Andrew Karmann, Omaha, NE

Warm-up Question

  • Have you ever felt like a slave to anything?
  • What does it mean to be free?

Freedom of a Christian

When things in our lives happen to us we can often feel out of control and pushed in directions we never thought we could go. Since losing their daughter in the Aurora, Colorado shooting, Sandy and Lonnie Phillips have gone to the locations of many mass shootings. They know lots about the challenges grieving families face, and have information only people who have lost someone to a shooting can know.

In a recent radio broadcast of This American Life, Sandy and Lonnie arrived on the campus of Santa Fe High School, just outside of Houston, TX just days after the May 18, 2018 school shooting. They were wearing buttons showing a picture of their daughter Jesse as they walked up to the ten wooden crosses with red hearts for each of the students and teachers who had lost their lives in the shooting. It doesn’t take long before students and faculty begin coming up to them and opening up about their experiences.

As I listened to the students and parents heart wrenching stories of loss and confusion, it’s easy to think that Sandy and Lonnie would have been perfectly justified to let their lives stop after learning of their daughter’s death. But the tragedy of their experience doesn’t stop there. They are subjected to people who call themselves “truthers” who proclaim that victims of these shooting never existed or are being put up by the government in a resort somewhere.

So what makes these parents relive the worst night of their lives over and over again? Five months later they were asked to visit the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting. They decided they would go because all they wanted in the aftermath of their daughter’s death was someone to talk to that could understand what they were going through.

Despite the awkwardness they felt upon arriving at Sandy Hook, they recognized the pain on the other parents’ faces. It was exactly where they had been five months ago. They wanted nothing more than to help these parents acclimate to their new reality. So to help parents in these situations find each other for support they started an organization called “Survivors Empowered.”

Sandy and Lonnie felt a calling to help people experiencing what they had already been through. Their family and friends wanted desperately for them to move on and get back to normal. But something inside them just wouldn’t allow the tragedy of their daughter’s death go by unforgotten. The brokenness of their world was not going to stop them from being there for others.

Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever experienced the grief of losing someone that you loved? Did anyone talk to you about a similar experience they had which made you feel a little better?
  • Have you or someone you know been affected by school shootings?
  • Have you talked with your friends about school shootings you’ve heard about in the news?

Reformation Sunday

(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

Today’s Gospel is a text which is heard a lot in Lutheran churches on Reformation Sunday. It starts out with Jesus telling his followers that if they just continue to follow what he’s been teaching them, that they will be set free. However, this idea of being set free didn’t seem to make too much sense to those whom Jesus was talking to, because they immediately say that they have never been slaves to anyone. So they ask what Jesus could possibly mean by saying, “they will be set free”?

Jesus goes on to say that anyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. What could that possibly mean? Does that mean that we can simply live a perfect life and not have to worry about being a slave to sin? What does Jesus even mean when he says sin? Sometimes it helps to get a little context from the things that are happening around our selected readings.

In the case of today’s gospel lesson we can move back to the beginning of chapter 8 to see what Jesus meant when he was talking about sin and how that differed from the understanding of sin that the people around him had. The chapter begins with the story of a woman caught in the act of adultery being brought before Jesus. The scribes and Pharisees then ask Jesus what he thinks should be done about this sinner, knowing that the traditional punishment is to stone the adulterer to death. Jesus says that anyone who has never sinned can go ahead and be the first one to throw a stone at her. After this everyone leaves because everyone has sinned. Jesus forgives her and tells her to go on with her life and sin no more.

This story shows us a couple of things that are relevant to today’s Gospel Lesson.

  • Everyone has sinned, and is therefore a slave to sin.
  • Sin isn’t limited to doing something against the laws of the scriptures, but part of the world we live in.

Martin Luther struggled with many of these same difficult questions regarding sin. He was confused by his inability to stop sinning and the idea of being able to make up for it in a satisfying way. Luckily, our Gospel doesn’t end with the statement that everybody sins. Rather it goes on to say, “So if the Son makes you free, you are free indeed.”

This tells us that because of Jesus’ death on the cross, and subsequent resurrection, we are no longer slaves to sin. Whether it is our own (as in the case of the woman who committed adultery) or a result of the broken world (as in the case of Sandy and Lonnie’s daughter’s death). Instead we are free to continue our lives. We are free to allow Christ’s light to shine through ours and the world’s brokenness.

Discussion Questions

  • In light of today’s gospel reading, how would you define sin?
  • What are some examples of ways we could sin ourselves?
  • What are some examples of how sin is found in the broken world around us?
  • What do you think it looks like to be set free by Christ?

Activity Suggestions

Gather strips of soft cloth to tie the hands and ankles as well as to make blindfolds. (Strips torn from an old sheet work nicely) You’ll need enough strips for each person to have one.

Distribute the cloth strips to kids and have them form three groups. Instruct one group to tie each other’s hands behind their backs. (You will have to help the last person.) Have another group use the strips to loosely tie each person’s ankles together. Have the remaining group use its strips as blindfolds.

Provide instructions to the youth letting them know that as you call out various actions, they are to do each one in the best way that they can.

  • Shake hands
  • Touch your toes
  • Walk across the room
  • Wave to a friend
  • Take one giant step
  • Sit cross-legged on the floor
  • Hop on one foot
  • Point to the west
  • Wink at someone

Debrief with the follow questions:

  1. What kinds of problems were you having? Explain.
  2. What can be done to solve these problems?
  3. This game has taken away some of your freedom. What kinds of things bind us or take away our freedom in real life?
  4. How can we be freed from these things?

Closing Prayer

Loving  God, Thank you for this chance to come together to learn more about you and your word. Thanks, also for your amazing gift of freedom from sin. Although we often feel stuck in fear or grief we know that you call us to continue living. We know that you hear our prayers whether we shout them with joy from the mountaintops or hold them inside with sighs to deep for words. Thank you for listening.