Contributed by Matthew R. Nelson
Walla Walla, WA

Warm-up Question: How do you share your gifts, talents, and time to reflect God’s love?
(From the ELCA News Service, “Lutherans Embrace Man Who Embodied Christ’s Love,” 03/04/2009)

John Breaux helped others using every opportunity possible. While he appeared homeless, he was known for his generosity. He would open doors for others, leave flowers randomly to cheer people up, and often brought food to people in need.

He seemed good natured and happy and rode his bicycle many miles daily, often picking up litter along the way to help keep Colorado beautiful, or stopping to pull weeds at someone’s home because it looked like they could use the help.

John was often mistaken as homeless in the suburban communities surrounding Boulder, CO. He had a bushy beard and often smelled dirty because he picked up and carried trash. He was missing teeth and slurred his speech.

Someone worried that a passing car might hit him, so they purchased a bicycle helmet for him. Others gave him clean clothes to wear for his comfort, which he gave away to someone he thought needed them more than he did. Once, he was handed a $50 bill at church. He put it in the offering plate.

Among all of John’s qualities and behaviors, his desire to be like Jesus stood out. He had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in his 20s according to a newspaper article.

Now, the communities he blessed with his giving are mourning his death. He had stopped to gather loose cans and pull weeds along a road and was struck by a driver taking prescription drugs for dementia. Nearly 2000 people attended his funeral. A memorial fund was set up in his honor. Said one local Lutheran woman, “We will miss him. He taught us that we can all be examples of God’s love.”

Read the whole story

Discussion Questions

  • Share an example of someone you know that uses his or her time, gifts, and talents to reflect God’s love… like John Breaux did. Why are they a good example?
  • What are some of the simpler things we can all do that reflect God’s love? What are some of the more difficult?
  • Does giving of your time, talent, and gifts seem like more of a burden or a responsibility? Does the giving we do require sacrifice every time?
  • How important is it to be recognized publicly for giving, or is it more rewarding to contribute and help others without recognition? Why? What are your expectations when you help or care for someone?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, March 22, 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

John 3:16. My Bible refers to this scripture as the gospel in a nutshell. It is not uncommon to see sports fans holding up signs with John 3:16 written on them, hoping that the poster might be seen by television viewers everywhere. It is a seemingly simple witness, recognized by many.

You and I are unable on our own to comprehend the ultimate sacrifice that Christ made on the cross so that humankind would be offered redemption. We are recipients of the gift of belief as the Holy Spirit guides each of us in our faith walk. The same Holy Spirit encourages us to reflect the gift of God’s love to others through our words, actions, decisions, and lives.

The news story recognizes John Breaux as someone whose identity was defined in several ways. While he appeared dirty and often smelled, he seized opportunities to give to others. While he seemed homeless, he made an impression in several communities and congregations that he visited, demonstrating servanthood to others. Children even referred to him as ‘Jesus’ at times.

Christ made the ultimate sacrifice, by dying on a cross so that through faith, we will have eternal life. But the cross is not the end of the story. Even before Christ was crucified, he exemplified God’s nature and desire for us through his actions in the communities and countryside where he walked, taught, preached, and healed. With every word and action, Christ called the people of his day to be God’s love to others.

With the guidance and motivation of the Holy Spirit, we receive the gift of faith which calls us to action. Like John Breaux, we have every opportunity to exemplify God’s love and sacrifice for the world. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.”

Who will the Holy Spirit lead you to touch with God’s love this week?

Discussion Questions

  • What kind of freedom or restriction do you believe you experience through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross? Why?
  • John Breaux was stereotyped as dirty and homeless, yet he spent much of his time helping others or just being kind to people and his surroundings. Who have you stereotyped in the past? Did your stereotype of them prevent you from taking an opportunity to do something kind, or from leting them care for you?
  • What needs do you feel are not being met in your community or congregation? What should be done? Who should do it?
  • How do people outside of your worshipping community know that you are a faithful servant of Jesus? Do you conduct yourself differently? Why? Why not? What assumptions or impressions of your congregation do you think people have in your community or neighborhood?

Activity Suggestion

God’s love calls us to action as we reflect our faith in this world. Answer #1 individually, and then share your answers. Take a few minutes to do #2 individually.

  • “As a faithful servant, and with God’s help, I try to…”
  • Write an anonymous thank you card to someone you know (in your congregation) thanking them for the example they set for you. Mail them using the church’s address for the return address.Spend five minutes discussing needs that you think are not being met in your congregation or community. (Confidentiality might be in order if talking about your own congregation) 
    • Create a list following your discussion time. Title it: “Opportunities for Ministry.” Post it in your classroom or ask if you can print it in your church bulletin and/or newsletter.
    • If you ask to print it in your bulletin or newsletter, check with your evangelism & outreach committee or church council representatives to see if local organizations are meeting some of these needs, and whether they might need volunteers.
    • Make another list of the gifts, resources, and strengths your congregation and its members have to offer and put to use in serving the surrounding community. List the assets that your youth bring to the mix.

Closing Prayer

Close by praying the Lord’s Prayer together.