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November 10, 2013–There Are No Zombies in Heaven (But God would love them if they existed)

Contributed by Dennis Sepper, Tacoma, WA


Warm-up Question

What do you think happens after a person dies?  What do you think heaven will be like?

Zombies Everywhere

shutterstock_59728765editIt seems these days you cannot walk six feet without running into a zombie!  The Walking Dead set a record recently for the largest viewing audience watching a season opening television show (and it was the fourth season).  The Internet Movie Database lists some 53 (yes…53!) movies released or about to be released in 2013 alone that have zombies as characters in the movie.  The list goes from World War Z (which got the most hype because of Brad Pitt) to, I am not making this up, A Zombie Love Song.  Finally, at the university where I work the student body just participated in Zombie Zumba (It seems even the undead need to keep fit).

It appears there is a cycle when the popularity of witches, vampires, werewolves and zombies rise and fall and now it is the zombies turn to be most popular.  This is true, not just in the United States, but all around the world.  Professor Sarah Lauro of Clemson University has studied Zombie Walks (basically a flash mob, but the participants dress as zombies).  Dr. Lauro has documented zombie walks in 20 countries, the largest drawing over 4,000 participants.  Dr. Lauro believes that when times are unsure and people feel more powerless about their lives for the future, zombies gain popularity.

Zombies represent death and our fears.  They are the great leveler as all people are plagued with the undead.  And we root for the movie or TV hero who has the courage, strength and wisdom to take care of the zombies as they symbolically take care of our fears and our fear of death.

Discussion Questions

  • So where do you stand on zombies?  Are you a fan?  Why or why not?
  • Why do you think zombies are so popular these days?  Do you think they symbolize our fear of things?  Why or why not?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, XXXXXX (SEASON)

 Job 19:23-27a

2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17

Luke 20:27-38

(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

At the beginning of this week’s text, we are told that the Sadducees who do not believe in the resurrection come to Jesus with a hypothetical question.  They are not people seeking knowledge from Rabbi Jesus, they are trying to make Jesus and the belief in the resurrection look foolish.  To understand their trick question we need to know a little bit about first century society.  There was an ancient Levite law that is described in verses 28.  This may sound funny to us today but it was a way that the community took care of widows who faced a very bad future if they had no family to take of them.  The Sadducees offer up the crazy scenario we read about in verses 29-33 where one women ends up the bride of seven brothers.  The Sadducees want to know whose wife she will be in the resurrection.

Jesus doesn’t take the bait.  Instead Jesus points out that in the resurrection all things will be made new and the legal structures that hold our society together will not be needed.  We will all be so close and held together in the love of God and Jesus that marriage as we know it will not be necessary.  So, says Jesus, there is no sense to the question that the Sadducees pose.

Jesus then goes on to say that even Moses spoke of the resurrection when Moses stated that God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob…he didn’t say that God was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  The implication of the present tense instead of the past tense is that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are still living and dwell in the presence of God.

For us as Christians today, we proclaim our faith in the resurrection based on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  We base that faith, that trust on the words of Jesus (for example: “I am the resurrection and the life.”  John 11:25 and “because I live, you also will live.”  John 14:19) and on the testimony of those like Paul who experienced the resurrected Jesus in their lives.  We hold tight to the promise that we will be reunited with our loved ones and those who have gone before us.

Two things come of that faith in the resurrection of Jesus and the promise of our own resurrection.  First, we need not fear death for to us it is not an end but as one of the funeral prayers puts it “the gate to eternal life”.  We are free then to live a life of service to God and to our neighbor.  In that way the resurrection is not just some future hope, it is at work in our lives and in our families and in our communities this very day.

Second, in the resurrection our relationships do change and we are all reconciled to God and to each other.  For those of us who have families where there has been strife and division (sometimes family members do not even speak to one another) there is the hope and promise that those broken relationship will be reconciled and healed in the resurrection and we shall all sit before the throne of God and Jesus as one family.

As for those zombies we see everywhere…we know they do not really exist, but we can continue to enjoy being scared while watching the TV shows or movies or we can join others in the video game world fighting the zombies off.  But we do so knowing that in the end Jesus has won the victory over death, sin and evil.

Discussion Questions

  • What are some of the common images we associate with heaven?  Where do they come from? What are those images and descriptions trying to say about the Christian understanding of the afterlife?
  • What difference does it make in how you live your daily life that you believe in the Resurrection?  How would you live differently if you were absolutely convinced that there is no heaven, no afterlife?

Activity Suggestion

Materials needed:

  • Balloons for all participants (balloons strong enough to be drawn upon).
  • Sharpies to draw on the balloons.
  • Straight pins for all participants.

Pass out balloons to all participants and let them blow up the balloons.  Instruct the participants to turn their balloon into a zombie by decorating it.  When all have finished, form a circle and pray the closing prayer below.  Then all together at the count of three, have the participants burst the balloons with their pin.  Explain that the balloons represent our fears and through the grace of God and the resurrection of Jesus our fears are burst and we can freely serve God and neighbor.

Closing Prayer

All Sovereign and Loving God, you love your creation and all peoples in it.  Give us such a strong confidence in your mercy and care that we may not fear but serve you and our neighbor with joyful and grateful hearts.  You promise that through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus we are in your divine embrace today and for all eternity.  Help us to trust in this promise every day of our lives and proclaim that promise in word and deed.  In your most holy name we pray.  Amen.

June 16-22, 2010–Evil at Work?

