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 23, 2021

November 28, 2021–When Your Temple Crumbles

Jason Fisher, Champaign, IL

Warm-up Questions

  •  Share about a situation that seemed like the end of the world to you, but looking back now, was a bit silly.
  • What is your favorite apocalyptic novel or movie?
  • What did that book or movie reveal about humanity, or about how you would respond in similar situations?

When Your Temple Crumbles

The apocalyptic movie 2012 came out with a startling trailer that featured a Buddhist monk high up in the Himalayan mountains ringing a warning bell, as an enormous wave of water was about to crash down on him and destroy humankind in a flood of biblical proportions. The movie itself was pretty silly in places, but revealed what was most important to a variety of people as they faced the end of their world. Sometimes things in our lives can feel like the end of the world, especially when what we have relied upon for so long is being challenged.

In his book, Silence the Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise, Thich Nhat Hanh talks about two kinds of knots. The first knot is our notions, ideas, concepts, and knowledge. These things are not bad, but when we get stuck on them we miss out on the truth of life. If we don’t hold them loosely and someone challenges them, it can seem like the end of a world we have known and loved. The second knot is our afflictions, fears, anger, discrimination, despair, and arrogance. Thich Nhat Hanh believes that until these knots are undone we remain bound up and not truly free.

Thich Nhat Hanh writes; “These two knots, which are etched deeply into our brain and consciousness, bind us and push us to do things we don’t want to do; they make us say things we don’t want to say. So we’re not free. Any time we do things not from our desire but out of habitual fear or ingrained notions and ideas, we’re not free.”  

Discussion Questions

  • What has you tied up in knots right now?  Is it some affliction, fear, anger, discrimination, despair, or arrogance?
  • Have life experiences ever made you angry or biased? Share about those experiences.
  • How can God, following Jesus, and being a part of the church help untie those knots?

First Sunday of Advent

Jeremiah 33:14-16

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

Luke 21:25-36

(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

For many the season of Advent is a reminder of a time to prepare for the coming of dear, sweet, baby Jesus, not a time of distress, when people are fainting from fear. When we think of Advent we don’t typically think of apocalypse! The word apocalypse means “revelation.” So not only is apocalypse about the end of the world as we now experience it, but a revealing of a new world that God is creating. The season of Advent begins with a focus on Christ’s second coming, which can be terrifying for those who are unaware of God’s redemptive work and for those who cling to the things of this world.

The three sections of the text—The Coming of the Son of Man, The Lesson of the Fig Tree, and Jesus’ Exhortation to Watch—are all meant to be words of encouragement to believers whose world has been rocked by disaster. 

The Coming of the Son of Man

This passage from Luke was probably written 10 to 20 years after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, which, to the Jewish followers of Jesus, would have seemed like the end of the world as they knew it. Jesus encouraged people to repent and follow his kingdom way. The message of Jesus to Jerusalem wasn’t accepted and the Temple was destroyed in their lifetime by the Romans.  In the verses right before this text Jesus says the destruction of the temple will be ansign that Jesus has won and reigns at the right hand of God in heaven. New Testament Scholar N.T. Wright says that, “this passage is about the vindication of Jesus and the rescue of his people from the system that has oppressed them.” So while the world is shaken, they are encouraged not to shake, but, instead, to stand firm and look up, because their redemption now draws near.

The Lesson of the Fig Tree

“Heaven and earth will pass away,” but the words of Jesus will not pass away. Some things are lasting and other things are everlasting. Seeing trees bud and bear leaves is a sign of new life in the spring. Jesus reminds his hearers that no matter how much their world seems to have changed, they should still look to those places where there is life and thus know God’s kingdom is near. Those who have not put their whole lives into God’s hands, but have instead trusted in lesser gods, will have a hard time seeing these small signs of life. They will be more concerned with what they have lost than with what God is bringing into the world.

The Exhortation to Watch

You can look around you today and find many examples of people who are frustrated with how COVID 19 has doomed their world.  They become angry, violent, and cynical. Jesus warns his disciples against this and tells them to guard their hearts. In crisis people may lose their faith in God and turn to a “let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die,” mentality. This kind of selfishness and cynicism sneaks up on believers slowly. It might begin with a smirk at someone else’s misfortune or with a subtle comment like, “who cares?” But it ultimately ends with faithlessness and hopelessness in the midst of the disasters which surround us.

