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January 15, 2012–Revelations

Contributed by Scott Mims, Virginia, Beach, VA


Warm-up Question

  • What is your favorite holiday or season in the church (liturgical) year?  What about this season or event is most special to you?
  • We are just starting the season of Epiphany. Epiphany means “revelation,” or “to make someone/something known.”  Going back to your answers from above, what are some of the things that are revealed or made known about God in your favorite celebrations?


When Kim Jong Il, then Supreme Leader of North Korea, died unexpectedly on December 17, 2011, his death not only made headlines but raised anxiety on the part of many across the globe. Fearful of problems associated with a power struggle in the North, or even of the nation’s collapse, forces in South Korea were placed on high alert, while other nations sought to reach out through diplomatic channels.

Adding to the uncertainty was the revelation that Kim Jong Il’s youngest son, Kim Jong Un, was his chosen successor.  Little is known outside North Korea of Kim Jong Un who, in his late 20’s, has been hailed by officials and the state media in North Korea with titles such as, “Great Successor, Supreme Leader and Great Leader.”  Most recently, he was officially recognized as the Supreme Commander of North Korea’s armed forces.  While North Korea has called for its people to rally behind Kim Jong Un and to protect him as “human shields,” many around the world continue to deal with the uncertainty of what his age and inexperience may mean for international relations in the years to come.

Discussion Questions

  •  As we begin a new year, how optimistic are you about the way things are going in the world?  How optimistic are you about the future? (You might have your group rate their response on a scale of 1 (very worried/pessimistic) to 10 (very optimistic). )
  • If you are optimistic, what gives you the greatest hope?  If you are not optimistic, what are some of your greatest worries?
  • How much difference do events that happen in other parts of the world make in your own life?  Do you believe that you can make a difference in the world?
  • Note some of the titles given to Kim Jong Un (Great Successor, Supreme Leader, Great Leader, Supreme Commander), what do these say about who or what people hope he will be?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, January 15, 2012 (Second Sunday after Epiphany)

1 Samuel 3:1-10 [11-20]

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

John 1:43-51

(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

The way in which we read or hear something can make all of the difference.  One way to read these verses is simply as John’s account of how Jesus called his first disciples.  Yet, as a writer, John is a master at drawing in his audience through double meanings and a “deeper”, more personal sense of the story.  Such is the case in this passage as Jesus addresses not just around him, but us as well, with an invitation to life.

In any case, the first three words of this passage, “The next day,” clue us in to the fact that we need to go back a bit to understand what’s going on. As it turns out, this is actually the third “next day” section in the opening chapter of John’s gospel.  In the first section, verses 29 – 34, “the next day” after John the Baptist explains his role to those sent from Jerusalem, he bears witness to Jesus as both the Lamb of God and Son of God.  The “next day” after this                 (verses 35 – 43), his further testimony about Jesus leads two of his own disciples to follow after Jesus.  Jesus, seeing them, asks, “What are you looking for?” When they stammer out, “Rabbi, where are you staying,” Jesus invites them to “Come and see.”  His invitation initiates an ever-widening circle of discipleship as one of the two, Andrew, goes to his own brother, Simon Peter, with the news, “We have found the Messiah.”

So it is that we come to the “next day” of this week’s gospel. Deciding to go to Galilee, Jesus first calls Philip.  Philip, in turn, invites Nathanael saying, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.”  Here, “the law and the prophets” means the whole of the Scriptures for these Jewish believers.  Brushing aside Nathanael’s remark about the insignificance of Nazareth, Philip offers once again the invitation, “Come and see.”  Nathanael does, and his own encounter with Jesus, and Jesus’ ability to “know” and “see” him from afar, not only leads Nathanael to believe in Jesus, it also draws forth a confession of faith: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”  Jesus assures him that greater things are yet to come. ‘Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’

So, as the first chapter of his gospel ends, John leaves us with Jesus heading towards Galilee with a growing group of followers.  Yet, there is a deeper way to hear this passage.  Jesus’ very first words in John’s gospel, “What are you looking for?” are a question to us, as well.  When it comes to life…when it comes to faith, what are we looking for?  Deep down in our bones, what is it that we really need?  In these three “next days,” we hear Jesus being called many things.  John the Baptist calls him “the Lamb of God who takes away the world’s sin” and “Son of God.”  Andrew calls him, “Rabbi” and “Messiah.”  Philip says Jesus is the one, “about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote.”  Nathanael adds that Jesus is, “the King of Israel.”  Is Jesus what we are looking for?  Is he the one that we really need?  The invitation that John offers to us through the rest of his gospel account, and indeed through our own experience of living as followers of Jesus, is simply to “Come and see.”

