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January 29, 2012–Hollywood and Demons

Contributed by Aaron Matson, Toronto, SD

Warm-up Question

Do you like scary movies? What’s the scariest movie you’ve seen?

Hollywood and Demons

At least since the 1973 movie, The Exorcist, Hollywood has been scaring audiences (and selling lots of tickets) with images of the devil, demons, and demon possession. The last few years have seen movies like The Exorcism of Emily Rose and The Devil Inside have continued the formula. It seems like demons have been added to the list of go-to villains in horror movies, along with Jason, Freddie, and Michael Myers.

So why is the idea of demons so scary? Well, the idea of evil, supernatural entities lurking about ready to do us harm is pretty alarming, I suppose. But maybe our fear also has to do with our lack of understanding about them, and about evil itself. We Christians have set teachings, beliefs, or dogmas about lots of things—baptism, communion, even the Triune God—but we don’t really have any set beliefs about demons or the devil. We have the witness of some biblical stories, and some legends and stories passed down from ancient and medieval Christians, and that is about it.

What we Christians are called to do though, is renounce them. Right before we baptize, and affirm our baptism in confirmation, we confess our faith in God with the Apostles’ Creed and we renounce the devil and all his forces, the powers of this world that defy God, and the ways of sin that draw us from God.


Discussion Questions

  •  Have you seen any movies that used demons or the devil as a villain? What did you think of how they were portrayed?
  • What have you heard about the devil or demons? What do people think the look like and act like?
  • Why do you think it is important for us Christians to renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God as we celebrate baptism? Do you think this should be a part of worship more often? Why?


Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, January 12, 2012 (Fourth Sunday after Epiphany)

Deuteronomy 18:15-20

1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Mark 1:21-28

(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

In the gospel reading, the people are astounded by the authority of Jesus’ teaching. They are even more astounded by the authority Jesus’ has over the unclean spirit. He commands the spirit to shut up and go away—and the spirit obeys.

But before Jesus casts out the unclean spirit, it recognizes Jesus for who he is – the holy one of God. Others may not know who exactly this Jesus is, but in the Gospel of Mark, all the spirits know exactly who Jesus is and the power he has. The question the spirit asks, “What have you to to do with us?” might be better translated, “What is all this to you and me?” In other words, the unclean spirit spirit is saying “You have special power. You can see I’m pretty powerful, too. Who are you going to side with – powerful beings, or with these lowly humans? Have you come to destroy us?”

Jesus sides with us lowly humans, and shows the power he has over unclean spirits. In the ancient world, unclean spirits were thought to be the cause of disease, mental illness, and all sorts of tragedy and misfortune. They were a part of the chaos and disorder that afflicted humanity, like the waves of a stormy sea tossing around a small boat. As we see later in Mark, Jesus has the power to calm the chaos of stormy seas. As Martin Luther writes, Jesus has freed us from sin, death, and the power of the devil. That Jesus has come to free us from these powers of evil, chaos, and destruction is good news indeed. Can you imagine the joy and relief—and the wonder—of the people who first saw Jesus’ power over unclean spirits?


Discussion Questions

  •  Have you ever had to confront evil? What gave you strength in that time? If you have not faced evil yet, what in our Christian faith can give you strength to face it?
  • What chaos or stormy seas are causing you pain or stress in life? What calm can Jesus bring to them?


Activity Suggestions

  • Go into the sanctuary and gather around the baptismal font. Review the renunciation of evil and confession of faith in the order of Baptism. End with everyone making the sign of the cross on their foreheads.
  • Search newspapers, or Internet news sites. Where do you see evil? What do you think the Christian witness of Jesus and people of faith can bring to these situations?

Closing Prayer

Holy God, our protector and defender, we ask that you be with us, and all those who face evil powers, chaos, and destruction in life. In times of fear and doubt, strengthen and increase our faith, that we may know you are with us always, and trust, that as powerful as evil may seem, you are stronger yet. Amen.

September 2-9, 2009 – Edward Kennedy’s death marks end of an era

Contributed by Sylvia Alloway
Granada Hills, CA

Warm-up Question:  Think about a person you admire very much, living or dead. Suppose you were called upon to write a tribute to that person’s life and accomplishments. What would you say? 

Senator Edward Kennedy

Senator Edward Kennedy

Senator Edward Kennedy, the last son of what was once called a “dynasty,” died August 25th after a year-long battle with brain cancer. He was 77. Like his slain bothers, John and Robert, Edward, nicknamed Teddy, was known for his charisma, his strong opinions, and his far-reaching political influence. He was re-elected to the Senate nine times by Massachusetts voters and once made an unsuccessful attempt at a presidential nomination.

The Senator’s career spanned the time between the idealistic years of JFK’s presidency and the disillusionment that followed the Vietnam War. He considered it his mission to maintain and advance the progress in civil rights, relief for the poor, fair wages, and equal rights for women begun by his brothers. His most recent efforts were directed at the passing of President Obama’s healthcare bill.

