- Do you think that Mother Teresa will be considered more or less of a Christian in the eyes of the world when people find out that she felt further away from God than most of us?
- How can someone who doubts the existence of God still do good works in God’s name?
- Which do you think is better: to act like a Christian but be a non-believer, or to believe and not act according to your faith? Why?
- Should charities accept donations from unethical or questionable sources, even if they use that money for a good cause? What would be some examples that you’re aware of? (e.g., tobacco company money being used for health care projects, social ministry program accepting gambling money, etc.)
- Describe a time or experience in your life when God felt close, and a time when God felt distant or not there at all? What or who helped you during these experiences?
- What should people do who work for the church but feel that they have (temporarily) lost their faith?
Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, November 2, 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.
Our text from the Gospel of Matthew is part of a longer speech by Jesus preached against the scribes and the Pharisees. It leads into a symbolic action by Jesus who leaves the temple in order to show that it is doomed.
Matthew 23 has been called “the unloveliest chapter in the Gospel” because it portrays the Pharisees and scribes in the most negative way possible. The experience of the Holocaust has taught us that this chapter contributed to anti-Jewish sentiments among Christians. Even in modern languages, “Pharisee” is often synonymous with “hypocrite”. This is why we should approach this text carefully and without preconceived notions about Judaism then and now.
But our Gospel text is not so much about what others do wrong and what we do right. Instead, it asks for humility and a focus on Christ. Most of us are talented and gifted people, in one area or another. These gifts should be celebrated and used, for sure. But we often want to use our gifts and talents to show the world that we are someone special; we want our 15 minutes of fame. We want to be the fastest, or the prettiest, or the most talented, or the most watched video on Youtube, or the best in something. But we should remember that there is only one teacher, only one master, only one leader, and only one Savior — Jesus Christ. Knowing and accepting this can lead us to use all of our wonderful gifts and talents for the benefit of others; not to put ourselves on a pedestal, but to be God’s hands in the world.
The Jesus who is “gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29) thus becomes our model for a truly Christian life. Matthew imagines the community comprised of Jesus’ followers to be one that does not have hierarchies. Instead, it should be a community of equality among sisters and brothers who serve each other as well as people outside of the community. This type of community can prosper and live together through difficult times. Among people who are truly sisters and brothers, times of personal trial can be survived because when one member is weak, others can be strong for them.
- Who do you consider to be a great example for the Christian faith?
- Is there a group of people you know of who live out their Christian faith in better ways than others?
- Who are they and what do they do?
- What would a church look like, in which the principles from Matthew 23 are followed closely?
- Discuss the practicality of the vision for the Christian community in Matthew 23.
- Psalms about a distant God
The Book of Psalms preserves many voices that complain about a distant God or ask God to come near once again. Read in small groups or together some examples for such texts: Psalm 43, Psalm 42, or Psalm 22:1-20. Then, ask your students to write a “modern psalm” that talks about what somebody might experience who feels that God has left him or her.
- A modern day saint
Split your students into small groups of two or three and ask them to develop a schedule for someone who they consider a modern day saint. What would their day or their week look like? Have a few sheets of paper ready with an outline of a person drawn on them. Students can write the schedules in or around that outline, or decorate it to show what a modern day saint might look like. Display the sheets and discuss the results in the group.
- Love letters
Mother Teresa is reported to have said, “I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who writes a love letter to the world,” and “We are all pencils in the hand of God.” Ask your students to write, from the perspective of God, a love letter to the world. What do they think would God want to say to God’s people in our modern world? You can make this task more memorable if you get pencils with scripture verses printed on them that students can take home after today’s lesson.
Dear God, there are times when we feel that you are close to us. In those times, it is easy for us to do your will and to be a follower of you and your son. But there are also times when you feel so far away. We ask you to give us a strong community and a few “modern day saints” in our lives that will support us when we feel left alone by you. And give us the strength to return the favor and care for others when they need it. Amen
Contributed by Pastor Claudia Bergmann