ELCA Faith Lens's Blog

Weekly Bible studies that engage youth and young adults in connecting world events with the Bible, faith, and everyday life.
 

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

March 1, 2020–Fake News

Heather Hansen, San Antonio, TX

Warm-up Question

How do you tell the difference between the truth and a lie?

Fake News

Post-truth is an adjective defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”  In 2016, “Post-truth” was Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year.   In a July 2017 article by Lausanne Global Analysis, the term “post-truth” is closely linked with another popular phrase of our time, “fake news.”

Some fake news is generated with a specific agenda, but, as stated in the 2017 Lausanne article, a lot of fake news is simply a matter of careless, unverified reporting, or malicious attempts of greedy people to gain money and power through reporting of fake news on social media, thus generating ad money and attention globally.  Additionally, a 2016 survey by Pew Research Center states that 23% of people have shared fake news, either knowingly or not.  And let’s face it; that was four years ago.  What might the percentage be in today’s social media reports?  

There are a number of psychological reasons why people believe and share fake news.  First, in today’s social media culture, people have the tendency to share and like posts that have more likes and shares.  Closely related to the definition of post-truth, people also tend to share posts that move them emotionally rather than those that contain objective information.  And finally, people are much more likely to believe news, even if it’s fake, if the news aligns with their previously held world-view or ideas.

While some people propose that fake news is spread more rapidly because of what are called “bots” on the internet, research studies conducted and published between 2016-2018 showed that fake news is much more likely to spread by human cause, and that truth has a much less significant rate of sharing and spreading; usually less than 1,000 people are reached with truth, compared to 1,000-100,000 people with fake news.  

So what does this mean for Christians seeking to learn about the world around them?  And how does this relate to today’s Bible texts?  First, people have always been curious and have always been confronted with new experiences and new information.  Second, while fake news  may now be a little easier to create and spread due to the speed of internet and social media, fake news is not a new thing.  In fact, as we see in our Bible text today, even Jesus is tempted with fake news which comes from a place of truth but gets twisted. Even the temptation of Adam and Eve occurs as a result of the devil manipulating words to imply truth which really isn’t the truth at all.

Discussion Questions

  • What do the terms “fake news” and “post-truth” mean to you?  How do you see these terms in action in your every-day life?
  • How can you tell what is fake news and what isn’t?
  • Why should Christians be concerned about fake news or post-truth?

First Sunday in Lent

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7

Romans 5:12-19

Matthew 4:1-11

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

Temptation is and has always been a large part of human existence, hasn’t it?  From the Old Testament lesson in Genesis on the temptation of Adam and Eve in the garden, to the temptation of Jesus by the devil in the gospel text for this week, to the regular temptations we face in our everyday life, there always seems to be a way that temptation tries to get the best of us.  Jesus even teaches us in the Lord’s Prayer to ask for God’s help in avoiding temptation!  The challenging thing about temptation is that it often disguises itself as truth, or part truth, when in fact temptation is really fake news–the lie that something else is more important than God’s love for us or the love we have for others.

Let’s take a look at the Old Testament reading and Gospel reading for this week.  First, in Genesis, the sneaky serpent takes the words that God commands and turns them into a lie that seems true…in other words, fake news.  Adam and Eve have been told by God that they can eat of ANY tree in the garden except one; the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and that if they eat from this tree they will die.  Then the serpent  begins tempting them by asking a negative question; “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?”  Already, the tempter is trying to paint a negative picture of God’s words. 

Of course when someone starts with a question that gets you thinking about what you can’t do, you are going to hear the rest of the story in a different way!  Then, the snake tells them that the real reason God doesn’t want them to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil is to keep them from being as knowledgeable as God.  The snake turns the truth, that they will die, into something that seems more desirable by telling them that they will be as knowledgeable as God. 

In the Gospel reading from Matthew, the devil uses words from the Old Testament, in two cases, almost direct quotes.  But, again, as with the fake news in Genesis, the truth is found in the meaning behind the words.  God gives us the promises in Old Testament scripture as signs of God’s faithfulness, comfort, and love, whereas the devil uses them to tempt Jesus into showing power and testing God.  Jesus shrewdly answers the devil with scripture as well; reminding the devil of the true meaning behind the scriptures.  What we see, however, in both stories, is the devil using fake news or post-truth to try and draw us from God and the life and love God promises.

