Jason Fisher, Champaign, IL

Warm-up Questions

  • How do you decide what you will wear each day? Has this changed since COVID?
  • Would you wear something different if you knew you were getting your picture taken?

Who Are You–Really?

Photographer Libby Oliver has a portrait series called “Soft Shells” which explores people’s personalities through the clothes and accessories they wear. Instead asking them to pick out their favorite outfit and then taking their picture, Libby asks subjects to collect every piece of clothing they own and then photographs them underneath their huge pile of clothes! Instead of glamorous pictures of each person you gaze upon what looks like a heap of laundry. In all the photographs the person’s identity is completely covered up.

Libby’s photographs ask us to decide whether the things we own make up essential parts of our personalities or cover them up. She likes playing with the idea that we sometimes use the things we own as masks under which we  hide our insecurities from the rest of the world. In a statement from the artist, Libby says that her series “Soft Shells” speaks to human vulnerability, trust, and power. Clothes can be excellent at communicating which brands we trust, or showing others our own influence or power. Libby’s art is a stark reminder that, if we are not careful, our identities  get covered up or lost underneath the things we buy. Instead of being confident in who we are created to be, we hide our vulnerable selves under layers and layers of products.

Discussion Questions

  • What would it look like if you were covered with all of the clothes you own?
  • In what ways do you hide behind particular brands or products?

First Sunday in Lent

Genesis 9:8-17

1 Peter 3:18-22

Mark 1:9-15

(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 B at Lectionary Readings.)

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

Gospel Reflection

The reading from Mark today is a very condensed version of many of the stories we know about Jesus. What, in other gospels, takes six or severn paragraphs, Mark covers in seven verses. Yet packed within this short reading is the crucial pattern of what happens to all of us throughout our faith walk with Jesus. Jesus is called away from home, baptized, and tempted. Then he spends his life sharing the Good News of God. 

The ELCA talks about this pattern by saying we are Called, Gathered, Enlightened, and Sent Out. Another way to think of this pattern is language from Henri Nouwen’s book Life of The Beloved. Nouwen says we are Taken (Chosen by God), Blessed (Called Beloved by God in Baptism), Broken (Tempted), and Given (Sharing the Good News of God with the world). Taken, Blessed, Broken, and Given. We see this cycle in this short text and God invites us into it over and over again throughout our lives.

According to Nouwen, the life of faith hinges on God’s words spoken at baptism. Jesus would never have left home, been tempted in the wilderness, and then followed God’s call to share the good news (knowing it would lead to the cross) without a deep sense of his “belovedness.” Nouwen writes; “We ARE the Beloved and must BECOME the Beloved, we ARE children of God and must BECOME children of God, we ARE brothers and sisters and must BECOME brothers and sisters.”

Knowing our true identity is in God’s love for us is the key to fighting the battles against Satan, who tempts us to believe lies about ourselves. Nouwen says that we are most likely to be tempted away from our baptismal identity as God’s beloved when we believe one or more of these three lies:

  • I am what I have.
  • I am what I do.
  • I am what others say about me.

Jesus went through horrific physical and mental pain: The people from his hometown thought he was a joke. The religious leaders told him he wasn’t being faithful to God. His friends ditched him in his moment of greatest need. On top of that, people constantly challenged his identity: “He eats with sinners. He has a demon. What makes you so special? That’s not the right way to do things.” Had Jesus listened to these voices, he would have traded his identity for a lie. The voice he kept in the forefront of his heart and mind was his heavenly Father’s, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Discussion Questions

  • Which of the three lies do you most often listen to?
  • How might Libby Oliver’s artwork relate to this passage of scripture?
  • Where are you right now in the cycle of being Taken, Blessed, Broken, Given?

Activity Suggestions

  • Make a pile of all of your clothes, or all of your physical possessions, and then take a picture of it. Keep it as a reminder that you are much more that what you have.
  • According to a recent survey, the average person in the United States will have 12 different jobs in their lifetime. We are much more than what we do. Write down a list of the qualities or gifts that God has given you that you will share with others, no matter what job or career you might be called to.
  • Reflect on the lies that others have said about you. Using colored markers write those lies on a piece of paper. Then take a brush and brush water over the lies until they melt away. After the paper has dried write, “I am God’s Beloved child and with me God is well pleased.”

Closing Prayer

Triune God help me to remember that I am your beloved. Remind me that there is nothing anyone can say or do that changes the fact that I am loved by You. Help me to see that before I owned anything you gave me everything I needed. Guide me to see that I am not my work, but that my work is found in sharing the love of Jesus Christ with others. Amen.