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 13, 2018

November 18, 2018–Birth Pangs

Mary Ellen Helms, Loveland, OH

Warm-up Question

What are some of the things going on in the world that worry you? How do you picture the end of the world?

Birth Pangs

When we turn on our smartphones these days, the news can be overwhelming. Whether you see articles on Twitter or a news site, there is always something major happening to cause concern. Political divide, natural disaster, war-torn countries in crumbles – there is no shortage of bad news. We can become overwhelmed with current events and want to tune it all out and just go on living without being informed. While this can be attractive and necessary at times (unplugging is good!); we are not called to be people who shut off our ears, eyes, brains, and hearts from current events. We are called to understand the overarching story of God’s love for God’s people and God’s desire that the Kingdom of God may come.

Recently, the United Nations released a study about climate change which might have a lot of us worrying. Summarizing the report, this article about the danger of doing nothing about this impending disaster warns that “‘rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society’ are required to ward off the worst impacts of global warming.”  This language is intimidating and can make us feel powerless in caring for God’s creation.

When we think about our first call to be stewards of creation (Genesis 1:26-28), we remember we are partners with God in caring for creation. That is a hard job! Instead of ending on a note of negativity, the article closes with a quote from one of the report’s authors, Natalie Mahowald “We have a monumental task in front of us, but it is not impossible, this is our chance to decide what the world is going to look like.” It is not too late to care for our world.

Discussion Questions

  • When you think about current events, what makes you worry about the future? What are stories that give you hope?
  • What do you think God sees when God looks at how we care for creation? How might we do better?
  • Think of a time when you’ve needed to unplug from the news. What was that like for you? Did it help the problem go away? Why or why not?
  • What actions can we take to make the world a better place? What are some practical steps you can take today?

Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Daniel 12:1-3

Hebrews 10:11-25

Mark 13:1-8

(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 B at Lectionary Readings

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

Gospel Reflection

When we reach this point in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus’ days are numbered. He has already ministered to many across the countryside and miracles have been done in God’s name. Before this chapter, Jesus answers many questions and shares parables with his followers. Jesus’ teaching ministry is coming to an end and it seems like he is trying his best to pass along a lot of nuggets of wisdom to his disciples.

It is no wonder that Jesus starts the teaching in today’s lesson by talking about how the physical things we’ve  built on this earth will not endure. Jesus walks with his disciples at the Temple and they point out the vastness of the things all around them. Jesus seems a bit frustrated;  They are looking at impressive structures dedicated to God and missing the point of God’s true power.

Jesus knows that the times to come will not be peaceful until the Kingdom of God is fulfilled. He warns his disciples about some of the upcoming threats, many of which we are still familiar with today: wars, political strife, natural disasters, and more. He prepares them by saying “This is but the beginning of the birth pangs”.

While this language and these images can bring stress and worry, they are really  pointing us to is the hope of the New Creation that God’s Kingdom will bring. When we think about ‘birth pangs’, we acknowledge there is pain and stress in labor, but the new creation – the baby’s life – makes it all worth it.

Our days are full of stress.  Many of us do not experience the immediate effects of warfare or environmental danger, but we do know many other kinds of pain—depression, worry, insecurity, judgementalism. We are called to look beyond the right now to the what’s to come. Jesus did not ignore the current reality of the world in which he lived.  Even though he knew that the things of this world would pass away, he taught, performed miracles, served, loved, and cared. In the same way, we are called to act, caring for the world we have inherited and the one we will pass on.  But we do this knowing we have a secure hope in eternal life because of Jesus.

Discussion Questions

  • When you read the list of what is to come before the coming of God’s kingdom, what worries you most? What have you personally experienced? How has that changed your life?
  • Are there times in your life where you’ve been led astray? What is that like in retrospect? How have you helped lead others to a life of hope instead of a life of fear?
  • What is it about Jesus that gives you hope, even in the midst of difficult times?

