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, September 21, 2021

September 26, 2021–Mission First

Sami Johnson, Andalucia, Spain

Warm-up Questions

  • Briefly describe a time you received help, kindness, or support from someone you didn’t expect.
  • Have you ever had the chance to offer help, kindness, or support to someone who didn’t expect it from you? Why did you do it?
  • How does our faith factor into your decision to serve others, especially when it involves people with whom you do not share a close or warm relationship?

Mission First

The stories about the evacuation of American citizens and allies from Afghanistan have been heart wrenching. My feeling of helplessness drove me to discover signs of hope. As Mister Rogers invites us to do in a crisis, I felt compelled to “look for the helpers.” I discovered that there were all kinds of people scrambling to arrange private flights to evacuate Afghan allies. Universities, faith-based groups, advocacy groups, veterans of the war in Afghanistan, just to name a few, were working together to try to arrange non-military flights out of Afghanistan. Their work was remarkable and courageous.

What caught me by surprise is that the people cooperating in this effort likely wouldn’t have agreed on much outside of this work they shared. Typically, they’d be divided by partisan politics.  Many would never be found in the same church (or any church) on a Sunday morning.  But they were willing to unite for the sake of this vital mission.

This mission hit home for me personally. The US and Spanish military community here at Naval Station Rota, Spain had the privilege of welcoming almost 3000 evacuees from Afghanistan. Evacuees arrived over the course of about two weeks and stayed here for about 5 days on their way to the US. The effort to welcome them, care for them, and protect them became an all-consuming task for service members and civilians alike. I got to witness firsthand unity and cooperation among the volunteers who came together to aid in Operation Allies Refuge. Neighbors, whether Spanish or American, military or civilian, friends or strangers, came together with hearts broken open for the sake of those who needed our help in the midst of this tragic situation.

Discussion Questions

  • How has the news coming out of Afghanistan impacted you? What has helped you cope with what you’re feeling?
  • Have you ever witnessed this kind of radical unity for the sake of a common goal?
  • Have you ever seen a goal fail because people let their differences get in the way?

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29

James 5:13-20

Mark 9:38-50

(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 B at Lectionary Readings.)

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

Gospel Reflection

The reading begins with a critical misunderstanding by John, one of Jesus’s disciples. John thinks he is in the right when he catches someone casting out demons, pretending to be Jesus’ follower.  He tells this exorcist to stop. John doesn’t explain why he is doing this but we can imagine that he might be trying to preserve the integrity of Jesus’ ministry. Maybe he is worried that the imposter is trying to jump on the bandwagon of Jesus’ popularity for selfish gain. We cannot know.

We can be sure of the intent behind Jesus’ response. He corrects John’s misconception of Jesus’ priorities saying, “Do not stop him… Whoever is not against us is for us” (verses 39, 40). In this moment, Jesus models grace in the form of unity and cooperation against John’s fundamentalism, which has no place in Jesus’ world-changing mission.

The next section might get our attention, with all its gory dismemberment and threats of unquenchable flames, worms, and hell, but that is not the whole story. It would be a shame if the reader overlooks the fact that Jesus is also reminding John of the mission that guides everything Jesus is doing. This mission is to bring near the kingdom of God here and now. However this message gets shared, whatever gets the world one step closer to looking like God’s kingdom is a-okay with Jesus.  Whether or not the person doing the healing, proclaiming, or other neighbor-loving work is a card-carrying member of “Team Jesus” already, with all the proper training and credentials, seems unimportant to Jesus.

Jesus punctuates this teaching in plain language at the end of our reading, as if to make sure we do not miss the central message amid all the shocking hyperbole of verses 43-48. He finishes with this pleading command, “be at peace with one another” (verse 50). This sounds to me as much like a prayer and a blessing as it does a command. “Be at peace with one another.”

We need this command/ prayer/ blessing today as much as John and his fellow disciples needed it in the First Century. It is too easy to get caught up in cutting others down to build ourselves up. Divisive cliques, political parties, or religious factions drawing lines in the sand is not what Jesus calls us into. Most of all, it falls far short of what Jesus empowers us to do. Jesus’s way peace is both a gift and as a calling.

Discussion Questions

  • What is an issue in your community that deserves a boundary-busting effort? What is the value or mission that could unite people from different backgrounds?
  • How might you faithfully respond to someone who has a belief you think is wrong, especially if their faith is not as mature as yours?
  • There is an old African proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” How do you think this relates to the goal of Christian unity?

