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Faith Lens

Faith Lens on Summer Hiatus

Faith Lens will not be published over the summer. But don’t worry, it will be back in the fall.


The next Faith Lens is scheduled to be posted on September 5, 2023 for Sunday, September 10.

May 28, 2023–Crossing Boundaries

Bill King, Blacksburg, VA

Warm-up Question

Make a mental playlist of your five favorite pieces of music?  How many musical genres are represented?  Is it all K-pop, metal, classical, rap, jazz, indie?  Do you have a mix?  What do your choices say about you?

Crossing Boundaries

Taylor Swift and The National have both been very influential musical artists.  But they have typically appealed to very different audiences.  Swift is the epitome of a pop star, mining her personal struggles for inspiration and pairing them with catchy tunes which have stadiums of adoring fans singing along.  

In contrast, The National has been the poster child for an indie-rock band, more at home in a grungy after hours club than an arena.  If Swift’s lyrics often sound like a teen’s diary, The National’s are brooding and obscure to the the point of incomprehensible.

So, according to a recent article The Atlantic, it is mildly surprising that Swift and The National have collaborated.  According to the review, both benefited from the interaction.  Swift’s new albums, Folklore and Evermore, feature moodier arrangements and show her “availing herself of the freedoms and imperatives, that men in rock and roll have long enjoyed—and projecting more ambiguity rather than wholesomeness and virtue.”

From Swift, The National seems to have learned to be less morose and abstract.  “In First Two Pages of Frankenstein the songwriting is tighter and often brighter, and Beringer’s [The National’s lead singer] meanings are remarkably direct.”  

Music fans are the big winners when stars push their comfort zones and learn from one another.

Discussion Questions

  • How do you react when your favorite musical artist tries something new?
  • In previous generations radio stations would play a “Top 40” format, which included many different styles of music.  You might hear country, rock, soul, and a show tune in the same half hour.  Today most people create a play list of their favorites or listen to a curated list on a streaming service.  What are the benefits and costs of each experience?
  • Think about a time you have collaborated with someone else?  How were you changed?  How was the product on which you collaborated better or worse?

Day of Pentecost

Acts 2:1-21

1 Corinthians 12:3b-13

John 20:19-23

(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

It’s hard to say exactly what happened that first Pentecost.  A sound from heaven like a rushing wind, tongues of fire resting on the disciples—this is clearly figurative language which Luke uses to communicate an experience he can not really explain.  Yet, somehow God comes to the disciples in a way they can not deny, transforming them from a scared cadre of confused believers into people compelled to tell what Jesus taught and did.

Nor is it clear how Galileans are suddenly able to speak languages they have never studied.  Some scholars suggest that Luke (the writer of Acts) misunderstood what happened, that this is an example of glossolalia, the “speaking in tongues” we usually associate with Pentecostal worship.  But that is not what the text describes.  This is not people speaking gibberish, which others interpret.  Rather, people from across the empire hear their own languages spoken.  It is like a person born and bred in rural Iowa or Virginia suddenly preaching in flawless Mandarin or Kiswahili. 

Through we can not say exactly what happened, it is easier to see what it means.  There was no way the gospel message was going to stay confined within a tightly cloistered community around Jerusalem.  The rest of Acts shows the expansion of the Church’s ministry.  Peter goes to a Gentile centurion, Cornelius.  Paul travels through Greece, Asia Minor, and ultimately to Rome.  Pentecost serves notices that God intends for the way of Jesus to transcend the boundaries of culture, language, and religion.  This is a message for all people.

During the Church’s history that intention has often been frustrated.  Unfortunately, Christians easily misidentify their own culture as the one true expression of the gospel.  When that happens the Church’s confession is neither good nor news; it becomes just another defense of the status quo.

The Church is most faithful when it reaches beyond its comfort zone and hears and welcomes challenging voices.  It is most effective when it finds new ways to address the hurts and struggles which we all share.  Just as a lake needs a regular infusion of fresh water, so the church needs new voices.  Both grow stagnant without a renewing flow.  Unfamiliar, even disconcerting, voices are the lifeblood of the Church, keeping it in touch with the world for which Christ died.  They are God’s gift, pushing us to see how Pentecost was not a one-and-done phenomenon, but the template for how a Spirit led community looks when Christ is alive in it.

