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Possible Sunday School Topics for the Christian Science Bible Lesson

for Sunday, June 11, 2017 on

“God the Preserver of Man”

by Aubrey McMullin, C.S., Godfrey, Illinois
(618) 578-9407

PSST Golden Text – Over and over again, Haggai preached and pleaded with the people of Judah – who returned from exile in Babylon* to a ruined temple, ruined homes, and ruined fields – to overcome their difficulties and rebuild. This rebuilding meant their lives, their homes, their identity, their consciousness of manhood and womanhood as the sons and daughters of God. What does this record of ancient people building mean to us today? Our problems today seem so different, but the "causes" underlying them (ancient and modern) have never changed: pain, fear, selfishness, greed, envy, hatred, war. Where do we find the answers to these problems? How do we put our prayer into action through the building of strong and noble lives? How do we know and trust God's promise of presence in our lives?

PSST Responsive Reading The story of Jacob's ladder in this Responsive Reading is an illustration of the way in which the spiritual idea came to someone who was mesmerized by some pretty big forms of carnal belief. After his trickery and deceit, in an effort to gain some advantage by material means, Jacob was afraid of Esau his brother, and it must have been tough for him to remember his dishonorable acts and hold fear of the consequences of what he had done as he faced an unknown future in a land that he didn't know. As he lay on his stone pillow he dreamed of the ladder reaching from earth to heaven, on which the angels of God were ascending and descending. What does this symbolize for you? Why would Jacob dream of angels ascending and descending when facing the unknown and feeling guilt for his actions toward his brother?

All of the self-seeking and duplicity in Jacob's thought, as well as the fears which he entertained, were forms of error, mental suggestions of some reality apart from God, good; but the angels, as Mrs. Eddy says, in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures (p. 581), are "God's thoughts passing to man; spiritual intuitions, pure and perfect; the inspiration of goodness, purity, and immortality, counteracting all evil, sensuality, and mortality." Are ideas coming to man anything other than angels, God's thoughts? Do ideas that seem to come from any source other than God have any reality? Can anything in man entertain ideas that are not God's intelligent reflection?

What are some examples in your life when you, or someone you know, was provided with something they needed, perhaps even in an unexpected way? How have you experienced or witnessed the promise of God's presence like Jacob did?

PSST Section 1 – How does this section help us realize the our innocence and moral courage and integrity, etc. cannot be taken from us? How are we reassured that God preserves us?

Sometimes we assume that when the stakes are high – whether it be government, politics, sports, high finance, relationships, whatever – that it's okay for integrity to take a back seat. The opportunity is too big to lose, right? But this is just the time we need to uphold our own, and everyone else's, integrity, because it's a divine quality and an established part of our nature. Mary Baker Eddy put it this way: "Evasion of Truth cripples integrity, and casts thee down from the pinnacle" (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 448). The "pinnacle" she referred to is the pinnacle mentioned in the Bible, when the devil tempted Jesus to jump, out of self-will and arrogance, from the top of the temple in Jerusalem (see Luke 4:9). In other words, it's as if a thought whispered, "Go ahead, be less than you actually are."

A common expression that I've heard used when someone upholds his or her integrity refers to reflection: "I want to be able to look at myself in the mirror tomorrow morning." Knowing ourselves as God's likeness, we can claim the truth of our spiritual being and the wholeness that comes from knowing that our integrity is intact. We can claim that there is no suggestion outside of this purity that can tempt us, or that can tempt others. Integrity is a quality of God, divine Mind, and it is ever active and healing. It calls anything unlike this Mind a lie – anything that involves cynicism, trickery, or plain-old "looking the other way."

Honesty, not dishonesty, is the nature of the universe created by God. Mrs. Eddy states that, "All that God imparts moves in accord with Him, reflecting goodness and power" (SH1, p. 515:22). As the reflection of Mind, each of us can cherish that spiritual identity. When we listen to the inner voice that says, "As for me, I will walk in mine integrity" (Ps. 26:11), we find that honesty isn't just the best policy. It's the only one.

