Bob Chell, Sioux Falls, SD

Warm-up Questions

  • Has a friend ever told you something you knew was true that left you feeling hurt, angry, or sad?
  • Have you ever told a friend something that left them feeling hurt, angry or sad?
  • Was it told to hurt or help? How do you know? Did the friendship weaken or end, get stronger or stay much the same? Why or why not?

Telling Painful Truth

The decision of a grand jury not to indict Darren Wilson for the shooting death of Michael Brown has sparked controversy far from Ferguson, MO.  Some see this as yet one more example of a crimminal justice system which is apathetic at best–and hostile at worst–to the black community.  Others suggest that the whole controversy has been prompted by a rush to judgement before all the fact were known.  Officer Brown was simply doing his job, they suggest.


As the story has spun out it has become clear that it is hard to know the truth with absolute certainty, that “facts” are not nearly as easy to come by as some might think.  It is not always easy to know, much less tell, the truth when the history is complex and the present is clouded.


Discussion Questions

  • Find someone who disagrees with you about the ‘truth’ of what happened in Ferguson and argue the opposite side of what you believe with them. Discuss how you felt. Did your opinion change at all?
  • What truths should you share with a friend? Some examples:  You have something on your face…  People are talking about you… Did you know that your Mom/Dad/brother/sister…   Why or why not should you tell?
  • How you decide when to tell a painful truth?

Third Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

John 1:6-8, 19-28

(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


People didn’t come out to hear John the Baptist because they liked what he had to say. He talked almost exclusively about repentance and sin. He referred to his congregation as a ‘brood of vipers.’ He dressed like Elijah, an Old Testament prophet and when he attracted crowds he attracted the attention of the religious leaders who questioned his credentials. The people followed him and the religions leaders were suspicious of him for the same reason; he told the truth, John touched peoples need for repentance and forgiveness in a way which allowed people to change.

We know there are things wrong in the world. What happened in Ferguson, Missouri is an example of that. We know, too, there are things wrong in our own lives. Difficult truths we don’t want to face and truths we are unaware of.  The people in Bible times are more like us than unlike us. They loved their families, they wanted to be happy, they wanted to please God and do the right thing—and they, too, weren’t always certain what that was.

Undoubtedly, some were simply curious to see what the fuss was about while the person next to them was full of questions of cosmic dimensions: Why is there something rather than nothing? What should I do with my life?  People full of doubt, regrets, confusion and more came to hear John for the same reason we gather each week around God’s word and God’s promises. We yearn to hear the word that will cut through the clutter and anxiety and pain of our lives and enable us to make sense of things.

There are times in each of our lives when we can see with utter clarity what is important and what we value. When loved ones die or when relationships crash and burn, our hearts tell us what we really value, what is of real value.

The philosopher Heidegger speaks of those moments when we see deeply into the essence of life as “enabling us to understand our being unto death.”  That is a philosophical way of saying we know who we are and what is important. We can see the true value of things. We realize that new phone isn’t as important as family or  when someone we love dies, the things that don’t matter—and realize they never did.

I told you that so I could tell you this: Heidegger says this insight into the essence of life cannot be grasped but only revealed.  It means we cannot figure things out, that there will always be pain and problems in our world and in our lives; difficult truths to face.

We sometimes live with the illusion that if we can only make it until the end of  the semester, it will get better, it will be different. Or, if we only had another chance,  we would do things differently.  There is a part of us that believes if we are given enough time and enough chances we’ll get it right.

John the Baptist says “STOP!”  Turn away from your obsession with yourself. God’s word is breaking into your lives, the living Word of the living God. Telling you you are forgiven. You are loved. You are gifted, valued and treasured.

The next few weeks are weeks of chaos. We have a family tradition at Christmas, perhaps you do too. It’s the family explosion when there are too many people in too small a space for too long a time. Somebody finally gives vent to the tension everyone feels.

If that happens in your home remember John who says, we’ll never get it right, there are no perfect people or perfect presents. There IS a living, loving God who breaks into our lives with words of hope and promise. A promise to be with us as we face our difficult and painful truths.

Discussion Questions

  • Is there a ‘truth teller’ in your family? When is this useful? When is this useless?
  • When is the truth helpful, when is it hurtful?
  • Have you had an experience where you felt the ‘essence of life’ was revealed? Is it a story you like to share or to keep to yourself? Why?

Activity Suggestions

  • Thank a truth teller in your life who told you a hard or difficult truth because they cared about you?
  • Google “how to tell a difficult truth.”  Are there any useful suggestions? Is there a difficult truth you need to tell?

Closing Prayer

God, thank you for breaking into our world in Christ and breaking into our lives with your Spirit of knowledge and truth. Help us to listen to your word, even when it’s a hard word for us to hear. Give us kind and loving hearts so we speak the truth in ways that encourage and help others. In Jesus name, Amen.