Skip to content
ELCA Blogs

Faith Lens

July 14-20, 2010–Driven to Distraction

Contributed by Bill King, Lutheran Campus Ministry at Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA

Warm-up Question

When you have an important school assignment to finish, what distractions are hardest for you to resist?  Why?

Driven to Distraction

If you have watched a basketball game on television you have seen rabid fans seated behind the goal trying to distract an opposing team’s free throw shooter.  “Shirtless” Bill Sproat, a student at Utah State has taken distraction to a new level, making it an art form. Sproat says that he actually hates basketball, calling it a “worthless” sport, but he loves finding new ways to get in the heads of opposing players.  At Aggies’ home games you can find him behind the goal dressed as a  snorkeler, Chippendale, or cupid.  He tries to match his character to the opponent; for example, he showed for a game against the University of Hawaii dressed as a hula dancer.  But his signature move comes in the second half of the game; he strips off his top and lets his ample torso undulate behind the backboard. 

There is some debate in basketball circles over whether the antics of fans like Shirtless Bill actually make any difference.  Top players say that if you are properly focused on the rim you do not even see the fans.  But Bill has his own focus, “If I can get them to laugh then I can get them to miss. If I get them to look at me, they’re in big trouble.”

Discussion Questions

  • How do you react to “Shirtless” Bill Sproat?  Do you find him admirable for his passion or a bit desperate in his desire for attention?
  • What do you think motivates someone like Bill, who regularly shows up to watch a game he hates?
  • Fans’ efforts to distract players are perfectly acceptable at a basketball game but are grounds for ejection at a tennis match or on a golf course.  Why?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, July 18, 2010 (Eighth Sunday after Pentecost)

Genesis 18:1-10

Colossians 1:15-28

Luke 10:38-42

(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

It’s tempting to choose sides.  In this week’s lesson Jesus visits the home of Mary and Martha and we recognize sibling dynamics of many homes.  There is Martha—dutiful, responsible, eager to follow the rules.  She works hard and expects others to do the same.  You want her in charge of your project.  But she is rather high strung and prone to act like a martyr.  Mary, in contrast, takes life as it comes.  Sensitive and solicitous, she’ll drop everything if you call her up with a problem.  She is light and breezy, often artistic, easy to be with—and absolutely maddening if you need her to act on a tight schedule.  Mary and Martha love each other, but you know they drive each other crazy.

Most of us identify with either Martha or Mary, so it’s hard to avoid choosing sides in their little domestic tiff.  We tend to read this story through the lens of our own experience.  If little brother has just trashed our room—yet again—we weigh in on Martha’s side, “Yeah Lord, why shouldn’t Mary do her part instead of sitting on her duff?”  But if our daily experience is being compared to a “perfect” but rather joyless sibling sister we can see why Mary opts out of the hospitality competition.  Still, if we get too caught up in identifying with one sister or the other, we miss the point of the story.

Jesus gently rebukes Martha, not for being who she is, but for allowing herself to be distracted from what is most important.  The hospitality Martha offers is praiseworthy, but in her worrying about all the little tasks of entertaining, she has ignored her guest.  She has forgotten that the issue is not what she can give Jesus but what he can give her, if she will take time to listen.  The good has become the enemy of the best.

A defining characteristic of modern life is the lack of silence.  From morning to night we envelop ourselves in a blanket of distraction; there is no moment when we are not texting, tweeting, talking, or pumping tunes into our ears.  Before we can follow Jesus we have to discipline ourselves to stop and listen for his voice.  The challenge for good church folk is sometimes distinguishing being busy from being faithful.  Can you slow down and listen today?

Discussion Questions

  • Where do you find yourself in this story of Mary, Martha, and Jesus?
  • Why do you think we tend to fill our day with unceasing sound?
  • What “good” things occupy your time which might be distracting you from hearing Jesus?
  • Jesus tells Martha she is busy with many things, but has lost sight of what is most important.  What IS most important to you, so important that you will sacrifice everything else to have it?

Activity Suggestions

  • Make a list of everything you did in the last 24 hours. Think about how much time you spent in each activity; was it a good use of your time?  Think about how your choices support or undermine your ability to follow Jesus.  Share your list and thoughts with someone in your group.
  • In the next week, do a “cyber-fast” for one whole day.  Turn off your phone and computer—no texting, e-mails, calls, Facebook, Web browsing, etc.  At the end of that time think about how your day was different from normal.  What was uncomfortable?  What was good about being disconnected?  Talk about the experience in your group next week.

