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March 23, 2014–Crossing Borders

Contributed by Danny Stone, Cedar Rapids, IA


Warm-up Question

Share a time when you were sick and needed someone to care for you?

Crossing Borders

shutterstock_92999659editSanaz Nezam emigrated to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in the fall of 2013.  The “Yoopee” seems like an unlikely home for a 27-year-old from Iran, but Houghton’s Michigan Tech is a top notch Engineering University.  Sanaz was a graduate of Tehran University, earned a degree in French translation, was fluent in Farsi, French and English and knew a little Spanish, German, Arabic and Swahili.  Like many young adults she had a Facebook page full of inspirational quotes.  She was a newly-wed, active volunteer and was a Muslim who also attended a Christian congregation.

On December 9th, 2013, Sanza was transported from Houghton to a larger regional medical facility, Marquette General Hospital (MGH) in Marquette, Mi. Sanza was brain dead.  Her husband, Nima Nassiri, was in the Houghton County jail facing domestic assault charges.

Nurses researched the special care required for a Muslim woman, but contacting Sanza’s family was difficult. Since the Iranian Hostage Crisis (1979 – 1981), the United States has not had an embassy in Tehran.  However, clever detective work by MGH nurses helped the medical staff  contact Sanza’s family.  Nurses worked with translators to communicate and eventually set up streaming video.  According to MGH nurse, Gail Brandley,  Sanza’s family “actually asked the nurses to stroke her hair, to kiss her forehead and provide that loving touch that they normally would. And it wasn’t just one nurse that they were able to connect with. It seemed like every nurse that came on just really wanted to help this poor family that was helpless 6,000 miles away. And the family could really see and feel the compassion from each and every nurse.”  (NPR’s Here & Now).

After having the chance to say goodbye via the video conference, Sanaz’s family agreed to donate her heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, pancreas and small intestine.  Her husband has been charged with murder, but Sanza’s death allows others to live.

Discussion Questions

  • Nurses have a difficult job.  What difficulties did the Sanaz’s nurses face?
  • What were some of the cultural concerns Sanaz ‘s nurses worked to overcome?
  • Have you met someone who recently emigrated to the United States?  What was their experience like?
  • According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, an estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year.  What are some things we could do to end the violence?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, March 23, 2014 (Third Sunday in Lent

Exodus 17:1-7

Romans 5:1-11

John 4:5-42


(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

The animosity between Jews and Samaritans can trace its roots Jacob’s  (aka Israel)  troubled family.  Remember the twelve sons, a special coat made for Joseph, jealous brothers selling him into slavery, Joseph’s rise in Egypt and the reunion with his half -starved family.  In his last days, Jacob blessed Joseph’s two sons to be great leaders of the tribes.  Their descendants founded the Northern Kingdom (Israel) and the Southern Kingdom (Judah).

Israel, with its capital Samaria, was the first kingdom to fall.  Assyrians attacked and scattered the tribes in 722 BCE.   Israel’s survivors intermarried with colonists and mingled their religious traditions.  Judah was conquered and taken into Babylonian captivity in 600 BCE, but 43,000 were allowed to return to Judah and Jerusalem in 538 BCE.  The northern Samaritans resented the returning tribes with their religion influenced by time in Babylon, and the southern Jews despised their northern relatives for foreign intermarriage and paganism.  By the time of Jesus, Samaritan and Jewish animosity frequently bubbled over into violent clashes.  Both groups forbade all contact.

Jesus was breaking cultural norms by even talking with a Samaritan, yet alone a woman, yet alone a woman who had several marriages.  During the time of the Gospel, women generally only had contact with other women or male relatives. Women could not worship with men and were not educated.  In today’s Gospel, we see Jesus throwing out all the old cultural rules to model a new way.

Discussion Questions

  • What are some of the social rules that have changed in the last 100 years?
  • Have social rules changed for better or worse?  Why?
  • Do cultures change quickly or over long periods of time?  Try to share concrete examples.
  • Which of today’s social rules or social issues would Jesus challenge?


Activity Suggestions

Option 1:  Gather a wide variety of magazines that feature people of many ages, cultures and sub-cultures. Have small groups make collages that celebrate our cultural diversity.