Activity Suggestions

  • Pick out a service project to do that benefits creation at your congregation. Ideas include starting a weekly recycling group, working with your property stewards to commit to using less electricity, speaking to your council about converting to LED light bulbs or something else.
  • Take a big sheet of paper and write down current events that have you worried about our world, our nation, your community, school, home, and yourself. Then, starting with the world, nation, community, school, home and ending with yourself, pray your way through the list asking God to help take care of all of your concerns. Brainstorm ways you can help with your neighbors’ concerns.

Closing Prayer

Loving, mighty, and powerful God, you remind us that even the strongest edifices will crumble someday. Remind us also that our hope remains in your eternal promise given through Jesus, not in the things we create for ourselves. Make us stewards of your creation, reminding us to care for all you have made and one another. Hold us close when we worry and send us out to do your will. Amen.

The post November 18, 2018–Birth Pangs appeared first on Faith Lens.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

November 11, 2018–How Much is Enough?

Anne Williams, Ankeny, IA


Warm-up Question

  • What’s a lot of money for you? Not like being a millionaire, is $500 a lot for you? or $1000? Or maybe even $100.
  • Do you give an offering? What’s the right age to start giving an offering to church?

How Much is Enough?

At the end of September, St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in Sydney Australia introduced pay as you go offering. Using tap and go technology, like McDonalds does, you can tap your chip enabled debit or credit card on the side of the offering plate. No more need for carrying cash or writing out a check! No need to sheepishly whisper “I already give online” when not putting anything in the plate! Seems like a great idea! Some embraced the new technology saying, “I hate it when I turn up to mass and realize I don’t have any cash, I would love this option at my parish.”

Others were in shock! Not about the use of the technology per se, but how the church decided to implement it. The minimum donation was $10 and the announcement on social media read “Multiple payments of $10 can be made by tapping your card once with several seconds in between each transaction.” Much of the social media storm seemed to be about the minimum offering! One Facebook user commented “If you had made it [a] $2 minimum we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation.

The response on social media was so strong that the initial announcement about tap and go offering was taken off the Cathedral’s Facebook page and this comment was put up in its place: “Thanks to the people who took the time to make rational and coherent comments on our recent post about the new collection plates.”

Discussion Questions

  • Would you use or debit or credit card in church to make your offering?
  • What is a good amount for a minimum offering?
  • Should you even have an idea of a minimum offering?

Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost

(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

Picture this: Jesus and his crew are hanging around the Temple Courts in Jerusalem, they are watching the comings and goings of both the ordinary worshipper and those who make their living working for the Temple or as Temple officials. The worshippers coming in and saying their prayers and leaving their offerings would have been from every class. Some would have been wealthy merchants, some of would been day laborers who worked for enough money to buy one day’s worth of food.

But there’s a group of scribes wandering around together, probably talking about some ancient text they are working on. These scribes make their livings through the Temple system. They copy manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible. They write down the thoughts of smartest Sadducees and priests. They like to flaunt it. As Jesus says in verse 38, they like to walk around in long robes and like to be greeted with respect. Jesus is warning his disciples that the scribes have no time for charity – they devour widows’ houses, and they want only to make themselves look good. According to Jesus, these scribes with receive a greater condemnation (v.40).

The scribes wander off, leaving Jesus’ disciples wondering what this condemnation might be, when Jesus decides to sit down across from where people make their offering. The disciples look for places to sit close by, maybe to catch a glimpse of what Jesus is seeing. They sit and watch people, all kinds of people, make their offerings. Jesus sees a woman start walking up to the treasury, he calls his disciples to watch her. They can see she’s going to make an offering, but she can’t have much – all she has is two small coins. To be honest, it looks like all she has in the entire world. Jesus looks back at his disciples seated around him and says that the widow has put in more than all the others contributing to the treasury. He goes on to explain that since she gave all she had, all she had to live on, she gave more than those who gave their “extra” money to the treasury.

