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Faith Lens

April 2, 2023–Broken Trust

Amy Martinell, Sioux Falls, SD

Warm-up Questions

Who is someone you completely trust? What organizations (school, clubs, health system, etc.) do you trust? What organizations do you not trust?  Is it easier to trust people or organizations?

Broken Trust

The last few weeks have brought worry and panic to the banking world. The panic began with the sudden collapses of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank over a three-day span. These bank closures led anxious customers to withdraw their money from other smaller regional banks and place it with bigger institutions that are better capitalized.

These smaller banks then had to scramble to have enough money to cover the withdrawals. Many banks sought emergency loans from the Federal Reserve. Some of these banks then saw significant drops in their stock and credit rating. This problem is not limited to the US. Credit Suisse, Switzerland’s second largest bank, was bought out by UBS, Switzerland’s largest bank, in order to prevent a collapse.

All of this action leads to concern about global and personal finances and worry that we are headed into a prolonged recession. While Global financial regulators state that the banking system is secure and healthy, many cannot help but wonder.

Discussion Questions

  • Distrust of banks has been common especially after the Great Depression. Have you experienced friends or family distrusting banks.  What stories have you heard about this?
  • Do you worry about the current financial situation? How do you think money is tied to our sense of security?
  • What things help you feel safe and secure, especially when you are feeling anxious?

Sunday of the Passion/ Palm Sunday

Isaiah 50:4-9a

Philippians 2:5-11

Matthew 26:14—27:66

(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

From one story of worry and panic to another. The story of Jesus’ passion is filled with tension and broken trust. We begin with Judas agreeing to hand over Jesus, his teacher and friend, for thirty pieces of silver. Judas is not the only disciple who lets Jesus down. When the disciples gather with Jesus for the passover meal, Jesus warns that one gathered there will betray him. Peter swears he will die for Jesus before he will desert him, but he quickly breaks this pledge. When Jesus is arrested, Peter loses his resolve and denies Jesus three times.

The road to the cross is a lonely one. When the High Priest and Pilate question Jesus, no one speaks a word in Jesus’ defense.  The very crowd that welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem calls for his death. In the end, even God seems silent. The desertedness of the story reaches its climax as Jesus’ cries out to God in anguish, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

The story of Jesus’ passion is hard to read. We want to rush to the good news of Easter, but it is important to sit with the story of Good Friday first.  In this story we see everyone fail Jesus—from his friends, to political and religious leaders, to the ambivalent crowd. These failures teach us that the ways of the world are imperfect at best and deeply flawed at worst.

We experience that in our own lives. We’re tempted to put our trust in earthly things. Things like banks, insurance, and retirement funds can make us feel safe and secure, but the current banking issues and history have taught us that they are not infallible. We put trust and care into our relationships with friends and family, but we know that while these relationships are wonderful and needed, they are not perfect. Forgiveness is such a big part of human relationships because even those with the best intentions, like Peter, will fail us and we will fail them.

It is only Jesus who never breaks our trust. Even when Jesus is betrayed and abandoned, he does not give up on humanity. Instead, he goes to the cross and takes on our sin and death, so that we might have new and abundant life. In Jesus, we have a God who has experienced every heartbreak we face: loneliness, betrayal of friends, and times when even God seems silent. Jesus knows our every pain and joins us in our suffering. 

In the story of Jesus’ passion, we also find the promise that God’s love is there for us no matter what. Jesus welcomed Judas to his table, knowing he would betray him.  The resurrected Jesus sought out Peter to offer love and forgiveness. Jesus’ actions promise us that nothing we can do can separate us from God’s love for us.

Discussion Questions

  • What stood out to you as you read the gospel reading? Were there parts that were hard to read?
  • Recall a time someone broke your trust? How did it make you feel? How did you respond to the situation?
  • When was a time that you felt God was with you amid a challenging situation?

Activity Suggestions

While only Jesus never breaks our trust, it is so important to have spaces where we feel safe and where we can trust each other. Help to build trust within your group by doing the activity below or other trust building activities.

Have everyone stand in a circle and hold out their hands parallel to the ground. They also stick out their index fingers. Gently place an object on their index collective fingers, like a hula hoop or a stick. Now ask them to lower the object to the ground but make sure their fingers do not lose contact with the object. The group may find it difficult at first. The idea is that they must formulate a strategy where they are working together and trusting everyone to do their part.

Closing Prayer

Dear Jesus, we thank you for the love you poured out for each one of us on the cross. May we put our trust in you in order to hear your call and follow your mission. Amen.