So, what are the devils or temptations in our own lives today that draw us away from the freedom, love, and life that God promises us?  Perhaps the fake news for us is found most readily in the form of advertisements and marketing that tell us we need certain products to live a fabulous life or be better people. We are told we need these things to be more beautiful or handsome, “cooler” or more accepted and appreciated.  Another daily temptation is to post things on social media whether or not they are true, so that we can gain more attention and power.  Maybe the temptation to give in to convenience lies to us and tells us we can do more, when really, the more we add to our lives, the less time we have for what is most important…God, our families, friends and other loved ones, and caring for our neighbors.

Today’s Gospel helps us to understand in a world of post-truth that temptation is really fake news.  As people of God, we are given the assurance of love, acceptance, belonging, forgiveness, mercy, and unconditional grace.  These we are called to share with all people.  As we combat the reality of “fake news” in our world—the lies that people tell about others and the world, the lies we tell ourselves, and the temptations which draw us away from loving and living freely—are called to face temptation and tempters with words similar to those used by Jesus. We confess our love and trust in God, so that we don’t test God, but live fully in reliance on God’s truth and faithfulness, even in the wilderness of life.

Discussion Questions

  • How can you determine what is temptation or fake news in your own life?  Which people or resources can you rely on to help you?
  • In what ways does temptation sneak up on you in life, and how can you be more aware of it?
  • What fake news do you feel called to reveal the truth about, and how will you do that?

Activity Suggestion

Play the game “Two Truths and a Lie”.  Have each person in your group tell two truths about themselves and one lie.  As a group, try to determine what they said that is a lie.  What is hard about figuring out the truth?  What helps you to know what is truth and what is a lie?

Closing Praye

Holy God, as we enter the season of Lent and a time of repentance and reflection, help us to be aware of all the temptation around us and to find the truth in the midst of the lies.  Help us to know the truth about ourselves and keep us from spreading fake news in the world.  Amen.

 

The post March 1, 2020–Fake News appeared first on Faith Lens.


Tuesday, February 18, 2020

February 23, 2020–Listen Up

Dave Dodson, Houston, TX

Warm-up Question

Do you ever engage in discussions or debates on social media? Do you think that social media is useful to debate important topics?

Listen Up

In the last couple of months, it seems like there has been even more political news in front of us than usual.  A presidential impeachment, Brexit in Europe, a cabinet shakeup in Russia – all of these events stacking on top of one another.  Thanks to social media, we see much of these events as they happen.  However, as technology improves, brand new problems are cropping up which we have to anticipate and deal with.

Boston University professor, Danielle Citron, is tackling one of these problems: the rise of “deepfake” video clips.  Deepfake fraudsters will soon be able to create phony video clips using cutting edge audio and video technology to make it appear as if a leader or public figure said or did something horrifying, when in reality, the whole video is simply computer-generated imagery.  These videos will be posted onto social media, and then be shared again and again by angry individuals who think the video is real.

To combat this, Citron has developed an Eight-Point Plan to combat the spread of deepfakes.  She is confident that we will be able to use technology to detect deepfakes, which can then be targeted and taken down by social media platforms.  But will this be enough?

Unfortunately, human nature might not make it this easy.  Human beings are hampered by a psychological tendency called “confirmation bias”.  To put it simply, we tend to dismiss information or sources which challenge our existing ideas.  At the same time, we automatically believe anything that helps confirm what we already believe.  We’re not very good at listening with an open mind.  Instead, we often seem to just want to be proven right.

Discussion Questions

  • When is it important to listen with an open mind?
  • What could make it hard for us to listen to other people and perspectives?

Transfiguration of Our Lord

Exodus 24:12-18

2 Peter 1:16-21

Matthew 17:1-9

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

In high school, one of my teachers gave us an important rule for our class debates: No one was allowed to raise their hand while another person was speaking.  It was a wonderful rule, and the reason was simple.  As our teacher pointed out, when you raise your hand, you have stopped listening.  From that moment on, you are thinking about what you are going to say, not listening to the current speaker.  In our Gospel lesson today, Peter has let his enthusiasm run away with him, and he has metaphorically raised his hand.

Our story takes place at the top of a mountain.  Stories in the Bible that take place on top of mountains are momentous, holy experiences.  For instance, God revealed himself to Moses and handed down the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai.  Today’s story mirrors that experience.

