Faith Lens 18, 2015, Who Do You Hang With?Seth Moland-Kovash, Palatine, IL<div class="ExternalClassE47EB0B066BC4A49B0CCA93D840060FC"><div><p>​</p><p><strong>Warm-up Question</strong><br><br> If you had the opportunity to have lunch with any living person on Earth, who would it be?<br><br><strong>Who Do You Hang With?</strong><br><br> In a highly-publicized visit (to understate the case) Pope Francis recently completed a visit to the United States. He met with the President, he addressed a joint session of Congress (the first Pope in history to do this), he held a gathering of families in Philadelphia, he addressed the United Nations, and he met with countless church and national leaders. He had a very tight schedule. Following his historic address to Congress, he had been invited to lunch with Congressional leaders. He turned down that invitation to eat at a Catholic Charities’ center that serves the homeless in Washington, DC <a href="http&#58;//">instead</a>. <br><img src="" alt="IMG_5500edit.jpg" style="margin&#58;5px;" /><br> There were reports that, originally, the organization had wanted to invite major donors to the luncheon to meet the Pope. This is not a bad idea. It’s something groups do a lot – thank people who have given generously over the years. Instead, a few such dignitaries were there, but most of the crowd were the homeless who eat at this center on a regular basis. And the Pope met with them, sat with them, and ate with them<br>&#160;<br><strong>Discussion Questions</strong><br></p><ul><li>Why do you think the Pope (and those who planned his visit) chose to eat at this center rather than with national or church leaders?</li><li class="MsoNormal">What does it say about priorities of all those involved?<br></li></ul><p><strong>Lectionary 29 / Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost</strong><br><br><a href="http&#58;//">Isaiah 53&#58;4-12</a><br><a href="http&#58;//">Hebrews 5&#58;1-10</a><br><a href="http&#58;//">Mark 10&#58;35-45</a><br><br>(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><br><br>For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic <a href="http&#58;//">Agnus Day.</a><br><br><strong>Gospel Reflection</strong> <br></p> <p class="MsoNormal">We all have to make choices every day about who is important. We have to choose who is worth our time and our attention. Do we talk to this friend or that friend? Do we do homework for that class or this class? Do we join this team or that club? We make choices based on our own values, based on what seems important to us and also, what seems fun to us. <br></p><p>James and John wanted to feel important. They wanted Jesus to say they were important. They wanted Jesus to promise they would get seats of honor at any banquet table Jesus was sitting at. Jesus, as he so often does, flipped the table on them. He flipped what it means to be important in his kingdom. It’s not about having friends in high places. It’s about serving anyone.<br><br><strong>Discussion Questions</strong><br></p><ul><li>Who can you serve in your life? How can you serve them?</li><li class="MsoNormal">What kind of attitude does Jesus want his followers to have?<br></li></ul><p><strong>Activity Suggestions</strong><br></p> <p class="MsoNormal">Serve together with your youth group is some way that serves the homeless or those in poverty in your community. It might be a homeless shelter, a food pantry, etc. Whatever it is – serve together.</p><p><strong>Closing Prayer</strong></p> <p class="MsoNormal">Good and gracious God, we thank you for the example that you give us in Jesus’ life and teachings. Help us to serve others first. Amen.</p><p><br><strong></strong></p></div></div>10/13/2015October 11, 2016, If I Were Rich...Sylvia Alloway, Granada Hills, CA<div class="ExternalClass4AC3F38A31A84B35808FFF0FAB427C6E"><p>​</p><p><strong>Warm-up Question</strong> <br></p>Do you ever dream about being rich? If you were rich what would you do?<br><br><p><strong>If I Were Rich...<br></strong></p> <p class="MsoNormal">The Monaco Yacht Show features the Silver Fast – In case you don’t know what to do with your money. <br></p><p class="MsoNormal">Every September, yacht manufacturers sail their newest and best “super yachts” to Port Hercules in the principality of Monaco for the annual yacht show. Millionaires are not invited. To afford the craft displayed here one must be a billionaire several times over. </p><p class="MsoNormal"><img src="" alt="shutterstock_148304000-2edi.jpg" style="margin&#58;5px;" /><br></p><p class="MsoNormal">After paying an admission of £150 (about $225), patrons are invited to examine over 120 superyachts and megayachts. <br></p><p class="MsoNormal">The star of this year’s show is the Silver Fast, constructed by Silveryachts of Perth, Australia. According to the description released by the company, this vessel is 77 meters (252.6ft) with a top speed of 27 knots (about 30 mph), and has “striking new all dark silver paint.” The price is not mentioned, but as the saying goes, “If you have to ask you can’t afford it.” <br></p><p>Yachts like the Silver Fast are meant to allow the owner and guests to explore the world in any way they want without sacrificing comfort or being tied to a cruise ship’s itinerary. While most of us will never experience such luxury, it is fun to imagine what a cruise on the Silver Fast would be like. <br></p><p><strong>Discussion Questions </strong></p><ul><li>Do you receive an allowance or income from a job?</li><li class="MsoNormal">On what do you spend most of your money? If you save it, for what are you saving?</li><li class="MsoNormal">Individually list the top five most important things in your life. </li><li class="MsoNormal">Would your priorities change if you were rich? If so, in what way?