Skip to content
ELCA Blogs

Faith Lens

November 25, 2012–Leader of the Free World

Contributed by Dave Dodson, Shalimar, FL


Warm-up Question

Who do you consider to be a good leader?

Leader of the Free World

Three weeks ago, the longest election cycle in United States history ended with the re-election of President Barack Obama.  The race received a great deal of media attention, not only within the United States, but worldwide.  Even citizens of European, Asian, African, and South American nations often favored one candidate over another and followed the race from their own countries.

This seems a little much, doesn’t it?  After all, the President does not have absolute power, even in the United States.  His power is balanced by powers given to Congress and the Supreme Court.  The President cannot pass laws on his own; he can only ratify or reject laws approved by Congress.  Why, then, were so many people, both inside and outside of the United States, so very invested in the result of the Presidential election?

To a large degree, the Presidential race matters because it represents the United States as a whole: what the majority of our citizens believe, what values we hold to be most important, and what we’re willing to fight for.  Since the Cold War, the President of the United States has often been given the nickname “Leader of the Free World”, suggesting that his leadership defined the values and actions of democratic countries around the world.

Certainly, the President has a very important political position.  To the rest of the world, though, he is also a very powerful symbol of the will of the citizens of the United States.

Discussion Questions

  • Can you think of any other leaders, political or otherwise, in recent world history who have exemplified the values of their followers?  (Prompt your students to “think outside the box” if need be!  Examples could be political figures, such as Nelson Mandela or another US President.  They might be ideological, like Martin Luther King or the Dalai Lama)
  • Should we hold political leaders to a high ethical standard?  What about leaders in other fields, like music, sports, and business?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, November 25, 2012 (Christ the King Sunday)

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14

Revelation 1:4b-8

John 18:33-37

(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

When Pilate stands before Jesus to question him, we can tell that he desperately wants to put some sort of label on him.  Jesus has been accused of no specific crime against the Roman Empire at this point.  The Pharisees and their followers have simply dragged Jesus before Pilate, insisting that he be put to death, without giving a reason.  Pilate isn’t concerned with Jesus or the Pharisees.  All he wants out of Jesus is a quick answer so he can label him, pass judgment, and dismiss him.

“Are you the King of the Jews?”  Pilate wants Jesus to simply confirm that he is on some power trip, trying to gain control of the nation of Israel.  If Jesus says “Yes”, he can probably be dismissed as a crazy person, found guilty of no crime against the Roman Empire, and released.  If he says “No”, he can be written off as a victim and, again, probably released.

Instead, Jesus’ answers to Pilate’s questions indicate that he is not the “King of the Jews”, but is a king in a far greater way. Jesus is much more than a worldly king.  His kingship extends to more than just the nation of Israel.  His power passes far beyond that of a political ruler.  And most of all, his message of peace and love is for absolutely all people everywhere.  Jesus is clear about this when he answers Pilate: “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.”

Sometimes, Christians and non-Christians alike have been guilty of the same mistake that Pilate makes.  We want to put a single label on Jesus so that we can dismiss the fullness of his mission and ministry.  We want to limit Jesus’ message to just the parts that make us comfortable or help us win an argument.  We want Jesus’ words to make us feel good all the time, and we ignore the parts of Jesus’ teachings that challenge us.  Sometimes, we even seem to forget that it isn’t just Christians who are part of God’s people — that Jesus’ message is for all people everywhere.

Let’s learn from Pilate’s mistake.  Rather than trying to make Jesus fit our expectations, let’s open our minds up to hear his teachings again, and let him tell us about his kingdom!

Discussion Questions

  • Jesus is the ultimate example of a faithful leader.  What sort of traits did Jesus have that we should emulate?  How does this differ from the values of secular culture?
  • How do leaders in your church follow Jesus’ example in their actions and ministries?

Activity Suggestion

Create crowns from posterboard (or gather cardboard crowns from a local fast food restaurant).  On the crowns, write the attributes and attitudes that Jesus modeled through his words and guidance (peace, forgiveness, love, faith, etc).  Decorate the crowns.  (If you wish, invite students to make a gift of the paper crowns to church members who exhibit these traits in their congregational leadership.)

