Skip to content
ELCA Blogs

Faith Lens

February 2, 2014–Blessed to Bless

Contributed by David Delaney, Salem, VA


Warm-up Question

Has anyone in your group ever spent time in a very poor area, either as part ofshutterstock_109184036edit your own living experience, or on a mission or immersion trip to a developing country, or heard stories from those who have been to such places?

  • What are some of the words that come to mind when you imagine or recall the lives of those who live day-to-day, hand-to-mouth, or under threat of disease, war, or oppression?  “Miserable,” “unfortunate,” “desperate,” “bitter,” “victim,” and “hopeless” are all words that might come to the minds of many.  Some people might include words that reflect stereotypes of the poor as mostly responsible for their own condition or dismiss poverty with a resigned shrug – “that’s the way the world is.”
  • What would you do if you lost everything?  What would happen if your family disappeared, you had no income and no place to live, and you were left to blame for it all?  That might sound like an extreme scenario, but try to imagine it.  What words would you use to describe yourself then?

Whatever you might say, it is hard to imagine using the word “blessed” to describe someone else or yourself in a situation of poverty or any other kind of severe stress; that must be kept in mind as we reflect on Matthew 5.

Blessed to Bless

Many people use the term “blessed” to refer to some extra experience they have had for which they want to express some gratitude, even if they are not Christian or religious at all.  In mid-January, Sandra Bullock described herself as feeling “overwhelmingly blessed” after receiving an Oscar nomination for her movie Gravity.  Also in mid-January, the manager of the Liverpool soccer team praised one of his players, Daniel Sturridge, as being “genetically blessed” because of his remarkable ability to recover from injuries much faster than normal.

Discussion Questions

  • Are these  good uses of the word “blessed”?  When you read Matthew 5, does it sound like Jesus is describing exceptional situations for exceptional people or the ongoing lives of everyday people?
  • Are there ways for us to start seeing the constant experiences of our daily lives as blessings?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, February 2, 2014 (Fourth Sunday after Epiphany)

 Micah 6:1-8

1 Corinthians 1:18-31

Matthew 5:1-12

(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 setting for the many things that Jesus taught throughout the gospels varies greatly, but the physical size of the land where he conducted his ministry was very small – less than the size of the state of Vermont.  Most places could be reached by walking in less than a day, and even a trip from Capernaum to Jerusalem could be done in a little more than three days of brisk walking.  Because there was a lot of travel done for business, government, and military purposes, people could easily see the great difference between the wealthier areas of the country and the poorer ones.  They were often very close together.  Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth was one of the poorest agricultural areas of the county, yet a brief walk to the top of the hill just south of his town would allow someone to see into the Jezreel Valley, one of the agriculturally richest areas of the country.

The traditional site of The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7), from which this passage comes, is less than a day’s walk from Nazareth and is once again a very rich area.  So when Jesus talks about being blessed, people from all different walks of life and economic circumstances might have been listening to him.  Regardless of all of those differences, we read these verses knowing that everything – even life itself – is a gift from God.  How do you hear that from the standpoint of your own particular setting in life?

Discussion Questions

  • In verse one, Jesus goes up on a mountain to teach and invite his followers to a new kind of “law” for life.   Who does this remind us of from the Old Testament (answer = Moses)?  Do you think Matthew wants us to think of Jesus as replacing Moses or building on what the Israelite law said?  (Look at Matthew chapters 22-23 to see examples of Jesus responding to questions about Israel’s law).
  • If you list all of the various situations listed by Jesus in this set of verses, which ones sound like they are the result of something that has happened to someone (answers: poor in spirit, mourning, meek, experiencing persecution, being lied about), and which sound like qualities that someone might want to adopt or nurture (answers: righteousness, mercy, purity of heart, peacemaking)?  Do they all have something in common?  (Possibly, all are situations in which the presence of God is needed and one might not recognize the need for God’s presence without them, which is why they are a source of blessing).  What do we learn about following Jesus from this?  Is the blessed life an active and willful life, or passive and receptive, or both?
  • These verses in Matthew are traditionally referred to as the “Beatitudes” (pronounced be-AT-i-tudes), from the Latin word “beo” which means to bless or make happy.  There is a story about a child in Sunday School who had never seen or heard the word before and pronounced it “BEAT-i-tudes” and immediately added how much sense that made because these are RULES that BEAT you.  It is easy to see how these sentences that are intended to be comforting could be turned around to become a checklist of things you have to do in order to earn blessings.  How can we avoid thinking about them like that?
  • How do we imagine that these blessings become real in the lives of people who experience the hardships Jesus describes?  Is it simply a direct line from God to the individual?  Or does the community have a role?  Do we who have experienced these things before or who are already equipped with the good news of the gospel and the means to relieve suffering serve on God’s behalf in bringing blessing to others?