<br><strong></strong></li></ul><p><strong>Lectionary 28/Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost</strong></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">Amos 5&#58;6-7, 10-15</a></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">Hebrews 4&#58;12-16</a></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">Mark 10&#58;17-31</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> <br></p><p><strong>Gospel Reflection</strong> <br></p><p>People often quote St. Paul as saying &quot;Money is the root of all evil,&quot; but those aren't quite Paul's words. What he actually said was &quot;The <em>love</em> of money is the root of all evil&quot; (1 Timothy 6&#58;10). This brings to mind a stingy miser, or a covetous schemer. <br></p><p>The rich man of today's Gospel was not either of these. He was not an evil person by anyone's standards. While he was probably exaggerating when he claimed to have kept all the commandments from his youth, he truly was seeking eternal life from Jesus. Somehow he knew that keeping the commandments wasn't enough.</p><p>In fact, his sincerity impressed Jesus. We read that he loved the man. However he saw one obstacle to this seeker's goal. Riches. Would this fellow give up that beautiful embroidered coat, those shining leather sandals, that jingling purse to serve God? So Jesus asked, and was no doubt saddened by the answer – the man turned away. He loved his wealth more than the promise of eternal life. <br></p><p>When we think of obstacles to eternal life, we might picture terrible sins, slavery to addictions, or ruthless tactics to gain success. But Jesus says the greatest obstacle can be the very thing we consider the greatest blessing – wealth. Dependence on money for meaning in our lives can block us off from Christ's kingdom more effectively than the ugliest sins. <br></p><p>Some commentators suggest that Jesus' teaching about the camel and the needle's eye refers to a gate into the city of Jerusalem called &quot;the needle's eye.&quot; The gate was so narrow that if merchants wanted to enter they first had to unload all the goods off their camels. <br></p><p>What &quot;goods&quot; are blocking our way to God's Kingdom? How can we &quot;unload&quot; them?</p><p><strong>Discussion Questions</strong><br></p><ul><li>Even people who aren’t rich can put “stuff” between themselves and God. Friends, games, social media and other things can dull our spiritual senses and crowd God out of our lives. How can we discover what is keeping us from full commitment to Christ?</li><li class="MsoNormal">Give some examples of things that can replace God in our lives. How can we overcome these obstacles?</li><li class="MsoNormal">Does God want everyone to give away all they have? Why or why not?</li></ul><p><strong>Activity Suggestions</strong> <br></p> <p class="MsoNormal">Go back to the lists students&#160; made of the top five most important&#160;things in their lives.&#160; Ask students to share their answers and from them compile a list of the five things mentioned most. Could any of these things interfere with our relationship to Christ? How? Must we give these things up completely, or can they still have a place in our lives?</p><p><strong>Closing Prayer</strong></p><p>&#160;Father God, you have given us objects and activities that give us pleasure. We thank you for all that we have and ask you to keep us alert to anything that would crowd out the Lord as the center of our lives. Give us wisdom to use all you have given us for your glory. &#160;Amen.</p></div>10/06/2015October 4, 2015, Marriage and the GospelBrian Hiortdahl<div class="ExternalClass97D1CA06D596479D85CC5A5F936536F9"><p>​</p><p><strong>WARNING!</strong></p><p>This week's <em>Faith Lens</em> examines a sensitive issue.&#160; Before having a group discussion, please review the section &quot;Productive Discussion in a Spirit of Mutual Respect&quot; on pages 5-6 of the ELCA study Journey Together Faithfully, Part 2&#58; <br></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">http&#58;//</a></p><p>As a group, agree to the &quot;list of behaviors&quot; and share a prayer before beginning.</p><p><img alt="shutterstock_174165527edit.jpg" src="" style="margin&#58;5px;" /><br><strong></strong></p><p><strong>Warm-up Question</strong></p><p>Do you want to be married someday?<span>&#160; </span>Why or why not?</p><span style="font-size&#58;12pt;font-family&#58;&quot;book antiqua&quot;;"></span><p><strong>Marriage and the Gospel<br></strong></p><p>This past June, the Supreme Court of the United States made a landmark and controversial decision to extend the legal right of marriage to same-sex couples.&#160; <a href="http&#58;//">The 5-4 decision, accompanied by strong dissent, sparked passionate reaction nationwide from objectors and supporters alike.</a>&#160; A county clerk in Kentucky has become a celebrity after being arrested for civil disobedience, refusing to comply with the new law on religious grounds, while other people of faith joyfully embrace the new freedom.&#160; At the heart of the issue is the definition of marriage, a question not directly addressed by the U.S. Constitution. <br></p><p><strong>Discussion Questions</strong></p><ul><li>Why do you think that the issue of same-sex marriage inspires such passionate responses in people?</li><li>What is your reaction to this news?&#160; Why do you feel the way you do?</li><li>Should Christian churches perform marriages for same-sex couples?&#160; Why or why not?&#160; <em>(On this question, see also the Suggested Activity section below.)</em></li></ul><p><strong>Lectionary 27/Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost<br></strong></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">Genesis 2&#58;18-24</a></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">Hebrews 1&#58;1-4, 2&#58;5-12</a></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">Mark 10&#58;2-16</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>Those on both sides of the issue can find in this week's gospel lesson support for their position.&#160; Opponents of same-sex marriage point to Jesus' citation of Genesis, which clearly, explicitly identifies the conjugal union of male and female as God's design.&#160; Proponents see Jesus consistently acting as a champion of those denied rights, power, and dignity in a patriarchal context where men had rights that women did not have (including the right to initiate divorce) and as a defender of committed, loving union.&#160; Jesus does not specifically address the possibility of same-sex marriage; his silence on a question he was not asked is interpreted very differently by his present-day followers.