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July 21, 2024–And Then There Were Flight Delays

Warm-up Questions

  • What does it feel like to have your plans disrupted?
  • What does it feel like to experience delays that are out of your control?

A Global Software Glitch 

Just small mistake in a few lines of code. That’s all it took to cancel thousands of flights, lock hospital computers, freeze bank operations, and even temporarily shut down government operations. Throughout the globe, millions upon millions of people’s lives were impacted by just a small mistake in a few lines of code.

Some of you reading this may have dealt with the impacts directly. As I write this, I’m in a hotel room, hoping to make it home only 36 hours late, while others have been delayed as much as five days! I have friends who can’t access medical records. I’ve know family who can’t fully access their checking accounts. It’s a strange thing that, with just a small mistake, the world as we know it snarls into chaos.

You can learn more about how this worldwide event happened here. My takeaway? It’s not that this is a problem that could have been avoided, though that’s certainly at the forefront of my mind. Instead, it’s that a community of people is invested in figuring out what went wrong so we don’t have to repeat this mistake again.

Discussion Questions

  • Were you impacted by this global software glitch?
    • If so, how?
  • How do you respond to other disruptions in your life?
    • What can you learn from this experience?

Third Sunday After Pentecost 23:1-6

Psalm 23

Ephesians 2:11-22

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

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 at Lectionary Readings.

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Responding to Disruptions

Jesus is no stranger to disruptions. It seems most of his ministry is shaped by the interruptions he experiences during his journeys. What’s so powerful about his witness is that Jesus doesn’t avoid the disruptions, nor does he simply look for someone to blame. Instead, Christ confronts the disruptions in ways that seek solutions.

This week’s Gospel includes two such circumstances. First, as Jesus boards a boat with his friends, an unexpected crowd rushes to greet him. Rather than raise the sails and run, Jesus instead takes time to teach these people who are so eager to hear a good word from God’s Living Word. Then, after finally getting to the other side of the lake, another crowd collapses around him, this time seeking healing. Once again, Jesus takes these interruptions in stride and heals all who come close to him.

This doesn’t make the interruptions easy for Jesus, nor were they necessarily part of his plan. What made them significant, even sacred, is that Jesus took the disruptions seriously and responded the best way that he knew how: with wisdom, compassion, and love.

Discussion Questions

  1. If you were leaving to be alone with your friends, how would you respond if someone you didn’t know interrupted your plans?
  2. Why do you think Jesus was so willing to respond to the interruptions that he faced during his ministry?
  3. What can we learn about our responses to disruption from the example of Jesus?

 Activity Suggestions

  1. Play a game with a buzzer or countdown timer. Hot Potato, Heads Up, or Bamboozle would work well. After playing a few rounds, reflect on how it feels in our bodies and minds to face disruptions even when we know they’re unavoidable.
  2. Make a list of people in your community, congregation, or family that have faced disruptions. These could be health challenges, changes at work, moving homes, or life transitions. Then, choose simple ways that you can offer support amidst their disruption. Maybe it’s a prayer. Perhaps it’s a homemade gift. It could be a helping hand. When other people face disruptions, we can follow Jesus and respond with wisdom, compassion, and love.

Closing prayer:  

God of surprises, we often don’t know what to expect next out of this life. Help us to follow Jesus and be faithful to the sudden changes and surprising circumstances that we face. Remind us that, even amidst disruption, you are active and that you are working for the good. Help us to join you in responding well to these interruptions to our daily lives and find the goodness that is present, all in and through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord: Amen.

July 14, 2024–Created To Be Transformed

Warm-up Questions

  • Can you think of an experience that changed the direction of your life?
    • If so, share that experience.
    • If not, share what kind of experience might redirect your life.

Created To Be

This coming week, more than 18,000 people will gathering in New Orleans for the ELCA Youth Gathering and partner events like MYLE, the tAble, and the Young Adult Gathering. For many young people, this confluence of events is a watershed experience. Streams of faith formation collide with tributaries of service and currents of community to create a river of life-giving, life-changing experience. God is at work among young people, and the ELCA Youth Gathering is one profound way that the Holy Spirit changes their lives for the better.

