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Faith Lens

February 16-22, 2011

Contributed by Sylvia Alloway, Granada Hills, CA

Warm-up Question

If you found out about a terrible injustice done to a friend or family member what would you do? If the injustice was done to a stranger, what would you do?

Demonstrations Rock Cairo

Protests continue in Cairo, Egypt, where thousands of demonstrators have assembled in Tahir square to call to account the oppressive government of Hosni Mubarak, the country’s sole leader for 30 years. Shouting and waving signs, protestors call for democracy and demand that the leader step down.

Mubarak has appointed a Vice President, fired his cabinet, said that he will not run for re-election, and agreed to talk with representatives of the opposition, but the unrest has not died down. Tents have appeared in the square, giving the impression that the rebels are in for the long haul.

The government has cut off Internet and phone services, but pictures and descriptions of the violence between the police and the opposition have leaked out. The United Nations estimates that 300 have died and a thousand more have been wounded.

The arrival of government troops is not bad news. The army is seen as neutral and even sympathetic towards the protestors’ cause, unlike the police, who represent the Mubarak leadership exclusively.

Older members of the resistance suggest that a slow transition might be best for the country as a whole. But the young people who began the protest want Mubarak to leave immediately. There seems to be no doubt that Mubarak will leave office. The only question is when.

Discussion Questions

  • Why do you think so many of the protestors are young people? If you were a young Egyptian would you join the demonstrators? Why or why not?
  • How might a democratically elected leader (rather than a leader for life) change the country for the better?
  • Read over today’s Gospel lesson again. Could a Christian join in a demonstration like the one going on in Egypt without violating the principles Jesus outlines here?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, February 20, 2011 (Seventh Sunday after Epiphany)

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18

1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23

Matthew 5:38-48

(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

“Do not resist an evildoer.” What, never? “Give to everyone who begs from you.” Surely not everyone. “Love your enemy.” What enemy? Just who is Jesus talking about here? In the historical context he is talking about representatives of the Roman Empire: governors, officials and soldiers.

Any Jew of that time would have understood this. The Romans were keeping them from the Great Kingdom God had promised them, a peaceful, prosperous Israel ruled by a descendant of King David. If it weren’t for those lousy Romans, the Jews would be fulfilling their destiny in the Promised Land. This was the attitude to which Jesus was speaking.

Imagine how shocked his Jewish listeners were when he told them, not how great and deserving they were, but how humble and giving they should be. His uncompromising words (“Be perfect… as your heavenly Father is perfect”) were meant to wake up God’s chosen ones to what they were actually chosen to do – set an example of humility, generosity and love to the world.

As Christians of today, we don’t like to hear this any more than the people of Jesus’ day did. The world rejects the virtues our Lord describes. Which, of course, is all the more reason to practice them.

In a world full of selfishness, unrest and injustice His words still apply – “Do not resist…Give to everyone… Love your enemy.”

Discussion Questions

  • As a class, discuss the absolute quality of Jesus’ words:   do this, period. Is this a just a way of speaking, or are we literally to do these things all the time?
  • Give examples of the way the world (TV, advertising, education, games) encourages us to think of ourselves as great and deserving. How can we combat these influences and practice Christ-like humility instead?
  • What would the Egyptian conflict look like if the rebels practiced “love your enemy”?
  • What would your life look like if you practiced the words of Jesus in the Gospel lesson?

Activity Suggestions

  • Take an example from history in which Christians engaged in peaceful protest (for example the Civil Rights Movement). Discuss what the result of this participation was.
  • Invent a modern scenario in which a Christian could/should participate in peaceful protest. Discuss what the result might be.

Suggested songs: Onward, Christian Soldiers, Take My Life and Let It Be

Closing Prayer

Lord, we give thanks and praise that you are the God of justice and peace, of courage and humility. You call us to action against evil, yet bid us to practice gentleness and love. When we question how these things can be, remind us to be imitators of Christ in all things. Only through Him and His words to us can we fulfill His commands. In the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen

Sept. 10-17, 2008 – Political season is open season on candidates’ past, families

Warm-up Question: What is one thing in your past that you would love to forget?

With both conventions over, the seemingly endless campaign season is finally in “full swing.” For the next two months, Barack Obama, John McCain, Sarah Palin, and Joe Biden (as well as hundreds of senatorial and congressional candidates) will be making their cases — and defending their records — in an effort to win votes.

But they’re not the only ones talking. This is also a season for journalists to investigate and communicate all they can about the candidates’ pasts: who they dealt with, what promises they broke, who they’ve hurt, and what they’ve done wrong. Tabloids, blogs, primetime anchors, and reputable newspapers will all be trading on rumors, facts, and everything in between.

So far, we’ve learned about John Edwards (prominent Democrat and former VP candidate) and his affair with a campaign aide during his run for the presidency. Sarah Palin is under investigation for abusing her power while governor of Alaska, and the media has had a field day with this family-values oriented candidate disclosing that her unwed 17-year-old daughter is pregnant. Both Barack Obama and John McCain have been charged with “flip-flopping,” saying one thing and then changing their minds for the sake of winning votes. And candidates in every corner of the country are being investigated for ties to oil companies now that gas prices are sky high and oil companies are making more money than ever before.