Yet God’s love for us breaks through all chaos in the person of Jesus Christ, for whom we wait patiently. Theologian Fred Craddock writes that, “Amid painful and prolonged suffering, when there can be seen on the horizon of predictable history no relief from disaster, faith turns its face toward heaven, not only for a revelation of God’s will but also for a vision of the end of the present misery and the beginning of the age to come.” Patience is essential and we cannot let the world’s cares bog us down. Instead we are called to stay alert and stay awake, to hold onto hope and hang on, for our redemption draws near.

Now, in order for that to happen, we may need to let go of some of the notions or images of the world to which we hold. Some of our ideas about how the world works and how God works may need to die in order for God to reveal new life.

Discussion Questions

  • What for you are “the worries of this life?”
  • How can you become trapped by those things?
  • What keeps your heart from being weighed down by these things?

Activity Suggestions

Creating an Advent Wreath is a traditional ritual this time of year. With these apocalyptic texts about destruction and world-shattering events in mind , make  an Advent Wreath out of things that have been destroyed. Visit a thrift store or collect things that have been discarded on the ground. Wrap or glue them together to form a wreath and four separate candle holders. Maybe, instead of using new candles, find some old ones at a thrift store and add them to your redeemed advent wreath. Maybe this activity will reveal something new to you about what God is doing during Advent.

Practice the Ignatian Examen in the evening as a way to ‘be on guard’ and to ‘stay alert at all times.’ Begin by lighting a candle from your Advent wreath and give thanks to God for the world. Think about where you felt God’s presence during the day. Then think back on times when your notions, ideas, concepts, or knowledge were challenged by someone else, how did that feel? Did afflictions, fears, anger, discrimination, despair, or arrogance get the better of you? If so, simply acknowledge it and give it to God. Make an intention to work on that area tomorrow. End your time of silence with gratitude towards God. Try to repeat the process each evening in Advent.

Closing Prayer

Great Redeemer, we ask that you would help us to guard our hearts during uncertain times. Grant us strength to resist hopelessness and cynicism. Help us to look towards Jesus Christ that we might stand boldly with confidence and joy. Amen


The post November 28, 2021–When Your Temple Crumbles appeared first on Faith Lens.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

November 21, 2021–Signs of the Kingdom

Amy Martinell, Sioux Falls, SD

Warm-up Questions

  • Have you ever been blamed for something you didn’t do?  How did you feel?  How did you react?
  • What news have you heard lately that made you feel good?

Signs of the Kingdom

On Halloween night in the UK three children stopped to trick or treat at the house of Brenda Burdon, 86.  Brenda apologized because she did not have any treats ready to give out.  The youth replied, “It’s OK, because sometimes making people happy and getting a nice big smile is reward enough.”

They then decided they wanted to spread a little more happiness.  They returned the next day with muffins and chocolates they had purchased for her, along with a ten pound note and a card which they had decorated with pumpkins and doodles that read, ““Thank you for being so kind. Hope your life gets better as you go on… “  Brenda Burdon’s grandson visited her later that day and said that “She was just lost in happiness that total strangers could leave such a wonderful impression” and that it had been the best Halloween of her life.

Discussion Questions

  • What was the best Halloween of your life?
  • When have you experienced being “lost in happiness”?
  • When has a total stranger brought you joy?  When have you shared joy with a stranger?  What moved you to share kindness with the stranger?

Christ the King 

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14

Revelation 1:4b-8

John 18:33-37

(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

The kingdom of God is like…

Our reading today comes during Jesus’ last hours before his death.  Jesus has been handed over to the Pilate, the Roman governor, by Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest.  They tell Pilate Jesus is a criminal whom they want put to death, but Pilate is not sure of what Jesus may be guilty. (John 18.29-31)  So Pilate questions Jesus, asking if he is the “King of the Jews.” This is a political rather than religious charge. Pilate does not care about the religious infighting, but he does care if there is a new political ruler rising to challenge Roman rule.  In his typical fashion, Jesus does not provide a clear answer to Pilate’s question.

When asked if he is King of the Jews, Jesus replies, “My kingdom is not from this world.”  Jesus has a kingdom, but it is not here on earth.  The world has proved they are not ready for Jesus’ kingdom of serving the lowly, forgiving sins, and loving your enemies.  Because the world is not ready, Jesus is standing before Pilate facing death.  Yet, this is not the end of the story.  Jesus rose from the dead and promises to return with his kingdom.

