, we acknowledge you as the creator of all humankind and the giver of every good and perfect gift. Touch our eyes so that we may see the likeness of your image in ourselves and others. Open our ears so that we may hear the voice of your Spirit speaking to and through us. Prepare our minds and hearts to discern your will. Transform us as we seek to understand and relate to one another and the world in ways that reveal your beauty and reflect your love. In Jesus’ name we pray and say, Amen.

Ask participants to reflect upon their childhood years and the songs they may have learned in Sunday School or Vacation Bible School such as “Jesus Loves the Little Children” and “Jesus Loves Me.”

Provide a copy of the lyrics to each song on a screen lyric sheet. Invite participants to stand and sing each song, followed by a verse and chorus of “Jesus Loves Me” in another language that may be represented in your congregation, constituency or affinity group.

Refer to the kaleidoscope (or another image/object chosen) and mirror located on each table as symbols used in this session to represent the beauty of many parts working together as one, and the reflection of God’s image and likeness in each person.

Encounter

Read this section aloud:

A kaleidoscope is an optical instrument that consists of pieces of glass held together loosely at the end of a rotating tube. As the kaleidoscope tube is rotated, those same bits of glass continually change into symmetrical patterns of shapes and colors by the reflection of angled mirrors within the tube. What we see as we look inside differs each time the tube is rotated. Although each bit of glass is beautiful, the collective image formed as the pieces collide reflects the synergistic beauty of all the pieces in one optical display. However, this display cannot be seen unless each shard of glass is reflected against the angled mirrors within the tube.

(If another image or object is to be used instead, adapt this explanation to illustrate the main idea here.)

Invite participants to pass around the kaleidoscope (or optional image/object) and mirror at each table for their viewing pleasure.

Assign each of the following passages of scripture to a table group to read aloud:

  • Genesis 11:1-9 (The Tower of Babel)
  • Psalm 133 (The Blessing of Unity)
  • 1 Corinthians 12 (The Diversity of Spiritual Gifts)

After summarizing the main themes with the entire group, discuss how the words “babel,” “unity” and “diversity” are interpreted through the lens of these scriptural passages. Compare and contrast the details shared in each biblical reference. What additional insight can be gathered and recorded for reflection? Draw the following diagram on the whiteboard or flip chart and record responses from the group under the appropriate heading:

Discern

Review the Renewed Commitment description theme again with an emphasis on the subtheme, “Revealing God’s Beauty.” Sadly, God’s beauty is distorted when and where occurrences of racism, white privilege, prejudice, gender inequality, lack of cultural diversity, intolerance, abuse and misuse of power and other forms of unjust systemic behaviors and practices exist. Perhaps some or all of us have experienced one or more of these behaviors. It is possible to identify with either end of the spectrum as the oppressor or the victim of some form of oppression. As we take a few minutes to reflect upon our own personal journeys, what specific images or occurrences come to mind? Pause for silent reflection and ask the following questions for further discussion:

  1. How has God’s beauty been distorted in your personal experiences? What feelings were evoked as a result?
  2. As we examine how the unity of God’s people and the diversity of their gifts were distorted in The Tower of Babel story, what conclusions can be made?
  3. What happens when different people with diverse gifts work together to fulfill God’s purpose rather than their own, as depicted in Psalm 133 and 1 Corinthians 12?

Embody

*This section can be expanded if additional time is allowed.

Invite participants to look at the beautiful optical images displayed in the kaleidoscopes and mirrors at their tables once again. Reiterate that diversity is God’s way of displaying the beauty of God’s image and likeness through our differences and with our spiritual gifts. What specific behaviors or issues need to be addressed so that the Spirit can transform our personal perspectives, congregations, agencies and institutions to reflect the beauty and diversity of gifts represented by all God’s children?

Invite participants to brainstorm ideas and record strategies to intentionally embrace diversity in our congregations, conferences, constituency groups and denominational institutions. Share ideas and strategies with others in table groups.

How can we identify and effectively communicate with those who look, act and think differently than we do? As a group, list at least three ways in which to do so and attach a specific time frame to measure and achieve what has been listed. Mention that there are resources available to assist in dismantling forms of racism, prejudice, gender bias, and other distorted behaviors that exist. Refer to these links to suggest denominational resources available:

For further reflection, inform participants of the Racial Ethnic Council, and various Racial Ethnic groups that exist within MC USA, and how congregations, conferences, agencies and institutions can partner with one or more of these groups in an effort to intentionally embrace diversity.

Send

Revelation 4:11 (NKJV) declares, “You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honor and power; For you created all things, And by your will they exist and were created.” Together, we form a beautiful image as many members of Christ’s body, held together to reflect God’s likeness and love to each other and the world.

Invite participants to sing “Jesus Loves the Little Children” while viewing images seen through the kaleidoscopes and mirrors provided.

Closing Prayer (adapted from Acts 17:26-27, Ephesians 2:10 and Matthew 19:14):

Dear God, You have made from one blood every nation of people to dwell on the face of the earth. You have determined our pre-appointed times and the boundaries of our dwellings so that we would seek the Lord in the hope that we might grope for and find you, though you are not far from each one of us. We are your workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which you have prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. Forgive us for distorting your beauty. Help us to embrace your likeness in the people with whom we interact from this day forward. Lead us as we discover and deploy the spiritual gifts within and among us. We come to you as little children with a desire to represent the kingdom of heaven on earth. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.