After watching her leave the Temple courts, Jesus stands up and calls for his disciples to follow him, it’s time to see something else…

Discussion Questions

  • It’s clear Jesus prefers the poor woman over the scribes, why?
  • Thinking back to the warm up question, what would you consider an abundance of money? How much would make a real difference in your life?
  • Could you give up your last $5 to your church? Would you?

Activity Suggestions

  • Invite your pastor, a member of your church council,  or perhaps the congregation’s treasurer,bookkeeper, or accountant to share with the students how much it takes to keep your congregation running. Have them discuss the important of benevolence – the church giving offering to the synodical or churchwide ministries, like ELCA World Hunger.

Closing Prayer

Gracious and loving God, you give us everything, from the air in our lungs, to the resources we have to spend. Help us make wise choices, as individuals, families and congregations about how to honor the offerings given and shared by your faithful children. Amen.

The post November 11, 2018–How Much is Enough? appeared first on Faith Lens.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

November 4, 2018–Beyond Death’s Stench

Bryan Jaster,  Winchester, VA


Warm-up Question

What is something traumatic that happened in your life?  What did you do in response?

Beyond Death’s Stench

Mikah Meyer is on a 3 year journey to visit all 417 national parks and discover the power of healing and love.

Imagine being 19 years old and having one of your parents die.  When Mikah Meyer was 19 his father died suddenly of esophageal cancer at the age of 58 years.  He was devastated.  His father would never see him grow up and be able to celebrate life with Mikah.  The assumption that his father would live to be 80+ years old was shattered.  The realization that life isn’t infinite and that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed hit hard.

His father loved to travel and Mikah set a goal that when he was 30 years old he would hit the road and set the world record for being the youngest person to visit all the national parks while sharing along the way that life is worth living and to appreciate time and people while we have it. So, at 30 he did.

Once he started his national park tour something happened that had begun in his life as a 19 year old. That year was the first year when he met an adult who was openly gay.  Gay before that was a topic that wasn’t even spoken of.  So after meeting more people in his 20s and making public that he was a gay Christian, he began to encounter many who felt they weren’t loved by their church or by God.   He thought that sharing that part of his life during his tour of national parks would decrease financial support from congregations.  Living out of his van, he visited congregations on Sunday mornings and relied on the hospitality of friends and strangers to continue his journey.

However, he decided to share that part of his identity after being contacted via social media by a young teen who was in the closet about being gay. The teen reached out after finding out about his past work setting up “Queers for Christ” in Washington, D.C. The teen thanked Myer for letting him know he wasn’t alone and that he could accomplish his dreams, just as Meyer was accomplishing his.

So now honoring his father’s life, he travels living out of a converted van as an openly Gay Christian,  performing as a contra tenor singer who sings for his supper.  He preaches at congregations about living God’s limitless, boundary-less love and proclaims that we are all children of God, worthy of love. He has been able to stay on the roads because America’s Christians have funded a gay man to set a world record.   He has currently visited 368 of the 417 national parks and will finish April 29, 2019 at the Lincoln Memorial.

Check out more of Mikah’s journey at https://www.mikahmeyer.com/

Discussion Questions

  • How many national parks have you been to?  What would be a challenge to trying to see all 417?
  • What is a favorite place you like to go to experience the beauty of creation?
  • Mikah Meyer experienced death face-to-face when his dad died. How did he respond? What can we learn from his actions?   What big dreams do you have that God might be calling you to do?
  • What is something that you feel is “off limits” to talk about at church, in school, or in your family? What is one way you can start a conversation about it and promoted loving people who may be different in some way?

All Saints Sunday

(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

“There is a stench”

Death stinks. Literally, death stinks.  Bacteria quickly break down proteins in dead bodies into cadaverine and putrescine—and the stench rises.   Death stinks too for those who mourn as the reality of loss and death of a loved one takes hold.  There is a stench in death.