Now it’s up to us, the followers of Christ, to wonder: What is this kingdom not of this world?  What does Jesus’ reign look like?  How do we welcome Jesus’ reign into our lives and our world?  We live in waiting, waiting for Christ to return and for Christ’s kingdom to come to earth.  But as we wait, we see glimpses of Christ’s kingdom right now.  When we follow Christ by loving and serving others, we bring God’s kingdom to others.

I have a friend who loves to share on her social media when she sees the kingdom of heaven break into our world.  She posts “the kingdom of heaven is like…” and then shares stories of places she has seen Jesus’ kingdom.  These stories include a competitive runner who helps an opponent rather than going for the win, farmers who come together to harvest their neighbors’ crops after tragedy, and a couple who spent their flight helping an anxious teenager cope with turbulence.

So, when it came time to pick a current event for this Faith Lens, I didn’t do what I usually do.  I didn’t look for a prominent news story that was on my mind.  Instead, I looked for a story that would give us a glimpse of a kingdom not of this world.  It took a bit longer to find this type of story, butI think this story of kids taking time out of their trick-or-treating to share some joy with a stranger gives us a great picture of what the kingdom of God looks like.

Discussion Questions

  • Pilate questions Jesus to get closer to the truth of his arrest.  Jesus proclaims “I came into the world to testify to the truth.”  Are Jesus and Pilate talking about the same kind of truth.  What truth does Jesus point to in your life?
  • What do you imagine Jesus’ kingdom is like?  Share a time when you experienced Jesus’ kingdom on earth?
  • As Jesus’ followers, how do we live in a way that helps others see the kingdom of God?

Activity Suggestions

Divide into groups and search newspapers or news websites for stories that show us what the kingdom of God is like.  Come back together and share the stories you have found.  Discuss if it was  easy or hard to find “good news” stories. What kind of news stories got the most attention?  Brainstorm ways to share the stories you have found so others may hear what the kingdom of God is like.

Closing Prayer

Jesus our Savior,  we ask that you reign in our lives.  Help us to cast aside all the other things we would like to make our king and turn our hearts to You.  Send us out to share Your love and serve our brothers and sisters.  Amen.


The post November 21, 2021–Signs of the Kingdom appeared first on Faith Lens.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

November 14, 2021–Birth Pains

Heather Hansen, San Antonio, TX

Warm-up Questions

What were you doing in 2020 when you first heard you would be out of school for an extra week because of a virus making people ill all over the world?  How did you feel at that moment?  When did your feelings change about COVID-19?

Birth Pains

It’s hard not to discuss COVID-19 in just about every area of life these days.  In fact, it seems to be a new conversation starter, just like,  “How about this weather?”  Now it’s, “Have you have COVID?” or “Have you had your shots?”  “Are you getting the booster?”

When COVID first became a thing, I remember thinking, “Well here’s another thing that people are going to go crazy about…we just need to wash our hands and be careful, the way we were with swine flu.”  When school was cancelled,  my kids were super excited for the extra week of spring break.  Then, school was cancelled for another week and people all over the world began reporting alarming numbers of sick and dead.  Finally came the point at which I knew it was serious…the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo was cancelled, quickly followed by Fiesta in San Antonio. The Houston Livestock show is a million, probably billion, dollar event.  So, at that point, I began to feel the birth pangs of what would be a long year and a half of labor, so to speak, that’s still not  over.  Or maybe it is, and we just don’t recognize what life looks like with something new?

The pain of childbirth is great, but it doesn’t start out that way.  For people who give birth  without being induced, the pain starts slowly with larger cramping or contractions than usual.  You ask yourself, “Was this different?” The answer is, “Oh yes.”  Though you are scared, you also rejoice because this little person inside of you, who has grown terribly uncomfortable, is finally coming out!  Then, the contractions get closer together and eventually become much more painful.  Finally, the pain becomes unlike most other pains a person experiences…unless they pass a kidney stone.  It’s agony,  yet necessary for new birth.

I wanted to have my children naturally, without any pain relievers such as an epidural.  Some women have very good reasons for choosing these aids, but they were not for me.  I took classes designed to help me work through the pain and thought I was ready.  But I wasn’t.  The pain came and lasted longer than expected.  Those assisting the birth encouraged me to ease the pain, instead of helping me work through it.  When you are in that much pain, it’s hard to stay committed to what you wanted, so I chose the spinal block.  In the end, the epidural caused many difficulties and I wished I’d chosen what I knew was best for me.  With the second child I vowed I would deliver with no epidural, even though there were many voices telling me once again, “It’s OK Heather, just get the epidural…most people do…you’ll feel so much better.”  But this time, I knew what I truly wanted.  Fortunately for me, I had a nurse with a strong steady voice who stayed with me through the pain.

