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December 11, 2022–Like Me, Like Christ

Colleen Montgomery, Salem,VA

Warm-up Questions

  • Did you ever have toy like was like you? If so, how was it like you? 
  • What toy would you be excited to buy a younger sibling, cousin, or neighbor for Christmas? 

Like Me, Like Christ

Shoppers across the country are buying toys for Christmas presents for the children in their lives. While many toy manufacturers have increased the racial diversity of their dolls and action figures, there is a segment of children who still don’t see themselves in the toys they find under the tree on Christmas day. Children with disabilities and medical conditions. 


Roanoke College (one of the ELCA’s colleges) has a chapter of Toy Like Me whose purpose is to adapt toys to look like children who have disabilities and medical conditions. Toy Like Me recently hosted a modfication day where they modified nearly 200 toys for children in the Roanoke Valley in Virginia. 

Volunteers from the club and wider campus community added cochlear implants, insulin pumps, and other assistive devices. Dolls, stuffed animals, and action figures are customized to the requests of many families. The club also modified toys with port-a-caths to be given to local hospitals for children when they are diagnosed with cancer. 


Founded by biology professor, Frances McCutcheon, Toy Like Me has been modifying toys since 2016. McCutcheon also teaches classes at the college on differ-abilities where students are able to spend 48 hours experiencing what it is like to live with a disability. Students then make recommendations to the college on how to improve accessibility across campus. 

Toy Like Me has helped make Christmas a little brighter, and the students are helping to make their college community a more accessible and welcoming community. 

Discussion Questions

  • How do you think a child feels when they receive a toy that is like them for perhaps the very first time? 
  • Have you ever had a classmate who had a disability? What modifications were in place to enable them to be a part of the classroom community? 
  • How does someone with a wheelchair get around your school?

Third Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 35:1-10

James 5:7-10

Matthew 11:2-11

(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 C at Lectionary Readings.)

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

Gospel Reflection

In Matthew 11, John the Baptist, a prominent prophet of the time, wants to be sure that Jesus is the real deal. If Jesus was a modern day celebrity, John would want to know that Jesus had the little blue check next to his photo on social media. Jesus points to the restoration of people who experience sight loss, mobility concerns, skin diseases, and hearing loss as a sign of his divinity and as validation of his status as Son of God. Only the Son of God could heal like that. 

However, we do a disservice to the people that Jesus restored if we view them only as proof for God’s plan or if we lump them all together as people that Jesus healed. Each person that Jesus touched had a whole life, a whole story, a family, hopes, and dreams. Their illness or disability presented challenges for their daily living. 

One of the main reasons for those challenges was the social separation that the wider society forced on them. Instead of finding ways to care for the sick in community or to empower those experiencing a disability to contribute to the community, they shut them out. Cast them off. Forced them to live isolated lives. 

For those who were sick, the healing that Jesus provided saved their lives. Yet for those who experienced blindness, loss of hearing, or mobility challenges, the restoration returned them to community. In a different place, in a different time, these people could have led full and happy lives with their disability. But Israel at the turn of the millennium was not that time or place. Jesus allows them to re-enter the life of their family, to work, and maybe to be partnered.

We are like Jesus  when we join in the work of making our communities accessible to all people. As with all projects meant to serve and support, this work is best done in conversation and collaboration with those we hope will benefit from it. When possible, letting people with disabilities take the lead in the design of adaptations or renovations is best. Then the wider community can help fund, build, and celebrate the inclusion of more of God’s beloved children. 

Discussion Questions

  • If someone in your group or church has a disability and they would be comfortable sharing, invite them to tell the group about what is like to come to church. 
  • How does it feel when you are left out of a game or activity that you wanted to be a part of? 
  • How can you be more mindful in your everyday life of those who move through life differently than you?

