Contributed by Bob Chell, Brookings, SD


Warm-up Question

1)      “Last words” can convey rage, love or meaning. If you knew your life were ending and you wanted to convey your deepest insight about life to guide and inspire others what would you say? 

Last Words

A recent news article noted that the last words of a rabid fan were of his beloved football (soccer) team, Leeds United.  Roy Embling had only missed one home game in twenty years—and that was because of his wedding. He loved talking about his team and had even attended its awards dinner.

Discussion Questions

  •  If you were a friend or family member of Rory would you take comfort that his last words were about his beloved team, or would this sharpen your pain and sense of loss?
  • As someone reading about a stranger does your opinion differ? How and why?
  • If the last words spoken by the people with you now were about that which gives meaning, purpose and direction to their life what would they say?  What would your words be?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, June 1, 2014 (Seventh Sunday of Easter)

Acts 1:6-14

1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11

John 17:1-11

(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 C at Lectionary Readings.)

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


Gospel Reflection

shutterstock_99288080“Matthew, Mark and Luke are what Jesus said, John is what the church said about Jesus…” So said one of my professors. Contemporary scholarship might say that is a little too simplistic, but there is no doubt John is unique. Only in John does Jesus claim to be the messiah, the son of God, sent to redeem the world. Oh, there are cryptic allusions in the other gospels but nothing remotely close to Jesus’ claims in John’s gospel. The reading from John comes from what scholars call Jesus’ “Farewell discourse.” Think “after dinner speech.” Following the meal with his disciples Jesus is saying goodbye to his disciples. Like a first year college student, who went overboard on research, the author of the gospel puts in everything Jesus said—with explanations. The author wants to be certain we know and understand Jesus is God’s son, sent to give us life.

I don’t know why God chose to give us four gospels instead of one. I don’t know why Jesus‘ sermon on the mount goes on for five chapters in Matthew and is moved to the plain and shortened to one chapter in Luke. I don’t know why Jesus didn’t address the issues we struggle with. Why didn’t Jesus speak definitively about abortion or homosexuality?

It would be wonderful if God’s word and God’s will were crystal clear so we always knew the right thing to say, do, or believe. At least we think it would, although it is in those places where Jesus speaks most clearly we have the most difficulty: Love your enemies, pick up your cross, follow me.  Perhaps Jesus left things murky for a reason, so that others would not be able to twist his words and his message to fit the political climate of the day, providing simple answers to complex questions.

Still, he is clear in this farewell to his disciples. They had listened to his stories telling how God loved them and how they were to treat others. They watched Jesus reach out with a word of healing and forgiveness to those marginalized and left out.  Jesus told them how to live and he showed them how to live.  Now, as he prepares to depart from them, he hammers home the point again and again: Love one another.

Jesus wants us to have lives rich with meaning, lives which are rewarding and fulfilling. This is different than being happy or having fun. Placing our trust, our energy, our lives themselves in that which can bear the weight of loving one another is one of life’s great challenges.

Jesus’ words point us in the direction of serving others. The words are paradoxically both vague and specific. They are specific in that it is clear what Jesus asks of us, vague in that nearly any career can allow us to do what he asks. The question at the end of the day is this:  Does the way I live enrich the lives of others or impoverish them? That is different from asking whether a chosen career will bring us high salary, status, or approval from others.

Jesus’ words are not intended as a burden but as a blessing. “What should I do with my life?” is an oppressive question. “What can I do with my life?” is liberating.

Jesus changed the world by touching people’s lives—a family celebrating a wedding, a blind man sitting by the road, a Roman soldier with a sick child, a woman consumed by guilt and shame.  Jesus is touching our lives too, healing our hurts, giving us direction, easing our burdens. Jesus invites us to do this for others, enriching their lives and our own.

Psychologists tell us that “acting as if” is a way of developing a new behavior, knowing we are more likely to act ourselves into a new way of feeling than feel ourselves into a new way of acting. Act as if you are going to nail that final Tuesday afternoon you’ll do better than if you go in expecting to fail. Guaranteed.

Act as if you are God’s presence in the world and you will grow in faith and into the person you and God both want you to become. Also guaranteed.

Discussion Questions

  •  How do we know we are doing what God wants us to do?
  • What questions are useful when considering career options?
  • Does vocation have to mean a job or career?

Activity Suggestions

  •  Ask someone you trust and respect how they chose their career and what they would do differently.
  • Ask an elder in you congregation or family what gives meaning to their life.
  • Spend an hour this week ‘Acting as If’ you were sent by God to be with other people. Later discuss what in your behavior changed, and what didn’t change.

Closing Prayer

God you have gifted us with talents and interests. Be with us as we consider and explore how to invest these gifts and our lives in the world. Give us peace when we are anxious and keep us mindful that you will guide us, sustain us, and call us back to your path when we wander.  Amen