Discussion Questions

  • What new voice has challenged you in the last week to think or act in a different way?
  • What are your favorite hymns; do any of them come out of a culture different from your own?
  • The Church is often accused of being out of touch with the world.  Do you think that is true?  What could it do to more effectively speak to your questions and concerns?
  • A hallmark of the Pentecost narrative is that “each heard in his own native language.”  What new “languages” does the church need to master in order to proclaim Christ more effectively?  For example, how well do we speak “science?”

Activity Suggestions

Evangelical Lutheran Worship and many other hymnals  contain music from a variety of  nations and cultures.  Still, most of the hymns in ELW come out of Europe or North American.  Get an ELW or other hymnal and seek out hymns from Africa, Latin America, and Asia.  

  • How are they different, both musically and in their theological emphasis, from those written in Europe or the United States?  How are they similar?
  • How do they enrich the worship life of congregations which use them?  What would be lost if they were not part of the worship resource Lutherans share?

Closing Prayer

Surprising God, just as you came to the disciples in an unexpected way at Pentecost, come also to us.  Shake us out of complacency.  Makes us alive to the gifts which those who seem very different from us may offer to enrich our lives.  Give us wisdom to hold on to what is timeless, your unfailing love.  But also make us eager to embrace bold, creative ways to speak and live that love in our hurting world. 


May 21, 2023–Peace Out

Kris Litman-Koon, Mt. Pleasant, SC

Warm-up Question

Have you ever been to a concert for a touring artist or band? If you’ve been to several, what was your first concert?

Peace Out

After forming in Boston more than 50 years ago, Aerosmith recently announced their farewell tour will begin later in 2023. Aerosmith is heralded as the best-selling American rock band of all time. They have more sales certifications — multi platinum, platinum, gold — than any other American group. Over the decades, Aerosmith has released numerous songs that received heavy radio airplay — including Dream On, Walk this Way, and Sweet Emotion.  The band frequently makes the short list in rankings of the best bands ever. Aerosmith even has a roller coaster dedicated to them at Disney World. 

Citing a desire to focus on his health and family, drummer Joey Kramer will not be joining Aerosmith’s other founding members — Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Tom Hamilton, and Brad Whitford — for this finale tour. In their statement announcing the tour, the band said, “It’s not goodbye it’s PEACE OUT!” 

Discussion Questions

  • Have you heard of Aerosmith previously? If so, do you enjoy their music?
  • What activities, if any, could you see yourself enjoying for 50+ years?
  • If you were saying farewell to your fans, friends,  or family, would you do something special for the occasion?  What would it be?

Seventh Sunday of Easter

Acts 1:6-14

1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11

John 17:1-11

(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 A at Lectionary Readings.)

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

Gospel Reflection

Chapter 17 of John’s gospel takes place at the end of what scholars call “Jesus’ farewell discourse.” This discourse occurs during his final meal with his disciples before his arrest, and what he says during this discourse covers multiple chapters of John’s gospel. Chapter 17 marks a shift, however, because Jesus is no longer speaking to the disciples. Rather, he is now praying to God, and the listener/reader hears his prayer. 

In this prayer, Jesus sounds confident that God will see him through this hour. The way that Jesus uses the term “my hour” in John’s gospel has special meaning. His death, resurrection, and ascension are, though three specific events, understood as one single, cataclysmic event for both heaven and earth. To put it simply, all of existence and all of time — and beyond! — find their meaning and culmination in his hour. 

As Jesus begins his prayer in Chapter 17, he states that his hour reveals glory (quickly count how many times variations of “glory” are used in verses 1-5), though it is hard to peg down only one definition of this glory. Likewise, this hour reveals giving (quickly count how many times expressions of “giving” are used in verses 6-11), though it is hard to coherently chart what/who exactly is possessed by what/whom.

That incoherence might be the point. It’s as if he wants us to respond to his hour by saying, “Okay, we understand we can never fully wrap our minds around all this.” Yet, Jesus doesn’t want to leave us with only a sense of bewilderment, so in verse 11 he finally reaches the petition (i.e. “the ask”) portion of the prayer. Jesus asks that the Holy Father protect the ones who listen to his words so that they may be one.

Jesus wants us to know that as he leaves us in his hour, he hands us back to God. He hands us back because Jesus loves us, and in this petition we hear Jesus holding God accountable to the promises that God has made to us. Jesus assures us that our life together rests in and depends on God’s care. Discord within the community will take place, yet the assurance is that God’s protection (and the concord found within it) is always available to us by following Jesus’ teaching to love one another. Ultimately, this farewell prayer is not a mere goodbye to the community; this prayer leaves us with peace. 