Activity Suggestions

  • Find a wheelchair or office chair with wheels and take it the parking lot of your church building. Pretend that you are a worship leader and need to get into the building, use the restroom, and then make it to the lectern. Were you able to complete the tasks? What modifications would need to be made in the building for a person who uses a wheelchair to be a worship leader? What modifications would need to be made for a person in a wheelchair to be the pastor or deacon? 
  • Go onto the ELCA website and use the Find A Congregation tool to search for accessible churches near you. How far would you have to travel to attend a church for each of the categories under accessibility/disability?
  • Learn sign language for your favorite Christmas hymn and incorporate it into your Christmas Eve worship, even if it is just from the pews. Some tutorials can be found here.

Closing Prayer

Creating God, you made each body different. Each of us is able to experience creation and share love with the world, even if we don’t all do it in the same way. Use our gifts to help make our community more accessible and welcoming to all people, however our bodies and minds work. Amen. 


December 4, 2022–Truly Listening?

Alex Zuber, Harrisonburg, VA

Warm-up Questions

Can you think of a time where you felt like no one heard or understood you?  What did it feel like to be overlooked or even misrepresented?  How did you try to be understood or be noticed?

Truly Listening?

In recent weeks, our country has been rocked once again by gun violence targeting the LGBTQIA+ community.  On the eve of the Transgender Day of Remembrance, a lone gunman walked into Club Q—an LGBTQ friendly nightclub in Colorado Springs, CO—and opened fire, killing 5 people and wounding 17 more.  The shooter was subdued by an army veteran and a trans woman who acted with incredible bravery, but not before Daniel Davis Ashton, Raymond Green, Kelly Loving, Ashley Paugh, and Derrick Rump were added to the litany of those who have died at the hands of anti-LGBTQIA+ violence.

Like the devastating 2016 shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, this act of violence bears an extra measure of cruelty in that it happened at a club which has so often been a place of safety, refuge, and affirmation for a community that faces daily fear and rejection by family, friends, and strangers.  Comfort, love, and community flourished in  Club Q, where the patrons simply wanted to be seen, loved, and valued for who they were made to be.  In this heinous act, a place of sanctuary was violated, and this act should serve as a wake up call to people of faith who have been a part of perpetuating anti-LGBTQIA+ bias for far too long.

As the voices of the LGBTQIA+ community have cried out from the wilderness of pain, sorrow, and fear over these last weeks, it asks the question of the church as a whole… are we truly listening?

Discussion Questions

  • Mass shootings in the United States have become all too frequent in recent years.  Were you aware of this act of violence?  How prevalent has this story been in your circles of conversation and why?
  • What have you heard LGBTQIA+ siblings say in recent weeks about how they are feeling in the wake of this violence?  If you are an LGBTQIA+ person, have you had someone with whom you could share and process your feelings?

Second Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 11:1-10

Romans 15:4-13

Matthew 3:1-12

(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 C at Lectionary Readings.)

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

Gospel Reflection

Matthew 3 bridges the gap between Matthew’s birth narrative of Jesus (which includes Christ’s genealogy, birth, visit from the Magi, flight to Egypt, and the death of the infants of Bethlehem) and the beginning Christ’s public ministry at his baptism.  In this story we see God’s faithfulness through the generations, God’s assuring presence with Joseph, and God’s deliverance through Egypt (again!).  In the midst of this  we also see the cruelty of those with the most power.  Furious that he cannot thwart the coming of a new king, Herod kills the children of Bethlehem.  This is the climate into which John the Baptizer raises his voice in Matthew 3.

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near,” John proclaims from the margins of society.  Wearing camel’s hair and eating locusts and wild honey, John is anything but mainstream and acceptable within Herod’s court.  Heard but misunderstood, John is consigned to the fringe of society with his message of judgement against those who abuse and hope for those who are crushed.  

Like the LGBTQIA+ community, John finds his place and people on the outside, building a movement where he finds others who are suffering under tyranny.  He sternly rebukes the Pharisees and Sadducees who come out to see him, calling them a brood of vipers and imploring them to bear fruit worthy of repentance.  These leaders are part of a religious system  that has created circles of insiders and outsiders.  The kingdom of heaven which John proclaims has no such circles.  The kingdom is a gift from God for all people, and John’s fiery words are meant to burn away all the bias and indifference that would allow these religious leaders to see anyone as an outsider to the gifts of God.