Discussion Questions

  • Why do you think this particular gospel reading was chosen for today?  In what ways is Jesus being revealed and by whom?
  • When it comes to the titles and names given to Jesus in John 1:29-51, (Lamb of God, Messiah, Son of God, Rabbi, King of Israel, Son of Man) which one is most important or most meaningful to you?  Why?
  • If you had been Philip and Jesus had just walked up to you and said, “Follow me,” would you have gone?  If so, why?  If not, then what further information would you have needed?  What else would you have wanted to know before making such a commitment?  Do you think we have this information now?
  • What does it look like to you to follow Jesus?  Is following Jesus different from believing in him?  Why or why not?
  • Nathanael came to Jesus because Philip invited him to “come and see.”  What do you think would be the best way to invite a friend of yours to “come and see” Jesus today?  What are some approaches that might not work so well with your friends or in your setting?

Activity Suggestions

  • As an opening activity, you might try a Trust Walk experience.  One variation is to have a single leader and the rest of the group blind folded; another variation is to break the group up into partners who take turns being the guide/ blind folded.  Groups with a single leader might have everyone place their hands on the shoulders of the person in front of them, or hold on with one hand to a large rope that connects the whole group.  The goal for the leader(s) is to guide those who follow safely along a route.  The goal for those who are blind folded is to experience what it is like to trust others as they follow.  Debrief:  What was the experience like for you?  Is it easy or difficult for you to trust someone else to guide you?  How is having “faith” like a “Trust Walk?”
  • Going Deeper: For further discussion on the sheer grace of being called to follow Jesus, watch Rob Bell’s short video, Dust (Nooma series).  Though not specifically about this passage, he presents a great take on what being called to “Follow me,” by a rabbi meant in Jesus’ day, and how Jesus’ invitation to Andrew, Peter, James, John, Philip, Nathanael and the rest would have been most unusual.  Talk together about what it means that Jesus calls us to be his followers.  What does it mean to you that Jesus believes in you?  Does this change the way you see yourself as a disciple?
  • Reaching Out: As a group, explore ways to invite your friends to “come and see” Jesus.  How would you go about it?  Would you hold an event of some sort?  Would you invite them to a service project? A retreat?  A play or music festival?  A coffeehouse?  A specially designed worship service?  What activities are you already doing that are, or could be, great places for friends to experience God’s love and grace? How might you use social media or other modern means to invite folks?  What “barriers” might need to be overcome? Brainstorm the possibilities – can you make a plan to try one or more of these possibilities out during this season of Epiphany?

Closing Prayer

Gracious and loving God, we live in uncertain and anxious times, and yet we also have much that gives us hope.  As your Spirit continues to reveal Jesus to us, so help us to respond to his invitation to “Come and see,” that, led and sustained by Jesus’ presence among us, we may live as vibrant and faithful witnesses to your love; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen!

May 6-13, 2009 – A tribute to players snubbed by the NFL draft

Contributed by Matthew R. Nelson
Walla Walla, WA

Warm-up Question: Read John 15:3. What does it mean (for you/for us) to be cleansed by the words of Christ?

Not everyone who is chosen in the annual NFL draft will secure a spot on the roster of the team that chose them. For some that were not picked, the prospects of eventually making an NFL team are minimal at best.

There are always some oddities in the 256 pick process called Draft Day. This year, the quarterback from Kent State was picked to be a potential receiver by the Patriots. The Cardinals used pick #131 to make Greg Toler the first student athlete ever chosen from St. Paul’s (VA), a Division II school. Also selected from Division II were Abilene Christian teammates Johnny Knox and Bernard Scott, who were taken at #140 by the Bears and #209 by the Bengals, respectively. The three players from Division II schools outnumbered draft picks from nine major collegiate institutions and equaled those from four others.

Other surprises included Demetrius Byrd, chosen by the San Diego Chargers with their last pick in the seventh round. He remains hospitalized with serious injuries resulting from a car accident; injuries that might even prevent him from playing again. The Broncos in the 2nd round picked North Carolina tight end Richard Quinn, even though he only had 12 catches in two years with the school. And one of the pre-draft favorites of some, Purdue quarterback Curtis Painter, was picked by the Colts in the sixth round, even though he lost his starting job temporarily in 2008.

As always, some players were picked higher in the draft than some expected, some were picked lower, and some players who were expecting to be drafted were not. The person making the pick in the draft decides the value of a player and his potential. In spite of very meticulous research and a clear set of needs that teams hope to fill with draft picks, some players will exceed expectations and many will never live up to them.