As with childbirth, the pains of COVID came subtly at first.  Perhaps they were even joyful, because we had some time of rest and recreation which we don’t normally observe.  But then, the pain became worse.  Our lives started filling with disappointments, illnesses, deaths, depression, and anxiety.  We struggled with turmoil and division in our country and culture.  It was easy to listen to voices that led us astray and to think only of ourselves.  And, the pain grew stronger, the longer the pandemic lasted.

Are we finished with COVID-19 yet?  Has new birth finally come?  Or are we still working through the pain, waiting for final delivery?

Discussion Questions

  1. What do you think?  Are we finished with COVID-19 yet or are we still working through the pain?
  2. What has been most painful about living in a pandemic?
  3. Do you think comparing the pain of the pandemic to childbirth is a good comparison?  Why or why not?
  4. When has pain caused you to listen to the influence of voices you would normally not listen to?

Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Daniel 12:1-3

Hebrews 10:11-14 [15-18] 19-25

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 you  research Mark 13, you find that this chapter is sometimes referred to as “a little apocalypse.”  What starts out in verse 1 as exclamations from the disciples about the greatness of the temple, quickly turns into a chapter fraught with destruction, war, and admonitions from Jesus to be prepared and ready.  Jesus declares that even this great temple will crumble completely to the ground.  In 13:8, Jesus tells the disciples that “this is but the beginning of the birth pangs.”

One of the questions I ask myself when I read the Bible is,“What does this passage have to say to me about what’s going on in the world right now?”  Therefore, when I read this passage in Mark a few weeks ago, especially the words Jesus speaks about birth pangs, I immediately thought of COVID-19.  

Jesus spends all of Mark 13, after the disciples exclaim how great the temple is, describing something not so great after all.  The destruction of the temple, which is often seen as a sign of  Jesus’ death, is only the birth pangs.  Jesus also warns the disciples to be ready for many voices which will lead them astray.  He describes the pain that they will encounter, perhaps trying to prepare them.  But, as I think about birth, COVID-19, and all the hard painful things that happen in life, can we ever be fully ready for how they feel?

I wish I’d had  a voice to lead me through a natural delivery the first time I gave birth to a child.  I wish we could have seen how much pain COVID would bring, and how much we needed a strong voice guiding us through the myriad of other, less helpful voices.  And, I bet  the disciples wished they could hear the guiding voice of Jesus in person when they faced great persecution and trial after Jesus ascended into heaven.

Sometimes it’s hard to imagine how pain and suffering will end in the same kind of joy and new birth that having a baby brings.  Even though having a baby or getting a COVID shot seem to be an end to the pain, we may find we still don’t understand and still have the pain.  When I first brought home my oldest child, I set her car seat down on the floor, looked at my husband and said, “What are we supposed to do now?” 

We may be unsure about what comes next. The good news is that Jesus prepares us if we listen.  Later in chapter 13, Jesus says listen to my voice and don’t be swayed by others.  Even when we are in great pain, the voice of Jesus is there, guiding us to new life.  So, when the birth pangs come, be ready for the pain and dig into how Jesus prepares us, but also be ready to listen and learn.  Jesus does bring new life.

Discussion Questions

  • How do you feel when you hear Jesus say that everything will be destroyed?
  • What things in your life have you felt were destroyed and brought pain?
  • What helped you get through that pain to a new life?
  • What does new life look like after something painful has happened?  Give some examples of new life born from hurt or pain.

Activity Suggestions

Watch a video of the Twin Towers in New York City collapsing.  Discuss the destruction, death and pain that came from that event.  Then discuss the following questions:

  • What new birth came out of 9/11?
  • Where do you think God was/is in that tragedy?
  • What do you think got people through the pain of 9/11 and how can that help us today?
  • What does “new life” look like to you, from a faith point of view?

Closing Prayer

Holy God, we sometimes struggle to see pain until it is upon us.  We see joy in the beginnings of birth pangs, but then realize the fullness pain once we are in the middle of it.  Guide us in these times to hear your voice and to respond to your will, even though it’s easy to go astray.  Continue to prepare us for the hard times as we read your witness in scripture and comfort us through it all.  Amen.


The post November 14, 2021–Birth Pains appeared first on Faith Lens.