Perhaps the baptism of John can wash across the generations with a flood of justice.  Perhaps the fire of Christ can burn away the institutional indifference and disdain which consigns our LGBTQIA+ siblings to a place on the margins.  The way of the Lord which John proclaims is lived by Christ, who calls all people to his way of grace and peace.  But in order to walk this way, we all must bear fruit worthy of repentance.  This is a difficult lesson to hear, because the kingdom of heaven is deeply disruptive to the oppressors, and it is freedom and life to those who have been oppressed.

Advent is a time for waiting, a time when we practice giving space to hear and see the ways that God’s kingdom is moving around us.  John the Baptizer asks of us, “What then will you do when you hear the voice of one crying out in the wilderness?”  For the sake of those being crushed by injustice, for the sake of those who are told they have no place, for the sake of those who have heard that grace does not belong to them… I pray that the Church of Jesus Christ will answer as one, “We will prepare the way of the Lord!”

Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever felt challenged rather than comforted by the words of the gospel?  If so, share how that experience changed your perspective.
  • John deals firmly and directly with those he feels are perpetuating injustice. What instruction do you imagine John the Baptist might offer you regarding your own repentance?
  • How might the church better hear and care for the needs of our LGBTQIA+ siblings who may be hurting in the wake of the violence in Colorado Springs?

Activity Suggestions

  • Practice active listening within your small group.  Split into pairs and have a have a one-on-one conversation with your partner about what concerns they have in their life or their community.  Practice “active listening,” where you summarize their statements with “I hear you say…” or “what I think you’re saying is…”.  Do not offer commentary on their reflections, rather ensure that they are being heard and that you are aware of the needs around you.
    • Use your active listening skills and make a point to check in with friends and neighbors in the LGBTQIA+ community to hear how they are feeling. Offer no commentary, but hold space for their feelings and honor their suggestions for what the way forward looks like.
  • Even if  you do not have friends or neighbors that you know of in the LGBTQIA+ community, you can try to understand that community’s  experience.  Organize a small group to study “Dialogues on Sexuality” from Augsburg Fortress.  This study will allow you to explore seven unique perspectives and experiences by reading opinions from leading voices on this topic.

Closing Prayer

Stir up your power Lord Christ and come.  Give us ears to hear the voices like John who cry out from the margins with a word of challenge and hope.  Prepare in our hearts the way of your Son, that all may know the kingdom of heaven has come near, through Christ our Lord. Amen.


November 27, 2022–Are You. Awake?

Mary Houck, Decatur, GA

Warm-up Question

  • Name a favorite celebrity or a public figure you admire. How much do you know about them and what they stand for? 
  • Should famous people be held accountable for what they believe personally? For example, can you listen to someone’s music, read their book, or watch them in a movie, even if you know their values are different from yours?

Are You Awake?

Public figures, from social media influencers to celebrities to politicians, talk about how “woke” they are.  The term has developed more layers of meaning in the past few years. For example, in one of the key races of the recent midterm elections it was used as a campaign strategy. A candidate for Senate in Georgia, Herschel Walker, used it as an insult for his opponent, Raphael Warnock. Walker wanted the religious right to vote against Warnock because being “woke” meant he was a radical liberal. Governor DeSantis, just re-elected in Florida, also decried the “woke” agenda during his campaign and even signed the ‘Stop W.O.K.E.’ Act, designed to limit what teachers can say in their classrooms on a variety of topics. But  “woke” didn’t start out that way. 

The term “woke comes out of the civil rights movement of the 20th century, when it was used by black people to encourage each other to be more aware of structural racism and to  join in efforts to combat it. In recent years, it has been used more widely than ever on social media and in the news. 

