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August 4-10, 2010–Blow Out, Blow Up…Have No Fear

Contributed by David Delaney,  Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries, Virginia Synod, Salem, VA

Warm-up Question

Think of the most unexpected thing that has ever happened to you.  It could be anything:  a good surprise, a horrible tragedy, school suddenly canceled, a public disaster, a family event – anything.  Were you ready for it when it happened?

Blow Out, Blow Up…Have No Fear

Spring and Summer 2010 have been dominated by one news story more than any other:  the British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  It began in April, when a BP oil rig caught fire and collapsed, destroying the pipe that led from the rig on the surface of the water down 5,000 feet to the opening on the sea floor. It produced such a visible and disastrous effect on the environment that it was still a daily headline near the end of July, even when the leak was successfully capped. 

Public accusations, calls for justice, and pleas for help stand alongside a  host of “should haves”– the United States government should have exercised more regulation, British Petroleum should have been more careful, the oil industry should have been less greedy, solutions should have been thought of sooner, everyone should have tried harder, environmentalists should not care so much.  

As soon as the spill happened, everyone had an opinion about what was wrong and how to proceed.  And yet, before the spill, few people outside of the oil and gas industry could have said how much oil drilling goes on in the Gulf of Mexico.  Even fewer could have identified the specific risks associated with deep-water drilling.  The American public has received quite an education during these days, and Christians have been faced with an additional series of questions that derive from our faith and the witness of the scriptures. 

Discussion Questions

  • What in human nature and need allows a person or company, in the name of profit, to ignore the risks of endangering the environment, workers, and those living near the work area?
  • Is it right for people to suddenly pile-on to BP about this spill when they have been ignorant and uncaring for decades regarding the risks of deep oil drilling?
  • What part of the story bothers you the most – The apparent carelessness of BP?  The effect of the spill on sea life in the Gulf?  The effect of the spill on Gulf Coast residents in general and on the fishermen whose very lives depend on the presence of sea life?  The apparent dismissal of the scope of the tragedy and lack of empathy for those affected by BP executives?  The grandstanding and political opportunism practiced by those in the American government as they argue about what action should be taken? Something else?
  • How (if at all) is the Gulf spill any different from the smaller moral and ethical decisions we make every day?  How prepared are you for a disaster that might strike close to home and affect you? 

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, August 8, 2010 (Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost)

Genesis 15:1-6

Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

Luke 12:32-40

(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

This passage consists of a huge string of wisdom sayings from Jesus – so many that each one by itself would be topic enough for a whole discussion. These sayings, along with those in surrounding passages, are all oriented toward anticipating the future with clear certainty about God’s sovereignty over, not only the inhabitants of this world, but the events of history.  Jesus advises us first to know our priorities, making sure those are carefully sorted out, so that being recipients of the grace granted to us by  God holds first place in our lives.  If we have that clarity of orientation, then we will also be ready when Christ returns. 

Jesus does not call us to prepare by focusing on that final event – the return of Christ and judgment of the world – but rather by focusing on him, sent by the Father to bring humankind to faith.  Even today we hear Christian people fret over the second coming of Jesus, proclaiming that they know the date for the so-called “rapture of the church.”  This passage rejects such speculation.  We are not to look far into the future, calculating the “profit” we will make in figuring out God’s timetable.  Instead, we are to be about our daily work – loving Jesus, sharing the good news with others, and bringing whatever gift we have been given to the service of God’s people.  

Discussion Questions

  • What has been your experience with so-called “neo-dispensationalist” readers of the Bible.  (These are Christians who spend most of their time trying to figure out exactly what Jesus said to avoid speculating on – the date and time of his return.  The “Left Behind” books are examples of this.)  How do you understand the promise of Jesus’ return, and that in all times we are to believe that it will be soon?
  • The Bible presumes throughout that the future is in God’s hands, which means that human worry and exertions to create security are not to be trusted (see Ecclesiastes 3 and Matthew 6:19-34).  On the other hand, some Christians in New Testament times were so convinced of this that they made no positive contribution at all to their community (see II Thess. 3).  How does one balance the absolute trust that “God will provide” with realism about the need to work and plan?
  • The first part of the gospel passage speaks of your “treasure.”  This can be defined as the things that pull on you when you make your decisions, things you want to protect.  They do not have to be material objects!  What are those things for you ?

Activity Suggestions

Leaf through scripture and see if you can identify people occupied doing their ordinary work.  These are people who are often the very ones whom “the master finds alert when he comes.”  God often calls just such to be great instruments for God’s purposes in the world.  What is your ordinary work?  How do you focus on Christ day-to-day and so make him your first priority?   Does it help your walk of discipleship to imagine what Christ might find you doing should he return at some point today?

Closing Prayer

Lord Jesus, we recall your command to your disciples to proclaim the gospel to the whole world, and we hope to make it our own by our obedience to this calling.  We pray for all who have been affected by natural and unforeseen forces.  Help us find words to console those whose mourning includes the frustration of a disrupted life.  Let them, with us, keep our focus on the work to be done in the present, so that you may find us faithful servants and good stewards of these gifts you have given us – the lavishness of grace and the beautiful abundance of creation.  Amen.

