Faith Lens 28, 2014--Who Says?Dave Delaney, Salem Virginia<div class="ExternalClass4211FEE7418E417BA0B4E03D7D66BD2A"><p>​</p><p><strong>Warm-up Questions</strong> <br></p><ul style="list-style-type&#58;disc;"><li>Either individually or as a group, brainstorm a list of everyone in your life who can legitimately tell you what to do.&#160; Try to be specific.</li><li>Why do you end up doing what these individuals and groups say?&#160; Are there different reasons in each case?&#160; Which ones do you believe or follow or obey because they&#160; can make consequences happen to you, and which ones do you believe or follow or obey because you are convinced they are right or you just trust them? </li><li>Another way of coming at the same question&#58;&#160; what is the difference between power and authority?&#160; </li></ul><p><strong>Who Says<br></strong></p><p>Two high-profile public trials have recently ended&#58;&#160; On Sept. 4, former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen were convicted on charges of corruption after accepting money, gifts, and loans from businessman Jonnie Williams in exchange for special access to government favors.&#160; Then on Sept. 12, South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius was acquitted of premeditated murder but convicted for reckless homicide in the shooting death of his girlfriend.&#160; And in a different sort of case, half-brothers Henry McCollum and Leon Brown were recently released after more than thirty years in prison because newly presented DNA evidence showed that they were not guilty of raping and murdering an 11-year old girl in 1983.&#160; </p><p><img src="" alt="shutterstock_200338286edit.jpg" style="margin&#58;5px;" /></p><p>All of these legal decisions were made because someone – a judge or a jury – decided who was telling the truth and judged whether testimony matched the evidence.&#160; Even in the example of the DNA proof, which we usually think settles the matter, someone had to decide whether to accept it.&#160; All three cases and so many others highlight at least two things&#58;&#160; 1) the challenge of figuring out whether someone should be trusted when they speak, and 2) the question of who has the authority to make decisions like this.&#160; In both cases, we wonder where that authority comes from.&#160; </p><p>Each of us has to make these kinds of decisions every day – decisions as to whom we should trust and on what basis.&#160; The more trustworthy the source, the more likely we are to believe it.&#160; The closer the speaker is to the information, the more easily we can trust it.&#160; If we are suspicious about something we hear, the first words out of our mouths are likely to be &quot;Who says?&quot;&#160;</p><p>&#160;</p><p><strong>Discussion Questions</strong></p><ul><li>In these news items authority depends on testimony being trustworthy and knowledgeable. Why do we believe what God says or has said?<span>&#160; Why do we trust </span>what the scriptures say about God?<span>&#160; </span>Why believe what our pastors&#160; say about God and the world?<span>&#160; </span>Is it only because of what others have told us about living life with God or also because of things that we have experienced?</li><li>In the midst of life’s challenges and doubts, how do we continue to listen to Jesus when he speaks and trust that he has the authority to do so?<span>&#160; </span>What are the patterns and habits we can practice that will strengthen our trust in him, especially when faced with those who would say he was a liar or a fake?</li></ul><p><strong>Lectionary 26</strong></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">Ezekiel 18&#58;1-4, 25-32</a></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">Philippians 2&#58;1-13</a></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">Matthew 21&#58;23-32&#160;</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 C 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>This passage is one of several in the gospels where the religious leaders challenge Jesus concerning whether he should be allowed to teach people about God and their lives in God's kingdom.&#160; It also reflects the remarks of Jesus' hearers (Mark 1&#58;22 / Matthew 7&#58;29 ), who say he speaks &quot;with authority&quot; in contrast to their own religious leaders.&#160; In other words, when they listen to Jesus, it sounds like he has first-hand knowledge of the subject of God and life with God!&#160; He knows what he's talking about and isn't merely repeating things he has heard or surrendering to conventional wisdom just because that's what had always been taught.&#160; </p><p>Time and time again, the people hear Jesus zeroing in on the core of what it means to experience the kingdom of God.&#160; Jesus' teaching strikes them not only as reliable, but also as offering something missing from the way they had been taught to understand and serve God.&#160; The political and social pressures on the Jewish leaders of Jesus' day often forced them to give primary attention to stabilizing their relationship with the Roman Empire and fixing the boundaries of their religious community.&#160;&#160; No matter how much they hoped to lead the people into an authentic faith in God, it took Jesus, the Messiah and the Son of God, to bring them into God's own saving love.