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

November 7, 2021–Guidance for the Future

Jocelyn Breeland, Sunnyvale, CA

Warm-up Question

How has climate change affected your community?

Guidance for the Future

If there’s one thing other than COVID-19 that we’ve heard a lot about in the last year, it is the environment and the devastating effects of climate change. This has been a record-breaking year of wildfires, floods, tropical storms and hurricanes. A United Nations report over the summer warned that the earth is warming faster than previously thought, and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres urged world leaders to take decisive action now to avert climate catastrophe.”

There is some good news. That same UN report says that if the world can reach net zero emissions by midcentury, global warming can be limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius (about 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). President Joe Biden has set a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50-52% this decade. US lawmakers on Capitol Hill continue to work on a spending bill that includes $150 billion in incentives to promote clean electricity. At this writing, that provision faces strong opposition, but there are other climate-related incentives in the bill which may survive.

The world is watching what happens in the US, but also looking to Glasgow, Scotland where the 26th meeting of the Conferences of the Parties to the UN Convention on Climate Change takes place October 31 – November 12. Biden, former president Barack Obama and leaders from more than 190 countries will gather to discuss progress on existing commitments and additional measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

Discussion Questions

  • Have you or your family made lifestyle changes to combat global warming? (Examples might include, walking or biking instead of taking a car, reducing meat consumption, using a zero-emissions vehicle)
  • Are there more things you might start doing that could make a difference?
  • What do you think the government can do to encourage climate action in this country? For example, should the government require all new cars to be zero emissions by a set date?
  • Many have pointed to fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) use as contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. But many Americans have, for generations, depended on these industries for employment. Is it possible to lower emissions without depriving people of their livelihood?

All Saints Sunday

Isaiah 25:6-9

Revelation 21:1-6

John 11:32-44

(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

John places the story of Lazarus, raised from the dead, inside a larger narrative of lessons and miracles. It is clear, in hindsight, that Jesus is preparing his disciples for his own death and resurrection, and for the work they must continue after the ascension. 

  • This part of my ministry is ending. (John 9:4 )
  • I am going to die, so I can live again. (John 10:17)
  • Believing in me is the way to eternal life. (John 11:25)

Even Lazarus’ resurrection is done so that the witnesses will understand that Jesus is truly the son of God sent to the world. (John 11:42)

Jesus ponders his own journey and the trials he faces in the days ahead on the road to the cross. But he knows that his followers will also face difficulties, persecution and even death in fulfilling their missions. So, Jesus constantly reinforces the assurance that he, the son, was sent by God, the father, in order that believers will have eternal life. And what better way to reinforce the message of triumph over death than by raising a man whose body has already begun to reek from decomposition?

Often, when we think about God providing for all our needs, we think of gifts like employment, food and shelter. What a blessing to know that God has also provided what we need to nourish and strengthen our faith.

Discussion Questions

  • John tells us that Jesus groaned (v. 38, was troubled (v. 33), and wept (v.35). If Jesus knew Lazarus would live again, how do you explain this emotion?
  • In verse 32, Mary seems to be scolding Jesus for his tardiness. Is that OK?  Why does John include this encounter?
  • Mary sent for Jesus (v. 3) praying, we assume, that he could heal Lazarus before he died. What does the rest of the story show us about how God answers our prayers?

Activity Suggestions

This activity has two steps. 

Part One. Think about something which requires preparation in order to succeed. For example, imagine what is necessary to succeed in high school. You might mention developing good study habits, taking elective courses to expand your horizons, becoming active in the community, or resisting peer pressure. Now, name five things that can prepare a person for a positive high school experience. Who are key individuals in this preparation? 

Share a few of your ideas within the group.

Part Two. List a few things which might be useful in preparing a person for a life of faith. What might you need to study, experience, or understand? In this week’s gospel, we see an example of Jesus preparing his followers for a life of faith. Sometimes, God gives us the blessing of leading and supporting each other in our walks of faith. List ways that you can help nurture faith in others. 

Share these ideas and have each member of the group commit to carry out at least one during the next week. Maybe there are ways two or more of you can work together. That’s OK.

Report back on your experience in the next session 

Closing Prayer

Heavenly Father, you know all, you see all, and you provide for all our needs. We rest in the assurance of your promise of everlasting life, and we are emboldened to share your truth in the world. Thank you for sending Jesus to guide us every step of the way. To you, O Lord, be the glory. Amen.Prepare


The post November 7, 2021–Guidance for the Future appeared first on Faith Lens.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

October 31, 2021–Freed From Our Past

Andrew Tucker, Columbus, OH

Warm-up Question

Who comes to mind when you think of your ancestors? Share a story about this person or group of people. Why are they significant to you?  

