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November 5-12, 2008 – Get out the vote… and wait

Warm-up Question: What surprised you the most about Tuesday’s election?

The final days leading up to the 2008 General Election were filled with a frenzy of phone calls, knocking on doors, and posting signs all over the country. Both the John McCain and Barack Obama campaigns pumped millions of dollars and thousands of volunteers into battleground states in the hopes of picking up a few extra Electoral College votes on November 4. It is estimated that, when the campaigns have concluded, over $1 billion will have been spent on this election — or $8 per voter. (It’s a lot of money, but consider that Americans spent $3 billion on buying potato chips last year.)

Democrats called their final wave of contacts a “Persuasion Army,” while Republicans participated in a “72-Hour Program.” The goal was simple: send as many volunteers as possible into the states that are up for grabs, and do everything within your legal rights to convince those people to vote for your candidate. Key states in the day leading up to the election included Indiana, North Carolina, Florida, Indiana, Missouri, and Ohio. President Bush won the electoral votes of each of these states in 2004, but all were declared “too close to call” in this election.

The struggle for many campaign volunteers was not the long hours they invest, but the inevitable wait on Tuesday night. Some political experts have predicted that the official tally may not be approved until Wednesday morning, or later. The location of voting sites and ballots, in addition to a record number of absentee voters, caused some people to anticipate the possibility of contested results in some states.

“I just hope I know who the winner is come Wednesday morning,” said one McCain volunteer. “I don’t think I’ll be able to handle waiting several days to know the outcome.”

Discussion Questions

  • How did you decide which candidate to support? What were your criteria?
  • What do you think of the Electoral College system? Is there a better way to elect leaders? What changes would you make if you had the power to restructure the presidential voting system?
  • The 2000 Presidential Election wasn’t officially determined until December 12. How would you respond if it took five weeks to announce the winner of the 2008 election?
  • Imagine of you were a presidential candidate and you had to wait to find out if you won. How would you spend your time waiting? Who would you want waiting with you?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, November 9, 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.

Gospel Reflection

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus tells a difficult story of what the “kingdom of heaven” will be like. A group of bridesmaids were hanging out and waiting for the bridegroom to show up. He was running late, so they all fell asleep. When the bridegroom finally showed up, only half of the bridesmaids were prepared, with oil in their lamps. The other members of the group asked if they could borrow some oil so their lamps would remain lit. The wise bridesmaids, those who were prepared, did not share their oil. The foolish and unprepared bridesmaids went out to buy some oil for themselves, but when they returned to the party, the door was shut and they were not allowed to enter for the wedding.

The first time I read this story, it sounded to me like Jesus was saying “only the smart people get into heaven.” The next time I read it, I thought Jesus was telling the disciples, “You shouldn’t share what you have with others.” However, from what I’ve read in other parts of the Bible, I have come to know that both of those ideas are not in line with how God and Jesus have acted in other situations.

So what can we learn from the story of the ten bridesmaids? Perhaps it’s that Jesus is calling us to be ready. He’s reminding us to be prepared and to be patient for him to come again. Jesus has blessed each of us with parents, pastors, friends, and mentors who can help us come to know him in a special way. This story encourages us to listen to those people and to be ready for his return. Even if we think Jesus is running late, he has promised that he will eventually show up. So be patient, watchful, and ready — because the party is going to be pretty amazing!

Discussion Questions

  • What does this story say to you about salvation?
  • Which group of bridesmaids would you be associated with? Why?
  • What is something that you had to prepare for this week? How did you prepare?
  • Tom Petty once sang, “Waiting is the hardest part.” What situations really test your patience? In what kind of situations do you tend to just “hang loose” until the last moment?
  • More than once Jesus tells the people around him “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour [of my return].” What does staying awake involve? What do Jesus’ actions and words suggest about living life?

Activity Suggestions

Thanksgiving is coming up in a few weeks. Advent and Christmas are right around the corner. In most churches, the final weeks of the calendar year are filled with important worship services and special events. Find a way that your group can help your church prepare for one of these things. Perhaps you could decorate the sanctuary for the Thanksgiving Eve worship service. Or maybe you could make Advent calendars for the children in the church.

Try to be creative in the ways you can be helpful. Doing special things at church takes a lot of patience and preparation!

Closing Prayer

God, it’s easy for us to be impatient in a world where we have everything we need right at our fingertips. We wonder if you’re ever going to come back and invite us to the big party, the wedding, the feast. Help us to relax and focus on the ways you touch our lives every day. Give us the understanding to know how to best prepare for your coming. Let us be bold in telling others about your amazing love for us. Amen

Contributed by Erik Ullestad
West Des Moines, IA


Sept. 10-17, 2008 – Political season is open season on candidates’ past, families

Warm-up Question: What is one thing in your past that you would love to forget?

With both conventions over, the seemingly endless campaign season is finally in “full swing.” For the next two months, Barack Obama, John McCain, Sarah Palin, and Joe Biden (as well as hundreds of senatorial and congressional candidates) will be making their cases — and defending their records — in an effort to win votes.

But they’re not the only ones talking. This is also a season for journalists to investigate and communicate all they can about the candidates’ pasts: who they dealt with, what promises they broke, who they’ve hurt, and what they’ve done wrong. Tabloids, blogs, primetime anchors, and reputable newspapers will all be trading on rumors, facts, and everything in between.

So far, we’ve learned about John Edwards (prominent Democrat and former VP candidate) and his affair with a campaign aide during his run for the presidency. Sarah Palin is under investigation for abusing her power while governor of Alaska, and the media has had a field day with this family-values oriented candidate disclosing that her unwed 17-year-old daughter is pregnant. Both Barack Obama and John McCain have been charged with “flip-flopping,” saying one thing and then changing their minds for the sake of winning votes. And candidates in every corner of the country are being investigated for ties to oil companies now that gas prices are sky high and oil companies are making more money than ever before.

