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January 6, 2013–Keeping the Faith On the Journey

Contributed by Jen Krausz, Bethlehem, PA


Warm-up Question

Do you think a Christian counselor can successfully counsel someone of another faith? Why or why not?

Keeping the Faith On the Journey

Bentley, a British automaker, fired its Christian chaplain of ten years just days before Christmas because they felt he might make workers of other faiths uncomfortable. Reverend Francis Cooke had visited the Crewe, Chester factory once a week for ten years before he was fired.

None of the workers ever complained about Cooke and, in fact, have started a petition to bring him back to the factory. Retired employee John Austin, 67, said, “He was there for a lot of people. I know one individual who was feeling suicidal, but Francis turned him around. He was a very important man at the factory.”

Cooke offered counseling services to workers of all faiths, not just Christians. He was employed by Bentley; it was his only paid work. “My position is to help people and not just those who are Christians,” Cooke said in an interview. “’It is not just about offering religious services. I provide counseling to workers who have stresses at home such as broken marriages. I would spend a few minutes with each person which would be enough to help them feel better.”

“Everyone is really angry about it,” one worker said to a British newspaper. “To do this just before Christmas is shocking.”

A Bentley spokesperson stated, “We have a wide range of faiths and want to take a multi-faith outlook. It would be very difficult to have somebody from each faith.”


Discussion Questions

  • Do you think it was right for Bentley to fire Rev. Cooke? Why or why not?
  • Can you think of a better way to resolve the problem while allowing Rev. Cooke to keep his job?
  • How should a chaplain treat someone of a different faith?
  • Should Bentley reinstate Rev. Cooke if most or all of their employees want him back?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, January 6, 2013 (Epiphany of our Lord)

Isaiah 60:1-6

Ephesians 3:1-12

Matthew 2:1-12

(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

If you have grown up attending church, you probably take the story of Jesus’ birth for granted. You are very familiar with the journey to Bethlehem, the birth in a manger, the shepherds being notified by angels, and the wise men coming to give expensive gifts to the baby. In reality many improbable events surround the birth of Jesus. The wise men of this part of the gospel account came from nations that persecuted the Jews for centuries, yet they had enough faith in the star they saw to follow it for at least a year. They were obviously familiar with the Old Testament prophecies about Jesus, even though they did not belong to the same culture or belief system.

Why did they want to see the baby king? A commentary suggests that it was because they saw his birth as the beginning of a new age of peace between their nations and the Israelites.  The wise men wanted to give gifts to the new king, but they accidentally let Herod know about the birth of one who (he thought) could put him out of a job. Understandably, Herod was threatened.

In spite of the threat their questions created for baby Jesus, the Wise Men were also the ones through whom God worked to save Jesus from that threat. Once they offered their gifts and worship, they disobeyed orders and avoided Herod so they wouldn’t have to tell him where they had found their king.

This account shows that God can work in the lives of people with any amount of faith and understanding. Indeed, we may have very little understanding of God’s purposes, but God uses those who are willing to follow to accomplish those purposes.

May you look back on the story of your life and find that God has used you mightily in accomplishing great things in the world, even though you might not have understood it fully at the time.

Discussion Questions

  •  So much violence is the result of misunderstandings between people. What misunderstandings led to Herod wanting to kill the baby Jesus?
  • Those in charge of the Bentley factory may have something in common with Herod in that they feel threatened by the presence Christ in their factory (working through Rev. Cooke). How is that a misunderstanding? Is there any way to resolve such a misunderstanding? If so, how?
  • Can you look back and see a time when God worked in your life or in someone else’s? How does that make you feel to realize it now? How did it feel when you were going through it?
  • Do you think it’s better to keep God out of workplaces and schools? Why or why not? Is that really even possible; what do people mean when they talk about “keeping God out of schools…or workplaces”?
  •  One reader of a news article about Rev. Cooke’s firing stated that in England, “multi-faith outlook usually means no Christians.” Why do you think people would omit Christianity, the faith with the largest amount of followers?

Activity Suggestions

Write a brief letter to the editor stating your opinion about Rev. Cooke’s firing. Send or email it to your local newspaper or to a British newspaper that has covered the story (google can give some of those).

Closing Prayer

Lord God, thank you for being a God who enters our lives personally, first through Jesus, and even now through the Holy Spirit. Help us to understand other faiths well enough to bridge chasms, continuing to show your love in all situations. And show us the ways in which you are working in our lives every day. We praise you and thank you in Jesus’ name, Amen.

January 1, 2012–Speaking Up

Contributed by Seth Moland-Kovash, All Saints Lutheran Church, Palatine, IL



Warm-up Question

Do you know why your parents chose the name that you have?

