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December 10, 2023–An Unsettling Call

Steve Peterson, Sauk Rapids, MN

Warm-up Question

Are you being called beyond your comfort zone to live Jesus’ way of love, peace and understanding?

An Unsettling Call

The Formation of the World Council of Indigenous Peoples (IWGIA Document No. 29, 1979)  offers a picture of Indigenous peoples before they were invaded and subjugated, a vision of vitality and wholeness.   The document continues, “Other peoples arrived

thirsting for blood, for gold, for land and all its wealth,
carrying the cross and the sword, one in each hand
without knowing or waiting to learn the ways of our worlds,
they considered us to be lower than animals,
they stole our land from us and took us from our lands,
they made slaves…”

The movie Killers of the Flower Moon released this fall in theaters (and currently streaming on Apple+) is based on David Grann’s 2017 book about real life events in Oklahoma in the early years of the 20th Century.  The film offers a window into how this subjugation and dehumanizing of native peoples played out in a particular place and time.  

During the time period of the late 19th and early 20th centuries the Osage Nation, like many Indigenous Tribes, was forced to give up their homeland to European settlers and to relocate, in this case more than once, finally landing in Oklahoma.  The land that became theirs in Oklahoma turned out to have oil underneath it.  Subsequently, the oil revenue due individual Osage tribal members was largely withheld from them under guardianships of white community members who were assigned to individuals.  This was based on the racist  rational that the Osage people themselves were not capable of their own agency.

 In a variety of dishonest and immoral actions, including those depicted in “Killers of the Flower Moon” movie, the Osage people experienced the consequences of being brutally conquered, beaten down, killed, impoverished and deeply traumatized.  These dehumanizing actions by European peoples, “thirsting for blood, for gold, for land and all its wealth” are still being felt today.

Martin Scorsese, director of Killers of the Flower Moon, stresses in an October 12 interview with  The Guardian, “The most important thing to remember is that while the story is set in the 1920s, it’s not a ‘historical’ film. What I mean by that is, that the effects of the tragedy are still felt within the community.” 

In the same Guardian article, Geoffrey Standing Bear, current chief of the Osage Nation asserts that the whole white population seems to have been in on the horrendous treatment of his ancestors in the early 20th century.  He posits that, “It’s not, who was complicit?  It’s who wasn’t complicit?”  He stresses, “This tragedy is almost within living memory, it was the time of our grandparents.”  

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has initiated a Truth and Healing movement within the church in order to “provide opportunities to learn the true history and current realities of Indigenous people. It is these truths, truths that have been ignored by most for hundreds of years, that will bring healing for both Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people.”  

Discussion Questions

  • In can be uncomfortable and very challenging to become more aware of the ways Indigenous people have been treated by a colonizing, dominate white culture.  While we were not personally involved, we still benefit from the taking of others land and live in a country where others still suffer from that theft of land and culture.   Why might it be valuable to live into this discomfort and participate in a truth and healing movement?  
  • In the 1920’s Oklahoma depicted in the movie sin is present in the laws, policies, and practices that enable violence and exploitation. Are you aware of sinful structures (laws, policies, or common practices and attitudes that harmed neighbors) which have been present in our country in various locations? After reflecting on the film, and other dark parts of our national history, what do you want to learn more about? What are the various opinions about this out there?  What, if anything, do you feel called to do?

Second Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 40:1-11

2 Peter 3:8-15a

Mark 1:1-8

(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 B at Lectionary Readings.)

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

Gospel Reflection

John the Baptist is an unsettling character with an unsettling message.  He takes us out of our comfort zone.  John jarringly invites us to rethink what we believe and  how we act.  Mark introduces this alarming character, John, in an unsettling wilderness setting, with a disquieting message right at the beginning of his Gospel.  

The “beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” consists of this wild guy crying out in the wilderness, with a life-changing, comfort zone busting Good News. He proclaims, presumably shouts, a message of radical change, reordered life paths, and  repentance of sin.