&#160; It is good news for us that Jesus lives and continues to be present to us through faith, so that we to can follow his leadership into God's kingdom regardless of what other distractions may come our way.</p><p>This text comes from the last week of Jesus' life.&#160; He has just come into Jerusalem to cheering crowds (21&#58;1-11), cleared the temple of merchants and money-changers (21&#58;12-13), begun healing the blind and lame (21&#58;14-17), and taught about the power of faith (21&#58;18-22).&#160; In the midst of all these activities, he was headed toward his arrest and execution just a couple of days later.&#160; So we see him speaking to the religious leaders in very stark terms about how things will soon change and why.&#160; He first exposes their commitment to political, rather than faith and life, concerns with his question about John the Baptist.&#160; Then he uses the parable of the two sons to lift up that God's grace, which draws very unlikely people into God's kingdom, will soon win the day over their political approach.&#160; This is more good news for us, allowing us to stop yielding to the temptation to draw lines between &quot;the righteous&quot; and &quot;the sinful.&quot;&#160; We can welcome anyone who seeks God because God invites all into the kingdom. </p><p><strong>Discussion Questions</strong></p><ul><li>In the gospels, some who were utterly convinced that Jesus had authority to teach God's truth liked what they were learning about God from Jesus, but balked when he called on them to align with the purposes of God's gracious love.&#160; Are there things that Jesus calls us to do or to be which might make us unhappy rather than joyful about his authority over us as his followers?&#160;(If you need help, consider Matthew 5-7, the instructions for the church in Matthew 18, or his commandment to evangelize the world in Matthew 28).&#160; What are the hard things in those lists that might make us turn to Jesus and ask &quot;Who says?&quot;</li><li>When we receive challenges to the Christian faith, how can we have conversations with others that will let us know if they are perhaps truly curious about our faith and secretly wishing we could convince them that it is true?</li><li>Why do you think that Jesus did not just give the religious leaders a straightforward answer about who he was and that he was both the promised Messiah and the Son of God?&#160; [We have to speculate, but some possibilities are&#58;&#160; 1) There were lots of prophets and other self-proclaimed messiahs running around who claimed to be God's chosen one;&#160; just saying so would prove nothing.&#160; 2) Even if Jesus proved himself to them, he knew that they would use that information for their own political and social benefit (see his long criticism of them in Matthew 23) to exclude even more those whom they decided did not measure up.&#160; 3) Jesus knew that they were not really asking him this question honestly and so instead turned the challenge back on them] </li><li>Does the parable that follows Jesus' conversation with the religious leaders (21&#58;28-32) sound like it could come from your life?&#160; Have you ever behaved like either one of the sons in the parable?&#160; &#160; When we share faith with others or invite them to experience the joy of our church, which response would we rather get – an insincere yes from someone who has no intention of following through, or a cold reception from someone who ends up being devoted to Christ and his teachings? <br></li></ul><p><strong>Activity Suggestions</strong></p><ul><li>To experience what it’s like to see if someone is telling the truth,&#160; try a variation on the game “two truths and a lie.”&#160; The original game divides the group into two teams and they take turns having one of their own members tell the other team three things about him/herself, one of which is a lie, and the other team has to figure out which one it is.&#160; In a revised version, the whole team has to come up with two statements about something any one of them has actually *seen* or *heard* firsthand (e.g., they’re going to tear up the interstate again, some famous musician has a new video up on YouTube, so-and-so dyed her hair blue, etc.) and then a third statement regarding something they only heard about but did not see firsthand.&#160; The other team then has to figure out which one is second-hand information.&#160;&#160; As the game goes on, start asking groups to include statements that might be considered matters of opinion, but some hold as very true and important!&#160; What happens then?</li><li>Play a round of “telephone,” and at the end ask the group who would need to be asked in order to find out the original message.<span>&#160; </span>The obvious answer is the person who came up with the original message.<span>&#160; </span>Then the group can get a sense of how likely it would be that 1) God’s message might get distorted over time until Jesus came along and 2) why the religious leaders might actually have a good reason to care about where Jesus got his information.</li><li>Have three people role play the conversation between the father and the two sons in the parable and try to imagine what they would say to each other as each one of them is trying to prove that s/he is right.