Discussion Questions

  • Do you think the petition for the community’s protection is a suitable farewell prayer? Would you have asked for something different?
  • With Jesus’ ascension being an aspect of his hour, how might it be that God is glorified by Jesus handing over his mission to his followers?   

Activity Suggestions

This is the Sunday after the Ascension of Jesus, yet before the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. So our activity is attempting to keep a balloon in the air without it touching anything but our bodies. You can only tap the balloon, not hold onto it. No one can tap the balloon twice in a row. Depending on the space and the number of people, you may consider having additional balloons at play, or consider having a rule that everyone must touch the balloon before anyone can tap it a second time, or consider whether a one-on-one competition is suitable.

Closing Prayer

Loving God, you are the everlasting protection of those who listen to Jesus. Guide us in our ongoing mission of continuing his work: bearing witness to you through our embodiment of love, compassion, and dignity for every person. Amen.


May 14, 2023–What is Truth?

Dave Delaney, Salem, VA

Warm-up Question

In a real pinch or in a moment of real difficulty, who do you know who is absolutely on your side, who 100% has your back no matter what? Do you know anyone who has nobody they can depend on?

What is Truth?

“Teens who trust the news they read on social media feel less stress” It’s not what you know, it’s who you know, or – rather – who you trust.  Researchers at Cornell University recently published results of a study showing that trust in the news on social media can make a big difference in a teenager’s well-being. 

In the current age of misinformation and conspiracy theories, adolescents and young adults felt more empowered if they knew the information they read online was reliable. Those who were less trusting and more skeptical were more stressed out. Cornell Professor Adam Hoffman points out, “It’s not just the sheer volume of social media use that’s going to have this positive or negative effect. It’s how you engage with social media news that will be more influential in determining how it impacts you.”

With COVID also came the rise of new types of behavior called “doom-scrolling,” which is obsessively looking for negative and depressing news. For people trying to get away from the 24-hour stream of information, some practiced “news avoidance.” All in all, the COVID pandemic sparked an “infodemic” of misinformation, according to the World Health Organization.

Trusting the news seemed to help teens’ well-being, as they felt less left in the dark. However, the researchers warn that blindly trusting everything you read on social media can be just as bad. Creating news literacy programs to help students identify “fake news” and less credible sources will enable them to better distinguish fact from fiction.

“It’s not just that we need to trust, but that we need to trust credible sources of news that are factually based and have been vetted,” Hoffman explains. “That’s how youth can be informed and have a positive sense of well-being and sense of self, and that’s the best of both worlds.”

Discussion Questions

  • How do you determine whether what you are reading represents “truth”?  Is something you read more credible if  it matches your experience or is being reported by a person or an organization you know.   Are you more likely to believe something is true if it confirms what you already believed?
  • Why does “Doomscrolling” exist? What causes harebrained conspiracy theories to take hold? Are people (especially teens) more interested in true facts  or in the thrill of a spectacular claim that might not be true?
  • Have you noticed a difference in your own sense of well-being or mental health depending on your online habits?

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Acts 17:22-31

1 Peter 3:13-22

John 14:15-21

(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

Variations on the word “truth” (true, truly, etc.) appear in John’s gospel more than 30 times. It is a major theme in chapters 3, 4, 7, 8, and 15 until, in chapter 18, Pilate at last asks Jesus, “What is truth?”  Jesus does not answer Pilate.  Instead he goes to the cross, demonstrating a kind of truth that is very much at odds with the kind of answer that Pilate and Jesus’ disciples were expecting. 

In John 15, Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” In living completely for others, even to joining us in our experiences of unfairness and death, Jesus shows  what it means to “truly” live. It is this truth that the “Advocate” (or “companion” or “advisor” or “helper”), another name for the Holy Spirit, brings to our minds every day. We continue Jesus’ work by bringing God’s love to those who need it most – the rejected, victims of injustice, those who have trouble knowing they are loved. We are the ones who can help others know that they too are God’s beloved. 

Discussion Questions

  • Go through the gospel passage and note all the words or phrases that are related to relationships: “love,” “be with you,” etc. What does this tell us about what Jesus means by the phrase “the Spirit of truth”? For Jesus, is truth more fact-based or relationship-based?
  • In this passage, Jesus refers twice to his disciples keeping his commandments. To which of his commandments is Jesus referring, especially in this gospel? (There are very few in John’s gospel prior to John 14-17.  But in those chapters there are several very important things which he directs his disciples to do. Look in those chapters for some of them).
  • Jesus promises to reveal himself to those who love him and follow his teachings. Where do you see Jesus in your own life and world? Do you sense the presence of Jesus’ Spirit of truth in your daily challenges?