Closing Prayer

Lord, the alarm just went off and the race is on.  There are so many things I need to do, so many demands on my time, so many people’s expectations to meet.  Help me to take a deep breath, still my racing heart, and listen for your voice amid the noise of this day.  Give me the wisdom to distinguish the urgent from the important, that I may rest in your love and live only for you.  I pray in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

July 7-12, 2010–Hidden Talents

Contributed by John Hougen, St. John Lutheran Church, Melrose Park, PA 

Warm-up Question


What skills necessary to help people in need are among your hidden talents?

Hidden Talents

Russell just graduated from high school. He motors around in a wheel chair, and some find it difficult to understand his speech. He is a young man with many talents, but most of them are hidden by cerebral palsy. Because his talents are hidden, Russell is often met with expectations that are lower than his gifts. Therefore, to sing, to socialize, to dance, to share a joke, to be a worship leader in church, Russell must often summon the courage to go beyond the expectations of others, which he does with grace. He sings (occasionally solos). He acts in chancel dramas. He socializes before and after worship. 

As his pastor, I am most grateful for his gift of caring. He pays attention to who is in church and who is not. If people are missing for too long, he will ask if they are OK. If they are ill, he will ask about them regularly. When they return, he greets them with genuine gladness. 

Russell also has brought out the hidden talents of relatives and friends, classmates, and other members of his congregation. Most of them do not think of themselves as people with the natural gifts required for relating to a person with physical and intellectual challenges. Russell has helped them discover that they have the talents necessary to be his friends and companions. 

Discussion Questions

  • Russell’s cerebral palsy masks his talents. In our society, what are some other “masks” that hide people’s talents?
  • Share the story of an occasion when you discovered you could do something you didn’t think you could do.
  • What factors lead people to underestimate your capabilities?


Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, July 11, 2010 (Seventh Sunday after Pentecost)


Deuteronomy 30:9-14 

Colossians 1:1-14 

Luke 10:25-37 

(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

 There are many ways to read a parable. Today, try to identify with each character in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Explore whether each character is a part of who you are. 

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Have you ever been a victim of the cruelty of others? Even if you have never been mugged, ask yourself whether you’ve been hurt by others, left feeling vulnerable, discouraged (beaten down emotionally), and without the strength to get up and go. If so, then a part of you is like the man in the parable who was robbed and beaten. If so, you are capable of empathy and compassion for victims of cruelty. 

“Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.”  Have you ever ignored a person in need?  In this world, there are countless people who need our help. Technology and opportunities to travel make them as accessible to us as if they were lying in a ditch by the side of our favorite hiking trail. We can’t help everyone in need, so all of us are passers by – like the priest and Levite in the parable. The story does not tell us why the priest and Levite passed by, but maybe they were busy, had appointments, fainted at the sight of blood, didn’t want to get involved, were afraid the robbers still were lurking. Thinking about why the priest and Levite did not stop might help you identify your reasons for not helping more than you do. Some of your reasons are likely to be legitimate and others are likely to be excuses, ways that you hide your capabilities for helping people in need. Separating legitimate reasons from excuses can be a step towards growing in compassion and generosity.  

But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.” Have you ever helped someone in crisis? Have you ever helped someone in crisis who was not the sort of person with whom you usually associate? Samaritans (who thought of themselves as related to Jerusalem Jews) and Jerusalem Jews (who denied that Samaritans were related to them) were suspicious of one another and did not mingle. Since Jesus was telling this parable to Jerusalem Jews, their expectation would have been that the Samaritan would have passed by and the Priest or Levite would have helped. To the Jerusalem Jews, the Good Samaritan’s mercy was a talent hidden behind a negative stereotype of his ethnicity. You can identify with the Good Samaritan if you are willing to reach across the barriers that usually keep people apart (race, economic status, education, sexual orientation, etc.). You can identify with the Good Samaritan if you have the courage and strength to be compassionate in spite of pressures that might lead you to “pass by on the other side.” 

Discussion Questions

  • Which character is easiest for you to identify with? Which is the most difficult? 
  • Do you have hidden talents that could be used to help people in need? What are they?
  • Among your friends and in your worshipping community, what resources can you turn to that will help you grow in compassion, awareness of why you are reluctant to get involved, and courage to become more proactive in meeting human needs?

Activity Suggestions

  •  Interview someone in need and share their story with a group.
  • Work with a partner to help someone you’ve never met who has a need you’ve never encountered face to face.  

Closing Prayer

Gracious God, when I am in trouble, send a Good Samaritan to help me. And, strengthen my own compassion, honesty, and courage so I can be a Good Samaritan to others. Amen.