Discussion Questions

  • The New Student Bible (NRSV) notes that the same Greek root for ‘cleansed’ refers also to pruning, (vs. 3). What types of things does God prune from you emotionally or behaviorally in order that you might abide in Christ?
  • Read John 14:30-31. Why do you think Jesus moved from the privacy of speaking with his disciples to a more public forum? Walking or riding would surely attract more people, and the events that followed lead directly to the crucifixion.
  • What questions would you have for Christ if you were in the disciple’s shoes on that day?
  • Before (John 14:28) and after (John 16:5) the lesson today, Jesus speaks of departing or leaving the disciples to continue in ministry and mission. Do you think the disciples felt empowered or abandoned as Jesus spoke to them?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, May 10, 2009.

(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

Jesus had already foretold of his betrayal and of Peter’s denial. Now he is speaking of departing, of leaving them to continue in his mission. Questions must have been racing through their minds. Understanding this, Christ simply and calmly says, “You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you.” (John 15:3)

That’s it! The essence of Jesus’ message to his disciples and to us is that amidst all of our concern, amidst all of our doubt, and even amidst any shortcomings that we might have, we have been chosen and should begin our mission and calling immediately, fully cleansed and prepared. 

Christ’s example in life, and his the sacrifice on the cross have grafted us into the living vine, and the vine grower’s field. Now, with the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit, the advocate, each of us will experience the blessing of being a blessing as our gifts and talents are used to glorify God in this world.

The NFL draft is an interesting process full of hope and anticipation for hundreds of collegiate athletes who hope to continue their football careers. A football career would mean a lifestyle far from the ordinary. Even with a college degree to fall back on, life without football means a future uncertain, and a plunge into a different kind of competitive job market. Football is their skill, and football is their desire.

Being chosen in the draft, however, is not the end accomplishment of hard work. It is the beginning of a new relationship with a team that will take all of your past experiences and skills, and mold them to better their own mission, to win a Super Bowl. Through continued work and practice, players are stripped of poor habits and cleansed in their discipline to perform on the field. Coaches and trainers teach, and then lead gently and not so gently from the sidelines during each game.

Jesus chose his original disciples as he began his adult public ministry. He chose ordinary people, from fishermen to tax collectors. These ordinary people witnessed and experienced some extraordinary things as they walked with Jesus. They bonded with their teacher, and he bonded with them. Their sense of privilege in being chosen by Jesus and their sense of belonging must have been tremendous, right up until our lesson today.

Discussion Questions 

  • What are the gifts or skills you believe that God has given you in order that you might glorify his name?
  • Have you experienced the joy or rejection of being chosen or not chosen to participate in an activity or sport? Answers might range from school and neighborhood games to more serious auditions for music, plays, and team sports. Share something positive about that experience. Was it positive at the time, or do you look back at it more positively now? Why? 
  • Being trained and then left to do something is a part of all work experiences. Describe a situation or time when you thought you weren’t ready for the task at hand? How did you feel? What did you do? How did you work through the situation? Did you pray about it and ask God for help? What did you ask for?
  • Sometimes being a Christian singles you out for criticism, making us just a little different than many of our friends. Jesus tells his disciples in John 15:27 that in spite of the world and of persecution of any kind, that we are to testify on his behalf because we have been with him from the beginning. How do you feel about that? Why?

Activity Suggestions

  • Sing “His Banner Over Me is Love.” One version with chords is available at take a note pad to worship. Without writing names, look at other members of the congregation and write down what you think their gifts and talents are. Post the list in the Narthex or in the church bulletin or newsletter. Title it “Gifts we have that glorify God.”  
  • Sometimes we overlook or undervalue our own gifts, (question #1 above). Write each group member’s name on a piece of paper. By their name, write one gift or talent you think they have. Give them to your group leader, who can write the gifts and talents on the chalkboard or dry erase board, without names. This gives everyone the opportunity to say something positive about others, but doesn’t single anyone out. You can lead the activity verbally if you feel comfortable doing so.

Closing Prayer

Lord we praise your name and thank you for first choosing us. Send now the Holy Spirit, the advocate, that we might know your continued presence and work to glorify your name. Amen.

December 17-24, 2008 – Power 100 breakfast honors women in entertainment

Warm-up Question: What famous or accomplished women can you name? What are they recognized for?

There are several annual “Power 100” lists released at the end of the year: the 100 most powerful people in sports, business, politics, and others. But the film industry has its own list: the 100 most powerful women in entertainment, compiled by the respected trade paper The Hollywood Reporter. The list is made public and awards are given at the annual “Power 100” breakfast in December.