<span>&#160; </span>Other members of the group should yell suggestions for things to say.<span>&#160; </span>In a society like the one of Jesus’ day, where obedience to parents was a huge deal with a lot at stake, how might each of them reacted?</li></ul> <p><strong>Closing Prayer</strong></p><p>God of all truth and ruler of our lives, soften our hearts and minds with the ministry of your Spirit, that we may trust you for everything, be ready to receive your word with gladness, and open ourselves up to the real and powerful thrill that comes with living life close to you.&#160; Guide us through the teachings of our Lord Jesus and help those who doubt him or care only for earthly things to turn to him, even though they have refused once or even many times.&#160; In his name we pray. </p><p><br><strong></strong></p></div>09/23/2014September 21, 2014--Better Than FairJen Krausz, Bethlehem, PA<div class="ExternalClass113CFD1B4D22423EBAE6B959C909BAA7"><p>​</p><span><p><strong>Warm-up Question</strong></p> <p>Warm-up Question&#58; How do you react when you think something is unfair?</p> <p><br><strong></strong></p><p><strong>Better Than Fair<br></strong></p><p>College football season is in full swing. As with any group, some student athletes choose to break the rules set by their coaches or their leagues. Coaches must then give out punishments including suspensions, counseling, and extra hard practices. </p><p>Early in the season is the biggest time for suspensions. Colleges have had to discipline players for many different infractions, including failing drug tests, not going to classes, cheating in their classes, and even being arrested on charges like DUI or assault. </p><p><img alt="shutterstock_186023696edit.jpg" src="" style="margin&#58;5px;" />Many different factors determine the punishments players receive. Former Texas coach Mack Brown describes it this way&#58; &quot;You've got to be consistently fair with your rules, understanding that there are so many inconsistent things that are thrown at you.&quot; Brown once had three of his players get DUIs during one off-season. He disciplined them differently because two of the players had been causing trouble for a while, but the third had never broken a rule before. </p><p>Former Auburn coach Gene Chizik tells why he thinks the same offense may not always be punished the same way&#58; &quot;If the team knows you're fair, you're good. You want to be as consistent as you can be, but consistency is not always doable. Fairness can be.&quot; </p><p>Houston Nutt, who coached at Arkansas and Mississippi, learned this philosophy playing at Arkansas under his coach, Jimmy Johnson&#58; &quot;Players who rarely if ever step out of line get leeway and second chances. Problem children don't.&quot; </p><p>Nutt also said coaches must take into consideration that their discipline measures might hurt the team, which may in turn put the coach's job in jeopardy. It's not an easy position for a coach to be in, since they are paid to win games.</p><p>Nutt once suspended his starting kicker for getting a DUI after Nutt had warned the players not to party before the game. The team lost the important game, and two weeks later the DUI charges were dropped. It was frustrating, but Nutt felt justified in suspending him. </p><p>&quot;You have no respect for your team and coaches,&quot; he told the player. </p><p>Punishments may not always look fair to observers, but sometimes the message can be communicated by what seems like a mild consequence. As Florida coach Will Muschamp said when he was criticized for reinstating players after suspending them from a game that was cancelled after ten minutes, &quot;There are a lot of things that go into discipline. It's about altering and changing behavior, which we've done here.&quot;</p><p>&#160;<br></p><p><strong>Discussion Questions</strong></p><ul><li><p>Is there a difference between fairness and consistency? If so, what is the difference?</p></li><li><p>Do you think everyone should get the same punishment for the same infraction? Can you think of a time when that didn’t (or wouldn’t) work?</p></li><li><p>If a coach is unfair, what effect might that have on the team?</p></li><li><p>When a coach treats players fairly, what effect does that have on the team?</p></li></ul> <p><strong>Lectionary 25</strong></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">Jonah 3&#58;10—4&#58;11</a></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">Philippians 1&#58;21-30</a></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">Matthew 20&#58;1-16</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 C 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>If you grew up going to church, you've probably heard the words of Matthew 20&#58;16 before. You may have even heard them so often that they get on your nerves. They may have been used to make you feel guilty for rushing to be first in line, or as a consolation for being last. Your siblings may have thrown these words at you to compensate for their own feelings that they were being treated unfairly. </p><p>&quot;The last will be first, and the first will be last.