&#160;&#160;&#160; </p><p>Almost all of us who read the Bible are at least somewhat guilty of looking for it to support what we already believe rather than allowing it to challenge our opinions and to reshape the way we think.&#160; The latter is what Jesus is trying to accomplish with both the Pharisees and his disciples.&#160; The Pharisees ask, &quot;Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?<em>&quot; </em>Jesus moves the conversation from the legality of divorce to God's intention for marriage—from a legal loophole to a sacred covenant.&#160; He next chastises his disciples for trying to separate him from children, &quot;for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.&quot;<em>&#160; </em>He elevates the value of children for his disciples in the same way he elevates the value of women for the male Pharisees (and later the disciples).&#160; In both cases, he shifts the focus from separating people toward bringing them together. <br></p><p>Beneath all this is Mark's broader story.&#160; The Pharisees are testing Jesus because they are done with him.&#160; Since marital breakdown was the undoing of John the Baptist (Mk 6&#58;17-18), maybe the issue will work with Jesus too.&#160; They are really looking for a way to <em>write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce</em> him!&#160; Their strategy backfires.&#160; Their divorce from Jesus—the cross—is transformed into the altar where the union of God and humanity is saved and secured forever.</p><p><strong>Discussion Questions</strong></p><ul><li>What does this mean for people who disagree about the issue of same-sex marriage?&#160; Which do you think is more important to God&#58;&#160; being right or maintaining relationship?&#160; Does that depend on the issue in question?</li><li>Can you see faithfulness in the interpretation of those with whom you disagree?&#160; What have they taught you?</li><li>What separates us from God and one another?&#160; What can be done about it?</li></ul><p><strong>Activity Suggestions</strong></p><ul><li>In your group, stage a respectful debate.&#160; (Invite members of the congregation council to attend, listen without speaking, and take notes.)&#160; First, without anyone saying anything about the issue, divide the room into two sides&#58;&#160; yes and no.&#160; Each person selects a side based on their answer to the question&#58;&#160; <em>Should Christian churches perform marriages for same-sex couples?</em>&#160; Before anyone speaks, reverse the room.&#160; Those who believe no&#58;&#160; argue for yes.&#160; Those who believe yes&#58;&#160; argue for no.&#160; After the debate, discuss&#58;&#160; what did you appreciate about and learn from the perspective of the other side?</li><li>Choose one item from the list of responses in your group to the question about what separates us from God and one another.&#160; Plan one activity your group will lead to address this item in a positive way in your setting.</li></ul><p><strong>Closing Prayer</strong></p> <p>God our creator, our experience and understanding of you is limited and varies widely.&#160; Draw and hold us together.&#160; Teach us how to appreciate one another’s perspectives without compromising our convictions.&#160; Move us from separation to healthy relationship with you and one another in the name and Spirit of the one who loves, challenges, restores, blesses, and unites us all, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.&#160; Amen</p><p><br><strong></strong></p></div>09/29/2015September 27, 2015--A Matter of FaithScott Mims, Virginia Beach, Virginia<div class="ExternalClass8B2A7A5826D343CCA925F394CE89D98B"><p>​</p><p><strong>Warm-up Question</strong></p><ul><li>Do you have any personal heroes?&#160; Any people in your life who have encouraged, inspired, or set an example you'd like to follow?&#160; If so, who are they and why do you look up to them?</li><li>Have you ever helped to teach, guide, mentor, or encourage someone else?&#160; What did you learn from the experience?</li><li>If you could snap your fingers and know that you couldn't fail, what is one thing that you would do?</li></ul><p><strong>A Matter of Faith<br></strong></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span style="font-size&#58;12pt;line-height&#58;115%;font-family&#58;&quot;times new roman&quot;;">[Note&#58; As I write this, the case of Kim Davis, County Clerk for Rowan County, Kentucky, is very much in the news.<span>&#160; </span>My intent is NOT to generate discussion around the appropriateness of same-sex marriage, but rather a conversation about how we, as Christians, can address together difficult and divisive topics.<span>&#160; </span>You may find it appropriate to choose a different example for your own setting.]</span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><img src="" alt="shutterstock_226989829edit.jpg" style="margin&#58;5px;" /><br><span style="font-size&#58;12pt;line-height&#58;115%;font-family&#58;&quot;times new roman&quot;;"></span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span style="font-size&#58;12pt;line-height&#58;115%;font-family&#58;&quot;times new roman&quot;;">Kim Davis, County Clerk for Rowan County, Kentucky has been very much in the news lately for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples despite a U.S. Supreme Court decision in June that legalized gay marriage.<span>&#160; </span>Citing her Christian faith as the reason for being unable to comply with a court order to begin issuing such licenses, Davis recently spent five days in jail.&#160; She has been released under an arrangement which allows her deputies to issue marriage licenses which do not bear her signature.<br></span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span style="font-size&#58;12pt;line-height&#58;115%;font-family&#58;&quot;times new roman&quot;;">Though the case of Kim Davis has ignited a national furor, drawing people and groups from all sides of the debate on same-sex marriage, she is not the only county clerk in Kentucky having to weigh their personal convictions against the requirements of the law.<span>&#160; </span>Some have joined Davis in refusing to issue marriage licenses.<span>&#160; </span>Others have reached different conclusions.<span>&#160; </span>You can read more about the tension they face here&#58; </span><a href="http&#58;//;fullscreen=true%23image=1.