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September 1-7, 2010–Honor Thy Father?

Contributed by Jack Saarela, Lutheran Campus Ministry, Yale University

Warm-up Question

Has trying to follow Jesus ever put you at odds with your parents wishes or values? 

Honor Thy Father?

Mark tells us in his gospel that at the very beginning of his public ministry, Jesus walked on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and saw James and John in a boat mending their fishing nets. That’s the scene depicted in the painting on this page. “Immediately,” (one of Mark’s favorite words) Jesus invited them to be his disciples. Apparently, without a second’s hesitation, they laid down their nets, and set off to follow Jesus. Then Mark inserts an interesting detail: “ . . . and left their father Zebedee in the boat.”

Imagine the older man sitting on the bow of the boat in the painting as Zebedee, father of James and John, and head of the small family-run fishing operation, “Zebedee and Sons”.  James and John may have been excited, flattered, or expectant at the prospect of following Jesus. But I wonder how Zebedee felt, what he thought about Jesus’ coming along out of the blue and calling his sons away to be his followers. Do you think Zebedee was pleased as punch to assume all the burdens and responsibilities of the family fishing enterprise on his own, solitary shoulders?

Discussion Questions

  • What do you think? How does Jesus look to you if you’re Zebedee, left alone in the fishing boat?
  • Can you name any time in your life when your being a Christian disciple has led to tension within your family? Within your group of friends? 

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, September 5, 2010 (Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost)

Deuteronomy 30:15-20

Philemon 1-21

Luke 14:25-35

(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 my ministry with students at the University of Florida, we used to offer a Bible study series every few years entitled, “Things We Wish Jesus Had Never Said!” We didn’t have any trouble coming up with a long list of texts from the gospels containing very hard, challenging words from Jesus.

Today’s gospel text was almost always among them. William Willimon, Methodist bishop and former chaplain at Duke, asks, “What is this, Jesus on a bad day?” Jesus seems to be in no mood here for compromise or halfway measures in the matter of following him. “Hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters”? . . . “Yes, [hate] even life itself”? . . . “Give up all your possessions”? And then, to top it off, “carry the cross”? Ouch!

Yes, part of the challenge of Jesus’ words can be explained by the fact that he is using hyperbolic language to catch our attention. And sure, Jesus doesn’t imply “hating” in the sense of an emotion, but rather a kind of detachment from family and possessions that allows us to keep them in proper perspective as secondary and tertiary loyalties in our lives, when our first love ought to be serving God and loving our neighbor.

Nonetheless, it’s not at all easy to keep family commitments and pursuit of income and possessions in their proper place. My experience is that it’s impossible, as are a lot of other things Jesus asks of us. Love my neighbor as myself? Turn the other cheek? Sometimes, maybe, but it’s not my first instinct.

That’s why I find Jesus’ words later in the gospel of Luke to be such good news. In chapter 18, Jesus appears to make another set of impossible demands of a rich young man (to go sell all he has and give the money to the poor). The man is saddened, and turns away. One of the disciples then asks Jesus, “Who, then, can be saved?” Jesus replies with the good news I’m talking about: “What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.” (Luke 18:26-27)

For mortals like you and me, it’s virtually impossible to follow Jesus on the terms he establishes. But through the action of the Holy Spirit, God makes the impossible happen.

Discussion Questions

  • Can you think of other sayings of Jesus you wish he had never said? Words of his that are difficult to hear and challenge our assumptions?
  • Some suggest that mainline Christian churches like the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are not growing because we fail to raise the bar for being a Christian, and settle instead for an “easy believism,” practicing and living out our faith as an “optional extracurricular activity.”  Do you think they are right? Why, or why not?
  • How do we accept the free grace of God in Jesus (the fact that God makes impossible discipleship possible for us) and yet not just sit back and “let God do it”? 

Activity Suggestions

Closing Prayer

Lord Jesus, it’s not that I don’t want to “follow your more dearly and love you more dearly”, it’s just that it seems set up for my failure. Your demands and expectations are so high! But I believe that even my wanting to follow you is already the work of your Spirit within me. Make what seems impossible for me possible today. Amen

December 2-9, 2009 – Preparing a Way for Spirit

Contributed by Scott A. Moore


Warm-up Question

When have you ever helped someone who was “stuck?”


