Skip to content
ELCA Blogs

Faith Lens

July 14-20, 2010–Driven to Distraction

Contributed by Bill King, Lutheran Campus Ministry at Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA

Warm-up Question

When you have an important school assignment to finish, what distractions are hardest for you to resist?  Why?

Driven to Distraction

If you have watched a basketball game on television you have seen rabid fans seated behind the goal trying to distract an opposing team’s free throw shooter.  “Shirtless” Bill Sproat, a student at Utah State has taken distraction to a new level, making it an art form. Sproat says that he actually hates basketball, calling it a “worthless” sport, but he loves finding new ways to get in the heads of opposing players.  At Aggies’ home games you can find him behind the goal dressed as a  snorkeler, Chippendale, or cupid.  He tries to match his character to the opponent; for example, he showed for a game against the University of Hawaii dressed as a hula dancer.  But his signature move comes in the second half of the game; he strips off his top and lets his ample torso undulate behind the backboard. 

There is some debate in basketball circles over whether the antics of fans like Shirtless Bill actually make any difference.  Top players say that if you are properly focused on the rim you do not even see the fans.  But Bill has his own focus, “If I can get them to laugh then I can get them to miss. If I get them to look at me, they’re in big trouble.”

Discussion Questions

  • How do you react to “Shirtless” Bill Sproat?  Do you find him admirable for his passion or a bit desperate in his desire for attention?
  • What do you think motivates someone like Bill, who regularly shows up to watch a game he hates?
  • Fans’ efforts to distract players are perfectly acceptable at a basketball game but are grounds for ejection at a tennis match or on a golf course.  Why?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, July 18, 2010 (Eighth Sunday after Pentecost)

Genesis 18:1-10

Colossians 1:15-28

Luke 10:38-42

(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

It’s tempting to choose sides.  In this week’s lesson Jesus visits the home of Mary and Martha and we recognize sibling dynamics of many homes.  There is Martha—dutiful, responsible, eager to follow the rules.  She works hard and expects others to do the same.  You want her in charge of your project.  But she is rather high strung and prone to act like a martyr.  Mary, in contrast, takes life as it comes.  Sensitive and solicitous, she’ll drop everything if you call her up with a problem.  She is light and breezy, often artistic, easy to be with—and absolutely maddening if you need her to act on a tight schedule.  Mary and Martha love each other, but you know they drive each other crazy.

Most of us identify with either Martha or Mary, so it’s hard to avoid choosing sides in their little domestic tiff.  We tend to read this story through the lens of our own experience.  If little brother has just trashed our room—yet again—we weigh in on Martha’s side, “Yeah Lord, why shouldn’t Mary do her part instead of sitting on her duff?”  But if our daily experience is being compared to a “perfect” but rather joyless sibling sister we can see why Mary opts out of the hospitality competition.  Still, if we get too caught up in identifying with one sister or the other, we miss the point of the story.

Jesus gently rebukes Martha, not for being who she is, but for allowing herself to be distracted from what is most important.  The hospitality Martha offers is praiseworthy, but in her worrying about all the little tasks of entertaining, she has ignored her guest.  She has forgotten that the issue is not what she can give Jesus but what he can give her, if she will take time to listen.  The good has become the enemy of the best.

A defining characteristic of modern life is the lack of silence.  From morning to night we envelop ourselves in a blanket of distraction; there is no moment when we are not texting, tweeting, talking, or pumping tunes into our ears.  Before we can follow Jesus we have to discipline ourselves to stop and listen for his voice.  The challenge for good church folk is sometimes distinguishing being busy from being faithful.  Can you slow down and listen today?

Discussion Questions

  • Where do you find yourself in this story of Mary, Martha, and Jesus?
  • Why do you think we tend to fill our day with unceasing sound?
  • What “good” things occupy your time which might be distracting you from hearing Jesus?
  • Jesus tells Martha she is busy with many things, but has lost sight of what is most important.  What IS most important to you, so important that you will sacrifice everything else to have it?

Activity Suggestions

  • Make a list of everything you did in the last 24 hours. Think about how much time you spent in each activity; was it a good use of your time?  Think about how your choices support or undermine your ability to follow Jesus.  Share your list and thoughts with someone in your group.
  • In the next week, do a “cyber-fast” for one whole day.  Turn off your phone and computer—no texting, e-mails, calls, Facebook, Web browsing, etc.  At the end of that time think about how your day was different from normal.  What was uncomfortable?  What was good about being disconnected?  Talk about the experience in your group next week.

Closing Prayer

Lord, the alarm just went off and the race is on.  There are so many things I need to do, so many demands on my time, so many people’s expectations to meet.  Help me to take a deep breath, still my racing heart, and listen for your voice amid the noise of this day.  Give me the wisdom to distinguish the urgent from the important, that I may rest in your love and live only for you.  I pray in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

November 12-19, 2008 – Reporter jailed for telling the truth

Warm-up Question: Share a time when you felt that the way you were treated was not fair.

In Vietnam, a reporter is allowed to report on what they see, unless it embarrasses the government that is. The jailed reporter, Nguyen Viet Chien, almost three years ago helped expose a case against the transportation department, where officials used monies to gamble on European soccer matches and on luxurious living. The reporting was backed up by tapes and confessions and many officials were arrested and jailed for the abuse.