For all his accomplishments, one large blot remains on Senator Kennedy’s record: the drowning death of a young woman in a car he had been driving when it crashed through a bridge. Rumors persist that he used money and influence to avoid charges of negligence in her death.

Friends and relatives gathered for a “Celebration of Life” at the John F. Kennedy library, which included speeches by Senator John McCain, Vice President Joseph Biden and Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg. President Barack Obama will deliver the eulogy at the funeral Mass at The Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Boston, where the service for Kennedy will take place. 

Discussion Questions

  • In your opinion what qualities make a person admirable and worthy of praise? Which of these qualities do you think Senator Kennedy had? Which did he not have?
  • When a person dies, should we talk only about the good things they did, or should we include their mistakes? Why do you think as you do?
  • If you had great political power, what would you use it to accomplish? Why? What would happen after that?
  • For more mature students: Can putting in place the right political institutions (assistance for the poor, universal health care, etc.) help us to become better citizens? Why or why not? If they can’t, what can?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, September 6, 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

The Gospels portray many sides of Jesus’ ministry and personality. In today’s lesson, we see Jesus the celebrity. But he is not like other public figures. He does not seek or want fame or fortune. He has none of the trappings — no money, no style, no ego, and no fancy mansion. He is simply obeying his Father — the one who sent him (Mark 9:37) — fulfilling the destiny predicted for him (Isaiah 35:5-6a).

But word gets around, even when Jesus warns those he has healed not to talk about it. His fame has spread among the Gentiles and a Greek woman comes to him for help, seeking the healing of her daughter possessed by an unclean spirit. She proves herself more willing to receive Jesus’ message than many Jews, correctly perceiving the scope of his mission. She is persistent and pushes back at Jesus with a sharp response that even the Gentile “dogs” (a slur used by observant Jews at the time) can receive attention and healing from the Messiah.

The deaf and dumb man, too, gets personal attention from none other than the Lord of glory. According to Isaiah, these actions prove that Jesus is the Chosen One through whom we see the power and presence of God. But in these same acts, we also see his caring heart and love for even the humblest of people.

Today’s Psalm tells us to “Praise the Lord (Psalm 146:1),” and “Do not put your trust in princes (Psalm 146:3).” Political leaders, no matter how well-known and well-intentioned, make mistakes, misuse their power, fall, and disappoint. The people who were healed in today’s lesson knew whom to praise and where to put their trust. Jesus did not fail them, nor will he fail us. As he has compassion on us, let us have compassion on others. As we put aside personal fame, attention, and admiration to help people living in hunger, poverty, illness, and injustice, let us show them the One in whom we trust and sends us — Jesus — so that they may believe and follow him, too.

Discussion Questions

  • Go back to your list of admirable qualities. Which of these does Jesus show in today’s lesson?
  • Are there any attributes you might add as you look at Jesus’ behavior?
  • How can we develop these qualities in our own lives?
  • Jesus did not seek personal accomplishment, fame, money, or power, the very things society and pop culture tells us are most worthwhile. We are to live like Jesus. What should our mission and goals be as we live out the Christian life? How can we attain them in a world that often does not understand or approve of gospel-centered actions and values?

Activity Suggestions

Activity 1:  Individually, or as a class, list the gospel-centered goals you talked about in question #4. Then list some concrete life goals (study law, write songs, marry and have children, travel, make pizza, etc.). Verbally or in writing, describe how spiritual goals connect with the practical, for instance, how might you practice humility as lawyer? Serve others as a songwriter? Etc.

  • Check out the ELCA Imagine Yourself young adult Web site and what it has to share about vocation, life, and “being who God created you to be!”

Activity 2:  In groups, take the list of desired traits (the groups may add some if they wish) and rank them in order of importance in living a life of Christian witness and service. Discuss why you ranked them as you did. Choose one or two individuals from each group to report to the class on how they ordered the traits and why. This activity may also be done as a discussion with entire class. Note and respect the variations of opinion and decisions between groups or individuals.

Suggested Songs

  • “Here I Am, Lord,” Evangelical Lutheran Worship, #574
  • “Jesu, Jesu, Fill Us with Your Love,” ELW, #708
  • “Take My Life That I May Be,” ELW, #685
  • “When the Poor Ones,” ELW, #725
  • “One Bread, One Body,” ELW, #496

Closing Prayer

Almighty God, our Father, all we have comes from you and without you we are nothing. Re-form our desires and goals, so that we may live the abundant life you have for us — a life of selflessness, service, generosity, and joy. We pray this in the name of your blessed Son whose example we follow — Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

August 19-26, 2009 – Suu Kyi receives extended house arrest in Myanmar

Contributed by Matthew R. Nelson
Walla Walla, WA

Warm-up Question: Have you ever been discouraged enough to give up on an idea, project, or goal?

san_suu200Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi was convicted of violating her house arrest on Tuesday after an uninvited American stayed at her home. She is to serve an additional 18-month sentence.

Suu Kyi’s detention has already spanned 14 of the last 20 years, most under house arrest. The additional sentence will effectively remove her from contact with the public leading up to next year’s elections in Myanmar (Burma).

