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October 14-21, 2009 – Grocery bagger with Down’s syndrome inspires hundreds

Contributed by Angie Larson
Clive, IA

Warm-up Question:  What would be the job that you would least want to have?

grocery-bags200Joe worked as a bagger at the local grocery store for nearly 7 years. Joe, age 25, has Down’s syndrome. He worked quietly and carefully placing groceries in bags and thanking customers for coming to shop. A bagger is not a particularly prestigious job, but Joe didn’t see it that way. He enjoyed serving. The manager of the store gathered together the employees for a sales pep talk. Joe, as a good employee, attended and listened intently. The manager encouraged all of the employees to take ownership and creativity in the grocery store and to each come up with an idea that would encourage and support their customers.

Joe left the store in search for an idea. He went home and talked to his father about putting an inspirational cartoon or quote in the customers’ bags as they left the store. Joe chose a quote and his father helped him copy and cut the quote into slips of paper so Joe could add them to the bags with the groceries. The next day at work Joe quietly slipped his thought for the day into the bags and passed them to the customers. It made Joe happy, and his customers too.

A couple of weeks later the manager of the grocery store was alarmed to see a line of 20 people in the lane where Joe was bagging. He opened up multiple lanes for people to move to. He was surprised when people wanted to remain in Joe’s lane to receive his inspirational quotes. One woman told the manager that she comes in every day to pick up something just to get Joe’s quote. Joe’s quiet kind service turned a mundane job and shopping experience into one of community and care. 

Discussion Questions

  • What’s your first reaction after reading this story?
  • Do you do something everyday that seems mundane and ordinary? How can you make it into something special and extraordinary?
  • Joe felt a passion for simple service and it inspired many. Who do you know that serves simply that gives them joy?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, October 18, 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

In the gospel text, the disciples are experiencing rivalry within their community. The brothers James and John desire to rise to the right and left hand sides of Jesus in his kingdom. At this point, they do not realize what this means for them; they believe that Jesus’ kingdom will be some sort of kingdom on earth.

James’ and John’s blatant grabs for power create a conflict for the community of Jesus and the other ten disciples. When the other disciples hear this scramble for power and recognition, Jesus uses it as a teaching moment for them as well. Jesus teaches all twelve disciples that in order to be great you must be a servant. This concept must have been as hard for the disciples as it is for us today.

Jesus came to teach us how to serve each other — including strangers. Joe wanted to serve in his grocery store in a humble, subtle way that made a difference to hundreds of grocery shoppers. We are taught in our society, as in societies before us, that rising to power and rivalry is the way we get to the top and get recognized for our accomplishments. We sacrifice our values and sometimes our friendships to be able to be competitive and gain prestige or power. Joe didn’t care about prestige or power; he wanted to be able to serve the best he could. How many of us try to serve in all aspects of our lives by trying our best in humble, subtle ways?

“Jesus came not to be served,” as many would imagine of a great ruler and king, but he came “to serve”. Serving and repsecting others builds and strengthens community and does not divide people or pit them against each other. We are to go and do likewise and serve our neighbor.

Discussion Questions

  • How would you respond to James and John if you were one of the other disciples? Would you be drawn into the competition? Why or why not?
  • What is one mundane activity that you do daily? How can you use that to serve another?
  • Realistically, do you think you would be like Jesus, James, and John, or the other ten disciples?
  • How does the gospel and your faith guide you in how you treat and care for others? How you think about them? Does serving others come naturally, or does it pose challenges for you? Why?

Activity Suggestion

  • Take Joe’s example and be creative to reach out to those in your congregation and community. Develop a biblical quote of the week campaign. Prepare slips of paper with a favorite inspirational Bible verse. Pass out a few to each youth and ask them to pass it along to at least 20 other people. They can do this by slipping the verse to a few people, copying it into a text message, or putting the verse on someone’s Facebook wall. Check in the next time you meet to see how it went.
  • Create a list of occupations. List anything: from rocket scientist to farmer to tollway attendant to waitstaff at a restaurant. Ask youth to brainstorm how they could serve others in a creative and meaningful way for those occupations… in any occupation. Talk about the concept of vocation and what God is calling each of us to do with our particular skills, abilities, and interests.

Closing Prayer

Blessed Savior, thank you for serving us. Help us to remember to serve others. We know that at times we look for power and prestige, but we ask you to help us redirect ourselves during those times. Bless those who serve others with their lives. Enable us to learn and live extraordinary lives of service in your humble way. In your name we pray. Amen.

