Dave Delaney, Salem, VA

Warm-up Question

In a real pinch or in a moment of real difficulty, who do you know who is absolutely on your side, who 100% has your back no matter what? Do you know anyone who has nobody they can depend on?

What is Truth?

“Teens who trust the news they read on social media feel less stress” It’s not what you know, it’s who you know, or – rather – who you trust.  Researchers at Cornell University recently published results of a study showing that trust in the news on social media can make a big difference in a teenager’s well-being. 

In the current age of misinformation and conspiracy theories, adolescents and young adults felt more empowered if they knew the information they read online was reliable. Those who were less trusting and more skeptical were more stressed out. Cornell Professor Adam Hoffman points out, “It’s not just the sheer volume of social media use that’s going to have this positive or negative effect. It’s how you engage with social media news that will be more influential in determining how it impacts you.”

With COVID also came the rise of new types of behavior called “doom-scrolling,” which is obsessively looking for negative and depressing news. For people trying to get away from the 24-hour stream of information, some practiced “news avoidance.” All in all, the COVID pandemic sparked an “infodemic” of misinformation, according to the World Health Organization.

Trusting the news seemed to help teens’ well-being, as they felt less left in the dark. However, the researchers warn that blindly trusting everything you read on social media can be just as bad. Creating news literacy programs to help students identify “fake news” and less credible sources will enable them to better distinguish fact from fiction.

“It’s not just that we need to trust, but that we need to trust credible sources of news that are factually based and have been vetted,” Hoffman explains. “That’s how youth can be informed and have a positive sense of well-being and sense of self, and that’s the best of both worlds.”

Discussion Questions

  • How do you determine whether what you are reading represents “truth”?  Is something you read more credible if  it matches your experience or is being reported by a person or an organization you know.   Are you more likely to believe something is true if it confirms what you already believed?
  • Why does “Doomscrolling” exist? What causes harebrained conspiracy theories to take hold? Are people (especially teens) more interested in true facts  or in the thrill of a spectacular claim that might not be true?
  • Have you noticed a difference in your own sense of well-being or mental health depending on your online habits?

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Acts 17:22-31

1 Peter 3:13-22

John 14:15-21

(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 A at Lectionary Readings.)

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

Gospel Reflection

Variations on the word “truth” (true, truly, etc.) appear in John’s gospel more than 30 times. It is a major theme in chapters 3, 4, 7, 8, and 15 until, in chapter 18, Pilate at last asks Jesus, “What is truth?”  Jesus does not answer Pilate.  Instead he goes to the cross, demonstrating a kind of truth that is very much at odds with the kind of answer that Pilate and Jesus’ disciples were expecting. 

In John 15, Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” In living completely for others, even to joining us in our experiences of unfairness and death, Jesus shows  what it means to “truly” live. It is this truth that the “Advocate” (or “companion” or “advisor” or “helper”), another name for the Holy Spirit, brings to our minds every day. We continue Jesus’ work by bringing God’s love to those who need it most – the rejected, victims of injustice, those who have trouble knowing they are loved. We are the ones who can help others know that they too are God’s beloved. 

Discussion Questions

  • Go through the gospel passage and note all the words or phrases that are related to relationships: “love,” “be with you,” etc. What does this tell us about what Jesus means by the phrase “the Spirit of truth”? For Jesus, is truth more fact-based or relationship-based?
  • In this passage, Jesus refers twice to his disciples keeping his commandments. To which of his commandments is Jesus referring, especially in this gospel? (There are very few in John’s gospel prior to John 14-17.  But in those chapters there are several very important things which he directs his disciples to do. Look in those chapters for some of them).
  • Jesus promises to reveal himself to those who love him and follow his teachings. Where do you see Jesus in your own life and world? Do you sense the presence of Jesus’ Spirit of truth in your daily challenges?

Activity Suggestions

  • The Spirit (Advocate) comes to us not just for our own sakes, but the for the sake of everyone around us who needs a loving relationship. Give each member of your group a card on which to list people they know who are in need of the kind of love that only God and God’s people can give. Pledge to carry this card around all week, as a reminder that we are bearers of God’s love.
  • Listening for the Holy Spirit in the midst of so many other voices can be extremely hard! Get a volunteer to be blindfolded in the middle of your group and have one person read from John 14 while all others just talk constantly and try to throw the blindfolded person off. Can the blindfolded person pick out the words of John 14? How do you make that distinction in daily life?
  • As a group offer to compose the congregation’s prayers for an upcoming Sunday, as we approach Pentecost Day.  Emphasize our hope that God will send the Spirit into our hearts to give courage and wisdom for our daily lives and for the life of the world.
  • If the group is ambitious, check out other titles for the Holy Spirit in the Bible. Some examples: Job 33:4; Hebrews 9:14; Psalm 51:12; Acts 5:3-4; Ephesians 1:13; Romans 8:9-15; Zechariah 12:10; Isaiah 11:2-3.

Closing Prayer

God, your Son Jesus brought us good news that you are close to those who love him and walk in his ways. Bless each of us in the sometimes hard and confusing work of following him. Send your Spirit to remind us every day of the truth of your love for us and the whole world. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.