Before our story begins in John 11, Jesus made mud and healed a man of blindness.  This action made “the Jews” or perhaps we could say “the religious authorities” irate.  When they ask if he is the Messiah, Jesus’ answers do not appease them.  They accuse him of blaspheming and try to arrest him.

The stench of death continues.  Jesus gets word that Lazarus, whom he loves, is ill.  Jesus says this illness will lead to God’s glory.  He waits a few days and the disciples are puzzled that he would go back to the place where he was to be stoned to death.  He goes anyway, and finds Lazarus to be dead four days. Martha says, “If you had been here my brother would not have died.”  She proclaims Jesus to be the One, and then goes back and tells Mary that Jesus is in town.

Here is where our text picks up the story, John 11:32-44.  The Jews and Mary are weeping.  Jesus is disturbed, first when seeing their pain, and then upon arriving at the tomb of Lazarus. Jesus being “disturbed” in Greek is like him making the snorting sound of a horse when he encounters the stench of death in the grief of the Jews (remember they were the ones who tried to arrest and stone Jesus), Mary, and Martha.  Greatly moved by Lazarus’ death and the love for his friends is Jesus when surrounded by the stench of death.

Jesus stands at the cave and commands for the stone to be taken away.  Martha protests that “there is a stench” because Lazarus has been dead four days.  There is nothing to be done for Lazarus now and he can do nothing for himself in death.

Jesus response to the stench of death is startling:  “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”  Jesus next prays, thanking God for hearing him and hoping that the crowd might believe God sent him.

Then he shouts, “Lazarus, come out!”

With those 3 words Jesus flips the stench of death upside down and writes a new script where death is defeated by the way of resurrection, life, and love.  With the words “unbind him and let him go” we see the completion of the seventh sign in John’s gospel of Jesus’ identity.  From now on being in relationship with Jesus means we face death and pain with him.  It means learning that, in spite of the stench of death, Jesus can and will bring life.  Nothing is ever so dead that it keeps Jesus from bringing life for us.  Abundant life is always ever now.

Discussion Questions

  • Why do you think Jesus delayed in going to Lazarus’ tomb? When was a time when if felt like God waited too long and then something truly good happened after all?   How can we trust that God will bring life out of death in our world?
  • Abundant life is now and resurrection is now. What is one way you can share the abundant life that God gives with someone in class or your neighborhood?   Make a plan and do it!

Activity Suggestions

Find a dead, decaying animal.  Really. Find an animal that smells like death.   Be smart about handling it and smell the stench of death together.  Unlike our recent ancestors, most of us don’t come in close contact with the death of animals or human family members.   If you are adventurous, take a trip to a morgue or schedule a visit to see cadavers in a research lab.

Another option:  Duckweed or other high-protein plants emit smells like decaying flesh when decomposing.   Get some duckweed and let it rot for a week in advance.  Then smell it.

Once you have allowed your noses to recover, talk about what death smells like.
When else have you smelled something dead?

Have you had a close friend or family member die?  What was that like?   Were you sad?

When has a relationship died?  When has a relationship healed or experienced new life?

Closing Prayer

Oh God, the stench of death is real and so are your surprising ways of bringing abundant life.  Challenge us to live and love like your son Jesus today in your creation and with the people we encounter now.  Thank you for rolling away the stones in life, calling us to “come out” of our tombs, and unbinding us so that we might live again each day.  Amen.


The post November 4, 2018–Beyond Death’s Stench appeared first on Faith Lens.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

October 28, 2018–Freedom of a Christian

Andrew Karmann, Omaha, NE

Warm-up Question

  • Have you ever felt like a slave to anything?
  • What does it mean to be free?

Freedom of a Christian

When things in our lives happen to us we can often feel out of control and pushed in directions we never thought we could go. Since losing their daughter in the Aurora, Colorado shooting, Sandy and Lonnie Phillips have gone to the locations of many mass shootings. They know lots about the challenges grieving families face, and have information only people who have lost someone to a shooting can know.