Speaking Up

The New Year is a time when we get inundated with lists. You’ve probably seen lots of them: best/worst dressed of 2011; the most influential people of 2011; the best books/movies/sons of 2011. You can even find lists where experts predict the most influential people or best books of 2012. Lists are a way we look back and remember what has happened in the past year. While the turning of one calendar year to another may seem arbitrary, it’s good to take stock and look back.

One of the lists you’ll often find is a list of the most popular baby names for any given year. According to ( the most popular boys’ name of 2011 was Aiden and the most popular girls name was Sophia. This website and others also have charts available where you can track name choices and popularity over time. You can see spikes where children were named after fictional characters, celebrities, or world leaders. The names we choose can be an interesting window into the lives we live.


Discussion Questions

  •  Do you know what your name means?
  • If you could choose, would you want a different name? Would you choose one that is more popular (common) or less popular?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, January 1, 2012 (Name of Jesus)

Numbers 6:22-27

Galatians 4:4-7

Luke 2:15-21

(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

Today is the Christian festival of the Name of Jesus. We celebrate the name that Jesus was given. This date is set because it is the 8th day after Christmas, the date of birth, which is when Jewish male babies are traditionally circumcised. At times, there is a naming ritual that goes along with this. Of course, we don’t know historically whether Mary and Joseph did things in exactly that way for their baby. You may recall, they had lots of visitors and fleeing to Egypt to take care of.  But it is good to mark this day anyway.

So today we remember the name of Jesus, and we remember why it was given to this particular baby. We read again the story of the angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary before Jesus was born. We remember that this name was chosen not by Mary or Joseph but by God: “And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.” Jesus means “God rescues.” Knowing what we know about the rest of Jesus’ life, that’s a good name for this baby, isn’t it?

Discussion Questions

  •  How and why does Jesus’ name matter to you? Would anything be different about the gospel story if he was named Bob or Joe or Sam? What about Helen or Sophia?
  • Why do we often end prayers “In the name of Jesus, we pray…” What significance does the name have?

Activity Suggestions

Look up the meaning of your name. Ask friends whether they think the meaning fits you or not.

Closing Prayer

Good and gracious God, we thank you for sending Jesus to rescue the entire world. We thank you for his faithful parents, Mary and Joseph. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

December 18, 2011–Messed Up Message?

Contributed by Scott Moore, Erfurt, Germany

Warm-up Question

When have you misunderstood someone to the point where it was either funny or embarrassing?

Messed Up Message?

On a cell phone anywhere, U.S.A.— As cell phone technology improves and the phones themselves getting “smarter” with every new version, one thing seems to be struggling more than in the past: text messaging. Newer auto correct features now allow the phone to decide how the word should be finished based on the first few letters and based on entries from previous text messages. The advent of such smart technology and the “failtexts” it brings with it is causing everything from a good chuckle to more serious relationship crises. Without the advantage of someone’s voice to help interpret the meaning of text messages, it seems that communication is more challenging now than ever. “Well, you need a sense of humor, I guess,” said one seventeen-year old. Another user mused, “I don’t use the feature. I don’t want the phone messing up my messages. It’s crazy.”

Needless to say, not only do the texters themselves have to pay closer attention to what they write before they hit “send”, but the readers have to try to be open and forgiving of miscommunications. But only if they can tell it’s a fail message.

Discussion Questions

  • Survey: (please raise your hand) Do you use your text function throughout the day 5 times or less?…..6-10?…..11-25?…..26-50?…..More than 50?   What does that number say about the you, if anything?
  •  What are the advantages of texting over other forms of communicating?  What are the disadvantages?
  • When have you ever missed out on something “important” to you where you were because you were texting and not able to pay attention?
  • When has texting helped you be more present in someone’s life?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, December 18, 2011 (Fourth Sunday of Advent

2 Samuel 7:1-11

Romans 16:25-27

Luke 1:26-38
(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

An intimidating angel comes out of nowhere with a message for a woman on the verge of adulthood. “God really likes you. God thinks you’re great.” That’s what it means to find favor with God. Somehow this young person got on God’s radar screen. Or rather, God simply put her on the radar screen. God chose her. God’s love makes her special. But somehow she didn’t know it yet. Here she was going about her business of getting ready to settle down with a nice guy from her home-town and maybe start a family and make a go at this thing called life. Now this angel—which comes from the Greek word for bringer of news or messenger—is throwing a wrench into all their plans. A son? How? We’re not trying to have kids yet. Pregnant you say? By the Holy Spirit? Uh huh.

This is a strange beginning to a strange and overwhelming conversation with an angel of the Lord. Mary started out “perplexed”, out of sorts. As the story gets more surreal, she seems to get calmer. It would be easy to think that the average person would just have shut down after that kind of communication at the start. We might even respond with a polite, “Well, thanks for stopping by, here’s the door.” But that’s not what happens here. Before she finds out she will bear Jesus, the Son of the Most High God, Mary has been prepared through God’s loving favor.  God’s loving favor for her precedes her being made ready for the eternal Word of God, Jesus.

