Faith Lens 2, 2014--Thanks in the Midst of TrialJay McDivett, Waukesha, WI<div class="ExternalClass9AEBEFB4080545D2811B5ACCC865EF92"><p>​</p><p><strong>Warm-up Question</strong></p><p>What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do? What got you through it? When it was over, how did you feel? </p><p><strong>Thanks in the Midst of Trial<br></strong></p> <p>After 21 long days of quarantine, over 40 people who may have been exposed to the deadly Ebola virus were released with a clean bill of health last week. Several others still wait to be cleared.</p><p><img alt="shutterstock_223301302edit.jpg" src="" style="margin&#58;5px;" /></p><p>Even though the threat of an Ebola epidemic in the United States is extremely minimal, media attention has created a state of panic for many in this country, worrying about the safety of travel, immigrants, and casual contact with folks at the supermarket or at church. (Several pastors report parishioners wanting to do away with the passing of peace and intinction or common cup Communion because of fears of Ebola and other communicable diseases.) <br></p><p>But for those who were in contact with Thomas Duncan (the one Ebola patient to die on U.S. soil), the fear was very real. It’s over now. This is especially real for Louise Troh, Duncan’s fiancée. &quot;Praise to God. I am free. I am so happy… All thanks to God,&quot; Troh said, according to a spokesperson who spoke to ABC News. <br></p><p>Thankful, but still mourning the loss of her fiancée. Other folks are still under quarantine, with their movements restricted and their hearts and families anxious about whether or not they’re sick. <br></p><p>And the rest of the country waits to see what will happen next.</p><p>&#160;</p><p><strong>Discussion Questions</strong> <br></p> <ul style="margin-top&#58;0in;"><li class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom&#58;0.0001pt;line-height&#58;normal;"><p>On a scale of 1-10, how worried are you about Ebola?</p></li><li><p>How would you feel if you were Louise Troh? Or one of the people who are still on quarantine?</p></li><li class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom&#58;0.0001pt;line-height&#58;normal;"><p>Think of a time when you were really scared about something… and then everything turned out okay. How did that feel?</p></li></ul> <p><strong>November 2, 1014--All Saints Sunday<br></strong></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">Revelation 7&#58;9–17</a><br> <a href="http&#58;//">1 John 3&#58;1–3</a><br> <a href="http&#58;//">Matthew 5&#58;1–12</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>The book of Revelation is scary. And weird. And totally wonderful.&#160; More than anything, it is a bold and constant proclamation of a foundational promise&#58; God is in charge<strong><em>.</em></strong> From beginning to end of the book of Revelation, we hear the same word&#58; God <span style="text-decoration&#58;underline;"><em>is</em></span> the beginning and end. <br></p><p>That doesn't mean that what happens in the middle doesn't matter. It doesn't mean that death and disease, war and worry are nothing.&#160; It means that all of this is the &quot;great ordeal&quot; that we fumble through. Some days are wonderful and blissful and full of nothing but blessing. Some days just plain suck. Most days have some of both.&#160; And the Lamb of God reigns and rules above it all; God is with us and among us through it all, and is working to bring us through it all.</p><p>November 1 is All Saints' Day – celebrated in church on November 2 this year. It is the day to remember how God was present with all those who have gone before us – through all their trials and tribulations, all their fears and failings. And to remember how God is present with us now, too – surrounding us with this &quot;great cloud of witnesses&quot; – inspiring us with the stories of how they endured all manner of &quot;great ordeals&quot; and came out on the other side, dressed in the white robes they were given when they were baptized. This promise is ours, too. No matter what we face, the &quot;Alpha and Omega&quot; – the &quot;Beginning and the End&quot; – will be with us. <br></p><p>In the face of that, Ebola ain't got nothin' on us. Seriously.</p><p><br></p><p><strong>Discussion Questions</strong> <br></p> <ul style="margin-top&#58;0in;"><li class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom&#58;0.0001pt;line-height&#58;normal;"><p>Tell a story of a “great ordeal” (a trial or test, a disease or defeat) that someone close to you has “come through.” What gave them strength?</p></li><li><p>All Saints’ is a time to remember those who have completed their baptismal journeys. Tell the story of someone close to you who has died. Where was God in their life? What did you learn from them about faith?