U.S. citizen John Yettaw swam a restricted lake to reach the home of Suu Kyi after claiming he had a vision of an assassination attempt on her life. He will receive three years for breaching her house arrest and three years for swimming in a restricted zone. He is scheduled to serve his sentences consecutively at Insein prison. (John Yettaw was freed on Sunday, Aug. 16, after international pressure and the visit of a U.S. senator.)

The maximum sentence for Suu Kyi was to be five years in prison or three years hard labor. By order of Chief Senior General Than Shwe, her sentence, as well as those of her house companions, was commuted to be served at home, a move the junta leader said would help maintain stability and peace.

South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu denounced the trial as illegal and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the trial should never have taken place.

International reaction has ranged from requests for a global arms embargo of Myanmar, to public statements from Amnesty International calling the sentence for Suu Kyi shameful legal theater since it comes just weeks before her current sentence was to expire.

Discussion Questions

  • Can you name a person whose authority or decision making powers you respect? Has that person and his or her decisions always lived up to your expectations? If not, how did you express your feelings or opinions to them?
  • Can you name a situation when peer pressure influenced you in your decision making? Did it help or did you feel uncomfortable with the decision you made? Why?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, August 23, 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

The Gospel today presents a true crossroad and genuine question for those who follow Christ, both then and now. At the heart of the matter is not Christ’s identity, but our identity in and through Christ.

Crowds gathered around Jesus for all kinds of reasons: curiosity, healing, political and religious power. Today’s Gospel takes all of those and lays down the pre-crucifixion groundwork, looking for listening ears and willing hearts. “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” (vs. 56)  And, “…I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.” (vs. 57) Jesus’ words, body, and spirit bring eternal life. Yet even as he taught in the synagogue in Capernaum, his disciples complained and questioned him. Many left, and only the twelve remained. (vs. 65-69)

Suu Kyi is the daughter of Aung San, a hero who is credited with winning Myanmar’s independence from Britain. By keeping her under house arrest, the military can conduct future elections without her influence on the public. There is more control when she is controlled in this situation, even as international pressure mounts for her release.

The expectations surrounding Jesus provided political and religious division and turmoil soon after today’s lesson. Jesus did not bow to pressure from any side or faction. He continued to teach of God’s revelation of love through himself, and through those chosen to hear and understand his words. Ultimate control was not, and is not, in the hands of  humans. God’s love is revealed and exercised in and through Jesus’ words and actions no matter what we do, decide, or think we have control over.

God has chosen us to be participants in the fullness of eternal life through Christ. It is both invitation and gift — at the same time. What will our response be as we face political, religious, and social challenges in today’s world?

Discussion Questions

  • What difficult choices do you think we face as modern day Christians and Lutherans? Are you more likely to participate in discussion and action or quietly sit in the background when it comes to these issues and choices? Why?
  • Is there an issue in your community that you feel strongly about? Have you taken action about that issue? Why? Why not?
  • Discuss how the ELCA and its ministries are active in the world. What does the ELCA’s new tagline “God’s work. Our hands.” say to you about our church and its mission. What does it suggest or describe? What does it say about you?

Activity Suggestions

The ELCA holds its 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly at the Minneapolis Convention Center in Minnesota, August 17-23, 2009. The theme is “God’s work. Our hands.” The issues being considered for action are: 

  • Full communion with the United Methodist Church
  • “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust,” a proposed ELCA social statement
  • Report and Recommendation on Ministry Policies
  • Possible social statement on justice for women
  • Funding of the HIV and AIDS strategy
  • Lutheran Malaria Initiative
  • Amendments to the ELCA Constitution, Bylaws, and Continuing Resolutions
  • 2010, 2011 budget proposals for ELCA churchwide organization
  • Memorials
  • Resolutions
  • Elections

(Learn more about the ELCA Churchwide Assembly, its purpose and structure, who can attend and vote, and the issues and actions being considered.)

Study the agenda and pray for your congregation’s voting members at the Churchwide Assembly, and the representatives of our synodical and churchwide leadership. Once you’ve learned some of the background, discuss what opinions and convictions exist in your own group. 

  • How would you vote on different issues?
  • How do the outcomes and decisions effect your life?
  • Knowing that there are many differing opinons and thoughts across the church, how can we work to continue living as a community of believers exercising grace, understanding, respect, honesty, and open conversation with each other?

Plan a class session to follow up on the voting results of the assembly.

Request permission to have a representative of your class attend a church council meeting and report back to the class the following Sunday (or whenever you meet). Note any opportunities to participate in the ministries of your congregation, both large and small. Choose a project or a way of being involved that the class or individuals can follow up on with the church council or congregational leadership.

Closing Prayer

Lord Jesus, you have the words of eternal life. Bless our churchwide representatives as they faithfully discuss, consider, and make decisions on issues important in our lives, church, and society. Continue to motivate each of us to take action when called upon to do so, that your life and love may ever be glorified. Amen.