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, November 12, 2019

November 17, 2019–End of the World as We Know it

Ellen Rothweiler, Des Moines, IA

Warm-up Question

Do you worry about the end of the world?

End of the World as We Know it

A lot of television and film media use the end of the world as a setting or plot point to tell a story. The Day After Tomorrow details the end of the world with the onset of a second ice age, while Seeking a Friend for the End of the World follows two characters who are spending their last days on earth before an asteroid hits, finding what really matters in the end. Other post-apocalyptic media tackle what life is like if you happen to survive some cataclysmic event. The Walking Dead tells this tale using a zombie apocalypse as a catalyst while The Hunger Games examines how power can corrupt and consume life while desperately attempting to preserve it. 

These and countless more books, movies,  and television shows speculate on what the end may be like. Why the fascination? An article in Good Houskeeping listing the top 20 end of the world movies, offers that “world ending movies are a mirror that reflect societies biggest paranoias back at us.” Are we hoping to prepare ourselves for what’s to come or just playing out our greatest fears to somehow diminish the power they hold over us?

Discussion Questions

  • Do you enjoy “end of the world” media? If so, why? If not, why not?
  • Does thinking about the end scare you or make you uncomfortable? Why or why not?
  • If you knew the world would end tomorrow what would you be sure to do today?
  • An R.E.M song includes the refrain,”It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.”  What does that suggest about how change can be both daunting and welcome?  Can you think of a time in your life when change was painful but ultimately positive?

Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost

Malachi 4:1-2a

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

Luke 21:5-19

(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

This part of the Gospel of Luke is pretty scary stuff!, especially when we see many, if not most, of the events listed are happening in our world today. This seems to be a road map for the end of the world. Jesus says these things will happen and then, but not immediately, the end will follow.  We are not the first generation to see in these words an eerie similarity to unfolding events; many have peered into this passage for a clue regarding when the end will come. 

If scripture tells us what leads to the end of the world, why do we still spend so much time guessing and imagining? Because it is still uncertain. Jesus warns that many will come saying “I am he!” and “The time is near!” but we need not follow them. The passage begins with people asking for answers. When? How? We still ask these questions today and fill in our own answers. 

Where is the Good News? In the midst of these things we will endure. Christ will be with us offering wisdom. We need not have the answers, for Christ will provide the words we need. Part of being a Christian in the midst of a scary and uncertain world is trusting that God holds the future–and that is enough. We can find peace knowing that these things are not for us to know or understand. This truth does not sound terribly comforting when we see suffering. Yet, if we spread love in the world as we find tragedy, we are offer the comfort others need. We are not in control and we cannot fix or prevent bad things. It is enough to know that God is with us and that we will endure.

Discussion Questions

  • How many of the events listed in the text can you see happening in our world today?
  • Do you seek answers when bad things happen? What questions do you ask?
  • What would you want God to say in reply to those questions?

Activity Suggestions

Watch all or part of one of the 20 Greatest End of World Movies and discuss what it has to say about human endurance in the face of tragedy.

Closing Prayer

God of mercy and power, sometimes it seems that our world is spinning out of control, that suffering is all around us and chaos near at hand.  In turbulent times give us confidence to entrust ourselves to you, bear witness to your never failing love, and strive to be instruments of your purposes in all times.

The post November 17, 2019–End of the World as We Know it appeared first on Faith Lens.


Tuesday, November 5, 2019

November 10, 2019–It’s a Trap!

Herb Wounded Head, Brookings, SD

Warm-up Question

Describe your family. Is it a traditional family with two parents and siblings? Perhaps it’s a blended family.

It’s a Trap!

Marriage is a complicated thing. Some families come from traditional marriages and others are blended. Marriage takes a lot of commitment, work and faithfulness. There are also many reasons to get married, but the primary reason, according to an article from Pew Research,  is to marry for love. 88% cited love as an important reason to get married. Other reasons listed are commitment, companionship and to have children.

As a recent radio show noted, the traditional view of marriage we have is a relatively new thing. Throughout most of history, marriage has been a political/economic decision made between two families for the betterment of both parties involved. Marriage was a way of sharing resources. It wasn’t about our emotional feelings towards one another.