In a recent radio broadcast of This American Life, Sandy and Lonnie arrived on the campus of Santa Fe High School, just outside of Houston, TX just days after the May 18, 2018 school shooting. They were wearing buttons showing a picture of their daughter Jesse as they walked up to the ten wooden crosses with red hearts for each of the students and teachers who had lost their lives in the shooting. It doesn’t take long before students and faculty begin coming up to them and opening up about their experiences.

As I listened to the students and parents heart wrenching stories of loss and confusion, it’s easy to think that Sandy and Lonnie would have been perfectly justified to let their lives stop after learning of their daughter’s death. But the tragedy of their experience doesn’t stop there. They are subjected to people who call themselves “truthers” who proclaim that victims of these shooting never existed or are being put up by the government in a resort somewhere.

So what makes these parents relive the worst night of their lives over and over again? Five months later they were asked to visit the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting. They decided they would go because all they wanted in the aftermath of their daughter’s death was someone to talk to that could understand what they were going through.

Despite the awkwardness they felt upon arriving at Sandy Hook, they recognized the pain on the other parents’ faces. It was exactly where they had been five months ago. They wanted nothing more than to help these parents acclimate to their new reality. So to help parents in these situations find each other for support they started an organization called “Survivors Empowered.”

Sandy and Lonnie felt a calling to help people experiencing what they had already been through. Their family and friends wanted desperately for them to move on and get back to normal. But something inside them just wouldn’t allow the tragedy of their daughter’s death go by unforgotten. The brokenness of their world was not going to stop them from being there for others.

Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever experienced the grief of losing someone that you loved? Did anyone talk to you about a similar experience they had which made you feel a little better?
  • Have you or someone you know been affected by school shootings?
  • Have you talked with your friends about school shootings you’ve heard about in the news?

Reformation Sunday

(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

Today’s Gospel is a text which is heard a lot in Lutheran churches on Reformation Sunday. It starts out with Jesus telling his followers that if they just continue to follow what he’s been teaching them, that they will be set free. However, this idea of being set free didn’t seem to make too much sense to those whom Jesus was talking to, because they immediately say that they have never been slaves to anyone. So they ask what Jesus could possibly mean by saying, “they will be set free”?

Jesus goes on to say that anyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. What could that possibly mean? Does that mean that we can simply live a perfect life and not have to worry about being a slave to sin? What does Jesus even mean when he says sin? Sometimes it helps to get a little context from the things that are happening around our selected readings.

In the case of today’s gospel lesson we can move back to the beginning of chapter 8 to see what Jesus meant when he was talking about sin and how that differed from the understanding of sin that the people around him had. The chapter begins with the story of a woman caught in the act of adultery being brought before Jesus. The scribes and Pharisees then ask Jesus what he thinks should be done about this sinner, knowing that the traditional punishment is to stone the adulterer to death. Jesus says that anyone who has never sinned can go ahead and be the first one to throw a stone at her. After this everyone leaves because everyone has sinned. Jesus forgives her and tells her to go on with her life and sin no more.

This story shows us a couple of things that are relevant to today’s Gospel Lesson.

  • Everyone has sinned, and is therefore a slave to sin.
  • Sin isn’t limited to doing something against the laws of the scriptures, but part of the world we live in.

Martin Luther struggled with many of these same difficult questions regarding sin. He was confused by his inability to stop sinning and the idea of being able to make up for it in a satisfying way. Luckily, our Gospel doesn’t end with the statement that everybody sins. Rather it goes on to say, “So if the Son makes you free, you are free indeed.”

This tells us that because of Jesus’ death on the cross, and subsequent resurrection, we are no longer slaves to sin. Whether it is our own (as in the case of the woman who committed adultery) or a result of the broken world (as in the case of Sandy and Lonnie’s daughter’s death). Instead we are free to continue our lives. We are free to allow Christ’s light to shine through ours and the world’s brokenness.