And if this is not jarring enough, John says soon one greater than he will appear, bringing the Holy Spirit.  In other words, “Fasten your seat belt, we are about to take off into a whole new dimension of living.”

An online review of the Film Killers of a Flower Moon, is titled An Unsettling Masterpiece.   The review describes a scene at the beginning of the movie “when the screen fills with men toiling in what looks like a lake of fire. Inky silhouettes in a red-orange void…these are ordinary men in a hell of human making. It’s a rightly apocalyptic image for this cruel and baroque American story of love, murder, greed and unspeakable betrayal in 1920s Indian Country.”  

At the end of the movie the narrator, director Scorsese in a cameo appearance, challenges the viewer to be changed by this story,  to see and to live in a more life-giving way.  Confronted by this story of evil enacted and accepted in 1920’s Oklahoma, the viewer is invited to repent of the sins of our culture, seek forgiveness, and live in life-giving way.

While John the Baptist certainly invites people into repentance and forgiveness of individual sins, it seems that he and Jesus are also proclaiming a much broader and more unsettling message.  The gospel envisions way of living which is life-giving and just for all people.  

At the end of Mark’s gospel the witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection are terrified.  No wonder they are afraid, recognizing the awesome responsibility and calling they have before them now, to share this unsettling good news!  Perhaps we are afraid as well.  Perhaps we are afraid of confronting dark parts of our common history and seeking common repentance.  It is hard to advocate for Jesus’ disquieting yet more life-giving way of living and being.  

In her book, I Can Do No Other, theologian Anna Madsen writes, “If we believe in the risen Jesus—the raised one who spent his life healing the sick, serving the poor, teaching the crowds, feeding the hungry, forgiving the sinners, and welcoming the outcasts—we become ambassadors of that Jesus.”  

Jesus’ way is in direct contrast to the dehumanizing way greed and dominance depicted in Killers of a Flower Moon.” Jesus’ way begins with the unsettling prophetic voice of John the Baptist crying in the wilderness, urging us to repent of such things, to put them in the past.  As uncomfortable as it may be at times, following his way allows us to really be alive.   Jesus calls us  to leave our comfort zones and embrace the wonderful news of God’s liberation and love for all people!  

Discussion Questions

  • Can you think of a time in your life when leaving your comfort zone has been life giving for you? What happened?   What was that like for you?
  • What injustice in your immediate daily life or in the world are your feeling called to address?  Does this make you uncomfortable, even afraid, in some way?  What good could come out of taking action to think and act in new ways?
  • How might God and others in your community of faith help give you wisdom and courage to go beyond your discomfort to live more boldly in Jesus’ resurrection life of love and justice for all.

Activity Suggestions

Closing Prayer

Gracious and just God, help us to see those places in our lives and in our culture where we are called to repent.  Make us instruments of your justice and inclusion of all people within the circle of your unconditional love.  Help us to move beyond our discomfort and and give us courage to be instruments of your love and peace, so that all may have healing, wholeness, and abundant life. Amen


December 3, 2013–Change is Coming

Chris Heavner, Clemson, SC

Warm-up Questions

  • Is there a time when your world was turned upside down?
  • What words do we associate with such upheavals in our lives?  (Devastated?  Abandoned? Forgotten?  Ignored?)
  • Is there a time when you were wanting or hoping that the world would be turned upside down?
  • How would you respond to this statement: “Those who are comfortable with the way things are don’t want change; while those who are considered the ‘underlings’ often demand radical change”?