&quot; </p><p>In all of history, only Jesus teaches such radical unfairness. Only Jesus possesses the grace to give those who worked for one hour the same wage as those who worked all day. How wonderful for those who received a full day's pay for only an hour's labor. May we all have been this fortunate at one time or another in our lives. </p><p>What about those who worked all day? Shouldn't they get more? This is where our sense of unfairness kicks in. It just feels wrong to work all day and get paid no more than those who worked one hour. What a sour feeling to think you were first, and end up being last. </p><p>In this parable, the wages are meant to stand, in part, for forgiveness and salvation for believers. Forgiveness and salvation are available to us whether we choose to believe in Jesus when we are young or on our deathbed. It is the same gift to all believers. </p><p>Some believers don't think this is fair. &quot;I have believed and served God all my life,&quot; they think. &quot;I should get more than the person who lives a sinful life and only repents on at the very end of his life.&quot; </p><p>In this parable, as in all his teachings, Jesus shows us that it isn't about our efforts, how long we are a Christian or how great a Christian we are. Instead, we need to focus on God's grace, which is the same for all, because we all need it equally. If we want to be truthful, none of us deserve God's grace and forgiveness. &quot;For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God&quot; (Romans 3&#58;23). Although some of us are Christians just about all our lives, and some only come to faith very late in life, our need for salvation is exactly equal. This is the truth Jesus portrayed so well in this parable. </p><p><strong>Discussion Questions</strong></p><ul><li>How does this story feel different if you focus on the people paid for one hour, than it does if you focus on the people paid the same for a whole day's work?</li><li>Does Matthew 20&#58;16, &quot;The first will be last, and the last will be first,&quot; give you a sense of comfort, or does it make you angry? Why?</li><li>Grace means &quot;unmerited favor,&quot; in other words, not deserved. Besides forgiveness and salvation, what have you received from God that you know you didn't deserve?</li><li>What effect do you think conflicts about being first or last might have on a church? </li></ul><p><strong>Activity Suggestions</strong></p><p>As a group, find an opportunity to serve a person or a group of people in need. Serving others is a way to put them first. Some ideas are providing a meal at a soup kitchen, raking leaves for someone, washing their car, etc. Afterward, discuss how it felt to serve in that way.</p><p><strong>Closing Prayer</strong></p><p>Dear Lord, thank you for your grace in forgiving us when we couldn't do anything to deserve it. Thank you for the example of your justice in the world. Help us to be gracious toward others and willing to put them before ourselves. In the name of Jesus we pray, Amen. </p><p><span><br></span></p></span></div>09/16/2014September 14, 2014--A Mother's ForgivenessJohn Wertz, Blacksburg, VA<div class="ExternalClassF4660E429B60455A84B5F0125A326D01"><p>​</p><p><strong>Warm-up Question</strong></p><p>&#160;We all make mistakes.&#160; Share one excellent mistake you have made and what you learned from the experience.</p><p><strong>A Mother's Forgiveness<br></strong></p><p>In December 2012, Josh Brent, an offensive linemen with the Dallas Cowboys, got into his car after a night of drinking and was involved in a one car accident.&#160; His passenger, Jerry Brown, Jr., a teammate and Josh's best friend, was killed in the crash.&#160; At the time of the accident, Josh's blood alcohol level was .018 - twice the legal limit.&#160; He was eventually convicted of intoxicated manslaughter and served 180 days in jail and was sentenced to 10 years of probation.&#160; In June 2014, Josh was released from jail and in early September, he was conditionally reinstated by the National Football League and given a 10 game suspension.&#160; If all goes as planned, Josh will return to the football field a mere two years after his deadly accident.</p><p>While some people were outraged that Josh didn't serve more time in jail and other people were surprised that the NFL would allow him to return to the field at all, Stacey Jackson, the mother of Jerry Brown, Jr., announced that she was &quot;very happy Josh has been reinstated with the Dallas Cowboys!&quot;&#160; Shortly after the accident, Jackson publicly stated that she had forgiven Josh and that she hoped others, including the Dallas Cowboys would do the same.&#160; At Josh's sentencing, she asked the court for leniency saying, Josh is &quot;still responsible, but you can't go on in life holding a grudge.&#160; We all make mistakes.&quot; &#160;When the news of his reinstatement was made public, she affirmed her forgiveness and her hope that Josh would be given the opportunity to rebuild his life. &quot;My beautiful son&quot;, she said, &quot;is in Heaven now, and Josh has to be given a chance to live his life and do something for someone else! We all make mistakes, and we all have an entrance date and an exit day. Although I miss Jerry every day, I know he would be very happy that Josh has another chance to play football!&quot; &#160;</p><p><strong>Discussion Questions</strong></p><ul><li>Do you think the NFL should have reinstated Josh Brent?