belonging

Bible study

Bible passage: Matthew 6 v 25-34; Matthew 10 v 28-31

Our attachment to people and places

The theme to be explored in this study is the way our need for attachment to significant people and places seems to be connected with our need for self-worth; how death calls up terror in us because it seems to threaten both of these fundamental needs; and how the Bible deals with this head-on.

Before reading the Bible passage(s) your group may find it helpful to look at this painting by Stanley Spencer, called Consider the Lilies, which dates from 1939.

Consider the Lillies
Stanley Spencer: Christ in the Wilderness - Consider the Lilies

Notes on the painting

  • The picture was painted at a time in Spencer’s life when he was alone and disillusioned after a disastrous relationship had come to an end.  
  • He was trying to reconnect with his Christian faith. It’s part of series of eight paintings and 16 drawings entitled Christ in the Wilderness. The wilderness perhaps refers more to Spencer than to Christ because the pictures are not all about Jesus’ temptation in the desert.
  • The series explores Christ’s deep connection with nature. The recurring theme is that Jesus is alone, cut off from other human beings, but intimately connected with the natural world. Most of the paintings are about Jesus and animals (foxes, a hen, a scorpion, eagles), but this one is about flowers.
  • Perhaps its most striking feature of the series is Jesus’ size; he nearly fills the canvas. This may be an allusion to the fact that ‘he fills all in all’ (Ephesians 1:23). In comparison to his bulk, the lilies of the field are small.
  • The lilies are actually daisies and larger than life. Spencer has located the Galilean lilies of the field in an English meadow.
  • opening questions

  • What is Spencer up to here?
  • What is Jesus up to here?
  • Does this depiction of Jesus feel familiar or strange to you?
  • Bible passage

    25“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?

     28And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.

    [30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you– you of little faith?

    31Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.34“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.]

    28Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

    questions

  • Jesus talks about life in the first passage and about death in the second passage. In both he emphasises to his listeners that we have a high worth. He also talks about worry and fear. Psychologists have found fear of death to be closely linked to worry about self-worth. Why do you think this might be?
  • What do sowing and reaping and toiling and spinning have to do with self-worth? (Note that the first two were the conventional tasks of men and the second two the conventional tasks of women in Jesus’ culture – he is addressing a mixed group.) What place does hard work have in a life well lived?
  • Jesus seems to be emphasising the power and authority of God as creator and sustainer of the natural living world right down to its smallest parts, but also as the one who has authority to judge all at the end of time. How might answering to this ‘higher authority’ affect the way we live our lives?
  • Although it isn’t that obvious at first, this passage is actually about being part of a family. Jesus isn’t just using the birds and the flowers as a convenient metaphor; he is reminding his listeners that we are part of the natural order – we belong. On top of that he uses the phrases ‘Your (plural) heavenly Father’ in the first passage and ‘your (plural) Father’ in the second. Why do you think this is an important part of his argument?
  • wider questions

  • How might a sense of belonging help us to live and die well?
  • People in residential care homes and hospitals who are nearing the end of life are also often cut off from nature. Yet we have seen that a connection with the natural world is part of what makes us feel human and less isolated. What can be done about this?
  • How might the ideas explored in these studies inform the epidemic of loneliness in our society?
  • Additional passages

    Here are four  passages in addition to the main one above. You could have a one-off study on a single passage, a series using all five passages, or break up a larger group into small subgroups to look at one passage each and then come back to share common themes. Click on the texts to find the suggested questions.

  • Feeling that I am ‘different’ is often taken to imply feeling that I don’t fit in. How does Paul challenge that idea in this passage?
  • Have there been times in your life when you have felt desperate to fit in at the expense of being true to yourself? What have you learnt from those times?
  • How can we help people find their place in church congregations or in the wider community so that they have a sense of belonging?
  • Paul seems to be arguing that it is the Spirit that unites us. What does that mean in your experience?
  • How can we resist the human desire to rank people in order of importance and treat them accordingly?
  • This is a difficult passage. ‘The earthly tent’ is the stuff we have around us to stop us feeling exposed. What sort of stuff might this be? Is it our physical body or is it more than that – the stuff that gives us a sense of identity?
  • Paul seems to suggest that we may be reluctant to let go of our earthly tent, even though we know that there is a heavenly tent waiting for us, for fear of having to wait uncovered for it to materialise. He reassures us that for those who place their faith in Christ the transition from one to the other has already begun; we are being transformed. What evidence does he offer?
  • In your experience what does it look like when we invest too heavily and cling too hard to our ‘earthly tent?
  • We are used to thinking of mortal things being swallowed up by death. Paul talks of them being ‘swallowed up by life’ (v4). How do you understand this?
  • What do you think Paul’s main aim is in this passage? (the clues are in vs 13 and 18)
  • Find the phrases ‘with him’, ‘together with them’, ‘with the Lord’. Why are these important?
  • How literally do you take Paul’s description of the second coming? Do you find it encouraging or a bit weird? Or both?
  • • This is a wonderful vision of both the diversity and solidarity of God’s creatures worshipping him for ever in the heavenly places. Do you feel you want to be part of it? Have you ever glimpsed anything like this?
    • The creatures sing a new song of worship (v9). It’s new because it is not to the Lion who conquers (v5) but to the Lamb who was slain. Why is this so important?
    • The move from Lion to Lamb takes St John by surprise, turning his expectations upside-down. Do you find God to be a God of surprises?

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