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Faith Lens

June 12, 2022–Faith Lens on Summer Hiatus

Faith Lens is not published during the summer.  The next posting will be on September 6. 2022 for Sunday, September 11.

June 5, 2022–Noticed, Named, and Known

Drew Tucker, Columbus, OH

Warm-up Question

How do you know that you belong in a community? What are the signs from a community that indicate you might not belong there? 

Noticed, Named, and Known

Recent research about Gen Z from the Springtide Research Institute suggests that a combination of three things leads to young people, aged 13-25,  feeling like they belong in school: being noticed, named, and known by a community. Paying attention to someone, noticing  rather than ignoring them, increases that person’s sense of connectedness. Greeting someone, holding the door for them, blessing them after a sneeze—all are simple ways to notice.

Naming someone accurately, as well as  using the pronouns they’ve asked you to use, deepens that connection. Think of the way that positive nicknames function to increase community. In sports, people called me “Tuck,” short for my last name. My grandfather affectionately called me “Drewser.”  These namings showed me I was not just noticed, but appreciated.

The Springtide research refers to the third dimension, being known, as “unreserved acceptance.” Even more than being noticed and named, being known in  a community gives reassurance. This might happen when I recall details a Gen Z student shared with me, or  trust them to use their passions to contribute to the community’s work. 

There are some troubling statistics in this work.  72% of male participants felt most adults openly supported them at school.  Only 66% of female participants and 51% of nonbinary participants felt that way. In other words, half of nonbinary students don’t feel like they belong, and more that a quarter of male and female students agree. Further, only 18% of all respondents felt safe enough to talk about things that matter most to them at school, and even fewer Black or African American students, 11%, felt safe enough to do so. 

Clearly, we have holy work to do in our schools to notice, name, and know Gen Z students.

Discussion Questions

  • What are ways that you can notice, name, and know people in your life who might not get the attention they need to thrive? 
  • What do we need to change about our schools to ensure that all people can feel like they belong?

Day of Pentecost

Acts 2:1-21

Romans 8:14-17

John 14:8-17 [25-27]

(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.

Reflection on Festival Lesson

Much happened on that first Pentecost after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and ascension into heaven. Most notably, tongues of fire appear upon the disciples heads. I’m sure that must have been a startling sight! Just as surprising, though, was the gift of speaking different languages, also called tongues. Clearly the Holy Spirit has a sense of humor. People from all over the Roman empire arrive in Jerusalem for the festival.  They bring their native languages and expect to hear only Greek (the empire’s common language), along with Aramaic and Hebrew (the local languages of Jerusalem at the time). Instead, far from their home, they hear a message of good news in the language most familiar to their hearts. 

The Book of Acts  doesn’t say the listeners felt like they belonged.  It says they were “amazed and perplexed.” They didn’t expect to hear Judeans speaking languages common to minority peoples throughout the empire. In this short story, they’re noticed by the disciples, named by the author, and known with words that speak directly to their experience. Rather than requiring a translation, the good news comes to them naturally, through the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit.

We can’t force the miracle of tongues.  That’s God’s work. But this sign of the Holy Spirit reveals a divine priority we can practice.  We can do the hard work of translating the good news into the lived experience of those we encounter, rather than forcing them to adapt to our ways. In fact, we should do that. Our work—how we worship, how we preach, how we teach, what we study, who we invite, where we budget funds to be spent—should be shaped by the people God calls us to serve. Disciples unwilling to speak the language of other nations would have done the gospel no good on that first Pentecost. Similarly, a ministry unwilling to adapt in order to meet the needs of the people God brings to them refuses the work of the Spirit in their midst.

Discussion Questions

  • Speaking in tongues is a spiritual gift which still happens  in different parts of the church. Have you or someone you know ever been given that gift? Share your experience. 
  • What’s the difference between a miracle that God has done in the past and work that we’re called to do in the present?
  • How do you imagine those early Christians developed a sense of belonging with those who first heard the Gospel on Pentecost? 

Activity Suggestions

  • Play a game intent on decoding. Decrypto is a table-top team game that requires two teams.  It can be played with a few as four total players but can grow without limit. For individuals, try Draw Your Words, similar to Pictionary. Gather a set of simple words that aren’t as simple to draw. Have participants take turns trying to draw one of the words (without using any language) while the rest of the group tries to guess the intended word. Then follow with a discussion on the importance of sharing knowledge in ways that everyone can understand. 
  • Use U.S. Census Bureau data (https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/US/PST045221) to better understand the communities in your Zip Code. Have participants free write for five minutes to envision what kind of adaptation, translation, or innovation God might be calling your ministry to undertake. 
  • Community Mapping asks people to draw a map of their community that highlights the places of power or value. These could be banks and barbershops, grocery stores and city parks, government buildings and historical landmarks. Have each participant draw their own community map on a presentation-size sticky note. The point isn’t to be geographically accurate, but instead, to visualize how different people understand influence at play in your communities. Consider each person’s map and then discuss how you might engage those parts of the community to better understand the people your ministry serves. The Highlander Research and Education Center has a fuller description of community mapping available in their “Mapping Our Futures” curriculum, available here: https://highlandercenter.org/our-impact/economics-governance/.  