Option 2:  Allow teens to pull out their phones and research Sanaz Nezam.  Small groups can give brief presentations from information they gather.

Closing Prayer

Dear God, Father of all.  Please, bless the work of nurses and all health care workers.  Their love and compassion is desperately needed in our all too violent world.  Bring comport to those who mourn, understanding to those who are intolerant, peace to those who hate, and forgiveness to those who act in violence.  In your holy and universal name we pray, Amen.


May 5, 2013–Standardized Test

Contributed by Seth Moland-Kovash, Palatine, IL

Warm-up Question

Are you a patient person? Do you find it easy or hard to wait?

Standardized Test

shutterstock_124800556editThe Veterans Administration is the branch of our government responsible for providing benefits (medical, educational, housing, etc) for veterans of the armed forces. One of the most significant jobs is disability benefits.  If a person is injured during their military service, they are entitled to financial compensation. There is currently a very significant backlog of veterans who are waiting to find out if they will get benefits and to receive those benefits. Over 200,000 veterans have been waiting at least one year for a decision.

General Eric Shinseki, who is the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and the head of the Veterans Administration, recently announced new plans and strategies to clear the backlog. He has also introduced plans that he hopes will allow all future claims to be cleared within 125 days, much less than the wait currently experienced. This story ( explains some of the reasons for the long backlog and what Shinseki and the VA plan to do about it.


Discussion Questions

  •  Have you ever had to wait as long as a year for something? What did it feel like?
  • What do you think the rest of us can do to help veterans who are waiting for these benefits and decisions?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, May 5, 2013 (Sixth Sunday of Easter)

Acts 16:9-15

Revelation 21:10, 22–22:5

John 5:1-9 

(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 John 5:1-9, Jesus meets a man who had been waiting a long time for benefits, for healing and health care. Of course, things worked a bit differently in his time. There wasn’t a Veterans Administration to write a check, but there was a pool where people waited and found healing when they were dipped into the waters. The problem for this man was that the healing only happened when the water was stirred up, and whenever that happened, other people who could actually walk ran into the water ahead of him and blocked his path. His infirmity kept him from getting the help he needed. And so he had been ill for 38 years.

He specifically says that “I have no one to put me into the pool.” If he had had friends or family or someone with compassion nearby who could lower him into the pool, his own inability to walk would not have mattered. But he was alone. His suffering was intensified by his isolation. So Jesus told him to stand up and walk. And he did.

Discussion Questions

  • Who in our world or in your community is isolated? How does that keep them from getting the healing they need?
  • What do you think the rest of us can do to help people who feel they cannot access healing because of their isolation?

Activity Suggestions

Visit shut-ins from your congregation in coordination with your pastor. Bring them flowers or just show up and smile. They will love the visit.

Closing Prayer

Good and gracious God, we thank you for the healing you bring and the ways you help us to bridge gaps and to reach out to one another. Amen.


April 29, 2012–Feeling a Little Sheepish

Contributed by Aaron Matson, location Toronto, SD


Warm-up Questions

What do you know about sheep and shepherds? What images and thoughts come to mind when you hear those words?

Feeling a Little Sheepish

The images of God (and Jesus) as a good shepherd and God’s people as sheep are fairly common in the Bible. Because sheep and shepherds were so common in the ancient world, this imagery painted a vivid picture of God’s relationship with God’s people to the early audiences of the Bible.

Because sheep and shepherds aren’t a large part of our culture, we can have a hard time understanding what it means to say we are sheep and that Jesus is our good shepherd. Maybe the only image of sheep you have is of cute, fluffy creatures which you count when you can’t sleep. Maybe you think shepherding would be a nice, peaceful life, watching cute creatures do cute things.

The thing is, sheep are smelly, stubborn animals and shepherding is a dirty, hard job.  Sheep are herd animals, and unquestioningly follow the herd where it goes. They are easily influenced, and “led astray” by a dominant member of the herd. They hate being sheared, even though it’s necessary for their own health. Shepherding means shearing the sheep, even though they hate it.  If their wool gets too heavy, they fall over, can not get back up, and eventually die.  Left unguarded they are easy prey for predators.  Sheep require constant attention and care–or they wander off, get into food that is bad for them, and fall victim to wolves or coyotes.