Discussion Questions

  • What are your thoughts on marriage? 
  • Why would you get married?

Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost

Job 19:23-27a

2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17

Luke 20:27-38

(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

Jesus gets asked by the Sadducees about marriage. It’s interesting to note that the Sadducees don’t believe in the resurrection, so they pose a question to Jesus only hoping to get him caught up in a trap about the life hereafter. They seek to discredit Jesus and his ministry.  But, according to Luke, Jesus turns the question upside-down and answers so well that they don’t dare ask any more questions of Jesus.

Jesus avoids their trap in two ways. First, he demonstrates their failure to understand the resurrection, which is different from the here and now. Second, he demonstrates their failure to understand Scriptures by using the story of Moses’ encounter with God in the burning bush and the revelation of God’s holy name — that Jesus takes to establish the validity, indeed certainty, of life after death.

So, we are certain of life after death, Jesus promises that it is so. But what does resurrection look like? We aren’t quite sure, but we do believe and trust in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.

Discussion Questions

  • What does resurrection look like to you? 
  • Do you believe in life after death or is death merely the end?

Activity Suggestions

  • Talk about the time where you experienced a funeral.  What sort of things did the pastor do to proclaim Christ’s resurrection to those gathered? What in the service reminds you of the Gospel for us? 
  • Look at the funeral liturgy in Evangelical Lutheran Worship.  Why are various elements of the service included; what does each suggest about the Christian attitude toward death?

Closing Praye

Gracious and everlasting God, You equip us with faith to believe and follow You through Your Holy Spirit. Keep us steadfast in the faith so that we may continue to grow closer to You and Your Son, Jesus.  Help us in our doubts, affirm our faith and give us grace to meet each day with the trust in the resurrection of all Your people. Amen.

 

The post November 10, 2019–It’s a Trap! appeared first on Faith Lens.


Tuesday, October 29, 2019

November 3, 2019–Homeless to Feeding the Homeless

Anne Williams, Ankeny, IA

Warm-up Question

What do you think it would take to turn a life around? To recover from addiction or homelessness?

Homeless to Feeding the Homeless

If you have the ability, watch the video interview on Now This: https://nowthisnews.com/videos/news/social-entrepreneur-mark-brand-helps-feed-the-hungry. You can also find it on Facebook by searching, “Now This Mark Brand.”

Mark Brand, of Vancouver, Canada works in what is called the poorest postal code (like a ZIP code) in all of Canada, where drugs are sold openly on the streets. Mark used to live there, use there, and was then homeless there. He shares a story of the one restaurant he felt comfortable going to and how a $3.50 burger plate would actually fill him up. Mark reflects on that time in his life: “When you live like that, even if it’s briefly, it affects you forever… cause when you are in that, it’s the loneliest place on the world.” 

After recovering from addiction and homelessness, Mark became a successful chef and business man, opening restaurants. Even as his businesses thrived, he realized he wanted to do more.  So he began exploring how to feed those in need. He did something ingenious.

He tackled the question of why people don’t give money to hungry street-entrenched people. The answer he got (which might be an answer we could give) is that folks are afraid their money will go to drugs or alcohol. So, working with the restaurant, he used to eat at when he was homeless, he created a token system. People can buy the tokens and give them to the hungry, who can redeem them for a sandwich. Mark’s comments about these tokens are really very interesting. He says, “What I was most excited about is that you would hand it to somebody. So yes, I’m excited that you’re gonna get a sandwich. Great. You’re hungry, you have a place of inclusion you can go to, that’s really cool… I’m way more excited that you’re going to talk to somebody who’s feeling super isolated and street entrenched.”

Mark seems much more interested in relationships, even quick ones like saying “Hi, here’s a token, go get a sandwich,” than just sandwiches. What homeless people need is food yes, but also someone to look at them and see them.