While thousands have this experience in New Orleans, countless more have not had the chance to attend this or previous national youth gatherings. Sometimes schedules don’t align. Sometimes costs get in the way. Sometimes emergencies arise. Fortunately, while we know the profound impact of the Gathering, we know that God is at work in myriad ways to positively impact the lives of young people within and beyond the ELCA. LuMin and NECU provide invaluable ministry experiences for young adults in colleges across the country. Regional ministries through synods and camps ensure that youth ministry gatherings are accessible multiple times each year. Congregations provide support on a weekly, and even daily, basis for youth faith formation.

The 2024 Gathering will be another watershed moment for many, and for that we give thanks. We also give great thanks for those ministries who bring positive change to all those who can’t be in New Orleans this week. We were all created to be authentic, free, brave, disruptive disciples. Together, across the church, we share the work of proclaiming that life-changing liberation.

If you’d like to experience some of the Gathering from afar, be sure to check out their YouTube page for livestream options.

Discussion Questions

  • Can you think of an experience that transformed your faith?
    • If so, share what that experience was like.
    • If not, discuss what kinds of experiences might change your faith.
  • What does it mean to you that God created us to be:
    • authentic?
    • free?
    • brave?
    • disruptive?
    • disciples?

Third Sunday After Pentecost

Amos 7:7-15

Psalm 85:8-13

Ephesians 1:3-14

Mark 6:14-29

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 at Lectionary Readings.

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

And Now for Something Completely Different

In this week’s Gospel, we hear how Herod killed John the Baptist. To say the least, it is a very strange story. In short, Herod’s young daughter Herodias entertains him and his guests at a party by dancing. As was custom at the time, since Herod was please with her performance, he made a public promise to give Herodias anything she wanted. At the behest of her mother, Herodias asked for John the Baptist’s head.

Yup. A mother manipulated her daughter into asking for a beheading after her first dance recital. The Bible is weird.

This tragedy is a watershed moment for Jesus and his disciples. At that time, John was likely more popular and more influential than Jesus. This execution could have meant the end of this revolutionary movement and sent Jesus into hiding. Instead, this becomes the catalyst for the expansion of Jesus ministry, which honors and extends the legacy of John the Baptist.

Not every watershed moment comes from a positive experience. Sometimes, events like the gathering and supportive communities like a local youth group offer encouragement for transformation. At other times, tragedies like the loss of John the Baptist inspire change. Inspiration for change can come through excitement and sadness. Both grief and joy can lead to evolution because God is present in both. The loss of John brought grief to Jesus–his coworker and cousin–even as it also moved Jesus into a new era of ministry that changed the whole world for the better. It’s through all sorts of events, the best of times and the worst of times, that we come to understand who God created us to be.

Discussion Questions

  1. What ways have you grown from difficult situations in life?
  2. Where have you seen God active in unexpected places?

 Activity Suggestions

  1. Use two activities to show the different ways the catalysts work.
    1. For one example, put white flowers in a vase with some water and add a colored dye. Over many days, the flower’s petals will absorb the color of the dye, but the change doesn’t happen right away.
    2. For the other example, get a 2 liter of soda and a pack of Mentos. Be sure that you’re outside in an area that can get messy. Drop a Mentos in the bottle and quickly step back. Almost immediately, the chemical reaction causes the liquid to erupt from the bottle.
  2. Reflect, either with a group or in a journal, on how God can be active in an instant and how God’s activity can seem to take forever. How do these different experiences, sudden change and slow evolution, help you to understand who God created you to be?

Closing prayer:  

Creative God, you created us to be your images in the world. Make us attentive to the ways you work through all of life’s experiences. From the happiest mountains to the saddest valleys, remind us that you are transforming us into little Christs who live for the life of the world. We pray this all in the name of Jesus Christ: Amen.

June 16, 2024–What Is It Like?

Warm-up Questions

  • What superhero are you most like and why?

Something Like a Simile

The sports fans among us know that, right now in North America, two championship tournaments are in their last round. Both the National Hockey League (NHL) Stanley Cup Finals and the National Basketball Association (NBA) Championship Finals are occurring. These competitions feature some of this season’s best teams and players.

For instance, this article compares Connor McDavid, a current player with the Edmonton Oilers, with another hockey player that many consider the best to ever play the game, Wayne Gretzky. Other writers compare one team to another, one playoff run to another, one season to another. The question of how they are alike and how they differ drives sports media personalities, and therefore, revenue.

