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Faith Lens

May 20-27, 2009 – GM closes 1,100 dealerships

Contributed by Jay Gamelin
Pastor of Jacob’s Porch, Lutheran Campus Ministry to The Ohio State University

Warm-up Question: Share a time when something happened that was just not fair, that you had no control over. For instance, a car wreck, getting blamed for something you didn’t do, etc.

It seems all we hear about is news about the economy these days. When we hear all the news, we hope that somehow the biggest fallout will pass us by. We hope we will keep our jobs as long as we keep working hard, keep our heads down, and hang on. But for 1,100 Jeep, Dodge, Chrysler dealerships, suddenly they are no longer hanging on but have become a part of the growing statistic of pink-slipped people.

After filing for bankruptcy, Chrysler has been waiting for the results of the government’s plan to help the automaker recover. The decisions are not Chrysler’s, they can only wait and see what recommendations come through. The government put into place one recommendation asking for 1,100 dealerships to close by the end of the month. With the potential of 40,000 jobs lost, many people are in fear for their financial lives. The news comes in the mail this week via letter to the dealerships. Perhaps a mail carrier has never been watched more closely at a Chrysler dealership than on May 15.

Many men and women around the country are also watching their mailboxes, in-boxes, e-mail, and inter-office memos closely waiting to see if they are the next people cut in the continued need to trim budgets in a weakening economy. Tension runs high in many places as people worry, “will I be the next to receive the luck, or perhaps bad luck, of the draw?”

Discussion Questions

  • Do you know anyone who has lost a job or had to accept a cut in salary, pay, or work hours because of the economy? How are they dealing with the change?
  • What if this situation happened to you? How would you feel? Would you be angry? Frustrated? Relieved? What sort of changes do you think you or your family would need to make to cope?
  • Do you believe in luck? Why or why not?
  • Why do you think good things keep happening to some people and bad to others? Is there a greater design to it that some are given blessings and others are not — on purpose?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, May 24, 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.)

Gospel Reflection

Reading the Gospel lesson again, I am reminded that I have always felt bad for Barsabbas. I mean seriously, the poor guy is obviously someone who has followed Jesus for a long time if he is to be considered a choice to be apostle. He is named “Son of the Sabbath” which is a really cool name, and here he is passed over because he drew the short straw. Man, that just stinks for him. Now he is not an apostle simply because of luck?

Perhaps, but also perhaps the world spins on its own and God chooses moments to intersect the kingdom of heaven with the kingdom of earth in actions like healings, tremendous coincidences, visions, and prophecy, to name a few. We call them miracles because, well, they do not happen all the time, right? It seems that God does intervene sometimes, but not in others. How then does God choose when and how? Why are some healed and some not? Why do good things happen to some and others, well, seem to “draw the short straw”? What happens? Is it luck, a choice, or God’s action?

There is no perfect answer to this question, but we can take reassurance in one interesting thought: for every person healed or raised from the dead or freed from slavery, all of them still suffered the ultimate end, death. Yes, we glimpsed the kingdom when Lazarus was raised from the dead, but he eventually died anyway. Yes, Jairus’ daughter was raised from the dead and all wondered and praised God, but she died eventually too. I have known friends who have recovered from cancer and yet in their old age they still moved on into death. It seems that no matter what little thing befalls us in this life, the good and the ill, in the end we all have our ticket punched and none of us live forever. (Just ask Voldemort.)

How is this good news?

These glimpses of the kingdom, these tiny, infrequent moments, are not rewards for people who have been good or bad, they are signposts for what God wants to do in total. We can see that if God wants to raise one of these from the dead, this is a sign that God can do this for all of us. Ultimately we know this through Jesus who was raised from the dead so that while we know death we will not have fear. We are all blessed to receive the miracle of Jesus’ grace. For all that luck or blessing or miracle or curse or whatever we may call it on this side, in the end we are all victorious. We are all blessed. We are all given the gift of new life.

I am not sure I believe in luck. I am not even sure that God played a hand in picking Matthias over Barsabbas. Maybe it just was, for good or bad. Or maybe this was the hand of God in this small instance, a miracle, picking the right one for the job. I just don’t know. Instead, rather than seeing the small picture, I choose to see the big picture. Remember that we are all chosen, straws or not, to be God’s children. This isn’t luck. It’s a blessing.