Discussion Questions

  • What do you think Mark knows about pain in life?
  • What do you think Mark knows about blessings?
  • What would you do if a token program like Mark’s came to your town? Would you buy them? Would you give them out?
  • What do you think about Mark’s statement: “I’m way more excited that you’re going to talk to somebody who’s feeling super isolated and street entrenched?” 
  • Which is more important: feeding people or connecting with people?

All Saints Sunday

Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18

Ephesians 1:11-23

Luke 6:20-31

(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

The blessings and the woes that Jesus describes in this passage (specifically verses 20 to 26), often called the Sermon on the Plain, speaks of reversal. Those who suffer now will be blessed in the coming Kingdom. And those who are currently feeling blessed will have to experience some suffering. 

I think there are (at least) two reasons why we find this passage uncomfortable.

First, we really don’t want anyone to suffer. We think it’s a punishment for something. Here’s the deal:  Suffering, whether because we are sick, or lonely, or grieving, or just plain different from others around us is part of life. It is not a punishment. Most of us never do anything to earn our suffering (kind of like we don’t earn our salvation)! God did not promise no suffering. God promised to be with us in the suffering.

Second, I think we think these reversals are somehow permanent. That in the kingdom, those who have been oppressed will have all the power and those who were gluttons will now starve… does that sound like the kingdom of God? Not to me! If the Kingdom of God is going to be what we think it will be, then everyone will have enough food, and no one will hoard it or be without it. 

I think that one of the ways we can read this passage is that Jesus is trying to get at the idea that there will be times when our lives will be good, and full of blessing, and times when our lives will be harder, where we will feel empty, and broken, and will cry out to God. Suffering and blessing can co-exist in one lifetime, sometimes one after the other, sometimes both at the same time. I think it is Jesus’ way of hinting that the Kingdom we experience now, the in-between, now-but-not-yet Kingdom that we only catch a glimpse of, is full of broken people who experience suffering and woe and who know fullness and richness and blessing too, at the same time. It’s a foretaste of the feast to come – the real Kingdom, where God will be all in all and all people will be whole and full.

Discussion Questions

  • Can you relate to the idea that blessing and wore can co-exist in one lifetime?  How do you think Mark Brand would answer this question?
  • If we’re going to experience both suffering and blessing, how do we make sense of them in our own lives?
  • Where are there examples of the now-but-not-yet Kingdom in your town? i.e. places and groups that bring hope and healing?

Activity Suggestions

  • Contact your local Ronald McDonald House and see if you can bring them a meal, or snacks or treats. Make the food during class. Gather a small number of them to transport and deliver it.
  • Call your local shelter and see what kind of meal you can bring them – casseroles are easy to make and freeze for easy transport.
  • If you’re being really bold, visit a homeless shelter.
  • Ask someone who is living sober with addiction to speak to the class, or even someone who’s cancer is in remission or been cured.
  • Make cards for the homebound and hospitalized. Give to your pastor to distribute.

Closing Prayer

Giver of all good gifts, grant that this day we may offer both our material goods and ourselves to those who need, that all may have a foretaste of the feast to come, when your will is perfectly done and all know the abundance of your love.

The post November 3, 2019–Homeless to Feeding the Homeless appeared first on Faith Lens.


Tuesday, October 22, 2019

October 27, 2019–Who Belongs/ Who is Free?

 

Drew Tucker, Columbus, OH

Warm-up Question

Who is an authority in your life that you trust? What makes them trustworthy? 

Who Belongs/ Who is Free?

Topics of citizenship and migration remain front page news, not only in the United States, but across the globe. Many factors drive this discussion, such as the reasons for migration and the impacts on both the countries departed and the countries entered. Even more fundamental to this conversation is the question of belonging. Who belongs in what places? What are the factors that affect belonging? Who is the ultimate authority on affirming or denying belonging?

