Begin by taking communion together, whether as a full meal or some version of the bread and the cup. If you don’t already have a Communion liturgy, read aloud (by the Leader or all together) John 15v1-5, 8-10. Praying scripture invites God to shape our prayer life through connecting us to the mind and heart of God. Enter in by slowing down to a pace that serves a listening posture. After reading, pause to thank God for his loving presence at the table with you.
John 15v1-5, 8-10
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.
Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away,
and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.
Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.
Abide in me, and I in you.
As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine,
neither can you, unless you abide in me.
I am the vine; you are the branches.
Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit,
for apart from me you can do nothing.
By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.
Abide in my love.
If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love
Read This Overview Aloud Together
(adapted from Bible Project’s Ephesians Study)
Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus is best understood in two major movements held together by prayer (Eph 3v14-21). The first three chapters are pure theological poetry, exploring the expansive promises of reconciliation to God and one another. The final three chapters are the highly practical and specific outworking of those expansive promises in the narrow environments of our everyday lives – the workplace, the home, and in the complexity of human relationship and ethics.
Ephesus was a bustling, cosmopolitan city in the ancient world. It was the center of culture and religion. We know from the book of Acts that Paul spent at least a couple of years there helping to start a community of people who were devoting themselves to Jesus. While we don’t know the details, we know for certain that church communities would have been very diverse. Yet, Paul can write to this diverse group of people and say things like “all things under heaven and earth, can be unified under the Messiah” (Eph chapter 1) or “Take great pain to keep the unity of the spirit through the uniting bond of peace,” there is one spirit, one body, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father who is over all and through all and in all. (Eph chapter 4)
Through Ephesus, the world would see God’s Kingdom through a unified people. Paul calls this the “new humanity” from chapter 2. A new family was created by the love of Jesus and unifying people across the dividing lines!
So it’s not hard to see how important this message is for us right now, living in a city like Portland.
Core to this letter, we find this question in Paul’s letter to Ephesus: what does it mean to be that new, unified humanity in a culture where followers of Jesus could be found on both sides of any divisive political or cultural issues? And the hope is that our allegiance to Jesus could compel us to reach out to other Christians that we know hold different views so that we can really listen, and share in meaningful conversation.
Surely this is the kind of relational community that Paul envisioned for the Ephesians. He said get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, fighting, or slander, and rather, embody kindness, compassion, and forgiveness towards each other, in Christ, just as God forgave you. Paul emphasizes this point – the most powerful ways that we can experience the Gospel right now is to embody it by building bridges within the body of Christ.
Do This Practice Tonight
Read the first half of the letter (Ephesians 1-3) out loud and then break into smaller groups and discuss.
Discuss The Following Questions
- What word or phrase caught your attention?
- Reread Ephesians 1:9-10 and 2:11-22 and notice all the words that communicate unity (both, all, together, etc.). What about this communicates the heart of God?
- What would a prayer response to this first half of Ephesians look like, when you think about what God is renewing, revealing, and reviving in your life? In Portland?
Read The Practice for the Week Ahead
For the week ahead, establish a time and place that is quiet and free from distractions to set aside 3 – 5 times to practice lectio divina. Any passage of Scripture can be utilized for the practice of lectio divina. Here are a few suggestions with which to start:
After selecting one passage, read and move slowly through each of the five movements of spiritual reading.
- Prepare to meet with God: Turn your phone off and leave it in another room. Situate yourself comfortably in a quiet, solitary place. Calm your body and quiet your mind before God as you work to prepare your heart to receive what God has spoken through the text, and to respond accordingly. Finally, invite the Holy Spirit to guide your thinking and feeling as you read.
- Read (lectio): Read the passage slowly and carefully. Take your time. As you move through the text, pay close attention to what words and ideas draw your attention in unique ways. When your focus is drawn to a particular word or thought, pause momentarily to reflect on them.
- Reflect (mediatio): Upon completing the passage, return to the beginning and read again. On your second journey through the text, allow the text to connect with you personally. Which words or phrases assume a particular resonance in your heart, your season of life, your person in this moment. Ask, “What do I need to know, or be, or do in light of the text? What does this mean for my life today?”
- Respond (oratio): Talk to God about your experience. If you’re confused, say that. Moved? Express gratitude to God. Upset? Tell him about it. Compelled to worship? Worship. If the text has brought something else to mind, talk to God about that.
- Rest (contemplatio): Pause to sit in God’s presence before fleeing from the moment. You might express wonder, awe, gratitude, or praise through words, or you might allow yourself to feel and experience these things quietly before God.
End in Prayer
Close your time together asking for God to awaken your hearts to all the wonder and walking of being alive “in Christ.”