</p></li><li><p>How could you help someone who is going through a “great ordeal”? How can you be present with people who are struggling to be faithful when life kind of (or really) stinks?</p></li></ul> <p><strong>Activity Suggestions</strong> <br></p> <p>Materials&#58; Paper, writing utensils, crayons/markers/colored pencils/paint, magazines/scissors/glue sticks, whatever you need to express yourself. <br></p><p>Create a stained-glass window of a saint. It could be a saint of the church, or a saint in your life. Anyone who has died whose faith has taught you something about your own faith.&#160; Invite folks to share their saints with each other.</p> <p><strong>Closing Prayer</strong></p> <p>God&#58; Your love and grace make broken people holy – saints. Thank you for that. Help us all to be better than we could ever be on our own. When we are afraid or challenged, bring us through. Keep us, and all who have gone before us, safe. Amen.</p> <p><br><strong></strong></p></div>10/28/2014October 26, 2014--Parents Just Don't UnderstandDanny Stone, Marion, IA<div class="ExternalClassECA64BB6D90349BD97321405F6B941A8"><p>​</p><p><strong>Warm-up Question</strong></p><p>&#160;Share the story about a disagreement between you and your parent/guardian/caregiver.&#160; Who won the fight?&#160; How did you feel?&#160; How did they feel?</p><p><br></p><p><strong>Parents Just Don't Understand<br></strong></p><p><img src="" alt="shutterstock_23623474edit.jpg" style="margin&#58;5px;" /></p><p>In the Grammy Award winning teen rant, Will Smith raps that &quot;<a href="https&#58;//">parents just don't understand</a>.&quot;&#160; It was true in 1988, true now and true when families gathered around the fire to roast a mastodon<em>.&#160;</em><em></em></p><p>Imagine for a moment a student and father battling.&#160; Dad is a strong willed and ambitious owner of a construction company.&#160; He has worked hard all his life and dreams that his son will be a lawyer.&#160; Mike just finished college and hates the career that is father has chosen.&#160; He feels anxious and lost. In the past year, Mike has seen two friends die, leaving heavy questions on his heart.</p><p>While traveling between law school and home, Mike's car hydroplanes in a thunderstorm, spins wildly and narrowly misses a truck.&#160; His car lands in the ditch.&#160; With his life passing before his eyes, Mike decides to follow his calling.&#160; He vows to quit school and join the Peace Corps.</p><p>Elements of this story may sound familiar.&#160; We have all heard stories about children and parents not agreeing about college and career.&#160; Who hasn't felt pressure to excel?&#160; This story becomes completely familiar when we replace character names and a few details.&#160; The father's real name is Hans, and he owns a small copper mine.&#160; The student is Martin; he is frightened by a lightning strike on the way to University of Erfurt and promises to become a monk.&#160; The year is 1505.&#160; Yes, Martin Luther's father wanted him to be a lawyer, not the scholar-priest who led the Reformation.</p><p><br></p><p><strong>Discussion Questions</strong> <br></p><ul><li>Have you had &quot;lightening&quot; in your life that points you in a new direction?</li><li>What do your parents want for your future?</li><li>Share the story of a time that you were mad, angry or frustrated with your parents.</li><li>Discuss the difference between winning an argument and forging an agreement.</li><li>What can your church, congregation and faith do to help improve family relationships?</li></ul><p><strong>Reformation Sunday<br></strong></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">Jeremiah 31&#58;31-34</a></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">Romans 3&#58;19-28</a></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">John 8&#58;31-36</a></p><p>(Text links are to <a href="http&#58;//">Oremus Bible Browser</a>. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year 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>Martin Luther's childhood under the thumb of a domineering father a left him with deep scars.&#160; The church of his time offered little comfort.&#160; He might have been free of his earthly father but feared eternal punishments from his father in heaven.&#160; Luther felt crippling fear but found hope in the Gospel.&#160; Today is Reformation Sunday -- the day we celebrate Luther's movement that brought the church back to Christ's unswerving message of forgiveness, salvation, and freedom.&#160; </p><p>John's Gospel promises freedom from slavery.&#160; Many of us might say like the disciples, &quot;Wait, we are not slaves.&quot;&#160; Slavery is much deeper and more common than the obvious.&#160; Jesus was not talking about the slavery we know from history.&#160; Slavery is common, everyday, and afflicts all of us.&#160; On an elemental level, we are all slaves to our fear of death.&#160; We may be slaves to drugs and alcohol.