Freed From Our Past

When you think of a sloth, what do you think of? I’d bet a small, furry creature. Likely clinging to a tree with incredibly long claws. Probably munching on some leaves or flowers with a glib, goofy grin that God placed on its face through millions of years of evolution. 

Not too long ago, at least in terms of the cosmic timeline, some ancient sloth ancestors were shaped more like tanks and, apparently, huge fans of old steak. Mylodons, or Giant Ground Sloths, bumbled around on the ground and ate meat as a part of their diet. Scavengers rather than hunters, the meat Mylodons consumed as a part of their diet was likely the leftovers from ice age predators like Saber-Toothed Tigers. 

Still with long nails, fur, and we sure hope that glib, goofy smile, they were something like the sloths we know today, but they were bound to the ground, cleaning up others’ old meals. Clearly Mylodons weren’t exactly the same as their present-day counterparts. To read more about these ancestors, check out this article (https://news.yahoo.com/giant-ancestors-todays-sloths-stood-110400474.html) or read the scientific research that led to this discovery (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-021-97996-9). Fair warning: that second article is very dense, but for the scientists and historians among us, quite fascinating. 

Sloths are connected to their ancestors, but they’re not carbon copies. The same is true for us. We are connected to our ancestors, biological and spiritual, and that shapes who we are today. But it does not mean we’re just the same as those who came before us, nor do our ancestors absolutely determine who we will be. 

Discussion Questions

  • How would you feel if you came across a present-day sloth? How about a Mylodon?
  • How do their differences change your reaction?
  • What other present-day animals are connected to, but also very different from, their ancient ancestors?
  • How are you similar to your ancestors? How are you different? 

Reformation Day

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 B at Lectionary Readings.)

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

Gospel Reflection

It’s Reformation Sunday, where as a church we give thanks for the reform movement started by Martin Luther and others in the 16th century. One of the many themes that pops up at this time each year is freedom, often connected to these words in John: “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  

It’s important for us to ask two questions: What are we set free from? What are we set free for? All too often, Reformation becomes a chance to bash on other Christians. Often Roman Catholicism becomes a target, as though our freedom has fully severed us from our church ancestors. At other times, Evangelicals draw our angst, as though our spiritual descendants have no connection to the reform movement Luther started. Whatever our freedom is from, it is not from our connections, nor our history, nor those who come after us.  

But because of Christ’s intervention, we are free for more than our ancestors could imagine or determine. Just a few verses before, some disciples wonder how they, descendants of Abraham, might still need freedom. Their confusion ultimately points to the crux of the scripture: we are connected to the legacy of our ancestors, but we are not absolutely beholden to it. Christ frees us from the worst and for the best. 

This is true biologically. Think, for instance, of someone like me with a mental illness. Thanks to my DNA ancestry, I’m biologically predisposed to a shortage of natural serotonin that leads me to battle depression and anxiety disorders. That connection lives on in me. Yet, thanks to medication and counselors, changes to diet and exercise, and adding faith practices like meditation, my future is not determined by those ancestors alone. Reform is possible in my life thanks to the influence of others, especially through medical, relational, and physical intervention. 

This is also true spiritually. Our tradition is full of profound contributions and desperate failures. The Lutheran reformation paved the way for some of the first schools for girls in Europe, robust social safety nets, and increased knowledge of religion by lay practitioners. But Luther’s writings also included terribly anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim rhetoric, as well as critiques of peasants who took political authority into their own hands. Such passages became rallying cries for racial purists in Nazi Germany, the United States, and elsewhere.  

Even in our Reformation celebrations, the goodness of our tradition is accompanied by the failures. We are not free from that tainted legacy. But, because of God’s work in Jesus Christ, we are free for reform, to make a new way that admits our connection to that past and sets a different course for the future. Our ancestors’ failures are real, as are their triumphs. But neither is certain for us at this present moment, in this new day calling for new reform. Like today’s sloths, we can climb from the ground of our ancestors to the sky of our future, reforming and evolving into the creatures God calls us to become.  