Mary is the prototypical (the first example) Christian. She is the first one to be prepared to bear Christ. In fact, she is called that in the Orthodox tradition—theotokos, which means “God bearer”. It is a special term for Mary as the one who bore God, in this case Jesus the Christ. But just as Mary was loved into readiness, we too are loved first by God and drawn into the message of good news of Jesus. For some that comes later in life when we are consciously aware of the message, for others that happens very early on, first in the waters of baptism, with learning about the message of Christ afterwards.

Mary seems a little confused about the message Gabriel passes on to her from God. But Gabriel is able to clear things up. Mary gets it. Not only does she understand clearly what the message actually is but she also accepts it in faith. She offers herself to be an instrument of God’s will, even though this may have meant shame and ridicule among family, friends, and neighbors. The clarity of the messenger and the message reach someone who is open for God’s word. God’s love, Mary’s response. This is certainly something to rejoice about. And, in the next story (Luke 1:39-56), that is exactly what Mary does—sings a song of praise to God for loving her and choosing her to work great things in the world.

Discussion Questions

  • When have you been perplexed by a message someone passed on to you?
  • When has someone dear to you entrusted you with an important task?
  • When have you been willing to change something about your life in order to do something good for others?
  • What kind of message from God would you find “perplexing?”
  • If the word angel simply means ‘messenger’ in Greek (the language of the New Testament), what do you think angels look like?

Activity Suggestions

Playing Gabriel:

Participants create messages (either on paper, or spoken, or sent as text messages) of God’s love and favor and speak them or hand them out to members of the congregation, strangers, family or friends. Some example messages: (Feel free to create your own in the same style but your own words!)

“Greetings, Child of God. You are special. God loves you and wants to do great things with you.”

“Hey there! You know what? God thinks you’re alright. Keep it up. God has big plans for you.”

“Hi, friend. You may not know this but God is with you. All the time. And God wants you to pass that message on.”

“God wants you to know something. Ready? You are so loved! And, you are important.”

Closing Prayer

O God who shows favor to the young, make your love and favor known to us. Empower us to turn and open our hearts and minds to you. Guide us to be faithful servants, like your servant Mary. Let us bear Christ in the world. We ask this in the name of the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

December 11, 2011–We Will Live

Contributed by Jay Gamelin, Pilgrim Lutheran Church, Lexington, SC

Warm-up Question

What do you hope to do with the rest of your day today?  What are you hoping to get or give for Christmas this year?  Do you already have some New Year’s resolutions planned for 2012?  What might those be?

We Will Live

The best part of Christmas isn’t the day itself but the preparation for December 25.  A part of the Christmas season is seeing the decorations go up in the mall and on your neighbor’s gutters.  It is putting together the schedule of Christmas parties and worship services.  Preparing for Christmas means it is time to pull out the manger scene and the artificial tree and grumble about the time it takes to set up.

But of all the preparations perhaps the most fun is the creation of the Christmas wish list.  Once a year young folks (and some older ones as well) get a chance to dream about what may land beneath that tree and hope for the best.  It is an art of dreaming and then ordering the list in such a way that what you really, really want comes out on top.  In the past they may have dreamed of sugar plums.  Today it is Xbox games.

For some adults the list of hoped-for gifts can be expensive and, worse, what can be purchased may never be used.  In this article on ( a list of the most expensive gifts you never use includes items such as swimming pools and outdoor grills.

When we plan what we want for Christmas, we are often thinking of the life we will have when we have this “thing”.  We imagine spending time by the pool or cooking off the grill or treating ourselves to an afternoon espresso.  When push comes to shove, we may end up getting what we want, but discover the life that comes with it is not exactly what we thought it would be.

Discussion Questions

  • What are you hoping for Christmas this year?  What do you think “life” will become when you have what you want?
  • Think about a gift you want this Christmas.  What does this gift say about you?  What does it say about what is important about you?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, December  11, 2011 (Third Sunday of Advent)

Isaiah 61:1-4

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

John 1:6-8, 19-28

(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 was a lot of hope surrounding John.  Clearly he was leading quite a revival movement among the people of Israel.  In John they heard words that reminded them of a greater story.  They thought of Elijah, a prophet who would usher in the messiah.  They wondered if he were a prophet. They had not heard a prophet in more than 400 years!  They even hoped that perhaps he might be the messiah.

John denied it all.  When asked who he was John pointed, not to his own life and witness, but to the one who would come after him.  John pointed to the one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit’s fire.  He knew what he wanted was not for him but for those who came after him.

Perhaps John could have been a greater prophet and more of his words would be remembered. John was careful to point people to a bigger, better gift to come.  People may have thought that what they wanted was John, but John knew the better gift was coming.  It would be a gift that would truly change the world.