&#160; We may eat too much, be forced to follow the group, have crippling debt, bow down to obsessive behaviors.&#160; Slavery is everywhere. <br></p><p>The truth of Christ's death and resurrection frees us from sin, death, fear, and anxiety.&#160; We do not have to live as slaves.&#160; Luther's movement sought to enable Christians to take up the Bible, so that we may discover this truth.&#160; Once we are free, we can live in communion with Christ, the world, and even our families. The truth sets us free.</p><p><strong>Discussion Questions</strong></p><ul><li>&#160;In what ways do you feel enslaved?</li><li>How does life in Christ give us freedom from inappropriate expectations of others?</li><li>One reason we observe Reformation Sunday is to remember that the church is in constant need of being re-formed, created anew.&#160; From what does the church need to be freed in our day so that it can more effectively serve Christ?<br></li></ul><p><strong>Activity Suggestions</strong></p><p>&#160;</p><p>Bookmark these items in advance.&#160; Have small groups review a video.&#160; Discuss and share with the large group what each clip can teach about children, parents, and family relationships.&#160; <br></p><p>&quot;Father and Son&quot; by Cat Stevens&#58;&#160; <br>&#160;&#160;&#160;&#160;&#160;&#160;&#160; <a href="https&#58;//">https&#58;// </a><br></p><p>&quot;Cats in the Cradle&quot; by Harry Chapin&#58;&#160; <br>&#160;&#160;&#160;&#160;&#160;&#160;&#160; <a href="https&#58;//">https&#58;// </a><br></p><p>Bill Cosby on childhood&#58;&#160; <br>&#160;&#160;&#160;&#160;&#160;&#160;&#160; <a href="https&#58;//">https&#58;// </a><br></p><p>&quot;Never Grow Up&quot; by Taylor Swift&#58;<br> &#160;&#160;&#160;&#160;&#160;&#160;&#160; <a href="https&#58;//">https&#58;// </a><br></p><p>&quot;Daughters&quot; by John Mayer<br> &#160;&#160;&#160;&#160;&#160;&#160;&#160; <a href="https&#58;//">https&#58;// </a><br></p><p>&quot;Butterfly Fly Away&quot; by Hannah Montana<br> &#160;&#160;&#160;&#160;&#160;&#160;&#160; <a href="https&#58;//">https&#58;// </a><br></p><p>&quot;Because of You&quot; by Kelly Clarkson<br> &#160;&#160;&#160;&#160;&#160;&#160;&#160; <a href="https&#58;//">https&#58;// </a><br></p><p>&quot;Cleanin' Out My Closet&quot; (clean version) by Eminem<br> &#160;&#160;&#160;&#160;&#160;&#160;&#160; <a href="http&#58;//">http&#58;//</a></p><p><strong>Closing Prayer</strong></p><p>Dear Heavenly Father, parent of all, bless our families and aid our growth.&#160; Help us find freedom through the death, resurrection and forgiveness of your son, Jesus Christ.&#160; In your name we pray, Amen.</p><p><strong></strong></p></div>10/21/2014October 19, 2014--Why Pay Taxes?Erik Ullestad--West Des Moines, IA<div class="ExternalClassD2DA3F1E7E644C9A9579DC34C831FD7D"><p>​</p><p><strong>Warm-up Question</strong></p> <p>How do you stay connected with your friends?</p> <p><strong>Why Pay Taxes?<br></strong></p> <p>Cell phone usage is at an all-time high.&#160; Many people are getting rid of their landline phone and exclusively using a mobile device for all their communication needs.&#160; The pre-teen market has grown significantly in the last five years.&#160; The average age for a kid’s first cell phone is 11 years old and 77% of kids ages 12-17 have a cell phone.&#160; Contributing to this growth in mobile device usage are an abundance of new devices entering the market place (like two varieties of Apple’s new iPhone 6) and wireless service providers that offer a wide variety of monthly plan options suited to the needs of the customer. <br></p><p><img src="" alt="shutterstock_13006300edit.jpg" style="margin&#58;5px;" /></p><p>Phone companies and wireless providers aren’t the only groups who are profiting from the mobile boom.&#160; Federal, state, and local governments are seeing increased revenue as a result of taxes applied to cell phone plans.&#160; According to a study by the Washington D.C.-based Tax Foundation, the U.S. average combined tax rate for wireless plans is 17.05%.&#160; The federal rate is currently fixed at 5.82%, which is added to the varying state-local rates.&#160; Washington State has the highest rate at 18.6 percent, compared to neighboring state of Oregon which has the lowest at 1.76 percent. <br></p><p>For some, the issue of high cell phone taxes is political.&#160; Governor Rick Scott has promised to give the people of Florida at $120 million annual reduction in the communications services tax.&#160; Others see this as a justice issue.&#160; The Centers for Disease control reports that over 56 percent of adults living in poverty have only wireless service as their means of communication.&#160; </p> <p><br><strong></strong></p><p><strong>Discussion Questions</strong> <br></p><ul><li><p>Do you have a cell phone?&#160; If so, how do you use it?&#160; (Social media, texting, phone calls, etc.)