October 22-29, 2008 – Copper thieves uproot youth sports teams

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Warm-up Question:Have you ever done something that ended up having negative consequences for other people? What happened? Did you try to rectify the situation?

Granite Park soccer field in Atlanta has had to accommodate five extra teams in recent days, due to the theft of copper wiring from nearby Henderson Park. The wiring was ripped out of the light poles, causing $6,000 in damage, leaving the park without electricity, and leaving its resident children’s soccer teams without a place to practice at night. Granite Park has taken in the teams from Henderson, but the extra players make the field crowded and cramped, and the extra drive time cuts into the students’ time for homework and friends.

Granite Park also recently had to accommodate the teams from Gwinnett Soccer Association, who suffered a similar fate as Henderson Park. Copper thieves got away with about $100 worth of copper wiring — and caused around $8,500 worth of damage.

These are just the latest in a string of copper thefts around thecountry. Copper is highly conductive and very useful, making it a commodity that is very much in demand. Fetching a price of more than $4 a pound, more and more people are seeing copper electrical wiring as a source of easy cash. Other damages caused by copper thieves have included leaving entire neighborhoods without power, and shutting down radiation treatment for cancer patients.

Discussion Questions

  • Do you think that copper thieves realize the damage they are causing, not just to property, but to other people? If they were shown how they are hurting others, do you think some of them would stop? Why or why not?
  • Why do you think sports and athletic fields in particular are such a common target for copper thieves?
  • What reasons do you think the people who run Granite Park have for taking in all these teams from the victimized soccer fields? Are they trying to be helpful, or do they have other purposes in mind?
  • What measures would you take to stop copper thieves from striking again, either at sports fields or other places?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, October 26, 2008.
(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 A at Lectionary Readings.)

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

Gospel Reflection

Jesus’ critics had been conspiring together to trick him. They asked him a series of questions designed to entrap him and make him lose favor with the people. The Pharisees asked him about paying taxes, an issue on which the people were very much divided. The Sadducees asked him about the Resurrection, thinking they could trip him up and prove that it didn’t exist. But through it all, Jesus was able to keep his cool and respond to these trick questions with a wisdom that astounded the crowd.

And then a lawyer asks him the question in our Gospel lesson today. Another test of his wisdom and question-answering abilities, but at the same time, a very interesting and very important issue… which is the greatest commandment out of the ten? Let’s just say you had to pick one, Jesus; which one would it be? Are there some things that require more of our attention than others? Is it more important to honor our father and mother than, say, to refrain from bearing false witness against our neighbor? Which one will score us more points with God if we obey it?

Jesus responds, not with one commandment, but with two. The first is not surprising. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. God created us and gave us life, as well as the world to live in. Every breath of ours should be in praise to God for all he has given us. So yes, this is the greatest commandment. But the second — to love your neighbor as you love yourself — this is a bit trickier. As we know from the parable of the Good Samaritan, your neighbor is anyone who is in need, anyone whom you can help. In effect, everyone is your neighbor. And so we must love everyone, as much as we love ourselves.

All the other laws and commandments, all the other prophesies and teachings, all the rest of scripture, boils down to these two things. Is it a worse crime to steal something, or to kill someone? If you love your neighbor, you won’t want to steal from him or kill him. This is the key.

God gave us the Ten Commandments, knowing that in our sinful nature, we could never follow them perfectly. But a constant struggle and fixation to follow the law out of obligation or guilt is not what God wants from us. He wants our hearts. And so we serve God willingly and joyfully, not because the law says we must, but because we love him and want to please him in all that we do. And we honor our fathers and mothers and refrain from bearing false witness against our neighbors, not simply because the Bible tells us to, but because we love them. And to do otherwise to someone we love would be unthinkable, and hurtful to God, creator of all humanity and creation.

Discussion Questions

  • Sometimes we all slip up, even when we love God with all our hearts and love our neighbors as ourselves. When we do, how can we make amends with God? How can we make amends with our neighbor? How are the two related? What can we do to avoid making the same mistake again?
  • How do you think the copper thieves of Henderson Park would benefit from hearing today’s Gospel lesson? Do you think they’d listen? What would you tell them? How would you explain the widespread consequences to other people as a result of their one action? Think creatively, how would you help or suggest that the thieves set things right? (This may not imply that they wouldn‘t be held accountable or suffer consequences for their actions.)
  • If you could ask Jesus one question, what would it be? How do you think he would respond?

Activity Suggestions

Loving one’s neighbor means much more than simply not stealing from them or killing them. Find some active ways to help out people in the community that you otherwise might not pay attention to.

  • Who are they?
  • What actions, caring, or relationships are meaningful and helpful for them? And, what better way to learn more and gain a deeper understanding for someone than to sit down and talk and listen with them. Create a safe and trusting environment in which a guest from the community can come and talk openly with your group about their life and faith. (e.g., a recovering alcoholic or drug abuser, someone unemployed, a single parent, someone who has been in prison or is on parole, a Muslim, a person with a life-threatening illness, etc.)

Closing Prayer

Lord Jesus, be with me in the coming week. Help me to serve you always from a loving and joyful heart. And help me also to love those around me and be there for them whenever they need me, even though it’s not always easy to do. In your name I pray. Amen

Contributed by Steven Alloway
Granada Hills, CA