May 19-25, 2010–An (Increasingly) Open Book

Contributed by Daniel Wiessner, Tacoma, WA

Warm-up Question

To whom do you turn when you’re not sure what to do?

An (Increasingly) Open Book

Turns out everyone’s Facebook privacy is getting a lot less private all the time and, unsurprisingly, a few feathers are getting ruffled.

Ryan Singel at Wired noted the private interests which are unavoidably public via Facebook. He wrote, “I’d like to make my friend list private. Cannot. I’d like to have my profile visible only to my friends, not my boss. Cannot. I’d like to support an anti-abortion group without my mother or the world knowing. Cannot.”

The recent addition of Facebook’s new “instant personalization” is getting particular attention due to its sharing of your personal information with Pandora, Microsoft Docs, and Yelp, in order to help those sites tailor their advertisements to fit your interests. Users can opt out, but the process is apparently complicated and confusing. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), among other organizations, is rallying against Facebook with claims that “Instant personalization violates user expectations and reveals user information without the user’s consent.”

Mark Zuckerberg, the guy who started this crazy Facebook thing, stated earlier this year that  Facebook is constantly being updated “to reflect what the current social norms are.  A lot of companies would be trapped by the conventions and their legacies of what they’ve built… doing a privacy change for 350 million users is not the kind of thing that a lot of companies would do. … But we viewed that as a really important thing, to always keep a beginner’s mind and what would we do if we were starting the company now and we decided that these would be the social norms now and we just went for it.”

Main article from:
Wired quote from:
Zuckerberg quote from:

Discussion Questions

  • Are you on Facebook? (Show of hands, for curiosity’s sake.)
  • How do you feel about these privacy changes? Does it really matter to you?
  • Some people argue that Facebook is causing these shifts in social norms that Zuckerberg spoke about. Do you agree with Zuckerberg (that Facebook is just following the trend) or do you think that it is a driving force in the change? Why?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, May 23, 2010 (Day of Pentecost)

 Acts 2:1-21

Romans 8:14-17

John 14:8-17 [25-27]

(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

I’m afraid I can’t “tsk” Philip too harshly for his opening line in this week’s gospel lesson because, really, he and I have something in common here: We don’t always pay attention so well. Fortunately for the both of us, we have been blessed to hold the company of some very kind and very patient people who are willing to explain things to us again and again.

If you remember, Jesus is going to be leaving his disciples, Philip included.  Reading the rest of John 14 reveals pretty clearly that the disciples are uncomfortable with the idea. The disciples general response is “But-but-but.. Wait! Where are you going? We feel kind of low on definite instructions. Is there any way we could maybe text you if we have questions?”

Jesus calmly and patiently reassures his disciples that things are going to work out just fine. In fact, he even leaves them a number to call, so to speak, in case they get confused. Jesus promises another advocate, the Holy Spirit, who will “teach [them] everything, and remind [them] of all that [Jesus has] said to [them].”

In the same way, by reminding us of Jesus’s teachings and instructions, The Holy Spirit acts as our own divine guide. This is a great gift when our easily confused moral compass might mistake North for East.

With this promise of the “Spirit of truth,” Jesus closes this week’s lesson with some of the most wonderful, calming words we could ever hear from our Lord and Savior. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” Amen, Lord Jesus.

Discussion Questions

  • Go back and explore the rest of John 14. Think about how the disciples felt before and after this week’s Gospel lesson. What do you think your reaction would have been?
  • Looking back at the news for today, do you think that Zuckerberg’s moral compass is confused? Or is the Facebook privacy issue a moral issue at all? Explain.


Activity Suggestions

Texting Treasure Hunt:

In this exercise, there is one leader and a group of hunters. (For youth groups, I recommend there be an adult leader acting as the “leader” as well as another adult leader in the group of “hunters.”) The leader of this exercise must know the surrounding area well. To assist in delivering accurate directions, it may be helpful for the hunters to have  a GPS-enabled phone  while the leader tracks them via Google Latitude or a similar service.

The leader tells the group of hunters that he or she will be waiting for them somewhere nearby before suddenly leaving them. The hunters then petition text messages from the leader in order to help find their way. The leader may be as cryptic or simple as he or she desires.

After the hunters find the leader, they should explore how they felt during the exercise. Was it unnerving to be unaware of where they were headed? Was it reassuring to know that they could ask and receive directions whenever they needed it?

Closing Prayer

Dearest Jesus, thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit to guide us along your pathways. Thank you for the reassurance you give us every day, through the remembrance of your great sacrifice, that we need never let our hearts be troubled. Amen.

April 7-13, 2010–Life Out of Doubt

Contributed by Bob Chell, Lutheran Campus Ministry at South Dakota State University, Brookings, South Dakota

Warm-up Question

As children, we sometimes misconstrue reality because we misinterpret what we see:  “Dad took me to watch firefighters train on an abandoned house. For years I thought firefighters drove around looking for run-down houses to burn and was scared they would burn down our house.”  