In this story, Jesus and three of his closest disciples – Peter, James, and John – have gone off together to a “high mountain”.  As they reach the top, an amazing transfiguration takes place.  Jesus becomes radiant and shines with the glory of God.  As this happens, two of the most important figures in the Hebrew scriptures appear.  Moses represents the law and commandments, while Elijah represents the greatest of the prophets.  In these two figures, the whole of the Old Testament is symbolized.  In this vision, we see Jesus as the law and prophecies fulfilled.

It isn’t surprising, then, that Peter gets excited! He blurts out his idea to build special places for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah right then and there.  You can imagine his surprise, then, to hear the voice of God booming down, telling him to be quiet and listen.

What did Peter do wrong?  Aren’t we supposed to get excited and want to work for God?

The problem isn’t Peter’s enthusiasm.  Instead, it’s the fact that Peter’s eagerness to do something was stopping him from experiencing what the moment truly was.  Peter was so busy with planning his next moves that he failed to truly experience the magnificence of Jesus’ transfiguration.  The voice of God had to remind him to be quiet, be still, and truly listen so that he could grow.

It is certainly possible that we do this today, even when we’re trying hard to be great followers of God.  Do we get caught up in planning church events, youth gatherings, and even outreach programs?  Do we work so hard on building our church that we sometimes forget to be still and listen?  It is easy to get caught up in our excitement to serve God.  Sometimes, like Peter, we need to be reminded to be quiet, be still, and bask in the presence of God’s love.

Discussion Questions

  • Does your church have members who run systems like audio and visual technology during the service? Do you think that it’s challenging to do those things and still be in a worshipful frame of mind?
  • Why do you think so many religions throughout the world, including ours, promote meditation and quiet reflection as an important spiritual practice?

Activity Suggestions

One of the finest meditative practices in Christianity is the walking of the Labyrinth.  Consider projecting a labyrinth onto a paved space, and then tracing it with sidewalk chalk.  Walk the labyrinth as a group, and invite your congregation to use it as well! For a guide on walking the labyrinth, check out this fantastic source from Saint Mark’s Lutheran Church in Salem, Oregon: http://stmarksalem.org/about/labyrinth/

Closing Praye

Heavenly Father, we thank you so much for the love and excitement you inspire in us.  We want so much to serve you and to work for the coming of your kingdom.  We ask that you help us remember to stop and listen.  Grant us the peace and patience to seek your voice in the stillness of our hearts.  In the name of Jesus we pray, Amen.

 

The post February 23, 2020–Listen Up appeared first on Faith Lens.


Tuesday, February 11, 2020

February 16, 2020-Going Viral

Scott Mims, Virginia Beach, VA

Warm-up Question

When you are sick or not feeling well, what are some of the things that help you to feel better?

Going Viral

Currently, the Wuhan coronavirus is one of the biggest stories in world news.  At the time of this writing, the number of confirmed cases in China has surpassed 20,000, with at least 207 other cases being reported in over two dozen countries.  Doubtless ,by the time you are reading this, many more people will have been sickened by this potentially deadly disease.

Part of what makes this virus so frightening to world health officials is that it is new, so little is known about how best to treat it.  Add this uncertainty to global mass movement and travel, and there is the potential for a worldwide pandemic.  Because of this, several countries, the United States included, have evacuated their citizens from impacted areas and have imposed strict travel restrictions as a way of hopefully containing the virus’ spread.  Even so, global impacts from this crisis have already begun to ripple outward.

Discussion Questions

  • Have you heard about the Wuhan coronavirus?  If so, are you worried about it?  Why /why not?
  • In the years 1918-19, well before ocean-crossing airliners and other high-speed transportation, a flu pandemic infected nearly 30% of the world’s population.  Over 50 million people died.  What are some of the challenges involved these days in dealing with deadly viruses and so-called “superbugs”?

Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

Deuteronomy 30:15-20

1 Corinthians 3:1-9

Matthew 5:21-37

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

These days we often hear about items such as videos going “viral.”  Shared easily via email or social media, they spread rapidly from person to person reaching millions within a matter of days.  In a similar (though much slower) way, the impact of sin can also go viral, spreading out in ever widening circles.  In our gospel, Jesus attacks the root of the problem in several common life experiences, inviting us to become people of wholeness and grace.