March 26, 2023–Invitation to Care

Brenda Henry, Carnegie, PA

Warm-up Question

What issue in your community would like to see addressed and why?  Are there others who have a different perspective than you? What are some of their reasons for their position? 

Invitation to Care

In the city of Dumaguete, Negros Oriental Island, in the Philippines, groups of people have come together to fight against a proposal that they believe will severely impact their community. This proposal, P23-B, is a land reclamation project that seeks to develop the coastlines of the city. Proponents of the project argue that the development project dubbed “The Smart City” will bring new residential and commercial businesses that are beneficial for community growth. 

Opponents of the proposal, using the rallying cry, “No to 174 Dumaguete,” argue that the project will destroy the marine life along their coastline, disrupt the livelihood of the fishing community, and impact the quality of life for the fisherfolks. To them, the harm to the community is not worth the alleged gains of the project. 

Discussion Questions

  • Do you know of development projects in your community? What are some of the stated benefits of those projects? Who will benefit? What is the potential harm of the project to people and the environment?
  • How can you be a part of advocating for the care of your community and the environment?

Fifth Sunday in Lent

Ezekiel 37:1-14

Romans 8:6-11

John 11:1-45

(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

In our gospel we read the story of Lazarus, a friend of Jesus, who dies and is brought back to life by Jesus. We are invited into Jesus’ conversation with the disciples and with Lazarus’ sisters Mary and Martha. Jesus tells the disciples that Lazarus’ illness is not fatal, yet we learn that Lazarus dies. Both Martha and Mary challenge Jesus by saying “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  The sisters’ statement implies that Jesus failed their expectations:  He could and should have done something to save their ill brother who was Jesus’ friend. 

This narrative also shows a community that comes together to care for Lazarus’ family and comfort them in their grief. Jesus responds by acknowledging the sister’s grief. He weeps, revealing his grief and compassion. Jesus also acts; he reassures Martha by saying “I am the resurrection and the life.”  A response Martha perceives as a future answer. 

However, the response actually promises Martha an action which attends to the immediate need of the sisters, while also pointing to eternal hope. Jesus models compassion and concern, as well as taking action to care for the life and well-being of others. We too are invited to care for and attend to the gift of life granted to us through Jesus’ resurrection.  That care begins now. It may entail facing opposition and challenges that defy immediate, easy answers.  The outcome we seek may be long in coming. Yet as a community, with faith and trust in Jesus, change is possible. 

Discussion Questions

  • Can you recall a time when you experienced a difficult situation and others did not respond in the way you thought they should?  How did that make you feel? How did your feelings change if you realized their actions were helpful?
  • How can working together with others who may share a different perspective from yours help to address individual or community concerns?

Activity Suggestions

  • Take the community activity that you named before and identify two strategies that you can do to make a change.  Invite someone to help you design the strategy. 
  • Identify a community group or organization whose work interests you and see if there are any volunteer opportunities.  Ask to shadow the leaders to learn what they do.

Closing Prayer

Gracious and loving God, thank you for giving us the promise of life through your son Jesus. Help us to see the ways that we can care for our neighbors and our environment. Grant us the courage to advocate for justice, the wisdom to seek support, and the heart to trust that you are with us always. In Jesus’ name. Amen


March 19, 2023–Seeing Possibility

Jason Fisher, Champaign, IL

Warm-up Question

Share a story of someone who pointed out the potential they saw in you. Who is someone you could help to see their own giftedness?

Seeing Possibility

Yvonne Shortt is an artist who uses grasses, clay, moss, and other natural materials to create beautiful sculptures of people’s heads.  Slowly over time Yvonne began losing her eyesight because of a rare genetic disease called Retinitis Pigmentosa. Her story is part of a documentary called Adapt-Ability by filmmaker James Robinson which highlights how her limitations are really a gift to her art. Not being able to see well heightens her other senses and gives her greater compassion for the people she meets. When working on a project with clay Yvonne says, “I make a face of a little girl, and I make that face for hours until I feel her breathing.”

Discussion Questions

  • When have you experienced loss and how did affect the way you lived?
  • How can our pain or limitations foster greater compassion for others?
  • How can creating art through our struggle breathe life into other people?

Fourth Sunday in Lent

1 Samuel 16:1-13

Ephesians 5:8-14

John 9:1-41

(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 disciples ask Jesus, “Who sinned?” Their focus is on the sin or what appears to be broken, instead of on the potential hope of healing that God offers. Jesus is quick to point that out: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”  He was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. When meeting those who are struggling, Jesus challenges the disciples away from fault finding and towards a hope that says, “God is still at work and will be revealed through this person.”