Activity Suggestion

  • On a sheet of paper that you will fold up and carry with you this week as a reminder, list the names of actual people you know to whom you can relate in a new way according to this list of promises from Jesus.   Is there someone in your life for whom you only have contempt or conflict?  How can you be “poor in spirit” in your conversations with them?  Do you know someone who is consumed by a lifestyle of destructive behavior or shallow thrill?  Can your “hunger and thirst for righteousness” provide a suggestion of another way to live?  Is there someone in your life who needs mercy and forgiveness from you or others?  Can you show mercy and forgiveness to that person, knowing that it may not be received or returned?   Are you afraid of the consequences of representing the love of God in Christ Jesus to others in word and/or deed?  Recall that the promise of verses 11 and 12 are not just that you have a heavenly consolation for your courage and trouble, but that there may be others nearby who have desperately needed to hear and see the witness of someone who believes that God’s grace can really make a difference.   Who in your life could benefit from that witness? Let this list of people be your personal prayer list for the week and also your reminder that God’s promises for following Christ as described here in Matthew 5 are true!

Closing Prayer

Lord Jesus, giver of every blessing, we rejoice that the wisdom and promises you first shared with your disciples have come down to us and still remain true today.  Help us to come to you as your followers did in those days and to welcome your word with gladness, even as it calls us to repentance and service.   We lift before you for your blessings all those whose spirits call out for relief and righteousness, all who mourn the loss of loved ones, who feel disenfranchised and isolated, and whose fondest desire is that they could feel strong enough to show mercy and forgiveness in the face of persecution and hatred.  Give us along with all your people joy and gladness for the reward that is ours in your kingdom.

February 10, 2013–Transcendent Moment

Contributed by John Wertz, Blacksburg, VA


Warm-up Question

The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus famously said, “The only constant in life is change.”  Name three things in your life that have changed since the beginning of the school year?

Transcendent Moment

shutterstock_110592482editChances are that you or someone in your family was one of over 115 million people who watched the Super Bowl last weekend.  When the game was over, Joe Flacco was  named as the Most Valuable Player for the game.  Now to be sure, Flacco is still the same person he was before the game, but by shining brightly in the biggest game of the year, Flacco will now be seen in a different light by those around him.  People around the world will suddenly know his name.  Companies will ask him to endorse their products.  He’ll be lifted up by fans and celebrated as a hero in his community and eventually his team, or another team interested in his abilities, will probably pay him more money in his next contract.  Thanks to this one event on this one day his life will change.

Most of us will never play professional sports, but our lives often have transformational moments when our gifts are revealed to the world.  These moments may happen on a large public stage, like the Super Bowl.  These moments may happen in the quiet of a family room.  These moments may happen through a paper written for school.  We rarely know when these moments will occur, but when they happen, the people around us –our family, our friends, and our peers, begin to discover who we are and what we are capable of accomplishing.


Discussion Questions

  • Have you experienced transformational moment when you discovered something new about yourself or someone else?  How did you react?  How did the people around you react?
  • Can anyone in the group name the last five Super Bowl MVP’s?  What do you think makes some transformational moments lasting and others only temporary?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, February 10, 2013 (Transfiguration of Our Lord)

Exodus 34:29-35

2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2

Luke 9:28-36 [37-43]

(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 our Gospel reading today from Luke, we see Jesus undergo a powerful transformational moment of his own.  Jesus takes Peter, James and John with him to the top of a mountain to talk to and listen to God in prayer.  In Luke, we see Jesus praying at his baptism (3:21).  We see Jesus praying the night before he calls the apostles (6:12).  We see Jesus praying following the feeding of the five thousand (9:18) and during his final days, we will see him praying in the Garden of Gethsemane (22:41) and on the cross (23:34, 46).  For the disciples, seeing Jesus in prayer would have been a fairly normal part of their faith and life, but their experience on top of the mountain with Jesus was certainly unique.  While he was praying, his clothing became dazzling white; his face began to change, and Moses and Elijah appeared in their glory.  Just as Peter appears to be getting a handle on what is happening, a terrifying cloud moves over them and a voice from heaven says, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”  Within moments, the whole experience was over.  Jesus’ face and clothing returned to normal.  Moses, Elijah, and the cloud disappeared.  The voice faded away, but the there is no doubt that the disciples and Jesus were changed by this transformational moment.

