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March 4, 2012–Not What Anyone Expected

Contributed by Lindean Barnett Christenson, Bozeman, MT


Warm-up Questions

Has a parent, teacher or coach ever expected too much, or too little, from you? What was that experience like?  Have you ever expected too much, or too little, from a parent, teacher or coach? What was that like?

Not What Anyone Expected

Jeremy Lin is becoming a household name for basketball fans and for anyone who pays attention to sports media.  Now playing for the New York Knicks, Lin was captain of his high school basketball team his senior year. That team (Palo Alto High School) finished the 2005-2006 season with a 32-1 record, upsetting a nationally ranked school for the California Interscholastic Federation Division II state title.

Lin was named first-team All-State and Northern California Division II Player of the Year.  Yet at 6 feet, 3 inches tall, and with a high school GPA of 4.2, Lin was offered no college basketball scholarships. He chose to attend Harvard University and had a great college basketball career there.

No one selected him in the NBA draft and before becoming a star for the Knicks, Lin was cut by two other NBA teams. Now “Lin-sanity” has swept across, not just New York, but the sports world and regular news media as well. Why? Opinions vary. Lin is the first NBA player to put up the kind of numbers he did in his first five starts – at least 20 points and seven assists per game. He is also the only NBA player who is an American of Chinese or Taiwanese descent.

Jeremy Lin has defied expectations and stereotypes and many do not know what to do when someone defies expectations in such a grand manner. From ESPN (which fired one reporter after he used a racist word in a headline) to Saturday Night Live, Lin’s skill on the court and the media’s reaction to it are ongoing topics of conversation.


Discussion Questions

  •  How would you account for all the media hype about Jeremy Lin?
  • Which is the bigger story – Lin’s basketball skills and recent performance or the media’s reaction to it? Why?
  • What is the difference between a stereotype and an expectation?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, March 4, 2012 (Second Sunday in Lent

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

Romans 4:13-25

Mark 8:31-38

(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

Jesus’ response to Peter was more than Peter expected.  In our reading from the eighth chapter of Mark, Jesus predicts for the first time his impending betrayal, trial, execution, and resurrection. That prediction proves more than Peter can handle, so Peter pulls Jesus aside to try to set him straight, “No way! That’s not how things are supposed to go!”

But it is, and Jesus sugar-coats nothing in telling Peter how it must be. Jesus’ passion prediction was not what Peter expected of a Messiah, of a Savior, even after so much time spent learning from and watching Jesus. And certainly it’s not what Peter was hoping would happen to his friend. Even all these years later, when we stop to think about it, death on a criminal’s cross seems an unlikely ending for the Son of God. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised when the life of faith turns out not to be easy all the time–when we are faced with difficult choices or put in uncomfortable situations because we strive to follow Jesus.

Our Lord hits us point blank, just as he did with his disciples and the crowd: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” As Deitrich Bonhoeffer put it, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

If this was all we knew of the story it might make us wonder why anyone would ever want to become a follower of Jesus in the first place. Jesus doesn’t just say we should deny ourselves something, like giving up chocolate for Lent. He says we should deny, or disown, our selves, meaning that his followers don’t belong to themselves anymore.  We belong to him.

Jesus knows something about us, that on our own we will strive to gain the world and lose our souls in the process. We will set our minds on human things, not divine things. We prefer strength and comfort and security, over weakness, suffering, and trust.

Life with Jesus is not always what we expect it will be, unless we expect our sinful selves to be surprised, over and over again, by grace, forgiveness, and the presence of God in the most unlikely places.

Discussion Questions

  •  If someone were to ask you what it’s like to follow Jesus, what would you say?
  • On a day to day basis, what do you expect God to do?
  • When/how have you experienced God at work in situations of weakness, loss or suffering?

Activity Suggestions

  • If appropriate in your context, watch the opening sketch from Saturday Night Live on February 18th together. Keep track of all the stereotypes named. Ask: which stereotypes are offensive? Are there any that are not? What makes the difference? How do stereotypes get handled at school? In your congregation?
  • Invite an experienced saint from your congregation to join your conversation, and ask about times they have been  surprised in following Jesus.

Closing Prayer

O God, it is not always easy to follow Jesus. Give us strong hearts and bold spirits to lose our lives in his life and death, that we may find our lives in his death and life. Bless us during this season of Lent, with faith to trust and follow your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

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.