We must remember that this isn’t simply a theoretical topic. Questions of belonging, and who gets to affirm our belonging, affect the day-to-day lives of many migrants of various types across the globe. When I traveled to Europe with my wife this summer, customs agents checked passports every time we crossed a border to ensure we belonged to an acceptable country and had not overstayed our welcome in their land. However, for many migrants, their global travels aren’t simply for leisure. Many, like Miriam Vargas, seek a better, safer life for themselves and their families. Miriam and her young daughters have taken refuge in Columbus’s First English Lutheran Church because the church saw their need for safety after Miriam fled Honduras when gangs threatened her life. As First English declared their building a sanctuary for Miriam and her family, they became part of a wider network of organizations called the Sanctuary Movement, that promises belonging to migrants seeking safety and opportunity in the United States. This is not an isolated incident, either. Hundreds of congregations have stepped up to support the Sanctuary Movement, while the ELCA recently declared itself a sanctuary church body. 

To the question of “who belongs,” First English, the Sanctuary Movement, and a growing commitment across the ELCA boldly declare that, because God first welcomed us, all belong. The authority of belonging, then, does not ultimately lie with a particular law or a governmental entity, but with God 

To read more about becoming a sanctuary denomination, see this: https://elca.org/News-and-Events/8000. You can also learn more about the sanctuary movement here: https://www.wsj.com/articles/some-churches-offer-refuge-from-deportation-with-sacred-resisting-11564927200.

Discussion Questions

  • Share a story about your friends or relatives who are immigrants. 
  • What would if feel like to receive death threats from gangs, run for your life, and then face deportation after making a new life in another country?
  • How do we balance the authority we give to God and government?

Reformation Sunday

Jeremiah 31:31-34

Romans 3:19-28

John 8:31-36

(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 verses, commonly used for Reformation commemorations, center on concepts of truth and freedom. Yet, before we considers those central themes, we must address the presence of slavery as an image Jesus employs. Jesus just throws the word slave around like it’s a normal and appropriate thing. And while, for 1st century Palestinians, slavery was a common occurrence and a very different thing than the slavery forced upon African natives by European and American powers for hundreds of years between the 14th and 19th centuries, we can’t read the word slave in the United States without acknowledging Jesus’s metaphor has been forever changed by the oppression white people forced on black people. Especially since this reading appears on a day when we celebrate a movement started by a white European and there’s explicit mention of slave’s not having a place in the household, we should focus our attention on how this imagery impacts people of African descent and make explicit that the freedom Christ promises is for all people, including black people.

Jesus’s first words help us see this importance, for he says “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” Jesus, after all, is the way, the truth, and the life, so knowing the truth is knowing Jesus. This is beautifully complex. It means that when we know Jesus, we can comprehend the truth of the world more clearly. Yet, it also means that when we encounter anything that’s true, we’ve encountered a part of God. So when we encounter the Pythagorean Theorem, a2 + b2 = c2, we encounter something of God’s wisdom in creating the universe. When we realize the wonder of evolution, we realize the beauty of God’s creative process that brings to life new and wondrous things across the universe over billions of years. When we engage the equality of humanity, we engage something of God’s wisdom in giving every person the divine image. 

To continue in Jesus’s words isn’t simply to read scripture. It’s to live the life of love that Jesus teaches us. Knowing the truth who is Jesus means living the life that Jesus offers us. Despite the problematic imagery, his ultimate point is this: Jesus can offer us the fullness of God’s gifts eternally because he’s forever a part of God’s family. So the freedom we’re offered, the life that we’re offered, the truth that we’re offered, isn’t temporary or limited. When Jesus tells us that we belong, that we’re set free from sin and now a part of God’s household, he does so as one with authority. The authority of our belonging comes from God, who has desires that all people be truly free. Because God sets us free, we all belong with one another and with God.

Discussion Questions

  • What is something that you’ve learned outside of church – in school, on a team, in your family, or elsewhere – that’s helped you learn more about God? 
  • If Jesus is the ultimate authority in our lives, how should that change the ways that we make decisions? 
  • What’s another analogy that we could use, instead of slavery, to help highlight the point that Jesus is God’s Child?