At the same time, the most forgiving folks are ironically the candidates’ fiercest and most recent critics — the people who ran against them during the primary season. Nearly all the leading candidates for president during the primaries have now enthusiastically endorsed either John McCain or Barack Obama, after very recently saying harsh and even cruel things about their former opponents. The biggest story at the Democrats convention in Denver was about whether the Clintons would “play nice” with Barack Obama after a bruising battle for the party’s nomination. Is this also “flip-flopping” too? Or is it authentic forgiveness and reconciliation? Perhaps no one will know. But in the meantime, we’re all in for a fall full of attacks and apologies, rumors and revelations. And maybe, a little actual conversation about policy and the things that actually matter about governing a nation.

And after November, all these folks will have to figure out a way to govern this nation together, after tearing each other apart.

Discussion Questions

  • What about a candidate’s past is interesting or important to you? What is not?
  • How are you feeling about this year’s election? The advertising? The reporting? How much are you paying attention?
  • How well would you be able to work with someone who for the last year or so called you names or made fun of your past experience?
  • How much room is there for forgiveness in our country’s political scene?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, September 14, 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.

Scripture Reflection (especially Genesis)

The story of our biblical “founding fathers and mothers” is a study in dysfunctional families. Joseph was one of 12 brothers and one sister. He was an arrogant brat as a kid, and his father’s favorite, so his brothers beat him up and left him to die in the desert. Then they had a change of heart and sold him into slavery instead, and they lied and told their father that Joseph had been eaten by wild animals. So much for brotherly love!

Flash forward: Joseph, sold into slavery in Egypt, becomes a wealthy and powerful politician. Meanwhile, back home, a drought and famine is threatening to starve Joseph’s brothers to death. They travel down to Egypt, where Joseph has made sure that Egypt would have plenty of grain, and after a rather frightening and funny scene, Joseph and his family are reunited. Joseph convinces Pharaoh to let his family stay in Egypt, and dad (Jacob) helps the brothers figure out how to get along again.

Then dad dies, and the brothers begin to worry: Will our past come back to haunt us? Will Joseph remember the horrible things we did to him, and now that dad’s not around to intervene, will Joseph seek revenge? He has every right to still be angry, doesn’t he? Will he use our past to destroy our future?

So they decide to lie (again). They tell Joseph that dad told them to tell him to forgive them. All the kindness and favor that Joseph had showered on them was not enough; they needed to hear that Joseph forgave them. They lied to Joseph to make him say what they wanted to hear: “You’re forgiven and I will take care of you.”

Whether Joseph believes them or not seems irrelevant. He believes that God has worked in and through this crazy family to make something good happen for God’s chosen people. And because it is in God’s best interest, Joseph forgives his brothers and promises to provide for them.

But before he does that, something amazing happens: Joseph weeps when his brothers (sort of) ask for forgiveness. And when Joseph weeps, the brothers weep, too. All of them begin to cry all over themselves. Wouldn’t you? Think of all the pain, fear, anxiety, anger, grief, resentment, and vengeance that have built up for these guys over the last few years. In the middle of this amazing story of forgiveness, there is a river of tears.

This kind of vulnerability, compassion, and genuine forgiveness are rare in American politics. Our country has become so cynical that we doubt the sincerity of politicians who cry in public, and probably with good reason. But here, in the halls of the Pharaoh’s palace (the Egyptian White House), are a bunch of guys weeping together, burying old hatchets, and healing old wounds. And not because dad (maybe) said so, but because God moved Joseph to see the bigger picture, to trust that God’s love for God’s people was big enough to cover all the deep wounds that separated Joseph from his brothers for years.

Discussion Questions

  • Why did Joseph and his brothers weep? Have you ever had to apologize, or be apologized to, for something really serious? Did it make you feel like crying? How did it feel?
  • Can you picture Barack Obama and John McCain hugging, crying, and apologizing after the election is over, regardless of who wins? Why or why not?
  • Why do you think the brothers made up the story about Jacob (dad) asking Joseph to forgive them? Why didn’t they just ask for forgiveness on their own? And why didn’t Joseph seem to care that they were lying to him?
  • When has what God thinks mattered more to you than how you personally feel about someone who has hurt you? How do we know what God thinks about the people we are angry with?

Activity Suggestions

  • Collect a few days’ worth of political news (Google News works well for this).

    • What attacks are people making about candidates in local, state, or national elections?
    • Which ones are personal, or about past mistakes (family problems, substance abuse, poor financial decisions, friends or coworkers in legal trouble, religion, changing opinions about something, etc.)?
    • Which ones are about real issues that matter to real people (health care, the war, poverty, education, the environment, safety, etc)?
    • How do you tell the difference?
  • Write a letter to someone you have hurt, and another letter to someone who has hurt you. Tell the story of what happened, talk about your feelings, and ask for/offer forgiveness. Then decide if you want to send it, burn it, or keep it around while you think about it.
  • Act out the scene between Joseph and his brothers. Then write another scene, changing the characters and the situation to fit something more relevant to your daily lives in families, schools, teams, or church. Change roles a couple times. Talk about how it feels to be caught up in this story of anger, vengeance, forgiveness, and love.

Closing Prayer

Holy and Merciful One, you shower your people with forgiveness and love. Help us to be honest about our past, real about our hurts, and open to give and receive forgiveness. Make us a gracious and forgiving people. In Jesus’ name. Amen

Contributed by Pastor Jay McDivitt
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Denver, CA