Contributed by Scott Mims, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Virginia Beach, VA 

Warm Up Question

 As a group list your answers to the following: 

  • When you think about the world today and about your future, what are some of the things that make you most anxious or afraid? 
  • What are some of the things that make you most optimistic or hopeful? 

Evil at Work?

On June 2, 2010, something went terribly wrong in the life of Derrick Bird.  Bird, a taxi driver, drove his taxi down England’s northwest coast on a three and a half-hour shooting spree that left 12 people dead and 25 others injured before turning his gun on himself.  Many of the shootings appear to have been completely random.  This rampage in the county of Cumbria was Britain’s deadliest since 1996, and is especially shocking in a nation where such events are very rare. 

Although the actions of Derrick Bird have deeply shaken the surrounding community, the reasons behind his behavior remain guesses at best.  Like other such attacks, investigators are able to piece together possible factors, symptoms, and signs, but only after the fact.  How then can we understand such things?  Are such seemingly random yet devastating events, as one commentator put it, the acts of greatly disturbed people “gripped by uncontrollable primitive urges,” or are they evidence of the forces of evil at work? 

Discussion Questions

  •  Do you believe in the existence of unseen evil forces at work in the world and in people’s lives?  If so, what evidence is there that suggests you are right?  If not, why not?
  • Do you believe we have “free will?” What place does human choice play in the events of the world that we would call evil or wrong?  What are some of the circumstances, factors, or situations that might not leave people free to choose?
  • Regarding what makes you most anxious of fearful for the future, what part, if any, do random uncontrollable events such as terrorism or war play?
  • Regarding what makes you most optimistic or hopeful, did you include God on your list?  Why or why not? 

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, June 20, 2010 (Fourth Sunday After Pentecost)

Isaiah 65:1-9 

Galatians 3:23-29 

Luke 8:26-39 

  (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

 Our gospel lesson this week might well be entitled, “Dialoguing with Demons,” as Jesus confronts the forces of evil at work in the life of a man in the non-Jewish territory of Gerasa. Having recognized Jesus for who he is, the “Son of the Most High God,” the unclean spirits (for it turns out that there are many) submit to Jesus’ command to come out of the man, begging Jesus not to send them back to the abyss but, rather, to allow them to enter into a large herd of pigs nearby.  Jesus gives them permission to do so and the pigs are destroyed.  The man, on the other hand, is made well. 

So what is the miracle here?  How we understand it may have to do with our worldview.  That the man’s behavior is abnormal is not in doubt.  However, the cause behind his actions is.   For many modern readers the surprise in this story is its talk about demons and unclean spirits.  We are perhaps uncomfortable thinking in terms of unseen forces of evil being at work in people’s lives.  Scientific and psychological approaches to this event are much more comfortable for us, and so it is not surprising that many modern interpreters equate the “demons” of this story with some form of mental illness.  The miracle, then, is Jesus’ ability to heal a mentally ill man, restoring him completely to his right mind, something that even the wonders of our modern medical science are often unable to do. 

The surprise in this story for people from earlier times may well have been different.  For them, the existence of evil powers was not in doubt.  What is extraordinary here is the universality of Jesus’ power.  Jesus has, in effect, entered enemy territory.  Yet even here, he has the power to heal, save, and to defeat the powers of darkness with a word.  Not only does Jesus’ ability to defeat evil on its home turf confirm his identity as “Son of the Most High God,” it also demonstrates that God’s saving and healing love are for everyone – Jews and Gentiles alike. 

But there is yet another surprise in this story.  Those who witness these things and the people that they go and tell do not react with joy and thanksgiving over what Jesus has done.  Having seen the power of God at work, they all ask Jesus to leave—all except the man who was healed.  He begs Jesus that he might be with him.  Jesus instead tells the man to go back to his family, friends, and community and to share with any who will listen how much God had done for him.  “So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.” 

Discussion Questions

  • Given your discussion on the presence of evil and the two different perspectives offered in the reflections above, what do you think is the most important point this story makes?  If you were to share it with a friend, what would you say about it?
  • How do you feel about Jesus’ power as God’s Son to bring healing and renewed life to people? What does this gospel lesson say about Jesus’ ability to deal with some of the “darkness” and the issues or problems in your own life? 
  • How important to your faith is it to hear what Jesus has done in the lives of other people?  In terms of being able to share the gospel with those do not know about Jesus, how important is it to begin with being able to share Jesus among ourselves?

Suggested ResourceThe Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis: a fun yet perceptive take on the forces of evil at work in our daily lives.  

 Activity Suggestions

  • Remember your baptism!  Use parts of the Affirmation of Baptism service from Evangelical Lutheran Worship to remind one another of God’s saving and redeeming love in Jesus Christ, and of the Spirit’s renewing power.  Notice, too, the “renunciation of the forces of evil” which begins the Profession of Faith.  You might gather around a bowl of water, blessing one another with the sign of the cross, or, if available, around the baptismal font.
  • Share the faith.  How have you seen God at work in your life?  In the world?  Share your personal faith stories of with one another.  Perhaps have an older member of your church or faith community through whom you see God’s presence come and share their faith story.
  • Pray for the world.   Using newspaper our other articles that highlight situations of evil and need in your community and in the wider-world, pray together for these needs and for the lives of the people involved.

 Closing Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ, as you overcame the forces of evil and darkness and brought healing to many, so deliver us and our world from all that would overcome us. In the power of your Spirit, heal and renew us that we may with good courage and great joy share all that God has done for us.  Amen.