</li><li>How do you think you would have reacted if you had been Stacey Jackson?</li><li>According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, over 300,000 people drive drunk each day.&#160;To combat this problem, some people are proposing blood alcohol concentration (BAC) testers be added to all automobiles.&#160; How would you feel about having to pass a BAC test each time you needed to start your car?&#160; What arguments could you make for and against this requirement?</li></ul><p><strong>Lectionary 24</strong></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">Genesis 50&#58;15-21</a></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">Romans 14&#58;1-12</a></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">Matthew 18&#58;21-35</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 C 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><img alt="shutterstock_205370161edit.jpg" src="" style="margin&#58;5px;" /></p><p>When Peter asks, “Lord, . . . how often should I forgive.<span>&#160; </span>As many as seven times?” (Mt 18&#58;21)<span>&#160; </span>It appears that Peter is hoping Jesus will give him a clear, definitive answer.<span>&#160; </span>It appears that he is hoping Jesus will say something like “You must forgive offenses one to six, but once you reach offense number seven, then withholding forgiveness is perfectly acceptable.”<span>&#160;&#160; </span>Instead of providing a simplistic black and white answer, Jesus responds &quot;seventy-seven times&quot; and offers Peter a parable that demonstrates God’s generous forgiveness, the difficulty we have in extending forgiveness to others and the call we have to model God's forgiveness in our relationships with others.</p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>As the parable begins, we see a king ready to settle his accounts.<span>&#160; </span>We see a slave facing a debt that is impossibly large and we see a king ready to take the steps necessary to secure repayment.<span>&#160; </span>The order is given for the slave, his family and all his possessions be sold, but then something remarkable happens.<span>&#160; </span>The slave asks for patience and mercy and out of pity, the king forgives the debt.<span>&#160; </span>While the king doesn't specifically say to the slave, 'Go and do likewise', it is clear that the king expects his generous forgiveness to be reflected in the life of his servant.<span>&#160; </span>Shortly after receiving this generous act of forgiveness, however, the slave finds himself on the other side of the equation.<span>&#160; </span>A debt is owed to him, mercy is requested, but unlike the king, this slave refuses to extend forgiveness.<span>&#160; </span>When the king finds out, he is furious.<span>&#160; </span>How could one receive mercy and forgiveness and not share mercy and forgiveness with others?<span>&#160; </span><span>&#160;</span></span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>We too have received a generous gift of forgiveness from our King.<span>&#160; </span>In the waters of baptism, we are washed in the generous promise that thanks to Jesus' death and resurrection our debt of sin is paid. <span>&#160;</span>Like the slave, the question for us is &quot;How will we respond to this generous gift?&quot;<span>&#160; </span>Will we receive God's gift of forgiveness, yet refuse to share it or will we receive God's gift of forgiveness and build on that gift to extend God's forgiveness generously and freely to those around us?<span>&#160;&#160;&#160; </span><span>&#160;</span><span>&#160;</span><span>&#160;</span></span></p> <p><strong>Discussion Questions</strong></p><ul><li>What would the world be like if there was a law that said you only had to forgive the same person seven times in a lifetime?</li><li>Think of the last time someone forgave you.&#160; How did it make you feel to be forgiven? &#160;What difference did that forgiveness make in your life?</li><li>What are ways that you can draw on the strength of God's forgiveness to help you forgive others?</li></ul><p><strong>Activity Suggestions</strong></p><ul><li>Using the Confession and Forgiveness in the ELW (pg. 98) as a model, work as a group to write a prayer of confession that relates specifically to your life.&#160; Ask if your prayer can be used in Sunday worship or just use it in a service with your group.</li><li>Try adding the phrase &quot;I forgive you&quot; to your life.&#160; When someone says, &quot;I'm sorry.&quot;&#160; Reply &quot;I forgive you&quot; instead of saying &quot;Ok&quot; or &quot;Thanks&quot;.&#160; Pay attention and see how it feels to actually say &quot;I forgive you&quot; to another person</li></ul><p><strong>Closing Prayer</strong></p><p>Merciful God, in the waters of baptism, you connect us to the promise of forgiveness and new life.&#160; Help us receive your forgiveness in our lives and to know the good news that your ability to forgive is greater than our ability to sin.&#160; Inspire us to offer mercy and forgiveness to the people in our lives.&#160; Amen.