Activity Suggestions

  • Imago Dei Game – Make a circle and the person in the middle says, “I am (insert name), the Image of God, and one way I see God is through (blank).” For the blank, insert things like, “people who like math,” “people who can draw,” “people who play an instrument,” and the like. Everyone who identifies with the last statement then has to move to a new spot in the circle, and the person without a spot becomes the next speaker. The goal is to help students see the various talents show perspectives on truth and then create more conversation around how people get to know God in dynamic ways. 
  • Red Light, Green Light – Gather your group on one side of a large room, gym, or playing area. One person acts as the traffic light. When they yell “Green light!” players move toward the other side of the space and “Red light!” to get them to stop. You can add complexity to the game by giving certain players disadvantages, like carrying cup full of water they can’t spill or egg on a spoon. The ones who reach the other side of the space first win. The traffic light can also remove those obstacles, if they so choose. Then, converse about the nature of the authority in the game and how people can use authority to set people free or bind them to unnecessary obstacles.
  • Read together the ELCA’s talking points regarding our status as a sanctuary church and watch videos related to AAMPARO, (found here: https://www.elca.org/sanctuarychurch). Then discuss how the kinds of freedom that Christ promises relates to the Sanctuary Movement.
  • If you’d like to donate to support Miriam and her family at First English (mentioned in the first section of this faith lens), visit here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/miriam-and-family-at-first-english?sharetype=teams&member=374504&rcid=r01-153063240238-9a96725777c14416&pc=ot_co_campmgmt_w

Closing Praye

Lord God, you release us from the cuff of sin and free us to live a life that belongs to you. Shape our lives to reflect your freedom. Form our hearts to embrace your liberation. Empower us to share this gift not only with ourselves, but with all people in all places. We pray this in the name of our liberator, Jesus: Amen. 

 

The post October 27, 2019–Who Belongs/ Who is Free? appeared first on Faith Lens.


Tuesday, October 15, 2019

October 20, 2019–Your Words Made Flesh

Tuhina Rasche, San Carlos, CA

Warm-up Question

  • How do you pray? 
  • Why do you pray?
  • What do you hope happens through your prayers?

Your Words Made Flesh

This parable makes me think about my parents, especially my mom. My parents moved to the United States from India in 1970. My mom was a newlywed and eighteen years old. Just a few months after marrying my dad, they packed up two suitcases, with $200 dollars to their names, and boarded a plane to travel halfway across the world. My parents were strangers in a strange land. My dad was super gregarious and could make friends easily. He grew up speaking English regularly, so he was pretty much at ease in public spaces. My mom, while she knew English, was incredibly shy and was uncomfortable speaking in public places. She didn’t make friends as easily, and kept mostly to her close-knit circle of friends who were also from India. Yet my dad was always around to protect her and to advocate for her. 

My parents were married for 45 years. My dad died a few years ago, leaving my mom to be a widow. Even though my mom has spent more of her life in the United States than India, she relied on my dad for a lot. Whether we want to admit it or not, men still have a lot of power in society; oftentimes men are taken more seriously than women. Our world is still bound by gendered expectations. My father was the head of the household in every way, and when he died, my mom was at a loss for what had to be done to manage the household she and my dad shared for so many years. 

After my dad died, a lot that had to be done. There were the big things, like planning his memorial. But then there were small things that we didn’t immediately anticipate, like canceling his credit cards, stopping his mail, and transferring accounts that were in his name to my mom’s name. My older brother and I helped my mom through this bizarre checklist of things that have to happen after a loved one dies. My brother and I have done everything humanly possible to look after our mom, to make sure she receives just and fair treatment from the institutions and organizations she had to deal with.  But we had to be persistent. If she didn’t have my brother and me, where would she be today? The thought is almost too much for me to handle. If she had to navigate this present climate on her own, having so much already that defines her as an outsider (like being an immigrant), she would be even more on the margins. I would be scared for her well-being. She would be a widow without an advocate. 

Prayers seriously helped my family after my dad died, and it wasn’t just my family praying for relief and release. There were people who were consistently naming us in their daily prayers, that we would find peace and comfort in the midst of so much loss and sadness. But prayers took other forms, like meals that appeared on our doorstep, a lovely bouquet of flowers delivered, having coffee with friends to gently remind us that we were not alone while we were cooped up in a house making phone calls, sending emails, and sorting through paperwork. 

