Contributed by Jennifer Krausz
Warm-up Question: Is our current government doing a good job running the country? Why or why not?
A recent national poll found that Americans are largely angry at their government and disappointed by the lack of ideas from both political parties.
Although Republicans, who are currently out of power, were angriest at 90 percent, 44% of Democrats identified themselves as somewhat or very angry. 78% of independents were also somewhat or very angry with their government.
59% of respondents across all political parties said that they were more angry now than they had been during the previous administration. And 60% say that neither Democrats nor Republicans have the answers to the problems the country currently faces.
30% of respondents said they were not really angry, including 10% who were not angry at all.
The poll did not seem to answer the question of why respondents were angry. Many Americans seem preoccupied with economic conditions, which have been slow to improve. Health care reform has also been a deeply divisive issue.
- Why do you think people are so angry with the government right now?
- Do you think their anger is reasonable, even if you are not angry yourself? Why?
- Given what you know of the two major political parties (and trying to be objective and respectful in your response), what do you think most Republicans are angriest about? What do you think most Democrats are angriest about?
- Do you think it’s easier to get angry, or to be satisfied with the way things are? Is it easier to be against something or someone who you don’t agree with completely or who is different than yourself, or to find a way of trusting and working together?
Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, September 27, 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.
Here’s a rough church history lesson in 3 sentences: The church started out as fairly unified; yes, there were major conflicts, but they managed not to immediately break off into major different sections. A significant portion evolved into the Catholic Church. Luther started the Reformation, and the Christian church has spawned hundreds, if not thousands, of different denominations, off-shoots, and factions.
Throughout history, people have fought bitter and bloody battles over religious differences and divisions.
So, what would Jesus think of all our different varieties and flavors of faith, theology, and traditions?
We walk a fine line between theological correctness and the unity of our belief in Jesus Christ. We walk a fine line between upholding our own familiar traditions and practices and being open to the traditions and ideas of others. In each case, both are important. We can disagree on how to baptize, how to take communion, build structures and organizations, and many other things, but let’s hope we never disagree about Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who showed us how to live as compassionate servants, died on the cross for our sins, conquered death, and who gives us eternal life by grace through faith — a life-giving gift for everyone.
Jesus took it even further than that though. He suggests that just because someone isn’t ‘one of us’ doesn’t mean we should reject that person’s actions or intentions. If they are showing unselfish compassion and concern for others, give thanks and don’t shrug them off. If they are trying to help or care for us, then accept it and give thanks. Encourage them; don’t reject them. It is possible for others to do God’s work even though they are not members of our denomination or official members of our congregation.
Jesus asks us to seek peace and justice in the world, both outside the church and within it. What would churches everywhere be like if we were to do as Jesus told his disciples in this case? What would it be like if we treated all people — professing Christians or not — with the same sincere respect and compassion Jesus demonstrated? What if we encouraged and supported all people to live boldly in ways God desires for us.
- From your perspective and faith, how do you think God wants all people to live — throughout the world? Try to be specific.
- What are some of the burning current issues and problems in the world and in our country that we can be working on together even though we come from many different perspectives of faith, culture, life experience, and politics? In what ways does our Lutheran Christian faith influence our participation and what we do?
- What do you think different denominations and faith groups can do to be more unified or to work together? Name some examples of how the ELCA is working with other churches or faith groups. What if it means sometimes bumping heads over theology, beliefs, traditions, or values? How should the church work through times of conflict or disagreement with others (or each other)?
- How does grace, forgiveness, and compassion enter into all of this?
Are there inter-faith groups in your community (e.g., local council of churches, informal unity groups, ministerial groups, youth ministry leader groups, ecumenical youth ministries, etc.)? Find out if your church has a representative and invite him or her to speak with your class for a few minutes about the group and what it does.
- Where do they find common ground and support for each other, and where do they tend to disagree, or agree to disagree?
- What are the benefits of working together even when you do not see eye-to-eye on everything?
Make a list of denominations, faith groups, or religions that you know little about but that make you feel uneasy or stir up strong impressions and feelings within you (e.g., mistrust, anger, suspicion, curiosity, or even hostility). Choose one or two and find out more about its specific beliefs and practices. Sources for more information or links to other faiths and denominations:
- The BBC Religion & Ethics Web site
- ELCA Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations
- ELCA Ecumenical Youth Resources
- World Religions Index
- Interfaith Youth Core
Sometimes, getting more information helps us feel less uncomfortable about something and helps us sort through information or perceptions that may not be accurate or true. If possible and appropriate, invite someone from that faith or denomination to meet with your group for mutual learning. Be careful not to make it a battlefield for trying to convert each other or for argument.
Dear God, we thank you that you have made us all so different in so many ways. Help us to remember that we all worship the same God, our creator, who loves us in spite of how we often disagree with each other. Let us find unity in our faith through your Son, Jesus Christ, who showed us how to live with compassion and forgiveness for each other, and gave up his own life for the sake of all people. Amen.