In this time of prayer on top of a mountain, Jesus’ true nature is revealed by God’s presence and power.  For Jesus and the disciples, prayer was not an afterthought or something you only did at meals.  Prayer was an important part of a relationship with God and a place where they expected God to be present and active.  The dazzling clothing, the appearance of Moses and Elijah, and the booming voice from heaven during this time of prayer affirm Jesus’ mission and ministry and make it clear to the disciples that Jesus is more than just a teacher, miracle worker, and prophet.  Now certainly every time of prayer in scripture is not accompanied by a dramatic transformational event, but the story of the Transfiguration reminds us that through prayer we can experience God’s presence in our midst and we can discover more about who we are and who God is calling us to be.

Discussion Questions

  • Why do you think Jesus took Peter, James and John with him to pray?  How is praying with a group different than praying alone?  How do you think you would have reacted if you had been on the mountain top praying with Jesus?
  • The voice from heaven affirms that Jesus is God’s Son, just as it did at Jesus’ baptism, but the focus of the overall message changes.   At the Baptism of Jesus, the voice says,  “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”  At the Transfiguration, the voice says, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”  Why do you think the message changed?  What does this message at the Transfiguration mean for Jesus? for the disciples? for all of us?
  • Prayer is clearly a part of Jesus’ relationship with God.  How is prayer a part of your relationship with God?  What is one question you have about prayer?

Activity Suggestions

  • Try a one-word prayer.  Say a prayer by having everyone in the group say one word.  Pick someone to start and then have the person to their left add the next word.  For example, the first person might say, “Dear,” the second person might say, “God,” and the third person might say, “we”.  Have people continue to add words until you get a complete prayer thought.
  • If your congregation participated in the Super Bowl of Caring, find a creative way to share the story of how your donations will help fight hunger in your community.  If your congregation did not participate in the Souper Bowl of Caring, use their website: to learn about this exciting ministry.

Closing Prayer

Loving God, we give you thanks for sending Jesus to be a light in the world and a model for ministry.  Transform us by your presence with us and inspire us to be your hearts and hands and voices in the world.  Amen.

May 27, 2012–Who Will You Advocate For?

Contributed by Angie Larson, Clive, Iowa


Warm-up Question

When is it ok to use photoshop on a photo?

Who Will You Advocate For?

Fourteen year old, Julia Bluhm has begun a petition to ask Seventeen magazine, a magazine geared towards teenage women, to cut back in using Photoshop on their photos.  She started a petition on and has so far had over 70,000 people sign that petition. Bluhm believes that cutting back on the amount of photo alterations would benefit the young women who read and subscribe to the magazine.  Bluhm wrote, “The media tells us that ‘pretty’ girls are impossibly thin with perfect skin. Here’s what lots of girls don’t know. Those ‘pretty women’ that we see in magazines are fake. They’re often photoshopped, air-brushed, edited to look thinner, and to appear like they have perfect skin. A girl you see in a magazine probably looks a lot different in real life. That’s why I’m asking Seventeen magazine to commit to printing one unaltered — real — photo spread per month.”  Bluhm is advocating for thousands of girls who compare themselves to the photos in the magazines.

There is debate concerning  this advocacy program.  Some say that selling magazines is what it’s all about; it’s just business and putting Seventeen’s best look forward is what sells.  Others say that the unrealistic and unachievable perfection of  photo-shopped photos are partially to blame for eating disorders and low self –esteem.  At this time Seventeen has not issued a response.