I am forever grateful to those who heard the cries of my mom and my family when my dad died. I hoped that someone would hear our prayers, and not only were our prayers heard, they were embodied! The words became flesh! I also wonder what if no one heard our cries? Are we hearing the cries of the present-day widows around us? Are we not just hearing the cries and prayers, but are we also acting on them out of response to God’s love and grace? 

We are called into action, into persistence, into an active, lived, and embodied prayer. I do not know how this will look for you; that is a conversation you have to undertake with your siblings in Christ and with God. We are not called to give into who and what this world wants us to be. We are not called to give into giving into the ways of empire; that will kill us. We cannot look away from one another. We are intertwined with one another; we are accountable to one another. That was professed to us in our baptisms, that we belong to God and we belong to one another. We’re called to do something. We’re called into a form of action. We’re learning that people’s identities and their lives very much depend on how we act or how we do not act. Your prayer is your action; let your action be your prayer. 

Discussion Questions

  • What are ways that you can embody your prayers? 
  • Is there someone in our faith community who is currently struggling? How can you pray for that person, both spoken prayers and putting actions to those spoken prayers?
  • What keeps you going in tough times when you’re close to giving up?

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Genesis 32:22-31

2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

Luke 18:1-8

(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

The primary focal point of this Gospel lesson is a widow with no one to advocate for her but herself. What does this look like in the world of this Gospel lesson? This widow can be considered to be ultimate loser. When it comes to telling stories about marginalized people, she’s lowest of the low for many reasons:

  • she’s low because she’s just a she;
  • she doesn’t have a husband or a family to be her advocate and to be her voice; and
  • she has no property.

Theoretically, her community in this city is supposed to take care of her. That’s all good in theory, but there is something wrong. 

This woman repeatedly—over and over and over and over—confronts a judge to grant her justice against an opponent. We’re not given much information on this opponent. Time after time, the judge is unmoved. But then, the judge’s thoughts run away with him. He says to himself, “I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” If we want to get to the nitty-gritty of the translation here, let’s rephrase it to the more honest and more brutal, “I shall avenge her, or she will give me a black eye.” 

Only when the judge thinks that violence will be inflicted upon him does he decide to finally act, because heaven forbid that violence be inflicted upon those in positions of power. Yet violence has already occurred with the judge; he should have moved to act without the threat of violence. The judge’s inaction in the face of obvious need is evidence of his own spiritual brokenness. This system of oppression has damaged the judge, too. 

It is important to name that both the widow and the judge are under God’s care. Because God’s grace is ultimately unfair, we cannot talk about one being outside God’s grace and the other being the sole recipient. What we must come to understand, especially in situations where we seem to be pitted against one another, where one has offended the other, where one has done damage to the other, is that the Gospel is still for both the widow AND the judge. What they may hear is different. The Gospel comforts, but if it only comforts, we would be a people of cheap grace. The Gospel both challenges and afflicts. We are a people of both/and, simultaneously saint and sinner, and we are to be both challenged and comforted. We cannot just receive grace and not respond to the Gospel message. We are called to respond. 

But there was something to the widow’s response in her persistence. She kept coming back to the judge. She kept using her voice to advocate for herself. She used the strength of her voice to advocate for her survival. She spoke out, she moved. This was her embodied and incarnational prayer. This prayer for her survival against her opponent was her life of prayer. In that prayer we need to be persistent. The lives of our neighbors depend upon it. Our prayer should be that of movement, that of action, that response. If our Lord and Savior was of flesh and blood, that can be the embodiment of our prayer life. 

Discussion Questions

  • Has God answered your prayers? Are there unexpected ways in which God has responded to your prayers? How do you feel when God hasn’t answered your prayers the way you wanted?
  • What are they ways in which the world has been unjust and unfair to those in need? How do you feel called to respond? How have those in Scripture (like Isaiah, who said, “Here I am, send me) responded? How do you think they felt?
  • Where have modern-day judges not acted justly to present-day widows? Have any of these present-day judges had a change of heart? How do you think that change came about?