</p></li><li><p>How much money do you think is an appropriate amount to spend on a cell phone?</p></li><li><p>What do you think is a reasonable tax rate for wireless service plans?</p></li></ul><p><strong>Lectionary 29<br></strong></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">Isaiah 45&#58;1-7</a></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">1 Thessalonians 1&#58;1-10</a></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">Matthew 22&#58;15-22</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>In the Gospel reading today we find Jesus in a potentially sticky situation.&#160; The church leaders, in conjunction with Herod's followers, have set a trap for Jesus.&#160; They ask him, &quot;Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? [17]&quot; This was a trick question.&#160; If Jesus answered &quot;yes&quot;, the church leaders would be upset because they felt taxation – especially the poll tax – was unjust.&#160; If he answered &quot;no&quot;, the emperor could throw Jesus in jail for challenging the law.&#160; <br></p><p>Jesus offers an answer that leaves both parties speechless.&#160; He says, &quot;Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and give to God the things that are God's [21].&quot; In saying this, Jesus not only silenced his adversaries, but he lifted up the importance of giving back to God.&#160; The money that was to be given to the emperor was just money – an idolatrous coin with the face of Caesar on it.&#160; God, the creator and ruler of all, blesses us more than any earthly leader ever could – which means we have a lot to give back.&#160; <br></p><p>When it comes to &quot;giving to God&quot;, students might remember the 3 T's – time, talents, and treasures.&#160; When we give to God in this way, it's not about <em>acts</em> of service; it's about<span style="text-decoration&#58;underline;"> </span><em>lives</em> of service.&#160; It's about a life-altering change in the way we look at our tangible and intangible gifts.&#160; Like Abraham, God blesses us so that we may be a blessing to others [Genesis 12&#58;3].&#160;</p><p><strong>Discussion Questions</strong> <br></p><ul><li><p>How did the Pharisees try to trick Jesus?</p></li><li><p>Why do you think the Pharisees sent their disciples to confront Jesus instead of talk to Jesus themselves?</p></li><li><p>How did Jesus answer the question about taxes?</p></li><li><p>What do you think Jesus' words mean to you today?&#160; What does it say about your priorities?</p></li><li><p>In Jesus' day, taxes were often associated with corrupt leaders who made themselves rich at the expense of the poor.&#160; What do you think about taxes today?&#160; Are they important?&#160; Why do you feel that way?</p></li><li><p>What are ways that God has blessed you?</p></li><li><p>What is one way that you can share these blessings with others this week?</p></li></ul><p><strong>Activity Suggestions</strong></p><p>&#160;Consider making a commitment as a group to financially support a local, national, or global organization that helps other people.&#160; Ask the group if they have any suggestions.&#160; If they don't, offer some of your own.&#160; You'll want to research this in advance.&#160; <a href="http&#58;//">ELCA Good Gifts</a> can give you some great ideas.&#160; Discuss all the suggestions, and then try to come to a decision as a group.&#160; Sign a covenant that everyone will bring a regular offering to help support this project.&#160; You may want to make a poster that demonstrates how much money is given each week/month to this ministry.&#160; Inform parents and other congregation members of the way that the young people are &quot;giving to God what is God's.&quot;</p><p><strong>Closing Prayer</strong></p> <p>Generous God, we give you thanks for the ways in which you bless us.&#160; Help us to be in tune with the gifts we have received, and help us to use those gifts to bless the lives of those around us.&#160; Open our eyes to the needs of others and give us the strength to share words of peace, hope, and love to the world.&#160; For the sake of Jesus, we pray, amen.</p> <p><br><strong></strong></p></div>10/14/2014October 12, 2014--Take the InvitationStephanie Opsal, Albuquerque, NM<div class="ExternalClassC1F8EDD96192426884F6B9935021D422"><p>​</p><p><strong>Warm-up Question</strong></p> <p>How do you choose what to “like” or “follow” on social media?</p><p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom&#58;0.0001pt;line-height&#58;normal;"><br><span style="font-family&#58;arial;"></span></p> <p><strong>Take the Invitation</strong></p> <p>How many times every day on Facebook are you asked to join a group, answer a friend request, or play the latest online game?&#160; Perhaps today more than ever, we are bombarded with invitations.&#160; Some are very significant, such as a family member’s wedding announcement, but many are very trivial&#58;&#160; “[Insert name here] has invited you to play a game of Words with Friends.”