Discussion Questions

  • If you had a zit on your face during the day of your yearbook photo, would you want it computer altered to make you look more flawless?
  • What do you think of Julia’s advocacy campaign?
  • Would you be willing to sign Julia’s petition or do you agree with the magazine’s perspective?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, May 27, 2012 (Day of Pentecost)

Acts 2:1-21

Romans 8:22-27

John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

(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 this part of John’s Gospel Jesus tells his friends that the Advocate will come.  By the “Advocate” he is referring to the third part of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.  As Christians we try to grasp an understanding of God the Father from Scripture.  We also know Jesus through the Gospel, but our understanding of the Holy Spirit can be confused.  The Holy Spirit is just as much at work as God the Father, or Jesus the Son.  However, the Spirit’s work is more mysterious.

When the disciples heard Jesus talking about the Holy Spirit as an advocate who will come when He is gone, they were confused.  They couldn’t understand what he was saying about his upcoming death, resurrection, and ascension. He also calls the disciples to testify to the truth about who Jesus is.  Jesus knows that he must leave in order for the Advocate to come.

The Advocate or Spirit will come to “convict the world about sin, righteousness, and judgment.”  At the same time it will “guide you into the truth.”  Both the good and the bad will be revealed.  The Holy Spirit is our advocate, it will guide us in areas that we need someone to help us to understand the true nature of the world.  The Holy Spirit will help us to see accurately, un-airbrushed, the reality of who Jesus was.

Discussion Questions

  •  How do you see the Holy Spirit’s movement in your own life?
  • Having read the Scripture text, what do you think was the disciples’ original reaction?
  • Who are some that do not know Jesus yet?  How can you share with them the truth?

Activity Suggestions

  •  Make a list of causes you think you can advocate for.  What world concerns do you think need to be pointed out as issues?  Choose one issue or cause. Brainstorm ways that you can witness and testify to others about what you understand to be the truth.
  • Create a mock trial situation.  On one side, have a “lawyer” explain and call witnesses about why Jesus is the Son of God.  On the other, have a group explain why he is not.  Put together your own trial and practice apologetics in order to learn how to better testify.  Then switch sides.

Closing Prayer

Dear Lord Jesus, thank you for blessing us with this time together.  Open our hearts to your Holy Spirit, your Advocate for us.  Help us to see your activity in our lives and in the lives of those around us.  Help us to know your love and care for us in our own unaltered state. Please use us Lord for your kingdom. Amen.

February 19, 2011–Transfiguration: Changed But Unchanged

Contributed by Eric Ullestad, West Des Moines, IA


Warm-up Question

How do you use social media like Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, etc.?

Transfiguration:  Changed But Unchanged

A little over one year has passed since protests in Tunisia marked the beginning of Arab Spring.  These demonstrations sparked similar outbursts in other cities in the Middle East and North Africa; across the region thousands spoke out against human rights violations and oppressive regimes.  Use of social media has been credited with increasing the effectiveness of these civil uprisings.  Government leaders in some countries attempted to shut down the Internet in the hopes of disabling communication between people.

Since the mid-2000s when “social media” became a buzz phrase, skeptics have wondered if these web sites have a useful purpose.  Sharing statuses (Facebook), hashtags (Twitter), locations (FourSquare), videos (YouTube), and pictures (Flickr) provide voyeuristic entertainment, but are criticized for being a big waste of time.  Over the past year, people in these Arab countries have demonstrated that social media provides the power to organize people around a cause in ways that were not possible in previous generations.

Discussion Questions

  • What do you know about the ongoing protests taking place in Middle East and North Africa?
  • How has the use social media changed the way you relate to people?


Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, February 19, 2012 (Transfiguration of Our Lord)

2 Kings 2:1-12

2 Corinthians 4:3-6

Mark 9:2-9

(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

Let it not be said that Jesus lacked a flair for the dramatic.  He had just finished a feeding frenzy (4,000 people – Mark 8:1-9), an optometry experiment (Mark 8:22-26), and a hard-core conversation with Peter about his own demise (Mark 8:27-38).  After all that, he goes for a hike with three of his closest friends – James, John, and the aforementioned Peter.  One might think that this was his chance to take a break from it all.  Instead, he pulls off one of the most paranormal activities of his life: the transfiguration.  Not only did his appearance change, but two of the most prominent leaders of God’s people – Moses and Elijah – show up unannounced.  It’s easy to understand if the disciples didn’t quite know what to do.

We know now what the disciples may not have at the time: the man who ascended the mountain with them was the same man with the dazzling white clothes.  Though aspects of Jesus’ physical form were altered, he was the same person who had been with them all along.  After coming down from the mountain, Jesus continued his inevitable march to the cross by teaching, healing, performing miracles, and proclaiming the Kingdom of God.  The Mount of Transfiguration simultaneously left Jesus changed and unchanged.