Discussion Questions

  • What does it mean to you that we have been set free by Christ? 
  • Why do you think it was so difficult for Jesus’s disciples to connect the freedom he offers with the legacy of their ancestry?
  • As we commemorate Reformation Sunday, what kind of evolution is God calling us to consider, even as we are connected to a legacy of reform?  

Activity Suggestions

Spiritual Family Tree–Have students create a family tree of those forebears in faith who’ve shaped them into who they are today. This could include members of their family of origin, church members, authors, social media personalities, people from church and social history, and others. Use this as an opportunity to ask how they’ve been positively shaped by their ancestry and to consider the ways they’ve been negatively impacted by those who’ve come before.

Gravestone Etchings–To make a tangible activity of legacy, take students to a local cemetery with paper and pencils (or charcoal or pastels) to make rubbings of the grave markers. Bring paper large enough to cover a tomb stone but thin enough to follow the contours of weather-worn material. Once the names and dates are covered by the paper, rub the paper lightly to reveal the characters in more detail. This is especially powerful with stones that are difficult to read due to years of weathering. Use this as an opportunity to ask about the legacies we leave and what people will remember, as well as how bound we are to the legacies of our ancestors.  

Closing Prayer 

Transforming God, we give you thanks for the good of reformation and we confess the ways that we’ve refused to follow your continued call for reform. Free us from the things that bind us to past failures, and free us for the future of blessing all creation, to the very ends of the earth. Send your Spirit of transformation on us, today and every day, through Jesus Christ our Liberator. Amen

The post October 31, 2021–Freed From Our Past appeared first on Faith Lens.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

October 24, 2021–Inventing With a Purpose

Kris Litman-Koon, Mount Pleasant, SC

Warm-up Questions

Have you ever given thought to an invention that should be created? If so, share your idea with others. As you think about that invention, does it strike you as having serious potential or as an amusing idea–or perhaps a combination of both?

Inventing With a Purpose

The MacArthur Foundation provides grants to individuals and nonprofit organizations around the globe to build “a more just, verdant, and peaceful world.” The foundation annually awards roughly 20 to 30 individuals with The MacArthur Fellowship, which is more commonly known as the “Genius Grant.” These individuals are selected for their “extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits.” The award comes with a $625,000 grant with no strings attached. This fellowship gives these individuals flexibility in their creative pursuits.

In late September the Foundation announced that Joshua Miele is a genius grant recipient. Miele designs adaptive technologies that allow blind and visually impaired (BVI) people to use the technologies that permeate society. For instance, Miele developed YouDescribe, which allows sighted volunteers to create audio descriptions of any video on YouTube. BVI individuals can access those descriptions to better experience the content of a video on YouTube. 

Miele has other inventions, too: a glove called WearaBraille that allows a wearer to type braille into any smart device without the need for a keyboard, and a web tool called TMAP that creates street maps, so BVI individuals can travel anywhere in the country.  The list of his inventions goes on. (A more in-depth story can be found here.)

Joshua Miele became blind at the age of 4, and at that point his mother, Isabella, became his advocate. About her Miele says, “People in general assume that a blind kid is in danger, and my mother was not interested in protecting me. She was interested in having me be as active and engaged with the world as possible.” 

After the announcement of his becoming a MacArthur Fellow, Joshua Miele said, “What I do: it’s research, invention, and activism. I am proud to be blind. I’m proud of the community I’m a part of, and I love building and imagining cool technologies for blind people.”

Discussion Questions

  • Of the technologies mentioned here, which of Joshua Miele’s inventions interests you the most?
  • Joshua Miele feels there is no reason for his blindness to hold him back. He enjoys life, he has a family and a community, and he is being awarded for his contributions to society. Thinking of your own traits and interests, how do you imagine your own life being full and content?

Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost

Jeremiah 31:7-9

Hebrews 7:23-28

Mark 10:46-52

(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 are around two dozen stories in the four gospels that depict Jesus interacting with people who have some form of disability, and these stories all present Jesus healing these people. Throughout the history of the Church, an unfortunate result of these stories has been some Christians holding destructive attitudes toward disabilities, as if a disability means someone is not a whole person or  must always be woeful in their daily life.

A frustrating experience that sometimes arises for people who have a visible disability is being approached by a random Christian who wants to pray for them with the intent to heal them. Just… don’t. Resolve to never do that, and try to stop anyone who is inclined to do so. Such an act to “fix” or “repair” another human being will at best annoy the other person, and at worst it will alienate and disempower them in a social setting.