Like the people who came to see John we often think we know what we want.  We dream and hope for the life we want. We  settle for the lesser and do not realize the greater thing that is beyond the gift we want.  We want a pool but even more we want the community that gathers around the cool relief on a hot day.  We may want the wine cellar but what we really want are the people who gather for a glass and conversation.  We think we want an exercise machine but our real desire is to feel good, feel beautiful, and to be appreciated.  The thing is often not the thing we want!  We long for something beyond “stuff,” something much more beautiful.

As you prepare for the season be sure to look beyond the garland and tinsel, the music and the sweets, and the gifts and cards.  Instead, see that which is coming.  A true gift is on its way.

Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever gotten a gift you really wanted but then were disappointed?  How were you let down?
  • Have you ever been in a situation that felt rotten at the time but came out the other side in a better place? Share this time.

Activity Suggestions

All I want for Christmas. Make a Christmas Wish list, but instead of the usual “things” make a list of intangibles that you are hoping for this season.  For instance you may want a Christmas where the family all gets along or a Christmas that is not so hectic.  Perhaps you want a Christmas where you see good friends you have not seen in awhile.  Put this list down.  When you are done, what are steps you can take to help “get” the things on this list?


+    What are you hoping for on this list?

+    What does this list say about what you value?  What are your hopes and dreams beyond stuff?

Closing Prayer

Immanuel, you have sent your servant John to point us to you.  While we are thankful for John, it is not John we hope for but you, God-with-us.  Help us to desire the things this season that you desire.  Give us what we need to see you clearly.  All this in your name.  AMEN.


December 15-21, 2010–What’s a Gift?

Contributed by Paul Baglyos, St. Paul, MN

Warm-up Question

When is a gift not really a gift?

What’s a Gift?

Recently, a woman addressed the following question and comments to an advice column: “How can I get my significant other to be fair to my kids at Christmas? He always makes sure his kid gets really nice stuff and then he will get something really expensive for himself. But my kids and me? For example, last year he got his 10-year-old daughter an iPod Touch that cost $300, but my kids got $50 gift certificates. Then he bought something for his guitar that costs over $400, and I got nothing. This really bothers me.”

Implicit in the woman’s question and comments is the popular sense that the value of a gift is determined by its monetary cost and that gift-giving should exemplify fairness and equity.  In that regard, gifts and gift-giving lose all character of grace and instead become  matters of obligation.

Discussion Questions

  • Imagine the larger story behind the woman’s question and comments.  What do you suppose the man might say in response to the woman?  What do you suppose his daughter and her kids might say to each other, or about each other, after they have opened their gifts at Christmas?
  • Is the man being selfish and cheap?  Is the woman being too demanding?
  • The response to the woman published in the advice column included this opinion: “We don’t think this guy sounds like significant other material.”  Do you agree with that opinion?  Why, or why not?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, December 19, 2010 (Fourth Sunday of Advent)

Isaiah 7:10-16

Romans 1:1-7

Matthew 1:18-25

(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

Quite a lot was expected of Joseph.  He was told to assume responsibility for his pregnant wife-to-be, and for the unborn child conceived in her womb, even though the child was not his own.  Joseph’s plan “to dismiss [Mary] quietly” was reasonable and fair; after all, her pregnancy might be regarded as a breach of pre-marital trust between them, releasing him from all further obligations.  The angel’s instruction to Joseph, however, required him to surrender all reasonable claims to fairness and to act with a generosity that exceeded obligation.

God, too, acts with a generosity that exceeds obligation.  God’s Christmas gift to the world, the gift of Jesus the Messiah, demonstrates sheer grace on the part of God.  The gift is neither owed nor deserved; it cannot be demanded and it cannot be priced.  God’s generosity is described in this well-known verse from the Gospel according to John: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Discussion Questions

  • What is the difference between grace and obligation?
  • Think about a time you received a gift you did not deserve–or felt coerced into giving a gift by the demands or expectations of others?    How does the contrast between grace and obligation change the character of “gift”?
  • Why does it seem easier to understand obligation than to understand grace?
  • How do Christians understand life in relation to God’s grace?  How do Christians demonstrate grace in relation to others?
  • In what ways might the church become more fully a community a grace in the world?

Activity Suggestions

  • Imagine that you are Joseph; write a brief letter to an advice column about your situation in relation to Mary and the unborn child she carries.  Now imagine you are an advice columnist responding to Joseph; write a brief reply to his letter.
  • Think of a gift that your church group might give in celebration of Christmas.  What is the gift, and to whom will you give it?  Make plans to do so.

Closing Prayer

O come, O come, Emmanuel.  Be with us, God, in all our days and all our ways, that we might be with you now and forever.  Amen