Activity Suggestions

  • Is your faith community hearing the cries of present-day widows? If so, how is your faith community responding? If not, find a way for your faith community to pray for and engage with those who need our help. Is there participation in local, state, national, and international connections? Are there gaps where your faith community can participate? If so, how could your faith community further participate in being connected to the greater world in spoken and active prayer?
  • Have a conversation on how you can best pray for one another. Spend a few minutes each week praying in the way that you feel most comfortable, holding members in your faith community in prayer. Is there a way you can act on those prayers? Meditate on how such prayers can create an active response. 
  • Prayer can take many shapes and forms. Have you colored while you prayed? Sang? Danced? Explore and try out a form of prayer that is different from what you are used to.

Closing Prayer

Gracious and loving God, you are so wild and free in giving your grace and mercy. In receiving your grace and mercy, may we prayerfully be called to action. In these actions, may we be reminded of your beloved Son Jesus, who both prayed and acted on his prayers. In our prayers and actions, may you continue to guide us to act for justice. Amen.

 

The post October 20, 2019–Your Words Made Flesh appeared first on Faith Lens.


Tuesday, October 8, 2019

October 13, 2019–Gratitude, Good for the Heart

Scott Mims, Virginia Beach, VA

Warm-up Question

  • As you look to the future – both your own personal future and the future of our world – what are some of the greatest challenges that you see?
  • In terms of the above, what gives you hope?

Gratitude, Good for the Heart

Want to live longer?  It turns out that looking on the bright side could save your life.  A study recently published in the medical journal, JAMA, found that people who look at life from a positive perspective have about a 35% lower risk of major heart complications, such as a cardiac death, stroke, or a heart attack, compared to those whose outlooks were pessimistic.  In fact, this meta-analysis of nearly 300,000 people found that the more positive a person’s outlook, the greater the protection from any cause of death.  These results correlate well with prior studies that have also found links between optimism and other positive health attributes.

 

Yet, as lead author, Dr. Alan Rozanski, notes, it is important not to confuse optimism with happiness.  Whereas happiness is an emotion, and thereby transient, optimism is a mindset – a persistent approach to life.  The good news in this is that optimism can be learned.  You can train yourself to be a positive person.  Using mental exercises such as meditation and the practice of gratefulness, we can actually change the structure of our brains in ways that support a positive mindset.

https://www.cnn.com/2019/09/27/health/optimism-heart-attack-stroke-wellness/index.html

Discussion Questions

  • It is said that an optimist sees the glass half-full, while a pessimist sees the same glass half-empty.  In general, how would you describe yourself?  Is your glass half-full or half-empty?  (Or are you an engineer who sees a glass that is twice as big as it needs to be? 😊)
  • At some point you have probably heard the story of “The Little Engine that Could.”  In your own experience, what role does one’s perception or mindset play in successfully (or not) meeting a challenge or overcoming a difficult situation?  Can you think of an example from your own life?
  • It has been shown that regularly practicing gratitude or “gratefulness” can actually help to “rewire” our brains toward a more positive mindset.  What do you think of this?  What role might “counting our blessings” play in cultivating optimism?

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c

2 Timothy 2:8-15

Luke 17:11-19

(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

Samaria.  Once again Luke reminds us that Jesus’ ultimate destination is Jerusalem and the cross, and this encounter helps to enlarge our perspective on who will be included in his saving ministry.  Since Samaritans were generally considered by their Jewish neighbors to be outcasts and only marginally connected to the people of God, the location of this story also serves as a backdrop to the “scandal” at the heart of an otherwise straightforward story about healing.

Jesus’ initial contact with these ten people who suffer from leprosy fits with how lepers were supposed to act according to the Jewish law.  Lepers kept their distance from non-lepers and were required to call out in warning so that others would not accidentally come into contact with them. (see Leviticus 13:45-46) In essence, they were totally cut off from their families and communities.  So, when these ten see Jesus, they cry out, begging for mercy. And Jesus responds!  