Discussion Questions

  • How do you feel about being called a sheep now?
  • What does it mean to be called a sheep?
  • What does it mean to call Jesus a shepherd?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, April 29, 2012 (Fourth Sunday of Easter)

 Acts 4:5-12

1 John 3:16-24

John 10:11-18

(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

After learning about sheep, we might not like being called sheep very much. But we can be like sheep sometimes, can’t we? We can be pretty stubborn. We can follow along with the rest of the “herd” without question, whether or not the herd is going the right way. We often resist doing the things that are good for us if they seem unpleasant. Without people who care for us, we may fall into doing things that are bad for us and fall victim to predators who take advantage of us. We are too much like sheep for comfort.

The good news is that we have a Good Shepherd in Jesus Christ to watch over us and protect us. Jesus loved us, his sheep, so much that he gave up his life for us on the cross, and then rose again to conquer death for us once and for all.  

And we, who have been made the Good Shepherd’s sheep, recognize our shepherd’s voice. There is a lot of static and noise in the world. There are a lot of distractions, worries, and troubles, and a lot of other voices which shout at us to gain our attention and loyalty. There are a lot of things in the world which try to be our shepherd. But we have the promise from Jesus that through all of the noise we will know his voice. Not because we are smart enough, pure enough, or good enough to tell which voice is his, but because Jesus is our shepherd.

In those times when you are lost (and I’m sorry to say, there will be times in your life, when no matter how much love and support you are surrounded by, you will be truly lost), remember that you are the sheep of a Good Shepherd. We are the sheep of a shepherd who loves us, no matter how stubborn or smelly we are, or how lost we are.   Our shepherd isl always  with us, calling to us, offering us peace, forgiveness, and new life. Nothing–not heights nor depths, not despair or heartbreak, not angels or demons, not even death itself—can separate you from the love of your Good Shepherd.

Discussion Questions

  •  What are some of those voices that compete for our attention and want us to follow them instead of Jesus?
  •  How can we help each other listen for our Shepherd’s voice?

Activity Suggestions

  • See how many references you can find in the Bible to God or Jesus as a “shepherd” and the people as “sheep.”
  • Look at your congregation’s hymnals and see how many hymns talk about us as “sheep” and God or Jesus as a “shepherd.” If possible, sing one of them.
  • Invite someone who raises sheep to come and speak to your group about what it’s like to raise sheep. If a member of your group has experience raising sheep, have them talk about it. If you can’t find someone who raises sheep, it might also work to invite someone who raises other kinds of livestock to talk about how much time and effort it takes.

Closing Prayer

Heavenly Father, thank you for sending your Son, Jesus Christ, to be our Good Shepherd. Continue to guide us so that we might not go astray, and watch over us and protect us from all harm and evil. Help us to show your love and care to others, that all may know you as their Good Shepherd. Amen.

February 3-9, 2010–The Biggest…Building…Ever

Contributed by Jay Gamelin, Jacob’s Porch/ Lutheran Mission to The Ohio State University,Columbus, OH

Warm Up Question

What is the biggest human-made space you have ever been in?  Describe the space to someone in the room who has never been there.  What descriptors do you use? 

The Biggest…Building…Ever…

The biggest building ever built has opened in the small country of Dubai.  The Burj Dubai rises 168 stories or 2,684 feet above the desert floor reaching more than a kilometer into the sky.  This is now the tallest man-made structure in all the world, eclipsing a tower found in North Dakota that, although not a building, has claimed the title of tallest structure created by humans.

The tower features the seven-star Armani Hotel designed by the Italian designer, Giorgio Armani. The 430,000-square-foot hotel has 160 guest rooms and suites across ten stories. The Hotel features eight restaurants, a spa, swimming pool, library, fitness center and business center, as well as 30,000 square feet of conference and banquet space on “mirror-smooth marble floors,” according to the Armani corporate Web site.  Burj Dubai is part of a massive complex that includes five hotels, a huge shopping mall, more than 150 restaurants and 1,200 shops. Entertainment options include a ski resort, an Olympic-size ice skating rink, a 4.6 million-gallon walk-through aquarium, a SEGA game theme park and an 80,000-square-foot play village for children.  That is a play space the size of almost two football fields, excluding endzones.