%20"><span style="font-size&#58;10pt;line-height&#58;115%;font-family&#58;&quot;segoe ui&quot;;">http&#58;//;fullscreen=true#image=1.</span></a><span style="font-size&#58;12pt;line-height&#58;115%;font-family&#58;&quot;times new roman&quot;;"> </span></p><p><strong>Discussion Questions</strong></p><p><strong>Discussion Questions</strong></p><ul><li>Have you ever had to defend or &quot;make a stand&quot; on what you believe?</li><li>Do you believe that Christians can disagree, even on &quot;big&quot; issues, and still consider each other legitimate followers of Jesus?&#160; Why or why not?&#160; Are there any issues that you believe we must agree on?</li><li>Try seeing things from a different viewpoint&#58;&#160; </li><ul><li>For instance, if you agree with the position that Kim Davis has taken, how have her actions and the subsequent responses from other groups been a stumbling block for some people when it comes to Christianity and following Jesus? </li><li>&#160;If you don't agree with Davis' position, how has her willingness to go to jail for what she believes been a witness to faith?</li></ul><li>Is there any situation or matter of faith that <em>you</em> would go to jail for?&#160; How about die for?</li></ul><p><strong>Lectionary 26/Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost</strong> <br></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">Numbers 11&#58;4-6, 10-16, 24-29</a></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">James 5&#58;13-20</a></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">Mark 9&#58;38-50</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> <br></p><p><strong>Gospel Reflection</strong> <br></p><p><em>On the Road with Jesus</em></p><p>We are on the road again with Jesus this week as he and his disciples travel through Galilee.&#160; Jesus is trying to keep his presence a secret, for his focus at this point is on teaching his disciples. Yet Galilee is more than just a place.&#160; In Mark's gospel especially, Galilee is symbolic of our home turf – the everyday places in which we, as disciples, live and work and play.&#160; Thus, Jesus' teaching today is not so much for the world at large, but for those who seek to follow him.</p><p><em>Whoever is Not Against Us</em></p><p>And what is it that Jesus teaches?&#160; In part, today's gospel is a collection of Jesus' sayings that have been woven together around a chain of word associations.&#160; For example, having just argued with one another of who is the greatest (9&#58;33 – 37), the disciples are confronted once more with what it means to welcome Jesus.&#160; This time, the &quot;welcome&quot; that is offered has to do with using Jesus' name to cast out evil spirits.&#160; The irony here is that the disciples themselves had recently failed at such an attempt (9&#58;17 – 18), yet want to stop this un-named exorcist because &quot;he was not following us.&quot;&#160; That is, he was not following in the disciples' footsteps.&#160; Of course, even in the church today it is easy to get hung up on thinking that Jesus somehow belongs to <em>us</em> – that the ways in which we believe and do things are the only right way.&#160; Yet Jesus forbids them to interfere.&#160; Aside from using his name to work deeds of power, if even those who offer the smallest gesture of hospitality to a disciple won't miss out on the reward, then perhaps the family of Christ is much broader than we often like think.</p><p><em>Stumbling Blocks, Millstones &amp; One-Eyed Christians</em></p><p>Is sin a serious matter?&#160; Yes, and a deadly one at that!&#160; &quot;Stumbling&quot; is the connecting idea in this section, as Jesus addresses both the things that we might do to cause others to sin and the things in our own lives that lead us astray.&#160; The &quot;little ones&quot; here are not just children, but anyone who is &quot;young&quot; in their Christian faith.&#160; Quite simply, we are to be careful in our actions and words lest we put up obstacles to people believing in and following Jesus.&#160; Jesus' image of being tossed into the sea while chained to a giant millstone is over the top, of course, but it makes the point in no uncertain terms, as do the images that follow.</p><p>Are there things in your own life – perhaps even normally &quot;good&quot; things – that cause you to sin?&#160; Are there attitudes, thoughts, or habits that are leading you away from God?&#160; Again, like the millstone image above, the language of chopping off hands, cutting off feet, and plucking out eyes is not meant to be taken literally.&#160; However, it is meant to be taken seriously.&#160; The stakes are high, and living as God's people calls us into a different way of life.&#160; Discipleship – following Jesus – at times demands the sacrifices of repentance and self-discipline.</p><p><em>Low Salt, No Salt</em></p><p>The image of fire (in this case, the fires of hell) provides the final connection in this week's gospel.&#160; Here, Jesus encourages us to live as &quot;salty&quot; Christians.&#160; What does it mean to be &quot;salted with fire?&quot;&#160; In the sacrificial system of Jesus' day, salt was commonly offered as part of worship, so early on someone wrote in the margin of Mark 9&#58;49 a quote from Leviticus 2&#58;13.&#160; Later copyists included this note into the text, where it still appears in some versions of the Bible today.&#160; Nevertheless, salt, like fire, was seen as a purifying agent.&#160; A very precious commodity in the Ancient world, salt was used to preserve food as well as to season it.&#160; Yet it often wasn't pure, and so could lose its taste leaving only a useless white residue behind.&#160; In a similar fashion, those who claim to follow Jesus, but whose lives are not characterized by service, care for others – especially those who are &quot;young&quot; in the faith – or by self-discipline and mutual love, are like this no-salt – empty of any true flavor.</p><p><strong>Discussion Questions</strong> <br></p><ul><li>It has been reported that the fastest growing religious groups in America are those who have no association with any particular church.&#160; What are some of the &quot;stumbling blocks&quot; that make it difficult for people in our time and culture to believe in Jesus or God?