Sometimes we are mislead:  “When I was little, my Dad told me that the tune played by the ice cream van was the ice cream man letting everyone know that he’d run out of ice cream.”

What have you believed which turned out to be untrue?

Life Out of Doubt

A young woman lay dead; nearby, an abandoned truck was stuck in the mud.  The investigation was quick.  Within hours, police had suspects and by evening Greg Taylor and Johnny Beck were in jail, charged with murder.  Both were crack addicts who admitted they were only looking for their next high.  Johnny Beck was released before trial for reasons which are unclear. Greg Taylor was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.  That was sixteen years ago.  A month ago Greg Taylor was released from prison upon the recommendation of a special innocence panel which found “clear and convincing evidence” that Gregory F. Taylor was innocent and had been convicted based on flawed evidence and unreliable testimony.

Source:  (

Discussion Questions

  • Had this been you or someone you love, would you be grateful or bitter upon release after sixteen years?  How would you reconcile the two feelings?
  • Have you ever had first-hand knowledge of a news story that didn’t match what you heard in the media?
  • Have you passed on a story you later learned was untrue? What were the consequences for the person in the untrue story you passed on?  For you?
  • Did you take any action upon learning the story was untrue?  What was the result? 

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, April 11, 20110 (Second Sunday of Easter)

Acts 5:27-32

Revelation 1:4-8

John 20:19-31

(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

Thomas stands in a long line of doubters stretching back to the beginning of the faith.  Abraham was skeptical that God could deliver on the promise of a son while Sarah, his wife, laughed in God’s face.  Moses doubted he could accomplish what God called him to do.  Gideon demanded proof.  Elijah ran away.  Jeremiah and Job—even Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane before his arrest and crucifixion—struggled with doubt.  One theologian notes that the only people in scripture who are certain of God’s will stone the prophets and crucify Jesus.

Doubt is not an enemy, but a friend.  Doubt keeps us from being a sucker for every get-rich, get-beautiful, get-saved scheme that comes along.  The danger is that, surrounded by pop-up ads and bogus invitations to wealth and intimacy, we will become cynical and cease to believe anything.

Yet, it is doubt that pushes us forward in life and faith.  Doubt is a way of life for high school and college students:  Doubting your major, doubting your current romance, doubting there will ever be a romance, doubting your career plans, doubting your faith.

Doubt is useful when it pushes us beyond the superficial to the substantive, when it pushes us to ask hard questions and look at life, and ourselves, with clear and open eyes.

Doubt is at the heart of education.  It drives the scientific method.  How does this work…what would happen if…can I prove…?

In our personal life doubt keeps us awake at night and commands our attention. It is unpleasant but useful, drawing us to attend to those things most important in our lives.  Doubt pushes us to change and grow.  It forces us to ask hard questions about faith, family, and vocation, the things which define who we are.

Doubt is not the end but the beginning.  Most of us, when plagued by doubt, try harder to figure it out, to think it through, to discern the truth—and we should.  Whom we choose as a life partner, the career we choose, the faith we embrace will shape and change the rest of our lives.

Easter isn’t about happy endings, Jesus springing up three days later so we can have Easter eggs, a new outfit and time off from school or work.  Easter is about a God who stands with us, suffers with us, even dies with us.

The poet Gerhard Frost once wrote: “Doubt gnaws at faith but faith gnaws back, and faith has better teeth.”  God’s promise is that Jesus can and will break through the locked and shut doors of our lives, the prison of doubt we live in.  Jesus comes through the wall, breaks in, and speaks “Peace be with you.”  God’s peace isn’t a promise that there will be no doubt, pain, struggle, indecision, or any of the other things which are part of being human, part of being in relationships. God’s peace is a promise to walk with us, to strengthen us, to sustain us, to forgive us, to challenge us.

The time for hunting Easter eggs is over, but if we are hunting for God working in our lives, we need only look where we doubt.  There we will find God’s Spirit moving us to growth and faith.

Discussion Questions

  • Recall a time when you thought you would never be happy again.  Was God at work in you and others?
  • How do we discern when doubt is useful and when it is useless?
  • If doubt is a good thing, can we be certain about anything?

Activity Suggestions

  • Ask several persons you love and trust if there was ever a time when they wanted to run away and leave their life behind because they were embarrassed, ashamed or in deep pain.  Ask what enabled them to survive that time and, looking back, how they see that God was at work in their lives during that time.
  •  Reflect on a time when you were so unhappy you wanted to quit, give up, move, and get away from doubt and pain.  What enabled you to survive?  Is there a learning there for your faith?  for your future?

Closing Prayer

God of grace and mercy, we want to believe and trust your promises.  Give us courage and perseverance to confront the doubt and pain and brokenness in our lives.  Give us, also, the wisdom to know when to let go of broken dreams and move on.  Move our hearts to forgive others and ourselves, so we may live with Easter joy.  Amen.