Only a handful of this year’s honorees work in front of the camera. Most notable (and least surprising) is Oprah Winfrey, winner of the number one spot. One other performer, actress Angelina Jolie, made the top twenty-five. Former model Tyra Banks and comedy writer/actress Tina Fey were included in the top 51, while Food Network star Rachel Ray appeared at number 65. At the 100th spot was teen star Miley Cyrus.

This was the 17th year of the event. During that time women have made great strides in gaining positions of power in Hollywood. Numerous recipients were CEOs, presidents, and vice presidents of major film companies and television networks, or their own companies.

Discussion Questions

  1. The film industry is over 100 years old. Why has it taken so long for women to gain executive positions in the entertainment industry?
  2. Do you think that women should continue to be honored separately from men, even though they are gaining more respect and better positions every year? Why or why not?
  3. How will we know when women have attained full equality? What will happen then? What will it look like?
  4. What purpose does recognizing the accomplishments of women in entertainment (or any realm of life) serve?

Women of the ELCA have a wealth of resources and ministries to explore…for all ages!

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, December 21, 2008.
(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.)

  1. 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
  2. Luke 1:46b-55 (52) or Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26 (1)
  3. Romans 16:25-27
  4. Luke 1:26-38

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

Gospel Reflection

Whether she is honored as a saint, admired for her courage and faithfulness, or held up as an example of total submission to God’s will, Mary is certainly the most important and memorable woman in the Bible for Christians. She was poor, humble, and most likely illiterate. She hailed from Nazareth, a despised little hick town. Yet, none other than the angel Gabriel tells her that she is “highly favored” by God.

What does this “favor” involve? She becomes the subject of gossip and ridicule when she is found to be pregnant without a husband. Her betrothed, Joseph, almost leaves her. She must watch her son, Jesus, suffer and die. This is favor?

In our world, “favored” means rewarded with position, honor, wealth, and preferential treatment. It is a breakfast where our work is recognized and celebrated. It is winning, gaining, or accomplishing. What did this poor girl, probably no older than a teenager, do to be called favored by God?

Mary was obedient. She declared herself “the handmaiden of the Lord.” She trusted God with her life and her son’s life. She sang for joy in all this, even in the midst of any uncertainty or self-consciousness she may have felt.

Well, that’s fine, but things are different now, aren’t they? Women are powerful, significant. They have rights. They buy and sell and do business around the world. There’s nothing wrong with that. The ideal woman described in Proverbs is a businesswoman (Proverbs 31:16, 18, 24). She receives praise and reward for her work.

In the end though, it is Mary who shows us the ultimate and faithful virtues in the eyes of God: obedience, faith, submission, and joy in the Lord. These are required of anyone — male or female — whom God calls to service, from Abraham to Moses and the prophets, from Ruth to Paul, to Jesus. As Christians, we, too, are called to service and faith even though it will most likely not make us famous, rich, or remembered like Mary.

Discussion Questions

  1. What do submission and obedience to God mean in everyday life? How can ordinary people like you and me practice them?
  2. Submission does not mean being a “doormat” or letting others take advantage of you. How can we show humility like Christ and still stand up for ourselves and others?
  3. What about joy in the Lord, such as Mary expressed in her song, the Magnificat? Where do we get it — joy? What do you think God is promising, and not promising, to us when it comes to joy? How do we sustain it, especially in difficult times? How do you personally measure or describe joy?
  4. Does obedience to God mean that we should not accept praise or rewards for doing God’s work? Why or why not? What is a faithful and humble attitude towards any praise we may receive?

Activity Suggestions

In groups or as a class, make your own top 5 lists (or more or fewer). Start with Biblical characters from both the Old and New Testaments. Who were the most powerful and influential people in the Bible? The best servants? The bravest? Have students make up others.

Activity extension: Do the same with Christians throughout history, people of faith from the past or present, including people from your own congregation.

Suggested Songs

  • “Away in a Manger,” Evangelical Lutheran Worship, #277
  • “Of the Father’s Love Begotten,” Lutheran Book of Worship, #42
  • You can also read or sing the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) or “My Soul Does Magnify the Lord,” Evangelical Lutheran Worship, #882

Closing Prayer

God and Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ, we praise you for the example of the one who was highly favored — Mary, our model of faithfulness, obedience, and joy. Like Mary, may we be always humble, always submissive to you will, and always useful to you in service to others. Let us not be absorbed in earthly rewards, but take joy in the gifts you give us both now and for eternity. In the name of your blessed son, Jesus Christ, whose birth we anticipate and celebrate. Amen.

Contributed by Sylvia Alloway
Granada Hills, CA