&#160; How might you address some of these issues?&#160; What do you think - can the ways in which you live your life truly make a difference?</li><li>Do we really need to worry about sin if we have grace?&#160; Why or why not?</li><li>To borrow a phrase from a popular brand, what types of beliefs, actions, and attitudes do you think should characterize a Christian &quot;Salt Life?&quot;</li><li>In the Affirmation of Baptism we promise to&#58;</li><ul><li>&#160;live among God's faithful people</li><li>&#160;to hear the word of God and share in the Lord's supper</li><li>&#160;to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed</li><li>&#160;to serve all people, following the example of Jesus, and </li><li>to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.</li></ul><li>What do these things mean to you? Discuss how these promises can guide and shape us as &quot;salty&quot; Christians.&#160; For example, what does it actually mean to strive for justice and peace in all the earth?</li></ul><p><strong>Activity Suggestions</strong> <br></p><ul><li>What are some of the things that cause <span style="text-decoration&#58;underline;">you</span> to &quot;stumble&quot; in your walk with God? As a group, brainstorm a list of things, attitudes, or behaviors that cause you to sin. If your list needs some expanding, consider the Ten Commandments as Martin Luther explains them in the <em>Small Catechism</em>.&#160; Don't forget to think about the positive things that we often leave undone.</li><ul><li>Look over your list. How many are things that &quot;everyone&quot; does? Does that make these things less harmful?&#160; Any less of a sin?</li><li>Are there things on your list that you might support one another in actively resisting or addressing?</li></ul></ul><p></p><ul><li>Be salt and let your lights shine&#58;&#160; What needs, issues, or causes do you feel strongly about?&#160; Brainstorm some things that your group might do to make a difference in one of these areas, be it through prayer, advocacy, or direct action.</li></ul><p></p><p><strong>Closing Prayer</strong></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span style="font-size&#58;12pt;line-height&#58;115%;font-family&#58;&quot;times new roman&quot;;">Lord Jesus Christ, you call us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow you.<span>&#160;&#160; </span>Help us <a name="_GoBack"></a>to do so.<span>&#160; </span>Give us eyes to see the many ways that you act in our lives and the grace that you give to us day by day.<span>&#160; </span>Give us feet to walk in your way, and catch us when we stumble.<span>&#160; </span>And give us hands to reach out in love and action that we may be living signs of your grace. This we pray in your holy name.<span>&#160; </span>Amen</span></p><p><br><strong></strong></p></div>09/22/2015September 20, 2015 We're Number One!Dennis Sepper, Puyallup, WA<div class="ExternalClassD7AA953355E64EEC90326022E4F0ED36"><p>​</p><p><strong>Warm-up Question</strong></p><p>Are you excited about the beginning of the school year and the competition it brings?<span>&#160; </span>Yes or no and why? </p><span style="font-size&#58;12pt;line-height&#58;150%;font-family&#58;&quot;times new roman&quot;;"></span><p><strong>We're Number One!<br></strong></p><p>USA Today—The air is getting crisp and some of the trees are showing signs of changing color.&#160; Fall is in the air and the high school boys' football rankings have been released.&#160; You can find them at the following link&#58;</p><p><a href="http&#58;//">http&#58;//</a></p><p>&#160;Also, the Division 3 men's football rankings are out and they include several of our ELCA colleges and universities.&#160; This link can be found on the D3 website&#58;</p><p><a href="http&#58;//">http&#58;//</a></p><p><img alt="shutterstock_208572667edit.jpg" src="" style="margin&#58;5px;" /><br></p><p>&#160;The beginning of school brings the beginning of various forms of competition.&#160; Not a football fan?&#160; There is the debate team, the chess team, the dance team, not to mention the competition for the best GPA.&#160; I chose football because in most communities the interest in competition goes beyond the high school or college and involves the entire city/town/village.&#160; There is within us a desire to be associated with winners and so we want our teams to be number one (I still look online to see how my high school is fairing and I have season tickets to my college football team even though I graduated years ago).&#160; <br></p><p>Competition teaches us some valuable lessons about working together and contributing to the team effort.&#160; It sharpens our critical thinking skills and our physical skills.&#160; Those things contribute to school spirit and a greater sense of community. <br></p><p>However, the drive to be number one can tempt us down paths not so morally upright.&#160; There have been scandals in the Little League boy's World Series and just recently in the girl's Little League Softball World Series.&#160; Every now and then we hear of a test cheating scandal at the high school and college levels.&#160; And no matter how you feel about quarterback Tom Brady <em>someone</em> deflated those footballs to give the New England Patriots an advantage in competition. <br></p><p>As we will see even the disciples of Jesus were not immune to the temptation to argue that one of the twelve was the greatest and number one among disciples <br></p><p><strong>Discussion Questions</strong></p><ul><li><span style="font-size&#58;12pt;line-height&#58;150%;font-family&#58;&quot;times new roman&quot;;">Are you a competitive person?<span>&#160; </span>How do you resist the temptation to take shortcuts or cheat?</span><span style="font-size&#58;12pt;line-height&#58;150%;font-family&#58;&quot;times new roman&quot;;"></span><span style="font-size&#58;12pt;line-height&#58;150%;font-family&#58;&quot;times new roman&quot;;"></span></li><li><span style="font-size&#58;12pt;line-height&#58;150%;font-family&#58;&quot;times new roman&quot;;">You’ll notice that a number of the teams in the two ranking lists above are church-related.<span>&#160; </span>Are those teams and their fans any different from the other teams?<span>&#160; </span>If you answered “yes” what might some of those differences be?