Faith Lens 13, 2105, Fire and the Seeds to Bear FruitBryan Jaster, Winchester, VA<div class="ExternalClass3B8B4E0171694CD9B3AD51B38BCE6CBF"><p>​</p><p><strong>Warm-up Question</strong></p><p>What’s the largest fire you’ve ever seen? &#160;Did anything bad or good result? </p><p><strong>Fire the Seeds to Bear Fruit<br></strong></p> <p>By now most of us get it, or have at least heard it&#58; fires are good for the forest. But what does that mean? University of Minnesota forest ecologist&#160;<a target="_blank" href="http&#58;//">Lee Frelich</a>&#160;can help. He explains what the Boundary Waters Canoe Area would look like if fire were somehow completely controlled for the last century. The short answer&#58; a sea of half-dead Christmas trees.</p><p><img alt="shutterstock_48032821edit.jpg" src="" style="margin&#58;5px;" /><br></p><p> &quot;You would get essentially a sea of&#160;<a target="_blank" href="http&#58;//">Balsam Fir</a>, then the budworm would come, and it goes out and kind of kills half the trees,&quot; Frelich explains. &quot;So you'd have this kind of crappy, half-dead forest which is full of brush and branches and which is not very attractive for people or wildlife.&quot;<br> <br> But that is really just explaining why an absence of fire can be bad. One fascinating and little known piece of the fire ecology puzzle are the species of trees that actually fire&#160;dependent. The&#160;<a target="_blank" href="http&#58;//">Jack Pine</a>&#160;has closed cones that only open to release their seeds when waxes on the cone melt in the heat of a fire.&#160;<br> <br> &quot;Camping in the Boundary Waters,&quot; Frelich says, &quot;I've taken twigs with cones on them from the forest floor and put them next to the campfire. They are exposed to the heat and they wait 10 or 20 minutes, then they pop open. The next morning you can shake that twig and the seeds will fall out. They are kind of programmed to wait a little bit, you know, because if the seeds fall directly into the fire, they’ll be consumed.</p><p> </p><p> &quot;The seeds fall over the next few days, so they’re likely to land on a forest floor that is no longer on fire. In the case of the jack pine, the seeds germinate much better if the leaf litter has been burned away. Jack Pine, in fact, has drier foliage than other species of trees which makes it easier for a fire to run through Jack Pine. It is almost as if they purposely promote fire.&quot;<br> <br> There is a whole system in the BWCA, Frelich says, that is adapted to fire. Another wonder of fire ecology&#58;&#160;<a target="_blank" href="http&#58;//">Bicknell's Geranium</a>. Its seeds will only germinate in sunlight. Buried under leaf litter, the seeds just wait for it to be burned away. After the 2006 Cavity Lake Fire in the BWCA, which burned 32,000 acres, the wild geraniums were everywhere. &quot;That site had last burned in 1801,&quot; Frelich says. &quot;Those were 200-year-old seeds germinating.&quot;</p><p>For full article&#58;&#160; <a href="https&#58;//">https&#58;//;</a> <br></p><p><strong>Discussion Questions</strong></p><ul><li><p>Have you ever thought of a forest fire as being a force for good?&#160; Why?&#160; Have you seen a forest fire?&#160; If so, where?</p></li><li><p>What would happen if all forest fires were extinguished as quickly as possible?&#160; </p></li><li><p>Should we intentionally start fires in forests or allow forest fires to come naturally?&#160; Why? </p></li></ul><p><strong>Third Sunday of Advent</strong></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">Zephaniah 3&#58;14-20</a></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">Philippians 4&#58;4-7</a></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">Luke 3&#58;7-18</a><br></p><p>(Text links are to <a href="http&#58;//">Oremus Bible Browser</a>. 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 <a href="http&#58;//">Lectionary Readings</a></p><p>For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic <a href="http&#58;//">Agnus Day.</a></p><p><strong>Gospel Reflection</strong></p><p>Ok John the Baptist – is this really good news?&#160; </p><p>People come to John to be baptized, which sounds like a pretty normal thing to do, and John calls them a &quot;brood of vipers (snakes)&quot;.&#160; Imagine if you or someone else asked to be baptized and your pastor said &quot;You are a bunch of snakes!&quot;&#160;&#160; Crazy talk.&#160; </p><p>In this story the crowds – aka the outsiders – are attracted to something John is saying. Rather than bolt when John describes the need to bear fruit worthy of repentance and warns that trees not bearing good fruit will be thrown into the fire, they stay and ask an important question&#58; &quot;What should we do?&quot;&#160; </p><p>When forests get overgrown and stagnant they need fire for seeds to sprout and new trees to grow &#160; People need God's judgement to burn and turn us away from self-centered lives into lives that bear fruit and love like Jesus in the world. </p><p>So, John's response after pronouncing Fire is to call the crowds to go and bear Fruit.</p><p>To the crowds – Share a coat and food.<br> To the tax collectors – Collect no more than you need.<br> To the soldiers – Don't extort, be fair. </p><p>Do these things because Jesus is coming and he is even more powerful than I am, John says.&#160; He is able after the fire has done its work to remove the chaff – the leftover yuck – and gather the wheat, the new fruit.&#160; This is good news.</p><p> <br></p><p><strong>Discussion Questions</strong></p><ul><li><p>Would you have stayed to continue to listen to John if you were part of the crowd he called &quot;brood of vipers?&quot;&#160; Is there someone in your life you would rather not listen to?</p></li><li><p>Is it difficult to think of God's judgment as something &quot;good&quot;?&#160; Doesn't Jesus say &quot;don't judge&quot;? When have you or someone you know had something bad or a bit of judgment come that ultimately was good?</p></li><li><p>What is something in your life that needs to be removed or &quot;burned&quot; away?&#160; &#160;&#160;What is something in our world that needs to be judged by God? </p></li></ul><p><strong>Activity Suggestions</strong></p><p>Grab markers, paint, crayons and big poster sheets.</p><p>Make a big poster Advent wish list.