Activity Suggestions

Consider how you can demonstrate a warm welcome to evacuees from Afghanistan whether or not they are being resettled in your community. (You can find some ideas here at Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.)

Closing Prayer

God of peace, you call all of us together, using our gifts to share the good news with the whole world. We pray for your grace to keep your mission first in our minds, over disagreements that would cause us to stumble along our way. In Jesus’s name we pray. Amen.


The post September 26, 2021–Mission First appeared first on Faith Lens.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

September 19, 2021–Right to Serve

Bill King, Blacksburg, VA

Warm-up Questions

What have you done in the past week which gave you the greatest joy and satisfaction?  Who or what benefited from your actions?

Right to Serve

Everyone hoped that the conflict over whether to mask or not mask amid the COVID pandemic would be over by now.  It isn’t.  The number of cases continues to climb and mask mandates–and opposition to them–are also rising.  Most of the time the debate plays out as some asserting their right to be free of governmental control.  But a recent article points out that the issue can be framed as whether the vulnerable have a right to feel safe at school.

Grayson Schwaigert has a rare genetic disorder which makes him at high risk to experience renal failure if he contracts COVID.  The governor of Tennessee has issued an executive order which allows parents to opt out of school mask mandates. As of Aug. 20, 16% of students in Greyson’s school district were opting out. His mother is the lead plaintiff in a suit which challenges the “opt out” policy.  She contends that allowing children to opt out endangers her child and makes it impossible for him to receive needed socialization and education at school.

Schwaigert’s suit is one of a wave of actions in a number of  states which contend that opt out policies force children and their parents to choose between their health and  their education. “We hear all the time, ‘Oh, only kids with preexisting conditions are the ones that get sick and die,’ ” Schwaigert says. “Well, that’s my kid. That is my child. He has a lot of preexisting conditions, and he matters.”

Discussion Questions

  • What is the difference between a mask mandate and laws which limit how fast you can drive in a school zone?
  • How do you balance the needs of the most vulnerable with the comfort and convenience of the majority?
  • Virtually all school districts require certain immunizations to enroll in a public school.  Why has the mask mandate become such a contentious issue, if the point of both is to reduce the risk of infection for everyone?

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Jeremiah 11:18-20

James 3:13—4:3, 7-8a

Mark 9:30-37

(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 B at Lectionary Readings.)

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

Gospel Reflection

Busted.  The disciples have been having a discussion about who is the most important among them.  At some level they know that this grubbing for status will not please their master, because they  do it privately.   They have heard him teach about denying self and saving your life by losing it [8:34-37], but they are still focused on what’s in it for themselves.  They see following Jesus as the fast track to power and prestige. So Jesus calls them out.  “What were you discussing on the way?”

Their embarrassed silence says it all.  They know perfectly well that their focus on personal status is not what Jesus is about.  But just in case they have any doubts about what he values and expects of them, Jesus lays it out, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”  Then he places a child in front of them and tells them to care for those like him or her.  The point is that a child is pure vulnerability, pure need.  There is no percentage in serving a child, no reciprocal payoff which benefits the giver.  That, says Jesus, is what you need to be about–finding ways to be servants, not masters.

The disciples are very concerned about their status, their rights as the inner circle.  Jesus tells them that the only right which love has is to give itself.

In Morality:  Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times, Rabbi Jonathan Sachs argues that the great crisis of the modern world is that we are so individualistic that we have lost sight of the fact that we can only live in a community.  We are so focused on the “I” that there is diminished sense of “We.”  Society has become a collection of individuals who ferociously defend  their rights, yet have little sense that with rights come responsibilities.  This, says Sachs, is a recipe for social chaos and bitter politics.

Winston Churchill famously observed, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”  How would our society be different if we had a greater sense of “We?”  How would it be different if our first thought was not how to protect our preferences, but how to serve those most in need of our care?

Discussion Questions

  • What gives someone status in your social circles?  Are those things which Jesus values?
  • What is the difference between having a spirit of service and just allowing yourself to be abused to no purpose?
  • Do you agree with Sachs that our society is in danger because we have too much focus on “I” and not enough on “We?”  Can you give examples?
  • When you think about your long term goals, what do you most want; how will you define success?

Activity Suggestions

  • Who in your school or neighborhood is like the child which Jesus put in the midst of the disciples–needing care, with little ability to reciprocate?  Find a way to serve that person without receiving any public recognition.
  • Write a letter or send an email to your legislator.  Make it in behalf of a bill which will not benefit you personally, but will make for a more just and kind society.