Discussion Questions

  • What do you think of this building and complex?  Would you want to visit someday?
  • Why do you think people feel challenged to build taller buildings?  What is to be gained out of tall buildings?
  • What is the allure of something being the biggest, tallest, deepest, or widest?  Why do you think so many more people try to climb Mount Everest than attempt the second highest mountain in the world, K2?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, February 7, 2010 (Fifth Sunday after Epiphany)

(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. 

Isaiah 6:1-8 [9-13]

I Corinthians  15:1-11

Luke 5:1-11

Gospel Reflection

We love big things, don’t we?  In America it seems we love our big cars, big budgets, big cities, big buildings, big appetites, big stars, and big ideas.  We are captured by big-ness. It gets our attention, captures our imagination.  “Second place is just the first loser,” we say.  We strive for first or not at all.  We climb the tallest or ignore the feat.  We build the biggest if we can.  We plan the largest that we can afford.  We want attention.  We want to show what we’ve got.

“Big” is a word throughout these texts.  Isaiah describes God’s presence in the temple this way: God is so big that in this huge temple the Israelites have built, God can only fit in a stitch at the end of God’s cloak–and still it fills the whole temple.  The disciples cast a net into the sea and bring in such a huge catch that it strains the net to the breaking point.  Paul says he worked harder than all the other apostles… but he’s not bragging, it was God’s grace that allowed this.  Big, bigger, biggest.  Something is clamoring for our attention. 

I was in Saint Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna with a friend,staring about this fifth largest Cathedral in the world. I asked my friend what he thought God thought of this big building.  What did God think of all this grandeur?  My friend, who is much smarter than I, said he thought God probably saw this as a two-year-old’s crayon drawing posted on the fridge.  How nice.  How cute.  Look what they did for me!  How sweet.  I made Everest, but your building is really big.  I painted the sky with the crab nebula, but your artwork sure is pretty.  I adore your expertly carved baptismal font, though I hold the waters of the whole world in the small of my hand.  How can we perceive big when God is above all things?  How do we perceive God when we are so enamored by our own creations? 

The season of Epiphany means literally “to be revealed.”  Today’s lessons remind us that God is so above and beyond our concept of eminence that all we make is only a pale shadow of what truly is big. God is so far “above” us and “beyond” us that we can only deem ourselves as a specks of dust on a speck of dust on a speck of dust.  After all our building, budgets, and ideas, we are still so small. 

And how much more of a wonder for that! Though we are so small, God knows us, dwells with us, and participates in our smallness!  How much more amazing that the God who could ignore us, instead, becomes one of us through Jesus, becomes a dust-person, to show us that we are known intimately and loved extravagantly by something so big.  It is this idea, God’s attention and love, that is the most humbling news of all.  May it be revealed to you today that our God is not too big to forget you.  May we be humbled today by the love and the presence of God through Jesus in our lives.

Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever flown over a major city?  What did it look like from above?  How about over mountains?
  • What do YOU think God makes of our skyscrapers, church steeples, and stadiums?  There is no right answer… just what do you think?
  • Have you ever felt small and insignificant?  Describe how it felt, or perhaps the situation that led you to feel this way.
  • Believing that God set all this in motion, what does it mean that God became human in Jesus?  What does this say about God and what God thinks of us?  What does this say about our significance?


Activity Suggestion

CRAYON DRAWINGS FOR GOD:  Set out supplies for an art project- paper, crayons, scissors, tape, or whatever you’ve got.  Read aloud Psalm 138.  Have the students draw what they see or hear in the text, either literally or figuratively.  For example, they may draw someone bowing toward the temple or the text may make them think of love.  Maybe they will draw a big heart!  In any case, invite them to draw what they feel as a gift to God.

PROCESS:  Our gifts are so small, so little.  It seems they are too small to capture God’s attention.  The good news is that God loves and appreciates our gifts, no matter how small.  God knows and sees our hearts and God makes them big, beautiful, and holy.  Give thanks that our small gift is known and appreciated.

Closing Prayer 

It is a wonder, Lord, that you would know us.  It is amazing that you would love us.  Thank you God for showing us your presence.  Thank you for humbling yourself by becoming one of us.  To you be power and glory, forever and ever.  AMEN.