&#160; Draw or make lists of as many items you could give away or share like food, clothes, time with someone, possessions and anything you can think of.&#160; </p><p>Each person pick one item they will do this week. Next week come back and tell the story of what you did to respond. </p><p><strong>Closing Prayer</strong></p> <p>God Fire and Fruit, Help us to listen to you when you have words that seem harsh to us.&#160; Give us the gift of judgment and the call to respond as we prepare for Jesus to come.&#160; Thank you for people like John who tell and show good news in the world.&#160; Give us courage to do the things we have promised this week and to bear fruit today.&#160; Amen!</p><p><br><strong></strong></p></div>12/08/2015December 6, 2015, Good News in the Wilderness?Dave Delaney, Salem, VA<div class="ExternalClass47D8632B01634FB1ADA4C82794FF1A1D"><p><strong>Warm-up Questions</strong></p> <ul><li><p>Many people use landmark events or big experiences as a way of dividing life into chapters or as points of reference to remember when other smaller things happened.&#160; When you are remembering something and trying to fix when it happened, what points of reference to you use?&#160; (“Oh yeah – that was in 9th grade,” or “that was before we moved,” or “that was before Trump was running for president” etc.).&#160; Do you remember that it was before or after some other large experience?&#160; Do you remember what your relationships were at the time or who else was there?&#160; Do you rely on location?&#160;&#160; Do you think in terms of big news events or holidays?&#160; Or do you just use the calendar?</p></li><li><p>If you wanted to identify an event or events in our own historical time the way Luke sets the stage for John the Baptist, what things would you mention?&#160;&#160; Just the month, day, and year?&#160; Would it be a list of current world leaders?&#160; Would you list the distinctive social conditions that would help your story make sense (like the mood of the nation or the highlights of the campaign season or the tension in the world regarding Syria)?</p></li><li><p>In this age of social media, when all 500 of your online friends can know what you had for breakfast, do you still wish that you could get someone to notice something small that you consider important – a cause or an event or an idea?</p></li></ul><p>&#160;</p><p><strong>Good News in the Wilderness?<br></strong></p> <p>The Arts Council of Bakersfield, a city in central California, sponsors an event every month called First Fridays in a section of downtown that has wide sidewalks where local artists obtain permits to set up displays of their work.&#160; The event fits in beautifully with the complexion of that part of the city, which is dotted with small art galleries, theatres, cafes, organic food shops, a doggie day spa and other specialty businesses designed to appeal to people with a bit of disposable income.&#160; The artists reportedly enjoy very respectable sales on these days.&#160; </p><p><img src="" alt="shutterstock_75279457edit.jpg" style="margin&#58;5px;" /><br></p><p>For most of 2015, however, visitors to First Fridays have had an additional experience while browsing at the corner of 19th and Eye Streets in the form of a 23-year old street preacher named Nathaniel Runels.&#160; His preaching consists of standing on top of a small crate painted with the words “Jesus Saves” and preaching against the evils of moral sin.&#160; He tends to center his attacks on traditional forms of sexual immorality and he delivers his messages at the top of his lungs as people pass, so they are forced to hear him whether they want to or not.&#160; He is apparently acting within the confines of the law;&#160; even though people have generally found him to be more annoying than inspiring, the police have not arrested him or even told him he can’t be that publicly disruptive. <br></p><p>Starting in early November, however, large crowds have gathered at the corner and attempted to shout down the self-described “open-air preacher.” Runels reports that he’s been spit on, had his clothes painted, and had water poured on his shoes, all in an attempt to get him to stop.&#160; David Gordon, head of the Arts Council, is beyond frustrated. He’s heard complaints from vendors who say the preaching scares away customers and draws a mob at the corner that impedes traffic on the sidewalk and, at times, the street.&#160; He says he’s tried working with Runels, suggesting the young man arrive to preach at 9 p.m., when First Friday ends, or move to a less busy corner — all to no avail.&#160; <br></p><p>Some have suggested that he be required to purchase a permit like other vendors since, even though they dislike his message, his sermons could be considered a kind of “performance art,” and “shouldn’t art challenge the thinking of those who interact with it?”&#160; Others have said, “I guess he didn't read the Bible where it admonishes people to pray in private, not on the street-corner for people to see.” Still others, including David Gordon, think he’s just doing it for the attention.&#160; Gordon doesn’t want anyone getting hurt, he wants to avoid traffic jams at that corner and for his art vendors and First Friday guests to have a good experience.</p><p>&#160;</p><p><strong>Discussion Questions</strong></p><ul><li><p>The news stories do not say whether anyone has been inspired to faith or repentance as a result of Runels’ preaching.&#160; Do you think you would be?</p></li><li><p>What is your reaction to this way of preaching?&#160; Do you think it is right that someone should be preaching out in public for everyone to hear whether they like it or not or do you think that preaching should be confined to churches and other spaces where people choose to listen?</p></li><li><p>What if the content of Runels’ preaching were different and he were emphasizing God’s love and forgiveness or reassuring people that God really does have a steady hand on this seemingly chaotic world?&#160; Do you think people would be more receptive to his preaching</p></li></ul><p><strong>Second Sunday of Advent</strong></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">Malachi 3&#58;1-4</a></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">Philippians 1&#58;3-11</a></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">Luke 3&#58;1-6</a><br></p><p>(Text links are to <a href="http&#58;//">Oremus Bible Browser</a>. 