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Faith Lens

September 21-17, 2011

Contributed by Erik Ullestad, West Des Moines, IA

Warm-up Question

Have you been surprised by the words or actions of a stranger?

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

New York City Transit bus drivers are scared and upset.  In the first eight months of the year, 58 drivers were assaulted while driving their routes.  Maria Hogan is one driver who is unsure if she will be going back to work any time soon.

“I have bruises on my arms and legs,” she said.  Hogan believes the rider was angry because she skipped a stop in the Fordham section of the Bronx which was closed because of construction.  When she reached the next stop, she says he punched her and left.

Many of the assaults have occurred on the Bx9 route, which runs through the Bronx.  Although MTA officials would not yet say which routes are most dangerous, the bus drivers’ union said the Bx9 is one of the worst and management is not doing enough.

“That particular location is a hot spot,” said Tony Aiken of the Transport Workers Union. “If you don’t have the partitions there, work with police department, work with your security department. Work with anybody who is going to go out there and make us feel safe.”

An MTA spokesperson offered a brief statement, “This past weekend’s assault is an outrageous insult to the thousands of transit workers who serve the public every day.  We are working closely with TWU to develop barriers to protect the drivers.”

Union officials said that is not good enough.

“Actions speak louder than words, not words without action,” said Aiken.


Discussion Questions

  • Would you return to your job if you had been attacked in the workplace?
  • What do you think should be done to protect the bus drivers?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, September 25, 2011 (Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost)

Ezekiel 18:1-4

Philippians 2:1-13

Matthew 21:23-32

(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

Jesus has a lot to say in these verses.  As he often does, Jesus saves his most challenging words for the religious leaders.  The chief priests and elders want to know who authorized the healing and teaching Jesus has been doing.  He realizes that they are trying to trick him into answering a question that has no satisfactory answer.  So, instead, he dodges their questions about authority and tells a story.

The story is about words and actions.  A man tells his sons to go to work for him.  The first one declines, but later changes his mind and does what his father asked him to do.  The second one agrees, but decides to skip out.  Jesus indicates that the first son – the one who said “no” at first – did the will of his father.  From there, he compares the religious leaders to the second son.  They say words that sound impressive to the people, but Jesus thinks their actions aren’t consistent with their words.  He even takes it a step further, indicating that the lowest-of-the-low (tax collectors and prostitutes) will get into heaven before these religious leaders.

“Actions speak louder than words” is an idea that is familiar to many people, but it can be difficult for grace-believing Lutherans to buy into.  We are wary of the notion that our salvation is dependent on our good deeds.  However, it’s important to note that the people whom Jesus is scolding are not beyond the reach of God’s love.  He doesn’t tell the religious leaders that they will be excluded from heaven, but they may have to wait a while.  Their great failing was complacency, believing that saying the right things was a substitute for daily obedience to God.

Perhaps Jesus isn’t talking about salvation; maybe he’s reminding God’s people to treat each other with kindness and love.  Our actions matter to God because God’s people matter to God.  As followers of Jesus, the tax collectors and prostitutes had committed themselves to a new way of life.  They were, by no means, a perfect group, but they were honest about their need for a Savior.  Conversely, the chief priests and elders said a lot of impressive things, but their actions did not match their confession.  They were deeply connected with the corrupt government that made the rich richer and the poor poorer.

Jesus is calling us to a life where both our words and actions matter.  The things we say and do reflect the One who has calls us by name, gathers us into a community of faith, and sends us out to do God’s work in the world.

Discussion Questions

  •  Why do you think Jesus is so frustrated with the religious leaders?
  • What is Jesus saying about words and actions in the father/sons parable?
  • Which is easier for you – good words or good deeds

Activity Suggestion

Think of something your congregation talks about doing as part of its mission and ministry but rarely has time for.  Create an action plan and start implementing it in future weeks.

Closing Prayer

God, help us to honor you with our lips and our lives.  Amen.

February 2-8-2011–The Souper Bowl

Contributed by Kelly Derrick, St Philip Lutheran Church, Roanoke, VA

Warm-up Question

Are you going to watch the Super Bowl?

The Souper Bowl

On Sunday, February 6th, millions of Americans will watch the Super Bowl, the NFL’s final showdown between the Steelers and the Packers.   Also on this same Sunday, thousands of young people in America will participate in the Souper Bowl of Caring.