<br><strong></strong></p></div>09/09/2014 September 7, 2014--The Key to ForgivenessJohn Hougen, Elkins Park, PA<div class="ExternalClass5CE0E4251AF3490EBAA393C08B3076AA"><p>​</p><h2>Warm-up Question</h2><p>As you begin to think about forgiving and receiving forgiveness, can you name three things people do or say that make forgiveness more difficult and three things people do or say that make forgiveness more likely?</p><p><br><span style="font-size&#58;10.5pt;color&#58;#222222;font-family&#58;georgia;"></span> </p><h2>The Key to Forgiveness<br></h2> <p>Has a friend betrayed or disappointed you? Have you said or done something that offended someone close to you? Has there been conflict in your family, school, workplace, congregation or neighborhood? </p><p><img src="" alt="reconciliationedit.jpg" style="margin&#58;5px;vertical-align&#58;text-bottom;" />If you answered “no” to all these questions, then you are not paying attention. For, disruptions in relationships (some minor, some major) are inevitable and frequent. Opportunities to forgive and be forgiven are within our reach on a daily basis. Yet, forgiveness remains one of the most difficult and elusive of human interactions. </p><p>Family members can go decades without speaking. Hurt feelings can end valued friendships. The inability to forgive oneself or accept God’s forgiveness can cause persistent guilt or shame which are root causes of anxiety, anger, and depression, all of which can lead to additional conflict with others. Cycles of violence between ethnic groups and nations seem never-ending, and millions have died in wars because the war before solved nothing. Think about the headlines&#58;&#160; Gaza, Ukraine, ISIS, Afghanistan.</p><p>The stakes are high for ourselves, for those around us, and for the survival of humanity&#58; it is urgent that we (as individuals, families, friends, colleagues, congregations, communities, and nations) get better at giving and receiving forgiveness.&#160;&#160; </p> <h2>Discussion Questions</h2><ul><span style="font-family&#58;&quot;segoe ui&quot;,&quot;segoe&quot;,tahoma,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;"><li>Do you agree that forgiveness is as important and urgent as the above paragraphs suggest? Why or why not?</li><li>If anyone is familiar with efforts to bring about forgiveness among Israelis and Palestinians, or black and white citizens of South Africa, or immigrants and native born citizens in the USA (or other conflicts at home or abroad), let them inform the rest of the group. Then, discuss to what degree those efforts have been successful.&#160; </li><li>If you trust your discussion group with the information, give an example from your own life of when you have given or received forgiveness; or share the story of an unresolved conflict, seeking the group's advice about what you might do to move toward ending the conflict through forgiveness.&#160; </li></span></ul><p><br></p><h2> Lectionary 23</h2><p><a href="http&#58;//">Ezekiel 33&#58;7-11</a></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">Romans 13&#58;8-14</a></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">Matthew 18&#58;15-20&#160;</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 C 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><h2>Gospel Reflection</h2><p style="text-align&#58;justify;"><span style="font-family&#58;&quot;segoe ui&quot;,&quot;segoe&quot;,tahoma,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;">To this day, the steps found in Matthew 18&#58; 15 – 17 are the basis for resolving conflicts in Christian congregations. (For example, see the ELCA's Model Constitution for Congregations, Chapter 15&#58; &quot;Discipline of Members and Adjudication,&quot; <a href="http&#58;//">http&#58;//</a>.) While each step in the process provides the opportunity for resolution, if it does not occur, the final step is for the offending party to be removed from the congregation. Verse 17 indicates how deep such divisions become&#58; &quot;Let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.&quot; These words reflect the feelings of a faction within the early church that despised Gentiles and tax collectors, and thought they should be avoided like the plague. </span></p><p style="text-align&#58;justify;"><span style="font-family&#58;&quot;segoe ui&quot;,&quot;segoe&quot;,tahoma,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;">This is not what God wants. Jesus, the surest interpreter of God's will, does not avoid Gentiles. (Gentiles are non-Jews, like most of us reading this blog). Jesus' last words to his disciples, according to the Gospel of Matthew, are that they should &quot;make disciples of all nations&quot; (Jews <span style="text-decoration&#58;underline;">and</span> Gentiles). The Book of Acts records how Christianity grew beyond its Jewish roots to include Gentiles. (See especially Acts 9&#58; 15 and 10&#58; 34 – 48.) </span></p><p style="text-align&#58;justify;">And, Jesus befriended tax collectors, most notably Matthew and Zacchaeus. Jesus called Matthew to be part of his inner circle (Matthew 9&#58; 9 – 13) and singles Zacchaeus out of a crowd, inviting himself to his house for dinner (Luke 19&#58; 1- 10). Followers of Jesus will not want to treat anyone as verse 17 suggests. Instead, we will do our best to resolve conflict by giving and receiving forgiveness. </p><p style="text-align&#58;justify;"><span style="font-family&#58;&quot;segoe ui&quot;,&quot;segoe&quot;,tahoma,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;">The <strong>key to forgiveness</strong> is found in verse 20. There Jesus says, &quot;Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.