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 <a href="http&#58;//">Lectionary Readings</a></p><p>For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic <a href="http&#58;//">Agnus Day.</a></p><p>&#160;</p><p><strong>Gospel Reflection</strong></p> <p>Luke is very concerned in this section of the gospel to locate John the Baptist in a very specific historical context.&#160; It is not just a vague “once upon a time” story, but a story that is fully immersed in the events and circumstances of its day, as the gospel should be.&#160; John being out in “the wilderness” does not suggest that he is removed from the great movements of governments and armies that dominate the lives of the people.&#160; Luke&#160; wants to use the large-scale markers of time to draw attention to this seemingly small event.&#160; He will do something similar – but with history rather than the current political landscape – at the end of chapter 3 when he situates Jesus in a long lineage of ancestors that stretches all the way back to Adam.&#160;</p><p>“The wilderness” in Luke’s gospel where John the Baptist is preaching is not just a miscellaneous spot in the middle of nowhere.&#160;&#160; Luke tells us that John was preaching in “all the region around the Jordan.”&#160; This area is filled with symbolic importance.&#160; It is the place where, 13 centuries earlier, the Israelites crossed the Jordan river into the freedom of their promised land, so it represents a kind of starting-over place for people who want to move from bondage and slavery to sin into the freedom of God’s love.&#160;</p><p>Hence John’s baptism is a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Unlike our American “wilderness” that is full of wild vegetation, the biblical “wilderness” is very dry and barren, so it is also thought of as a place of death, but not only death – it is also where life can begin again if it is watered.&#160;&#160; It is also the place from where people believed the Messiah – Israel’s savior – would arrive to establish God’s rule once again in the land.&#160; The theme of God’s chosen one entering the land from the east to bring peace and redemption was such a powerful idea that Isaiah envisioned even the land itself getting involved. <br></p><p>An internet search for aerial photos of “the Judean wilderness” reveals how barren and dry it is, but also how steep the climb is from the Jordan river to Jerusalem where the Israelite temple was.&#160; The terrain is also very hilly between the Jordan river and Jerusalem at the top of the ridge.&#160; Imagine all of that being flattened out and turned into a huge ramp for the Messiah to enter.&#160; That is the image that Isaiah projects with the promise that hills will be brought low and the valleys will be lifted up.&#160; </p><p>That language about the hills and valleys also carries a symbolic meaning.&#160; One of the great themes of Luke is that under the Messiah’s reign the lowly will be raised up and those who are high and lofty will be brought down.&#160; This has already been shown with Mary, Jesus’ mother, in Luke 1.</p><p>When Luke says that John was administering a baptism of repentance for forgiveness of sins, we might have trouble visualizing that.&#160; We should probably think of people walking through the Jordan river from its east bank to its west bank (reminiscent of the first Israelite crossing to freedom), stopping in the middle to have John pour water over them as a sign of God’s grace and a pledge that they will seek to live a life of constantly turning to God for all things rather than falling back into greed and despair.&#160; </p><p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom&#58;0.0001pt;line-height&#58;normal;"><br></p><p><strong>Discussion Questions</strong></p><ul><li><p>What do you know about John the Baptist’s background?&#160; If you can’t remember the story of his birth, go back and read Luke chapter 2.</p></li><li><p>One of the important things to remember about biblical prophecy is that it typically does not refer to just one event or point in history, but keeps on being meaningful at other points in history long beyond the original meaning.&#160; How does Isaiah’s prophecy strike you today?&#160; Where in the church, in your life, in your community, in your school, or in the whole world does it need to be proclaimed that people should prepare the way of the Lord by setting out a clear path, evening out the lows and highs in human experience, straightening out things that are crooked, or smoothing things that are rough.&#160;&#160; What kind of work would it take for “all flesh [to] see the salvation of God”?</p></li></ul><p><strong>Activity Suggestions</strong></p><ul><li><p>If you have math and geometry enthusiasts in your group, you can figure out the angle at which someone has to travel to go roughly 18 miles from the southern Jordan river at 1500 feet below sea level to the top of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem at 2700 feet above sea level. </p></li><li><p>If you found yourself suddenly standing on a soapbox in the middle of the monthly art fair in Bakersfield or at the busiest intersection in your town and you were expected to preach, what would you say?&#160; Would you preach that people should repent?&#160; Would you announce that God has big plans for the world?&#160; Would you talk about your own faith in Jesus?&#160;&#160; Brainstorm or w<a name="_GoBack"></a>rite down some of those thoughts.</p></li><li><p>Most of our ordinary “preaching” opportunities do not come in the form of public soapbox speeches – they happen when we show love, care, comfort, and understanding to someone in need, or we give someone a meal in Jesus’ name, or we offer to pray with someone who is troubled about something, or we have just a few seconds to answer a question about what the cross around our neck or the slogan on our t-shirt means.&#160; Take some time to put together an “elevator speech.”&#160; This is a summary of what is true and important to you about the Christian faith – something that could be shared with someone in the amount of time it takes to go up 4 or 5 stories in an elevator.