Change is Coming

Our lives can be upended in an instant:

  • A friend tells of waking to the warnings that a (seemingly distant) wildfire might reach his area.  In January 2022 Louisville, CO, was practically obliterated by those flames.  In just a few short hours, his family went from thinking, “Maybe we need to keep an eye on this,”  to fleeing so fast they forgot to close the backdoor.  The flames skipped over the house; but the interior was buried in the soot which seeped through the crack of that unlatched door.
  • In the lands where Jesus lived, loved, healed, and taught, war is now leaving children without parents and parents without homes.
  • In Sunday worship service we pray for the thirty-nine year old whose life is upended by a diagnosis of throat cancer.  We pray that radiation and chemotherapy will push back the disease.

Political ads offer very little in the way of plans and programs to deal with such disruption.  They excel only at warning us how horrible life will be if the other candidate prevails.  How our lives will be “upended” if we allow “them” to be in control.

In most instances, we turn to the Church and to our Messiah, hoping they will shield us from the changes which might upend our lives.  We turn to God as a protection against any reordering of our common refrain:  “Lord, deliver your servant.” But, what if Jesus is the one who is bringing the change?  What if  the path on which we presently tread is a one which needs to come to an end?  How do we interact with a God who insists that all things be made new?

When Martin Luther washed his face each morning he saw this as a reminder that in baptism we have promised to see each day as a new beginning and a new start.  Change didn’t happen once, 2000 years ago.  It wasn’t something that occurred on the day of our baptism and never again.  As we wash our face, we emerge with the awareness that on this day God is calling us to something different from our previous days.

As we begin the Advent season, we speak of how different the world will be when God’s Messiah is among us.  The songs and lessons of Advent are petitions to God to “make all things new.”  Isaiah 64:1 will be read in many church services this Sunday. “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence.”

What if God isn’t the one who protects or prevents upheavals?  What if God is the one who brings it — and possibly requires it?

Discussion Questions

  • Does your neighborhood have those signs along the road calling on you to “Repent”?  What does the word “Repent” mean?
  • Some hold to the notion of “once saved-always saved.”  Do you share that belief?  What exactly does that mean?
  • How many biblical references can you find in which Jesus tells the disciples  to believe a particular thing.  How often does he. merely tell the disciples to “follow”?  In how many of those stories were the disciples fully aware where Jesus was leading them?
  • Is your relationship with Jesus one which holds you firmly in place?  Does it also invite you to move in new directions?
  • What is the difference between standing firm in faith and using religion as an excuse to avoid needed change in ourselves and society?

First Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 64:1-9

1 Corinthians 1:3-9

Mark 13:24-37

(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 B at Lectionary Readings.)

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

Gospel Reflection

Mark 13 is written in the apocalyptic  style.  You are probably familiar with this type of literature from the final book of our New Testament,  Revelation. Daniel is an Old Testament book written in the same style.  In fact, many of the images we find in Revelation are repeated images from Daniel.  Our reading from Mark 13 includes at least four references to Daniel (Dan. 7:13, 9:27,11:31, 12:11.)  Mark’s instruction, “let the reader understand,” (v. 14) is another such reference.

Contrary to what we are often encouraged to think, apocalyptic writings are not intended to frighten or threaten us.  Apocalyptic writings are affirmations that God the creator and redeemer is always with us.   The world may be turned upside down, but that turning is the very thing which allows us to experience the world God prefers.

Apocalyptic writings affirm the faith community’s confidence that no matter how crushed we might be, God has not abandoned us.  No matter how hopeless we might feel, God’s gift of salvation remains.

As the words of Mark’s 13th chapter were being written, the followers of Jesus were experiencing hardships beyond our imagination.  Their communities were being destroyed.  They faced hunger and oppression for continuing with their family’s religious rituals.  The world in which they found themselves was harsh.  Religious and political powers threatened anyone who didn’t go along with the status quo.  

The faithful followers of Jesus joyfully anticipated the day when Christ would be among them and would right the wrongs they suffered.  They looked forward to the world being turned upside down.  They lifted their voices to God to ask for upheaval and a reversal of the way things are.