We return this week to the Sermon on the Mount as Jesus teaches about what life in the kingdom of heaven looks like.  Specifically, these verses (Matt. 5:21-37) are part of a six-section set that is known traditionally as “the antitheses,” which means “contrasts” or “oppositions.”  This set, which also includes verses 38-48, is so named for the pattern which Jesus uses to introduce each section: “You have heard that it was said…But I say to you….”  And though in each case Jesus addresses a specific commandment or teaching from Torah, it is not because he thought them obsolete or useless. After all, Jesus has come to fulfill the law, not to throw it out. (Matt. 5:17).

No, Jesus has not come to abolish the law, still, in each case, he goes deeper into their true intent. So, for instance, he cuts murder off at its roots, teaching us instead to deal appropriately with our anger.  Just think of how easily situations escalate and spiral out of control, between individuals, different groups, and nations when anger flows into insults and disregard.  Jesus calls us to deal with our internal “stuff” before  our words can cause injury to another person.  Reconciliation and forgiveness, this is the true and godly work we are to pursue.

Likewise, Jesus attacks the root of adultery by setting boundaries around lust. In the over-the-top, hyperbole of plucking out eyes and cutting off hands, he calls us to take care that neither our gaze nor our touch turns other people into objects for our own sexual gratification.  Included in these limits is the need to abstain from the all too available trap of pornography.  “Just looking” is not okay.

When it comes to divorce, Jesus goes further than the law (Deut. 24:1), especially in protecting those who were often the most vulnerable in the marriage covenant.  In his time and culture, it was “legal” for a man to easily divorce his wife for just about any reason.  This left her without means of support, which often meant poverty, prostitution, or, if she were fortunate, remarriage.  Jesus, however, points to God’s original intention regarding marriage as that of life-long monogamy.  Sometimes, of course, the healthiest course of action is for a marriage to end.  Even so, Jesus’ teaching on the intended enduring nature of marriage is clear.

And finally, in a world of “spin,” misinformation, and downright lies, we are called to be people of truth.  To avoid swearing falsely, don’t swear oaths at all.  That is, instead of needing to prop up our credibility by swearing oaths and making promises, Jesus’ teaches us to be the kind of people others can trust.  Tell the truth.  Live with integrity.  “Let your word be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no;’ anything more than this comes from the evil one.”

As commentators on Matthew’s gospel note, Jesus isn’t unique in setting boundaries against the impact of sin by going deeper into the intent of the Ten Commandments and Torah.  Other teachers have done the same.  Even so, as Son of God and Messiah, Jesus’ words have a different level of authority for Christians.  Ultimately, what is presented in this passage – and indeed, in the whole of the Sermon on the Mount – is not a new take on the Law, but a call to a whole new way of life.

Discussion Questions

  • As you read through these verses, what are some of the things you find most challenging? Most helpful?
  • Is it possible  to do the things Jesus calls for?  Wholly possible? Totally impossible?  Or Somewhere in-between?  Invite participants to share the reason for their answer.
  • If the gospel is supposed to be “good news,” then where do you find grace in this passage and for whom?  
  • How might living more in line with Jesus’ teachings here make for a better life?  A better world?

Activity Suggestions

  • Read through Martin Luther’s explanation of the Ten Commandments in the Small Catechism.   For each Commandment note how Luther expands and deepens the meaning.  What are some of the “practical” day-to-day actions you notice?
  • Invite participants to consider one area, either from the Catechism or from today’s gospel, that they can work on.  What is one small step, one small action, that they might take in this area in the coming week?  If people are comfortable, have them share. Prayer for each other and the Spirit’s help.  

Closing Praye

Gracious and loving God, source of every good gift, give us eyes to see your love in Jesus’ call to lives of grace and wholeness, and lead us by your Holy Spirit as we seek to follow. In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen. 

 

The post February 16, 2020-Going Viral appeared first on Faith Lens.


Tuesday, February 4, 2020

February 9, 2020-Are You Feeling Salty?

Herb Wounded Head, Brookings, SD

Warm-up Question

How much sleep do you usually get? Is it enough?

Are You Feeling Salty?

We all need sleep in order to be able to function at our best from day to day. According to one study,  if you’re a teenager you need 8-10 hours of sleep. If you’re a young adult, you need 7-9 hours of sleep. In this day and age, it seems harder and harder to get enough sleep. It can be daunting, to say the least, in these years of busy-ness and homework and deadlines, to get enough sleep. 

