We're so glad that you've decided to join us for Sunday School!
When we meet on Sunday mornings, we always share joys and concerns from our lives. Take some time now to think back on your week, and consider what joys and concerns you have. These could be personal, for someone you know, or even for the world.
We have been doing guided prayers. If you see a guided prayer that we could use for Sunday School, something that could be adapted to a guided prayer for Sunday School, or if you would like to write the guided prayer for Sunday School, please let me know! I would love to get some suggestions! You can email the church: firstname.lastname@example.org, or give me a call.
Last week, we followed a suggestion in this article to pray the Psalms like a Christmas tree, by taking a psalm, and adding in our own prayer requests within the psalm... decorating it. I really enjoyed doing that, and thought we could do it again.
1 Praise the Lord, my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
2 Praise the Lord, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits--
3 who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
5 who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
[Pray in thanksgiving for your joys]
6 The Lord works righteousness
and justice for all the oppressed.
[Pray for those experiencing oppression, from race, gender, religion, etc]
7 He made known his ways to Moses,
his deeds to the people of Israel:
8 The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
9 He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
[Pray for those who are experiencing mental and emotional problems]
13 As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
14 for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.
15 The life of mortals is like grass,
they flourish like a flower of the field;
16 the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.
17 But from everlasting to everlasting
the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,
and his righteousness with their children’s children--
18 with those who keep his covenant
and remember to obey his precepts.
[Pray for those experiencing physical health problems, and those experiencing grief]
19 The Lord has established his throne in heaven,
and his kingdom rules over all.
[Pray for peace and justice in the world]
20 Praise the Lord, you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his bidding,
who obey his word.
21 Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts,
you his servants who do his will.
22 Praise the Lord, all his works
everywhere in his dominion.
Praise the Lord, my soul.
[Pray for those working to make the world a better place]
Our Sunday School lessons come from our adult Sunday School book. All scripture references are linked to an online text, and are bold and underlined. Just click on the words, and it will open the scripture passage in a new window.
Our lesson this week is on James 1:19-27.
The title of today's lesson gets at what is really a fundamental human problem: the disconnect in our hearts and minds between hearing and doing. The problem is not really a lack of information but rather what we do or don't do with it. Consider: we know so much about what we should or should not be eating, yet we find it difficult to adhere to healthy dietary guidelines.
Some have pointed to the problem of an "attention economy." Our attention is scarce, the argument goes, and is therefore valuable. Advertisers, tech companies, and social media platforms recognize this and capitalize on it. Advertising is everywhere. Even gas stations have pumps fitted with display screens in order to advertise while we fill our tanks.
In the midst of all this noise, we learn quickly how to tune out calls to action. We become so practiced in this that it can be difficult to tune in to the calls that are truly important. Today's lesson has something valuable to teach us in that regard.
Amid all that the Creator provided Adam and Eve in the garden -- amid all the evidence of God's goodness -- the first humans heard the command not to eat of the tree in the middle of the garden. But they failed to do what God commanded (Genesis 3) when they failed to tune out a contradictory voice. The disconnect between hearing and doing was and is at the heart of sin.
This is also the story of Israel. Even after clear evidence of God's presence during the exodus, the Israelites failed to obey, instead creating an idol to worship (Exodus 32). During the time of the judges, the Israelites wen through relentless cycles of oppression, deliverance, and relapse. They never seemed to make the connection between their actions and the results. This pattern was fundamentally a problem of the heart (see Proverbs 4:23).
The power of speech is likewise a thread that can be traced through Scripture, beginning in Genesis 3. As we study, we remember the context of James' audience: economic oppression, some infighting, and persecution (see this lesson's context; also see James 2:1-7; 3:13-4:12; 5:1-6).
When we meet in person, we usually discuss the lesson text, and how it relates to our lives. Take some time to work through these questions from our teacher's book. These can be difficult, and there is not usually one right answer. If you are reading with someone else, discuss your thoughts together. If you feel comfortable, you can share any questions, answers, or comments below.
From the time we can first utter individual words like, "Mama," or, "Daddy," we like to talk. As we grow up, our speech helps to form our identity and to distinguish ourselves from others. Talking is, by and large, extremely beneficial. It helps us work through problems, as for help, comfort others, unburden ourselves, and so forth.
On the other hand, sometimes we just like to hear ourselves talk. It appeals to our pride, makes us feel smart, and can make us feel superior to those around us. James understands this about human nature. He understands that often our words are not as beneficial -- either to us or to those around us --- as we may like to think. What is best, rather, is when our thoughtfully slow words result in or are accompanied by action.
This is especially true when it comes to our posture towards are fellow believers who are most vulnerable and in need. Consider the thoughts of the apostle John on this subject:
If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
Openness to what God has to say is the starting point for faithful speech and for the action that accompanies or follows it.
The principles of today's first-century text can be brought readily into the twenty-first century. Do we not deal with the same problems of words in relation to action? In one respect or another, God's Word reveals in all of us our stubborn tendency to run our lives on our terms -- to value words and actions (or lack of either) in ways that God does not. If we do so after we have confessed that God's way is the only way, then it is time to allow God's Word to assess ourselves anew.
Heavenly Father, strengthen our resolve to discipline our speech so that it may result in action rather than attitude. May we not be content with mere words as we minister to others in the name of your Son, Jesus. In his name we pray. Amen.
This week's benediction is from the Passion Translation.
Next week's lesson will be on James 2:14-26.
We are a small, rural Presbyterian church in southwestern Pennsylvania.