Warm-up Question: What circumstances do you think might lead a parent of a teenager to abandon or give up that child?
A Nebraska law meant to allow parents to legally abandon newborns at hospitals has instead led parents to drop off over a dozen teenagers since its passage in July. To date, 20 of the 33 children dropped off at Nebraska hospitals have been teens, including a now-missing 17 year old girl who fled after being dropped off with her younger brother. Eight more children dropped off were 11 or 12 years of age.
Lawmakers are set to convene this week to rewrite the law, excluding all children except infants up to 3 days old from being legally abandoned. Since lawmakers announced plans to rewrite the law, the rate of teen drop-offs has increased as desperate parents sense their time running out.
Safe haven laws exist in every state to prevent prosecution of parents who abandon newborns outside safe public places like hospitals, but Nebraska is the only state without an age limit. Lawmakers could not agree on an age limit when writing the law, so it was passed with just the word “child.”
One mother of an 18 year old stated that she thought her daughter would receive help if she turned her over to the state. The daughter had a mental health condition and had been cutting school, stealing, fighting, and sleeping around. Because of her age, however, the teen had to return home with her mother.
“These are largely families at a point of incredible desperation,” said Wayne Sensor, chief executive of Alegent Health hospitals, where 14 children have been left. “They aren’t bad parents or bad kids. They simply don’t know what services are available out there.”
- Do you think parents should be able to give their kids to the state if they can’t handle them (or think they can’t)? What arguments for and against this can you think of. What types of behaviors do you think might warrant government intervention in a young person’s life?
- What kind of help might a high school age youth get from a government agency that they can’t get from their parents?
- What would be your advice to a parent whose child is in serious trouble? What would you suggest they do?
- Do you think God keeps track of what we do, our motivations, our good deeds, or our sins?
Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, November 23, 2008.
(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 A at Lectionary Readings.)
For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.
When I read this passage the first time, I didn’t understand it. After all, Jesus seemed to be saying that we had to minister to the poor and needy (“the least of these”) in order to get into heaven. This seemed to conflict with other scriptures stating that the only thing necessary to have eternal life was to accept Jesus and believed in him. It was “faith verses works,” if you’ve heard that talked about before. God’s grace saves us through our faith, not through anything we do. We can’t work our way into heaven.
Feeling confused, I looked up a commentary on these verses to get an “expert” opinion. What I read gave me an entirely different perspective on these verses.
I assumed, and probably had heard preached before, that the “least of these” that Jesus talked about only referred to the poor. But the commentary said that when Jesus says “the least of these,” he was talking about the treatment of his disciples and all the messengers of his good news in the world. In other words, how people treat the messengers of the good news and how they receive the gospel determines how God will judge them.
Our salvation is definitely a free gift — not something we have to work for or accomplish. A gift does need to be accepted or received though. If we accept that gift, we experience the blessings of God’s kingdom — a kingdom that begins here on earth, right now.
The gospel certainly calls for us to care for people living in poverty or hunger, people being treated unjustly, and others in need. The Bible talks about how necessary service and ministry are to have at the center of our lives, and that it is a responsibility of the church and all people; it’s just not our ticket to heaven. Jesus has done that already, and there’s nothing else we need to do other than accept his gift of love and forgiveness… and start living it in relationship with other people right now.
- Have you ever done a good deed thinking it would win you favor or points with God? What was it you did?
- When someone tries to talk to you about Jesus and the gift of salvation, how do you respond or feel?
- How do you feel about talking to other people about Jesus and the gift of salvation? What do think is important to say, and to demonstrate with your actions and behavior?
Find someone in your church who is a “messenger of the gospel.” This could be your pastor, choir director, youth leader, a Sunday school teacher, young person, old person, or a layperson involved in mission work, for example.
Choose one of the following:
- Interview your chosen person about his or her experiences with sharing the gospel of Jesus. How has she or he been received and treated? What makes that ministry most difficult? What are the joys involved? As a group, write an article about this person. Publish your article online, in the church newsletter, or in a worship bulletin.
- Ask what your group can do to support the ministry of your chosen person. Perhaps you can help with preparations for a Sunday school class or for youth group time, put together care packages with a mission worker, or prepare a skit or song to reinforce a pastor’s Sunday morning message.
O Lord our God, we pray that you would strengthen all your messengers across the world who share the gospel of Jesus with others. We thank you for their service to you and we pray that they would be treated well and provided for. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Contributed by Jennifer Krausz