Discussion Questions

  • In light of today’s gospel reading, how would you define sin?
  • What are some examples of ways we could sin ourselves?
  • What are some examples of how sin is found in the broken world around us?
  • What do you think it looks like to be set free by Christ?

Activity Suggestions

Gather strips of soft cloth to tie the hands and ankles as well as to make blindfolds. (Strips torn from an old sheet work nicely) You’ll need enough strips for each person to have one.

Distribute the cloth strips to kids and have them form three groups. Instruct one group to tie each other’s hands behind their backs. (You will have to help the last person.) Have another group use the strips to loosely tie each person’s ankles together. Have the remaining group use its strips as blindfolds.

Provide instructions to the youth letting them know that as you call out various actions, they are to do each one in the best way that they can.

  • Shake hands
  • Touch your toes
  • Walk across the room
  • Wave to a friend
  • Take one giant step
  • Sit cross-legged on the floor
  • Hop on one foot
  • Point to the west
  • Wink at someone

Debrief with the follow questions:

  1. What kinds of problems were you having? Explain.
  2. What can be done to solve these problems?
  3. This game has taken away some of your freedom. What kinds of things bind us or take away our freedom in real life?
  4. How can we be freed from these things?

Closing Prayer

Loving  God, Thank you for this chance to come together to learn more about you and your word. Thanks, also for your amazing gift of freedom from sin. Although we often feel stuck in fear or grief we know that you call us to continue living. We know that you hear our prayers whether we shout them with joy from the mountaintops or hold them inside with sighs to deep for words. Thank you for listening.



The post October 28, 2018–Freedom of a Christian appeared first on Faith Lens.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

October 21, 2018–Ambition

John Hougen, Elkins Park, PA

Warm-up Question

What are your ambitions? Name three: one ambition you have for this week, one ambition you have for this year, and one ambition you dream of fulfilling in your lifetime.


All of us have ambitions: goals we are working toward, hopes for the future, dreams of success. Our ambitions can be good or evil, noble or crass. Ambition can lead to addressing the root causes of violence and building a better community. And, ambition can lead predators to boast of how many victims they’ve lured into bed. Ambitions can express our best selves or something less. They can contribute to the common good or fulfill our most shameful selfish desires. I knew two families who seemed to be in competition for which would adopt the most children with special needs. I admired them greatly.

In American culture today, competition is everywhere. Ambition is defined as wanting to win, to come out on top, to be the best. Children vie for their parents’ attention. Families plan everything else around youth sports schedules. Network television seems dominated by series that start with auditions and end with a winner. We each have our teams, our candidates, our favorite competitors. When we aren’t competing ourselves, we are cheering for those with whom we identify. When our side wins, we feel like we have won too. They are in the limelight and we bask in their glory.

It is a challenge for those of us who are spiritual to align our ambitions with the values of our faith. It may be harmless to indulge in the competitive games people play, but if we are true to our faith, our focus will be elsewhere. As Christians, our ambition should be to imitate Christ who revealed the God-given potential of life in this world. This does not mean we should aspire to wearing robes and performing miracles. It means we should open our minds and hearts to becoming aware of God’s presence with and within us. It means we should use our brains, muscles, and empathy to help others. It means our ambitions will include seeking and speaking the truth, offering and accepting forgiveness, peace-making, befriending the marginalized, binding up what is broken, and mending creation.

Discussion Questions

  • Why do you think there are so many television shows which feature competition (such as American Idol, The Voice, and America’s Got Talent)?  If you watch any of these, what is their attraction to you?  What attributes do these shows reward?
  • Would you like to be famous? If so, what do you dream of doing that would command attention and earn the admiration of others?
  • Name people with ambition whom you admire, and tell why you admire them. Include some examples from your family and friends.
  • Will any of your ambitions lead you toward being more like Jesus? If so, which ones? If not, why not?

Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost

(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

James and John were ambitious. Their ambition was to be like Jesus: to be close to God and able to pray, to speak God’s truth, heal, forgive, inspire, and lead. They knew they would never be exactly like Jesus, so the next best thing was to stay as close to him as possible. They believed that one day God would establish a great kingdom with Jesus seated on its glorious throne. In both the present and future, they wanted to be by Jesus’ side, one on his right and one on his left. So, they asked Jesus to grant them their wish. James and John hoped that when glory came to Jesus, they would be nearby, soaking up the glory that comes to a winner.

Jesus responded to their request with a question. “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink?” We can know what Jesus meant in that moment by turning a few pages ahead in the Gospel of Mark. Mark 14 reports that on the night before Jesus’ crucifixion, kneeling in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed: “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” (Mark 14:36. NRSV) When Jesus asked James and John, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink?” Jesus was asking whether they understood glory was not going to happen just yet. He was asking them whether, on the way to glory, they were willing to suffer and die as he would. Would they be willing to be tortured and killed for being like Jesus, eliminated when those in power would no longer put up with truth and love?

The other disciples, surely as deserving of glory as James and John, objected to their trying to claim the honor for themselves, “cutting in line” to get the best seats. Jesus then told all his disciples they were acting like politicians whose ambition for power and fame is motivated by the desire to enrich themselves and bolster their own egos. The politicians of their day (and some in our day) wanted power so they could force others to abide by their selfish whims rather than using their power for good.

Jesus teaches his disciples (and us) that those who are his most faithful followers will lose what their culture considers essential for a successful life: the ambition to gain fame, riches, power, and glory. Jesus teaches his disciples (and us) that his most faithful followers will be like him–ambitious for greatness in service, gaining the success that comes from giving away all they are and all they have to make life better for others.

Discussion Questions

  • Do you think Jesus was too hard on James and John for wanting to be with him in glory?
  • Is it possible to have ambition for fame or wealth and still be most focused on serving others?
  • If you were to sacrifice time, energy, and money to help others, what would you gain? What would make your sacrifices worthwhile?

Activity Suggestions

There are many passages in the Bible that encourage Christians to use the gifts God has given them for the sake of others. (Read one of the following: Matthew 5: 14-16, Romans 12: 3-8, 1 Corinthians 12: 1-11) If you are meeting in a group, let each person have a turn while others in the group identify the gifts God has given her or him and how those gifts are being used or could be used to serve others. If you are by yourself, list your gifts and how they might be used to help others.

Closing Prayer

I wrote the following text to be sung at a gathering of Lutheran college and university students. Some of the lines are inspired by Scripture passages such as today’s Gospel reading which invites us to follow Jesus, and to become his presence in the world today. Other lines are inspired by passages such as Matthew 25: 34-40 which teach us that when we serve others, we are serving Jesus who is present with them in their need.


Meditate on these words in silence or by finding a simple melody to which they can be sung.

  1. We are free to be – like Jesus.

We are free to be: Jesus in the world.


  1. We are free to see – like Jesus.

We are free to see: Jesus in the world.


  1. We are free to serve – like Jesus.

We are free to serve: Jesus in the world.


  1. We are free to love – like Jesus.

We are free to love: Jesus in the world.


  1. We are free to heal – like Jesus.

We are free to heal: Jesus in the world.


  1. God has set us free – like Jesus.

God calls us to be: Jesus in the world.

The post October 21, 2018–Ambition appeared first on Faith Lens.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

October 14, 2018–Valuing Things and People

Amy Martinell, Sioux Falls, SD

Warm-up Question

What would you do if you want millions of dollars in the lottery?

Valuing Things and People

On September 28th an earthquake and tsunami rocked Indonesia.  The 7.5-magnitude quake struck just off the central island of Sulawesi, setting off a tsunami that engulfed the coastal city of Palu. The death toll has now risen to 1,347( as of October 2nd) and there is fear there are still more people trapped underneath the mud and rubble.