In 2020, following the death of George Floyd, Ahmad Arbery, and others, there was a national wave of interest in learning more about racism and other social issues. Many people started using the term to identify themselves or others as being part of this movement— as people who cared enough to know the truth about how their society was treating some people unfairly due to their race, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability. 

Unfortunately, many people also continue to resist the idea that there is anything wrong. They see our society as already fair to everyone. They put the blame for inequality on certain individuals or groups, saying they could be more successful if they just tried harder and stopped complaining. Public figures and groups trying to appeal to this mindset have taken up the term “woke” as a way to describe people they don’t like. Journalist Ishena Robinson writes, “To some, woke is now a derisive stand-in for diversity, inclusion, empathy and, yes, Blackness.”

Discussion Questions

  • How would you define what it means to be “woke”? Do you see it as a good or a bad thing?
  • How does it feel when you learn something disturbing about American history or society? How does it feel when you belong to the group being treated unfairly? How does it feel when you belong to the group benefitting from the unfair treatment of others?
  • Does the new information change the way you act, speak, vote, or spend your money? 

First Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 2:1-5

Romans 13:11-14

Matthew 24:36-44

(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 C at Lectionary Readings.)

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

Gospel Reflection

In Matthew 24, Jesus gives the disciples a variety of warnings and images about the end times and Jesus’ second coming. He repeatedly emphasizes the need to be ready—it could happen today! However, Jesus does not intend for us to live in a constant state of panic. 

Every year during Advent, as we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ birth, we also read Bible passages about the next time Jesus will come. We look forward to that time when all creation will be reconciled to God, when all the ways humanity has messed it up won’t matter anymore.

However, we are not meant to just sit around waiting for God to do all the heavy lifting. God invites us to be co-creators—to help make, through our daily actions, words and prayers, the world God intends. Jesus spends lots of time teaching people how to live in community with each other, pay attention to the needs of their neighbors, and question the oppressive systems and inequalities in their society. Obviously, he wants us to create change.  That is a long-term project. 

It is still true, however, that Jesus wants us to be ready at any moment. On any given day, there is something we can do to make God’s kingdom a reality here and now. When we learn about history from a variety of perspectives, when we call people out for bigoted or insensitive jokes, when we listen with open minds and hearts to each other’s stories, we invite Jesus to be present in that moment with us. When we approach our family, friends, and neighbors (not to mention ourselves) with empathy and compassion, when we give to organizations fighting for justice and equity, when we use our voices to create positive change, we invite Jesus to come again.

This kind of awareness/wakefulness (or “woke-ness”) takes practice. We all start with values and perspectives from the families and communities in which we grew up.  Some are good and true—some not so much. It takes work and a lot of listening to be truly awake, as Jesus implores us to be in this passage. None of us get it 100% right all the time. The good news is that every day we get a new chance to wake up (both literally and figuratively). We get a new chance to live as if at any moment, life as we know it will end and something new and beautiful will take its place, something we helped to create. 

Discussion Questions

  • What do you do to feel ready for something? Ready for school in the morning? Ready for a big exam? Ready for a competition (athletic, musical, academic, etc.)? 
  • What about getting ready for Jesus? How is it similar or different? How often do you feel ready?  
  • Sometimes it seems like there are endless problems to learn about.  It can be overwhelming to think about injustice and inequality all the time. We all have to make some choices about which problems we focus on. What issues are especially important to you? Have you done any work in that area? What kinds of things could you do to help?

Activity Suggestions

  • A “Woke” board: get a piece of poster board and make a collage from magazines that represents the issues your group cares about. 
  • Having discussed which issues are important to the members of your group, are there any you all agree on? What could you do as a group to help? 
    • Create a strategy to raise awareness of the issue in your faith community, for example:
      • do a fund-raiser for an organization that does work in that area and tell people about why you chose that recipient
      • Create posters or flyers that can be hung up/ distributed. 
      • Create a presentation and/or skit. Share it in worship or host a special class to which the whole congregation is invited. 
    • Or, find out about an organization that is working on the issue, and create something to thank them for their work (cards, bookmarks, care package, etc.) Chances are high that they are overworked and underpaid (or not paid at all), and this kind of work often leads to burn out and discouragement.  A little encouragement can go a long way! 