Let’s make sure to note that while Mark 13 expresses these affirmations, the gospel writer warns against trying  to predict the day or time when Messiah will come.  There is always a temptation to see events as indicators that the change we seek is about to happen.  Verse 32 suggests that even Jesus (the Son) doesn’t know.  The righting of systemic wrongs must be left in God’s hands.  Mark reminds his readers that there is no better place to be than in God’s hands.

We cannot – by our actions or even by our prayers – dictate the hour of God’s arrival.  Nor can we determine the contours of the New Earth.  Our role is to be ready.  Our call is to “keep awake,”  to dream of an upended world in which the way of Jesus is known and experienced by all of God’s children.  We must not shut our eyes to the way of Christ and the assurances of God’s justice.  Keep awake!

Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever heard the word, “apocalyptic”?  What more would you like to know about this word and this style of literature?
  • Ask yourself whether you agree with the suggestion that God may be the one who calls for an upending of the way things are.
  • It is very important to remember that the call for change among the early followers of Jesus was a comfort.  In what ways might God’s call for reversal be a comfort to you?
  • Are you one who makes New Year’s resolutions?  On this, the First Sunday of the new Church Year, what “resolutions” might we make?
  • Our Advent songs are more than a memory about something that God did once upon a time.  Our songs ask that God’s Promised One will come to us now, here.  Where in your life and world is there a need for Christ to be born?

Activity Suggestion

During Advent, many of our congregations make use of Marty Haugen’s Holden Evening Prayer.  Experience the beauty of one of the songs in this liturgy,  “Annunciation and Magnificat.”  Lovely music, powerful affirmation of God’s favor.  But, do pay attention to the words.  Two options for you: has a printed copy of the words. is a congregation’s Advent service.  Discuss how Mary’s words might touch the upheavals those in your group are experiencing.

Closing Prayer

O God our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, enter our lives on this day and reshape us so as to reflect the people you know us to be.  Through the assurances of those who have gone before us, allow us to face the new day with the confidence that your will is being done.  With boldness let us embrace the change which will make your peace and your justice a reality for those the world would overlook.  All of this in your time, O Lord. Amen.


November 26, 2023–Thanksgiving

There is no Faith Lens posting this week

Now thank we all our God with hearts and hands and voices,
who wondrous things has done, in whom this world rejoices;
who, from our mother’s arms, has blest us on our way
with countless gifts of love and still is ours today.

All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given
the Son and Spirit blest, who reign in highest heaven,
the one eternal God, who earth and heaven adore
for thus it was is now, and shall be evermore.
(Evangelical Lutheran Worship, 839)




November 19, 2023–Mattering

Leslie Weber, Chesapeake, VA

Warm-up Question

What makes a thing valuable? What makes a person valuable?


According to Dr. Gordon Flett, “mattering is a ‘core, universal human need,’ a necessary component for well-being.” Mattering is more than feeling like you belong or having good self-esteem, it is about feeling valued by others and believing that you add value to the lives of those around you.

Research shows all kinds of benefits for people who feel like they matter,  which lead to better relationships with themselves and with others. A “lack of mattering is associated with burnout, self-criticism, anxiety, depression, aggression, and increased risk of suicide.”

Dr. Isaac Prilleltensky says you can get a sense of how much you feel you matter by asking yourself just a few questions:

  • Do you feel valued…
    • in your relationships?
    • at work (both paid and unpaid)?
    • in your community?
    • by yourself? (Do you matter to yourself, possessing a sense that you’re worthy regardless of what you accomplish or how you look?)
  • Do you add value…
    • in your relationships?
    • at work (both paid and unpaid)?
    • in your community?
    • to yourself? (i.e. practice self-care)

There are steps you can take to increase your sense of mattering. You obviously can’t change your past or even some of your circumstances, but you might be able to change how they affect your current mental health and your relationships with others.

Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever heard of this concept/definition of “mattering” before?
  • How much do you feel you matter? (use the list of questions above to help answer this question. Depending on your group you might do this individually or collectively.)
  • What was the experience like to think about “mattering” in this way?

Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Matthew 25:14-30

(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

Commonly referred to as “The Parable of Talents,” this passage is part of the section of Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel of Matthew that directly precedes the Passion Narrative (when Jesus is arrested, tried, murdered, and resurrected). It is sandwiched between the “Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids” and the “Separation of the Sheep and the Goats.” 

“The Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids” begins, “the kingdom of heaven will be like this” (Matthew 25: 1, NRSV), but this parable starts off with Jesus saying “for it is as if” (Matthew 25:14, NRSV). So, is Jesus describing what the kingdom of heaven will be like (as in its predecessor) or is Jesus describing how the world currently functions, contrasting it to God’s reign? Either way, Jesus wants us to learn from this story.

I have commonly heard this passage used for Stewardship sermons. The word stewardship comes from the words “sty” (as in where pigs live) and “warden” (someone who oversees or cares for something). Today, we use “stewardship” to refer to how we use what has been entrusted to us by God (time, talent, treasure, voice, vote…everything).

With that lens in mind, the word “talent” in the story easily takes on a double meaning. We can hear it the way we tend to think about talents today—strengths, abilities, things you are good at. But in Jesus’s day, a “talent” was a large denomination of currency, worth about 15 years of wages of the average laborer. Think 15 years of working full time for minimum wage. Regardless of whether you are thinking about money, or all the other things that God has entrusted to you, the message seems to be same—don’t just hide them away…use them!

It is true that God entrusts gifts to us, each slightly differently, and calls us to use them to do God’s work in the world. But I hesitate to directly equate the man in the parable with God, because the loving God I know is not a “harsh man” (Matthew 25: 24, NRSV) who calls us “worthless” (Matthew 25:30, NRSV) and dispossesses us if we do not earn enough return on investment. In God’s eyes, our worth is not tied to our ability to achieve. We are each made in the image of God and that is what gives us our worth. It is inherent. It is eternal. There is nothing you can do to change it.

That is the law and gospel of this parable: God entrusts us with great gifts and hopes that we will use them to do things like feed the hungry, provide water to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, cloth the naked, care for the sick, and visit the imprisoned (see next week’s Gospel—Matthew 25:31-46), but even when we fail at that, our God given worth as beloved children of God remains.

Discussion Questions

  • Which slave do you most identify with? The one with five talents, two talents, or one talent? Why?
  • How do you use your talents to add value? Do you feel valued when you do?
  • What difference is there between how society measures your value and how God does?
  • How do you use the gifts that God has entrusted to you?

Activity Suggestions

  • Do you feel like your youth group matters to your congregation as a whole?
    • If so, how do you know?
    • If not, brainstorm how you might use the steps in the article to increase your perceived value (identify your strengths/gifts, assess your place in the system, adjust your relationships, express grievances and practice self-compassion).
  • Identify your strengths using this spiritual gifts inventory.
  • Map your assets (either individually or communally).

Closing Prayer

Giving God, you made all things and called them good. You made us in your image and declared us very good. Forgive us for the times that we do not live up to that. Thank you for all the gifts you entrust to us.  Guide us in using them to care for creation and serve people, knowing that all are worthy in your eyes. Amen.


November 12 2023–Listening for Hope

Josh Kestner, Clemson, SC

Warm-up Questions

  • What are some of the ways that you respond to difficult news stories? Do you pray? Do you research the context more deeply? Is it easier to try to ignore the news altogether?
  • Where do you find hope in the world? How do you re-energize yourself when you’re exhausted? Who is someone in your life you turn to when you’re feeling weary?

Listening for Hope

There is no simple reaction or response to the terrifying stories that we’ve been watching regarding the war between Israel and Hamas. There are no easy answers to the questions we have about such a complex past and present situation. 