A story on National Public Radio reports that one school in Michigan is trying some new things in order to help students function at their highest level. Eastern Flex Academy in Lansing, Michigan has a pilot program where students start their classes at 3pm, (3pm!) and goes until 8pm at night. The program was started to help students with internships, part-time jobs and even family responsibilities.  One student noted that the they can get the sleep they need to and can do more throughout the day while having a good night’s rest.

Discussion Questions

  • What would it be like for you to get a good night’s rest every night?
  • What changes would you make in your life in order to make sure you get enough sleep?

Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Isaiah 58:1-9a [9b-12]

1 Corinthians 2:1-12 [13-16]

Matthew 5:13-20

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

What would we do without salt? Our body needs a certain amount of salt in order to function. It is used as to cure meats and on the sidewalks to make them less slippery. It is used as seasoning on food to give it a better taste. But if salt is overused or mixed with too many other things, it loses its saltiness. So it goes with Jesus’ disciples. If we find ourselves doing too much and spreading ourselves too thin, we can lose the saltiness which is our relationship with God, and even our own sense of purpose in the world. One of the ways we can notice that we are spread too thin is by our sleep patterns. Do you get enough sleep and rest? It’s difficult to answer God’s call if we aren’t taking care of ourselves.

God places a high calling on our lives. Not so much that we need to be the purest, most holy, or best disciples.  Far from it! Our calling is to be people of God, such that we reflect God’s holiness and righteousness in and through us. We are a beacon on a hill which shines so brightly in our baptisms that all the world can see the glory of God. This is indeed a high calling, one in which God has called our true, salty, sinful selves into action. God needs us, as we are, in order to make God’s kingdom known throughout the world. 

All too often, we think that we aren’t invited to this high calling. We can see this by our own activity in the world. Are we living too much in comfort? Are we too conformed to this world, so that the busy-ness of life becomes something that we think we need in order to succeed? God calls and redeems us through God’s light in the world, Jesus Christ, to provide justice, mercy and love to an all too broken world.

Discussion Questions

  • How can you be the salt of the earth? 
  • What are some ways that you can do justice in the world?
  • Where can you provide mercy?

Activity Suggestions

Make a 3 foot by 3 foot square out of duct tape in your meeting place. Tell your people that they all need to fit in this square in order to complete the task. If the square is too large for your group, make it smaller. This activity relies heavily on teamwork and communication and is a good team building tool for small groups.

Closing Prayer

Heavenly and gracious God, you have called us as your own and have formed and shaped us to be your people. Help us to grow more fully into a community of believers that trust in your Word. Be with those who are not with us, who may be struggling or suffering in this world; give them a sense of peace that passes all understanding and bring us all closer to you.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.

The post February 9, 2020-Are You Feeling Salty? appeared first on Faith Lens.


Tuesday, January 28, 2020

February 2, 2020–Everyday Heroes

Ginger Litman-Koon, Mt. Pleasant, SC

Warm-up Question

If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?

Everyday Héroes

We all know that heroes rule the box office, but did you know they now rule the internet? Throughout 2019, Google analytics data showed a global increase in searches centering around “heroes.” Sure, some of those searches had to do with what action movies were playing in theaters, but many of them were centered around what they call “everyday heroes.” Google even aired a YouTube video on New Years featuring a montage of all the “everyday heroes” videos that circulated the internet during 2019. 

You can watch the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZRCdORJiUgU

The heroes featured in the video are strangers, teachers, first responders, children, athletes. While there were some exceptions, most of the heroic actions

emerged from adversity: illness, danger, injury, loss, prejudice, natural disasters. Watching the video will bring happy tears to your eyes, because of the acts of courage and love shown by each of the individuals. It will leave you feeling a sense of hope for the world, despite the fact that many of the scenarios show struggle or hardship. So many of the stories in the montage are examples of light shining amidst moments of darkness.

 

This season of the church year is called Epiphany, where we highlight the ways Jesus is shown forth to the world. The season begins with the Day of Epiphany, when we commemorate the visit of the Magi to the child Jesus, following the light of the star. From the first day of this season to its end, light continues to be a prominent theme. Look for symbols of light used in your community’s worship (music, liturgy, paraments, images, etc) this Epiphany season.

