Skip to content
ELCA Blogs

Faith Lens

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.

June 17-24, 2009 – UFO or sign from God?

Contributed by Rod G. Boriack
Chicago, IL

Warm-up Question: What’s the freakiest, unbelievable thing you’ve ever seen or witnessed? Who did you tell?

(CNN Video, ” Possible UFO caught on tape,” June 16, 2009)

Denna Smith is a writer who hopes to work with Tyler Perry someday, but, she says, even she couldn’t make this story up.

“We were like what is that, we were all stopped and we were astonished,” said Smith.

Smith and her family were at Kings Dominion Amusement Park in Richmond, VA when they saw a black floating ring in the sky. “Is this the end of the world, what is going on?” Smith wondered.

Kings Dominion says the ring is smoke from a ride called Volcano. UFO investigator, Cameron Pack, agreed. Pack said he’d be convinced it was just smoke if it weren’t for pictures of a similar sighting at Fort Belvoir, taken sometime in the 1950s.

Smith says she’s positive it wasn’t smoke. “Smoke usually looks smokey and cloudy. This ring of smoke was a perfect circle. It was lined up so tight like it was a cut in the middle of the sky,” said Smith. She also doesn’t think it was a UFO.

“It was like a sign, God gives you signs and I just felt like that was a sign and I’m not sure what that sign meant but it meant a great deal to my family because when we got home we all got in line and prayed together. We were freaking out,” Smith continued.

Pack says he plans to follow up with Kings Dominion. Smith thinks his investigation could turn up something. “I still believe it is still out there we just don’t know where it went,” said Smith.

Discussion Questions

  • OK, here’s the hot question… do believe in UFOs? Have you seen one or something you thought could have been a UFO? What do you think they are? (visitors from another planet, signs or messages from God, natural phenomena like clouds, hallucinations, smoke, not sure, etc.)
  • If you saw this unusual ring in the sky how might it affect your beliefs about certain things? What new questions would it stir up in you?
  • Who would you tell about your UFO sighting? Only your closest friends, everyone, absolutely no one, your most trusted best friend? Post it on YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter for everyone to see?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, June 21, 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

Those crazy disciples! Always dazed and confused when it comes to figuring out Jesus, who he is, what he’s all about, and the unbelievable, miraculous things he does. And they were around him all the time; imagine what the crowds and strangers thought and wondered.

These days, we say “seeing is believing.” But it’s never that easy… take the UFO siting, for example. 100 people see the same thing, even video it, and they’re still wondering what they saw. You go to a movie and and don’t even notice the special effects, realistic scenery, or crowd scenes that have been created digitally through CGI (computer-generated imagery).

Who is this Jesus? He heals sick people, makes storms go away, tells parables that sound like riddles, knows Jewish scriptures backwards and forwards, brings dead people back to life, commands demons to leave people, talks about the future as if he knows exactly what’s going to happen, and says he is the son of God. Wow! How do you take all that in and make sense of it all?

And in 2009 we still wonder about Jesus! Go figure.

The words Jesus spoke to the howling storm winds and the frightened, confused disciples in the sinking boat are powerful, simple words probably meant for us: “Peace! Be Still!” “Why are you afraid? Where is your faith?” Have faith and trust God. The facts, miracles, stories, and events are too tough to sort through on our own based on simply human knowledge, experience, and text books.

Have faith and trust God. Take it all in and trust God. Jesus’ message to us is pretty consistent and clear throughout the Bible even though we may be unsure or confused:

  • We are created and loved by God.
  • All our weaknesses and sins are forgiven.
  • God has given us new life — eternal life.
  • We are free to live our lives differently as followers of Jesus… as servants of others, working for justice, loving and forgiving others, seeking peace, welcoming strangers, encouraging each other in faith, and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with everyone — everywhere.

Peace! Be still! Have faith!

Discussion Questions

  • When it comes to your faith and what you believe, what are the questions you wrestle with right now? (Take some time to cultivate trust and open conversation about the questions raised. Meet the questions with respect and empathy. Encourage other young people to respond to each other, but not to fix, answer, or solve everything. Notice any common questions or any that are particularly tough.)
  • What would you say you are pretty solid about in your faith and beliefs? What do you feel pretty certain about? (This doesn’t imply that you never have doubts, questions, fears, or curiosity. These are things we all experience as God’s Spirit helps our faith grow, learn, stretch, and deepen throughout life in an ever-changing world.)

Activity Suggestion

Covenant to learn more about or revisit what Lutherans profess to believe. Explore what other groups of Lutherans believe and practice. It can be easy to get hooked on the differences, but also note the things we share in common as Christians. You can find some resources at

Closing Prayer

Gracious and holy God, give us diligence to seek you, wisdom to perceive you, and patience to wait for you. Grant us, O God, a mind to meditate on you; eyes to behold you; ears to listen for your word; a heart to love you; and a life to proclaim you; through the power of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

(Prayer for “Those seeking deeper knowledge of God,” Evangelical Lutheran Worship, page 76)