Closing Prayer

God of Welcome, send a spirit of generosity upon your people. When we resist giving up things that no longer serve your good news, soften our hearts in ways which open us to your mission. Inspire us to adapt to the people you bring into our lives, so that all know they belong to your beloved community. We pray this in the just and merciful name of Jesus: Amen. 

 

May 29, 2022–Unity not Uniformity

Alyssa Kaplan, Baltimore, MD

Warm-up Questions

  • What does the word “unity’’mean to you?
  • Can you think of a time when you and a larger group of people felt ‘”unified” ?
  • What was that like? Were the people with whom you felt “unified”  like you? How or how not?

Unity Not Uniformity

Sophie Beren describes herself as a “unifier.” She says, “I want to make the world feel smaller by bringing people together, and I want every person to understand the power of human

connection through conversation.” As the only Jewish student at her school in Wichita, Kansas, Sophie grew up often feeling misunderstood and on the outside of dominant culture . When she moved to Philadelphia for college and was surrounded by people who were culturally, politically, and religiously very similar to her, she found herself yearning for the diversity of life and experience that she grew up with in Kansas, even though it was at times uncomfortable. 

In 2019, Sophie founded a non-profit called ‘The Conversationalist,” a platform created for and by Gen Z-ers committed to unifying the world one conversation at a time. The Conversationalist aims to empower Gen Z-ers to break out of their echo chambers, have difficult conversations, and unify across differences—working to heal the polarized world this generation has inherited. 

She feels that opening space for safe and brave conversation, especially among folks whose identities, understandings and beliefs differ, can repair division and lessen the hatred in our world. 

Discussion Questions

  • What is an “echo chamber”?
  • Do most of your family and close friends believe the same or similar things about important topics?
  • What are some of the challenges which might come up in Sophie’s work?
  • Sophie talks about unity, not uniformity. What are at the differences  between those words? Can you feel unified to people who believe different or even opposite things from you?
  • What  ground rules or expectations would you put in place if you were in Sophie’s role, facilitating hard conversations across differences?

Seventh Sunday of Easter

Acts 16:16-34

Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21

John 17:20-26

(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

Our Gospel text for this week comes from the end of a long conversation Jesus has with his disciples on the last night he spends with them before his trial and crucifixion. Jesus gathers them around a table, washes their feet, gives them a new commandment to love one another as he has loved them, and discusses at length his pending departure from them. Judas has left the dinner table, to turn Jesus over to the Roman imperial elites. Jesus tells Peter that even in spite his most earnest efforts, he will still fall short and deny even knowing Jesus three times. After all of this (four full chapters in the Gospel of John!), Jesus prays. He prays out loud for his disciples–the same ones who are in the room with him. He even prays for Peter who denies him. And, I think, he prays for Judas who betrays him. The very last thing Jesus does before he is arrested and put on trial, is to pray for his disciples in their presence. 

Today’s text is the last portion of this prayer. Jesus has already prayed that God would accompany his disciples and keep them safe. He has prayed that God’s spirit of truth would fill them and make them holy. Next Jesus turns his attention to prayers for unity and oneness. Jesus also broadens the direction of his prayers. He prays not just for the disciples in his presence, but for all those who will come to believe in Jesus through the ministry of his disciples. (spoiler alert–that’s us too!). 

Jesus repeatedly prays that “they may all be one,”  that through the communion of God and Jesus, we all may be one. This oneness is rooted in God’s immense love which goes beyond all time and space. 

Even in that upper room, the reality of this oneness rooted in love is hard to conceptualize. The folks who fill that room are far from perfect, they will mess up some in  pretty significant ways in the days to come, as they struggled to understand and cope with Jesus’ death and resurrection. Yet, knowing all this, Jesus prays for them and, in that moment, Jesus prays for us too. Jesus’ prayer for unity emphasizes that our unique identities and experiences can be brought together, through God’s love, for the sake of our communities and world. The oneness Jesus describes does not erase our differences or force us to uniformity. Rather, Jesus prays that we might be united to more fully demonstrate God’s immense love for all people.  

Discussion Questions

  • How do you think the disciples felt as they heard Jesus pray for them?
  • What were some the divisions which threatened to undermine the unity of the disciples in their mission?
  • How are some of the divisions which threatened the unity of Jesus inner circle similar to those we see in our society today?
  • What is the difference between unity and uniformity in a Christian community?