</p></li><li><p>Do you have complete information about your own baptism?&#160;&#160; When and where were you baptized?&#160; If you don’t know, check with parents or even the congregation where you were baptized to get that information, then be sure to remember and celebrate that date each year!</p></li></ul><p><strong>Closing Prayer</strong></p> <p>God of salvation, we pray that just as you have revealed yourself in all times and all places, always bringing up the lowly and rescuing the lofty from their futile heights, reveal yourself to us again today in this world.&#160; Bring all people to wilderness places, where they will see you and be claimed by your love in repentance and forgiveness of sins.&#160; In Jesus’ name we pray.</p><p><br><strong></strong></p><p>&#160;</p></div>12/01/2015November 29, 2015, Fear Factor Jay McDivitt, Waukesha, WI<div class="ExternalClassC2ABF0D690CB4A4BACB676F952F45737"><p>​</p><p><strong>Warm-up Question</strong></p> <p class="MsoNormal">On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being “Totally cool” and 10 being “I’m afraid to get out of bed” – how would you rate your Fear Factor these days? How afraid are you? Of what?</p><p><strong>Fear Factor<br></strong></p> <p class="MsoNormal">Bombs and guns ripped through Paris. Suicide bombing attacks kill hundreds at a funeral in Baghdad and a street scene in Beirut. Governors are shutting down borders to keep Syrian refugees out. France is asking the world to join them in waging war on ISIS/ISIL/Daesh/Whatever. And Starbucks refuses to put snowflakes and reindeer on their coffee cups.</p><p class="MsoNormal">The world just seems totally messed up.</p><p class="MsoNormal"><img src="" alt="shutterstock_262033412edit.jpg" style="margin&#58;5px;" /><br></p><p style="margin&#58;0in 0in 0.0001pt;text-indent&#58;0.5in;line-height&#58;15pt;background&#58;white none repeat scroll 0% 0%;">In the midst of it all, this <a href="http&#58;//">lovely story</a> made the rounds on Facebook&#58;<span style="font-size&#58;10pt;font-family&#58;arial;color&#58;#444444;"></span></p><p style="margin&#58;0in 0in 0.0001pt;text-indent&#58;0.5in;line-height&#58;15pt;background&#58;white none repeat scroll 0% 0%;"><br><span style="font-size&#58;10pt;font-family&#58;arial;color&#58;#444444;"></span><span style="font-size&#58;10pt;font-family&#58;arial;color&#58;#444444;"><strong>Gate A-4 By&#160;</strong></span><a href="http&#58;//"><span style="font-size&#58;10pt;font-family&#58;arial;color&#58;#162b45;"><strong>Naomi Shihab Nye</strong></span></a><span style="font-size&#58;10pt;font-family&#58;arial;color&#58;#444444;">&#58;</span></p><p style="margin&#58;0in 0in 0.0001pt;text-indent&#58;0.5in;line-height&#58;15pt;background&#58;white none repeat scroll 0% 0%;"><br><span style="font-size&#58;10pt;font-family&#58;arial;color&#58;#444444;"></span><span style="font-size&#58;10pt;font-family&#58;arial;color&#58;#444444;"></span><span style="font-size&#58;10pt;font-family&#58;arial;color&#58;#444444;"></span><span style="font-size&#58;10pt;font-family&#58;arial;color&#58;#444444;">Wandering around the Albuquerque Airport Terminal, after learning my flight had been delayed four hours, I heard an announcement&#58; “If anyone in the vicinity of Gate A-4 understands any Arabic, please come to the gate immediately.” Well— one pauses these days. Gate A-4 was my own gate. I went there.</span></p><p style="margin&#58;0in 0in 0.0001pt;text-indent&#58;0.5in;line-height&#58;15pt;background&#58;white none repeat scroll 0% 0%;"><br><span style="font-size&#58;10pt;font-family&#58;arial;color&#58;#444444;"></span><span style="font-size&#58;10pt;font-family&#58;arial;color&#58;#444444;">An older woman in full traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing. “Help,” said the flight agent. “Talk to her . What is her problem? We told her the flight was going to be late and she did this.”</span></p><p style="margin&#58;0in 0in 0.0001pt;text-indent&#58;0.5in;line-height&#58;15pt;background&#58;white none repeat scroll 0% 0%;"><br><span style="font-size&#58;10pt;font-family&#58;arial;color&#58;#444444;"></span><span style="font-size&#58;10pt;font-family&#58;arial;color&#58;#444444;">I stooped to put my arm around the woman and spoke haltingly. “Shu-dow-a, shu-bid-uck, habibti? Stani schway, min fadlick, shu-bit-se-wee?” The minute she heard any words she knew, however poorly used, she stopped crying. She thought the flight had been cancelled entirely. She needed to be in El Paso for major medical treatment the next day. I said, “No, we’re fine, you’ll get there, just late, who is picking you up? Let’s call him.”</span></p><p style="margin&#58;0in 0in 0.0001pt;text-indent&#58;0.5in;line-height&#58;15pt;background&#58;white none repeat scroll 0% 0%;"><br><span style="font-size&#58;10pt;font-family&#58;arial;color&#58;#444444;"></span><span style="font-size&#58;10pt;font-family&#58;arial;color&#58;#444444;">We called her son, I spoke with him in English. I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane. She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just for the fun of it. Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and found out of course they had ten shared friends. Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian poets I know and let them chat with her? This all took up two hours.</span></p><p style="margin&#58;0in 0in 0.0001pt;text-indent&#58;0.5in;line-height&#58;15pt;background&#58;white none repeat scroll 0% 0%;"><br><span style="font-size&#58;10pt;font-family&#58;arial;color&#58;#444444;"></span><span style="font-size&#58;10pt;font-family&#58;arial;color&#58;#444444;">She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her life, patting my knee, answering questions. She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies— little powdered sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts— from her bag and was offering them to all the women at the gate. To my amazement, not a single traveler declined one. It was like a sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the mom from California, the lovely woman from Laredo— we were all covered with the same powdered sugar. And smiling. There is no better cookie.