</p><p><img src="" alt="shutterstock_193013642edit.jpg" style="margin&#58;5px;" /></p><p>Every request to which we answer “yes” implies an investment.&#160; When we choose to invest our time in a new friend or game we show what values are important to us.&#160; Do you spend all day playing online games?&#160; If so, you reveal that you enjoy and value those activities.&#160; Do you actually communicate with the “friends” or “followers” you have on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram?&#160; If not, why did you say yes to their invitations?</p><p>In the same way that we are cautious about what personal information we reveal online, we need to be aware of how many different events, causes, groups, and friend requests we accept.&#160; “Likes” and things we “follow” reveal our personality and help form the identity that we represent to the world.&#160; Do you want to be known as a gamer?&#160; A soccer fan?&#160; A Christian?&#160; A supporter of cancer research?&#160; A follower of a famous actress? What you say “yes” to says a lot about your character.</p><p>For some games and applications, you have to sign contracts or consent to license agreements and stick to the program’s terms.&#160; When you’re in, you have to play by the rules.&#160; Think twice before automatically signing “yes” to every invitation that comes your way.</p> <p><br></p><p><strong>Discussion Questions</strong></p><ul><li><p>Discuss some of the people you follow, things you support, or games you play on social media websites, such as Facebook or Twitter.&#160; What things do you check the most?&#160; Why?</p></li><li><p>Do you ever &quot;like&quot; or &quot;follow&quot; something that you do not truly care about?&#160; Why or why not?&#160; Do you think this hurts anything?</p></li></ul><p><strong>Lectionary 28</strong></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">Isaiah 25&#58;1-9</a></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">Philippians 4&#58;1-9</a><a href="http&#58;//"><br></a></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">Matthew 22&#58;1-14</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>In our Gospel story, Jesus tells a parable about a wedding feast.&#160; A king is throwing a banquet for his son, but the guests he had previously invited now refuse to come.&#160; Twice he sends servants to the intended guests, telling them it is time to come to the celebration.&#160; Instead of jumping on board, they go off on their own way.&#160; Some even brutally attack the messengers.&#160; The king destroys those murderers and burns the city.</p><p>The king tells his servants to go out to the streets and invite everyone they can.&#160; The servants bring in many new people, of both good and bad reputations, and fill the banquet hall. Though many&#160;are poor, dirty, or stuck in sin, the king gives them a place at his banquet table.</p><p>Happy ending, right?&#160; Not quite.&#160; One new guest does not put on the wedding garments.&#160; In this historical context, the host always gave guests specific garments that were to be worn for weddings.&#160; This clothing was free and readily available for all guests.&#160; All were expected to wear them.&#160; A guest who chose not to wear the garment would come across as arrogant, as if he or she was too good to wear the standard dress.&#160; The guest would suggest that he or she did not truly want to take part in the ceremony.&#160; </p><p>The unfortunate fellow who did not wear the wedding garments was tied up and thrown out of the feast.&#160; The issue was not that the newly-invited man from the street could not afford the right clothing, but rather he was given the proper attire as a gift and yet chose not to wear it.&#160; He &#160;thought he could do whatever he wanted, when he actuality needed the son's covering to receive his place.</p><p>This parable is a beautiful illustration of God's story of saving you and me.&#160; The book of Revelation talks about the Son of God having a magnificent wedding feast to reunite Christ and his beloved bride, the church, at the end of time&#58;</p><p>&#160;</p><p>&quot;'Hallelujah!&#160; For our Lord God Almighty reigns.&#160; Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory!&#160; For the wedding feast of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready.&#160; Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.' Then the angel said to me, 'Write&#58;&#160; 'Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!''&#160; And he added,&#160; 'These are the true words of God.'&quot;--&#160; Revelation 19&#58;6B-9 (NIV)</p><p>Jesus offers an open invitation to his eternal wedding feast, but people have to come ready, clothed in his fine linen, which is Christ's righteousness.&#160; When Christ died on the cross for all the world's sins, He made His people clean, covered by His righteousness.