Closing Prayer

Gracious God, we look forward to the day when all creation will be reconciled to you. In the meantime, awaken our hearts and minds to the realities and needs of our neighbors. Inspire us with creativity, determination, and endurance as we work to make your kingdom a reality here and now . Amen.


November 20, 2022–Personal Faith Is Political

Janjay Innis, Tucker, GA

Warm-up Questions

  • How do you define politics?
  • Do you believe God can be part of the way we do politics?

Personal Faith Is Political

According to Wikipedia, politics, from the Greek politika (“affairs of the city”), is the set of activities associated with making decisions in groups, or other forms of power relations among individuals, such as the distribution of resources or status. It’s jarring to see such a definition because politics is currently far from what it was intended to be.

At home we see the political parties in the United States determined to tear one another down for the sake of promoting their agendas.  Across the world dictators and greed-stricken leaders, driven by the insatiable thirst for power, disregard the well-being and humanity of their people.  Politics has lost its original meaning. Today, politics has less to do with leaders coming together to figure out how to adequately distribute resources.  It is more about how one side can portray who and what they have power over.

Because many people around the world have only seen and lived through the ugliest political economies, they truly believe that it’s simply the way things ought to be. Thus, when given the chance to lead, they often fall into the very patterns they detest. 

Discussion Questions

  • Where have you seen, heard, or read about bad politics?  good politics
  • Do you believe politics has the capacity to be decent? If so, how?
  • Can and should Christians be involved in politics? Why or why not?
  • Is it possible for Christians to NOT be involved in politics?
  • What responsibility do people of faith have for the tone of political debate?

Christ the King Sunday

Jeremiah 23:1-6

Colossians 1:11-20

Luke 23:33-43

(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 C at Lectionary Readings.)

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

Gospel Reflection

Many would say faith is deeply personal, and thus has no place in politics. But as the radical feminist Carol Hanisch wrote, “the personal is political.” Jesus, who is the center of our faith, would agree. Everything Jesus did—the disciples he chose; the people he healed, fed, and engaged in dialogue—were acts of redistributing resources and status. Jesus was unapologetic about his politics.  On the cross, he publicly forgives his accusers and executioners, saying, “Father, forgive theme for they know not what they do.”  And he pardons the thief crucified beside him, saying “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”

In God’s political economy, which Jesus embodied throughout his life, there are no sides. In God’s political economy, there is no concern with upholding power which draws lines between people. In God’s political economy, the undeserving, the least of these, the poor, and the disenfranchised are forgiven and redeemed.  Jesus moves them from the margins to the center through radical love, hospitality, and inclusion. And though the Romans thought they were mocking him by calling him king, Jesus’ actions, contrary to the way kings of his day ruled, made him a true king. 

Though Jesus is no longer physically with us, we carry on God’s politics when we do as Jesus did, mirroring his life and seeking the reign of God here and now.  Our faith is always deeply political.  It reflects our values—and our values guide our actions in the world. Christ is our King, and in his kingdom there is no hierarchy.  All are welcomed and transformed.

Discussion Questions

  • From the cross Jesus said “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do?” Have you been forgiven for something you were guilty of? What was that like?
  • What does it feel like to forgive? Is there power in it?
  • What makes Jesus’s act of forgiving guilty people like his accusers, crucifiers, and the thief controversial? Is there room today to forgive such people?
  • How have you seen the reign of Christ in your community lately?

Activity Suggestions

Hats Race:

Two teams will run a relay to the hats, put a hat on and run back to their team member, who will then run down to the pile of hats for their team and put on another hat. This will continue until all the hats for each team have been put on and everyone is back on their team line. When their team is done, they will all say together JESUS CHRIST IS KING!! Teacher, make sure that there is a CROWN in your pile of “hats” to go along with today’s story!