The Pharisees and teachers of the law seem to see only broken rules instead of broken people. When the man born blind speaks the truth about what Jesus did, it doesn’t fit with the Pharisees worldview.  So they lash out at him instead of giving praise and glory of God for his healing. They were quick to point out the problem with healing on the sabbath instead of being excited this man could now see. In frustration they respond, “We know this man is a sinner.” 

This becomes a way for them to give up on the man born blind and quickly dismiss  his experience.  Jesus reminds them that God isn’t done with anyone yet and if they are so certain they know this man, then their own sin remains. Jesus teaches the disciples that presuming certainty about a person and their experience isn’t his followers’ mission. Today Jesus still calls his disciples to embrace healing that opens up endless possibilities for God’s work to be revealed in the world.

Discussion Questions

  • When have you been certain of something, only to find out later you were wrong?
  • How would it change your perception of the people you meet if you saw them as being born so that God’s work might be revealed through them?
  • Who needs you to see past their brokenness to the hopeful possibilities God has in store for them?

Activity Suggestions

  • Think of a time of loss or pain in your own life.  Create some artwork based on that experience. Create a poem, a painting, a song, or a dance related to what you felt. Then share that work with others who have had similar struggles.
  • It is easy to assume that someone born blind wants to see, or that someone born unable to walk wants to walk.  That is not always the case. Get to know someone with a disability and ask them what their hopes and dreams are for the future. Then ask them what kinds of justice projects would help them feel more included in their neighborhood and in society in general.

Closing Prayer

God of all healing and wholeness, keep our eyes open to the work you are doing in each person. Keep us blind to what others can’t do and instead allow us to see like Jesus the holy potential in each person we meet. Amen.


March 12, 2023–Unlikely Friendship

Samantha Johnson, Jacksonville, NC

Warm-up Question

Have you ever made a surprising connection with a stranger? 

Unlikely Friendship

When Detroit Police Officer Marcus Harris II got a call to check in on an individual sleeping at an abandoned gas station, he found far more than he ever expected. 

At first, Corporal Harris went through the motions, offering the man, Adrian Hugh, a bus ticket back to California. Offering one-way bus tickets is a common strategy that cities use to cut down on the number of homeless people living on the streets. 

But after taking time to talk and get to know one another, Corporal Harris and Hugh realized that there was more they could do together than apart. Hugh explained that before Corporal Harris came into his life, he was at his lowest point, ready to give up. But Corporal Harris went above and beyond, helping Hugh get the services he needed right there in Detroit, including replacing his stolen ID cards, finding emergency shelter, applying for housing, writing a resume, and even finding a job.

They found an unlikely friendship in one another, restoring hope for both men. 

Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever learned something new from a police officer or a person experiencing homelessness? 
  • It is easy to list the ways that Hugh benefited from his friendship with Corporal Harris. What do you think Corporal Harris might have gained from his friendship with Hugh?

Third Sunday in Lent

Exodus 17:1-7

Romans 5:1-11

John 4:5-42

(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

I think it’s safe to assume that both Jesus and the Samaritan felt unsure about how their interaction would go when they first encountered one another. 

Many of us who have heard this story before, come to it with some assumptions about the Samaritan woman. John Piper, a popular preacher and prolific author, describes her as “a worldly, sensually-minded, unspiritual harlot from Samaria.” However, a careful look at the text in its cultural context reveals that these are not among the assumptions Jesus makes. 

It is more likely, therefore, that her five husbands came and went due to factors outside of her control. Perhaps she was a widow, or maybe her husbands divorced her for being infertile. It is even possible that her husbands divorced her to marry someone else. Maybe her many marriages were the result of a combination of these possibilities. The truth is that we aren’t given an explanation for why she was married so many times, but it’s more likely that she was a victim than a harlot. 

With this fresh perspective on the woman, we can see that what Jesus recognizes in her is not a sinful past in need of redeeming. Instead, Jesus recognizes in her is a kindred openness to God’s word, determination to discover the truth, and boldness to proclaim the gospel to all who will listen.

The woman never would have found the freedom of the gospel if Jesus had maintained the status quo. But the gospel never would have reached so many Samaritan saints if the woman had not been open to Jesus’ invitation. Their unlikely friendship changed the lives of all those involved and continues to inspire us even today. 