</span><span style="font-size&#58;12pt;line-height&#58;150%;font-family&#58;&quot;times new roman&quot;;"></span><span style="font-size&#58;12pt;line-height&#58;150%;font-family&#58;&quot;times new roman&quot;;"></span></li><li><span style="font-size&#58;12pt;line-height&#58;150%;font-family&#58;&quot;times new roman&quot;;">What role does social media (particularly Twitter) play in all of this?<span>&#160; </span>Does it help nurture a healthy view of competition or does it feed the negative side?<span>&#160; </span>How so?</span></li></ul><p><strong>Lectionary 25/Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost<br></strong></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">Jeremiah 11&#58;18-20</a></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">James 3&#58;13-4&#58;3, 7-8a</a></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">Mark 9&#58;30-37</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> <br></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="line-height&#58;150%;"><span style="font-size&#58;12pt;line-height&#58;150%;font-family&#58;&quot;times new roman&quot;;">Ever wonder why the Bible never mentions Jesus’ childhood?<span>&#160; </span>There is a rather large gap between Luke 2&#58;21 where Jesus is brought to the Temple eight days after his birth as tradition demanded and Luke 2&#58;43 where we are told Jesus is twelve years old.<span>&#160; </span>What happened during those 12 years, nobody knows as the Bible is silent on the issue.<span>&#160; </span>One might guess from the tradition of first century society that we don’t hear about Jesus’ childhood because children were “invisible” to the adults until that time children became an adult at around age 12.<span>&#160; </span>It is hard for us to understand that fact given our society places a value on children (we don’t do it perfectly, but as a whole we value children by what we say and what we do…such as requiring car seats for children, labeling games with warnings about possible chocking hazards, and having height requirements for amusement park rides).<span>&#160; </span>But<a name="_GoBack"></a>, if we are to understand the meaning of today’s gospel text we have to try our best to read this story through the lens of those first century folks.<span>&#160; </span>More on this in a moment but first&#58; <br></span></p><p class="MsoNormal" style="line-height&#58;150%;"><span style="font-size&#58;12pt;line-height&#58;150%;font-family&#58;&quot;times new roman&quot;;">Today’s gospel has three parts.<span>&#160; </span>First, Jesus makes a second announcement of his coming suffering and death.<span>&#160; </span>After the first announcement (Mark 8&#58;31) Peter stepped forward and rebuked Jesus because in Peter’s view the Messiah should not die at the hands of humans.<span>&#160; </span>This time we are told that the disciples “did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him” (v. 32).<span>&#160; </span>The Bible doesn’t tell us but maybe they were still wrestling with what it would mean for the Savior of the world to die at the hands of humans.<span>&#160; </span>(If you wish to know, Jesus makes a third announcement in Mark 10&#58;32-33). <br></span></p><p class="MsoNormal" style="line-height&#58;150%;"><span style="font-size&#58;12pt;line-height&#58;150%;font-family&#58;&quot;times new roman&quot;;">That issue is dropped and they continue their walk to Capernaum to the house where they will be staying.<span>&#160; </span>Once there Jesus asks the disciples what they were arguing about on the way.<span>&#160; </span>The disciples are ashamed because they had been arguing about who was the greatest among their group.<span>&#160; </span>Jesus knows this and calls them to his side.<span>&#160; </span>Notice that Mark tells us that Jesus “sat down”.<span>&#160; </span>That is a move a teacher would make when about to teach something important.<span>&#160; </span>Once seated, Jesus does not yell at them but simple teaches by saying “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”<span>&#160; </span>Jesus is teaching the disciples that the ways of the Kingdom of God are different from the ways of the world.<span>&#160; </span>In the Kingdom of God Jesus will lay down his life for everyone and even the world out of mercy and love.<span>&#160; </span>In the Kingdom of God service to others is valued more than being number one.<span>&#160; </span>Take a moment at this point and read the words of James in our second reading (James 3&#58;13-4&#58;3, 7-8a).<span>&#160; </span>It seems that even the most faithful followers of Jesus have problems getting this straight.<span>&#160; </span>Because of that we shouldn’t beat up on ourselves or others if we put ambition and being number one ahead of our call to service and love.<span>&#160; </span>We should simply read today’s gospel text again, ask for God’s forgiveness and for the strength of the Holy Spirit to set out again as disciples of Jesus showing forth the values of the Kingdom of God in word and deed. <br></span></p><p class="MsoNormal" style="line-height&#58;150%;"><span style="font-size&#58;12pt;line-height&#58;150%;font-family&#58;&quot;times new roman&quot;;">Finally, in the third part of today’s gospel, Jesus illustrates what he is teaching by taking a little child into his arms and saying “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me”.<span>&#160; </span>We might hear this story and sigh “Ah” at its sweetness or we may ignore it because it seems so sugary but remember that we want to look at this text through the eyes of the disciples and those first century folks.<span>&#160; </span>They would have been thinking “whoa” because it was a very radical move and an even more radical statement.<span>&#160; </span>But this is how serious Jesus is about our servanthood to all people, not just to people like us, not just to people we like, but to all. <br></span></p><p class="MsoNormal" style="line-height&#58;150%;"><span style="font-size&#58;12pt;line-height&#58;150%;font-family&#58;&quot;times new roman&quot;;">Power, success and winning are not bad things in and of themselves but over the centuries they have been strong temptations to serve oneself first and ignore the needs of those right around the corner.