Josh Kestner, Clemson, SC

Warm-up Questions

  • What are some of the ways that you respond to difficult news stories? Do you pray? Do you research the context more deeply? Is it easier to try to ignore the news altogether?
  • Where do you find hope in the world? How do you re-energize yourself when you’re exhausted? Who is someone in your life you turn to when you’re feeling weary?

Listening for Hope

There is no simple reaction or response to the terrifying stories that we’ve been watching regarding the war between Israel and Hamas. There are no easy answers to the questions we have about such a complex past and present situation. 

What is certain, though, is the pain and grief that accompany so much death and devastation. While it may be difficult to fully understand the who, what, when, where, how, and why of this war, it is necessary to condemn hatred and violence when we see it. We cry out with lament for those who have lost their lives, their livelihoods, their homes, their families, and their futures.

War is polarizing. Folks feel as though they must make instinctual choices to back one side or the other. We’re tempted to choose a “good guy” and a “bad guy”. But when it comes down to it, the evils of war are indiscriminate.

When we are faced with difficult news stories and discord in our societies, it is helpful to listen. Perhaps it is easier or quicker to demonize some and distance ourselves from what is going on. But listening to real stories from real people, who are directly impacted by war, creates empathy and enables us to respond in a meaningful way.  What has happened in their lives? How are they feeling? What are they afraid of? Do they have any hope?

Listening leads us to better understand the causes and consequences of conflict. And opening one’s ears before opening one’s mouth allows us to focus primarily on humanity of those involved and the ways that we can go about healing the wounds of war.

Discussion Questions

  • What do you know about the history of the Holy Land? Where do you get most of your information and news? Do you have any personal connections to people who have been affected by the most recent war?
  • What kinds of questions do you ask to better understand a difficult topic? 
  • What does justice mean to you? What are some actions that you take to pursue justice?
  • Evil is such an amorphous word and idea. What does evil mean to you? What does your faith teach you about dealing with evil?

Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Amos 5:18-24

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Matthew 25:1-13

(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

The gospel for this week includes a parable. Jesus’ teachings often come in the form of a parable. Perhaps it was easier to explain things using stories and images like this. Folks often say that they resonate with sermons and other educational moments in church when they include relatable stories.

The story that Jesus tells in this passage conjures up some fears and anxieties. How would you feel if you missed out on a long-anticipated wedding banquet and were left on the outside? One of the most pertinent feelings the bridesmaids express in this story is exhaustion. 

Have you felt exhausted recently? Maybe from all of the things on your to-do list. Perhaps from all of the things you’ve been hearing and reading in the news. Maybe from a newly broken relationship or a disappointing experience at work or in class.

The messages we hear in our communities of faith are often sprinkled with hope and love. However, our daily experiences in the life of faith can make us feel hopeless and lonely. We, like the ten bridesmaids in this story, find ourselves overwhelmed by exhaustion. Our eyes get droopy as we search for glimpses and signs of God’s hope and love in our lives.

How can we stay ready, even with tired bodies, minds, and souls? 

This parable does not necessarily leave us with a happy ending. But it does get us thinking about how we cope with some of the realities we face. We might find ourselves frustrated by the lack of control we have over what happens around us – but we can find some solace in the fact that we believe in a God who hears our cries and works alongside us to bring love, joy, and peace into the world.

Discussion Questions

  • What are the things that drain your energy the most right now? What fills you with energy?
  • What kind of world do you hope for? What does it look like? What does it feel like? How might we make that world a reality?
  • What do you do when faith is hard? What do you do when you feel like you have no hope?
  • Do you ever get mad at God? Do you ever ask God, “Why?”

Activity Suggestions

Do you pray before you go to bed? Sleep and rest are reminders of our human vulnerability. We cannot do it all, and while we sleep we have to surrender at least a few hours of control in our lives. We have to trust that God continues to work, even while we are asleep.

Write a prayer to keep in your pillowcase. Find meaningful words to convey to God some of your fears and anxieties, things that are causing you stress, things that exhaust you. Write them down and ask God to give you peace while you sleep. 

On the other side you can write a prayer to read in the morning when you wake up. Find meaningful words to ask God to empower you and give you the courage to take on the tasks set before you that day. Write them down and read them when you get out of bed.

Closing Prayer

God of hope, we are tired. While we lean into the faith and love we have from you, we are exhausted by the realities that surround us. Heal our pain. End our neighbors’ suffering. Strengthen our bodies. Empower us by your Spirit. Move us to work with you to bring justice and peace to all of your creation. Amen.