&#160; They need only they believe that it is true and accept that righteousness.&#160; 2 Corinthians 5&#58;21 says, &quot;God made Him [Jesus] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.&quot;</p><p>The parable suggests that Jesus invites everyone to come to His feast, both the religious people you might expect to follow God and the broken, weary, sinful, sick, poor, and dirty people.&#160; All are welcome in God's house.</p><p>Two conditions prevent the parable's potential guests from enjoying the banquet.&#160; The original guests say &quot;no,&quot; quite possibly more concerned about their own money and well-being than God's desires.&#160; As a result, the king declares, &quot;Those invited were not worthy,&quot; (v. 8).&#160; The improperly clothed man got a free invitation but spoiled his chances by not wearing the required, yet freely available, attire.</p><p>What does this mean for us?&#160; Christ offers all an invitation to follow Him.&#160; He loves us so much that he keeps offering open invitations.&#160; However, we cannot get into the party by our own merit.&#160; We are saved by his work, but we do have to accept the gift.&#160; Otherwise we will be left, like the invited, no-show guests at the beginning of the parable or the unprepared man at the end.</p><p>Give your life to following God.&#160; Accept that you need Christ's forgiveness of sins to receive heaven.&#160; This is one invitation you cannot pass up.</p><p>&#160;</p><p><strong>Discussion Questions</strong></p><ul><li><p>Why would the first invited group of guests refuse to come?&#160; Why do people choose not to follow Jesus and accept His gift of eternal life?</p></li><li><p>Do you think it was fair that the improperly dressed man was abusively kicked out of the banquet?</p></li><li><p>Discuss what you think the final verse (v. 14) means&#58;&#160; &quot;For many are invited, but few are chosen.&quot;&#160; </p></li><li><p>Can we follow Christ half-heartedly as we do with many of our social media interests?</p></li></ul><p><strong>Activity Suggestions</strong></p><ul><li><p>Look up your own most-used social media profile page, such as Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter, or Pinterest.&#160; View your page objectively, as if you had never seen it before.&#160; How would you describe yourself, based on the things you see written on the page, causes you support, and people with whom you interact?&#160; Think about what your page says about your outlook on life, values, attitude, faith, friendships, and identity.&#160; Is your page an accurate representation?&#160; If not, why not?&#160; Decide what image you want the world to see.&#160; Are there some things you would like to change?&#160; Change things, delete things you no longer commit to, and refresh your social media identity to be who you want to be.</p></li><li><p>Draw a picture of a &quot;wedding garment&quot; or make a list, and write or draw things about yourself and God that you want to represent to the world.&#160; What are some qualities of Christ's righteousness?&#160; Search your Bible for Jesus' character traits, and write things that you want to increase in your life, (e.g. love, forgiveness, kindness).</p></li></ul><p><strong>Closing Prayer</strong></p><p>Jesus,</p><p>We praise you for teaching us about yourself and your ways through &#160;parables.&#160; Lord, we want to follow you whole-heartedly, know your love for us, and sit at your heavenly wedding banquet.&#160; Help us to live in your way and invite others to know you.&#160; We love you.&#160; In Jesus' name we pray. &#160;Amen.</p><p><br><strong></strong></p></div>10/07/2014October 5, 2014--Symbols MatterScott Mims, Virginia Beach, VA<div class="ExternalClass6053D4BE0C294EEF93ADC4DC531FB12B"><p><strong>Warm-up Question</strong></p><ul><li>What are some of the most important symbols of the Christian faith to you and what do they communicate?&#160; (For example, what meanings does a symbol like the cross convey?)</li><li>Can you think of any other important symbols in your daily life?</li></ul><p><strong>Symbols Matter<br></strong></p><p>On September 18, 2014, the world watched as an historic vote unfolded in Scotland.&#160; By a margin of 55% to 45%, with nearly 85% of registered voters casting a ballot, the Scottish people voted &quot;No&quot; to independence.&#160; Their decision preserved a union between England and Scotland that has endured for more than 300 years.</p><p><img src="" alt="shutterstock_71745394edit.jpg" style="margin&#58;10px 5px;" /></p><p>Yet there was more at stake in this referendum than just the &quot;United&quot; in United Kingdom.&#160; In the weeks leading up to the vote, as it became apparent that a vote for independence just might succeed, there was a great deal of anxiety on the part of many different parties.