Discussion Questions

  • How do you think Jesus expected the conversation to go? Do you think it went as he expected or do you think he was surprised by the unlikely friendships he found among the woman and the people of the city?
  • The woman learned about the freedom and everlasting life that Jesus promises his followers. What do you think Jesus gained from his friendship with the woman? 
  • Assumptions keep us apart but conversations driven by curiosity draw us together. Whether it is a specific person or a type of person, who are you feeling called to engage in curious conversation? 

Activity Suggestions

Homelessness carries a great deal of stigma. Many people, even Christians, assume people who are experiencing homelessness are lazy or deserve to be on the streets. Challenge yourself to play this game to learn more about the difficult and risky choices people in poverty are facing every day.  

Closing Prayer

Jesus our friend, you came among us out of love in order to know us more, show us your way, and bless us with your love and grace. Empowered by your spirit, send us out with open minds and softened hearts so that we may bless others with that same love and grace you have shown us. Amen.


March 5, 2023–Survivors

Steven Alloway, Granada Hills, CA

Warm-up Question

Have you ever been in a seemingly hopeless situation, then been given a second chance?


When a building collapses, there’s an estimated 48-hour window during which trapped victims might be rescued. More generous estimates expand that to five or six days, maximum. Beyond that, the odds of survival decrease significantly. But after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Turkey on February 6th, rescue teams were still pulling survivors from the rubble nearly 10 days later!

One 13 year old boy, Mustafa, was trapped for 228 hours. “I have no clue how he survived,” said rescue worker Uğur Sevgin. “Because as the excavator was in operation, there was more debris falling all around… Then from the rubble, we got him out, digging him out by hand.”

Rescue worker Özer Aydinli added, “When [they] said, ‘We found a person alive,’ we thought, ‘No, they must be hallucinating.’ We couldn’t believe it. But it is a miracle. The only thing we can say is that this is a great miracle.”

Discussion Questions

  • Why do you think rescue workers have been able to find these survivors so far past the 48-hour window?
  • Do you think the survivors’ lives will be different going forward? How do you think Mustafa and the others will choose to live, having so narrowly escaped death?
  • If you were trapped somewhere and feared there was no hope of rescue, what would you regret not doing? What’s the first thing you would do once you were rescued?

Second Sunday in Lent

Genesis 12:1-4a

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17

John 3:1-17

(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

This has to be one of the most familiar passages in the Bible. John 3:16 is one of the first verses most of us learn and we can recite it by heart. But what does it really mean? More importantly, what does it mean in the context of the rest of the passage? Well, there’s a reason why it’s become one of the core teachings of Christianity: because the stakes are life and death. 

When Nicodemus comes to Jesus, hoping to learn from him, Jesus tells him something puzzling: “You must be born again.” An old man can’t go back into his mother’s womb, can he? But Jesus clarifies that this new birth isn’t a physical one, but one of water and the Spirit. Nicodemus remains confused, but to us, the message is clear: Following Jesus means much more than just seeking guidance from a wise teacher. It means having an entirely new life.

Jesus continues the new life imagery in a different way when he references Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness. In Numbers 21, God sends venomous snakes into the Israelite camp, as punishment for their latest round of blasphemy. Many are bitten and dying.

But then God tells Moses to make a bronze snake and put it on a pole. Any of the Israelites who look at the bronze snake won’t die, but will instead be healed. In using this analogy, Jesus demonstrates the stakes  to Nicodemus. Without being born again of water and the Spirit, we will surely die.

The good news is that we don’t have to. Just as Moses lifted up a snake on a pole to save the Israelites, Jesus was also lifted up—on the cross. And if we look to the cross and believe in him, then we too can be saved from death. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.”

Discussion Questions

  1. Nicodemus was a Pharisee. In light of how some Pharisees viewed Jesus, what do you think it meant for Nicodemus that he went to seek guidance from Jesus? Do you think visiting him was a tough decision?
  2. Part of being given new life means leaving your old life behind. What are some aspects of your old life that you need to leave in the past, in order to follow Jesus?
  3. Like Mustafa and the other survivors pulled from the rubble in Turkey, how will you choose to live going forward, knowing that you too have escaped death?

Activity Suggestions

Read the story of Moses and the bronze serpent in Numbers 21:4-9. Make a list of the ways the story mirrors our salvation from sin.

Closing Prayer

Lord Jesus, help us to turn from our old lives and fully embrace our new lives in you. Grant that we may always look to the cross, so that when death comes to us, we can be assured of eternal life. Amen.