Jesus and the Superheroes Game:

Download the printable PDF, Who is the real superhero? It contains a chart that your kids can complete to compare Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, to their favorite superheroes.  Have  your kids pick their favorite superheroes and fill out the chart.  Detailed instructions for filling the chart can be found at the website linked to the title of this activity.

Closing Prayer 

Christ, you are the sovereign of all he world, including every element of our lives.  Rule our hearts, that every  value, action, attitude, and choice may be pleasing to you.  Come, Lord Jesus, that your will may indeed be fully done on earth as it is in heaven.

November 13, 2022– Apocalypse Now?

Dave Delaney, Salem, VA

Warm-up Questions

  • 1. What’s the most impressive building you’ve ever seen or visited in person? What was the effect on you? Why do societies build such big, solid, expensive, and ornate buildings? 
  • What’s the giveaway signal that someone is trying to sell you a dubious story  – a politician or a sales spokesperson or even a teacher? Why are some people drawn to believe fantastic claims that really should raise people’s suspicions? When do know to trust rather than doubt what someone is saying?
  • How worried or confident are you about the security of your own future? Many young adults are hesitant to get married and start families because they believe that the future of humanity and even the earth itself is uncertain. What is your outlook on life for the next 50 or 75 years?

  Apocalypse Now?

President Putin of Russia has recently claimed that he will not employ nuclear weapons in Ukraine, but even clear-headed analysts are not completely convinced. Furthermore, our own President Biden has said that we are closer to nuclear war than at any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. 

All of this, in turn, has elevated the anxieties of the American public to a point that has become noticeable by people who study these things. Peter Kuznick, a history professor and director of the Nuclear Studies Institute at American University, also compared the present situation to that tense standoff almost exactly 60 years ago between the United States and Soviet Union, when the latter country’s leaders secretly placed nuclear warheads in Cuba. Kuznick observes, “And that was short-lived. This has gone on for months now.” 

A Reuters-Ipsos poll conducted on October 10th concluded that “58 percent of respondents said they fear the United States is headed toward nuclear war.” Furthermore, the Spring 2022 “Stress in America” survey by the American Psychological Association and the Harris Poll found that 69 percent of respondents believed they were watching the beginning of World War III. 

This recent escalation of nuclear rhetoric has gotten the attention of scientists who maintain the so-called “Doomsday Clock” – a symbolic “clock” that since 1947 has represented an estimate of how close humanity is to extinction from its own actions. 

How serious is this phenomenon of worry in the United States? Amir Afkhami, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the George Washington University, notes that older adults have enough historical experience and perspective to put it all in context, but also adds that his patients actually seem more concerned about midterm elections and the economy than the specter of nuclear conflict. “We have a new generation that has never experienced that potential for Armageddon.” So it seems that if nuclear war doesn’t destroy us, politics and economic catastrophe will – or at least that’s how it seems to a growing segment of younger Americans. 

Discussion Questions

  • What do you think of people in our own day who use “apocalyptic” language to describe the possibility of something devastating, like climate change, economic collapse, or World War III? Are they just using extreme language to get people’s attention for political purposes, or are they really speaking the truth?
  • Where are the positive or uplifting messages coming from in our society today? What signs are there that people inspired by love and respect for each other can work to reduce the fear that so many people experience?
  • There is a story about Martin Luther – probably just a legend, but it fits with his views – that when asked what he would do if he knew the world would be ending tomorrow, he said “I would plant an apple tree.” Knowing that Jesus tells his followers that in the face of certain doom, “This will give you an opportunity to testify,” what signs would *you* give that you trust in God’s care for how everything ends?

Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost

Malachi 4:1-2a

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

Luke 21:5-19

(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 C at Lectionary Readings.)