In the midst of this horrible situation, there is little running water, power, food, or drinking water. People are desperate as they try to meet their family’s basic needs and looting has become a problem.  At first, officers were lenient to those taking basic goods, but people have now been arrested for stealing computers and cash.  Police report they find themselves in a difficult situation as they try to protect the stores but still provide the people with what they desperately need.   Looters have also hindered relief efforts as survivors have blocked trucks carrying supplies to raid the contents.  Relief trucks are now being escorted by soldiers and the police.

For more information:



Discussion Questions

  • How do you feel when you hear of a natural disaster that is so far away from us? Helpless?  Removed?  Eager to find a way to help?
  • Mr. Rogers recommended looking for the helpers in scary and desperate situations. Where do you see people helping the survivors in Indonesia?
  • As people struggle to survive, is there a moral line they shouldn’t cross? Is looting okay when it is to meet basic needs?  What about when the supplies are going to help others?   Have there been time in your own life when you have had to resort to “desperate measures for desperate times.”

Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost

(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

“Sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me…How hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

This is a hard story to hear.  Jesus tells us our wealth and possessions can stand between us and eternal life.  The solution is to give away all we have, something that doesn’t sound too appealing to most of us. Often, to make ourselves feel better, we reassure ourselves we aren’t the people Jesus is talking about.  We aren’t wealthy; we don’t have that much stuff.  Yet, when we see reports of the earthquake survivors in Indonesia struggling just to meet their basic needs we are reminded of how much we have.

Jesus warns us about wealth because it can insulate us from others and from God.  When we are able to meet all of our own needs we don’t reach out to others for help.  We may forget to live as a community where members care for and support each other.  We can value the things we have more than the people around us.

We do hear a word of hope: What is impossible for us mortals is not impossible for God.  Even our wealth, our possessions, and our greed cannot separate from God’s love.

Whether it is money and possessions or activities and friends, we often put other things before God, but this text challenges us to remember that Jesus wants to be the center of our life and we are called to share what we have with those in need.

Discussion Questions

  • Do you think wealth separates us from other people? From God?  What separates you from God in your life of faith?
  • We don’t hear what happens to the young man after he goes away from Jesus in mourning, what do you think he does next.
  • Share a time when your generosity helped others. When someone’s generosity helped you.
  • Do you think the amount of money we have can affect how we follow Jesus?

Activity Suggestions

  • Plan a fundraiser to help the earthquake victims in Indonesia or a local charity you would like to help.
  • Use play-do to make a model of something that you are tempted to put ahead of Jesus.  Maybe your cell phone, homework, or sports.  Pray for forgiveness and than smash that false idol.  Discuss together ways you can keep faith at the center of your life.

Closing Prayer

Gracious God, we know that so much separates us from you: our actions, our possessions, our wealth.  Forgive us for all the times we put ourselves and our needs above others and above You. Give us glad and generous hearts to serve you and help our neighbors. Amen.

The post October 14, 2018–Valuing Things and People appeared first on Faith Lens.

Upcoming Events:

Friday, November 16
Sunday, November 18
10:00am: Worship
Wednesday, November 21
9:00am: Food Pantry

Lectionary Texts:

November 16, 2018:
First Reading: Daniel 4:19-27
Psalm: Psalm 16
Second Reading: Colossians 2:6-15
November 16, 2018 Semicontinuous:
First Reading: 1 Samuel 2:18-21
Psalm: 1 Samuel 2:1-10
November 18, 2018 Ordinary 33:
First Reading: Daniel 12:1-3
Psalm: Psalm 16
Second Reading: Hebrews 10:11-25
Gospel Reading: Mark 13:1-8
November 18, 2018 Ordinary 33 Semicontinuous:
First Reading: 1 Samuel 1:4-20
Psalm: 1 Samuel 2:1-10

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

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