Closing Prayer

Almighty God, you gave us a magnificent world and abundant blessings.  Help us to be good leaders in your world and spread your love and blessings to all people.  Let us be your hands in a world that longs to feel your touch.  Amen.

June 30-July 6–Sheep and Wolves

Contributed by R. Paul Henrickson, Chaplain and Dean of the Chapel, Roanoke College, Salem, VA

Warm-up Question

Go around the group and respond to the following:

  • Is the world more populated by sheep or wolves?
  • Would you rather be a sheep or a wolf?
  • Name a sheep; name a wolf.
  • Are Christians among the sheep or the wolves?
  • Does Christianity have any enemies?

Sheep and Wolves

I write this on June 21, 2010.  I am reminded by the New York Times, that on this day in 1964, three civil rights workers disappeared in Philadelphia, Miss. Their bodies were found buried in an earthen dam six weeks later. Eight members of the Ku Klux Klan went to prison on federal conspiracy charges; none served more than six years.  In our day, working for justice continues to have its dangerous side, however, one is more likely to be threatened with the weapon of apathy rather than with a club or a gun.

Jesus warns his disciples:  “See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.”

In our present day, there is a full scale attack on Christianity, led by some who hold to the assumption that God does not matter and that religion is for those who have become thoughtlessly captive to “memes” .  Richard Dawkins,  who coined this word for a cultural idea, symbol, or practice goes on to say: “I doubt that religion can survive deep understanding. The shallows are its natural habitat.”

Some writers have begun to describe Europe as a “post-Christian” society.  In our own country estimates about how many people attend worship suggest that less than 22% of Americans attend worship each week. ( Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Volume 44, Number 3, September 2005 , pp. 307-322)  Among young adults (18-29), 72% say that they are “spiritual, but not religious.”  In this group, 65% never or rarely attend worship services.  (

Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever been threatened because of your Christian faith?
  • What hinders us from proclaiming the Gospel story?
  • Are we headed into a “post-Christian” age?
  • Why do you think fewer people call themselves “believers?”
  • Do you know people who say the are “spiritual but not religious?”

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, July 4, 2010 (Sixth Sunday after Pentecost)

Isaiah 66:10-14

Galatians 6:[1-6] 7-16

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

(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 a few essays that I read over every three months or so to keep me from grazing too far from the Word.  When my preaching has become rather predictable (or dry), I read Stanley Hauerwas’ article: “Preaching As Though We Had Enemies.”  In this essay he writes, “Most of us do not go to church because we are seeking a safe haven from our enemies; we go to church to be assured we have no enemies.”

In the text for this week, Jesus assures us that speaking the Gospel will be a dangerous calling.  “See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.”  Does that cause any anxiety in your heart?  Perhaps our faith has become too tame, too domesticated to generate a real threat to those who would be our enemies.  Perhaps the weapon of apathy does not warrant a defensive response.

Imagine what Sunday morning worship be like if we arrived as those who had been wounded in the spiritual battle.  There would be prayers of comfort, songs of confident praise, a message of courage and hope, mutual conversation and consolation among the faithful, and a meal of bread and wine – rations for the week ahead.

Our own Lutheran Church (ELCA), is losing more than 200 members EACH DAY.   This is a crisis of faith and evangelism; the wolves seem to be winning the numbers game.

So, fellow sheep, what are we called to do?  Prayer followed by action; songs followed by commitment, preaching that inspires and challenges; conversation that supports and encourages – these will be the marks of the flock who wander out among the wolves.  By the power of Jesus Christ, we will not fail.

Discussion Questions

  • How might a local parish refocus its ministry as “sheep among the wolves?”
  • Where do “the sheep” get fed and protected?
  • What is the scariest “wolf” in your world?
  • What “wolf” most threatens the ministry of the church?

Activity Suggestions

  • Role play an encounter with a “spiritual, but not religious” friend
  • Make a contract with the group to invite one person to worship next Sunday
  • Watch the first 10 minutes of the evening news and imagine how people of faith might react to the stories
  • Watch the following video on YouTube:

Closing Prayer

In the name of Jesus Christ we pray…Lord of Life, give us the courage to speak your word in a world of unbelief.  When we would rather “play it safe,” startle us to faith; when we get bored and apathetic, astonish us with grace; when we fear that we are too weak to confront the wolves, give us courage. Help us to be fed by your word this day.   Amen