The Souper Bowl of Caring began in 1990 in Columbia, SC, as a ministry of 22 congregations seeking to answer this simple question: “Why not use Super Bowl weekend, a time when people come together for football and fun, to also unify the nation for a higher good: collecting dollars and canned food for the needy?”  The movement is now the nation’s largest celebration of giving and serving.  Young people are the primary leaders of this food drive/service blitz movement.  Groups are encouraged to collect both donations of cans of food (really any non-perishable food will do!) as well as monetary donations.  Most often, the money is collected in soup pots (makes sense, huh?).  All of the food and all of the money collected is kept within the local community.  Each group decides to whom the food and money will go.  Each group also reports the totals of their collection to the Souper Bowl of Caring so that a national total of food and money is tallied.

Along with collecting food and funds for hunger agencies in their own area, groups are encouraged to participate in a Service Blitz.  The reasons for doing a Service Blitz are, in part, because it “helps youth connect the contents of their soup pots to the individuals directly benefiting from the dollar and can donations and gives youth exposure to poverty, hunger, homelessness, and injustice in their own community.”

Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever participated in the Souper Bowl of Caring?  If so, what did you do? What was it like?  How did it make you feel?
  • What is your congregation doing to respond to hunger in your community? Around the world?
  • The Souper Bowl of Caring believes that young people have the ability to serve and should be given opportunities to lead their communities in helping others.  How has God gifted you to lead?  Does your congregation empower you to serve and to lead?
  • The Souper Bowl of Caring also believes that hunger and poverty have a negative impact on individuals and the communities in which they live.  Do you think that hunger and poverty actually do have a negative impact on your community? If so, how?  If not, why not?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, February 6, 2011 (Fifth Sunday and Epiphany)

Isaiah 58:1-9a [9b-12]

1 Corinthians 2:1-12 [13-16]

Matthew 5:13-20

(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

Be salt? Be light? Huh? Over the years, many people (including some scholars) have been confused by these words from Jesus.  How are we to be salt and light?  What does that mean?  Maybe it has something to do with the good works Jesus mentions?

This passage from Matthew is part of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).  To really oversimplify, the Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ instructions for those who follow him – what to believe and, much more important, what to do.  Following Jesus requires a response from us!  Jesus has certain expectations for how his followers will act.  Faith is not just about belief; faith is about action.  So, what is it that we are supposed to do?

Jesus says that we should do good works and that our righteousness should exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees.  So what does Jesus mean by righteousness?  God’s righteousness is about covenant: God keeping the promises God has made to the people, most important God’s promise to save the people.  God’s righteousness is about God’s action on behalf of God’s people – saving, freeing, helping, assisting, raising up.  Most often God’s actions were on behalf of the poor and needy.  As God’s people, our righteousness should be like God’s righteousness.  When Jesus says we should act in righteousness, he means that we should act as God acts.  Like God, we should be concerned about – and act on behalf of – those who are poor and needy.  Righteousness is doing justice for the poor, the helpless, the oppressed, the widow, the orphan, and the resident alien – all of those who are the least, last, lost, littlest, and lifeless within the community.

So, how do we act in a righteous way?  I think the words for today from Isaiah give us some hints.  The prophet says that God wants us to worship in this way: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, to share your bread with the hungry, to bring the homeless poor into your house, to cover the naked and not to hide yourself from your own kin.  Look at all those verbs; that’s lots of action!  Then, Isaiah says, your light shall break forth like the dawn!  Sounds a lot like being light to me!

Discussion Questions

  • What do you think Jesus means by being salt and being light?
  • At the end of the Lutheran baptism service, the pastor often says this from Matthew 5:16: “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”  What does baptism have to do with doing good works?
  • What do you think Jesus wants us to do?
  • What does the Souper Bowl of Caring have to do with doing righteousness? With letting your light shine before others so they can see your good works and glorify God?
  • The Souper Bowl of Caring believes that there is joy in serving?  Do you feel joy when you serve?  Should this be our motivation for helping people who live in poverty and hunger?  Are there others reasons that we should help people who are in need (hint: does God have anything to do with it!?!)?

Activity Suggestions

  • Consider watching the Hunger Education video that is part of the Souper Bowl of Caring or taking the Hunger Quiz. Are you familiar with these hunger statistics?  How did you do on the quiz?  What surprised you?  Was anything particularly shocking to you?
  • Using 100 of anything (pennies, beans, crackers, pieces of paper, people), show visually how the world divides resources by using the World of 100 Statistics.   Or you can watch the video: The Miniature Earth (with similar info; they also have a statistical list on their homepage).

Closing Prayer

Gracious and loving God, thanks for your many gifts to all of humanity.  Help us to use the gifts you have given us to be light in the world.  Empower us to see those who are hungry and poor as your children and our neighbors.  Help us to help all of your people.  Fill us with your Holy Spirit, so that we can feed hungry people today and work for a world in which there are no hungry people at all.  Amen.