Discussion Questions

  • When have you seen light shining amidst the darkness, hope in times of struggle?
  • Have you ever encountered an “everyday hero”?
  • Why does it seem that sometimes the best in people comes out in the worst of times?

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

Micah 6:1-8

1 Corinthians 1:18-31

Matthew 5:1-12

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

In today’s Gospel Reading, Jesus speaks in paradoxes. Often we hear Jesus speaking in parables, but when it comes to the Beatitudes, the Jesus’ teachings seem contradictory. Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit… Blessed are those who mourn…Blessed are those who are persecuted…Blessed are you when people revile you.” This formula,“blessed are,” is not one we would use in everyday speech. But in the original language, “blessed,” could simply mean “happy.” Jesus is saying, “happy” are those who are poor, grieving, persecuted or reviled.

By the world’s standards, people in these pitiable situations would not be called the “happy” ones! This teaching is paradoxical indeed. In the words of St. Paul in the first letter to the Corinthians (1st reading for today), it “sounds like foolishness.”

Jesus is setting up a contrast between the values of heaven and the values of earth. He’s saying that the things people think they need in order to be happy – wealth, answers, popularity, lack of adversity – are not at all what truly makes one blessed. True blessedness, real happiness, comes from knowing Jesus, from following him, and from finding our value in him. While the values of earth are all about what you have – possessions, status, influence – the values of heaven are all about who you know (namely, Jesus).

In today’s reading, Jesus doesn’t stop at listing the paradoxes of the Beatitudes. He goes on to say, “When people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account, rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.” Sure, we may understand that our true worth does not come from earthly standards, but are we really supposed to rejoice when we are hated, rejected or denied? Are we really supposed to be glad about our misfortunes?  It’s difficult to wrap our heads around the idea of rejoicing over loss and rejection.

So how do we live this out? How do we take what Jesus is saying to heart? Well, some Christians might say that Jesus is simply telling us that the world brings hardships, but if we just make it to heaven, we’ll be rewarded there. Some might say, “Hey, life is rough, but heaven will be great!” But there’s more to Jesus’ message than that.

Jesus is helping us to see the true blessedness that appears even amidst the road bumps of life. Jesus is pointing us towards the light that shines even in the darkness. Jesus is challenging us to see the moments of mercy, grace and peace which happen in the places the world might call unredeemable. He is showing us that, through him, we can experience glimpses of the kingdom of heaven even amid the struggles of earth.

Have you ever felt peace even in a time of loss or grief? Have you ever experienced “the holy” in a time of sadness? Have you ever felt God’s presence when you thought you were completely alone? It may have come through a friend, a parent, or a stranger. It may have come through a feeling or a sense of calm. It may have come with no explanation at all. In Jesus’ teaching today, he’s challenging us to look past what the world may see, and to keep our eyes open for the unlikely moments of true blessedness.

So often, when people of faith are asked to share a time when they most clearly felt God’s peace or blessings, they point to a moment of loss: “When my grandmother passed away,” “when my friend died,” “when I didn’t get into the college I wanted.” People often say, “That was the moment when I knew God was there with me, surrounding me.” No, when it comes down to it, we may not feel much like rejoicing in those moments, but so often, it’s there that we discover the blessing of being known and loved by God.

Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever felt God’s peace, even amidst loss or disappointment?
  • Do you ever struggle with the paradox or “foolishness” of our Christian faith?
  • Who can you reach out to when you are struggling to see light in the darkness?

Activity Suggestions

  • Watch the video noted in the opening section of this week’s Faith Lens.  In your group, share which heroes were most meaningful to you and why?
  • Has there ever been a time when you felt “reviled and persecuted” for doing something because of your faith?  Was it worth it?  What might it say if we have never gotten any heat for following Jesus, since Jesus seems to assume that opposition is inevitable when we are faithful?

Closing Prayer

God of light, this Epiphany season, we pray that you will show us the light of your love, no matter what darkness surrounds us. Draw us closer to you through your Son, who gave himself for our sake, so that we would know the riches of heaven here on earth. Amen.

The post February 2, 2020–Everyday Heroes appeared first on Faith Lens.


Tuesday, January 21, 2020

January 26, 2020–Hidden Costs?

Leslie Weber, Chesapeake, VA

Warm-up Question

What was the last thing you bought? Where did you buy it from (online or in person)? What was the shopping experience like?