And it doesn’t stop there. We don’t just compare things of the same kind–players, teams, seasons, and so forth. We often use powerful comparisons to point out something unique. That player is fast like a cheetah. This team’s defense swarmed like bees. That dunk shook the arena like an earthquake.

At play here is a simple part of speech, the simile. When you say one thing is like another thing, especially a very different kind of thing, you’re saying they are similar. They share some kind of quality, experience, or value. That doesn’t mean they’re exactly the same. Instead, that you can understand something new by noticing how it is similar to something with which you are familiar.

Discussion Questions

  • In what other areas do you notice we use similes in our culture? This could be in school, in church, in advertising, and more.
  • Is comparing things to one another this way always helpful? Why or why not?

Third Sunday After Pentecost

Ezekiel 17:22-24

Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15

2 Corinthians 5:6-17

Mark 4:26-34

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 at Lectionary Readings.

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

What It’s Like Is Not What It Is

In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks about the reign of God with similes. God’s reign is like a mustard seed, growing from small seed that needs the protection of the soil to large plant that provides protection to other creatures. God’s reign is like the growing process itself, something we witness and ultimately benefits us through food and yet something we do not fully comprehend nor control. Whatever God’s reign is like, apparently it is about growth, about protection, about abundance.

Yet, in parables, Jesus only ever tells us what God’s reign is like. In other words, through these teachings, we only get a glimpse of the fullness of God’s reign. The use of these similes helps us understand something foreign–heaven–through earthly images. We can’t fully comprehend the processes of heaven, nor can we control it. Yet, we can know that God’s realm is about growing to share with others. We can know that God’s realm is about multiplying blessing in order to feed others.

This use of simile doesn’t mean that God’s reign is actually found in a seed, or only available to agricultural communities. In other places, Jesus uses economic imagery, family imagery, and more to communicate what God’s reign is like. To use the language of worship, in Jesus’ teachings we get “a foretaste of the feast to come.” To use scriptural language, we only now “see in a mirror dimly,” but eventually we will see “face to face.”

So if you don’t fully comprehend what God’s reign is like yet, that’s ok. If you aren’t sure what to expect from heaven. That’s alright. As long as we learn at the feet of Jesus, we’ll learn more and more what the reign of God is like. In turn, as we learn, we’ll be able to recognize that reign when we see it face to face.

Discussion Questions

  1. What do you think heaven (or the reign of God) is like? 
  2. What questions do you have about heaven (or the reign of God)?

 Activity Suggestions

  1. Take time to share in a group or write in a journal new similes about the reign of God. Then, share them with your pastors, deacons, and mentors. Describe the connections you notice between something in your world and the reign of God.
  2. Take time to grow a seed inside–all you’ll need is a small container, some soil, and the seed. Plant the seed and place the container near a window, watering regularly. Use a seed for plants like sprouts or radishes, which germinate and mature relatively quickly. Each day, as you notice its growth, ask yourself, “What does this tell me about God’s reign?” Share your thoughts with a friend or family member.

Closing prayer:  

God of Wisdom, thank you for teaching us in ways that we can comprehend. Help us to grow in understanding your reign and what it means for our lives. Inspire us to see your reign not only in a place far off, but growing like a seed in our world today. Amen.

June 9, 2024–Chosen Family

Warm-up Questions

  • What does “family” mean to you?
  • When you think of your family, who immediately comes to mind? 
    • Are all of these people a genetic or legal relative?
    • What makes them your family?

Family (Really) Matters

Family is a common experience for many and a common theme in media. Some people have biological families, others adoptive families, still others chosen families, and yet, all are family. Sports teams talk about one another as families, especially in times of trial. TV shows often focus on the antics of characters navigating the different personalities that other family members’ bring.

This emphasis on family, however, shouldn’t make us think everyone else has a family just like ours. Just because our family relationships are normal to us doesn’t mean that they’re normal for everyone. Family is unique in its expression, and research shows, in its value during trying times. Not all family trees are defined by the same biological, legal, or emotional connections. Yet, they’re all families.

After the COVID-19 pandemic changed all of our lives, Emory University began to research how that crisis impacted people’s interactions with family members. The results show us something very interesting. When facing difficult situations, people are more likely to reach beyond their resident families–the people with whom they live–and to seek connection with a more extended familial network. In other words, in troubling times, people often look beyond their immediate family for support. You can read more about this study here.