Closing Prayer 

Loving God, it is so hard to see beyond my own interests.  I spend most of my day trying to prove I am worthy of respect.  Lift my eyes to see the communities which need my talents and compassion.  Help me measure myself less by what I achieve than in how faithfully I follow Jesus’ example of service to those on the edges.  Most of all, remind me that I need not prove I am worthy of love, because you have claimed me in my baptism.  Amen.

The post September 19, 2021–Right to Serve appeared first on Faith Lens.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

September 12, 2021–Identity

Joshua Serrano, San Carlos, CA

Warm-up Questions

  • How would you describe what makes a good friend? 
  • How do you think you can be a good friend to others? 
  • Is there anything that holds you back from being a good friend? 


I once heard a story about a rabbi walking along a road. He is deep in thought and instead of making a right at the fork in the road he walks on the path to the left. Suddenly he hears someone call out to him, “Who are you? What are you doing here?” Shaken from his thoughts he sees that he is now standing in front of a fort with a Roman soldier calling out from the wall. The rabbi answers with a question, “How much do they pay you to ask me those two questions?” The soldier replies, “One denarius.” The rabbi answers, “Come follow me, I will pay you double to ask me those same two questions every morning before I start my day.” 

So, who are you? What are you doing here? The rabbi recognized the significance of these questions and wanted to remember them every morning. Likewise, we are often confronted with questions of our own identities. Contemplating these questions helps us better understand ourselves. 

Discussion Questions

  • How would you describe yourself? 
  • Do you think you have a purpose in life? 
  • In what ways do you recognize the importance of identity?

Isaiah 50:4-9a

James 3:1-12

Mark 8:27-38

(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 B at Lectionary Readings.)

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

Gospel Reflection

In this reading we learn that there was some confusion about the identity of Jesus. People were asking, “Is he John the Baptist or Elijah back from the dead? Is he a prophet?” Many people are still asking this very question—who is Jesus? There are hundreds of books about Jesus. Some claim he was an ascetic or mystic. Some claim Jesus was a prophet. Others claim that he was an apocalyptic teacher. It is no wonder then that Jesus wanted to know what others were saying about him. 

Peter is the only one to gets it right.  Peter declares, “You are the Messiah.”  We know that Peter is right because Jesus then orders Peter not to say anything to anyone.  He wants Peter to keep it a secret. Irony of ironies! Jesus asks people about his identity and then orders them to not talk about it anymore when someone gets it right! 

What’s more important is that Jesus goes on to teach them what Peter’s declaration means: The Messiah is not a conqueror, but a servant. Jesus will experience everything about being human, not just the good parts. Jesus will suffer, be rejected, and he will even be killed – but in the end he will rise again. Death does not have the final say.  

Even though Peter called out the correct answer earlier, he hadn’t actually understood what it meant. Peter takes Jesus aside and tries to get him to rein in those words, to stop saying those things. Perhaps this was not what Peter had in mind as the path of the Messiah. But Jesus turns away from the temptation, returning to his path as he returned to the crowd. 

Jesus says to the disciples, the crowd, and to us, miles apart and centuries away: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

Jesus shows us that we return to our true identities not in trying to be victorious in all things in life; instead, we gain awareness of our true identities by being of service.  It is a wonder that as we allow ourselves to be drawn away from our self-focus, the way of Jesus beckons us to return to our own identity. This identity is not marked in trying to rule or control the world, but to serve it. In Jesus, we understand that the Messiah came to show us the path to God. The path we follow calls us to new ways of being.  Following is not easy, but it is worth it. 

Discussion Questions

  • Why do you think Peter was rebuking Jesus? 
  • What does Jesus mean when he says to deny yourself? 
  • Why is the identity of Jesus so important? 
  • How might Jesus be calling you to serve in your community, in your studies and your work, or elsewhere? 

Activity Suggestions

Take some time to think about the unique characteristics of those around you. Tell your friends, family, or loved ones what you most appreciate about them. 

Closing Prayer

God of compassion, you called Jesus into this world not to be served, but to serve.  Help us to follow in his ways so that we may reflect your love for us.  Amen. 


The post September 12, 2021–Identity appeared first on Faith Lens.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Faith Lens on Summer Hiatus

Don’t worry, Faith Lens will be back in the fall.

Faith Lens will be on a summer hiatus after the Day of Pentecost.

The next posting will be on September 7th for September 12th (Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost).

The post Faith Lens on Summer Hiatus appeared first on Faith Lens.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

May 23, 2021–Old and New

Chris Heavner, Clemson, SC

Warm-up Question

  • If a room is already full, how can more people get in?
  • What do make of the saying, “Good endings make possible great beginnings”?

