“Going in the Name of Jesus of Palestine, Rather than Jesus of Constantine” by Bishop Ivan Abrahams #UMCGC

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Additional Resources

You can download the study guide created for this video here: GC2016 Bishop Abrahams Study Guide

Study Guide

For leaders: Allow a minimum of one hour for this study, including the video. If there are more than 10 people in the group, divide the group into small work teams to tackle the questions and report from the group.

Watch the video as a group or individually. When the group has gathered, invite one member to read aloud Matthew 18:10-14. Allow 15-30 seconds for silent reflection then answer the following questions:

1. Bishop Abrahams recalls the early church that was founded under Roman occupation by people who were outcasts in a ruling society who challenged the “lordship of Caesar.” What were some benefits to followers of Jesus during this early time? Obstacles? What was required of them to live out their faith? Who was included in the church’s outreach?

2. Next, the bishop recalls third-century changes in the status of the church, first by Constantine’s Edict of Milan** and, later, by the Council of Nicea. What were the possible benefits to being declared the “official” religion of the empire? What changed with regard to the status of Christians? What was the treatment of people who were poor or living on life’s margins by the church? How did the church address or criticize the ruling powers?

3. In contrasting a church that follows “Jesus of Palestine” with one who follows “Jesus of Constantine,” the bishop laments Christian participation in systems that oppress and “criminalize and demonize” those who are least in society. Describe how these events from history harmed God’s people in the church and world: the Crusades again Muslims; the trials again witchcraft and heresy in the 1400-1600 CE in Europe and the United States; colonialism in the Americas, Europe, Africa, and Asia.

4. List instances in your church or ministry setting where Christians “live comfortably with power, prestige and profits,” rather than serving and partnering with the “least of these” in your communities. What must change for your church to be in stronger relationship with people who are poor? With people who are marginalized because of race and class bias? With people who are in prisons and jails?

5. How does the budget and spending of your ministry setting reflect Jesus’ gospel of mercy and justice for the poor? How much of your mission encompasses acts of charity (soup kitchens, clothing ministries, tutorial programs) and acts of justice (working for equitable spending in public schools, challenging laws that penalize the poor, calling for better training for police officers in addressing stalking, domestic, and sexual violence)? What does Bishop Abrahams say about Jesus’ concerns about both mercy and justice?

6. Abrahams asserts that those who choose the Jesus of Constantine “preach Christ without the Cross” and “peddle a brand of Christianity that does not afflict the comfortable, nor does it comfort the afflicted.” What does this mean to you? What justice issues in your community should your church learn more about and address? Where are places of hurt in your community where the church is needed but not currently involved?

7. God’s love, grace and justification, and Jesus came to save the whole world, the bishop declares. Does your church, and do you, live out that all-including love? How? When was the last time you worshiped with or had Bible study or a topical study with someone whose race, culture, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, political believe, or lifestyle differed from yours? What did you learn?

8. What can you do, pray, and practice to move your spiritual discipleship closer to “Jesus of Palestine?” What do you need from your congregation or ministry setting? Make a list and discuss. If you run out of time, plan a follow-up discussion to make concrete proposals and share these with your pastoral staff, Sunday school or Bible study leaders, United Methodist Women or United Methodist Men, or youth/young adult groups.

About

Bishop Abrahams is the first South African to head the World Methodist Council, located in Lake Junaluska, N.C. Before coming to the council, Abrahams was presiding bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa from 2003-2012. He delivered this address to the 2016 General Conference.

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