How is the reporter rewarded for his hard work? He is sentenced to jail for 2 years. When given a chance to apologize for his reporting for the way it embarrassed the country, Chien refused to do what another reporter working on the same case had done and did not recant the exposé citing the truth as his defense.

U.S. officials condemn the action and in an official statement stated, “These results are particularly worrisome in light of the serious corruption issues that their earlier investigations had brought to light… The United States has repeatedly called for full freedom of the media in Vietnam and urges the government of Vietnam to support these freedoms, which are so critical to combating social scourges such as corruption and abuse of power, and to the further economic development of Vietnam.”

Discussion Questions

  • Is there a time when you think telling the truth is not a good idea?
  • If you found out something very important that would embarrass someone you highly respect, say a teacher or pastor or political leader, would you divulge this information online or to the press? What would be reasons you would? What reasons would prevent you from revealing the information?
  • If someone knew something about you that was true but embarrassing, would it be OK for them to share this with other people?
  • If you had done something embarrassing or that you were ashamed of, how easy would it be for you to admit this to someone you love and respect? What would you expect or ask for in return (e.g., confidentiality, understanding, forgiveness, not to let it hurt your relationship, etc.)

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, November 16, 2008.
(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 A at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

It’s pretty easy to believe and respected the servant who buried the talent in this story. First of all, he admits to his master, someone whom he loves but someone who is also “harsh” and steals (reaping where he does not sow), that he did not do what he was asked. He did not take the money (a talent being a unit of measurement equaling around one year’s wages), money that may have been unjustly gotten by the master, and invested it as the others had done. Perhaps this would have made him an accomplice! Perhaps he did not want to deal with the dirty money. Perhaps he was a patsy, a do-gooder, who did not do what he was asked out of a sense of justice and was punished. And on top of it all, he did not hem and haw and make up stories; he told the truth. He said straight out that he hid the money. Perhaps he said this with some pride, accusing the master of his own crimes.

But perhaps the master was righteous. Perhaps what he sowed and reaped he did to feed the hungry. Perhaps he was a powerful man who performed actions that seemed disreputable, but may have been for a good cause (sort of like Robin Hood). Maybe the servant was ashamed and scared of the master’s power.

In a story, it is easy to make things out to be black and white, cut and dried truths. We can decry the “lazy slave” for not doing what his master had done just as we can decry the Vietnamese government for suppressing the truth. But perhaps they did so out of a love for their country. Perhaps they doubted the reporting. Perhaps they believed they were the arbiters of justice. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps… When “truth” seems so obvious to one and not to another, how do you know which is truth?

We all else seems up fro grabs, know this to be the truth: Jesus Christ has died for us. It is signed and sealed by the reporting of many witnesses who had nothing to gain by this proclamation but death and loss. The resurrection was true because it was witnessed by many. They all reported this truth and it was greeted with skepticism, the greatest may be Paul. Paul persecuted the church but was later visited by the resurrected Christ. As proof this was true and not false was the way he kept to his story despite beatings, stonings, shipwrecks, poverty, and worse (2 Corinthians 11:23ff). Paul was willing to go to jail and even die for the truth. Just like Nguyen Viet Chien, the truth could no be denied.

In a time of doubt and faith, of wondering what is true, we remember that what can be seen as true is often understood by what comes to light (1 Thessalonians 5:4-5); how the person speaking the truth clings to what they believe. This witness is what we can believe is true, and in this witness we are called to believe. While we may not have been on-the-scene witnesses, we can believe what we have been told just as we can believe the reporter who reports the corruption by his jailing.
Live clinging to this truth. Invest in the gift of this confession. Live out your calling to serve a good and honest master — Jesus Christ — one who loves and adores you, and trusts you with this gift.

Discussion Questions

  • How do you know when someone is speaking the truth? How are you convinced? In what ways does technology help or complicate sorting out what is true? (Internet, Youtube, email, TV, Photoshop, digital photos, Twitter, cell phones, social networks, Second Life, avatars, blogs, etc.)
  • What are the things that make believing God difficult?
  • If the story is true — Jesus Christ is truly the son of God, died and risen to love the world into relationship with God — how would this change the way you see the world? Setting aside all doubt, what would this mean about the way you live in the world? How would it change your relationships? How would it change the decisions you make?
  • What if it is true? What if it is true?

Activity Suggestions

Defend a lie

Find a student who loves something so much that they are sort of obsessed by it. Perhaps it is a sports team, a high school musical, or a favorite band, actor, or other celebrity or famous person. Now ask them to defend NOT liking this thing or person or team. Give them a moment to collect their thoughts, then allow them a 30 second argument of why whatever it is we know they love is something they do not love. After they try to convince us they do not love this, allow others to question them, trying to discover the truth.

  • Was it difficult to defend what you know is not true?
  • How did it feel trying to pretend you did not like what everyone else there knows you love?
  • Would you be willing to die to convince us of this truth? Why or why not?

Share this parting thought: if the disciples KNEW it was a lie, why would they all be willing to die for it? Why would all the witnesses be willing to endure persecution if they knew Jesus was not resurrected? Why would they all be beaten, chased, jailed, starved, poisoned, and killed if they truly knew it was a lie?

Closing Prayer

Jesus, forgive us for our doubts, but it can be so difficult to believe. Help us to trust your witnesses and to live out loud on behalf of the truth that you are our savior and Lord. Amen

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