Eric Luke, Saint Paul, MN

Warm-up Question

When you get overwhelmed, where do you turn (or what do you turn to) to regain your focus?

I Swear

It’s a common television courtroom image to see a witness raise their right hand, put their left hand on the Bible, and  swear an oath to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” This tradition goes back generations and is intended to indicate the individual’s degree of commitment to the truth when making their oath.

It’s common, as well, for elected officials to place their hand on a Bible when taking the oath of office. At U.S. presidential inaugurations television announcers often comment about the historical or family significance of the specific book used by the president.

On Tuesday, January 9, 2024 the Saint Paul, Minnesota made history, becoming the largest U.S. city to swear-in an all-female city council. At the ceremony one photojournalist noted that the seven women sworn into office used six different books, only two of which were the Christian Bible.

While the Christian Bible is not required, due to the separation of church and state, it has been a common choice of elected officials in the United States, signifying what grounds them as they step into an important role. The book choices these leaders made when they were sworn-in make a statement about what grounds them as individuals. It tells a bit of their own stories and indicates to their constituents what will guide their decision making as they step into the busy life of public office.

Discussion Questions

  • What is one guiding principle that you follow in your life? Where does that principle come from?
  • If you were elected President, what book would you put your hand on at your swearing-in ceremony? What would other people think about that choice?
  • What book would you not want an elected official to use for a swearing-in ceremony?  Why?

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

Deuteronomy 18:15-20

1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Mark 1:21-28

(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 B at Lectionary Readings.

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

Gospel Reflection

In the first chapter of Mark’s gospel Jesus’ ministry is just getting underway, and already we get an indication of Jesus’ busy pace. After getting a few followers to “sign on” as disciples, Jesus heals a man with an unclean spirit and then they go to get food and rest. 

No sooner does Jesus enter the home of Simon and Andrew than they find Simon’s mother-in-law ill with a high fever. After Jesus heals her fever, she shows them hospitality, and that evening the house is filled with all of the cities’ sick and demon-possessed people.

The next morning, while it is still very dark, Jesus gets up and goes to the wilderness to pray. For Jesus, prayer is conversation with God, the way to stay focused on what God wants him to do. 

By getting up early Jesus can be fairly certain that he will find the quiet and solitude he needs to connect with God. There will be no demands to make conversation with the disciples. Simon’s mother-in-law won’t have breakfast on the table and tell Jesus to eat before leaving the house. In this early hour, before the world is awake, Jesus finds what he needs to stay grounded and focused on the task at hand.  

When the disciples find Jesus we might expect that their announcement, “everyone is searching for you,” would cause Jesus to turn back to town to appease the requests of the crowd. But Jesus is focused.  Filled with this conversation with God about where Jesus is needed, he tells the disciples,  “Let’s go to the neighboring town.”  

Finding that alone time and praying with God keeps Jesus focused.

Discussion Questions

  • If you could ask Jesus about the time he spent alone with God, what would you want to know?
  • When and how do you find time to connect with God?
  • What makes taking time to connect with God challenging? When is it easier?
  • Have you ever asked a friend or family member when they find time to connect with God? If not, what would it take for you to ask them so that you could learn from their practices?

Activity Suggestions

Keep a prayer journal. On a piece of paper or in a notebook, write down the date and the things that you pray about when you connect with God – it can be a word, a  phrase, or a full sentence which helps you remember. As you make this list over several days or weeks, look back to see if there are regular themes in your prayers.  Are there places where you feels your prayers have been answered? Show gratitude for the answered prayer. Consider how the themes of what you pray for might be influencing how you live your life. Does paying attention to your prayers make you want to make changes in your life?

Closing Prayer

God of the busy, God of the silence, thank you for your presence. Be with all who hunger for companionship. Stay near those who desire solitude. Speak your words of guidance and wisdom for each day of our lives. Help us listen to those in need and guide us in wisdom around in each word we speak. Guided by your Spirit, let it be so.