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Faith Lens

July 1-8, 2009 – Celebrating progress, working for more

Contributed by Jocelyn Breeland
Fairfax, VA

Warm-up Question: Discuss a time when you were underestimated.

This month marks the 10th anniversary of the landmark Olmstead decision, in which the Supreme Court said the Americans With Disabilities Act requires individuals with disabilities receive services in the least restrictive environment possible. As a result, thousands of Americans with disabilities have been able to move out of institutions to live in communities of their own choosing.

President Obama marked the anniversary by declaring a “Year of Community Living.” He has directed the Department of Health and Human Services to aggressively work to remove barriers that prevent people with disabilities from having meaningful lives in their communities.

In the nearly two decades since the Americans With Disabilities Act was passed, many changes have been made in schools, workplaces, and public spaces to ensure inclusion of people with physical and intellectual disabilities or challenges. Among the positive changes, technology, where it is available, has greatly facilitated access and inclusion. But much remains to be done. In most communities, there are long waiting lists for the services people with disabilities need to participate fully in the lives of their communities.

Perhaps the most difficult, and most important, barrier to overcome is attitude. Too often, people with disabilities are seen as disabled, broken, or incomplete. We need to value, celebrate, and use the contributions and gifts of people with disabilities in every community. With this state of mind, and commitment, all barriers can be overcome.

Discussion Questions

Statement by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius
White House Statement

  • Are people with disabilities included in any of your regular activities? Are there barriers that make their participation difficult?
  • Is there anything you do regularly that could not be done by a person with a physical or intellectual disability, given a reasonable amount of accommodation?
  • Employment is important for people with disabilities, and the income from work makes it easier to obtain housing and other services they need. Why is it difficult for people with disabilities to get good jobs? Are any of these reasons insurmountable?
  • Within the disability community, it is preferable to say a person has a disability, rather than that the person is disabled, handicapped, mentally retarded. Why is this language important?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, June 5, 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

It is easy for us to shake our heads sadly when contemplating the community’s reaction to Jesus. Don’t they know this is Jesus? Can’t they see his wisdom, his divinity? How could they be so foolish?

Imagine a friend, someone you’ve known for years, in church speaking knowledgeably about scripture. The next thing you know, someone is saying he’s a prophet. Where is the threshold of your skepticism? What would you need to see or hear in order to believe?

The sentiment in the synagogue seems to be that this Jesus is nothing special. How can he understand scripture better than everyone else? He’s no one important or specially gifted or skilled, just a lowly carpenter. And the same prejudice that keeps his neighbors from seeing Jesus for who and what he is can keep us from recognizing God’s presence among us today.

Here again, scripture reminds us that God does not shower his blessings only on the rich, the powerful, or the exceptional. Repeatedly, God shows his ability and preference for using the most humble, ordinary folks to spread the gospel message and demonstrate love, forgiveness, justice, and healing. We need to be on the lookout for times when God works in these ways — in ourselves and in other people. We wouldn’t want to reject God’s plan and intentions, like the Nazarenes in the synagogue rejected Jesus.

We might think it should have been easier for Jesus’ contemporaries to understand the miracle right in front of their eyes. But is it really any easier for us, knowing Jesus’ work, mission, death, and resurrection to see God’s work in our own lives? Today’s Gospel reminds us that God is indeed at work around us every day, and that we can see signs of God’s love everywhere — often in the most ordinary and unexpected places.

Discussion Questions

  • What would you say to convince Jesus’ contemporaries of the authenticity of his message?
  • How can you identify God’s action and presence in your world?
  • How is it that the disciples were able to see the truth about Jesus?
  • In verses 7-13, Jesus sends his disciples out into the world. What advice does he give for times when others refuse to hear his word?
  • What message does today’s Gospel have for us in our own ministry, and in responding to the ministry of others?
  • Jesus’ instructions suggest a level of poverty for his disciples. Why was this important? Is it still important today?
  • What does today’s Gospel say to us about the role of people with disabilities in our society?

Closing Prayer

Heavenly Father, as we gather to learn your will, we marvel at the many magnificent works you have done, and the many unearned blessings we have received. Remind us to seek the beauty of your creation in every place we go, on every face we see. And help us to show that same beauty, and love, to those we meet. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

April 22-29, 2009 – Sheep without a shepherd

Contributed by Pastor Seth Moland-Kovash
All Saints Lutheran Church
Palatine, IL

Warm-up Question: People often talk about the importance of making a good first impression. Do you think it’s really all that important or not? Why?

