Mary Houck, Decatur, GA

Warm-up Question

What do you predict will happen in 2021, and how certain are you that it will happen, on a scale of 1-10?

Seeing Clearly

Uncertainty is unsettling, and we’ve had a LOT of uncertainty lately. We’ve had constantly changing conditions and predictions concerning  the pandemic, on top of  a highly charged presidential election. Businesses are closing and laying people off. Churches and schools open, close, and go hybrid. How many times over the past year have we all wished for a crystal ball that would tell us what the world will be like in a year, a few months, or even in a few weeks?

According to a recent article, by Ruth Graham of the New York Times, there has been a big surge in the popularity of prophecy among some Evangelical Christians. This is a role usually played in stories by gypsies, witches, people cursed by Greek Gods, and that one weird professor in Harry Potter. But even Harry Potter, while attending a school for wizardry, was skeptical of prophecy.  Yet, some Christians in modern America look to pastors and other spiritual leaders to predict when the pandemic will end, who’s going to win the World Series, and when they will find love. 

They are frequently disappointed, as these self-proclaimed “prophets” are seldom right. However, people continue to support them. Even when they get things wrong,  followers stay loyal, hoping the next prophecy will prove true. A temporary feeling of certainty is so valuable that they give money to hear reassurances about the future. 

One modern “prophet” described God like this: “[If his] phone is on the table and he mentions wanting to go on a cruise, for example, the phone ‘hears’ him and starts offering advertisements for cruises, he said. ‘God works the same way,’ he explained. ‘He’s listening to everything you say.’” 

While it’s true that God is always listening and cares deeply about our prayers, God is not an automated service that caters to our desires like Siri or Alexa.

Discussion Questions

  • In the warm-up question, did your group mostly make bold and specific predictions (Ariana Grande marries Patrick Mahomes!) or did you play it safe (At the end of 2021, the sun will still be shining)? 
    • What did you consider when deciding how certain you were about your prediction? 
  • If you could choose one thing to know about the future, what would it be? If you had to pay or give something up to get this knowledge, what would you be willing to sacrifice? 

Second Sunday in Lent

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

Romans 4:13-25

Mark 8:31-38

(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

Prophets in the Old Testament were not people with magical knowledge of the future. God sent ordinary people  to remind the people of Israel that they were headed for disaster if they refused to live in a loving community, as God had taught them to do. 

Peter is not usually considered a biblical prophet, but in today’s Gospel text he sure seems to think he knows God’s plan for Jesus. Just a few weeks ago we read that Peter was absolutely floored by the glory of the transfiguration.  God told him and the other disciples present, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him (Mark 2:7)!” Yet here Peter  rebukes Jesus for what Jesus is teaching! He doesn’t manage to listen for long before he decides he knows what is best for Jesus and God’s people. Jesus calls him “Satan” and points out that Peter is focused on human, not divine, things. 

It’s easy for us to get stuck in thinking about “human things.”  Some people listen to anyone who tells them God’s will is aligned with theirs (like the so-called “prophets” described above). Peter doesn’t like all this talk about Jesus suffering, being rejected, and dying.  He is expecting something more along the lines of the transfiguration than the crucifixion. Like him, we tend to project what we want onto what God wants. We tend to think that our favored politician, our opinion on schools opening (or not), our team winning, and our hopes for the future are clearly endorsed by God. When we focus on victory, glory, and self-satisfaction, we are definitely thinking about human things.

As Jesus explains so clearly in verses 35-38, we know our will is aligned with God’s when we expect to give ourselves away completely, in total humility, service, and sacrifice for our neighbors. When we do that,  we can be certain God will do amazing things. 

Discussion Questions

  • What do you think Jesus meant when he told the crowd to deny themselves and take up a cross? What kind of sacrifices does Jesus expect from us now? 
  • One of the above questions asked what you’d be willing to give to have special knowledge about the future. What are you willing to sacrifice for a future that is uncertain, but where God is in charge? 

Activity Suggestions

  • Write a letter to your future self (6 months away) saying at least three things you hope for in that time and giving yourself encouragement. Ask your group leader, a parent, or a friend to give it back to you at the appropriate time.
  • We tend to think of our lives as a narrative that follows a familiar pattern we learn from our families, books, movies, and TV shows.  But God sees many more possibilities. Starting with wherever you are in your school/work/family life, write a “choose your own adventure” story that imagines many different possible futures. You can do this by yourself or as a group, in which each member contributes a different possible chapter to the story. 
  • Decide on a faith practice you can do, either alone or with a group, (for example, prayer, meditation, fasting, service to the community, singing or playing sacred music) that you can take up for the rest of Lent, with the goal of knowing God better and asking God to show you God’s will for your life. 

Closing Prayer

Gracious God, focus our minds and hearts on divine things and give us the courage to let go of human things. Give us confidence in the future you have planned for us, even if it is different from what we envision for ourselves. Amen.