</span></p><p style="margin&#58;0in 0in 0.0001pt;text-indent&#58;0.5in;line-height&#58;15pt;background&#58;white none repeat scroll 0% 0%;"><br><span style="font-size&#58;10pt;font-family&#58;arial;color&#58;#444444;"></span><span style="font-size&#58;10pt;font-family&#58;arial;color&#58;#444444;">Then the airline broke out free apple juice and two little girls from our flight ran around serving it and they were covered with powdered sugar too. And I noticed my new best friend— by now we were holding hands— had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing, with green furry leaves. Such an old country traveling tradition. Always carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.</span></p><p style="margin&#58;0in 0in 0.0001pt;text-indent&#58;0.5in;line-height&#58;15pt;background&#58;white none repeat scroll 0% 0%;"><br><span style="font-size&#58;10pt;font-family&#58;arial;color&#58;#444444;"></span><span style="font-size&#58;10pt;font-family&#58;arial;color&#58;#444444;">And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought, This is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in that gate— once the crying of confusion stopped— seemed apprehensive about any other person. They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women too.</span></p><p style="margin&#58;0in 0in 0.0001pt;text-indent&#58;0.5in;line-height&#58;15pt;background&#58;white none repeat scroll 0% 0%;"><br><span style="font-size&#58;10pt;font-family&#58;arial;color&#58;#444444;"></span><span style="font-size&#58;10pt;font-family&#58;arial;color&#58;#444444;">This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.</span></p><p><br></p><p><strong>Discussion Questions</strong></p><ul><li><strong></strong>Does fear help or hurt our ability to love each other and share moments like what happened in the airport?</li><li>Has fear made it difficult for you to do the right thing? When has fear been helpful to you?</li><li>Tell the story of finding joy or experiencing grace/love with someone who is very different from you. <br></li></ul><p><strong>First Sunday of Advent</strong></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">Jeremiah 33&#58;14-16</a></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">1 Thessalonians 3&#58;9-13</a></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">Luke 21&#58;25-36 </a></p><p>(Text links are to <a href="http&#58;//">Oremus Bible Browser</a>. 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 <a href="http&#58;//">Lectionary Readings</a></p><p>For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic <a href="http&#58;//">Agnus Day.</a></p><p>&#160;</p><p><strong>Gospel Reflection</strong></p><p>&#160;</p><p>This is a creepy reading from the gospel of Luke. &quot;Signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars…distress among nations…roaring of the sea…be on guard…be alert at all times…like a trap…&quot; Yeesh.</p><p>Then again, it sounds kinda sorta exactly like the world in which we live. A world full of things and people to be afraid of. A world that is unpredictable and scary. A world that seems to get darker and darker every day.</p><p>So what are we to do as people of Jesus in this crazy world? </p><p>If you listen to some, the answer is, &quot;Run and hide! Bury your head in the sand! Lock the doors and pretend it's not happening! Be afraid – be very afraid!&quot;</p><p>What does Jesus say, though? &quot;Stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.&quot;</p><p>Yup – when times get tough, when the world is scary, when you don't know what to do, that is <span style="text-decoration&#58;underline;"><em>precisely</em></span> when Jesus shows up. Jesus hangs in there with us when everyone else runs and hides. Jesus finds us in the scary places and gently lifts up our chins so we can look up and see the grace and goodness that God is still bringing into the world. The powdered sugar cookies shared among strangers who cannot speak one another's languages. The patience to listen to fearful people and assure them that things will be okay. The sun that is rising in the east – the Light which no darkness can overcome. </p><p>Fear is natural and normal. Hope is countercultural. But fear won't take away fear or make the world a more loving and living place. Hope can. </p><p>And Hope is totally in Jesus' wheelhouse.</p><p><strong>Discussion Questions</strong></p><ul><li>&#160;Why is it easier to be afraid than hopeful?</li><li>When have you felt hopeful in the midst of fear?</li><li>When have you &quot;closed your eyes&quot; or &quot;buried your head&quot; out of fear? When have you opened your eyes, raised your head, and dared to be hopeful? When have other people helped you to be brave and hopeful rather than fearful?</li></ul><p><strong>Activity Suggestions</strong> <br></p> <p class="MsoNormal">Materials&#58; Blank paper, pens/pencils, colored pencils/crayons. </p><p class="MsoNormal">On one side of the paper, write “FEAR.” Draw or list/brainstorm things that you are afraid of – or things that others tell you to be afraid of. On the other side, write “HOPE.” Draw or list/brainstorm ways to be hopeful when you are tempted to be afraid.</p><p><strong>Closing Prayer</strong></p><p>&#58; <em>Light the first candle on the Advent wreath – or a candle, if you don't have a wreath</em>.</p><p>One&#58; The light shines in the darkness.</p><p><strong>Many&#58; And the darkness cannot overcome it.</strong></p><p>One&#58; Let us pray. Holy One, we live in a scary world. Every day we see images and stories that make us want to bury our heads in the sand. Come to us in the Light of this flame. Help us to stand up and raise our heads and open our eyes to see Your Light. Remove our fear and give us Hope. In Jesus' Name. </p><p><strong>Many&#58; Amen.</strong></p><p><br><strong></strong></p></div>11/24/2015November 22, 2015, Who’s in charge?Angie Larson, Clive, IA<div class="ExternalClass398ECAA90D7B425582ADB0D9A29E5579"><p>​</p><p>&#160;</p><p><strong>Warm-up Question</strong></p><p>What does it mean to be a leader? <br></p><p><strong>Who's in charge?</strong></p> <p class="MsoNormal">Jeb Bush, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Hillary Clinton and many others jostle for recognition to become their party’s candidate in the next presidential election. The election is just under a year away, yet the debates, character defamation, accusations, and campaigning began months ago.