Old and New

My high school adopted a mascot many of us attending that school found to be insensitive, if not downright offensive.  In 1962, when the school was established, we had not yet learned to listen to the voices of those whose experiences did not match those of the loud and boisterous.  It was difficult to speak of what we wanted to be and become, when we were continually reminded of the comfort the status quo brought most of our classmates.  

While we all like the idea of something new and different, it is never easy to let go of what we know so well.  “If it ain’t broke; don’t fix it!” expresses our reluctance to make way for what is yet to come.

It doesn’t take long for us to fall into a comfortable routine.  The 12th graders at our annual Synod Youth Retreat are celebrated in rituals which they strengthen by their participation as 10th and 11th graders.  How dare we make changes when it is THEIR year to be in a unique small group of their own!

But nothing new can come when we hold the old too firmly.

It is easy  to recognize the things which others (you can read “old people”) need to release.  It is not so easy to see what we have so firmly grasped that we do not have an open hand to receive what is about to pass us by.

Discussion Questions

  • Name one thing would you like to see come to an end?  This can be a practice, a behavior, an attitude, or even an expectation.
  • Put yourself in the place of those holding on to this “thing” which you think needs to come to an end.  Do not move on till you have come to understand why “they” would not want to see an end.
  • With great pride, name those things in your life which have become so special to you that you know you would fight to keep them firmly in place!  Now, ask which of those others might not find as exciting.

Day of Pentecost 

Acts 2:1-21

Romans 8:22-27

John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

(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 B at Lectionary Readings.)

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

Gospel Reflection

This reading is part of Jesus’ farewell message to his disciples.  He is telling them both good-bye and what he expects of them.  We read this passage on Pentecost Sunday because it is such a clear message from Jesus about the role and purpose of the Holy Spirit. (Here called “the Advocate,” but also referred to as the “Spirit of Truth, “Holy Spirit,’ or “Holy Ghost.”)

On Pentecost Sunday, there is a great commotion in Jerusalem as the presence of this Spirit becomes obvious in the lives of the disciples.  They begin to speak in strange tongues and they overwhelm folks with their announcement of God’s salvation.

Jesus says that this day can’t come until the Advocate comes.  And the Advocate can’t come until Jesus is gone.  Jesus knew the disciples were not going to lean on the Advocate so long as they had Jesus to lean on.  So long as Jesus was with them, they did not need the Spirit to drive them out into the crowd to tell the Good News.  Jesus was better at it than they, right?  But when Jesus isn’t there, the Advocate is able to nudge them into action.  And they become the witnesses to the truth of what Jesus taught and shared.

On Pentecost Sunday, we are each reminded of how powerfully the Advocate moves among us.  We become those who turn loose of whatever it is that we were holding so tightly that we are unable to embrace the new thing God is doing in our midst.

It is a difficult thing to let loose of that which we come to prefer and to trust.  But letting loose is essential to becoming the people God knows we have the capacity to be.

Discussion Questions

  • Talk about the great things the disciples were able to do.  (They give rise to the Church, which has members in every timezone around the earth!)
  • Remember stories of how the disciples were moved by the Spirit to do God’s work in the world.  
  • Speak to one another about the modern-day disciples who have helped you see the workings of the Advocate.
  • Return to the question above–what you have come to hold so firmly that you might not be able to receive the new thing(s) God wants to see happen in your life.

Activity Suggestions

Seek out one of the older members of your congregation.  Ask them to tell you about a practice or way of doing things which is no longer a part of the congregation’s life.  Allow them to remember the happiness this event brought them; then ask if something was able to take its place.

Start by realizing that the Advocate is active in your life.  Now – sit in stillness long enough to discover the thing you are being nudged to do.  Maybe it is being kind to the classmate others ignore.  Maybe it is speaking out against racism.  The Spirit may be looking to you to be the one who shouts a reminder of how much God loves all the little children of the world.

Closing Prayer

O Lord, allow the Wind of Pentecost to blow though my life and into my world.  Make it possible for me to follow where you lead and to do the things which you desire.  Help me to avoid the comfortable niche; make me ever ready to take on the challenge of speaking your name and your promise.  Amen.


The post May 23, 2021–Old and New appeared first on Faith Lens.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

May 16, 2021-E Pluribus Unum?

Brian Hiortdahl, Woodland Hills, CA

Warm-up Question

How do you stay in healthy relationship with someone with whom you strongly disagree?

E Pluribus Unum?