&quot; </span></p><p style="text-align&#58;justify;"><span style="font-family&#58;&quot;segoe ui&quot;,&quot;segoe&quot;,tahoma,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;">In the Bible, names are very important, often revealing the connection of the name's bearer to God's work in the world. (&quot;Jesus&quot; literally means &quot;God saves / delivers.&quot;) To gather <em>in the name of Jesus</em> means to be bound to Jesus in love, and committed to speak and act as Jesus <em>the deliverer</em> would speak and act. </span></p><p style="text-align&#58;justify;"><span style="font-family&#58;&quot;segoe ui&quot;,&quot;segoe&quot;,tahoma,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;">&quot;Where two or three are gathered in my name&quot; is followed by &quot;I am there among them.&quot; Jesus asserts that he is present when two or three (or more) are gathered in his name. If the accuser and accused in verse 15 gather in the name of Jesus, or the small group in verse 16, or the larger group in verse 17, then Jesus will be present and the gathering (with Jesus there to guide and inspire) will find a way into forgiveness, to <em>deliver</em> all from whatever has divided them. </span></p><p style="text-align&#58;justify;"><span style="font-family&#58;&quot;segoe ui&quot;,&quot;segoe&quot;,tahoma,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;">The other three readings assigned today teach us <em>how</em> to gather in the name of Jesus. Ezekiel 33&#58; <span style="text-decoration&#58;underline;">trust </span>that God wants us to reach out to sinners (i.e. to all at fault in conflicts). Psalm 119&#58; <span style="text-decoration&#58;underline;">strive</span> to learn and follow God's commandments. Romans 13&#58; <span style="text-decoration&#58;underline;">love</span> our neighbors as ourselves. Trusting our calling to resolve conflict, striving to follow God's will, and doing all we do in love bring us closer to unity with Christ, in whom and through whom we are empowered to give and receive forgiveness.&#160;&#160; </span></p><p style="text-align&#58;justify;"><br><span style="font-family&#58;georgia;"></span></p><h2>Discussion Questions</h2> <ul><li><p>Matthew 18&#58; 17 suggests that sometimes conflicts are impossible to resolve and the best possible outcome is for those in conflict to avoid one another. Matthew 18&#58;21 -22 (look it up!) teaches that we should keep forgiving indefinitely. Which teaching is more compelling? Which is most practical? Which is consistent with what you know about Jesus? </p></li></ul><ul><li><p>What are the signs that a conflict has been truly resolved and forgiveness has been genuinely given and received?</p></li></ul><ul><li><p>If you have felt the presence of Jesus among you when gathered in his name to worship or serve, describe those feelings. If you have not felt Jesus’ presence, do you think it is possible that, in spite of your lack of awareness, Jesus might have been present anyway, as promised in Matthew 18&#58; 20?&#160; </p></li></ul> <p>&#160;</p> <h2>Activity Suggestions</h2><p>&#160;Role play resolving a conflict following the steps outlined in today’s gospel. One person can be the “offender.” Another can be the one offended who takes the first step toward reconciliation. Others can be brought in to help and each should be assigned a point of view based on a Bible passage. (Use the passages from Ezekiel, Psalm 119, and Romans 13, plus other texts from Matthew 18&#58; verses 10 – 14; 21 – 22; and 23 - 35.) The role play should be done twice&#58; once with forgiveness obtained, and once with the exclusion of the guilty party. After role playing, debrief. What advice would you give to someone who wants to intervene in a conflict and help move it toward resolution? Is your advice Biblically based or does it come from some other source of wisdom? </p><h2><span style="font-size&#58;17.3333px;font-family&#58;&quot;segoe ui&quot;,&quot;segoe&quot;,tahoma,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;">Closing Prayer</span></h2><p>Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.</p><span style="font-size&#58;10.5pt;color&#58;#222222;font-family&#58;georgia;"></span><p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom&#58;7.5pt;line-height&#58;15pt;vertical-align&#58;top;"><span style="font-size&#58;10.5pt;font-family&#58;verdana;color&#58;#222222;"><br></span><a href="http&#58;//"><span style="font-size&#58;10.5pt;font-family&#58;verdana;"></span></a><span style="font-size&#58;10.5pt;font-family&#58;verdana;color&#58;#222222;"></span></p> <p><br></p></div>08/19/2014Faith Lens on Summer Hiatusfaith lens<div class="ExternalClassB1A52531040744FBA0286A84A523B9A1"><p>​</p><h2>Don't despair!</h2><h2>Faith Lens is just taking a summer hiatus.&#160; It will be back in the fall.</h2><p>&#160;</p><h3><a href="http&#58;//" data-mce-href="http&#58;//"><img class="alignleft wp-image-5052" alt="shutterstock_124884124edit" src="http&#58;//" data-mce-src="http&#58;//" data-mce-style="margin&#58; 5px;" style="margin&#58;5px;width&#58;140px;" /></a>The next posting will be on September 2 for the gospel lesson which accompanies the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (September 7).