<span>&#160; </span>Compare this to Canada’s recent election where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau campaigned for 78 days before winning. </p><p class="MsoNormal"><img alt="shutterstock_309738911edit.jpg" src="" style="margin&#58;5px;" /><br></p><p class="MsoNormal">At this point in the United States it seems you can’t turn on your television, look through Facebook, or listen to the radio without hearing opinions, perspectives, and commercials campaigning for one candidate or another. Because the next President will be the leader of the free world in our time, we should take this important decision seriously. Yet, at the same time, the discernment process can be overwhelming for an American citizen. <span>&#160;</span><span>&#160;</span></p><p>&#160;</p><p><strong>Discussion Questions</strong></p><ul><li>What are some characteristics you believe the next President of the United States should have?</li><li>How would you hope that the next POTUS would lead the United States?</li><li>What qualities do you think should not be in a president?</li><li>If you could vote in the next United States election, what criteria would you use to discern who would receive your vote?</li></ul><p><strong>Christ the King Sunday<br></strong></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">Daniel 7&#58;9-10, 13-14</a></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">Revelation 1&#58;4b-8</a></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">John 18&#58;33-37</a></p><p>(Text links are to <a href="http&#58;//">Oremus Bible Browser</a>. 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 <a href="http&#58;//">Lectionary Readings</a></p><p>For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic <a href="http&#58;//">Agnus Day.</a></p><p>&#160;</p><p><strong>Gospel Reflection</strong></p><p class="MsoNormal">The text for Christ the King Sunday depicts an interesting event in Jesus’ life and ministry. It begs us to ask the question, “Who reigns?” Jesus is caught in a battle between the Jewish leaders and the Roman Pontius Pilate. <span>&#160;</span>Prior to our assigned text, we find the backstory. The Jewish leaders don’t want to be accountable for Jesus’ death so they hand him over to Pilate, the Roman official responsible for the region. Pilate tries to pass Jesus back to the Jewish leaders saying, “Take him and judge him according to your laws.” <span>&#160;&#160;</span>But they resist and demand Pilate’s judgment because they want Jesus put to death, something permitted under Roman but not Jewish law. <br></p><p class="MsoNormal">Here’s where we can look at the authorities of the time. Pilate asks Jesus an interesting question, “Are you the king of the Jews?” <span>&#160;</span>He is questioning if Jesus has authority here on this earth over this minor group of people in the region for which Pilate is responsible. Jesus replies with a question and doesn’t really answer Pilate. Instead, Jesus explains how his kingdom is not from this world.<span>&#160; </span>Jesus’ kingdom is brought through the truth.<span>&#160; </span>His rule is a different kind of authority, made apparent through his coming crucifixion. <br></p><p class="MsoNormal">Today, as during Roman times, people often become kings or rulers by conquering and winning battles.<span>&#160; </span>Yet, Jesus shows that his kingdom is one that acts very differently. It manifests itself in the crucifixion, in the taking away of our sins.<span>&#160; </span>It provides us freedom and reconciliation with God, as opposed to resting on dominance.<span>&#160; </span></p><p><strong>Discussion Questions</strong></p><ul><li>How is God’s kingdom different from earthly kingdoms?</li><li class="MsoNormal">What questions do you have about those differences? What is hard to understand?</li><li class="MsoNormal">If we understood and imitated Jesus’ kingship, how might earthly leadership look different?</li></ul><p><strong>Activity Suggestions</strong> <br></p>Check out some of the candidates’ YouTube sites; look specifically at the ones created by the candidates.<span>&#160; </span>Process with youth how the candidates say they will lead.<span>&#160; </span>How does this compare with how Christ is king? Where are the paradoxes?<br><br><p><strong>Closing Prayer</strong></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-left&#58;0.25in;">Blessed Savior, We are grateful today. Thank you for the reminder of where your kingdom is and who the ruler is. Help us to grow in our discernment of our earthly leaders and how we can serve those around us.<span>&#160; </span>Give us the strength to listen to your calling in our lives.<span>&#160; </span>In your name we pray.&#160; Amen.</p><p><br><strong></strong></p></div>11/17/2015November 15, 2015, Diversity and DemocracyJocelyn Breeland, Sunnyvale, CA<div class="ExternalClassC3B0DAE0D4854A29B56766EF82B06289"><p>​</p><p><strong>Warm-up Question</strong></p><p>Is diversity important? <br></p><p><strong>Diversity and Democracy<br></strong></p> <p class="MsoNormal">San Francisco’s Everett Middle School principal, Lena Van Haren, came under fire last month when she withheld the results of a school election because they did not reflect the school’s diversity. quotes Van Haren saying, “It’s not OK for a school that is really, really diverse to have the student representatives majority white.” </p><p class="MsoNormal"><img alt="shutterstock_127202768edit.jpg" src="" style="margin&#58;5px;" /><br></p><p class="MsoNormal">Eighty percent of Everett’s students are non-white, including 56% Hispanic students. <br></p><p class="MsoNormal">While some students and parents appreciated Van Haren’s concern, there was a strong negative reaction among many parents and students at the school and, thanks to the internet, across the country. <br></p><p class="MsoNormal">Some said the principal was allowing political correctness to trump democracy. Others said that, although Van Haren claimed to want all voices to be heard, she was ignoring the voices of the student voters. <br></p><p class="MsoNormal">Van Haren later released the results and she has said she will work with students to find another way – possibly by creating additional positions – to bring greater diversity into student government. She also expressed regret about the controversy and acknowledged she probably should have not withheld the election results. Even so, she believes the public discussion created a teachable moment.