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

Gospel Reflection

The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all have sections where Jesus makes dramatic predictions about things that will happen in the future. Because these things seem to be hidden from general knowledge and are being revealed as special information to Jesus’ followers, they are called “apocalyptic” sayings. These terms “apocalypse” and “apocalyptic” are Greek words meaning “uncovering” or “revealing.”

The way they get used now, they often imply mass destruction or catastrophic changes in the world (like large-scale nuclear war), mainly because the Book of Revelation (“Apocalypse”) in the Bible contains such scenes of cosmic devastation. These sections of the gospels are often called “Little Apocalypses” because they are much shorter than the whole book of Revelation, but still match its tone, depicting sometimes terrifying events, in contrast to much of the rest of Jesus’ teachings.

The bottom line of the Bible’s apocalyptic passages is not just a call to be alert to big powerful changes on earth and in heaven, and certainly not to wield private information as if it were a tool to use against those we consider unfaithful.  Rather, they provide all people with promises of hope, justice, and God’s steady presence in the face of frightening historical events. 

Discussion Questions

  • Jesus’ disciples speak for us all when they ask for some advance warning when the strong and familiar structures they’ve relied  on are about to come tumbling down, whether they be buildings or governments or other social systems. In response, Jesus warns against trusting in anything but God’s solid protection, and especially against trusting anyone who claims to know exactly when things will be disrupted. Who are the people in your life whom you trust to remind you of the good news of the gospel when the temptation to panic is strong?
  • Notice how quickly Jesus turns people’s observations about the beauty of the Jerusalem temple into, first, a warning about a coming destruction, and then into a comment about maintaining a witness when our faith is challenged. He says not to worry in advance about what you will say, because when persecution or ridicule happens, the right words will come to you. This suggests that he has so fully prepared his followers that words of love, justice, and forgiveness, and trust in God will flow naturally from what they have heard and internalized. What regular practices do you have (memorizing scripture, singing Christian songs, praying for your enemies, watching for God’s inbreaking activity all around you, etc.) that are so much a part of you that they would just naturally emerge when you are confronted?
  • Being “hated by all because of [Jesus’] name” in our own day can mean supporting those who have been isolated or ridiculed or bullied or denied justice because they are vulnerable or different. Sometimes young people suffer because their family identity or sexual identity doesn’t match the majority, which makes them easy targets for those seeking power or popularity. Would you, in the name of Jesus, befriend such a person, even if it cost you your own safety or status? Befriending someone who is hated by others, and then being ridiculed for it, will, in Jesus’ words, “give you an opportunity to testify.” What promises and teachings of Jesus would you draw on for support in such times?

Activity Suggestions

  • Jesus frequently uses physical images and objects to guide his disciples into a deeper understanding of God’s grace and love (sheep, buildings, coins, water, bread, salt, etc.). Challenge each other to think of how any object in the room you’re in can be used to represent or describe the reign of God. Use your imagination!
  • Invite a senior member of your congregation (someone perhaps 70 or older) to visit with your class and describe what it was like to live with the fear of nuclear war in the 1960s, and especially ask for how their faith in God helped them stay resilient and have hope for the future.
  • Look in the topical index in the back of your congregation’s hymnal for hymns about “Hope.” Are any of them familiar? Invite each person to select one hymn and note what phrases or verses are especially comforting when we as Jesus’ followers begin to worry about the state of the world or potential disasters.

If the class is ambitious, check out other “apocalyptic” passage in the Bible. Some examples are Isaiah 24-27, Ezekiel 38-39, Zechariah 12-14, Daniel 7-12, Matthew 24-25, II Thessalonians 2, Jude vss. 14-15, and Revelation 4-22. These passages are characterized by vivid symbolic imagery, the presence of heavenly beings, catastrophic predictions, and conflict between good and evil on a cosmic scale. How does studying such passages help strengthen our faith?

Closing Prayer

God of hope and history, we rejoice and find peace that you hold all things in your care, including the future. Bless each of us as we strive to be good witnesses to your love in the face of opposition and let your Spirit calm the hearts of those whose worries threaten to disrupt their lives. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.