Activity Suggestions

  • Sophie Beren started what would become “The Conversationalist” by plopping a couch out on the main lawn of her college and inviting people to chat. What projects can you think of that might invite conversation and help people feel unified with one another? Could you plop a couch out in front of your church’s lawn and invite your neighbors to chat with one another? What would a project like that require?
  • Pair up with someone in your class talk for five minutes and together come up with a list of three things you have in common, and three differences.
  • Jesus prays for his disciples in front of them and aloud. Sit in a circle and practice this kind of prayer.  Have each person pray aloud for the person to their right until each person has prayed for someone else and has heard themselves prayed for.

Closing Prayer 

Unifying God, help us to find common ground with others. Help us to understand that we can be unified in your love without forcing those different from us to conform to our way of being, thinking, or acting. Help us to stay curious and open to the movement of your Spirit that pulls us into relationships of love and justice, even with those we least expect. Amen.

May 22, 2022–What’s Next?

Sara Galyon, Decatur, GA

Warm-up Question

Do you feel like God is active in your life? Why, or why not?

What’s Next?

We are in the  season of graduations.  Some high schools in the country are already prepping for their graduations, and many colleges have already had their ceremonies.

Rollins College celebrated its graduation on May 8th. Located in Winter Park, Florida, Rollins had five valedictorians, all obtaining a perfect 4.0 GPA. Of those four, one is a non-speaking autistic woman named Elizabeth, who was chosen by the other valedictorians to give the graduation address. 

By typing with one finger in a “text to speech” program, she delivered her speech with the help of  a communication partner.  She was diagnosed with non-speaking autism at 15 months old. Her mother was told she would never communicate, but her mother was determined to find a solution.  She taught her daughter how to use various tools and, ultimately, how to communicate with others by typing. Elizabeth said being able to type “unlocked [her] mind from its silent cage,” allowing her to get to the point where she’d share that mind in a graduation address. 

She called the class of 500 students to lives of service to others, because that will give their lives meaning. She ended her speech saying, “God gave you a voice. Use it. And know, the irony of a nonspeaking autistic encouraging you to use your voice is not lost on me. Because if you can see the worth in me, you can see the worth in everyone you meet.”

Discussion Questions

  • Graduations are often a time of saying goodbye, and sometimes come with some uncertainty about the future. Have you ever experienced a time when you said good-bye to someone or something, and then weren’t sure what would come next? What was that like?
  • When have you looked back on things which have happened in your life and realized that God must have been at work in that situation?
  • When have you felt called to use your voice, for the good of others, or yourself? Did you use your voice? How did you feel that call?

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Acts 16:9-15

Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5

John 14:23-29

John 5:1-9

(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

This text transports us back to before Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus is preparing his followers for what is to come. 

As lectionary passages often do, this one begins in the middle of a conversation. A disciple has asks Jesus how he will reveal himself to the disciples when the world cannot see him, as Jesus describes in John 14:19. It’s a good question. They have never experienced anything like what Jesus describes. Of course, Jesus gives a very Jesus-y answer to that question. Love. Love is the way the disciples will know Jesus. The disciples love for Jesus, and God’s love for them.

Jesus goes on to reassure them that they aren’t totally alone once he returns to God. He describes the third part of what we know as the Trinity. God will send the Advocate (Holy Spirit)  after Jesus is gone, to continue to teach them and remind them of everything Jesus has said to them while the world could still see him. 

He then goes on to describe the peace that Jesus plans to leave with them. This peace belongs to Jesus, and it is not the peace that the world gives. This period in history is also known as the Pax Romana (Roman Peace) , a nearly 200 year period when there was relative peace and prosperity throughout the empire. But that peace came through bloodshed and was maintained through military strength. This is an example of how Jesus turns the worldly narrative on its head:   Jesus leaves peace through love.  The emperor keeps peace through force, which the disciples will see first hand at Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion.  

This passage is part of what scholars call the Farewell Discourse. It’s a goodbye message from Jesus to the disciples. While they may have been very confused in the moment, we get the benefit of centuries to look back on this text and think about what it means for God to send the Holy Spirit after Jesus leaves the world. 

Discussion Questions

  • The Holy Spirit has many names;, in this case we have the word “Advocate.” What does Advocate mean to you?
  • How do you see the difference between the peace that Jesus gives to us, and the peace the world offers today?
  • As Christians, we believe the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives and in the world around us. Looking back on your life, where do you think the Holy Spirit was at work?
  • The future for the disciples was very uncertain at this point. How does the future look for you? How is the Holy Spirit guiding you as you lean into whatever will be your future?