&#160; Not only were there impassioned pleas from leading politicians on both sides of the issue, leaders from all over the world weighed in, as did many international celebrities and artists.&#160; Questions were also raised concerning the impact of a &quot;Yes&quot; vote.&#160; For example, what would Scottish independence mean for the European Union or for NATO?&#160; How would a positive vote impact other countries like Spain who are dealing with their own independence movements?&#160; Like a rock being thrown into a calm pond, the ripples of this event radiated far beyond the borders of Scotland itself.&#160; </p><p>In many ways they still do. Though the vote is over, the issues it has raised, the emotions and passions that have been stirred, and the political debates that have been initiated will continue to resonate for a long time to come.&#160; At the heart of things is the question what sort of kingdom will this United Kingdom be?</p><p><strong>Discussion Questions</strong></p><ul><li><p>Flags are potent national symbols.&#160; The Union flag of the United Kingdom, for example, is composed of the St. George's Cross of England, St. Andrew's Cross of Scotland, and St. Patrick's Cross of Ireland, symbolizing in its very design&#160; both a union and unity.&#160; For those of us in the United States, what do the different elements of our flag mean or symbolize?</p></li><li><p>Symbols can often impact us at deep, emotional levels.&#160; Have you ever experienced a time when the sight or use of the flag stirred you emotionally?</p></li><li><p>What issues have threatened to destroy our own unity as a nation in the past?&#160; What issues divide people today?&#160; How are these issues the same?&#160; How are they different?</p></li></ul><p><strong>Lectionary 27</strong></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">Isaiah 5&#58;1-7</a></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">Philippians 3&#58;4b-14</a></p><p><a href="http&#58;//">Matthew 21&#58;33-46</a> &#160;</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>Jesus' &quot;Parable of the Wicked Tenants&quot; follows his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, an event we celebrate on Palm/Passion Sunday as the beginning of Holy Week.&#160; The donkey and the route that Jesus takes in this procession are not accidental.&#160; Jesus makes use of potent national symbols to make a statement about himself, as the gospel writer makes clear in Matthew 21&#58;1-11.&#160; Jesus then attacks the powers that be through &quot;cleansing the Temple.&quot; Among other things, his actions lead to the setting of this story, a series of confrontations with the Jewish religious leaders and authorities.&#160; They challenge Jesus' legitimacy and authority to do the things he is doing.&#160; He calls into question, not only their legitimacy as leaders of the true Israel, but also their loyalties and motives concerning God and God's purposes and desires for the people. </p><p>One of the well-known symbols that Jesus uses in these confrontations is that of a vineyard, long an image for Israel itself.&#160; The prophet Isaiah's &quot;Song of the Unfruitful Vineyard&quot; in today's first lesson (Isaiah 5&#58;1-7) is but one example of this symbol's use in Scripture, and well worth reading.&#160; The point of Isaiah's message is Israel's unfaithfulness.&#160; What more could God have done?&#160; God prepared in the very best ways, planting and cultivating a people through whom a harvest of faithfulness, justice, and righteousness was expected.&#160; What God received was something else altogether.</p><p>Jesus' parable follows a very similar plot.&#160; Here a landowner prepares a vineyard and leases the vineyard to tenant farmers, expecting to receive his due – a share of the harvest.&#160; They in turn are not faithful to their responsibilities, but instead treat the landowner's representatives (and therefore the landowner, himself) with great contempt and violence.&#160; Now given that Jesus' opponents were also experts in the Scriptures, it is easy to imagine that they made the connections right off the bat.&#160; The landowner is God, of course, and the tenants are the leadership of Israel.&#160; The long-string of servants which the tenants mistreat are the prophets who were beaten, stoned, even killed for declaring the word of the Lord and pointing Israel back to her true purpose and vocation.&#160; But who then is the landowner's son in the story?&#160; That is the question.</p><p>Lest we think the answer to this question is obvious – Jesus, of course -- remember that the whole issue behind these confrontations and the increasing animosity towards Jesus centers around his true identity and by what authority and power he is doing the things he is doing.&#160; In answer, Jesus points them to two places in the Scriptures, Psalm 118&#58;22 (Matt. 21&#58;42) and Daniel 2&#58;44-45 (Matt. 21&#58;44).