Preparing a Way for Spirit


rover_low_angle_200The National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) along with Jet Propulsion Laboratories (JPL) and some partners from other countries around the world have been working diligently to find a way out for a stuck Mars rover named Spirit. Spirit has been stuck for over six months now in an area where the ground is made up of very fine, soft sand. The six wheels (one of them has not been working properly for quite a while now) cannot seem to get the traction needed to move forward in any significant way. NASA is not giving up on Spirit, which along with its twin, Opportunity, has continued to function well for five years longer than the originally planned mission of three months. Teams here on earth are working with sample rovers in artificially created environments trying to recreate the actual conditions in order to find the perfect solution…to find a way out. Some of the attempts range from trying various wheel directions and speeds, to having Spirit try to dig itself out with its robotic arms. Just before the Thanksgiving Day weekend, Spirit was commanded to move its wheels forward. NASA indicated that the rover completed a spin which should have equaled a total of 13 feet. The rover actually only moved 0.2 inches forward, 0.1 inches to the left, and 0.1 inches further down into the sand.

To follow the story

  • Is it worth the time and effort for NASA to get Spirit unstuck?
  • When should someone call it quits and move on?
  • Have you ever wanted to help someone else get “unstuck?” If you tried to do something, how did that go?
  • What kinds of situations frustrate you the most?
  • When have you been “stuck” in a situation where someone else kept trying to help you?
  • Where in your life, in your congregation’s life, could you use a little “push” to move forward?
  • Who are the people in your life, who are usually able to help you move forward?
  • How are they able to help you best?


Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, December 6, 2009 (Second Sunday of Advent)

(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 sandy Judean desert, a voice communicates a message of action. The word of God comes to John, son of Zechariah and cousin of a man named Jesus of Nazareth. John is called to go and preach a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” The voice of the prophet Isaiah is quoted as the guiding principle of what John is doing. He is preparing the way of the Lord. He is making the Lord’s paths straight. Valleys filled, mountains and hills brought low. Crooked made straight and rough made smooth. He is eliminating every possible barrier between the Lord and the world. 

 A “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” This seems to be the method to remove every barrier. Repentance seems to be the manner of preparing the way of the Lord. Repentance often sounds to us like simply saying sorry. There is certainly an emotional part to repentance but it is much, much more than that. Repentance in the New Testament is based on a word which means “to change one’s mind.” Repentance is seeing things in a new way, turning towards that new way, and living in that new way.  John’s baptism of repentance is a calling, and a gift of God. It is a call to be washed and set on a new path. It is a call to conversion. This call to repentance is a setting of our thoughts and actions in the Lord’s direction. Not only are we to be turned toward him, but we are to be turned to face the same direction our Lord faces.

Repentance means having our minds turned away from ourselves and our often selfish ways and to be shaped by God’s mind. It is seeing the world with God’s eyes. Perceiving and acting in love for the world and for our neighbor.

Being turned in repentance seems like an easy task. John called for a once and for all repentance. Our reality is often much different than that. We are often called by the voice of God to turn in the right direction, but find ourselves stuck and only able to move in tiny increments.  Or, we try so hard to turn ourselves that we overshoot our goal. God is very patient with us. Again and again God calls us to the way. A way of love, a way of sacrifice, a way of Christ.

Our repentance—never perfect, and never permanent—locates us in the central drama of Advent:  preparing the way of the Lord. In the world, and in our real lives. To that we can only say—“Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”

  • What does God’s “way” look like?
  • When are you most comfortable living in that “way?”
  • When have you had real difficulties seeing things with a godly mind?
  • When have you been successful at getting temporarily unstuck?
  • What helps you in your own “changing of your mind” or repentance?
  • What makes it difficult for you?
  • Who helps you to repent?



Preparing the Way of the Lord for Others
Here is a list of ideas your group might try in order to prepare the way of the Lord for others:

  1. Write and deliver invitations for Christmas worship to people you know are not part of a faith community.
  2. Think about the things in your congregational community which might create barriers between the world and the Lord.  Take some action to “smooth” them out!
  3. How can you visually help members of your congregation to prepare as they come to worship (sidewalk chalk sayings/Bible verses that address people as they come to church, posters and signs that do the same thing, maybe even a play on various traffic signs: one way, yield, stop…around various locations in church like the baptismal font, altar, pulpit, etc.)?
  4. Can your group serve as the greeters in worship, helping worshipers “get ready?”
  5. Could you literally “roll out the red carpet” (a saying which communicates a generous and honor-filled welcome) in your worship space, or outside your church as a symbol of the way we walk toward God.  Or, roll it out from worship into the world?


Preparing the Way of the Lord for Ourselves
Perhaps your group could write some prayers for yourselves and for other individuals in the congregation to pray at home as a preparation for worship. These could be thematic, scriptural, or guided by the church year. See Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW) and Evangelical Lutheran Worship (ELW) for examples.


Closing Prayer

God of mercy, God of strength. We have so often walked a different path than the one you want us to walk. We need your guidance. Turn our minds to be like yours. Guide our steps. Lead us by your grace. We pray in our Lord Jesus’ name. Amen