Contributed by Pastor Claudia Bergmann
Eisleben, Germany

Warm-up Question: What’s so scary about speaking in front of a crowd?

“Every since I was born, Daddy has been the best father you could ever imagine and I just wanted to say that I love him so much.” These few words spoken by eleven-year old Paris Jackson at the end of her own father’s memorial service brought tears to millions of people’s eyes around the world. What a remarkable witness to a loving relationship, many thought. And what courage it must have taken to step up to the microphone and make your own grief public.

But ever since the event, the Jackson family has also been criticized for pushing Paris into the limelight. Some witnesses claimed that they had overheard the little girl crying and screaming backstage as she was trying to refuse getting on stage. When she did appear, family members surrounded her and held her, one person even making sure that the microphone was adjusted correctly. Yet, child psychologist Linda Blair believes that the family made a “bad judgment”. She says: “This is a girl who has been shielded from the media her whole life. When a child is in shock, as Paris still will be from her father’s death, the most important thing is to keep everything as normal as possible. But the opposite has happened here.” Blair expects “potentially traumatic results”.

In light of the psychologist’s assessment, the images of Paris speaking look a bit different. A wall of adults surrounding one little girl… all of them hiding their vulnerable faces and their grief behind sunglasses. The only one who had nothing to protect her face and her teary eyes from the public was the most vulnerable of them all: a little girl who had just lost her father. Is a family known for dragging children on stage doing it again to the next generation?

Discussion Questions

  1. Would you ever consider speaking at a loved one’s funeral?
  2. What do you think are the right things to say at a funeral? What should remain unspoken?
  3. For those of you who watched the event at the Staples Center: Do you think that it did justice to Michael Jackson’s life and work? Why? Why not?
  4. Have you ever thought about your own funeral service? Would you want to have a say on what is said, what music is played, what lessons are read?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, July 19, 2009.

(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

Jesus just wanted to be left alone for a while; go somewhere away from the crowd. Rest. Eat. Be in a quiet place with his selected few. So they left in a boat to what they thought was a deserted place, maybe across a lake or to the other side of a river. But people followed them on foot, the Gospel of Mark says. They must have hurried, getting there even before Jesus did with his disciples. Imagine, crowds of people running on the shore of a lake, anxiously looking at the boat and trying to gauge where it would come ashore. People wading across a shallow spot, breathing heavily to make it to the other side. Women bringing their little ones in their arms. Older people supporting each other. Groups of youth carrying the sick with them. And when they finally pull the boat onto the shore, Jesus does not have the heart to send them all away and rest. He teaches them as a good shepherd of his people would, and he comforts and heals the one who have need of compassion and healing.

We do not know why there are a few places in the Gospels where Jesus seems to want to be alone. Is he an introvert who needs to re-group and rest before dealing with yet another big crowd? Is it not time for his public ministry to start yet? Why does he ask people occasionally in the Gospel of Mark to keep their knowledge about his identity to themselves?

But we do know that attempting to keep away from the people and attempting to keep things quiet about his identity did not work. People found out who he was and they came to Jesus in droves. And Jesus himself could not stay away from them either. His message about the kingdom of God was just too powerful to stay a quiet, private affair. God wanted this message out into the public. And God still does.

Discussion Questions

  • Why do you think Jesus needs time away? Read Mark 1:35, 1:45 and compare it to Mark 6:30-34 and 53-56.
  • Under what circumstances would you wear a button that says “I am a Christian”? In school? At a baseball game? At a restaurant?
  • If we believe that faith comes to people through the Holy Spirit and through God’s grace, why should we even bother making disciples? Isn’t that the Holy Spirit’s job?
  • Do you think that Christians should be open and public about their faith? That your congregation should be more open about their faith? That you should be more open about your own faith? What hinders you to make your faith public? What could help you overcome your hesitations?

Activity Suggestion

Working with the text, twice
(a) Most scholars who study the Gospel of Mark think that Mark 6:34-44 and 8:1-10 are two literary expressions of the same event. Have your youth group read the two stories side by side. Compare and contrast them. Which elements remind you of the Eucharist?

(b) Did you know that Jesus was not the first to miraculously feed the hungry? Read 1 Kings 17:7-16 and 2 Kings 4:42-44 and compare them to the feeding miracle Jesus does in the Gospel of Mark.

Invite a local funeral director and/or the pastor to your youth group and have them talk about all the preparation work that goes into a funeral service. Allow your youth to ask any questions that they might have.

If you know your youth group well, and only when you feel that it is appropriate for them, encourage them to write a few notes about their choices for their own funeral (hymns, music, lessons, speakers, etc.). Give them the option to keep the notes or give them to their pastor or parents.

Making (the congregation’s) faith public
Invite someone from your congregation who is responsible for advertising congregational events and such to talk with your group. Ask them to talk about what the congregation has done in the past to invite new members or to become better known in the local community. Then, brainstorm with that person and your youth group what they could do to make the congregation known to people who are not members, or to better serve the surrounding community.

Think about one creative activity that you can accomplish that day or at the next youth group meeting. (But make sure that your council and pastor approves before you start your advertising campaign!) Examples include:

  • Making a banner and placing it in the congregation’s yard
  • Developing the text for an ad in the local newspaper
  • Making buttons to hand out to people
  • Adding special features, videos, or photos to the congregation’s Web site
  • Planning a special event to invite the community to (job fair, pet blessing, social ministry effort, movie discussion night, etc.)
  • Etc.

Making (your personal) faith public
Talk with your group about the difficulties we all face in talking about our faith in public. Discuss strategies for how we can overcome this fear. Together, come up with one or two exercises they can do so that they can practice talking about their faith. Check in with youth the next week to see whether they tried their exercises and how they felt about it.

Closing Prayer

Jesus, we trust that you are our shepherd, our teacher, and the one who heals our bodies and our souls. We ask you to give us the right words to talk about our faith with others. We ask that you open our ears to the witness of others so that they might strengthen our faith. And we ask you to make us part of the long tradition of people who could not stay silent and hide their beliefs from the public. Give us the same courage that our forefathers and foremothers in the faith had. Amen.