&#160; In the first, Jesus makes use of a play on words in the Hebrew language (the original language of the Hebrew Bible, what we commonly call the Old Testament) between the word for &quot;son,&quot; <em>ben</em>, and the word for &quot;stone,&quot; <em>eben</em>.&#160; Though they are rejecting Jesus and his message, and indeed will ultimately reject him through the cross, God has something else in mind and will vindicate Jesus in the end.&#160; The second passage from Daniel serves to underscore Jesus' point.&#160; Here again the image of a stone is used, but this time from an important passage in terms of the hope of a time – a messianic age – in which God would defeat all the opposing kingdoms and restore Israel.&#160; God is doing that, Jesus claims, but not in the way that many, including his opponents, were expecting.&#160; </p><p>In the end, the chief priests and the Pharisees who have come to confront Jesus get the point.&#160; They are the tenants in the story and Jesus is the son.&#160; Enraged by such a challenge to their legitimacy and authority, they want to arrest Jesus, and eventually will.&#160; For now they can only stand by helpless because of the crowds around them.</p><p>It is easy to read this passage from the perspective of being on the right side of things.&#160; After all, we know who Jesus is.&#160; We believe in him, unlike those stubborn, hard-hearted, and &quot;bad&quot; people who put him on the cross.&#160; Sadly, the history of the church has been to do just that, to read such passages and find in them a reason to hate and persecute our Jewish brothers and sisters as &quot;Christ killers.&quot;&#160; Yet if Jesus is indeed the Messiah (and I believe that he is), and if we are &quot;joint heirs&quot; with him of God's kingdom as Paul says (Romans 8&#58;15-17), then are we not also accountable to God for producing the &quot;fruits&quot; God expects to see?&#160; Perhaps then the issue this passage calls us to think about is this, if indeed followers of Jesus have been given the kingdom as Matthew declares (Matt. 21&#58;43), then what sort of &quot;kingdom&quot; is God calling <em>us</em> to be?</p><p><strong>Discussion Questions</strong></p><ul><li><p>When we pray in the Lord's Prayer, &quot;Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven…&quot; what do you think we are asking?&#160; What does God's kingdom look like to you? What pictures come to mind?</p></li><li><p>If you talked above about the issues that divide people today, what do you think would be a Christian response(s) to some of the things you discussed?&#160; Or if there are other issues, anxieties, or needs particular to your group or community, talk about how you might respond in ways which bring God's love and light to bear.&#160; Can you follow up your discussion with action?</p></li><li><p>In your opinion, is it important for Christians – particularly people your age – to express their faith through outward acts of service?&#160; Why or why not?</p></li><li><p>If your congregation participated in the ELCA Day of Service, think about how your group might either continue or extend that service in your community or the wider world.&#160; </p></li></ul><p><strong>Activity Suggestions</strong></p><ul><li><p>Tour your worship space together. What symbols do you notice?&#160; If your space has stained glass windows depicted biblical people or stories, for instance, why do you think those themes were chosen?&#160; Does the shape of your worship space or the way that the altar is arranged communicate something?&#160; Many older sanctuaries are built in the shape of a cross. Altars are often placed in the round.&#160; What do these things symbolize?</p></li><li><p>Think about your worship service.&#160; Make a list of all&#160;the symbolic actions or gestures you notice?&#160; Remember that both worship leaders and the congregation engage in symbolic actions.&#160; What do they &quot;say?&quot;</p></li><li><p>Together make a list&#160;of the sorts of things God wants/expects to see from God's &quot;kingdom people?&quot;&#160; Some passages you might investigate include&#58; Isaiah 58&#58;1-14; Micah 6&#58;6-8; the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7).&#160; What other verses, stories, or parables come to mind?</p></li></ul><p><strong>Closing Prayer</strong></p><p>Gracious and loving God, in the waters of baptism you name us and claim us and make us your very own.&#160; Thank you for the gift of faith, and for your relentless love that will not let us go no matter what.&#160; Empower us by your Spirit to be the kingdom-people you call us to be, and lead us to be living signs of your grace in the lives of those around us.&#160; In Jesus' name we pray.&#160; Amen. </p><p><br><strong></strong></p><p>​</p></div>09/30/2014September 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>09/23/2014