 Or was it luck? It seems that the text wants us to consider that God had a hand in how this drama unfolded, that the true apostle would be picked by divine providence and the right one would become the apostle. But does God work this way? Is God really the one pulling all the little strings of every moment of every action?

Discussion Questions

  • How do you think it would have felt to be Barsabbas? What do you think you would have done? Been mad and left? Stuck around? Accepted the decision? Been bitter?
  • The good and the bad that happen to you… do you think they all come from God?Do you tend to call good things luck and bad things God — or vice versa? Why?
  • Is God is at work in every little thing? Why or why not? Do you think God works to bless some people in special ways? Do you think God tries to challenge, maybe you’d even say curse, others?
  • What do you think when you ask God for an A on a test, or a good job evaluation, or a faster solution to a problem and it doesn’t happen? Who do you blame? God? Do you think it’s life, luck, blessing, or curse?
  • What do we do when we pray for healing for someone and it doesn’t happen? Is this God? Life, luck, blessing, or curse? Does healing occur sometimes in a way that we don’t think of or ask for? How?


  • “We must believe in luck. For how else can we explain the success of those we don’t like?”  Jean Cocteau (1889-1963)
  • “It is bad luck to be superstitious.”  Andrew W. Mathis
  • “Luck favors the prepared, darling.”  Edna Mode in The Incredibles
  • “I have a lot of luck, it’s just not always good luck.”  Carter Terry
  • “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”  Seneca, Roman dramatist
  • “Shallow [people] believe in luck, believe in circumstances. Real [people] believe in cause and effect.”(ed. “men”)  Ralph Waldo Emerson

Activity Suggestion

Lucky Straw

This is a wishing game. It is a simple test, for good or ill. Everyone think of a hope for the coming week, a wish, so to speak. They can be as simple (“I want to be really happy”) or as complex (“I want to grow wings and shoot fireballs from my eyes”) as they wish, but it has to come true this week.

Give people a chance to consider their hope, then write it down on a slip of paper. Give everyone a few minutes to look at the slip of paper, concentrating really hard, REALLY wanting it to happen. Now throw all the slips of paper into a hat or container. Mix them all up telling them that whatever they draw out will come true. Have each person pull one out and read it out loud.


  • Do you think it is going to happen? Why or why not?
  • Is this a trustworthy process? Why or why not?
  • Come back the following week and discuss whether the wish came true. Why do you think it did or didn’t?
  • Do you think God or luck played a hand in this?

Closing Prayer

Holy God, for all the good and bad that comes in the world, I know that no matter what, you are our Father, and of you we will have hope that we will rest eternally in you. Thank you for whatever blessings we have been given, forgive us for ascribing good or ill to you that is not yours, and give us confidence to follow you, for good or ill. Amen.

May 6-13, 2009 – A tribute to players snubbed by the NFL draft

Contributed by Matthew R. Nelson
Walla Walla, WA

Warm-up Question: Read John 15:3. What does it mean (for you/for us) to be cleansed by the words of Christ?

Not everyone who is chosen in the annual NFL draft will secure a spot on the roster of the team that chose them. For some that were not picked, the prospects of eventually making an NFL team are minimal at best.

There are always some oddities in the 256 pick process called Draft Day. This year, the quarterback from Kent State was picked to be a potential receiver by the Patriots. The Cardinals used pick #131 to make Greg Toler the first student athlete ever chosen from St. Paul’s (VA), a Division II school. Also selected from Division II were Abilene Christian teammates Johnny Knox and Bernard Scott, who were taken at #140 by the Bears and #209 by the Bengals, respectively. The three players from Division II schools outnumbered draft picks from nine major collegiate institutions and equaled those from four others.

Other surprises included Demetrius Byrd, chosen by the San Diego Chargers with their last pick in the seventh round. He remains hospitalized with serious injuries resulting from a car accident; injuries that might even prevent him from playing again. The Broncos in the 2nd round picked North Carolina tight end Richard Quinn, even though he only had 12 catches in two years with the school. And one of the pre-draft favorites of some, Purdue quarterback Curtis Painter, was picked by the Colts in the sixth round, even though he lost his starting job temporarily in 2008.