<span>&#160; </span>Over the centuries many have fallen into that temptation and things did not end well.<span>&#160; </span>However there have also been powerful, successful Christian disciples who have used the gifts God gave them to serve their communities and others in the world.</span></p><p><strong>Discussion Questions</strong></p><ul><li><span style="font-size&#58;12pt;line-height&#58;150%;font-family&#58;&quot;times new roman&quot;;">Think of a successful, powerful person who, in the midst of that success, used their talent for the good of others?<span>&#160; </span>What do you think motivates them to do so?</span><span style="font-size&#58;12pt;line-height&#58;150%;font-family&#58;&quot;times new roman&quot;;"></span><span style="font-size&#58;12pt;line-height&#58;150%;font-family&#58;&quot;times new roman&quot;;"></span></li><li><span style="font-size&#58;12pt;line-height&#58;150%;font-family&#58;&quot;times new roman&quot;;"><span> </span>Name a person in your congregation who lives a life of servanthood in the Church or in the greater community?<span>&#160; </span>What do you think motivates them to do so?</span><span style="font-size&#58;12pt;line-height&#58;150%;font-family&#58;&quot;times new roman&quot;;"></span><span style="font-size&#58;12pt;line-height&#58;150%;font-family&#58;&quot;times new roman&quot;;"></span></li><li><span style="font-size&#58;12pt;line-height&#58;150%;font-family&#58;&quot;times new roman&quot;;">Who might be the “children” of our day…those whom society generally does not see or value?<span>&#160; </span></span></li></ul><p><strong>Activity Suggestions</strong> <br></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="line-height&#58;150%;"><span style="font-size&#58;12pt;line-height&#58;150%;font-family&#58;&quot;times new roman&quot;;">Sportswriter Henry Grantland Rice wrote&#58; &quot;When the Great Recorder comes to mark against your name, he marks not if you won or lost, but how you played the game.&quot; <span>&#160;</span>Of course that is not the conventional wisdom of our day.<span>&#160; </span>In our society most agree with former great football coach Vince Lombardi who once said ‘Winning isn’t everything, it’s the ONLY thing.”<span>&#160; </span>Opposed to that conventional wisdom there has been for many years a group of voices who advocate for noncompetitive games.<span>&#160; </span>Check out the website below, choose a game, play it and then discuss how it made you all feel.<span>&#160; </span>Did you enjoy it or do you prefer to have a game be competitive? <br></span></p><p class="MsoNormal" style="line-height&#58;150%;"><span style="font-size&#58;12pt;line-height&#58;150%;font-family&#58;&quot;times new roman&quot;;"><a href="http&#58;//">http&#58;//</a></span></p><p><strong>Closing Prayer</strong></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="line-height&#58;150%;"><span style="font-size&#58;12pt;line-height&#58;150%;font-family&#58;&quot;times new roman&quot;;">For our closing prayer today I offer you a prayer from Brennan Manning, a Franciscan priest, theologian and writer&#58;</span></p><p class="MsoNormal" style="line-height&#58;150%;"><span style="font-size&#58;12pt;line-height&#58;150%;font-family&#58;&quot;times new roman&quot;;">May all your expectations be frustrated, may all your plans be thwarted, may all your desires be withered into nothingness, that you may experience the powerlessness and poverty of a child and sing and dance in the love of God who is Father, Son and Spirit.<span>&#160; </span>And today on planet Earth, may you experience the wonder and beauty of yourself as God’s child and temple of the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ our Lord.<span>&#160; </span>Amen. </span></p><p><br><strong></strong></p></div>09/15/2015September 13, 2015, How Long, Oh LordAmy Martinell, Sioux Falls, SD<div class="ExternalClassB6B30F646FD143C08AF9651639625287"><p>​</p><p><strong>Warm-up Question</strong></p><p>I don't know about all of you, but I love to be right.&#160; I love it.&#160; Sometimes this is a really great quality; it drives me to do extra reading and research until I am sure I have the &quot;right&quot; information.&#160; Other times, it does not bring out the best in me.&#160; It can cause me to do not great things, like bring up an old argument when I've found new &quot;proof&quot; that I was right.</p><ul><li>When was a time you were excited to have the right answer?&#160; </li><li>How do you behave in an argument?&#160; Do you seek out compromise or hold on tight to your stance no matter what?&#160; How do you behave differently depending on whether you are dealing with friends, parents, or people you don't know as well?<br><strong></strong></li></ul><p><strong>How Long, Oh Lord, How Long<br></strong></p> <p class="Textbody" style="background&#58;white none repeat scroll 0% 0%;"><span style="color&#58;#222222;">Last Wednesday as I sat down to begin writing this post, news broke of the fatal shooting of journalists Alison Parker and Adam Ward.<span>&#160; </span>The horror was magnified as the violent act happened during a live broadcast. The typical interview dissolved into a dropped camera, screams, and gunshots before cutting back to a shocked anchor in the studio. Soon the station was reporting on the deaths of Parker and Ward, as well as on injuries to the woman being interviewed.<span>&#160; </span>Later that day we heard the alleged shooter, Vester Lee Flanagan II, was also dead due to a self-inflicted gun wound.<span>&#160; </span></span></p><p class="Textbody" style="background&#58;white none repeat scroll 0% 0%;"><img src="" alt="shutterstock_233436193edit.jpg" style="margin&#58;5px;" /><br><span style="color&#58;#222222;"></span></p><p><span style="color&#58;#222222;">We now hear the shooter was a disgruntled employee who claimed racial discrimination and sexual harassment pushed him over the edge, but such assertions are not nearly enough of an explanation or justification for his actions.<span>&#160; </span>We are still left with questions&#58;<span>&#160; </span>Why is there such senseless violence?<span>&#160; </span>Why is life treated so cheaply? Why does this keep happening over and over again?