Jesus, like the prophet Elisha in this week’s first reading from 2 Kings 5, does not make a big show.  Such is the power of God at work in Jesus that he doesn’t need to. He simply tells them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”  This was what people who had already been cured of leprosy were supposed to do in order to be readmitted to the community. (see Leviticus 14:2-32) They go, and, in their obedience, discover along the way that they have been healed. One of them, however, turns back.  Praising God with a loud voice, he lays down at Jesus’ feet in an act of gratitude and worship.  The scandalous surprise, of course, is that he is a Samaritan!  Those who should be most attuned to God and most grateful for the lives they have received back are not, while the despised “outsider” becomes the example of gratefulness and faith.  We see this elsewhere in Luke’s gospel and in the book of Acts, with sinners, outsiders, and Gentiles receiving God’s grace with joy and gratitude while the “insiders” seem to miss the point entirely.  

In the end, Luke doesn’t say that the other nine former-lepers were any less cured than the Samaritan, though he does imply that they are less thankful.  Jesus himself points to a deeper experience for the Samaritan.  The word that gets translated as “get up” in verse 19 is a word early Christians would have recognized as having to do with “resurrection.” Similarly, Jesus’ final phrase might also be translated, “your faith has saved you.”  The Samaritan has been made “new” by the power of Jesus and he knows it!  There is a connection here between grace and gratitude, between faith and salvation.

Discussion Questions

  • With which of the people in this passage do you most identify?  Why?
  • At the beginning of this encounter with Jesus, the ten lepers were all in the same predicament.  How can a shared experience (such as going through cancer or a disaster) break down barriers between people?  How does God’s love and grace for all people fly in the face of the distinctions we often make between “insiders” and “outsiders”?
  • Why do you think the Samaritan was more grateful for Jesus’ actions than the other nine lepers?  How might his status as an “outsider” have contributed to his response?
  • Why is giving praise and thanks to God so important?  How do such acts of worship impact/change us?
  • The lepers in today’s reading experience God’s love and grace both in healing and in being restored to their families and communities.  When and where do you experience the grace of God?
  • What connection do you see between gratitude and faith?  How can praying for the small things, seeing God at work, and giving thanks encourage us to pray for larger matters?

Activity Suggestions

  • Prayer Journals: Encourage participants to keep a list of the people and situations for which they pray.  They might even put a check mark besides prayers that are eventually “answered”. The point of this activity is to notice, over time, how God works in and through our prayers, even if in unexpected ways.  To help folks get started, you might provide a small, inexpensive pocket-sized notebook for those who are interested.
  • Count Your Blessings: Have everyone make a list of the people, things, and experiences for which they are grateful.  Don’t forget the small everyday stuff that we normally take for granted (e.g. clean water, food to eat, a hot shower).  If you have time, have participants share from their list – you may well discover in the course of this discussion that you have even more reasons for gratitude.  End the activity by giving thanks to God.  You might connect this to the closing prayer by first gathering in a circle and having each person lift up one thing from their list that they are especially grateful for today.  Then end with the prayer below, or something similar.

Closing Prayer

Gracious and loving God, source of every good gift, in the waters of baptism you name us and claim us and make us your very own.  Thank you for the gift of faith, and for your relentless love that will not let us go no matter what.  Help us to count our many blessings, that we may live lives of praise and thanksgiving.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen. 

The post October 13, 2019–Gratitude, Good for the Heart appeared first on Faith Lens.



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Sunday, November 17
10:00am: Worship
Tuesday, November 19
11:00am: Bible study
Wednesday, November 20
9:00am: Food Pantry
Sunday, November 24
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Lectionary Texts:

November 17, 2019 Ordinary 33:
First Reading: Malachi 4:1-2a
Psalm: Psalm 98
Second Reading: 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Gospel Reading: Luke 21:5-19
November 17, 2019 Ordinary 33 Semicontinuous:
First Reading: Isaiah 65:17-25
Psalm: Isaiah 12
November 24, 2019 Christ the King:
First Reading: Jeremiah 23:1-6
Psalm: Psalm 46
Second Reading: Colossians 1:11-20
Gospel Reading: Luke 23:33-43
November 24, 2019 Christ the King Semicontinuous:
First Reading: Jeremiah 23:1-6
Psalm: Luke 1:68-79

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



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