Activity Suggestions

  • The Spirit (Advocate) comes to us not just for our own sakes, but the for the sake of everyone around us who needs a loving relationship. Give each member of your group a card on which to list people they know who are in need of the kind of love that only God and God’s people can give. Pledge to carry this card around all week, as a reminder that we are bearers of God’s love.
  • Listening for the Holy Spirit in the midst of so many other voices can be extremely hard! Get a volunteer to be blindfolded in the middle of your group and have one person read from John 14 while all others just talk constantly and try to throw the blindfolded person off. Can the blindfolded person pick out the words of John 14? How do you make that distinction in daily life?
  • As a group offer to compose the congregation’s prayers for an upcoming Sunday, as we approach Pentecost Day.  Emphasize our hope that God will send the Spirit into our hearts to give courage and wisdom for our daily lives and for the life of the world.
  • If the group is ambitious, check out other titles for the Holy Spirit in the Bible. Some examples: Job 33:4; Hebrews 9:14; Psalm 51:12; Acts 5:3-4; Ephesians 1:13; Romans 8:9-15; Zechariah 12:10; Isaiah 11:2-3.

Closing Prayer

God, your Son Jesus brought us good news that you are close to those who love him and walk in his ways. Bless each of us in the sometimes hard and confusing work of following him. Send your Spirit to remind us every day of the truth of your love for us and the whole world. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen. 


May 7, 2023–Even Greater Things

Angie Larson, Alexandria, MN

Warm-up Question

What is one area that you think humans could work better together at?

Even Greater Things

On Thursday, April 13th, 16 year old Ralph Yarl went to pick up his twin younger brothers from a friend’s house, but accidentally went to the wrong house. When the homeowner came to the door he shot Ralph twice. Once through the door and then when he was already on the ground. Ralph made his way to a neighbor’s house where he got help for his injuries. His story shocked and outraged our nation. Ralph survived but not without difficulty. 

Three days later, Ralph’s aunt set up a GoFundMe page to support the family through this difficult time. Nearly 100,000 people have donated to Ralph, with nearly 4 million dollars raised. While there is absolutely no justification for the senseless and unnecessary trauma this family has endured, the outpouring of care shows what happens when humanity comes together. Ralph’s aunt mentions that extra funds beyond his medical needs will help with Ralph’s college tuition and his dream trip to West Africa. 

Discussion Questions

  • What problems in our world do you believe people find it easy to come together for common support?
  • Which problems in our world do you think people find it difficult to come together to solve?
  • Why are some problems easier to solve than others?
  • How can we work together to stop gun violence in our country?

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Acts 7:55-60

1 Peter 2:2-10

John 14:1-14

(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

Jesus starts this part of John with the words “Do not let your heart be troubled.”  In the original Greek, the pronoun is plural (like “y’all”) and the heart is singular.  Jesus assumes that the disciples, though many,  share one heart. They’re a unified community. Whatever may come they’re in it together. 

Jesus tells them they don’t need to worry; God has space for all of them. There is no separation or scarcity. Then Jesus says something crazy. He says, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these.” Jesus tells the disciples that together, with one heart, they will do even greater things than they have seen Jesus do. Can you imagine? The disciples thinking, “Even greater than feeding 5000+ people? Even greater than healing people from illnesses? Even greater than walking on water?” Yet, that’s what Jesus says, “Even greater things.” When we’re one-hearted, we can make the changes our world needs. So communities can have access to safety, health care, food needs, and security. So no one will ever need to worry about ringing the wrong doorbell again. 

Discussion Questions

  • Around what issue do the members of your group have “one-heartedness?”  What is a problem that everyone cares about?
  • Why do you think Jesus says that together we will do even greater things?

Activity Suggestions

Grab one sticky note per kid and ask them to write their name on it.  Then have each person jump up as high as they can to put their stickie on the wall. Next, ask them to work together, to see if they can get each of theirs even higher.  Discuss what this activity might say about our life together as a community in Christ.

Closing Prayer

Blessed Savior, You give us the opportunity to work together, choosing collaboration over competition, compassion over contention, and care over conflict. Bring us together, so that through you we can do even greater things, creating the changes in our communities which allow all people to thrive. In your name we pray, amen.