</p><p>&#160;</p><p><strong>Discussion Questions</strong> <br></p> <ul><li>Is it important that the student government reflect the diversity of the student body?</li><li>What might have been a better way for the principal to respond?</li><li>The current U.S. congress is 80 percent male, although the U.S. population is more than 50 percent female. It is also 80 percent white, while whites are only 63 percent of the population.</li><ul><li>How do you account for these differences?</li><li>Is this a problem? If so, how might it be addressed? <br></li></ul></ul><ul><li>What does your faith tell you about diversity?</li></ul><p><strong>Lectionary 33</strong> <br></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">Daniel 12&#58;1-3</a></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">Hebrews 10&#58;11-14 [15-18] 19-25</a></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">Mark 13&#58;1-8</a><br></p><p>(Text links are to <a href="http&#58;//">Oremus Bible Browser</a>. 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 <a href="http&#58;//">Lectionary Readings</a></p><p>For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic <a href="http&#58;//">Agnus Day.</a></p><p>&#160;</p><p><strong>Gospel Reflection</strong> <br></p> <p class="MsoNormal">This portion of Mark’s gospel could be titled, “Don’t Be Distracted.” Don’t be distracted by the size and beauty of the temple, for it will fall. Don’t be distracted by false messiahs; they are imposters. Don’t be distracted by war and strife, these things will happen.</p><p class="MsoNormal">The disciples of Jesus’ day had trouble comprehending his hints about the destruction of the temple and his second coming and they were eager for greater clarity about the events that would signal the “beginnings of sorrows.” Modern Christians can perhaps be forgiven if we look for meaning in these signs. After all, we’ve been taught that everything fits, somehow, into God’s plan. We see dramatic events, especially bad ones like war, and wonder where they fit in. And we are eager for a sign that God is still in control. <br></p><p class="MsoNormal">“Take heed,” Jesus says, “that no one deceives you.” We should not let anyone or anything fool us into doubting the reality of God’s covenant in Christ. The temple may fall, but God still stands with his people. Fake prophets and messiahs don’t offer the salvation we receive in Christ. And we must not let trouble in the world or in our lives make us miss the love, comfort and strength God offers when we need it most. We must take care not to overlook God’s daily blessings, or miss an opportunity to be a blessing to someone else. <br></p><p class="MsoNormal">There’s no point in our worrying about events we can’t control or (often) understand. Instead, we can be confident of God’s presence in our lives, and that confidence can reassure us and free our hearts and minds to focus on fulfilling his purpose for each of us.</p><p><strong>Discussion Questions</strong> <br></p> <ul><li>Who or what might be deceiving Christians today?</li><li>How can you avoid being deceived?</li><li>Martin Luther is often quoted as saying, “If I knew the world would end tomorrow, I would plant a tree.” It’s not clear he actually said this, but how does this sentiment address today’s scripture?</li><li>If you knew the world would end tomorrow, what would you do?</li></ul><p><strong>Activity Suggestions</strong> <br></p> <p class="MsoNormal">Grab a newspaper or go online and find news that matches the description in v. 8. Work together to make a list of TEN items. <br></p><p class="MsoNormal">Next, look for news of responses to these events that are consistent with your faith. Together, make a list of NINE. <br></p><p class="MsoNormal">Finally, discuss as a group a possible 10<sup>th</sup> item for the second list. How can you faithfully respond to the world around you? <br></p><p class="MsoNormal">Discuss, make plans and take action.</p><p><strong>Closing Prayer</strong></p> <p class="MsoNormal">Heavenly Father, thank you for your constant comforting, guiding presence. Remind us, when we are distracted, of the salvation we are assured through the sacrifice of your son. Strengthen us, and help us to support<a name="_GoBack"></a> each other. And bless us to shine your light wherever we go. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen. <br></p><p><br><strong></strong></p></div>11/10/2015November 8, 2015, Loving the Life of a ServantChris Heavner, Clemson, SC<div class="ExternalClassA9E30F11999B400893F34FC7B0237887"><p>​</p><p><strong>Warm-up Question</strong> <br></p><ul><li>Doesn't it make you want to scream, every time someone points out horrible behavior among &quot;Christians&quot;?&#160; What are the most telling criticisms you hear?<br></li><li>Don't you want to jerk a knot in the neck of a fellow member of the Church who gives those critics more evidence for their condemnations?&#160; What are some examples?<br></li></ul><p><strong>Loving the Life of a Servant<br></strong></p><p>One of the images which dominated the visit of Pope Francis to the U.S. was his climbing in and out of the back seat of that little black car.&#160; If you didn't happen to see it, here is one of thousands of links – <a href="http&#58;//">NPR&#58; The Pope and His Car</a>.&#160; Most international dignitaries ride in larger vehicles.&#160; These cars are more easily equipped by security guards with bullet proof glass.&#160; Such cars also allow for aides to brief the dignitary on their next encounter.&#160; But, Pope Francis decided to ride in a little car.&#160; </p><p><img alt="shutterstock_292821566edit.jpg" src="" style="margin&#58;5px;" /><br></p><p>Some thought he was thumbing his nose at the hosts who wanted to treat him with honor.&#160; Some accused him of making a show.&#160; But he kept getting in that little car and riding around town.&#160; There were times when the car got as much press coverage as what Francis said—which was okay, because that little car was another way he expressed his message. <br></p><p>&quot;The Church is to serve.&quot; Pope Francis said.