How are we acknowledging our God-given integrity? How are we demonstrating that "the divine Mind that made man maintains His own image and likeness" (SH3, p. 151:23-24), including divine integrity?

PSST Section 2 – Our understanding of Noah as younger children is one of heroism and admiration because he listened to God and demonstrated immense courage and dedication to God by building an ark, but after the flood once he was back on dry land, we see another side of Noah that seems a little less appealing and even less God-like.

One of Noah’s three sons, Ham, found him lying drunk and naked in his tent. Ham reported this to his two brothers, Shem and Japheth, but he did nothing to help his father. By contrast, Shem and Japheth acted with compassion. The Bible says they were unwilling to look on their father’s nakedness. Respectfully keeping their faces turned away, they laid a garment on their shoulders and backed into Noah’s tent with it to cover him.

At times when we or others seem to lose poise and wholeness, whether because of an accident, disease, or sin, this story of Noah and his sons can assist in finding the way to healing. The sons provide two options for how to handle problems. One, represented by Ham, sees man as material, and human frailty as reality. In the Glossary of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Mary Baker Eddy defines Ham as “corporeal belief; sensuality; slavery; tyranny” (p. 587). Are we resorting to Ham-like thoughts that leave us stuck in problems and do nothing to help restore peace and wholeness?

Shem and Japheth, however, represent the refusal to see evil as real and man as material or sensual. In the Glossary of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Shem is defined in part as “kindly affection; love rebuking error; reproof of sensualism” (p. 594). Japheth is defined as “a type of spiritual peace, flowing from the understanding that God is the divine Principle of all existence, and that man is His idea, the child of His care” (SH7, p. 589). Are we turning away from the picture of sickness or sin as demonstrated by Shem and Japheth, broadening our spiritual understanding and restoring man to his true, upright nature? Are we demonstrating Ham-like thoughts: "beliefs of material existence… bald imposition, and sin, disease, and death…" or are we demonstrating Shem and Japheth-like thoughts: "…calm, strong currents of true spirituality, the manifestations of which are health, purity, and self-immolation…" (SH12, p. 99:23)?

PSST Section 3 – This section starts the story of Abraham and Sarah after they've been renamed, so let's get a little background info about the two and their marriage and answer some questions like why would Sarah be rewarded for treating Hagar so poorly? or how do we hear God's messages for us, even when they might not be the messages that we want to hear? or How can we trust in God's plan for us, even if things look bad or difficult for us in any particular moment?

God made a promise to Sarai (before she became Sarah) that her husband Abram (before he became Abraham) would be the father of a great nation. But at this time, Sarai may have doubted just how vital a role she would play, because God hadn't explicitly said that she would be the mother of this nation and at the time of this promise she was unable to bear children. Years later when God again promised descendants and land to Abram, Sarai was still childless and began to blame God for her barrenness. At this point Sarai gave her Egyptian slave Hagar to Abram as a secondary wife – a customary practice then – so that Abram would have an heir, but instead of being glad that Hagar could bear Abram a son, Sarai became angry and jealous and worried that Hagar would be the mother of the "great nation" that God had promised her husband years earlier.

One day, God made a covenant with Abram that specifically included Sarai: Sarai would bear a son of her own. To symbolize the covenant, God renamed the couple Abraham and Sarah. Their initial laughter at having a son at such old age gave way to awareness of what God can do. They both came to see that regardless of their age, God had, over the course of many years, paved the way for this next step. In spite of the many obstacles that lay in her path, nothing could prevent Sarah from fulfilling God's plan for her. As God said in response to Sarah's laughter (paraphrasing): "Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?" How does the 12th citation from Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy compliment the lesson in this section? How did "Love support the struggling heart until it (ceased) to sigh over the world and (begin) to unfold its wings for heaven" in this story of Sarah and Hagar?