Activity Suggestions

Supplies: chart paper, sticky notes, pens (alternatively, you can use a whiteboard and markers)

  • Hand out the sticky notes and pens to everyone and put the chart paper where it is in the center of the group. Have everyone write ways they think the Holy Spirit is actively at work in the world. This can be from personal experience, news stories, projects in your community etc.
  • As they come up with their ideas, have them place the sticky notes on the chart paper. After everyone has come up with a few, ask if anyone wants to share theirs. Then see if you can add more as a group. See if you can fill the paper! You may be surprised at how active God is in the world through the Holy Spirit once you start really thinking about it!

Closing Prayer

Loving God, your Advocate is welcome in this place and we ask that you fill our lives with inklings, ideas, nudges, and outright shoves into the directions you call us to participate as your people in the world. Open our eyes to areas where your love is needed. Help us love Jesus and our neighbors in the way you love us. Walk with us as we work together to show your peace to a troubled world. In your name we pray. Amen. 

 

May 15, 2022–What Do You Mean By “Love”?

Tuhina Rasche, San Carlos, CA

Warm-up Question

  • What are some of the things you love? Food, music, movies, books? Why do you love them?
  • What are your favorite songs or stories about love? Why are they your favorites? What do these songs or stories say about love?

What Do You Mean By “Love”?

I’m going to date myself, but I love power ballads from the 1980s. I really love these songs.  Not just  because of the cool electric guitars, but also because a lot of these songs explore the concept of love. Some of these songs:

  • Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do With It?”
  • Whitesnake’s “Is This Love?” 
  • Foreigner’s “I Wanna Know What Love Is?”  
  • Huey Lewis and the News’ “Do You Believe in Love?” 

These songs (and many current songs) talk a lot about love. They wonder about the relationships between people we call “love.” Some talk about a love that’s unrecognized and unnoticed by another person. Some talk about just how amazing love is. Throughout  human history we’ve talked about love, not just in songs, but also in stories, movies, poetry, and other mediums. But there’s something about these songs which leaves me wondering about the definition of love. Because truly, what is love?

What confuses me is how the word “love” can refer to both deep and meaningful relationships and to things I merely like. How I can use the same word to talk about my feeling for my parents and my affinity for tacos? I love my parents. I love tacos. But are these loves the same thing? I’m confused about how to use the word “love”… especially when I really mean it. 

Discussion Questions

  • Why is it be so hard to define what seems like a simple term?
  • If humans have talked about love for the entirety of recorded human history, why is it sometimes so hard to embody and live out?

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Acts 11:1-18

Revelation 21:1-6

John 13:31-35

(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 for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)

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

Gospel Reflection

In this gospel reading, Jesus tells his disciples “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another. As I have loved you, you should love one another.” This is a commandment that calls us into a relationship, with both God and one another. It calls us into a relationship of love.  This is more than extreme like; in love one person pours out themselves for another, as God has poured out love for us. If this is a new commandment, this is serious. Jesus calls us to love others as he loves us. This means that we’re called to love our neighbor in need, created in God’s image. 

Yet that short, elusive, and mysterious word “love” is complicated. Jesus sends us out, not just to be his hands and feet in the world, but also to embody the love that God shows us in the person of Jesus. What is hard about this new commandment is that we cannot pick and choose whom we love. Jesus calls us to love and serve our neighbor, to be in solidarity with the oppressed.  But we are also called to love those we don’t even like—to love everyone. 

Yipes. What seemed so simple before is now a big challenge. It takes a lot of deep breaths, faith, trust, and risk-taking. Love isn’t just a vague four letter word or a feeling. Love is action; it is a verb.  We live in relationship with one another. Christ’s commandment seems so simple,  so glaringly obvious,“Love as I have loved you.”  Yet it is one of the hardest things Jesus asks us to do. Thanks be to God that we’ve been shown that love in Jesus Christ.  In our baptism and at the communion table we remember just how much we are loved. 

Discussion Questions

  • How do you define God’s love? How does that love differ from any other type of love?
  • Why is it sometimes hard to love people who are not like you?
  • Who are some of the people who have loved you to life? Who are some of the people you love to life?  (If that phrase, “loved you to life” is new to you, think about what it might mean; how does being loved make you more alive?)

Activity Suggestions

  • Think about the loving relationships in your life and what makes these relationships rooted in love. Take time to list the relationships where love plays an important role. Share lists with one another (if you’re comfortable doing do). What are the similarities and differences?
  • Take sticky notes and cut them into a heart shape. Have everyone in your group write the name of someone they love on a sticky note and place it on the wall. Study the wall of love. Take a sticky note that isn’t yours and pray for that person throughout the week. 
  • Conversation hearts are a popular candy to give out on Valentine’s Day. What would God write on a conversation heart to you? Write that message on a sticky note and place it on the wall. What are God’s messages of love? 

Closing Prayer

Holy God, in the person of Jesus Christ you have shown us the enormity of your love for each of us. Help and guide us to live out this new commandment given to us by Jesus, to love one another as you love us. May those in the world know God’s love through us. Amen.