When we think about family, and the importance they play in our lives, this research suggests we shouldn’t just think about the people with whom we live. They’re vitally important. Yet, no matter how you define family, there are others within our family networks that play pivotal roles and share valuable wisdom as we weather the storms of our lives.

Discussion Questions

  • During the pandemic lockdowns, who did you reach out to most often for support?
    • Do you think of these people as family? Why or why not?

Third Sunday After Pentecost

Genesis 3:8-15

Psalm 130

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

Mark 3:20-35

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 at Lectionary Readings.

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Family, Faith, and Function

There is a lot happening in this week’s Gospel. While many readers and preachers may focus on the idea of “unforgivable sin” or imagine what it means to “grieve the Holy Spirit,” its just as striking for some to see Jesus challenge the notion of family. After all, his mother and brothers probably overheard him pose this question as they stood outside! That must have made for an awkward meal at the next holiday.

What Jesus does, though, doesn’t deny that his biological mother and brothers are a part of his family. Instead, he redefines the notion of family away from biology and toward two interrelated things: faith and function. When the people who gather to hear his teaching name the importance of family, Jesus agrees. Yet, he agrees by telling all those gathered in the circle with him that, despite their lack of shared biological parents, those gathered together were his family. Why? Because they gathered around faith in God and they gathered to do God’s work. According to Jesus, “whoever does God’s will” is one of his family members. His biological family was a part of that, but they weren’t the only family, because Jesus was surrounding by a growing movement of people committed to knowing (faith) and doing (function) God’s will.

Across the country this summer, campers from very different backgrounds will come together at Lutheran Outdoor Ministry sites. For some, their ancestors will have attended the same camp. For others, it will be their first time. Some will groups of similarly aged children, while others will be intergenerational camps with youth and adults alike. At camp, you’ll often find people sitting in a circle with fellow campers, just like Jesus was doing in Mark 3, though they’re often around a campfire or singing tree. There they are at Cross Roads in New Jersey, people gathered together in the faith of Jesus. There they are at Living Water Ministries in Michigan, learning about God’s will. There they are El Camino Pines in California, acting out God’s purpose. At these camps, and all of the LOM camps across the country, there’s faith and there’s function. And if we believe Jesus, then there’s family too.

Of course, this happens at other places beyond camp. In this summer season, camp simply shows what’s possible when God’s people gather in faith around shared activity. Through that holy work, God’s family grows. So who are your mother and brothers? Who is your family? Ultimately, our families are the ones God calls together in faith for sharing works of love in this world.

Discussion Questions

  1. What is the difference between having faith and acting it out?
  2. Are you comfortable defining family by faith and function? Why or why not?
  3. Where do you go, away from home, and feel most connected to people? Why do you think you feel that way?

 Activity Suggestions

  1. Write a note–this could be on paper, via text or email, even on social media DMs–to someone who you consider family. Let them know how much they mean to you. Don’t forget to tell them why they mean so much!
  2. Challenge yourself to act out God’s love for someone every day this week in a new way. At the end of each day, reflect on whether that changed your connection with the person.

Closing prayer:  

God, you are both parent and sibling, and in you we find our family growing ever wider. Help us to appreciate the biological, legal, emotional, social, and spiritual ways we are connected with others. In your love, show us how to love others as the human family and faith family that you have given to each of us. We pray this in your name, Jesus: Amen.

June 2, 2024–The Summer Set

Warm-up Question

  1. What are your favorite summer traditions? 
  2. Summer is a time of changing rituals. What kinds of emotions does this change bring to you?

A New Season

People think of the start of summer in different ways. Some look to the Summer Solstice–June 20th in the Northern Hemisphere this year–as the official launch of summer. Others consider the last day of school as the first day of summer. For some of us, it’s the start of summer camp. All across the country, many camp counselors are learning skills, designing curricula, and preparing spaces for youth and families alike to engage their faith in the midst of creation and community.

It may not be obvious to you, but the impact of summer camp lasts far beyond a fun week with silly songs, scriptural skits, and faithful friendships. Two different sets of research show that attendance at summer camp correlates with a long-lasting faith. People who attend church camps are much more likely to have a faith that lasts into the future. People who attend church camps are also more likely to stay connected to local congregations and regularly utilize personal spiritual practices.