As the United States transitioned from one presidential administration to another, many families struggled with strained or broken relationships overheated by strong political disagreement. An article by Belinda Luscomb in TIME reports that, “a postelection Pew Research Center survey found that fewer than 2% of voters felt those who voted for the other party understood them very well, and only 13% of Joe Biden’s voters and 5% of Donald Trump’s voters expressed any desire for future unity. Luscomb’s article chronicles several studies and personal stories to illustrate a larger social trend.

“An October study from the University of Missouri found that since 2016, family interactions have been more likely to drive highly partisan relatives apart than bring them together.”  Family members are blocking each other on social media over political opinions.  Holiday meals have become difficult.  Parents and children view each other with mutual incomprehension.  One explanation, suggests Luscomb, is that “in the Trump era, many Americans don’t see voting as a decision about a set of policies, they see it as a moral imperative, an act that will make or break the country.”

Discussion Questions

  • Which family in Luscomb’s article resonates most with your own experience?
  • What unites the United States?  Is the slogan “E pluribus unum” (“out of many, one”) idealism or reality?
  • Is there division in your faith community?  What is it about?  Is it strong enough to keep tear your faith family apart?
  • In the months since the article was published, do you see people moving closer together, drifting farther apart, or about the same?

Seventh Sunday of Easter

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

1 John 5:9-13

John 17:6-19

(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 B at Lectionary Readings.)

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

Gospel Reflection

Every year, on the seventh Sunday of Easter, we “overhear” Jesus praying to his Father on the night before he died. After a very long section of final words to his overwhelmed disciples (see John 16:12, which is how I always felt in calculus), Jesus speaks a lengthy, powerful prayer for them (chapter 17). Today’s gospel is from the middle of that prayer, in which Jesus repeats his request “that they may be one, as we are one” (vs. 11, 22).

As Martin Luther would ask, “What does this mean?”   Does it mean being of one mind, with one singular focus?  Does it mean being united together with each other in loyalty that is stronger than disagreement?  Could it perhaps mean both and more? 

The disciples did not agree politically:  zealots like Simon would never associate with tax collectors like Matthew.  Yet both were disciples of Jesus … who also once spoke about how he had come to divide families! (See Matthew 10:34-39.)  It’s complicated; maybe calculus is easier.

The one family connection that always remains strong, John’s gospel reminds us, is the union between God (Father) and Jesus (his only Son).  It is that truth-filled, joyful relationship of unbreakable love which Jesus wants to share with his disciples.  Jesus knows that the world is full of conflict, cruelty, division, distraction, deception, and danger; he will feel all of it the next day on the cross.  This troubled world is the same one God loves so much that God sent Jesus in the first place (John 3:16-17).  Now Jesus has also sent his disciples into the world (17:18), and he won’t be there with them in the same way he has been.  “Holy Father, protect them”…he prays…”so that they may be one, as we are one.”  

This mind-bending prayer reveals to us something even more impossible to comprehend:  God’s wildly generous love.  God shares Jesus with an unappreciative world, and Jesus shares everything—including giving his intimate relationship with the Father to his disciples, just before giving his very life to the world.

Discussion Questions

  • If you knew you would die tomorrow, for whom and what would you pray today?
  • Is the Church of Jesus united or divided…or both?  Explain your answer.
  • Why is truth important for real unity?
  • What part can you play in helping Jesus’ prayer come true?

Activity Suggestions

  • Write a loving letter to a family member from whom you feel disconnected.
  • As a group, pray together for your faith community and for the world.  Do you think prayer helps unify Christians?  How and why?

Closing Prayer

Gracious Father, we pray for your holy catholic church. Fill it with all truth and peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in anything it is amiss, reform it; where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in need, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord. Amen. (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p.73)


The post May 16, 2021-E Pluribus Unum? appeared first on Faith Lens.

Upcoming Events:

Sunday, September 26
10:00am: Worship
Tuesday, September 28
11:00am: Bible study
Wednesday, September 29
9:00am: Food Pantry

Lectionary Texts:

September 25, 2021:
First Reading: Deuteronomy 27:1-10
Psalm: Psalm 19:7-14
Second Reading: Matthew 5:13-20
September 25, 2021 Semicontinuous:
First Reading: Esther 3:1-15
Psalm: Psalm 124
September 26, 2021 Ordinary 26:
First Reading: Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29
Psalm: Psalm 19:7-14
Second Reading: James 5:13-20
Gospel Reading: Mark 9:38-50
September 26, 2021 Ordinary 26 Semicontinuous:
First Reading: Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22
Psalm: Psalm 124

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

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