When Hagar needed guidance, God provided an answer—although it may not have been the answer Hagar would have liked! Nevertheless, Hagar's obedience to God's messages saved not only her life, but also the life of her child. In spite of the many obstacles that lay in Hagar's path, nothing could prevent her from fulfilling God's plan for her or Ishmael (her son) either!

Sometimes when you pray, you hear messages that may not be what you want to hear. How can you know that God's plan is special and just for you? How can you know that it is full of wonderful things? How can you trust God's plan for you, even if things look bad at the moment? How can you learn from both Sarah and Hagar in trusting God's direction and promises of good? Can anything but good come from a willingness to listen for what God is telling you and following His direction? How does divine Love always meet every human need, as marker 16 in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures remind us?

PSST Section 4 – The Bible is full of stories of people overcoming life-threatening situations by unreservedly trusting God. In one of these stories, the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be cast into a burning, fiery furnace because they refused to fall down and worship a large image of gold. These three men remained steadfast in worshiping only the one God (B13, Daniel 3:1–30).

I love the part of this story when Nebuchadnezzar asked "who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?" And they were careful not to answer him. I've often questioned what that meant, because for a large part of my life it felt like they were being arrogant with God's care and deliverance, rather than humble with it. Recently a friend shared with me that to him, it felt that the three young men felt that there was no defense necessary – their trust was completely in God. Their intent was to display principle, not arrogance. When do we have opportunities to display principle rather than arrogance? How can we rely fully on God and His tender, loving care for protection?

Though people may not be literally thrown into furnaces today, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, we may face distressing circumstances, which could be presented as incurable diseases, accidents, wars, and poverty. We may feel hopeless, as if our hands are tied and we’re unable to see the solutions to these problems. How does this Bible story show that, regardless of how severe a situation may appear, through prayer and trust in God we can unbind our thought from anything that tries to harm or limit us and expect good to unfold continuously in our lives? How can we demonstrate and recognize that "man is sustained by God" (SH17, p. 530:5-6), and that "matter is not self-sustaining" (SH21, p. 372:22)?

Something else that I like thinking about when reading this story, especially when Nebuchadnezzar realizes that there is a fourth figure in the fire, is the impact that this story brings to Daniel, from the well-known "Daniel in the lion's den" story, later on. Daniel was friends with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and was with them before they were cast into the fire, but he went off to do something else shortly before Nebuchadnezzar became angry with them. How do you think that the dedication and reliance on God that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego demonstrated impacted Daniel when he was later cast into the lion's den by king Darius? Daniel was witness to the fact that "holy inspiration has created states of mind which have been able to nullify the action of the flames… while an opposite mental state might produce spontaneous combustion" (SH20, p. 161:5). How can we nullify the action of the flames on a day to day basis? How can we be so divinely inspired that we are able to demonstrate man as "indestructible and eternal"? (SH22, p. 402:8-13)?

PSST Section 5 – A common word translated in the Bible is “preserve” and the Hebrew word is shamar (B14). Preserve occurs in the Bible 468 times! It means to guard, protect, or attend to (see Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible). For example, the word preserve in Psalms 121:8 is translated from shamar, and the verse is a poetic praise of God’s constant, watchful care: “The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore” (B14, Psalms 121:8). [This is our theme on every CedarS Express weekend like the one coming up when a bus full of eager campers travel to CedarS for our 2017 Opening Day!] Or, as the New Living Translation renders this verse, “The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever.” The word shamar is also frequently translated “keep” or “observe” in the Bible, often in connection with keeping or observing God’s laws.