As always, some players were picked higher in the draft than some expected, some were picked lower, and some players who were expecting to be drafted were not. The person making the pick in the draft decides the value of a player and his potential. In spite of very meticulous research and a clear set of needs that teams hope to fill with draft picks, some players will exceed expectations and many will never live up to them.

Discussion Questions

  • The New Student Bible (NRSV) notes that the same Greek root for ‘cleansed’ refers also to pruning, (vs. 3). What types of things does God prune from you emotionally or behaviorally in order that you might abide in Christ?
  • Read John 14:30-31. Why do you think Jesus moved from the privacy of speaking with his disciples to a more public forum? Walking or riding would surely attract more people, and the events that followed lead directly to the crucifixion.
  • What questions would you have for Christ if you were in the disciple’s shoes on that day?
  • Before (John 14:28) and after (John 16:5) the lesson today, Jesus speaks of departing or leaving the disciples to continue in ministry and mission. Do you think the disciples felt empowered or abandoned as Jesus spoke to them?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, May 10, 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

Jesus had already foretold of his betrayal and of Peter’s denial. Now he is speaking of departing, of leaving them to continue in his mission. Questions must have been racing through their minds. Understanding this, Christ simply and calmly says, “You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you.” (John 15:3)

That’s it! The essence of Jesus’ message to his disciples and to us is that amidst all of our concern, amidst all of our doubt, and even amidst any shortcomings that we might have, we have been chosen and should begin our mission and calling immediately, fully cleansed and prepared. 

Christ’s example in life, and his the sacrifice on the cross have grafted us into the living vine, and the vine grower’s field. Now, with the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit, the advocate, each of us will experience the blessing of being a blessing as our gifts and talents are used to glorify God in this world.

The NFL draft is an interesting process full of hope and anticipation for hundreds of collegiate athletes who hope to continue their football careers. A football career would mean a lifestyle far from the ordinary. Even with a college degree to fall back on, life without football means a future uncertain, and a plunge into a different kind of competitive job market. Football is their skill, and football is their desire.

Being chosen in the draft, however, is not the end accomplishment of hard work. It is the beginning of a new relationship with a team that will take all of your past experiences and skills, and mold them to better their own mission, to win a Super Bowl. Through continued work and practice, players are stripped of poor habits and cleansed in their discipline to perform on the field. Coaches and trainers teach, and then lead gently and not so gently from the sidelines during each game.

Jesus chose his original disciples as he began his adult public ministry. He chose ordinary people, from fishermen to tax collectors. These ordinary people witnessed and experienced some extraordinary things as they walked with Jesus. They bonded with their teacher, and he bonded with them. Their sense of privilege in being chosen by Jesus and their sense of belonging must have been tremendous, right up until our lesson today.

Discussion Questions 

  • What are the gifts or skills you believe that God has given you in order that you might glorify his name?
  • Have you experienced the joy or rejection of being chosen or not chosen to participate in an activity or sport? Answers might range from school and neighborhood games to more serious auditions for music, plays, and team sports. Share something positive about that experience. Was it positive at the time, or do you look back at it more positively now? Why? 
  • Being trained and then left to do something is a part of all work experiences. Describe a situation or time when you thought you weren’t ready for the task at hand? How did you feel? What did you do? How did you work through the situation? Did you pray about it and ask God for help? What did you ask for?
  • Sometimes being a Christian singles you out for criticism, making us just a little different than many of our friends. Jesus tells his disciples in John 15:27 that in spite of the world and of persecution of any kind, that we are to testify on his behalf because we have been with him from the beginning. How do you feel about that? Why?

Activity Suggestions

  • Sing “His Banner Over Me is Love.” One version with chords is available at take a note pad to worship. Without writing names, look at other members of the congregation and write down what you think their gifts and talents are. Post the list in the Narthex or in the church bulletin or newsletter. Title it “Gifts we have that glorify God.”  
  • Sometimes we overlook or undervalue our own gifts, (question #1 above). Write each group member’s name on a piece of paper. By their name, write one gift or talent you think they have. Give them to your group leader, who can write the gifts and talents on the chalkboard or dry erase board, without names. This gives everyone the opportunity to say something positive about others, but doesn’t single anyone out. You can lead the activity verbally if you feel comfortable doing so.

Closing Prayer

Lord we praise your name and thank you for first choosing us. Send now the Holy Spirit, the advocate, that we might know your continued presence and work to glorify your name. Amen.