What is certain, though, is the pain and grief that accompany so much death and devastation. While it may be difficult to fully understand the who, what, when, where, how, and why of this war, it is necessary to condemn hatred and violence when we see it. We cry out with lament for those who have lost their lives, their livelihoods, their homes, their families, and their futures.

War is polarizing. Folks feel as though they must make instinctual choices to back one side or the other. We’re tempted to choose a “good guy” and a “bad guy”. But when it comes down to it, the evils of war are indiscriminate.

When we are faced with difficult news stories and discord in our societies, it is helpful to listen. Perhaps it is easier or quicker to demonize some and distance ourselves from what is going on. But listening to real stories from real people, who are directly impacted by war, creates empathy and enables us to respond in a meaningful way.  What has happened in their lives? How are they feeling? What are they afraid of? Do they have any hope?

Listening leads us to better understand the causes and consequences of conflict. And opening one’s ears before opening one’s mouth allows us to focus primarily on humanity of those involved and the ways that we can go about healing the wounds of war.

Discussion Questions

  • What do you know about the history of the Holy Land? Where do you get most of your information and news? Do you have any personal connections to people who have been affected by the most recent war?
  • What kinds of questions do you ask to better understand a difficult topic? 
  • What does justice mean to you? What are some actions that you take to pursue justice?
  • Evil is such an amorphous word and idea. What does evil mean to you? What does your faith teach you about dealing with evil?

Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Amos 5:18-24

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Matthew 25:1-13

(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

The gospel for this week includes a parable. Jesus’ teachings often come in the form of a parable. Perhaps it was easier to explain things using stories and images like this. Folks often say that they resonate with sermons and other educational moments in church when they include relatable stories.

The story that Jesus tells in this passage conjures up some fears and anxieties. How would you feel if you missed out on a long-anticipated wedding banquet and were left on the outside? One of the most pertinent feelings the bridesmaids express in this story is exhaustion. 

Have you felt exhausted recently? Maybe from all of the things on your to-do list. Perhaps from all of the things you’ve been hearing and reading in the news. Maybe from a newly broken relationship or a disappointing experience at work or in class.

The messages we hear in our communities of faith are often sprinkled with hope and love. However, our daily experiences in the life of faith can make us feel hopeless and lonely. We, like the ten bridesmaids in this story, find ourselves overwhelmed by exhaustion. Our eyes get droopy as we search for glimpses and signs of God’s hope and love in our lives.

How can we stay ready, even with tired bodies, minds, and souls? 

This parable does not necessarily leave us with a happy ending. But it does get us thinking about how we cope with some of the realities we face. We might find ourselves frustrated by the lack of control we have over what happens around us – but we can find some solace in the fact that we believe in a God who hears our cries and works alongside us to bring love, joy, and peace into the world.

Discussion Questions

  • What are the things that drain your energy the most right now? What fills you with energy?
  • What kind of world do you hope for? What does it look like? What does it feel like? How might we make that world a reality?
  • What do you do when faith is hard? What do you do when you feel like you have no hope?
  • Do you ever get mad at God? Do you ever ask God, “Why?”

Activity Suggestions

Do you pray before you go to bed? Sleep and rest are reminders of our human vulnerability. We cannot do it all, and while we sleep we have to surrender at least a few hours of control in our lives. We have to trust that God continues to work, even while we are asleep.

Write a prayer to keep in your pillowcase. Find meaningful words to convey to God some of your fears and anxieties, things that are causing you stress, things that exhaust you. Write them down and ask God to give you peace while you sleep. 

On the other side you can write a prayer to read in the morning when you wake up. Find meaningful words to ask God to empower you and give you the courage to take on the tasks set before you that day. Write them down and read them when you get out of bed.

Closing Prayer

God of hope, we are tired. While we lean into the faith and love we have from you, we are exhausted by the realities that surround us. Heal our pain. End our neighbors’ suffering. Strengthen our bodies. Empower us by your Spirit. Move us to work with you to bring justice and peace to all of your creation. Amen.