In a similar way protests, demonstrations, and acts of civil disobedience are not new.  Those  events have occurred for millennia.  However, the ways in which people are brought together have changed because of advances in technology.  Not only are these countries being transfigured, but various forms of social media have been transfigured to become powerful agents of change across the world.

Christians have a history of embracing this kind of simultaneity.  We are people that are broken and healed; enslaved and free; lost and found; sinner and saint.  The Transfiguration of Jesus gives us hope that in the midst of historic changes in government, climate, and digital technology, the person of Jesus and his unfailing love for the world remain unchanged.

Discussion Questions

  • What images of the Transfiguration jump out at you?
  • How would you have responded if you were one of the disciples?
  • Why do you think Jesus instructed the disciples to not tell

Activity Suggestions

Think of ways your congregation can use social media to spread the Gospel message.  Consider asking students to “donate their status” each week to letting people in their social circles about what’s going on in the congregation.  Perhaps students could make suggestions of how to improve the church web site or Facebook page.  Could your congregation incorporate mass text messages to keep its members connected to Bible verses, church ministries, or prayer requests throughout the week?  Discuss these (and other) ideas and take steps toward implementing your plans in the days ahead.

Closing Prayer

God, thank you for being with us through the uncertainties of our life.  Help us to know that your love for us never changes.  Amen.


December 4, 2011–Why Aren’t We Gasping (or Laughing)?

Contributed by Paul Henrickson, Salem, VA

[Editor’s note:  This week’s Faith Lens is in a slightly different format than usual, but you will find the same opportunities for reflection and discussion]


Warm-up Question

What event has most impacted your life?

Why Aren’t We Gasping (or Laughing)?

I am writing this on November 22, 2011.  Like everyone over the age of 54, I remember exactly where I was at 1:30 pm 48 years ago.  The assassination of President Kennedy is etched in my memory.  When I watch this YouTube video, I still gasp at the harsh reality.

What makes you gasp today?  What event, idea, or proposal takes your breath away?  I am not a social-psychologist, but I have a hunch that, because we have instant access to so many events, there are fewer things that truly amaze us.  We may be entertained or even embarrassed, but are we left breathless with the surprise of real life?

Mark 1:1 is an incomplete sentence that simply blurts out a truth that is breathlessly remarkable: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God…”  Listen!  Good News, Jesus, the Christ, Son of God; these words are like a prelude that we need a few moments to digest.

What might come next?  Are we prepared for an Old Testament reference, a “Wilderness Man” preaching a baptism of repentance, a promise of one even more powerful yet to come?  Compare this story with the accounts in Matthew and Luke and you will find that Mark gives the polite version of events.  In Mark there is no “brood of vipers,” no clearing of the threshing floor; no burning of chaff with unquenchable fire.  It is straight forward proclamation of the Good News.  Are you gasping yet?  Do we need disastrous consequences or is the simple declaration of Mark sufficient.

Below are 6 “P” words to help you work through this text.  Once you are finished, try telling the story to another person in your group with amazed excitement.

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, December 4, 2011 (Second Sunday of Advent)

Isaiah 40:1-11

2 Peter 3:8-15a

Mark 1:1-8

(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 beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

+ begin a conversation with these words of verse 1, what would you say next?


2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight” ’,

+ why is the voice crying in the wilderness?

+ what wilderness of the spirit do you know?

4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

+ Again, Baptism takes place in the wilderness.  Why?


5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

+ Can you imagine “all” the people of a city showing up for baptism?

+ What people might show up today?


6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.

+ John is truly a “Wilderness Man.”  Why is that important?


7He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’

+ How would you share with another person, the power of your baptism?

Activity Suggestions

Role Play the situation in the text.  Assign persons to be John, some hearers, persons who are offended by him–and a news crew covering the event.  Have the crew interview folks to get their reaction.  Pay special attention to what would be “newsworthy.”  What would excite people and get them talking?

Closing Prayer

God of Grace and Glory, forgive us when we are not amazed at the in-breaking of your kingdom; forgives us when we are complacent with the sacred presence of your Son.  Strengthen our faith so that we may receive Him with Joy and Thanksgiving.  Amen