Drew Tucker, Columbus, OH

Warm-up Question

Who is an authority in your life that you trust? What makes them trustworthy? 

Who Belongs/ Who is Free?

Topics of citizenship and migration remain front page news, not only in the United States, but across the globe. Many factors drive this discussion, such as the reasons for migration and the impacts on both the countries departed and the countries entered. Even more fundamental to this conversation is the question of belonging. Who belongs in what places? What are the factors that affect belonging? Who is the ultimate authority on affirming or denying belonging?

We must remember that this isn’t simply a theoretical topic. Questions of belonging, and who gets to affirm our belonging, affect the day-to-day lives of many migrants of various types across the globe. When I traveled to Europe with my wife this summer, customs agents checked passports every time we crossed a border to ensure we belonged to an acceptable country and had not overstayed our welcome in their land. However, for many migrants, their global travels aren’t simply for leisure. Many, like Miriam Vargas, seek a better, safer life for themselves and their families. Miriam and her young daughters have taken refuge in Columbus’s First English Lutheran Church because the church saw their need for safety after Miriam fled Honduras when gangs threatened her life. As First English declared their building a sanctuary for Miriam and her family, they became part of a wider network of organizations called the Sanctuary Movement, that promises belonging to migrants seeking safety and opportunity in the United States. This is not an isolated incident, either. Hundreds of congregations have stepped up to support the Sanctuary Movement, while the ELCA recently declared itself a sanctuary church body. 

To the question of “who belongs,” First English, the Sanctuary Movement, and a growing commitment across the ELCA boldly declare that, because God first welcomed us, all belong. The authority of belonging, then, does not ultimately lie with a particular law or a governmental entity, but with God 

To read more about becoming a sanctuary denomination, see this: https://elca.org/News-and-Events/8000. You can also learn more about the sanctuary movement here: https://www.wsj.com/articles/some-churches-offer-refuge-from-deportation-with-sacred-resisting-11564927200.

Discussion Questions

  • Share a story about your friends or relatives who are immigrants. 
  • What would if feel like to receive death threats from gangs, run for your life, and then face deportation after making a new life in another country?
  • How do we balance the authority we give to God and government?

Reformation Sunday

Jeremiah 31:31-34

Romans 3:19-28

John 8:31-36

(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

These verses, commonly used for Reformation commemorations, center on concepts of truth and freedom. Yet, before we considers those central themes, we must address the presence of slavery as an image Jesus employs. Jesus just throws the word slave around like it’s a normal and appropriate thing. And while, for 1st century Palestinians, slavery was a common occurrence and a very different thing than the slavery forced upon African natives by European and American powers for hundreds of years between the 14th and 19th centuries, we can’t read the word slave in the United States without acknowledging Jesus’s metaphor has been forever changed by the oppression white people forced on black people. Especially since this reading appears on a day when we celebrate a movement started by a white European and there’s explicit mention of slave’s not having a place in the household, we should focus our attention on how this imagery impacts people of African descent and make explicit that the freedom Christ promises is for all people, including black people.

Jesus’s first words help us see this importance, for he says “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” Jesus, after all, is the way, the truth, and the life, so knowing the truth is knowing Jesus. This is beautifully complex. It means that when we know Jesus, we can comprehend the truth of the world more clearly. Yet, it also means that when we encounter anything that’s true, we’ve encountered a part of God. So when we encounter the Pythagorean Theorem, a2 + b2 = c2, we encounter something of God’s wisdom in creating the universe. When we realize the wonder of evolution, we realize the beauty of God’s creative process that brings to life new and wondrous things across the universe over billions of years. When we engage the equality of humanity, we engage something of God’s wisdom in giving every person the divine image. 

To continue in Jesus’s words isn’t simply to read scripture. It’s to live the life of love that Jesus teaches us. Knowing the truth who is Jesus means living the life that Jesus offers us. Despite the problematic imagery, his ultimate point is this: Jesus can offer us the fullness of God’s gifts eternally because he’s forever a part of God’s family. So the freedom we’re offered, the life that we’re offered, the truth that we’re offered, isn’t temporary or limited. When Jesus tells us that we belong, that we’re set free from sin and now a part of God’s household, he does so as one with authority. The authority of our belonging comes from God, who has desires that all people be truly free. Because God sets us free, we all belong with one another and with God.

Discussion Questions

  • What is something that you’ve learned outside of church – in school, on a team, in your family, or elsewhere – that’s helped you learn more about God? 
  • If Jesus is the ultimate authority in our lives, how should that change the ways that we make decisions? 
  • What’s another analogy that we could use, instead of slavery, to help highlight the point that Jesus is God’s Child?

Activity Suggestions

  • Imago Dei Game – Make a circle and the person in the middle says, “I am (insert name), the Image of God, and one way I see God is through (blank).” For the blank, insert things like, “people who like math,” “people who can draw,” “people who play an instrument,” and the like. Everyone who identifies with the last statement then has to move to a new spot in the circle, and the person without a spot becomes the next speaker. The goal is to help students see the various talents show perspectives on truth and then create more conversation around how people get to know God in dynamic ways. 
  • Red Light, Green Light – Gather your group on one side of a large room, gym, or playing area. One person acts as the traffic light. When they yell “Green light!” players move toward the other side of the space and “Red light!” to get them to stop. You can add complexity to the game by giving certain players disadvantages, like carrying cup full of water they can’t spill or egg on a spoon. The ones who reach the other side of the space first win. The traffic light can also remove those obstacles, if they so choose. Then, converse about the nature of the authority in the game and how people can use authority to set people free or bind them to unnecessary obstacles.
  • Read together the ELCA’s talking points regarding our status as a sanctuary church and watch videos related to AAMPARO, (found here: https://www.elca.org/sanctuarychurch). Then discuss how the kinds of freedom that Christ promises relates to the Sanctuary Movement.
  • If you’d like to donate to support Miriam and her family at First English (mentioned in the first section of this faith lens), visit here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/miriam-and-family-at-first-english?sharetype=teams&member=374504&rcid=r01-153063240238-9a96725777c14416&pc=ot_co_campmgmt_w

Closing Praye

Lord God, you release us from the cuff of sin and free us to live a life that belongs to you. Shape our lives to reflect your freedom. Form our hearts to embrace your liberation. Empower us to share this gift not only with ourselves, but with all people in all places. We pray this in the name of our liberator, Jesus: Amen.