&#160; He reminded us that Jesus calls us to be the servant of others and to be the one who goes out of our way in order to meet the needs of those so easily forgotten or overlooked. <br></p><p>A true mark of knowing Jesus and following Jesus is not being tempted by the bigger stage or the brighter lights.&#160; Surely, this Pope taught us something about the good news of Jesus.&#160; </p><p><strong>Discussion Questions</strong> <br></p><ul><li>Did you think the Pope was just making a show by riding around in that little car?</li><li>If you were to be selected as an important leader, how would you respond to the temptation to be given the biggest and best of everything?&#160; What would be the greatest temptation for you personally?<br></li><li>To most of God's children, you do have some big and impressive things.&#160; How might some of these interfere with the ability of folks to see you as a servant of God?</li></ul><p><strong>Lectionary 32/ Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost</strong></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">1 Kings 17&#58;8-16</a></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">Hebrews 9&#58;24-28</a></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">Mark 12&#58;38-44</a></p><p>(Text links are to <a href="http&#58;//">Oremus Bible Browser</a>. 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 <a href="http&#58;//">Lectionary Readings</a></p><p>For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic <a href="http&#58;//">Agnus Day.</a></p><p>&#160;</p><p><strong>Gospel Reflection</strong> <br></p><p>These are two separate vignettes.&#160; What joins them is the mention of &quot;widows.&quot;&#160; In the first, these vulnerable members of God's family are taken advantage of.&#160; In the second, one of them is a model of faith. &#160;Jesus' words regarding the scribes and his observations of a widow may not have occurred on the same day.&#160; They are retold together as the conclusion to Jesus' public ministry.&#160; <br></p><p>These verses are the end of Chapter 12.&#160; Chapter 13 is a discourse on the final things.&#160; The remaining chapters are all about the Passion and Death of Jesus.&#160; So, Mark 12&#58;38-44 is the final act/comment of Jesus' public ministry.&#160; Is it at the end because everything of importance has been said?&#160; Or is this final instruction something we particularly need to remember? <br></p><p>One more thought to keep in mind is whether Mark 12&#58;37b belongs with what went before or if it should be an introduction to today's appointed verses.&#160; (Remember that the numbering of chapters and verses was added much later in the printing and reprinting of our scriptures.)&#160; Mark 12&#58;37b reads &quot;The large crowd heard Jesus gladly.&quot;&#160; The crowds loved what he was saying; maybe those who considered themselves higher and mightier than others did not. <br></p><p>The &quot;scribes&quot; or &quot;teachers of the Law&quot; would be akin to lawyers and judges in our day.&#160; They didn't make the Law, but they were charged with interpreting it.&#160; This is why Jesus argues with them so much; he &#160;claimed to be above the Law &#160;(Mark 3&#58;4ff, 12&#58;14ff).&#160; In this vignette, they display characteristics of a rich and snobby upper class.&#160; One could read in these verses that the scribes had profited (inappropriately) from their service to the community. Might they have gained the admiration of wealthy widows so as to lay claim to some of the widow's possessions?&#160; (Think televangelists with jets and mansions; some things never change) <br></p><p>Remember that Jesus had told his followers not to seek honor (Mark 9&#58;33) and to accept the hospitality of the first who offered rather than shopping around for a better home in which to stay (Mark 6&#58;8-10). <br></p><p>The Scribes were attracted to social trappings and fancy things.&#160; In today's readings, this is contrasted with the individual widow.&#160; She seeks to serve; hers is an act of sacrifice.&#160;&#160; It is also the kind of action which no one notices.&#160; Jesus noticed – Jesus always notices – but he has to tell the disciples what had happened. <br></p><p>Be careful not to make too much of these copper coins being the last in this woman's pocket.&#160; The words of Jesus are intended to ask us where we place our trust rather than to describe the actual state of affairs.</p><p><strong>Discussion Questions</strong> <br></p><ul><li>&quot;Long robes&quot; were the symbol sought by the scribes in Jesus' sermon.&#160; What are the symbols of wealth and power that dominate our culture?</li><li>An old song reminded us, &quot;O Lord, it's hard to be humble.&quot;&#160; What are the marks of true humility?</li><li>What does Jesus' words say to our &quot;having a new iPhone every year&quot; culture?</li><li>Do you think it was okay for the poor widow to put her last coins in the treasury?&#160;&#160;Was she being irresponsible? Might she have been excused from the Temple tax?&#160; (It is often true that those with less give more.&#160; Low income congregations have more who tithe than affluent congregations.)</li></ul><p><strong>Activity Suggestions</strong> <br></p> <ul><li>Invite five persons into a conversation about power and influence.<span>&#160; </span>Find out the ways in which they discern how powerful a person is. &#160;Is&#160;it by their clothing, job title, respect others extend to them, or something else.<span>&#160; </span>Ask whether the persons named use their power for self-advancement or whether they use it to enhance the common good.</li><li>Actively explore what stands in the way of your offering to God all that you have.<span>&#160; </span>What possession are you most proud of or dependent upon?<span>&#160; </span>Are there “things” which stand between you and Jesus?</li></ul><p class="MsoNormal"><strong>Closing Prayer</strong></p><p class="MsoNormal">Humble Jesus, you made it clear that places of honor are not the thing to be most valued.<span>&#160; </span>Help us to value our inclusion in your family and to forsake the false symbols of importance.<span>&#160; </span>Keep our eyes focused on those who do your will and help us to see the beauty of a life lived in your service.<span>&#160; </span>Amen.<a name="_GoBack"></a></p><p><br><strong></strong></p></div>11/03/2015