In no record of Jesus' words and works is there any statement of Jesus' to the effect that he was God. On the contrary, he always pointed to God as his Father and the Father of man. The standard he set for himself was, "If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not. But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works: that ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him" (B16, John 23:37, 38). Christian Scientists believe that Jesus did the works of his Father and they point to his works as well as his words as the standard we all must follow in demonstrating – bringing into our own experience – our understanding of God. They know that they may not enter the fold – this understanding – except through Jesus' teachings. Mrs. Eddy points this out most positively when she says in Miscellaneous Writings (p. 270): "To seek or employ other means than those the Master used in demonstrating Life scientifically, is to lose the priceless knowledge of his Principle and practice. He said, 'Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.' Gain a pure Christianity; for that is requisite for healing the sick. Then you will need no other aid, and will have full faith in his prophecy, 'And there shall be one fold, and one shepherd;' but, the Word must abide in us, if we would obtain that promise. We cannot depart from his holy example,— we cannot leave Christ for the schools which crucify him, and yet follow him in healing. Fidelity to his precepts and practice is the only passport to his power; and the pathway of goodness and greatness runs through the modes and method of God." Mrs. Eddy also said in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, that "divine Truth, Life, and Love gave Jesus authority over sin, sickness, and death. His mission was to reveal the Science of celestial being, to prove what God is and what He does for man" (SH 24, p. 26:14).

How are we demonstrating the inseparability of ourselves with God? How are we seeing His preservation, guard, protection, and attending to – like that of a Shepherd and his flock? How are we following in Christ Jesus' example and doing the works of our Father-Mother, seeking no other employ? How are we gaining the priceless knowledge of Principle and practice?

PSST Section 6 – "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee," we read in Isaiah (B18, Isaiah 26:3). When Daniel was unharmed in the lions' den, when the three Hebrews emerged from the fiery furnace with no "smell of fire" on their garments, they exemplified the perfect peace and protection (preservation) available to any individual who trusts in God, in other words, the individual whose faith is established on the understanding of Truth. Mary Baker Eddy also walked in perfect peace through humiliation, poverty, and cruel taunts of mortal mind. She also emerged not only with no "smell of fire" upon her garments but with the fragrance of love for all mankind, even her persecutors. Mrs. Eddy explored the road from blind faith in God and false belief in all that is material and temporal to enlightened faith and spiritual understanding of God, Spirit, and the eternal verities of Life. Because of her exploration and discovery, she was able to give us the following instructions in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures: "The divine Mind maintains all identities, from a blade of grass to a star, as distinct and eternal" (SH 29, p. 70: 12-13).

Since man, the image and likeness of God, includes all right ideas, he must and does include the right, or spiritual, concept of all that constitutes the real, all-inclusive manifestation of Mind, and each of these lesser ideas is as eternal as that which includes them. Mrs. Eddy says (SH 19, p. 70), "The divine Mind maintains all identities, from a blade of grass to a star, as distinct and eternal."The belief that any part of Mind's creation could ever be destroyed is false. There is no single idea of Mind that can ever be separated from its divine Principle or cease to exist. If one idea could be removed from God's universe, the universe itself would be subject to disintegration, and that is, of course, inconceivable. It is the nature of Mind, God, Life, to preserve and perpetuate its own creation and every part of it.

The verse from Nehemiah that wraps up the lesson this week encourages us to be strong, courageous, unafraid, and upbeat—with the knowledge that God is with us no matter what. It shows why this is possible: "Thou, even thou, art Lord alone; thou has made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth, and all things that are therein, the seas, and all that is therein, and thou preservest them all" (B19, Nehemiah 9:6). Mrs. Eddy complimented this Bible verse when she wrote, "Man is God's reflection, needing no cultivation, but ever beautiful and complete" (SH 31, p. 527:4). No reflection has to strive to be; it just is. [W: “There’s nothing more stress-free than a reflection.”] No reflection has to contend with something else to find space for being reflection. And, what is most important, no reflection can ever be separated from its original.

How does God continuously supply everything that is needful for the preservation of His idea, man? How is man kept in perfect peace by his Father-Mother? What does perfect peace mean to you? How are we kept in perfect peace? What does cultivation mean, and how can we demonstrate that we need no cultivation because God preserves, protects, guards, and cherishes us consistently?

*What you might not know, is that Nebuchadnezzar (from Section 4) ruled in Babylon (take a look at the Golden Text!) for more than 40 years, conquered Jerusalem and destroyed its temple, and was responsible for 3 deportations of Jews in Babylon.

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