<span>&#160;&#160; </span>Of course, questions are already be raised again about mental illness and gun control, but the real question seems to be, “How long?”<span>&#160; </span>How long, oh Lord, how long can we stand such distress?<span>&#160;&#160;</span></span> <br></p><p><strong>Discussion Questions</strong> <br></p><ul><li>How did you feel when you heard the news of the shooting?&#160; </li><li>How do you respond in the face of tragedy?&#160; Do you need time alone to process?&#160; Do you want to work for change and seek out new ways of doing things or does it cause you to shut down and do nothing?</li><li>When tragedy like the Virginia shooting happens we have a hard time understanding why this could happen. What in your own life do you have a hard time making sense of?&#160; What are times and situations where you feel like things have been unfair?&#160; What problems feel too big to change?</li></ul><p><strong>Lectionary 24 / Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost<br></strong></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">Isaiah 50&#58;4-9a</a></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">James 3&#58;1-12</a></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">Mark 8&#58;27-38&#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 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>Peter has the right answer.<span>&#160; </span>Peter has just had his gold star moment.<span>&#160; </span>He looked at Jesus and said no, you are not a prophet, you are not Elijah.<span>&#160; </span>You are the Messiah. You are the one who came to save us.<span>&#160; </span>Bingo!<span>&#160; </span>Peter has the right answer, but he doesn't even get a second to savor his success.<span>&#160; </span>Instead, Jesus begins to talk about suffering and death.<span>&#160; </span>Peter stops him; this is not the Messiah he wants.<p class="Textbody"><br></p><p class="Textbody">Of course, when asked who Jesus is, we know the right answer.<span>&#160; </span>We know Jesus is the Messiah, the one sent to save the world.<span>&#160; </span>Yet, I often find myself in the same place as Peter wanting to pull Jesus aside and ask him to be the savior I want, the God I want.</p><p class="Textbody">As I am rocked with yet another senseless shooting, as wildfires rage the west coast, as race relations continue to be contentious, I find myself growing both weary and angry.<span>&#160; </span>Where is our Messiah?<span>&#160; </span>Why aren't we saved from all of this suffering and death and despair?<span>&#160; </span>Why God won’t you act?</p><p class="Textbody">We live awaiting the promise of our Lord's return and redemption, but as we wait, we wait in a fallen world.<span>&#160;&#160; </span>And if you are like me, you grow weary, grow angry at this fallen world.<span>&#160; </span>Jesus is not a superhero savior swooping in to remove us from any suffering, but Jesus is present in these awful situations.<span>&#160; </span>Jesus is found in those who are there to help. <span>&#160;</span>Jesus is found those reaching out with love and compassion; he is found in those working and praying for change.<span>&#160; </span></p><p class="Textbody">Most of all Jesus is found wherever life is proclaimed over death.<span>&#160; </span>So even as we grow weary, as we grow angry, we remember our hope is found in Jesus Christ and Jesus will not disappoint.<span>&#160;&#160; </span>We cling to the promise that Jesus will come again and redeem the world, will come again and right the many wrongs.<span>&#160; </span>We cannot heal the world from all the evils we see and luckily we don’t have to, that is the work of our Lord. We cling to the promise Jesus will come again to redeem the world, so maybe the real question is&#58;<span>&#160; </span>What will we do as we wait?<span>&#160; </span></p><p><strong>Discussion Questions</strong> <br></p><ul><li>The Jewish people waited for a messiah to rescue them foreign opposition and restore Israel.&#160; When Peter named Jesus the Messiah he was most likely looking for a military leader to lead Israel to glory.&#160; How was Jesus an unexpected messiah?&#160; How did he better fulfill the role of messiah?&#160; </li></ul><ul><li>What does it mean when we name Jesus our messiah?&#160; When and how have you wished God would be different?&#160; When has God played an unexpected or surprising role in your life?</li><li>Where have you seen God in hard times in your own life?&#160; When has God felt absent?</li><li>Theologians often call our current time &quot;the already, but not yet&quot; because Jesus has already saved us from sin, death and the devil, but has not yet come again.&#160; So I offer the question again, &quot;What will we do while we wait?&quot;&#160; What are ways you can make the world a little better?&#160; When have small acts of kindness done by others made a big impact on you?</li></ul><p><strong>Activity Suggestions</strong> <br></p><ul><li><strong>Make idols! </strong>We are all guilty of trying to make God into the gods we want.&#160; We are also guilty of making other things and people into our gods.&#160; Whatever we give our time, our money and our hearts to become our gods.&#160; Use play-dough to make figures of all the false idols in your life.&#160; When you are done, smash the idols to confess your wayward heart and offer a pray of thanksgiving to our Lord who welcomes back all wayward sinners.</li><li><strong>What keeps you up at night?</strong> List together all of the things that bother you, which keep you up at night, which make you angry or sad or scared.&#160; The list will seem big and intimidating, but start small.&#160; Brainstorm and research the items on your list.&#160; Then create a make a change list and list small (or big) ways you could get involved and work for change.&#160; Encourage every person to commit to doing one thing on your make a change list.&#160; Check in on how everyone is doing next time you are together.&#160; </li></ul><p><strong>Closing Prayer</strong></p> <p><span style="color&#58;black;background&#58;white none repeat scroll 0% 0%;">Dear Messiah, We pray for you to come again.<span>&#160; </span>As we wait, energize us show your love in all we do.<span>&#160; </span>Amen</span><br><strong></strong></p></div>09/08/2015