At the same time, the most forgiving folks are ironically the candidates’ fiercest and most recent critics — the people who ran against them during the primary season. Nearly all the leading candidates for president during the primaries have now enthusiastically endorsed either John McCain or Barack Obama, after very recently saying harsh and even cruel things about their former opponents. The biggest story at the Democrats convention in Denver was about whether the Clintons would “play nice” with Barack Obama after a bruising battle for the party’s nomination. Is this also “flip-flopping” too? Or is it authentic forgiveness and reconciliation? Perhaps no one will know. But in the meantime, we’re all in for a fall full of attacks and apologies, rumors and revelations. And maybe, a little actual conversation about policy and the things that actually matter about governing a nation.

And after November, all these folks will have to figure out a way to govern this nation together, after tearing each other apart.

Discussion Questions

  • What about a candidate’s past is interesting or important to you? What is not?
  • How are you feeling about this year’s election? The advertising? The reporting? How much are you paying attention?
  • How well would you be able to work with someone who for the last year or so called you names or made fun of your past experience?
  • How much room is there for forgiveness in our country’s political scene?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, September 14, 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.

Scripture Reflection (especially Genesis)

The story of our biblical “founding fathers and mothers” is a study in dysfunctional families. Joseph was one of 12 brothers and one sister. He was an arrogant brat as a kid, and his father’s favorite, so his brothers beat him up and left him to die in the desert. Then they had a change of heart and sold him into slavery instead, and they lied and told their father that Joseph had been eaten by wild animals. So much for brotherly love!

Flash forward: Joseph, sold into slavery in Egypt, becomes a wealthy and powerful politician. Meanwhile, back home, a drought and famine is threatening to starve Joseph’s brothers to death. They travel down to Egypt, where Joseph has made sure that Egypt would have plenty of grain, and after a rather frightening and funny scene, Joseph and his family are reunited. Joseph convinces Pharaoh to let his family stay in Egypt, and dad (Jacob) helps the brothers figure out how to get along again.

Then dad dies, and the brothers begin to worry: Will our past come back to haunt us? Will Joseph remember the horrible things we did to him, and now that dad’s not around to intervene, will Joseph seek revenge? He has every right to still be angry, doesn’t he? Will he use our past to destroy our future?

So they decide to lie (again). They tell Joseph that dad told them to tell him to forgive them. All the kindness and favor that Joseph had showered on them was not enough; they needed to hear that Joseph forgave them. They lied to Joseph to make him say what they wanted to hear: “You’re forgiven and I will take care of you.”

Whether Joseph believes them or not seems irrelevant. He believes that God has worked in and through this crazy family to make something good happen for God’s chosen people. And because it is in God’s best interest, Joseph forgives his brothers and promises to provide for them.

But before he does that, something amazing happens: Joseph weeps when his brothers (sort of) ask for forgiveness. And when Joseph weeps, the brothers weep, too. All of them begin to cry all over themselves. Wouldn’t you? Think of all the pain, fear, anxiety, anger, grief, resentment, and vengeance that have built up for these guys over the last few years. In the middle of this amazing story of forgiveness, there is a river of tears.

This kind of vulnerability, compassion, and genuine forgiveness are rare in American politics. Our country has become so cynical that we doubt the sincerity of politicians who cry in public, and probably with good reason. But here, in the halls of the Pharaoh’s palace (the Egyptian White House), are a bunch of guys weeping together, burying old hatchets, and healing old wounds. And not because dad (maybe) said so, but because God moved Joseph to see the bigger picture, to trust that God’s love for God’s people was big enough to cover all the deep wounds that separated Joseph from his brothers for years.

Discussion Questions

  • Why did Joseph and his brothers weep? Have you ever had to apologize, or be apologized to, for something really serious? Did it make you feel like crying? How did it feel?
  • Can you picture Barack Obama and John McCain hugging, crying, and apologizing after the election is over, regardless of who wins? Why or why not?
  • Why do you think the brothers made up the story about Jacob (dad) asking Joseph to forgive them? Why didn’t they just ask for forgiveness on their own? And why didn’t Joseph seem to care that they were lying to him?
  • When has what God thinks mattered more to you than how you personally feel about someone who has hurt you? How do we know what God thinks about the people we are angry with?

Activity Suggestions

  • Collect a few days’ worth of political news (Google News works well for this).

    • What attacks are people making about candidates in local, state, or national elections?
    • Which ones are personal, or about past mistakes (family problems, substance abuse, poor financial decisions, friends or coworkers in legal trouble, religion, changing opinions about something, etc.)?
    • Which ones are about real issues that matter to real people (health care, the war, poverty, education, the environment, safety, etc)?
    • How do you tell the difference?
  • Write a letter to someone you have hurt, and another letter to someone who has hurt you. Tell the story of what happened, talk about your feelings, and ask for/offer forgiveness. Then decide if you want to send it, burn it, or keep it around while you think about it.
  • Act out the scene between Joseph and his brothers. Then write another scene, changing the characters and the situation to fit something more relevant to your daily lives in families, schools, teams, or church. Change roles a couple times. Talk about how it feels to be caught up in this story of anger, vengeance, forgiveness, and love.

Closing Prayer

Holy and Merciful One, you shower your people with forgiveness and love. Help us to be honest about our past, real about our hurts, and open to give and receive forgiveness. Make us a gracious and forgiving people. In Jesus’ name. Amen

Contributed by Pastor Jay McDivitt
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Denver, CA