</h3><p>&#160;</p><p>&#160;</p><p>&#160;</p><p>&#160;</p><h3>When Faith Lens returns it will be right here&#58;&#160; <a href="http&#58;//" data-mce-href="http&#58;//"> </a></h3></div>06/09/2014Just BreatheContributed by Aaron Matson, Waterton, SD<div class="ExternalClass0D324F472DD24D05B65FEE41A5D8590F"><h3>Warm-up Question</h3><p>Have you ever had the wind knocked out of you (literally or figuratively) or felt like you could not breathe?</p><h3>Just Breathe</h3><p><img src="" alt="shutterstock_151136963edit.jpg" style="margin&#58;5px;width&#58;175px;height&#58;263px;" /><br></p><p>I suffered from asthma through childhood. While my case was not as severe as some others, there were times when I could not breathe, and needed the help of an inhaler. A few other times, in the course of playing sports with my friends, I had the wind knocked out of me through some extreme contact with someone or something (like the ground). From these experiences, I can tell you that anytime you cannot breathe, it is a scary experience. Breathing is just one of those things we take for granted and do without thinking.&#160; When we cannot do this thing which we normally do naturally and&#160; is so essential for life it is&#160; distressing indeed.</p><p>While not everyone has had the wind knocked out of them, or been unable to breathe due to asthma, everyone, at some point of their life will have the breath knocked out of them emotionally or spiritually. Everyone will be faced with a moment of crisis or loss in their life that takes the wind right out of them – the loss of a loved one, the end of a close relationship, a broken heart, not getting that expected job or scholarship that your heart was set on. In those times, it is common for those trying to comfort us to say, “Relax, and just breathe.”</p><p>&#160;</p><h3>Discussion Questions</h3><p>When&#160; have you had the breath knocked out of you emotionally or spiritually? If you haven’t experienced a time like this yet, has someone you know had those times? How have others supported you or how have you helped others to “breathe?”</p><h3>Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, June 8, 2014 (Day of Pentecost)</h3><p><a data-mce-href="http&#58;//" href="http&#58;//">Acts 2&#58;1-21</a><br data-mce-bogus="1"></p><p><a data-mce-href="http&#58;//" href="http&#58;//">1 Corinthians 12&#58;3b-13</a><br data-mce-bogus="1"></p><p><a data-mce-href="http&#58;//" href="http&#58;//">John 20&#58;19-23</a><br data-mce-bogus="1"></p><p>(Text links are to <a data-mce-href="http&#58;//" 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 C at <a data-mce-href="http&#58;//" href="http&#58;//">Lectionary Readings</a>.)</p><p>For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic <a data-mce-href="http&#58;//" href="http&#58;//">Agnus Day.</a><br data-mce-bogus="1"></p><p>&#160;</p><h3>Gospel Reflection</h3><p>In the gospel reading from John 20, we see Jesus’ first disciples have had the wind knocked out of them. They have been through Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion, and even though Easter had just happened, and a couple of them had witnessed the empty tomb, they were hiding behind locked doors out of fear – and I imagine some continuing shock and grief. Into this scene, all of a sudden, Jesus appears. To these, fearful, lifeless, and breathless disciples, Jesus gives peace, joy, and a mission (“As the father sent me, so I send you.” 20&#58;21).</p><p>Lastly, and most important, Jesus gives the disciples his breath, and in that breath he gives them the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ breathing on the disciples is reminiscent of how God breathed the breath of life into the nostrils of the first man in Genesis 2. Just as God’s breath gave life to man in Genesis, Jesus’ breath of the Holy Spirit gave the lifeless and breathless disciples new life.&#160; That same breath of Holy Spirit given to the first disciples by the resurrected Jesus was also given to each of us in our baptism. In those times where we feel the wind, or breath, has been knocked out of us, we can draw peace and strength from the breath of life give to us in the Holy Spirit. We can “just breathe,” knowing that it is not up to us to breathe on our own – but God gives us the Holy Spirit to comfort us and help us, and in the words of the apostle Paul in Romans 8, intercede for us, “with sighs too deep for words.”</p><h3>Discussion Questions</h3><p>Have you ever experienced a time where you have needed some help “breathing” and felt the breath of the Holy Spirit help and comfort you?</p><h3>Activity Suggestions</h3><p>This passage from John is called “John’s Pentecost story.” Compare this passage from John with the more famous Pentecost story from Acts 2. What are the similarities and differences between the two?</p><h3>Closing Prayer</h3><p>Life-giving God, breathe into us again that holy and life-giving spirit. In those times when we cannot breathe, help us to feel your Holy Spirit breathe new life into us again. Help us to share the good news of the risen Jesus with others, so that they may know the peace of this Spirit, and the breath of new life you have given us. Amen.</p></div>06/06/2014