July 1-8, 2009 – Celebrating progress, working for more

Contributed by Jocelyn Breeland
Fairfax, VA

Warm-up Question: Discuss a time when you were underestimated.

This month marks the 10th anniversary of the landmark Olmstead decision, in which the Supreme Court said the Americans With Disabilities Act requires individuals with disabilities receive services in the least restrictive environment possible. As a result, thousands of Americans with disabilities have been able to move out of institutions to live in communities of their own choosing.

President Obama marked the anniversary by declaring a “Year of Community Living.” He has directed the Department of Health and Human Services to aggressively work to remove barriers that prevent people with disabilities from having meaningful lives in their communities.

In the nearly two decades since the Americans With Disabilities Act was passed, many changes have been made in schools, workplaces, and public spaces to ensure inclusion of people with physical and intellectual disabilities or challenges. Among the positive changes, technology, where it is available, has greatly facilitated access and inclusion. But much remains to be done. In most communities, there are long waiting lists for the services people with disabilities need to participate fully in the lives of their communities.

Perhaps the most difficult, and most important, barrier to overcome is attitude. Too often, people with disabilities are seen as disabled, broken, or incomplete. We need to value, celebrate, and use the contributions and gifts of people with disabilities in every community. With this state of mind, and commitment, all barriers can be overcome.

Discussion Questions

Statement by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius
White House Statement

  • Are people with disabilities included in any of your regular activities? Are there barriers that make their participation difficult?
  • Is there anything you do regularly that could not be done by a person with a physical or intellectual disability, given a reasonable amount of accommodation?
  • Employment is important for people with disabilities, and the income from work makes it easier to obtain housing and other services they need. Why is it difficult for people with disabilities to get good jobs? Are any of these reasons insurmountable?
  • Within the disability community, it is preferable to say a person has a disability, rather than that the person is disabled, handicapped, mentally retarded. Why is this language important?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, June 5, 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

It is easy for us to shake our heads sadly when contemplating the community’s reaction to Jesus. Don’t they know this is Jesus? Can’t they see his wisdom, his divinity? How could they be so foolish?

Imagine a friend, someone you’ve known for years, in church speaking knowledgeably about scripture. The next thing you know, someone is saying he’s a prophet. Where is the threshold of your skepticism? What would you need to see or hear in order to believe?

The sentiment in the synagogue seems to be that this Jesus is nothing special. How can he understand scripture better than everyone else? He’s no one important or specially gifted or skilled, just a lowly carpenter. And the same prejudice that keeps his neighbors from seeing Jesus for who and what he is can keep us from recognizing God’s presence among us today.

Here again, scripture reminds us that God does not shower his blessings only on the rich, the powerful, or the exceptional. Repeatedly, God shows his ability and preference for using the most humble, ordinary folks to spread the gospel message and demonstrate love, forgiveness, justice, and healing. We need to be on the lookout for times when God works in these ways — in ourselves and in other people. We wouldn’t want to reject God’s plan and intentions, like the Nazarenes in the synagogue rejected Jesus.

We might think it should have been easier for Jesus’ contemporaries to understand the miracle right in front of their eyes. But is it really any easier for us, knowing Jesus’ work, mission, death, and resurrection to see God’s work in our own lives? Today’s Gospel reminds us that God is indeed at work around us every day, and that we can see signs of God’s love everywhere — often in the most ordinary and unexpected places.

Discussion Questions

  • What would you say to convince Jesus’ contemporaries of the authenticity of his message?
  • How can you identify God’s action and presence in your world?
  • How is it that the disciples were able to see the truth about Jesus?
  • In verses 7-13, Jesus sends his disciples out into the world. What advice does he give for times when others refuse to hear his word?
  • What message does today’s Gospel have for us in our own ministry, and in responding to the ministry of others?
  • Jesus’ instructions suggest a level of poverty for his disciples. Why was this important? Is it still important today?
  • What does today’s Gospel say to us about the role of people with disabilities in our society?

Closing Prayer

Heavenly Father, as we gather to learn your will, we marvel at the many magnificent works you have done, and the many unearned blessings we have received. Remind us to seek the beauty of your creation in every place we go, on every face we see. And help us to show that same beauty, and love, to those we meet. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.