Today’s gospel lesson is about Jesus giving sight to Bartimaeus. A non-critical reading of this lesson would reinforce the idea that sight can be given to a blind individual if there is only enough faith. We get a better takeaway by considering the larger narrative of Mark’s gospel.

In Mark 8:22-26, Jesus gives sight to a man who is blind. Yet, the first attempt to give this man sight doesn’t fully work; he says, “I can see people, but they look like trees walking.” So Jesus lays his hands on the man again, and after this second attempt the man sees clearly. A couple of chapters pass by and now we have today’s story of a blind man receiving sight, only this time it takes Jesus one attempt. What’s the connection between these two stories in Mark, and why is the process for giving sight different?

Think of these two stories as bookends. What occurs in between are several interactions between Jesus and his disciples  and there is a common thread through all these stories: the disciples don’t understand. They don’t understand Jesus’ teaching that all people should be welcomed into his “kingdom of God” mission in this world, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized people in society (Mk 9:14-32, 9:38-50, 10:1-16). Running concurrently with that thread is the disciples’ misconception of greatness; they believe greatness is a result of rising to the top.  Jesus teaches that true greatness in God’s kingdom is found in humility and welcoming others (Mk 8:27-37, 9:2-10, 9:33-37, 10:17-31, 10:32-45).

When we consider that larger narrative, the two bookends and their details make more sense; they symbolize the disciples’ difficulty in comprehending the values of God’s kingdom on earth. In Mark 8:22-26, the miracle has difficulty landing, similar to how Jesus’ teachings don’t land at first with his disciples. By the time we reach the miracle with Bartimaeus in 10:46-52, the disciples begin to comprehend Jesus’ teachings about welcoming all people and that true greatness is found in humility.

Hence, that second miracle story symbolizes that the disciples are beginning to comprehend what Jesu is about. Another detail in these bookends reinforces this reading of Mark’s narrative. The man in the first bookend goes home and doesn’t follow Jesus (Mk 8:26). Bartimaeus, however, joins the disciples and Jesus on his way (Mk 10:52). Where does this “way” go? Mark 11:1 tells us it is to Jerusalem, where Jesus will take up the cross.

By this symbolic narrative of two healings Mark says  we followers of Jesus have difficulty grasping what Jesus means by “the kingdom of God” in this world. Yet Jesus calls us to welcome all people, including the most vulnerable and marginalized, and to understand  that true greatness comes in humility and recognizing God’s image in all people. These are not the values of the world.  It takes time for  us to comprehend these “kingdom of God” values of humility and radical welcome. But like Bartimaeus, we can grasp these new values and join Jesus on his way of the cross. A non-critical reading of the two bookend stories opens a door beyond  harmful attitudes regarding disabilities. However, the bigger narrative in Mark begs us to  grasp the deeper lesson: we are living in God’s kingdom when all are welcome and we value all people for who they are.

Discussion Questions

  • Is “the kingdom of God,” only about heaven and the afterlife, or is it something Jesus invites us to begin experiencing in this life as well?
  • God’s kingdom values, as revealed in this section of Mark’s gospel, involve welcoming all people and recognizing humility as a sign of true greatness. When, and in whom, have you witnessed these values embodied?

Activity Suggestions

There are a variety of impairments that people may have: visual, hearing, motor, and cognitive are among the most common. If time and ability allows, tour your ministry’s facilities and discuss the ways that the space itself welcomes people with disabilities and the ways that it does not welcome them. The ELCA Disability Ministries page is in the process of being updated to better provide resources for you and your community. You can contact the ministry’s coordinator, Pastor Lisa Heffernan, at Disability.Ministry@elca.org with any specific inquiries you have.

Closing Prayer

Loving God, open us to the values of your kingdom. Shape our lives to be welcoming of all people and give us appreciative hearts for the community you create through us all. Amen.


The post October 24, 2021–Inventing With a Purpose appeared first on Faith Lens.

Upcoming Events:

Sunday, November 28
10:00am: Worship
Tuesday, November 30
11:00am: Bible study
Wednesday, December 1
9:00am: Food Pantry

Lectionary Texts:

November 27, 2021:
First Reading: Nehemiah 9:26-31
Psalm: Psalm 25:1-10
Second Reading: Luke 21:20-24
November 28, 2021 First Sunday of Advent:
First Reading: Jeremiah 33:14-16
Psalm: Psalm 25:1-10
Second Reading: 1Thessalonians 3:9-13
Gospel Reading: Luke 21:25-36

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

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