Jen Krausz, Bethlehem, PA

Warm-up Question

Would you say you are proud to live in America? If not, where would you like to live instead?

From the Heart

A new poll by Morning Consult, released in January, showed that only 16% of Generation Z adults (ages 18-25) said they were proud to live in America. 

Looking at all adult age groups, 52% said they were proud to live in America and 73% of the oldest generation, Baby Boomers, said they were proud to live in the U.S. Even millennials, the next closest age group to Gen Z, saw 20% more of its members saying they were proud to live in America, although still a minority at 36%. 

Pollsters cited COVID-19 lockdowns, social unrest, and a focus on inequality and police brutality as some possible reasons why our youngest generation might have lost a sense of what they call American Exceptionalism, or the feeling that America is a country that they can be proud of.

Many in the younger generation now seem to group America with other nations that “regularly repress civil rights,” and they have a lower degree of trust in U.S. government institutions than older generations. 

This change has taken place in only about the last ten years. In 2013, 85% of Americans said they were “extremely or very” proud to be American. It was only in 2016—7 years ago—that the percentage dropped below 80%. 

It is possible that most young people just don’t know what the rest of the world is like. They may not realize how good most people have it here in the U.S., despite its problems.

It’s also possible that they hold an impossibly high standard for the kind of country that could earn their patriotism. Perhaps the youth of today are simply absorbing too many of the negative messages put out by the media, their teachers, and some of their parents about America, and have decided that it’s not such a great place after all.

Discussion Questions

  • Is the media too negative in how it portrays the news? Do you think negative news is bringing people’s opinions about America down?
  • What kinds of positive news stories would you like to see covered in the place of the negative stories? How might stories about people helping others or doing what is right help Gen Z feel better about their country?
  • In what ways can America still be seen as a beacon of light to other countries? What more could America as a country do to help people around the world?

Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

Deuteronomy 30:15-20

1 Corinthians 3:1-9

Matthew 5:21-37

(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 A at Lectionary Readings.)

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

Gospel Reflection

In this Gospel lesson, The Sermon on the Mount moves from the hopeful-sounding Beatitudes into a more difficult portion of teaching. The Ten Commandments are hard enough to keep—does Jesus really have to make them harder? 

Jesus has two main goals with his teachings about the requirements of the law, which state that even thinking about doing something wrong to another person is just as bad as doing it.  First, he wants to relate the law to people’s hearts. If you feel malice (anger, bitterness, jealously, or any negative emotion) toward someone but you don’t act on it, what does that do to your heart? What does it show about your heart?  Jesus’ point is that there’s often something wrong with our hearts even if our outer actions seem okay.  Our negative feelings can alert us that we have more work to do before the love in our hearts can be the dominant force in the the way we act toward others. 

Second, Jesus wants to show everyone that they need God’s grace and forgiveness, because they can’t keep God’s laws perfectly. Jesus is not just imposing an impossibly high standard here, he’s exposing the truth about why God gave laws to the Israelites in the first place. 

He wants us to know that we can never please God by merely keeping the letter of the law, because, “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). 

As in so many of Jesus’ teachings, he is showing people that God doesn’t just desire obedience, God desires to be known by us, and for us to know God at a heart level. 

We follow God’s laws imperfectly like all who have come before us, all the way back to Adam and Eve. God knew this would happen. In Jesus, God makes a way for us to be reconciled and transformed by focusing on what’s happening in our hearts and how that impacts what we say and do.

Discussion Questions

  • What was the hardest part of this teaching by Jesus? Why was it so hard for you to hear?
  • Think about a time when you had negative emotions in your heart toward someone else. What happened as a result? 
  • Choose one of the following responses to Jesus’s teaching in these verses and explain to your group why you reacted that way:
    1. I give up. It’s impossible to keep the 10 Commandments the way Jesus describes, so I’m not even going to try. 
    2. My heart isn’t always in the right place, and I’m going to pay more attention to that as I follow Jesus. 
    3. As long as I don’t get angry with anyone or wish them harm, I’m doing everything right. 
    4. I reject all rules and laws; I’m just going to live life my way. 

Activity Suggestions

  • Choose an activity your group can do to support your country in some way. For example, attend a parade together, bake cookies for a military veteran, or offer to sing the Star-Spangled Banner at a local sporting event. You don’t have to love everything about America to show support for your homeland. 
  • Write a short prayer of confession you can say when the state of your heart isn’t what you know Jesus wants it to be. Don’t forget to thank Jesus for forgiving you and ask him to help you change your heart to be more loving to others. 

Closing Prayer

God of grace, you care about our hearts because you know they lead us to you and to loving others. Thank you for forgiving us when we fall short of your holy standard. In Jesus’ name, Amen.