Hidden Costs?

A November 2019 article represents a collaboration between The Atlantic and Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting. It tells a handful of different stories of Amazon Warehouse employees being injured, and in one case even killed, on the job.  The article argues that most the injuries were either due to lack of safety training or overemphasis on efficiency. It blames Amazon’s “obsession with speed” for having “turned its warehouses into injury mills.”

The other result of the company’s high quotas and strict expectations for workers is the company’s ever-growing domination of the marketplace and its founder’s ever-growing net worth.  Amazon is second only to Walmart when it comes to private employers in the US.

As consumers have gotten used to the perks of a Prime membership, the company has made steps to make the shopping experience even better; this past holiday season, certain purchases came with guaranteed one-day free shipping.  Of course, that translates to more work in Amazon’s warehouses and even stricter deadlines and quotas for workers.

The Amazon spokesperson who provided written comments for the article says that the reason that Amazon’s work-related injury statistics are higher than the industry standard is that they are extra diligent about reporting all injuries. However, employees, who remained anonymous for the article, and a former OSHA employee, who investigated the fatal accident at an Amazon warehouse in Indiana, tell a different story.

Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever considered a company’s labor practices before making a purchase? Why or why not?
  • Will hearing stories like those contained in the article will change how you shop in the future? Why or why not?

Third Sunday of Epiphany

Isaiah 9:1-4

1 Corinthians 1:10-18

Matthew 4:12-23

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

After John’s arrest, Jesus begins his public ministry in Galilee.  While quoting Isaiah 9:1-2, the Gospel of Matthew refers to that place as “Galilee of the Gentiles” (Matthew 4:5, NRSV).  During Isaiah’s time, that region was ruled by a foreign power—Assyria—and during Jesus’ time, it was ruled by a foreign power—Rome.  In both cases, these Gentile empires caused the locals to live in a “shadow of death” (Matthew 4:16, NRSV). As Biblical commentator, Warren Carter, puts it—”Roman imperial structures and practices were bad for people’s health.”

The Roman’s Empire’s demands on local laborers to provide food for the empire and to pay taxes, led many to live in poverty and with the resulting poor health.  Carter suggests this is why there were so many people with disease and sickness seeking healing from Jesus as he began his ministry.

Jesus’ ministry is one of ending current imperial oppression and instituting God’s reign, which is marked by new work (v. 18-20), new family/community (v. 21-22), and a new chance at life (v. 23).  When he proclaims in verse 17 that “the kingdom of heaven has come near,” he is saying that Rome is not ultimately in charge—GOD IS! With his acts of healing, he works to counteract the damage that imperial greed causes.

Discussion Questions

  • Can you think of other examples where “empire” (governmental and non-governmental forms of greed and selfishness) has led to suffering of a population?
  • How might we participate in Jesus’ ministry of repairing damage caused by greed and selfishness?

Activity Suggestions

  • Play a board game (like Monopoly…if you have the time), first, with every player playing for themselves; then play it again with all players working together as a team.  Discuss the difference in the experience and relate it to the idea of community and empire.
  • Have teams work to build a tower out of blocks or similar material.  First, do this untimed, to allow for precision.  Then, do it timed (multiple times with less and less time), to focus on efficiency.  Discuss the difference in the experience and relate it to the idea of favoring productivity (profit) over people.
  • Divide into three groups, and have each group act out one of the three parts of Jesus’ initial ministry:
    • Calling of Peter & Andrew—new work (v. 18-20)
    • Calling of James & John—new family/community (v. 21-22)
    • Healing—new life (v. 23)

Closing Praye

Gracious God, thank you for loving us and giving us new life.  Be with all those who daily feel the oppression of modern-day empire. Help us to see your kingdom come near and be part of Jesus’ work of shining your light and love into the world. Amen.

 

The post January 26, 2020–Hidden Costs? appeared first on Faith Lens.



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Tuesday, March 3
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Lectionary Texts:

February 27, 2020:
First Reading: Jonah 3:1-10
Psalm: Psalm 51
Second Reading: Romans 1:1-7
March 1, 2020 First Sunday in Lent:
First Reading: Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
Psalm: Psalm 32
Second Reading: Romans 5:12-19
Gospel Reading: Matthew 4:1-11

RCL (C) 1992 The Consultation on Common Texts used by permission



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