One of the hallmarks of the legal system in this country is the idea of a trial by a jury. Part of that process is that the jury is supposed to be impartial; they are not supposed to have made up their minds about whether you are guilty or not guilty before the trial starts. They are supposed to make their decision based on the evidence and what they hear in the courtroom, not on what they knew about the situation before the trial even started. We often talk about this in terms of an impartial jury: you have the right to be tried by a jury who is impartial, who has not already decided whether you are guilty.

Finding an impartial jury can be difficult sometimes when cases get a lot of media coverage or are very high-profile. When celebrities or major politicians are on trial, or when crimes get a lot of coverage, it can be hard to find 12 people who are impartial. Sometimes defendants gain the right to move a trial to another city, county, or even state, so that they can find a jury of people who have not already made up their minds or been influenced by the media or other people in the community.

Consider the difficulty in finding unbiased, fair, impartial jurors for the following cases:

A story of trying to find an impartial jury in the case of someone accused of starting wildfires in southern California that ended up killing 5 firefighters. 

  • Rod R. Blagojevich, now former governor of Illinois, was impeached under accusations of criminal corruption, wasting taxpayer money attempting to sell Barack Obama’s vacant senate seat. Blagojevich has made the rounds of TV talk shows, radio shows, and has been highlighted in newspapers and Web publications around the world. He is still awaiting trial.
  • Or talk about a court case in your area that everyone seems to know about, or has strong opinions about.

Discussion Questions

  • Why is having an impartial jury so important? To the defendant? To all of us?
  • If you had heard a lot about a case, like the wildfires or political corruption in these stories, would you be able to judge someone fairly who was accused of the crime? How difficult would it be for you to put aside your assumptions and weigh the information and arguments of both sides?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being not at all; 10 being always open and receptive), how open are you to receiving new ideas, opinions, or different views from other people? How would you decide that a person was trustworthy or worth listening to?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, April 26, 2009.

(Text links are to oremus Bible Browser Oremus Bible Browsernot 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

One of the hardest things about learning anything new is when we think we already know the answer. We think Sarah’s mean and snobby so no matter how she acts toward us, we are not going to like her. We think something that weighs more should fall faster than something that is lighter, so we won’t believe it until we see it — sometimes we don’t even believe it then!

The same thing is true about God. We think we know things about God, and it’s hard to hear or accept anything new. We may think that God could never love us because of the bad things we’ve done, so it’s hard to hear that God will always love us, no matter what — end of story!

In today’s Gospel reading, Luke 24:13-49, two followers of Jesus are walking along the road after what had happened in Jerusalem on the day we call Good Friday. They hadn’t heard about Easter yet. They thought Jesus was dead and everything was over. The Gospel lesson tells us that Jesus came along and walk with them, but “their eyes were kept from recognizing him.”

Eventually, the two people recognized Jesus and he explained everything to them. But maybe they needed a fresh, unbiased start — sort of a do-over. Maybe they needed to not see him as Jesus for just a minute so that they could get past their preconceived ideas and assumptions about his death. Maybe they needed their eyes to be closed for a little bit, so that they could be opened again and see something completely new!

Discussion Questions 

  • What would it be like to meet someone walking along the sidewalk who you thought was dead?
  • Do you think these followers learned the lesson of Jesus’ resurrection better because they had to learn it this way? What impression would this situation have made on you if you had been one of the people walking on the road with Jesus?
  • How would you go about telling the story of Jesus in a believable, trustworthy, truthful way? How would you tell it to different people? A stranger? A close friend?

Activity Suggestion

  • Arrange with your congregation’s Sunday school leaders to teach Sunday school for a day, especially the very young kids. They will love having youth around to teach them. And you’ll get to teach young children something completely new… it’s all new to them!
  • Create a list of things you believe or know about God. Create another list of questions you have about God. Use the lists to stir up discussion, study, curiosity, and prayer.

Closing Prayer

Faithful God, we thank you for always finding ways to reach us and to teach us. We pray in the name of your risen Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.