To be clear, this doesn’t mean camp should replace Sunday worship services, nor does it mean that camps are better than local congregations. Instead, it suggests that camps and congregations are excellent partners in increasing the impact of faith in the lives of people right now in ways that extend the impact of faith into the future of people’s lives.

To be clear, this research doesn’t suggest that attending camp is a guarantee of faith. It isn’t. Instead, camp is scaffolding, a stabilizing force that supports a continued faith journey for people of all ages. This happens through relationships with counselors and peers, along with putting faith learned in congregations into practice in other contexts. Camp is a laboratory that helps us live the teachings of Jesus in the midst of the world.

You can read summaries of the research here, as well as find links to the larger research projects themselves.

Discussion Questions

  1. Have you ever been to a summer camp? This could be a church camp, scouts, YMCA, 4H, sports, and others. If so, what did you like about it. If not, why haven’t you gone before?
  2. How do you practice your faith outside of church on Sunday mornings?

Second Sunday After Pentecost

Deuteronomy 5:12-15

Psalm 81

2 Corinthians 4:5-12

Mark 2:23-3:6

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 at Lectionary Readings.

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Active Rest

Each of our readings this morning speaks, in one way or another, to the freedom we gave thanks to the work of God. Deuteronomy reminds us that we find rest on the Sabbath because God frees us from oppression. 2nd Corinthians reminds us that, by joining Jesus in death and resurrection, we find freedom from persecution, despair, even destruction. In Mark we witness Jesus challenging our notions of propriety by offering freedom from hunger and hurt even on the Sabbath. 

As I reflected on these readings appointed for this Sunday, one verse in particular struck me. It comes from Psalm 81, “I hear a voice I had not known,” and that’s the voice that leads to liberation. Unfortunately, the voices that we do not aren’t often so helpful. 

The voices of advertisers speak to us time and again—on our televisions, on social media, through text messages, in paper and digital mail. They speak constantly, incessantly. I’d be willing to bet most Americans have memorized more advertising jingles than they have scriptures or prayers. The same goes for Tik Tok trends, movie quotes, song lyrics, and more. That’s not necessarily because people like those voices more, or value them more—instead, it’s because the world’s cacophony does all it can to drown out the voice of God in our lives. To be honest with you, I’m almost certain I could quote you more commercial advertisements than scriptural advisements.

One of the ways we can get away from those voices and listen once again to God’s voice is by getting outside and away from the distractions. Every summer–and throughout the year–church camps provide this opportunity. Of course, there are other places like state and national parks where we can get away from the world’s cacophony. Yet, church camps provide us with the unique opportunity to listen to God through creation, community, and Christian teaching.

Discussion Questions

  1. What are the voices that get most of your attention? They could come from people you know or from places like entertainment, advertisers, and the like. 
  2. How do you distinguish those voices from God’s voice? If you have any practices that help or wisdom to share with your peers, please do!
    1. If you’re reflecting on your own, consider using social media as a way to share this wisdom, which can offer a way for God’s voice to break in amidst other voices.
  3. How does God speak to you differently outside of church, especially in places like the woods, the beach, the mountains, the desert, and other natural areas?

 Activity Suggestions

  1. Go outside. It doesn’t have to be at a camp. It could be on your church property, at a local park, or just the yard outside your door. Turn your phone on “Do Not Disturb” and listen for God’s voice in the world around you. Consider the breeze in the trees, the buzz of bugs, even the pattering of the rain. Take some time to rest from other distractions and hear God’s voice in nature. Write down what you feel and hear so you can remember it next time you’re needing to hear God’s voice.
  2. Plan a trip away with friends of faith. This could be church camp, a mission trip, or a youth gathering. It could also be a bike ride after school or brunch on the weekend. While away together, intentionally ask one another where you see God active outside the walls of the church.

Closing prayer:  

Word of God, speak to us. Carry through the noise of the world around us. Help us to recognize your voice, to heed your wisdom, and to embrace your ways of rest. When we’re distracted, help us find the places where your words are clear and your voice rings through. Wherever we go this summer, and whatever we do, speak to us in ways that free us for the abundant life that you promise to your people. Amen.