Dave Delaney, Roanoke, VA

Warm-up Question

  1. What are the most important qualities you look for in your friends? Sharing common interests or values? Sticking by you no matter what? Agreeing with almost everything you say? Keeping you honest by telling you when you’re being annoying or about to do something dumb? 
  1. A simple choice question with no right or wrong answer: Would you rather have just a few very close friends or a lot of casual friends?
  1. 3. Since the pandemic lockdown, some young people report that it has been more difficult to build good and reliable relationships that it was before. Is that true for you or not so much? 

Social (Dis)Connection

Social researchers of adolescents have been measuring the amount of time teens spend with each other in person and noticed a significant drop between 2010 and the present. Although some attribute this to the pandemic lockdown, the trend was already starting before 2020 and has not rebounded since public gatherings once again became the norm. There is a great deal of speculation about what is behind this, and it includes many social theorists who assign a fair amount of blame to the prevalence of social media and electronic communication. Others disagree, pointing instead to societal tensions and increased anxiety among the adults who are supposed to be providing guidance for growing young people. Either way, most researchers are concluding that there is a connection between this lack of personal relationships (or the substitution of screen relationships) and the dramatic rise in teen depression and identity crises. Furthermore, it is well-known (and easily confirmed by even casual conversations with teens) that the Zoom gathering platform is no substitute for being together, to the point where students will beg for in-person experiences over an online option, even if it is more time-consuming and inconvenient.  


Discussion Questions

  1. Not every single American teenager is experiencing either a personal crisis of identity and meaning or starvation of relationships. What is your experience? 
  1. Do you ever think about your church family as a place where stable and nurturing relationships can happen, even with those outside of your age group? What would it take for your church community to provide such an environment?
  1. As sophisticated as our FaceTime and other apps are, do you find that they are effective ways of staying in touch with your friends and building relationships? Why or why not?

The Holy Trinity

Isaiah 6:1-8  

Psalm 29  

Romans 8:12-17  

John 3:1-17 

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 at Lectionary Readings.

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

The Holy Trinity

The Festival of the Holy Trinity is famous for being the only Sunday in the church year that is based on a theological doctrine rather than on an event in the life of Jesus or one of the saints or apostles. And many Christians get hung up on the seeming contradiction implied by the “3-in-1, 1-in-3.” In the end, however, the story of the Trinity is the story of God’s own self and relationships. It is more story than doctrine: we believe that from all eternity, the Father and the Son have been locked together in a relationship of creative love through the sharing of their mutual Spirit. The absolute closeness between them is what makes them “one God” and even defines what it means to be God. We might even say that God *is* relationship! And this mutual love between them is so powerful that it flows over into creating all things in the universe, including us! 

Since we are made in the image of God, we too are made for the experience of relationship, first within ourselves, and then – creatively and lovingly – with others!  

With this ongoing crisis of teens’ internal struggles and drop-off of peer interactions, there is almost no time in history when we have more needed a God who embodies unity of self and love for others. Everything that God is and does points us to putting together and repairing things that are broken, uniting people that are at odds with themselves and others. The Spirit of the one God is God’s gift to us to powerfully bring this about, and since God is one and we are one with God, we can bring God’s gift of healing to the world – the small world around us, and the big world that seems so often to be in so much conflict.  

Discussion Questions

  1. Go through the gospel passage and note all the words or phrases that are related to relationships: “being born,” “loved” etc. What does this tell us about the nature and the will of God? Is the word “believe” (esp. vss. 11-16) more about acknowledging facts or about entering into a relationship? 
  1. Christians have argued for centuries over the meaning of John 3:16-17, the meaning of the word “saved,” and what mechanism is required for salvation to happen. Is it possible that (rather than referring so much to life after death) salvation means experiencing the repairing and restoring love of God in the here and now and sharing God’s life and love with others?
  1. When Nicodemus asks his implied question about whether Jesus is for real or not, Jesus says “You must be born *anew*.” In that word, Nicodemus hears “born *again*” as in a repeat of physical human birth, when what Jesus meant was “born *from above*” or “born in a different way.” How does knowing and following Jesus bring you new life each day?

Bonus question: What about Jesus’ life and work and nature do you find confusing? What question would you most like to ask Jesus? 

 Activity Suggestions

  1. As Lutherans our whole pattern of daily faith is based on believing that being “born anew” happens every day, not just once. Find a copy of Martin Luther’s Small Catechism and look at the section on Baptism, where Luther asks and answers the question “What does baptism with water signify?” by encouraging a daily dying and rising by remembrance of baptism. Also, look at Luther’s morning prayer, which begins with making of the sign of the cross in baptismal remembrance, doing so with the invocation of the Holy Trinity. Can your group commit to undertaking this practice together for each day of this coming week? 
  1. God’s great love spills over 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.
  1. Listening for the Holy Spirit to share the love of the Trinity in the midst of so many other voices in our world can be extremely hard! Get a volunteer to be blindfolded in the middle of your group and have one person read from John 3 while all others just talk constantly and try to throw the blindfolded person off. Can the blindfolded person pick out the words of John 3? How do you make that distinction in daily life?

(If the group is ambitious, look at the other lessons for the day that have historically been read by Christians to understand God’s trinitarian life – Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 29; Romans 8:12-17) 

Closing prayer:  

God, we ask you to bring to us the powerful and healing unity that you have within yourself. Allow us to be part of your purpose to bring restoration and reconciliation to the whole world every day and let others see the peace you have given us within ourselves. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.