February 28, 2016–How Do You Know?

Posted on February 23, 2016 by faithlens

Paul Baglyos, St. Paul, MN

Warm-up Question

What is the Good News when there isn’t any big news?

How Do You Know?

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photo: a katz / Shutterstock.com

On February 5th a construction crane collapsed in New York City, killing one person and injuring three others. The name of the person killed in the collapse was David Wichs, 38 years old.  He was sitting in a parked car at the time.  According to news stories Wichs was a brilliant mathematician who lived a life of giving.”  He had no connection to the construction site and was on his way to work at the time.

Discussion Questions

  • Besides all the accidents that might befall any of us on any given day, against which we might take some preventative precautions, what sorts of freak occurrences are theoretically possible but so unlikely that we never give them the slightest thought or concern?
  • What kinds of things do you suppose people might say to David Wichs’ widow in the face of her grief and loss? What would you say to her if you had the opportunity?
  • If you were David Wichs’ widow, what might people say to you that you would find helpful? What might people say that you would not find helpful?

Third Sunday in Lent

Isaiah 55:1-9

1 Corinthians 10:1-13

Luke 13:1-9
(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings
For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

In another gospel passage (Matthew 16:13-15), Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” and then, more pointedly, “Who do you say that I am?” Presumably, everyone together at the right time and the right place shared the same information about Jesus. They could all see him and the things he was doing; they could all hear him and the things he was saying. But very different interpretations of Jesus abounded. Was Jesus perhaps John the Baptist somehow come back from the dead? Was he Elijah or Jeremiah or one of the other prophets in a new appearance? People interpreted the information about Jesus in many different ways. Finally Peter said, to Jesus, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).

Religious skeptics claim that faith in God is a distortion of reality, an example of confirmation bias, which is the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories. Confirmation bias impairs judgment and critical thinking. People of faith often make the same claims about skeptics, thereby participating in a tired and pointless argument that only manages to perpetuate itself endlessly. People of faith might ask, for example, “How can anyone look upon the grandeur of nature and not see the existence of God?’ while skeptics might ask, “How can anyone look upon the extent of suffering and not see the absence of God?” Each side engages in its own form of confirmation bias to support its claims and to denounce its detractors.

Confirmation bias, however, does not always or necessarily produce a distortion of truth and reality. The fact that our perceptions are shaped by our beliefs does not necessarily mean that our perceptions are false and unreliable. The Gospel of John deals with this matter extensively with regard to faith in Jesus. Everywhere in John (with the exception of the story about Thomas in chapter 20!) believing precedes seeing and is necessary to it. “You will see me,” Jesus promises those who believe in him.

But if belief leads to seeing, what leads to belief? Jesus answers that question in our gospel text when he talks about “keeping my commandments.” Here we have to do with the behaviors and practices that pertain to the Christian community, the church. The church is called to do as Jesus does, to do as Jesus says, to do as Jesus teaches. Such doing incubates belief, and belief incubates seeing.

Discussion Questions

  • Which Christian practices and behaviors have you found to be most supportive of your faith in Jesus?
  • When have you had an experience of seeing Jesus? Describe the context of that experience.
  • What is your greatest challenge or obstacle to faith? How might you best meet and seek to overcome that challenge or obstacle?
  • How do you help others to see Jesus? How do or how might others see Jesus in you?

Activity Suggestions

As a group, describe ways that you have seen Jesus in each person of the group or ways that each person helps others to see Jesus. What, for each person in the group, is the most surprising about what others have said?

Closing Prayer

Pray together the prayer for “Enlightenment of the Holy Spirit” on page 86 in Evangelical Lutheran Worship.